In early December 2012, the Big Year competition in which birders participated in finding the most birds in a year, was nearing its end. Birders were frantically finding the last birds for the year. One person in particular was missing a simple bird, the Oriental Pratincole.
The last sighting of the Oriental Pratincole was in mid-November that year at a place called Punggol Barat, a reclaimed piece of land next to an airport. Bare earth, thin patches of grass with a small pond made for an ideal location for the pratincole.
So on that sunny morning, the birder walked around alone to explore the place. With a lot of walking and a big dose of luck, he managed to see a pratincole sitting near a pond through his binoculars. It was a good find. Not wanting to disturb or flush it, he kept his distance and took some pictures instead, and left soon after. Being a fair birder, he decided that he will inform those that did not have the bird yet, so that they too have a fair chance of seeing it later.
Afterwards, away from the unbearably hot sun, he sat down to have a closer look at the photos he took earlier. Immediately it struck him that he was looking at a Small Pratincole (Glareola lactea), a related but much harder to see species in Singapore. In 2012, social media was already used to share bird sightings and so he quickly sent out a mass Whatsapp message.
At the other part of the island, I received the information. Without much thinking, I immediately dropped my work and drove off. I too was involved in the Big Year, and I have certainly not seen this bird before. The last time it came to Singapore in 1989, I was still schooling somewhere in Malaysia. Singapore was still a distant land then.