Tag Archives: pelagic survey

Pelagic Survey on the Singapore Strait – 17 May 2015

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.

Pulau Jong


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

Pelagic Survey on the Singapore Strait – 3 May 2015

The NSS Bird Group went on another pelagic survey in the early morning of 3 May 2015. Our route was almost the same as in previous survey, along the Singapore Strait.

We were anticipated a good haul of birds as previous year’s count at this same period usually yielded good number of migrants passing through the strait on the way to their breeding ground. Unfortunately the day started rather gloomily with overcast sky.

Lesser Crested Tern
(The first birds of the day were a flock of Lesser Crested Terns travelling south-east. The sky was still dark)

We encountered a flock of Lesser Crested Terns around 7am, followed by a Bridled Tern soon after. At around 7:20am, a few of us who were looking at the sea saw a pod of 6 Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins, south of St John’s Island. This was not the first time we have seen dolphins, but it is always a pleasure to encounter them. We had good views for about 8 minutes after which we sailed on to the first yellow buoy.

Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin
(It was hard to photograph the dolphins as the long lens for birds limited the field of view. However we did get a picture of a surfacing dolphin)

Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin
(There were 6 dolphins altogether, but we only managed to get a picture of 5 in a frame)

At the first yellow buoy, we saw 11 Lesser Crested Terns together with 3 Little Terns.

Yellow Buoy
(The Little Tern is the leftmost bird, and is smaller than the bigger-sized Lesser Crested Terns)

Yellow Buoy
(A close-up of the group of terns, permitting better size comparison)

Not much happened until we saw the second yellow buoy. Again another flock of Lesser Crested Terns were resting.

Yellow Buoy
(The second yellow buoy with resting Lesser-crested Terns)

It was relatively uneventful until we reached near Pengerang where the Leisure World casino ship normally does a slow cruise in international waters. There we saw our first 5 Swinhoe’s Strom Petrels. They were far away this time and we did not manage to catch up. By this stage last year, we already were counting triple figure of this bird species, so it was very disappointing count wise. We headed back soon after and there were a few birds here and there. We headed back to the second yellow buoy to see whether any jaegers were around, kleptoparasitizing the terns. No luck either!

Finally after that buoy we saw a pair of Swinhoe’s Storm Petrels. A bit far, but at least we had a picture of one.

Swinhoe's Storm Petrel
(Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel, flying just above water)

At the first yellow buoy, we again encountered the same terns. They scattered as we neared, permitting us to practice some tern flight shots.

Lesser Crested Tern
(Non-breeding plumage Lesser Crested Tern)

Lesser Crested Tern
(Breeding plumage Lesser Crested Tern)

The last birds we saw was a pair of Black-naped Terns following a big ship. A pretty boring and rather uneventful trip except for the dolphins encounter. But perhaps helpful for us to chart the migratory patterns of the various seabird species.

Black-naped Tern
(A Black-naped Tern dwarfed by the size of the ship)

Our final count include:
Lesser Crested Tern (62)
Greater Crested Tern (1)
Black-naped Tern (2)
Bridled Tern (7)
Little Tern (3)
Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel (7)
Grey Heron (1)
Swiftlets spp (12)
Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins (6)

(Our route)

(Our team L-R: Lawrence, Alfred, Yik Shih, Samantha, Kim Keang, Ju Lin, Francis)

Photo Gallery

Pelagic Survey on the Singapore Strait – 26 April 2015

The NSS Bird Group went on another pelagic survey in the early morning of 26 April 2015. Our route was almost the same as in previous survey, along the Singapore Strait.

Quite a number of birds and bird species showed up compared to the previous trip.

Swinhoe's Storm Petrel
(Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel skimming just above the sea)

The first significant sighting was a lone Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel which showed up early crossing the strait from west to east, just after 7am.

Next we reached the familiar yellow buoy. This time around we saw around 30 resting Lesser Crested Terns, some in breeding plumage.

Yellow Buoy
(The yellow buoy with Lesser Crested Tern)

Lesser Crested Tern
(Lesser Crested Terns – closer view)

We saw our first Aleutian Tern around 8:30am flying from west to east, not far after the yellow buoy. This was the first of three Aleutian Terns seen in this trip.

Aleutian Tern
(Adult Aleutian Tern in breeding plumage)

Things quietened down substantially and it was not until 9:50am that we saw another bird, this time a Greater Crested Tern (Swift Tern)

Greater Crested Tern
(Greater Crested Tern – notice the yellow bill compared to the Lesser)

It took another hour before the next highlight of the trip. A flock of 36 White-winged Terns were feeding next to anchored ships, among them a few breeding plumaged birds with black heads and underparts were seen. There was a flurry of activity and we managed to see them picking up jellyfish on more than one occasion (see Gallery at the end of the article). We also noticed another Aleutian Tern flying by around the same area.

