Author Archives: Alan OwYong

About Alan OwYong

Retiree birder and photographer.

NSS Pelagic Survey-September 2019.

We could not have asked for a better day to do the autumn pelagic on Saturday 28 September 2019. The sea was calm, with a light breeze blowing. The sun was shining through as the month-long haze seemed to have dissipated, in part due to the change in direction of the monsoon winds.

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Our first bird of the day, a crested tern flying over. We were blessed with good weather and calm seas today.

On the boat was also Audrey Tan, Environment Correspondent at the Straits Times, and her photo journalist Lim Yaohui. They had joined us on this trip to learn more about the research which the Nature Society (Singapore) and the National Parks Board are conducting to survey and study the seabirds which use the Strait of Singapore on their annual autumn and spring migrations.

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The happy NSS survey team at the end of the trip at Sentosa Cove. 

Three hours into the boat trip and we were cruising north of Batam Island when we saw a small flock of dark-shaped birds floating on the waters just ahead of us. They looked like the storm petrels which we had been seeing flying in small flocks westwards on their way to the Indian Ocean earlier. In total, we would have seen 118 of these Swinhoe’s Storm Petrels, Oceanodroma monorhis, when we finished the trip that day. This was a far cry from the 532 which we had on a similar pelagic last September.

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Part of a flock of 11 Red-necked Phalaropes we found floating on the waves. Photo: Lim Kim Keang.

The dark-shaped birds flew up as we got nearer, their white underwings and bodies gleaming in the bright sun. Kim Keang, our leader for the trip, shouted “Phalarope!” but it was lost to those on board!

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We got very close to these three Red-necked Phalaropes as they were busy feeding on the small marine crustaceans among the sea grasses. Photo: Lim Kim Keang. Their habit of swimming around in small circles helps to pool the food to the center for easy pickings.

Floating further on the water were 11 Red-necked Phalaropes, Phalaropus lobatus, while another 3 were much closer, allowing all on board to have good close-up views. As they were feeding and flying around the boat, there were ample opportunities to photograph them. This was the first sighting of multiple phalaropes in a flock as the previous three sightings were of single birds. Interestingly all were juveniles.

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The Red-necked Phalarope foraging among a sea of floating sea grasses out in the Straits. Photo: Shruti.

Terns also put up a good show. There were 55 Bridled Terns, Sterna anaethetus, with two flocks  of 18 and 7 flying eastwards in the direction of Horsburgh Lighthouse.

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A breeding Bridled Tern resting on a plank by Wilson Leung. The head pattern is similiar to the Aleutian but the dark plumage of the Bridled Tern is a good identification feature for this tern.

Aleutian Terns, Sterna aleutica, that migrated all the way from Alaska was a species which we hope we could show to the members on board. They did not disappoint. 15 adults, 8 of them still in their breeding plumage and a juvenile were present.

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An Aleutian Tern in breeding plumage. They are often seen resting on flotsams. Presence of a small wintering population recorded at the Karimun Islands in 1998.

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Aleutian Tern in non-breeding plumage showing the dark trailing edge of the secondaries, a good identification feature for this tern.

Also seen were 4 Common Terns, Sterna hirundo, comprising two adults and two juveniles. These uncommon terns (despite their name) were resting on flotsam and all were happy to manage close-up shots of them.

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One of the four Common Terns we saw during the trip. This one is in breeding plumage.

As the Crested Terns were in flight and at a distance, it took a while before they were separated and counted. There were 24 Swift Terns, Thalasseus bergii, (formerly Great Crested) and 10 Lesser Crested Terns, Thalasseus bengalensis, with four being unidentified. 6 Little Terns, Sterna albifrons, were also seen on the trip and these may be winter visitors.

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A hazy looking Swift Tern. It is a large tern that can be found flying along the Straits of Johor. Photo: Alan OwYong.

Other birds seen on the trip include a Great-billed Heron, Ardea sumatrana, on Sister’s Island, 5 Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica, flying south, an Intermediate Egret, Egretta intermedia, and a soaring Chinese Sparrowhawk, Accipiter soloensis.

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A Bridled Tern flying in the same direction of the tanker towards Horsburgh Lighthouse, where seven specimens were collected in October 1921, our first record of this tern.

A big thank you to Alfred Chia for making all the arrangements for this trip and to everyone for helping out with the count.

Many thanks to Lim Kim Keang, Alan OwYong, Shruti and Wilson Leung for the use of their photos.

Reference: A Field Guide to the Waterbirds of Asia. Wild Birds Society of Japan.          Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore) 2009.

Nature’s Vitamins for the Birds.

