Category Archives: Bird Habitat

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

By Mike Smith.

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

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

The Alexandri subspecies live in Serangoon Gardens.

Summary

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

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

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

 Details.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion.

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

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

The Farmland Marshes of Kranji. Part 2.

The Farmland Marshes of Kranji. Part 2.

A Personal Observation by Pary Sivaraman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo 11. White-browed chick with its parent

Photo 12. Juvenile White-browed chick

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

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

The Farmland Marshes of Kranji. Part 1.

The Farmland Marshes of Kranji. Part 1.

A Personal Observation by Pary Sivaraman

Many of the birders and bird photographers were sad that the vacant land next to Kranji Marshes was tendered out for farming. During the preparation stage, the land was left to fallow. We can only scan for the birds from the outside or on top of the tower. Already many of the freshwater waders were seen wintering there.

Aquatic plants like mimosas, reeds, sages and grasses began to colonize the open land. After the plots were sold, fences and boarding were erected and clearing of the land started. We were able to drive in, bird and photograph the many grassland species and migrants foraging at some of the open plots.

My focus was one of the plots that was fenced around by low plastic sheets and netting. The farm had significant work done with areas dug out that resulted in the collection of rainwater and other parts were used for growing vegetable. With time some of the water filled areas became covered with various types of vegetation including reeds. Interestingly some areas looked like a marshland and other parts were mud covered areas. With time and rain, it offered three types of ‘habitats’: muddy areas, marsh-like areas and even a pond all rolled into one location!

Photo 1. Shows a wide-angle view from the lamp post
Photo 2. Shows a closer view of the right side with reeds, water collection etc.

During the migratory season, birds like the Common Kingfisher, Oriental Pratincoles, Wood Sandpipers, Long-toed Stints, Little-ringed Plovers and Snipes (both Common & Pintail) were seen at this location (Photos 3 to 7). I have not included photos of Wagtails (Eastern Yellow & Grey) that have also been seen here nor the Barn Swallows that would rest at various locations and fly low to catch insects in flight above the water covered marsh-like areas.

The migratory birds that were seen from outside the farm near the lamppost would come regularly and land on the mud-covered areas to rest, forage for food, etc. I have seen as many as 16 Wood Sandpipers, 7 Little-ringed Plovers, 4 Long-toed Stints, 3 Snipes and 2 Oriental Pratincoles at any one time, though not all these birds would come together at the same time! Some of these observations have been shared previously on eBird.

Photo 3. Common Kingfisher with food it captured from the pond.
Photo 4. Wood Sandpiper (left) with Long-toed Stint (right).
Photo 5. Long-toed Stint (left) with Little-ringed Plover (right)
Photo 6. Oriental Pratincole with Little-ringed Plover.
Photo 7. Snipe species.

Whilst not a migratory bird, the Asian-Pied Starling (Photo 8) has been seen here several times and on one occasion even a pair was seen. The origin of this bird is usually believed to be an ‘escapee’ with some speculating that its may have flown over from Johor Malaysia.

Photo 8. Asian Pied Starling.

The site would also be visited by our common birds like the Mynahs (Common & Javan Mynahs), Munias (Black-headed, White-headed & Scaly breasted), Waxbills, Weavers (Baya & Golden-backed), Yellow-vented Bulbul, etc. Since these birds can be found in various parts of Kranji, I did not consider them to be especially interesting.

Moving to the marsh-like & pond area it was common to see Little Egrets and Intermediate Egrets foraging for food. The Asian Openbill would come in significant numbers to forage for food in the water-logged area that were like a pond (Photos 9 & 10).

Photo 9. Intermeditate Egret with food in its mouth that it had captured from the “pond”.
Photo 10. Asian Openbill with food in its mouth. Some areas must be relatively deep!

The story fortunately did not end there. It was not uncommon to see the Lesser Whistling Ducks fly, wade in the ponds, hide in the reeds or stand by the solid ground. Apart from these, the Common Moorhens would wade in the pond-like area and similarly one would see White-browed Crakes foraging for food (Photos 11 to 13). Both the Common Moorhen and White-browed Crakes are extremely difficult to see in Singapore except at certain locations.

