Monthly Archives: July 2015

Four introduced species, gone, maybe extinct locally.

As a follow-up to the article on our resident species on the blink of extinction we noted that some introduced species are also suffering the same fate, mainly due to an unsustainable small population. So, which of the introduced species in our Checklist are likely to have already gone extinct locally?

Under Category C in “The Avifauna of Singapore” there are 24 introduced bird species that have established a regular population which may, or may not be self-sustaining. They are in our current checklist as most have recorded breeding records over a period of time. We also have a Category E for species that are suspected to be captive birds that recently escaped. This is a longer list, and which may be closer to 150 species by now.

We can broadly divide these 24 species into three groups: (a) Common and Sustaining, (b) May not be sustained and (c) Likely extinct. Lineated Barbet, Tanimbar Corella, Red-breasted Parakeet, Common Pigeon, House Crow, Javan Myna, Sooty-headed Bulbul, White-crested Laughingthrush and Red-turtle Dove fall into the first group. The second group consist of species that does not appear to have sustaining populations on present evidence. They include the Wandering Whistling Duck, Yellow-crested Cockatoo, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Black-crested Bulbul, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Hwamei, Streaked Weaver, Red Avadavat, Rainbow Lorikeet, Javan Munia and House Sparrow. (We have breeding records for the last three species). There are four species that we believed have gone extinct as they have not been recorded for the past 20 years. The Black-winged Starling, Crested Myna, Java Sparrow and White-capped Munia are the subject of this article.

297_BLACK_WINGED_STARLING_CWK

  1. Black-winged Starling, Sturnus melanopterus. (Photo: Jonathan Cheah)

This globally Endangered species is now very hard to see in its native range in Java and Bali. Some of the last significant populations persist in Baluran and Bali Barat national parks. Efforts are being made to reintroduce this species back into the wild. This species was thought to have been introduced into Singapore via the bird trade in the 1920 but seemed to have died out (Chasen 1935, 1939). In the 1980s two feral populations were recorded (Hails 1988b, MBR 1986-87). One was from Alexandra Estate and another at St. John’s Island, where breeding were recorded. There have been no records since the 15 January 1995 from St John’s Island (S. Abdullah, Lim Kim Seng), after discounting the one off sightings deemed to be escapees. This author recorded their breeding during a visit to St. John’s Island on 14 March 1993.

crested_myna_0199b_Choy Wai Mum

  1. Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus. (Phot0: Choy Wai Mun)

An introduced species to Penang (Medway & Wells 1976) from its native range in China, Northern Vietnam, Hainan and Taiwan (Clements 2007). It was introduced here probably in the early 80s with our first record in St. John’s Island on 2 April 1981 (MBR 1980-81). This population died out in 1995 (S. Abdullah. Lim Kim Seng). Mainland records came from Bras Basah Park on 23 November 1983 (Hails 1988b) and Changi. Our last record was an individual feeding with other mynas at Clementi Avenue on 22 February 1998 ( Lim Kim Seng per obs). There were no breeding records. This author’s record was from St. John’s Island on 14 March 1993.

373_WHITE_CAPPED_MUNIA_JE

  1. White-capped Munia Lonchura ferruginosa. (Photo: James Eaton)

The White-capped Munia is a grassland species, introduced here probably via the pet trade in the late 1980s. They originate from open country habitats in Java and Bali. In 1987 they were recorded from four different sites: Senoko on 28 February ( Lim K.S. 1987b), Serangoon on 28 September (SINAV 1.9), Kranji Reservoir on 14 October and Punggol on 15 October (SINAV 1.10). All records involved single birds. A year later, a flock of 30 were seen at Punggol on July followed by 11 seen in 1998. The last reported sighting was 2 birds at Punggol on 7 October 1990 (SINAV 4.6). It looks very much like our native White-headed Munia but has a black throat.

375A_JAVA_SPARROW_CK

  1. Java Sparrow Padda oryzivora. (Photo: Khoo Siew Yoong).

Another native from Java and Bali that has been introduced to Sri Lanka and various parts of South-East Asia (e.g. Penang, Kota Kinabalu) (King et al 1975). It was listed as common in the late 20s by Bucknill and Chasen (1927). Gibson-Hill (1950) reported that they were seen in the town area together with Eurasian Tree Sparrows then. It went into a decline since with the last regular flock of some 20 birds occupying the Serangoon Sewage Works during the 1987-88 (SINAV 1:2). However this population died out with the last record of a single bird on 9 September 1988 (SINAV 2:9). There was a record of a single bird at the Old Airport Road Hawker Center on 1 September 2014 but this was considered a recently released bird. No recent breeding record has been reported.