By Seng Alvin.

We go to our Watson’s and Guardian for our vitamins and health supplements fix paying an arm and a leg for them. But our avian friends can get theirs for free at our parks and gardens when the Palm Oil trees (Elaeis guineensis) fruit. Scattered over most green areas around the island, these remnant palms survived the development partly due to the dispersal of the seeds by the birds themselves.

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Woodpeckers have no problem getting to the pulp of the Palm fruit. The male Common Goldenback had the pick of the crop. Link https://wp.me/p4VGho-aF on how they feed.

During my walks around Pasir Ris Park, I was fortunate to come across a large variety of birds feeding on the fruit of the oil palms at the park. The orange freshy pulp, mesocarp, has a high content of beta-carotene, a provitamin that helps the body to make Vitamin A. It is also an antioxidant. (Wikipedia). Pet shops sell bird food containing Red Palm Oil supplement that claims to provide Vitamin A and E and Omega 3 and 6 for parrots. That may be the reasons why the birds at the park are so healthy and happy.

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This greedy Red-breasted Parakeet is having the whole fruit for itself. Easy meal for its strong bill.

More than 20 species of birds have been documented to feed on the palm oil seeds in various forums and articles. Here are some of the “healthy” birds that I found taking their vitamins regularly at Pasir Ris Park.

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Our lupsup Asian Glossy Starling takes just about everything that is edible.

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Rose-ringed Parakeets chose the ripest and best fruit.

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Even our domestic chicken cannot pass up the fruits that dropped to the ground.

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If my cousin the Goldenback likes it, it must be good.

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Javan Mynas fighting each other over an oil palm fruit.

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A seed eating weaver bird having a change of diet, enjoying the taste of the palm fruit.

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The Spotted Dove just cannot stand by and watch others taking the fruit. 

Reference: Yong Ding Li, Lim Kim Chuah and Lee Tiah Khee. A Naturalist’s Guide to the Birds of Singapore. 2013 John Beaufoy Publishing Limited.

 

“Singapore Birds on the Brink” A Retrospective.

“Singapore Birds on the Brink” Exhibition.

Following the successful conclusion of the Mapletree sponsored Straw-headed Bulbul Conservation Planning Workshop in 6 May 2019, Mr. Wan Kwong Weng, Group Chief Corporate Officer proposed to host an exhibition on this globally threatened Bulbul for the public. Yong Ding Li, Asia Advocacy and Policy Manager, Birdlife International (Asia) agreed to work with the Nature Society (Singapore) to curate it but felt that a single species-focused exhibition may not capture enough public interest and suggested to expand it to include the endangered songbirds like the White-rumped Shama and Green Leafbirds.

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He consulted the Bird Group of the Nature Society (Singapore) for contributions of photographs and material. It was during the discussion that we hit on the idea of showcasing the threatened birds of Singapore in our national Red Data Book, which also includes the many song birds that we wish to highlight. Mr. Wan gave the go ahead, came up with the title and the “Singapore Birds on the Brink” was conceived.

The closing panel of the exhibition highlighting the globally threatened Straw-headed Bulbul, the species that kick-started this exhibition. Panel photos: Alan OwYong. and Francis Yap. Photo by Chung Cheong.

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To be included in Mapletree Arts in the City’s August event to be held at Vivocity, we had just over two months to set up this exhibition. There were more than 50 resident species of birds listed in the Red Data Book as nationally threatened mainly due to loss of natural habitat, and this provided the foundation of our exhibition. Photo: Alan OwYong.

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Group photo of the contributing photographers with GOH Mayor Low Yen Ling. From left Cheng Heng Yee and Quek Oon Hong, Wang Bin, Lee Tiah Khee with Samuel Lim, Alan OwYong, Mohamad Zahidi (Zack), Francis Yap and Keita Sin. Absent Con Foley, Bjorn Olesen and Derrick Wong. Photo: Chung Cheong.

Luckily all our bird photography friends gave their full support and provided us with their best photographic images of some of the uncommon and rare species for the exhibition. We thank them all ( Alan OwYong, Bjorn Olesen, Cheng Heng Yee and Quek Oon Hong, Con Foley, Derrick Wong, Francis Yap, Keita Sin, Lee Tiah Khee, Mohamad Zahidi (Zack) and Wang Bin) for their generosity and a special thanks to Alfred Chia and Yong Ding Li for the panel and species write ups. We are grateful to have Mapletree Investments coming in as the main supporter of this initiative to bring awareness of our imperilled resident birds and natural habitat, to the larger public and masses.

