Category Archives: Pelagic

Singapore Bird Report – September 2018

A rare, globally threatened Chinese Egret, and a Grey-headed Fish Eagle preying on a Cinnamon Bittern capped this month’s sightings. A steady stream of migratory birds continue to reach Singapore as the northern hemisphere cools with the onset of autumn. Migratory passerines like flycatchers, Tiger Shrike and the ubiquitous Arctic Warbler begin to be seen on our shores. Resident species continue to be observed, notably the presence of an Oriental Darter at the Singapore Quarry.

Oriental Darter

On 2 Sep 2018, Subha and Raghav Narayanswamy observed an Oriental Darter Anhinga melanogaster at Singapore Quarry. The next day, Diana Jackson saw the shape of a Darter flying over Rail Mall. These reports rippled across the birding community and drew many to the vicinity for photo opportunities. The bird continued to be seen through September, fishing, swimming and flying at the farther reaches of the quarry. There were also several anxious moments as onlookers sometimes wondered if Grey-headed Fish Eagles perched nearby had any nefarious designs on the more ungainly bird. The bird continued to be seen and photographed on 29 Sep 2018.

1, Oriental Darter, Lee Van Hien

The Oriental Darter at the Singapore Quarry with its piscine prey. With its body submerged and only its sinuous head and neck visible, this species is also called the Snakebird. Photo by Lee Van Hien taken on 8 Sep 2018.

2, Oriental Darter, Siew Mun

The Oriental Darter taking flight at the Singapore Quarry on 8 Sep 2018. Photo taken by Siew Mun.

3, Oriental Darter, Zhang Licong, 080918

The distinct silhouette of the Oriental Darter flying over the Singapore Quarry on 9 Sep 2018. Photographed by Zhang Licong.

Chinese Egret

As a fitting tribute to the 25th anniversary of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, a rare and globally threatened Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes make an appearance at the reserve on 13 Sep 2018, YT Choong and Deborah Friets were the lucky ones to bump into the elegant egret, and managed to obtain some images which were then identified by Dave Bakewell.

Two Featured Flycatchers

The male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher Ficedula zanthopygia, also called the Korean Flycatcher, is a visually delightful bird with its contrasting colours of black, yellow and white wing patch. Females and juveniles have somewhat distinct wingbars and a rather distinct yellow rump that separates them from Common Ioras. The species breeds across eastern Mongolia, the Russian Far East,  and China from Inner Mongolia, Gansu and Sichuan to the Changjiang valley and is known to winter regularly in peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and Java (Wells, 2007:533). It is currently deemed to be of Least Concern by IUCN due to its extensive range range and stable population.

This flycatcher is known to be active at dusk, and hunts mostly at crown-level, much to the chagrin of those who wish to photograph the species, though birds were known to venture down to scrub or in areas overlooking an open space from which birds would perch and aerial-sally for flying insect prey (Wells, 2007:534).

A male was spotted in Bidadari on 2 Sep 2018 by Goh Cheng Teng, followed a female spotted by Ramesh T on 4 Sep 2018, a male and female on 10 Sep 2018 by Martin Kennewell, and a male and female on 15 Sep 2018 by Terence Tan. One bird was also spotted at Hort Park on 12 Sep 2018 by Tay Kian Guan, while a female was spotted on 28 Sep 2018 at Dairy Farm Nature Park (DFNP) by Terence Tan, and another female was seen on 29 Sep 2018 at Kranji Marsh by Geoff Lim.

4, Yellow-rumped FC, Terence, Tan

A male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher at Bidadari on 15 Sep 2018 by Terence Tan.

5, Yellow-rumped FC, Terence Tan, female

The yellow rump of a female Yellow-rumped Flycatcher shows up distinctly in this photo by Terence Tan, taken at Bidadari on 15 Sep 2018.

6, Yellow-rumped FC, Geoff Lim, female

A distant photo of a female Yellow-rumped Flycatcher showing the distinctive yellow rump and wing bars in this photo Geoff Lim, taken at Kranji Marsh on 23 Sep 2018.

The less photogenic Brown-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa williamsoni is sometimes considered a sub-species of the Asian Brown Flycatcher superspecies (Wells 2007:578). A sighting on 7 Sep 2018 at Bidadari by Martin Kennewell represented the first of the season this year, while a second sighting was made on 14 Sep 2018 at Singapore Quarry by Wiliam Mahoney.

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Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR)

Migratory species encountered within CCNR during September include an Eastern Crowned Warbler Phylloscopus coronatus on 12 Sep 2018 at Upper Peirce Reservoir by Veronica Foo, the aforementioned Brown-streaked Flycatcher at the Singapore Quarry and a Pacific Swift Apus pacificus at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve on 14 Sep 2018 by William Mahoney and John Ascher, Daurian Starling Agrospar sturninus on 15 Sep 2018 at Venus Loop by Sandra Chia and a Dark-sided Flycatcher Muscicapa sibirica at Dairy Farm Nature Park on 25 Sep 2018 by Diana Jackson.

