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Progress in the study of birdsounds

on 16th August 2012

It was Sutari Supari who pioneered the documentation of birdsounds more than a decade ago ending with an album of the more common birdsongs. There may be a newer edition to his collection but no progress beyond recording basic calls.

In October 2007 Eric Mobrand made a casual recording of the strange cries of a pair of Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopacea). According to Prof R B Payne, the world’s foremost authority on cuckoos, this was the first recorded begging-call mimicry for the species LINK. This showed that there were many aspects of birdsounds just waiting to be discovered but unfortunately few birdwatchers were willing to explore the mystery of birdsounds.

In March 2008, in an effort to jolt birdwatchers out of their complacency, BESG posted an article calling for them to not only listen to birds but make recordings as well LINK. Response was slow as local birdwatchers continued in their pursuit of just looking at birds. So we renewed our call two years later LINK.

By then Lena Chow LINK, KC Tsang LINK, Ong Ei Leen LINK and Sun Chong Hong LINK responded from Singapore. Over in neighbouring Malaysia, we have Daisy O’Neill LINK and Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS LINK responding.

Soon the website postings included audio recordings as well – on species from Singapore as well as those from Peninsular Malaysia.

Currently we have more than 30 posts (and many, many more yet to be posted) from Malaysia on various species, all documented by Amar. Almost all are audio recordings. He routinely carries an audio recorder in his regular jaunts into the old tin mining areas around Ipoh and the surrounding areas. What now needs to be done is a compilation of all the audio recordings that had been done…

Over in Singapore, Lena has been contributing her audios via her videoclips while Chong Hong is moving more and more into video recordings of birdsounds. And so is KC LINK. Ei Leen similarly contributed on the call of the Mangrove Pitta (Pitta megarhyncha) using a video clip LINK.

And these documentations are not all simple recordings of basic calls. Take the Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis) as an example. As far back as 2008, Gloria Seow was reported saying that this oriole has a repertoire of seven songs LINK. Two years later Chong Hong came up with recordings of 16 calls LINK to up his record in August 2012 with a video clip 50 calls LINK. This is the first time in our 50 or more years of birdwatching that someone has documented such a wide-ranging repertoire of bird calls and songs for a single species of bird.

In addition to the study of repertoirs, we have also progressed into sound analysis. Sometime back Lin & Ong (2006) published an article analysing the song of the Straw-headed Bulbul’s (Pycnonotus zeylanicus) using spectrogram. By 2011 there were a series of posts using spectrogram and sonogram by Chong Hong HERE and HERE; Amar HERE and HERE; and Dr Leong Tzi Ming and R Subaraj HERE.

And finally, in the latest issue of BirdingAsia, Lau et al. (2012) used sonogram to analyse the calls of Brown-backed Flowerpecker (Dicaeum everetti). This is what we have always been hoping – that local birdwatchers research and publish more on birdsounds. Is it then too much to expect more birdwatchers to move ahead and indulge in the documentation and analyses of birdsounds in the future?

YC Wee
Singapore
August 2012

References:
1.
Lau, J. S., D. Lau & C. Foley, 2012. Brown-backed Flowerpecker Dicaeum everetti in Panti Forest Reserve, Malaysia. BirsingAsia 17: 65-67.
2. Lin Yangchen & Ong Kiam Sain (2006). The Straw-headed Bulbul’s legendary song. Nature Watch 14(2) 8-10.
3. Wee, Y. C., 2006. Forty years of birding and ornithological research in Singapore. Birding Asia 5:12-15.
4. Wee, Y. C., K. C. Tsang & R. Subaraj, 2010. Birding in Singapore and the challenges of the 21st century. Nature in Singapore 3: 53-58.

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.

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