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The 14th Fall Migration Bird Census

The 14th Fall Migration Bird Census by Lim Kim Chuah

The 14th Fall Migration Bird Census (FMBC) took place in the morning of 22nd October 2017. 58 counters took part and 26 sites were counted. Weather was quite variable throughout the sites surveyed ranging from partly cloudy and overcast to sunny. It rained in some places towards the end of the count.

In all, 138 species totaling 5,306 birds were counted. The total number of birds counted was disappointing and the number was the lowest counted in the 14-year history of the FMBC.

On a brighter note, this census shows that Singapore remains an important stronghold for the vulnerable Straw-headed Bulbul. 49 birds were counted with more than half from Pulau Ubin. Pulau Ubin also proves to be an important site for another globally threatened species, the White-rumped Shama with most of the 16 birds counted coming from Pulau Ubin.

34 species of true migrants were counted totaling 1019 birds. This represents 35% of total species counted and 19% of total number of birds counted.

TOTAL BIRDS AND SPECIES COUNTED

In all, 138 species of birds were recorded consisting of 5,306 birds. If unidentified birds (including swiftlets) are added, the total was 5810 birds.

In terms of species, the total of 138 species was close to the 14-year average of 135. However, the total birds counted of 5,306 (compared to the average of 7,226) was the lowest recorded in the 14-year history of FMBC. Also noted was the disturbing decreasing trend of birds counted during the last two editions of the census – 5,416 in 2015 and 5,314 in 2016 (see chart).

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One of the possible reasons for the low number counted this year could be the big drop in the number of birds counted in one of the key wader sites, Sungei Mandai. Only 316 birds were counted compared to the average of 1,138. One possible reason is that most of the mudflat at Sungei Mandai was covered by algae and this probably limit the amount of mudflat for the waders to forage.

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TOP 20 BIRDS

The top spot for the most number of birds counted went to the Asian Glossy Starling (663) and this was closely followed by the Javan Myna (645). Whimbrel was the most numerous migrant counted.

POS SPECIES 2017 SPECIES 2016
1 Asian Glossy Starling 663 Lesser Sand Plover 829
2 Javan Myna** 645 Javan Myna** 612
3 Whimbrel 299 Asian Glossy Starling 472
4 Pink-necked Green Pigeon 274 Pacific Golden Plover 364
5 Spotted Dove 158 Whimbrel 215
6 Yellow-vented Bulbul 156 Yellow-vented Bulbul 177
7 Common Redshank 139 Black-naped Oriole 166
8 Black-naped Oriole 137 Common Redshank 163
9 House Crow 128 Spotted Dove 155
10 Grey Heron## 126 Pink-necked Green Pigeon 121
11 Rock Dove 106 Rock Dove 114
12 Red-breasted Parakeet* 99 Long-tailed Parakeet* 88
13 Little Egret 91 Eurasian Tree Sparrow 87
14 Daurian Starling 83 Pin-striped Tit-Babbler 86
15 Olive-backed Sunbird 83 House Crow 81
16 Long-tailed Parakeet* 80 Zebra Dove 75
17 Pacific Swallow 70 Olive-backed Sunbird 68
18 Pacific Golden Plover 63 Common Iora 63
19 Pin-striped Tit-Babbler 60 Pacific Swallow 61
20 Collared Kingfisher 59 Common Greenshank 50

The top bird counted for 2016, the Lesser Sand Plover was conspicuously absent from the top 20 birds. Only 3 birds were counted during the census. Another observation is the notable decrease in the number of Pacific Golden Plover counted, falling from position 4 (364 birds) last year to 18 (63 birds). Pacific Golden Plover is typically featured among the top 10 birds in most years (see chart). The chart also shows a decreasing trend since 2004.

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SITE COUNTS

A total of 26 sites were surveyed. This is comparable to the 14-year average of 25 sites.

The site with the most number of birds counted was Pasir Ris Park with 406 birds counted. This is closely followed by Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve Route 1 (394) and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve Route 2 (389).

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The diversity of habitats at Kranji Marsh, Kranji Dam and Pasir Ris Park prove to be attractive for many species of birds and these three sites ended with the most number of bird species recorded. Kranji Marsh took top spot with a whopping 76 species, followed by Kranji Dam (51 species) and Pasir Ris Park (48 species).

