Flowering Sea Apple Trees at Sime Forest

posted in: Feeding strategy, Feeding-plants, Plants | 3

A visit to Jelutong Tower at Sime Forest, MacRitchie, can be an exciting occasion, especially when certain trees are flowering. On the mornings of October 23rd and 24th, I spent about an hour each time there when two large Sea Apple (Syzygium grande) trees were in flower. From the top of the tower, I had an eye-level view of those white blooms and witnessed the many butterflies and birds that visited to partake in the nectar feast.

The Common Tree Nymphs (Idea stolli) made their spectacular appearance as they floated around looking like pieces of white tissue paper covered with dark spots. A good selection of the handsome crow butterflies were seen, including King Crow (Euploea phaenareta), Magpie Crow (E. radamanthus), Striped Black Crow (E. eyndhovii), Spotted Black Crow (E. crameri) and Striped Blue Crow (E. mulciber). Others butterflies present were the Blue Glassy Tiger (Ideopsis vulgaris) and the Painted Jezebel (Delias hyparete).

The birds did not miss out on the nectar feast either. Sunbirds were plentiful, represented by the colourful Brown-throated (Anthreptes malacensis) and Crimson (Aethopyga siparaja) Sunbirds. The Orange-bellied Flowerpecker (Dicaeum trigonostigma) and Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker (D. cruentatum) were often around the blooms.

An Asian Brown Flycatcher (Muscicapa dauurica) was also present, probably after the smaller insects around the flowers. More excitingly, I observed a female Greater Green Leafbird (Chloropsis sonnerati), a rare resident in Singapore, feeding on the nectar along with a male Golden-fronted Leafbird (C. aurifrons), a likely escapee.

The high point of my visit was on the first morning when I saw a Thick-billed Spiderhunter (Arachnothera crassirostris) visiting one of the trees. This was only the second time this species was seen in Singapore. This bird is likely to be a visitor from Malaysia.

Subaraj Rajathurai
Singapore
31st October 2005
(Image of Common Tree Nymphs by Ashley Ng)

ZEBRA DOVES – 18. The doves are visiting 271005

posted in: Nesting, Pigeon-Dove | 0

One morning last week I heard the cooing of a Zebra Dove followed by the low gurring noise. There was a pair sitting close together on a horizontal pole of the scaffolding erected around the house under renovation in front of mine. They looked like a breeding pair as one bird tried twice (unsuccessfully) to mount the other. They then sat close together for more than half an hour, at times preening themselves or each other.

All the time I heard cooing coming from nearby, sometimes followed by the typical gurring sound. It was only a little later that I noticed the third bird, perching on a branch of the Golden Penda tree just by where I was standing. It was obviously the adult bird and the pair was the two young adults.

It has been nearly two and a half months since fledging. The young adults are now nearly three months old. I find it interesting that they are still with one of the parent birds for so long. I did not see the three birds around for nearly a month now. But they must have been together all the time.

The doves have been visiting every morning since, usually quietly foraging on my newly trimmed lawn. They appear tame, allowing me to get quite close. But how long more will the three be together?

YC Wee
Singapore
27th October 2005

Wader Watch in Pontian

posted in: Migration-Migrants | 1

We made a special trip to the south-west coastal town of Pontian in West Malaysia on Sunday 16th October 2005 to witness the winter migration of the waders. We arrived at Giant Supermart sited just behind the reclaimed land at about 9 am. The high tide was already in.

What we saw was a spectacular scene of more than a thousand noisy waders roosting above the high water mark. Most of these birds were Mongolian Plovers (Charadrius mongolus) that had earlier flown thousand of kilometres from their breeding grounds in Siberia. These winter visitors were passage migrants, coming to spend their winter in warmer climes, some of whom may subsequently fly south to Australia.

Normally scattered widely while foraging in the inter-tidal mud at low tide, these birds become gregarious when roosting. And this was obviously their favourite roosting site. The birds had shed their summer feathers and were in their winter plumage of narrow grey-brown patches on either side of the breast. And the summer black eye mask had changed to the white supercilium.