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The exhibition was declared opened at Vivocity on the 16 August by Ms. Low Yen Ling, Mayor of South West District and Senior Permanent Secretary Ministry of Education and Manpower and Mr. Edmund Cheng, Chairman of Mapletree Investments. Our special guests are from the National Junior College Greenlink Club. Photo courtesy of Mapletree Arts in the City.

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GOH Ms. Low Yen Ling, Mayor of South West District touring the exhibition with Mr. Edmund Cheng Chairman of  Mapletree and Mr. Wan Kwong Weng, Group CCO with Yong Ding Li and Alan OwYong in attendance Photo: Geoff Lim.

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Lee Tiah Khee explaining to Mayor Low Yen Ling on how he took the photo of the rare Cotton Pygmy Goose at the Gardens by the Bay. Photo: Mapletree Arts in the City.

Nationally Critically Endangered
Cotton Pygmy Goose Nettapus coromandelianus. 棉凫     

A very rare resident, the Cotton Pygmy Goose is a shy waterfowl which inhabits freshwater marshes, ponds and reservoirs. They may be found singly, in pairs or in small groups. This species may still be found in the Western Catchment but due to its inaccessibility, information on its presence there is scant. They have also been seen in Kranji Marsh and Lorong Halus Wetlands in recent years. Extinction rank high for this species as numbers may now be in the single digit.

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Cheng Heng Yee and his wife Quek Oon Hong sharing the moment of the shot of a pair of Changeable Hawk Eagles with Mayor Low Yen Ling. Photo: Mapletree Arts in the City.

Changeable Hawk Eagle

The Changeable Hawk Eagle is a surprisingly powerful predator that can take prey as large as a small monkey. Although medium-sized animals like squirrels and large lizards form the mainstay of its diet, these eagles have been observed in the wild to threaten far larger prey. One individual was seen to have successfully taken a young Banded Leaf Monkey from its troop at the edge of the forest, while another made a number of unsuccessful attempts on a young macaque.

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Francis Yap contributed more than 10 photos for the exhibition including this panel of four photos (from top left clockwise): Red-crowned Barbet, Mangrove Whistler, Red-legged Crake and Short-tailed Babbler.

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Keita Sin (right) giving Mayor Low Yen Ling a brief history of our White-bellied Woodpecker in the company of Yong Ding Li. Con Foley was away and was not able to personally elaborate on how he shot this pair of woodpeckers. Photo: Chung Cheong

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Derrick Wong happily posing next to his photo of a Little Tern dropping its catch in mid air. He did not realised that he captured this moment until after he reviewed his photos later that day.

Little Tern Sternula albifrons 白额燕鸥 Nationally Endangered

The aptly named Little Tern is one of the smallest of the nearly 50 tern species in the world. In Singapore, it is best seen at some of our reservoirs such as Kranji, and in our coastal waters. Because of its tendency to nest on open sandy ground, especially on beaches, Little Terns are extremely vulnerable to human disturbance (especially from beach-goers), as well as the conversion of its sandy shore habitat to development.

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The public can participate in the crossword puzzle at the back of these cards to win shopping vouchers from Mapletree. A fun way to learn about our threatened birds. We had to do a reprint as it ran out on the first day.  Green Imperial Pigeon and Barred Eagle Owl on the panel, Mangrove Pitta, Blue-naped Monarch and Straw-headed Bulbul on the cards. Photo: Chung Cheong.

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Mohamad Zahidi’s photo of the nationally threatened Great-billed Heron, the largest bird in Singapore.

Nationally Critically Endangered
Great-billed Heron Ardea sumatrana 大嘴鹭

Standing at well over a metre, the Great-billed Heron is among the world’s largest herons. In Singapore, small numbers may be found in coastal mangroves, mudflats, reefs and the rocky coasts of the offshore islands. Extensive development along Singapore’s southern coastline meant that the Great-billed Heron has lost most of its habitat here. It is also one of the bird species from Southeast Asia described and named by Sir Stamford Raffles, who was himself an ardent naturalist.

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A brilliant take on our Blue-eared Kingfisher by Bjorn Olesen, an international award winning photographer and author.

Nationally Critically Endangered
Blue-eared Kingfisher Alcedo meninting 蓝耳翠鸟   

 A shy and rare resident kingfisher that inhabits forested streams within the Central Catchment Forest previously, the Blue-eared Kingfisher has, in recent years, been seen in various other localities like the Bukit Batok Nature Park and Neo Tiew area. Although the increasing numbers of places where this species can be sighted now is an encouraging sign, its population remains low and continued protection of its habitat is vital.

