Kwong Wai Chong: A student of bird behaviour

posted in: Travel-Personality | 31

A posting on the flocking of the Daurian or Purple-backed Starling (Sturnus sturninus) in October 2009 attracted the attention of Kwong Wai Chong. He made a comment, noting that he had earlier seen a very much larger flock at Singapore’s Lorong Halus. When asked for images, he willingly sent them with a short note. This was his first contribution to the blog.

From then on his contributions flowed in at a rate of one every few days. So far he has 49 posts and counting.

“Photography has been my hobby for more than 20 years,” recounted Wai Chong, when queried how he ended up being a student of bird behaviour. “I would consider myself a leisure photographer, taking photographs during free time. About five years back, I started to have an interest in birds when a pair of Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) build their nest in one of my potted plants,” Wai Chong continued. “Then about three years ago, I saw another pair of the same species nesting in another of my potted plants. This time, I managed to document the entire process from construction of their nest until the chicks fledged. My passion for bird photography was thus aroused. My observations of birds’ behaviour were not deliberate; but were the result of capturing their images. Fate, curiousity, bird luck, and being at the right place at the right time played a major part.”

Having documented the nesting cycle of his sunbirds, he surfed the net seeking more information. It was then that he stumbled upon BESG, where our many posts satisfied his curiousity on bird behaviour.

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Wai Chong claims he does not possess any bird guides or bird books. His knowledge of birds comes mainly from the internet. He declines to be known as a bird behaviourist, claiming that he is just an observer, keeping his eyes open when in the field. His bird images were captured with his faithful Panasonic FZ50, first upgraded to Canon EOS 450 and then to Canon 550, and fitted with a Canon 70-300 mm IS USM lens. “This set-up has served me well as I believe in speedy execution,” wrote Wai Chong. “Hence, all my shots are taken hand-held to avoid wasted time in setting up a tripod. When I have no other commitment, I will be out in the field every weekend, usually early in the morning and sometimes in the late afternoon. These are the best times when the birds are active and the condition not so harsh.”

Wai Chong’s contributions involve many aspects of bird behaviour. And he has images for every single one of them. After all, images are necessary, as they help keep sceptics at bay. Many newcomers, eagerly adopting the camera as an important tool in birdwatching, have managed to overcome this credibility gap.

During the last 12 months, Wai Chong has made significant contributions to the field of bird behaviour. His image of the Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach) eating from its cache – a skink impaled on the broken end of a dead branch – is one of a few images of such behaviour coming from out from Singapore.

His documentation of the Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus) anting, accompanied with images, is a classic study in the history of local birdwatching. Wai Chong is the first in Singapore to publish anting images. To witness anting is the privilege of a few, but to photograph a bird actually picking up ants and placing them onto its body is indeed rare.

I have always wondered why most of our birdwatchers remain twitchers, interested only in ticking checklists and listing species. Looking at Wai Chong’s background may have given me an answer. You need to go into the field alone or at the most with a partner. And you need a camera to document what you see. The images captured are permanent records that can be reviewed later, in order to get a better understanding of what happened.

Wai Chong provides food for thought when he wrote in response to my question on whether he ever joined a conducted bird walk: “I have never gone on any organised trip. No idea if I will end up as a twitcher if I had.”

YC Wee
Singapore
November 2010
Note: The images above are a selection from Wai Chong’s earlier posts.

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