Monthly Archives: May 2018

Zebra Dove Courtship Ritual.

Zebra Dove Courtship Ritual.

by T.Ramesh

I was returning from my morning birding walk in Simei when I noticed two Zebra Doves frantically jumping at each other on the middle of a small road . I thought they were fighting and was curious and started video recording.

WhatsApp Image 2018-05-28 at 13.29.54 (2)

The doves flapped their feathers and jumped at each other several times (around 34 +jumps not sure how many before my observation ). One of them probably a male sometimes pecked the other with its beak before jumping. After several energy rounds of flapping & jumping, they started bowing their head at each other elegantly while raising and fanning their tails accompanied by cooing in reply. They did this four times and then continued with flapping and then again bowing ritual.

WhatsApp Image 2018-05-28 at 13.29.54

It seemed one of them was not interested for some reason even though the other Zebra tried to continue with bowing. No further preening or mating was observed . Then they walked different directions.

This has to be a courtship ritual because of the bowing, tail fanning and cooing, but it is also one of the more violent ones I have seen.

Advertisements

Bird Records Committee Report ( May 2017)

By Lim Kim Seng
Chairman, Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group Records Committee.

Red-billed Starling

Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus at Gardens by the Bay, 30 Nov 2013, Singapore’s second record. A review of records was prompted by a discovery of another bird at Tampines Eco-Green in Dec 2015. Photo by Daniel Wee.

The Records Committee continues to receive records of new bird species to the Singapore List and rarities. This report updates the findings from the past 12 months.

New Species
Five new bird species were added to the Singapore List, bringing the total number of species to 397. Two are splits. They include the following:

Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus.
An individual photographed by Daniel Wee at Gardens by the Bay on 30 Nov 2013 and another photographed at Tampines Eco-Green by Alvin Seng on 27 Dec 2015 follows an earlier record by Lim Kim Seng from Lorong Halus on 25 Dec 1993.

Jacobin Cuckoo Clamator jacobinus
A single individual reported and photographed by Tay Wei Kuan at Lorong Halus on 4 Dec 2013 was the first for Singapore. There were several subsequent records from the same site.

IMG_7590

Jacobin Cuckoo Clamator jacobinus at Lorong Halus on 4 Dec 2013, a first record for Singapore. Photo by Tay Wei Kuan.

Black Hornbill Anthracoceros malayanus
A female photographed by Robin Arnold on Pulau Ubin on 23 Dec 2016 was subsequently seen by several observers. This species was first reported by Francis Yap at the same site on 23 Jul 2015. It is believed that this species may have invaded Singapore from nearby Johor.

Black Hornbill Rob Arnold

Black Hornbill taken by Rob Arnold taken at Pulau Ubin on 23 Dec 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone affinis
This is a recent split from the “Asian Paradise-flycatcher” complex as proposed by Fabre et al (2012) and Andersen et al (2015) and accepted by IOC. We now have evidence of its occurrence in Singapore although exact dates are still being investigated. We prefer to use the name, “Blyth’s” rather than “Oriental”, as the latter is geographically misleading. This polytypic species breeds in mainland Southeast Asia and the Indonesian Archipelago, and birds appearing in Singapore are likely migrants from Peninsular Malaysia or Thailand.

Amur Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone incei
This is a recent split from the “Asian Paradise-flycatcher” complex as proposed by Fabre et al (2012) and Andersen et al (2015) and accepted by IOC. We now have evidence of its occurrence in Singapore although exact dates are still being investigated. This monotypic species breeds in northern and northeast Asia and winters in Southeast Asia.

Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana
This is a recent split from the “Blue-and-white Flycatcher” complex as proposed by Leader & Carey (2012) and accepted by IOC. We now have evidence of its occurrence in Singapore although exact dates are still being investigated. This species breeds in northern and northeast Asia and winters in Southeast Asia.

Zappey’s Flycatcher Cyanoptila cumatilis
This is another recent split from the “Blue-and-white Flycatcher” complex as proposed by Leader & Carey (2012) and accepted by IOC. We now have evidence of its occurrence in Singapore although exact dates are still being investigated. This species breeds in northern-central China and winters in Southeast Asia.