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Wang Bin sharing the plight of the Little Grebe in Singapore (Wang Bin’s photo at the top) with GOH Mayor Low Yen Ling and Vinayagan Dharmarajah Regional Director Birdlife International Asia.  Less than ten Little Grebes are struggling to survive at only one location in Singapore. Another threatened wetland species, the Greater Painted Snipe by Alan OwYong is featured at the bottom panel.

Nationally Critically Endangered
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 小䴙䴘

The Little Grebe is a rare resident found in freshwater ponds and marshes. The Singapore population of the Little Grebe has never been stable and numbers are low though they have been observed in some disused quarries. Small numbers may appear in a locality and disappear just as quickly, either through habitat destruction or disturbance.

Threatened birds featured in the Exhibition:

Cinnamon-headed Pigeon , Green Imperial Pigeon, Thick-billed Pigeon (EN), Jambu Fruit Dove, Barred Eagle Owl, Buffy Fish Owl (CR), Spotted Wood Owl (CR), Blue-rumped Parrot (CR), Long-tailed Parakeet, Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot (EN), Straw-headed Bulbul (EN), Black-headed Bulbul (CR), Lesser Whistling Duck (EN), Little Grebe (CR), Crested Serpent Eagle (CR), Crested Goshawk (CR), Changeable Hawk Eagle (EN), Grey-headed Fish Eagle (CR), Black-naped Tern (EN), Little Tern (EN), Violet Cuckoo (EN), Drongo Cuckoo (CR), White-chested Babbler (CR), Chestnut-winged Babbler (EN), Short-tailed Babbler, Cotton Pygmy Goose (CR), Great-billed Heron (CR), Malaysian Plover (CR), Malaysian Eared Nightjar (CR), Greater Painted Snipe (CR), Plume-toed Swiftlet (CR), Ruddy Kingfisher (CR), Blue-eared Kingfisher (CR), Mangrove Pitta (CR), Mangrove Whistler, Mangrove Blue Flycatcher (CR), Scarlet Minivet (CR), Black-naped Monarch (CR), Greater Green Leafbird (CR), Lesser Green Leafbird (CR), Yellow-vented Flowerpecker (CR), Beach Stone Curlew (CR), Red-crowned Barbet, Red-legged Crake (VU), White-bellied Woodpecker (CR), Yellow-eared Spiderhunter (CR) and Zitting Cisticola.

National Status: VU- Vulnerable. EN- Endangered.  CR- Critically Endangered.

Reference: The Singapore Red Data Book. Threatened Plants & Animals of Singapore. Edited by G.W.H Davison, PK.L. Ng and Ho Hua Chew. Second Edition.

Many thanks to Mapletree Arts in the City, Chung Cheong, Geoff Lim, Derrick Wong and Alan OwYong for the use of their photos.

Nesting of Zitting Cisticolas at Jurong Lake Gardens.

Nesting of Zitting Cisticolas at Jurong Lake Gardens.

By Norhafiani A. Majid and Alan OwYong.

  1. Introduction:

The Zitting Cisticola, Cisticola juncidis, formerly known as Streaked Fantail Warbler is listed as a common resident occurring in grasslands, reed beds and open fields throughout mainland Singapore. It has a wide global range from Southern Europe, Africa, Asia and SEA to Australia. The sub species in Singapore is the Malaya.

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Successful nesting of a family of Zitting Cisticolas at Jurong Lake Gardens. Parent with two newly fledged chicks. Photo: Norhafiani A. Majid.

It is not listed in the “Vanishing Birds of Singapore” (Lim Kim Seng 1992) or “The Singapore Red Data Book” (Second Edition 2008), but was included in the recent “Singapore Birds on the Brink” exhibition as they are under threat because of diminishing grasslands.

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A new habitat of Pennisetum and African Tail Feather Grasses at Jurong Lake Gardens home to insects and grassland birds. Photo: Norhafiani A. Majid.

  1. A New Home:

As part of the rejuvenated Jurong Lakeside District, the lakeside gardens were remodelled to include a big expanse of open rolling grasslands of Pennisetum ( Lee Kai Chong) and African Tail Feather Grasses ( Sim Chip Chye). Insects such as grasshoppers and crickets are thriving in the new habitat, a wonderful attraction for the resident insectivorous Zitting Cisticolas.

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With the abundance of insects like this grasshopper the Zitting Cisticolas have no problems feeding three to four chicks at the same time.

3. Time to nest:

The Zitting Cisticolas at Jurong Lake Gardens were seen gathering nesting materials from as early as 14 July. It became apparent that their nesting was successful when the adult pair started feeding their first brood recorded there from 19 July. While observing the first nest, there was a flurry of activities from as many as four other Zitting Cisticolas in other parts of the grasslands.

