On 21st December 2007 KC Tsang was birding with Wang Luan Keng at Tuas. This is KC’s report:
“…as I have not gone to that place for quite some time. The place was quite wet, or flooded up to about knee deep in some places, and it was after some heavy rain during the night (above). Knee high gumboots, or wellington boots are required for the exploration of such a terrain.
“Snipes, Savanna Nightjar (Caprimulgus affinis) and Red-wattled Lapwings (Vanellus indicus) are bountiful, however getting a picture of anyone of them is really difficult, and especially if one has to balance oneself in knee deep water, and undulating ground. Here is one Savanna that did not get away (left).
“Having enough of chasing birds for the morning, decided to return back to the car, and pack up for the morning. On the walk back I noticed that there were four eggs in a nest just above the water level. On closer inspection the nest was wet just beneath the eggs (below left).
“So without further-a-do, took some pictures of the eggs, and nest. The nest is hidden somewhere in just above the water (below right).
“Returned the next day to have a look at the nest, everything looks alright with the four eggs still on the nest.
“However on 28th December, two eggs went missing, so we came to the conclusion that a snake might have eaten them. So went about trying to see if we could find a co-operative Snipe who will pose for a portrait shot, no luck there.
“Our final visitation was on 6th January 2008, and to our dismay there were no eggs in the nest. On closer inspection we found them to have also been rolled (?) off the nest, four of them, one broken, and other three intact. So what most probably happened was the first two missing eggs were pushed out of the nest and left submerged under water. And the later two were also then pushed off the nest and left to drown in the water. By the time we came back the place had dried out and thus we were able to see all the eggs on the ground. So on placing them all back into the nest, flies came buzzing around the eggs, which is a bad sign.
“So could it be that the birds had noticed that the first two eggs had failed to develop and decided to remove them from the nest so that it will not affect the other two? The failure of the eggs to develop could also be the result of continuous daily heavy rains, which prevented the eggs developing as a result of insufficient warmth from the sun, or the nest could have been temporarily submerged because of the heavy rainfall, which subsequently killed the eggs.
“According to a knowledgeable birder, a very high percentage of nesting end up in failure.”
Wang Luan Keng has this to add: “KC made an interesting find. It’s unfortunate that the eggs did not hatch. They are really rotten and I have to master enough courage to blow out the contents.
“1. The eggs and clutch size matched the size and description of the Red-wattled Lapwing (above). See also Jonanthan Cheah’s photo (right). KC’s eggs have larger black blotches than Jon’s eggs but I think that is just variation.
“2. According to literature, the nest of the RW Lapwing is an unlined scrape in short grass, soil or sand. The nest Jonanthan found was like that – a scrape on the stoney ground. This is where I am a bit puzzled. The nest that KC found was unlined, formed by a clump of grass folded to form a slight platform, where the eggs sit. Rails and bittern typically do that but the eggs do not match the colours of bittern or rail eggs. I thought it might be common moorhen but the colours are also wrong. It is possible that the Tuas lapwings have adapted to using the grassy patch for nest or a slight possibility that that it is something else.
“3. Many reasons would have caused the failure of the eggs. We know it’s not a predator, which would have eaten the eggs instead of dropping them. KC’s idea that the nest got flooded and the eggs were washed away by the water is possible. Another possibility is that the parents are not experienced or disturbed by humans and somehow dropped the eggs.
“4. KC is right that a high percentage of nests fail in the tropics. Unfortunately, local birders do not follow up on individual nest and do not report nesting records regularly, especially if the nest failed. So we don’t have absolute data.“
Images by KC, except image of egg and chick by Dr Jonathan Cheah Weng Kwong.