Bristle-thighed Curlew

posted in: Morphology-Develop., Waders | 2

On 17th August 2007, Ong Tun Pin sent an image of a curlew, commenting, “I have just come back from a 10 day trip to a very exotic island destination.

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“Attached is a whimbrel-like wader that I hope you can guess as the name can be derived from one body feature shown in the picture (above). I know that wader is usually hard to id but this one has one famous body part that gives its name. Not found in Southeast Asia but at the edge of the oriental region.

“Would be nice if someone could tell me if this is a juvenile and whether it is in moulting. I was told that this bird becomes temporarily flightless during wing-moult. It was reluctant to fly and I was able to do some sort of wader ‘herding’ along the beach. But one still flew away after I have ‘cornered’ it at sand banks at 4 meters away. This is not the way we do wader-watching in Malaysia where often a combined effort of scoping 60x from far distance and lurking among tall grass still scares the waders away”

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It was an image of a Bristle-thighed Curlew (Numenius tahitiensis), a rare bird whose breeding population is concentrated on the mountain tundra in West Alaska. It is called bristle-thighed because of the elongated feather shafts seen at the rear flanks and thighs (left). These long, shiny ‘bristles’ are usually seen only when the bird is handled. However, Tun Pin was fortunate to have captured this feature in his image, a feature he could not see through the lens. This again shows the importance of photographic images in the study of birds and bird behaviour.

The bird winters exclusively on oceanic islands, especially small Polynesian islands. And this was where Ong Tun Pin encountered the curlew, when he was on a ten-day holiday in Tahiti in August 2007.

This is a highly migratory bird, making long distance, non-stop flight of at least 4,000 km over the open ocean. The adults begin to leave their breeding grounds from early July, followed by the juveniles in early August. They meet at their staging grounds on central Yukon Delta before migrating to their winter grounds in the South Pacific islands.

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The image above of the flying bird shows its chestnut rump without stripes. This is the diagnostic feature to separate it from Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus).

In the wintering grounds, the bird moults and about 50% of the adults become flightless for about two weeks. This is the only shorebird known to have a flightless moult. This is not a problem where they winter in remote islands where there are no predators. However, when humans settle on these islands, the flightless moulting birds are at a serious handicap, especially with the introduction of domestic cats, dogs and even pigs.

The adults depart in early May while the immature birds spend all of their pre-breeding years on the wintering grounds.

Ong Tun Pin
Singapore
September 2007

References:
1. Gils, van J. & Wiersma, P. (1996). [‘Family Scolopacidae (Sandpipers, Snipes and Phalaropes]. Pp. 444-533 in del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. eds. Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 3. Hoatzin to Auks. Barcelona: Lynx Editions.
2. Kaufman, Kenn (1996). Lives of North American birds. Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Co.
3. Rosair, D. & Cottridge, D. (1995). Photographic guide to the waders of the world. London: Hamlyn.

King Slaty Trio

posted in: Courtship-Mating | 0

There are 215 species of woodpeckers (Picidae) in the world. The word, ‘woodpecker’ is a synonymous word well known as a forest bird hammering or drumming at tree trunks, creating rattling sounds in search of tree grubs. Perhaps too… stating a territorial claim?

Woodpeckers are also popularly used as mimicry icons in commercials, television sit-com shows and cartoons. Their intelligent behaviours have been well documented in various field guides and observed with much fascination and added humour.

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A recent visit to one of the forest reserves in Malaysia, encompassing more than 56,000 hectares of prime, tropical virgin forest, yielded further interesting observations of the largest species of all woodpeckers.

It brought out a trio of Great Slaty Woodpeckers (Mulleripicus pulverulentus) performing a dramatic sequence, leading to a finale performance of a well choreographed repertoire of a silhouetted singing trio, much to the amusement and delight of a one-person audience in an open-air, forest auditorium (left).

I chanced upon the site during one of my morning birding sessions. The ruckus and alarm calls that came from a tall, broadleaved deciduous tree caught my attention to some birds fleeting in the tree canopy.

As I looked up against the hazy, bad-lighted morning sky, I noted several restless birds that sounded like broadbills wailing away. I noticed dark, brown birds with two large white spots, each on the under winged coverts as one took off from the tall tree.

I could recognise the calls of a Dollarbird (Eurystomus orientalis) but these were no such birds nor could they be Common Mynas (Acridotheres tristis) mimicking calls. Could they be Banded Broadbills (Eurylaimus javanicus) high on my wanted list?

