Author Archives: Alan OwYong

About Alan OwYong

Retiree birder and photographer.

Interbreeding between a Northern and a Southern Oriental Pied Hornbill at Pasir Ris Park.

Interbreeding between a Northern and a Southern Oriental Pied Hornbill at Pasir Ris Park.

By Seng Alvin.

This may be the first record of  a successful breeding of two races of Oriental Pied Hornbills in Singapore. In 1996, a pair of the northern race bred successfully in Upper Seletar Reservoir Park. These together with a small population of Southern Pieds were introduced after they went extinct in the last century. Our first pair of wild hornbills was sighted at Pulau Ubin on 14 March 1994 during a round the island survey by the NSS Bird Group.

In early November 2019, a park visitor told me that a pair of Pied Hornbills were seen at an old nest in an Angsana tree. On 11 November I went to check and found a pair of Pied Hornbills tidying the same nest hole that was previously used by another pair of hornbills. What was unusual was that the male was a northern race (A.a albirostris) and the female was our southern race (A.a. convexus). The southern race is found throughout extreme South Thailand and Peninsular Malaysia.  This could be the same pair that nested there earlier this year from February to May.

I continued to monitor and document the nesting from the time when the mummy bird moved in around late November until the fledgling of both chicks on 20 February, a period spanning eleven weeks. The biggest excitement for me is to see which parent’s genes would the chicks take after.  From the photos you can see that the chick has a black and white undertail pattern of the daddy instead of a all white undertail of the mummy southern pied. So if you visit the park, do keep a lookout for these hornbills to see which race are they.

( I received information from experience birders that both adults are Southern Pied Hornbills. Younger birds do have some blacks at the upper tail that will fade away as it aged. The Northern Pied race has two third of the under tail black.)

87642151_2766336430111803_401313437671489536_o

11.11.2019. Mrs OPH ( a southern race) checking out the nest hole. The male OPH, a northern race A.a. albirostris was watching nearby.

87902834_2766336566778456_2821341682912460800_o

23.11.2019. Mrs. OPH decided to move into the nest to lay eggs. Mr. OPH started to bring back food like this lizard to feed her. The nest hole entrance was sealed in the next few days.

87859663_2766336233445156_6340066590179983360_o

31.01.2020. Daddy bird working hard to bring back food for the Mummy bird and two chicks.

87866957_2766336276778485_2628183079327367168_o

The black and white tail pattern of the northern race of the male can be seen in this photo.

88100437_2766336373445142_5422128299730010112_o

20.2.2020. Taking its first flight but landed on the ground instead. Managed to regain its strength and confidence after 15 minutes and flew off to join the parents over at the toilet area. The encouraging calls by the parent did the trick.

87365682_2766336256778487_2546177138441060352_o

20.2.2020. Mama OPH continued to feed her chick. From this photo you can see this fledgling taking the genes of the papa bird.

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. 

Boonsong and Round. A Guide to the Birds of Thailand.

Motacilla alba alba: A new subspecies of White Wagtail for Singapore?

Motacilla alba alba: A new subspecies of White Wagtail for Singapore?

By Alfred Chia.

I write further on my recent note on 10 February in the “Singapore Birders” FB group of a White Wagtail Motacilla alba of subspecies alba occurring in Singapore. The bird was seen & photographed by Lee Van Hien on 9 February at Neo Tiew Harvest Link. This subspecies is new to Singapore. Currently, we have three subspecies: the commoner leucopsis, followed by ocularis and the rarer lugens.

There has been suggestions that this is not an alba but a baicalensis subspecies instead.

image1

Baicalensis was suggested because “the wing panel doesn’t have to be completely white early in the season  and the two white wing bars usually show as a starting point” while “the shape of the bib leaves no doubt, especially the two lateral extensions”. This subspecies “would also not be unexpected” (in terms of range).

image2

Allow me to clarify and justify why this is an alba and not a baicalensis.

