By Geoff Lim, Alan Owyong (compiler), Tan Gim Cheong (ed.).
November was spectacular, with the first record of two species – the Fairy Pitta and Shikra at the Central Catchment Nature Reserve; an Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher (the locally extinct rufous-backed subspecies), found inside a camera shop in the city; and, a rare Red-footed Booby at St John’s Island. Also, it was and has always been a great month to spot migrating raptors in southern Singapore.
A Fairy’s Visitation in November
On 8 November 2019, Francis Yap and Richard White were en route to Jelutong Tower, when the duo spotted a paler than usual pitta along the trail under the darkening morning sky as a storm threatened from Sumatra. When Francis managed to regain phone reception and were able to refer to other photos on the internet, the two confirmed that they had Singapore’s first record of the Fairy Pitta, Pitta nympha. Francis’ electrifying account can be accessed here. The Fairy Pitta stopped over for a week, with daily records from 8-13 November 2019.
The Fairy Pitta has been recognised as part of a superspecies comprising the Blue-winged Pitta, P. moluccensis, Mangrove Pitta, P. megarhyncha, and Indian Pitta, P. brachyura (Lambert & Woodcock, 1996:162), hence the superficial resemblance with one another. BirdLife has classified the species as Vulnerable, with key threats being habitat loss and conversion, as well as local trapping pressure (BirdLife, 2019). The pitta breeds in coastal eastern China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, and migrates to Borneo, and possibly Indochina, during the northern winter (Lambert & Woodcock, 1996:163). The species is known as a long-distance migrant; however, its movement is still not well understood.
Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) and Fringe Parks
Souls who braved the relative steep inclines of our modest Bukit Timah Hill were rewarded with sightings of our resident fruit pigeons and doves, needletails and raptors. Visitors on 1 November 2019 noted the presence of five Thick-billed Green Pigeon, Treron curvirostra and two Jambu Fruit Dove, Ptilinopus jambu, both by Choong YT, as well as a Zappey’s or Blue-and-white Flycatcher, Cyanoptila cumatilis/cyanomelana, spotted by Richard White at the summit.
A week later, four White-throated Needletail, Hirundapus caudacutus, and one Silver-backed Needletail, Hirundapus cochinchinensis, were seen on 7 November 2019 by Fadzrun Adnan, the summit being a known site for needletail sightings. Subsequently, two Booted Eagle, Hieraaetus pennatus, were seen on 10 November 2019 by Martin Kennewell, while an immature Rufous-bellied Hawk-Eagle, Lophotriorchis kienerii, was seen on 14 November 2019 by Alfred Chia. Another sighting of the Rufous-bellied Hawk-Eagle flying towards the summit on 30 November 2019 by Francis Yap probably relate to the same individual.
On the foothills, at Hindhede Nature Park, a Malayan Night Heron, Gorsachius melanolophus, in full adult splendour was spotted on 18 November 2019 by Richard White, and the bird was spotted again on 30 November 2019 by Felix Wong.
The core CCNR area continued to yield good sightings. On 1 November 2019, a White-throated Needletail, Hirundapus caudacutus, was spotted flying southwards from Jelutong Tower by Francis Yap, who also spotted three Ashy Minivet, Pericrocotus divaricatus. Apart from the spectacular discovery of the Fairy Pitta, Pitta nympha, by Richard White and Francis Yap on 8 November 2019 as narrated above, a Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher, Cyornis brunneatus, was also spotted on the same day by Nicholas Lim along Rifle Range Link. Fairy Pitta hunters the following week stumbled on an Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Ceyx erithaca, (black-backed subspecies) on 9 November 2019 (Norhafiani Majid), while visitors to other parts of the CCNR reported a Drongo Cuckoo, Surniculus lugubris, on 10 November 2019 at Sime Road (Felix Wong) and a Blue-eared Kingfisher, Alcedo meninting, on 11 November 2019 (Adrian Tay). On 21 November 2019, the first Singapore record of the Shikra, Accipiter badius, was made by Alex Fok, who photographed the bird from his vantage point at Jelutong Tower.
Several days later on 25 November 2019, a Malayan Night Heron, Gorsachius melanolophus, was flushed at Rifle Range Link behind the fenceline within a protected area next to the main track (Oliver Tan), while Asian Palm Swift, Cypsiurus balasiensis, were seen flying over the MacRitchie Reservoir. Further afield, a male Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, Terpsiphone atrocaudata, was spotted on 2 November 2019 at Thomson Nature Park by Andrew Wood, while a Black-capped Kingfisher, Halcyon pileata, was seen on 16 November 2019 at Lower Peirce Reservoir Park by Stephen Matthews.
Farther west, at the fringe parks comprising Singapore Quarry-Dairy Farm Nature Park, a Besra, Accipiter virgatus, was photographed on 3 November 2019 by Keita Sin & Dillen Ng. A few days later on 6 November 2019 at the quarry, a single Brown-backed Needletail, Hirundapus giganteus, was seen by Martin Kennewell. A Cinereous Bulbul, Hemixos cinereus, was seen by Richard White on 10 November 2019 at Dairy Farm Nature Park, while a small flock of four birds was spotted at the park on 14 November 2019 by Martin Kennewell. One day later on 15 November 2019, a female Greater Green Leafbird, Chloropsis sonnerati, an IUCN red-listed and endangered species, was spotted by Mike Hooper. The Barred Eagle-Owl, Bubo sumatranus, continued to make a regular appearance, with a report of one bird being made on 29 November 2019 by Chelsea Lee.
Singapore Botanic Gardens
On 1 November 2019, a Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher, Cyornis brunneatus, was spotted within the garden by Tomohiro Iuchi, while a single Blue-winged Pitta, Pitta moluccensis, was spotted on 2 November 2019 by Kwok Tuck Loong and Geoff Lim. On the same day, a Ferruginous Flycatcher, Muscicapa ferruginea, was spotted within the garden grounds by Kwong Yew. Two days later on 4 November 2019, a Greater Spotted Eagle, Clanga clanga, was spotted by Christi Kemmel, while on 12 November 2019, a male Daurian Redstart, Phoenicurus auroreus, was spotted by photographer Dennis Lim. Birders arriving to confirm the redstart’s presence discovered an adult Malayan Night Heron, Gorsachius melanolophus, on 13 November 2019 (Martin Kennewell), as well as a female Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, Terpsiphone atrocaudata, on 14 November 2019 (Francis Yap).
Other noticeable sightings included a flock of several Common Hill Myna, Gracula religiosa, on 16 November 2019, a Booted Eagle, Hieraaetus pennatus, on 21 November 2019, which was harassed by a Brahminy Kite, Haliastur indus (Oliver Tan), and a Jerdon’s Baza, Aviceda jerdoni, on 23 November 2019 by Peng Ah Huay.
The fragmented woods of Bidadari continued to attract important bird species such as the globally vulnerable Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher, Cyornis brunneatus, spotted on 3 November 2019 by Norhafiani Majid, an Indian Cuckoo, Cuculus micropterus, on the same day by T. Ramesh, a very skittish Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Hierococcyx sparverioides, on 5 November 2019 by Kelvin Ng Cheng Kwan, who also spotted the first-of-the-season Grey Nightjar, Caprimulgus jotaka.
A full adult male Zappey’s Flycatcher, Cyanoptila cumatilis, appeared on 10 November 2019 and was reported by Krishna Gopagondanahalli, while a first winter male Zappey’s / Blue-and-white Flycatcher, Cyanoptila sp., was sighted by Yang Chee Meng on 11 November 2019. Several days later, a Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, Terpsiphone atrocaudata, was reported on 16 November 2019 by Chan Kumchun, while a first winter male Siberian Thrush, Geokichla sibirica, was spotted on 21 November 2019 by Alan Owyong.
Further afield came the surprising report of a Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Ceyx erithaca, (the locally extinct rufous-backed subspecies), found on 6 November 2019 inside Peninsula Plaza by the staff of Cathay Photo; while a less happy news of a building strike casualty in the form of a female Thick-billed Green Pigeon, Treron curvirostra, was reported on 25 November 2019 by Shiva at Hotel V, Lavender.
Eight first-of-the-season White-Shouldered Starling, Sturnia sinensis, were reported on 1 November 2019 at Lorong Halus by Lim Kim Keang. Further away at Canberra Street, a fledgling Long-tailed Shrike, Lanius schach, was seen on 22 November 2019 by Desmond Yap.
The woods along a large canal at Changi Business Park has proven to be a good birding spot, as a Ruddy Kingfisher Halcyon coromanda, was seen on 1 November 2019 by Tan Eng Boo, while four Green Imperial Pigeon, Ducula aenea, were seen on 6 November 2019 by Mike Hooper, and a Jerdon’s Baza, Aviceda jerdoni, was spotted on 21 November 2019 by Steven Cheong, and on 25 November 2019 by Mike Hooper.
Pasir Ris Park yielded a migrating Hodgson’s Hawk-Cuckoo, Hierococcyx nisicolor, on 5 November 2019 by Alvin Seng, a Crested Serpent Eagle, Spilornis cheela, on 19 November 2019 by Tan Yes Chong, and a report of a first winter male Zappey’s / Blue-and-white Flycatcher, Cyanoptila sp, on 23 November 2019 by Wong Sangmen. Over at Pulau Ubin, we received a report of a flying Crested Serpent Eagle, Spilornis cheela, on 24 November 2019.
With migration progressing in earnest in November, migrant watchers congregated along the Henderson Waves were rewarded by sightings of a wide variety of birds. On 1 November 2019, a Jerdon’s Baza, Aviceda jerdoni, constituted a new arrival date, thirty-seven first-of-the-season Black Baza, Aviceda leuphotes, arrived in four kettles, as did nine Crested Honey Buzzard, Pernis ptilorhynchus, and a single Chinese Sparrowhawk, Accipiter soloensis; as reported by Oliver Tan. The next day, 2 November 2019, yielded a south-flying Greater Spotted Eagle, Clanga clanga, by Francis Yap, a Booted Eagle, Hieraaetus pennatus, by Sandra Chia, a Grey-faced Buzzard, Butastur indicus, by Oliver Tan, who also spotted a Cinereous Bulbul, Hemixos cinereus.
On 3 November 2019, a Grey-faced Buzzard was seen by Oliver Tan. A Pied Harrier, Circus melanoleucos, was seen shortly after twelve noon on 4 November 2019, by Francis Yap, while seventy nine Crested Honey Buzzard were spotted flying at varying intervals on 7 November 2019 by Low Choon How, with the peak occurring around 10:53am (24 birds) and 11:03am (23 birds); Choon How also reported the sighting of four Grey-faced Buzzard. A first-of-the-season Black Kite, Milvus migrans, was also spotted on the same day by Zacc HD.
On 9 November 2019, a Greater Spotted Eagle, Clanga clanga, and a Common Buzzard, Buteo buteo, were seen by Martin Kennewell. An Asian House Martin, Delichon dasypus, was seen on 11 November 2019 by Keita Sin, who also saw a White-throated Needletail, Hirundapus caudacutus, on 14 November 2019, which constituted the tenth record of the bird for 2019, and a Brown-backed Needletail, Hirundapus giganteus, on the same day. The next day, on 16 November 2019, a single Chestnut-cheeked Starling, Agropsar philippensis, was photographed among fifteen Daurian Starling by See Toh Yew Wai.
The Telok Blangah park area, where most birders would park or pass by on their way to the Henderson Waves, also yielded several species. These included a Mugimaki Flycatcher, Ficedula mugimaki, spotted on 11 Nov 19 by Tan Eng Boo, a Zappey’s / Blue-and-white Flycatcher, Cyanoptila sp., on 16 November 2019 by Herman Phua, a Siberian Thrush, Geokichla sibirica, on 21 Nov 19 by Dean Tan.
Further south, Kent Ridge Park yielded two Greater Spotted Eagle, Clanga clanga, on 6 November 2019 by Choong YT, ten Asian Palm Swift, Cypsiurus balasiensis, and a Common Buzzard, Buteo buteo, on 7 November 2019 by Alan Owyong, and two high flying Oriental Darter, Anhinga melanogaster, on 24 November 2019 by Raghav Narayanswamy.
Over at Satay-by-the-Bay, a Blue-eared Kingfisher, Alcedo meninting, was spotted on 4 November 2019 by Choong YT, while a Jerdon’s Baza, Aviceda jerdoni, was seen on 8 November 19, at Gardens-by-the-Bay by Steven Ang. On 30 November 2019, there was an amazing report of an immature Red-footed Booby, Sula sula, photographed on St. John’s Island, by Chua Yingzhi.
At Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (SBWR), a Black-tailed Godwit, Limosa limosa, was seen on 2 November 2019 by Andy Dinesh, who observed that the bird fed continuously for 2-3 hours. The next day on 3 November 2019, a Greater Spotted Eagle, Clanga clanga, was reported by Bryan Lim, while three days later on 6 November 2019, an Oriental Darter, Anhinga melanogaster, was spotted by Jimmy Wong. Towards the end of the month, on 23 November 2019, birders at SBWR thought they might have had four Eurasian Curlews, but they turned out to be Whimbrels, Numenius phaeopus, a common winter visitor, of which 35 were recorded by Alastair Newton.
Birders visiting the area around the Kranji Marshes (KM) noted a pale morph Greater Spotted Eagle, Clanga clanga, on 3 November 2019 along Neo Tiew Harvest Link (Zacc HD), a White Wagtail, Motacilla alba, at Lim Chu Kang Avenue 3 on 10 November 2019 (Veronica Foo), as well as a Grey-headed Lapwing, Vanellus cinereus, on 16 November 2019 along Turut Track (Sandra Chia).
The adventurous ones visiting Tuas were ambly rewarded. Birds seen on 2 November 2019 includewd a Von Schrenck’s Bittern, Ixobrychus eurhythmus, one Black Bittern, Dupetor flavicollis, one Greater Spotted Eagle, Clanga clanga, Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Hierococcyx sparverioides, and Hodgson’s Hawk-Cuckoo, Hierococcyx nisicolor (Martin Kennewell), a Grey-faced Buzzard, Butastur indicus (Low Choon How), Indian Cuckoo, Cuculus micropterus, and Himalayan Cuckoo, Cuculus saturatus (Jerold Tan). The next day, on 3 November 2019, yielded a Jambu Fruit Dove, Ptilinopus jambu, (Art Toh), and a Blue Rock Thrush, Monticola soltarius, (Jerold Tan), while 5 November 2019 yielded two Barred Buttonquail, Turnix suscitator (Martin Kennewell), and a Northern Boobook, Ninox japonica, (Yong Ding Li). On 16 November 2019, a female House Sparrow, Passer domesticus, was spotted by Richard White, while an Asian House Martin, Delichon dasypus, was seen on 23 November 2019 by Choong YT. A Common Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus, was subsequently seen on 30 November 2019, hovering over the grasslands by Gahyathree Arasu.
Mai Rong Wen (麥榮文)photographed a big flock of Daurian Starlings at Pandan River on 1 November 2019, and Kim Chuah, amazingly, noticed a single Chestnut-cheeked Starling, Agropsar philippensis, among the mass of flying birds. Birders trawling the Pandan Canal reported seeing a Yellow-browed Warbler, Phylloscopus inornatus, on 2 November 2019 (Martin Kennewell), a Greater Spotted Eagle, Clanga clanga, on 3 November 2019 (Francis Yap), and a Short-toed Snake Eagle, Circaetus gallicus, on 6 November 2019 (Pary Sivaraman). The Rufous-bellied Hawk-Eagle, Lophotriorchis kienerii, recorded on 9 November 2019 by Krishna Deepak RNV appeared to be the same individual seen in the Bukit Timah Area.
A variety of species encountered in other parts of Western Singapore included three Ashy Minivet, Pericrocotus divaricatus, on 1 November 2019 at Jurong Lake Gardens (Oliver Tan), a Black Bittern, Dupetor flavicollis, near Dunearn Road on 2 November 2019 (Yeo Seng Beng), seven hundred and eighty seven roosting Blue-throated Bee-Eater, Merops viridis, on 7 November 2019 at Eng Kong Place (Richard White), a dead Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, Clamator coromandus, on 19 November 2019 at Upper Bukit Timah Road (Francis Loke), and a Brown-backed Needletail, Hirundapus giganteus, on 23 November 2019 (Mike Hooper).
This report is written by Geoff Lim, compiled by Alan OwYong & Geoff Lim, and edited by Tan Gim Cheong. We are grateful for the birders and photographers whose postings in various Facebook birding pages, bird forums, individual reports and extracts from eBird make up this report. This compilation is not a complete list of birds recorded for the month and not all the records were verified.
Many thanks to Art Toh, Angela Yeo, Alan Owyong, Alvin Seng, Dorcas Fong, Francis Yap, Isabelle Lee, Herman Phua, T. Ramesh, Sandra Chia, and Zacc HD for allowing us to use their photographs.
BirdLife International 2017. Pitta nympha (amended version of 2016 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T22698684A116880779. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-3.RLTS.T22698684A116880779.en. Downloaded on 23 December 2019.
Lambert, F. and Woodcock, M. (1996). Pittas, Broadbills and Asities. London: Pica Press.