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Before I had the opportunity to investigate and to confirm further, a pair of huge, grey looking birds with featherless long necks and sharp, chiselled-like pointed beaks suddenly appeared from some unknown perch.

It’s the arrival of the Great Slatys!

Their powerful ringing cries, their sheer huge size of 45-51cm length and rapid flapping of their heavy wings sent those canopy birds scrambling as the two Great Slaty Woodpeckers, Thor and Teresa, made their arrivals known.

They landed on their favourite perch – a horizontal branch of the tall deciduous tree (right).

At about 50 feet away, they were the closest sighting of Great Slatys and the largest of all the 42 species of SE Asean species, if not the world… I’ve seen!

Thor the male began inspecting two large cavities of the trunk nearby. When these cavities first appeared, I had no idea. But they looked a bit too large for barbets or woodpeckers – their size, being half of the Great Slatys.

Could they be old, used cavities made by Great Slatys?

Do they make cavities first and then mate afterwards?

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Thor, the macho Grey Slaty, recognised by his broad, red moustachial stripe, began a perpendicular ascend and worked his way up, scaling the trunk with his polydactilous feet (above left).

The distinctive shrill notes of Teresa, the female Great Slaty, sounded like pulling the trigger of a semi-automatic, machine gun. The enticing calls caught the attention of Thickneck, the second, male partner bird that was hiding in the canopy of a tree opposite.

Thickneck was dueting with Teresa. I could hear his calls but could not see him as he remained hidden.

On hearing a keen competitor, Thor swiftly flew off the trunk, circled down and alighted beside Teresa, announcing his presence.

Woodpeckers may reverse their steps but are unable to scale down trees with their heads downwards like nuthatches.

Thickneck flew into view and decided he too was in a mood for some action. He landed cautiously on the same horizontal branch, obscured by the main trunk of the tree, a little distance away from the pair.

Thor wasted no time to mount Teresa. A copulation act, lasted just about a second took place under two parallel strings of cobwebs as captured on my digiscope (above right).

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“Me… first! Me…first!” squeaked Thor, the No.1 partner.

“Just what you think you are doooing…?” asked Thickneck,

“Oh, go away! Can’t we have a bit of privacy here… you mind?” Thor replied abruptly.

“What’s the hurry Thor? I was just having a bit of a ‘sing song’ session with Teresa, that’s all.” added No. 2 partner, quite innocently.

“Don’t believe ya!” replied Thor.

He dismounted and alighted on the tree trunk with two cavities. He then began an act of territorial advertisement by symbolically drumming on the trunk (above left).

“Tok Tok Tok Tok Tok!”

‘This patch is mine, mine, mine! You hear?” hollered Thor.

Thickhead followed after Thor (above right).

“I want a bit of banging too…” squawked Thickhead, as he chased Thor up the tree and proceeded to rapidly hammer the trunk with his chiselled-shape bill competitively.

Territorial and lover’s dispute went on for five minutes.

Having reconciled their differences I thought, the trio led by Thor, released their grips on the trunk and abseiled in undulating flights towards a tall ficus-looking tree, more than 200 metres away.

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The trio landed in equidistant from each other. Thor took top position, Thickhead below with Teresa in between them both.

The result, is a rare opportunity to present and view the beautifully choreographed behaviours of lovers’ quarrel – all very well synchronised by their raising of wings, each time they squawked harmoniously in avian language (above and below). Their expression and body language said it all!

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Sounds familiar?

AVIAN WRITER DAISY O’NEILL, PENANG, MALAYSIA

Brahminy Kite: Nesting observations

posted in: Nesting, Raptors | 0

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In March 2007, Mark Chua came across a nesting pair of Brahminy Kites (Haliastur indus) (above) raising two large chicks in a nest lodged high up in the fork of a tall casuarina tree (Casuarina equisetifolia). He managed to document the chicks in the nest, their fledging as well as many dramatic flight shots.

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Like most other raptors, the nest is a large, untidy pile of sticks (left). According to Naoroji (2006), the nest is usually lined with common discarded items like rags, strings, pieces of plastic, etc. However, this cannot be confirmed here as the images failed to show other than twigs. It is also reported that the birds build a new nest each season, sometimes recycling the old nest materials, at times even reusing the old nest after some repairs.

Wells (1999) states that the inner cup of the 60-90 cm diameter and 15-30 cm deep nest is lined with a pan of dried mud, 10-15 cm across.

Two or even three eggs are normally laid and both sexes share in the incubation duties. In this instance two chicks were raised (left bottom).

As reported by Wells (1999), food is often eaten directly while soaring.

