The Thing with Starlings.
We have twelve species of starlings in our Checklist. Six are in Cat A, one in Cat C, five in Cat E.
Cat A-Species recorded in a wild state during last 50 years.
Only the Asian Glossy Starling is a resident, the rest are either winter visitors, passage migrants or vagrants.
Cat C-Introduced species that may or may not be self sustaining.
Black-winged Starling. A small breeding population on St. John’s Island in the 1980s but had died out after 1995. There was a record from Queenstown (Chris Hails).
Cat E-Species that are suspected of being released or escapees.
Let’s take a look at some recent starling sightings and how they were treated.
- Red-billed Starling (Vagrant)
First recorded on 25 December 1993 at Lorong Halus. Listed in Cat D- Species which may be wild but possibility of escape and release cannot be ruled out. It was moved to Cat A in 2017 after a sighting at Gardens by the Bay on 30 November 2013 and another at Tampines Eco Green on 27 Dec 2015.
Third record of the Red-billed Starling at Tampines Eco Green by Seng Alvin.
- Chestnut-cheeked Starling ( Vagrant)
The Bidadari Chestnut-cheeked Starling in 2014 by Zahidi Hamid..
First record at Loyang on December 1987. Accepted and listed in Cat A as their main wintering range is in the Philippines and a second bird was recorded in Selangor, Peninsular Malaysia eight weeks later. Our second record was at Bidadari on October 2014 followed by two sightings last year. One over at Pandan Canal on 1 November 2019 and the other at Henderson Wave on 16 November 2019. Both were photographed flying in a flock.
3. Rosy Starling ( Vagrant )
The pristine adult Rosy Starling at Gardens by the Bay on September 2016.
Several records during the winter months at Tuas grasslands and Changi Beach were convincing enough for it to be listed under Cat A. However the pristine adult that appeared at the Gardens by the Bay on September 2016 was more likely to be an escapee due to the early date and tame behaviour.
Frankie Cheong’s photo of the Brahminy Starling taken at Bidadari in 2013.
- Brahminy Starling. ( Escapee/released)
The first two sighting at the grasslands at Marine East on February and October 2008 was assigned to Cat E for suspected escapee and released birds. In the past seven years we had three more sightings, Bidadari on 3 December 2013, GBTB on 13 September 2016 and Punggol Barat on 8 February 2016. No records were submitted for these sightings presumably of its popularity as cage bird due to its bright colorful plumage. So this species remained in Cat E. A good candidate for re-evaluation.
Brahminy Starling photographed at Punggol Barat by Francis Yap in 2016.
A pristine Brahminy Starling shot at the Gardens by the Bay on 10 September 2016 by Terry Heppell. It was reported to be tame and very approachable.
- Asian Pied Starling ( Escapee/released)
Small numbers seen at Choa Chu Kang, Saribum and Kranji Reservoir since 1982. A pair nested at the NSRCC Kranji Sanctuary Golf Course but no chicks were seen. An individual was photographed at Harvest Link this month.
This Asian Pied Starling made an appearance at Harvest Link. Photographed by Pary Sivaraman on 8 January 2020.
- White-cheeked Starling ( Status to be determined)
One was sighted at Seletar Aerospace Drive on 16 January 2020 for the first time ( Martin Kennewell). The wintering range for this starling is Southern China and had been recorded in Myanmar, Northern Thailand and Philippines as vagrants. There were no records in Malaysia. Their range do not favour the vagrancy of this starling here due to the vast geographic gap, but Dave Bakewell pointed out that this starling is a mid and long range migrant, navigation routes, population size of the species should be taken into consideration as well.
White-cheeked Starling at Seletar Aerospace Drive by Alan OwYong. Status pending.
The plumage of this individual did not show signs of recent captivity. Captive birds do show signs of feather wear and tear or presence of bird lime but birds that have escaped or released can moult to a new set of feathers if it survived in the wild for a time.
This individual was reported to be wary of people and skittish, a sign of a wild bird?
The Records Committee will have to decide on the status of this starling if and when they received the submission. Rightly or wrongly the decision will be made by a committee. Comments and insights from our regional friends will be considered. The status of birds do change over time and the Records Committee will need to re-evaluate them from time to time. Timely submissions will help with the evaluation.
Tou Jing Yi of Ipoh sums it up best “ Starling is super headache when it comes to national records”.
Many thanks to Alvin Seng, Zahidi Hamid, Francis Yap, Terry Heppell, Frankie Cheong, Pary Sivaraman and Alan OwYong for the use of their photographs
Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore. 2009 Nature Society (Singapore)
Craig Robson. A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia
Boonsong Lekaul & Philip D. Round. A Guide to the Birds of Thailand.
Asia’s shorebirds in decline.
Common Redshanks roosting in the mangroves at Sungei Buloh during high tides. Fortunately their yearly numbers are still good.
Many of Asia’s migratory shorebirds are in decline. This is especially so for species migrating along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, a major migratory corridor that includes Singapore. In the past decade, conservationists have identified the loss of coastal wetland habitats, especially in eastern Asia as among the key reasons driving the decline of migratory shorebirds. Illegal and unsustainable hunting across many parts of the region is also a major threat to migratory species.