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Parent bringing back grasshoppers for it chicks. The nest is hidden deep in the middle of the grass bush. Photo: Norhafiani A. Majid.

On 8th August, another nest was found in a more open spot. Three chicks were visible and appeared to be two to three days old. The nest is a small cup of leaves and grasses wound together with cobwebs deep inside the grasses. It is not visible from the side. The male is the nest builder and invites the female in with a special display ( Wikipedia).

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Tender moment of the parent feeding a grasshopper to its chick captured. Photo: Norhafiani A. Majid.

In the days that follow, the cisticolas can be seen flying up and down regularly and bringing back food for the young. The food was mostly grasshoppers and crickets as expected. An interesting observation was that the parents would land a few meters away to survey its immediate surroundings before hopping back to its nest. They were able to find the nest even when they landed at different spots.

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Parent busy bringing back food to feed its hungry chicks.

  1. Fledglings

On 21 August the nest was empty.  We had a note from Lee Kai Chong that the chicks fledged on 20 August. Assuming that the chicks hatched on the 6 August, the time taken from hatching to fledging was about two weeks.  Three fledglings were seen on 24 August and a photo of the parent feeding the chick was captured. A new generation will be making their home here. It is heartening that the newly created habitat for grassland birds is thriving. The public garden provides easy access and enabled us to document the nesting behaviour of these Zitting Cisticolas.  We would like to thank our friends especially Chen Wah Piyong for sharing their knowledge and observations.

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This juvenile Zitting Cisticola is only a few days old but already has acquired all the markings of the parent.  Photo: Norhafiani A. Majid.

Reference:

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

Craig Robson. A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia

 

 

 

How do Cuckoos choose their hosts?

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We have been seeing numerous posts recently on juvenile cuckoos being fed by Common Ioras and Golden-bellied Gerygones in Singapore. Based on Francis Yap’s article “Resident Cuckoos and their host parents- A Pictorial Guide”, (https://wp.me/p4VGho-hJ), it seems that different species of our resident cuckoos prefer one or two specific bird species as hosts. Examples:

  1. Rusty-breasted Cuckoos choosing Malaysian Pied Fantails as hosts.
  2. Drongo Cuckoos choosing Bulbuls or Pin-striped Tit-babblers
  3. Plantive Cuckoos choosing Common or Ashy Tailorbirds
  4. Banded Bay Cuckoos choosing Common Ioras
  5. Little Bronze Cuckoos choosing Golden-bellied Gerygone or Olive-backed Sunbirds.

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Kaikee Leong’s dramatic photo of a Common Iora feeding a Banded Bay Cuckoo at Kranji Marshes taken in July 2019.

The current feeding of the Little Bronze Cuckoo by a pair of Golden-bellied Gerygones at Jurong West Neighbourhood Park was first reported by Lee Kia Chong on 23 July 2018 at the same park. (https://wp.me/p4VGho-4Gb).  The residents there said that this feeding had been going on for some years now ( per comms Koh Lian Heng)

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The abundance of fruit flies around the mango trees at the park must be the reason for these Golden-bellied Gerygones to nest there year after year. 

So why do the Little Bronze Cuckoo choose the Golden-bellied Gerygones as host parents year after year? There were a few theories if you do a search on line. One was that the similar colour of the eggs and another was the imprint of the host parents on the cuckoo chick. But there were no evidence to support these theories.

Based on a study by Barbara Taborsky and colleagues of Konrad Lorenz Institute in Vienna, it is the habitat ( Nature. 28 Jan. 1999). The cuckoos return to the same place that reminds them of where they fledged and where they they will most likely to encounter the same host parents.

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A Rusty-breasted Cuckoo chick begging for food from a Malaysian Pied Fantail at Tampines Eco Green. A 2015 photo by Seng Alvin.

In another study by Yang et al 2014 on Common Cuckoos hosted by Oriental Reed Warblers at the Zhalong National Reserves, China, reported in “Behaviour Ecology”, the female cuckoos spent some time monitoring the nests and will only lay the eggs if the nest is active and attended to.

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The super busy parents were feeding the cuckoo chick almost non stop. The Golden-bellied Gerygone at 10 cm is the smallest bird in Singapore.

This may explain why the Cacomantis cuckoos choose the mangrove species like Pied Fantails and Ashy Tailorbirds, forest dwelling Drongo Cuckoos going for forest edge Pin-striped Tit-babblers and Olive-winged Bulbuls and the Little Bronze and Banded Bay cuckoos seeking out the garden and parkland species.

