Category Archives: Bird Report

First Records of the Javan Plover in Singapore

First Records of the Javan Plover in Singapore

By Frankie Cheong & Lim Kim Seng

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Status and Range of Javan Plover

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

Identification of the Javan Plover

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

Recommendations for future fieldwork

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

Acknowledgements

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birds Records Committee Report ( Jan 2021)

By Lim Kim Seng.

Chairman, Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group Records Committee.

The Records Committee continues to receive records of new bird species to the Singapore List and rarities. This report updates the findings of the period, November 2019 – December 2020.

New Species

Nine new bird species were added to the Singapore List, bringing the total number of species to 407. These included three firsts – Common Swift, White-bellied Erpornis and Hair-crested Drongo – that had been recorded in the period under review. In addition, six species that had been previously categorized under Categories B or D had been re-reviewed by the committee and found to fit Category A. 

Common Swift Apus apus

An individual seen and photographed flying over Jelutong Tower on 9 Oct 2019 by Richard White, Francis Yap and Martin Kennewell was the first record for Singapore. Amazingly, this was followed by a second record from Henderson Waves on 27 Oct 2020 seen by Keita Sin, Tan Gim Cheong and Deborah Friets. The subspecies recorded is pekinensis which breeds in Northeast China and Transbaikalia, winters in Africa and have recently been seen in Thailand.

Common Swift Apus apus at Jelutong Tower, 9 Oct 2020. Photo by Francis Yap.

Orange-breasted Green Pigeon Treron bicincta

A male photographed at Chinese Garden on 22 Dec 2007 by Jonathan Cheah and Jimmy Chew is the only record for Singapore (Lim 2009). Previously assigned to Category D.

White-faced Plover Charadrius dealbatus

This is a taxonomic split accepted by IOC. The first Singapore records were up to four birds at Tuas from late Oct 1994 to Mar 1994 by Peter Kennerley (Lim 2009). Subsequent records were received from Changi and Marina East. Previously treated as a distinct subspecies of Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus.

White-faced Plover, Charadrius dealbatus, a taxonomic split accepted by IOC,
Photo taken at Marina East Drive by Alan OwYong.

Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis

A bird seen at Punggol on 18 Sep 1994 by Alfred Chia, Kenneth Kee, Lim Kim Chuah, Lim Kim Keang, Lim Kim Seng and Alan Owyong was the first record for Singapore (Lim 2009). This species was recently seen in southern Johor, Malaysia during the northern winter. It was previously assigned to Category D.

Crimson-winged Woodpecker Picus puniceus

Up to two birds seen at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve between 5 Nov 2001 and 16 Feb 2008 by Todd Birzer, Reuben Braddock, Andrew Chow, Lim Kim Seng and Yong Ding Li were our first records since 1970 (Lim 2009). Another record from Singapore Botanic Gardens on 16 Oct 2004 could not be confirmed. This species was previously assigned to Category B.

Green Broadbill Calyptomena viridis

1 photographed at East Coast Park by Seetoh Yew Wai on 27 Nov 2014 and another at Pulau Ubin by Keita Sin on 25 Dec 2014 were our first records since 1970 (Lim 2009). Previously assigned to Category B.

Green Broadbill Calyptomena viridis, at East Coast Park on 27 Nov 2014. Photo by See Toh Yew Wai.

White-bellied Erpornis Erponis zantholeuca

One seen and heard at the summit of Bukit Timah on 16 Jun 2020 by Richard White was the first record for Singapore. Martin Kennewell who arrived later was able to capture some excellent photos of the individual.

White-bellied Erpornis, Erpornis zantholeuca at Bukit Tiamh NR on 16 Jun 2020. Photo by Martin Kennewell.

Hair-crested Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus

An individual videoed at Changi Business Park on 26 Nov 2019 by T Ramesh and Steven Cheong was misidentified as a Crow-billed Drongo. Excellent detective work by Frank Rheindt proved that it was actually the subspecies brevirostris of Hair-crested Drongo, which is the migratory subspecies that breeds in China and northern Vietnam and winters in subtropical Southeast Asia and – this once – also in Sundaic Southeast Asia.

Hair-crested Drongo, Dicrurus hottentottus, at Changi Business Park on 26 Nov 2020. Video grab by T. Ramesh

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch Sitta frontalis

An individual seen at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve on 14 Jul 1996 by Lim Kim Chuah was our first record of this lowland Sundaic forest species. It was subsequently seen by other observers and last seen on 6 Jul 1999 (Lim 2009). Previously assigned to Category D.

Updates to the Checklist

In addition to the new species, the Records Committee have also been reviewing the checklist with a view to producing a checklist that is up-to-date, accurate and user-friendly.

One minor change was to use the term “Vagrant” instead of “Accidental” to describe the status of birds that do not breed in the Thai-Malay Peninsula region but occasionally stray into Singapore. An example would be Booted Warbler. Vagrants are denoted by “V” in the checklist.  

Perhaps the most important change was to Categories A and C. The committee decided to apply a 30-year timeframe instead of the traditional 50 years. The rationale for this is to better reflect the presence of extant breeders and to exclude extinct species in Singapore. Therefore, the cut-off for Categories A and C would be January 1st 1991. Any record that pre-dates 1991 would be transferred to Category B.

These are the species that have been removed from categories A and C due to the absence of records for the last thirty years:

English NameScientific NameRemarks
Eurasian TealAnas creccaReassigned to Category B
Christmas FrigatebirdFregata andrewsiReassigned to Category B
Hen HarrierCircus cyaneusReassigned to Category B
Eurasian WoodcockScolopax rusticolaReassigned to Category B
DunlinCalidris alpinaReassigned to Category B
Roseate TernSterna dougalliiReassigned to Category B
Black-thighed FalconetMicrohierax fringillariusReassigned to Category B
Plain SunbirdAnthreptes simplexReassigned to Category B
White-capped MuniaLonchura ferruginosaRemoved from Category C
Java SparrowLonchura oryzivoraRemoved from Category C
Yellow-breasted BuntingEmberiza aureolaReassigned to Category B

The committee has also taken the opportunity to review a number of records that were deemed to lack conclusive evidence of occurrence. As a result, the following species have been removed from the checklist proper:

English NameScientific NameRemarks
Blyth’s Hawk-EagleNisaetus albonigerRemoved from Category A
Western Marsh HarrierCircus aeruginosusRemoved from Category A
Oriental HobbyFalco severusRemoved from Category A
Richard’s PipitAnthus richardiRemoved from Category A

Another action was with regards to the occurrence of seabirds within Singapore territorial waters. As both the Straits of Johor and Singapore Straits are shared with Malaysia and Indonesia respectively, there is a need to ascertain that birds seen are inside Singapore territory. Therefore, seabird records were scrutinized to confirm that they were all seen in and not outside Singapore by referring to the GPS coordinates for these records. Records outside Singapore territorial waters or without verifiable GPS data are therefore categorized under Annex 1.    

