Category Archives: Bird Habitat

Saving Mandai Mudflats and Mangroves.

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve just celebrated its 25th anniversary this year as the premier stop over site for migratory shorebirds in Singapore. But we were concerned for its future as the Mandai Mudflats and Mangroves further east was delisted from the Singapore Green Plan (2012). The government had announced plans to reclaim the mudflats. The visiting shorebirds depend on Mandai Mudflats to refuel during its stop over. They then fly to Sungei Buloh to roost during high tides. To show this connection, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserves and NParks in 2011 initiated a study of the movement of shorebirds between the Mandai Mudflats and Sungei Buloh. The Bird Group of the Nature Society was invited to be part of the study which we gladly accepted. This was a first of its kind systematic study to determine that the visiting shorebirds that feed at Mandai Mudflats fly back to Sungei Buloh to roost.

Mandai Mudflats

Mandai Mudflats and Mangroves at low tide. It is part of the Kranji-Mandai IBA, Important Bird and Biodiversity Area. Two Horseshoe Crab species are found to be breeding here. 

A total of six sessions were conducted between 28 November 2011 and 9 March 2012. Teams of 2 to 3 observers were stationed at Sungei Buloh, Pang Sua Estuary and in a boat at the Straits of Johor mid way along their flight path hours before the respective high and low tides.  We did not managed to be at Mandai Mudflats for all the sessions due to lack of observers. The numbers and time of each species taking off, landing and flying past each station were recorded. A good collegation was when most of the same species were recorded at the respective stations at around the same time.

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Teams locations A-SBWR, B- Boat in Johor Straits, C-Pang Sua Estuary, D-Mandai Mudflats.

The results were what we expected. During four high tide sessions, 200, 205, 241 and 177 Whimbrels Numenius phaeopus were recorded at all the stations flying from Mandai back to Sungei Buloh to roost. At the other two low tide sessions, 215 and 240 Whimbrels were recorded flying back to Mandai from Sungei Buloh to feed. These counts confirmed that high numbers of Whimbrels that feed at Mandai Mudflats returned to Sungei Buloh and vice versa.

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Good numbers of Whimbrels that feed at Mandai flew back to Buloh to roost.

Next were the Common Greenshanks Tringa nebularia. For the four high tide sessions, 50, 8, 62 and 60 flew from Mandai to Sungei Buloh and 57 and 93 flew out of Sungei Buloh back to Mandai/Pang Sua to feed during the two low tide sessions. Most of the Common Greenshanks that feed at Mandai returned to Sungei Buloh and vice versa, except for one session.

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Pacific Golden Plovers flying over Johor Straits on their back to Sungei Buloh and fish farms to roost.

We monitored the movements of the Pacific Golden Plovers, Pluvialis fulva and Lesser Sand Plovers Charadrius mongolus as well. But we only managed to record one collegation of 130 Lesser Sand Plovers flying from Mandai to Sungei Buloh at high tides and two records for the Pacific Golden Plovers, 40 from Mandai to Buloh at high tide and 75 from Buloh back to Mandai at low tide. The reason for this was that some of the Lesser Sand Plovers flew over to the Danga Bay, Johor to roost while the fish farmers reported large numbers of Pacific Golden Plovers roosting on their fish farms at high tides.

We had two interesting findings during the study. The Pang Sau estuary just west of Mandai was just as important as a feeding ground for the shorebirds as Mandai. Thankfully this estuary will form part of the nature park. Not all the Common Redshanks left Buloh at low tides. Many preferred to stay at Buloh to feed and roost.

The then Singapore Branch of the Malayan Nature Society had identified the Mandai Mudflats and Mangroves as “Top priority” in the Master Plan for Conservation of Nature in Singapore 1990 and the present Nature Society (Singapore) had been advocating for its protection ever since. The Bird Group carried out the first Annual Bird Census (ABC) there in April 1986 and added the Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) in 1990. Both censuses are still on going without any breaks. The data collected have been shared with NParks and other organisations. We are delighted that Mandai was finally designated as a Nature Park on 17 October 2018. We would like to think that censuses and studies like these play a small part in achieving this outcome.

  • Study Team: Sharon Chan, David Li, Mendis Tan, Bari Mohamad, Lim Hai Bi, Loh Wan Jing, Alan OwYong, Ho Hua Chew, Lim Kim Keang, Gerard Francis, Con Foley,  Lau Jia Seng, Han Chong, See Swee Leng, Jimmy Chew, K.S. Wong.

