Tag Archives: Yong Ding Li

The first record of a White-tailed Tropicbird for Singapore?

Sitting on a region of shallow seas, the waters around Singapore are not particularly known for their high seabird diversity. Terns are the most ubiquitous seabirds on an average offshore birdwatching trip, although at certain months of the year, regular passage of the Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel has been documented. In recent years, spring passage of the Short-tailed Shearwater through Singapore and the Malacca Straits has also been reported. Every now and then and especially during periods of exceptional weather, very rare seabirds have been blown inland and sometimes end up in the most unlikely of places. For instance, a Wedge-tailed Shearwater was apparently picked up in Woodlands back in the late 1990s, near a wet field – the most unlikely place to see a bird with otherwise pelagic habits! In another surprising report, a Christmas Island Frigatebird was actually seen over the Central Catchment forest many years back!

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

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

On the 22 June 2015, I received a report from ACRES that an unknown seabird, possibly a very large tern was retrieved alive from Pioneer sector in Tuas. A quick examination of the photographs provided to me showed a very large, slender seabird with long tail streamers, yellow bill, and a very diagnostic black facial patch around the lores and eyes, thus confirming the identity of this ‘mystery seabird’ as a White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus). The golden-yellow wash on its plumage suggests that this individual is the form fulvus (also known as the Golden Bosunbird) that breeds only on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean. While the exact route taken by this individual into Singapore waters will never be known, it is plausible that strong southerly winds most pronounced during the southwest monsoon period (June – August) played a part in nudging this tropicbird into Singapore waters. Thankfully I have just been updated that this bird is now under the expert care of veterinarians.

White-tailed Tropicbird (fulvus race) in flight on Christmas Island. Photo courtesy of Albert Low.

White-tailed Tropicbird (fulvus race) in flight on Christmas Island. Photo courtesy of Albert Low.

In the past, there have only been anecdotal accounts of tropicbirds being sighted in Singapore, but none with a confirmed species-level identification or even a photograph. This individual represents the first record of any tropicbird in Singapore, and currently awaits review by the Nature Society’s bird records committee. If accepted, it will join the steady stream of new national records that will eventually push Singapore’s bird list to the 400th mark.

The nearest colonies of the White-tailed Tropicbird to Singapore are in the Australian external territories in the Indian Ocean – Cocos-Keeling and Christmas Islands (endemic breeding ssp. fulvus). In the shallow waters of the South China and Java seas, reports of tropicbirds are rare. In Java (Indonesia), the species is most regularly encountered on the south coast that fringe the deep waters of the Indian Ocean, especially around Yogyakarta and Malang (Cahyono H., Yordan, K. in litt.), with small colonies of the nominate subspecies reported from Rongkop (Yogyakarta) as well as Uluwatu (Bali) and Nusa Penida Island, off Bali. There is a single record from Thailand (P.D. Round in litt.), and a few old reports from Malaysia’s Layang-Layang (Swallow) Reef in the Spratly Islands. In the Philippines, there are only a handful of records, and like the present record, also involved exhausted individuals recovered near coastal cities (e.g. Dumaguete in 1968, Saragani in 1929). Other Philippine records are from remote islets in the Sulu Sea (e.g. Jessie Beazley Reef).

White-tailed Tropicbird (fulvus race) with its chick on Christmas Island. Photo courtesy of Albert Low.

White-tailed Tropicbird (fulvus race) with its chick on Christmas Island. Photo courtesy of Albert Low.

White-tailed Tropicbird (fulvus race) fledgling 6 weeks after the previous picture was taken. Photo courtesy of Albert Low

White-tailed Tropicbird (fulvus race) fledgling 6 weeks after the previous picture was taken. Photo courtesy of Albert Low


I thank Anbarasi Boopal (ACRES) and her staff for sharing this important record. Photograph of the rescued tropicbird is courtesy of ACRES. Thanks also go to Heru Cahyono and Khaleb Yordan for commenting on the status of this bird in Java, and Philip Round, on its status in Thailand.

