Category Archives: Conservation

New Wetland at the Singapore Sports Hub

Text and photos by Marcel Finlay.


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

Photo2 levelling

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

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

photo 3 regeneration

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

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

{6. Maturing plants May 2016}


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Singapore’s Missing Birds – Scarlet Minivet.

Singapore’s Missing Birds – Scarlet Minivet, Pericrocotus speciosus 
By Lim Kim Chuah.
I recalled often hearing the sweet, rapid and piercing whistles “weep-weep-weep-wit-wip” of the Scarlet Minivet, Pericrocotus speciosus during my walk around the forest of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in the 90’s. However, seeing one usually entailed some neck breaking exercises as this species usually forages high in the canopy amidst the tall dipterocarp trees. But it’s worth the effort as the stunning red colors of the male bird is simply dazzling amidst the green canopy.
Male Scarlet Minivet taken at Panti on 10 August 2014 by Lim Kim Chuah.
Besides Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, this species has also been recorded in our Central Catchment Nature reserve forests. Sadly, its sweet sounding call is now silent in Singapore and has not been heard since the early 2000’s. The last one reported was an unconfirmed report of a male at Jelutong Tower in August 2004.
I still recall rather vividly the last one I saw in Singapore. It was a lonely female perched high on a dead branch at MacRitchie Reservoir during the bird race in Dec 2000. It appeared to be looking forlornly in the distance as though sensing that its existence in Singapore was ending.
The Scarlet Minivet belongs to the cuckooshrike (Campephagidae) family. There are five members belonging to this family in Singapore – Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Lesser Cuckooshrike, Pied Triller, Ashy Minivet and Scarlet Minivet. This species has a wide distribution and can be found from the Indian subcontinent to Southern China and many parts of SE Asia. Fortunately, it is a common bird in neighboring Johor and this is where I go to enjoy this delightful bird. Hopefully it will return to Singapore one day.
Reference: Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore. 2009. Nature Society (Singapore). Yong Ding Li, Lim Kim Chuah and Lee Tiah Khee A Naturalist’s Guide to  the Birds of Singapore. 2013 John Beaufoy Publishing Limited

Singapore, the Global Stronghold of the Straw-headed Bulbul.

Annual bird census data reveals Singapore as the global stronghold of endangered songbird. 

Straw-headed Bulbul at Zoo

Wild populations of many bird species are in rapid decline across Southeast Asia as a result of unsustainable hunting for the pet-bird trade, especially in Indonesia. Sought by bird hobbyists for its powerful and rich song, the globally endangered Straw-headed Bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus) is one of the world’s most threatened songbirds due to soaring demand for the pet trade.  Across much of Southeast Asia, the Straw-headed Bulbul has been relentlessly trapped from the wild to be later sold in the bird markets of Java, Kalimantan, Sumatra and Peninsular Malaysia. The species has now gone extinct from Thailand and most parts of Indonesia where it used to be found, including the whole island of Java. There are also no recent records from Sumatra.

In a recent study published in the journal Bird Conservation International led by members of the Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group, wild populations of the Straw-headed Bulbul in Singapore was found to have steadily risen over the last 15 years, and may now be the largest in its entire distribution. Using data gathered from more than 15 years of the Annual Bird Census, the study found that populations on the island of Pulau Ubin have increased at nearly 4% per year. It is estimated that at least 110 individuals of the Straw-headed Bulbul now survives on Ubin, making the island a global stronghold for the species. On the other hand, trends in mainland Singapore were less clear, appearing to remain unchanged over the study period.

The population of the Straw-headed Bulbul in Singapore is estimated to be at least 202 individuals based on existing data. However this estimate is likely to be conservative since the Western Catchment area was not comprehensively surveyed. Moreover, new sites for the bulbul, including remnant pockets of woodland like Burgundy woods has been discovered very recently and these were not captured in the Annual Bird Census. Given that the global population of the species is now estimated at 600-1,700 individuals, Singapore may easily hold 12-34% of the world’s remaining wild Straw-headed Bulbuls.