White-winged Tern
(A breeding plumaged White-winged Tern)

Our most exciting moment however happened when a tiny speck of a far away bird was spotted by Colin Poole. Even from a great distance, it appeared big. So the boat gave chase and as it drew closer we recognised it as a frigatebird. It turns out to be a juvenile frigatebird that is either a Christmas Island Frigatebbird or a Lesser Frigatebird. As the juvenile plumage is hard to identify conclusively, we will hand over the finding to the Records Committee to deliberate. (See Update at the bottom of the article)

(A juvenile Frigatebird appearing closer after a long chase)

After the excitement, the return journey was relatively quiet. Activity picked up after we saw another Aleutian Tern at around 1:40pm followed quickly by a Bridled Tern and another rarity, an adult Parasitic Jaeger (Arctic Skua) trailed by a Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel and lastly, another Bridled Tern. They were all travelling from west to east.

Parasitic Jaeger
(A distant Parasitic Jaeger montage)

All in all it was a fruitful trip. Our final count include:
White-winged Tern (36)
Lesser Crested Tern (35)
Greater Crested Tern (1)
Aleutian Tern (3)
Bridled Tern (2)
Little Tern (2)
Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel (2)
Frigatebird spp (1)
Parasitic Jaeger (1)
Grey Heron (3)
Swiftlets spp (10)

group photo
(Group photo L-R Jane Rogers, See Toh Yew Wai, Alan OwYong, Lim Kim Keang, Albert Low, Colin Poole, Francis Yap, Yong Yik Shih, Lawrence Cher. Not shown: Con Foley the photographer)

Photo Gallery

Update from David James, an expert on frigatebirds (1 May 2015)
Your initial diagnosis is correct, Lesser Frigatebird.
Firstly, the proportions are wrong for CI Frigatebird, the bill, neck and tail are not long enough and the base of the wing is does not broaden obviously close to the body.
The belly patch is too small, with black already reaching the base of the legs. It shows what I described in my 2014 article as a triangular belly patch with the the front corners stretched out as axillary spurs. That description can be problematic as the ‘triangle’ shape appears to vary depending on the viewing angle. In Francis’s FY7D382 it looks nothing like a triangle, but in Con’s shot with the bird preening ‘triangle’ is a good description. The belly of frigatebirds is a complex 3 dimensional surface, not usually noticed in other birds. The spurs are also a bit too short and narrow for a juvenile CIF.

Pelagic Survey on the Singapore Strait – 12 April 2015

The NSS Bird Group’s first pelagic trip for the year was conducted last Sunday, 12 April 2015. As usual, we went around the Singapore Strait, touching international waters and passing through both Indonesia (Batam) and Malaysia (Pengerang)

We started our journey at 6am before first light from Sentosa and headed to clear immigration off Sisters’ Islands. After some delays, we boated southwards towards the direction of Batam.

Our first bird for the day was a passing Grey Heron. It too was heading towards Batam for the weekend, perhaps?

Grey Heron
(A Grey Heron seen at 7:10am flying low towards Batam)

Thereafter we met our first feeding flock of Black-naped Terns and Little Terns. The exciting event of the day was the documentation of the Black-naped Tern feeding on flying fish.

Black-naped Tern
(Black-naped Tern flying off with a freshly caught flying fish)

Black-naped Tern
(Another view of the Black-naped Tern flying off with a freshly caught flying fish)

The rest of the journey went smoothly save for some choppy waters. There was another fishing flock that consists mainly of Lesser Crested Terns and one Bridled Tern. In total, we saw 5 different species of terns, which was to be expected.

Mixed Terns
(A Bridled Tern in the middle surrounded by Lesser Crested Terns hunting for fish.)

Little Tern
(A pair of breeding plumage Little Terns on a buoy. Buoys are great places to find resting birds)

Lesser-crested Tern
(A pair of Lesser Crested Terns at another buoy. The bottom bird is in full breeding plumage)

(Our route tracked and mapped using GPS)

Below are the list of birds seen and their numbers:
Swift (Greater Crested) Terns (12)
Lesser Crested Terns (34)
Little Terns (14)
Black-naped Terns (10)
Bridled Terns (1)
Swiftlets spp. (22)
Grey Heron (2)
Barn Swallow (1)

The migratory return of the Swinhoe’s Storm Petrels and Short-tailed Shearwaters will commence a few weeks from now, and we expect the next pelagic trip to be more bird rich. All in all it was a good start for the year and we got to brush up our bird identification skills.