In celebration of migratory bird day: Singapore and the East Asian-Australasian migratory flyway

Many of Singapore's migratory songbirds and cuckoos breed in the coniferous forest, or 'Taiga' that stretches across Russia, northern Mongolia and China. In eastern Siberia east of Lake Baikal, these vast forests are dominated by the Siberian and Daurian Larch trees. Some of our Taiga breeders include Siberian Blue Robin, Eyebrowed Thrush, Dark-sided Flycatcher and the abundant Arctic Warbler.

Many of Singapore’s migratory songbirds and cuckoos breed in the coniferous forest, or ‘Taiga’ that stretches across Russia, northern Mongolia and China. In eastern Siberia east of Lake Baikal, these vast forests are dominated by the Siberian and Daurian Larch trees. Some of our Taiga breeders include Siberian Blue Robin, Eyebrowed Thrush, Dark-sided Flycatcher and the abundant Arctic Warbler.

Living in the dark Taiga forests than spans Amurland, the Siberian Blue Robin could sense that the days were getting shorter and cooler, and evenings seemed to dawn a little earlier every next August day. The Taiga also seemed to be getting quieter. Just a few days ago, the familiar Arctic and Pallas’s Leaf Warblers were still out and about the larches, but they seemed to have gone quiet lately. The Siberian Bush Warbler that shared his clump was still there, bouncing from twig to twig every morning for its insect breakfasts, but the Red-flanked Bluetail that lived just a few bushes away seemed to have disappeared, and as the sounds of other warblers and robins faded away, only the trill of the occasional woodpecker or the Long-tailed tits could still be heard. As a starry night falls upon the shorter Siberian day, our Blue Robin will take flight and fly south to where the great Amur river separates the edge of the Russian taiga from the vast agricultural fields of Heilongjiang.

Lower Peirce

A Siberian Blue Robin at Lower Peirce Reservoir. Living among other resident Singapore birds like the Short-tailed Babblers

In no more than two weeks, he would have reached the eastern coast of China where he will stop, with some of his kind, to eat as many insects and worms he can find before heading south again. And if he survives the perils of crossing the mountain ranges of northern Vietnam and the Malay Peninsula, it wouldn’t be long before he reaches his destination in October. Here in the tropical forests of Singapore, our Siberian Blue Robin shares his little patch with a few familiar neighbours of his spring home, like the Arctic Warbler, as well as some old neighbours he’s seen from last winter, like the Short-tailed Babbler and the brightly-hued Hooded Pitta.

Jelutong Tower

Blue Robin’s neighbour, the drab Arctic Warbler decided to call the Macritchie Reservoir its home instead.

Map of Asian migratory bird flyways. Work by the US federal government, Fish and Wildlife Service, in the public domain

Map of Asian migratory bird flyways. Work by the US federal government, Fish and Wildlife Service, in the public domain

The East Asian-Australasian Flyway is a group of flight paths identified by biologists, and stretches from the arctic parts of Siberia, to as far south as New Zealand. Biologists came out with the concept of ‘flyways’ to describe the ‘collection of routes’ taken by different species of migratory birds from where they breed, to the places where they spend their winter. Probably the most important flyway in the world, the East Asian-Australasian Flyway is used by more different species of migratory birds than any other flyway on Earth, as well as numerous species that are in danger of extinction, most famously the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. No one has attempted to estimate how many birds use this flyway yearly, and while some biologists think that 50-100 million waterbirds may fly along this flyway every autumn, the total number which includes many of the small songbirds like our Siberian Blue Robin, remains unknown. It may be that the entire flyway is used by as many as anything from 3 to 5 billion migratory birds altogether, if we included all the little warblers, buntings, finches, pipits, flycatchers and robins that are very widespread across Siberia, Mongolia and northern China.

The critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper at Pak Thale, Thailand. Photo by Shirley Ng

The critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper at Pak Thale, Thailand. Photo by Shirley Ng

In autumn when most of the birds breeding across boreal and temperate parts of Asia fly south to spend their winters in the warmer tropics, many would pass undetected as they migrate at night under the guidance of the constellations. Examples include the warblers, robins, thrushes and possibly, even the pittas. While not many people has studied these migratory songbirds here in Asia, we know that they are mostly night migrants based on similar studies of related species in Europe, North America, as well as numerous accounts of birds flying into peoples’ houses at night. Not too long ago, I received an email (with photos) from a member of a public saying that a small brown bird has flown into his flat at night on the 27th storey of an apartment block here in central Singapore (Toa Payoh). The bird turned out to be one of our migratory flycatchers, after checking the photographs enclosed. Meanwhile, shorebirds, hawks and ducks mostly migrate in the day and so are among the best known of our migratory birds as it is much easier to observe them on migration. In Singapore, we have had conducted regular surveys to count the numbers of these migrants yearly in the form of the Annual Waterbird Census in January, and the Raptor Census which is usually carried out in October-November.