Photo 11. Lesser Whistling Ducks flying in.
Photo 12. Common Moorhen moving in the water-logged area.
Photo 13. A pair of White-browed Crakes foraging for food.

This ‘accidental site’ comprising of marsh-like areas, muddy parts and water-logged areas that look like a pond has continued to attract migrant birds and local birds. I have intentionally only used those photographs that are below par in this write up as my interest was to document the birdlife there.

In fact, I have met many other birders who called this the ‘real Kranji Marsh’. On reflection, I would agree with them.

I hope this write up would create an awareness and support for natural “accidental” places like this for migratory birds in our land scarce island.

In the second part of my write up I will highlight how certain birds have managed to breed in this accidental site signaling the ultimate success of such a place.

Note: The observations and photos were taken exclusively from outside the fence near one of the lamp posts. If you intend to bird in private land parcels, do seek permission when possible and respect the rights of the property.

Birds Species Detectability in a HDB Heartland

Bird Species Detectability in a HDB Heartland

By Lim Kim Seng (ibisbill@yahoo.com)

Fig 2-1

Javan Myna, a joint Top Most Detectable Species With Rock Dove and Asian Glossy Starling. Photo © Lim Kim Seng

 Introduction

This is a continuation of my studies of birds outside my balcony window in a HDB heartland called Woodlands. In the previous study, I found out that my one-hectare HDB neighbourhood actually has a decent diversity of birds – 36 species seen or heard over 40 days. What I wanted to do in this particular study is to find out what species are the most regularly seen or heard. In other words, what bird species are present virtually every day? What are our most common birds in HDB heartland? What are the rarest?

Methodology

To find out the most common birds in my neighbourhood, I resorted to a simple method or recording “presence”“ or “absence”, based on my observations by sight or sound of birds outside my balcony and study windows. I also added species that I saw on my regular trips to the wet market and supermarket to buy groceries. I kept a list of species in a notebook from April 4th to May 16th, a total of 40 days. I tried to keep watch of a total duration of an hour a day, aided by my 8×30 binoculars and my 65x zoom bridge camera.

Detectability and “Common-ness”

Over 40 days, 36 bird species were recorded. The results for the Ten Most Common or “Detectable” Species included three that were ever present – Asian Glossy Starling, Javan Myna and Common Pigeon.  These species were most often seen utilizing man-made structures such as rooftops, TV aerials as well as on trees and different ground surfaces. It should come as no surprise that two of these were introduced to Singapore.

Joint fourth was the Brown-throated Sunbird. This was a surprise as I had expected the ubiquitous Olive-backed Sunbird to be the winner. The former came to a tree outside my balcony almost every day to perform its chiffchaff-like song, especially at dawn. I think it is just one or two pairs that exist in my neighbourhood but they are very noticeable when they call. The other species was Swinhoe’s White-eye, another dawn singer in my tree and also present almost daily with a variety of chirps that made them instantly recognizable. I missed both only on one day each.

The rest of the Top Ten included Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot, one of four parrots recorded, Black-naped Oriole, Pacific Swallow, Spotted Dove, Red-breasted Parakeet and either Germain’s or Black-nest Swiftlet.

The Eleventh to Twentieth positions also include some very familiar “garden birds” such as Asian Koel, House crow, Yellow-vented Bulbul and Olive-backed Sunbird as well as newly colonizing species such as Little Bronze Cuckoo. The complete list is in Appendix 1.

Perhaps, as our HDB heartlands and urban spaces are landscaped with plants that attract wildlife and as urban green spaces become more heterogeneous, these and other species will invade more urban areas in Singapore in the future. In addition, balconies in more favorable surroundings like parklands, wetlands, coasts or forests should show a richer and more diverse birdlife than my neighbourhood.

Recommendations and Conclusion

Even though this was a one-off study at just one site, I hope that it gives us an idea of what our most common birds of urban Singapore is, and how such studies can be done very easily with a minimum of fuss. More detailed studies could perhaps be made on why these species are so highly successful at colonizing man-made habitats compared to others.