 The above records were from “The Avifauna of Singapore. 2009, by Lim Kim Seng” The compilation is by Alan OwYong with additional inputs from Yong Ding Li, who also edited the text with Francis Yap. Many thanks to Choy Wai Mun, James Eaton, Khoo Siew Yoong and Jonathan Cheah for the use of their photographs from the “Birds of Singapore” App.

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Singapore Bird Report – June 2015

Rescued White-tailed Tropicbird from Tuas (Photograph courtesy of ACRES)

Rescued White-tailed Tropicbird from Tuas.  (Photograph courtesy of ACRES)

We all were expecting another quiet month when Yong Ding Li dropped a bombshell on 22nd. He reported that ACRES had retrieved a White-tailed Tropicbird, Phaethon Lepturus, from Pioneer Sector at Tuas. This will our very first record of an identified tropicbird in Singapore. From the yellowish wash in the plumage this is the Fulvus form. The Record’s Committee will be deliberating on its status and decide on its inclusion into the Checklist. There were two unidentified records of tropicbirds previously. One bird seen flying off Seletar on 11 December 1963 off (MBR 1964) and another in 1986 by Tan Gim Cheong off Serangoon Estuary. The nearest breeding colony is at the Cocos-Keeling and Christmas Islands.

Black-winged Flycatchershrike Wolfgang

The other big find for the month was a Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Hemipus hirundinaceus, photographed by a visiting German birdwatcher Wolfgang Kraemer, at Chek Java, P. Ubin on the 28th. This is our second record following Francis Yap’s sighting at the Jelutong Towers on 23 August 2013. This species was previously listed in Category F: Doubtful species because of mis-identification, but have since ungraded to Category A and added in the 2013 Checklist. Efforts to find this flycatchershrike two days later was not rewarded.

Oriental Darter Cherry Goh

The Oriental Darter captured by Cherry Goh at the Pekan Quarry on 2nd Ubin Day.

The migrants reported this month include a Black Bittern Ixobrychus flavicollis at SBWR on 1st (Andy Dinesh). During Ubin Day an Oriental Darter Anhinga melanogaster, made a surprised appearance at the Pekan Quarry. It was first seen there by John Ascher sometime in April (per con Andy Dinesh). This Darter was first reported at Ketam Quarry co-incidentally during the first Ubin Day on 30th October 2014. It is not in our current checklist but these sightings will strengthen its inclusion. There were two sightings of the Oriental Honey Buzzards, Pernis ptilorthyncus, one a juvenile at the Botanic Gardens on 18th by Tan Eng Boo and the other a second year bird over at Dempsey Hill on 20th by Sampath Ah. Both are summering and will only return north next spring.

Blue-eared KF Wolfgang

A rare find for Pulau Ubin of a Blue-eared KingFisher by Wolfgang Kraemer.

Non-breeding visitors reported were a Malaysian Hawk Cuckoo Hierococcyx fugax, at the Kranji Park on 13th by Sampath Ah and the Cinereous Bulbul Hermixos flavala,at Chek Java on 28th by Wolfgang Kraemer. Wolfgang also photographed our forest Blue-eared Kingfisher, Alcedo meninting, there showing how this once Central Catchment species have spread. Choo Chong Teck showed us a photo of a Chrysococcyx cuckoo taken at the Tampines Mountain Bike Trail on 27th. It turned out to be another Horsfield Bronze Cuckoos Chrysococcyx basalis, at a new location. The Austral cuckoos at Punggol Barat were still wintering there as of the 28th based on reports from See Toh Wai Yew.

Grey-headed Fish-eagle David Awcock 2

Fishing Grey-headed Fish-eagle caught by David Awcock at the Swan Lake.

The resident Grey-headed Fish-eagles, Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus, were keeping the photographers busy with their daily fishing antics at the Singapore Botanic Garden’s Swan Lake. They were first videoed by Jeremiah Loei on 10th. A pair of Buffy Fish Owls Ketupa ketupu, were roosting at the Rain Forest section of the gardens (Zacc HD 13th). They were first spotted at the Gardens by Richard White last month on 8th May. We think that they may have been flushed out from the Tyersall side due to the construction of the new extension to the gardens.

The once rare Crested Goshawks Accipiter trivirgatus, are now being seen more often. Seng Alvin photographed a second year bird in flight over at Pasir Ris Park on 10th with another photographed at Ang Mo Kio Park by Audrey Ngo on 7th. Jia Wei Woo was delighted to have captured a Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus flying over at the Swan Lake on 27th. It was the resident ernesti race.