Although it was a mixed flock of predominantly Mongolian Plovers, there were other waders as well. We noticed some rare winter visitors among the plovers: a Broad-billed Sandpiper (Limicola falcinellus), two Great Knots (Calidris tenuirostris) and four White-winged Terns (Chlidonias leucopterus). We also counted 20 Common Redshanks (Tringa totanus), 20 Little Terns (Sterna albifrons) and 20 Rufus-necked Stints (Calidris ruficollis). These last three species were relatively common winter visitors.

We were actually surprised at the variety of species in this small flock of waders. It was nothing compared to the numbers that can be seen at Kapar Power Station. Before we came here we were not optimistic after hearing some reports but we went away completely happy with the trip. We left at 11am when there was a slight drizzle that developed into a heavy downpour.

Dr Woo Eu Heng
Singapore
23rd October 2005
(Image by Raymond Poon)

Anting – ants in my pants?

posted in: Feathers-maintenance | 13

R. Subaraj recently shared with Richard Hale and myself an incident Kelvin K.P. Lim related to him years ago. I found it so interesting that I persuaded Kelvin to share his observation with us. For those of you who do not know Kelvin, he is the author of a number of Singapore Science Centre guide books on fishes, amphibians and reptiles.

“It was 9:10 am on the 7th of April, 1988. I was at the Kent Ridge NUS campus outside the then Zoology Department. I was walking in the car park when I noticed a single White-vented Myna (now Javan Myna, Acridotheres javanicus) on the grass verge nearby carefully picking up live kerengga ants (Oecophylla smaragdina) and placing them one at a time under its wings. Each time it did this, the bird went into a curious dance that involved flopping around on the grass with its wings outstretched and beak opened.

It gave me the impression that it was reacting (most likely in pain) to the bites inflicted by the ants under its wings. It looked like masochistic behaviour. It was possible that the formic acid secreted by the ants helped get rid of parasitic insects that were on its body.”

Since receiving his note, I found out that this phenomenon is known as “anting” and that at least 250 species of mainly songbirds have been recorded indulging in this behaviour.

To rid their feathers of bacteria and fungi that can cause damage, or even lice and other ecto-parasites, they place ants on their plumage. The formic acid given out by the ants does the work. There are also cases of birds using snails, beetles, wasps, millipedes and even discarded cigarette butts and orange peel for this purpose. Other birds lie or sit on an ant nest, wings spread, for the ants to crawl through their feathers.

Thanks to Kelvin, a new aspect of bird behaviour has opened up for the Bird Ecology Study Group to look into.

Anting has not been properly documented locally. Please keep an eye on this interesting behaviour when next you go out birding.

NOTE: Accounts of anting posted between October 2005 and August 2008 have now been written up and published in the 2008 issue of the on-line journal, Nature in Singapore (Vol. 1, pp. 23-25). A PDF file of Anting in Singapore birds is available HERE.

YC Wee
Singapore
16th October 2005

Pink-necked Green Pigeons 1: The search for information

posted in: Pigeon-Dove | 1

I got involved in Pink-necked Green Pigeons (Treron vernans) when they started visiting my garden some years back. They loved to perch high up on the back of the fronds of my ceram palms (Rhopaloblaste ceramica) during mornings and evenings. They would make soft gurgling and bubbling sounds and I would be alerted to their presence. There were always a few pairs, first perching apart but gradually moving closer together, very much like shy courting couples on park benches.

My interest really took off when a pair nested among the branches of my Dracaena reflexa “Song of India” tree in February 2005. This was the second time a pair had been nesting. The first occasion was a few years back. At that time I was watching the birds incubating the eggs. Whenever I looked at the nest the male would be there, sitting comfortably and never moving.

The constant presence of the male in the nest puzzled me. As I was then not really interested in birds but just wanting to capture images of them nesting, the puzzling thought did not remain for long. Until that fine morning when another pair nested in the same tree.

Again, it was always the male bird sitting quietly in the nest. Puzzled, I consulted my two favourite bird books: Madoc’s “An Introduction to Malayan Birds” and Hails’ “Birds of Singapore.” Only the flimsy nest and two white eggs were mentioned.

Desperate, I trawled the net. Google search yielded 814 hits for Pink-necked Green Pigeons. Prominent among the results was Ria Tan’s webpage. It gave information that was already published. This was acceptable as she was not a bird watcher. The other 813 hits were generally irrelevant.

