Yishun Dam and the returning Shorebirds.

Text and Photos by Mohamad Zahidi. 1st Oct, 2016.

There are a few places in Singapore we can go for shorebirds but I chose Yishun Dam as its close to where I live. For the shorebirds that flew thousands of miles from their Arctic breeding ground, the rich sand banks and mud flats provide a great refueling stop and a natural habitat to document them.

august-06Some of the early migrants to Yishun Dam. Small numbers of the Lesser Sand Plovers were seen.(6 Aug 2016).

c-august-15Increased in numbers in the following week. (15 Aug 2016)

I normally spend few hours playing the ‘waiting game’ under the hot sun and try to scan that area for some lifer or uncommon shorebird. The birds there also tend to forage for food at Khatib Bongsu and at some smaller island nearby.

img-20160825-wa0001Shorebirds shooting at low tide under the hot sun at the Yishun Dam. Photo: AlanOwYong

 

This year I am so determined to see the uncommon Greater Sand Plover. During my last Pelagic Trip in May, I was asking around about this Plover which I dipped during my unofficial Big Year in 2014. FrancisYap and See Toh suggested that I should go visit YD frequently in the month of Aug so that I can have a better chance to see the Greater Sand Plover there. 

september-22Lesser Sand Plovers at the sandbank. Background is the shoreline of Khatib Bongsu.

I finally decided to visit Yishun Dam (sandbank) somewhere in late July in order to see some early migrants with my birding kaki, David Tan. We ended up finding the Great-Billed Heron which Alan OwYong said was a new record for Yishun Dam (sandbank). The Western Osprey also made a brief appearance towards the end of our morning session there.

c-july-23Great–billed Heron adjusting to a new standing position. (23 July 2016)

a-july-23
Western Osprey was seen hunting for fish (23 July 2016)

b-july-23Western Osprey dropped its catch in mid-air (23 July 2016)

The news that a Great Knot landed in Yishun was sent to many by Francis Yap on a Saturday morning while I was at work. It attracted many photographers and avid birdwatchers to Yishun Dam again. It was time for me to get some new shot of this globally endangered star bird. There was a chance of getting the Greater Sand Plover as well.

a-august-15

b-august-15Great Knot was seen flying with the Lesser Sand Plover (15 Aug 2016).

Finally, on 22 August Lawrence Cher alerted us about Greater Sand Plover spotted in Yishun Dam. I was eager to go down asap but only managed to do it on 26 Aug 2016 despite the haze that morning.

aug-26Greater Sand Plover foraging along the shoreline (26 Aug 2016)

september-17-1Spotted another Greater Sand Plover at the sandbank. (17 Sep 2016)

Yishun Dam is a perfect place to see these great shorebirds and really hope that it will not be lost to development. I would like to thank Singapore Bird Group for the invite to write this article.

Below are some of my collection of birds taken recently at Yishun Dam.

september-22Common Sandpiper with baby cobra in threat posture (22 Sep 2016)

b-sep-22A pair of Pacific Golden Plover (22 Sep 2016)

a-sep-22Terek Sandpipers foraging on sandbank. (22 Sep 2016), Their numbers are in decline over the years.

oct-5-2014A juvenile Yellow Wagtail was spotted catching insects at Yishun Dam (5 Oct 2014)

sep-28-2014-1Ruddy Turnstone (28 Sep 2014)

oct-23-2013Close-up shot of Ruddy Turnstone (5 Oct 2013)

Reference: A Naturalsit’s Guide to the Birds of Singapore. Yong Ding Li, Lim Kim Chuah and Lee Tiah Khee. John Beaufoy Publishing Limited 2013.

Pelagic Birding in the Straits of Singapore.

Pelagic birding in the Singapore Straits. 18 Sept 2016. Text and Photos by Dirk Tomsa. 

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Cruising eastwards at the start of out Pelagic with the Singapore skyline in the distance. Photo: Gerard Francis.

On 18 September 2016, the Bird Group of the Nature Society Singapore organized its first pelagic birdwatching trip for its members. There were ten of us including the leaders Alfred Chia and Lim Kim Keang. We left Sentosa Marina just before 6 am and set course for the Singapore Straits. I had done a few pelagics in Australia before and always loved them, so I was full of anticipation when we finally cleared immigration – yes, passport clearence out at sea, a first for me – and headed out to more open water. Compared to my previous experiences in the cold waters of the Southern ocean, this tropical pelagic promised very different birds. Terns, not albatrosses or prions, would be most prominent, with up to eight different species possible including the beautiful Aleutian Tern which migrates through Singaporean waters around this time of the year. Furthermore, we were hoping to see Swinhoe’s Storm-Petrel, another migratory species that routinely passes through the Singapore Straits in September. For me personally, these two were the main targets as both would be lifers for me. And, as it turned out, I would not be disappointed.   

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Terns like this Greater Crested Terns will be the most prominent pelagic species encountered.

In fact, it didn’t take long at all until we saw the first storm-petrels. Navigating the waves low above the surface, several small groups of Swinhoe’s whizzed past the boat, but unfortunately none of them came really close so that it was difficult to clearly see the subtle markings on these essentially brown birds. Eventually, my binoculars captured a bird close enough to the boat to enable me making out the slightly paler, crescent-shaped wing bar. Most birds, however, kept their distance and so I felt kind of reassured that Swinhoe’s was actually the only ‘stormie’ likely to be encountered here. Identifying different species at this long range would be a huge challenge. In the end, Alfred and Kim Keang confirmed that all storm-petrels seen that day were Swinhoe’s and that the total number of birds migrating through the straits that morning must have been around 300-350. Good numbers indeed, and a valuable tick for my list.

ssp-gf

At this time of the year, the Straits of Singapore is one of the best places to see these Swinhoe’s Storm Petrels as they migrate through the Straits. More than 320 were counted this morning. Photo: Gerard Francis.

