Monthly Archives: May 2015

Singapore Team “Piculets” Winners of the 28th Fraser’s Hill Bird Race.

Contributed by Alfred Chia. 31 May 2015

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The Winners “Piculets” Team Leader Lim Kim Keang with Tan Ju Lin and Alfred Chia.

The 28th Fraser’s Hill Bird Race took place over the weekend of 23 May to 24 May 2015.
Kim Keang, Ju Lin & I decided to take part after a couple of years absence – in part to rekindle our love of this hill station, its glorious birds & its laid-back atmosphere. We formed a team & called ourselves Piculets, that diminutive & cute woodpecker, represented in Fraser’s Hill by the Speckled Piculet.

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Fraser’s Hill Sunset.                                              Montane Birding at the New Road, so refreshing.

We flew into Kuala Lumpur International Airport on 21 May & picked up our rental car from Europcar – a Proton Persona 1.6 litre. We had the remaining few daylight hours of 21 May & the whole day of 22 May to do some recee birding of sorts to tune us up for the race proper.

image23 May Saturday & after a short opening ceremony, the race was flagged off at 1.20 pm. There were a total of 44 teams participating, in addition to some school teams. The race will end on 24 May Sunday at 12pm: a 23-hour race.
We birded the first few hours on Fraser’s Hill, covering Telekoms Loop first and then driving to Jeriau Waterfalls for the lowland birds.
We did very well on Telekoms Loop, running smack into a couple of good bird waves. We garnered most of the usual montane birds there was to see, even spending some precious time admiring the very vocal Blyth’s Shrike Babbler, calling unabashedly from an exposed perch.

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Streaked Spiderhunter                                          Long-tailed Sibia

The long drive to Jeriau Waterfalls was however not productive as we managed only to add Yellow-vented & Stripe-throated Bulbuls to our list. As it was still bright, we made a quick call to bird down the New Road. This was also a good decision as birds out for their last feed for the day were active at various stretches. We retired for the night on Day 1 with 59 species, a credible score (in our opinion).

Day 2 & day-break, we were ready. The sun rise at Pine Resort (where we stayed) is a sight to behold & we just cannot resist a shot or two, even if it is race day!

We drove down-hill towards the Gap, via the New Road. We met several teams along the way. However, birding was very slow. Birds were few & far between. Many had been seen on Day 1 & cannot be counted.

image_4Blue-winged Leafbird male at Gap Road (Left)

We reached the Gap & turned back up to Fraser’s via the Old Road. Unlike previous races, we were able to drive & stop (at safe lay-bys) along the Old Road. That saved a lot of time & made birding easier.

Bird life at the Old Gap Road has deteriorated through the years. Trees have also grown taller & denser. This made birding difficult too. Birds trickled into our checklist at a painfully slow pace… Along the way, we waited in vain for at least 20 minutes for a calling Banded Broadbill to show itself. A bad miss indeed!

image_5Buff-rumped Woodpecker (Right)

When we reach the top, we made a last ditch attempt at Telekoms Loop again. Past race experiences had told us that the difference between any two teams may hinge on just one bird. We were lucky as we managed to add the last couple of critical species into our list. We were later to find out, after the race results were announced, that the Black-eared Shrike Babbler, our 75th bird, was the clincher for our top position. The runners-up came in with 74 species while the third-placed team finished with 73. How right we were!

Race aside, we also encountered a rarely seen Malay Weasel on Hemmant Trail one morning. This almost yellow-golden animal was a beautiful creature with its elongated body & long fluffy tail. We were ecstatic indeed! The elusive Ferruginous Partridge was also heard on a couple of occasions.

We returned to Singapore on 25 May, tired but happy to have been able to re-connect with our beloved hill station once again. ( All Photos Alfred Chia).

Checklist of the birds seen at the 28th FH Bird Race.

> 1. Little Cuckoo Dove
> 2. Mountain Imperial Pigeon
> 3. Green-billed Malkoha
> 4. Red-billed Malkoha
> 5. Chestnut-breasted Malkoha
> 6. Glossy Swiftlet
> 7. House Swift
> 8. Red-headed Trogon
> 9. Brown Barbet
> 10. Blue-eared Barbet
> 11. Fire-tufted Barbet
> 12. Gold-whiskered Barbet
> 13. Black-browed Barbet
> 14. Speckled Piculet
> 15. Banded Woodpecker
> 16. Lesser Yellownape
> 17. Buff-rumped Woodpecker
> 18. Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike
> 19. Grey-chinned Minivet
> 20. Scarlet Minivet
> 21. Large Cuckooshrike
> 22. Blyth’s Shrike-babbler
> 23. Black-eared Shrike-Babbler
> 24. White-bellied Erpornis
> 25. Black-and-crimson Oriole
> 26. Bronzed Drongo
> 27. Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo
> 28. Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
> 29. White-throated Fantail
> 30. Large-billed Crow
> 31. Pacific Swallow
> 32. Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher
> 33. Sultan Tit
> 34. Velvet-fronted Nuthatch
> 35. Blue Nuthatch
> 36. Black-crested Bulbul
> 37. Scaly-breasted Bulbul
> 38. Stripe-throated Bulbul
> 39. Yellow-vented Bulbul
> 40. Ochraceous Bulbul
41. Ashy Bulbul
> 42. Mountain Bulbul
> 43. Yellow-bellied Warbler
> 44. Mountain Tailorbird
> 45. Dark-necked Tailorbird
> 46. Rufescent Prinia
> 47. Everett’s White-Eye
> 48. Pin-striped Tit-Babbler
> 49. Golden Babbler
> 50. Grey-throated Babbler
> 51. Buff-breasted Babbler
> 52. Mountain Fulvetta
> 53. Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush
> 54. Long-tailed Sibia
> 55. Silver-eared Mesia
> 56. Blue-winged Minla
> 57. Asian Fairy Bluebird
> 58. Oriental Magpie Robin
> 59. White-rumped Shama
> 60. Rufous-browed Flycatcher
61. Verditer Flycatcher
> 62. Slaty-backed Forktail
> 63. Little Pied Flycatcher
> 64. Lesser Green Leafbird
> 65. Blue-winged Leafbird
> 66. Orange-bellied Leafbird
> 67. Yellow-vented Flowerpecker
> 68. Orange-bellied Flowerpecker
> 69. Fire-breasted Flowerpecker
> 70. Black-throated Sunbird
> 71. Little Spiderhunter
> 72. Purple-naped Spiderhunter
> 73. Streaked Spiderhunter
> 74. White-rumped Munia
> 75. Chestnut Munia

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The Horsfields’ have landed in Singapore

Just a few days ago, we republished Lim Kim Seng’s article on the Identification, Status and Distribution of Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo in Singapore. Our prime motivation was to alert fellow birders of its impending arrival, and to provide guidance on the identification of this seldom seen nor photographed cuckoo.

