“I had an opportunity today to watch Grey-breasted Spiderhunters (Arachnothera modesta modesta) collect nesting material. I had two extended observations, at the same site, of single birds each time.
“The bird(s) spent much time looking for and collecting the fluffy heads of seeds that are wind dispersed. These seeds have soft, fluffy cotton-like parachutes – silky hairs that arise directly from the top of the seed to help it be wind-blown far from the tree (above).
“These seeds often get caught in trees, (like the Bridella tomentosa above) or bushes and the bird(s) were harvesting them to line the nest; at times resorting to acrobatic skills to gain access.
“They also obtained these silky hairs from other seeds (above). I also saw spider webs being collected. I could not be sure if both partners were involved or only the same bird was doing the work.
Dato Dr Amar-Singh HSS (Dato’ Dr)
Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
Location: Kledang-Sayong Forest Reserve, Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
Habitat: Primary forest
Date: 25th February 2021
Equipment: Equipment: Nikon D500 SLR with Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR, handheld with Rode VideoMic Pro Plus Shotgun Microphone
On their usual nature jaunt, Teo Lee Wei & K noticed an affray coming from an unusually large flock of silver gulls by the water’s edge. The video clip below captures the reason for the loud noises. A mature (red bill and legs) male gull was very insistent on getting along with a young (dark bill and legs) female gull.
The clip was taken in Victoria State, Australia in November 2015. The flock comprised a large number of young birds.
Up to early 2005 local birdwatchers were simply looking at birds. Their aim was to see who could end up with the most ticks in his or her checklist. And many were good at bird identification. But they were totally uninterested on what birds eat, where they nest, how many eggs they lay, etc. Also, they were ignorant that birds cast pellets made up of undigested food they swallowed, make use of ants to remove ticks and lice from their feathers (anting), lay eggs in the nests of other birds so that the adopted parents take care of their chicks (brood parasitism), courtship feeding and many other interesting behaviours.
Anting by a Vinous-breasted Starling (Photo: Subaraj Rajathurai)
In an effort to encourage birdwatchers to study birds instead of just looking at them, a few members of the Nature Society (Singapore) got together and formed the Bird Ecology Study Group (BESG). This was in July 2005.
After 15 years of postings involving hundreds of articles that include every aspects of bird behaviour, it was natural to assume that local birdwatchers were no more simply looking at birds. In other words, the BESG website had served its purpose. Hopefully, birdwatchers had at last ditched their checklists. After all, many were seen bringing their cameras when out in the field, not just their pair of binoculars.
Black-crowned Night-heron casting pellet (Photo: Sin Chip Chye)
Around 2015 BESG linked up with BICA (Birds, Insects N Creatures of Asia) when the latter burst onto the birdwatching scene. Under the leadership of Jeremiah Loei, BICA members photographed numerous aspects of bird behaviour that BESG incorporated into its website.
When BESG finally stopped postings in December 2019, the website was placed under the care of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at the National University of Singapore. There it remains a valuable archive not only of birds but also the various aspects of nature related to birds… like plants, insects, arachnids, amphibians, reptiles and mammals.
Ashy Tailorbird feeding a large Plaintive Cuckoo fledgling (Photo: Johnny Wee)
I had a pleasant surprise early this month when two nature lovers, K-LW (who had contributed many articles earlier) came forward to volunteer reviving the BESG website. Of course, we welcome them. Once they become familiar with the software, I am sure they will start posting.
I take this opportunity to thank Prof. Peter Ng Kee Lin, Director of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum for maintaining the BESG website within the museum and Dr Ang Yuchen for providing technical support.
At midnight of 31st December 2019 the website has recorded at total of 24,297,294 visits. This translates to 5,509,803 visits for the year under review – see 2018 report HERE. What this means is that visitorship has been increasing every year.
The website was started in July 2005 at a time when birdwatchers were only interested in the number of species spotted… in an area… an habitat… an overseas visit… etc. I distinctly remember googling “pink-necked green-pigeon” and got pages and pages of trip reports where these pigeons were seen. No information on behaviour could be found on the internet – if there were any, I could not locate then. Information on bird behaviour were only found in books written by mainly naturalists. And this was where I located information on male green-pigeons incubating eggs during the day and females during the night.