This large kite has a striking plumage of rufous-brown and white as an adult. The head, neck to mantle, and throat to upper belly and flanks are all white. In the nominate subspecies, indus, that is seen in the Indomalayan region, the white has finely darkish streaks (top).

From below in flight, the white head, neck and breast contrast sharply with the chestnut lower belly, deep chestnut underwing-coverts with pale chestnut-buff under flight feathers with contrasting blackish primary fingers.

The juvenile is mostly brown, and this has been reported to vary with the season. From below the white-tipped underwing-coverts and large white wing panels are prominent.

Mark Chua
Singapore
August 2007

References:
Naoroji, Rishad (2006). Birds of prey of the Indian subcontinent. London: Christopher Helm.

Wells, D.R. (1999). The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsular. Vol. I, Non-passerines. Academic Press, London.

To flash or not to flash?

posted in: Photography | 0

Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating flashing as this may involve breaking the law. What I mean is flashing from the photographer’s point of view, especially when birds are the subjects.

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Birders and photographers have always argued about the use of flash in bird photography. On the one hand flash photography results in a better image (it is a matter of one’s point of view), especially when the lighting is low. It also removes shadows that may be deemed undesirable. Again, far shot with a long lens will result in a blurred images unless flash is used. Anyway there are many reasons why flash is used.

On the other hand many birders are against using flash, especially on nesting birds and at night, when photographing nocturnal birds. With digital photography, it is not unusual for one photographer to release a dozen or more flashes per session. Imagine the stress on the birds, especially when the distance is near. And with nocturnal birds, not used to bright light in the darkness of the night, the constant flashing can result in injury to the eyes, or so birders claim.

A recent article from the internet titled “Flash Photography and the Visual System of Birds and Animals” by Dennis K. Olivero, DVM and Donald L. Cohen, MD may, in a way, put to rest the fierce controversy that is raging in the interne.

According to the authors the flash gives a very short burst of light that is much diffused when it reaches the subject. This may or may not bother the subjects. However, under dim light conditions, flash “can produce a temporary reduction in vision but not permanent damage.”

The authors are not in favour of repeated flashing in total darkness, however, “The judicious use of flash in completely dark situations causing a brief vision alteration must be offset by the educational value of the photograph made… In select situations, the use of flash may be justified.”

Thus flashing is not a problem during daylight, if not used incessantly and very near nestlings that are not able to fly off. Controlled use of flash at night is not too much of a problem. However, use of powerful lights eg searchlights, to photograph nocturnal birds should be discouraged

DAISY O’NEILL on 29 Aug 2007 at 7:33 am # edit this

Yes, my personal opinion is that flashing should be the last option to be used on birds especially on nesting birds be they day time birds or nocturnal birds.
I believe, eye cells of nesting chicks are not fully developed to be subjected to closed-up shots.

If flashing has to be done as a subject for important educational or scientific use, then the act of flashing justifys a good cause for that moment only and should be restricted to one photographer.The photographer is expected to post or publish those photos to substantiate a report or paper.

Having the excuse,’ I am taking those shots for study purpose ‘ and then hide them in their collection of nesting bird gallery or whatever, or do a private cirulation amongst their buddies just for a little show off serves no purpose at all.

Such action I believe, is that of ordinary photographers of passion turned obsession who knows no boundaries of sense and sensivity. And that is waste of good talents turned bird predators.

Daisy O’Neill

Pamela Lim on 29 Aug 2007 at 3:22 pm # edit this

Dazy, Dazy,

What’s it to you that you have to turn such a beautiful activity of birding & bird photography into a personal vendetta against bird photographers who use flash?? Weren’t your previous birding partners bird photographers too??? Don’t they also use state of the art equipment to capture the pictures that tell the world a thousand words about birds in our region? Weren’t you the one who told me that you have to complement your partner in spotting the bird & allowing him to take his shots first above all else???

Whatever methods bird photographers have to justify their personal collection in a gallery or otherwise, are of no consequence to you nor do they cause any harm or detriment in the birds’ environment so why is it that you are so hell bent on persecuting photographers to the point of causing enmity between them & birders??? Do you have a point to make? Or are you just sore that your ways have earned you an infamous reputation among the birders? It’s not like you haven’t been in other forums, most notably, www.avianwatchasia.org to make your presence felt & exercise your tyranny in trying to get newbies like me banned for nothing & when the administrators ignore you, the best you could do is to champion your cause in several other bird-related groups & curse people along the way with bird poop??? Come on, is this what birding is all about? That wasn’t what you said when you hung out with the rest of us who used flash & flash extenders!!! Why didn’t you make a mention then? Why didn’t you talk to us before you talk to the world? Or are you just having a great time going behind the backs of those photographers who have access & knowledge of the nesting sites that you tapped upon, then stab them in the back when they are not looking? My my, I wonder how many birding partners you would have to lose before you come to your senses that birding is a social activity where people of all ages congregate & marvel at God’s wonderful creation!!! If you want to be a nature police, go prosecute those people who collect birds’ nest or those who poach birds for trade!