Annex 1 Species

Bulwer’s Petrel Bulweria bulwerii

One reported in the Singapore Straits on 12 Nov 2016 by Lau Jia Sheng was the first record from these waters. However, GPS coordinates show that the bird was seen 4.3 km outside of Singapore’s national boundaries. It is therefore assigned to Annex 1. Annex 1 is for species occurring near to but outside Singapore, e.g. birds occurring in the Indonesian and/or Malaysian side of the Singapore Straits.

Rarities
The following eight rarities were accepted.

White Wagtail Motacilla alba
One of subspecies lugens photographed at Bishan depot by Vincent Lao was the first record of this taxon in Singapore. The other subspecies currently accepted are leucopsis and ocularis.

Red-footed Booby Sula sula
One photographed in the Singapore Straits on 12 Nov 2016 by Francis Yap was 2.5 km outside Singapore waters. This record is assigned to Annex 1.

White-bellied Woodpecker Dryocopus javensis
A bird seen flying over the Pan-Island Expressway on 13 Feb 2016 by Alfred Chia has been our first record for many years. This species is thought to be extirpated and this individual is more likely to be a transient rather than an undetected resident.

Short-tailed Shearwater Puffinus tenuirostris
Three birds reported in the Singapore Straits by See Toh Yew Wai on 7 May 2016 were our third record for Singapore.

Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica
Two birds photographed on Pulau Tekong on 1 Oct 2016 by Frankie Cheong were our first record for many years.

Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus
One bird photographed on Pulau Tekong on 8 Oct 2016 by Frankie Cheong was our third record and the first from this locality.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus
A bird photographed at Henderson Wave Bridge on 17 Nov 2016 by Keita Sin was our second record. Our only other record was reported at Tuas View Lane by Martti Siponen on 14 Nov 2010.

Amur Falcon Falco amurensis
A female photographed at Lower Seletar Dam on 16 Dec 2016 by Yip Peng Sun was our second record. Our only other record (also a female) was reported at Changi Coast by Tan Gim Cheong on 21 Nov 2007.

Acknowledgements
We would like to thanks the following observers for submitting their records for review: Robin Arnold, Frankie Cheong, Alfred Chia, Lau Jia Sheng, Vincent Lao, See Toh Yew Wai, Alvin Seng, Keita Sin, Tay Wei Kuan, Daniel Wee, Francis Yap and Yip Peng Sun. Thanks to Daniel Wee, Rob Arnold and Tay Wei Kuan for the use of their photos. Thanks are also due to my fellow committee members for their expertise in the deliberation process: Alfred Chia, Kenneth Kee, Lim Kim Chuah, Lim Kim Keang, Alan Owyong, Dr Frank Rheindt, Tan Gim Cheong and Yong Ding Li.

References
Andersen, M.J., P.A. Hoster, C.E Filardi, and R.G. Moyle. 2015. Phylogeny of the monarch flycatchers reveals extensive paraphyly and novel relationships within a major Australo-Pacific radiation. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 67: 336–347.
Fabre, P.-H., M. Irestedt, J. Fjeldså, R. Bristol, J.J. Groombridge, M. Irham, and K.A. Jønsson. 2012. Dynamic colonization exchanges between continents and islands drive diversification in paradise-flycatchers (Terpsiphone, Monarchidae). Journal of Biogeography 39: 1900-1918.
Leader, P. & Carey, G. (2012). Zappey’s Flycatcher Cyanoptila cumatilis, a forgotten Chinese breeding endemic. Forktail 28: 121-8.
Lim, K.S. (2009). The avifauna of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore), Singapore.

Tree Nest Hole for Rent at Pasir Ris Park. II

Tree nest hole for rent at Pasir Ris Park II, by Seng Alvin.