Resident species sighted in this region include the Oriental Darter featured earlier on 2 & 3 Sep 2018 at the vicinity of the Singapore Quarry, a young male Thick-billed Pigeon Treron curvirostra on 11 Sep 2018 at Singapore Quarry by Alan Owyong, a Chestnut-winged Babbler Stachyris erythroptera on 29 Sep 2018 at MacRitchie Reservoir Park, a Cream-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus simplex at Lower Peirce Reservoir by Art Toh and Peach Won,  up to three Asian Fairy Bluebird Irena puella and a pair of Brown Hawk Owl Ninox scutulata at Hindhede Park by Geoff Lim on 30 Sep 2018.

8, AFBB

Singapore Botanic Gardens (SBG)

SBG yielded one record of a migrating Japanese Sparrowhawk Accipiter gularis on 22 Sep 2018 by Stuart Campbell, and the resident Grey-headed Fish-eagle Haliaeetus ichthyaetus on 15 Sep 2018 by Geoff Lim and Kozi Ichiyama.

9, GHFE

Grey-headed Fish-eagle at Singapore Botanic Gardens on 15 Sep 2018. Photo by Geoff Lim

Central Singapore

The parks and gardens of Central Singapore hosted migratory species such as the Yellow-rumped Flycatcher on 2, 4 & 10 Sep 2018 as mentioned above. Bidadari held Tiger Shrike Lanius tigrinus on  3 & 9 Sep 2018 by Oliver Tan and Feroz, respectively; an Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa latirostris on 7 Sep 2018 by Khoo MeiLin; the aforementioned Brown-streaked Flycatcher on 7 Sep 2018; an Arctic Warbler Phylloscopus borealis on 10 Sep 2018 by Steven Cheong; and a Dark-sided Flycatcher Muscicapa sibirica on 11 Sep 2018 by Terence Tan.

10, Arctic Warbler

An active Arctic Warbler photographed by Herman Phua at Bidadari on 9 Sep 2018.

11, Tiger Shrike

Resident species spotted include about 20 House Swifts Apus nipalensis wheeling above Ngee Ann City at Orchard Road on 11 Sep 2018 by Geoff Lim

Northern Singapore

A Forest Wagtail Dendroanthus indicus was seen on 2 Sep 2018 at Yishun St 11 by Oliver Tan, while Tay Kian Guan and Ramesh T spotted a Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida at Lorong Halus on 19 and 30 Sep 2018.

12, Whiskered Tern, Tay Kian Guan

Eastern Singapore

The September Ubin survey on 16 Sep 2018 yielded four species of owl – the Sunda Scops Owl Otus lempiji, the Barred Eagle Owl Bubo sumatranus, the Buffy Fish Owl Ketupa ketupu, and the Spotted Wood Owl Strix seloputo.

An Amur Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone incei was also spotted on Pulau Ubin on 16 Sep 2018 by Feroz and Francis Kayano Chia. Farther east, Frankie Cheong spotted a Greater Sand Plover Charadrius leschenaultii and Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus on Pulau Tekong on 17 Sep 2018, while a Chinese Sparrowhawk Accipiter soloensis was spotted at Tampines on 19 Sep 2018 by Lawrence Cher, representing a first for the season.

Southern Singapore

Migratory species seen in southern Singapore include the previously mentioned Yellow-rumped Flycatcher spotted by Tay Kian Guan at Kent Ridge Park on 12 Sep 2018.  Also seen were a Tiger Shrike Lanius tigrinus at Hort Park on 13 Sep 2018, by Art Toh, and a juvenile Dark-sided Flycatcher Muscicapa sibirica was seen at Telok Blangah on 26 Sep 2018 by Art Toh.

13, DSFC, Art Toh, crop

A Dark-sided Flycatcher seen at Telok Blangah on 26 Sep 2018 by Art Toh. The streaked breast is a distinctive feature of the juvenile this species.

A resident Large-tailed Nightjar Caprimulgus macrurus was reported to be nesting at Wessex Estate on 2 Sep 2018 by Isabellle Desjeux and two eggs were observed, while a Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis  was seen at Kent Ridge Park on 12 Sep 2018 by Tay Kian Guan.

