Part of the 200+ flock at Chek Java by Lim Kim Keang and Dr. Wellington Tan.
On a visit to Check Jawa on 4 Nov 2014 with Dr Wellington Tan at about 11.48 hrs we heard the typical meowing calls of Ashy Bulbuls coming from the trees on the right side of the boardwalk junction. At first we were not able have any definite look at the birds as they were so fast and the foliage was dense. After a while we were able to confirm and took some record shots. There were at least 15 of them actively moving about in the fig tree.
As the Mangrove Boardwalk was closed for upgrading we headed for the coast. At about 12.05 pm we heard the loud meowing calls of Ashy Bulbuls but were unable to locate them. Just before we reached the hill with the staircase leading to the hill-top we were surprised to witness a closed flock of noisy Ashy Bulbuls streaming towards the sea from the tall tree by the coast at the base of the hill. We thought we were seeing an unusually large flock (later estimated from photographic record shots to be 180 birds) flying off for Johor.
Close up of the Chek Java Flock by Lim Kim Keang and Dr. Wellington Tan.
We were even more surprised when the noisy flock came streaming back to the tall tree! For the next half-hour we observed this unusual shuttle flights of flocks of Ashy Bulbuls with variable number of birds streaming towards the sea and returning at various intervals. There was also movement of birds from the tall tree to the tree on the hill top. When the birds settled in the trees they practically disappeared amongst the thick foliage. At the tall tree where foliage was sparser some Ashy Bulbuls could be seen perched for extended periods of time but most of the time we could just make out their shapes as they actively moved about.
There were no flying insects about and no fruits so they were obviously not foraging. These unusual flights do not seem to have any purpose from the human viewpoint. Such a spectacle also give rise to many unanswered questions. Is this an irruption? or post-breeding dispersal? Where did these birds come from? Where are they heading? Is this a yearly occurrence? Where do they feed and roost? Why were they making the shuttle flights?
This unusual event even attracted some visitors who happened to pass by and some were seen whipping out their smart phones to record the event!
We moved on to the CJ jetty and had a broader view of the site. The shuttle flights continued. One flock flew twice the distance of the buoy (close to site) from shore before returning and meeting a flock just flying out to sea before the buoy. Most flights covered shorter distances. The flights probably continued but we were out of observation range when we left at 1pm.
At about 1.10 pm at the meeting point for visitors outside the gate a loose noisy flock of about 50 were flying just above the tree tops in the direction of the information kiosk.
Ashy or Cinereous Bulbul (Hemixos flavala cinereus) is a non-breeding visitor occurring in Singapore annually in small numbers (KS Lim, The Avifauna of Singapore, 2009). Records are from September to January and in April from forests and secondary growth. It has been mostly observed in Bukit Timah, Central Forests and offshore islands like Pulau Ubin, Sentosa, St John’s Island and Pulau Semakau. The largest numbers on record were 15 birds on St John’s Island on 17 Dec 1989 and Bukit Timah on 24 Nov 2002. A large flock was also seen at Chek Jawa and Joseph de Hoyo some years ago.
In souhtern Malaya Peninsula such as Panti Forest Ashy Bulbuls have been encountered in small numbers only.
The accumulated numbers seen this year constituted the largest on record. On 17 Oct Vincent Ng saw one bird at Bidadari. On 18 Oct Lim Kim Chuah reported seeing at least 3 birds in the vicinity of MOE Adventure Center (Changi Coast Walk) and NSRCC. On the same date the author took some record shots of 2 distant perched birds at the Japanese Gardens. 20 Ashy Bulbus were seen on 26 Oct at Lazarus Island by Daniel Wee. On 4 Nov 200 were recorded at Chek Jawa (Pulau Ubin) (see above article). 15 birds were seen on 5 Nov at Kent Ridge Park by Francis Yap and 3 were seen at same site on 11 Nov by Alan OwYong, Con Foley and the author. 50+ at Kent Ridge by Horst Flotow and Ee Ling during the Raptor Watch 9th, 3 at Gardens by the Bay by Laurence Eu on 12th, 4 at Canterbury Road by Alan OwYong and Francis Yap on 14th, 8 at Tuas South Ave 16 by the author on15th, sightings at MacRitchie Resevoir, Rifle Range Link and SBWR were reported by Lim Kim Seng on 17th and 5 at Bukit Batok and Rifle Range Link by Lim Kim Chuah on 22nd. No doubt we will be getting more records in the coming days.
Report by Lim Kim Keang.