After the bees left, the tree hole lay vacant for a few weeks. On 14 May, I was surprised to find a pair of Laced Woodpeckers back at the nest. Based on the tags on their legs it was the same pair of woodpeckers that were being chased out by the Red-breasted Parakeets last month. Maybe they were not able to find any suitable hole nest anywhere else or they really like the location and ambience of the park. Whatever is the reason I was happy to see them back. They seemed to be incubating their eggs which meant that another generation of woodpeckers will be gracing the park.

33081651_1700236090055181_8803858314489233408_n

Five days later, I went to check on their progress. I saw a head popped out of the tree hole. I was expecting to see the woodpecker coming out, but it was a baby monitor lizard instead, much to my dismay. This tree hole had to be the most desired hole nest in the park. Both the parents did their best to chase the lizard off for over an hour but to no avail.

33184087_1700236163388507_7590127915581308928_n

 

My guess is that the monitor lizard must have sniffed out the eggs in the nest and did not want to pass up a good meal. Again this is nature, each species is part of the food chain. I came back two day later to see if the woodpeckers will try again to use the nest, but looks like “game over” for them.

 

Singapore Raptor Report – March 2018

Eurasian-Sparrowhawk,-110318-morning,-TEG,-Feroz-Fizah,-w

Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Tampines Eco Green, on 11 March 2018, by Feroz Fizah

Summary for migrant species:

In March, 150 raptors of 12 migrant species were recorded. Feroz Fizah sought ID help for a raptor photographed in flight at Tampines Eco Green on 11 March, late morning and both Adrian Silas Tay and Lau Jiasheng quickly identified it as the very rare Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus, making it our 4th record for this species. On 15 March, Tay Kian Guan photographed an accipiter at Henderson Waves, harassing an Oriental Honey Buzzard. Accipiters can be notoriously difficult to identify, nevertheless, the photo showed enough detail to identify the raptor as a female Besra Accipiter virgatus, another rarity.

Yet another scarce raptor was a juvenile pale morph Common Buzzard Buteo buteo photographed in the Central Business District on 2 March by John Marriott, and is probably the same juvenile pale morph photographed by Luke Milo Teo on 27 Jan 2018. Also, Veronica Foo photographed a juvenile Black Kite Milvus migrans in flight at Lorong Halus on 21 March. Ryan Lee found a Northern Boobook Ninox japonica on the ground near a block of HDB flats at Pasir Ris on the 30th, it could have flown against a window; at Chung Cheng High (Main), another boobook was found by Teo Jo-Hsuan on the 16th morning and it was stunned, having flown against a window.

Accipiter,-150318,-HW,-Tay-Kian-Guan,-w

Besra, adult female, harassing an Oriental Honey Buzzard, Henderson Waves, on 15 March 2018, by Tay Kian Guan.

A total of 69 Oriental Honey Buzzards Pernis ptilorhynchus were recorded, a mixture of adults and juveniles but notably all orientalis subspecies. 42 Black Bazas Aviceda leuphotes were recorded, with the bulk at Kranji Marshes. Of the 11 Japanese Sparrowhawks Accipiter gularis recorded, there were six females and one male, with the remainder unsexed.

The small flock of Jerdon’s Bazas Aviceda jerdoni were still around Coney Island on the 15th, when 8 were recorded; the Bishan individual stayed from the 7th to the 12th; while the last record was an individual photographed by Luke Milo Teo at Ulu Sembawang on the 24th, a new late date for the species.

The female Chinese Sparrowhawk Accipiter soloensis at Ang Mo Kio was still around on the 3rd, while a male was seen at Lorong Halus on the 11th, followed by another individual at Kranji Marshes on the 17th. Of the five Peregrine Falcons Falco peregrinus recorded, at least two were juveniles. Four Western Ospreys Pandion haliaetus at the northern areas rounded up the migrant raptors for the month.