To effectively conserve the Straw-headed Bulbul, there will be a need to conserve small pockets of woodland such as Bukit Brown and Khatib Bongsu outside the nature reserves. It is also hoped that the authorities will review plans to gazette at least some parts of Pulau Ubin as a nature reserve. Other biodiversity can be expected benefit from the conservation actions targeting the bulbul.

Studies on the long-term population trends of birds in Singapore would not be possible without the citizen science surveys carried out by the Nature Society and supported by a large team of volunteers since 1986. These surveys include the Mid-year, Fall, and most importantly, the Annual Bird Censuses. Additionally, there are also dedicated censuses focused on monitoring raptor migration and parrots in urban areas. During these censuses, as many as 50 volunteers may be surveying birds across the country concurrently. Over the last two decades, these censuses have allowed us to track population trends of threatened species such as the globally endangered Straw-headed Bulbul.”

By Yong Ding Li.

32nd Singapore Bird Race 2016 Review.

Close to 100 eager participants gathered at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserves on 16th October for the 32nd Singapore Bird Race 7.30 am flag-off. 18 Photographer teams, 14 Advanced and Novice birder teams made up this record turn out for a chance to bird inside the conservation core of the Kranji Marshes. The change of format to a half day instead of a 24 hours race help to entice more new participants to get a feel of what a bird race is all about. All enjoyed the race and most will take part again based on the survey done after the race. Some even asked a longer race!


A record turnout of close to 100 participants from 32 teams for the 32nd Singapore Bird Race.


Shawn Lum President of Nature Society (Singapore) welcoming the participants.


Lim Kim Chuah Chairperson of the Bird Group and organizer for the 32nd Bird Race briefing the participants on the Rules and Regulations before the start of the Race.


We are most grateful to Simon Siow ( second from the right) for fielding not one but two teams from MNSJ for this year’s Bird Race. His team ( with Alyce Ang and Jimmy Lee) recorded a creditable 60 species in the Advanced Category. The Bird Group will be visiting Danga Bay with MNSJ to check on the waders wintering there in December as part of joined activities with MNSJ.


Just after flag-off, all eyes peeled to the skies for the early ticks


Teams in intense action inside the Conservation Core of the Kranji Marshes. Many thanks to SBWR for opening this area for the Bird Race.


Teams at the main bridge at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserves shooting egrets roosting on the mangroves.


The Duck Hide inside the Kranji Marshes Core was a great spot to tick the Black-backed Swamphen. This is the first visit to the Core Conservation Area for many of the participants.


Teams hard at work tallying up the day’s count before submission


Team CAL taking a deserved break after a frantic morning of chasing ticks. From right Richard Lim,  Ang Kok Hwa, Chang Wei Hean and supporter Lim Chun King 


Arbitrators Morten Strange, Albert Low, Francis Yap, Tan Gim Cheong and Lee Taih Khee checking on the entries of the various teams to determine the winners. Many thanks to all our arbitrators for helping out on their rest day.


Time to tuck in to a sumptuous buffet after a hard morning’s work and swapping stories with other teams. 


We are grateful to Dr. Lena Chan, Director of the National Biodiversity Center at NParks, for gracing the Bird Race as our Guest of Honor.


Morten Strage author of several regional bird guides highlighting some of the notable species recorded during the race like the Bar-tailed Godwit, Long-toed Stint, Little Ringed Plover and Pacific Swifts.


Albert Low talking about the bird diversity in South East Asia. He and Yong Ding Li recently launched their book “100 Best Bird Watching Sites in Southeast Asia” which was on sale on the day.


Leong Kok Peng Vice President of NSS giving away prizes to Eyzat Amer of Team “Tiger Shrike” Winners of the Advanced Category with 75 species, a super effort. The team was led by Martin Kennewell with Richard Carden. Congratulations!


Father and daughter Team “Sandpiper”. Dad Lim Kim Seng turned a family bonding session with daughters Nur Diana and Nur Nadia ( both not in the photo) into a winning affair taking second prize in the Advanced Category with 69 species. 

Team “Little Terns” Lim Kim Keang, Willie Foo, Wong Chung Cheong and Leung Wai Kee tied with the Malaysian Nature Society Johor Team 1 led by Simon Siow both with 60 species. “Little Terns” took third spot based on count back. 


Team “Aim High” ( Richard White and See Toh Yew Wai with G.O.H Dr. Lena Chan) certainly did that. They came up tops among the 18 photography teams with 66 species photographed. This was a fantastic feat making them Winners of the Photography Category and third overall total for the day. Well done Richard and See Toh.


Team “OOF” came in second in the photography category with 50 species. G.O.H Dr. Lena Chan with Leader Keita Sin, Goh Cheng Teng and Tan Rui Siang. A very commendable effort. 


Dr. Lena Chan with team “The 3 Roosters” of  Laurence Eu, Alan Yeo and Zenon Kosiniak. They shot a combined 43 species to claim the third prize. Great effort for first timers, definitely something to crow about.


Adrian Silas Tay led team “Weekend Birders” with Daniel Ong, Jerold Tan and Aung Mee to pick up the first prize for the Novice Category with 60 species receiving their prizes from Leong Kok Peng VP of NSS.  Great job guys. Congrats. You are hereby promoted to the Advanced Category next year.  

Another family team the “Banerjee Family” led by Anish with Atish and Debina came in second in the Novice Category with 51 species. A great family effort.

Team “Rajawali ” led by Ann Ang with her Mum Cecila Mah and Pat Ong took it easy this year to claim a podium place with 47 species. They were past winners in this category. 


Leong Kok Peng, Vice President of NSS presenting tokens of appreciation to our sponsors and friends. Top: Dr. Lena Chan, Director. National Biodiversity Center. NParks, our Guest of Honor; bottom: Klenn Koh of Swarovski Optics, Bird Race Sponsors.


 Top: Chua Yen Kheng of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserves, Venue Sponsors and bottom: Tony Wong Committee Member Malayan Nature Society Johor. The Bird Group thanked Andrew Chow for his generous donation of his beautiful bird paintings as prizes and tokens of appreciation to our sponsors. 


Swarovski Optics, long time sponsor of our Bird Race with their latest scopes and binoculars for the participants to try out.  Many thanks to Swarovski Optics and Klenn Koh for your continued support.


Lim Kim Chuah Chairperson of the Bird Group and Organizer of the Bird Race thanking our sponsors, volunteers and participants at the close of the race. Special thanks to co-organizer, Lee Ee Ling, Yap Wee Jin, Nisha and Delphin. See you all next year!

Photos credit: Yap Wee Jin. Many thanks.



Bidadari Hillock to be retained as a Bird Sanctuary.

9th June 2016.


The boarded up “valley” section to facilitate drainage works. The hillock is on the left.

This morning members of the Nature Society (Singapore)’s Conservation Committee and Bird Group made a site visit to the old Bidadari Muslim Cemetery with the planners, architects, engineers and landscape contractors from the Housing and Development Board (HDB) and staff from the National Parks Board (NParks). The purpose of the visit is to mark out the boundaries of the hillock where most of the migrant species were found. The hillock is centered around the “Bida Studio” at the western end of Bidadari.


Dr. Ho Hua Chew, Vice-chair of the NSS Conservation Committee with Ms. Lim Shu Ying, Director (Urban Design Dept.) Research and Planning HDB and her colleagues at Bidadari and Leong Kwok Peng, Chair of the Conservation Committee NSS (in yellow). Photo: Alan OwYong.

The HDB had agreed in our previous meeting to retain and keep this hillock largely untouched as a natural sanctuary. It will be part of the main 10 hectare park. We showed and explained to the planners the importance of keeping the different clusters of bushes and clumps that are frequented by migrant flycatchers, pittas and kingfishers. The trees will be retained for the mid-level species like the cuckoos, shrikes and paradise flycatchers to forage. Some of the fringing Albizias will be cut down for safety reasons. On the ground level, the weeds and grasses surrounding the bush and clump clusters will be allowed to grow as buffers with trimming done only in the open areas. All these measures will hopefully preserve much of the original character of this core area for the winter visitors and passage migrants that stop over here during the migration season.


Housing and Development Board’s landscape planner and engineers marking the trees  to be retained.

The “valley” parallel to Upper Serangoon Road and a diagonal stretch across the cemetery has been boarded up to facilitate the construction of infrastructural work for the estate. The hillock and the “studio” where we do most of our birding is still accessible from the Bartley Road side. Even when work starts at the lower section along Bartley Road in the coming years, nature lovers will be able to walk through this hillock sanctuary to bird watch and photograph them. Hopefully some of the regular visitors will still return to this part of Bidadari.


Dr. Ho Hua Chew pointing out the importance of keeping some of the Albizias for the foraging Black Bazas, nesting Changeable Hawk Eagles and other passerines. 

Even though we were not able to save all of the Muslim section of Bidadari, at least this core area will be kept “wild” to provide a refuge for our winter visitors to rest and refuel during their migration.

Why Count Birds?


Extracts from Lisa Margonelli’s article “When birders with binoculars are better than supercomputers” published in the Sunday Times 31 January 2016. She writes the Small Science column for Zocalo Public Square where she is the science and humanities editor.

As old and personalised as it is, the bird count is a powerful way to collect data and a future model for understanding and responding to environmental issues on Earth-not to mention other planets.”

“The bird count has, at its core, concern about birds going extinct, but over the years that morphed into surprising political power to stop those extinctions.”

” The count also has a secret weapon: It simultaneously gathers needed data and mobilises concerned citizens to advocate on behalf of endangered birds.”

“Obsession makes humans good at finding things because they get distracted by anomalies and their fervour is driven by their emotions. Computers don’t have eureka moments.”

Over the years of counting birds here we have our share of eureka moments. The sighting of a Caspian Tern at Mandai Mudflats during the 2011 Asian Waterbird Census was one of those eureka moments.

Low Choon How-Javan Myna-LCH_0399

Javan Mynas, the top bird species in recent Annual Bird Censuses. Photo: Low Choon How

In April 1986 the late Clive Briffet, then chairman of the Singapore Branch of the Malayan Nature Society Bird Group initiated and led the very first Annual Bird Census (ABC) here in Singapore. It has been faithfully held every March since with reports published in various scientific journals. It is the longest running census of wild animals conducted by any organisation in South East Asia. Between 1996 and 2005, a total of 33 sites were counted where we recorded 220 species  and 88,596 birds, with 102 species (46%) showing an increase, 66 (30%) showing evidence of decline and 22 (10%) stable. We just completed the 30th ABC on 27th March 2016. Lim Kim Seng will be posting the results soon.


Every year up to 400 Whimbrels spent the winter at our Wetlands. Photo: Alan OwYong.

In 1990, members of the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch) joined our fellow Asian member organisations to count waterbirds in our first Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) coordinated by Asian Wetlands Bureau, now known as Wetlands International. Lim Kim Keang coordinated the census for Singapore. This year’s AWC,  the 26th, covering all the mudflats and wetlands was held on 23th January 2016.

Lim Kim Seng, head of the Records Committee initiated the Mid Year Bird Census (MYBC) in 2000 and the Fall Migration Bird Census (FMBC) in 2004 to gather data on the population of our residents and pug the gaps in the diversity of autumn migration. We were able to ascertain that the diversity is just as high as the Spring migration.