The Nature Society (Singapore), in a recent interview on Channel News Asia’s “Singapore Today”, highlighted the decline of migratory shorebirds in Singapore, and more broadly in the region, based on the data collected from our bird censuses. Many viewers were alarmed by the absolute low numbers displayed for the Pacific Golden Plovers, Lesser Sand Plovers and Whimbrels.
The first Annual Bird Census was conducted by the Nature Society in March 1986 and had been faithfully carried out every March since. These single day counts from sites surveyed across Singapore provided us with 33 years of continuous data to determine the population trends of the country’s bird fauna.
Every year about 200 Whimbrels winter over at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
Together with the data from the Annual Waterbird Census, which started in 1990, the declining numbers of shorebirds such as the Pacific Golden Plovers, Marsh Sandpipers, Lesser Sand Plovers and Curlew Sandpipers are very clear to field observers. The loss of Serangoon Estuary and Senoko Wetlands is thought to have contributed to the decline of many shorebirds in Singapore. The Common Redshank has suffered less, and there are still good numbers annually, fortunately.
Some Pacific Golden Plovers choose to roost inland or even on the fish farms at the Straits of Johor instead of the dry ponds at Sungei Buloh.
Their numbers were in the thousands in the 1990s, but the counts were in their tens or low hundreds during recent surveys.
Figure 1. Abundance trends for Pacific Golden Plover (1997-2017) based on Annual Bird Census data.
Figure 2. Abundance trends for Marsh Sandpiper (1997-2017) based on Annual Bird Census data.
Figure 3. Abundance trends for Common Redshanks (1997-2017) based on Annual Bird Census data.
Rich coastal ecosytems like the Seletar mudflats must be conserved as they are irreplaceable.
So how can we stop or reverse these trends for our declining shorebirds? For a start we must continue work to conserve all our remaining wetlands like the rich coastal ecosystems at Mandai Mudflats, Seletar and Chek Java, which are highly irreplaceable. More importantly, we would need to continue with our long term monitoring work through bird censuses as tools to guide our ongoing and future conservation efforts.
Reference. NSS Bird Group Annual Bird Census 1995-2019.
Nest building by a pair of Chestnut-winged Babblers in Singapore.
By Alan OwYong
The Chestnut-winged Babbler Stachyris erythroptera is an uncommon breeding resident found in thick vegetation along the forest edges within the Central Catchment Forest in Singapore (Lim and Gardner 1997). It is the last surviving representative of its genus Stachyris in Singapore. The subspecies in Singapore is erythroptera (Gibson-Hill 1950). They are listed as nationally threatened due to their small, highly localised population. Breeding has previously been recorded at Nee Soon and Sime Road forests in 1987. More recently, courtship and nesting had been reported in 2007. Its global range includes Southern Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and the island of Borneo.
Laurence Eu’s photo of the Chestnut-winged Babbler building the first nest in the open.
- Finding the first nest:
On 13 May 2018, Laurence Eu came across a pair of Chestnut-winged Babblers flitting around the base of a clump of dry vegetation by the side of the track at the Sime Forest. He saw them going in and out with some twigs and leaves close to the ground. They were clearly building a nest.
The nest that Laurence first came across was among the tangled mass in the middle of the photo almost at ground level.
He went back the next morning but the babblers were not around. They seemed to have abandoned this nest, which was just a few metres off the track. I met up with him later. We then came across a pair of babblers moving around behind some thick foliage not too far from the old nest.
3. Finding the second nest:
Our guess was that they were the same pair and were building another nest. The Chestnut-winged Babblers were known to abandon nests and rebuild if they feel that a particular location is unsuitable. We were right. Both of them were bringing back dry rattan (Calamus sp) leaves to an untidy hanging clump of vines and dead leaves. It seems that they preferred longish leaves as the main nesting material. This time the nest was at mid storey but still close to (about 2 metres) the walking track.
Side view of early nest building in progress, wiggling to press their preferred longish leaves down.
An earlier Chestnut-winged Babbler’s nest I came across in the forests around Gunung Panti in Johor on 30 July 2017 was also built with broad leaves as well. There are also photos in the internet showing them bringing back bamboo leaves to build their nests.
Both parents were actively involved in nest building often competing with each other in bringing back the leaves.
4. Building the second nest:
Both birds were actively involved in the nest building, often bringing back the leaves at the same time. The nest was round, about 20 cm wide, made out of a cluster of dry leaves and twigs, attached to an intertwined mass of leaves and thin branches. The entrance is just a small hole by the front side of the nest.
The nest is a cluster of leaves and twigs intertwine among the dry mid storey hanging masses.
They must have just started nest building and did not appear bothered with our presence there. As the rattan plant was nearby, the pair were able to construct the nest quickly. After pushing a leaf in through the entrance hole, the bird would go inside the nest to place the leaf and line it up by wiggling its body before flying out again.
We were a little worried as the nest was very close to the track and associated human disturbance. We returned the next morning to check on their progress and hoped to see them using the nest. But alas it was not to be! Again they decided to abandon this nest as well. We checked to see if they were building another nest nearby but there was no sign of them. We did not hear any calls from them either for the rest of the morning. All the nesting records of this babbler that I have read online have the same ending of the nest being abandoned. The search goes on to find a stable nest to document and learn more of the nesting behaviour of these elusive forest babblers.
The nest inside the tangled mess near the top of the photo was only 2 meters away from the walking track.
