Birds of the Solstice: Birding at Singapore’s Bidadari Cemetery

on 22nd December 2008

The weather in Singapore does have an effect on bird behavior, and this would in a way affect the productivity of our bird watching activities.

When dawn broke on Sunday 21st December 2008, the sky was blue and dotted with puffs of clouds. I thought this would be a perfect day for birding. However this was not to be, as perfect weather is also great weather for migrant birds to continue flying to whatever destination they are heading for.

However, resident birds will always be present in our gardens, parks and forests. Birds like the Yellow-vented Bulbuls, Black-naped Orioles, White-vented Mynas, Spotted Doves, Crows, Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers, Eurasian Tree Sparrow and Olive-backed Sunbirds were easily seen from my kitchen window while White-collared Kingfishers were heard as their calls are loud and distinct.

Missing today from my kitchen window was one particular Oriental Honey Buzzard which, for two previous years, had the habit of blasting pass my window to announce its presence.

After breakfast, with camera and related accessories loaded it into the car, my wife and I proceeded to our favorite birding haunt at the Bidadari Cemetery, which has proved very productive for the past few months. On arrival we were greeted by at least 15 bird photographers and about the same number of birdwatchers, all there in anticipation of a peek at the Hooded Pitta (Pitta sordida) (above), which has been very cooperative with photographers for the pass two weeks.

Sad to say, the star for the day was missing, no Hooded Pitta. This bird, a winter visitor and passage migrant, might have decided that the weather was ideal for it to move on.

The other missing winter visitor was the Grey Nightjar, which has so obligingly posed for us for two days in a row. It just rested on the branch, about 20 feet up, ignoring the flashes from the cameras, and the goings-on around the tree below.

Other birds observed that morning at the Cemetery included the Blue and White Flycatcher, Ferruginous Flycatcher, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Orange-headed Thrush (very elusive), Indian Cuckoo and Black Bazas (about five of them flitting from tree to tree). The Tanimbar Corellas were flying over the tree tops screaming away at the top of their voice.

When lunch time approached, my wife and I decided to have some roast duck and noodles, after which we returned home for a rest. At 3.30 pm I decided to return to the cemetery to observe the goings-on there. This time I was greeted by 8 bird photographers, all waiting to have a go at taking pictures of the Hooded Pitta, but they were also greatly disappointed as the star did not turn up.

So I decided to take a walk to see if I would be able to catch some birds elsewhere in the cemetery. This was a good move as I was able to flush out the Narcondam Hornbill (Rhyticeros narcondami) from its hiding place up in the tree canopy. Its flight was really noisy, like it’s joints needed some greasing. So it was easy to follow it’s flight path and it was found perching on a tree some five hundred meters away (right). There were two other friends with me, however only two of us managed to get some shots of the bird.

This hornbill is an escapee that had been bought over from India by a carpet merchant, it however managed to escape, or maybe released by the owner, as rare birds like the Narcondam Hornbill are not allowed to be kept as pets in Singapore. This hornbill is endemic to the Island of Narcondam, and only a few hundreds are surviving today.

After this exciting encounter we decided to call it a day – at around 6.30pm.

Below is a report from my friend, Willi Kwek, on his day in Bidadari Cemetery:

Went to Bidadari at 1pm and left at 3pm. Had the most unproductive visit ever to Bidadari. The whole place was devoid of bird sounds and even the sky was empty of raptors. I did not see any of our old friends – the cuckoos. The Grey Nightjar was not around as its roosting place was disturbed by the tractor cutting grass in that area. I saw the following:

Black Baza (3), Dollarbird (1), Black-naped Orioles (3), Chinese Pond Heron (1), crows (several), Blue-tailed Bee-eaters (2), White-throated Kingfishers (several), Asian Koel (1), Oriental Honey Buzzard (1), Javan Mynas (many), Rock Pigeons (many), Spotted Doves (several).

I did not wait for the Hooded Pitta, but when I left there were at least ten photographers there. I think the large influx of people coming to see the pitta has had an adverse effect on the birds at the place. The Drongo Cuckoos have left, and the other cuckoos are now very wary of people – very hard to get a good shot of the Hodgson’s now.

KC Tsang & Willie Kwek
December 2008

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YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

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