Much to everyone’s surprise and delight, two photographs of the cuckoo (both taken a few days prior to the posting of the article) appeared the same night and the following morning. First by Albert Tan for a bird from Tuas South and then another from Eric Tan for a bird from Punggol End. Thanks Albert and Eric for both your prompt sharing! The following two days, birders fanned out to actively find the birds. To our initial dismay, both the birds were not seen again at the places photographed.

Horsefield's Bronze Cuckoos. Left is the bird discovered by Albert Tan at Tuas South. Right is the bird discovered by Eric Tan at Punngol End

Horsefield’s Bronze Cuckoos. Left is the bird discovered by Albert Tan at Tuas South. Right is the bird discovered by Eric Tan at Punngol End

However, news soon spread that Sue Huang saw this species at Punggol Barat (where the Pin-tailed Whydahs were spotted) in the morning of 30th May. After a series of message passing from friends, I hurried to the place in the afternoon. Amidst alternating rain and scorching sun, I managed to find one bird. I was elated, and started informing friends and those who had helped me track the bird’s locality. It took some time for the birders to stream in. In the meantime, the bird I saw soon disappeared. I was faced with the embarrassment of telling arriving birders that I lost sight of this much desired bird. There was at least 20 minutes of frantic search with no results.

The cuckoo in the rain. The first bird I located at Punggol Barat. Note the pale eyes, which denote female of the species.

The cuckoo in the rain. The first bird I located at Punggol Barat. Note the pale eyes, which denote female of the species.

So I did the counter-intuitive thing, which was to look for the bird at the opposite side of the field from where it last landed. I figured that since the arriving birders were actively searching for that elusive bird, I should at least entertain the thought that there may be more than one bird present. Luck was on my side, and I soon spotted another bird perching far away, much to my relief and the delight of those present. As it soon flew away too, we followed it best we could through the thick mimosa bushes. As we did, two other birds were soon seen as well. As more birders arrived and fanned out the search area, we collectively saw 10 birds that evening. These were a mixture of adults and juveniles.

Two Horsfield's Bronze Cuckoos perching next to each other. They seem social enough to fly off together too.

Two Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoos perching next to each other. They seem social enough to fly off together too.

From what we have gathered, the cuckoos like to perch low on the mimosa plants and will dive down and even walk on the ground looking for caterpillars. Their behaviour is quite unlike the similar looking Little Bronze Cuckoos that like to pick caterpillars and jump about on tree branches. We also noticed that a few like to fly together as a pair or in threes. The significance of this is yet unknown.

The cuckoo has been observed catching caterpillars from the ground as well as from the leaves of the mimosa. The red to dark brown eyes indicate adult male.

The cuckoo has been observed catching caterpillars from the ground as well as from the leaves of the mimosa. The red to dark brown eyes indicate adult male.

After the initial evening of cuckoo spotting, Vincent Lao reported that he had seen the bird species on May 10 and provided photographic evidence. So this pushes back the early arrival date as well as extending its longest stay in Singapore. The presence of at least 10 cuckoos also meant that this was the largest flock of Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoos recorded in Singapore so far.

As this post is rushed out to inform birders of this remarkable event, please pardon the lack of more concrete data. We hope to monitor the cuckoos stay in Singapore and get more behavioural and habitat requirement information. Most of the birds sighted in the past disappeared after a week of stay. Perhaps this flock will be different. As usual, if you do spot this species in other places (look out for coastal areas), please let us know about the locality and time of sighting. For identification purposes, please refer to the article by Lim Kim Seng again.

Photo Gallery

Interview with a Singapore Bird Photographer – Johnson Chua

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Johnson Chua is an active nature photographer based in Singapore that have been making waves lately. His recent find and posting here of the Red-billed Quelea generated enough interest to appear on three of our local newspapers.

His other work (the kingfisher perching on a lotus leaf pictured below) have generated millions of views worldwide. He took some time off to answer some of our question.

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am turning 50 this year. I am married with an understanding wife and 3 wonderful children – 19, 17 and 12.

2. How long have you been interested nature photography, and how did you start?
Started in 2010 with the Canon 100-400mm zoom lens. I was ignorantly happy until my US colleague, Thinh Bui, poisoned me with his 500mm F4 lens. I took a few shots with it of the yellow bittern. When I reviewed and compared later, I got bitten. In 2012, I upgraded to 400mm F2.8 IS II and full frame camera Canon EOS 5DMk3. No regrets!

3. What do you like about it in particular?
Its constant unexpectedness. Its wondrous surprises. The feeling is indescribable when the feather friends look at you!

4. What are your photography techniques and how you learn them?
I shoot mostly in f/8, in manual mode, using back button focus, no flash, on video head and tripod, and with mirror lock up if shuttle speed is low.

Nothing beats learning from the field and from experienced fellow photographers. Watching how they shoot was an opener and listening to how they talk about it was educating and at times entertaining. Each photographer is unique and I try learnt what they do best and to practice it. And if is suit me, I adopt.

5. Were there anybody that influences your style or you aspire to emulate?
Tin Man….for his unique photo and excellent/compassionate writing skill.

He photoblog here where he generously share his knowledge and experience: http://tinmanphotoblog.com/

I am touched by this moving blog post:
http://tinmanphotoblog.com/last-moments-of-a-bison-calf/

6. Which is your favourite bird species and why?
Kingfisher. Colourful. Beautiful. Skittish. Feisty. Large varieties.

7. If not bird photography, what would you have spent time on?
Reading sci-fi/fantasy/classic books to broaden and excite me. Listening to music to calm me.

8. While pursuing your hobby, what is your most memorable moment to date?
Three memorable moments that I will cherish….

Sunrise in my eyes series:

I was shooting Javan Munia in Chinese Garden when I do not know why I turned around to look back. There it was a Common Kingfisher….perching on a stick….glowing under the morning sun. Unforgettable.

I was shooting Javan Munia in Chinese Garden when I do not know why I turned around to look back. There it was a Common Kingfisher….perching on a stick….glowing under the morning sun. Unforgettable.

A King and its toilet seat series:

It was drizzling that day and I was hesitant to take out my camera. But I did. I spotted the Common Kingfisher on the rock besides the white bridge at Japanese Garden. Tried to shoot it but it flew off. Then I found it perching on lotus leaf. Took a few shots and knew that I had to go 180 degree to the other side of the pond for a better angle. I did not hesitate. Keeping my finger closed and walked quickly there. Beauty was still there. It allowed me to go nearer and nearer until it shitted and flew off. Magical.