What makes you think that these photos taken serves no purpose at all? What gives you the liberty to judge what is purposeful or not? How would you know how the photos are being used? Be it to show to old folks to give them a glimpse into the jungles or to show little children & teach them about the appreciation of nature, who are you to determine what can or cannot be done, should & should not be done? I feel that person with no sense & sensitivity is you.

So many people are so sick & tired of your ill-feelings & hate-propaganda towards bird photographers with your high & mighty ethics that you impose upon anybody who proclaim to be a birder. Your holier-than-thou attitude towards bird photographers on the field will only bring forth hostility upon yourself not to mention, the country as countries become borderless through the internet. By calling your own countrymen whom you once fondly ‘birded’ with, ‘BIRD PREDATORS,’ put you in the same class of those who bite the hand that feeds them. After all, you wouldn’t know where to bird in the first place if they hadn’t taken you to those pitta & trogon sites, would you?

I would want to see you on the field tell the bunch of us in our face about how you feel if you really felt so strongly about flash photography instead of hiding behind the safe confines of your computer & pound away your frustrations causing so many birders to hide their findings for fear of retribution from the hostility of ignorant birders caused by your sickening propaganda!!!

DAISY O’NEILL on 29 Aug 2007 at 7:20 pm # edit this

Dear Pam,
This is a Bird ecology forum and one is entitled to speak up generally for the benefit of birds and the environment.
It is a pity that birds cannot speak for themselves. That is one of the reasonswhy forums like this are created for humans to learn from birds, about birds, and ways to try and make our hobby interesting and in a more sustainable and kind way to the birds.

Your reply is sadly more of a personal one which you seemed to get too edgy about it and quick to assasinate those who speak up and write about what YOU don’t want to read or accept.
You did the same to me in another forum. I kept quiet.
Not this time.

I am not interested in personal envious bitching of sorts with you using this forum as a platform. You can do better else where with other woman whose husband and -birding pal you are protecting and speaking up for.

If I am not mistaken, you are more of a person of the sea. It would be best you invest your time more productively in those scuba diving forums. Your niche is there and leave me to coo in this birding forum.

Thank you.
YOu need not reply to his note as personal vendetta is not applicable in this forum and I won’t be replying either period.

Prof Wee, kindly deal with this please.
Thanks

admin on 29 Aug 2007 at 7:39 pm # edit this

Yes, let’s not be personal. Both have lodge their views and so let us let things be. We will end this aspect of the discussion.

Hi YC,
Thanks for bringing those comments to a close.

‘Pamela Lim”s name is likely beng used by a strong suspect-Tse Chien .
He came out with the same kind of uncouth remarks under Pamela’s name at Avianwatch.
He is one of the ‘tua tow’ propagating the idea of birding in military styled uniforns for his buddies. (A failed commando applicant who try to play it out with birding in the forest!)

He was such a promising birder-photog.
The introduction of learning bird calls to him was from Nature’s NItche DVD tape was from me. He disappointed me by overstepping the enducational tool to have the calls taped on MP3 and started making copies for Pamela (girlfriend) and eventually the idea took off in Sg. and it went out of control.
How I regreted it YC.

Yes, Tse Chien was the one who started his early birding with me for nearly 9 months and I was his spotter and he got to know more birds better and learnt well.

It’s a pity, people would choose to play it out this way
Those are not nice comments- pretty overkill..
I propose they all be deleted.
Also, two articles sent last year- Stalking the Elusive Pitta and Breeding Masters of Decoy.
Can you please take those articles off including all the pictures in the blog?.

I will rewrite them at some other stage when I am in Pitta mood and to replace them with my own pictures..