Many thanks to Laurence for showing me the site and for the use of his photo and Albert Low for the editing.
Ref: Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore) 2009.
Lim Kim Seng. Vanishing Birds of Singapore. Nature Society ( Singapore) 1992.
Craig Robson. A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia. Asia Books Co. Ltd 2000.
Common Goldenback mating at Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve. By Rob Arnold.
Unfortunately I was travelling outside Singapore when the Indian Paradise Flycatcher was spotted and identified, and missed all the excitement. By the time I returned, most people had seen it, and visiting Sungei Buloh there were many fewer eyes looking for it; most people were seeking the Buffy Fish Owls. On my third unsuccessful morning wandering around the entry and car park, I noticed a pair of Common Goldenbacks in a tree at the far end of the car park. They were in a flowering tree and flew off as I approached.
The female Goldenback took up an erect position and waited for the male.
I worked my way back towards the entry, and heard a Plaintive Cuckoo loud and close. I tried to whistle it in, and amazingly it flew into a small tree and I was congratulating myself on my bird imitations. Must be rubbing off from spending time with Kim Chuah sifu. The bird flew off and I reviewed the pictures: something wrong here, it had a clear eye-ring and peachy buff up to the chin…a Rusty-Breasted. Oh well, good bird. Maybe not such good imitation.
The male was busy looking for grubs and did not seem to notice its mate waiting above.
I looked up and saw the female Goldenback climbing the big tree just opposite the Assembly Point. She got to a large branch and started prospecting along it. Then the male flew up to the same branch. Immediately she assumed an erect position on the top of the branch, which I suppose was at least anticipatory and at most invitational. He didn’t notice she had done this and went on prospecting – to be fair, he was underneath the branch and could not see her.
Once he noticed her erect position, the male moved along the look at her inquisitively.
As you can see, she maintained her erect position. Then he came to the top of the branch and noticed her, moved along and looked at her inquisitively, then hopped on. All this time she maintained the same position. Then he hopped off and she went off prospecting again. Seems clear from this that she instigated the mating – he did nothing and in fact did not notice until he was just along the branch from her, while she did not move from the time she assumed her position until they were done mating. Possibly of interest to others.
Success at last!
In the meantime, still looking for the Indian Paradise Flycatcher….
The Varied Prey for the Chestnut-bellied Malkoha Chick.
Compiled by Seng Alvin.
Seng Alvin’s photo showing the parent bringing back a grasshopper.
Between 1996 and 2005, the Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, Phaenicophaeus sumatranus, had not been recorded outside the Central Catchment Forest, Bukit Timah Nature Reserves or Nee Soon Swamp Forest, based on the Annual Bird Census findings. The highest number recorded for each year were six birds, the lowest one and the total of thirty birds for the ten years. These data confirmed that they were not common and were forest specific although they were seen foraging at forest edges at Mandai Lake Road, Bukit Batok Nature Park and Bukit Brown. It is listed as nationally near threatened (Lim 1992). Their population trend since 2001 was declining which was not surprising for a bird of this size.
The Praying Mantis is their favourite prey either because of its abundance at the park or an easy catch. Photos Top: Art Toh, Bottom Chen Boon Chong.
Chee Wei-lin’s full portrait of the parent with another Praying Mantis.
More Praying Mantis prey. Photos Top: Isabella Lee, Bottom: Geoff Lim.
The first sign of their spread outside of the central forests was the presence of a pair at the Western Catchment Forest on 28 October 2006. This may be due to strays from outside Singapore. They have also been recorded as far south as Kent Ridge Park on a few occasions. How much park connectors play in this movement has yet to be studied. Historically, dead specimens were collected from Kranji River, Jurong, Seletar, Sungei Sembawang and Ulu Pandan.
Fat and juicy caterpillars of the largest moth in the world, the Atlas Moth. Photos: Left Esther Ong, Top Right: Edwin Choy, Bottom Right: Calinda Yap.
The most visible nesting records in the past were from the old Mandai Orchid Gardens and along the Mandai Lake Road the early 2000s, followed by one outside the Bukit Timah NR Visitor Centre.
The recent nesting records at Jurong Eco Gardens were a good sign that they are adapting well to nature parks that are close to denser forests, in this case the Western Catchment Forest.
A Katydid prey identified by its long antennae. Photo by Tan Eng Boo.
Early this week, a pair of Chestnut-bellied Malkohas nested in the gardens again. We were concerned about the chances of success as the nest was next to a walking path. But they were able to adapt and brought up one chick successfully, overcoming a mass school running event a few days before fledging.
One of the smallest prey, a spider. Photo by Chen Boon Chong.
Seng Alvin saw the value of the many closed up images of the parents bringing back food for the chick for a study of their diet. From the many closed up photographs that he managed to compile, the Praying Mantis was their favourite prey, followed by the Atlas Moth caterpillars. It may be a case of the abundance of these two insects at the time. Other insects brought back included Katydid, a spider and large grasshoppers. All these are sizable prey and are rich in proteins, allowing the chick to fledge in the shortest time possible. We hope that such information will help park planning if we want to keep species like this near threatened Malkoha expands across to all our green spaces islandwide.
A large grasshopper like this will keep the chick full for a while.
