Monthly Archives: September 2015

Of Godwits, Dowitchers and Curlew.

32 Black-tailed Godwits David Li

Part of the 32 Black-tailed Godwits that arrived at Sungei Buloh last week. Photo David Li.

The wetlands at Sungei Buloh came alive this September with the arrivals of three uncommon and sought-after shorebirds. David Awcock started the ball rolling with the sighting of a lone Black-tailed Godwit, Limosa limosa on the 7th. Timothy Lim managed to get a group photo of about 30 the next day. David Li, Researcher Officer the Reserve did a count and came out with a total of 32. The highest count were 60 here on 9 October 1994 ( Iora 1).


Very hungry Asian Dowitchers feeding in a line.

As the excitement subsided, John Ang photographed a single Asian Dowitcher Limnodromus semipalmatus on the 19th. This is listed as a rare winter visitor and passage migrant to our shores but have been sighted in the last few years. This was followed by a photo of a Eurasian Curlew, Numenius arquata taken at Hide 1D by Ben Lee the next day. He posted it on the WildbirdSingapore e-forum. Most of the sighting of this Curlew were at our sandy coasts like Con Foley’s sighting on 22 Sept 2007 and another by Lena Chow, Jimmy Lee and Gerard Francis on 14 November 2010. Both were at the Changi Cove. Frankie Cheong had not one but three records at newly reclaimed land at Pulau Tekong ( 18.9.10, 4.10.10 & 22.2.12).

Euraisan Curlew

Euraisan Curlew, a uncommon wader normally found at our sea coasts.

Ben Lee’s sighting brought Francis Yap, Zacc HD, Robin Tan and Alan OwYong to the main hide the next Monday morning. Fortunately we were joined by David Li and Mendis Tan later. Mendis was the one who picked the Curlew among the flock of Whimbrels just as we were about to give up.


A most unexpected photo of both the Eurasian Curlew and the rarer Asian Dowitchers in the same frame.

Earlier Robin was photographing the Whimbrels when he found the Asian Dowitcher. We had a pleasant surprise when four birds were seen. In 2013, we had the highest count of 7 birds on 9th Sept, beating the old high count of 6 birds on 7th Sept 1980. Then heavy rain fell and to our delight, they all came down from the bund to feed. This gave all of us the opportunity of getting better and nearer shots, but the low light was not ideal. But we were compensated with precious photos of both the Curlew and the four Dowitchers in one frame. Everyone except Alan got their lifers for the day with Francis getting his long awaited global lifer, the Eurasian Curlew. PS. David Li made a very interesting observation. All these birds were juveniles. Could it be that they being younger need to have a stopover for a rest and refuel. The Eurasian Curlew was still around at the main pond on the 22nd.


This photo was submitted on the 23rd clearly showed that there were seven Asian Dowitchers at SBWR on 21st Sept. This equals the highest count of seven birds in 2013.

Reference: The Avifauna of Singapore. Lim Kim Seng 2009. A field Guide to the Waterbirds of Asia. 1993 Wild Bird Society of Japan. Thanks to David Li for the use of his photo and the alerts from David Awcock, John Ang and Ben Lee. Also thanks to Robin Tan and Mendis Tan for picking out the Dowitcher and Curlew on 21st.

Singapore Bird Report-August 2015

Terek Sandpiper Francis Yap 30.8.15

Terek Sandpiper at Seletar Dam photo Francis Yap.

The Autumn migration season has began. We started seeing the arrival of the shorebirds to Sungei Buloh and the mud flats at Mandai, song birds to Bidadari and the Central Forest.  On the first day of August, the Lesser Sand Plovers, Charadrius mongolus, and Common Sandpipers, Actitis hypoleucos, were seen by Zacc HD over at the shore of the Seletar Dam, while Adrian Gopal was the first to report the arrival of the Common Redshanks Tringa totanus, and Common Greenshanks, Tringa nebularia, to SBWR. Lim Kim Seng picked up a lone Whimbrel, Numenius phaeopus, on 7th, a Marsh Sandpiper, Tringa stagnatilis, and a Terek Sandpiper, Tringa cinerea, both at SBWR on 12th. He also reported a Little Ringed Plover, Charadrius dubius, over at Neo Tiew Lane 2 on 12th while a Curlew Sandpiper, Calidris ferruginea, was seen at SBWR by Robin Tan on 28th.

