Monthly Archives: October 2014

Violet Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx xanthorhynchus)

Violet Cuckoo
(Male Violet Cuckoo taken at Jurong Eco Gardens, October 2013. Photo by Alan OwYong)

We are fortunate to have all the four SEA species of the Chrysococcyx Cuckoos in Singapore. Unfortunately there was only one record of the Asian Emerald Cuckoo C. macutalus ( Upper Seletar 31 May 2006 TKC) and the Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo C. basalis is a rare summer visitor from Australia and hard to find.

The most common is the Little Bronze Cuckoo ( C. minutillus) which can be found in the country side. That leaves the uncommon Violet Cuckoo, the subject of this blog.

The male is one of the most striking looking cuckoo and a poster bird for many photographers. It has a glossy dark purple back with a barred underside contrasting with a bright orange bill.  Like all cuckoos, they depend on foster parents to bring up their youngs, Sunbirds are the main host parents. Our resident species are mainly found in the central core forests supplemented by winter visitors during the migrant season. They look the same but prefer open woodlands and forest edges.

Violet Cuckoo
(Female Violet Cuckoo taken at Neo Tiew Lane 2 in August 2013. Photo by Francis Yap)

Most of the time you will hear the loud sharp whistle before you see them flying high up across the sky.  If you are lucky you may see one perched on the highest dry branch of a tall tree. So when Lee Van Hien posted a photo of one he shot at eye level at the Jurong Eco Gardens, the birding community went into an overdrive. The Cuckoo found a small patch of Leea indica that is infested with caterpillars its favorite diet. The feeding takes place in the morning apparently up to 10 am. The last time ( apart from Francis’s sighting) this Cuckoo was seen so low was at Pasir Ris Park on January 2008 where many of the great photos were taken.

Ref: The Avifauna of Singapore. Lim Kim Seng 2009.

Common Iora – a sub species unique to Singapore


Common Iora. Male

The humble Common Iora ( Aegithina tiphia) is common in our parks and gardens and can be even seen along tree lined roads in our heartlands. But this charming native songbird has a range of delightful calls and striking plumage to make it a favorite among bird watchers. Its loud lingering whistle is the first indication of its presence. They are active feeders moving from leave to leave seeking small caterpillars among the foliage. Getting a good photo can be challenging. Nest is a small ball cup made up of dry grasses and leaves glued on to a small branch. They have been seen hosting our resident cuckoos giving us those dramatic photos of them feeding the young cuckoos twice their size.

2014-10-31 11.19.47

Old Bird Group Logo designed by Sunny Yeo on T-shirt

It is the only representative of its family here when the Green Iora (Aegithina viridissima) went extinct from the island in 1970. The sub species recorded here is the Singaporensis, a name given to reflect its uniqueness here. This is why the Bird Group adopted it as its logo before the Nature Society (Singapore) decided to have a uniformed logo of all the interest groups. All we have to remind us of this is the T-shirt that was printed with the logo for one of the past Bird Races. So those who still owns this special T-shirt should take good care of it.

Ref: The Avifauna of Singapore. Lim Kim Seng 2009.

Pelagic Survey on the Singapore Strait – 19 October 2014

Five members of the Bird Group woke up early in the morning to set off to another pelagic survey. It was a hazy morning and as noon came it turned out to be extremely hot as well.

pelagic map 19 October 2014

Birds were spotted very soon after we cleared immigration at Sisters’ Islands. The Crested Terns came out in good numbers at the beginning of the trip. The total count for the Lesser Crested Terns was 25 and the Greater Crested Terns at 11. The other seabirds joined in soon after and we ended up with the following:

1. Lesser Crested Terns – 25
2. Greater Crested (Swift) Terns – 11
3. Aleutian Terns – 12
4. Bridled Terns – 27
5. White-winged Tern – 2
6. Unid (it means cannot be determined) Terns – 16
7. Swinhoe’s Storm Petrels – 12
8. Parasitic Jaeger – 1
9. Unid Jaegers – 2

We also saw 3 Japanese Sparrowhawks above us heading south on their migration path towards Indonesia. A Great Egret on the other hand was headed towards Singapore from Indonesia. The survey started at 6:00am and ended at 2:30pm.

