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A Report from

Bukit Timah nature reserve, Singapore,

Peter Ericsson

Dear friends,

Sunday the 25th of November, I was able to visit Bukit Timah nature reserve in Singapore. The Nature Conversation Society was conducting a bird watching walk through their very active birding group. Kim Lim Chua was the leader and about 25 high spirited fresh bird watchers from all age brackets attended.

The walk was to follow the more outlying trail of the park, as large amounts of Singaporeans frequent the reserve on Sunday mornings. We encountered several mountain bikers on our walk, some who happily slowed down and others who resorted to loud 'watch out' calls and would come roaming by.

Forest was quiet as with overhanging dark clouds. First bird we heard was the whining call of White-throated Kingfisher in the distant followed by a Rufous-tailed Tailorbird. Then a pair of Laced Woodpeckers was spotted through the understorey but gave poor views. First major bird to draw everyone's attention was an Indian Cuckoo, a migrant species to Singapore. The bird which doesn't call while on the island perched complyingly and then started to feed of caterpillars and grubs available in the tree.

Next was another more rare visitor, a flock of 9 Eye-browed Thrushes passed overhead.

Large-billed Crows were in the treetops across the gully and a Dollarbird was perched there as well. A flock of fast flying Long-tailed Parakeets, native to Singapore, crossed the gully. Hill Mynas kept whistling aloud as we followed the trail while a Little Sunbird whisked by.

As we approached a clearing in our patch lots of musical and bubbling sounds were to be heard. Several Greater Racket-tailed Drongos were doing acrobatics and singing away.

These birds were making use of the many Long-tailed Macaques who were stirring up insects from all their commotion and antics.  Here a sweet Drongo Cuckoo came close by and the fantastic songster, Straw-headed Bulbul exploded in a cascade of wonder. Four individuals were perched on the same branch. This globally threatened species seems to survive well in Singaporean habitats. White-crested Laugningthrushes seemed to be surrounding us easy for all to see. This is not a native bird of Singapore but has established itself well around the island.

However the star of the show for the group was to be Chestnut-bellied Malkoha. This colorfully equipped bird drew loud aaahhs and oooohhs from every direction. Other birds here were Striped Tit Babbler, Olive-winged Bulbul and Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker.

Onwards we walked all the way up to the summit at some 160 meters above sea level. Singapore's highest point. Here a fruiting fig tree helped us out. Many colorful birds were feeding of its small orange fruits. Red-crowned Barbet, Asian Fairly Bluebird, Red-eyed Bulbul, Cream-vented Bulbul, Black-crested Bulbul, Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, Blue-winged Leafbird, Banded Woodpecker was there as well, but no Jumbo Fruit Dove sometimes seen were present.  Other birds in the surrounding was Crimson Sunbird (intensely red), Arctic Warbler, Asian Brown Flycatcher and over head a fully mature White-bellied Fish-Eagle came close up displaying it's magnificent stature. Swiftlets and a Crested Honey Buzzard added to the scenery.  On our way down a Banded Bay Cuckoo called but stalking this for me wanted bird proved unsuccessful.

At the car park Black-naped Orioles and Asian Glossy Starlings buzzed around and everyone parted after having expressed our thanks to the organizers. It impressed me to see so many new birdwatchers from all walks of life on this walk. Apparently these outings which are held bi-weekly at different locations attract about the same amount of people each time.

Botanical Garden

I managed to squeeze an hour or so at this wonderful city park. I tried to look for Siberian Blue Robin in the 'rainforest' part but had to come out empty handed.

A large tree had a few Long-tailed Parakeets perching and my first close up views of this species took place. Parrots and Parakeets are not very dominant in South-east Asia so every time I see one it is a real treat.

I caught up with my youngest son who was throwing a new toy, a boomerang in the air. Of course it came crashing down everywhere. Both birds and people had to duck and flee from this fierce flying object!

Anyway, down to the lake we went. On a branch in a little island in the lake a brilliant Stork-billed Kingfisher was perching. Huge reddish bill, light brown chest and blue back/wings. In Thailand this bird is not that easy to find so I eagerly took in long views. Then the high-pitched, one syllable call of Common Kingfisher rang out. Scanning the banks of the lake revealed one individual frantically searching for fish. Suddenly a bright blue color started to glimmer in the trees next to the lake. A closer look revealed White-throated Kingfisher doing frequent sorties for fish in a smaller heavily vegetated pond nearby. This bird is brilliant blue with deep brown head and white throat. Best of all, my son, Jaime, 6, was able to see all of this as well.