It was drizzling that day and I was hesitant to take out my camera. But I did. I spotted the Common Kingfisher on the rock besides the white bridge at Japanese Garden. Tried to shoot it but it flew off. Then I found it perching on lotus leaf. Took a few shots and knew that I had to go 180 degree to the other side of the pond for a better angle. I did not hesitate. Keeping my finger closed and walked quickly there. Beauty was still there. It allowed me to go nearer and nearer until it shitted and flew off. Magical.

Eagle and Snake series:

Was shooting it perched on top of a branch when it suddenly looked down and flew to the bushes below the tree. It seems to disappear. Out it came out with a snake onto the grass. Wished that it will perched on that tree roots as I could not see its legs and the snake properly. And it did just that. I smiled. Unexpected surprise.

Was shooting it perched on top of a branch when it suddenly looked down and flew to the bushes below the tree. It seems to disappear. Out it came out with a snake onto the grass. Wished that it will perched on that tree roots as I could not see its legs and the snake properly. And it did just that. I smiled. Unexpected surprise.

9. What do you think of the recent controversy where some said that nature is under stress from photography boom?
This remind me of a recent incident when the juvenile spotted wood owl fell down. There were a lot of photographers that day shooting and surrounding it. But we kept a safe distance. At no time was it under stress or frighten. It naturally figured a way up the tree using its claws, its beak and flapping its wing. Our heart was with the little fellow. Our heart lifted when it flew up.
We should always keep the safety/comfort zone of our feather friends in mind.

10. Is social media good or bad for your hobby?
Social media expands my hobby…….increases my circle of friends, improves on my knowledge of birds, keeps me inform of “hot” birds and places, improves on my composition by studying others’ photo.

At times, I am caught off guard by some photos that show a very unique angle or posed or composition of the same bird that I just shot! Inspirational.

11. Nature photography is expensive. So did you ponder long to make the purchase?
Damn expensive. It took me a long while to consider. In the end I rationalised it by considering it as under health expense……this hobby will take me outdoor, sweat me out and keep me healthy. No point saving all my money for the doctor! I want to be at 70+ still enjoying outdoor and photography like Alan Seah and Johnny Wee.

12. Any tips on how to increase bird count?
Yap….wearing your underwear matching the color of the bird that you are going to shoot. Flash it occasionally to catch birdies attention. LOL! This is a hobby….take it easy!

You got to walk the ground. You got to have friends that walk the ground. Joining birding group helps a lot.

Thanks Jon for answering all the questions. You can find his online photographic portfolio here: http://eaglejon.500px.com/ and here: https://500px.com/EagleJon

Below are some of his images he shared with us with captions and his thoughts on them.

Notes on the Identification, Status and Distribution of Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo in Singapore

A reproduction of an article by Lim Kim Seng, originally published in Singapore Avifauna Volume 22 No 7, July 2008.

Notes on the Identification, Status and Distribution of Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis in Singapore

By Lim Kim Seng

Introduction

The Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis is a scarce, somewhat enigmatic species in Singapore. Few Singapore birders have seen this bird. The picture is blurred by confusion with the commoner Little Bronze Cuckoo C. minutillus especially in its immature plumage. This article highlights some tips on its identification, its status and distribution in Singapore and suggestions on how to find this elusive bird during the austral winter.

Identification

Adult: Dull bronze-green above edged broadly with whitish on flight feathers. Crown is dull dark brown grading to bronze-green on mantle and back. Wings are mostly bronze green. Upper tail is dull dark green with basal two-thirds of outermost tail feather rufous. Sides of head whitish showing bold dark brownish eyestripe. Supercilium is whitish and slightly indistinct in front of eye and clear behind. Has short dark moustache extending from gape. Throat, whitish streaked buff. Below, white with broad dull green bars on breast, sides and flanks. Bars are thin and joined on breast but are longest on sides and very short on flanks and under tail coverts. Centre of breast and belly unbarred. Thighs white barred dark brown. Undertail and undertail coverts, white with dark bars. Bill, black. Feet, grey. Eyes, dark brown. Eyering, grey.

Immature: Buffy brown to blackish brown upperparts and whitish to pale buff underparts. Underparts barring are either missing or a smudged buffy brown, very short and confined to sides and flanks. Flight feathers edged whitish. Eyestripe brown. Eyebrow whitish but indistinct. Also shows short moustachial streak behind gape. Bill, black. Feet, grey. Eye, black.

Confusion Species: This species is separated from adult Little Bronze Cuckoo C. minutillus by lack of white on forehead, duller upperparts, incomplete barring on underparts and extensive rufous on outermost tail feathers. It is distinguished from immature Little Bronze Cuckoo by its dark forehead, browner upperparts and the presence of a bold eyestripe. It also differs from females of Asian Emerald C. maculatus and Violet Cuckoo C. xanthorhynchus by the lack of rufous or chestnut on its crown and also the lack of complete barring on its underparts (Robson 2000).

CHARACTERISTICS LITTLE HORSFIELD’S
FOREHEAD WHITE DARK
CROWN GREEN DARK BROWN
EYESTRIPE ABSENT OR INDISTINCT DARK & DOWNCURVED
THROAT WHITISH BARRED DARK WHITISH STREAKED BUFF
WINGS NO FRINGING ON WINGS SHOW PROMINENT WHITISH FRINGING
UPPERPARTS BROWN WITH BRONZE SHEEN (DULLER IN IMMATURE) DULL BROWN WITH GREEN GLOSS (BUFFY BROWN IN IMMATURE)
UNDERPARTS BARRING COMPLETE OR NEAR COMPLETE (MISSING OR BROKEN IN IMMATURE) BROKEN BARRING (MISSING OR FAINT IN IMMATURE)
OUTERTAIL DARK GREEN RUFOUS

Table #1: Field marks of Little and Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoos

Status and Distribution in Southeast Asia

The Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo breeds in Australia and migrates north to New Guinea, Wallacea, Java, Borneo and South Sumatra. It has also been recorded from Christmas Island (Robson 2000, Wells 1997). In Southeast Asia, it has been recorded only in Singapore (Robson 2000) until one bird was seen in Peninsular Malaysia recently. An adult photographed in mangrove in Sitiawan, Perak in July 2005 pushes its wintering range northwards by at least 500 kilometres (Recent Reports, Suara Enggang, July-August 2005).

It is not considered globally threatened (BirdLife International 2000).

Status and Distribution in Singapore

The Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo is a rare passage migrant and winter visitor in Singapore (Lim, 2007; Lim & Gardner 1997). Most birds appear to be on passage with the longest stay at any location being 7 days.

To date, there are ten acceptable records for Singapore contra del Hoyo et al (1996) which mentioned only one record. Two records came from the east, one from the north-east, one from the west, three from the south, one on an island south of Singapore, one unknown labeled “Singapore” and the last from the northwest (Figure 1). 40% of the records were of immature birds contra Robson (2000) who reported that juveniles do not occur in the region.