David Wells’ 1999 book, “The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula” stated that both birds helped incubate the eggs. But this did not help as I only saw the male in the nest. The female was not seen around at all.

It was very much later when I acquired a copy of “The Selby Guide to Bird Life and Behaviour” by D.A. Sibley (2001) that I found out that the male pigeon incubates the eggs during the daylight hours and the female through the night. But then this was weeks after I discovered the fact through hours of tedious observations.

So the relevant information may be available in foreign publications, based on observations of foreign birds. Obviously, information on local birds are desperately lacking.
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YC Wee
Singapore
14th October 2005

Tale of a tame Crimson Sunbird

posted in: Sunbirds | 0

Tina Soo e-mailed from Neo Tiew Road to inform that for over two weeks a male Crimson Sunbird (Aethopyga siparaja) was seen around the small classroom in his GreenCircle Eco-Farm. Twice a day it visited, staying for over an hour each time. It would sing in a rapid-fire, high-pitch, chit-chit-chew, hovered around the furniture and danced on the piano. (He did not say whether the bird tried to peck on the piano keys.)

The bird would allow him to approach to about an arm’s length without flying off. Tian Soo wants to know whether he encountered a rather stupid bird or was it normal behaviour.

From my limited experience (remember, I am a sometime bird watcher) I find that young birds, whether juveniles or recently fledged, have least fear of humans. These birds would allow me to approach to about a metre to photograph them. Such birds included sunbirds, Yellow-vented Bulbuls and Zebra Doves. My interpretation is that they have none or limited experience of the dangers humans can pose to them. With time, I suppose, they would be less shy and not allow anyone to come near.

Tian Soo believe that this sunbird was probably hatched from a nest found within his farm and had yet to learn to shy away from people, especially himself.

There may be other possible explanations. Let us have your views. Only by examining and discussing various inputs, however wild they may be, can we hope to understand why birds do what they do.

Thank you, Tian Soo, for sharing your experience.

The Bird Ecology Study Group or BESGroup

posted in: Reports | 5

I have been officially informed by Dr Geh Min, President of the Nature Society (Singapore), that at the meeting of the Executive Committee held on the 27th September 2005, the Bird Ecology Study Group or BESGroup for short, was formally accepted as an official sub-group under Article 10.4.5 of the society’s constitution.

This blog has been operating under the heading of Singapore Bird Ecology Study Group since July 2005. With immediate effect it will operate as Bird Ecology Study Group, Nature Society (Singapore).

As a sub-group of the Nature Society, we will provide exciting activities and a series of talks by professional ornithologists and birdwatchers for the benefit of members as well as anyone interested in bird ecology. We have also plans to bring out various publications that will be useful to nature lovers and birdwatchers in general. Our full programme is being formalised and announcements will be made in due course.

The BESGroup is currently being coordinated by Wee Yeow Chin, Richard Hale, Subaraj Rajathurai and Grant Pereira. We plan to replace one person each year with a new member. This safeguard is to ensure that the leadership will not stagnate, will always be vibrant and there will always be new ideas flowing into the group.

The objectives of BESGroup are as follows:

1. To encourage the study of birds and their links with all aspects of the natural environment.
2. To help fill in the information gaps, especially on the breeding behaviour of local birds.
3. To encourage the dissemination of information.
4. To encourage the publication of information collected through the internet, popular magazines and scientific journals.

At long last we can now concentrate on working in good faith with all members of the society towards our shared goals of nature appreciation and conservation. BESGroup looks forward to a cordial working relationship with all groups, especially the existing Bird Group, so that together we can offer more activities to the membership at large as well as enrich our current ecological knowledge of the local bird population.

YC Wee
Singapore
8th October 2005

Common Flamebacks’ Dance

posted in: Miscellaneous | 4

Several years ago now I was walking down the road from the top of Bukit Timah Hill in late morning. There was nobody about and as I approached the turning off to the Telecoms building I heard a commotion to my left. There was a large tree with a trunk about two feet in diameter almost at the edge of the road and on it about twelve feet up were two male Common Flamebacks one to the left some twelve inches above the other which was on the right. Each was in view of the other and appeared to be having an argument.

