Sun Chong Hong: A fascination with birdsound

on 8th August 2012

Sun Chong Hong calls himself a casual bird observer rather than a birder – or even a birdwatcher. He claims that he is far from being a birder. He taught himself bird identification and always moves alone. That way he can give his full concentration on the targeted birds. He is more at home with his trusty compact superzoom camera than a pair of binoculars. With this he documents bird behaviour, his accounts always accompanied with video clips that incorporate audio recordings. In fact nearly all his observations include a video clip.

It was three years ago that Sun Chong Hong contributed his first post to the BESG LINK. It was about his encounter with a White-rumped Shama (Copsychus malabaricus) as he drove into the parking lot of his condomonium near Lower Peirce Road. He was new to birdwatching then, being familiar only with the common species around his living space, like the Zebra Dove (Geopelia striata), White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) and White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis).

A few weeks later he recollected his childhood experience of the missing chilli padi (Capsicum frutescens) from his garden. He solved the mystery when he saw a Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) swallowing the fiercely spicy fruit whole LINK. Could this have sowed his first interest in birds?

From then on, Chong Hong has been contributing his observations on bird behaviour regularly without fail – about two a month. And so far he has nearly 70 postings under his name.
His initial contributions centered round his condominium: Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri) feasting on the fruits of the peacock flower (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) LINK; Coppersmith Barbet (Megalaima haemacephala) nesting LINK; and Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus) sipping nectar from flowers of African tulip (Spathodea campanulata) LINK.

Apparently the grounds of his condominium are luxuriantly landscaped and alive with wildlife. He need not go far to enjoy nature. He even encountered a confrontation between a Javan Myna and a Clouded Monitor Lizard (Varanus nebulosus) LINK. I am not aware of many birdwatchers documenting birds around their living spaces, as most prefer going into the wilderness to observe the less common species. But then the more common species tend to be the least studied.

However, this does not mean that Chong Hong remains within the grounds of his condo. He moves out to other urban areas, encountering Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) LINK and crows using clothes hangers as nesting materials LINK, among many others.

As far backs as July 2010 LINK and June 2011 LINK, we urged birdwatchers to take advantage of technology and make video clips when out in the field . After all, birdwatching should not stagnate with the use of cameras alone. Besides capturing more details of bird behaviour, video clips allow for subsequent scrutiny when crucial details can emerge, missed in the field or during initial viewings. In June 2011 we made another appeal in favour of videography as costs of equipment became affordable.

Many responded but for Chong Hong, he needed no prompting. After all, most of his contributions had always included video clips anyway.

When we encouraged birdwatchers to actively record calls and songs LINK, Chong Hong was among the first to respond. His video clips began to include audios as well, as seen in his posts on White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis) LINK, Oriental Magpie Robins (Copsychus saularis) LINK and Hill Mynas, now known as Common Hill Mynas (Gracula religiosa) LINK.

As he then wrote, “…recorded with my compact superzoom (up to 432mm equiv.). It has a built-in stereo mic and can record sound clip with a data rate of 16 bits and sampling rate of up to 44.1Khz – which means fairly good quality recording. Besides it can record video at 640×480 resolution and 30 frames per sec. I have used it to record a pair of Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris) in the process of carving out a nest in a tree trunk. For those who dread lugging lots of equipment, a compact superzoom may be a good alternative” LINL.

In August 2010 he contributed his first account on vocalisation LINK. This was followed by an audio recording on the Oriental Magpie Robins LINK. And Chong Hong was the first to document 17 different calls of the Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis) LINK in September 2010. Now, less than two years later he has produced a video clip incorporating 50 different calls-songs of the same oriole LINK. He is the first local birdwatcher to assemble such a collection for a single species of bird.

Sun Chong not only recorded bird vocalisation, he also indulged in interpretation and analysis of vocalisation, as seen in his post on the Oriental Magpie Robin LINK (see soundtrack above), Blacked-naped Orioles LINK, and Coppersmith Barbet (Megalaima haemacephala) LINK. His analysis of the Oriental Magpie Robin’s call uses waveform pictorals and sonograms LINK, he has this to say: “All things considered, I am inclined to conclude that this is a case of OMR mimicking the call of juvenile BNO and blending it into its own song. However, as I did not see the OMR while it vocalised, I am not 100% sure.”

His training in electrical engineering and his keen interests in music and hifi or high fidelity have made him the right person to spearhead the thrust into a more detailed study on bird vocalisation. “So I am on familiar ground with all these waveform, amplitude, stereo things,” added Chong Hong.

Ornithology has definitely benefitted from Chong Hong not being associated with any organised birdwatchers during his early years of studying birds. Just look at his many contributions, especially as a pioneer contributor on bird vocalisation – not just recording the individual calls/songs of each species, but the variations in calls that include dialects, etc. and his analysis of these calls… In my book, Chong Hong is definitely more than a birdwatcher or a birder. He is a student of bird behaviour with a strong emphasis on bird vocalisation.

YC Wee
August 2012

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

36 Responses

  1. I am delighted to read about Sun Chong Hong whose posts on the BESG always push the envelope. I fully agree with the comment “In my book, Chong Hong is definitely more than a birdwatcher or a birder. He is a student of bird behaviour with a strong emphasis on bird vocalisation.”. Especially the last line, he is a student of bird behaviour. I wish more of us were. Birds are a lot more intelligent that we give them credit and their calls are much more varied and complex that currently documented. Well done.


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