  1. Alba is a known migratory race. The features of the wagtail that was seen & photographed fits a male summer adult alba: i) the large black gorget extending all the way to the upper throat (perhaps the primary diagnostic feature to differentiate between an alba & baicalensis) and neck-sides, including the lateral extension ii) two prominent white wing bars formed by the white edges to the median & greater coverts (contra “starting point” towards a “white wing panel”) iii) the black centres on the greater coverts iv) the “clean” white face and grey upperparts etc.
  2. Baicalensis, in all plumages do NOT have a black upper throat but a white upper & central throat instead. Searches through Macaulay Library and the Internet reveal all baicalensis with white upper throat. This salient feature was unfortunately overlooked when suggesting the bird as a baicalensis.image3
  1. Intergradation in its breeding range exist between alba and baicalensis, alba and ocularis and between alba and personata but there is no evidence as yet that such intergrades (especially with baicalensis) result in a black upper throat. Indeed, Alstrom & Mild (2003) indicated several times in the monograph that baicalensis can be separated from alba by its white upper throat.
  2. On current knowledge, the nearest wintering range of alba is in the Indian subcontinent. It would thus be a very long-distance vagrant for an alba to be found in Singapore. However, such long-distance vagrancy cannot be ruled out entirely. Recent years’ long-distance vagrancies resulting in new country records should be noted. Singapore’s Booted Warbler Iduna caligata in December of 2017 and West Malaysia’s most recent discovery of same warbler species in February 2020 are cases in point. Co-incidentally, Booted Warbler’s hitherto wintering range was also in the Indian subcontinent!

image4

In summary, perhaps the most important reason for an alba is the overwhelming features this bird has that distinguishes it as an alba. It is identifiable and should not be treated as an unidentified taxa. Baicalensis can be ruled out because they do not have a black upper throat in all plumages.

image0

Acknowledgement:

Thanks to Lee Van Hien for sharing his sighting and allowing the use of his photographs.

References:

Alstrom, P., Mild, K. & Zetterstrom, B. (2003) Pipits & Wagtails of Europe, Asia and North America. London: Christopher Helm.

Kennewell, M. (11 February 2020) Facebook “Global Rare Bird Alert”.

Rasmussen, P.C. & Anderton, J.C. (2005) Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide. Vols 1 and 2. Smithsonian Institution and Lynx Edicions, Washington, D.C. and Barcelona.

Robson, C. (2000) A field guide to the birds of South-east Asia. London: New Holland.

Note: This record of White Wagtail Motacilla alba alba is pending acceptance by the Records Committee.

 

 

Feeding behaviour of Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Hydrophasianus chirurgus.

Feeding behaviour of Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Hydrophasianus chirurgus.

By Amar-Singh HSS.

Location: Wetlands, Perak, Malaysia

Habitat: Extensive ex-tin mining area with pond/lakes, wetlands

Date: 17th February 2020.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana-2a-Wetlands, Perak, Malaysia-17th February 2020

Some colleagues mentioned a group of Pheasant-tailed Jacana at a wetlands site (at least 5 birds present) and I visited to observe feeding behaviour. One common feeding method is to swim in open water and pick prey from the water surface, especially from floating vegetation; what is actually taken is uncertain. Most sources say their diet consists of insects, molluscs, other invertebrates. I observed them for a 1.5 hours and saw (with video) many such feeding episodes but all I could see taken (even with video grab images) was plant material – the opinion is that aquatic vegetation is ingested accidentally/incidentally while feeding on animal prey (see HBW 2020). It is possible that they feed on a large number of small insects and invertebrates on the water surface. I saw some competitive feeding between the birds (defending their stretch of water) but this was not common; they could also feed communally. A video of feeding behaviour is here: https://youtu.be/dVTE0MfrHgk

Jenni, D.A. & Kirwan, G.M. (2020). Pheasant-tailed Jacana (Hydrophasianus chirurgus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

The Thing with Starlings

The Thing with Starlings.

We have twelve species of starlings in our Checklist. Six are in Cat A, one in Cat C, five in Cat E.

20200122_130152

Cat A-Species recorded in a wild state during last 50 years.

Only the Asian Glossy Starling is a resident, the rest are either winter visitors, passage migrants or vagrants.

Cat C-Introduced species that may or may not be self sustaining.

Black-winged Starling. A small breeding population on St. John’s Island in the 1980s but had died out after 1995. There was a record from Queenstown (Chris Hails).

Cat E-Species that are suspected of being released or escapees.

Let’s take a look at some recent starling sightings and how they were treated.

  1. Red-billed Starling (Vagrant)

First recorded on 25 December 1993 at Lorong Halus. Listed in Cat D- Species which may be wild but possibility of escape and release cannot be ruled out. It was moved to Cat A in 2017 after a sighting at Gardens by the Bay on 30 November 2013 and another at Tampines Eco Green on 27 Dec 2015.

21-306 A Red-billed Starling.

Third record of the Red-billed Starling at Tampines Eco Green by Seng Alvin.