Juvenile, Bidadari

This juvenile Dark-sided Flycatcher made its first long distance migration, to land at Bidadari as a stopover. It could very well have landed at an apartment block instead.

Singapore sits near the heart of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway and more than 100 species of migratory birds have been recorded in our forests, wetlands and parks. While many of our migratory birds, especially the hawks and shorebirds, continue to fly south to Indonesia’s islands, and for few species like sandpipers, Australia, over 50 species spend their winter here. Birdwatchers and ornithologists call them ‘winter visitors’ or ‘winter migrants’, on account of the fact that these birds will eventually spend nearly 3-4 months of their winter and spring on this tropical island. By contrast, the birds that we term as ‘passage migrants’ are so called because they merely pass Singapore, spending anything between one day to a couple of weeks here before heading south again during the months of the northern (boreal) autumn. In Singapore, the best known winter visitors are the numerous Whimbrels, Common Redshanks, Greenshanks and Lesser Sandplovers that throng the wetlands of Sungei Buloh or Sungei Khatib Bongsu every from August-September. Not many people however realise that there are in fact migratory birds everywhere in Singapore, even on busy Orchard Road. If you took a careful look at one of those Yellow Flame and Angsana trees that line parts of Orchard road in December, you might see the drab Arctic Warbler or even the Asian Brown Flycatcher, both which hail from Russia’s Taiga forests. Heading to our tropical forests in MacRitchie or Seletar, you might see a different set of migratory winter visitors, although it can be challenging to spot them in the dense foliage. While the Eastern Crowned Warblers or the Asian Paradise Flycatchers that made it here from the far-eastern Russian region of densely forested Primorye can be easy to see some November days, it can be harder to spot shyer migrants like our Siberian Blue Robin, or the Siberian Thrush. And besides migrants from Russia, our forests also draw in a few migratory birds from Korea, northern China and regions as far south as Thailand and Vietnam. For example, Blue-winged Pittas breed mostly in continental Southeast Asia, and so made relatively short journeys here to Singapore than their counterparts from further north.

Sungei Buloh

The Common Redshanks, Common Greenshanks and the Marsh Sandpipers make Sungei Buloh their winter home every year.


This colourful Blue-winged Pitta flew only a relatively short distance to land at Bidadari

As humans increasingly change the landscape in the form of infrastructural development, urbanisation to agriculture, wildlife everywhere is increasingly threatened. Some of the most endangered wildlife in the world today include Asia’s Sumatran rhinoceros, Orang Utan, tiger and panda. Migratory birds which have received far less attention from the media and NGOs, are also at risk from extinction. Some migratory shorebirds like the Slender-billed Curlew are now so rare that few have seen one for decades, and it may already be extinct in the wild. The fast changing environments of East Asia’s coastal regions, which contains the most densely populated parts of the planet, have threatened the important resting and wintering grounds of migratory waterbirds anywhere between South Korea, northeast China to Thailand and Singapore. Species like the Black-faced Spoonbill, Spoon-billed Sandpiper and the Nordmann’s Greenshank are now on the brink of extinction, with only a couple of thousand individuals left in the wild or even less. Songbirds like robins and warblers are even more poorly known. No one knows for sure where some of China’s and Japan’s rarest songbirds like the Rufous-headed Robin or the Pleske’s Grasshopper Warbler spend their winter. Here in Singapore, we are fortunate to be able to play host to the threatened Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher that flies in every Autumn from Central/Southern China on its way south. And as climate change increasingly takes its toll on temperate and boreal environments, it is very likely that the breeding cycles of many of these migratory birds will be affected. Scientists have already found evidence that habitat or ecological changes due to warmer seasons means that some migratory birds will not arrive in their habitats on time when food is most abundant, or that certain tundra predators like Arctic foxes may become more abundant, threatening shorebirds like Spoon-billed Sandpipers at their nesting grounds.