JSH,-f,-230318,-Jelutong,-Fryap,-web

Japanese Sparrowhawk, adult female, Jelutong Tower, on 23 March 2018, by Francis Yap

Highlights for sedentary species:

There were breeding records for four resident species this month. An adult dark morph Changeable Hawk Eagle (CHE) Nisaetus cirrhatus was found sitting on its nest at Kranji Marshes on the 17th, and the next day, the 18th, at Bukit Batok West, a CHE was found lying low on another nest. A family of four Black-winged Kites Elanus caeruleus, with two recently fledged juveniles were recorded at Kranji Marshes on the 18th. A White-bellied Sea Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster nest, on a metallic comms tower south of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, holding one chick was recorded on the 30th. For the nocturnal raptors, a young chick, covered in white downy feathers, of a pair of Spotted Wood Owls Strix seloputo fell from its nest at Pasir Ris Park on the 23rd, and concerned photographers contacted ACRES, whose staff placed the owlet back into the tree; in addition, another pair with 2 chicks were observed at Bidadari on the 24th.

For other nocturnal raptors, there were two records of the rare Barred Eagle Owl Bubo sumatranus on Pulau Ubin, a juvenile on the 4th and an adult on the 17th. Five Buffy Fish Owls Ketupa ketupu were recorded, one at Ulu Pandan, three at the Botanic Gardens, and a juvenile at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Two Sunda Scops Owls Otus lempiji were recorded, one at Dairy Farm and another at Pasir Ris. Unfortunately for the Eastern Barn Owl Tyto delicatula, one was found injured at Jurong West on the 28th.

Throughout the month, there were reports of a single Crested Serpent Eagle Spilornis cheela at Goldhill Avenue, but at the end of the month, sharp-eyed Adrian Silas Tay noticed that there were actually two birds. The other sedentary raptors recorded included seven Crested Goshawks, seven Grey-headed Fish Eagles and 17 Brahminy Kites. All in, there were 10 Changeable Hawk-Eagles, eight Black-winged Kites, and eight White-bellied Sea Eagles.

Table 1

For a pdf version with more details, please click Singapore Raptor Report – March 2018

Compiled by Tan Gim Cheong

Many thanks to everyone who had reported their sightings in one way or another, and also thanks  to Feroz Fizah, Tay Kian Guan and Francis Yap for the use of their photos.

Singapore Bird Report – April 2018

April continues to see the exodus of migratory species as well as breeding records.  Key species were a rarely encountered Malayan Night Heron, a juvenile, at Singapore Botanic Gardens, and an Indian Pond Heron seen at Bidadari. 

MNH, 230418, Feroz Fizah

The juvenile Malayan Night Heron photographed at the Singapore Botanic Gardens by Feroz Fizah on 23 April 2018.

A trickle of migratory birds continue to be reported. Eight Japanese Sparrowhawk Accipiter gularis were spotted flying north by Francis Yap over Jelutong Tower on 1 April 2018. An Indian Pond Heron Ardeola grayii was seen at Bidadari by TT Koh on 4 April 2018, while Art Toh spotted a Black-capped Kingfisher Halcyon pileata at West Coast Park on 5 April 2018. Between 6 and 7 April 2018, a Hodgson’s Hawk Cuckoo Hierococcyx nisicolor was spotted at Pasir Ris Park by Harry Geno-Oehlers, Geri Lim and Art Toh.

IPH, 040418, TT Koh

An Indian Pond Heron photographed at Bidadari by T T Koh on 4 April 2018.

April’s first weekend also yielded a singing Green-backed Flycatcher Ficedula elisae by Yong Ding Li, Kozi Ichiyama and Geoff Lim, which was rather remarkable, given that the normal place to hear this flycatcher’s song would be “the montane broadleaved forest ecosystems of the Taihang-Wuling Mountains in Shanxi-Hebei-Beijing”; as well as two Dark-sided Flycatchers Muscicapa sibirica chasing each other in the canopy of an emergent tree. The birds were seen inside the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) on 7 April 2018. In addition, seven Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres and a globally endangered Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris were spotted by Lim Kim Keang on Pulau Seduku off Pulau Ubin during an NSS/NParks Comprehensive Ubin Bird Survey on 8 April 2018, while Vincent Lao spotted an Eastern-crowned Warbler Phylloscopus coronatus within the CCNR and Pary Sivaraman spotted a female Von Schrenck’s Bittern Ixobrychus eurhythmus in the north-western part of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (SBWR).