 Appendix 1

Full List of Birds Detected at Woodlands Study Site, April 4th to May 16th, 2020 (Numbers in brackets next to the species indicates the number of days they were detected.)

1            Asian Glossy Starling  Aplonis panayensis (40)

2            Rock Dove Columba livia (40)

3            Javan Myna Acridotheres javanicus (40)

4            Brown-throated Sunbird Anthreptes malacensis               (39)

5            Swinhoe’s White-eye Zosterops simplex               (39)

6            Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot Loriculus galgulus (33)

7            Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis (32)

8            Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica (31)

9            Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis (31)

10          Red-breasted Parakeet  Psittacula alexandri (25)

11          Swiftlet sp. Aerodramus sp. (25)

12          Olive-backed Sunbird Cinnyris jugularis (24)

13          Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker Dicaeum cruentatum (23)

14          Pied Triller Lalage nigra (20)

15          Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker Yungipicus moluccensis (17)

16          Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea  (16)

17          Yellow-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus goiavier (15)

18          House Crow Corvus splendens (14)

19          Little Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx minutillus (14)

20          Rose-ringed Parakeet Psittacula krameri  (14)

21          Pink-necked Green Pigeon Treron vernans (13)

22          Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus  (11)

23          Zebra Dove Geopelia striata (7)

24          Common Hill Myna Gracula religiosa (4)

25          Savanna Nightjar Caprimulgus affinis (4)

26          Blue-throated Bee-eater Merops viridis (3)

27          Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata (3)

28          Arctic Warbler Phylloscopus borealis (2)

29          Common Myna Acridotheres tristis (2)

30          Golden-bellied Gerygone Gerygone sulphurea (2)

31          Long-tailed Parakeet Psittacula longicauda (2)

32          Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus  (1)

33          Collared Kingfisher Todiramphus chloris (1)

34          Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus (1)

35          Pied Imperial Pigeon Ducula bicolor (1)

36          White-bellied Sea Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster (1)

Fig 2-2

Spotted Dove and Asian Glossy Starlings seen from my balcony. Photo © Lim Kim Seng

Bird Species Diversity in a HDB Heartland.

Bird Species Diversity in a HDB Heartland

By Lim Kim Seng (ibisbill@yahoo.com)

Fig 1

The study site looking from my study window, Woodlands, Singapore. Photo © Lim Kim Seng

 Introduction

I live in Woodlands, a lively HDB township in the north of Singapore. My unit is on the 6th floor of a 13th storey HDB flat facing north, just 2 km from the Straits of Johor. My balcony and study room windows face the south, overlooking a 4-storey multi-story car park and another 13th flat just 100 m away. To north of my flat is a tiny patch of secondary forest that had been reduced in extent over the last twenty years due to the establishment of a new polytechnic and upcoming plans for retail, commercial and industrial infrastructure, and a new MRT station. To the south are yet more flats, a small shopping mall with an adjoining wet market and supermarket, an old folks’ home and a small community garden. To the south-west, a primary school where both of my kids studied.

From a landscape ecology perspective, my estate is about as concrete as it gets with about fifty trees (mostly Podocarpus, but also including saga, Cassia, Syzigium, rambutan, tembusu and mahogany), hedges and grassy verges surrounding my flat and the nearby roads. A small grassy field separates my flat from a neighbouring flat. The whole area is no more than one hectare.

Methodology

The unprecedented circuit breaker measures enforced by the Singapore government in late March 2020 to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak offered an opportunity to study the birds of my 25-year old neighbourhood. Beginning April 4th, I spent an average of one hour each day watching and listening birds outside my balcony or study room windows. I kept a list of species seen or heard each day. This was supplemented by walks to the supermarket about twice a week for groceries. On May 16th, I stopped to review what I have recorded after 40 days.

Species Diversity

Over 40 days, I recorded 36 species of birds. Of these, almost all were resident breeders. The sole exception was an Arctic Warbler, which wasn’t seen subsequently and likely passing through. The average daily diversity was 14.75 species with a low of 10 achieved on 4 days and a high of 22 on 2 days.

The most successful families were the pigeons with five species represented, followed by parrots (4 species), sturnids (4 species) and raptors (3 species).

Most of the 36 species were common species such as pigeons, crows, mynas and sparrows but they also included some surprises. Pied Imperial Pigeon was detected only once, two birds feeding on the fruits of a MacArthur’s Palm outside a neighbourhood supermarket. Long-tailed Parakeet was detected on two occasions and indicated that the planting of suitable fruiting trees could help it become a common urban species in Singapore. Also surprising was a Collared Kingfisher that demonstrated its adaptability to apparently unsuitable habitat in my study area.

The time of the year favours the resident species, for which April to June is peak breeding period, and was rather late for migrating birds. As such only one migrant (Arctic Warbler) was detected whereas common migratory species such as Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Asian Brown Flycatcher and Daurian Starling, all of which I have recorded in my area in the past, went missing in this study.

Other surprise omissions include the following urban species: White-throated Kingfisher, Coppersmith Barbet, Common Flameback, Oriental Dollarbird, Long-tailed Shrike, Common Iora, Common Tailorbird and Paddyfield Pipit.

Perhaps, as our HDB heartlands and urban spaces are landscaped with plants that attract wildlife and as urban green spaces become more heterogeneous, these and other species will invade more urban areas in Singapore in the future. In addition, balconies in more favorable surroundings like parklands, wetlands, coasts or forests should show a richer and more diverse birdlife than my neighbourhood.

Species Discovery Curve

The 40-day period of observation also allowed me to plot a Species Discovery Curve for my neighbourhood. It gives an indication of the species diversity of an area. The richer the area is, the longer it would take for the curve to flatten out.

1-_1010324

Table 1: Species Discovery Curve for Woodlands Estate

The vertical axis marks the cumulative number of species from day 1 to 40 while the horizontal axis marks the number of days that the species were surveyed. It can be seen that the curve started flattening on Day 5 when 28 species were recorded. It took another 35 days to record an additional 8 species, to make a grand total of 36 species in all.

It would be interesting to do a similar graph for other HDB heartlands and urban areas in Singapore to see if the species diversity is similarly low. Of course, balconies located near richer ecosystems like coasts, mangroves or rainforests can expect higher species diversity as well as a different assemblage of species.

Recommendations and Conclusion

Even though this was a one-off study at just one site, I hope that it gives us an idea of what the bird species diversity is like for the more urban parts of Singapore. I hope that this study will show how such studies can be done very easily with a minimum of fuss.

Appendix 1

Full List of Birds Detected at Woodlands Study Site, April 4th to May 16th, 2020

  1. Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus
  2. Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus
  3. White-bellied Sea Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster
  4. Rock Dove Columba livia
  5. Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis
  6. Zebra Dove Geopelia striata
  7. Pink-necked Green Pigeon Teron vernans
  8. Pied Imperial Pigeon Ducula bicolor
  9. Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea
  10. Little Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx minutillus
  11. Savanna Nightjar Caprimulgus affinis
  12. Swiftlet sp. Aerodramus
  13. Collared Kingfisher Todiramphus chloris
  14. Blue-throated Bee-eater Merops viridis
  15. Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker Yungipicus moluccensis
  16. Rose-ringed Parakeet Psittacula krameri
  17. Red-breasted Parakeet Psittacula alexandri
  18. Long-tailed Parakeet Psittacula Longicauda
  19. Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot Loriculus galgulus
  20. Golden-bellied Gerygone Gerygone sulphurea
  21. Pied Triller Lalage nigra
  22. Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis
  23. House Crow Corvus splendens
  24. Yellow-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus goiavier
  25. Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica
  26. Arctic Warbler Phylloscopus borealis
  27. Swinhoe’s White-eye Zosterops simplex
  28. Asian Glossy Starling Aplonis panayensis
  29. Common Hill Myna Gracula religiosa
  30. Javan Myna Acridotheres javanicus
  31. Common Myna Acridotheres tristis
  32. Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker Dicaeum cruentatum
  33. Brown-throated Sunbird Anthreptes malacensis
  34. Olive-backed Sunbird Cinnyris jugularis
  35. Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
  36. Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata

Fig 2

Spotted Dove, one of the regulars seen from my balcony. Photo © Lim Kim Seng

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.