The globally threatened Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher flies in from Central/Southern China every autumn.

World Migratory Bird Day is a good time for us to take stock of the threats faced by migratory birds all over the world. As more technologies to monitor migratory birds are available to scientists today than ever before, we surely have more information that can be used meaningfully to conserve them. The power of social media also means that data can be more easily gathered than before, as much as sharing the beauty of wildlife in general, and migratory birds in particular, though various platforms not possible a few years ago. As birdwatchers and citizen scientists, many of us readers can also make a difference by submitting our observations of migratory birds to local and regional conservationists, and which can then be used by scientists to understand their ecology and help in their conservation. Action is needed now, today, because without it, it may be that in a few decades from now, the Siberian Blue Robins that keeps many of us birdwatchers and nature photographers busy today, will join that list of threatened species that keeps getting longer every year.

Photo Gallery

Article written by Yong Ding Li.
Photo Credits: Yong Ding Li, Shirley Ng & Francis Yap

Destination Singapore: A Birder’s Gateway to the Jungles of Southeast Asia – Part 3

Singapore lies on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF), a migratory route used by the greatest diversity of migratory birds on the planet. Each year, hundreds of millions of birds of more than 400 species set off from as far away as Arctic Siberia to spend the winter in the tropical climate of Southeast Asia. In Singapore, many people tend to associate migratory birds with the flocks of shorebirds that visit Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve every year from September to April. However, there are also many other species that either pass through Singapore en route to destinations further south or choose to spend their winter here. In this instalment, we profile three migratory birds which can be very difficult to see either in their breeding range or elsewhere in Southeast Asia during the migration period.

Swinhoe's Storm PetrelFirst up, we have the avian equivalent of the seafarers who made Singapore’s ports and associated shipping lanes famous. The Swinhoe’s Storm-Petrel breeds on inaccessible islands off the coast of Korea, eastern Russia and Japan and makes the annual journey to winter in the Indian Ocean. As part of the process, these birds also utilise the Singapore Straits as the quickest means to get from the Pacific Ocean to their wintering grounds. Every year during the months of September and May, chartering a boat out into the Singapore Straits can yield hundreds of these birds moving East to West (September) and vice versa (May) as they make the arduous journey between the two oceans. Flocks of tired birds can even be seen resting on the water, against the backdrop of some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Interestingly, this bird is surprisingly difficult to see anywhere outside Singapore, and even serious Japanese birdwatchers have visited Singapore specifically looking for this species despite living relatively close to their breeding habitats further north.

Von Schrenck's BitternNext, we feature a secretive visitor to our well-wooded freshwater streams and ponds during the migratory season. The Von Schrenk’s Bittern breeds in the wetlands of East Asia and winters throughout Southeast Asia as far south as Sulawesi. Unlike its cousins, who inhabit open freshwater wetlands and marshes, this species appears to favour well-wooded freshwater habitats where it is usually solitary and extremely retiring. This species is apparently not uncommon in Singapore during the passage period, evident from the multiple records of dead individuals that collide with glass buildings while on migration every year. However, seeing them in the wild is a completely different matter, as they are often well camouflaged in the streamside vegetation of our forest streams and ponds. Nevertheless, in recent years it has become apparent that some individuals spend a comparatively long time around easily accessed sites, as recent sightings of a male at Lower Peirce Boardwalk and a female at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve demonstrate. Both these individuals were present for at least a month, providing observers with a rare opportunity to document the ecology and foraging behaviour of this little-known species. Outside of Singapore, they appear to be only rarely encountered, with one of the few regular sites being Happy Island in China during spring migration when the species passes by on their journey to Heilongjiang or Amurland.