Thanks
Daisy 290807

New comment on your post #1558 “To flash or not to flash?
Author : Ding Li (IP: 202.156.9.3 , 202-156-9-3.cache.maxonline.com.sg)
E-mail : zoothera83@hotmail.com
URL :
Whois : http://ws.arin.net/cgi-bin/whois.pl?queryinput=202.156.9.3
Comment:
So far there is no solid proof, at least to my knowledge, that flash photography causes direct harm to bird behavior and ecology (maybe it might hurt the eyes). No one has been able to conduct such forms of empirical study, but it would be good to know what it really does, as it would give us some objective data to base current opinions, or perhaps effect changes with our photography habits (if it indeed causes harm). The latest issue of Ibis, the British bird journal has a series of papers on recreation disturbance on birds, including suggested study techniques, and i guess that is a good starting point for studying anthropogenic disturbances, in this case, use of flash photography and sound playbacks. Until the day an objective and significant study has been done on this form of disturbance, we can only continue to ‘imagine’ what happen to the birds…by applying the same scenarios to our own eyes when we are to face hundreds of bright flashes every day

New comment on your post #1558 “To flash or not to flash?
Author : Ding Li (IP: 202.156.9.3 , 202-156-9-3.cache.maxonline.com.sg)
E-mail : zoothera83@hotmail.com
URL :
Whois : http://ws.arin.net/cgi-bin/whois.pl?queryinput=202.156.9.3
Comment:
However, it is not too difficult to hypothesize what over-usage of bright light flashes can do to birds, though it is often a matter of how significant it would alter a bird’s behaviour or ecology. For example, let say a frogmouth or an scops owl has been located, photographers might gather and take many flash-enhanced shots/while birders shine mighty bright torches at it. That sudden exposure to strong light, we all know, affects the retina and disrupts the photoreceptors, causing a temporary period of “blindness”. If this period is prolonged, logically, the bird is blinded for an extended moment and is vulnerable to danger as it cannot see well enough to respond to its environment. Many strigids and other noctural birds are highly dependant on sight, so a temporary lost of sight might be costly, or even life-threatening (due to predation). Likewise, a nightbird blinded by the flashes, whether by birder’s torches or photographers flashes, are essentially “wasting” time for f
oraging and other natural behaviour. This might have some ecological implication that we don’t know exist, that directly affects the birds negatively, perhaps in lowered prey capture success, leading to nest failure?, or got killed by arboreal predators.. etc etc. Just my two cents worth.

Tanimbar Corella: A wasteful eater?

posted in: Feeding-plants | 4

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On the evening of the 23rd July 2007, at about 6.00 pm, I heard a sharp cry of the Tanimbar Corella (Cacatua goffini) coming from the starfruit tree (Averrhoa carambola). The bird is usually shy and will fly off as soon as it sees me. But this time I was behind the glass window of my bathroom about slightly more than a metre away and could observe at close hand. It did eye me on and off but by not moving my head it was not bothered by my presence. It continued picking on the fruits.

The lone bird was perching on the branch. It reached out to a young, green fruit with its bill and expertly plucked it from the short stalk (above left). Then, with the right foot gripping the branch, its left foot moved up to take hold of the fruit. With its sharp pointed bill, it bit off bits and pieces of the fruit along the flange and dropped them below. Then it dipped its bill into the core of the fruit and extracted the seeds inside (above right).

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One by one it plucked the green fruits from its perch, ate the seeds and dropped the remaining fruit below (right). When it finished with the fruits around, it walked along the branch to another spot and did the same. All the time it was eating, it gave out a harsh, monosyllable sound.

For some time now, I have been under the impression that the bird is a wasteful eater, eating pieces and then dumping the rest of the fruit. Obviously I was wrong.

YC Wee
Singapore
August 2007

Sleeping Chestnut-naped Forktail

posted in: Roosting | 6

Since the posting of Sleeping Birds earlier on, a few people have written expressing concern about disturbing these birds in their sleep, especially when flash is used to photograph them.

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Forest Ang is one such concerned person. He was at Maliau Basin, Sabah when he came across a sleeping bird when out frogging along a small stream one night (left). The sleeping bird had its head buried under its wing.

“I took this sleeping Chestnut-naped Forktail (Enicurus ruficapillus) on a branch over a running stream. It was curled into a ball. I saw several mosquitoes on its toes. I think it got a fright when it suddenly woke up to see a shining torchlight. It flew aimlessly like a drunken bird.

“I really felt sorry for the intrusion. Perhaps we photographers should restrain ourselves from getting too near. It could hit a tree and injure itself in the darkness.

“I had a few previous encounters with sleeping birds but all of them were not bothered with my presence.

“After the Chestnut-naped Forktail, I have been restraining myself from the urge to take pictures of sleeping birds…should we? What is your comment?”

See Forest Ang’s video here!