Both birds started to circle clockwise and to my surprise a third bird appeared far right, again about twelve inches lower down, and calling loudly. This continued and to my amazement a fourth bird appeared still lower.

All four birds continued to circle the trunk slowly. Moving gradually upwards, calling all the time but maintaining distance from each other and keeping the  birds to left and right just in sight. They reached a height of over twenty five feet and then flew down nearly to ground level before starting the whole process again. I have no idea what was the purpose of this dance and as far as I can recall I saw no sign of a female in the vicinity.
 
Finally they all flew off in the same direction and I continued my walk.

Richard Hale
Singapore
6th October 2005

ZEBRA DOVES – 17. The birds are gone for good

posted in: Nesting, Pigeon-Dove | 1

Nearly two months after the eggs were hatched, the doves are permanently gone from tha vicinity of their nest. No more do I hear their pleasant cooing each morning and evening. No more can I see them huddling together on a branch, preparing to roost for the night. Every trace of the trial nest is now gone. Every single piece of dried grass stem has been removed. In a way it is good that they are building a new nest somewhere else. The area around the tree where the nest was is now busier than even. Workers are moving around under the tree, as construction activities of the house behind is moving forward towards the road. The birds managed to avoid detection for more than two and a half months. I am not sure whether they can avoid detection if they are to nest in the same tree again.

I am now waiting for the next pair of birds to build their nest around my place.

YC Wee
Singapore
4th October 2005

The role of amateur birders in ornithology

posted in: Reports | 0

Amateur birders have always played an important role in collecting information that ornithologists find useful to write their papers and monograph. This has been clearly seen in the recent book by Dr David Wells, The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula Vol. I. In the preamble to his book, he paid tribute to professionals whose theses and scientific papers provided useful materials. At the same time he recognized the contributions of amateurs, especially members of the Nature Societies in Malaysia and Singapore. The Malaysian society publishes Enggang while the Singapore counterpart is Singapore Avifauna (SINAV).
The Nature Society (Singapore)’s Bird Group (BG) recently made a detailed check on the number of citations from SINAV in Wells’ book. It yielded 168 citations for a total of 118 species under various aspects of birdlife such as identification & distribution; status & population; habitat & ecology; breeding; geographical variation; movement; foraging & food; moult; social interaction; and social organisation.
This is indeed quite a contribution by SINAV to the ornithology of Singapore. It certainly changes my earlier erroneous impressions of the publication. And this is only the first volume, covering the non-passerine group. The second volume covering the passerine group is coming out soon. I am waiting eagerly to make another count to prove the above point.
Well done, Singapore Avifauna!

NOTE: Unfortunately, when I made the above post, I was not aware of the unwillingness of the Bird Group leadership to make the publication available to Dr David Wells, who was then working on Vol I of “The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsular” – LINK.

YC Wee
Singapore
3rd October 2005

25 Responses

  1. kris

    I just found a young dollarbird in the garden.. It seems to have left the nest too early and cannot fly yet. How am i to keep and feed it for a few days untill it can fly.???

  2. Iwan

    We have a small pond in our garden surrounded by trees and steep bedrock. The other day we saw a heron flying over and attempting to land – I guess to try to eat our small stock of fish. We managed to frighten it away before it landed, and have since installed trip wires around the pond in order to dissuade the bird. The amount of shelter around the pond means that a heron would have to land practically vertically. Does anyone know whether these birds have the agility to hover and land in this way, or do they always need a “glidepath” in order to land successfully?

  3. Khng Eu Meng

    Today, at the former Bidadari Cemetery, there was a buzz about a sighting of a Grey Nightjar (Caprimulgus jotaka). I heard some birders say this nightjar isn’t commonly seen in Singapore. After some hunting, we spotted it asleep on a tree branch, some 15 m above ground. This was rather interesting as my previous encounters with nightjars have been on either terra firma or on low branches.

    Is this perching so high up the tree normal or is it unusual? I have posted a photo of it on my Facebook Timeline: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151125012234135&set=a.108191464134.96538.617499134&type=1&theater

  4. Jess

    Bird Sanctuary At Former Bidadari Cementry

    1)Which is the best spot in Bidadari cemetery for bird watch?

