The months of May to August tend to be rather quiet birding wise as the migrants that winter here have almost all returned. We have featured the recent discovery of our only austral winter migrant the Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo, so now we will concentrate on the rarer residents that may have eluded most birders.
I am using the term resident very loosely, as some of these are refered to in our checklist as non-breeding visitors. But for the context here, since they have been repeatedly sighted, the term resident probably applies equally well. The criteria here is that these species are hard but not impossible to find, and we have had recent sightings to guide us on where to best search for them.
1. Mangrove Whistler
There is only one ‘bao jiak‘ (Hokkien loosely translated to ‘sure thing’) bird in this list. But most people are unaware of its very existence. The Mangrove Whistler (Pachycephala cinerea) can be found at Pulau Hantu Besar, a short boat ride from the mainland. The other recent locality is Changi Reclaimed land that is now sadly off-limits. It is also found at Pulau Tekong. Historically, there are even records from Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. It’s an easy bird to see if you make an effort, as their habitat is well defined.
2. Mangrove Blue Flycatcher
The Mangrove Blue Flycatcher (Cyornis rufigastra) is a rare resident that is found mainly at Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong. In 2010 and 2011, there were successful nestings beside the Chek Jawa mangrove boardwalk. So the next time you are there, look out for our only resident flycatcher. There was another more recent sighting in 2013 at Changi boardwalk but there was no follow up on that bird.
3. Black-naped Monarch
The Black-naped Monarch (Hypothymis azurea) a common bird at Pulau Tekong. If you are serving National Service, here’s your chance to see it. It has also occasionally been found at Pulau Ubin, and once near Jelutong Tower. A good looking bird, but sadly for most birders, more easily found in nearby Panti forest in Malaysia.
4. Barred Eagle-Owl
The Barred Eagle-Owl (Bubo sumatranus) was photographed at Bukit Timah Summit in 2012. Another was videoed at Macrithie Reservoir after Treetop Walk in January 2013. Since then it has been heard a few times at Macritchie and Bukit Timah. It seems likely that the Macritchie and Bukit Timah sightings are different birds. Your best bet is at Macritchie, since Bukit Timah summit is only sporadically open to the public. Previously it was also found at Pulau Ubin, so that is another place to look for this owl.
5. Lesser Adjutant
The Lesser Adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus) is listed as Vulnerable species according to Birdlife International. In Singapore, they are normally found at the Western Catchment Area, and recently photographed there in December 2014. Previous sightings were in Sungei Buloh and Turut Track (2010-2014). Latest sighting was a bird at Punggol Barat in January 2015. Your best bet is to look out for it in the sky across the western and northern parts of the island. You may get lucky!
6. Buff-rumped Woodpecker
The Buff-rumped Woodpecker (Meiglyptes grammithorax) is a new addition to our Singapore checklist. A bird was seen in 2012 at Macricthie. Subsequently, another bird was photographed at Jelutong Tower in 2013. Latest bird was at Bidadari in March 2015. This bird only entered the Singapore checklist in 2013 and with 3 separate sightings recently. So chances are there will be more encounters soon. Your best bet is in the forest of the Central Catchment Nature Reserves.
7. Yellow-vented Flowerpecker
The Yellow-vented Flowerpecker (Dicaeum chrysorrheum) has historically been found at the Bukit Batok Nature Park and Bukit Timah Nature Reserves, although sightings at the former site seem to have ceased once the mistletoe bearing trees there were removed. Recently, a bird was spotted for a day near Dillenia Hut in November 2014 feeding on a fruiting tree. Another bird was spotted and photographed at River Safari feeding on the Indian Cherry tree (Muntingia calabura) near the Viewing Deck/Boat Plaza junction in August 2014. Bukit Timah summit is the best place to see it at the end of the year when the figs start fruiting, although it can be a neck-straining experience. Look out for the Indian Cherry trees at River Safari if you go there as well.
8. Yellow-eared Spiderhunter
Although a rare resident bird, the Yellow-eared Spiderhunter (Arachnothera chrysogenys) was historically easy to see in the now defunct Mandai Orchid Garden in the years between 1999-2003. It has also historically been seen nesting at Pulau Ubin. Recently, a bird was spotted for a few days near Dillenia Hut in November 2014 feeding on a fruiting tree. Previous sighting in 2006 was at nearby Rifle Range Link. Your best bet is to wait for another flowering/fruiting event at the trees near Dillenia Hut.
9. Thick-billed Flowerpecker
The Thick-billed Flowerpecker (Dicaeum agile) is actually listed as a non-breeding visitor, although it is likely they occur in low numbers in our forest. A bird was spotted for a day near Dillenia Hut in November 2014 perching on a bare tree branch. Previous sighting was at Bukit Batok Nature Park at Lorong Sesuai in 2005 when up to 8 birds were doing their characteristic dancing on bare branches. You best bet is to look for fruiting mistletoes, as they seem attracted to these.
10. Cotton Pygmy Goose
The Cotton Pygmy Goose (Nettapus coromandelianus) is a rare resident in Singapore. It prefers freshwater marshes, ponds and reservoirs. Historically, a high count of 35 birds were seen at Poyan Reservoir in 1982, and 26 at Lorong Halus in 1996. Recently a single bird was photographed in January 2015 at a pond in Turut Track. Previous record was a pair at Kranji Marsh in January 2010. You probably have to be a bit patient with this bird. Hopefully when Kranji Marsh is open to the public once again, we will have an opportunity to see this species there. Alternatively look for marshy ponds and reservoirs around Singapore.
They say that chance favours the prepared mind. Prior knowledge of the places where they inhabit and the timing in which they appear greatly help in finding the desired birds. This is both applicable to resident birds as well as migrants. We hope this article will provide a good starting point for birders looking for some inspiration in their search for birds in Singapore. So be prepared and good birding ahead. Report back to us if you find any of these rare species.