Tag Archives: Grey-headed Fish-eagle

Awesome Underwater Dive Catch of the Grey-headed Fish Eagle.

By Alan OwYong and Steven Wong.

This pair of Grey-headed Fish Eagles, Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus, are raising a family somewhere at the Toh Tuck area and have been fishing along the Pandan Canal for some time now. Both or one of them will perch in the mid canopy of the Albizia trees by the side of the canal either in the early morning hours or late afternoons looking out for any signs of life in the canal.

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Perched up in the mid canopy, looking down at the canal waiting for any movements in the water.

Many of the dives and catches have been well documented in a number of great action photos posted in various Facebook groups recently. All of them show them diving down from the perch and snatching a fish from the surface of the water before taking it back to the trees.

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Steven Wong’s photo of the Sea-eagle entering the water with both wings up. I had a photo of the eagle completely underwater with only the ripples to show on the surface. But deleted it off hand as it had nothing to show.

But on the morning of 21 March 2019, Steven Wong and I witnessed a dive catch we have not seen before. The eagle dived into the water and caught a catfish that was swimming beneath the water surface. At one stage the whole eagle was submerged under the water only to reappear out of the water like from out of nowhere.

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Struggling to get up after being fully submerged in the water.

To do this, the eagle must have an extremely sharp eyesight to see the catfish that was swimming well below the surface. Maybe the clearer water that day helped. Then it must continuously keep track the movement of fish as it was diving down from the perch.

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Relieved to have both wings clear of the water.

The hardest part must be when and where to plunge in as the fish was below the surface. It will first have to allow for the parallax as the fish was not where it is looking from above. It will also have to allow for the evasive action of the fish in the split second after it hit the water surface.

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It takes a lot of down force to lift off judging from the turbulence on the water surface, captured in this photo by Steven Wong.

After hitting the water the eagle will not be able to see the fish as its nictitating membrane will cover its eyes. It will depend on its speed, trajectory and self belief that it talons will somehow fall on to its target and grab it. It was interesting to see that it managed to grab hold of the catfish head instead of mid body. It must be aiming for its head right from the start so that it will still get the other parts of the body if it miscalculate the strike. This hunting technic must have been learnt from the many failures in the past.

 

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Determination written all over its face as it tried to drag it catch off the water.

Reversing its flight after the catch had to be another feat of power, using its wings to stop it going deeper and then pushing it back up to the surface. From the shots it took the eagle quite a few second to get airborne partly due to the size and weight of the catfish. We were happy to witness this hunting behaviour and add to the knowledge of these fish eagles in our midst.

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Success and food for the chicks today. It will eat the top half of the fish on the Albizia tree before taking the tail end back to the nest.

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Aiming for the head gave the fish eagle some margin of error.

Many thanks to Steven Wong for spotting the eagle that morning and generously sharing his local knowledge of the hunting behaviour of this pair of Grey-headed Fish Eagles.

Wild Birds and Habitats-A Digital View.

Contributed by Andrew Chow.

My favorite paint medium for bird painting is soluble water color pencils. I still used them once in a while. But even an old hand like me had to embrace the digital age. I bought myself a Samsung Note 10 that came with a S-pen. With the help of the Autodesk Sketchbook software, it makes sketching a lot easier from the photos I took on site.

I did several digital bird paintings in the past years using the Note 10. I think it is important to include the habitat where the bird is found to tell the whole story. I hope to inspire those who wish to take up this absorbing hobby.

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Little Guilin is close to my place. It is also the nesting site of the nationally threatened Grey-headed Fish Eagle. No invitations needed to try out and start my digital journey.

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When the decision to turn the old Muslim Cemetery at Bidadari into a housing estate, I had to capture the lush greenery and woodlands before it was gone. The background shows the familiar view to all of us walking in. I had many lifers at this migrant haven. The one I chose to represent Bidadari is the globally threatened Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher, my lifer at this site.

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The lost of our fresh water wetlands may see these nationally threatened Little Grebes disappeared from our island. I had the privilege of seeing this family bringing up their chicks at the new pond off Lorong Halus in 2014. It was my pleasure to feature them and their precious wetland for posterity.