We are grateful to Lena Chow for the identity of the insects and prey. Many thanks to Art Toh, Calinda Yap, Chee Wei-Lin, Chen Boon Chong, Edwin Choy, Esther Ong, Geoff Lim, Isabella Lee, Tan Eng Boo, Seng Alvin and Alan OwYong for the use of the photographs.
Reference: Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore. 2009. Nature Society (Singapore).
Lim Kim Chuah and Lim Kim Seng. State of Singapore’s Wild Birds and Bird Habitats. A Review of the Annual Bird Census 1996-2005. 2009 Nature Society (Singapore).
By Yew Yee Siang.
Over the weekend, I finally managed to visit the core conservation area of the Kranji Marshes with the Nature Society. The morning was spent in relative tranquility, away from the bustle and stress of the city (which can still be seen in the distance). As a complete birdwatching beginner with no prior knowledge, I am extremely thankful to the avid birdwatchers from the Nature Society who shared their wealth of knowledge with me, pointing out the different birds we saw and other relevant tidbits of information. Within the small area of the Kranji Marshes (56.8-hectares), we counted 39 species of birds (37 seen and 2 heard) and spotted the migratory black-capped kingfisher in action. 20 odd ducks flew in formation, with the beauty and grace comparable to modern aerial displays. It was delightful to know that Singapore still has such rich natural biodiversity, even playing host to many migratory species. The harmony of nature and her natural inhabitants at the Kranji Marshes really struck me hard. It makes one wonder about the implications we humans have on the natural environment (even more so in development driven Singapore) and how we can possibly reconcile. We have touched on in school some of the challenges of nature conservation in Singapore; with examples such as the marina south duck ponds. Whilst we can always strive to do better, I was heartened to see this little piece of land being set aside in the outskirts of Singapore (for how long we do not know) for the protection and conservation of marsh birds. I left the Kranji marshes reminded that in the concrete jungle we live in, the human spirit needs places where nature has not been (or at least relatively) rearranged by the hand of man. (Above article and Kranji Marsh photo were contributed by Yew Yee Siang, back row, in dark blue t-shirt)
Other photos taken during the morning walk are shown below:
Sighted : Black-Capped Kingfisher, a regular visitor to KM.
A flock of Lesser Whistling Ducks flying in the morning
Sighted: Snipe (centre) and Wood Sandpipers
Little Egret in flight.
A special thank you to Yew Yee Siang who wrote and contributed to the main article.
All bird photographs were well taken and contributed by Mahesh Krishnan (front row, centre).
32nd Annual Bird Census.
Compiled by Lim Kim Chuah.
This year only 73 Pacific Golden Plovers were counted ( 65 at Mandai and 8 at SBWR) compared to 522 last year. It is the lowest since 1990. See chart below. Is this a blip or signs of habitat deterioration? We hope that these bird censuses and counts will provide the answers.
The 32nd Annual Bird Census was held on on 5 March 2017. The weather was generally good and the count went well for the 23 sites surveyed. This is one site less than the 24 sites that were counted in 2016. Sites not counted this year included Lower Pierce Reservoir Park, Upper Seletar Reservoir Park, Ubin Central, Botanic Garden, Khatib Bongsu, Pasir Ris Park and Kranji Dam.
Bird-wise, we continue to see a disturbing trend in the reduction of number of birds counted. A total of 5682 birds was counted this year. This is a drop of 1056 birds (16%) compared to 2016 and 2888 birds (34%) below the past 28-year average count of 8471 birds. In terms of species counted, this year total of 138 is 4 species higher than 2016 but 11 species lower than the past 28-year average of 149 species. What could the reasons for this declining trend in both the number of birds and number of species counted? Possibilities included loss of habitats, declining population in migratory birds, etc. More work and data mining need to be done to ascertain the cause(s) of this decline.
And how did the counts go at the 23 sites that were surveyed?
Kranji Marsh turned out to be the site with the most number of species of birds counted (72 species) followed by Poyan (55 species) and Malcolm Park (48 species). Kranji Marsh again proved to be a very important site as it registered the highest number of birds counted (582 birds). This is closely followed behind by Sungei Mandai (560 birds) and Malcolm Park (361 birds). It’s interesting that Malcolm Park, an urban park located close to the city recorded such high density and diversity of birds.
And which are among the most numerous birds in Singapore? Well it’s hardly surprising that the title went to the ubiquitous Javan Myna, a bird that is ironically listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red list of threatened species. This is based on a rapidly declining population in its native wild range i.e. Java and Bali due to the cage bird trade.
The Javan Myna has consistently been counted among the top 4 birds (see chart). But the same cannot be said of its close cousin – the Common Myna whose fortune has continue to dip since the 90’s (see chart). Is it something to do with the rapid urbanization of Singapore? Or strong competition from the Javan Myna? Unfortunately, we do not have the answer.
Comparing the Top 10 birds in 2016 and 2017, the species are similar except for the conspicuous absence of the Pacific Golden Plover in this year’s Top 10. This species is usually recorded in good numbers during the ABC especially from Sungei Mandai. This year, only 73 birds were counted – the lowest since 1990. Sungei Mandai recorded only 65 birds and another 8 at Sungei Buloh. Hopefully this blip is only temporary and not a sign of habitat deterioration at Sungei Mandai. But the annual declining trend seems to suggest that habitat deterioration may be one of the reasons.
