Wandering Tattler

Subject: Wandering Tattler
From: Julian Bielewicz <>
Date: Tue, 1 Oct 1996 15:15:45 +1000
The Wandering Tattler Heteroscelus incanus was a bonus.  While I was aware
that the bird had been seen here on a number of past occasions, I'd really
gone to Redcliffe Point to show my Norweigan visitor its unique "beehive"
reef: the same reef a former City Council had wanted to bury beneath tonnes
of concrete to make room for a car park overlooking Moreton Bay.  

We'd both scanned the reef and boulder retaining-wall.  Oddly, records
indicate the tattler seems to have a preference for the large imported
boulders than for the natural reef rock.  There was no sign of it, nor of
many other birds except the usual Silver Gull Larus novaehollandiae and a
mixed flock of Little Pied Phalacrocorax melanoleucos and Pied Cormorant P.

It was Elin who noted the White-faced Heron Egretta novaehollandiae come in
and dropped below eye-level to our right.  She welcomed the opportunity of a
closer look at this wetlands hunter so we ambled across.  A second bird
flushed as we approached.  With an incoming tide almost at peak there
weren't too many dry spots the bird could seek immediate refuge on.  As luck
would have it, the bird seemed content to merely fly low around the shoulder
of the rock wall.

We approached with care: Elin from beach level; I, crawling on hands and
knees along the boulders.  I suddenly came eye to bill with a dozen Ruddy
Turnstone Arenaria intrepres roosting on the edge.  Instinct took command as
I backed off slightly to give myself room to slip my camera strap off my
shoulder.  Hardly breathing I carefully wound on the film and was about to
risk another look at the turnstones when Elin attracted my attention.  Not
more than a few metres ahead and a little to the right was a plain greyish
bird.  Its jizz immediately screamed tattler.

It was at that point that the young child, who had been picnicking a little
way off, decided to approach.  The tattler took flight, spooking the
turnstones as it flew off silently.  That seemed it.  No tattler and no

Again it was Elin who noted that the tattler had in fact flown only a
relatively short distance to alight on the boulders a little further north.
The hunter's instinct came forth once more and I stalked the tattler keeping
the boulder wall between myself and the bird.  The odd glances from the
picniking adults were of no concern.  In Queensland one becomes accustomed
to THAT look; real men don't go birdwatching, nor eat quiche!  The mother
suddenly snatching her daughter away as she muttered something about queer
men  was something of a godsend.

I'd misjudged the point at which the tattler had come down and looked over
too early; it flew.  Resigned to another miserable failure we sat on the
boulders as a pod of dolphin came into the shallower water off Sutton's
Beach.  Life always seems to offer its compensations to the pure of heart.

Our jaws dropped in unison as seemingly from out of nowhere a greyish bird
suddenly alighted on the reef a few metres ahead of us.  It took only a
moment to confirm that it was indeed a tattler and from four metres we
didn't really need binoculars to assess the length of the supercilium: it
definitely did not extend beyond the eye.  Binoculars simply aided in noting
the length of the nasal grove and that too flagged Wandering rather than
Grey-tailed Tattler H. brevipes.  Any lingering doubts were dispelled when
some twenty minutes, and almost an entire roll of film, later bathers
startled the bird and it flew off with its characteristic plaintive trill.

Photographically it was a good spot.  Not only did the Wandering Tattler
obliege us by staying within four metres but off to the right a White-faced
Heron stalked unsuspecting prey along the rockpool and a Welcome Swallow
Hirundo neoxena settled itself on a boulder less than two metres from the
end of my camera lens.

As I said, sometimes life has its compensations.


Julian Bielewicz
12 Florence Street
Kippa Ring, Q. 4021

Tel: +61 3 283 4921
Fax: +61 3 3889 4272

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