It is likely that the cuckoo is overlooked as the apparent influx of four different birds between June and July 2008 show.

All known records (including two listed in Wells 1999 without any details) are listed below:

  • An adult female collected in Singapore on 19 July 1879 (Gibson-Hill 1950).
  • An adult bird photographed at Changi Beach on 17 August 1986 (Wells 1990, 1999).
  • An adult bird seen on Sentosa Island on 20 August 1990 (Recent Reports, Singapore Avifauna 4:3).
  • A record in 1991. No other details available (Wells 1999).
  • A record in 1993. No other details available (Wells 1999).
  • An adult photographed at Marina City Park on 23 May 2005 (Figures 2-4; Recent Reports, Singapore Avifauna 19:2).
  • An immature, seen and photographed at Marina City Park on 4-12 June 2005 (Recent Reports, Singapore Avifauna 19:2)
  • An immature seen and photographed at Choa Chu Kang Cemetery on 9 July 2005 (Figure 5; Con Foley in litt.)
  • An immature seen and photographed at Marina East on 8 June 2008 (Figures 6 & 7; Mike Hooper in litt.)
  • An immature seen and photographed in an unnamed location in northeastern Singapore on 25 June 2008 (Figure 9, Frankie Cheong in litt.)
  • An adult seen and photographed in Changi Beach Park on 13-15 July 2008 (Figure 9; Doreen Ang pers. comm.)
  • An adult photographed in flight in coastal vegetation at Kranji on 18 July 2008 (Figure 10, TK Lee in litt.)

Habitat Preference

Wells (1999) reported that the Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo occurs in open, sandy ground, specifically near areas of the seashore creeper, Sea Morning Glory Ipomoea pres-caprae, in beach scrub habitat and only once in Acacia woodland. However, del Hoyo et al 1996 listed its habitat as open woodland, mulga, scrub, spinifex, coastal saltmarsh in arid and semi-arid areas. Robson (2000) also listed its habitat as secondary growth, open woodland, coastal scrub, mangroves and lowlands. Recent observations in Singapore show that its habitat selection is much wider than coastal scrub and Acacia woodlands as it also frequents open parkland, second growth and open woodlands. There appears to be a preference for coastal sites with all records within a kilometer from the sea. The sole anomalous record (mangrove) came from Malaysia but Robson (2000) mentioned this as one of its habitats.

Finding the Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo in Singapore

Finding the Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo would entail a mixture, in liberal doses, of luck and effort. Based on past records, the best time to find the Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo in Singapore is between 23 May and 20 August, a period of nearly three months. Of ten records with details available, one was in May, three in June, four in July, two in August. Therefore the best time to focus finding this bird would be in June and July, with last ditch efforts in the month of August. This would not be too difficult as June-July is typically the quietest time of the year for the Singapore birder with migrant activity near non-existent. Habitats to focus on are the extensive coastline of Singapore, in particular sandy and reclaimed shores where coastal scrub occurs. Adjacent habitats of mangroves, second growth, casuarinas and even parkland should also be explored as it seems to forage in all types of coastal vegetation. The sites listed above should be the first points of investigation but it shouldn’t stop here. In all probability, it may even be an uncommon passage migrant winter visitor but lack of exploration in coastlines along Singapore means many birds remain undetected. Attention should also be focused on the bird’s feeding habits. It looks for insect prey, typically caterpillars, and tends to forage on the ground or in low vegetation (below two metres). Good luck!

Conclusion

It is hoped that information provided in this article on the identification, status and occurrence of the Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo would spur observer efforts within Singapore and even nearby Peninsular Malaysia for a poorly known species, the only known austral migrant of the area.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Doreen Ang for informing me of the Changi sighting and sharing her observations of the Changi bird. Thanks go to Frankie Cheong, Con Foley, Mike Hooper, Paul Huang, Ivor Lee, Lee Tiah Khee and Lim Kim Chuah for providing the pictures that accompany this article and for sharing their observations as well.

References

  1. BirdLife International (2000). Threatened birds of the World. BirdLife International, Cambridge and Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  2. del Hoyo, J., Christie, A. & Saragatal, J. eds. (1997). Handbook of the Birds of the World: Volume 4: Sandgrouse to Cuckoos. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Gibson-Hill, C.A. (1950). A Checklist of the Birds of Singapore Island. Bull. Raffles Mus. No. 20.
  4. Lim, K.S. (2007, 2nd edition). Pocket Checklist of the Birds of the Republic of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore), Singapore.
  5. Lim, K.S. & Gardner, D.G. (1997). Birds: An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore. Sun Tree Publishing, Singapore.
  6. Robson, C. (2000). A field guide to the birds of Southeast Asia. New Holland, London.
  7. Wells, D.R. (1990). Malayan Bird Report: 1986-87. Malayan Nature Journal 43:3.
  8. Wells, D.R. (1999). The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, Volume 1: Non-passerines. Academic Press, London.
Figure #1 Map of Singapore showing locations of Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo Sightings

Figure #1 Map of Singapore showing locations of Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo Sightings

Figure #2 Adult Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis feeding on a caterpillar of Catopsilia pomona at Marina City Park in May 2005 (© Paul Huang). The bold eyestripe, decurved eyebrow, whitish fringes to flight feathers and rufous on its outermost tail feather show well in this photo.

Figure #2 Adult Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis feeding on a caterpillar of Catopsilia pomona at Marina City Park in May 2005 (© Paul Huang). The bold eyestripe, decurved eyebrow, whitish fringes to flight feathers and rufous on its outermost tail feather show well in this photo.

Figure #3 Adult Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis at Marina City Park, May 2005 (© Paul Huang). Note the dark forehead, prominent decurved eyestripe and whitish fringes on wings.

Figure #3 Adult Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis at Marina City Park, May 2005 (© Paul Huang). Note the dark forehead, prominent decurved eyestripe and whitish fringes on wings.

Figure #4 Adult Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis at Marina City Park, May 2005 (© Ivor Lee). Note the streaked throat, broken bars from sides to under tail coverts and pale fringes to flight feathers.

Figure #4 Adult Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis at Marina City Park, May 2005 (© Ivor Lee). Note the streaked throat, broken bars from sides to under tail coverts and pale fringes to flight feathers.

Figure #5A Immature Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis at Choa Chu Kang Cemetery, July 2005 (© Con Foley). Note the dark eyestripe and brown wash on throat and upper breast.

Figure #5A Immature Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis at Choa Chu Kang Cemetery, July 2005 (© Con Foley). Note the dark eyestripe and brown wash on throat and upper breast.

Figure #5B Immature Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis on the ground at Marina East, June 2008 (© Mike Hooper). Note its distinct eyestripe, pale area behind eye, indistinct whitish fringes to wings, plain brown upperparts and rufous on bases of the two outermost tail feathers.