The following species have been assigned to Annex 1:

English NameScientific NameRemarks
Lesser Black-backed GullLarus fuscusAssigned to Annex 1
Pomarine SkuaStercorarius pomarinusAssigned to Annex 1
Bulwer’s PetrelBulweria bulwerii Assigned to Annex 1

Acknowledgements

We would like to thanks the following observers for submitting their records for review and for the use of their photographs in this report:  Steven Cheong, Deborah Friets, Martin Kennewell, T. Ramesh, Tan Gim Cheong, Richard White, Francis Yap, See Toh Yew Wai and Alan OwYong. Finally, thanks are also due to my fellow committee members for their expertise in the deliberation process:  Alfred Chia, Kenneth Kee, Benjamin Lee, Lim Kim Chuah, Lim Kim Keang, Movin Nyanasengeran, Dillen Ng, Alan Owyong, Frank Rheindt, Keita Sin, Tan Gim Cheong and Yong Ding Li.

Reference

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

Report on the 35th Annual Bird Census

Report on the 35th Annual Bird Census

By Lim Kim Seng

Asian Openbill 4

Five Asian Openbill Storks foraging at Kranji Marshes. Photo: Lim Kim Chuah.

The 35th Annual Bird Census (ABC) was conducted on 29th March 2020 just before the nation-wide “circuit breaker” kicked in. Organized by the NSS Bird Group, it saw the involvement of 39 members and volunteers at 26 sites all around Singapore. This is an improvement from last year when 39 counters covered 20 sites. Altogether, ABC 2020 logged a total of 6,342 birds and 147 species, an overall increase from 2019’s 5,496 birds and 143 species. This could be due to more sites been counted in 2020 as compared to 2019.

So what’s Singapore most abundant bird? If you are guessing Javan Myna, you’re wrong! It is the Asian Glossy Starling which scored 847 birds to beat Javan Myna, with 737 birds, into second place. Third was Pink-necked Green Pigeon (358), followed by a resurgent House Crow (256) and Yellow-vented Bulbul (250). The rest of the Top Ten species are Little Egret (186), Common Redshank (170), Black-naped Oriole (164), Spotted Dove (152) and the nationally threatened Grey Heron (149).

Last year’s fifth placing Pacific Golden Plover came in at 11th with 136 birds, down from 198 in 2020. In 12th position was Collared Kingfisher (124), followed by Olive-backed Sunbird (113), Olive-winged Bulbul (108), Pin-striped Tit-babbler (107), Common Iora (103), Rock Dove (101) and the globally near-threatened Long-tailed Parakeet (100). In 19th place was the Asian Openbill (98) that only invaded Singapore in huge numbers in late 2019. In 20th place was the ever-increasing introduced Red-breasted Parakeet (80).

The Top Twenty Species of 2020 are provided below:

20200526_145928

What about the sites? The most species diverse sites were Kranji Marshes with 70 species. The mixed habitats of marshland, grassland and open woodland provided at Kranji for a high biodiversity. Coming a distant second was Sungei Buloh Route 2 which had 56 species and third was Kranji Dam, with 47 species. The least species diverse sites were Lower Seletar Dam (27), followed by Chinese Garden, Mount Faber and Pasir Ris Park, all with 28 species.

20200526_145438

How about numbers? Well, the sites with the most number of birds counted were Sungei Buloh Route 1 with 495 birds counted followed by Sungei Buloh Route 2 (460) and Kranji Marshes (456). The sites with the least number of birds were Lower Peirce Reservoir with 80 birds, followed by Sime Track, Central Catchment Nature Reserve (130) and Bukit Batok Nature Park (137).

20200526_145503

Rare and interesting migratory species found during ABC2020 included Peregrine Falcon, Grey Plover, Drongo Cuckoo, Indian Cuckoo, Blue-winged Pitta, Red-rumped Swallow, Yellow-browed Warbler. Eastern Crowned Warbler and Black-browed Reed Warbler. Globally threatened species included Lesser Adjutant (2 birds at Mandai Estuary), Straw-headed Bulbul (national count of 77 birds) and Greater Green Leafbird (2).

Nationally threatened specialties included Little Grebe (2 birds), Great-billed Heron (5), Changeable Hawk Eagle (9), Red-wattled Lapwing (11), Rusty-breasted Cuckoo (3), Mangrove Pitta (2 birds on Pulau Ubin), Asian Red-eyed Bulbul (7), Chestnut-winged Babbler (2), Oriental Magpie-robin (30) and White-rumped Shama (18)

This census would not have been possible if not for the counters who braved the elements and helped us to complete our 35th year of census. So, our grateful thanks to 39 volunteers.

Alan OwYong KP Teh Sin Yong Chee Keita
Alfred Chia Lee Bee Yong Steven Shields
Andrew Chow Leung Wei Kee Susan Knight
Atsuko Kawasaki Lim Kim Chuah Tan Kok Hui
Betty Shaw Lim Kim Keang Terry Heppell
Con Foley Martin Kennewell Twang Fangqi
Ding Li Yong Morten Strange Veronica Foo
Erika, Michelle Movin Nyanasengeran Willie Foo
Esther Kong MY Chan Wing Chong
Eunice Kong Nessie Khoo Yan Jiejun
Jane Heppell Ng Bee Choo Yap Wee Jin
John Spencer Ng Chay Tuan Yap Wee Jin
Kim Seng Lim Seng Beng Yeo Yong Yik Shih

Hope to see all of you again in 2021!

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

Singapore Bird Report – February 2020

By Geoff Lim & Isabelle Lee,
&
Tan Gim Cheong (ed.)

February continues with unusual species – the first occurrence of the Chinese Blackbird in Singapore, the first occurrence of the nominate subspecies of the White Wagtail, and our third sighting of the very rare Chinese Blue Flycatcher.

1. CBFC

Chinese Blue Flycatcher, photographed by a casual birder on 25 February 2020 at the CCNR.