  1. Chestnut-cheeked Starling ( Vagrant)

zacchd-04

The Bidadari Chestnut-cheeked Starling in 2014 by Zahidi Hamid..

First record at Loyang on December 1987. Accepted and listed in Cat A as their main wintering range is in the Philippines and a second bird was recorded in Selangor, Peninsular Malaysia eight weeks later. Our second record was at Bidadari on October 2014 followed by two sightings last year. One over at Pandan Canal on 1 November 2019 and the other at Henderson Wave on 16 November 2019. Both were photographed flying in a flock.

3. Rosy Starling ( Vagrant )

Rosy Starling at GBTB

The pristine adult Rosy Starling at Gardens by the Bay on September 2016.

Several records during the winter months at Tuas grasslands and Changi Beach were convincing enough for it to be listed under Cat A. However the pristine adult that appeared at the Gardens by the Bay on September 2016 was more likely to be an escapee due to the early date and tame behaviour.

WhatsApp Image 2020-01-20 at 15.36.08

Frankie Cheong’s photo of the Brahminy Starling taken at Bidadari in 2013.

  1. Brahminy Starling. ( Escapee/released)

The first two sighting at the grasslands at Marine East on February and October 2008 was assigned to Cat E for suspected escapee and released birds. In the past seven years we had three more sightings, Bidadari on 3 December 2013, GBTB on 13 September 2016 and Punggol Barat on 8 February 2016. No records were submitted for these sightings presumably of its popularity as cage bird due to its bright colorful plumage. So this species remained in Cat E. A good candidate for re-evaluation.

Francis Yap 2

Brahminy Starling photographed at Punggol Barat by Francis Yap in 2016.

Terry Heppel

A pristine Brahminy Starling shot at the Gardens by the Bay on 10 September 2016 by Terry Heppell. It was reported to be tame and very approachable. 

  1. Asian Pied Starling ( Escapee/released)

Small numbers seen at Choa Chu Kang, Saribum and Kranji Reservoir since 1982. A pair nested at the NSRCC Kranji Sanctuary Golf Course but no chicks were seen. An individual was photographed at Harvest Link this month.

Pary Sivaraman 2

This Asian Pied Starling made an appearance at Harvest Link. Photographed by Pary Sivaraman on 8 January 2020.

  1. White-cheeked Starling ( Status to be determined)

One was sighted at Seletar Aerospace Drive on 16 January 2020 for the first time ( Martin Kennewell). The wintering range for this starling is Southern China and had been recorded in Myanmar, Northern Thailand and Philippines as vagrants. There were no records in Malaysia. Their range do not favour the vagrancy of this starling here due to the vast geographic gap, but Dave Bakewell pointed out that this starling is a mid and long range migrant, navigation routes, population size of the species should be taken into consideration as well.

1-DSC00357

White-cheeked Starling at Seletar Aerospace Drive by Alan OwYong. Status pending. 

The plumage of this individual did not show signs of recent captivity. Captive birds do show signs of feather wear and tear or presence of bird lime but birds that have escaped or released can moult to a new set of feathers if it survived in the wild for a time.

This individual was reported to be wary of people and skittish, a sign of a wild bird?

The Records Committee will have to decide on the status of this starling if and when they received the submission. Rightly or wrongly the decision will be made by a committee. Comments and insights from our regional friends will be considered. The status of birds do change over time and the Records Committee will need to re-evaluate them from time to time. Timely submissions will help with the evaluation.

Tou Jing Yi of Ipoh sums it up best “ Starling is super headache when it comes to national records”.

Many thanks to Alvin Seng, Zahidi Hamid, Francis Yap, Terry Heppell, Frankie Cheong, Pary Sivaraman and Alan OwYong for the use of their photographs

References:

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

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

Boonsong Lekaul & Philip D. Round.  A Guide to the Birds of Thailand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Asia’s Shorebirds in Decline

Asia’s shorebirds in decline.

1-DSC09023-001

Common Redshanks roosting in the mangroves at Sungei Buloh during high tides. Fortunately their yearly numbers are still good.

Many of Asia’s migratory shorebirds are in decline. This is especially so for species migrating along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, a major migratory corridor that includes Singapore. In the past decade, conservationists have identified the loss of coastal wetland habitats, especially in eastern Asia as among the key reasons driving the decline of migratory shorebirds. Illegal and unsustainable hunting across many parts of the region is also a major threat to migratory species.