Thank you all for sharing your sightings, records and photos of one of the more fascinating behaviours of our resident birds and help us to learn more about them.

Many thanks to KaiKee Leong and Seng Alvin for the use of their photos. Kevin Ng for the location.

Ref: Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore. 2009.

Craig Robson. A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia. Asia Books Co. Ltd.

Nest Building by a pair of Chestnut-winged Babblers in Singapore.

Nest building by a pair of Chestnut-winged Babblers in Singapore.

By Alan OwYong

  1. Introduction:

The Chestnut-winged Babbler Stachyris erythroptera is an uncommon breeding resident found in thick vegetation along the forest edges within the Central Catchment Forest in Singapore (Lim and Gardner 1997). It is the last surviving representative of its genus Stachyris in Singapore. The subspecies in Singapore is erythroptera (Gibson-Hill 1950). They are listed as nationally threatened due to their small, highly localised population. Breeding has previously been recorded at Nee Soon and Sime Road forests in 1987. More recently, courtship and nesting had been reported in 2007.  Its global range includes Southern Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and the island of Borneo.

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Laurence Eu’s photo of the Chestnut-winged Babbler building the first nest in the open.

  1. Finding the first nest:

On 13 May 2018, Laurence Eu came across a pair of Chestnut-winged Babblers flitting around the base of a clump of dry vegetation by the side of the track at the Sime Forest. He saw them going in and out with some twigs and leaves close to the ground. They were clearly building a nest.

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The nest that Laurence first came across was among the tangled mass in the middle of the photo almost at ground level.

He went back the next morning but the babblers were not around. They seemed to have abandoned this nest, which was just a few metres off the track. I met up with him later. We then came across a pair of babblers moving around behind some thick foliage not too far from the old nest.

3. Finding the second nest:

Our guess was that they were the same pair and were building another nest. The Chestnut-winged Babblers were known to abandon nests and rebuild if they feel that a particular location is unsuitable. We were right. Both of them were bringing back dry rattan (Calamus sp) leaves to an untidy hanging clump of vines and dead leaves. It seems that they preferred longish leaves as the main nesting material. This time the nest was at mid storey but still close to (about 2 metres) the walking track.

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Side view of early nest building in progress, wiggling to press their preferred longish leaves down.

An earlier Chestnut-winged Babbler’s nest I came across in the forests around Gunung Panti in Johor on 30 July 2017 was also built with broad leaves as well. There are also photos in the internet showing them bringing back bamboo leaves to build their nests.

Both parents are involved in the nest building

Both parents were actively involved in nest building often competing with each other in bringing back the leaves.

4. Building the second nest:

Both birds were actively involved in the nest building, often bringing back the leaves at the same time. The nest was round, about 20 cm wide, made out of a cluster of dry leaves and twigs, attached to an intertwined mass of leaves and thin branches. The entrance is just a small hole by the front side of the nest.

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The nest is a cluster of leaves and twigs intertwine among the dry mid storey hanging masses.

They must have just started nest building and did not appear bothered with our presence there. As the rattan plant was nearby, the pair were able to construct the nest quickly. After pushing a leaf in through the entrance hole, the bird would go inside the nest to place the leaf and line it up by wiggling its body before flying out again.

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We were a little worried as the nest was very close to the track and associated human disturbance. We returned the next morning to check on their progress and hoped to see them using the nest. But alas it was not to be! Again they decided to abandon this nest as well. We checked to see if they were building another nest nearby but there was no sign of them. We did not hear any calls from them either for the rest of the morning. All the nesting records of this babbler that I have read online have the same ending of the nest being abandoned. The search goes on to find a stable nest to document and learn more of the nesting behaviour of these elusive forest babblers.

The nest inside the tangled mess near the top of the photo was only 2 meters away from the walking track.

Many thanks to Laurence for showing me the site and for the use of his photo and Albert Low for the editing.

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

Lim Kim Seng. Vanishing Birds of Singapore. Nature Society ( Singapore) 1992.

Craig Robson. A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia. Asia Books Co. Ltd 2000.

 

 

 

Scaly-breasted Munia enjoying Algae.

Scaly-breasted Munia enjoying algae
 
by T.Ramesh 

Scaly-breasted Munias ( Lonchura punctulata) are common residents in Singapore and have two races  – the local fretensis with paler upper parts and the introduced topela with distinctive brownish upper parts.   The introduced species of topela are common along the grass patches of Changi Business Park (CBP) canal which is behind the CBP bus depot.

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During one of my regular birding walk along this  canal recently,  I noticed a thick layer of green algae had bloomed on the canal.   Algae are plants lacking roots, stems and leaves and they are widespread in terms of habitats.  Singapore with equatorial climate has algal abundance and richness with 1054 species recorded .
I observed a Scaly-breasted Munia  landed on the algae.  Generally they are gregarious in groups but foraging can be individual or in group .  Studies have established the economic consequences of joining other munias in two models :  i) Information sharing model and ii) producer-scourger model .
However,  here it was alone . It poked the slimy algae and pulled the strands out to munch.  It kept hopping on different parts of the algae and continued to feed while alertly looking around for any threat . I quote below Avery, ML ‘s observation in his research paper in 1975 on White-rumped Munia’s feeding behaviour  in Malaysia:
 “Field observations and stomach analyses showed that the munias ate rice and the green filamentous alga, Spirogyra, almost exclusively. The primary periods of algae eating occurred in January and June-August, coinciding with the munias’ two peak periods of reproductive activity, as determined by gonadal examination. Apparently munias on the study area ate Spirogyra as a source of protein to enable them to become physiologically ready for breeding, much as other tropical bird species eat insects .”
Ref: Diet and breeding seasonality among population of White-rumped Munia, Lonchura striata, in Malaysia by Michael L. Avery.
 Though this behaviour is observed in other countries, glad to video record this in Singapore .
Click on the link below for the video.

Nesting of Rufescent Prinias in Peninsular Malaysia.

Nesting of Rufescent Prinias in Peninsular Malaysia.

By Connie Khoo.

The Rufescent Prinia Prinia rufescens is a common breeding resident in Malaysia. The subspecies found in Peninsular Malaysia is extrema. It is one of the three Prinia species listed in Malaysia. It can be found in open scrub and dry grasslands next to forest edges. It is also a common resident across South East Asia except Central Thailand and Singapore. Its range include North and North East India, Bhutan and SW China.

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The fledgling staying close to the nest just below it while the parent kept watch from above.

On 3rd June 2019 I came across a low nest by the side of a forest outside Ipoh, Perak. The nest was built by stitching up the sides of a large leaf into a conical shaped cup just like a tailorbird’s nest. The one meter tall plant is identified as the Terung Asam, Solanum lasiocarpum, by my friend Amar-Singh HSS. It was lined with fine dried grasses inside and hung about a half meter above ground.

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The nest is very similar to that of the tailorbird’s nest, leaf sewn together, cup shaped and filled with fine grasses inside.

Three hatchlings with pin feathers and exposed naked skin were seen inside the nest. Their eyes were closed. I estimated that they hatched no more than 2 to 3 day before.

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A wide angle view of the surrounding habitat and forest edge of the nesting area with the Terung Asam on the left.

When I visited the nest again on the 6th June, the parents were more relaxed and were feeding the chicks regularly. During the monitoring over the next few days, I saw the parents bringing back a variety of insects for the chicks with caterpillars as the main diet. Other insects include grasshoppers, small moths and butterflies, termites, spiders, black ants and insect eggs. However no dragonflies or damselflies were brought back.

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Parent checking on the hatchlings inside the sewn leaf of the Terung Asam plant.

On 8th June, the chicks were fully covered by feathers and their eyes were open. By now they were about 7-8 days old.

The first chick fledged on the morning of the 12th June at 8.38 am, 11-13 days after hatching. It jumped out of the nest and then flew to a thin branch 3 meters away. This caused much anxiety and excitement with the parents. The second and third chick followed suit at 8.46 am and 9.18 am. They flew straight to the nearest branch much to the relief of the parents. The feeding continued that morning but I was surprised to find two more adults coming by to help feed the chicks. This communal feeding was recorded in other species but this is the first time I have seen it with this prinia.

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The first fledgling came out of the nest after 11-13 days after hatching.

The parents led the chicks out to the forest edges to feed the next day. By now it was hard to monitor them as the chicks moved deeper into the denser part of the forest.

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The parents staying close to the fledglings at the edge of the forest on the second day after they fledged.

I was glad to be able to document this nesting as past nesting failed either due to predation or inclement weather.

Thanks to Alan OwYong for editing and additional notes on its distribution.

Reference: Craig Robson. A field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia. Asia Books Company 2000.

 

 

 

Awesome Underwater Dive Catch of the Grey-headed Fish Eagle.

By Alan OwYong and Steven Wong.

This pair of Grey-headed Fish Eagles, Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus, are raising a family somewhere at the Toh Tuck area and have been fishing along the Pandan Canal for some time now. Both or one of them will perch in the mid canopy of the Albizia trees by the side of the canal either in the early morning hours or late afternoons looking out for any signs of life in the canal.