The storm-petrels were most abundant early in the morning. As the clock approached 9 am, the little brown birds became scarcer and we turned our attention to terns. Apparently a solitary Little Tern bid farewell to our boat as we left Sentosa but I had missed it, watching the distant silhouette of a Brahminy Kite instead.

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Close up view of two Great Crested Terns in non-breeding plumage at the yellow buoy.

But now out at sea, more and more terns appeared near the boat. As expected, the most numerous were the fairly common Greater Crested Terns. More than twenty of this large tern species flew past throughout the trip and we were treated to some close-up views early on when a group of six perched on a buoy. We circled the buoy a couple of times so that everyone could get a good look. For the majority on board, this was their first pelagic birdwatching trip, so seeing these large terns so close was a great experience for all.

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The Lesser Crested Tern on the left and the Greater side by side for comparison. The bright orange bill of the Lesser is a good feature to tell them apart.

Getting such good views of the very similar Lesser Crested Tern took a lot longer. In fact, we had to wait until we passed the same buoy again on the way back. This time the six Greater Crested Terns shared the tight space with two Lesser Crested Terns, thereby providing an excellent opportunity to compare these two species at close range. Despite the names, the difference in size is actually not that big, but the brightly coloured bills – orange in the Lesser, yellow in the Greater – made it easy for everyone on board to tell the birds apart.

In between our two encounters with the Crested Terns, there was a prolonged period where there were no birds at all. During this intermezzo, my thoughts drifted and I struggled to stay awake as my body reminded me that I had gotten up at 4.30 am. I staved off the temptation to just close my eyes by chatting with other participants, eating some snacks or looking at the field guides Alfred and Kim Keang had kindly provided. And then, just when I was about to doze off, another bird appeared seemingly out of nowhere.

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Bridled Tern with its distinctive dark upper wings and eyebrow. An uncommon winter visitor.  

A Bridled Tern emerged near the boat and was gone within seconds, but then another one appeared. And another. With their dark upper-wings and distinct eyebrow, these are among my favourite terns. We would see several others later on, but most of them remained distant specs on the horizon and unfortunately not everybody on board saw them.  

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Fantastic views of the Aleutian Tern resting on a flotsam,  a well known habitat for this tern. We counted eight of these wonderful terns during the trip.

The Bridled Terns had barely disappeared out of sight when someone from the front of the boat shouted ‘bird on water’. That sounded promising for Aleutian Tern because this species is well-known for its habit to rest on flotsam. And sure enough, an Aleutian Tern it was. Undisturbed by our approaching boat the bird perched calmly on a piece of driftwood, allowing fantastic views and great photo opportunities. Soon we saw a second bird perched a bit further away. All in all, we counted eight of these wonderful terns.

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An uncommon Common Tern was our last and sixth tern species for the day.

Yet, not every tern on the water was an Aleutian Tern. Thanks to the sharp eyes of our ever-watchful guides, one of the flotsam squatters was identified as a Common Tern, a species which despite its name is actually fairly uncommon in Singapore waters. This was the sixth and last tern species to go onto our list for the day. The other two possibilities, Black-naped and White-winged Tern, did not grace us with an appearance this time, but that was only a minor blemish on an otherwise thoroughly rewarding trip.   

A big thank you to Alfred and the Bird Group for organising this trip, both Alfred and Kim Keang for the guiding and Gerard Francis for the use of his photos.

        

Wild Birds and Habitats-A Digital View.

Contributed by Andrew Chow.

My favorite paint medium for bird painting is soluble water color pencils. I still used them once in a while. But even an old hand like me had to embrace the digital age. I bought myself a Samsung Note 10 that came with a S-pen. With the help of the Autodesk Sketchbook software, it makes sketching a lot easier from the photos I took on site.

I did several digital bird paintings in the past years using the Note 10. I think it is important to include the habitat where the bird is found to tell the whole story. I hope to inspire those who wish to take up this absorbing hobby.

16-grey-headed-fish-eagle-at-little-guilin

Little Guilin is close to my place. It is also the nesting site of the nationally threatened Grey-headed Fish Eagle. No invitations needed to try out and start my digital journey.

19-brown-chested-jungle-flycatcher-at-bidadari

When the decision to turn the old Muslim Cemetery at Bidadari into a housing estate, I had to capture the lush greenery and woodlands before it was gone. The background shows the familiar view to all of us walking in. I had many lifers at this migrant haven. The one I chose to represent Bidadari is the globally threatened Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher, my lifer at this site.

17-little-grebe-at-lorong-halus-wetland

The lost of our fresh water wetlands may see these nationally threatened Little Grebes disappeared from our island. I had the privilege of seeing this family bringing up their chicks at the new pond off Lorong Halus in 2014. It was my pleasure to feature them and their precious wetland for posterity.

24-copper-throated-sunbird-at-sungei-buloh-wetland-reserve

One of the first birds I saw when I visited Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserves many years back is the nationally near-threatened Copper-throated Sunbird. It is a mangrove specialist which means that we will have to keep our mangroves if we want to see this beautiful sunbird for generations to come. I want to illustrate the role the mangroves play in keeping our coastal biodiversity intact.

 

25-purple-swamphen-at-kranji-marsh

This is one of my latest work at the newly opened Kranji Marshes. The Black-backed Swamphen is the emblem for the largest wetland in Singapore. It is the bird that every visitor want to see when visiting the marshes. We are glad that NParks and the URA have created this wetland sanctuary to bring back the water birds.

I wish to thank the Bird Group for showcasing my works on their blog. I hope these paintings will give you the reason to go out and enjoy our wild places and the birds.

 

 

 

 

 

Is this a Greater Sand Plover?

High Ride Roost at SD

The rising tide forced this flock of Lesser Sand Plovers to roost close up to the dam. Many of them were still in their breeding plumage.