Yes, flashing sleeping birds may disturb them. As I earlier posted in reply to Serene, some birds may actually be disturbed, waking up for a moment, to go back to sleep. Others may be oblivious to the flashes and continue sleeping…

Personally, I think there is nothing wrong with taking photographs of sleeping birds, as long as we do not overdo it. It is the same with photographing nesting birds. How else do we add to our knowledge of bird behaviour? We do need such documentation. Taking photographs is a lesser “evil” than taking specimens of animals for study.

As long as we do things in moderation, we would not be disturbing the birds too much. It is only when a few photographers descend on the scene, each releasing a dozen or so flashes at the sleeping or even a nesting bird, that we are causing problems.

Input by Forest Ang, image from his webpage.

Golden-bellied Gerygone and Little Bronze Cuckoo chick

posted in: Feeding chicks, Interspecific | 0

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A pair of adult Golden-bellied Gerygone (Gerygone sulphurea) were spotted frantically feeding the chick of the Little Bronze Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx minutillus) in fig tree in a park in early August 2007. The adult gerygone is a smallish bird about 10 cm long while the cuckoo is 16 cm long. Or that is what the guidebooks say. However, the images captured of the feeding pair show the cuckoo chick to be nearly twice as large as the gerygone adult (left and below left).

The gerygone, being small, can only catch small insects. The chick, being large, was not easily satisfied by the number of small insects fed to it. The result? The foster parents had to work frantically like feeding machines to appease the hungry and noisy chick. And this went on for days on end.

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And there was an adult cuckoo in the vicinity. Was it keeping an eye on its chick? To ensure that the foster parents were taking good care of its biological chick? Food for thought eh?

There was only one cuckoo chick (above right). I suppose the small nest of the gerygone cannot handle more than one large chick. And to be left with two large cuckoo chicks to feed will be too much for the adopted parents.

The Little Bronze Cuckoo is a brood parasite, laying its egg in the nest of the Golden-bellied Gerygone. Once the cuckoo’s egg hatches, the chick will eject the eggs of the host.

Images by Daniel (top) and Eddie (bottom).

Go, going, gone – My habitat

posted in: Conservation | 4

The founding of Penang Island in the late 18th Century by Sir Francis Light marked the beginning of 171 years of British rule in Malaya.

Province Wellesley on the mainland, named after Lord Wellesley, has always been made to feel and treated somewhat like a step-sister to the island state.

Geographically, it is something like Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Except that in Province Wellesley, there aren’t any nine hills to boast of any good Feng Shui – Chinese art of divine intervention to stimulate an economic boom initiated by a race nicknamed, ‘the Yellow Peril’ by British colonists.

Nor were there any Californian gold deposits that saw Chinese junks sailed to port to name the province, ‘San Francisco of the East’ also known as Kum Sun or Gold Hill in the Cantonese dialect.

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Neither has Province Wellesley the amour and romantic provincial ambience of Provence in Northern Italy. There, sows are bred to sniff out musky truffles in Mediterranean woodlands. Valued like gold, truffles are shredded paper-thin and sparingly sprinkled over homemade, delicious pastas and spaghettis for the ‘oomph’ and much enjoyed by Italian families on special occasions.

The opposite holds true for Province Wellesley. While it held such a romantic, countryside name, it was renamed, Seberang Perai after the 1970’s.

My government then was in a passionate mood to erase all things colonial and opted for a local flavour. Pathetically, it sounds bad like a mouthful of verbal diarrhoea or a victim down with salmonella poisoning in latrine agony. Anyway, it is a phrase of a place I am not too proud to coo too sweetly.

The original topographic area of the province was mainly low lying, agricultural and forested land, with a couple of low, inland hills with patches scrub and wetlands. Naturally, it was left last to be developed in the tropical heat of a mosquito infested region.

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Fortunately, remoteness and late development gave longer tenure to bird habitats. It also allowed me a window period to checklist bird areas and put on historical record – prior to mid-2007, images of migratory and water birds seen at Bandar Perda wetlands area, Bukit Mertajam (above: top, migratory egrets; bottom, Chinese Pond Heron; right: near right Purple Heron; far right, Little Egret).

There were uncommon sightings of Greater Painted-snipes (Rostratula benghalensis), Red-necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus), Oriental Practincoles (Glareola maldivarum) and Brown-winged Kingfisher (Halcyon amauroptera), a family of Barred Buttonquails (Turnix suscitator) and Japanese Sparrowhawks (Accipiter gularis) to add to various species of bee-eaters, bitterns, kingfishers, munias, herons, wagtails, raptors and a resident Barn Owl (Tyto alba), bringing a total of more than a hundred species of birds at the peak of migratory season.

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Crepuscular birds – active feeding birds at dawn and dust had to be the signature species of Bandar Perda. Bird images shown here are the result of many predawn, solo visits and setting up of mobile mini hides at various birding sites (left: top left, Watercock; top right, Ruddy-breasted Crake; bottom left, Baillon’s Crake; bottom right, pair of Slaty-breasted Rail).

There were numerous occasions of a peaceful sit down of a take-away breakfast and hot tea-flask to observe Slaty-breasted Rails (Gallirallus striatus) hunt for their breakfast. They threw their heads back and stabbed their long beaks into damp paddy fields in search of embedded crustaceans. With hammer action, hardened shells of crustaceans, gripped by their bills, were smashed open against hardened rock surfaces (below top, Slaty-breasted Rail).

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Crepuscular birds were observed to roost in one field and breakfast stroll to the other. It provided a small window and précised time of opportunity to observe them as they crossed bunds or tracks in between fields (right bottom).

Being extremely skittish, these birds skirted the edge of paddy fields during feeding times and were rarely seen in mid-fields. As such, any slightest disturbance or predatory threat would give them the opportunity to run for cover.

In extreme cases, Watercocks (Gallicrex cinerea) were able to sense my presence a paddy field length or football field away. They posed to be most challenging of all water birds in digiscopy. The plumages of juveniles, females and non-breeding males were so well camouflaged in fallowed fields. My presence spooked them to flight before I realised they were there!

How did they know?

The sound of ploughing tractors roared in neighbouring paddy fields, churning out clumps of mud-encrusted larvae and worms to awaiting Eurasian Tree Sparrows (Passer montanus), House Crows (Corvus splendens), Common Mynas (Acridotheres tristis) and various species of egrets for fresh pickings.

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Occasionally, water birds such as this protected species of juvenile Slaty-breasted Rail (Gallirallus striatus) became destined for the cooking pot (left).

In spite of having to trudge in muddy terrain and having my boots sucked into mud and looking lost without owner’s foot, my passion for birds did not deter my fascination of observing feeding habits and behaviour of these water birds.

But… it is not me to be sitting and getting baked under the tropical sun for hours for birds to show up.

The stench of rubbish dumpsites and nuisance of mosquitoes swamping around and thirsting for new blood were no deterrent. I made peace pacts with hungry mosquitoes by the use of natural repellents and adorned the ghotra – a male Arabian headscarf which doubled up as a sunshade and dyed forest green.

However, any die-hard, large mosquitoes ‘dressed’ in black and white stripes attempting kamikaze stunts are something else to be reckoned with. They are potential carriers of Haemorrhagic Fever or Dengue Fever.

One has a choice. Smack those to death, take confession later or…. do a runner!

The only regret I have, had I been a birder much earlier to recee the birding site well, I could have chalked up a few more species of birds on my checklist. Unfortunately, my knowledge of birds then was inadequate to conclude a positive identification.

However, all is not lost. Just about in time, together with my visual partner, DG Scope, we take pleasure to share and air the final curtain show of the water bird series of Bandar Perda wetlands to readers of this blog (below: top left, Cinnamon Bittern; top right, White-browed Crake; bottom left, Purple Swamphen; bottom right, White-breasted Waterhen).

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Alas! Development arrived.

With it, came cranes, bulldozers, trucks, and machineries for road works etc. changing the landscape, replacing agricultural lands with state of the art showpieces and grandiose buildings, some with eccentric architectural styles of mis-matched European designs with a concoction of Greco-Roman facades (below).

Development of a young nation like Malaysia, catering to the ever increasing demand in population growth, commerce and industry and prosperity takes priority above anything else.

It came with a heavy price tag.

One of the very expensive, destructive and irreversible price to pay is permanent and environmental habitat loss of wild animals, avian and flora life. Uncontrolled deforestation, human ignorance and greed, lackadaisical attitude, miscalculation, lack of prudence and foresight are other contributing factors.

Does it have to be done this way only?

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A young nation in the stages of development is like a young child learning to walk tall, have a few falls and bleed a little. What is to be expected of a toddler with a pacifier learning to discover him/herself?

What did a developing nation know about good governance, harmonious partnerships in sustainable development and stringent, environmental conservation practices in their early days?

The sad thing when dealing with bird-habitat environment is, consideration to conserve is often left last in terms of economic priority. It is preferred and more convenient to brush such issues under the carpet as there are no long term revenues in sight for the short sighted.