Western Singapore

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (SBWR) yielded an Eastern-crowned Warbler Phylloscopus coronatus on 1 Sep 2018 by Russell Boyman, a first-for-the-season Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia on 2 Sep 2018 by Martin Kennewell, Great Egrets Egretta alba – one sighted on 3 Sep 2018 by Martin Kennewell, and four on 4 Sep 2018 by Veronica Foo, Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis on 15,  17 and 30 Sep 2018 (Pary Sivaraman, Deborah Friets & Martin Kennewell, respectively), and the uncommon Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea on 17 Sep 2018 (Deborah Friets). A Crow-billed Drongo Dicrurus annectans was subsequently seen on 19 Sep 2018 by Lim Hong Yao.

The only note-worthy resident at SBWR was a juvenile Plaintive Cuckoo Cacomantis merulinus, fed by its host, an Ashy Tailorbird Orthotomus ruficeps, on 18 Sep 2018, spotted by John Marriott.

The area bound by Kranji Marshes, Neo Tiew and Lim Chu Kang also yielded a substantial number of sightings. Kranji Dam yielded a Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida on 9 Sep 2018 (Martin Kennewell), while Kranji  Marshes yielded a Watercock Gallicrex cinerea on 2 Sep 2018 (Martin Kennewell), 38-50 Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia in the adjacent field on 8 Sep 2018 (Veronica Foo), a Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone affinis on 23 Sep 2018 (Geoff Lim & Kozi Ichiyama) and Pallas’ Grasshopper Warbler Locustella certhiola on 22 , 23, 25 and 28 Sep 2018 by Fadzrun A. (2 birds), Geoff Lim (1 bird), Martin Kennewell, and Geoff Lim & Kozi Ichiyama (1 bird), respectively.

Kranji Sanctuary Golf Course supported species such as the Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis and Long-toed Stint Calidris subminuta, sighted on 15 Sep 2018 by Martin Kennewell, and nineteen Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius on 19 Sep 2018 by Lim Kim Keang & Veronica Foo. Lim Chu Kang Lane 3 yielded another Little Ringed Plover on 2 Sep 2018 (Kozi Ichiyama and Geoff Lim), Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus on 12 Sep 2018 (Luke Milo Teo), Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea on 15 Sep 2018 (Martin Kennewell) and Greater Painted Snipe Rostratula benghalensis on 26 Sep 2018 (Dillen Ng).  

14, Little Ringed Plover

A Little Ringed Plover photographed at Lim Chu Kang Lane 3 on 2 Sep 2018 by Geoff Lim.

Other species seen in the west include a Cinnamon Bittern Ixobrychus cinnamomeus taken by a Grey-headed Fish-eagle Haliaeetus ichthyaetus at Pandan Canal on 13 Sep 2018 (Chan Yoke Meng & Melinda Chan); and on 15 Sep 2018, two House Swift Apus nipalensis at West Coast Drive (Tay Kian Guan) and a Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis at Chinese Garden (Dani M Queddeng).

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Pelagic Trips along Straits of Singapore

Lim Kim Keang, Alan OwYong and participants of the NSS pelagic trip along the multi-national straits between Singapore and Batam on 22 Sep 2018 hit the peak of the migration of the Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel Oceanodroma monorhis with 532 birds counted; they also spotted eight Aleutian Tern Onychoprion aleuticus, 136 Bridled Tern Onychoprion anaethetus, 18 Greater Crested Tern Thalasseus bergii, 25 Lesser Crested Tern Thalasseus bengalensis, a juvenile Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida, a juvenile Lesser Frigatebird Fregata ariel, and a single Pacific Swift Apus pacificus. Another private pelagic trip on 30 Sep 2018 along the same Straits yielded a Common Tern Sterna hirundo (Tan Kok Hui et al). Note that these sightings might not be in Singapore waters.

15, Frigatebird 220918

Lesser Frigatebird at the Straits of Singapore on 22 Sep 2018. Photo by Mahesh Krishnan

Abbreviations:
BTNR: Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
CCNR: Central Catchment Nature Reserve
DFNP: Dairy Farm Nature Park
JEG: Jurong Eco-Garden
SBG: Singapore Botanic Gardens
SBWR: Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
TEG: Tampines Eco-Green

This report is compiled by Geoff Lim and Alan OwYong, edited by Tan Gim Cheong, based on selected postings in various facebook birding pages, bird forums, individual reports and extracts from ebird. This compilation is not a complete list of birds recorded for the month and not all the records were verified. We wish to thank all the contributors for their records. Many thanks to Lee Van Hien, Siew Mun, Zhang Licong, Terence Tan, Feroz, Martin Kennewell, Art Toh, Herman Phua, Tay Kian Guan, Mahesh Krishnan  and Geoff Lim for the use of their photos. 

References: 

Wells, D. R. (1999). The Birds of Thai-Malay Peninsula. Vol. 1. Non-passerines. London: Academic Press.