This is an often asked question when an biggish sand plover is seen. On 18th August KC Ling and Timothy Chua posted a photo of a non breeding sand plover with a longish bill taken at Seletar Dam on the Bird Sightings FB page. ID please?. As the bird in the image was a stand-alone, it received different answers from commentators. This was expected since the size of the bird in question, the length of leg and bill can all be very subjective when there are no other birds around for comparison.

GSP at SD

This is what one normally sees in the field, a lone hunched plover making identification difficult even at this distance.

But on closer study, some diagnostic features can be discerned. I was lucky to be there on the 27th August morning to photograph the same plover close up in the company of Lesser Sand Plovers (LSP), Charadrius mongolus, during a low high tide to confirm that this plover in question was a Greater Sand Plover (GSP), Charadrius leschenaultii. Let’s take a look at these photos and pick out some distinguishing features to separate these two similar-looking species.

A more hunched posture of a GSP at SD

This same plover as above, cropped for a closer look. It has a seemingly horizontal stance and a dumpy appearance – descriptions somewhat fits a Lesser Sand Plover. 

Up right posture of the GSP

The same plover again but now in a more typical upright posture. The taller stance, proportionately larger body and longer (greenish-yellow) legs now makes it easy to identify it as a Greater Sand Plover. This is an adult in the non-breeding plumage having completed a full moult at their breeding grounds before migration.  

Two LSP  showing two different color legs.

Generally LSP has darker colored legs than the GSP. But as can be seen here, the left LSP has a paler leg than the LSP on the right. The leg colour should be used as a guide  and not as the sole identification feature. Both are juveniles moulting into non breeding plumage. 

 

size comparison head on

The GSP has a visibly longer tibia (i.e. upper half of the leg), than the LSP. But in the field it is not always easy to tell as can be seen in this photo. The tibias of the GSP (background) and the LSP (foreground) looks almost the same. But overall the GSP is  clearly taller when you have the LSP nearby to compare.

Size comparison

The GSP is a few centimeters larger than the LSP and this size difference is evident in this photo with both species close to each other. But on its own and at a distance it is not that easy to tell.

 

Size does not matter.

The size difference is quite obvious in this photo as well. The GSP kept to itself and did not mix with the rest of the Lesser Sand Plovers. It would chase away any LSP that come near. But in this rare occasion, a brave LSP decided to take the fight to the bully.

Apart from the size, posture and leg length of the plovers, a useful feature to separate the two species is the size and shape of their bills. For the LSP (left below), the bill length is slightly shorter than the distance between the bill base and rear of the eye. The bill of the GSP (right below) is visibly longer in this comparison. It is also clearly more robust.

But even this feature is not 100% foolproof in garnering an identification. Some subspecies of LSP, eg. ssp. schaeferi can have bills that appear as long as some individuals of GSP, while some subspecies of GSP (e.g. ssp. columbinus) have bill shapes more similar to the LSP.

One way to tell them apart is to look out for a noticeable bulge on the upper mandible. The LSP bulge is closer to the bill tip giving it a blunt look, while the bulge of the GSP starts in the middle. The bulge near the bill tip of this particular GSP was not particularly visible and that was one reason why the ID remained tentative without the benefit of the size comparison.

Most Lesser Sand Plovers start their migration while still in their breeding plumage and only completely moult into their drabber, non-breeding plumage in their wintering grounds. Most of the early arriving GSPs to our shores have moulted into their non-breeding plumage.

Two Lesser Sand Plovers above. a juvenile on the left and an adult in breeding plumage on the right.

GPS at SD

This photo of the GSP shows the broader white wing bars on the primaries and the darker sub-terminal band on its tail. Both are minor features of the GSP.

From this case study, it is clear that it is not that easy to separate the two sand plovers by just looking at one or two features as some of the subspecies of GSP and LSP overlap in some of these features. The size of the bird, length and color of legs, size and shape of the bill, wing and tail pattern, feeding and behavior habits and plumage have to be taken together to come to a proper identification.

Text by Alan OwYong and Yong Ding Li.

All photos taken at Seletar Dam on 24th August 2016 by Alan OwYong. All photos of the Greater Sand Plover are from the same individual. 

Reference:

A Field Guide to the Waterbirds of Asia. The Wild Bird Society of Japan 1993. A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia. Craig Robson. Asia Books Co. Ltd 2000. A Naturalist’s Guide to the Birds of Singapore. Yong Ding Li, Lim Kim Chuah and Lee Tiah Khee. John Beaufoy Publishing Limited 2013. SASOL Birds of Southern Africa. Ian Sinclair. Struik Publishers. 1993. Identification, taxonomy and distribution of Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers. Erik Hirschfield, Kees Roselaar and Hadoram Shirihai. British Birds 93: 162-189, 2000.

Singapore Bird Report-August 2016

The Autumn migration is well underway this month with the arrival of the shorebirds early in the month followed by a flood of passerine migrants on the very last day. The wader stops are at Seletar Dam, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (SBWR), Kranji Marshes and Pulau Tekong. The star was the globally endangered Great Knot, Calidris tenuirostris, arriving on 13th and staying around the Seletar Dam for a few days.

Great Knot FYap

The Wader of the Month is this Great Knot in partial breeding plumage taken at Seletar Dam by Francis Yap. It had been recently upgraded to globally endangered due to the loss of refueling wetlands at East Asia. 

The newly reclaimed land off Pulau Tekong is turning into a preferred stop for many of the waders. Four globally threatened Chinese Egrets, Egretta eulophotes, on 6th and an Eurasian Curlew, Numenius arquata, on 5th were recorded there. A big thank you to Frankie Cheong for monitoring this restricted location where he also found a family of 2 Malaysian Plovers, Charadrius peronii, adults with two chicks there on the 13th.