Photo Gallery:

A precious resident -The Greater Painted Snipe (Rostratula benghalensis)

Greater Painted Snipe

An immature female Greater Painted Snipe looking like an adult male. (Thanks to Amar Singh for the sex id)  . Photo: Alan OwYong

There are only three species in the Rostratulidae family worldwide, the Lesser Painted Snipe in South America, the endemic Australian Painted Snipe R. australis and the Greater Painted Snipe, R.  benghalensis found across South and South-east Asia, India and Africa. It is not a true snipe but closer to rails. Highly secretive and confiding it is one of the most sought after birds among the birders and photographers. Morten Strange had the only photograph of a female in Singapore until the 90s when more were found outside their previous stronghold at the old Halus sludge ponds. Their preferred habitat of freshwater marshes and flooded grasslands are disappearing but we are lucky to still find them at Jurong West, Pasir Ris Farmways, Seletar Fields, Kranji and Punggol waterways.

These uncommon residents are listed as nationally threatened mainly due to habitat loss to development. Breeding have been recorded in Singapore with the most recent record from Punggol on 5th February 2003. They are one of the few bird species where the male is dull looking and the female is bright and colorful. The female’s job is done once it lays the eggs and  leaves the incubating and care of the chicks to the male. And nature make sure that it has the camouflage it needs.

Greater Painted Snipe

Eyes closed when feeding.

They are more active in the early morning hours and at dusk. Females being shyer feeds mainly at night. Many of the shots taken during feeding showed them with their eyes closed. The reason became clear when a video showing them feeding in waters deeper than the reach of the beaks. They just closed their eyes, submerged their heads in the water and probe the bottom for food. I cannot think of any other water birds doing this.

Some of our urban parks have pockets of marshy patches as part of their design. In time, crakes and rails will find refuge and adapt to this new environment and hopefully breed there. There may still be some hope for such species and our precious Painted Snipes.

Reference: The Avifauna of Singapore. 2009 Lim Kim Seng. A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia 2000. Craig Robson. An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore 1997 Lim Kim Seng.

Singapore Birding Report – September 2014

Eastern-crowned Warbler by Joesph Tan

Eastern-crowned Warbler by Joesph Tan Kok Beng.

The excitement on the last day of August went up a notch in September when the migrants were coming in thick and fast. The former Bidadari Cemetery came alive with the return of the big guns. They were lured back to their favourite stomping ground by the appearance of the Flycatchers, Shrikes and Wagtails. The Ferruginous Flycatcher landed on 21st, a new extreme date, followed by the Dark-sided Flycatcher on the 24th and the globally threatened Brown-chested Flycatcher on the 27th. All uncommon species and great ticks for the Big Yearers. Besides these, the photographers had their pick of Asian Paradise Flycatchers (5th), Yellow-rumped Flycatchers (6th), Tiger Shrikes (6th) and Forest Wagtail (13th). The bonuses were a Crow-billed Drongo on the 19th and Siberian Blue Robin on 21st. Both were first winter birds. The Drongo stayed for less than 2 days but the Robin was happy with the handouts and stayed a little longer.  Other migrants seen at Bidadari were a flock of 40 Daurian Starlings on the 13th, Asian Brown Flycatchers and the Eastern-crowned Warblers. Other migrant passerines like the Arctic Warbler was recorded at Nee Soon during the FMBC on the 14th, Brown Shrike at Tuas South on the 20th and again the Eastern-crown Warbler at Sungei Buloh on 22th

Great Knots at SD by Zacc HD

Great Knots at Seletar Dam by Zacc HD

As for the shorebirds, a total of eight Black-tailed Godwits were counted at Sungei Buloh on the 1st up from the five seen the day before. The star bid of the month were the four rare Great Knots found feeding off the Pang Sua Estuary on the 27th morning (Lau Jiasheng). Two were still there in the evening but gave the chasing Big Yearers the miss by moving over to Seletar Dam the next morning (Zacc HD). They were not seen again. Over at Mandai Mudflats, Rufous-necked Stints, Ruddy Turnstone and a lone Broad-billed Sandpiper were recorded during the Fall Migration Bird Census on 14th. The Ruddy Turnstone also turned up at Seletar Dam on 21st and at Chek Java on the 27th together with the Grey Plovers. The Greater Sand Plover that was feeding at Seletar Dam last month made a one day cameo on the 28th.