Yellow-rumped FlycatcherLastly, we feature a handsome songbird which transits in Singapore on its way to its wintering grounds in the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java. The Korean or Yellow-rumped Flycatcher is a sexually dimorphic species with males sporting a particularly attractive black and yellow plumage. Females are comparatively duller but can still be identified by their distinctive yellow rump. Every year in October, large numbers spend anywhere from several days to a fortnight in Singapore refuelling before making the final leg of their journey south. During this period, it is not unusual to find some trees in our forests and parks festooned with dozens of these birds, particularly after a sustained period of bad weather. Interestingly, significantly more females than males are observed in Singapore, the reasons for which are still poorly understood. Recent banding studies show that large numbers of these birds pass through small islands in the Gulf of Thailand on their way north in spring, but the species is otherwise unobtrusive and infrequently observed. One way to locate these birds is through their characteristic chattery-trill, which we have managed to obtain recordings of (xeno-canto Link). During the short aforementioned period, however, this species is locally common in Singapore and can be encountered anywhere from urban parks to our nature reserves.

Singapore, like many countries along the EAAF, is a hotspot for migratory birds between October to April every year. Beyond the flocks of waders that captivate visitors to our coasts, more than 100 species of migratory birds occur unobtrusively in our parks and green spaces, often right under the noses of visitors. The featured species are but the tip of the iceberg, and readers are encouraged to learn more about and appreciate the epic annual journeys made by many of these species, some of which are no bigger than the palm of your hand!

Photo Gallery of the birds featured:

Part 1 of the series
Part 2 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: Francis Yap

Destination Singapore: A Birder’s Gateway to the Jungles of Southeast Asia – Part 2

When asked about Singapore’s birdlife, many locals bemoan the perceived lack of colour displayed by the birds they encounter in their daily life. While mynas, sunbirds and orioles may not be on the same level as the rainbow-coloured denizens of Asia’s rainforests, Singapore does have its fair share of colourful birds, some of which are also difficult to observe elsewhere in Asia. In this instalment, we profile three colourful avian residents which dwell unobtrusively in our midst, many of whom can be observed even in our urban parks and green spaces.

copper-throated sunbird-zacc We start with one of the more specialised sunbirds in the region – the mangrove-dwelling Copper-throated Sunbird. In poor light, males of this species can appear almost uniformly black, but when seen well, the iridescent quality of its plumage comes into its own, with a kaleidoscope of colours that even modern cameras struggle to document. This large sunbird has a patchy distribution throughout Southeast Asia, confined primarily to large tracts of good quality mangroves in southern Thailand and the Malay Peninsula as well as the Greater Sundas and Palawan. In Singapore, the species has persisted where most of our other mangrove specialists have faded away, and is regularly seen, some would say even locally common, in our remaining mangrove forests. The readily accessible Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, one of the local strongholds of this species, is one of the few places in the World where one could expect an encounter within minutes of stepping out of a taxi.


red-legged crake-zacc
(Red-legged Crake by ZaccHD)

Our next representative is a widespread resident throughout our island, but its crepuscular habits and strange vocalisations have confounded numerous observers over the years. Meet the Red-legged Crake. This forest-dwelling rail is widespread throughout Southeast Asia. However, its tendency to scurry mouse-like away from danger, coupled with being most active at dawn and dusk, means that few observers see anything more than a fleeting glimpse in the field. In Singapore, however, this species has adapted to inhabiting a wide range of wooded habitats throughout the island. Arguably the best place to see this species in the World is at our world-renowned Singapore Botanical Gardens, where individuals and even parents with young chicks frequently forage by the sides of footpaths and on open lawns in broad daylight, seemingly unperturbed by the multitude of park users and tourists. When viewed up close, it is an extremely attractive species, sporting a crimson-red iris and legs, rich chestnut brown plumage and Zebra-esque barring on its belly.

Long-tailed ParakeetFinally, we can’t have an article on colourful birds without a representative from the parrot family! Of the three species of parakeet found in Singapore, the Long-tailed Parakeet is the only native representative, and also has the distinction of being a globally near-threatened species. Males of this species are an eyeful with their bright red bills, peach coloured cheeks, black “beard” and long flowing tails. Unlike the other introduced parakeets, this species prefers the forest edge and adjacent areas of suitable habitat. In Singapore, despite competition from the introduced Red-breasted Parakeet, it is still readily observed on the edge of our nature reserves and larger tracts of woodland, while recent studies have shown that it also roosts communally in urban areas throughout the country. This is in marked contrast to the rest of Southeast Asia, where the species is generally only uncommonly recorded, and usually flying high above forested areas or along the coast.