List of Bird Sightings in report

Family Species Date
Ardeidae

 

Cinnamon Bittern 13-Sep
Chinese Pond Heron 12-Sep
Great Egret 4-Sep
Great Egret 3-Sep
Intermediate Egret 1-Sep
Intermediate Egret 8-Sep
Chinese Egret 13-Sep
Anhingidae Oriental Darter 2-Sep
Oriental Darter 3-Sep
Accipitridae

 

 

Chinese Sparrowhawk 19-Sep
Japanese Sparrowhawk 22-Sep
Grey-headed Fish-eagle 15-Sep
Rallidae Watercock 2-Sep
Charadriidae Little Ringed Plover 2-Sep
Little Ringed Plover 19-Sep
Greater Sand Plover 17-Sep
Rostratulidae Greater Painted Snipe 26-Sep
Scolopacidae

 

 

 

 

 

Marsh Sandpiper 15-Sep
Marsh Sandpiper 17-Sep
Marsh Sandpiper 30-Sep
Terek Sandpiper 17-Sep
Long-toed Stint 15-Sep
Curlew Sandpiper 17-Sep
Laridae

 

Whiskered Tern 9-Sep
Whiskered Tern 19-Sep
Whiskered Tern 30-Sep
Columbidae Thick-billed Pigeon 17-Sep
Cuculidae

 

Greater Coucal 12-Sep
Plantive Cuckoo 18-Sep
Strigidae

 

 

 

Sunda Scops Owl 16-Sep
Barred Eagle Owl 16-Sep
Buffy Fish Owl 16-Sep
Spotted Wood Owl 16-Sep
Brown Hawk Owl 30-Sep
Caprimulgidae Large-tailed Nightjar 2-Sep
Apodidae

 

 

 

 

Pacific Swift 9-Sep
Pacific Swift 13-Sep
House Swift 11-Sep
House Swift 15-Sep
Alcedinidae Common Kingfisher 15-Sep
Pittidae Blue-winged Pitta 20-Sep
Laniidae

 

 

Tiger Shrike 3-Sep
Tiger Shrike 9-Sep
Tiger Shrike 13-Sep
Dicruridae Crow-billed Drongo 19-Sep
Monarchidae

 

Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher 23-Sep
Amur Paradise Flycatcher 16-Sep
Pycnonotidae Cream-vented Bulbul 30-Sep
Phylloscopidae

 

 

Arctic Warbler 10-Sep
Eastern Crowned Warbler 1-Sep
Eastern Crowned Warbler 12-Sep
Locustellidae Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler 22-Sep
Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler 23-Sep
Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler 25-Sep
Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler 28-Sep
Timaliidae Chestnut-winged Babbler 29-Sep
Irenidae Asian Fairy Bluebird 30-Sep
Sturnidae Daurian Starling 15-Sep
Muscicapidae

 

Dark-sided Flycatcher 11-Sep
Dark-sided Flycatcher 25-Sep
Dark-sided Flycatcher 26-Sep
Asian Brown Flycatcher 7-Sep
Brown-streaked Flycatcher 7-Sep
Brown-streaked Flycatcher 14-Sep
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher 2-Sep
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher 4-Sep
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher 10-Sep
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher 12-Sep
Estrildidae Java Sparrow 29-Sep
Motacillidae Forest Wagtail 2-Sep
Eastern Yellow Wagtail 15-Sep
Grey Wagtail 15-Sep

 

Pelagic Birding in the Straits of Singapore.

Pelagic birding in the Singapore Straits. 18 Sept 2016. Text and Photos by Dirk Tomsa. 

singapore-shoreline-gf

Cruising eastwards at the start of out Pelagic with the Singapore skyline in the distance. Photo: Gerard Francis.

On 18 September 2016, the Bird Group of the Nature Society Singapore organized its first pelagic birdwatching trip for its members. There were ten of us including the leaders Alfred Chia and Lim Kim Keang. We left Sentosa Marina just before 6 am and set course for the Singapore Straits. I had done a few pelagics in Australia before and always loved them, so I was full of anticipation when we finally cleared immigration – yes, passport clearence out at sea, a first for me – and headed out to more open water. Compared to my previous experiences in the cold waters of the Southern ocean, this tropical pelagic promised very different birds. Terns, not albatrosses or prions, would be most prominent, with up to eight different species possible including the beautiful Aleutian Tern which migrates through Singaporean waters around this time of the year. Furthermore, we were hoping to see Swinhoe’s Storm-Petrel, another migratory species that routinely passes through the Singapore Straits in September. For me personally, these two were the main targets as both would be lifers for me. And, as it turned out, I would not be disappointed.   

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Terns like this Greater Crested Terns will be the most prominent pelagic species encountered.

