Spoon-bill Surprise

So, to back-up a bit, my plan on 25th Feb was to capitalize on a morning high tide to try to get some better photos of the Nordmann’s Greenshank roost at in the Teluk Air Tawar – Kuala Muda IBA on mainland Penang.

However, almost as soon as I had sat down (at around 8.30am) and begun to scan the extensive mudflats (while the tide was still way out), I came across a rather obvious Spoon-billed Sandpiper, and all thoughts of Nordmann’s were put on hold!

The “Spoonie” immediately stood out, even at great distance, because of its much faster feeding action, and being paler above and below than Red-necked Stints. I took a video which illustrates this which can be viewed here (best in high def because the bird is so distant!). Sorry about the shakiness, this was taken at 60x mag!

Spoon-billed Sandpiper_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_1247

Again, pardon the quality, this was digiscoped at max magnification. Still it shows the typical ‘snowplough’ feeding posture – moving along with head mostly down. Even though the bill is not visible, the large head is distinctive.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_1255

A rare shot with the bill out of the mud!

Spoon-billed Sandpiper_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_1232

A brief preening stop! The white forehead and ‘split supercilium’ can be seen even at great distance. The green cast is due to the photo being taken through a screen of mangrove leaves – not recommended!

At this juncture I got a phone call, and in the momentary diversion, the bird was lost to further scrutiny. Its habit of running like the wind across large expanses of mud, and choosing the lowest depressions in the mudlfats meant that it was eminently ‘losable’. Still, I was hopeful that the bird might reappear at high tide!

waders_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_7425 waders_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_7440 waders_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_7483

Lots of movement as the tide rose. The weather wasn’t great, but the overcast skies made for less heat haze and some pleasing lighting at times.

Broad-billed Sandpiper_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_1281

As the tide rose, a number of small roosts formed in front of me – a good sign! Lots of Broad-billed Sandpipers amongst the Red-necked Stints and Curlew Sandpipers, and some were coming into fine breeding plumage.

Bar-tailed Godwit_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_1309

It takes a lot to beat a ‘full sum plum’ Barwit though! And to think this is still February!

Great Knot_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_1307

The Great Knots are already good and spotty below, but the scapulars are not yet showing much chestnut.

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Among them, a sprinkling of Red Knot – three in the beginnings of breeding plumage and one still in non-breeding.

Eurasian Curlew_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_1292

Eurasian Curlews are starting to colour up too – a beautiful rich straw brown.

Nordmann's Greenshank_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_1314

As for the Nordmann’s, they never really did come close – the tide wasn’t high enough. By the way, the gull in the background – I trust you noticed that it is a Brown-headed rather than Black-headed!

Swinhoe's Plover_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_1295 Swinhoe's Plover_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_1299 Swinhoe's Plover_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_1305

I was delighted to find three Swinhoe’s Plovers in one of the nearer roosts. Even though these are just across the Penang Straits from the place I originally saw them, the substrate is quite different here, soft mud rather than sand, so I was quite surprised to see them. The last pic illustrates why we originally decided on the name “White-faced Plover”.

However, all this time, I was really only looking for one bird – among about 10,000! I prayed that the bird would be a) nearby and b) obvious – not asleep or obscured! Finally, at just after midday, my prayers were answered!

Spoon-billed Sandpiper_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_1325

There it was, right in front of me, and frantically busy amid all the other comatose waders! Getting sharp digiscoped pics of such a fast-moving bird in such overcast light was a challenge, so I took a couple of videos, here and here. The last shows it feeding by scything the water with its bill, a feeding behaviour which is surprisingly rarely observed in my experience.

Over the next 20 minutes I was able to watch it at leisure, taking dozens of pics, of which some were sharp! Here are a few.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_1249 Spoon-billed Sandpiper_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_1368 Spoon-billed Sandpiper_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_1385 Spoon-billed Sandpiper_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_1394 Spoon-billed Sandpiper_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_1401 Spoon-billed Sandpiper_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_1411 Spoon-billed Sandpiper_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_1456

Eventually an unseen (by me) raptor put the whole flock up and they flew off up the coast, emphasizing to me the extaordinarily providential choice they had made in the first place to choose the spot right in front of me to roost, out of the miles of coastline they could have chosen!

Spoon-billed Sandpiper_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_1467Anything about?!


7 thoughts on “Spoon-bill Surprise

  1. Hi Dave, Shamefully I am only just catching up with your blog after some time… I have enjoyed your excellent recent posts. In particular I love your info on Little vs Red-necked Stint (one I still struggle with!) and I love the link to the id feature about the gape line on stints vs nearctic peeps!. But this find tops them all… fantastic and congratulations. Terry

  2. Pingback: Surprise Spoon-billed Sandpiper sighting at Malaysian IBA highlights importance of CEMEX’s new support | WorldWaders News Blog

  3. Pingback: Surprise Spoon-billed Sandpiper sighting at Malaysian IBA highlights importance of CEMEX’s new support

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