The third sighting of the very rare Chinese Blue Flycatcher, Cyornis glaucicomans, was made by a casual birder on 25 February 2020 inside the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR).  On 29 February 2020, the bird was spotted again and heard in the early morning by Geoff Lim and Isabelle Lee, and subsequently seen by several others in the late morning. Previous occurrences for the species included a sighting in November 1997 at Sungei Buloh, and a male bird photographed at Bidadari in November 2013 (the supposed occurrence in December 2015 was a mis-identification).

The Chinese Blue Flycatcher was previously lumped together as a subspecies of the Blue-throated Flycatcher, Cyornis rubeculoides, (for more taxonomic info, see Zhang, et al., 2016). Although classified as Least Concern, the bird is generally uncommon and widespread across its breeding range, which extends from southern Shaanxi and western Hubei to Yunnan, and its non-breeding range in west, central and southern Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia (del Hoyo, Collar and Christie, 2020), and Singapore.

This species prefers dense thickets, and the low and shady understorey, rarely 3m above the ground (del Hoyo, Collar and Christie, 2020); though observations by volunteers have shown that the species does visit the mid to upper canopy levels of the rainforest. In view of its preferred habitat and skulking habits, and possibility of appearances by non-breeding juvenile or female plumages, this species may be under-observed and may overwinter in Singapore.

Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) and Fringe Parks

2, OHT

The Orange-headed Thrush at Dairy Farm Nature Park photographed on 22 February 2020 by Alan Owyong.

The core CCNR forests yielded several good species. Apart from the Chinese Blue Flycatcher, other birds spotted include two Black-headed Bulbul, Pycnonotus atriceps, seen on 2 February 2020 at Jelutong Tower by Sandra Chia, a Blue-winged Pitta, Pitta moluccensis, on 22 February 2020 by Martin Kennewell, four Chestnut-winged Babbler, Stachyris erythroptera, seen on 23 February 2020 by Raghav Narayanswamy, and a Grey Nightjar, Caprimulgus jotaka, on 28 February 2020 by Richard Davis.

The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (BTNR) yielded a Blue-and-white Flycatcher, Cyanoptila cyanomelana, on 15 February 2020 by Martin Kennewell, a Black-crested Bulbul, Pycnonotus flaviventris, on 21 February 2020 by Raghav Narayanswamy, who also saw two Yellow-browed Warbler, Phylloscopus inornatus, on the same day, a Malayan Night Heron, Gorsachius melanolophus, on 23 Feb 2020, by Ryan Bruce, two Cinereous Bulbul, Hemixos cinereus, and one Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, Phylloscopus borealoides, on 23 February 2020 by Lim Kim Chuah.

Over at the nearby Hindhede Nature Park, two Oriental Darter, Anhinga melanogaster, were reported by Norhafiani Majid at the quarry pool, as was a Blue-eared Kingfisher, Alcedo meninting, on 25 February 2020 by Richard Davis. On the same day, one Orange-headed Thrush, Geokichla citrina, was seen by Lu Kiat.

Dairy Farm Nature Park (DFNP) yielded a Green-backed Flycatcher, Ficedula elisae, which was spotted on 11 February 2020 by Art Toh, and on 25 February 2020 by Richard Davis. An Orange-headed Thrush, Geokichla citrina, in partial moult was observed on 15 and 23 February 2020 by Geoff Lim, who also spotted another Green-backed Flycatcher together with Yong Ding Li on the latter date. On 12 February 2020, a Crested Serpent Eagle, Spilornis cheela, was seen by Keita Sin.

3, RLC

Red-legged Crake with its chick at Singapore Botanic Gardens on 7 February 2020 and photographed by Herman Phua.

The month’s record at the gardens began with the sighting of a Blue-winged Pitta, on 1 February 2020 by James Tann. A report of a Hooded Pitta, Pitta sordida, was made six days later on 7 February 2020 by Peter Bijlmakers, who saw the bird in the rainforest section of the gardens. On the same day, a Red-legged Crake, Rallina fasciata, with a chick, was spotted by Herman Phua.

4a, apfc

A white-morph Amur/Blyth’s paradise flycatcher, on 28 February 2020, photographed by Isabelle Lee

The month’s end saw reports of an Asian Palm Swift, Cypsiurus balasiensis, on 25 February 2020 by Sandra Chia; a Von Schrenck’s Bittern, Ixobrychus eurhythmus, on 26 February 2020 by Choong YT; and the re-appearance of the Taiga Flycatcher, Ficedula albicilla, also on 26 February 2020 by Josh Spiler. The appearance of a white morph Blyth’s / Amur Paradise Flycatcher, on 28 February 2020, delighted many birders, such as Norhafiani A Majid who provided the report in social media. Interestingly, one of the long tail streamers of the paradise flycatcher was half-brown half-white! On 29 February 2020, a Hodgson’s Hawk-Cuckoo, Hierococcyx nisicolor, was reported by Felicia Tay; and Cheong Khan Hoong observed a pair of Banded Woodpeckers Chrysophlegma miniaceum mating.

4, TF

Taiga Flycatcher at Singapore Botanic Gardens on 26 February 2020 photographed by Vincent Lao

Central Singapore

A Lanceolated Warbler, Locustella lanceolata, was spotted under the hedgerow near the CHIJ Toa Payoh playground on 6 February 2020 by Richard Davis, who subsequently also spotted a Chinese Hwamei, Garrulax canorus, and an Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Motacilla tschutschensis, at Toa Payoh on 12 February 2020. (Note: the Chinese Hwamei appears to be a recently escaped pet).

Northern Singapore

5, HHC

A Hodgson’s Hawk-Cuckoo spotted on 4 February 2020 on Coney Island by Oliver Tan.

A Hodgson’s Hawk-Cuckoo, Hierococcyx nisicolor, was spotted on 4 and 7 February 2020 on Coney Island by Oliver Tan, and again on 22 February 2020 on the same isalnd by Tan Kok Hui. A Chinese Sparrowhawk, Accipiter soloensis, was seen at Lorong Halus Wetland on 11 February 2020 by Peter Bijlmakers. On 22 February 2020, a Jerdon’s Baza, Aviceda jerdoni, and five White-shouldered Starling, Sturnia sinensis, were spotted at Lorong Halus Wetland by Lu Kiat, while a solitary Little Grebe, Tachybaptus ruficollis, was spotted on 26 February 2020 by Martin Kennewell. Other birds spotted in the north included one Black-capped Kingfisher, Halcyon pileata, on 24 February 2020 at Seletar Dam by Martin Kennewell, as well as up to 80 Grey Wagtail, Motacilla cinerea, seen at Yishun St 11 in a communal roost by Oliver Tan.