GBFC, 070418, Kozi

The Green-backed Flycatcher in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve by Kozi Ichiyama on 7 April 2018.

Breeding activity was reported across several locations during the first week of April.  Lim Kim Chuah spotted a juvenile House Sparrow Passer domesticus on Jurong Island on 1 April 2018, a possible sign of successful breeding. A Malaysian Pied Fantail Rhipidura javanica was reported by Alan Owyong to be feeding two chicks, assessed to be a few days old, at Jurong Eco-Garden (JEG) on 2 April 2018, while on 4 April 2018, Yong Ding Li saw a White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis nesting around the vicinity of the Bukit Batok MRT Station. Two days later on 6 April 2018, Luke Milo Teo spotted a juvenile Greater Green Leafbird Chloropsis sonnerati while surveying Dairy Farm Nature Park (DFNP). Notable residents seen include a Rufous-tailed Tailorbird Orthotomus sericeus at Bukit Batok Nature Park (BBNP) by Vincent Lao; a Blue-eared Kingfisher Alcedo meninting at Lorong Halus by Serin Subaraj; and a pair of Spotted Wood Owl Strix seluputo at Goldhill Avenue by Phua Joo Yong on 1 April 2018. Also, Gahyathree Arasu spotted a Lesser Adjutant at SBWR on the same day; this was further substantiated by Lee Van Hien, who saw three birds there on 3 April 2018. Ong Ruici heard a Violet Cuckoo Chrysococcyx xanthorhynchus passing over the National Biodiversity Centre on 5 April 2018; the call was verified by Albert Low.

GGLB, 120418, Luke Milo Teo

A juvenile Greater Green Leafbird Dairy Farm Nature Park by Luke Milo Teo on 12 April 2018.

Apart from the Turnstones and Knot encountered during the NSS/NParks Comprehensive Ubin Bird Survey on 8 April 2018, a Great-billed Heron Ardea sumatrana was seen by Roger Boey at its nest, which contained one chick,  at Balai Quarry. This nesting was first spotted by Francis Yap on 11 March. During the same survey, participants also recorded a Black Hornbill Anthracoceros malayanus, Mangrove Pitta Pitta megarhyncha, Violet Cuckoo Chrysococccyx xanthorhynchus and Asian Palmswift Cypsiurus balasiensis. The same Sunday also yielded a Plaintive Cuckoo Cacomantis merulinnus at Kranji Marshes, seen by Kelvin Leong.

The second week of April yielded fewer reports of migratory birds. On 9 April 2018, Hima Venkateswaran found a roosting site at Bedok Ria for about 40-plus Blue-throated Bee-eater Merops viridis. Reports, by Tay Kian Guan, of a juvenile Black Kite Milvus migrans mingling with up to 24 Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus at the Choa Chu Kang Christian Cemetery on 12 April 2018, feeding on scraps thrown by a contractor, filtered across local social media circles. On 15 April 2018, See Toh Wai Yew reported seeing a Yellow-rumped Flycatcher Ficedula xanthopygia at Goldhill Avenue, while Pier Chua spotted a Malayan Night Heron Gorsachius melanolophus at the Evolution Garden located inside SBG. Resident species reported included, a nesting Lineated Barbet Megalaima lineata on 9 April 2018 by Doreen Ang at BBNP, and a Tanimbar Corella Cacatua goffiniana excavating a nest hole in a dead tree at Goldhill Avenue. Veronica Foo, along with Siew Mun, spotted Blue-rumped Parrot Psittinus cyanurus feeding on starfruit inside Venus Loop on 11 April 2018.

BK, 160418, Tan Eng Boo

The Black Kite at Lim Chu Kang, photographed by Tan Eng Boo on 16 April 2018.

Fewer migratory species were reported during the third week. A Pacific Swift Apus pacificus was spotted by Tay Kian Guan on 18 April 2018 at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (BTNR), while the Malayan Night Heron Gorsachius melanolophus was spotted again on 18 April 2018 by Lee Chin Pong  and attracted many birders and photographers until the last sighting on 23 April 2018. Fadzrun Adnan also sighted a Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher Cyornis brunneatus at Pulau Hantu during a pelagic trip on 21 April 2018, while an adult Tiger Shrike Lanius tigrinus was reported by several birders and photographers at Bishan Park on 22 April 2018. On the same weekend, Alfred Chia reported hearing three Blue-winged Pitta Pitta moluccensis on Pulau Ubin.