Reference:  Ho, H. C. & OwYong, A. 2015. Report on the Shorebird Monitoring Project at the Sungei Buloh-Mandai Mudflat Coastal Sector: 28 November 2011 – 18 September 2012. Singapore: Bird Group, The Nature Society. Unpublished.

Will Bidadari still be a haven for the birds?

Will Bidadari still be a haven for the migratory birds?

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Bidadari today is still a stop over and wintering ground for migratory birds despite the loss of a large part of its woodlands and forests. 

When the announcement that the old Bidadari Cemetery would be developed for housing, the nature and birding community were mourning the loss of yet another nature and birding haven. We have documented more than 155 species of birds here, half of which are migrants. In fact it is one of the best places to find some of the rarer migrant species in Singapore.

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The core of the 9 hectare park, with a lake and a creek added to the landscape. Photo from CPG Corporation. The beige colored road is the old Upper Aljunied Road which will be converted into a pedestrian and cycle “Heritage Walk” with all the large Rain trees preserved. 

Bidadari today is almost devoid of forest and green cover. There is only a patch of woodlands near to Mt. Vernon parlours that is semi-wild. This is where part of the 9 hectare park will be. If you go there today, you can see many of the transplanted trees growing in between the huge Ficus and Acacia trees. The old Upper Aljunied Road will be converted into a pedestrian and cycle “Heritage Walk” lined with spreading Rain trees. On the other side of the Heritage Walk, a new water body “Alkaff Lake” will hopefully bring in waterbirds to the area with the planting of wetland vegetation. Facing Bartley Road to the north is the one- hectare Albizia Hillock which will be left untouched. This is the highest part of Bidadari where most migrants make landfall. A “Bidadari Greenway” running from north to south will serve as a green corridor for both the residents and wildlife to move around.

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The one hectare Albizia Hillock will be left untouched. The Bird Group mapped this out as the migrant hotspot during a six month study. It will be linked to the park by green connectors and link bridge.

The landscape consultants will adopted a biodiversity enhancement approach by keeping as much of the present greenery and paths while adding in layered planting of suitable trees and shrubs similar to what was done at Gardens by the Bay. The HDB and NParks with contribution from NSS want to show that it can create a park that is rich and conducive to wildlife, to achieve their vision of “A community in Garden” living for Bidadari.  Will the migrants return? Only time will tell especially when all the buildings are up and the residents moved in. There will be more noise and disturbance. But so far this season 14 migrant species have shown a high sense of site fidelity and found their way back, even though their numbers were low.

The flycatchers led by the Asian Brown Flycatchers were the first to arrive. The Yellow-rumped and the Paradise Flycatchers follow suit. Last week we saw the arrival of the globally threatened Brown-chested Jungle Flycatchers. Bidadari is one of the best places to see this flycatcher in its wintering range.

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The Yellow-rumped Flycatchers were one of the first flycatchers to arrive at Bidadari. We get more females than males during Autumn.

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Both the Amur and Blyth’s Paradise Flycatchers  descended at Bidadari in good numbers. Amurs like this one outnumbered the Blyth’s during this period.

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Bidadari is one of the best places to see this Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher in its  wintering range.

The star for this season had to be this Ruddy Kingfisher that went missing for three years. It stayed for more than a week delighting many of its admirers and fans. We hope that the migrants will continue to come back and use the new Bidadari Park as their stop over wintering ground.

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List of migrants recorded so far this season at Bidadari:

  1. Arctic Warbler
  2. Eastern-crowned Warbler
  3. Asian Brown Flycatcher
  4. Yellow-rumped Flycatcher
  5. Dark-sided Flycatcher
  6. Amur Paradise Flycatcher
  7. Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher
  8. Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher
  9. Ferruginous Flycatcher
  10. Tiger Shrike
  11. Brown Shrike
  12. Crow-billed Drongo.
  13. Ruddy Kingfisher.
  14. Drongo Cuckoo.

Source reference: Housing and Development Board

 

 

 

 

New Wetland at the Singapore Sports Hub

Text and photos by Marcel Finlay.