Eastern Singapore

The woods at Changi Business Park proved to be a cuckoo magnet, given the sighting of a Himalayan Cuckoo, Cuculus saturatus, on 4 February 2020 photographed by Choong YT, and a Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Hierococcyx sparverioides, on 22 February 2020 by Yeo Seng Beng. A distance away, a single White Wagtail, Motacilla alba, was spotted at Sungei Bedok on 26 February 2020 by Choong YT, while two Spotted Wood Owl, Strix seloputo, were seen at Pasir Ris Park on 29 February 2020 by William Mahoney.

A visit on 23 February 2020 by Oliver Tan to Pulau Ubin yielded several species of shorebirds, such as fifty Grey Plover, Pluvialis squatarola, thirty Lesser Sand Plover, Charadrius mongolus, three Bar-tailed Godwit, Limosa lapponica, one Terek Sandpiper, Xenus cinereus, ten Red-necked Stint, Calidris ruficollis, and thirteen Greater Crested Tern, Thalasseus bergii. During another visit on 25 February 2020, Oliver also counted 15 White-rumped Shama, Copsychus malabaricus, on the island.

Southern Singapore

A White-rumped Munia, Lonchura striata, was spotted on 19 February 2020 at Telok Blangah Heights by Oliver Tan. A report of the nesting activities of this rare munia, was made by Vincent Chiang. At Gardens by the Bay on 4 February 2020, Lam SG observed a pair of Zebra Doves, Geopelia striata mating.

Western Singapore

6, Brah St

Brahminy Starling at Jurong Lake Gardens photographed on 29 February 2020 by Alan Owyong.

Jurong Lake Gardens, with its aquatic and park setting, has shown to support various types of birds. A Brahminy Starling, Sturnia pagodarum, descended on the gardens on 1 February 2020, and was reported by Tan Kok Hui; the bird has remained till the end of the month. Another starling, a Chestnut-cheeked Starling, Agropsar philippensis, was spotted on 9 February 2020 by Sandra Chia. A single Large Hawk-Cuckoo, was spotted on 8 and 16 February 2020, by Thana Sinnathamby and Peter Bijlmakers, respectively. A Malaysian Hawk-Cuckoo, Hierococcyx fugax, was also reported on 15 February 2020 by Tan Kok Hui.

7, BWS

Three Black-winged Stilt at Jurong Lake Gardens on 16 February 2020 photographed by Geoff Lim.

The next day on 16 February 2020, three Black-winged Stilt, Himantopus himantopus, were reported in the morning by Adrian Silas Tay. The birds, two adults and a juvenile, remained for the rest of the day. They were not seen on subsequent days. The grass fields of the gardens also supported a Barred Buttonquail, Turnix suscitator, which was spotted on 20 February 2020 by Keita Sin.

The Kranji Marshes, Neo Tiew fields and Lim Chu Kang Lane 3 continued to provide delights. At Kranji Marshes, besides a Red-rumped Swallow, Cecropis daurica, spotted on 7 February 2020 by Keita Sin, there were also three Slaty-breasted Rail, Gallirallus striatus, spotted on 23 February 2020 by Martin Kennewell, who also spotted a Little Ringed Plover, Charadrius dubius. Visitors to the monsoon drain at Lim Chu Kang Lane 3 were delighted to see a Ruddy Kingfisher, Halcyon coromanda, which was reported on 1 February 2020 by Chan Tsan Tsai, and subsequently seen during the month by others. A  Pin-tailed Snipe, Gallinago stenura, was reported on 8 February 2020 by Fadzrun A.

8, WWT alba

White Wagtail, nominate species (M. alba alba) photographed at Neo Tiew on 9 February 2020 by Lee Van Hien.

The fields at Neo Tiew Harvest Lane harboured a White Wagtail, Motacilla alba, reported on 9 February 2020 by Lee Van Hien; the bird was a male of the nominate (alba) race, a rare find indeed. According to Alfred Chia, who posted a detailed note on the wagtail, he noted that “This is a summer plumage male Motacilla alba alba, another subspecies that will be new to Singapore…The black on breast of race leucopsis, whether in summer or winter plumage, do not extend to the throat, unlike this individual. The black on the throat also continues up on the neck-sides, a feature not found in leucopsis too. The two distinctive white wingbars formed by the white tips & edges to the median & greater coverts also rules out leucopsis. The lack of a black eye-stripe & the presence of the wingbars also rules out the lugens…”

Also seen was a Ruddy-breasted Crake, Porzana fusca, which was reported on 22 February 2020 by Fadzrun A, two Long-toed Stint, Calidris subminuta, on 23 February 2020 by Pary Sivaraman, and a Red-throated Pipit, Anthus cervinus, on the same day by Martin Kennewell.

Nearby at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, a single Lesser Adjutant, Leptoptilos javanicus, was reported on 5 February 2020 by Choong YT. Subsequently on 26 February 2020, a House Swift, Apus nipalensis, was reported by Richard Davis, while a Blue-winged Pitta, was spotted by John Paul Briones.

Down by the West Coast Park, a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Cacatua galerita, was seen on 14 February 2020 by Keita Sin, who also flagged out the existence of Singapore’s second Taiga Flycatcher, Ficedula albicilla, on 22 February 2020. On 28 February 2020, a Black Bittern, Dupetor flavicollis, was reported by Peter Bijlmakers, who also saw a Japanese Sparrowhawk, Accipiter gularis, winging over the park. Further east at the NUS Education Research Centre, the previously reported Daurian Redstart, Phoenicurus auroreus, continued to be seen on 8 February 2020 by Tan Kok Hui.

Unusual Sightings

9, blackbird

Chinese Blackbird spotted at Jurong Lake Garden on 11 February 2020 by Oliver Tan

A Chinese Blackbird, Turdus mandarinus, was photographed on 11 February 2020 at Jurong Lake Gardens by Oliver Tan and others – this is the first occurrence of this species in Singapore; while an Asian Pied Starling, Gracupica contra, was spotted on 23 February 2020 at Neo Tiew Harvest Lane by Pary Sivaraman. The starling was previously spotted at Neo Tiew on 10 January 2020.

This report is compiled and by written by Geoff Lim and edited by Tan Gim Cheong. We are grateful for the birders and photographers whose postings in various Facebook birding pages, bird forums, and individual reports and extracts from eBird make up this report. This compilation is not a complete list of birds recorded for the month and not all the records were verified.