    2)Where this bird usually resident at?

    3)What are some of the rare bird species that can be found at Bidadari?

    4)Where is the particular hot spot for the hornbills, eagles, kingfishers and some of the rare migratory bird?

    5)Which part of Bidadari are richest in it wildlife?

    6)Can you name me the 59 migratory bird species found?

  5. YC

    Why not search the website using the word ‘Bidadari’ to obtain the information you need. There should be sufficient info in past postings to satisfy you.

  6. Firdaus Razak

    Hai, I just want to ask did anybody had an experience bring bird from oversea via MasKargo? Did the bird will stress at high altitude?

  7. Chung Wah

    Hi, I am new to bird photography! Could anyone advise a good pair of binoculars to get for this hobby?

  8. Geam Liang

    I ‘acquired’ a female Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot 5 days ago – was in a public place when the bird flew overhead hit the wall and dropped right in front of me dazed. I picked it up, it appeared unhurt but could not sustain it’s flight. I have since constructed a fairly large ‘cage’ for it, about 4ft x 2fx x 2ft and placed it there last night. I temporarily placed her in a normal bird cage until I had completed the build.
    From what I have read up, it’s a fruit, seed and insect feeder and also nectar, flower buds. It’s doing as well as it can on bananas, papaya, jack-fruit (didn’t touch the grape) and seeds (black and white sunflower and other smaller ones). It loves to bathe so I’ve gotten it a tray and from what I read it’s important to keep things clean as it easily succumbs to infection.
    Does anyone else have any useful experience and sharing on it’s upkeep? I suspect this bird is an escapee – as far as I can read up, it’s not common, if at all, found in Georgetown, Penang where I am. I’m also not optimistic that it can survive if I were to set it free – assuming it can sustain it’s flight and not go crashing down and if there were dogs/cats around that would be the end of it.
    I can attach some pictures but not sure how to do this…
    thanks.

  9. Lee Chiu San

    The blue-crowned hanging parrot, even though very closely related to the lovebirds, is a nectar feeder. You would raise it the way you raise a lorikeet – which is a messy process. And because you are mixing batches of food for just one little bird, whereas I used to do it for about half a dozen pigeon-sized lorikeets each morning, I don’t know how you are going to get the portions down to manageable sizes. Anyway, here goes, with my recipe for feeding big lories. You can adjust the proportions down accordingly for your little bird.

    The staple diet would be a couple of slices of soft fruit (papaya, apple, grapes, even though I am surprised that you said the bird would not eat any) and a mixture of cooked rice sweetened with nectar mix.

    How to make nectar mix? Go to a pharmacy and get a can of food for invalids or infants. I use Complan, but I am sure any good baby formula would do. I usually make up enough to fill a beer mug, but there is no way you need that amount for a day’s feeding. If in doubt, make the mixture thinner, not thicker. Birds cannot digest baby formula that is too thick. If it is too thin, they simply have to consume more to get the required amount of energy. Then to this mug, add half a teaspoonful of rose syrup. Also stir in about a cup of cooked rice, well mashed up.

    In the case of your bird, I suggest that you pour this lot into an ice-cube tray, freeze the mixture, and defrost one cube to feed it each day.

    Now, you said that this bird eats sunflower seeds. This is most unusual for a blue-crowned hanging parrot. Are you sure that this is actually the species you have? Could it be possible that you have actually got a pet lovebird that escaped? There are so many different artificially-created breeds of lovebirds in so many colours that you might have been mistaken.

    If you actually have a lovebird, feeding is much simpler. Just go to the nearest pet shop, buy a packet of budgerigar or cockatiel seed of a reputable international brand, and offer it to the bird. You can supplement this with a couple of slices of fruit each day, and that will be all. Plus of course fresh water and a piece of cuttlefish bone to nibble on.

  10. Lee Chiu San

    About nectar feeding birds. I forgot to add that feeding nectar is messy, and it goes rancid very quickly in our tropical weather. Feeding containers have to be removed and thoroughly cleaned at the end of each day. The birds also splatter the mixture and wipe their beaks on perches and the bars of the cage. All my lories and lorikeets used to be housed in outdoor aviaries which were hosed down daily.