Other notable records were an Asian Drongo-Cuckoo Surniculus lugubris, photographed at the Dillenia Hut by Vincent Lao on 28th. This should to be our resident subspecies barussarum. A pair of Plaintive Cuckoos, Cacomantis merulinus were photographed at Punggol Barat on 23rd by Liz How. We usually get to see single bird of this species. From the sightings this month, it is evident that we cannot slack off for any periods if we are to keep track of the rarities.

Reference: Avifauna of Singapore. Lim Kim Seng. 2009. A field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South-east Asia. Craig Robson Asia Books Ltd.2000. Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Simpson and Day, Edited by Francis Yap and Yong Ding Li. The above records are taken from the various bird FB groups. pages, reports and forums.  Many thanks for your postings. Many thanks to ACRES, Wolfgang Kraemer, David Awcock and Cherry Goh for the use of the photographs.

Threatened, Endangered, Going, Gone?

The current Singapore Checklist published in 2013 has 385 species based on species classified under Category A: i.e. species recorded in an apparent wild state in Singapore in the last 50 years. If you go through this list you will find that many of our resident species have actually not been seen for quite some time. We fear that many of these ‘missing’ species may have died out in their last stronghold due to habitat loss and other factors associated with small populations (e.g. disease). The good news is that some of the species that we thought we have lost like the Buff-rumped Woodpecker and Barred Eagle Owl were spectacularly rediscovered in recent years, although this does not guarantee that their populations will persist in the long time. In this article, we highlight a number of species in Singapore’s checklist that have not been seen in the last decade and more.

Many of these ‘lost’ birds can still be found at the Panti Forest Reserve just across the Causeway in Johor, Malaysia. We are lucky to be able to showcase these eight species brilliantly documented by Con Foley at Panti Forest, and hope that they will be seen here again some day.

WoodpeckerWhitebellied Con Foley1. White-bellied Woodpecker. Dryocopus javensis

A large, rare woodpecker that is distinctive both in appearance and call, the White-bellied Woodpecker is also the second largest woodpecker in the Old World, after the Great Slaty Woodpecker. Like the possibly extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker of North America, this is no doubt the Holy Grail of birdwatching in Singapore! The last confirmed record was from the Canopy Walkway at the Central Catchment Nature Reserve where one was heard on 24 July 2005, almost ten years ago. The last stronghold of the White-bellied Woodpecker was the Central Catchment Forest where most of the sightings were reported. One exceptional record was on 30 September 2001 when three males and one female were seen on a Terentang tree at the CCNR (Alfred Chia, Kenneth Kee & Alan OwYong). This is the largest single count for this woodpecker to date. Subsequent sightings involved a single male around the Sime Road area and MacRitchie Forest. Outside the Central Catchment, one bird was seen at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in the mid-1990s, and a stray individual was reported at the Mount Pleasant and Gymkhana areas in the early 2000s. There have also been unconfirmed records of single birds in remnant patches of woodlands in Tuas and Marina South. Large woodpeckers need large areas of relatively undisturbed forests to forage almost wherever they are found. We may have lost this woodpecker as a result of forest fragmentation and unless this is reversed the chances of this woodpecker returning to our forest is nil.

There was this note from Jon Chan of an unconfirmed sighting in 2013. He wrote: “Found out one of my buddies, Gabriel Kang, fellow Sunburnbrother and spotter, found a White Bellied Woodpecker at Rifle Range Rd on 6 Feb ’13 at 11.15am’. He heard the call first, suspected something amiss, stopped the car, and It flew past him on the road. Described it as crow-size but with a woodpecker’s behaviour. “

PigeonLittlegreenmale Com Foley

2. Little Green Pigeon. Treton olax

The Little Green Pigeon is the rarest of four green pigeons known from Singapore. Surprisingly this species was considered to be common in the 1960s by birdwatchers from the Royal Air Force Ornithological Society (Tweedy 1970, RAFOS 1968). Most of the recent records were from 1986 to 1990 when either singles or two birds were seen at Pulau Tekong and Upper Seletar, Upper Peirce, and Nee Soon in the Central Catchment Forests (SINAV). But sightings dwindled to only two records in the mid-2000s, a male on 17 October 2004 (SINAV 4.5) and a female reported two days later at the Jelutong Tower during the Bird Race that year. So far, we have no sightings of this species for more than a decade. Hopefully a stray from Johor will make it to our forests in the coming years since green pigeons are known to disperse widely for fruiting trees. Birdwatchers are encouraged to keep a lookout for this species at fruiting figs in and around the Central Catchment.