The Nature Society (Singapore), in a recent interview on Channel News Asia’s “Singapore Today”, highlighted the decline of migratory shorebirds in Singapore, and more broadly in the region, based on the data collected from our bird censuses. Many viewers were alarmed by the absolute low numbers displayed for the Pacific Golden Plovers, Lesser Sand Plovers and Whimbrels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The first Annual Bird Census was conducted by the Nature Society in March 1986 and had been faithfully carried out every March since. These single day counts from sites surveyed across Singapore provided us with 33 years of continuous data to determine the population trends of the country’s bird fauna.

Every year about 200 Whimbrels winter over at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

 

Together with the data from the Annual Waterbird Census, which started in 1990, the declining numbers of shorebirds such as the Pacific Golden Plovers, Marsh Sandpipers, Lesser Sand Plovers and Curlew Sandpipers are very clear to field observers. The loss of Serangoon Estuary and Senoko Wetlands is thought to have contributed to the decline of many shorebirds in Singapore. The Common Redshank has suffered less, and there are still good numbers annually, fortunately. 

1-P1080952

Some Pacific Golden Plovers choose to roost inland or even on the fish farms at the Straits of Johor instead of the dry ponds at Sungei Buloh.

Their numbers were in the thousands in the 1990s, but the counts were in their tens or low hundreds during recent surveys.

 

20191218_205317

Figure 1. Abundance trends for Pacific Golden Plover (1997-2017) based on Annual Bird Census data.

20191218_205344

Figure 2. Abundance trends for Marsh Sandpiper (1997-2017) based on Annual Bird Census data.

20191218_205426

Figure 3. Abundance trends for Common Redshanks (1997-2017) based on Annual Bird Census data.

Seletar Jetties

Rich coastal ecosytems like the Seletar mudflats must be conserved as they are irreplaceable.

So how can we stop or reverse these trends for our declining shorebirds? For a start we must continue work to conserve all our remaining wetlands like the rich coastal ecosystems at Mandai Mudflats, Seletar and Chek Java, which are highly irreplaceable. More importantly, we would need to continue with our long term monitoring work through bird censuses as tools to guide our ongoing and future conservation efforts.

Reference. NSS Bird Group Annual Bird Census 1995-2019.

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.

1-DSC08548

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.

6182ae04-7ecb-49ff-82ae-1a6ee12561c8

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.

fef5cd24-2d60-47e9-abc0-289fc715abfb

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!

e373fb0f-05d4-427c-8a08-aad42a55c4e5

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.

f26802e0-8331-4938-adb2-83f847badb1d

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.

ea0af398-f5e9-42c5-90f3-aa8fbeb76c86

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.

Aleutian

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.

Aleutian NB

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.

1-DSC09824

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.

1-DSC09712-001

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.

1-DSC00041

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.

69180143_2380716958673754_5826396129440301056_n

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.

68980636_2380716908673759_3013004027265810432_n

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.

68958534_2380717105340406_7058920527846440960_o

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

68969899_2380717182007065_154207996149235712_o

Rose-ringed Parakeets chose the ripest and best fruit.

69275508_2380717032007080_1972704446425071616_n

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

69481530_2380717082007075_3918004205477953536_n

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

69496686_2380716998673750_7470999253800714240_n

Javan Mynas fighting each other over an oil palm fruit.

69789070_2380716915340425_5752493228473450496_o

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

69881400_2380717142007069_6359887134106583040_o

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.

Chung Cheong 5

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.

1-20190820_130003

 

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.

Chung Cheong2

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.

68267864_2467844013271684_4527469213060694016_o

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.

Geoff Lim

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.

68292358_2467841753271910_8201157575455014912_n

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.

69284365_2467841229938629_4160370292322992128_n

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.

1-20190816_172839-002

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.

1-Chung Cheong 3

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

1-68268744_2273565499408609_8665080984783290368_o

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.

68391526_2465849020137850_2391441041703043072_o

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.

Great-billed Heron_Mohamad Zahidi

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.

Blue-eared Kingfisher_Bjorn Olesen

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.

Chung Cheong 7

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.

_DSC0991

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.

Fins

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.

1-DSC03411-002

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.

67909420_483478722467446_8890252032619839488_n

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).

zc feeding_25 Aug2019

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.

JLG

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.

_DSC1154

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?

1-DSC01343-001

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.

Kiakee Leong

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)

1-DSC01087

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.

fantail-with-jv-rb-cuckoo-seng-alvin (2)

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.

1-DSC01396

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.