In fact, it didn’t take long at all until we saw the first storm-petrels. Navigating the waves low above the surface, several small groups of Swinhoe’s whizzed past the boat, but unfortunately none of them came really close so that it was difficult to clearly see the subtle markings on these essentially brown birds. Eventually, my binoculars captured a bird close enough to the boat to enable me making out the slightly paler, crescent-shaped wing bar. Most birds, however, kept their distance and so I felt kind of reassured that Swinhoe’s was actually the only ‘stormie’ likely to be encountered here. Identifying different species at this long range would be a huge challenge. In the end, Alfred and Kim Keang confirmed that all storm-petrels seen that day were Swinhoe’s and that the total number of birds migrating through the straits that morning must have been around 300-350. Good numbers indeed, and a valuable tick for my list.

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At this time of the year, the Straits of Singapore is one of the best places to see these Swinhoe’s Storm Petrels as they migrate through the Straits. More than 320 were counted this morning. Photo: Gerard Francis.

The storm-petrels were most abundant early in the morning. As the clock approached 9 am, the little brown birds became scarcer and we turned our attention to terns. Apparently a solitary Little Tern bid farewell to our boat as we left Sentosa but I had missed it, watching the distant silhouette of a Brahminy Kite instead.

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Close up view of two Great Crested Terns in non-breeding plumage at the yellow buoy.

But now out at sea, more and more terns appeared near the boat. As expected, the most numerous were the fairly common Greater Crested Terns. More than twenty of this large tern species flew past throughout the trip and we were treated to some close-up views early on when a group of six perched on a buoy. We circled the buoy a couple of times so that everyone could get a good look. For the majority on board, this was their first pelagic birdwatching trip, so seeing these large terns so close was a great experience for all.

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The Lesser Crested Tern on the left and the Greater side by side for comparison. The bright orange bill of the Lesser is a good feature to tell them apart.

Getting such good views of the very similar Lesser Crested Tern took a lot longer. In fact, we had to wait until we passed the same buoy again on the way back. This time the six Greater Crested Terns shared the tight space with two Lesser Crested Terns, thereby providing an excellent opportunity to compare these two species at close range. Despite the names, the difference in size is actually not that big, but the brightly coloured bills – orange in the Lesser, yellow in the Greater – made it easy for everyone on board to tell the birds apart.

In between our two encounters with the Crested Terns, there was a prolonged period where there were no birds at all. During this intermezzo, my thoughts drifted and I struggled to stay awake as my body reminded me that I had gotten up at 4.30 am. I staved off the temptation to just close my eyes by chatting with other participants, eating some snacks or looking at the field guides Alfred and Kim Keang had kindly provided. And then, just when I was about to doze off, another bird appeared seemingly out of nowhere.

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Bridled Tern with its distinctive dark upper wings and eyebrow. An uncommon winter visitor.  

A Bridled Tern emerged near the boat and was gone within seconds, but then another one appeared. And another. With their dark upper-wings and distinct eyebrow, these are among my favourite terns. We would see several others later on, but most of them remained distant specs on the horizon and unfortunately not everybody on board saw them.  

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Fantastic views of the Aleutian Tern resting on a flotsam,  a well known habitat for this tern. We counted eight of these wonderful terns during the trip.

The Bridled Terns had barely disappeared out of sight when someone from the front of the boat shouted ‘bird on water’. That sounded promising for Aleutian Tern because this species is well-known for its habit to rest on flotsam. And sure enough, an Aleutian Tern it was. Undisturbed by our approaching boat the bird perched calmly on a piece of driftwood, allowing fantastic views and great photo opportunities. Soon we saw a second bird perched a bit further away. All in all, we counted eight of these wonderful terns.

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An uncommon Common Tern was our last and sixth tern species for the day.

Yet, not every tern on the water was an Aleutian Tern. Thanks to the sharp eyes of our ever-watchful guides, one of the flotsam squatters was identified as a Common Tern, a species which despite its name is actually fairly uncommon in Singapore waters. This was the sixth and last tern species to go onto our list for the day. The other two possibilities, Black-naped and White-winged Tern, did not grace us with an appearance this time, but that was only a minor blemish on an otherwise thoroughly rewarding trip.   

A big thank you to Alfred and the Bird Group for organising this trip, both Alfred and Kim Keang for the guiding and Gerard Francis for the use of his photos.

        

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.

Pelagic Survey on the Singapore Strait – 17 May 2015

Contributed by Alfred Chia.  The last pelagic bird survey trip for 2015 organised by the Bird Group was by itself a very special one. The Nature Society and the Bird Group was privileged and honoured to have Mr Tan Chuan Jin (Minister for Social & Family Development) and Mr Desmond Lee (Minister of State for National Development) graced the trip by their presence.