Top 10 Birds in 2017 & 2016
Counts of Pacific Golden Plover from 1990-2017:
Finally, a BIG THANK You to all participants some of whom has repeatedly helped with the census through the years. This year’s participants included Con Foley, Danny Lau, Andrew Chow, Wing Chong, Lee Ee Ling, Veronica Foo, LKS, Mick Price, Willie Foo, Alan OwYong, Keita Sin, Terry Heppell, Jane Roger, Kenneth Kee, Margie Hall, Wee Sau Cheng, Low Choon How, Tan Kok Hui, Rob & Kim Arnold, Koh Ai Kiak, Mithilesh Mishra, Jane Heppell, Ian Rickword, Nessie Khoo, Pang Hui En, Martin Kennewell + 9 NUS students, Liana Knight Spencer and George Kinman, Yeo Seng Beng, James Tan, John Ogiev, Richard Wong, Carmen Hui, Lim Li Fang, Eunice Kong, Yong Junzer, Milton Tan and Koh Ai Kiak.
The ABC was started in the 1980’s by the late Clive Briffett. What started as a fun activity to get more people interested in birds has generated a treasure trove of data through the years. We acknowledge that there are inaccuracies in the data collected e.g. skill level of counters, changes to sites, number of sites, routes changes etc. But if we are to look for trends in the data and focus on the big picture, then the data could prove interesting and useful as an indicator of the state of the health of the avifauna in Singapore. Hence it is pertinent that the Bird Group of the Nature Society (Singapore) continue to organize such counts and continue to monitor the trend. We look forward to the continued support of all members and participants.
Table: Summary of results from each site.
Kranji Marshes. Two conservation proposals in 1985 and 1990 resulted in adoption by NSS and later developed as a Kranji Marshes Park in 2005 by URA.
NSS’s Response to Internet Comments on the Projects of its Conservation Committee: (First published in NSS’s website on 10 September 2017)
A Review of the Facts
The views expressed below are endorsed by the following:
Dr. Shawn Lum (NSS President)
Dr. Geh Min (NSS Past President)
Dr. Ng Soon Chye (NSS Past President)
Mr Leong Kwok Peng (Chairman, NSS Conservation Committee)
Dr. Ho Hua Chew (Vice-Chairman, NSS Conservation Committee)
Nature Society (Singapore) [NSS] members have been disturbed by statements made in
certain blogs and websites that they feel are inaccurate or misrepresent the work of the
Society and in particular its Conservation Committee both in the Malayan Nature Society
(Singapore Branch) as well as in its emergence as the NSS after 1991. These comments aremade in articles posted in Bird Ecology Study Group (BESG) blogs, Raffles Museum of
Biodiversity Research (RMBR)’s DNA website and elsewhere. We feel it is important for the good name of NSS and the work we do that we attempt to clarify and correct some of these inaccuracies by giving our version of events. What follows below is our review of these inaccurate and misleading statements and our comments on them.
A) Campaign Against the Lower Peirce Golf Course Project (1992)
1) ‘The almost daily media confrontation was led by Dr Wee, who was then President of NSS when the Conservation Committee Chairman declined to take up the fight as the area was not rich in birdlife.” .” (DNA, undated)
2) “… I have requested the Chairman of the Conservation Committee Dr Ho Hua Chew to
take up the cause. He declined. As a diehard birdwatcher he was probably interested in areas where the birdlife was visually as well as audibly obvious — like Kranji Heronry, Sungei Buloh or Khatib Bongsu.” (BESG, 2017a)
3) “Nature Society’s Conservation Committee was similarly not involved in the late 1990s
when Lower Peirce forest was under threat of being cleared for a golf course. I was the
Founding President of the newly formed Nature Society (Singapore) then and I sent a
message to Dr Ho Hua Chew, Chairman of the Conservation Committee, to oppose the plan. He was not interested. So I took charge.” (BESG, 2017b)
1) Dr Ho, with Sutari as assistant, was co-ordinator for the bird surveys under the NSS Bird Group. This was acknowledged behind the cover page of NSS’s Proposed Golf Course at Lower Peirce Reservoir: an EIA report (1992). Together with Sutari, Dr. Ho invited Dr.
Wee, the then President of the Society, to visit the bird survey transacts, which he agreed to do. To claim that Dr. Ho could not care less because the Peirce Reservoir Forest is not “rich in birdlife” is false. If that is true, Dr. Ho would not have, together with Sutari, persuaded and brought the then President to visit and have a look at the field of battle at all.
2) The claim that Dr. Ho declined “to take up the cause” is incorrect. What happened was that he was asked by the then President to co-ordinate/collate the results of all the surveys done by the various groups. Dr. Ho thought and told the then President that he (the President) was the best person for the task as he was a botanist and plant life was the main-stay of the nature reserve. Also, he was close at the time to the various academic collaborators.
B) Signature Petition Against the Lower Peirce Golf Course Project (1992)
“There was also a spontaneous signature campaign … a campaign that was organized without the knowledge of the President” ( BESG, 2017a).
1) The signature campaign was organised with Dr. Wee’s knowledge and was not
“spontaneous”. In Wee and Hale, 2008, it is stated that: “A campaign was organized that
resulted in many thousands signing up, giving not only their names but their identity card numbers and occupations” to oppose the construction of the golf course … And further, in Wee & Hale 2008, it is added: “The almost daily confrontation in the media led to increasing public support against … the golf course”.