    If Geam Liang does not think the bird will survive if released, I really hope that it is a case of mistaken identity, and that you have a lovebird, rather than a blue-crowned hanging parrot. In our part of the world, all available lovebirds are domestically bred, take to captivity readily, and are easy to feed with commercially available seed mixtures. Yes, and being domestic pets, they would not survive if released.

  11. Geam Liang

    Thank you Chiu San for your inputs. Thus far, bananas and papayas work well. I’m not sure why it did not take to grapes – will try again. Am I supposed to peel it? I didn’t the last time, basically skewered a couple of grapes to a satay stick and positioned it as I did for the sliced and skinned papaya and peeled bananas.
    I have yet to try rice and certainly not nectar but will try out your concoction – have half a mind to go to a pet shop to see if they carry nectar for birds. The ice-cube freeze method is a good one, will try that. I might be mistaken on the sunflower seeds… not touched but it did eat the much smaller roundish, mixed colored seeds. Will remove the sunflower seeds.
    I’m sure it’s a female blue crowned hanging parrot.. it sleeps like a bat every night.

  12. Lee Chiu San

    When feeding local birds which are unfamiliar with imported fruits such as grapes, it helps to split the fruits to expose the edible parts. As to your remark that the bird sleeps hanging upside down like a bat, yes, that is the way blue-crowned hanging parrots sleep.

  13. Geam Liang

    Thanks… I need to think like a bird – yup. She has probably not seen a grape much less know that it’s edible, unless the previous owner has fed her with grapes… even then… Today she’s done pretty well making the most of the banana and all of the papaya plus quite a bit of seeds. Will try the baby food + mashed rise + rose syrup.
    Will regular honey do instead of rose syrup?
    Thanks.

  14. Lee Chiu San

    About making nectar to feed birds. Most aviculturalists do not use honey for two reasons: 1. It is expensive and does not seem to give any added benefits. 2. Honey is made by bees, and the composition varies wildly. Some honeys are also known to cause fungal infection in birds.

    If you do not want to buy a huge bottle of rose syrup just for one tiny bird, there are cheaper alternatives. The first is plain table sugar, though most don’t seem to like it very much.

    What many birds will accept quite readily as a sweetener is condensed milk – the type with sugar that coffee shop owners use.

    Many, many birds have a sweet tooth (or should I say sweet beak?) Besides the usual suspects of lories, lorikeets, sunbirds and hummingbirds, for whom it is an essential part of the diet, nectar mixture is readily consumed by mynahs, leafbirds, fairy bluebirds, barbets, doves, parrots of all kinds, and a whole host of other species.

  15. Geam Liang

    I tried the condensed mild, placed in in a small bottle cap.. only the ants showed interest. Am I supposed to dilute it? I didn’t =( I took you advice and refrained from honey. Have yet to find Rose Syrup from the shelves of TESCO… will try to mix the baby food + mashed rise + rose syrup/sugar syrup this week…

  16. David Thackray

    Can anyone help me identify a bird I saw in Singapore last week. Size of a smakll dove or thrush. Dark metallic back. Grey breast with red throat, chest.

  17. Emily Koh

    Lately I bought a bird feeder which I fill with 4parts water n 1 part white sugar. Sunbirds come regularly to drink and they are really lovely to watch. May I know if it is bad for them to feed on this? Previously they would sometimes pierce and drink from my potted flowers

  18. Emily Koh

    Lately I bought a bird feeder which I fill with 4parts water n 1 part white sugar. Sunbirds come regularly to drink and they are really lovely to watch. May I know if it is bad for them to feed on this? Previously they would sometimes pierce and drink from my potted flowers.

  19. Mahadevi Bhuti

    One of best souce for the bird watcher’s enjoying knowledge about ornithology

  20. Martin Nyffeler (PhD)

    Dear Sir / Dear Madame,

    I am a Senior Lecturer in Zoology at a University in Switzerland and I urgently need to get in touch with photographer Chan Yoke Meng, who takes beautiful photographs of birds near Singapore. Would you please mail me the email address of this photographer!

    Thanks,
    Martin

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