After a quick introduction by me to our guests on why we are conducting these surveys, bird migrations and what we might expect to see on the trip, we departed from the jetty at One Degree 15 Marina Club at 6.30am for our usual immigration clearance at the waters off Sisters’ Islands. After a quick clearance, we set sail.

By now, the sun was trying it’s best to peek out from below the horizon. The kaleidoscope of lighting and colours that was unfolding itself needed no prompting as many scrambled for their cameras. Soon, everyone was busy snapping away at the awe and colours that Nature was presenting itself before us.

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As it was mid-May, we were expecting a good haul of sea-birds since past survey records indicated as such. It was however not meant to be. Birds were few and far between and we went through long stretches without encountering any, except for the occasional few swiftlets. Even the ubiquitous crested terns, encountered in good numbers in earlier trips in late April and early May, made a disappearing act on us.

Soon, the first Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel came into view, and then the second, and third. But they were quite a distance away and flying against the direction that they should be taking on their northward migration! Disorientated perhaps? A couple of Black-naped Terns made their appearance too.

Then at 7.50am, someone pointed to a largish black bird that was flying low over the water. This was even farther than the petrels! What made it worse was that it was flying away from us and although large, appeared only as a speck when viewed through the binoculars. The ever reliable Tiah Khee was quick to manage a distance shot of the bird. After processing the picture, it was confirmed, with its long wings and a deeply forked tail, to be a frigatebird of some sort. The picture below will thus remain the only evidence of the frigatebird which we will not be able to identify to species status.

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Plodding on further, we reached our landmark “yellow buoy”. To exemplified how bad it was a day, the buoy only harboured a single Lesser Crested Tern. Other birds seen included seven Bridled Terns.

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En-route, our hungry crew finished every morsel of the fragrant and delicious fried chicken wings that MOS Desmond had so kindly brought along to share with us. He let in that his wife had specially woken up at 4am to cook it! Thank you very much Desmond and Mrs Lee!

On our way back, we took a somewhat different route by coasting closer to mainland Singapore. This afforded a better view of our coastline, buildings and structures. Our trip was extended to take in the Southern Islands. We sailed pass Pulau Bukom, Pulau Jong, Pulau Semakau, Pulau Hantu, Pulau Salu, Pulau Sudong, Pulau Pawai, Pulau Senang and Raffles Lighthouse before making our way back to the mainland.

Here, we saw Little Terns, a colony of about 10 nesting Grey Herons near Bukom, a light-morph Changeable Hawk Eagle being harassed by 2 House Crows at Pulau Jong, Brahminy Kites at Hantu and Semakau and 4 white-phase Pacific Reef Egrets as well as a dark-phase bird.

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Pulau Jong

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After an exhausting 10-hour trip, we finally returned to One Degree 15 Marina Club – spent and sticky but satisfied nevertheless.

The Nature Society and the Bird Group would like to once again thank both ministers for joining us in the pelagic bird survey. You have made the trip more enjoyable and lively with your cheerful banter, sharings and interest.

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List of birds seen
Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel: 12
Black-naped Tern: 3
Bridled Tern: 7
Lesser Crested Tern: 10
Little Tern: 6 (2 Bukom, 2 Pawai, 2 Raffles Lighthouse)
UnIDed frigatebird: 1
UnIDed swiftlets: 32
Changeable Hawk Eagle: 1 (Pulau Jong)
Pink-necked Green Pigeon: 4 (Pulau Jong)
Grey Heron: 10 (at nest near Bukom)
Pacific Reef Egret: 12 (10 white & 2 dark morph)
Brahminy Kite: 6
White-bellied Sea Eagle: 1 immature

Author: Alfred Chia on behalf of Nature Society (Singapore) and the Bird Group

Pelagic Survey on the Singapore Strait – 3 May 2015

The NSS Bird Group went on another pelagic survey in the early morning of 3 May 2015. Our route was almost the same as in previous survey, along the Singapore Strait.

We were anticipated a good haul of birds as previous year’s count at this same period usually yielded good number of migrants passing through the strait on the way to their breeding ground. Unfortunately the day started rather gloomily with overcast sky.

Lesser Crested Tern
(The first birds of the day were a flock of Lesser Crested Terns travelling south-east. The sky was still dark)

We encountered a flock of Lesser Crested Terns around 7am, followed by a Bridled Tern soon after. At around 7:20am, a few of us who were looking at the sea saw a pod of 6 Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins, south of St John’s Island. This was not the first time we have seen dolphins, but it is always a pleasure to encounter them. We had good views for about 8 minutes after which we sailed on to the first yellow buoy.

Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin
(It was hard to photograph the dolphins as the long lens for birds limited the field of view. However we did get a picture of a surfacing dolphin)

Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin
(There were 6 dolphins altogether, but we only managed to get a picture of 5 in a frame)

At the first yellow buoy, we saw 11 Lesser Crested Terns together with 3 Little Terns.

Yellow Buoy
(The Little Tern is the leftmost bird, and is smaller than the bigger-sized Lesser Crested Terns)

Yellow Buoy
(A close-up of the group of terns, permitting better size comparison)

Not much happened until we saw the second yellow buoy. Again another flock of Lesser Crested Terns were resting.

Yellow Buoy
(The second yellow buoy with resting Lesser-crested Terns)

It was relatively uneventful until we reached near Pengerang where the Leisure World casino ship normally does a slow cruise in international waters. There we saw our first 5 Swinhoe’s Strom Petrels. They were far away this time and we did not manage to catch up. By this stage last year, we already were counting triple figure of this bird species, so it was very disappointing count wise. We headed back soon after and there were a few birds here and there. We headed back to the second yellow buoy to see whether any jaegers were around, kleptoparasitizing the terns. No luck either!

Finally after that buoy we saw a pair of Swinhoe’s Storm Petrels. A bit far, but at least we had a picture of one.

Swinhoe's Storm Petrel
(Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel, flying just above water)

At the first yellow buoy, we again encountered the same terns. They scattered as we neared, permitting us to practice some tern flight shots.

Lesser Crested Tern
(Non-breeding plumage Lesser Crested Tern)

Lesser Crested Tern
(Breeding plumage Lesser Crested Tern)

The last birds we saw was a pair of Black-naped Terns following a big ship. A pretty boring and rather uneventful trip except for the dolphins encounter. But perhaps helpful for us to chart the migratory patterns of the various seabird species.

Black-naped Tern
(A Black-naped Tern dwarfed by the size of the ship)

Our final count include:
Lesser Crested Tern (62)
Greater Crested Tern (1)
Black-naped Tern (2)
Bridled Tern (7)
Little Tern (3)
Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel (7)
Grey Heron (1)
Swiftlets spp (12)
Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins (6)

pelagicmap
(Our route)

pelagicteam
(Our team L-R: Lawrence, Alfred, Yik Shih, Samantha, Kim Keang, Ju Lin, Francis)

Photo Gallery

Pelagic Survey on the Singapore Strait – 26 April 2015

The NSS Bird Group went on another pelagic survey in the early morning of 26 April 2015. Our route was almost the same as in previous survey, along the Singapore Strait.

Quite a number of birds and bird species showed up compared to the previous trip.

Swinhoe's Storm Petrel
(Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel skimming just above the sea)

The first significant sighting was a lone Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel which showed up early crossing the strait from west to east, just after 7am.

Next we reached the familiar yellow buoy. This time around we saw around 30 resting Lesser Crested Terns, some in breeding plumage.

Yellow Buoy
(The yellow buoy with Lesser Crested Tern)

Lesser Crested Tern
(Lesser Crested Terns – closer view)

We saw our first Aleutian Tern around 8:30am flying from west to east, not far after the yellow buoy. This was the first of three Aleutian Terns seen in this trip.

Aleutian Tern
(Adult Aleutian Tern in breeding plumage)

Things quietened down substantially and it was not until 9:50am that we saw another bird, this time a Greater Crested Tern (Swift Tern)

Greater Crested Tern
(Greater Crested Tern – notice the yellow bill compared to the Lesser)

It took another hour before the next highlight of the trip. A flock of 36 White-winged Terns were feeding next to anchored ships, among them a few breeding plumaged birds with black heads and underparts were seen. There was a flurry of activity and we managed to see them picking up jellyfish on more than one occasion (see Gallery at the end of the article). We also noticed another Aleutian Tern flying by around the same area.

White-winged Tern
(A breeding plumaged White-winged Tern)

Our most exciting moment however happened when a tiny speck of a far away bird was spotted by Colin Poole. Even from a great distance, it appeared big. So the boat gave chase and as it drew closer we recognised it as a frigatebird. It turns out to be a juvenile frigatebird that is either a Christmas Island Frigatebbird or a Lesser Frigatebird. As the juvenile plumage is hard to identify conclusively, we will hand over the finding to the Records Committee to deliberate. (See Update at the bottom of the article)

Frigatebird
(A juvenile Frigatebird appearing closer after a long chase)

After the excitement, the return journey was relatively quiet. Activity picked up after we saw another Aleutian Tern at around 1:40pm followed quickly by a Bridled Tern and another rarity, an adult Parasitic Jaeger (Arctic Skua) trailed by a Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel and lastly, another Bridled Tern. They were all travelling from west to east.