2) Dr. Wee himself had sent Dr. Ho a draft of the petition asking for his input. Dr. Ho
assisted to canvass for signatures in support of the petition. The signature collection was
impressive. NSS made extensive outreach to collect the signatures. It was not sent, as the
Government decided to shelve the building of the golf course.
C) NSS’s Conservation Proposals and their Aftermath
Here are a series of the internet postings on the Conservation Committee’s efforts at nature conservation:
1) “Flushed with success, the Conservation Committee of the society began a series of
campaigns to get government to protect the many areas listed in the Master Plan – as long as there was an abundance of birdlife. Filled with enthusiasm but lacking in behind-the-scene connections, the local leadership engaged in media confrontations when government failed to respond positively. Members were then new to conservation and more than a little naive, to say the least. Eventually every single non-gazetted area listed in the Master Plan ended up being developed.” (DNA, undated).
2) “Eventually, every one of the other conservation proposals in the society’s Master Plan
was rejected and till today, Sungei Buloh is the society’s first and only success in persuading the government to set aside any new area for nature conservation.” (Wee & Hale, 2008)
3) “This complements the Society’s earlier success, that of persuading government to set
aside an area for a bird sanctuary in Sungei Buloh. Until today these are the only two
successes the Society can be proud of “ (BESG, 2017a)
1) Only two of these nature areas proposed for conservation “ended up being developed”; these are: Marina South and Senoko. The claim that there are “only two successes the Society can be proud of “(citing Sungei Buloh and the campaign against the Lower Peirce golf course) is again incorrect.
2) Here are the facts pertaining to the proposals submitted to the relevant authorities and their aftermath, stated in brief. The readers can judge the facts for themselves:
a) Kranji Dam Mangrove (MNS, 1987a): A proposal for its conservation was put in a small section of the Sungei Buloh proposal, formulated by the NSS Bird Group and Conservation Committee. Thanks to Clive Briffett, who identified the area as important and formulated the detailed proposal after the Buloh proposal was submitted (MNS 1987b), it was designated a Nature Area in the inaugural Singapore Green Plan (SGP, 1993). And it was subsequently named the ‘Kranji Nature Trail Park’ and incorporated into the management of Sg Buloh Nature Park by National Parks (NParks). In 2015, it was officially integrated into Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, dropping its former name.
b) Kranji Marshes (MNS, 1985 & MNS, 1990a): The Kranji Marshes was included with
five other Singapore wetland sites in the IUCN’s Directory of Asian Wetlands, emphasizing its ecological importance as “a fairly rare type of habitat in Singapore and the Peninsular Malaysia” (Hails, 1989). An outline proposal for the conservation of the freshwater marshland at the Kranji Reservoir was submitted as early as 1985 to the relevant authorities. An expanded and updated proposal was submitted in 1990. After the tussles with the Mediacorp Transmission Project (1990) and the Kranji Sanctuary Golf Course (2002), the remaining intact marshes, mostly south of the BBC station, were designated “Kranji Marshes Park” in 2005 by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). NSS carried out an adoption programme here under the Public Utility Board’s (PUB) ABC Waters Programme from 1999 to 2014. After this, URA has, in consultation with NSS, made the Park more accessible to the public while also making it more attractive to the birdlife.
c) Senoko (MNS, 1990b): This bird sanctuary, a remnant mangrove area with aqua-culture ponds, was overwhelmed by the Sembawang HDB project. In response to its request to manage Senoko (NSS letter, 13 July 1992), NSS’s Conservation Committee received a reply from the Ministry of National Development (MND) stating that it had set aside 24 hectares of Senoko for conservation, but that the area boundary had not been finalised yet and they would revert back when it is done (MND letter, 6 October 1992). The Committee then requested a meeting to discuss the run of the boundary to include an important part of the habitat (NSS letter, 6 Nov 1992). The Committee was trying to do the best for the wildlife in the area, given that the authorities were not familiar with the habitat and its wildlife . In the meantime, the Committee managed to show NParks the area of concern in January 1993. While awaiting the MND’s reply, the then MND Acting Minister announced in Parliament that the Senoko bird sanctuary area will be developed for HDB upgraders.
d) Sentosa (MNS, 1990c): This report proposed Mount Serapong and Mount Imbiah for
conservation. These two areas were put into the Singapore Green Plan (1993) as Nature
Areas. This proposal has so far stayed the hand of Sentosa Development Corporation in its ,plans from eating into Mount Serapong and, to some extent, Mount Imbiah.
e) Marina South (MNS, 1991a): The NSS Conservation Committee’s effort to save the
marshy area with ponds for the wild ducks and other wetland bird species was overwhelmed by the government’s land-fill to prevent mosquito infestation. After the conservation proposal was rejected by the Ministry of Environment, the Committee requested that the marshland be filled up in slow stages to allow for the preparation of an adjacent, manicured pond in the Marina South Public Park for the wild ducks — as an alternative refuge (NSS letter, 20 May
1992). This was not acceded but, two decades later (2012), this park pond was enlarged and extended to form the Dragonfly Pond in the Gardens by the Bay.
