“While exploring the island of Pulau Tioman [Malaysia] in early August 2011, it was a pleasure to observe and document the fishing activity of Pacific Reef Egrets (Egretta sacra, dark morphs) along the coast. They were most active at the lowest tides, when the reef flat was partially exposed, and the waters were relatively shallower, so fish prey was readily seen and within comfortable striking range.

“One evening, as the sun was setting over the South China Sea, the tide was progressively going out, leaving a labyrinth of still, isolated pools among the coral rubble. A Pacific Reef Egret then took advantage of this scenario and scouted around for its dinner of fish and shrimp that may have become temporarily trapped within these pools (above left).

“A brief video of its steady focus and successful strikes was captured:

“One morning, as the tide was gradually turning and starting to creep inshore, a Pacific Reef Egret was up and about in search of breakfast. Although it did spend some time hunting among the isolated pools, it was mostly stalking along the outer margin of the reef flat, which was receiving a steady surge of the oncoming waves. Despite the turbulent waters along this zone, fishing efforts were often fruitful (top right). The diversity of fish prey was observed to include gobies, blennies and wrasses.

“Its lively pursuit of breakfast may be previewed below.

“At one point, it paused briefly to preen itself, before resuming its fishing efforts.

“Another Pacific Reef Egret then came onto the scene, and the two of them hunted for fish within close proximity:

“Seeking out slippery fish and spearing them accurately when the water’s surface is constantly shifting and sloshing about must be visually challenging indeed. Quick judgments of depth and distance have to be calculated without the slightest hesitation. It is admirable how the Pacific Reef Egrets can hunt so well along this stretch. For a peek at the Pacific Reef Egret’s perspective, please see below.

“Apart from the dark morph egrets, a white morph was also briefly sighted along this stretch of reef, but it remained elusive and merely teased us with fleeting glimpses of it flying off into the horizon. Having previously monitored the fishing behaviour of the Pacific Reef Egret along a sterile, suburban canal in Singapore, being able to witness them in their true element in their natural habitat (with wind in our hair, salt in nostrils, sand between toes) is utterly gratifying!

Dr Leong Tzi Ming & Subaraj Rajathurai
14th August 2011

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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.

  1. Geoff Jonas

    As a Tioman regular, I can safely say that the island habitat boasts an awesome abundance of not only birds but generally Fauna, both above and underwater.

    Some of the creatures I’ve seen: dugongs, dolphins and larger cetaceans, whale sharks and manta rays, along of course with the countless exotic fish, bottom feeders and pelagics. Then there’s the turtles, the numerous coral species and the huge variety of nudibranchs and shellfish.

    In fact, such is the geographical isolation of Tioman, that new species-finding expeditions by Zoologists and Botanists are taking place in the remote mountain side jungles even now. And the same applies to the Flora.

    Tioman is a gem, a rare find, a throw-back even, and worth a visit in every sense of the word.

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