On the floating vegetation a White-breasted Waterhen with four chicks were searching for food. A motionless Little Heron was standing erect beside the Waterhens.  The insistent cooing of Pink-necked Pigeons was heard from several trees around the pond. This bird is so magnificently colored that I simply don't know how to describe it!

Up above at least a dozen Grey-rumped Treeswifts were feeding, all the while vocalizing. On the way out, an Indian Cuckoo kindly flew in to perch a few meters over our heads. Of course there were more of the more common species around but these above related species definitely stood out this late afternoon at the Botanical Garden.

Muslim cemetery

Kim Chua kindly picked us up (myself and Jaime) to go and look for a Spotted Wood Owl in a Muslim cemetery. Skies were gloomy and like most cemeteries the atmosphere was a little 'eerie'.

Never having been to a Muslim cemetery my son asked me "What are those funny things sticking up out of the ground? How come there are so many?" I told him and he continued, "So those are all the dead Muslims being bombed in Afghanistan?" Ha! What can I say?

We waited by an enormous tree where the bird previously had been seen. Darkness started to set in and visibility was limited. Then a deep, loud huh could be heard and we finally found the bird perched deep in the canopy. It flew to another tree and we were able to shine on it with our flashlight. Such a nice feeling seeing this nocturnal animal in its natural habitat getting ready for a long nights hunt. His eyes searched ours as much as we his and when all of us were satisfied he flew of with strong, soundless wing beats.

Panti, Johore, Malaysia

The pearl and crown of birding in and around Singapore must be this wonderful lowland rainforest in Johore, Malaysia. It never ceases to surprise me how rich the forest is, starting from the very beginning of any road or trail leading into the reserve. On the right side of the highway leading there is nothing but plantations and developments. Still the left side holds wonders such as Trogons, Pittas and Hornbills all the way to the edge of the forest.

We walked along a logging trail and my first lifer was the colorful Chestnut-rumped Babbler who came out in the open, climbing up a smaller tree. This skulker normally is more hidden and so it was a privilege to see it so open.  Checking out various Bulbuls while listening to Banded Kingfisher kept me busy for a bit. Then the deep, guttural croak from a Rhinoceros Hornbill filled the air. We had to search a bit but then this giant of a bird was clearly seen, filling both scope and bins with marvel. We were in the middle of a power line clearing observing this bird perched nearby.  The bird appeared almost Zoo like, in that it was very easy to have good views, almost too easy to make it exciting!

Then something dark and very Bat Hawk like crossed the clearing. It all happened too quickly for me to with certainty identify this darker raptor.  I guess only Heaven will reveal if it truly was a Bat Hawk or not.

I had to stray a bit from the logging trail in order to relief myself. While doing so the screeching sound of a Maroon Woodpecker came upon me. A beautiful female bird flew in to clutch on to a tree trunk only 5 meters ahead of me. We then went to another trail and things kept showing up. Had very good views of 4 different Malkoha species, Raffle's, Chestnut-bellied, Chestnut-breasted and Red-billed. Added my 26th species of Woodpecker in the Thai/Malay/Spr region, Buff-rumped WP. Incredible diversity in this family!

A bird wave of around 7-8 species kept us extremely busy for at least 10 minutes. Goodies in the wave were, Purple-naped Sunbird, Rufous-crowned Babbler, Yellow-bellied Bulbul and Grey-bellied Bulbul.

All in all we saw and heard close to 70 species this morning. Not bad for an 'off season' day.

