Von Schrenck’s Bittern’s Breakfast: Dog-faced Water Snake

on 28th May 2015

“The Von Schrenck’s Bittern, also known as Schrenck’s Bittern (Ixobrychus eurhythmus), is a small bittern that is difficult to spot due to its skulking nature (above, below)

“Back in April/May 2013, a female Schrenck’s Bittern was spotted in the mangrove swamp at Pasir Ris Park. It created much excitement and attracted many birders and photographers. Many of us will remember how challenging it was to spot this usually motionless bittern that was well camouflaged in the mangroves.

“Last year, a female was again spotted in the same area and was eatured: HERE and HERE. This year, a female was seen yet again in that area. One can only speculate whether it could be the same individual coming back year after year.

“I had a glimpse of this elusive bird on 10th May 2015, but was unable to get a decent photo due to falling light. Trying my luck two days later, the bittern was spotted in a small open area in the mangrove swamp.

“Mindful not to spook the bittern into bolting into the mangroves, where it will be difficult to observe, the three of us, who were lucky to be there, were restraint. We kept our distance, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. For the next half hour, we spied on this bittern as it moved in a stealth-like manner in the shallow water. We were amply rewarded for our patience.

“The action started when the bittern made a sudden strike into the water. By the time I had my first shot of the action, the snake had coiled itself around the bittern’s head and neck (above).

“The bittern was not going to give up so easily. It had clamped its bill near the head of the snake. Despite the discomfort of the snake around its neck, it maintained its grip. A battle for survivor ensued with the bittern shaking its head furiously to rid the snake’s stranglehold. The fast and furious action lasted for only a minute and came to a halt when the snake managed to coil itself tightly onto a pencil root that was sticking out of the water (above).

“The bittern tried yanking and twisting the snake away but failed after several attempts. For the next five minutes, it was a scene of calm as both animals engaged in a mental game of waiting for the other to tire. Throughout this period, the bittern had its bill firmly holding onto the snake near its head.

“Eventually, the bittern managed to overpower the snake and pulled it away from the pencil root. It proceeded to subdue the snake that was still struggling and giving it a fight. In between pauses, the bittern attacked vigorously by twisting its head and swinging the snake. All this while, the snake was still held in the same location near its head (above, below).

“It must have been swung and thrashed around for more than twenty times, sometimes being whipped into the water. The neck twisting of the bittern seemed quite flexible for its head was at times inverted (below)!

“After 4 minutes of repeatedly being whipped around, there seemed to be no more resistance from the snake. The bittern held up its prize and it dangled almost straight down (below). Length of the snake was about the bittern’s height.

“Still not satisfied, the bittern continued whipping the snake; this time by holding it in its middle (below).

“The bittern spent another minute thrashing the snake before it was fully satisfied with its condition (below).

“It took slightly more than a minute for the entire length of the snake to be gulped down (below, bottom). What a heavy breakfast!

“This observation was only possible because all who were present shared conscious efforts not to spook or disturb the bittern. A big Thank You to my fellow-photographers and the park cleaners who passed by discreetly.

Kwong Wai Chong
20th May 2013

Addendum: Dr Leong Tzi Ming has confirmed that the snake is a Dog-faced Water Snake (Cerberus rynchops), adding: “Excellent record of successful predation on this Dog-faced Water Snake by the determined bittern. There are three other snake species belonging to the same family (Homalopsidae) which share this similar mangrove habitat, and they could end up as prey too.”

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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