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Abbreviation for site:

 

SBG Singapore Botanic Garden KRM Kranji Marsh SIM Sime Track SER Serangoon
FAB Mount Faber KRD Kranji dam MCP Malcolm Park PRP Pasir Ris Park
TBH Telok Blangah Hill Park MAN Sg Mandai BSP Bishan Park UBW Ubin West
KRP Kent Ridge Park BBW Bkt Batok West USR Upper Seletar Reservoir Park UBC Ubin Central
POY Poyan BBP Bkt Batok Nature Park LSD Lower Seletar Dam UBE Ubin East
SB1 Sg Buloh Route 1 BTR Bkt Timah Nature Reserve SBP Sembawang Park
SB2 Sg Buloh Route 2 DFP Dairy Farm Nature Park HAL Lor Halus

This year’s census proved rather disappointing with low number of birds counted. Hopefully this is just a blip and not a continuing trend.

This census would not have been possible without the support and participation from many volunteers. We would like to thank and acknowledge the contributions from the following leaders and volunteers:

Bey Swee Hua, Richard Carden, Alfred Chia, Sandra Chia, Andrew Chow, Lena Chow, Fadzrun Adnan, Con Foley, Amuary Gassiot, Veronica Foo, Terry and Jane Heppell, Constance Huges-Treherne, Jian Wei, Atsuko Kawasaki, Kenneth Kee, Julienne Kee, Martin Kennerwell, Susan Knight, Nessie Khoo, Esther Kong, Eunice Kong, Danny Lau, Lee Chuin Ming, Lee Ee Ling, Jimmy Lee, Geraldine Lee, Lee Whye Gwan, David Li, Lim Kim Chuah, Lim Kim Keang, Lim Kim Seng, Lim Yan Ting, Lin Chee Wei, Patricia Lorenz, Melpa, Merrill, Alvin Seng, Steven Shields, Sng Bee Bee, Keita Sin, John Spencer, Tan Bee Lan, Tan Kok Hui, Teo Hui Min, George Presanis, Twang Fang Qi, Wai Jack Sin, Wan Xuan,, Wee Sau Cheng, Wing Ching How, Wing Chong, Wong Chun Cheong, Woo Lai Choo, Yang Pah Liang, Yan Jiejun, Yong Yik Shih, Yong Jun Zer

APPENDIX

Total species and number counted (2004-17)

Year # of species # of birds # of sites
2004 135 8035 25
2005 134 5825 18
2006 142 7386 25
2007 134 7159 25
2008 142 7343 26
2009 119 7381 23
2010 137 9556 30
2011 144 8486 25
2012 135 7846 30
2013 123 7837 25
2014 152 8280 25
2015 124 5416 22
2016 126 5314 20
2017 138 5306 26
Avg 135 7226 25
Std Dev 8.8 1259 3
Min 119 5306 18
Max 152 9556 30

List of birds counted on 22nd October 2017:

POS SPECIES SUM POS SPECIES SUM
1 Asian Glossy Starling 663 56 White-crested Laughingthrush 20
2 Javan Myna** 645 57 Crimson Sunbird 20
3 Whimbrel 299 58 Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker 19
4 Pink-necked Green Pigeon 274 59 Common Hill Myna# 19
5 Spotted Dove 158 60 Oriental Pied Hornbill## 17
6 Yellow-vented Bulbul 156 61 Malaysian Pied Fantail 17
7 Common Redshank 139 62 Pied Triller 16
8 Black-naped Oriole 137 63 White-rumped Shama## 16
9 House Crow 128 64 Baya Weaver 16
10 Grey Heron## 126 65 Red-wattled Lapwing## 15
11 Rock Dove 106 66 Laced Woodpecker 15
12 Red-breasted Parakeet* 99 67 Changeable Hawk-Eagle## 14
13 Little Egret 91 68 Grey Plover 13
14 Daurian Starling 83 69 Purple Heron## 12
15 Olive-backed Sunbird 83 70 Stork-billed Kingfisher 12
16 Long-tailed Parakeet* 80 71 Banded Woodpecker 12
17 Pacific Swallow 70 72 Brown Shrike 11
18 Pacific Golden Plover 63 73 Yellow-bellied Prinia 10
19 Pin-striped Tit-Babbler 60 74 Common Kingfisher 9
20 Collared Kingfisher 59 75 Rufous Woodpecker 9
21 Common Greenshank 58 76 Red-rumped Swallow 8
22 Oriental White-eye 56 77 Oriental Magpie-Robin## 8
23 White-breasted Waterhen 54 78 Copper-throated Sunbird# 8
24 Barn Swallow 52 79 Japanese Sparrowhawk 7
25 Ashy Tailorbird 52 80 Golden-bellied Gerygone 7
26 Striated Heron 50 81 Asian Fairy-bluebird# 7
27 Zebra Dove 49 82 Paddyfield Pipit 7
28 Straw-headed Bulbul##** 49 83 Western Osprey 6
29 Red Junglefowl## 46 84 Crested Honey Buzzard 6
30 Common Flameback 46 85 Whiskered Tern 6
31 Common Sandpiper 44 86 Pied Imperial Pigeon 6
32 Blue-tailed Bee-eater 43 87 Large-billed Crow 6
33 Olive-winged Bulbul 43 88 Lesser Coucal 5
34 Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker 42 89 Pacific Swift 5
35 Scaly-breasted Munia 42 90 Little Grebe## 4
36 Brahminy Kite 37 91 Intermediate Egret 4
37 Blue-throated Bee-eater 37 92 Oriental Reed Warbler 4
38 Dark-necked Tailorbird 37 93 Abbott’s Babbler 4
39 Common Iora 36 94 Yellow-rumped Flycatcher 4
40 Asian Koel 35 95 Orange-bellied Flowerpecker 4
41 Arctic Warbler 33 96 Chestnut Munia 4
42 Lineated Barbet 32 97 Grey Wagtail 4
43 Coppersmith Barbet 32 98 Black-winged Kite 3
44 Common Tailorbird 30 99 Slaty-breasted Rail 3
45 Brown-throated Sunbird 30 100 Lesser Sand Plover 3
46 Eurasian Tree Sparrow 30 101 Wood Sandpiper 3
47 Greater Racket-tailed Drongo 27 102 Little Bronze Cuckoo 3
48 Lesser Whistling Duck## 26 103 Tanimbar Corella* 3
49 Oriental Dollarbird 23 104 Long-tailed Shrike 3
50 White-throated Kingfisher 23 105 Cream-vented Bulbul# 3
51 Rose-ringed Parakeet 22 106 Little Spiderhunter 3
52 Common Myna 22 107 Yellow Bittern 2
53 White-bellied Sea Eagle 21 108 Eastern Cattle Egret 2
54 Asian Brown Flycatcher 21 109 Great-billed Heron## 2
55 Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot ## 20 110 Great Egret 2

 

 

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AVA’s Relative Abundance Survey for Urban Birds 2015

The AVA carried out the second RASUB over two Saturdays in April this year with the help of the public. The species counted were the Javan Myna, Common Myna, Rock Pigeon, Asian Glossy Starling, Asian Koel, House Crow and Black-naped Oriole. The Black-naped Oriole was included as it is known to foster the Asian Koel.

A total of 1,606 birds were counted in 50 locations compared to 784 over 23 sites in 2014. The Javan Mynas topped the list just like in 2014.

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Results: Javan Mynas 832, Rock Pigeons 531, Asian Glossy Starlings 96, Black-naped Orioles 52, House Crows 48, Common Myna 39 and Asian Koel 11.

The results of this year’s survey is similar to the survey carried out in 2014, where Javan Mynas were the most commonly seen species and achieved the highest count among the target species. House crows and Asian Koels showed similar distributions in locality, confirming that Asian Koels are brood parasites of House crows in Singapore.

The AVA intends to continue with this census every year in order to monitor the trend of these urban species and supplement its own surveys and studies.

The Javan Myna – mixed fortunes of a familiar stranger

Introduction

Our recent article on the Red-billed Quelea in Punggol generated much debate in local conservation circles and the media about how invasive birds can impact our native biodiversity. Sitting at the crossroads of trade in Asia, Singapore is inevitably also a hub for the pet industry and sets the stage for the sale of many thousands of birds, mammals and reptiles, not to mention the less visible transit of many more animals from the region destined for markets further afield. Every now and then, some of these animals find their way into our wilds, either from accidental or deliberate releases by people.

While there is no immediate danger of the quelea being established here, one does not need to look far to find a non-native bird that has colonised Singapore’s landscapes in a big way, and now regularly feature in our national newspapers for all the wrong reasons. Today, the familiar Javan Myna is probably our commonest resident bird, has topped the counts of almost all our bird censuses in recent years, and has probably also annoyed more people here than any other bird species (by their large noisy roosts). While there is limited observational evidence of how Javan Mynas have competed with other native species like the Common Myna and Oriental Magpie Robin, some conservationists believe that the decline of both species may be associated with the rise of the Javan Myna. Not surprisingly, there is considerable overlap between the habitats used by the Javan Myna and these two species, leading to competition for resources.