Birds seen at Panti 

Hairy-backed Bulbul
Cream-vented Bulbul
Buff-vented Bulbul  
Red-eyed Bulbul
Grey-bellied Bulbul 
Yellow-bellied Bulbul
Streaked Bulbul 
Rufous-crowned Babbler  
Chestnut-rumped Babbler 
Fluffy-backed Tit Babbler, Heard
Striped Tit Babbler
Ruby-throated Sunbird
Purple-naped Sunbird
Little Spiderhunter 
Thick-billed Spiderhunter  
Orange-bellied Flowerpecker
Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker  
Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker 
Arctic Warbler  
Eastern Crowned Warbler
Dark-necked Tailorbird 
Common Tailorbird
Green Iora
Blue-winged Leafbird    
Greater Leafbird
Lesser Leafbird  
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch
Ashy Minivet  
Red-crowned Barbet
Brown Barbet  
Black-winged Flycatcher-Shrike
Brown-breasted Jungle Flycatcher,  Heard
Maroon Woodpecker
Buff-rumped Woodpecker
Crimson-winged Woodpecker
Grey Wagtail
Blue-crowned Hanging Parakeet
Long-tailed Parakeet
Large Woodshrike
Rhinoceros Hornbill
Hill Myna
White-throated Kingfisher
Banded Kingfisher,  Heard
Ashy Drongo
Bronzed Drongo
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
Crow-billed Drongo
Dark-throated Oriole
Red-billed Malkoha
Chestnut-bellied Malkoha
Chestnut-breasted Malkoha
Raffle's Malkoha
Crested Serpent-Eagle
Changeable Hawk-Eagle
Spotted Dove
Lesser Green Pigeon
Asian Brown Flycatcher
Whiskered Treeswift
Brown-backed Needletail
Tiger Shrike
Drongo Cuckoo, Heard
Black-naped Monarch
Bat Hawk?

Pasir Ris

Sunday. Time to take the kids out. Why not a park by the beach? Pasir Ris located on the North Eastern side of the island, opposite Pulau Ubin and in vicinity of Changi airport, is a good choice. Lots of creative activities for kids (cycling, swimming, play-grounds etc) plus a mangrove forest and many larger trees makes for an interesting environment for a bird enthusiast like me.  This year, the Flyeater kept ringing out its rather unique song. Sort of  Flycatcher like with whining, descending and rising high pitched tones. It reminds me of a Warbler in behavior, size and color but belongs to a family of birds more common in the Australian region.

Brown-capped Woodpecker is an extremely small, active and common Woodpecker to be found all over Singapore. It can be a bit hard to find though but here in Pasir Ris I have found it easy to spot. It works its way up the tree trunk a bit like Treecreepers, starting from below and working it's way up.

Other superb birds here are the Copper-throated Sunbird, a mangrove dweller, Ashy Tailorbird and Collared Kingfisher.   Over the seas towards Pulau Ubin a pair of White-bellied Fish-Eagles were soaring high. Some Terns flew across the waters.

Towards dusk the lawns were filled with Large-tailed Nightjars.

MacRitchie reservoir

Early one morning we went to this forest reserve. A pair of Grey-headed Eagles has been known to nest and feed in the reservoir for many years now.

On the way in we were hoping to see Grey Nightjars but were a bit too late. Instead we say several Large-tailed Nightjars. Brown-hawk Owl perched and called in a tree.

Flock of Large-tailed Parakeets flew across the waters. We waited and waited until a mature Eagle flew in on its regular perch, sharing the tree with a White-throated Kingfisher and a pair of Dollarbirds.  Apparently only a couple of pairs are left in Singapore and presumably loosing out to the successful White-bellied Sea Eagle.

Along the golf course we saw Purple Heron, White-breasted Waterhen and Yellow Bittern.   Then we walked along a patch where many joggers were passing by on their way around the lake. Here we saw a Japanese Sparrowhawk chasing a Scaly-breasted Munia, Black-naped Kingfisher, Striped Tit-Babbler, Ping-necked Doves, Racket-tailed Drongo, Crow-billed Drongo, Arctic Warbler and Olive-winged Bulbul.

After our morning at MacRitchie we went for Roti Prata and mutton curry . Delicious!

Then we paid a short visit to Sungei Buloh park (now officially fully protected) for some waders. We saw: Marsh Sandpiper, Curlew Marsh Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Redshank, Common Greenshank  and Lesser Sand Plover.

Other possible places to visit while in Singapore are the Zoo and the Bird Park. While taking the kids to the zoo (very children friendly) I saw my very first Purple-backed Starling. The Bird Park holds over 8000 birds along with the world's largest aviary with an inbuilt 30m tall waterfall. A pair of Lesser Flamebacks was intrigued by a captive individual of the same species and kept trying to enter the cage before deciding to fly off. Good bird show with an added wild Brahimy Kite snatching bits of meat from the tame flock showing of their flight skills. A full day could easily be spent here in a more detailed study of the great many birds.

So, birding in Singapore can be great fun. What I did was apart from work and visiting relatives. A more determined effort would have revealed many more species.

Peter Ericsson

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