Many thanks to Alan Owyong, Isabelle Lee, Herman Phua, Lee Van Hien, Oliver Tan, Vincent Lao, Geoff Lim and the casual birder for allowing us to use their photographs.

REFERENCES

del Hoyo, J., N. Collar, and D.A. Christie (2020). Chinese Blue Flycatcher (Cyornis glaucicomans), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, D.A. Christie, and E. de Juana, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.butfly2.01

Zhang, Z., Wang, X., Huang, Y., Olsson, U., Martinez, J., Alström, P. & Lei, F. (2016) Unexpected divergence and lack of divergence revealed in continental Asian Cyornis flycatchers (Aves: Muscicapidae). Mol. Phylogenet. Evol. 94: 232–241.

Oriental Turtle Dove, Wild or Caged?

Oriental Turtle Dove, Wild or Caged?

By Records Committee, Bird Group.

The committee was able to accept and assign the Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia oreintalis, found at Sister’s Island on 28 November 2018 to Category A for wild birds by identifying it to subspecies level.

Oriental Dove

This dove is very likely a nominate orientalis from Northeast Asia (wintering as far south as Cambodia and southern Vietnam), chiefly because it’s less vinaceous on the head and has a buff belly contrasting with a more vinaceous breast band than agricola from Southeast Asia and Northeast India.

Other subspecies (e.g. from peninsular India or western Asia) can also be ruled out.

This subspecific identity gives us important hints.

There are several reasons for natural vagrancy against the burden of proof for escaped status:

  1. Late November – right timing for a northern vagrant
  2. It’s the subspecies we would expect to show up as a vagrant here.
  3. Odd small-island occurrence. Sister’s Island acting as the “land’s end” of Asia continent.
  4. Not reported being seen in Indonesian and Malaysian bird markets or shops during many market surveys. Not seen in birds shops in Singapore as well.
  5. o.orientalis is a known wintering migrant. There are many instances of straying to various parts of the flyway.
  6. No signs of tags or rings, feather abrasions or body abnormalities and unusual behaviour.

Bird Records Committee Report (Feb 2020)

Bird Records Committee Report (Feb 2020)

By Lim Kim Seng

Chairman, Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group Records Committee.

Large Woodshrike at Jelutong Tower

Large Woodshrike Tephrodornis gularis at Jelutong Tower, 22 Oct 2018. Photo by Francis Yap.

The Records Committee continues to receive records of new bird species to the Singapore List and rarities. This report updates the findings of the period, October 2018 – January 2020.

New Species

Eleven new bird species were added to the Singapore List, bringing the total number of species to 414. The 2020 edition can be downlink here NSS Singapore Checklist 2020 edition.  NSS-Singapore Checklist-2020-edition

They include the following:

Shikra Accipiter badius

An immature photographed flying over Jelutong Tower on 21 Nov 2019 by Alex Fok was the first record for Singapore since a specimen was collected in 1891.

Shikra, 211119, Jelutong, Alex Fok, crop

Shikra Accipiter badius at Jelutong Tower on 21 Nov 2019. Photo by Alex Fok.

Pied Stilt Himantopus leucocephalus

Up to five birds photographed on Pulau Tekong on 17 Jul 2019 by Frankie Cheong was the first record for Singapore.

Pied Stilt

Pied Stilt Himantopus leucocephalus at Pulau Tekong on 17 July 2019. Photo: Frankie Cheong.

Oriental Turtle-dove Streptopelia orientalis

An adult of the nominate subspecies orientalis recorded on Sisters’ Island during an island survey by Camphora Pte Ltd on 28 Nov 2018 for SDC. This was the first record for Singapore.

Oriental Dove

Oriental Turtle-dove Streptopelia orientalis at Sisters’ Island on 28 Nov 2018. Photo: Camphora Pte Ltd.

Fairy Pitta Pitta nympha

A bird seen and photographed near Dillenia Hut in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve on 8 Nov 2019 by Francis Yap and Richard White was the first record for Singapore.

Fairy Pitta

Fairy Pitta Pitta nympha at Central Catchment Forest on 8 Nov 2019. Photo: Francis Yap.

Large Woodshrike Tephrodornis gularis

A female seen at Jelutong Tower on 22 Oct 2018 by Oliver Tan, Francis Yap and Pary Sivaraman. This was the first record for Singapore since the 1950s.

Large Woodshrike at Jelutong Tower

Large Woodshrike Tephrodornis gularis at Jelutong Towers on 22 Oct 2019. Photo: Francis Yap.

Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis

One photographed at Pandan Reservoir on 3 Nov 2018 by Angela Chua was the first record for Singapore.

Skylark

Eurasian Skylark, Alauda arvensis, at Pandan Reservoir on 3 Nov 2018. Photo by Angela Chua.

Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus

A male photographed at the Ecolake, Singapore Botanic Gardens, on 12 Nov 2019 by Dennis Lim and Arman Nacionales and confirmed by Geoff Lim on 15 November 2019 was our third record for Singapore. A female seen at Satay by the Bay on 9 Feb 2013 by Laurence Eu was the first record. A male seen at Cashew Heights by Subha on 20 Jan 2014 was the second record while a female seen at Tg Rhu on 14 and 15 Jan 2020 by Manju Gang was our fourth record. Lastly, a male seen at National University of Singapore on 30 Jan 2020 by Lynette Chia was our fifth.  Previously assigned to Cat E, recent studies have shown that this species occur on a regular basis in Southeast Asia during the winter months, and should be rightly considered as wild birds.

Redstart

Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus at Singapore Botanic Gardens on 15 Nov 2019. Photo: Geoff Lim.

Taiga Flycatcher Ficedula albicilla

A non-breeding male/female seen and photographed at the Ecolake, Singapore Botanic Gardens on 30 Nov 2019 by Lim Kim Seng, Wayne Merritt and Roy Toh was the first record for Singapore.

Tiaga FC

Taiga Flycatcher Ficedula albicilla at Singapore Botanic Gardens on 30 Nov 2019. Photo: Lim Kim Seng.

Japanese Tit Parus minor

A bird photographed at Pasir Ris Park on 30 Nov 2019 by Yeo Seng Beng was our third record of this species in Singapore. The first record came from a bird observed at Chinese Garden on 27 Oct 2012 by Choo Teik Ju and photographed by Frankie Lim and Wong Lee Hong.  The second was another individual photographed at Tuas on 5 November by Yong Ding Li.