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{1. National Stadium with Wetland in Foreground]
The Sports Hub may seem an odd place to go birding – lots of buildings and paved areas are not usually conducive to finding many species.
But you may be surprised to learn that the site has nearly 1,000 trees of 39 species and thousands of square metres of shrubs and plants – with a good percentage of them being native to Singapore and South-East Asia.
Add to this some areas of grassland and the 750m long waterfront along the Kallang Basin (part of Marina Reservoir) which includes a 200m long stretch of newly-planted wetland and you have a good mosaic of habitats which support a surprisingly diverse range of resident and visiting bird life. You can see the wetland strip in front of the National Stadium in the photo above.
Over the past year, I have recorded 67 species at the site which is surprisingly good for such an urban location. This includes breeding Long-Tailed Shrike (Lanius schach), Olive-Backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis), Common Iora (Aegithina tiphia), Common Tailorbirds, (Orthotomus sutorius), Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) and Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris)
Of these 67 species I have observed 22 using the new small wetland strip either for roosting, feeding or nesting which shows how productive this habitat can be.
In the Government-approved design for the waterfront area the zone between the new stone steps and the edge of the water was destined to be a (rather sterile) pebble beach.
As constructing the beach was not a critical activity the contractor levelled and cleared the area and left the final finishing for the end of project. (see photo below)

Photo2 levelling

{2: levelling and clearance of the ground. April 2014}  

As time went on a range of plants including casuarina, creepers, reeds and grasses started to self-generate and the strip soon became an informal wetland area (see photo below) which was regularly attracting Smooth-Coated Otters (or Hybrid Smooth-Coated x Small-Clawed?), Water Monitor Lizards (Varanus salvator), Little Egrets (Egretta garzetta), Striated Herons (Butorides striata), Grey Herons (Ardea cinerea), Scaly-Breasted Munia (Longchura punctulata), Long-Tailed Shrike and Olive-Backed Sunbirds.

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{3. Natural plant regeneration. March 2015}
Impressed by the amount of wildlife using the wetland area I decided to try and convince the various stakeholders that it should be retained permanently as a wetland area.
One of my roles as design manager for the Sports Hub’s builder Dragages Singapore Pte Ltd. was to prepare the project’s submission to the PUB for certification under the ABC Waters (active, clean and beautiful) scheme.
I proposed the wetland along with the large vegetated and bio-retention swales as the main elements of our submission. After a bit of negotiation we managed to get the support of the PUB and then, with their help, received the blessing of the other authorities. The condition was that we replanted the area with PUB-approved wetland species such as those used at Lorong Halus and Sengkang Floating Wetlands.
The replanting was completed in November 2015 (see images below) and by February 2016 it had filled out nicely and looked ready for the wildlife to return.


{4 & 5, Completion of new planting November 2015}

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{6. Maturing plants May 2016}

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{7. Maturing plants May 2016}
Within a week of the first stand of reeds being planted I was delighted to find a pair of Yellow Bitterns (Ixobrychus sinensis) had roosted there. They did not stay but perhaps remembered the site as two returned in March 2016 and stayed until 19th May. Two birds (the same?) returned on 20thOctober and have remained throughout the Winter and Spring.
A single White-Breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) arrived in March and was joined by a second bird in July. I wasn’t sure they were a pair until I saw a single fluffy black chick on October 16th – the wetland’s first breeding success!

{8. Yellow Bittern, 9. Adult White-Breasted Waterhen, 10. juvenile White-Breasted Waterhen}

An Oriental Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus orientalis) also arrived in March and was so happy with his new quarters that he didn’t leave until May 31st. Word must have spread as in October 2016 three birds arrived and have been here throughout the Winter.
To my big surprise I found a Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler (Locustella certhiola) on October 18th, I managed to see it twice more in the following days and then couldn’t relocate it. I assumed it must have just been passing through but I have seen and heard it each week since the beginning of January 2017 so I assume it has been present all the time but was just silent early on. It is very skulking and elusive and although I have a couple of nice recordings of its song it is very hard to get a decent photo – all I have managed is the blurry shot below. (The bird is still present on May 4th)
To complete the set of probable warblers a Black-Browed Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus bistrigiceps) appeared on the 24th April and is still present on 2nd May. No doubt just passing through for a feed before beginning its migration back to its breeding grounds but I can hope that one may choose to overwinter in the wetland when they return to Singapore in October.