Greater Sand Plover at SD by Rey Aguila

Greater Sand Plover at Seletar Dam by Rey Aguila.

The Marsh Terns were returning to the Serangoon Reservoir this month. Both the White-winged and the Whiskered Terns were seen on the 9th while the Swift and Bridled Terns were seen flying off Punggol on the 13th. An unusual large number of Black-naped Terns (100+) were seen off Tanah Merah on the 21st. This could be the largest flock of this resident tern seen near the coast of Singapore.

The first migrant raptor was an Oriental Honey Buzzard seen over Bidadari on the 5th. Four Japanese Sparrowhawks were spotted flying through Tuas South on the 16th, the first for this Autumn. Subsequently the home owner at Blk 20 Dakota Cresent woke up to find a Japanese Sparrowhawk perched on his balcony on the 22nd. Another was reported flying over Japanese Gardens on 30th. This was where a Crested Serpent Eagle was photographed on 21st. There were reports of earlier sightings of this Eagle. Chaiyan later pointed out that this particular eagle was the burmanicus and not the malayensis race. It is larger, more rufous than black. Could most of our previous record of this eagle been this race and not the Malaysian resident?

Interesting reports of our resident species include a hard to find House Swift flying over Seletar Dam (27th) and a feeding Pacific Reef Egret there on the 15th. First record of a pair of Lesser Tree Ducks at the pond at Labrador Park and a tame Java Sparrow feeding with the Mynas at Old Airport Road Hawker Center, a recent release no doubt. Over at the Japanese Gardens, a Cinnamon Bittern was foraging at the lotus pond ( 2nd) and an uncommon non-breeding visiting  Malayan Hawk Cuckoo picked out on 24th.

Contributing Observers: Tan Boo Eng, See Toh Yew Wai, Francis Yap, Zacc HD, Lau Jaisheng, Lim Kim Keang, Lim Kim Seng, Rey Aguila, Frankie Lim, Low How Choon, David Li, Lawrence Cher, Toh Yuet Shin, Albert Low, Christina See, Lim Ser Chai, Goh Juan Hui, Geoff Lim and Alan OwYong.

Ferruginous Flycatcher (Muscicapa ferruginea)

Ferruginous Flycatcher
(Front view)

This autumn, a Ferruginous Flycatcher landed at Bidadari on the 21st September, setting a new extreme date for this flycatcher.  The previous date was 25th September. But it did not stay and left the next morning. The second sighting of this uncommon winter visitor and passage migrant on the 6th October brought a large group of photographers to Bidadari. Dubbed “Iron Boy” because of its rusty plumage, it is more distinctive than the other Muscicapa flycatchers, making it a favorite among the photographers.

The first record for Singapore was on 9 October 1986 when two birds were seen at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. For the next 10 years, they were still recorded from Bukit Timah until the closure of the trails changed the ground cover.  Other records came from Botanic Gardens, Kent Ridge, Sembawang, Nee Soon and Rifle Range. Interestingly most of them were adults, a trend unchanged to this day.

Ferruginous Flycatcher
(Side view)

It has a wide range from Nepal to S. China, Taiwan, Greater Sundas and Philippines. Migrates to SEA and Hong Kong. (King et al 1975). Unlike the Asian-browned and Dark-sided Flycatchers, the Ferruginous Flycatcher prefers to perch lower down in the undergrowth and flies down to pick up insects from the ground.

Ref: The Avifauna of Singapore. Lim Kim Seng 2009. Photos: Francis Yap.

Straits of Singapore Pelagic Survey 5th Oct 2014


Pelagic Team from left: Wing Chong, Alfred Chia, Tan Ju Lin, Francis Yap, Con Foley, Alan OwYong, Lim Kim Keang, Lee Tiah Khee, Willie Foo and Lim Kim Seng.