It was a little slower for the passerine migrants. See Toh Yew Wai photographed a needletail flying over Jelutong Tower on 9th. General consensus was a Brown-backed Needletail, Hirundapus giganteus, We had our first Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Terpsiphone paradisi, over a Venus Drive on 15th ( Jensen Seah) followed by another the next day over at Pulau Ubin by Yap Wee Jin.

Forest Wagtail Laurence Eu










Forest Wagtail, Dendronanthus indicus, (above) photographed by Laurence Eu at the SBG’s Healing Gardens on 16th was 3 days ahead of the previous extreme date, a returning Common Kingfisher, Alcedo atthis, to the lily pond at the Gardens by the Bay on 17th ( Koh Liang Heng), Arctic Warbler, Phylloscopus borealis, at our Central Forest on 22nd by Lim Kim Keang and an uncommon Eastern Crowned Warbler, Phylloscopus coronatus, at Bukit Timah on 23rd by Francis Yap. The month ended with Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Ficedula zanthopygia, at Tuas South (Low Choon How), and a Tiger Shrike, Lanius tigrinus,  (Y.W. See Toh) both on 30th. All these records were first for the season.

We had several sightings of the Oriental Honey Buzzards, Pernis ptilorhyncus, during the first week from SBG and Central Forest to SBWR. Some appeared to be on migration flying in a South-easterly direction. Others were summering juveniles like Seng Alvin’s find at Pasir Ris Park on 25th. This was where Md. Nasir photographed a Tweedale morph Torquatus resident race Honey Buzzard. Other raptors reported this month was a returning Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus, to Ubin on the 1st (Y.W. See Toh), a pair of Crested Goshawks, Accipiter trivirgatus, feeding its young at Bishan Park on 14th and a Crested Serpent Eagle, Spilornis cheela, photographed by Gill Jones on 22nd at her garden at the wooded Tanglin area.

Brown-streaked FC Danny Lau

We continued to find non breeding visitors like Jambu Fruit Doves, Ptilinopus jambu, at Sentosa on 6th, and SBG on 23rd (Alan OwYong), a Cinereous Bulbul, Hemixos flavala, at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve on 7th (Diana Jackson) and 23rd (Francis Yap) and the uncommon Brown-streaked Flycatcher, Muscicapa williamsoni, at CCK Park ( Danny Lau’s photo on the left).

Cinereous Bulbul at Timah Summit

Cinereous Bulbul at Bukit Timah Summit. Photo by Francis Yap


Lai Ah-eng

A Great-billed Heron spotted by Lai Ah-Eng at the East Coast Park.

Some notable resident species to report include a Great-billed Heron, Ardea sumatrana, seen by Lai Ah Eng at the beach off East Coast Park, a new location for the largest bird in Singapore. A rare introduced Black-crested Bulbul at BTNR on 7th by Diana Jackson, a hard to see Asian Palmswift, Cypsiurus balasiensis, over Bidadari on 10th by Zacc HD, a strayed Blue-eared Kingfisher, Alcedo meninting, fishing at Pasir Ris mangroves on 21st, spotted by Seng Alvin, a Glossy Swiftlet, Collocalia esculenta, and a vanishing House Swift Apus nipalensis, flying over Bishan Park on 25th by See Toh Yew Wai. The Glossy Swiftlet is new for Bishan. A juvenile White-rumped Shama, Copsychus malabaricus, at Bishan Park on 29th by Lim Kim Keang, a juvenile Asian Drongo Cuckoo, Surniculus lugubris, at Bidadari on 31st by Zacc HD  and a Black-headed Bulbul, Pycnonotus atriceps, at the MacRitchie Forest on 31st by Lim Kim Seng.

Black-crested Bulbul feeding young 8.8.15 Lee Van Hein.

A Black-crested Bulbul feeding its young captured by Lee Van Hien.

The only nesting record was from James Tann of the Scaly-breasted Munia, Lonchura punctulata, at Gardens by the Bay on 19th. Lee Van Hien had a Black-crested BulbulPycnonotus atriceps, feeding a young at the Bukit Timah Summit on the 8th.

BTNR Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, SBWR Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, CCNR Central Catchment Nature Reserve, CCK Park Chua Chu Kang Park.

Reference: The Avifauna of Singapore. Lim Kim Seng 2009. A field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South-east Asia, Craig Robson 2000. Edited by Francis Yap. The above records are taken from the various bird FB groups. pages, reports and forums.  Many thanks for your postings. Many thanks to Francis Yap, Lai Ah Eng, Lee Van Hien, Laurence Eu and Danny Lau for the use of the photographs.

Invasion of Alien Seed-eating Birds in our Grasslands.

By Alan OwYong and Yong Ding Li. 


Three species of African seed-eaters photographed in the grasslands of Punggol Barat (L to R): Orange-breasted Waxbill, a pair of Red Avadavats and the destructive pest bird, the Red-billed Quelea. Photo by Johnson Chua.

The massive population of the non-native Javan Myna (c. 300,000 to 1,000,000 individuals) in Singapore today is a reminder of the problems introduced birds can pose if their numbers are left unchecked. Such a situation resulted from an introduced species adapting well to our local environment. If the myna population were actively managed a couple of decades ago, they could be less of a headache today. In urban habitats, Javan Mynas have out-competed and displaced our native Common Mynas and to a lesser extent the Eurasian Tree Sparrows, besides being a public nuisance in our housing and shopping areas.

Over the past four years, we have also been seeing another influx of alien bird species into Singapore, especially seed-eaters such as finches and weavers native to Africa. This has coincided with the ban of importing birds from neighbouring countries affected by the bird flu. Before this restriction came into place, the most common species released during religious festivals was the Scaly-breasted Munia, a native of Southeast Asia.

The new alien species that we have observed flying around our open grasslands are mainly weavers, waxbills, mannikins, munias, whydahs, bishops, and widowbirds, mostly of African origin. We estimated that more than 25 species of these seed-eating birds have been reported flying free here in Singapore the last four years. The discovery of the Red-billed Quelea, a destructive pest bird in much of Africa in some parts of Singapore has red-flagged the danger introduced birds can cause.


The non native Long-tailed Whydah has been observed mating in Singapore.

While not all alien species are able to adapt to our local climate and habitats, we have observed that many of them have not only appeared to have settled in, but are breeding with varying degrees of success. The Golden-backed Weavers have been nesting for a couple of years in Lorong Halus and Tampines Eco Park. Likewise, we recorded the breeding of the Common and Red-rumped Waxbills in our northern parks. Others like the distinctive Long-tailed Whydahs have been photographed mating at the Punggol Barat grasslands. Potentially, these are the first signs of proliferation. Indeed, these aliens need to be monitored and if necessary, managed. More importantly, our native species may not be able to compete with the more aggressive new comers and may be in danger of suffering population declines. Our native Long-tailed Parakeets losing out to the introduced Red-breasted Parakeet is a case in point.

Furthermore, there are several issues concerning an alien replacing a native species: a) disruption to the ecological balance of our native ecosystems, b) outcompeting native species and eventually driving their extinctions, and  c) acting as a channel for various diseases and zoonotics. Once established locally, alien species can even spread and cause ecological problems in neighbouring countries.