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One of the first birds I saw when I visited Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserves many years back is the nationally near-threatened Copper-throated Sunbird. It is a mangrove specialist which means that we will have to keep our mangroves if we want to see this beautiful sunbird for generations to come. I want to illustrate the role the mangroves play in keeping our coastal biodiversity intact.

 

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This is one of my latest work at the newly opened Kranji Marshes. The Black-backed Swamphen is the emblem for the largest wetland in Singapore. It is the bird that every visitor want to see when visiting the marshes. We are glad that NParks and the URA have created this wetland sanctuary to bring back the water birds.

I wish to thank the Bird Group for showcasing my works on their blog. I hope these paintings will give you the reason to go out and enjoy our wild places and the birds.

 

 

 

 

 

Nesting of the Grey-headed Fish Eagles at Little Guilin

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Little Guilin. Nesting tree is the large one in the Middle.
Contributed by Ulf Remahl. 24 March 2016. All photos by Ulf Remahl.
Until 2008 Little Guilin was for me only on the must see list for overseas visitors to prove that Singapore could indeed be scenic. Even today immediate parkland along Bukit Batok East Avenue 5 is only biologically interesting when the world largest orchid Grammatophyllum speciosum is flowering. For anyone keen on wildlife you instead have to look at far side of the quarry.
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World largest Orchid Grammatophyllum speciosum
 
In July 2008 I spotted a Grey-headed Fish Eagle feeding on a freshly caught 2-foot Malayan Water Monitor. From how the eagle behaved I had a premonition that it could be nesting in the area. Other people confirmed my hunch during coming days when I was already overseas. That year there was one eaglet.
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Favourite perch of the Grey-headed Fish Eagle at the top of the protruding outcrop.
 
Until mid 2015 I have over the years only been able to see snippets of the breeding cycle for GHFE. Last year it became different. On August 14th I saw an eaglet being fed by an adult. One interesting fact was that both adult and juvenile bird started to feed on the fish from the head. The eagles had this time nested at an alternative site, which I have never managed to find. That the primary nesting tree since 2008 opposite Lianhua primary school had been reduced to a tall barren tree stump sometimes during spring 2015 didn’t matter for this pair of GHFE.
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Adult Grey-headed Fish Eagle guarding its nest.
 
In spite of severe haze during autumn 2015 I irregularly continued to visit Little Guilin when the smoke seemed less thick. That was fortunate because on September 23rd I found out the eagles had built a completely new nest at northern end of lake inside the 39 days I had been absent.
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Grey-headed Fish Eaglet close to fledgling. 
 
My next visit was on October 11th. My first few fairly thorough scan of the area including nest with a scope 20 – 60 times magnification was discouraging. There was no sign of any eagles anywhere. So I decided to make one final absolutely meticulous search. I hit pay dirt. What a joy! I suddenly spotted the eye of a GHFE between the branches below the rim towards the left side of the nest using 40x magnification.
 
Now and then the bird moved the head. Then I could see beak and part of the head. Once during the 1 ½ hour I stayed the bird stood up in the nest. Although I couldn’t see into the nest from the movement of the head of the bird – only being able to see hind part of it – the behaviour was the familiar one you see for example when a hen is turning her eggs. At least that is the way I interpreted the movements. This activity only lasted a couple of minutes.
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Adult Grey-headed Fish Eagle flying off after feeding.
 
Next visit to Little Guilin was on October 29th.  Without knowledge gleaned during previous visit I probably would never have been able to spot the eagle. It was now even better concealed below rim of nest. Considering that GHFE eggs incubate in 28-30 days there ought to be nestling(s) during coming November.
 
A subsequent visit on November 26th became a happy occasion. Then I could for 10 seconds see a tiny head covered in white down pop up above the rim of the nest during the 1-½ hours I was there. Could there be a sibling? It was too early to tell. Considering that a normal clutch is 1-2 eggs there was still that possibility. Without having a high vantage point on slope towards Gombak Stadium I would never have been able to see what I just experienced. As usual two very vocal parents were present the whole time. 
GHFE Perch Ulf
 About a fortnight later or on December 11th it could be confirmed there was only one offspring. It was amazing to find out how fast eaglet had grown. By now the plumage was a mixture of feathers & down. It was even big enough to be able to relieve itself over the rim of the nest.
 
By next visit December 30th eaglet was still in nest. It was now as big as the omnipresent parents. I was never able to see when eaglet fledged, as I couldn’t visit nesting site until January 24th 2016. In spite of that knowing that GHFE fledge after about 10 weeks from having hatched the eaglet should have left its home between 15 – 20th of January. This also fits in with that egg was laid sometimes
around October 10th 2015. (Can you spot the Eagle on the rock face?)
 
When researching a bit about GHFE I found out that even today nobody knows for how long GHFE eaglets are dependent on their parents. Here I make an attempt to figure out what it can be. I try to do this by first working out when eggs are laid by GHFE in Singapore
 
One possible reference point might therefore be when GHFE build or repair a nest. I presume that shortly after that eggs will be laid drawing on the experience with the latest Little Guilin crop. Another option is when there are eaglets in the nest. The optimum one is when they fledge.
 
Myself I have seen nest building activity as follows – August 12th & 29th 2011 Little Guilin, – October 1st and 23rd 2012 Bukit Batok NP,  – Little Guilin between August 14th /September 23rd 2015.
 
Dr Cheong Loong Fah recorded GHFE building nest @MacRitchie October 1997
 
From Raptor Reports Alan OwYong & Lim Kim Keang had 2 adults on nest December 4th 2011 in Choa Chu Kang Cemetery. There is nothing noted about any young ones but I presume something was going on.
 
Then there is a very good record by Tan Chuan Ming at Lentor Avenue where eaglet fledged May 8th 2012. That egg should have been laid during the last days of January 2012.
 
There is nesting recorded at Upper Seletar Reservoir by Doreen Ang & Freda Rickwood November 15th 2014.
 
The only other information to add would be that the latest eaglet in Little Guilin probably fledged during 15th – 20th of January 2016
 
Although materiel is limited it can tentatively be said that in Singapore GHFE commence nesting any time from September to January.
 
Next logical step in my investigation was to find any records about juveniles being fed. To my utter astonishment it seems mine is the only one? Working from that as a template assuming the Little Guilin pair nested as late as the one Tan Chuan Ming recorded 2012 the feeding goes on for just over 3 months or 14 weeks. On the other hand if my pair nested at the same time during 2014 as 2015 the feeding period would be roughly 8 months.
 
So if ornithologist here in Singapore either closely follow the feeding pattern of a pair of GHFE or just record any time they see anything this country could score a world first into settling something unknown until today.

Singapore Bird Report – June 2015

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

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

We all were expecting another quiet month when Yong Ding Li dropped a bombshell on 22nd. He reported that ACRES had retrieved a White-tailed Tropicbird, Phaethon Lepturus, from Pioneer Sector at Tuas. This will our very first record of an identified tropicbird in Singapore. From the yellowish wash in the plumage this is the Fulvus form. The Record’s Committee will be deliberating on its status and decide on its inclusion into the Checklist. There were two unidentified records of tropicbirds previously. One bird seen flying off Seletar on 11 December 1963 off (MBR 1964) and another in 1986 by Tan Gim Cheong off Serangoon Estuary. The nearest breeding colony is at the Cocos-Keeling and Christmas Islands.

Black-winged Flycatchershrike Wolfgang

The other big find for the month was a Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Hemipus hirundinaceus, photographed by a visiting German birdwatcher Wolfgang Kraemer, at Chek Java, P. Ubin on the 28th. This is our second record following Francis Yap’s sighting at the Jelutong Towers on 23 August 2013. This species was previously listed in Category F: Doubtful species because of mis-identification, but have since ungraded to Category A and added in the 2013 Checklist. Efforts to find this flycatchershrike two days later was not rewarded.

Oriental Darter Cherry Goh

The Oriental Darter captured by Cherry Goh at the Pekan Quarry on 2nd Ubin Day.

The migrants reported this month include a Black Bittern Ixobrychus flavicollis at SBWR on 1st (Andy Dinesh). During Ubin Day an Oriental Darter Anhinga melanogaster, made a surprised appearance at the Pekan Quarry. It was first seen there by John Ascher sometime in April (per con Andy Dinesh). This Darter was first reported at Ketam Quarry co-incidentally during the first Ubin Day on 30th October 2014. It is not in our current checklist but these sightings will strengthen its inclusion. There were two sightings of the Oriental Honey Buzzards, Pernis ptilorthyncus, one a juvenile at the Botanic Gardens on 18th by Tan Eng Boo and the other a second year bird over at Dempsey Hill on 20th by Sampath Ah. Both are summering and will only return north next spring.

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A rare find for Pulau Ubin of a Blue-eared KingFisher by Wolfgang Kraemer.

Non-breeding visitors reported were a Malaysian Hawk Cuckoo Hierococcyx fugax, at the Kranji Park on 13th by Sampath Ah and the Cinereous Bulbul Hermixos flavala,at Chek Java on 28th by Wolfgang Kraemer. Wolfgang also photographed our forest Blue-eared Kingfisher, Alcedo meninting, there showing how this once Central Catchment species have spread. Choo Chong Teck showed us a photo of a Chrysococcyx cuckoo taken at the Tampines Mountain Bike Trail on 27th. It turned out to be another Horsfield Bronze Cuckoos Chrysococcyx basalis, at a new location. The Austral cuckoos at Punggol Barat were still wintering there as of the 28th based on reports from See Toh Wai Yew.

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Fishing Grey-headed Fish-eagle caught by David Awcock at the Swan Lake.

The resident Grey-headed Fish-eagles, Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus, were keeping the photographers busy with their daily fishing antics at the Singapore Botanic Garden’s Swan Lake. They were first videoed by Jeremiah Loei on 10th. A pair of Buffy Fish Owls Ketupa ketupu, were roosting at the Rain Forest section of the gardens (Zacc HD 13th). They were first spotted at the Gardens by Richard White last month on 8th May. We think that they may have been flushed out from the Tyersall side due to the construction of the new extension to the gardens.

The once rare Crested Goshawks Accipiter trivirgatus, are now being seen more often. Seng Alvin photographed a second year bird in flight over at Pasir Ris Park on 10th with another photographed at Ang Mo Kio Park by Audrey Ngo on 7th. Jia Wei Woo was delighted to have captured a Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus flying over at the Swan Lake on 27th. It was the resident ernesti race.

Other notable records were an Asian Drongo-Cuckoo Surniculus lugubris, photographed at the Dillenia Hut by Vincent Lao on 28th. This should to be our resident subspecies barussarum. A pair of Plaintive Cuckoos, Cacomantis merulinus were photographed at Punggol Barat on 23rd by Liz How. We usually get to see single bird of this species. From the sightings this month, it is evident that we cannot slack off for any periods if we are to keep track of the rarities.

Reference: Avifauna of Singapore. Lim Kim Seng. 2009. A field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South-east Asia. Craig Robson Asia Books Ltd.2000. Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Simpson and Day, Edited by Francis Yap and Yong Ding Li. The above records are taken from the various bird FB groups. pages, reports and forums.  Many thanks for your postings. Many thanks to ACRES, Wolfgang Kraemer, David Awcock and Cherry Goh for the use of the photographs.

Destination Singapore: A Birder’s Gateway to the Jungles of Southeast Asia – Part 1

Every year, the varied habitats of Southeast Asia draw scores of international birdwatchers to the region in search of its avian jewels. Over a fifth of the world’s birds occurs in this region, from pittas and trogons in the lush rainforests of Indonesia to rare wintering waders on the coasts of Thailand, and any aspiring global birdwatcher is likely to require several visits to the region to do it justice to Southeast Asia’s incredible birdlife.

The island nation of Singapore, with its world-renowned airport and excellent infrastructure, is widely regarded as the gateway to Southeast Asia. However, what many birders don’t realise is that apart from being a transit hub to exotic destinations around the region, Singapore is in itself an excellent birding destination, home to a both resident and migratory birds which are often very tricky to observe in other countries in the region. Trying to see some of these species in other parts of tropical Asia would often involve visits to remote national parks and which would require lengthy journeys over rugged terrain. In this instalment, we profile three globally threatened and near-threatened resident bird species which are commonly encountered in Singapore, but otherwise difficult to observe elsewhere.

Straw-headed Bulbul Con Foley We start the ball rolling with the globally threatened Straw-headed Bulbul, one of the largest and most distinctive bulbuls in Southeast Asia and unfortunately, also perhaps the most threatened. This bulbul was once common throughout much of Southeast Asia, but its beautiful song has made it highly sought after in the cage bird trade. Consequently populations have crashed throughout the region, particularly in Indonesia and Thailand.

The bulbul inhabits secondary forests along the interface between water and land, and can be found in a range of habitats from riverine forests to mangroves. In Singapore, the Straw-headed Bulbul has also adapted well to wooded public parks and is readily encountered in suitable habitat across the island. Thankfully, many local sites supporting good numbers of this species are also well-used recreational spaces that are regularly patrolled by rangers, which appear to deter would-be poachers from trapping these iconic birds. Some of the best places to observe this magnificent songster is the Bukit Batok Nature Park, and the island of Pulau Ubin.

Another regular avian feature of Singapore’s wooded landscape is the globally Near-threatened Grey-headed Fish-Eagle. This distinctive raptor generally inhabits forested rivers and lakes and although widespread throughout Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent, is locally distributed and in decline due to habitat loss and pollution across many of the region’s large rivers.
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Grey-headed Fish-eagle at Guilin Nature Park. Photo Alan OwYong

However, just as with the aforementioned species, this bird appears to have adapted to urban water bodies in Singapore, and the ample supply of large non-native fish introduced by irresponsible pet owners inhabiting them. Interestingly, this species is now regularly encountered at many urban green spaces throughout Singapore including the Singapore Botanic Gardens and breeds regularly on the hills around Little Guilin Park. The continuing expansion of this eagle into urban Singapore offers a unique case study into how introduced species have the potential to benefit the very predators which consume them.

Last but not least, we have the globally Near-threatened Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, Singapore’s only surviving member of this distinctive group. Despite being a member of the cuckoo family, malkohas do not lay their eggs in the nests of other birds but instead construct nests and raise their own chicks. Many malkohas inhabit the rainforests of Southeast Asia and are consequently threatened by habitat loss, and this species is no exception. Outside of Singapore, this species is infrequently encountered in mangroves, rainforest and secondary growth throughout Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo.

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Chestnut-bellied Malkoha at Mandai Orchid Gardens Photo: Alan OwYong.

In Singapore, however, the species is not regularly encountered in mangroves but instead is fairly common in our forest reserves and adjacent areas of secondary growth and even well-wooded parks. Many international birders visiting Singapore include this in their lists of must-see birds during their sojourn on the island.

So the next time you visit Singapore on a birding trip, take some time to explore the country as well! You just might end up adding some lifers to your list which you otherwise might not have seen. For the local birdwatchers, do take the time to appreciate our feathered friends who share the island with us; there is more to Singapore’s birds than just crows and mynas!

This article is written and edited by our guest contributors Albert Low and Yong Ding Li. They are both highly travelled birdwatchers from Singapore, and are among the top Asian birders, ranked by number of bird species seen in Asia. Photo Credits: Con Foley, Alan OwYong & Francis Yap.

 

Photo Gallery of the birds featured:

Part 2 of the series
Part 3 of the series

This article is written and edited by our guest contributor Albert Low with help from Yong Ding Li. They are both highly travelled birdwatchers from Singapore, and are among the top Asian birders, ranked by number of bird species seen in Asia. Photo Credits: Con Foley, Alan OwYong & Francis Yap.