Grey Plovers Asian Dowitcher and GSP Frankie Cheong

The newly reclaimed land at Pulau Tekong getting its fair share of rare waders this season. The Asian Dowitcher was the first record here. Three Grey Plovers in breeding plumage and a Greater Sand Plover are next to the Dowitcher. Photo: Frankie Cheong. 

IMG-20160827-WA0006

An unmistakable Ruddy Turnstone in breeding plumage arrived at P. Tekong on the 27th. Thanks again to Frankie Cheong for getting this on record.

Parts of the construction site next to Kranji Marshes were flooded and shallow pools of fresh water attracted many of the waders that were looking for water fleas and larvae there. 13 Long-toed Stints, Calidris subminuta, (Alan OwYong) were counted on 31st. This is a high number for this uncommon plover as past records were in the single numbers.  Also present were at least two Wood Sandpipers, Tringa glareola, and up to 13 Little-ringed Plovers, Charadrius dubius, (Martin Kennewell).

Eurasian Curlew Millie Cher

These two juvenile Eurasian Curlews arrived at SBWR on 25th. The first arrival was recorded at P. Tekong on the 5th by Frankie Cheong. Photo: Millie Cher.

Here is the list of some of the first arrivals.

Species Date Location Observer/s Remarks
Wood Sandpiper x 2 3rd Kranji Marshes Martin Kennewell First reported on 31/8
Common Redshank x 30 5th SBWR Lim Kim Seng
Eurasian Curlew 5th P. Tekong Frankie Cheong. Two birds reported at SBWR by David Li on 25th
Chinese Egret x 4 6th P. Tekong Frankie Cheong
Black-tailed Godwit 7th SBWR Adrian Gopal One reported on 13th at Seletar Dam by Francis Yap.
Pacific Golden Plover 9th Seletar Dam Francis Yap Most in breeding plumage.
Great Knot 13th Seletar Dam Francis Yap Partial breeding plumage.
Greater Sand Plover 18th Seletar Dam KC Ling, Timothy Chua Timothy Chua. Another reported at Seletar Dam on 31st.
Terek Sandpiper 19th Seletar Dam Zacc HD Another seen at P. Tekong on 27th by Frankie Cheong.
Marsh Sandpiper 19th SBWR David Li
Common Greenshank 19th SBWR David Li
Asian Dowitcher 20th SBWR Keita Sin With a Black-tailed Godwit.
Intermediate Egret 23rd SBWR Veronica Foo
Ruddy Turnstone 27th P. Tekong Frankie Cheong One bird in breeding plumage.
Little-ringed Plover x 7 27th Kranji Marshes Martin Kennewell Numbers increased to 13 on  30th by Martin Kennewell
Long-toed Stint x 2 27th Kranji Marshes Martin Kennewell Numbers increased to 13 on 31st by Alan OwYong
White-winged Tern 27th SBWR Martin Kennewell
Grey Plovers x 12-15 31st P. Tekong Frankie Cheong All in breeding plumage together with an Asian Dowitcher.

 

GSP FYap

The Greater Sand Plover taken at Seletar Dam on 22nd by Francis Yap showing all the identification features.

Then on the last day of the month, we had a furry of passerine making their first landfall here. Forest Wagtail, Dendronanthus indicus, at Dillenia Hut from Francis Yap, a male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Ficedula zanthopygia, at Venus Loop from Goh Juan Hui and a Common Kingfisher, Alcedo atthis, at the Gardens by the Bay from Danny Khoo. Earlier in the month an Asian Brown Flycatcher,  Muscicapa latirostris, was photographed at the Japanese Gardens by Kristie Yeong on 20th, four Daurian Starlings, Agropsar sturninus, were seen flying around at Seletar Dam on 21st by Keita Sin. We can expect to see more of these song birds at our forests and woodlands next month.

Yellow-rumped FC Juan Hui

Our first Ficedula for the season, a Yellow-rumped Flycatcher at Venus Loop on the last day of the month. Photo: Juan Hui Goh.

Also on the 31st, two non breeding visiting bulbuls were reported at P. Ubin by Lim Kim Keang and Willie Foo. The uncommon Streaked, Ixos malaccensis, and Cinereous Bulbuls, Hemixos cinereus. A rare winter visitor was the Brown-streaked Flycatcher, Muscicapa williamsoni, reported at SBWR on 9th by Kingsley Phang.

Tan Gim Cheong was surprised by a Ruddy Kingfisher, Halcyon coromanda, flying across his path at Kelicap Hut, P. Ubin on 11th. This is our rare resident race, H. cminor, that had only been recorded in P. Tekong and Ayer Merbau groups of islands. This is the first record for Ubin confirming some local dispersal. We received an unconfirmed record of three male Cotton Pygmy Goose, Nettapus coromandelianus, a rare resident, flying over Cove Village at Sentosa from Esther, a resident there. I was not able to get more details on this sighting.

Other resident records were easier to confirm like the male Violet Cuckoo, Chrysococcyx xanthorhynchus, over at Jelutong on 5th by Francis Yap. As usual he got some great shots of this uncommon cuckoo. A Little Spiderhunter, Arachnothera longirostris, was also photographed at Venus Drive by KC Ling, and a report of the Spotted Wood Owl, Strix seloputo at West Coast Park by Keita Sin, both on the 5th.  Jansen Seah came in with a report of a pair of Greater Green Leafbirds, Chloropsis sonnerati, chasing away other birds at Upper Thompson Road. Frankie Cheong showed us a photo of a dark morph Pacific Reef Heron, Egretta sacra, again at his backyard at Tekong on 6th. This Egret made its appearance at SBWR on 27th at the Striated Heron Island at the main pond (Daniel Ong and Francis Yap).

Pacific Reef Heron See Toh

Pacific Reef Heron paid a visit to Sungei Buloh and stayed for a few days. Photo: See Toh Yew Wai. 

Geoff Lim chanced on a Buffy Fish Owl, Ketupa ketupa, at Lower Peirce Boardwalk on 6th.  It was seen again on the 26th by Thio Hb. This was one of the most reliable locations to see this uncommon owl before they spread out. The newly fledged Buffy Fish Owl at SBWR made an appearance at the reserves on 21st spotted by Wing Chong. Great to know that it is doing well.

P8210891

Sungie Buloh’s Buffy Fish Owl Jr. can now hunt for itself. Seen here finishing its catch. Alan OwYong

Zacc was really happy to get the House Swift, Apus nipalensis, on his sensors at Punggol Barat on 9th. This resident swift is getting rare nowadays. Aldwin Recinto photographed a Greater Coucal, Centropus sinensis, a forest specific, at Pasir Ris Park on 20th, most likely a dispersal from  across P. Ubin.

Greater Coucal at PRP Aldwin

Greater Coucal a forest species photographed at Pasir Ris Park by Aldwin Recinto.

The resident ernesti race Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus, was seen flying over Punggol Barat on 31st by Lawrence Cher. Tan Gim Cheong will have the rest of the raptor records in this coming Raptor Report.

Some notable records from eBird for August: Amur Paradise Flycatcher, Terpsiphone paradisi, at BTNR on 9th and an Asian Palm Swift, Cypsiurus balasiensis, at Coney Island on 12th both by Christopher Gainey. A Greater Sand Plover, Charadrius leschenaultii, at Marina Barrage on 16th by Malcolm Graham. A Brown Boobook, Ninox scutulata was seen at 7 pm on 23rd along the MacRitchie Boardwalk by Marcel Finley.

Reference:

Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore. 2009 Nature Society (Singapore). 

Yong Ding Li, Lim Kim Chuah and Lee Tiah Khee. A Naturalist’s Guide to the Birds of Singapore. 2013. John Beaufoy Publishing Limited. 

Craig Robson. A field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South East Asia. 2000.

This report is compiled by Alan OwYong and edited by Tan Gim Cheong from selected postings in various facebook birding pages, bird forums and individual reports. Some were not verified. We wish to thank all the  contributors for their records. Many thanks to Francis Yap, Millie Cher, See Toh Yew Wai, Frankie Cheong, Aldwin Recinto, Goh Juan Hui and Alan OwYong, for the use of their photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Text and Photos by Raghav Narayanswamy.

I stumbled upon Hindhede Nature Park last spring when an Orange-headed Thrush popped up there. I had two hours to spare for birding that day and I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw. Before this not many people have heard about this corner of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. The reserve now is only opened on weekends.

In just a couple of months, this rather small plot of land with nothing more than a flooded quarry and a short loop has offered me some great birding.

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Male Jambu Fruit Dove

There’s always something happening here. Calls of the loud Greater Racquet-tailed Drongos, Red-breasted Parakeets, and Common Hill Mynas greet you when you walk in. Other uncommon birds like the Asian Fairy-Bluebird, Western Osprey, and the Emerald Dove, will keep you busy for long periods of time.

Displaying IMG_0191.JPG

Brown Hawk Owl. 

Compared with other more popular birding spots, this park is compact and you can expect to be amazed by the proximity of the birds to each other. It sometimes seems overwhelming to deal with so many birds at once, especially when they are meters from each other. At one particular spot in the park, a pair of Red-legged Crakes, four Sunda Scops Owls, and a pair of Brown Hawk Owls converge each evening, with me right in the middle of it all, struggling to pick one to shoot over the rest.

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This family of Sunda Scops Owl is doing well at the Park.

What’s the first place you think of when asked, “Where can you find the Blue-winged Leafbird?” Chances are it was probably the Central Catchment, or Dairy Farm Nature Park, or Bukit Timah Hill. And I’d bet a large — avery large — sum of money that it was not Hindhede Nature Park. But when there’s a tree fruiting at Hindhede, you’re bound to catch sight of it, and good views are the standard here.

Displaying IMG_0032.JPG

The Blue-winged Leafbirds making their appearance at Hindhede NP.

We all hear about fruiting trees at Dairy Farm, Bukit Timah, and Upper Seletar. But again, there’s a surprise coming from the Hindhede camp. With a pair of Jambu Fruit Doves, Cream-vented, Olive-winged, Red-eyed, and Black-crested Bulbuls, and at least two Blue-winged Leafbirds, you can’t go wrong with a quick visit.

Singapore is known across Southeast Asia as one of the best places for the globally-vulnerable Straw-headed Bulbul. After all, Noah Strycker came specifically here for it in his 2015 World Big Year at a point when he had already seen 90% of Singapore’s checklist outside of Singapore. But out of all the places I have seen this bird, Hindhede really stands out. It is nearly always around, calling, and offering great views.

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The fruiting trees attracted this uncommon introduced Black-crested Bulbul 

Even birds that are traditionally seen around or past dusk, like owls, show up early here. Often, I don’t even need a flashlight for a decent photo, and the views, again, are guaranteed to be fantastic. Where else can you get to see three species of owls making their appearance almost daily. Other noteworthy sightings include the Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo, which was fairly active in the month of June, during which it was presumably breeding, and a pair of Van Hasselt’s Sunbirds. And all this was just in the last three months!

I cannot wait to see what the migratory season will bring, now that the breeding season is coming to a close and the trees are no longer fruiting. Will the thrushes stop over? I am sure the Asian Brown and Mugimaki Flycatchers will pass by. What about the visiting cuckoos?

The Survivors of Pasir Ris Park.

Contributed by Seng Alvin. Photos Credit: Seng Alvin.