Given the many biodiversity and urban considerations, the Bird Group has written in to AVA (Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore) to recommend restricting the importation of common seed eaters from Africa and other countries. Australia has already taken this step, and there is no reason for Singapore not to follow suit. AVA can simply administer a blanket ban, eliminating the need to list individual species, which can pose impediments to enforcement. Such seed-eating species are typically not kept as pet birds as they do not sing and have no special appeal. They are mainly sold for religious releases. The Bird Group does not recommend any substitute species as many of these (e.g. munias) may have to be wild caught. The mortality rate from the point of capture to transporting them to bird shops is very high and hence not tenable, besides depleting the wild populations of many species. The Bird Group has also offered to assist AVA by monitoring and conducting ad-hoc census of these non-native bird species in the field.

Reproduced from the Sept-Oct 2015 issue of the Nature News with permission from the Nature Society ( Singapore). 

AVA’s Relative Abundance Survey for Urban Birds 2015

The AVA carried out the second RASUB over two Saturdays in April this year with the help of the public. The species counted were the Javan Myna, Common Myna, Rock Pigeon, Asian Glossy Starling, Asian Koel, House Crow and Black-naped Oriole. The Black-naped Oriole was included as it is known to foster the Asian Koel.

A total of 1,606 birds were counted in 50 locations compared to 784 over 23 sites in 2014. The Javan Mynas topped the list just like in 2014.

image001 (1)

Results: Javan Mynas 832, Rock Pigeons 531, Asian Glossy Starlings 96, Black-naped Orioles 52, House Crows 48, Common Myna 39 and Asian Koel 11.

The results of this year’s survey is similar to the survey carried out in 2014, where Javan Mynas were the most commonly seen species and achieved the highest count among the target species. House crows and Asian Koels showed similar distributions in locality, confirming that Asian Koels are brood parasites of House crows in Singapore.

The AVA intends to continue with this census every year in order to monitor the trend of these urban species and supplement its own surveys and studies.

Malaysian Pied Fantail feeding a juvenile Rusty-breasted Cuckoo.


Contributed by Seng Alvin. 1st September 2015

Rusty-breasted Cuckoo Seng Alvin

This morning at the Tampines Eco Green, I came across an adult Cacomantis cuckoo, one of the three resident Cacomantis cuckoos here. I managed just one shot before it flew deeper into the woods. Unfortunately it was not facing me and I could not captured the underside. It has a greyer back, light eye ring and a wee bit of rufous up to the throat. Based on these features, I identified it as the Rusty-breasted Cuckoo, C. Sepulcratis.

Then my attention was drawn to another cuckoo nearby, this one a juvenile. It is much harder to separate the juvenile birds but luckily the yellow eye-ring was showing well, and it was confirmed by others as a Rusty-breasted Cuckoo.

Jv RB Cuckoo Seng Alvin

The interesting part was that the adult cuckoo did not bother to interact with the juvenile bird at all never mind trying to feed it. Maybe it just wanted to check if it is doing fine, as it left the fostering, incubation and feeding to other species, typical of these parasitic cuckoos.

The juvenile must have fledged recently as it was able to fly from branch to branch looking for its foster parents. At this hanging vine, it was looking left and right flapping its wings and calling loudly at the same time.

Fantail with Jv RB Cuckoo Seng Alvin

Its cries for food was soon rewarded when a Malayan Pied Fantail Rhipdura javanica, flew in and started giving food to it. Both species shared the same forest edge habitat close to mangroves and about the same size. An ideal parent species for the cuckoo but a bit unfortunate for the fantail.

Footnote: Tou Jing Yi thinks that the adult bird is a Plantive Cuckoo C. Merulinus. The eye ring is not yellow enough and that there is some grey on the breast of the adult bird. When I compare this with another adult Plaintive Cuckoo I took at Pasir Ris Park some time back, the eye and ring color of both birds looked the same. Thanks to Sifu Tou Jing Yi, Shirley Ng and Alan OwYong for their discussions and comments on the ID.