Author Archives: Alan OwYong

About Alan OwYong

Retiree birder and photographer.

The Black-Thighed Falconet in Singapore.

THE BLACK-THIGHED FALCONET IN SINGAPORE

Lim Kim Seng

Introduction

The Black-thighed Falconet Microhierax fringillarius was previously classified as a resident breeder as there had been specimens collected from Singapore as well as records since the 1920s and up to the 1990s (Lim 2009) but is likely to have become extirpated thereafter. It was re-categorized by the Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group Records Committee, or NSSBGRC, as a non-breeding visitor as there have been no confirmed breeding record and no confirmed sightings for thirty years (Lim 2021). The Black-thighed Falconet was put into Category B, a category for wild birds, resident, visitor or vagrant, that have not been recorded for thirty years. In 2021 alone, however, there were three separate records of Black-thighed Falconet and as a result, it was re-instated in Category A by NSSBGRC.

Black-thighed Falconet was re-instated by the NSSBGRC in 2021. Photo taken at Panti Forest by Jimmy Chew.

Global Range, Habitat Requirements, Altitudinal Range, Breeding Habits and Conservation Status of Black-thighed Falconet

The Black-thighed Falconet is a monotypic species first described by Drapiez in 1824. It is one of five falconets in the world, all of which occur in southern China, South and Southeast Asia. Its natural range spans the Thai-Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo and Java. Its habitat is primary and secondary forests (including on limestone), edges of forests, rubber plantations, fruit orchards, cultivated land, parkland and wooded gardens up to 1,700 m (Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2000, Lim et al 2020, Wells 1999). The Black-thighed Falconet occurs as a common resident in most parts of its range and it is not known to undertake any movements (Robson 2000). In north Borneo, this species is replaced by the endemic White-fronted Falconet M. latifrons (Myers 2009).

In the Thai-Malay Peninsula, it breeds from November to July (Khoo 2021, Wells 1999). Nests are usually in tree cavities abandoned by woodpeckers and larger barbets, mostly in dead trees. In a site monitored in Perak, Malaysia, birds used a cavity in a limestone outcrop and nested successfully (Khoo 2021). Clutch size is three to six. The young remain with their parents for at least two months after fledging (Khoo 2021, Wells 1999).  It breeds from December to June in Borneo (Myers 2009). There is also evidence of communal feeding by birds other than parents, possibly by older siblings, and birds have also been seen to use old nest cavities as communal roost sites (Khoo 2021).

In Perak, Malaysia, they used cavities in Limestone outcrops to nest. Photo: Khoo Siew Yoong.

The Black-thighed Falconet is treated as “least concern” by IUCN (BirdLife International 2016).

Identification and Ecology of Black-thighed Falconet

The Black-thighed Falconet is one of the smallest raptors in the world at 15-17 cm in length from bill tip to tail tip. It is the same size as the White-fronted Falconet but smaller than Collared and Pied Falconets and has the distinction of being the smallest bird of prey of the world! In comparison, the Coppersmith Barbet Megalaima haemacephala measures 15-17 cm, Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker Yungipicus moluccensis, 13 cm and Yellow-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus goiavier measures 19-21 cm. Females are slightly larger than males and an adult weighs about 43 g (Wells 1999). In terms of its jizz, the Black-thighed Falconet has a big-headed, stout-bodied appearance with a medium-sized tail.

The small size of the falconet makes it hard to confuse with other birds although distance may make identification challenging as this species usually hawks from tall trees. It is mostly black on the head, eyestripe, ear patch, upperparts, bill, leg and tail, with mostly white on forehead, eyebrow and underparts, and orange-rufous on throat and lower breast to vent. Juveniles show pinkish horn bill and cere, rusty eyebrow and ear stripe, pale fine edges to upperparts and less rufous on lower underparts.

Its flight is rapid and direct, with fast wingbeats and sharp pointed wings, often accompanied by short periods of gliding.

Its voice is a shrill squeal kweer-week (Wells 1999).

Black-thighed Falconets hunt socially or alone, making sorties from a dead tree. Its diet is mainly arthropods, typically termites, butterflies and moths, dragonflies, carpenter bees, beetles, mantids, grasshoppers and cicadas, birds such as House Swift Apus nipalensis, sunbirds and munias, mammals such as bats and rats, and geckos (Khoo 2021, Wells 1999). Prey is usually snatched on the wing, occasionally from the ground, to be consumed from a perch, and there is evidence that falconets choose flowering trees with an abundance of nectar feeders to hunt (Wells 1999).

Birds indulge in head bobbing and tail wagging in close proximity and allo-preening has been observed (Wells 1999).

Historical Status of the Black-thighed Falconet in Singapore

The earliest reference to the occurrence of the Black-thighed Falconet in Singapore can be found in Bucknill & Chasen (1927) who stated that it “sometimes visit Singapore”. Gibson-Hill (1950) mentioned that it was “resident in small numbers” while RAFOS (1966-1969) and Tweedy (1970) mentioned the existence of several records in the 1960s.

There were no records until almost two decades when I found the first of four sight records within a period of seven years, all from a dead durian tree in my wooded garden in Jalan Ulu Sembawang in the north of Singapore. All records were of singles and included a juvenile seen on the following dates – 11 October 1979, 2 October 1983, 1 December 1983 and 12 April 1986 (Lim 1992). These records indicate the presence of a small and possibly breeding resident population in the area or that of non-breeding visitors from nearby Johor state, Malaysia. There were no further records from this site which was resettled and developed as part of the new Sembawang Estate in the early 1990s. Our most recent record was an adult seen on a dead tree, near the current Ranger’s Station, in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve on 7 October 1990 (Lim 2009).

In addition to these records, there were also four unconfirmed records between 1992 and 2005 from Sime Road, Loyang and Bukit Batok Nature Park. There are also nine specimens collected from MacRitchie Reservoir, Jurong and Singapore in the Lee Kong Chian Nature History Museum collection.  

Due to the fact that there have been no records for thirty years and also no confirmation of breeding, the Black-thighed Falconet’s status was reviewed by NSSBGRC in early 2020 as no longer fitting that of a wild bird for Category A, which is the category for all wild birds recorded within the last thirty years. It was re-categorised as belong to Category B, which is the category for all wild birds recorded within Singapore but not within the last thirty years (Lim 2021).

As fate would have it, soon after the release of the new checklist, news came of our first sighting of Black-thighed Falconet since 1990. This came from a juvenile that was seen and photographed by Lee Lay Na at a HDB block in Yishun Street 71 on 12 February 2021 (Tan, G.C. & Lim, G. 2021). The report of a juvenile is interesting as it indicates local or regional breeding.

A typical perch of the Black-thighed Faconet on top of tree at Goldhill Avenue by Art Toh.

There were two additional records, both also backed by photographs. One was a bird photographed using the top of a tree at Goldhill Avenue on 20 May 2021 by Art Toh (Tan, G.C. 2021) while the second was another adult from Jalan Mashhor on 9 July 2021, reported by Art Toh and Tan Choon Siang, and still present on 12 July 2021, reported by Vincent Lao (Lim, G. et al 2021).

A far away photo of the second adult falconet taken at Jalan Mansor two months later again by Art Toh.

These three sightings from 2021 have the effect of reinstating the Black-thighed Falconet into the Singapore List once again. At the moment, it is probably best considered a rare non-breeding visitor due to the short-term nature of their occurrences in 2021. Hopefully, one day, we will find them nesting in Singapore again.

Concluding Remarks

Birders and bird photographers are much more active than two decades ago. There are people at various locations in Singapore every day and most of them carry some sort of photographic equipment with them. This number of people watching birds daily is bound to yield rewards in the form of documenting the occurrence of rarities as well as species that are either new to Singapore or those thought to have been extirpated. Recent records of Javan Plover and Green Broadbill attest to this increased opportunity of detecting something really sensational!

Would-be falconet seekers are encouraged to focus on sites in the central and north of Singapore, where all confirmed sightings have been made since 1979. Bukit Brown would be another place to pay attention to given the recent record (and nearby, in Goldhill). Searches on Pulau Ubin may also yield results due to the island’s proximity to Malaysia as well as the island’s reputation for attracting Malaysian visitors. Prime habitats to look for this elusive raptor are the edges of forests and woodland as well as areas where there are tall trees or snags.

It is hoped that birders and bird photographers will continue to help us make new discoveries or re-discoveries in the case of the Black-thighed Falconet, the smallest bird of prey in the world.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Yong Ding Li for helpful suggestions with the drafting of this article, Jimmy Chew, Khoo Siew Yoong and Art Toh for the use of their photographs.

References

BirdLife International. (2016). Microhierax fringillarius. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016. Downloaded on 10 September 2021.

Bucknill, J.A.S & Chasen, F.N. (1927).  The birds of Singapore Island. Government Printing Office, Singapore.

Ferguson-Lees & Christie, D.A. (2001). Raptors of the World. Christopher Helm, London.

Gibson-Hill, C.A. (1950). A checklist of the birds of Singapore Island. Bull. Raffles Mus. No. 21: 132-183.

Khoo, S.Y. (2021). Breeding ecology of Black-thighed Falconets in Perak, Malaysia. Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group. https://singaporebirdgroup.wordpress.com/tag/black-thighed-falconet/

Lim, G., Lee, I. & Tan, G.C. (2021). Singapore Bird Report – July 2021. Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group.  https://singaporebirdgroup.wordpress.com/category/monthly-bird-reports/

Lim, K.S. (1992). Vanishing birds of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore), Singapore.

Lim, K.S. (2009). The avifauna of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore), Singapore.

Lim, K.S. (2021). Bird Records Committee Report (January 2021). Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group. https://singaporebirdgroup.wordpress.com/2021/02/02/birds-records-committee-report-jan-2021/

Lim, K.S., Yong, D.L. & Lim, K.C. (2020). A field guide to the birds of Malaysia and Singapore. John Beaufoy Publishing, Oxford.

Myers, S. (2009). A field guide to the birds of Borneo. Talisman Publishing, Singapore.

Royal Air Force Ornithological Society (1966-1969). Bulletins of the Singapore Branch & unpublished correspondence with members.

Tan, G.C. (2021). Singapore Raptor Report, Late Spring Migration, April-June 2021. Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group. https://singaporebirdgroup.wordpress.com/category/raptor-report/singapore-raptor-report/

Tan, G.C. & Lim, G. (2021). Singapore Bird Report – February 2021. Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group. https://singaporebirdgroup.wordpress.com/category/monthly-bird-reports/

Tweedy, L. (1970). The birds of Singapore. Army Birdwatching Club (Far East).

Wells, D.R. (1999). The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, Volume One: Non-passerines. Academic Press, London.

Nesting of Little Terns in Singapore.

LITTLE TERN (Sternula albifrons)

By Frankie Cheong

I came across some Little Tern nests in end May and early June at my place. There were at least 5 nests. Each nest, in a shallow depression in the sand, consisted of 2 to 3 eggs. Fig 1 & 2

Fig 1
Fig 2

I started to monitor them. The adult birds took turn to sit on the eggs, normally for around 2 hours, then the other bird would take over. Fig 3, 4.

Fig 3
Fig 4

Every time when people or vehicle passed by or moved too close to their nests, they would fly up and made lots of loud and alert calls . Fig 5.

Fig 5

In mid June, I started seeing the hatchings, these are day old chicks, most of the time they still hide under the parent for protection. Fig 6,7,8,9.

Fig 6
Fig 7
Fig 8
Fig 9

2 to 3 days later, these chicks started to venture out moving around close to the nest area.

As the place is a bare reclamation land without any trees and very hot during the day, these little chicks were smart enough to hide under some long grass to shade themselves from the sun. Fig 10, 11, 12, 13.

Fig 10
Fig 11
Fig 12
Fig 13.

The parents continued to bring food back for the chicks. Sometimes, they would use the fish to teach the chicks to move forward to catch, I believed this is part of the training for survival. Fig14.15.

Fig 14
Fig 15

I monitored them till mid July when all the chicks fledged. F 16, 17, 18 .

Fig 16

Likely this is a 2 to 3 weeks old chick. fig 17,18.

Fig 17

A slightly older one.

Fig 18

A family photo.

It was a great privilege to study and document the nesting of our only resident tern that breeds on mainland Singapore, even though this site is on an offshore island. The Little Tern is listed as a common resident, but suitable breeding sites across the island is diminishing. It was featured in Lim Kim Seng’s 1992 book “Vanishing Birds of Singapore” as vulnerable. At 2019 Mapletree Investment’s exhibition “Singapore Birds on the Blink” at Vivocity, it was one of the species highlighted.

Reference:

Lim Kim Seng. Vanishing Birds of Singapore 1992.

Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore. 2009. Nature Society (Singapore)

First Records of the Javan Plover in Singapore

First Records of the Javan Plover in Singapore

By Frankie Cheong & Lim Kim Seng

Figure #1: Javan Plover photographed at Pulau Tekong on 16th July 2021. Photo © Frankie Cheong. Note the flesh-coloured long legs, buff breast patch and eyestripe, and white supercilium extending beyond eye.

     I (FC) was going for my usual round exploring the reclaimed land on Pulau Tekong on the morning of 16th July 2021. My main reason for going to this area was to follow up on a Pied Stilt Himantopus leucocephalus to get a better look since it is a rare breeding visitor in Singapore only recorded at this location to date.

Upon reaching the area, I heard the call of a Pied Stilt, so I stopped my car and scanned the area. I was not able to find it. However, I did see three waders busy foraging about 20 to 30 m away.  I pointed my camera and looked through the view finder to try and see what they were. They are appeared to me to be Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus, a species known to be an uncommon winter visitor and passage migrant in Singapore (Lim 2009; Lim et al. 2020) so I just clicked a few shots for record purposes and continued to search for the stilt.

Once I had downloaded and processed my photographs, one of these plovers were identified as a “Kentish Plover” and subsequently shared online on a Facebook group. I was pleasantly surprised to received messages from Dave Bakewell and James Eaton were both saying that this could be something rarer than Kentish Plover. There was a mad rush to google and messages were flying. Later that day. James Eaton messaged me to confirm that this is a Javan Plover Charadrius javanicus, a species never before seen outside Indonesia and Timor Leste!

He wrote, the plumage is spot on for Javan (gingery breast sides and ear coverts) but it has a long, sleek appearance with quite long thin bill and very leggy typical of Javan”. I also sent a short report, with my photographs, to the Records Committee of the Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group as this species was not on the official bird checklist for Singapore.

Subsequently, I went back to my archives because I remember seeing the same plovers some time ago at Pulau Tekong. Indeed, I have some badly taken photos on 20th June 2021! There were also three birds, one of which looked like a juvenile. I sent these photos to James Eaton and he concurred that this was a juvenile, which meant that breeding could be taken place for the first time here in Singapore and outside Indonesia and Timor Leste! So, not only was this a new species for Singapore, it was also a new breeding record for Singapore! In addition, this was also a new record for continental Southeast Asia! What a mega tick! The three birds were still there on 2nd August.

If accepted by the Records Committee, these will be the first records, and the first breeding record of the Javan Plover in Singapore, something unprecedented since a similar event when Savanna Nightjar Caprimulgus affinis turned up in 1988 (Lim 2009, Lim et al 2020).

Status and Range of Javan Plover

The Javan Plover is a monotypic resident shorebird found across Java, the Lesser Sundas, southern Sumatra (Lampung) Bangka and Belitung (Iqbal et al. 2013; Iqbal 2015, Eaton et al 2016). The species is locally common at a number of sites it is known from in Indonesia (e.g. Jakarta Bay). The species is essentially endemic to Indonesia and Timor-Leste until the Singapore records. The records from the south-east coast of Sumatra and Belitung are fairly recent (within the last decade) and suggests a northward trajectory of range expansion of the species. The species occurs in a variety of habitats ranging from beaches and shrimp ponds to coastal mudflats and wetlands, occasionally straying into semi-open scrubland. The Singapore records suggest a northward expansion of its range towards continental Southeast Asia, and the species may already be occurring undetected in the Riau Archipelago, e.g. on Bintan (Yong, D.L., Adha Putra, C. in litt.). The Javan Plover is rated as globally Near-Threatened in view of its small and declining range (BirdLife International 2021).

Identification of the Javan Plover

The Javan Plover is a small plover with sandy brown upperparts, white lores, white supercilium extending behind eye and white collar, buff-coloured eyestripe and breast patches. Its bill is long and black and its legs are long and flesh-coloured. Compared to Kentish Plover, it has a bigger head with a less sloping forehead, a slenderer body and distinctly longer legs. The Malaysian Plover Charadrius peroni is similar but is shorter-billed with distinctly mottled upperparts. The Swinhoe’s Plover Charadrius dealbatus can be differentiated from the other two plovers by its head shape (steep forehead), the broad, white supercilium extending almost to the collar, the absence of the dark patch on its lores (giving it a ‘white-faced’ appearance), its shorter bill and legs.

Recommendations for future fieldwork

More fieldwork needs to be conducted in coastal (wetland) habitats around Singapore and its offshore islets as well as southern Peninsular Malaysia and the Riau Archipelago to determine if the Javan Plover has established a presence further northward as the Singapore records would suggest. There are known areas of coastal wetlands used by shorebirds in the northern and western coastline of Bintan (Yong, D.L. in litt.) and these sites should be further surveyed for their shorebird communities.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Dave Bakewell and James Eaton for helpful comments on my photographs on Facebook. Thanks also go to Alan OwYong and Yong Ding Li for the use of his photograph of Kentish Plover and White-faced Plover, as well as input on the species from the region from Yong Ding Li and Chairunas Adha Putra.

Figure #2. Javan Plover photographed at Pulau Tekong on 16th July 2021. Photo © Frankie Cheong.

Figure #3. Javan Plover photographed at Pulau Tekong on 16th July 2021. Photo © Frankie Cheong.

Figure # 4 & 5. Javan Plovers photographed at Pulau Tekong on 20th June 2021. Photos © Frankie Cheong.

Figure # 6 & 7. Javan Plover photographed at Pulau Tekong on 20th June 2021. Photos © Frankie Cheong.

References

BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Charadrius javanicus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 31/07/2021.  

Eaton, J.A., van Balen, B., Brickle, N.W. & Rheindt, F.E. (2016). Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago. Greater Sundas and Wallacea. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Iqbal, M. 2015. Javan Plover Charadrius javanicus on Belitung Island, a new site for Sumatra (Indonesia). Wader Study 122(2): 160–161.

Iqbal, M., Taufiqurrahman, I., Gilfedder, M. & Baskoro, K. 2013. Field identification of Javan Plover Charadrius javanicus. Wader Study Group Bull. 120(2): 96–101.

Lim, K.S. (2009). The avifauna of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore), Singapore.

Lim, K.S., Yong, D.L. & Lim, K.C. (2020). A field guide to the birds of Malaysia and Singapore. John Beaufoy, Oxford.

Figure # 8. Kentish Plover at Marina East on 31st January 2021. Photo © Alan OwYong.

Figure #10. White-faced Plover at Marina Barrage by Yong Ding Li.

The first sighting of a juvenile Blue-winged Pitta on mainland Singapore.

By Joseph Lim.

On the morning of 16 July this year, I went hiking to the Central Catchment Forest, Mandai Track 15 to look for the Sambar deer, a former native but probably escapees from the zoo. I started the hike at 7.40 am and shortly reached a stream where sightings of the deer had been reported. I tread slowly and quietly anticipating the deer to appear anytime. Suddenly, I saw some small movements at the bare dark patches of the bushes about 5 meters away.

Surprised to see that it was a juvenile Blue-winged Pitta, a first for mainland Singapore.

It was a small bird and from the size and shape I could see that it was a pitta even though it was dark and shaded at 8 am in the morning. As I got nearer I could see it “hopping” around just like a pitta. Upon seeing me coming, the pitta jumped up and perched on a low branch, instead of getting skittish and flee. At one point the pitta turned and looked straight at me in absolute silence. From my photos, I can see that it was a juvenile Blue-winged Pitta, Pitta moluccensis, with duller plumage and gape. On checking with my friends I was told that this is the first mainland record of a juvenile Blue-winged Pitta. The previous sighting of a fledged juvenile was at Pulau Ubin also around July in 2016 where its nest was discovered ( See reference).

The gape, duller and less defined plumage of the juvenile Blue-winged Pitta

I tried to move in for a closer shot and to avoid the many mountain bikers coming through as this was a shared track at this spot. Unfortunately a biker went by fairly fast and spooked the bird. It quickly hopped and flew further into the bushes.

I wandered around the vicinity to look for it. Then I heard the calls of a Blue-winged Pitta coming from a forest patch about 20 meters away. It turned out to be another pitta, a bigger adult with brighter plumage and clear define plumage perched on a small tree, 3 meters from the ground.

The adult Blue-winged Pitta calling loudly from a small tree.

This adult Blue-winged Pitta was calling loudly and regularly  throughout my observations. It remained perched for about 3 minutes and flew deeper into the forests when I approached it for closer shots. I can only assumed that this is the parent bird.

Both the adult and the juvenile could not be located and was not seen again.

Reference :

1.‘First documented records of the Blue-winged Pitta Pitta moluccensis breeding in Singapore, BING WEN LOW, ALFRED CHIA, GIM CHEONG TAN, WEE JIN YAP & KIM KEANG LIM

source:  https://singaporebirdgroup.wordpress.com/2017/03/18/first-nesting-record-of-the-blue-winged-pitta-in-singapore/?fbclid=IwAR07OKZ95cOOwwBNKrDr0OVpNyYrPXvdoBuD3pRVtdl4eomPPeT4J-8i2XQ

2.‘PITTAS (PITTIDAE) OF SINGAPORE’  NATURE IN SINGAPORE 2009 2: 155–165,

     A. F. S. L. Lok1*, K. T. N. Khor2 , K. C. Lim3 and R. Subaraj4

source:  https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/app/uploads/2017/06/2009nis155-165.pdf

Breeding ecology of the Black-thighed Falconets in Perak, Malaysia.

By Khoo Siew Yoong

The recent sightings of the Black-thighed Falconet, Microhierax fringillarius, in Singapore after 30 years, created considerable interest of this long-lost former resident there. This seems to be a good time to share some observations of their breeding behavior in this blog with you.

A successful brood of four juveniles

I have been studying the nesting of this falconet around the limestone hills at my backyard in Ipoh since 2005.  

A female “helper” tearing the innards of a bird to feed the chicks.

I followed a particular super productive pair full time from 2007 till present. They renewed their courtship around November to March every year, successfully brooding 3-6 chicks each year with a bumper brood of 6 chicks in 2018. In a 9 year period, between 2011 and 2019, they successfully raise at least 30 chicks.

Courtship of the studied pair. Note the size difference between the male and female.

One interesting aspect I discovered during the study was the “outsider” breeding rendered by helper adults in incubating the eggs, feeding and looking after the chicks. All of them, the parents, the helpers and the chicks roost in the same nest hole in the cliff side. Some years back, I took my Singapore birding friend Alan OwYong and his wife to check on the nesting. They were amazed to count a total of 10 of them flying back cramming into one nest hole to roost!

The nest hole inside the side of the limestone cliffs is perfect for the whole family.
A 3 month old falconet already acquired adult plumage.

Breeding – Incubation: 3-3.5 weeks. Fledging: 2.5-3 weeks. Post fledgling: 1-7,5 months.

Diet – Bat & House swift (caught on the fly), house gecko, bee, dragonfly, butterfly, moth and small birds. Occasionally small rat. Collected more than 60 pellets during one nesting period for Prof, Puan at University Putra Malaysia for analysis by his undergrad students.

Some of the pellet droppings for analysis
 MaleFemaleJuvenile
SizeSmallerLargerSmall
Belly and ThighLight rufousSlight darker rufousLight rufous
ThroatWhite/Light rufousLight to darker rufousWhite/beige
Ear StripeWhiteWhiteRufous
SuperciliumWhiteWhiteRufous
Table 1. Field features of the males, females and juveniles.
Family photo of parents, young and helper showing the different plumages.

I hope that more falconets will expand beyond Johor down to Singapore and establish a breeding colony there.

References:

In correspondence with advice from David Wells and Alan Kemp.

Research expedition with the British Broadcasting Corporation on the Black – thighed Falconet (Microhierax Fringillarins – smallest eagle in the world). 2013.

“Strange Castaways” in the Wonders of the Monsoon Series. British Broadcasting Corporation. Broadcast in 2014.  

Scientific presentation on the Black- thighed Falconet (smallest eagle in the world) at the Kasetsart University – Raptor rehabilitation Unit, Chatuchak, Bangkok. 2017

Fledging Fledgling in Bird Ecology Study Group (28 Jan. 2013). Raptors: Black-thighed Falconette in Bird Ecology Study Group (5 Sept. 2009). Black-thighed Falconet: Mating and nesting rituals in Suara Enggang (29 June 07). Co- authored with K C Tsang. 

The last jigsaw to the Mystery of the Crested Serpent Eagle.

By Alan OwYong and Tan Gim Cheong.

After publication of the previous article on the Crested Serpent Eagles at Goldhill, we received many reports from bird watchers and photographers of notable and important sightings of these eagles. We thank you for these records.

We now know that the serpent eagles may have paired up almost two years back in March 2019, thanks to Art Toh’s photo of two adults perched on the same tree.

We may have our final jigsaw piece yesterday (8 June 2021). These are the dramatic photos from Koh Lian Heng showing the adult handing to the juvenile a skink it had captured earlier this afternoon. This is also the first time that both the adult and juvenile were seen together.

The adult capturing the skink at the open field.

According to Lian Heng, the adult flew to a nearby Albizia tree after capturing the skink with both of them calling out. The juvenile could not locate where the adult was despite all the calling. The adult then flew higher up to another branch.

The juvenile flying to meet up with the adult after calling out to each other.

Seeing the adult fly, the juvenile flew in to join the adult. It was then that the adult passed over the skink to the juvenile, and then flew off leaving the juvenile to eat the skink alone.

The adult passing over the skink to the juvenile.

The juvenile with the skink in its talons and was about to tear it with its beak.

Last month on May 28th , MeiLin Khoo related that the adult caught a small monitor lizard and did not eat it. Instead it flew deeper inside the forest with the lizard in the direction where the juvenile was last seen. While both eagles were out of sight, they we calling to each other the whole time.

Many thanks to Koh Lian Heng and MeiLin Khoo for this last pieces of evidence to determine the status of this family of Serpent Eagles.

Photos by Koh Lian Heng.

The Mystery of the Goldhill Juvenile Crested Serpent Eagle.

By Alan OwYong and Tan Gim Cheong.

The Crested Serpent Eagle, Spilornis Cheela, is listed as a rare resident and migrant in the NSS Bird Group’s Checklist 2021. Earlier authors were divided on its status. Robinson (1927) was not sure of its presence, while Burknill & Chasen (1927) noted that they visited on occasions. Gibson-Hill (1950) recorded it as a resident with small numbers. Chasen considered the subspecies here as the malayensis ( Thai-Malay Peninsula and N. Sumatra). Visiting burmanicus subspecies ( Indochina) have been recorded including one at the Chinese Gardens.

Cindy Chen had been photographing this Serpent Eagle at Goldhill for more than three years. An unusual back view of the eagle looking flustered fending off the mob attack of the Collared Kingfishers was one of her more memorable images of this eagle.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, two individual Crested Serpent Eagles were residing at the Upper Seletar Reservoir Park. Subsequent records from around the island were mostly single birds and were assumed to be wanderers from Johor.

Over the past decade, a Crested Serpent Eagle had been visiting a patch of open forest at the end Goldhill Avenue. It seemed to be taken up residence there during the past few years, mainly due to the availability of reptiles and rodents there.

The tall Albizia trees fringing the open fields at Goldhill Avenue provide vantage perches for hunting for the Crested Serpent Eagles. Photo: Alan OwYong.

The first record of another bird here was on 14 March 2019 when Art Toh photographed both eagles perched on the same tree. They appeared to be of different sex but no bonding or pairing between the two was seen. Will these two be the real deal?

Photo of the two Serpent Eagles perched on the same tree on 14 March 2019 by Art Toh.

It took almost two years before we got the answer. On 7 March 2021, Julian Wong videoed the mating of this pair on an Albizia tree at the fringe of the Goldhill area. He was surprised to learn that this is the first record of these eagles mating here. This was great news as the Crested Serpent Eagle has no proven breeding records in Singapore.

Julian Wong videoed the first mating of a pair of Crested Serpent Eagles on 7 March.

But it was the photo of a juvenile bird taken by Tan YinLing on 25 May 2021 at the same forest that got us excited. This was the second photo of a juvenile Crested Serpent Eagle in Singapore (the other photo was in August 2018 at Bukit Batok). The first record of an immature was from Botanic Gardens on 11 November 1982. On 12 December 2001, a juvenile was recorded at Kent Ridge Park. Dr. Chaiyan Kasorndorkbua of the Kasetsart Laboratory of Raptor Research, Thailand, commented that this is a malayensis subspecies.

Second photo of the juvenile Crested Serpent Eagle taken on 25 May by Tan YinLing.

Trevor Teo made his own luck, roaming the area for several days, and finally got a close up look at the juvenile eating a snake on 3 June 2021. A just reward for his hard work. Unfortunately he did not see how the juvenile got the snake.

Trevor Teo worked very hard to get this photo of the juvenile with a snake. It was tearing and eating the snake when he saw it.

But the big question remains unanswered. Where did this juvenile come from?

So far no one has spotted any nests around the Malcolm Road area. These eagles build large platform nests with sticks and small branches close to the canopy of tall and secluded trees. They lay one egg and incubate it for 37-42 days. It will take a further 59-65 days before it fledges. The interval between mating to appearance of this Goldhill juvenile was 80 days. This time line looks a bit tight.

Curiously, none of the adults had been seen together with the juvenile, either on the same tree or close to each other. There were no reports of the adults chasing the juvenile away. No feeding was observed.

Juveniles are known to wander around. In a tracking study done in Taiwan, a juvenile was recorded some 20 km away from its natal site.

The Bird Group’s Records Committee will be evaluating this in their next review to determined the origin of this juvenile and change its status if needed.

We wish to thank Cindy Chen, Art Toh, Julian Wong, Tan YinLing and Trevor Teo for sharing their sightings and notes with us and for the use of their photographs.

References:

Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore) 2009

Gombobaatar Sundev and Toru Yamazaki (compilers). 2018. A field Guide to the the Raptors of Asia. Volume 1.

Wikipedia.

In letters Dr. Chaiyan Kasorndorkbua. Kasetsart Laboratory of Raptor Research and Conservation Medicine. Thailand.

NSS Bird Group live on 938 radio’s Singapore Today program – discussing the Oriental Honey Buzzard in the heartlands that got netizens excited

OHB flying

An Oriental Honey Buzzard, similar to this one, got the resident of Bedok & netizens excited

The Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group, represented by Alan OwYong and Dr. Yong Ding Li, was live on 938 radio’s Singapore Today program on 24 May 2021 to discuss the Oriental Honey Buzzard, which appeared in the HDB heartlands at Bedok, exciting residents and netizens.

A Bedok resident looked out of her 5th floor window and saw a large bird perched on top of a tree. She shared a photo of the raptor (bird of prey) on Facebook, and netizens suggested various identifications such as White-bellied Sea Eagle, Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Oriental Honey Buzzard, and even eliciting comments such as Godzilla! Maybe there is some semblance to the mystic creature as the raptor has a long neck and held an upright posture.

These are the abridged responses to the radio hosts numerous queries:

“What is it, and did it just arrive?” – Alan clarified that the raptor was an Oriental Honey Buzzard, a migratory species from the north that arrives during the autumn to spend the winter here, in this part of the world.

“Are they common and where do they come from?” – Dr. Yong shared that the Oriental Honey Buzzard is a common migratory raptor to Singapore and they come from north Asia, breeding in the temperate forests of China, the Korean Peninsula, and Japan. Satellite-tracked birds from Japan show that they migrate through China, Southeast Asia, with many passing through Singapore to Indonesia, but some birds also spend the winter in Singapore.

“It’s a buzzard, but it’s also an eagle right?” – Dr. Yong shared that ‘raptor’ is a broad term that refers to eagles, hawks, buzzards, goshawks, and other birds of prey.

“Would they pose a threat to our birds here?” – Alan commented that the Oriental Honey Buzzards feed on the larvae of bees, wasps, and hornets and that they do not pose a threat to other wildlife. Dr. Yong added that these raptors are part of our ecosystem.

“Does the public have to be careful around them?” – Alan said that the Oriental Honey Buzzards do not pose a threat to people. On the other hand, these raptors are often harassed by crows. Dr. Yong added that should someone be lucky enough to witness the Oriental Honey Buzzard feeding at a bee hive or hornet nest, that they should keep clear, as the insects may attack anything that they perceive to be a threat to their hive/nest.

“Has migration patterns of raptors to Singapore changed?” Dr. Yong responded that there is no clear trend of change for raptors but that for many migratory birds other than raptors, there has been a decline. These declines may be due to the loss of habitat in other places along their migration route. Nevertheless, it would be good to keep an eye out for migratory birds as we would like to know more about what’s going on and how best to help them.

“Two Pairs of Young Kings”

Observation Records of Juvenile Stork-Billed Kingfishers and White-Throated Kingfishers

Text and photos by Veronica Foo

The months of April and May provide many opportunities to see young birds.

On 15th April 2021 during a walk at Kranji Marshes with Kwek Swee Meng, I chanced upon a pair of juvenile White-throated Kingfishers (Halcyon smyrnensis) perched on a rail by a drain with an adult. The White-throated Kingfisher is a common resident in Singapore. It is polytypic and the subspecies in Singapore is the perpulchra. Both juveniles had darkish bills and some vermiculation on their throat and breast areas.

The adult was seen diving down to the drain once and returning to the rail without any catch. Subsequently, one of the juveniles dived and returned to the rail seemingly without a catch. These birds feed on fish, small amphibians and insects.  It was suggested that the juveniles were probably attempting to learn to feed.  The adult bird subsequently flew off, followed by the 2 juveniles one after another.

The Adult White-Throated Kingfisher with two juveniles.

The remaining juvenile White-throated Kingfisher that eventually flew off

On 4th May 2021, during a walk at MacRitchie Reservoir with Lim Kim Keang, two birds swooped to a tree in front of us followed by another larger bird a few seconds later. The two obscured birds were making calls to each other. They subsequently flew to different trees on the opposite side of the reservoir boardwalk where we had a better view of them. They were the uncommon resident Stork-Billed Kingfishers (Pelargopsis capensis), our largest Kingfisher species in Singapore. Rarely do we see a juvenile Stork-Billed Kingfisher lest a pair of them? This species is polytypic and the ones resident in Singapore is the subspecies malaccensis.

Both juveniles had brown crowns, head-sides and napes, brown vermiculation on their breasts, darkish bills unlike the bright red in adults.  These kingfishers feed on fish and crabs but the juvenile birds did not attempt to dive to fish nor were they fed by the adult.  The juveniles continued making calls while the adult remained perched on a different tree. The birds eventually flew off into the forest.

Pictures of the two juvenile Stork-billed Kingfishers

The adult Stork-Billed Kingfisher perched and overlooking the reservoir water.

Based on this observation, the Stork-Billed Kingfishers were probably looking for better hunting grounds.

Documentation of nesting and breeding records of Kingfishers especially that of Stork-Billed Kingfisher are very scant. These two confirmed breeding records add to the knowledge of our resident kingfishers. Based on a previous record by Lim Kim Chuah and Marcel Finlay on the nesting and breeding record of Stork-Billed Kingfisher can be read on this link.  https://singaporebirdgroup.wordpress.com/2017/10/21/nesting-and-breeding-record-of-stork-billed-kingfisher-in-singapore/ . The juvenile Stork-Billed Kingfisher photographed by Marcel Finlay on 4 July 2017 has a darker bill base with some red towards the tip. This juvenile may be of a younger age than the two that were observed recently.

Stork-billed Kingfisher calling

Kingfishers generally dig and build nests in river-banks, decaying trees or termite nests in trees in obscurity.  From the above observations and sightings, we can deduce that these two kingfisher species are building nests here. Their successful nestings that resulted in these four juveniles is a positive occurrence and we hope for their continuous survival with records of their sightings.

REFERENCES

1.Lim, K.S. (2009). The Avifauna of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore). 

2.Wells, D.R. (1997). The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, Volume 1: Non-Passerines. Academic Press.  

3. Yong, D.L., Lim, K.C. and Lee T.K. (2017). A Naturalist’s Guide to the Birds of Singapore. John Beaufoy.

4. Craig Robson (2016). Birds of South-East Asia (Concise Edition).

5. Nesting and Breeding Record of Stork-Billed Kingfisher by Lim Kim Chuah and Marcel Finlay  https://singaporebirdgroup.wordpress.com/2017/10/21/nesting-and-breeding-record-of-stork-billed-kingfisher-in-singapore/

The Red Breasted Parakeet’s Production Factory at Serangoon Garden Circus.

By Mike Smith.

Red breasted parakeets are not native to Singapore but successfully breed in the wild after being released as pets many years ago. They are found at Changi Village, Serangoon Gardens, Pasir Ris Park, the West Coast and undoubtably many other places.

I decided to observe the birds which live in a colony in Serangoon Gardens between late December 2020 and April 2021

The Alexandri subspecies live in Serangoon Gardens.

Summary

 My conclusion is that RBP’s are successful in Singapore because:

  1. They live in permanent colonies.
  2. They have adapted to rural and urban locations.
  3. They select their trees and environment wisely.
  4. They defend their nest holes.
  5. They use the same nest holes on multiple occasions.
  6. At least two birds monitor the nests and feed chicks.
  7. The male often feeds the female in the nest so there is less incentive to leave the nest unattended.
  8. Breeding is prolific and most babies fledge so a colony can grow by 50% in a breeding season.

 If it is determined that the RBP population is growing too fast, to the detriment of other parakeets in Singapore, its population could be controlled by aggressively trimming tree branches in the colony or closing holes.

 Details.

RBP’s in Singapore live in “permanent communities” and take over a whole tree or group of trees. The colony in Serangoon Gardens has been around for several years for example and continues to do well.

RBP’s have adapted to both rural & urban settings eg PRP, Changi Village and Serangoon Gardens.

 The Angsana is a regular choice of tree for a RBP colony to live in. This makes sense because Angsana trees are tall, healthy, hard wood trees that are common in Singapore. They are often planted alongside roads and thus need branches that grow over the roads cutting off, presenting opportunities for woodpeckers, barbets etc to drill out nests, which when abandoned can be taken over by RBP.

 The holes/nests at Serangoon Gardens are at a safe height, offer good views against potential adversaries and are in a location with few predators.

 I would estimate there were initially 20 – 25 RBP at Serangoon Gardens, primarily living in one tree.

 RBP’s are clever and efficient because they keep using the same holes for breeding rather than looking for a hole and abandoning it after fledging.

 Once established a nest is seldom left unguarded for more than 20 or 30 minutes. Once babies have hatched there are often two or more birds monitoring the nest.

 Male adults feed the female in the nest when required. No large protein eg worms or caterpillars was fed to the babies so I suspect protein was from seeds or possibly small bugs on the tree (adults were seen gnawing at branches). Males & females are involved in looking after the nest and feeding chicks but 1 bird, female, dominates sitting in the nest or at the entrance.

 Between January and April 2021, I witnessed 10 successful fledges. In simple terms the population increased by almost 50% in less than 4 months! If this colony is typical then no wonder the population is growing so quickly.

 In all instances, within twenty – four hours of the chicks fledging the nest was “choped” again by another pair of RBP, thus making sure no other type of bird could take over the hole or tree.

 I am not sure what the ethics of preventing RBP from continuing to grow are but perhaps one way to stem the growth is to target angsana trees with significant populations and fill in some of the holes or severely trim the trees and remove some holes which would probably be more politically correct.

Conclusion.

 RBP are thriving in Singapore and will continue to do so unless efforts are taken to control their numbers.

References: ikcnhm.nus.edu.sg, wiki.nus.edu.sg, desgroup.org