Tiger Shrike, Angela Yeo

A male Tiger Shrike was spotted at Bishan Park; photo taken by Angela Yeo on 21 April 2018.

Resident species reported during this week include a Changeable Hawk Eagle Nisaetus cirrhatus  nest with one chick at Kranji Marshes, by Clarinda Yap on 16 April 2018; a Grey-headed Fish-eagle Haliaeetus ichthyaetus at Seletar Camp by Timothy Chua and Asian Palmswift Cypsiurus balasiensis at SBG by Richard Zhang on 18 April 2018, as well as House Swift Apus nipalensis, Black-crested Bulbul Pycnonotus flaviventris, and Thick-billed Green Pigeon Treron curvirostra  by Tay Kian Guan at BTNR on the same day. On 20 April 2018, a possible sighting of the rare White-bellied Woodpecker Dryopus javensis was reported to NSS; Ana Maria Conzalez told a NSS volunteer seeking to verify her report that she saw the woodpecker from her balcony inside the grounds of Tanglin Park. On 21 April 2018, Alvin Seng spotted an adult Yellow-crested Cockatoo Cacatua sulphurea with two young birds at Pasir Ris Park, while Siew Mun reported seeing a Sunda Scops Owl Otus lempiji at BTNR. A white morph Pacific Reef Egret Egretta sacra was spotted by Lim Kim Keang at West Coast Park on 22 April 2018, while Alfred Chia reported seeing a Banded Bay Cuckoo Cacomantis sonneratii on Pulau Ubin.

YC Cockatoo, Alvin Seng

Yellow-crested Cockatoos spotted by Alvin Seng at Pasir Ris Park on 24 April 2018.

The final week of April yielded reports of a possible Indian Pond Heron Ardeola grayii in transitional plumage by Terence Tan in Bishan Park on 23 April, while Bidadari yielded a Dark-sided Flycatcher Muscicapa sibirica and a Malayan Night Heron Gorsachius melanolophus flying over the former hotspot on the same day, by Feroz Fizah and Martin Kennewell, respectively. An Indian Pond Heron Ardeola grayii subsequently appeared at Bidadari on 26 April, and reported by See Toh Wai Yew and Pary Sivaraman, among others. On 29 April, Fadzrun Adnan spotted a Pallas’ Grasshopper Warbler Locustella certhiola at Kranji Marshes.

IPH, Pary

As the migratory species made their way back to their breeding grounds, resident species were observed and reported by local birders and photographers. Alan Owyong reported seeing a few Long-tailed Parakeets Psittacula longicauda feeding with two Blue-rumped Parrots Psittinus cyanurus on starfruit in Venus Loop on 23 April 2018. On the same day, Oliver Tan saw a Ruddy-breasted Crake Porzana fusca at Bidadari; an Abbott’s Babbler Malacocincla abbotti was seen and photographed on 24 April 2018 at SBWR by Stuart Campbell while James Lambert saw a Plaintive Cuckoo Cacomantis cerulinus at Nanyang Technological University on 25 April 2018.

Abbotts Bab, Stuart

An Abbott’s Babbler spotted by Stuart Campbell at SBWR on 24 April 2018.

The weekend yielded several finds, including a dead adult Spotted Wood Owl Strix seloputo at Bartley on 28 April 2018 by Gina Koh; a White-rumped Munia Lonchura striata at Lorong Halus by Meilin Khoo, a possible escapee or released bird, also on 28 April 2018, and a Little Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx minutillus on Coney Island on 29 April 2018 by Tan Kok Hui.  Observers who spent time at DFNP over the weekend were rewarded. Khong Yew reported seeing Jambu Fruit Dove Ptilinopus jambu on 28 April 2018, which was further substantiated by Lim Kim Keang who saw three birds on 29 April 2018. Lim Kim Chuah spotted a Banded Bay Cuckoo Cacomantis sonneratii on 29 April 2018, while Alan OwYong spotted four Plume-toed Swiftlets Collocalia affinis with Pary Sivaraman, and a male and female Blue-winged Leafbird Chloropsis cochinchinensis.

Abbreviations:
BTNR: Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
CCNR: Central Catchment Nature Reserve
DFNP: Dairy Farm Nature Park
JEG: Jurong Eco-Garden
SBG: Singapore Botanic Gardens
SBWR: Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
TEG: Tampines Eco-Garden

This report is compiled by Geoff Lim and Alan OwYong, edited by Tan Gim Cheong, based on selected postings in various facebook birding pages, bird forums, individual reports and extracts from ebird. This compilation is not a complete list of birds recorded for the month and not all the records were verified. We wish to thank all the contributors for their records. Many thanks to Feroz Fizah, TT Koh, Kozi Ichiyama, Luke Milo Teo, Tan Eng Boo, Angela Yeo, Alvin Seng, Pary Sivaraman, Stuart Campbell, and Arasu Sivaraman for the use of their photos. 

Return of the King.

Return of the King

Lim Kim Seng

Every once in a long while, we get really lucky in life. For birders and bird photographers alike, it would be encountering a species that nobody has seen before. It sounds impossible in urban Singapore but it actually happened.

On 2nd May 2018, Ted Lee found it even if he did not realise the importance of his sighting. He posted his photo of a Great Slaty Woodpecker (GSW) on Facebook and every Singapore birder and bird photographer was stunned! It was a bird that had been thought lost to our forests, a bird so scarce that nobody had seen it before in Singapore. Alan Owyong calls this the sighting of the decade. Yes, it was really spectacular in the sense that this really was a totally unexpected, out of the blue sighting.

IMG_9809 BTNR

2018 has been an exceptional year so far for rarities with a string of super rarities turning up – Band-bellied Crake, Booted Warbler, Indian Paradise Flycatcher, and now this. The GSW takes the cake because it was supposed to be extirpated. Our rainforests have been well surveyed and nobody had even come close to a sighting of this legendary behemoth of a bird. It is also noteworthy as the largest living woodpecker species in the world since two larger species, Imperial and Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, both from the New World, are supposed to be extinct or on the verge of extinction.  It measures up to 50 cm in length from the tip of its beak to the tip of its tail and weighs a maximum of about half a kilogram. The GSW is an awesome bird especially when seen close up.  It has a big head, big eyes, a narrow neck, a very long chisel-like bill and a stiff, long tail. Overall, it is clothed in dark grey with just a bit of buff on its throat. Males differ from females in having a broad, bright orange malar stripe.

The GSW has a wide global range being found in the Indian Subcontinent south of the Himalayas and southern China south to Southeast Asia as well as the islands of Borneo, Java and Sumatra. It occurs in deciduous and evergreen forests usually below 600 m but can range as high as 2000 m in some parts of its range. Due to its preference for old trees, it is most regular in old growth forest but has also been seen in plantations, mangroves and swampy forests. As such, it is rated as globally vulnerable by IUCN due to the large scale loss of old growth forests in the region in recent years.

IMG_9825 BTNR

In Singapore, the GSW has not been seen since 1950. There were unconfirmed sightings in the 1970s but none since. There are however specimens in the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum including an individual collected in Woodlands in 1904, so it was originally here.

After the report by Ted Lee on 2nd May, I had expected to see birders and bird photographers climbing up the 163-m Bukit Timah to seek the GSW the very next day, on 3rd May. I happened to be leading a group of students on a field trip there and spent some time looking for it near the summit. No luck for me and everyone else who tried that day! To add to my misery, I injured my right knee while descending the hill.

On 4th May, more people tried but most were disappointed as they missed the bird except for Dominic Ng who got there around dawn and managed a photograph of the GSW. I was down at nearby Dairy Farm Nature Park where the most interesting bird was a pair of Greater Green Leafbirds. The pain in my right knee grew and I had to go for acupuncture to relieve it.

IMG_9798

On 5th May, which was a Saturday, I was taking a break from birding and relaxing at home but any hope of peace was shattered very early on. My mobile phone kept beeping as whatsapp messages started from 7.00 am. The GSW was back and in view! My phone was still beeping three hours later. GSW still here, reported Kenneth Kee. I had some errands to do and only managed to get to Bukit Timah around noon. I bumped into Felix Wong as he was driving out, the smile on his face sufficient to tell me that he had seen the bird. The climb from the foot was very steep and I was careful not to push too hard, mindful of my knee injury. Sweat was pouring down my back as I huffed and puffed up the hill, each step seemingly harder than the last. Thankfully, I met Toh Yuet Hsin who was also keen to see the bird and we managed to reach the spot where the bird was last seen in good time.

Amongst the half a dozen people there toting binoculars and cameras was Low Bing Wen. He told me that we had missed the GSW by about 10 minutes and that it was probably still around. I scanned every branch carefully but couldn’t see anything. At 12.40 pm, some relief. The GSW called but despite anxious minutes passing by, we could not see it. The minutes ticked by. Nothing! A Chestnut-bellied Malkoha was a welcome distraction until someone shouted, “Woodpecker!” at 1.14 pm. I moved as fast as my injured legs could carry me and stood behind the group of people staring up a thick Shorea curtisi tree. A panicky few seconds passed before I laid my eyes on this giant woodpecker. It was about 15 metres up the tree, perched on a small branch and hammering away, searching for grubs. Elation was replaced by the frantic rummaging of my camera bag and I squeezed off shot after shot.

More people were coming up the hill and they soon showed happy faces as each had their own communion with their holy grail.

At 1.48 pm, we had the GSW in view for over half an hour, an eternity for a rarity, and I was satisfied at last. I had squeezed off 99 still frames, taken two short videos and also made a 30-second recording of its whinnying call. Job done, I descended the hill even as more people seeking this bird huffed and puffed their way up the hill. I heard that the bird was present most of that day and probably over 100 people had seen this mega rarity by then. This was a really special moment in Singapore birding, the return of the king of woodpeckers, and easily the ornithological event of the decade!

All photos by Lim Kim Seng.

Tree Hole Nest for rent at Pasir Ris Park.

Tree Hole Nest for rent at Pasir Ris Park.

By Seng Alvin.

On 16 January 2018, I was on my routine morning birding walk along the mangroves at my back yard Pasir Ris Park, when I heard pecking coming from the tree nearby. It was a pair of Laced Woodpeckers excavating a hole on the tree trunk for their love nest. I was happy to see this as the last nesting here was in March 2015. For the next few days, the mummy woodpecker spent many hours hard at work at the nest hole.

31076277_1679740288771428_1063040171_o

On 23 January, when I went to check in the progress, I was surprised to find that a Red-breasted Parakeet at the nest hole. There were no signs of the woodpeckers. Parakeets also used tree cavities for their nests. Since they cannot excavate tree holes, the next best thing to do is to take over existing holes.

30859237_1679744775437646_448802350_n

Fortunately or unfortunately, this tree hole was too small for the parakeet and they could not use it. But this did not stop the parakeets from coming back during the next few days to check on the tree hole. The Laced Woodpeckers were nowhere to be seen. It may be that the parakeets were too aggressive for the woodpeckers and they prefer not to pick a fight with them.

30859640_1679747778770679_137677476_n

Both the parakeets and woodpeckers went missing for a while, until 26 February when the parakeet came back again to check if the hole got any bigger. It was still too small for it and it finally gave up. A little later that day I was happy to see the male Laced Woodpecker back at the hole. Will they now decide to use the hole to nest this time?

30874414_1679753742103416_1739863367_n

March and April came and went, but the both species seemed to abandon this tree hole. Did the woodpeckers find better location somewhere? Was there something they don’t like about this particular tree hole?

30784915_1679756312103159_2053339976_n

My conclusion is that this is one of the mysteries of nature and we just have to accept it.