Ten members of the Bird Group set out this morning to the Straits of Singapore to begin this Autumn’s Seabirds Count. The skies were a little overcast in the early part as we cruised eastwards in semi darkness after clearing immigration. The count started with a bang when 6 Swinhoe’s Storm Petrels were seen on migration just south of St John’s Island. Unfortunately these were the only ones we encountered for the day. A worrying decline. This was followed by multiple sightings of Swift (9) and Lesser Crested Terns (11). We could not identify at least 18 of these terns due to poor morning light. The appearance of these large terns just off Kusu Island was a bit of a surprise as we normally see them further east.

The star bird of the day flew across at around 7.30 am. Some of us did not take much notice. Luckily Francis quick fingers got it on his sensor and was identified as a uncommon non-breeding Gull-billed Tern, a local tick for Francis. Later on the way back he shot another wide bodied tern which was later identified by Dave Bakewell as a first winter Common Tern.

Gull-billed Tern
(Non-breeding Gull-billed Tern)

Common Tern
(First-winter Common Tern)

A lull followed before we cut into flocks of Bridled Terns just north of Batam. On the way back more Bridled Terns were also seen at this part of the Straits. They were all flying east. In all we counted 81 Bridled Terns, the highest number tern species seen this morning. The one spot where we can expect some action was near the yellow buoy in the middle of the Straits. This is where many of the terns rest and where Jaegers have been seen harassing them for food. It was missing most probably taken after after the savaging the wreck below.

Bridled Tern
(Bridled Tern perching on flotsam ready to fly)

Bridled Tern
(Bridled Tern in flight)

As we approached the seas off Changi, the boat skipper was looking for floating debris as most of the visiting Aleutian Terns use them to rest. The seas were rather clean this morning but eventually we found some and with it the Aleutian Terns. The first one was a juvenile with a brown neck, a plumage we have not come across before. The total count for the Aleutian Tern was 12, including one off Kusu Island on our way back.

Aleutian Tern
(Adult Aleutian Tern in flight)

Aleutian Tern
(Juvenile Aleutian Tern)

Aleutian Tern
(Adult non-breeding Aleutian Tern)

Aleutian Tern
(A successful hunt for fish by an adult Aleutian Tern)

In between 15 Marsh Terns, mainly White-winged and a Little Terns were seen.

White-winged Tern
(Adult White-winged Tern losing its black breeding plumage on it’s underparts)

White-winged Tern
(An adult White-winged Tern in non-breeding plumage with it’s characteristic ‘headphones’)

Total count for the day was 155 seabirds from nine species. All in a good day out. Many thanks to Alfred for organising this count and everyone for their help and company.

Photos: Francis Yap and Alan OwYong.



Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher Rhinomyias brunneata

Brown-chested Flycatcher at Bida

I bumped into Eric Tan this morning at Bidadari. Eric, a long time bird photographer, was on a home break from his work in Queensland. He was photographing the Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher at the OHT area with other photographers. He happily told me that this was his lifer. It just reminded me how precious and rare this flycatcher is even though we get to see it every year at Bidadari.

It is listed as a rare passage migrant and winter visitor to Singapore, but we think that the numbers passing through may be higher. It is globally threatened and served as one of the criteria for an Important Bird Area (IBA). It breeds in SE China and passes through Thailand on way to winter in Peninsular Malaysia. This particular genus Rhinomyias has two others, the Fulvous-chested Jungle Flycatcher, R. olivacea and Grey-chested Jungle Flycatcher R. umbratilis in it. They are residents of Greater Sundas for Fulvous-chested and Sumatra and Borneo for Grey-chested. Rare residents in Southern Thailand and Peninsular Malaysia.

Interestingly, there were no records of this Flycatcher before the 70s. Our first record was on 4th Jan1980 at Ulu Sembawang reported by Lim Kim Chuah. There were only ten records between this sighting and 1992. The earliest photo was one taken at Nee Soon Swamp Forest on 9th October 1994 ( Alan OwYong, Kenneth Kee and Alfred Chia) followed by others at Bukit Timah and Sime Road Forest in the subsequent years. Other sightings were at Tyersall Avenue, Kent Ridge Park and again at Ulu Sembawang.

When Bidadari gives way to HDB housing in a couple of years time, will we get to see this dainty Flycatcher returning to its favorite wintering ground again? I hope so.

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