Category Archives: Breeding ecology

Unexplained observations of an Olive-backed Sunbird Cinnyris jugularis nesting.

Unexplained observations of an Olive-backed Sunbird Cinnyris jugularis nesting.

By Alfred Chia.

I had written briefly on my Facebook page about the nesting of an Olive-backed Sunbird Cinnyris jugularis along the corridor of my flat. The nest was however built out-of-sight and out-of-reach and hung from one of my plant which overhangs beyond the parapet wall. You will not be able to see it unless you take the trouble to peer over the wall.

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Link: https://www.facebook.com/540928362/posts/10158109695448363/?d=n

Briefly, the female sunbird started constructing the nest on or before 10 February 2020. On 16 March, the female started occupying the nest. From 8 April onwards, the male was observed bringing food to the nest very frequently, each time perching on another plant that is visible to me as I stand within my house, before it flies into the nest to feed its fledgling. Out of two chicks, one survived, as is usual. This chick fledged on 18 April, about twelve days after hatching. After this, the fledgling was not seen but the two parent birds still came to my plants sporadically.

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On 21 April, something unexpected (at least to me) happened. I had peered beyond the parapet wall at 1100 hours just to see if there is still any activity at the nest. No activity was seen, as has been the case since the chick fledged on 18 April but it was noticed that the nest opening was a wee bit messed up such that the opening was partially blocked. At 1315 hours, I went back out again to have a look. I was shocked at what confronted me. The nest was missing! I looked at the small ledge that was directly below the area where the nest was at formerly to see if it had dropped onto it. Besides some remnant dried leaves that were already there for some time, the nest was nowhere to be found. Baffled, I took the lift to the ground floor to further check if the nest had dropped there. Again, it was not found.

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A flurry of questions immediately ran through my mind. What happened to the nest? Did the sunbird remove the nest intentionally? Or was it relocated? Why did they do it? Where could it have taken it to? Could it have been the female sunbird who remove it? Could it have carried the entire nest structure away in one fell swoop because the remnant dried leaves on the ledge does not indicate that it had increased exponentially?

I had a previous unexplained experience of an incomplete Olive-backed Sunbird nest missing too. This was on a plant along the corridor. It was halfway through construction when suddenly it just disappeared. It was a clean act too as the floor directly below the nest was clean and devoid of any nesting material. At that time, I had even surmised that my friendly block cleaner could have taken it off my plant as the nest building can be very messy with bits of the material being dropped onto the floor constantly. About two months after this incident, I had my niece, who lives in Yishun, coming up to me to ask if sunbirds are capable of removing nest after painstakingly building it. Hers was also in the midst of being constructed when she realised that it was missing the next day. When I ask if it could have been the block’s cleaner who had removed it, she replied that the cleaner hardly ever cleans the corridor.

A check through my Sunbirds, Flowerpeckers, Spiderhunters & Sugarbirds monograph by Robert A. Cheke & Clive F. Mann reveal no such information on nest removal or relocation. A check through the internet & other resources did not help either.

It will be interesting to know if any of our readers, birders or photographers have noted such behaviour from an Olive-backed Sunbird  before. I’d be glad to hear from you. Additionally, it may be well worth to follow-up on future nesting of this species if you come across it – both pre and post-nesting.

Nesting of White-rumped Munia at Telok Blangah.

Nesting of White-rumped Munias at Telok Blangah.

By Vincent Chiang.

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An adult White-rumped Munia guarding over its nest over at Telok Blangah Estate.

Late last December I came across some munias hopping in and out of an old nest at the hanging foliage at a housing block at Telok Blangah Estate. It was in early January that I identified the pair as the White-rumped Munias. They have taken over an abandoned cup shaped nest ( Bulbul?) and started building over it by adding bits of thin dry grasses to it. Over the next few days there were not much activities but the nest seemed complete. On one occasion, I found a mixed flock of about a dozen White-rumped and Javan Munias hanging around.  Only three curious adult White-rumped Munias came and perched near the nest. Not sure if they are the parents with a helper or not. They did not go into the nest.

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The White-rumped Munia’s nest in red on the hanging foliage at an apartment block above an active Olive-backed Sunbird’s nest in blue. 

The White-rumped Munia, Lonchura striata, is a rare resident of Singapore, occurring in forest edges, open vegetation and secondary growth. The wild mainland population most probably died out leaving few surviving birds at the offshore islands of Ubin and Tekong. The birds seen now a days on the mainland are likely to have been released or escapees. The documented nesting season is May and July to August ( Kelham 1883 and SINAV 6.2, 6.3). This March nesting record now sets an earlier date for this species in Singapore.

84023905_1173368182994281_8002783979629445120_n24th January photo of its completed elongated round nest made up of fine dried grasses.

Not much activity was observed in February. The pair were seen flying in and out of the nest and may be roosting there. Sometimes one would stay back to guard the nest. It was only in early March that I heard chirping sounds coming out of the nest and the parent birds coming back very often with traces of grass seeds in their mouths. It was either whole seeds or chewed up puree. I did not see them bringing back insects and other prey. Maybe I was not there when they did so.

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Parent bird sitting on top of its nest. 

Finally on 8 March, I spotted one of the parent birds feeding a juvenile on the roof top, confirming a successful nesting. I was glad to be able to document this nesting even though I was not able to find out what is happening inside the nest and record the dates when the eggs were laid, chicks hatched and fledged.

Reference: Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore.

All Photos: Vincent Chiang.

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

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

By Seng Alvin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reference:

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

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

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

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

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

By Alfred Chia.

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

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

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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).

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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!

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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.

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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.

 

 

Nesting of Zitting Cisticolas at Jurong Lake Gardens.

Nesting of Zitting Cisticolas at Jurong Lake Gardens.

By Norhafiani A. Majid and Alan OwYong.

  1. Introduction:

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

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

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

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

  1. A New Home:

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

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

3. Time to nest:

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

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

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

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

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

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Parent busy bringing back food to feed its hungry chicks.

  1. Fledglings

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

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

Reference:

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

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

 

 

 

How do Cuckoos choose their hosts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Alan OwYong

  1. Introduction:

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

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

  1. Finding the first nest:

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

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

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

3. Finding the second nest:

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

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

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

Both parents are involved in the nest building

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

4. Building the second nest:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Nesting of Rufescent Prinias in Peninsular Malaysia.

Nesting of Rufescent Prinias in Peninsular Malaysia.

By Connie Khoo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Successful fledgling of pair of White-bellied Sea-eagles.

Successful fledgling  of a pair of White-bellied Sea-eagles

by Christina See.

My family and I go over to Johor Bahru quite often for some shopping, meals and jalan jalan. On 23rd October 2018, I noticed for the first time a large stick nest on an Albizia tree as we drove up to the Woodlands ICQ checkpoint. It turned out to be a White-bellied Sea-eagle’s Haliaeetus leucogaster nest as both adults were seen coming back to the nest.

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Sea-eagles reuse their nests year after year, adding more sticks and branches to it. 

I was told that this pair had been using this nest for some time now. The location is well protected and close to the Straits of Johor where they can hunt for fish for their youngs. The perennial jam to clear immigration gave me a chance to photograph them from the car. It was also a great way to destress.

On the next trip out a week later, I can see two chicks in the nest. They looked rather big, so they must have hatched some weeks back.

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On the 19th of November, we went to JB again. This time I found both of the chicks outside the nest. It seemed that they are ready to fledge. They were jumping from branch to branch and kept flapping their wings. This had to be their way of strengthening their flight muscles for their first flight.

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The juveniles look very different from the adults. They have dark brown wings and buffy belly instead of grey wings and white belly of the adults.

Last Thursday on our drive in, I could not see any sea-eagles near the nest. I can only assumed that they have fledged. And just as we were about to enter the ICQ complex, I caught sight of one of the juveniles flying back to the nest. What a happy sight for me to see that they have successfully fledged and ready to join their parents to grace our skies with their majestic and soaring flights over our sea coasts and reservoirs. The next time you drive into Johor, do keep a lookout for them among the Albizias near to the ICQ complex.

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White-bellied Sea-eagles are common residents that can be found in most open country habitats both inland and near the coast. They are also recorded in our outer islands at Pulau Ubin in the north and the southern islands. The tall Albizia trees are their favourite trees to build their nest but they also use man made structures like telecom towers and even flag masts for nest building. The same pair will reuse their old nest by adding new branches and twigs to it. May they continue to thrive in our forests and seas for years to come.

Asian Koel Raids Pied Triller’s Nest.

Pied Triller’s nest raided by an Asian Koel.

I chanced upon the nest of a pair of Pied Trillers Lalage nigra on an Ordeal Tree Erythrophleum suavolens along one-north Crescent during my evening walk early this August . It was a cup shaped nest about 10 cm in diameter stuck between the fork of two thin branches near the canopy. The two chicks must have hatched a few days ago. Both parents were busy bringing back insects and caterpillars to the chicks.

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I went there to check on their progress two days later and witnessed a heartbreaking incident. A male Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea flew in and went straight to the nest. It must have been watching this nesting for some time.

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The Koel attacked and pecked at the chick which clung on to the nest. As the Koel pulled the chick out, the nest was came off the branch too. The Koel then shook the chick violently by its neck several times until it went limped. It dropped the chick and the nest to the ground instead of eating it. I think it was trying to take over the nest by getting rid of the chicks but destroyed the nest while doing so.

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The parents came back after the attack and was totally confused to find the nest gone and the chicks nowhere in sight.  They went up and down the branches frantically searching for the chicks for some time, gave up and flew away.

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The first chick had no chance. It was dead before it hit the ground.

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But surprisingly the other chick survived the attack and fall with a few ruffled feathers.

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I picked up the nest and wedged it by the trunk of the tree a few meters above the ground and left the chick there. At least it will be safe from feral predators. I stayed around for a while but the parents did not show up. Next morning I found it back on the ground. It must have fallen out of the nest during the night.

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I decided to tied the nest on a low twig near the ground and put the chick back in. By now the chick had not been fed for more than 24 hours. It was chirping and calling for its parents. Luckily the parents heard the calls this time round and came back. I experienced the most wonderful moment when the daddy found the chick. They were so happy being reunited!

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I was also happy to see the parents resumed feeding the chick.

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The mummy was more concerned and hang around to make sure junior was safe. She did not want to lose another chick again.

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The chick was strong enough to climb up the tree with the help of some flapping. It seemed to know that it had a better chance of surviving if it moved up to the safety of the dense foliage above.

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Next morning I found the chick resting at the mid storey of the Tembusu and the parents still feeding it. Now I was sure that this chick would survive.

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PS. The Asian Koel is an invader species to Singapore. There were no previous records of its destructive behaviour. In fact they were attributed for helping to control the crow’s population here by parasitizing their nesting. This may be the first time such an aggressive behaviour has been recorded. I would like to hear if there were other such attacks seen here or elsewhere.

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