Jap Tit

Japanese Tit Parus minor at Pasir Ris Park on 30 Nov 2019. Photo: Yeo Seng Beng.

White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus

A subadult male was found at Seletar Aerospace Drive on 16 Jan 2020 by Martin Kennewell. This was our first record. It was seen again later by Alan OwYong and Alfred Chia who submitted a formal report for it to be accepted into Cat A.

White-cheeked Starling

White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus at Seletar Aerospace Drive on 16 Jan 2019. Photo: Alan OwYong.

Brahminy Starling Sturnia pagodarum

A bird photographed at Jurong Lake Gardens on 30 Jan 2020 by Deborah Friets was our sixth record. The other records were singles at Marina East on 2 Feb 2008 and 5 Oct 2008 by Mike Hooper, Bidadari on 3 Dec 2013 by Frankie Cheong, Punggol Barat on 8 Feb 2016 by Francis Yap and 12 Sep 2016 at Gardens by the Bay by Mike Hooper.  Terry Heppell also photographed one at Gardens by the Bay on 13 Sept 2016 and should be the same bird as Mike Hooper’s. Previously assigned to Category E, recent studies have shown that this species occur on a regular basis in Southeast Asia during the winter months, and should be rightly considered as wild birds.

Brahminy Starling

Brahminy Starling Sturnia pagodarum at Jurong Lake Gardens on 30 Jan 2020. Photo: Deborah Friets.

In addition, a record of Black-headed Bunting in difficult juvenile plumage reported from Kranji on 18 Nov 2018 remains as “pending” as its identification (from the similar Red-headed Bunting) was not conclusive. Another record of Blue Whistling Thrush reported from Fort Canning Park on 7 Dec 2019 was assigned to category E.

Rarities

The following eight rarities were accepted.

Swinhoe’s Snipe Gallinago megala

An adult photographed at Lim Chu Kang Lane 3 on 18 Jan 2020 by Dillen Ng was our second confirmed record from the field. Its similarity to Pintail Snipe means that a close look at its outermost tail feathers is essential to confirm its identification.

Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus

A bird seen and photographed at Kranji Marshes on 15 Jan 2020 by Veronica Foo and Lim Kim Keang was our fourth record. This individual was photographed at Lim Chu Kang Lane 3 earlier on 11 Jan 2020 by Art Toh.

Chestnut-cheeked Starling Agropsar philippensis

A male photographed at Jurong Lake Gardens on 9 Feb 2020 by Sandra Chia was our fifth record.  Previous records include singles at Loyang on 8 Dec 1987 by R. Subaraj, Bidadari on 11 Oct 2014 by Zahidi Hamid, Pandan River on 1 Nov 2019 by Mai Rong Wen and at Henderson Waves on 16 Nov 2019 by See Toh Yew Wai.

Acknowledgements

We would like to thanks the following observers for submitting their records for review and for the use of their photographs in this report:  Frankie Cheong, Alfred Chia, Lynette Chia, Sandra Chia, Angela Chua, Veronica Foo, Alex Fok, Deborah Friets, Geoff Lim, Lim Kim Seng, Dillen Ng, Alan Owyong, Oliver Tan, Felix Wong, Francis Yap and Yeo Seng Beng. Finally, thanks are also due to my fellow committee members for their expertise in the deliberation process:  Alfred Chia, Kenneth Kee, Benjamin Lee, Lim Kim Chuah, Lim Kim Keang, Alan Owyong, Dr Frank Rheindt, Tan Gim Cheong and Dr Yong Ding Li.

Reference

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

Singapore Bird Report – January 2020

by Geoff Lim, Alan Owyong (compilation), & Tan Gim Cheong (ed.)

The turn of the new year yielded several amazing sightings, such as twelve Himalayan Vultures gathering at the Central Business District, a rare Slaty-legged Crake feeding regularly over several days at Punggol, Black-headed Gulls at Yishun Dam, a splendid male von Schrenck’s Bittern at SBWR, an appearance by a very rare Green Sandpiper at Lim Chu Kang, and the first sighting of a White-cheeked Starling in Singapore!

Himalayan Vultures

HV, 090120, CBD, Zacc HD

Himalayan Vulture over Peck Seah Street on 9 January 2020, photo by Zacc HD.

Following the report of two Himalayan Vultures, Gyps himalayensis, at Hindhede on 28 December 2019, a flock of vultures were reported on 8 and 9 January 2020 over the Central Business District by the news and birders like T. Ramesh. On the morning of 9 January 2020, Lee Chuin Ming reported 12 vultures at the CBD area, and on the afternoon of the same day, Raghav Narayanswamy had a sighting of ten vultures at Cashew Road. On 11 January 2020, a flock of nine birds were photographed at West Coast Park (Tan Chuan Yean).

HV, 110120, WCP, Tan Chuan Yean

A Himalayan Vulture being mobbed by a Brahminy Kite on 11 January 2020 over West Coast Park, photo by Tan Chuan Yean.

Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) and Fringe Parks

Jambu,120120, DFNP, Gan Lee Hsia

Juvenile Jambu Fruit Dove spotted on 12 January 2020 at DFNP, photo by Gan Lee Hsia.

The CCNR core yielded one Brown-backed Needletail, Hirundapus giganteus, two Black-headed Bulbuls, Pycnonotus atriceps, and five Cinereous Bulbuls, Hemixos cinereus, on 4 January 2020 by Adrian Silas Tay at Jelutong Tower, as well as a single female Green-backed Flycatcher, Ficedula elisae, seen between Dillenia Hut and the stream. Several days later, two Eyebrowed Thrush, Turdus obscurus, and one Forest Wagtail, Dendronanthus indicus, was spotted on 7 January 2020 by Martin Kennewell. Other notable migrants included a Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher, Terpsiphone affinis, on 17 January 2020 by Richard Davies, an Amur Paradise Flycatcher, Terpsiphone incei, on 18 January 2020 by Martin Kennewell, and a Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, Phylloscopus borealoides, on 24 January 2020 by YT Choong. Resident species spotted included a Chestnut-winged Babbler, Stachyris erythroptera, on 26 January 2020 by Marcel Finlay, a Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, Phaenicophaeus sumatranus, on 28 January 2020 by Oliver Tan, who also spotted three Red-crowned Barbets, Megalaima rafflesii, on the same day.

Two Black-crested Bulbul, Pycnonotus flaviventris, were reported on 16 January 2020 by Keita Sin who surmounted the steep incline that snaked its way up Bukit Timah Hill, while three Cream-vented Bulbul, Pycnonotus simplex, were spotted on 19 Jan 2020 along Rifle Range Link by Fadzrun A. .

Hindhede Park, which buffers the old growth Bukit Timah forest core, yielded a Rufous-bellied Hawk-Eagle, Lophotriorchis kienerii, and one Asian House Martin, Delichon dasypus, on 15 January 2020 by Martin Kennewell, who also saw an Asian House Martin again on 18 January 2020. The park also hosted a Hooded Pitta, Pitta sordida, which was reported on 26 January 2020 by Francis Yap, followed by two Red-legged Crakes, Rallina fasciata, on the same day by Geoff Lim, who noted that the crakes flushed the pitta from the undergrowth. On 28 January 2020, a Malayan Night Heron, Gorsachius melanolophus, in full adult regalia was spotted and reported by Leslie Loh, while a Violet Cuckoo, Chrysococcyx xanthorhynchus, was seen on 28 January 2020 by Lim Kim Chuah.

OHT, 100120, DFNP, Danny Khoo

Orange-headed Thrush at DFNP on 10 January 2020; photo taken by Danny Khoo.

Dairy Farm Nature Park, another excellent buffer park abutting the Bukit Timah forest core in the west, continued to yield exciting species, which included a Siberian Thrush, Geokichla sibirica, on 1 January 2020 by John Ascher, an Orange-headed Thrush, Geokichla citrina, on 10 January 2020 by Danny Khoo, a juvenile Jambu Fruit Dove, Ptilinopus jambu, 11 January 2020 by Gan Lee Hsia, a female Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, Terpsiphone atrocaudata, on 12 January 2020 by Jackie Yeo, a Grey Nightjar, Caprimulgus jotaka, on 21 January 2020 by Martin Kennewell, and a Blue-winged Leafbird, Chloropsis cochinchinensis, on 26 January 2020 by Karyne Wee.

Further afield at the Singapore Quarry, a Barred Eagle-Owl, Bubo sumatranus, and a Pacific Swift, Apus pacificus, were spotted on 23 January 2020 by Martin Kennewell.

Singapore Botanic Gardens (SBG)

The garden grounds received three White-rumped Munia, Lonchura striata, spotted on 16 Janaury 2020 by Dillen Ng, as well as two Asian Palm Swift, Cypsiurus balasiensis, seen on 24 January 2020 by Mike Hooper, as was a Black-crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax, on 30 January 2020 by Samuel Ng.

Central Singapore

At Ang Mo Kio, a single Chinese Sparrowhawk, Accipiter soloensis, was reported on 25 January 2020 by Norhafiani A Majid, while a Chinese Hwamei, Garrulax canorus, a recent escapee, and a Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Ficedula zanthopygia, were spotted at Toa Payoh Town Park on 30 January 2020 by Richard Davis.

Northern Singapore

The northern region yielded a rare Slaty-Legged Crake, Rallina eurizonoides, which was reported on 6 January 2020 at the HDB carpark at Block 305D, Punggol Road by Oliver Tan and Kwok Tuck Loong, and remained until 12 January 2020. On 8 January 2020, George Presanis and Geoff Lim noticed that the bird was actively foraging in a planter at the basement carpark from about 10:15pm to 11:10pm. At one stage, the crake managed to find an earthworm in the soil and tugged at it until the worm came free from the soil. (Note: the Slaty-legged Crake was first photographed at nearby Block 299 Punggol Central by Stephen Cheok, who posted his pic for ID on 30 December 2019).

Slaty-legged Crake, 100120, Punggol 305D, TGC

Slaty-legged Crake at Punggol on 11 January 2020, by Tan Gim Cheong

Between 5 and 14 January 2020, there were up to two Black-headed Gulls, Chroicocephalus ridibundus, at Yishun Dam, first spotted by Ng Wei Khim, followed by many other birders.

BH Gull, 110120, Seletar, Zacc HD

Black-headed Gull over Seletar Dam on 10 January 2020, photo by Zacc HD.

Other sightings included one White-shouldered Starling, Sturnia sinensis, at Seletar Aerospace Drive on 15 January 2020 by Wang Wee Woan, one Barred Buttonquail, Turnix suscitator, on 16 January 2020, at Picadilly by Martin Kennewell, and a potential national first White-cheeked Starling, Spodiopsar cineraceus, spotted on 16 January 2020 at Seletar Aerospace Drive by Martin Kennewell. The White-cheeked Starling was last seen on 24 January 2020 (Norhafiani A. Majid).

WCS, 240120, Seletar Aerospace, Norhafiani A Majid

A White-cheeked Starling at Seletar on 24 January 2020, photo by Norhafiani A Majid

A Mangrove Pitta, Pitta megarhyncha, was discovered at Woodlands Park on 24 January 2020 by  Loh Wei, Norhafiani A Majid and others, a first for the location. On 25 January 2020, Geoff Lim found it unresponsive and unmoving despite having passers-by barely 2 metres away. At one point in time, a White-breasted Waterhen, Amaurornis phoenicurus, rushed at the pitta, forcing it to hop about 10 metres from where it was first found. There, it remained quiet and closed its eyes for long periods of time. It was subsequently rescued by NParks, with assistance from Clarinda Yap, Vincent Lao and Kwok Tuck Loong, who stayed around to ensure that the rescuers could locate it. The bird subsequently died, possibly from swelling and possible internal bleeding.

MP, 250120, Woodlands, Geoff Lim

Mangrove Pitta found at Woodlands Park on 25 January 2020, photo by Geoff Lim

Eastern Singapore

Visitors to Pulau Ubin reported spotting one Curlew Sandpiper, Calidris ferruginea, on 11 January 2020 by Martin Kennewell, a Crested Serpent Eagle, Spilornis cheela, on 19 January 2020, by Vicki Stokes, two White-rumped Shama, Copsychus malabaricus, along with 45 Grey Plover, Pluvialis squatarola, one Lesser Sand Plover, Charadrius mongolus, three Bar-tailed Godwit, Limosa lapponica, two Red-necked Stint, Calidris ruficollis, and 23 Greater Crested Tern, Thalasseus bergii, reported on 23 January 2020 by Oliver Tan, as well as one Chestnut-Winged Cuckoo, Clamator coromandus, spotted on 27 January 2020, by Hannu Kemola.

Other birds spotted in the east included the report of one Booted Eagle, Hieraaetus pennatus, on 7 January 2020 at Pasir Ris Park by Oliver Tan, three Jerdons Baza, Aviceda jerdoni, on 11 January 2020 at Coney Island by Ng Wei Khim, a Cinnamon-headed Green Pigeon, Treron fulvicollis, on 27 January 2020 at the broadwalk in Pasir Ris Park by Serin, two Yellow-browed Warbler, Phylloscopus inornatus, on 29 January 2020 at Changi Business Park by Oliver Tan, and an Indian Cuckoo, Cuculus micropterus, on 31 January 2020 by Peter Bijlmakers.

Southern Singapore

Nest building by White-Rumped Munia, Lonchura striata, on New Year’s Day was reported at Telok Blangah Heights by Vincent Chiang, while a Grey-faced Buzzard, Butastur indicus, was spotted on 3 January 2020 on St John Island by Dillen Ng. On 8 January 2020, about 150 Oriental Pratincole, Glareola maldivarum, were spotted overflying Ayer Rajah by Lillian Sng, while a Brown-backed Needletail, Hirundapus giganteus, was seen on 9 January 2020 from atop Pinnacle@ Duxton by Oliver Tan.

A female Daurian Redstart, Phoenicurus auroreus, the second record for the season, was reported on 14 and 15 January 2020 at Tanjong Rhu by Manju Gang, while two Asian Fairy-bluebird, Irena puella, were reported on 11 January 2020 at Hort Park by Millie Cher. Previously restricted to the central forests, the Asian Fairy Bluebird may be using park connectors or other patches of greenery to slowly disperse from the central forests.

Daurian Redstart, 140120, Tg Rhu condo, Manju Gang

Female Daurian Redstart spotted on 14 January 2020 at Tanjong Rhu by Manju Gang

Western Singapore

The marshes and fields around Kranji Marsh proved to be a fruitful venue for birding. The turn of the new year and the ensuing days saw reports of a Baillons Crake, Porzana pusilla, on 1 January 2020, a King Quail, Excalfactoria chinensis, and a White-browed Crake, Porzana cinerea, on 4 January 2020, and two Common Moorhen, Gallinula chloropus, on 12 January 2020 at Kranji Marsh by Martin Kennewell. This was followed by the sighting of two Asian Pied Starling, Gracupica contra, a Cat E-Introduced species, on 19 January 2020 by Martin Kennewell, and a Watercock, Gallicrex cinerea, on 26 Janaury 2020 by Peng Ah Huay.

RT Pipit, 150120, NTHL, Luke Milo Teo

A Red-throated Pipit spotted at Neo Tiew on 15 January 2020 by Luke Teo.

The fields encompassed by Neo Tiew Harvest Lane yielded a Red-Throated Pipit, Anthus cervinus, which was seen on 7 January 2020 by CL Lau, while a Lanceolated Warbler, Locustella lanceolata, was spotted on 11 January 2020 by Raghav Narayanswamy, who also spotted an Eastern Marsh Harrier, Circus spilonotus, several days later on 19 January 2020. On 20 January 2020, a Savanna Nightjar, Caprimulgus affinis, was seen by Peter Bijlmakers, while two Oriental Pratincole, Glareola maldivarum, were spotted on 22 January 2020 by Choong YT, while a Stejnegers Stonechat, Saxicola stejnegeri, was seen on 28 January 2020 by Lu Kiat.

A distance away, birders at Lim Chu Kang Lane 3 spotted various species, including a Common Snipe, Gallinago gallinago, and a Swinhoes Snipe, Gallinago megala, on 18 January 2020 by Dillen Ng, while a very rare Green Sandpiper, Tringa ochropus, was photographed on 18 January 2020 by Fadzrun Adnan, and recorded again on 19 & 20 January 2020 by other birders; upon checking his photos, Art Toh realised that he had unknowingly photographed the Green Sandpiper on 11 January 2020. Visitors seeking out the Green Sandpiper also saw a Greater Coucal, Centropus sinensis, on 22 January 2020, and a Barred Buttonquail, Turnix suscitator, on 23 January 2020, both spotted by Luke Teo.

Green Sandpiper, 110120, LCK3, Art Toh

Green Sandpiper at Lim Chua Kang Avenue 3 on 11 January 2020 by Art Toh.

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (SBWR) yielded a Von Schrenck’s Bittern, Ixobrychus eurhythmus, on 11 January 2020 (Adrian Silas Tay), which stayed through the Chinese New Year holidays and was last reported on 30 January 2020 (John Spiler). The reserve also held a Black-capped Kingfisher, Halcyon pileata, on 14 Jan 2020 by Richard Lim, five Lesser Adjutants, Leptoptilos javanicus, on 22 January 2020 (Hannu Klemola), a Thick-billed Green Pigeon, Treron curvirostra, and a White-headed Munia, Lonchura maja, on 25 January 2020 (Fadzrun A), another Lesser Adjutant on 26 January 2020 (Geri Lim), and a Blue-winged Pitta, Pitta moluccensis, on 27 January 2020 (Mike Hooper). Shorebirds reported included one Terek Sandpiper, Xenus cinereus, spotted on 14 Jan 2020 (Martin Kennewell), thirty Pacific Golden Plover, Pluvialis fulva, on 27 January 2020 (Mike Hooper) and one Common Greenshank, Tringa nebularia, on 28 January 2020 by YK Han.

Schrenck's Bittern, 250120, SBWR, Geoff Lim

Von Schrenck’s Bittern at SBWR on 25 January 2020 by Geoff Lim.

Other notable sightings in the west included a Watercock, Gallicrex cinerea, on 22 January 2020 by Kaikee Leong at Jurong Lake Gardens, a male Daurian Redstart, Phoenicurus auroreus, at U-Town, Kent Ridge on 29 January 2020 by Lynette Chia, two White-shouldered Starling, Sturnia sinensis, by Oliver Tan, a Dark-sided Flycatcher, Muscicapa sibirica, by Choong YT, both on 30 January 2020 at Jurong Lake Gardens.

Abbreviations:
CCNR: Central Catchment Nature Reserve
SBWR: Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

This report is compiled and by written by Geoff Lim and edited by Tan Gim Cheong. We are grateful for the birders and photographers whose postings in various Facebook birding pages, bird forums, and individual reports and extracts from eBird make up this report. This compilation is not a complete list of birds recorded for the month and not all the records were verified.

Many thanks to Art Toh, Danny Khoo, Zacc HD, Gan Lee Hsia, Tan Chuan Yean, Manju Gang, Luke Teo, T. Ramesh, Norhafiani A. Majid and Geoff Lim for allowing us to use their photographs.

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.