CuckooshrikeLesserfemale Con Foley

3. Lesser CuckooshrikeCoracina fimbriata

This very rare resident has only been recorded in Pulau Ubin and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Unfortunately, the forests there is unlikely to sustain its survival in Singapore.  Recent records from Bukit Timah was a male seen on October 1986 (BGNB Spet/Oct 1986) with the last record of a female at the same location on 4th January 1998 (K.S. Lim, SINAV 12.1). (Lim Kim Seng reported another female flying over Jelutong Towers on 14 October 2013). A report of a purported Lesser Cuckooshrike accompanied by a photograph in 2014, turned out to be the Black-winged Cuckooshrike (a species not in our checklist). The 2013 sighting gave hope of a comeback but we may have to accept that this species is now most likely extinct in Singapore.

BabblerMoustached Con Foley

4. Moustached Babbler. Malacopteron magnirostre

Our rarest babbler ‘came back to life’ when ornithologist Chris J. Hails from the Parks and Recreation Department (the predecessor of today’s National Parks Board) found a remnant population at the Seletar Catchment in 1983.  A census in 1986 found six birds in two locations within the Central Catchment forests. Lim Kim Chuah also reported seeing a pair of Moustached Babblers with two youngs, proving that the birds successfully bred. Breeding was recorded in 1984 and 1986. However their numbers appear to have declined thereafter, with only one bird sighted in 1987 and this became our second last record (SINAV 1.6). The last record was in June 1994, when one bird was sighted at the MacRitchie Catchment (K.S. Lim 1988). Subsequent surveys did not produce any sightings and we think that this babbler may already have gone extinct.

.SunbirdPlainmale Con Foley

5. Plain Sunbird. Anthreptes simplex.

The Plain Sunbird lives up to its name with its drab olive-green plumage, which makes it very similar to female sunbirds of other species if poorly seen. We have only one acceptable record of a male seen at Senoko on 25 January 1986 by Lim Kim Seng (BGB 2. Lim, K.S. 1989e). The last sighting of the Plain Sunbird was an unconfirmed record from Rifle Range Road in 2006 by Yong Ding Li and Ong Kiem Sian. Plain Sunbirds may have been overlooked in the past and dismissed as a female of other sunbirds but birdwatchers looking for this species should note that the males with their bluish patch above its bill are very distinctive.

SpiderhunterThick-billed Con Foley

6. Thick-billed Spiderhunter. Arachnothera crassirostris.

We had given up on this rare Spiderhunter and thought that it has gone extinct until one was seen again along Island Club Road in November 1989 (SINAV 3.11; Lim K.S. 1989j), almost 70 years after the last sighting. There were three more records after this, a) 23 October 2005 at Jelutong Towers during the Bird Race (SINAV 19.4), b) 2 birds at Nee Soon on 11 March 2006 by Albert Low and, c) an individual at Sime Road on October 2007.  There was another report by at Sime Forest by James Heng after the 2007 record but this was not confirmed. Due to these recent records, there is hope that a small population may still persist undetected in the Central Catchment Forest.

.MinivetScarlet Con Foley

7. Scarlet Minivet. Pericrocotus flammeus

Most of our records for this minivet were from the Bukit Timah Nature Reserves. The first record was in 1986 and the last in September 2001 by Yong Ding Li and Ong Kiem Sian at the Rock path. Out of a total of some 30 records, the largest number seen involved four birds. Alan OwYong recorded a pair on 3 December 1994 during a survey along Jungle Fall trail. There were only two records outside Bukit Timah, with a few unconfirmed sightings along the Sime Road area. In the 2000 Bird Race, a female was seen at MacRitchie forest by many groups, shortly after a White-bellied Woodpecker showed up! Being a vocal canopy feeder that occasionally join mixed flocks with bluebirds, Blue-winged Leafbirds and Chestnut-bellied Malkoha (Yong D.L. in litt.) based on observations at Bukit Timah, Scarlet Minivets should be easily seen if they are still around.

.FalconetBlackthighed Con Foley

8 Black-thighed Falconet. Microhierax fringillarius

The last stronghold of the Black-thighed Falconet was in Ulu Sembawang where four sightings were reported between 1979 and 1986, all by Lim Kim Seng. They disappeared when the forest there was disturbed and eventually developed. The last record was an adult at Sime Road Forest on 7 October 1990. There were four more records from 1992 to 2005 from Sime Road, Loyang and Bukit Batok Nature Park by various observers but unfortunately most of these records could not be confirmed. The best place for this raptor to show up may actually be in Pulau Ubin or Tekong, since falconets are still reasonably common in parts of Malaysia, occurring even in logged forests.

All records were taken from The Avifauna of Singapore. Lim Kim Seng 2009, Vanishing Birds of Singapore Lim Kim Seng 1992 and Yong Ding Li’s article in Nature Watch Vol 7 No 1. 1999. Many thanks to Con Foley for the use of these hard-to-get photographs from his extensive Panti Forest Collection and Yong Ding Li for editing the draft and adding in several unpublished records.