Another behaviour that local birdwatchers were made aware of by the BESG website was “anting”. Although the behaviour was seen, local birdwatchers did not know what it was until 17 years later LINK and LINK.
Pellet casting was another phenomenon that was widely publicised LINK such that photographic evidence slowly became available as photographers kept watch after birds fed instead of moving off to seek out other birds LINK and PDF.
By 2012 the impact of the BESG website was such that listing of bird species and ticking checklists became a thing of the past – see HERE. Most birdwatchers were then beginning to keep an eye (if not both eyes) on bird behaviour when out in the field.
For the year 2019 we had a fulfilling year with contributors (casuals as well as regulars) continuing to send in their encounters – thank you very much. We continue our close collaboration with Facebook: Bird, Insects N Creatures Of Asia (BICA) to the benefit of both (above).
After 15 years of running the BESG website with the help of many, especially those who contribute entire articles (special mention: Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS of Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia and Daisy O’Neill of Penang), it is with great regret that I have to discontinue running the BESG website as of now. The last 15 years had been a learning period as I moved from being a plant person to one dealing with birds. But everything has to come to an end.
It is regrettable that the website will have to discontinue and laid to rest with the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, National University of Singapore. I take this opportunity to thank Prof. Peter Ng Kee Lin, the Director, for backup support. Thanks also to Dr Yuchen Ang of the museum who came to our aid whenever there were technical problems with the website.
“Slaty-backed Gulls (Larus schistisagus) were reasonably common and we had the opportunity to see young birds that had not attainted full adult plumage. I am attempting to age these birds but would appreciate any suggestions and even ID concerns (just in case these birds are not ID correctly and the possibility of hybrids).
“On the ‘surface’ all these three birds (#1-3) look like 1st summer birds. But I take into consider the wise words of Keith Vinicombe (2014) who, when making comments about moulting and aging of gulls, states ‘Each plumage is more adult-like than the previous but remember that the different plumages may vary individually, particularly in larger birds (such as Herring Gulls) so do not expect all birds to conform exactly to those illustrated in field guides. Bare parts too – eyes, bill and legs also change as a bird gets older and, although their progression is roughly in sync with their plumages, there is great individual variation in the acquisition of bare-part colours.’ Moores (2005) states ‘some First-Winter (and First-summer/early Second-winter) Slaty-backed Gull can, however, be very much more difficult to identify than older birds’.
“From various references, the key features of 1st summer birds are the black bill, the black scales on the feet, the darker iris, blackish tail. Some authors say the iris turns paler but others (Moores 2005) suggest this only happens with second-winter onwards. Most suggest the bill is black but some (Oiseaux Birds, HBW) suggest the pinkish base of the bill may appear in the first year. Generally older birds are more ‘bleached’ with the tail remaining largely blackish (Moores 2005) until adulthood (white). I am uncertain when the adult reddish orbital ring develops. The yellow-orange bill colour change is said to only occur from third winter onwards.
“Bird #1 is clearly a 1st summer bird. Notice the near complete black bill, well shown black scales on the feet, the darker iris, black tail and overall darker wing and belly plumage.
Bird #2 is a bird with a black bill but the tail is much lighter and the overall plumage is also more bleached.
Bird #3 is a bird with pinkish base to the bill, lighter iris, browner tail, hardly any black scales on the feet and overall lighter plumage.
“Please note that I have more images of each bird (some in flight) to offer better views/descriptions. Despite the variation I am inclined to ‘label’ all as 1st summer birds but wonder if Bird #3 is of a second summer bird.”
1. Keith Vinicombe. The Helm Guide to Bird Identification. Bloomsbury. 2014. 2. Mark Brazil. Birds of Japan. Helm Field Guides 2018. 3. Nial Moores, Charlie Moores (2005). The identification of Slaty-backed Gull Larus schistisagus. Birds of Korea (available HERE). 4. Burger, J., Gochfeld, M., Garcia, E.F.J. & Kirwan, G.M. (2019). Slaty-backed Gull (Larus schistisagus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. 5. Gull Research Organisation. 30. Slaty-Backed Gull (available HERE). 6. Oiseaux Birds: Slaty-backed Gull – Larus schistisagus (available HERE).