Tag Archives: Bridled Tern

NSS Pelagic Survey-September 2019.

We could not have asked for a better day to do the autumn pelagic on Saturday 28 September 2019. The sea was calm, with a light breeze blowing. The sun was shining through as the month-long haze seemed to have dissipated, in part due to the change in direction of the monsoon winds.

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Our first bird of the day, a crested tern flying over. We were blessed with good weather and calm seas today.

On the boat was also Audrey Tan, Environment Correspondent at the Straits Times, and her photo journalist Lim Yaohui. They had joined us on this trip to learn more about the research which the Nature Society (Singapore) and the National Parks Board are conducting to survey and study the seabirds which use the Strait of Singapore on their annual autumn and spring migrations.

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The happy NSS survey team at the end of the trip at Sentosa Cove. 

Three hours into the boat trip and we were cruising north of Batam Island when we saw a small flock of dark-shaped birds floating on the waters just ahead of us. They looked like the storm petrels which we had been seeing flying in small flocks westwards on their way to the Indian Ocean earlier. In total, we would have seen 118 of these Swinhoe’s Storm Petrels, Oceanodroma monorhis, when we finished the trip that day. This was a far cry from the 532 which we had on a similar pelagic last September.

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Part of a flock of 11 Red-necked Phalaropes we found floating on the waves. Photo: Lim Kim Keang.

The dark-shaped birds flew up as we got nearer, their white underwings and bodies gleaming in the bright sun. Kim Keang, our leader for the trip, shouted “Phalarope!” but it was lost to those on board!

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We got very close to these three Red-necked Phalaropes as they were busy feeding on the small marine crustaceans among the sea grasses. Photo: Lim Kim Keang. Their habit of swimming around in small circles helps to pool the food to the center for easy pickings.

Floating further on the water were 11 Red-necked Phalaropes, Phalaropus lobatus, while another 3 were much closer, allowing all on board to have good close-up views. As they were feeding and flying around the boat, there were ample opportunities to photograph them. This was the first sighting of multiple phalaropes in a flock as the previous three sightings were of single birds. Interestingly all were juveniles.

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The Red-necked Phalarope foraging among a sea of floating sea grasses out in the Straits. Photo: Shruti.

Terns also put up a good show. There were 55 Bridled Terns, Sterna anaethetus, with two flocks  of 18 and 7 flying eastwards in the direction of Horsburgh Lighthouse.

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A breeding Bridled Tern resting on a plank by Wilson Leung. The head pattern is similiar to the Aleutian but the dark plumage of the Bridled Tern is a good identification feature for this tern.

Aleutian Terns, Sterna aleutica, that migrated all the way from Alaska was a species which we hope we could show to the members on board. They did not disappoint. 15 adults, 8 of them still in their breeding plumage and a juvenile were present.

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An Aleutian Tern in breeding plumage. They are often seen resting on flotsams. Presence of a small wintering population recorded at the Karimun Islands in 1998.

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Aleutian Tern in non-breeding plumage showing the dark trailing edge of the secondaries, a good identification feature for this tern.

Also seen were 4 Common Terns, Sterna hirundo, comprising two adults and two juveniles. These uncommon terns (despite their name) were resting on flotsam and all were happy to manage close-up shots of them.

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One of the four Common Terns we saw during the trip. This one is in breeding plumage.

As the Crested Terns were in flight and at a distance, it took a while before they were separated and counted. There were 24 Swift Terns, Thalasseus bergii, (formerly Great Crested) and 10 Lesser Crested Terns, Thalasseus bengalensis, with four being unidentified. 6 Little Terns, Sterna albifrons, were also seen on the trip and these may be winter visitors.

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A hazy looking Swift Tern. It is a large tern that can be found flying along the Straits of Johor. Photo: Alan OwYong.

Other birds seen on the trip include a Great-billed Heron, Ardea sumatrana, on Sister’s Island, 5 Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica, flying south, an Intermediate Egret, Egretta intermedia, and a soaring Chinese Sparrowhawk, Accipiter soloensis.

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A Bridled Tern flying in the same direction of the tanker towards Horsburgh Lighthouse, where seven specimens were collected in October 1921, our first record of this tern.

A big thank you to Alfred Chia for making all the arrangements for this trip and to everyone for helping out with the count.

Many thanks to Lim Kim Keang, Alan OwYong, Shruti and Wilson Leung for the use of their photos.

Reference: A Field Guide to the Waterbirds of Asia. Wild Birds Society of Japan.          Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore) 2009.

Pelagic Birding in the Straits of Singapore.

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

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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.

        

Straits of Singapore Pelagic Survey 5th Oct 2014

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Pelagic Team from left: Wing Chong, Alfred Chia, Tan Ju Lin, Francis Yap, Con Foley, Alan OwYong, Lim Kim Keang, Lee Tiah Khee, Willie Foo and Lim Kim Seng.

Ten members of the Bird Group set out this morning to the Straits of Singapore to begin this Autumn’s Seabirds Count. The skies were a little overcast in the early part as we cruised eastwards in semi darkness after clearing immigration. The count started with a bang when 6 Swinhoe’s Storm Petrels were seen on migration just south of St John’s Island. Unfortunately these were the only ones we encountered for the day. A worrying decline. This was followed by multiple sightings of Swift (9) and Lesser Crested Terns (11). We could not identify at least 18 of these terns due to poor morning light. The appearance of these large terns just off Kusu Island was a bit of a surprise as we normally see them further east.

The star bird of the day flew across at around 7.30 am. Some of us did not take much notice. Luckily Francis quick fingers got it on his sensor and was identified as a uncommon non-breeding Gull-billed Tern, a local tick for Francis. Later on the way back he shot another wide bodied tern which was later identified by Dave Bakewell as a first winter Common Tern.

Gull-billed Tern
(Non-breeding Gull-billed Tern)

Common Tern
(First-winter Common Tern)

A lull followed before we cut into flocks of Bridled Terns just north of Batam. On the way back more Bridled Terns were also seen at this part of the Straits. They were all flying east. In all we counted 81 Bridled Terns, the highest number tern species seen this morning. The one spot where we can expect some action was near the yellow buoy in the middle of the Straits. This is where many of the terns rest and where Jaegers have been seen harassing them for food. It was missing most probably taken after after the savaging the wreck below.

Bridled Tern
(Bridled Tern perching on flotsam ready to fly)

Bridled Tern
(Bridled Tern in flight)

As we approached the seas off Changi, the boat skipper was looking for floating debris as most of the visiting Aleutian Terns use them to rest. The seas were rather clean this morning but eventually we found some and with it the Aleutian Terns. The first one was a juvenile with a brown neck, a plumage we have not come across before. The total count for the Aleutian Tern was 12, including one off Kusu Island on our way back.

Aleutian Tern
(Adult Aleutian Tern in flight)

Aleutian Tern
(Juvenile Aleutian Tern)

Aleutian Tern
(Adult non-breeding Aleutian Tern)

Aleutian Tern
(A successful hunt for fish by an adult Aleutian Tern)

In between 15 Marsh Terns, mainly White-winged and a Little Terns were seen.

White-winged Tern
(Adult White-winged Tern losing its black breeding plumage on it’s underparts)

White-winged Tern
(An adult White-winged Tern in non-breeding plumage with it’s characteristic ‘headphones’)

Total count for the day was 155 seabirds from nine species. All in a good day out. Many thanks to Alfred for organising this count and everyone for their help and company.

Photos: Francis Yap and Alan OwYong.