Monthly Archives: November 2014

A Stream of Ashy Bulbuls at Chek Java.

Ashy Bulbul 11 Ashy Bulbul

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.

Ashy Bulbul 8 Ashy bulbul 10

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.


Singapore Bird Report – October 2014


Chestnut-cheeked Starling Zacc HD

(Chestnut-cheeked Starling at Bidadari by Zacc HD)

The diversity and number of migrants seen during October proved again that this is the peak migration month. The soon to be developed former Muslim Cemetery at Bidadari as expected provides the most migrant sightings with the Japanese Gardens and Tuas South coming in close.

Ashy Bulbul Daniel Wee

(Cinereous Bulbul at Lazarus Island by Daniel Wee)

The star migrant was the single vagrant Chestnut-cheeked Starling (Sturnus philippensis) photographed at Bidadari on 11th feeding together with the Daurian Starlings. Unfortunately it did not stay long enough for further documentation. This is potentially our second record, the last on 8th December 1987 in Loyang.

An Asian House Martin (Delichon dasypus), a very rare passage migrant was seen flying over the CCNR from Jelutong Tower on 3 consecutive days from the 16th. Last record was over MacRitchie Reservoir on 23 October 2005. The more common Sand Martins (Riparia riparia) were seen hawking over the Serangoon Reservoir on the 30th.

Asian House Martin

(Asian House Martin at Jelutong Tower by Francis Yap)

A Sakhalin Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus borealoides) spotted at Sime Forest was awarded the “Bird of Day” prize during the Annual Bird Race. This species was previously listed as the Pale-legged Warbler in the Checklist. Identification of this rare warbler is best by its song that they normally sing in Springtime. A lone Cinereous or Ashy Bulbul (Hemixos flavala) was photographed at Bidadari on 17th with reports from East Coast MOE Adventure Center on the same day and another sighting at the Japanese Gardens the next day. A report from Lazarus Island on 26th of 20 birds beats the previous record of 15 birds at St John’s island on 1989. This is an uncommon non-breeding visitor that prefers island locations and coastal forests. Another rare non-breeding visitor the Brown Streaked Flycatcher (Muscicapa williamsoni) was photographed at the Japanese Gardens on 5th suggesting a winter visitor status. A more common non-breeding visitor the Malaysian Hawk Cuckoo (Hierococcyx fugax) flew over to SBWR on 3rd and another seen at Lorong Halus on 13th.

Oriental Cuckoo Francis Yap

(Oriental Cuckoo at Bidadari by Francis Yap)

A male Jambu Fruit Dove (Ptilinopus jambu) was photographed at the Japanese Gardens on 2nd, first for the season, followed by another male at Bidadari on 19th.

Migrant flycatchers were well represented by two Ferruginous (Muscicapa ferruginea) at Bida on 6th and 25th, Dark-sided ( Muscicapa sibirica) at MacRitchie Reservoir on 7th and Brown-chested Jungle (Rhinomyias brunneata) crashing in an office on Jurong Island on 15th.

Ferruginous Flycatcher

(Ferruginous Flycatcher at Bidadari by Francis Yap)

Bidadari, our own cuckoo land hosted four species this month: Indian Cuckoos (Cuculus micropterus), both an adult and juvenile, a lone Chestnut-winged Cuckoo (Clamator coromandus) on 20th, a juvenile Oriental Cuckoo (Cuculus saturatus) on 24th, firsts for the season and an Asian Drongo Cuckoo (Surniculus lugubris) on 28th. A Crow-billed Drongo (Dicrurus annectans) at Tampines Eco Gardens on 28th, a Black Bittern (Ixobrychus flavicollis) at Jurong Central Gardens, a female Siberian Blue Robin (Luscinia cyane) at Japanese Gardens on 13th and a juvenile leucopsis White Wagtail (Motacilla albawere the other notables.

The members of the Bird Group conducted two Pelagic surveys during the month. Highlights were a rare Parasitic Jaeger (Stercorarius parasiticus) on the 19th, an uncommon Gull-billed Tern (Sterna nilotica) and first winter Common Tern ( S. hirundo) on 5th. The Aleutian (S. aleutica), Bridled Terns (S. anaethetus) and Swinhoe’s Storm Petrels (Oceanodroma monorhis) were seen in good numbers on both trips.

Parasitic Jaeger

(Parasitic Jaeger at Singapore Strait by Francis Yap)

The Raptor Group is in the midst of a 47 days Raptor Count at Tuas South and I will leave the October Raptor Report to Gim Cheong. But watchers at Tuas were pleasantly surprised to find other interesting migrants flying over Tuas. Red-rumped Swallows (Hirundo daurica) were first recorded coming in on the 5th and were seen throughout the month. Ten were seen over at Serangoon Reservoir on  the 9th. A large flock of over 60 Fork-tailed or Pacific Swifts (Apus pacificus) were recorded migrating over Tuas on the 31st. This was preceded by the first sighting of this Swift at Simei on 23rd. Oriental Pratincoles (Glareola maldivarum) were seen on 11th and 25th thermaling. We believed some of them were roosting at some grasslands at Tuas.

