Singapore Straits Pelagic Surveys – New Seabirds Discovered.

Aleutian Tern 15 May 11 Jimmy 2

Peter Kennerley and Richard Ollington’s 1998 paper on Aleutian Terns ( above by Jimmy Chew) wintering in South East Asia based on sightings of 11 birds in the Straits of Singapore in 1996 prompted the Bird Group to charter a work boat to do a recce trip to find out what other seabirds passed through and wintered at the Straits of Singapore.

Most of our old records of seabirds were from dead specimens collected from the Horsburgh Lighthouse. But due to the high cost and logistics, it took more than a decade before regular pelagic trips were planned.

Pulau JongIndo Pacific Bottlenose Dophins

Pulau Jong a green emerald in the southern straits.    Indo-pacific Dolphins once common.

Colin Poole MD of WCS was the first to organised a series of pelagic trips in the latter months of 2010. This was followed by NParks in December 2010 when they embarked on a year long marine biodiversity survey. The Bird Group supplemented with our Pelagic surveys in May 2012. We completed a total of eight trips.

Southern Islands 6.45 am

Sunrise over Southern islands.

The trips start from the Marina at Sentosa at 6 am as we had to clear immigration at the anchorage so that we can cruise outside the port limits. This can take 10 minutes to hours depending on how many ships were waiting for clearance. Great time to view the sunrise over the southern islands.

Singapore CDB Skyline

The boat will head out to the middle of the Straits and then turn East towards Horsburgh Lighthouse, taking care to stay within Singapore waters. The Singapore CBD skyline with the hundreds of ships at the anchorage is quite a sight. First landmark is the beacon off Batam, a very important navigation aid for the Supertankers. Action normally starts around 9 am when we get close the the yellow buoy off Changi. This is where the Swift and Lesser Crested Terns (below left) rest. From here onwards, Swinhoe’s Storm Petrels can be seen on migration during October. Common Terns (below right) also arrived for the winter.

P1090323Common Tern

It is here that Con Foley and company photographed the Pomarine and Long-tailed Jaegers in 2010. These were later accepted and added to the Singapore Checklist. Three other new species were also accepted by the Records Committee based on the Bird Group’s Pelagic surveys in 2011 and 2012: The Red-footed Booby in December 2012 and the Short-tailed Shearwater & Heuglin’s Gull in Jan 2013.  Aleutian Terns are usually found resting on floating debris, with their tails pointing up. This was where we had our second record of the Red-necked Phalarope, a wader that can rest at sea.

Bridled TerneBridled Tern 

As we get nearer to Horsburgh, flocks of Bridled Terns ( above) come into view. They looked grey from the top and roost on the rocky outcrops around the lighthouse. The population can reach a few hundreds at the peak of the migration season. Other uncommon terns that were recorded are the White-winged, Whiskered and Gull-billed Terns mixed with the resident Black-naped and Little Terns.

P1090564

It will be lunch time by the time we reached Horsburgh Lighthouse. Many ship captains have been waiting for days to see this lighthouse. It means that they will be enjoying shore leave among the bright lights in Singapore soon.. Fishing around the lighthouse is reported to be great as can be seen by the boats from the nearby fishing village. The trip back in the afternoon is normally quiet and most of us will try to catch up on our beauty sleep until someone started shouting ” Terns”.

 

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