f) Kent Ridge Environs (MNS, 1991b): This proposal covers the belukar forest of Kent
Ridge Campus. Still very much intact and put into the revised Singapore Green Plan as a
new Nature Area (URA 2003).
g) Pulau Ubin (NSS, 1992): Now a park under NParks management. This proposal was
based on an island-wide survey (1991) of the birdlife of Pulau Ubin by the NSS Bird Group when Ubin was a little-explored area in terms of biodiversity. The proposal was a pioneering conservation effort for Ubin. The Conservation Committee again re-emphasised its commitment to the future survival and viability of Ubin as a Nature Area in its Position Paper submitted in 2014 to NParks and MND. This report urged a Nature Reserve designation for Ubin, with one centralized management authority together with proposals for further protecting and enhancing its biodiversity assets. In 2016, NParks was assigned to be this central management agency, which will enable NParks to “respond more quickly and directly to queries and issues raised by residents and the public, instead of having to refer these queries to other agencies…” (NParks, 2016). This is a huge conservation step forward together with the URA’s shelving of its plan for the MRT connection as well as for housing and industrial development.
h) Sungei Khatib Bongsu (MNS, undated/a) and South Simpang (NSS, 1993): The Khatib
Bongsu proposal covers a mangrove area where the heronry of the Black-crowned Night
Heron was located. The South Simpang proposal is an expanded and updated proposal
which includes the heronry, and covers a larger area from Sungei Khatib Bongsu to the
eastern flank of Sungei Seletar estuary. The proposed area is mostly mangrove with some
wooded areas along its landward side included. It was designated in the Simpang
Development Guide Plan (1993) as a Nature Area to be integrated into the housing plan. Itis also mentioned in the budget speech in Parliament by Mr Lim Hng Kiang, the then MND Acting Minister, as a conservation site together with Sungei Buloh (refer Singapore
Parliament Report: 18 March 1994). The comment in BESG that “Sungei Khatib Bongsu was eventually canalized and the surrounding area reclaimed and developed into a reservoir” (BESG, 2017c) is incorrect. In 2004, on request from the PUB, the NSS Conservation Committee submitted a report on the important wildlife of the Khatib Bongsu-Sungei Seletar Estuary Area (NSS, 2004). In response to the Committee’s report, PUB replied that there are no plans to develop SungeiSeletar Estuary, Sungei Khatib Bongsu and Sungei Simpang into a reservoir in the near future. Any reservoir development there will likely be in tandem with other developments in
the area (PUB’s letter, 5 April 2007). The lower reaches of the river are still uncanalised and the reservoir has been put on hold and only a slice of the forest at the landward area had to give way to a new road (Yishun Avenue 8) and an international college. Most of the mangrove and forest are still intact under MINDEF management (Lim, 2014). The
government will have to be reminded of their commitment here as planned in the 1993
Simpang DGP and declared by Mr Lim Hng Keang in Parliament.
i) Bukit Brown (NSS, 2011 & Ho, 2012): The position paper submitted was against the
development of the new 8-lane expressway through a part of Bukit Brown near Lornie Road.
Also built into NSS’s objection was that the expressway will overwhelm an important and
beautiful valley that has an interesting stream and birdlife — to which the government
responded by building a viaduct over the valley. According to a comment posted in BESG,
the trees at Bukit Brown “were common roadside species and the other plants were similarly common” (BESG, 2017d). However, the NSS Conservation Committee took an ecological view, regarding the wild vegetation proliferating there for decades as an extended habitat for forest wildlife. Over years of monitoring, the Bird Group and other birdwatchers have recorded at least 50 species of forest birdlife there, including 15 nationally threatened species such as the White-bellied Woodpecker, Violet Cuckoo, Black-headed Bulbul, Red-eyed Bulbul, etc. (NSS, 2011; Ho, 2012). Also, rare or nationally threatened forest butterfly species have appeared in the area like the Golden Royal and the Banded Line Blue, a new record for Singapore, (A. Jain, personal comm., Dec 2012) as well as the interesting Malayan Colugo (Flying Lemur).
To say that the area “had absolutely no conservation value” (BESG, 2017d) because there are no rare or nationally threatened plants is to take a one-sided perspective or dis-ecological view of nature conservation. The area provides sustenance for the many wildlife of the neighbouring MacRitchie forest of the Nature Reserve. To the question: “Does it mean that any areas or trees on which birds land regularly need to be preserved?” (BESG, 2017d), the answer is not obviously an outright “no”. Of course, they don’t have to be birds. If the area has many nationally threatened as well as uncommon wildlife, especially forest-affiliated species, the area is certainly worth conserving. Otherwise, it would be foolish to seek the preservation of Sungei Buloh for migratory birds three decades ago, when there was very little vegetation around the area at all, let alone any plants being rare or endangered.
D) Concluding Remarks
The above-mentioned efforts of NSS to save or to secure the long-term survival of
unprotected nature areas is only part of the work of the Conservation Committee under the Society’s auspices. That the Society, including of course the Conservation Committee, is committed seriously to defend the integrity of the Nature Reserves goes without saying. Recent evidence includes our position papers on the Cross Island MRT Line Project and also on the Mandai tourism project by Mandai Safari Park Holdings (MSPH), the latter involving NSS’s effort to expand the boundary of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) at its north-western sector to provide a viable buffer and wildlife connectivity along the Reserve’s almost negligible territorial ground there.