27 OHBs part of the flock of 40

27 OHBs part of the flock of 40 over Telok Blangah Hill during Raptor Watch 9.11.14

With the support from Asian Raptor Research and Conservation Network (ARRCN), we started a full one day Raptors Watch in November 2008 with observers stationed at various locations all over Singapore to count migrating raptors. The count from Singapore help to fill in the missing data on the pattern of the autumn migration of raptors coming down from Malaysia to Indonesia. Over the years we were amazed at the numbers of some of the raptors like the Oriental Honey Buzzards and Black Bazas that passed through our island. It had become a very popular count among keen raptor watchers over the years, thank to Tan Gim Cheong’s efforts after taking over from Alan OwYong.

Long-tailed Parakeet

Three flying Long-tailed Parakeets flying pass Jelutong Tower. Photo: Francis Yap

In 2010, the International Ornithological Union approached the Bird Group of the Nature Society (Singapore) to join in the global count of feral and non native parrots in our urban environment. Thus our latest count, Parrot Count, took flight, under the stewardship of Albert Low, Yong Ding Li and Alan OwYong. The report for our 6th Parrot Count on the 27th February will be published soon.

We will not be able to achieve the success of these censuses and bird counts without the dedicated and passionate members of the Bird Group, friends and the concerned public spending their weekends helping to document the bird life all year round. But we need more to help us to cover more sites. If you are not too familiar with the censuses, come to our workshops and we will brief you on how to count and identify the birds. You will find your eureka moments too.

Ref: Lim Kim Chuah and Lim Kim Seng, State of Singapore’s Wild Birds and Bird Habitats. 2009.

Compiled by Alan OwYong and edited by Tan Gim Cheong. Thanks to Francis Yap, Low Choon How and Alan OwYong for the use of their photos.






Singapore’s Important Biodiversity and Bird Areas


Birdlife International Important Biodiversity and Bird Areas (IBA) program helps countries worldwide to identify, protect and manage significant sites of naturally occurring vulnerable bird species and population. It is based on internationally recognized Criteria. Over 10,000 sites have been identified worldwide.

The Nature Society (Singapore) and the Bird Group have identified three such IBAs in Singapore using the accepted international criteria. This is quite significant for a city state like Singapore with one of the highest population density in the world. These IBAs must be protected for the natural health of the island and its people.

They are A) Central Forest B) Kranji-Mandai and C) Ubin-Khatib.

Central Catchment Forest Reserves

Central Catchment Forest Reserves

Bukit Brown LKP

Bukit Brown. Photo: Leong Kwok Peng

A) Central Forest ( 5,446 hectares)

It covers the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Bukit Batok Nature Park, Dairy Farm Nature Park, Bukit Brown Cemetery, Tagore Forest and Bukit. Mandai Forest.

Trigger Species: Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher, Cyornis brunneata,  and Straw-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus zeylanicus. Sunda Pangolin Manis javanica , Banded Leaf Monkey Presbytes fermoralis and Singapore Freshwater Crab Johora  singaporensis.

Fresh Water Ponds at Kranji Marshes

Fresh Water Ponds at Kranji Marshes

Gemala Nature Areas. Photo: Leong Kwok Peng

Khatib Mangroves LKP

Mandai Mangroves. Photo: Leong Kwok Peng.

B) Kranji-Mandai ( 1,885 hectares)

It covers Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Kranji Marshes, Gemala Nature Areas, Mandai Mudflats and Mangroves, Ama Keng, Stagmont Ring and Peng Siang mash areas.

Trigger Species: Chinese Egret, Egretta eulophotes, Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris, Straw-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus zeylanicus.

Ketam Quarry

Ketam Quarry. Pulau Ubin.

Lorong Halus. Photo: Leong Kwok Peng.

Khatib Bonsu Mangroves. Photo: Leong Kwok Peng.

C) Ubin-Khatib ( 14,906 hectares).

It covers Pulau Ubin, Pulau Tekong, Pasir Ris Park, Loyang Forest, Lorong Halus, Coney Island, Springleaf Park, Pulau Seletar, Khatib Bonsu and Simpang Grasslands.

Trigger Species: Chinese Egret, Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris, Straw-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus zeylanicus, Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher Cyornis brunneata and Sunda Pangolin Manis javanica.

For more details on our IBAs go to

Reference: Birdlife International.


Central Forest IBA at the Crossroads.


Marshes at MacRitchie Forest

Fresh Water Marshes at MacRitchie Forest

Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) are places of international significance for the conservation of birds and other wildlife. Birdlife International’s IBA program identifies, monitors and protects these places with the help of their local partners.

How does a site qualify to be an IBA? They have to meet the following internationally accepted criteria:

A1. Globally Threatened Species:  Sites with species in the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable.

A2.  Restricted-range Species: Sites holding a significant component of a group of species whose breeding distributions define an Endemic Bird Area (EBA).

A3. Biome-restricted Species: Sites holding a significant component of group of species whose distributions are largely or wholly confined to a biome.

A4 (1). Congregations: Sites known to hold on a regularly basis > 1% of a biogeographic population of a congregatory waterbird species. There are three other sub criteria.

IBA Central Forest


Our neighbour Malaysia has 55 IBAs making up the 12,000 IBAs worldwide. Not many people knows that Singapore has our own IBAs. The Nature Society (Singapore) and the Bird Group had identified three Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas in Singapore: a) Kranji-Mandai, b) Ubin-Khatib and c) Central Forest . The Central Forest IBA is made up of the Central Catchment Nature Reserves, Bukit Timah Nature Reserves, Bukit Batok Nature Park and Bukit Brown (Google map left ).

All three IBAs satisfy Criterion A1 due to the presence of the globally threatened species. Central Forest for the Straw-headed Bulbul and the Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher and Ubin-Khatib for the Chinese Egret and Nordmann’s Greenshank. They also satisfy Criterion A3 – Biome as part of the Sundaic Lowland Forest bioregion.

If a tiny urban island nation like Singapore can have three IBAs, it makes sense to do our best not to lose them. If we allow any part of the Central Catchment Nature Reserves to be impacted with a loss of diversity and the endangered bird species, it will not qualify for IBA status anymore. Running the Cross Island Line through the southern part of the CCNR may lead to such loss and ultimately an IBA.









Singapore Birders’ Contribution to the Discovery and Conservation of the Plain-pouched Hornbill in Peninsular Malaysia

A Pair of Plain-pouched Hornbills (female with blue pouch)  Photo: Jimmy Chew

A Pair of Plain-pouched Hornbills (female with blue pouch) Photo: Jimmy Chew

This recent article by Yeap, C. A. et al in the Malayan Nature Journal on the Plain-pouched Hornbill traces and summarises the great and conscientious efforts by the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) towards the protection of this species which occurs in massive numbers in the Belum-temengor Forest Complex from the nineties to 2012.

Singaporean birders may be interested to know that it was Sutari who was the first birder to have discovered the massive flight of the Plain-pouched Hornbill in Peninsular Malaysia — in 1992 at the  Temengor area, along the upper reaches of the  Perak River.  Subsequently , in 1993 a team organised by Sutari  and Hua Chew,  comprising mostly of the members of the Bird Group, carried out two earlier attempts (1993 & 1998) at a systematic count of their spectacular flight along the Perak transect, yielding  a maximum  of 2, 067 individuals in one morning session.  The presence of this hornbill species in Peninsular Malaysia was considered non-existent or highly controversial among ornithological experts at that time. In 1999, Sutari and Hua Chew submitted the results of their observations to the MNS-Bird Conservation Council for scrutiny and within the year the Plain-pouched was “accepted as Malaysia’s tenth hornbill species” by MNS Birds Records Committee.  The experience was most exhilarating and unforgettable for the participants, and the count sessions constitute Singaporean birders’ contribution to the Malayan Nature Society’s  efforts to protect  the species.   The “totals of more than 2000 hornbills at Temengor  seem to be unprecedented anywhere in the world for any hornbill species …. “ said Dr. Geoffrey Davison” (Yeap, C.A. et al, 2015). A later count by an MNS team in 2008 yielded 3, 261 individuals, the highest number obtained so far in a single session at the peak period.


A large flock of Plain-pouched Hornbills. Photo: Sutari.

According to Yeap, C. A. et al (2015: “The seasonal migration of Plain-pouched Hornbills must rank as one of the most spectacular natural wonders in Asia. The Hornbill Triangle offers the best hope for the future survival of the southernmost population of Plain- pouched Hornbills.” We wish our Malaysian counterpart great success towards the achievement of this goal for the benefit of the present and future generation of the world.

Video by the late Ong Kiem Sian on their 1998 Hornbill survey here (Video)

Reference:  Yeap C.A. et al “Conserving the globally threatened Plain-pouched Hornbills in the Belum-temengor Forest Complex, Peninsular Malaysia”Malayan Nature Journal  (MNJ) (2015, 67 (2), Link

Kranji Marshes, a New Haven for Waterbirds





Desmond Lee opening of Kranji Marshes LKC

Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Mr. Desmond Lee declaring the Marshes open with URA and NParks CEOs and Directors. Photo: Lim Kim Chuah.

Contributed by Alan OwYong and Alfred Chia. 1st February 2016.

Two years ago, Senior Minister of State for National Development & Home Affairs Mr Desmond Lee visited the Kranji Marshes. After touring the place, he saw the potential benefits that can be reaped if the marshes can be protected & properly managed. His vision and support on the project finally turned into reality when the Kranji Marshes was officially opened by him on 1 February 2016.

The fully covered marshes 21 March 2014 before work began (left). The marshes today with open water patches for the ducks and moorhens. Photos: Alan OwYong.
The Nature Society (Singapore) [NSS] was involved as early as 1985 when it proposed to the authorities to conserve the marshes. But it was not until 2008 that the society was finally allowed by the authorities to adopt & manage the marshes under the PUB’s Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters Programme (ABC). This was the first time that NSS was tasked to manage a nature area, a ringing endorsement of what the society had managed to accomplish over the years.

Pond Maintenance under NSS management, 12 Jan 2013. (left). Heavy dredgers needed to clear the vegetation to open up the marshes 21 Feb 2015. Photos: Alan OwYong.


A Pair of Grey-headed Fish Eagles have made their home at the Marshes taking advantage of the aquatic life in the open ponds

With help from both Bloomberg and various student groups, weeds were periodically cleared. Small islands were also built to entice back the waterfowl. Soon, resident birds like the Black-backed Swamphens, Lesser Whistling Ducks & Common Moorhens returned. Migrant waterfowl like Watercocks & snipes also made Kranji Marshes their wintering ground. Passerines like reed and grasshopper warblers also made their visits.


SMOS Mr. Desmond Lee with Lim Kim Keang, Wong Tuan Wah and Lim Kim Chuah touring the marshes. Photo: Alan OwYong

The culmination in the opening of the marshes is a result of long term planning & vision of statutory boards like the National Parks Board (NParks) and Urban Redevelopment Authority. It is to be lauded. The Bird Group of NSS is glad to have played its part in the planning of the marshes by offering its input on design and planning. It will continue to do so after the opening when it partners NParks in conducting guided tours to the public.

Albert Low of NParks showing the Purple Heron to the students from Raffles Institution. Bird Group Chairman Lim Kim Chuah scanning for waterbirds. The lush Lotus Pond from Bee-eaters Blind with photo panels by Lee Tiah Khee. Photos: Alan OwYong.