Pacific Swift

(Pacific Swifts in large numbers over Tuas South by Francis Yap)

With the migration season at its peak so are the crashes into our high rise buildings. This is David Tan’s busiest month rushing around to collect the dead specimens for his sequencing research. It seems that both the Black-backed Kingfishers (Ceyx erithacus) and Blue-winged Pittas (Pitta moluccenis were the most affected. A total of 5 kingfishers and 4 pittas were picked up for the month all over Singapore. Even a Fork-tailed Swift was not spared. It crashed into a house at Woodlands on 17th. The surprise was a Hooded Pitta (Pitta sordida) found dazed at Serangoon Gardens Way on the 31st. The staff at Acres managed to revive and release it later. This is a new extreme date for this pitta as they are normally seen in late November. A Von Schrenck’s Bittern (Ixobrychus eurhythmus) was found dead at Jurong West on 13th another early arrival that did not make it.

On the home front, the Large-tailed Nightjars (Caprimulgas macrurus) were raising their young at Japanese Gardens, Green Imperial Pigeons (Ducula aenea) have spread to Pasir Ris Park (13th), a Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porohyrio) somehow found itself in a monsoon drain at Tampines Eco Park. It was rescued and set free by staff from Acres. A splendid male Violet Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx xanthorhynchus) found a caterpillar patch at the Jurong Eco Gardens but did not stay for long after 28th. The pair of Greater Painted Snipes (Rostraula benghalensis) reappeared at the marsh ponds at Jurong Central Gardens on the 15th but went into hiding after a few days much to the disappointment of its many admiring photographers.

Ref: The Avifauna of Singapore. Lim Kim Seng 2009. Bird Crashes records mostly from David Tan supplemented by Felix Wong, Albert Low and Azmi Mohamad.  All other records were taken from postings in the various facebook, bird forums and individual facebook pages from Francis Yap, Seng Alvin, Zacc HD, Tan Chee Keon, Rey Aguila, See Toh Yew Wai, Lim Ser Chai, Lim Kim Seng, Khun Eu Meng, Lim Kim Keang, Johnson Chua, Lawrence Cher, Vincent Ng, Lau Jiasheng, Daniel Wee, Lee Van Hien and Alan OwYong. Many thanks to one and all.                                                                                     



Migration of Juvenile Oriental Honey Buzzards over central Singapore.


Over 400 migrating Oriental Honey Buzzards were counted from the top terrace at Telok Blangah Hill (TBH) on 9th November 2014 as part of the Annual Raptor Watch. This is the largest count for any inland locations apart from Tuas South. Kent Ridge Park which lies west of TBH also reported a high count in the hundreds. It seems that the change of wind direction at the on set of the North East Monsoon may have push the migration further inland.


The kettle sizes ranged from 15 to 40 birds all flying in from North West to South East. It was quiet the whole morning and the first wave came at 1.50 pm. Then it was wave after wave with all of them gliding in one direction. At times they looked like an invasion armada of planes . Once they found a thermal, they will then ride on it circling up to gain height before continuing with the journey southwards.

Yoshio Yamane-san told me that they found the OHB hotel in northern Johor near the highway from the satellite tracking program. This is partly why we get to see them flying over our island in the early afternoon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA27 OHBs part of the flock of 40

Towards the end some came down to eye level to where we were. One of two even dropped down into the trees below to take a rest. This reminds me of the spectacle at Tanjong Tuan where the Honey Buzzards came down low after crossing the Malacca Straits. Many of them were less than ten storeys high when they glide over the hill top giving us excellent views and opportunity for some good photos.

Surprising all the photos of the OHBs showed a lack of the dark trailing wing edges.These are juvenile first year birds making their migration after all the adult birds have left This behavior was the same for the European Honey Buzzards as well  They will spend the next two winters in Indonesia and matured. Then they will fly back to Korea and Japan during Spring 2016 together with the rest of the adult birds ( per con Yoshio Yamane)

Territorial Black-winged Kites


Changeable Hawk Eagle defending itself against a much smaller Black-winged Kite.                       Photo: Francis Yap.

Our common Black-winged Kite (Elanus caeruleus) is the sub species of the larger Elanus genus of Black-shouldered Kite (E. axillaris). It ranges widely from across Eurasia to the Indian Sub-continent, Asia to the Greater Sundas. They were listed as winter visitors in our past records but no migration was observed. The vast open landscape at that time may have helped them to stay. They are mainly found hunting over open grasslands and nest on remote Acacia tree here. They may be small in size but they are aggressive towards other raptors that encroached into their territory. It helped to have a fierce looking face too.


Looking fierce head on                                                Attacking a Common Buzzard from the top

Several pairs may be co-existing close to each other using the tall Casuarina trees as lookout perches. They will fly around looking for prey like lizards on the ground or indulge in some aerial mock fights.  But as soon as a low flying raptor comes into their territory, the mobbing begins. Size does not matter to these kites. We have seen them chasing away larger raptors like the Changeable Hawk Eagles and in this case the migratory Common Buzzard.


Closing in on to a Common Buzzard. 

They adopt the House Crow’s tactics using numeral advantage to harass the intruders. The attack starts from the top, diving down to the point of contact before peeling off with their talons out stretched. A second kite will repeat the same action giving the intruder no chance to defend itself.  Ironically they receive the same treatment when the House Crows try to steal their chicks from the nests.

Ref: The Avifauna of Singapore. Lim Kim Seng. 2009. Wikipedia: Black Shouldered Kite.