Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2005-33a

Common name:

Wandering Tattler

Scientific name: Heteroscelus incanus
Date: September 11, 2005
Time: 3:15 p.m.
Length of time observed: 1 3/4 hours
Number: One
Age: Juvenile
Location: Antelope Island Causeway (in the general vicinity of the big bridge just east of the marina).
County: Davis
Distance to bird: 30 - 50 feet
Optical equipment: Nikon Monarch 10 x 40 binoculars and Swarovski HD ST 80 scope
Weather: Clear and sunny (windy, cold and rainy earlier in the day).
Light Conditions: Excellent
Description:        Size of bird: Roughly Killdeer size, but slightly stockier.
(Description:)       Basic Shape: Shorebird
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: Gray and white
(Description:)            Bill Type: Long, straight and two-toned (dark gray with black tip).
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
This bird was overall gray above with a gray breast and flanks. It had a broken white eye-ring and an eyestripe that was thick between the base of the bill and the eye and much thinner at the
back of the eye. Above the front part of the eyestripe was a bold white patch that extended from the base of the bill back to the eye. It had a white throat patch and was all white from the belly to the undertail coverts and had a dark bill, yellow legs and black wingtips. There was nothing distinctive about the bird in flight. It just looked all gray.
Song or call & method of delivery: None heard
Behavior: The initial sighting of the bird on the north side of the causeway found it actively moving through the rocks, probing, picking and bobbing. There were two Killdeer very nearby which allowed for good size comparison. The bird then nestled down into the rocks and rested for about an hour. At 4:45 p.m., the bird flew low and to the west, went under the bridge and landed on the south side of the causeway where it again foraged in the rocks. It also waded into shallow water where it picked bugs from the mud and water's surface.
(see photos)
Habitat: Rocky shoreline of the Great Salt Lake.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted Redshank and Solitary Sandpiper - These birds are more upright, with longer legs, different bills and more patterning on the backs and wings. Additionally, they are shallow water waders and don't typically forage in rocks.

Willet - This bird is bigger by 4", has gray legs and shows a very striking wing pattern in flight.

Surfbird - Although this bird can be found in the same habitat as the Wandering Tattler, it is stockier, has a shorter bill and a very distinctive wing pattern.

Red Knot - This bird has duller legs, lacks the big broken eye ring and shows a pale gray rump in flight that contrasts with its darker gray body.

Stilt Sandpiper - This bird has long yellow-green legs, no eye ring and a slightly drooping bill. It is a wader that feeds by probing the mud and picking insects from the surface of the water.

Gray-tailed Tattler - The two field guides I had available at the time of the sighting provided little information on this bird. The NGS guide cites this comparison to the Wandering Tattler, "Whitish eyebrows are more distinct and meet on the forehead." I specifically looked for this field mark on the subject bird and found that the eyebrows did not meet. Sibley cites the Gray-tailed Tattler's "preference for wet flats rather than rocks." Although the bird I observed spent most of its foraging time in the rocks, it did work a small patch of mud and the water's surface a little. My research indicates that the differences between the Wandering and Gray-tailed Tattlers are subtle and can be very difficult for an observer with little experience with these species to discern.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
The only other time I have seen a Wandering Tattler was at the Antelope Island marina in May 2001.
References consulted: The Sibley Guide to Birds and NGS Birds of North America on site. Three other field guides and Lives of North American Birds (Kaufman) at home.
Description from: Notes taken at time of sighting
Observer: Pomera M. Fronce
Observer's address: Salt Lake City, Utah 84117
Observer's e-mail address:
Other observers who independently identified this bird: Cindy and Steve Sommerfeld, Colby Newman, Tim Avery, Carol Davis, Bob Huntington and Jack Binch.
Date prepared: September 21, 2005
Additional material: Photos
Additional comments: