Category Archives: Conservation

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.
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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!

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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

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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 

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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 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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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 http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/site.

Reference: Birdlife International. http://www.birdlife.org.

 

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.

Reference: http://www.birdlife.org. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

The first record of a White-tailed Tropicbird for Singapore?

Sitting on a region of shallow seas, the waters around Singapore are not particularly known for their high seabird diversity. Terns are the most ubiquitous seabirds on an average offshore birdwatching trip, although at certain months of the year, regular passage of the Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel has been documented. In recent years, spring passage of the Short-tailed Shearwater through Singapore and the Malacca Straits has also been reported. Every now and then and especially during periods of exceptional weather, very rare seabirds have been blown inland and sometimes end up in the most unlikely of places. For instance, a Wedge-tailed Shearwater was apparently picked up in Woodlands back in the late 1990s, near a wet field – the most unlikely place to see a bird with otherwise pelagic habits! In another surprising report, a Christmas Island Frigatebird was actually seen over the Central Catchment forest many years back!

Rescued White-tailed Tropicbird from Tuas (Photograph courtesy of ACRES)

Rescued White-tailed Tropicbird from Tuas (Photograph courtesy of ACRES)

On the 22 June 2015, I received a report from ACRES that an unknown seabird, possibly a very large tern was retrieved alive from Pioneer sector in Tuas. A quick examination of the photographs provided to me showed a very large, slender seabird with long tail streamers, yellow bill, and a very diagnostic black facial patch around the lores and eyes, thus confirming the identity of this ‘mystery seabird’ as a White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus). The golden-yellow wash on its plumage suggests that this individual is the form fulvus (also known as the Golden Bosunbird) that breeds only on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean. While the exact route taken by this individual into Singapore waters will never be known, it is plausible that strong southerly winds most pronounced during the southwest monsoon period (June – August) played a part in nudging this tropicbird into Singapore waters. Thankfully I have just been updated that this bird is now under the expert care of veterinarians.

White-tailed Tropicbird (fulvus race) in flight on Christmas Island. Photo courtesy of Albert Low.

White-tailed Tropicbird (fulvus race) in flight on Christmas Island. Photo courtesy of Albert Low.

In the past, there have only been anecdotal accounts of tropicbirds being sighted in Singapore, but none with a confirmed species-level identification or even a photograph. This individual represents the first record of any tropicbird in Singapore, and currently awaits review by the Nature Society’s bird records committee. If accepted, it will join the steady stream of new national records that will eventually push Singapore’s bird list to the 400th mark.

The nearest colonies of the White-tailed Tropicbird to Singapore are in the Australian external territories in the Indian Ocean – Cocos-Keeling and Christmas Islands (endemic breeding ssp. fulvus). In the shallow waters of the South China and Java seas, reports of tropicbirds are rare. In Java (Indonesia), the species is most regularly encountered on the south coast that fringe the deep waters of the Indian Ocean, especially around Yogyakarta and Malang (Cahyono H., Yordan, K. in litt.), with small colonies of the nominate subspecies reported from Rongkop (Yogyakarta) as well as Uluwatu (Bali) and Nusa Penida Island, off Bali. There is a single record from Thailand (P.D. Round in litt.), and a few old reports from Malaysia’s Layang-Layang (Swallow) Reef in the Spratly Islands. In the Philippines, there are only a handful of records, and like the present record, also involved exhausted individuals recovered near coastal cities (e.g. Dumaguete in 1968, Saragani in 1929). Other Philippine records are from remote islets in the Sulu Sea (e.g. Jessie Beazley Reef).

White-tailed Tropicbird (fulvus race) with its chick on Christmas Island. Photo courtesy of Albert Low.

White-tailed Tropicbird (fulvus race) with its chick on Christmas Island. Photo courtesy of Albert Low.

White-tailed Tropicbird (fulvus race) fledgling 6 weeks after the previous picture was taken. Photo courtesy of Albert Low

White-tailed Tropicbird (fulvus race) fledgling 6 weeks after the previous picture was taken. Photo courtesy of Albert Low

Acknowledgements

I thank Anbarasi Boopal (ACRES) and her staff for sharing this important record. Photograph of the rescued tropicbird is courtesy of ACRES. Thanks also go to Heru Cahyono and Khaleb Yordan for commenting on the status of this bird in Java, and Philip Round, on its status in Thailand.