{11. Oriental Reed Warbler, 12. Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, 13. Black-Browed Reed Warbler}

One thing to note is that all of these species spend more time in Singapore than they do in their breeding ranges – for tax purposes they would be considered ‘ordinarily resident’ in Singapore!
Other birds which have made use of the wetland are: Chinese Pond Heron (Ardeola bacchus), Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea), Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis), Brown Shrike (Lanius Cristatus), Yellow-Vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier), Pacific Swallow (Hirundo tahitica), Common Tailorbird, Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus), Olive-Backed Sunbird, Scaly-Breasted Munia (Lonchura punctulata), White-Headed Munia (Lonchura maja), Crimson-Rumped Waxbill (Estrilda rhodopyga) and a rather lost looking Blue Waxbill (Uraeginthus angolensis)

14 Brown Shrikw, 15 White-headed Munia, 16 Common Tailorbird.

I record all my sightings on eBird which enables me to easily summarize the comings and goings at each site I regularly visit. For the Sports Hub I have made 2 to 3 early morning visits to the wetland and 2 to 3 lunchtime visits elsewhere on the site each week since late 2015 so I have quite a lot of data for two winter seasons and a full summer. Although I am a single observer and the period is not long enough to draw any firm conclusions I have noted the following dates for a selection of migrating and resident species:
1-6 Chinese Pond Herons often present – earliest 29th Sept, latest 1st April
1-10 Little Egrets regularly visit – earliest 3rd Nov, latest 12th April
2-8 Cattle Egrets erratically present – earliest 1st December, latest 3rd March
Up to 17 Little Terns (Sterna hirundo) fishing and loafing on the water – earliest 20th April, latest 13th October (do they stay around Singapore’s coastline for the winter or do they go further afield?)
1 Brown Shrike present from 20th October to 9th February

{17. Little Terns resting on regatta course buoys and 18. Little Tern fishing}

What interests me the most about this small strip of wetland is not so much that it attracts lots of wildlife but that it is evidently sufficient to provide all the food and roosting requirements for at least 4 species of birds.
It seems that the Yellow Bitterns, White-Breasted Waterhen and especially the Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler and Oriental Reed Warblers do not need anything else. It is a small island of habitat which does not rely on connectivity to other transitional habitats for it to be useful.
It is also important to note that this habitat is only 18 months old.
We can compare this with the cleansing biotope at Gardens by the Bay and the small reed bed at Satay by the Bay.
These are also recently planted small areas of emergent plants and reeds, also surrounded by less ideal habitat but also home to several wintering Oriental Reed Warblers, Black-Browed Reed Warblers, one or two Yellow Bitterns and a Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler.
Likewise, I have seen all four species in the small stands of reeds in the new ponds at the bottom of the viewing tower at Kranji Marshes and I understand that the Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler has also wintered at the Sengkang floating wetlands in previous years.
Although planting isolated stands of native trees in Singapore is sadly not going to provide significant or sufficient habitat for wintering forest species it appears that isolated areas of wetland planting can provide sufficient and safe wintering habitat for some of Asia’s species of warblers and herons.
All four species are classified as being LC (of least concern) by IUCN at the moment and are not considered under threat of significant population loss. However, it is thought that Oriental Reed Warblers are declining in some parts of its range through habitat loss as reed beds are drained and streams are canalised. It is logical that this would apply to the other warblers.
Providing quality habitat for them in Singapore can only be a positive step in their conservation. Even better is the speed with which these habitats can be mature enough to be attractive to the target species.
The plants also provide a valuable service in taking nutrients out of storm water runoff which helps to reduce the amount of treatment needed later in the system to turn reservoir water into drinking water.
The PUB is encouraging developers to include ABC Waters features on each new development and at some stage this may become a requirement. This is good news for wildlife. These features are not so costly to install and mature very quickly.
The wetland at the Sports Hub is a good example of the public and private sectors working together for biodiversity. The contractor paid for the design, groundworks and planting, the PUB provides ongoing maintenance.
The recently-announced redevelopment of the Kallang Riverside north of the Merdeka Bridge is an ideal opportunity to increase the extent of this type of habitat in Singapore and provide more opportunities for migrating birds to find a winter home here.
marcel finlay
Singapore, May 2017
My thanks to the ABC Waters team at the PUB and Dragages Singapore Pte Ltd. for their assistance in creating this small but useful addition to Singapore’s habitats.
All photos by the author except for images 2, 4 and 5 by Hasan Mehedi of DSPL.