Jason Cho was at Singapore’s Mandai Orchid Garden on the morning of 1st May 2009 when he saw an eagle being mobbed by a few smaller birds. He managed to photograph the raptor in flight (left) as well as when it eventually landed on a tree (below left). At the same time Micky Lim succeeded getting an excellent portrait shot (below right).
Jason tentatively identified the raptor as a Blyth’s Hawk Eagle (Spizaetus alboniger), a rare non-breeding visitor to Singapore. It has been regularly sighted in the nearby Johor state of Malaysia where it is found in heavily forested areas. The handful of sightings in Singapore were probably birds that strayed from Johor.
Jason’s posting in the forum NaturePixels attracted the attention of other photographers who suggested that the raptor could be an Oriental Honey Buzzard (Pernis ptilorhyncus). KC Tsang agreed, pointing to the “chicken-like” head, slit nostrils and generally un-feathered legs as his reasons.
Two subspecies of the Oriental Honey Buzzard have been sighted in Singapore: torquatus, an uncommon non-breeding visitor and orientalis, a common winter visitor and passage migrant. The former is thought to have wondered occasionally from nearby Malaysia.
The controversy is fueled by the darker plumage of the bird, tending towards Blyth’s Hawk Eagle rather than Oriental Honey Buzzard. Finally, “jiaolong” brought closure to the controversy by locating a link to the Thai Raptor Group that points to the possibility of an Oriental Honey Buzzard of the “Tweeddale” morph. According to Ferguson-Lees & Christie (2001), this morph is more blackish but with white throat, sometimes, collar-like, as seen here, and bold white barrings below. This darker morph is seen in Peninsular Thailand and Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo.
Images by Jason Cho (flight and head) and Micky Lim (portrait).
Ferguson-Lees, J. & D. A. Christie, 2001. Raptors of the world. London: Christopher Helm. 992 pp.
This post is a cooperative effort between NaturePixels.org and BESG to bring the study of bird behaviour through photography to a wider audience.