Figure #5B Immature Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis on the ground at Marina East, June 2008 (© Mike Hooper). Note its distinct eyestripe, pale area behind eye, indistinct whitish fringes to wings, plain brown upperparts and rufous on bases of the two outermost tail feathers.

Figure #6 Immature Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis feeding on unidentified prey at Marina East, June 2008 (© Mike Hooper). Note the clear eyestripe and eyebrow, dark eyering and rufous on outer tail.

Figure #6 Immature Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis feeding on unidentified prey at Marina East, June 2008 (© Mike Hooper). Note the clear eyestripe and eyebrow, dark eyering and rufous on outer tail.

Figure #7 Immature Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis at an unnamed spot in north-eastern Singapore, June 2008 (© Frankie Cheong). Note the rather blackish toned upperparts, dark forehead, broad whitish fringes to wings, and dark-streaked throat.

Figure #7 Immature Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis at an unnamed spot in north-eastern Singapore, June 2008 (© Frankie Cheong). Note the rather blackish toned upperparts, dark forehead, broad whitish fringes to wings, and dark-streaked throat.

Figure #8 Adult Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis at Changi Beach Park, July 2008 (© Lim Kim Chuah). Note the rather blotched bronze and green upperparts.

Figure #8 Adult Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis at Changi Beach Park, July 2008 (© Lim Kim Chuah). Note the rather blotched bronze and green upperparts.

Figure #9 Adult Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis at Kranji Coast, July 2008 (© Lee Tiah Khee). Note the clear eyestripe and eyebrow, black barred white wing coverts and broad white band at base of flight feathers.

Figure #9 Adult Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis at Kranji Coast, July 2008 (© Lee Tiah Khee). Note the clear eyestripe and eyebrow, black barred white wing coverts and broad white band at base of flight feathers.

Figure #10 Immature Little Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx minutillus at Marina City Park, May 2005 (© Paul Huang). Note the lack of eyestripe and underparts barring, and the lack of pale fringes to flight feathers.

Figure #10 Immature Little Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx minutillus at Marina City Park, May 2005 (© Paul Huang). Note the lack of eyestripe and underparts barring, and the lack of pale fringes to flight feathers.

Figure #11A Adult male Little Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx minutillus in Singapore (© Lee Tiah Khee). Note the more extensive bars on throat, across sides of head and underparts and lack of pale fringing to wings.

Figure #11A Adult male Little Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx minutillus in Singapore (© Lee Tiah Khee). Note the more extensive bars on throat, across sides of head and underparts and lack of pale fringing to wings.

Figure #11B Adult male Little Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx minutillus in Singapore (© Lee Tiah Khee). Note the more extensive bars on throat, across sides of head and underparts, whitish forehead and lack of a defined eyestripe.

Figure #11B Adult male Little Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx minutillus in Singapore (© Lee Tiah Khee). Note the more extensive bars on throat, across sides of head and underparts, whitish forehead and lack of a defined eyestripe.

Band-bellied Crake – Singapore’s Very Public Rarity

It was late February in 2014 and Singapore was experiencing an unexpected drought. Birds inhabiting marshy areas were running out of places to hide as ponds and marshes dried up. Snipes were reported in multiple places. Two were found wandering around the grassy patch near a pond at Chinese Garden and attracted photographers hoping for good photos of this normally elusive species. But they weren’t the only birds being exposed there…

Seasoned bird photographer Lee Tiah Khee was rather perplexed. The bird he saw swimming on the pond seemed odd. His friends said it was a resident Ruddy-breasted Crake but he wasn’t convinced. He kept his peace and did what was sensible. When the bird came out walking, he managed to snap a few photos. Later that evening, he posted the photos to a Facebook group meant for documenting the Singapore Big Year competition being held the same year, hoping for a better answer. It didn’t attract much attention. The month was ending and everyone was preparing for the weekend and didn’t think too much about a nondescript crake.

A few hundred kilometres away, Dave Bakewell, a veteran birder based in Penang logged on his Facebook account early the next morning. Scrolling through all the postings he came across Tiah Khee’s photos. Dave had seen this bird species before a few years back. He knew instantly that a mega (birders noun for a very rare bird) has been found. He typed out a reply. “This is the globally MEGA-rare Band-bellied Crake – FIRST for Singapore? Ready, steady, GO!“. And so the race began, for all the Big Year participants and soon the rest of the birding fraternity in Singapore. Many SMS, Whatsapp and Facebook messages were sent, and weekend plans were changed immediately.

A closer look at the bands across the belly that the name of the crake is derived from. From certain angles, it can be indistinct.

A closer look at the bands across the belly that the name of the crake is derived from. From certain angles, it can be indistinct.

Soon Chinese Garden was teeming with birders looking for a bird that resembled a Ruddy-breasted Crake. A photographer who arrived earlier hoping to shoot the snipes before the news came out reported seeing a crake swimming in the pond earlier in the morning, but it soon disappeared. There was a palpable sense of tension. Could the bird have flown away? A one day bird? After more searching, most gave up the chase and headed for lunch.

Unknown to the birders, the crake merely wandered off to another section of the garden and was feeding unnoticed. A few that came in later saw the bird, photographed it and left. Later another batch saw it too and soon the news spread again. The crake was found, and the rush was on once more. I received the news from the other side of the island and quickly drove to the place within 45 minutes. The bird was wandering about in an open drain looking for food. I took out my camera to shoot, only to find out that it has no battery! I had forgotten to check before starting the journey. Veteran photographer Jimmy Chew had an opposite problem. He arrived at Chinese Garden with friends for another reason, saw fellow birders and went over to check. Although armed with a camera, he didn’t carry a long lens. Making the best out of the situation, we took turns to swap our gears and got the photos we wanted.

Band-bellied Crake at Chinese Garden feeding on an open drain. Taken on the afternoon of 1 March 2014.

Band-bellied Crake at Chinese Garden feeding on an open drain. Taken on the afternoon of 1 March 2014.

We both needn’t have been so “kancheong” (excited). The crake stayed for weeks before finally departing to its breeding ground up north in Russia or China. In the meantime, news spread widely and even regionally and soon birders around the region came to this tiny island specifically to see the crake and also the Sakhalin Leaf Warbler (that’s another story!). The event was even newsworthy enough to be picked up by the local newspaper.

Lianhe Zaobao's (Chinese-language newspaper) article on the Band-bellied Crake discovery. The event brought out large number of photographers, bird watchers and nature enthusiasts.

Lianhe Zaobao’s (Chinese-language newspaper) article on the Band-bellied Crake discovery. The event brought out large number of photographers, bird watchers and nature enthusiasts.