Pasir Ris Park at the north-eastern end of Singapore with its riverine mangroves and wooded parklands  has long been a favourite place to bringing up babies, baby birds to be exact. Malaysian Pied Fantails, resident cuckoos, sunbirds and of course the star of Pasir Ris, the Spotted Wood Owls are some of the species that breed at the park. Raiding parties of Oriental Pied Hornbills from across Pulau Ubin made foraging sweeps now and then for nesting chicks to feed their young during the breeding season.

BFO Seng AlvinLong time rehab resident at PRP, our darling Buffy Fish Owl.

But the park may be  turning into an infirmary and home for injured birds. Long time resident “one-eye Jack” our darling Buffy Fish Owl have been rehabilitating  in the mangroves for some time now.

Pacific Swallow Senf AlvinSo is this Pacific Swallow with a skin injection around the eyes. It has been around since the middle of last year.

OWB 2 Seg Alvin

30th April. First photo of the one-legged Olive-winged Bulbul inside the Mangroves at PRP.

Early this year, on 30th April, I photographed an Olive-winged Bulbul, Pycnonoyus plumosus, inside the mangrove area but did not think much about the photo. Then a month later I came across another Olive-winged Bulbul at the mangroves and realised that it also had only one leg. Digging out the photo of the bulbul I shot in April, I realised that it was the same bulbul. Was it crippled at birth or did it suffered some mishap later on? I have no way to know but was happy to see that it was surviving.

OWB 3 Seng Alvin29th May, second shot of this bulbul inside the mangroves.

I was out on the evening of August 2nd at the bridge waiting for the Stock-billed Kingfisher to start fishing for dinner. A bulbul distracted me and I fired a few shots ( with the wrong settings). Later as I was about to delete it I found something strange with it. Just to make sure I was not seeing things, I posted it on Bird Sightings FB Group and asked if anyone sees any thing different with this bulbul. Keen eyed Benny Lim responsed that it was one legged!

OWB Seng Alvin

August 2nd shot near to the bridge while waiting for the Stork-billed Kingfisher. Can you see the missing leg?

Bingo, I now have a third photo of the same bulbul, which means that it has survived almost four months now. Wang Heng Mount proclaimed it as a winner and survivor. This guy is a mighty said Millie Cher and Jeffrey Long called it “a fighter”.

To me it is all the above and we should all be inspired by these survivors at Paris Ris and wish them a long and happy time at the park.

 

Singapore Bird Report-July 2016

All the excitement came during the last 10 days of July. On the 19th, a few days after its extreme date, Laurence Eu photographed a Brown-streaked Flycatcher, Muscicapa williamsoni, a rare non breeding visitor, at Lower Pierce Boardwalk.

BFC Laurence EuBrown-streaked Flycatcher, a rare non breeding visitor at Lower Pierce. Photo: Laurence Eu.

The record that we were waiting for came on the 26th when Lim Kim Seng spotted three Lesser Sand Plovers, Charadrius mongolus, at the Lower Seletar Dam. On the same day Danny Khoo photographed a Common Sandpiper, Actitis hypoleucos, at the Marina Barrage. Three days later, Frankie Cheong reported three Whimbrels, Numenius phaeopus and 30-40 Lesser Sand Ploversat the southern part of Pulau Tekong. On 30th Francis Yap brought news of the arrival of our first passerine migrant, the Barn Swallows, Hirundo rustica, at Punggol Barat and two Common Greenshanks, Tringa nebularia, at Seletar Dam. This heralded the return of the wintering shorebirds to Singapore. Bring out your scopes, the migration season is going its way. Last year the first waders arrived on the 1st August. Another sign of climate change?

Mangrove Whistler Seng AlvinA rare appearance of the Mangrove Whistler at Pasir Ris Mangroves captured by Seng Alvin.

But the bird of the month had to be the sudden one day appearance of the rare resident Mangrove Whistler, Pachycephala cinerea, at Pasir Ris Mangroves on 29th (Eric Bronson & Seng Alvin). Most of our past records were from Tekong and Southern Islands. The last mainland record was at Changi Cove in 2014.

King Quail Family Millie Cher

The proud King Quail parents showing off their family of five chicks over at Punggol Barat. Photo: Millie Cher.

As expected during the tail end of the breeding season, records of fledglings came in from all over the island. The most welcomed was a family of rarely seen King Quails, Excalfactoria chinensis with five chicks over at Punggol Barat. Joseph Tan Kok Beng reported the fledgling of two Crested Goshawk chicks, Accipiter trivirgatus, at the Singapore Botanic Gardens on 3rd and 6th. This is the second family of Crested Goshawks to have successfully raise a family there in the same season. Over at Burgundy Drive, Doreen Ang reported two juvenile Blue-crowned Hanging Parrots, Loriculus galgulus, seen with two adults feasting on her neighbour’s mango tree on the 7th. On the same day, she also reported a juvenile Thick-billed Pigeon, Treron curvirostra, at Lorong Sesuai. Good to know that some of our uncommon residents are doing well.

BCHP Doreen AngTwo juvenile Blue-crowned Hanging Parrots feasting on the mango with their parent. Photo: Michael Toh.

Over at Pulau Ubin, Yap Wee Jin reported the fledgling of the White-rumped Shama, Copsychus malabaricus on 9th. Lim Kim Keang reported the  nesting of the Olive-winged Bulbul, Pycnonotus plumosus, on 14th and three dependent Abbott’s Babbler, Malacocincla abbotti, juveniles on 28th.

SWO Ria TanBoth parents with the newly fledged Spotted Wood Owls at Woodlands. Photo: Ria Tan

A second record of a successful nesting of the Spotted Wood Owl, Strix seloputo, this season came from the Woodlands area with Ria Tan’s posting on 26th. One fledgling was seen with both parents. Like the earlier nesting at Cashew they were also using the Bird Nest Fern as nest. On 26th Laurence Eu photographed a Little Spiderhunter, Arachnothera longirostris, looking after a juvenile at Dairy Farm Nature Park. We are have not documented an active nesting of this forest species yet.

