K C Tsang: To be able to see, not merely look…

on 16th May 2009

“To be able to see, not merely look, is the foundation of discovery” -Chris Johns

KC Tsang would like to be known as a bird photographer first, a birdwatcher second. He bird-watch with a 300 mm lens. He does not carry a pair of binoculars, his camera lens serves the purpose well, especially now that he has upgraded to a 500mm lens. His style of birdwatching does not endear him to some birdwatchers, especially those purists who believe that without a pair of binoculars, a person is not a “real” birdwatcher.

KC rightly points out that a few progressive birdwatchers are now lugging a camera when out in the field. One such birder has actually joined up with, a photographic forum, to interact with bird photographers, although he is too embarrass to share with BESG. These few birdwatchers have actually realised that images are becoming more and more important in birdwatching. Images provide hard evidence of what you claim to have seen. If an identification has been wrongly made, images can help right the wrong.

One of his favourite haunts is the Bidadari Cemetery. His many sightings here attracted birdwatchers and photographers alike to the area, turning the cemetery area into another birdwatching playground.

In May 2006, KC claimed that he sighted the Asian Emerald Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx maculates). This was accepted by the Records Committee (RC) of the Nature Society (Singapore)’s Bird Group after a wait of more than two years. And this was with photographic evidence. Our bird specialist R Subaraj listed this cuckoo in his private checklist as far back as 1998. Unfortunately he had no images to support his claim and so the RC did not believe him.

His latest coup was on a dead Common Flameback (Dinopium javanense) dangling from a branch of a tree. There was an exciting follow-up when a pair of Common Flamebacks arrived the next day to feed on the maggots in the carcass. Such unusual accounts attracted much world-wide attention.

With his trusty camera, KC has made many contributions since 2006. Many were on behavioural aspects, like feeding behaviour of Dollarbird (Eurystomus orientalis), Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), Common Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris), Brown Wood Owl (Strix leptogrammica), Long-tailed Sibia (Heterophasia picaoides) and Orange-bellied Flowerpecker (Dicaeum trigonestigma), to name a few.

His documented the courtship behaviour of Chestnut-winged Babbler (Stachyris erythroptera), Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) and Common Iora (Aegithina tiphia)… nesting observations of Striped Tit Babbler (Macronous gularis), Oriental White-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus), Black-naped Monarch (Hypothymis azurea) and Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus)… foods menu of Common Tailorbird (Orthotomus sutorius) nestlings… feather maintenance of Chestnut-bellied Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus sumatranus) and the roosting behaviour of Glossy Swiftlet (Collocalia esculenta).

In interspecific relationship, he reported on a raptor catching a Pink-necked Green Pigeon (Treron vernans), mobbing of a Changeable Hawk Eagle (Spizaetus cirrhatus) by a pair of Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus paradisus), birds mobbing snakes and Hill Mynas (Gracula religiosa) raiding a nest for the eggs.

KC sees details most birdwatchers fail to notice, like why more juvenile Tiger Shrike (Lanius tigrinus) arrive than adults, Brown Hawk Owl’s (Ninox scutulata) unusual growth beneath the eye, the scalloped toes of the Common Coot (Fulica atra), the filthy nest of the Peaceful Dove (Geopelia striata) and the distress of the Buffy Fish Owl (Ketupa ketupu).

With his constant probing at birds with his camera, KC was only once confronted by an angry subject, a White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster). But he escaped unscathed as he was then armed with his trusty long lens. A photographer-cum-birder with an eye for details, he is one of few who is able to see, and not merely look…

Check out KC’s papers on the changing face of birdwatching HERE and the role of the camera in birdwatching in Singapore HERE.

YC Wee
May 2009
(Image of KC in his favourite playground, Bidadari Cemetery, by Lena Chow)

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

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.

Other posts by YC Wee

16 Responses

  1. I’ve never met KC Tsang, but I have seen his photos cropping up everywhere within the on-line birding and photographic communities. There is no doubt his dedication to recording birds and bird behaviour makes a significant contribution to the knowledge base, and this article recognises that in an appropriate fashion.

    Long may his 500mm lens and his keen eye live!!

  2. Well done KC- to our 21st century bird-photographer.
    You set the precedence.
    Hope other big guns and new dslr photogs emulate your style.

    Hip-hip hooray!..One down the good hatch.


  3. Birds are beautiful creatures and its the rich visual experience that makes birding so enjoyable. There is nothing like a good camera and long lenses to share that visual experience. Well done KC.
    John Lynn

  4. Thank you all for your kind words and encouragement. I guess it is birding luck, and divine providence that gave me the opportunity to capture such pictures for me to share with one and all …


    K C Tsang

  5. A little bit of luck, plenty of leg work and lugging of equipment, the patience to wait and stake out, an eye for details and finally, the willingness to share…

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