It has been quite a while since my last twitch. Lifers are now a very rare commodity for me. The sighting of the fourth Grey-tailed Tattler in Penang by Hor Kee (and the Hums earlier last month) at Sungai Burung certainly caught my attention. Enough to make me embark on a quick visit for this scarce wader before work. Even though I have seen this species once before, I do not have any images yet. It was an overcast morning when I arrived at the river mouth where my quarry was last seen but the weather could not dampened my spirits. I was on the hunt for a Grey-tailed Tattler and hopefully, with some photos to show this time round.
I scanned along the water’s edge and it did not take long to locate the Grey-tailed Tattler. The absence of the sun on this cold morning was of no significance because I found my sunshine. I could not recall the last time I was so excited at a locality in Penang Island. Looks like the Pearl of the Orient still has what it takes to light up my life.
The tattler was rather confiding and my intrusion did not seem to interfere with its morning ritual of crab hunting. However due to the lighting conditions, its constant movement was a real test for my photography gear. Those few occasions that it was stationary were the highlights of this morning’s short excursion. The Grey-tailed Tattler is a drab looking bird in winter but to a birder that has a thing for waders, it is one of the most exhilarating species to encounter in this part of Peninsular Malaysia.
My presence did not go unnoticed by one of the residents of the nearby fishing village. From the expression on its face, life is easy and good here in this more rural part of Penang Island away from all the hustle and bustle of Georgetown City. Anyway, this feline kept me company throughout my visit and it received a deservingly prolonged pat on the head before I head to work a happy man. I wish this was my first experience with the Grey-tailed Tattler as my first encounter a few years back at Batu Kawan was only a brief one. But this one was just incredible.
As my working day drew to a close, I could not suppress my yearning for better images of the confiding tattler. So I found myself at the faithful river mouth again in the evening and as expected, the lighting was much better. The Grey-tailed Tattler was almost at the same spot as this morning and with a little effort, I got relatively close to it.
On one occasion, it wandered towards me and that took my breath away literally. When it comes to photographing waders, distance is always an issue – especially for the rare ones. Murphy will usually make sure of that. Anyway there I was, at a birding site I usually ignore, gawking at a Grey-tailed Tattler strolling right in front of me in good light. Perfect moments usually do not exist in birding but this one came pretty damn close.
Whenever I could pull away from the spell the tattler had on me, I will have a quick look at what other birds were about. A muddied Common Redshank almost fooled me into thinking it was something else.
The Common Sandpiper is somewhat a smaller version of the Grey-tailed Tattler but by now, I had enough field experience to differentiate the two by jizz alone. The latter usually has a lower posture but the main characteristic is the longer and slenderer appearance.
There must be something in the air today as another wader wandered towards me instead of the other way round and this time it was a Terek Sandpiper. This coastline has always being a refuge for this adorable species and I have encountered it on numerous occasions. However, today was by far the closest I have ever been to one and the following images reflect my good fortune.
There is probably at least one Striated Heron in every stretch mudflats throughout the state or even the country. It comes as no surprise when I counted at least half a dozen present in the vicinity.
The light was disappearing fast from the evening sky. I took advantage of the last rays of the sun to capture a few more images of the Grey-tailed Tattler before calling it the day. The setting sun cast a golden hue on my subject and set my heart aflutter. I have probably taken enough photos of this bird to last me a lifetime. But judging from its confiding, I will probably be back again before it flies back north.
A small group of shutterbugs had gathered at the river mouth as I was making my way out. They had no intentions of shooting the scarce Grey-tailed Tattler. The sunset was what they were after. To each his own but I will take a rare migrant over a landscape anytime. I began the post with a view of the river mouth at Sungai Burung at the break of dawn and it is only fitting that I should end it with a view at dusk.
The checklist of birds recorded this time can be found here:
1. Sungai Burung