Spoon-billed or mud-billed?

Thanks to everyone who has given prompt feedback on the identity of the lowest bird in the photo below.

Teluk Air Tawar_260213_IMG_7619Sorry I can’t give a much larger image – I’ve done a recrop below and enlarged it beyond the original resolution – that’s the best I can do.


Now I have to confess that I was being less than fully transparent, in that I have a few other images of this bird, which I will now divulge. Nevertheless, I put this image up first because I do believe the bird is identifiable from this image alone.

Firstly, the head proportions and relative size – the bird does not look big-headed or to have a high forehead (compare it with this photo, which I took in Selangor back in April 2008).

The forehead is not obviously white, and the supercilium kinks up behind the eye, as is typical for Red-necked Stint, but not for Spoon-billed Sandpiper (the supercilium of SBS is typically thin and tends to die off as a point behind the eye).

The neck sides show rather extensive streaking, which is another pro-RNS, anti-SBS feature. SBS typically shows no or very limited streaking in this area.

So, in my view, everything except the apparent bill-shape says this should be a Red-necked Stint. But, what about the bill?

SBS bill in profile shows a finely-tapered tip which is slightly upturned (ref again the photo taken in 2008). I would argue that the angle here is sufficiently side-on to show the bill profile quite accurately, and it is not what one would expect of a real Spoonie, being slightly downcurved and blob-tipped, despite the initial obvious similarity.

Now the other photos…

Teluk Air Tawar_260213_IMG_7618 Teluk Air Tawar_260213_IMG_7620 Teluk Air Tawar_260213_IMG_7621Less and less convincing as we go along! Still, the series does go to show the very real possibility of muddy-billed Red-necked Stints passing themselves off at first glance as Spoon-billed Sandpipers. This phenomenon is not particularly unusual either – I first noticed it in 2006 (see this photo), and I have seen it several times since, so one to be wary of.

So, yesterday, I did not see a Spoon-billed Sandpiper in Penang! However, the day before was another story, because, at the same site, I saw THIS!

Spoon-billed Sandpiper_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_1344 Spoon-billed Sandpiper_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_1346

Spoon-billed Sandpiper_Teluk Air Tawar_250213_IMG_1455Only the 2nd record for Penang, the first for 9 years – and to be honest, something I had pretty much lost hope of ever seeing here! More pics and write-up to follow.

4 thoughts on “Spoon-billed or mud-billed?

  1. Pingback: Boat survey of the Teluk Air Tawar-Kuala Muda IBA, Penang, 23 Mar 2014 | Dig deep

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