Contributed by Alfred Chia. The last pelagic bird survey trip for 2015 organised by the Bird Group was by itself a very special one. The Nature Society and the Bird Group was privileged and honoured to have Mr Tan Chuan Jin (Minister for Social & Family Development) and Mr Desmond Lee (Minister of State for National Development) graced the trip by their presence.
After a quick introduction by me to our guests on why we are conducting these surveys, bird migrations and what we might expect to see on the trip, we departed from the jetty at One Degree 15 Marina Club at 6.30am for our usual immigration clearance at the waters off Sisters’ Islands. After a quick clearance, we set sail.
By now, the sun was trying it’s best to peek out from below the horizon. The kaleidoscope of lighting and colours that was unfolding itself needed no prompting as many scrambled for their cameras. Soon, everyone was busy snapping away at the awe and colours that Nature was presenting itself before us.
As it was mid-May, we were expecting a good haul of sea-birds since past survey records indicated as such. It was however not meant to be. Birds were few and far between and we went through long stretches without encountering any, except for the occasional few swiftlets. Even the ubiquitous crested terns, encountered in good numbers in earlier trips in late April and early May, made a disappearing act on us.
Soon, the first Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel came into view, and then the second, and third. But they were quite a distance away and flying against the direction that they should be taking on their northward migration! Disorientated perhaps? A couple of Black-naped Terns made their appearance too.
Then at 7.50am, someone pointed to a largish black bird that was flying low over the water. This was even farther than the petrels! What made it worse was that it was flying away from us and although large, appeared only as a speck when viewed through the binoculars. The ever reliable Tiah Khee was quick to manage a distance shot of the bird. After processing the picture, it was confirmed, with its long wings and a deeply forked tail, to be a frigatebird of some sort. The picture below will thus remain the only evidence of the frigatebird which we will not be able to identify to species status.
Plodding on further, we reached our landmark “yellow buoy”. To exemplified how bad it was a day, the buoy only harboured a single Lesser Crested Tern. Other birds seen included seven Bridled Terns.
En-route, our hungry crew finished every morsel of the fragrant and delicious fried chicken wings that MOS Desmond had so kindly brought along to share with us. He let in that his wife had specially woken up at 4am to cook it! Thank you very much Desmond and Mrs Lee!
On our way back, we took a somewhat different route by coasting closer to mainland Singapore. This afforded a better view of our coastline, buildings and structures. Our trip was extended to take in the Southern Islands. We sailed pass Pulau Bukom, Pulau Jong, Pulau Semakau, Pulau Hantu, Pulau Salu, Pulau Sudong, Pulau Pawai, Pulau Senang and Raffles Lighthouse before making our way back to the mainland.
Here, we saw Little Terns, a colony of about 10 nesting Grey Herons near Bukom, a light-morph Changeable Hawk Eagle being harassed by 2 House Crows at Pulau Jong, Brahminy Kites at Hantu and Semakau and 4 white-phase Pacific Reef Egrets as well as a dark-phase bird.
After an exhausting 10-hour trip, we finally returned to One Degree 15 Marina Club – spent and sticky but satisfied nevertheless.
The Nature Society and the Bird Group would like to once again thank both ministers for joining us in the pelagic bird survey. You have made the trip more enjoyable and lively with your cheerful banter, sharings and interest.
List of birds seen
Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel: 12
Black-naped Tern: 3
Bridled Tern: 7
Lesser Crested Tern: 10
Little Tern: 6 (2 Bukom, 2 Pawai, 2 Raffles Lighthouse)
UnIDed frigatebird: 1
UnIDed swiftlets: 32
Changeable Hawk Eagle: 1 (Pulau Jong)
Pink-necked Green Pigeon: 4 (Pulau Jong)
Grey Heron: 10 (at nest near Bukom)
Pacific Reef Egret: 12 (10 white & 2 dark morph)
Brahminy Kite: 6
White-bellied Sea Eagle: 1 immature
Author: Alfred Chia on behalf of Nature Society (Singapore) and the Bird Group