Dated: 5th September 2017.
BESG (2017a). ‘Nature Conservation and Nature Society (Singapore) 8: Lower Peirce’. 2 April.
BESG (2017b). “Nature Conservation and Nature Society (Singapore) 13: MacRitchie Forest. 20 April.
BESG (2017c). ‘Nature Conservation and Nature Society (Singapore) 4: Khatib Bongsu’. 5 April.
BESG (2017d). ‘Nature Conservation and Nature Society (Singapore) 11: Bukit Brown’. 16 April.
DNA (undated). “Wee Yeow Chin” in The DNA of Singapore, Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research website.
Hails, C. J. (1989), ‘Singapore’ in A Directory of Asian Wetland, edited by D.A. Scott. (Gland, Switzerland: IUCN, World Conservation Union.
Ho, H. C. (2012). ‘Nature Society’s Position on Bukit Brown’. In Nature Watch Vol. 20, No 2, April – June 2012.
Lim, J. (2014). ‘A Paddle through the Magical Watery World Woods’ in the blog The Long and Winding Road: 30 July.
MNS (1991a). Conservation Proposal for Marina South. Malayan Nature Society ( Singapore Branch): Bird Group. Unpublished report.
MNS (1991b). Kent Ridge Environs: A Proposal for Conserving Nature at the National University of Singapore Campus. Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch): Conservation Committee. Unpublished report.
MNS (1990a). Conservation Proposal for Kranji Heronry and Marshes. Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch): Bird Group Conservation Committee. Unpublished report.
MNS (1990b). Conservation Proposal for Senoko (Sungei Sembawang). Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch):
Bird Group Conservation Committee. Unpublished report.
MNS (1990c). Conservation Proposal for Sentosa. Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch): Bird Group. Unpublished report.
MNS (1987a). A Proposal for a Nature Conservation Area at Sungei Buloh. Malayan Nature Society (Singapore
Branch): Bird Group Conservation Committee. Unpublished report.
MNS (1987b). A Proposal for an Ecological Park at Kranji Dam. Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch): The Bird
Group Conservation Committee. Unpublished report.
MNS (1985). Kranji Marshes: An Outline Proposal for a New Nature Reserve. Malayan Nature Society (Singapore): Bird Group. Unpublished report.
MNS (undated/a). Conservation Proposal for Sungei Khatib Bongsu (Yishun Heronry). Malayan Nature Society
(Singapore Branch): Bird Group. Unpublished Report.
NParks (2016). ‘NParks to be the Central Management Agency for Pulau Ubin’. National Parks Board, 4 June.
NSS (2011). Nature Society’s Position on Bukit Brown. Nature Society (Singapore): Conservation Committee. Unpublished report.
NSS (2004). Important Information on the Biodiversity of Khatib Bongsu-Sungei Seletar Estuary Area. Nature Society
(Singapore): Conservation Committee. Unpublished report submitted specifically to PUB, ( June 11).
NSS (1993). Conservation Proposal for South Simpang (covering Sungei Khatib Bongsu and Kampong Kitin Area).
Nature Society (Singapore): Conservation Committee. Unpublished report
NSS (1992). Conservation Proposal for Pulau Ubin. Nature Society (Singapore): Conservation Committee. Unpublished report.
URA (2003). URA Draft Master Plan 2003. Report of the Urban Redevelopment Authority.
Wee, Y. C. & Hale, R. (2008). “The Nature Society (Singapore) and the Struggle to Conserve Singapore Nature Areas’. In Nature in Singapore 2008 Vol 1, 26 August.
By Connie Khoo.
The Collared Owlet Glaucidium brodiei, is a small owl of montane forests of Malaya. Birders to Fraser’s Hill will be familiar with its toot-toot-toot call in the day time. I was birding there with Laurence Eu, a birder friend from Singapore last week when we came across a cacophony of excited bird calls by the roadside. It was early evening. We thought that it was a mini bird wave. But the tones of the calls were different. They sounded like more like alarm and distress calls.
Streaked Spiderhunter is the most aggressive of the lot. Photo: Laurence Eu
When we got out of our car, we found a Collared Owlet perched on a small branch. A flock of smaller birds were mobbing it. A group of six Silver-eared Mesias took turns to harass it with pair of Black-throated Sunbirds. Five munias joined in. In the failing light I cannot make out if they were White-rumped or White-bellied as both species occur there.
But it was the pair of Streaked Spiderhunters that actually attacked the owlet, coming close to peck at it. The owlet tolerated the harassment for a while but moved to other perches when the “attacks’ continued. It eventually flew off after withstanding 30 minutes of this and peace resumed.
Silver-eared Mesias were the most numerous, six were taking turns in the mobbing.
Why do these different species gang up to attack the owlet? Could it be that they see it as a common “enemy’, a known predator of their nestings? We see this mobbing behaviour with the Oriental Whip Snake as well,
Apart from watching such a drama, we had a bonus of also seeing a rare White-browed Shrike-babbler that was attracted to the commotion and joined in the collective mobbing. This was certainly one of the highlights of the trip.
Contributed by Connie Khoo with edits by Alan OwYong.
Ref: Craig Robson. A field Guide to Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia. Asia Books Co. Ltd 2000.