The Band-bellied Crake (Porzana paykullii) is classified as a Near Threatened bird according to Birdlife International and is seldom seen nor photographed. Breeding population has been reported in the rather inaccessible parts of south-east Russia and north-east China. The wintering ground is also poorly known. Hence the excitement and the rush to see it. Most walked away happy, as the prolonged drought had forced the crake out in the open and it often foraged along very accessible drains and ponds, in a public garden no less. A few months later, it was formally included into the Singapore bird checklist.

The question remains as to the rarity of this bird in Singapore. Its close resemblance to the Ruddy-breasted Crake perhaps cause it to be overlooked by most. Post discovery of this bird, there was a report of a sighting in the same place in 2011. Perhaps we will see it again some day then.

A comparison between the adult Ruddy-breasted Crake and the immature Band-bellied Crake. Under certain lighting conditions, the Ruddy-breasted Crake 's reddish chestnut underparts may look a bit faced, but normally the colouration between the two birds differ. The fully adult Band-bellied Crake will have a stronger chestnut colouration below but still not as intense as the Rusty-breasted. The strength of the bill also differs, as does the bands across the belly.

A comparison between the adult Ruddy-breasted Crake and the immature Band-bellied Crake. Under certain lighting conditions, the Ruddy-breasted Crake ‘s reddish chestnut underparts may look a bit faced, but normally the colouration between the two birds differ. The fully adult Band-bellied Crake will have a stronger chestnut colouration below but still not as intense as the Rusty-breasted. The strength of the bill also differs, as does the bands across the belly.

Photo Gallery

Video of the Band-bellied Crake by Jeremiah Loei:

Successful nesting of the Malaysian Pied Fantails at Pasir Ris Park.

Contributed by Seng Alvin. 25 May 2015.

The Malaysian Pied Fantail, Rhipidura javanica, was given the Malay name “murai gila” or Mad Thrush for its frantic feeding behavior and disjointed song. It is the only representative for this family in Singapore, found mostly in the mangroves in Singapore. A common resident, it builds a small conical shaped nest on a thin branch at eye level. Seng Alvin, a very keen bird photographer and nature lover found a pair at his backyard gathering nesting material. This was his chance to document their breeding behavior. He spent the next two months visiting and patiently photographing this pair until the successful fledgling of two healthy chicks today. Pied Fantails are known to foster Rusty-breasted Cuckoos but luckily for this pair it was their own. His photographic records from the very first day are detailed below.

Nest Building 17 April 15 Mid way 19 April

I first noticed the adult gathering nesting material on the 17th (left).  Two days later the lower part of the nest was firmly secured to the thin branch.

Incubation 27 April

The nest took eight days to complete. It must be exhausting for the parents, having to gather spider webs and plant fibers and twisting them into a small cup. Most nests are at eye level and on the fork of a thin branch. This will discourage large predators from getting to the nest. Often it is above water out of reach from ground animals like feral cats and dogs. The parent was seen sitting in the nest (left) on 27 April incubating its eggs.

First chick hatched 12 May2nd Chick hatched 13 May

Incubation took a total of 16 days. Through rain and shine, the parents had to sit on the eggs to keep it warm. The first chick hatched on 12 May ( top left). The second chick hatched the very next day. This will give both a chance to grow up without an older and stronger chick killing the weaker one.

6 days old chicks 8 days old

Six days old chicks (top left) was as hungry as ever. The eight days old chicks on the right with part of the primary feathers formed. Their eyes were still close.

Feeding chicks with Spiders

The pair of 6 and 7 days old chicks were keeping the parents busy looking for insects to satisfy their huge appetite. I got this shot of one of parents bringing back a spider. As the chicks grew older and bigger, the parents will bring back butterflies and other bigger insects like dragonflies and moths for them.

11days old nest too small12 days old ready to face the world

11 and 12 days old (above). The nest seems to small for both of them. Time to move out to face the world.

Fledged but parent still doing the feeding

25 May. Almost 2 weeks after hatching. they finally fledged and was able to move out of the nest. It will be sometime before they can venture out to look for food by themselves. So in the meantime, the parents will still have to feed them. I am so glad that this pair was successful in nurturing a new generation of Pied Fantails to grace our park.

Birding Hotspot – Bidadari

Anyone headed in the direction of town along Upper Serangoon Road or Upper Aljunied Road may occasionally notice a little stretch of ‘jungle’ after passing the Woodleigh MRT station and some backdrop of flats. No more than just a patch of secondary woodland that has regenerated in an exhumed old Muslim cemetery (Goh, 2002), it is dominated by non-native Albizia (Falcataria moluccana) and Acacia (Acacia auriculiformis) trees.

Many local naturalists deem these species to be of minimal conservation value. Is this green patch not just one of the many botanically-similar ‘wastelands’ that dot Singapore’s landscape, its days perceptibly numbered and, who knows, awaiting impending transformation into spanking new blocks of condominiums? Certainly not, if you do bother to stop here and scrutinize the view. You will walk out amazed at nature’s diversity and resilience.” So began the article by Yong Ding Li (Nature Watch July-Sept 2013). It was itself an update and a continuation to a much older article by Goh Si Guim (2002). Bidadari’s history and its significance to birdwatchers and nature lovers goes back a long time. I remember having a chat with Leslie Fung, who birded in the place when it was still boarded up, and tall grasses hid snipes and other surprises.

Both the articles are hosted here (NatureWatch 2002) and here (Nature Watch 2013) for a more in depth look at the place, its history and its ecological significance. The Nature Society (Singapore) have also put in a conservation proposal here.

In 2013, when Ding Li’s piece came out, there were around 140 species of birds counted in the area. Two more seasons in, quite a number of new species have been sighted and photographed there. The newest species found there are as follows: Chestnut-cheeked Starling, Cinereous Bulbul, Oriental Scops Owl, Greater Coucal, Buff-rumped Woodpecker (2015), Buffy Fish Owl (2015), and Indian Pond Heron (2015). The Indian Pond Heron if accepted into our official checklist would bring the total to 153 bird species.

Since a lot of the activities these days have moved to Facebook, you may be interested in joining the Saving Bidadari for Birds and People Facebook Group, where you will find various postings of the wildlife in the area.

For the novice birdwatcher and nature enthusiast, the directions to Bidadari is simple. The embedded map shows the car park. The nearest MRT station is Woodleigh station. Bidadari is a wooded area, as such be prepared with proper footwear and drinking containers. There are no toilet facilities within the compound. The best time for birdwatching is anywhere between 7-12pm. As Bidadari is a migratory bird hotspot, the months between October to January are the best months to see the rarer migrants, but resident birds are around the whole year around. Go quickly, before another unique area disappear for good!

Let’s end this article by quoting Ding Li again in his article.

“Preservation of so-called degraded secondary habitats like Bidadari, Bukit Brown and Pasir Ris Greenbelt is a ‘tacky issue’ that has been hotly debated in our local conservation scene of recent times. We hope to persuade land-use planners to view such sites of apparently ‘low’ secondary value differently in a more holistic and robust approach to conservation.”

“Bidadari holds dear in the hearts of people who have perceived its uniqueness, one way or another. Future plans to replace the woodland with more concrete blocks and manicured lawns will mean the end of those precious Bidadari sights and sounds for jogging/strolling residents, photographers, birdwatchers and other nature-lovers. Are we happy to be left with fond memories and the mere name of a place? In the case of Bidadari’s wild denizens — a home vanished and gone forever?”

Photo Gallery

Informal Bird Survey at Lorong Halus – 22 May 2015

Picking up from where we left off in the previous article about the decline of our native seed-eaters, I spent a morning at Lorong Halus trying to take a count of our seed-eaters. I limited myself to the birds I have listed in my previous article. I chose this narrow strip of land along Sungei Serangoon stretching from Lorong Halus Bridge to the barrage. Count was taken between 8:00am to 9:00am

Results

Species (English) Scientific Name Family (Scientific) Status Total
Baya Weaver Ploceus philippinus Ploceidae Resident 15-20
Chestnut Munia Lonchura atricapilla Estrildidae Resident 3
Golden-backed Weaver Ploceus jacksoni Ploceidae Escapee 11
Common Waxbill Estrilda astrild Estrildidae Escapee 5
Orange-cheeked Waxbill Estrilda melpoda Estrildidae Escapee 3

From the results you can see I have only estimated the number of Baya Weavers. Its the nesting season and birds were in and out of the nests making estimation difficult. I assume a higher number than seen. They seem to be doing well during based on number of nests observed.

The Golden-backed Weavers came in second with 11 birds (4 breeding males). I observed quite a number of nests, with one tree holding 8 nests in various stage of completion. The males were in breeding display and calling the females, and mending/building their nests.

Male Golden-backed Weaver constructing nest at Lorong Halus

Male Golden-backed Weaver constructing nest at Lorong Halus

Golden-backed Weaver's Nests. There were 8 counted in this particular tree (circled red)

Golden-backed Weaver’s Nests. There were 8 counted in this particular tree (circled red)

The Common Waxbill came in at 5 birds, of which 1 bird was observed to be carrying nesting material but I was unable to photograph that particular one. It is in line with my observation that this species is one of the commonest waxbills around.

Common Waxbill at Lorong Halus

Common Waxbill at Lorong Halus

Rounding up the list were the Chestnut Munias and Orange-cheeked Waxbills at 3 birds each. The Chestnut Munias were a surprise as they are rather uncommon these days. The Orange-cheeked Waxbills were also unexpected as it has been at least 1 year since I last saw one.

Orange-cheeked Waxbill at Lorong Halus

Orange-cheeked Waxbill at Lorong Halus

Chestnut Munia at Lorong Halus

Chestnut Munia at Lorong Halus

What was more interesting was the absence of the Scaly-breasted Munia, normally the most common munia species around.

It is clear that at this stage, the African seed-eaters are at almost equal numbers to our resident species. This is in line with my previous encounters as well as the argument of my previous article. Also relevant is the observation of large scale nest building by the Golden-backed Weavers and a possible nesting activity of the Common Waxbill. A more comprehensive bird survey will be the next goal.

Note: All photographs were taken on day of survey.

Save our native munias and weavers!

Last week’s posting of the Red-billed Quelea sightings attracted a lot of media attention, with reports from our three major English newspapers (Straits Times, New Paper and Today) and online news website (Mothership.sg), as well as posts in Twitter and discussion on Mediacorp radio. We’re heartened by the feedback we’ve received so far.

The is a temptation to engage in further debate over the degree of danger posed by the queleas. Since we expect more to be released as AVA doesn’t restrict their importation, the jury is out on that one. Either there are more of them around soon or none survive in the field. We’ll find out soon enough.

What I try to present now instead is exactly what is the broader argument. That is, we are getting too many alien species in our midst and we are already paying the price for this neglect. Just sticking to the facts.

Let start with a table summarizing the number of bird species classified as seed-eaters in our Nature Society’s Singapore Bird Checklist (2013).

Species Scientific Name Family (Scientific) Status
House Sparrow Passer domesticus Passeridae Introduced
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus Passeridae Uncertain
Streaked Weaver Ploceus manyar Ploceidae Introduced
Baya Weaver Ploceus philippinus Ploceidae Native
Red Avadavat Amandava amandava Estrildidae Introduced
White-rumped Munia Lonchura striata Estrildidae Native
Javan Munia Lonchura leucogastroides Estrildidae Introduced
Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata Estrildidae Native
White-capped Munia Lonchura ferruginosa Estrildidae Introduced
Chestnut Munia Lonchura atricapilla Estrildidae Native
White-headed Munia Lonchura maja Estrildidae Native
Java Sparrow Lonchura oryzivora Estrildidae Introduced

We have 5 native seed-eaters out of a list of 12 birds. Not a great record to begin with. But lets dwell into this further. Of the five native species, the White-rumped Munia is nearly extirpated. The last sighting of this munia was in October 2010 during the 27th Singapore Green Bird Race 2010 at Pulau Ubin. Both the Chestnut Munia and the White-headed Munia are uncommon species nowadays although we do get a few sightings a year. The trend is that it is increasingly difficult to see them. The most successful native species are our Baya Weavers and the Scaly-breasted Munias. However, let’s examine closely the “success” of the Scaly-breasted Munia.

Look at the picture below comparing two such birds. One taken at Pulau Semakau and the other at Sengkang. If you pay attention, the one at Sengkang have a different coloured upperparts and breast pattern compared to the Semakau bird. That’s because they are of different subspecies. Where does the Sengkang subspecies come from? The subspecies topela is native to Indochina, China and Taiwan. And if you were to look around our remaining grassland, many are of this kind and some are a cross between these two subspecies. And how did they get here? As usual they are imported legally and subsequently released by devotees. Celebrating the success or lamenting the imminent demise of our native bird species sometimes depends on how closely you look.

Scaly-breasted Munia at Semakau on the left, and Sengkang on the right. Our native subspecies is fretensis while the imported ones are topela. Biggest difference is the pattern of the scales on the breast as well as the richness of the chestnut-coloured upperparts.

Scaly-breasted Munia at Semakau on the left, and Sengkang on the right. Our native subspecies is fretensis while the imported ones are topela. Biggest difference is the pattern of the scales on the breast as well as the richness of the chestnut-coloured upperparts.

Let’s move on to the next table. You have seen the official checklist. But what is the actual situation in the field? What are the other seed-eaters in our field competing with our weavers and munias? I have kept photographic records of these birds. They are not meant to be exhaustive but rather a solo effort to document them. There is no Red-billed Quelea in the list as I have not seen them yet. Records are from 2011 to present.