While the spectacular birds of Southeast Asia’s rainforests tend to grab all the headlines, Singapore’s colourful avian residents are equally sought after by well-travelled global birdwatchers. Now that you, the reader, are familiar with some of our local avian jewels, look out for them on your daily commute or during your leisure time, they could well brighten up your day as well!

Photo Gallery of the birds featured:

Part 1 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: ZaccHD, Francis Yap.

China to Sumatra via Singapore: The Journey of the Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher

To many casual birdwatchers, the Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher (Rhinomyias brunneata) is just another of the many hundreds of ‘brown jobs’ that dwell in the region. The more serious birders and conservationists however, know it to be globally threatened, and appreciate its rarity in the region.

Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher
(A Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher from Bidadari, Singapore. Photographed in September 2012)

In Singapore, veterans of the Singapore Bird Race remember it as a ‘species in bold’, in the race checklist, a classification reserved for many of our rarest birds, and thus in need of special documentation in the race. First discovered in northern Singapore back in the early 1980s, the Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher was a bird one seldom saw, and there were only a handful of records every year. In recent years, much has been learnt about the ecology of this little songbird. Birdwatchers visiting the famous Bidadari Cemetery found small numbers of these birds every October since 2006, and in 2013, a total of eight birds were sighted in the little patch of woodland of no more than 15 hectares in size. Parallel surveys I conducted in the Central Catchment Forest found as many as six birds in one morning in mid-October, or an average of 1 bird for every kilometre walked. Birdwatchers around the world now acknowledge that Singapore is probably the best place to see the Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher in the world during the fall migration period between October-November, much more so that at it’s breeding habitat in China.

So, why the apparent rarity? One reason is that the Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher has a habit of skulking in dense patches of undergrowth in woodlands and forests, perching motionless on a low twig while watching the ground for the unfortunate bug. Many birdwatchers are thus likely to have walked past the flycatcher without realising that it is there, just metres away in the bushes. Secondly, the drab-brownish colour tones of the Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher mean that to the uninitiated, it can be quite a challenge to tell it apart from other flycatchers, many of which are also brownish and show subtle differences which are difficult to pick out when seen poorly. Thirdly, not many people know the calls the Brown-chested Jungle-Flycatcher makes. Only in recent years do we now know it produces a harsh series of ‘ticks’, a call made when it is alarmed, or when another Jungle Flycatcher comes too close into its territory. (Link to my recording on Xeno-canto Link1, Link2). This call is so similar to that made by Blue Flycatchers of the genus Cyornis, that it is not surprising why some taxonomists now consider it part of that group.

Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher
(A Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher from Bidadari, Singapore. Photographed on a low twig.)

In Singapore, the Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher occurs as a passage migrant, which means that birds seen here are on their way to their wintering destination elsewhere. Breeding in the mountainous broadleaved forests of southern and central China (e.g. Hunan, Guangdong, Jiangxi, Fujian, Guizhou), Brown-chested Jungle Flycatchers head south from August onwards, briefly passing through northern Vietnam. By mid-September, they would have reached Central Thailand, as confirmed by regular sightings around Bangkok . Sightings from Singapore are mainly from the last few days of September to early November and there are very few records of birds staying through winter. Birds have also been collected from the One Fathom Bank Lighthouse in the Straits of Malacca in November before the 1920s, while hundreds were mist-netted on migration in Frasers Hill in the 1960s.

For many years, no one knew for sure where they spend their winters. A major clue came when a team in Java mist-netted a Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher in the Gunung Halimun National Park southwest of Jakarta. Subsequently, photographers based in Sumatra obtained images of ‘unknown flycatchers’ which were subsequently re-identified as the Brown-chested Jungle Flycatchers. Part of the confusion stemmed from the fact that the bird was not listed for Sumatra in the main bird field guide (i.e. Mackinnon et al’s Birds of Sumatra, Borneo, Java and Bali) covering the region. We now know that the bird has been found in the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Lampung, and the Harapan Rainforest in Jambi province. In short, we now know that the humble Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher makes a journey of 3,500km each way in Autumn and Spring, a massive distance for such a small little bird.

Photo Gallery

MacKinnon, J., & Phillipps, K. (1993). A field guide to the birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Java, and Bali: the Greater Sunda Islands. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

This post is written by our contributor Yong Ding Li with additional input from Albert Low. Photographs by Francis Yap.

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.
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.

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.