Many Javan Mynas on a bare tree. Photo Credit: Low Choon How

Many Javan Mynas on a bare tree. Photo Credit: Low Choon How

A declining native

While the Javan Myna has thrived in its non-native distribution, particularly in the Malay Peninsula (including Singapore), parts of Sarawak (e.g. Kuching), Sabah (e.g. Tawau), and increasingly does so in northern Sulawesi (e.g. Manado), not many people are aware of the massive declines suffered in its native range of Java and Bali. A massive demand for Javan Mynas and other wild starlings (e.g. Asian Pied Starling) in the Indonesian pet trade has taken its toll on the indigenous population of this species. In seven visits to West Java and Bali since 2003, I have only encountered the mynas twice, and only as singles or pairs, but never in the big flocks seen in Singapore. Some Indonesian colleagues casually remarked that the only Javan Mynas left on Java are the poor few lingering on in the national parks or nature reserves. At the same time, I have seen it on sale in large numbers in bird shops in the Indonesian cities of Jakarta, Bogor, Palu and Padang. In some bird shops in Bogor for instance, single Javan Mynas may fetch over 300,000 IRP (30 SGD) or more.

A myna difference

One of the benefits of being a naturalist living in two cities is that one can make comparisons of the animal life of both, and see how it can change with time. In my childhood days, I spent much time in Kuala Lumpur’s outskirts, as much as I did in Singapore and so had an opportunity to observe birds in two somewhat similar urban settings 350 km apart. It was interesting then to note that mynas I observed in my school grounds in 1996 were mostly the ‘black’ ones (i.e. Javan Myna) while those in my KL backyard were the ‘brown’ ones (i.e. Common Myna). The differences in voices meant that it was not too difficult to identify either species’ presence even when the mynas were not seen. So it intrigued me one day in 2000 when I heard a familiar screeching sound in a neighborhood playing field in Kuala Lumpur – that of a Javan Myna! A quick search found one Javan Myna in a large group of 20 Common Mynas. In the 15 years that followed, Javan Mynas have became more ubiquitous in my estate and in my last visit in 2014, large groups can now be seen all over Kuala Lumpur and the Klang Valley.

Common Myna at Singapore Botanic Gardens. Photo Credit: Francis Yap

Common Myna at Singapore Botanic Gardens. Photo Credit: Francis Yap

Epilogue

Looking back in time with an ecologist’s lenses, it becomes quite clear that the spread of the Javan Myna from Singapore into Peninsular Malaysia has been rapid even though the exact time frames cannot be determined due to patchy documentation by birdwatchers for abundant bird species. Javan Mynas are now common across Johor north to Kuala Lumpur and large flocks can now be seen commuting the Straits of Johor daily. Documentation from other birdwatchers in Malaysia showed that the Javan Myna has spread to as far north as central Perak and continues to expand its range, aided possibly by large areas of deforested countryside made available to them. In its march north, novel ecological problems are created, because species that have never interacted with Javan Mynas will now have to. Native starlings of open country like the Common and Jungle Mynas are of course now faced with an aggressive competitor, and may decline in the long term. Further north, the White-vented Myna may soon cross paths with its southern, non-native relative, with predictable consequences.

Jungle Mynas at Juru, Penang. Photo Credit: Low Choon How

Jungle Mynas at Juru, Penang. Photo Credit: Low Choon How

The spread of the Javan Myna up the Malay Peninsula, as revealed by the observations collected by birdwatchers in Malaysia and Singapore, is possibly one of the most striking changes in avifauna in the region in recent years, made more so by the ubiquity and conspicuousness of these birds. While the resources to manage the invasion of this species was probably not available many decades ago when it was more manageable, the rapid range expansion of the Javan Myna is a clear reminder than an invasive animal from a climatically different part of Southeast Asia (i.e. monsoonal and drier Java), has the potential to spread far and wide, especially if it is facilitated by other broader landscape changes caused by deforestation, urbanisation or even climate change. On the other hand, the declines in its native Java reflects the mixed fortunes faced by the Javan Myna, and poses interesting questions for conservationists. It is possible, and plausible that the invasive populations of this species in Singapore or Malaysia, can be used to repopulate areas in Java or Bali where it has been hunted out, or that these populations can be used to alleviate the pressure on wild populations by the Indonesian pet trade. Whatever the case, the Javan Myna story poses an interesting challenge for conservationists in a modern setting where innovative solutions are needed to conserve species effectively.

Cover Photo: “Javan Mynas on a tree trunk” by Low Choon How