Species (English) Scientific Name Family (Scientific) Origin Breeding
Vitelline Masked Weaver Ploceus vitellinus Ploceidae Africa
Golden-backed Weaver Ploceus jacksoni Ploceidae Africa Possible
Asian Golden Weaver Ploceus hypoxanthus Ploceidae Asia Possible
Red-headed Quelea Quelea erythrops Ploceidae Africa
Yellow-crowned Bishop Euplectes afer Ploceidae Africa Possible
Zanzibar Red Bishop Euplectes nigroventris Ploceidae Africa
Southern Red Bishop Euplectes orix Ploceidae Africa Possible
Cut-throat Finch Amadina fasciata Estrildidae Africa
Blue-capped Cordon-bleu Uraeginthus cyanocephalus Estrildidae Africa
Orange-cheeked Waxbill Estrilda melpoda Estrildidae Africa
Crimson-rumped Waxbill Estrilda rhodopyga Estrildidae Africa Possible
Black-rumped Waxbill Estrilda troglodytes Estrildidae Africa
Common Waxbill Estrilda astrild Estrildidae Africa Possible
Orange-breasted Waxbill Amandava subflava Estrildidae Africa
Bronze Mannikin Lonchura cucullata Estrildidae Africa
Red-backed Mannikin Lonchura nigriceps Estrildidae Africa Possible
Pin-tailed Whydah Vidua macroura Viduidae Africa Possible
White-rumped Seedeater Crithagra leucopygia Fringillidae Africa
Black-throated Canary Crithagra atrogularis Fringillidae Africa
Yellow-fronted Canary Crithagra mozambica Fringillidae Africa

20 additional species in the field excluding the recently discovered Red-billed Quelea. All competing for the same limited resources. Out of which, 19 are from Africa, and 8 of these may be breeding due to recent increase in numbers. So have we gone too far? Outnumbered and with the competition getting fresh reinforcement every year, how long more can our native birds last?

No records of the quelea imported and that you cannot find said exotic bird in your urban bird survey? Well how about these then? How about saving the birds we have, instead of making Singapore a mini-Africa grassland?

Let’s work together on an alien bird survey in Singapore. Find out how many species there are in our midst and in what numbers compared to our native species. Then we can start an intelligent conversation on how to make things better before drastic actions need to be taken. Denial of the problem doesn’t make it go away, the same way that the introduced Javan Mynas and House Crows don’t go away much as some wish they would. When guns and traps have to be deployed, what more is there left to say?

Past articles on introduced seed-eaters: Link 1, Link 2

Newspaper articles on Red-billed Quelea

Pelagic Survey on the Singapore Strait – 17 May 2015

Contributed by Alfred Chia.  The last pelagic bird survey trip for 2015 organised by the Bird Group was by itself a very special one. The Nature Society and the Bird Group was privileged and honoured to have Mr Tan Chuan Jin (Minister for Social & Family Development) and Mr Desmond Lee (Minister of State for National Development) graced the trip by their presence.

After a quick introduction by me to our guests on why we are conducting these surveys, bird migrations and what we might expect to see on the trip, we departed from the jetty at One Degree 15 Marina Club at 6.30am for our usual immigration clearance at the waters off Sisters’ Islands. After a quick clearance, we set sail.

By now, the sun was trying it’s best to peek out from below the horizon. The kaleidoscope of lighting and colours that was unfolding itself needed no prompting as many scrambled for their cameras. Soon, everyone was busy snapping away at the awe and colours that Nature was presenting itself before us.

pelagic-1

As it was mid-May, we were expecting a good haul of sea-birds since past survey records indicated as such. It was however not meant to be. Birds were few and far between and we went through long stretches without encountering any, except for the occasional few swiftlets. Even the ubiquitous crested terns, encountered in good numbers in earlier trips in late April and early May, made a disappearing act on us.

Soon, the first Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel came into view, and then the second, and third. But they were quite a distance away and flying against the direction that they should be taking on their northward migration! Disorientated perhaps? A couple of Black-naped Terns made their appearance too.

Then at 7.50am, someone pointed to a largish black bird that was flying low over the water. This was even farther than the petrels! What made it worse was that it was flying away from us and although large, appeared only as a speck when viewed through the binoculars. The ever reliable Tiah Khee was quick to manage a distance shot of the bird. After processing the picture, it was confirmed, with its long wings and a deeply forked tail, to be a frigatebird of some sort. The picture below will thus remain the only evidence of the frigatebird which we will not be able to identify to species status.

pelagic-2

Plodding on further, we reached our landmark “yellow buoy”. To exemplified how bad it was a day, the buoy only harboured a single Lesser Crested Tern. Other birds seen included seven Bridled Terns.

pelagic-3

En-route, our hungry crew finished every morsel of the fragrant and delicious fried chicken wings that MOS Desmond had so kindly brought along to share with us. He let in that his wife had specially woken up at 4am to cook it! Thank you very much Desmond and Mrs Lee!

On our way back, we took a somewhat different route by coasting closer to mainland Singapore. This afforded a better view of our coastline, buildings and structures. Our trip was extended to take in the Southern Islands. We sailed pass Pulau Bukom, Pulau Jong, Pulau Semakau, Pulau Hantu, Pulau Salu, Pulau Sudong, Pulau Pawai, Pulau Senang and Raffles Lighthouse before making our way back to the mainland.

Here, we saw Little Terns, a colony of about 10 nesting Grey Herons near Bukom, a light-morph Changeable Hawk Eagle being harassed by 2 House Crows at Pulau Jong, Brahminy Kites at Hantu and Semakau and 4 white-phase Pacific Reef Egrets as well as a dark-phase bird.

pelagic-4
Pulau Jong

pelagic-5

After an exhausting 10-hour trip, we finally returned to One Degree 15 Marina Club – spent and sticky but satisfied nevertheless.

The Nature Society and the Bird Group would like to once again thank both ministers for joining us in the pelagic bird survey. You have made the trip more enjoyable and lively with your cheerful banter, sharings and interest.

pelagic-6

List of birds seen
Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel: 12
Black-naped Tern: 3
Bridled Tern: 7
Lesser Crested Tern: 10
Little Tern: 6 (2 Bukom, 2 Pawai, 2 Raffles Lighthouse)
UnIDed frigatebird: 1
UnIDed swiftlets: 32
Changeable Hawk Eagle: 1 (Pulau Jong)
Pink-necked Green Pigeon: 4 (Pulau Jong)
Grey Heron: 10 (at nest near Bukom)
Pacific Reef Egret: 12 (10 white & 2 dark morph)
Brahminy Kite: 6
White-bellied Sea Eagle: 1 immature

Author: Alfred Chia on behalf of Nature Society (Singapore) and the Bird Group