The Farmland Marshes of Kranji. Part 2.

The Farmland Marshes of Kranji. Part 2.

A Personal Observation by Pary Sivaraman

In my previous article ‘The Farmland Marshes of Kranji. Part 1’, I had described an ‘accidental site’ comprising muddy parts, marsh-like and water-logged areas that attracted migrant birds and local birds.  In the second part of my write up, I will highlight how some of our resident birds have managed to breed in this accidental site, signaling the ultimate success of such a place. Most of the observations on the breeding of these birds were taken exclusively from outside the fence near one of the lamp posts. Not unexpectedly, it was impossible to photograph the chicks.

The White-breasted Waterhen is a relatively common bird seen at many locations in Singapore. It was one of the first birds seen here to have chicks. The chicks were rather small when first seen and did not venture beyond a specific area located to the left of the Farmland. A pair of Cinnamon Bitterns were also sometimes seen perched on the low-lying shrubs in the deeper parts of the Farmland. Subsequently I would see one of them intermittently fly in to catch what was possibly insects and fly off. With careful observations I tracked it to another Farmland. It would go regularly to the same location with food in its mouth leading me to believe there could be a nest there.  I did not attempt to search for the nest in the other Farmland as it would highly likely have disturbed the nesting. Anyway, it was in another Farmland. The Slaty-breasted Rails with three juveniles have been seen to walk regularly in this Farmland. They would also walk outside the Farmland. Since I did not see the chicks in this Farmland, I cannot be certain whether they had bred here though it is possible since they appeared comfortable walking around.

Chestnut Munia (Black-headed Munia), Scaly-breasted Munia, Common Waxbill and Golden-backed Weavers have been busily seen bringing nesting materials. The nests cannot be seen but I have seen fledglings of the Chestnut Munia and Scaly-breasted Munia. I did not pay too much attention to the other two birds and thus may have missed the fledglings. The Red-wattled Lapwings would fly in an extremely aggressive manner above this Farmland when disturbed. Its chicks were seen in the Farmland behind this plot of land.

Lesser-whistling ducks have been seen regularly visiting this plot of land. The maximum number of Lesser-whistling ducks I had seen at one time was twenty-eight (28) as they flew away from the Farmland.  They would fly in, wade in the water-logged areas or stand at various places (Photos 1 to 3).

Photo 1. Lesser-whistling ducks flying into the Farmland.

Photo 2. Lesser-whistling ducks wading in the water-logged areas.

Photo 3. Lesser-whistling ducks standing at one part of the Farmland.

The area shown by Photo 3 may be especially important as I have seen one pair of Lesser-whistling ducks spend a considerable portion of their time there. It was in the water-logged area near this site, I first noticed the seven (7) ducklings wading with its parents.

Photo 4. Showing the areas where the adults would be seen wading with the chicks.

The Lesser-whistling ducks and ducklings would be seen intermittently wading in the areas marked by the three red arrows. They would usually move in the direction of the blue arrows and reverse back. Whilst I could see the chicks with my binoculars partially hidden by the vegetation, it was not possible for me to get any photos standing outside the fence. The other angle that allowed observation from outside the fence in the past unfortunately was blocked by significant overgrowth of vegetation (hatched purple) and prevented any clear line of sight.

The Common Moorhen has also been seen at various parts of the Farmland. They would either wade in the water-logged areas or stand at a few chosen spots on the solid ground (Photos 5 & 6).

Photo 5. Common Moorhen wading in the water-logged areas.

Photo 6. Common Moorhen standing at one of its usual sites.

The maximum number of adult Common Moorhens I had seen in this Farmland was four (4). I was unable to capture all four in a single frame (Photo 7).

Photo 7. Three Common Moorhens. The fourth one was hidden to the left of this photo.

Photo 7 is interesting as this was the same area where I had seen the pair of Lesser-Whistling ducks spend a considerable portion of the time. Similarly, a pair of the Common Moorhens would spend time here and move to the water-logged area (Photo 8).

Photo 8. Pair of Common Moorhens would be seen regularly at this location.

Two chicks were subsequently seen wading in the water-logged areas with the parents in this location. The chicks were much smaller than the adult and appeared almost completely black, except for the beak which looked possibly tan/pinkish. Despite all my attempts I could not get a single photo standing outside the Farmland. I was terribly disappointed in not being able to get any photos but was still happy to have seen the chicks of the Common Moorhen!

The movement of the Common Moorhen with its chicks was more restricted and usually would be restricted to the leftmost red arrow of Photo 4. I was somewhat puzzled as to whether the Lesser-whistling ducks and the Common Moorhens would get along. I had seen them on multiple occasions sharing the same area (Photo 9) in close proximity.

Photo 9. Lesser-whistling duck and Common Moorhen in proximity.

The final bird that had bred here would be the White-browed Crake. I did not see the chicks but saw the juvenile White-browed Crakes moving within the reeds. They had brownish heads. They would never venture out into the open and I do not have any decent photos of them. Unlike the Lesser-whistling ducks and the Common Moorhens, they preferred a slighly different location that included marsh-like and water logged areas (Photo 10). The head can usually be seen near the purple circled area and they would move within the area marked in blue.

Photo 10. Showing where the juvenile White-browed crakes would be seen.

From July to August 2020, the workers had started more intensive work around the Farmland to clear vegetation, move the bags of sand/fertilizer, etc. With permission from the Farmland supervisiors, I managed to enter and attempted to look for the Common Moorhens. They were not found making me suspect they had left the location due to the regular and significant human activity especially at the place where they were seen to be resting most of the time. Prior to this, the workers did walk around intermittently without doing any clearing of vegetation and I suspect the Common Moorhens remained at the site as they were not threatened.

The Lesser Whistling ducks still continue to come to the Farmland but in lesser numbers and would wade and rest at different locations. The White-browed Crakes can still be found in the Farmland as its usual movement area has not been affected by human activity.

At the start of September 2020,  I was fortunate to witness two chicks of the White-browed Crake with its parents. In the ensuing days only one of the chicks was regularly seen, making me suspect that one of the chicks might have either died or fallen prey. Since my entry into the Farmland was not restricted, I was able to obtain photos of the slightly grown-up chick of the White-browed Crake and subsequently the Juvenile White-browed Crake (Photos 11 & 12). Many other birders have also been successful in capturing precious images of this bird.

Photo 11. White-browed chick with its parent

Photo 12. Juvenile White-browed chick

This accidental site in the Farmland consisting of muddy parts, marsh-like and water-logged areas has attracted both migrant birds and local birds. Recently, the Pallas-grasshopper Warbler and Oriental Reed Warbler have been spotted here. The site has also supported breeding of some of the most uncommon birds we have in Singapore.

In my opinion, this site has been successful as a habitat for both migratory and uncommon local birds. The muddy areas provided a resting and feeding spot for birds like the Long-toed stint and Little-ringed plover. The water-logged areas had relatively shallow portions and even the deeper portions were possibly at most only 0.5 meters. This allowed birds like the White-browed Crakes walk in the shallow areas and Asian Openbills in the deeper areas to forage for food. The interspersed vegetation with reeds provided cover from predators and yet allowed the birds to move freely and forage for food. Excessive human activity like clearing of vegetation would be a threat to these birds as exemplified by the disappearance of the Common Moorhens from this Farmland. Finally, my wish would be such a similar site would be reproduced in a nearby vicinity and it would allow birders like me to watch, photograph and enjoy birdlife.

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