Parasitic Jaeger
(A distant Parasitic Jaeger montage)

All in all it was a fruitful trip. Our final count include:
White-winged Tern (36)
Lesser Crested Tern (35)
Greater Crested Tern (1)
Aleutian Tern (3)
Bridled Tern (2)
Little Tern (2)
Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel (2)
Frigatebird spp (1)
Parasitic Jaeger (1)
Grey Heron (3)
Swiftlets spp (10)

group photo
(Group photo L-R Jane Rogers, See Toh Yew Wai, Alan OwYong, Lim Kim Keang, Albert Low, Colin Poole, Francis Yap, Yong Yik Shih, Lawrence Cher. Not shown: Con Foley the photographer)

Photo Gallery

Update from David James, an expert on frigatebirds (1 May 2015)
Your initial diagnosis is correct, Lesser Frigatebird.
Firstly, the proportions are wrong for CI Frigatebird, the bill, neck and tail are not long enough and the base of the wing is does not broaden obviously close to the body.
The belly patch is too small, with black already reaching the base of the legs. It shows what I described in my 2014 article as a triangular belly patch with the the front corners stretched out as axillary spurs. That description can be problematic as the ‘triangle’ shape appears to vary depending on the viewing angle. In Francis’s FY7D382 it looks nothing like a triangle, but in Con’s shot with the bird preening ‘triangle’ is a good description. The belly of frigatebirds is a complex 3 dimensional surface, not usually noticed in other birds. The spurs are also a bit too short and narrow for a juvenile CIF.

Pelagic Survey on the Singapore Strait – 12 April 2015

The NSS Bird Group’s first pelagic trip for the year was conducted last Sunday, 12 April 2015. As usual, we went around the Singapore Strait, touching international waters and passing through both Indonesia (Batam) and Malaysia (Pengerang)

We started our journey at 6am before first light from Sentosa and headed to clear immigration off Sisters’ Islands. After some delays, we boated southwards towards the direction of Batam.

Our first bird for the day was a passing Grey Heron. It too was heading towards Batam for the weekend, perhaps?

Grey Heron
(A Grey Heron seen at 7:10am flying low towards Batam)

Thereafter we met our first feeding flock of Black-naped Terns and Little Terns. The exciting event of the day was the documentation of the Black-naped Tern feeding on flying fish.

Black-naped Tern
(Black-naped Tern flying off with a freshly caught flying fish)

Black-naped Tern
(Another view of the Black-naped Tern flying off with a freshly caught flying fish)

The rest of the journey went smoothly save for some choppy waters. There was another fishing flock that consists mainly of Lesser Crested Terns and one Bridled Tern. In total, we saw 5 different species of terns, which was to be expected.

Mixed Terns
(A Bridled Tern in the middle surrounded by Lesser Crested Terns hunting for fish.)

Little Tern
(A pair of breeding plumage Little Terns on a buoy. Buoys are great places to find resting birds)

Lesser-crested Tern
(A pair of Lesser Crested Terns at another buoy. The bottom bird is in full breeding plumage)

pelagicmap-20150412
(Our route tracked and mapped using GPS)

Below are the list of birds seen and their numbers:
Swift (Greater Crested) Terns (12)
Lesser Crested Terns (34)
Little Terns (14)
Black-naped Terns (10)
Bridled Terns (1)
Swiftlets spp. (22)
Grey Heron (2)
Barn Swallow (1)

The migratory return of the Swinhoe’s Storm Petrels and Short-tailed Shearwaters will commence a few weeks from now, and we expect the next pelagic trip to be more bird rich. All in all it was a good start for the year and we got to brush up our bird identification skills.

Pelagic Survey on the Singapore Strait – 19 October 2014

Five members of the Bird Group woke up early in the morning to set off to another pelagic survey. It was a hazy morning and as noon came it turned out to be extremely hot as well.

pelagic map 19 October 2014

Birds were spotted very soon after we cleared immigration at Sisters’ Islands. The Crested Terns came out in good numbers at the beginning of the trip. The total count for the Lesser Crested Terns was 25 and the Greater Crested Terns at 11. The other seabirds joined in soon after and we ended up with the following:

1. Lesser Crested Terns – 25
2. Greater Crested (Swift) Terns – 11
3. Aleutian Terns – 12
4. Bridled Terns – 27
5. White-winged Tern – 2
6. Unid (it means cannot be determined) Terns – 16
7. Swinhoe’s Storm Petrels – 12
8. Parasitic Jaeger – 1
9. Unid Jaegers – 2

We also saw 3 Japanese Sparrowhawks above us heading south on their migration path towards Indonesia. A Great Egret on the other hand was headed towards Singapore from Indonesia. The survey started at 6:00am and ended at 2:30pm.

Photo Gallery: