Chan Yoke Meng: Chasing birds… and collecting stamps…

posted in: Miscellaneous | 2

Melinda and Chan Yoke Meng came onto the BESG scene in early 2006 when the website was about a year old. Melinda was trying hard to locate the site where a female Great Hornbill (Buceros bicronis) was courting a female Rhinoceros Hornbill (B. rhinoceros) LINK. Nobody in the know would share with her the location until she somehow made contact with me. We were naïve then, oblivious of the fact that birdwatchers are seldom free with sighting locations, except maybe with members of their own group.

Anyway, once these avid photographic pair gained our trust, they began sharing their numerous images. Their first post was on how a cat killed one of a pair of kingfishers LINK. And since then they contributed regularly on foraging LINK, feeding LINK, courtship LINK, mating LINK, nesting LINK, inter-specific behaviour LINK and more.

Then just as suddenly, the couple faded from the scene. We thought they had their fill photographing birds. Like most local birdwatchers and bird photographers, after chasing birds for a few years, they lose interest in the pastime. After all, there are only about 300 species of birds that can be seen in Singapore. And unless they have the time and the means to travel, meaning that they can then chase after foreign birds, birdwatching poses no more challenges.

I met up with the couple recently and found that Yoke Meng is still as passionate as ever about photographing birds. However, he mentioned that many of his old acquaintances were nowhere to be seen. In their place were new enthusiasts. “And what happened to them?” I asked. His reply, “They are mostly stamp collectors.” This was the first time I heard about birdwatchers and bird photographers being stamp collectors.

Apparently birdwatchers and bird photographers are only interested in new species to view or to photograph. While photographers file their “stamps” in hard disks, birdwatchers store theirs in their fading memories and in the form of ticks on their tattered checklists.

So I asked Yoke Meng, “How come after nearly a decade or more photographing birds, you are still interested in them?” His answer, “I don’t collect stamps leh. I photograph bird behaviour.”

Yes, bird behaviour opens up numerous opportunities for photographers as well as for birdwatchers (above: Red-crowned Barbets Megalaima rafflesii feeding chick in nest). For each species, you can observe and be intrigued by behaviour such as feeding, courtship, mating, nesting, brooding, etc. While simply looking and photographing birds can keep you busy for a few years, studying bird behaviour keeps you interested well beyond these few years. In addition, the observations brought back from the field do contribute to our knowledge on local birds (below: House Crows Corvus splendens attacking nest of Black-shouldered Kite Elanus caeruleus).

However, observing bird behaviour requires a camera or a videocam rather than a pair of binoculars. And in most cases you need to move around alone or with a partner.

Above shows a Tiger Shrike Lanius tigrinus manipulating scarab beetle.

YC Wee
September 2013

(All images by Chan Yoke Meng)

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