Sunda Scops Owls

Parent with two juvenile Sunda Scops Owls at Lower Pierce. Photo: Alan OwYong

Following the sighting of the Sunda Scops Owl, Otus lempiji, at Lower Pierce last month by Vincent Lao, we found two juveniles with a parent there on the 5th (Alan OwYong). Two days later Johnny Chew came across three Sunda Scops Owls at Telok Blangah Hill. Lim Kim Keang photographed an adult with a juvenile at Mandai Track 7 while Subha and son Raghav reported one adult together with a Brown Hawk Owl, Ninox scutulata, at Hindhede Nature Park, on the 16th. This has to be the largest number of breeding Sunda Scops Owls in a month.

Square-tailed Drongo FYapThe drama of a Square-tailed Drongo Cuckoo being chased by a Olive-winged Bulbul over the Central Forest captured by Francis Yap. This bulbul may have caught the cuckoo red-handed trying to replace its eggs.

Other notable sightings include an Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, Dicaeum trigonostigma, at Burgundy Drive near Bukit Batok NP, on 4th (Doreen Ang), a resident Square-tailed Drongo Cuckoo, Surniculus lugubris, being chased by a Olive-winged Bulbul was superbly captured by Francis Yap from the Jelutong Tower, a male Greater Green Leafbird, Chloropsis sonnerati, a first for Sentosa on 8th (James Tann). We have yet to determine the status of this individual. Mark Nelson Valino photographed a Black-crowned Night-Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax, at the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital pond on the 16th. Edwin Choy recalled seeing four adults and two juveniles there. Daniel Ong confirmed that they were there since the beginning of the year. Lets hope these choosy herons will make this place their permanent home as their numbers have not increased much over the years.

GG Leafbird James TannFirst record for Sentosa, a male Greater Green Leafbird may be an escapee. Photo: James Tann

We had two mainland records of the White-rumped Shama, the first at the Durian Trail on the 15th by Kerry Pereira and a calling bird at Upper Pierce Reservoir on the 23rd (Reuben Braddock).

Lim Kim Seng reported a Banded Bay Cuckoo, Cacomantis sonnerati, and another Square-tailed Drongo Cuckoo at the Central Catchment Forest on the 17th. This is our resident race that is quite vocal around this time of the year. A few uncommon Glossy Swiftlets, Collocalia esculenta, were seen flying over the Hindhede Quarry on the 19th by Alan OwYong. Zacc photographed a lone Great-billed Heron, Ardea sumatrana, at the Seletar Dam on the 23rd. As far as we know this is the first record for the area, indicating the spreading of this uncommon resident coastal heron. 

Reference:

Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore. 2009 Nature Society (Singapore). 

Yong Ding Li, Lim Kim Chuah and Lee Tiah Khee. A Naturalist’s Guide to the Birds of Singapore. 2013. John Beaufoy Publishing Limited. 

Craig Robson. A field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South East Asia. 2000.

This report is compiled by Alan OwYong and edited by Tan Gim Cheong from selected postings in various facebook birding pages, bird forums and individual reports. Some were not verified. We wish to thank all the  contributors for their records. Many thanks to Laurence Eu, Seng Alvin, Millie Cher, Michael Toh, Ria Tan, Alan OwYong, Francis Yap and James Tann, for the use of their photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the lens of a rookie birdwatcher

A few months ago, Lim Kim Chuah, Chairperson of the Bird Group was asked to conduct a test for girl guides who aspire to have the Birdwatcher Badge. He took a student from MGS, Hao Yunrui under his wings, went over to her school one afternoon, pass her a pair of binoculars and also one of our field guide written by Ding Li and et al. He showed her the birds in her school, taught her a few things about birding and then gave her some assignments. The assignments were: 1) learn and write her observation on 6 species of birds that she can find in her school or around her home/park 2) to participate in one NSS Birdwatching activity 3) to write a reflection on her journey
Here is Hao Yunrui’s reflection:

After an eventful few weeks of dabbing into amateur bird watching, I’ve gathered some thoughts to share about this fascinating hobby. When I initially made the decision to take on the Bird watching Badge, I saw it as something to be done and then simply forgotten. Like ticking off the goods on the grocery list, it was just one of those things that I needed to try out once to clear it off my bucket list. Mrs Tham then brought me under the guidance of Mr Lim Kim Chuah, who then carried me through the course of my one month Bird watching Journey. His tasks for me were:

First, to make a bird watching journal covering my observations of 6 different species of birds

Second, to go on a Bird watching trip with the Bird Group members of Nature Society (Singapore).

Hmmm, that sounded easy, was what I thought to myself when I first saw the tasks assigned to me, and that marked the start of my fascinating journey of unveiling a new realm of experience whose door had previously never been opened to me.

To achieve the tasks, I made it a point to go to various nature reserves and parks to watch birds every Saturday. My aim on each of my solo trip was to spot at least one species of bird that is new to me (a lifer in birdwatchers lingo). I also jotted down my observations in a field logbook (which would later become my bird watching journal) and if those tiny flickering feathered friends would allow me, I would try to snap a picture or two.

Female Koel from Bishan Park.

Female Asian Koel from Bishan Park.Photo: Hao Yunrui.