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Perched up in the mid canopy, looking down at the canal waiting for any movements in the water.

Many of the dives and catches have been well documented in a number of great action photos posted in various Facebook groups recently. All of them show them diving down from the perch and snatching a fish from the surface of the water before taking it back to the trees.

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Steven Wong’s photo of the Sea-eagle entering the water with both wings up. I had a photo of the eagle completely underwater with only the ripples to show on the surface. But deleted it off hand as it had nothing to show.

But on the morning of 21 March 2019, Steven Wong and I witnessed a dive catch we have not seen before. The eagle dived into the water and caught a catfish that was swimming beneath the water surface. At one stage the whole eagle was submerged under the water only to reappear out of the water like from out of nowhere.

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Struggling to get up after being fully submerged in the water.

To do this, the eagle must have an extremely sharp eyesight to see the catfish that was swimming well below the surface. Maybe the clearer water that day helped. Then it must continuously keep track the movement of fish as it was diving down from the perch.

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Relieved to have both wings clear of the water.

The hardest part must be when and where to plunge in as the fish was below the surface. It will first have to allow for the parallax as the fish was not where it is looking from above. It will also have to allow for the evasive action of the fish in the split second after it hit the water surface.

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It takes a lot of down force to lift off judging from the turbulence on the water surface, captured in this photo by Steven Wong.

After hitting the water the eagle will not be able to see the fish as its nictitating membrane will cover its eyes. It will depend on its speed, trajectory and self belief that it talons will somehow fall on to its target and grab it. It was interesting to see that it managed to grab hold of the catfish head instead of mid body. It must be aiming for its head right from the start so that it will still get the other parts of the body if it miscalculate the strike. This hunting technic must have been learnt from the many failures in the past.

 

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Determination written all over its face as it tried to drag it catch off the water.

Reversing its flight after the catch had to be another feat of power, using its wings to stop it going deeper and then pushing it back up to the surface. From the shots it took the eagle quite a few second to get airborne partly due to the size and weight of the catfish. We were happy to witness this hunting behaviour and add to the knowledge of these fish eagles in our midst.

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Success and food for the chicks today. It will eat the top half of the fish on the Albizia tree before taking the tail end back to the nest.

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Aiming for the head gave the fish eagle some margin of error.

Many thanks to Steven Wong for spotting the eagle that morning and generously sharing his local knowledge of the hunting behaviour of this pair of Grey-headed Fish Eagles.

Asian Openbill-Singapore’s 2nd Record

On 17 March 2019, Beng Neo’s facebook post of an Open-billed Stork, Anastomus oscitans, taken at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve caused a stir among the birding community here. The next day birders and photographers lined up on the main bridge, hoping to tick off their lifers. They were not disappointed and all went home happy with great sightings and shots.

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Beng Neo’s shot of the Open-billed on the 17 March at SBWR.

Apparently Clare and Grant Morton, visiting birders from Australia first spotted this stork flying over the main hide on 14 March. They reported by email to the Nature Society (Singapore) and later confirmed it with a photo on the 19 March. Their sighting constituted only our second record of this stork in Singapore.

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Heavily cropped shot of the Openbill flying over SBWR on the 14th March by Clare and Grant Morton.

Our first record was on 23 January 2013 when six birds were spotted feeding in an open flooded field at Seletar North. They were part of a larger flock that made its way down south from Thailand along the West Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. This movement may be due to the dry conditions back in Thailand and the lack of food sources.

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Mei Ling Khoo’s shot of the balancing stork taken from the main bridge. This month there were several postings of this stork on the Wild Bird Club Malaysia Facebook pages. 15th at Bota Kiri and Kinta NP on 3rd both in Perak and Tanjong Karang, Selangor on 11th. According to Tou Jing Yi they can be found in many parts of the West Coast and are still supplemented by migrants.

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Mahesh Krishnan caught it flying towards him at the main pond. The Asian Openbill is a common resident of India and parts of Indochina. Hundreds can be seen roosting in temples in Bangkok.

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The abundance of mollusc at the main ponds will hopefully prolong its stay here. This photo made it look like they are using the gap to crack the snails but they actually pick out the flesh with the curved tip of its mandible.

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A curious Monitor Lizard checking out the new arrival.

Reference: B.W. Low et al. First Record of the First Asian Openbill in Singapore. 2013.

Many thanks to Beng Neo, Clare and Grant Morton, Mahesh Krishnan, Khoo Mei Ling and Alan OwYong for the use of their photos and to Clare and Grant Morton for their record.