During my early morning sojourns to our parks and gardens, I spotted a variety of birds some of which made calls which I have heard previously e.g. the Asian Koel. It dawned on me that all of us do cross paths with many types of birds in our daily life. We hear their calls, catch their silhouettes among the trees but we are usually so caught up with our busy schedule that we choose to ignore such beautiful creatures in our midst. Throughout this one month, I sometimes wonder, if only people could spare a moment to look at the flowers and trees around them instead of staring into their phones. Only then will they discover the feathered wonders among our midst – those eye-catching and bright yellow Black-naped Oriole and the ubiquitous loud and noisy Asian Koel. And if you care to look closely at the Eurasian Tree Sparrow, you will realise that the patterns on its back are actually intricately beautiful. If you observe a Javan Myna, it is not all black but has white patches on its wings when it flies. These are some of tiny details that many of us fail to notice but which is really visible if we could only spend some time to observe them. On the hindsight, I was also like one of these people. I am glad taking on this bird watching badge has taught me to be more observant of the nature around us.

White-breasted Waterhen at Kranji Mashes.

White-breasted Waterhen at Kranji Mashes. Photo: Hao Yunrui

Through this experience, I have managed to see a lot of rare and interesting birds. Mr Lim took the extra step to encourage me to join the Nature Society on a birding walk to Kranji marsh. It was really an eye-opener and a wonderful experience which will certainly open up my eyes and taught me to see our natural world especially our avian friends through a different set of lens.

Common Moorhen at Kranji Marshes.

Common Moorhen at Kranji Marshes. Hao Yunrui

These are some of the shots I’ve captured over the weeks. However, I wasn’t able to capture most of the birds that I saw as they were either too far away or flying. The graceful physiques of these birds were instead captured by my eyes with binoculars.

The trip to Kranji Marshland was really eye-opening ( quite literally ). It’s the first time I am visiting a marshland. And I felt privileged to be able to visit the core area of this park which is yet to be opened to the public. I initially felt really awkward and out of place because everyone else around me were equipped with gigantic, state-of-the-art bird viewing equipment and most participants were in their 40s and 50s. However, it was evident that they were really passionate about what they were doing as they could call out the names of all the birds that came within our view. Some could even spot birds miles away with their sharp eyes and telescopes were also on hand to allow close views of distant birds. It was quite heartening to see a handful of young adults mixing in the crowd because it truly shows that this hobby is not just for the “old” but the young as well. It was the first time I ever felt so close and intimate with nature, as though I were a part of it and it a part of me. Watching our feathered friends in such a quiet place gave me a sense of connection. When the White-bellied Sea Eagle stared intensely into my eyes through the binoculars, I could almost feel it whispering to me. Seeing nature fully at work was very magical, because everything seemed to be in such perfect balance without the interference of man. We spotted a Purple Heron poking its head out of the water hyacinths in search of prey. It made me realised that nature can function by itself perfectly and does not need our help to survive, but rather we are the ones who constantly seek help from nature. We should treasure of whatever nature we have conserve it to the best of our ability.

Bird watching is no longer something to be simply tick off my bucket list. I hope to be able to visit such places again and be acquainted with its many fascinating birds.

My thanks to Mr. Lim Kim Chuah for his guidance, time and sharing his knowledge with me, Mr. Wong Chung Cheong and members of the Bird Group for showing me the birds at Kranji Marshes.

Reference: Yong Ding Li, Lim Kim Chuah and Lee Tiah Khee. A Naturalist’s Guide to the Birds Of Singapore. 2013 John Beaufor Publishing Limited.

Singapore Raptor Report – Late Spring Migration, April-June 2016

WBSE, 210616, Sentosa, James Tann

A rare photo of an adult and a young White-bellied Sea Eagle “cartwheeling” over Sentosa, 21 Jun 16, by James Tann.

Summary:

On 21st June, James Tann captured a rare series of photos of two talon-locked White-bellied Sea Eagles ‘cartwheeling’ through the air over Sentosa. Some books described this as ‘talon-grappling’ and ‘tumbling’. Interestingly, an adult and a young eagle was involved in this instance whereas this behaviour is usually attributed to mated pairs but only mature adults have been known to form breeding pairs.

Now, for the migrants. Five migrant raptor species were recorded in the April to June period. Four of them – the Osprey, Oriental Honey-buzzard, Japanese Sparrowhawk and Peregrine Falcon were also recorded during last year’s late spring migration. The notable addition this year was the Rufous-bellied Eagle: a juvenile was photographed at Lorong Sesuai on 23 April enjoying a meal.

Of the 14 orientalis  Oriental Honey Buzzards recorded, 11 were juveniles (there were 10 in the same period last year), one was an adult female while the remaining two were not aged. Most of the juveniles were moulting their flight feathers (most were showing new P1 & P2, counting from the inside). It is worth mentioning again that juveniles are known to ‘over-summer’ in the tropics.

Only one Japanese Sparrowhawk, an adult female, was recorded on 2nd April. Two Ospreys were recorded at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve in Apr and May, but none in June; elsewhere, there was a record at Singapore Quarry in Apr and another record at Seletar Dam in May.

Two Peregrine Falcons were recorded in April – one at Pulau Ubin on 8th and another at Chinatown on 21st. An ernesti Peregrine Falcon returned to its usual haunt at the rooftop of buildings at Church Street on 26 May and a juvenile, likely also ernesti, flew over Punggol Barat on 15 June.

Back to the resident raptors. The usually encountered resident raptors were all present. Notable records included the locally rare Crested Serpent Eagle which was recorded thrice in April (Kent Ridge Park, Ubin & Bidadari), twice in May (Sungei Tengah & Malcolm Road), and once in June (Chancery Lane).

Also, April to June was a good quarter for the Crested Goshawks – in April, two juveniles were photographed at the leafy compounds of the Singapore Zoo and an adult male was seen collecting twigs at the Southern Ridges where two nest structures were seen; in May, the species was recorded at the Botanic Gardens and Bishan; and in June, a total of four juveniles from two different nests were recorded at the Botanic Gardens.

Many thanks to everyone for sending in / sharing their records; and to  James Tann for the use of his photo.

For the full report in pdf, please click Singapore Raptor Report, Late Spring Migration, Apr-Jun 2016