If current developed nations were given another chance to rebuild from scratch, would they plan the same as they did before? Instead of ending up breathing in concrete jungles, could they still be seen enjoying wild life nature by circumventing development projects around vital, conservative life lines?

Currently, bird watchers living in concrete jungles and yearning to view exotic species have to pay top dollars to breathe clean air in green lung areas. They have to leave home thousands of miles away to become tourists and fly in iron birds to walk in tropical rain forests reserves.

Isn’t it uncanny that developing nations are making haste to chop down their trees at super speed to create an artificial environment; copying developed nations and catering to a greedy, misconstrued concept and ugly word call, ‘ECOTOURISM’?

Or, the madness of isolated cases where humans have become so pampered in calling government agencies to summon and axe a tree just because fallen leaves were added chore for a housemaid?

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Let’s listen to the finale chorus of three House Crows (Corvus splendens) named, GO, GOING GONE crooning to LONGFELLOW, the Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea) (top left))

GO, GOING, GONE seen perched on a bare tree,
Say GO and GONE, ‘Where have all the trees gone?’
GOING answered to GO and GONE perched on a bare tree,
‘They have all gone, to build concrete trees 200 feet long.’
So too, GO, GOING, GONE will gonna be going gone.

A last peep… as the final curtain descends on Bandar Perda wetlands (above right: top and bottom).

AVIAN WRITER DAISY O’NEILL, PENANG, MALAYSIA
(All bird images shown were taken by digiscopy techniques. No flash photography used. The use of electronic devices to entice birds into the open- not practiced).

Sleeping birds

posted in: Roosting | 5

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An earlier post of a sleeping Common Tailorbird (Orthotomus sutorius) that looked like a tiny ball of feathers has spawned another report on sleeping birds by Eddie Lee. This time we have a few images of the tailorbird in dreamland as well as those of the Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis):

“I first noticed that the Olive-backed Sunbirds spent the night perching on tree branches a while ago, but didn’t pay much attention to them.

“Then on 28th May 2006 I saw a lone male Olive-backed perching on a tree branch under cover of darkness, presumably spending the night till daybreak. This time I was armed with a camera and took some shots of it at arm’s length distance (left). Incidentally the flash which illuminated the branches did not seem to disturb the bird at all. It continued with its seemingly deep sleep. The bird was seen on a few more occasions after this encounter and subsequently failed to return.

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“On 25th March 2007 I caught sight of a pair of Common Tailorbird doing the same on a different type of plant. Managed to shoot some pictures. Again on 5th April, but only a single tailorbird returned to roost. The bird was once again photographed on 22nd July.

“All the pictures were taken between 8-9 pm (top). As I only visit the place during Sunday nights, I can only presume that the same bird returned to the same plant every night until recently when it was no longer to be seen.”

Most birders take it for granted that diurnal birds sleep at night. And that nocturnal birds do so during the day. We do look for sleeping nocturnal birds, especially owls but how many birdser look for sleeping diurnal birds at night? We are familiar with masses of roosting birds but individual birds? With this post we know that birds take different postures sleeping. Unlike the tailorbird, the sunbird does not tug its head under its wing. Both sleep while perched on a branch. I am sure there are birds that sleep on the ground.

It is hoped that photographer who are fascinated with birds will keep a look out for sleeping birds and share their images.

Eddy Lee
Singapore
August 2007

Spotted: Red-legged Crake

posted in: Species | 3

It was 4 pm on 28th July 2007, just after a heavy downpour when Ng Bee Choo came across a single Red-legged Crake (Rallina fasciata) taking a bath in a shallow puddle along the road leading to the Singapore Botanic Gardens’ Visitor Centre. She managed to capture a few shots with her camera, as shown on the left.

The Red-legged Crake is an uncommon resident and a winter visitor to Singapore. It is a secretive bird and usually not easily seen. Interestingly, it was first recorded on 3 Jun 1898 in the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Since the first sighting, it had been seen in various forested as well as non-forested locations on the main island. The bird is usually associated with ditches, streams, understorey of forests and dense scrub. It does breed locally, first reported in January 1985 in Hume Heights, possibly earlier in 1944. Chicks are reportedly seen in March, May and August.

Migrants arrive from October to April.

Ng Bee Choo
Singapore
August 2007

26 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

  21. Wee Ming

    Hello Besgroup,

    Trust this email finds you well. We chance upon your photograph on your website and found the amazing image of the Laced Woodpecker and durians. We would like to explore the possibility of getting permission to use them for a new Bird Park in Singapore.

    Spacelogic is a company based in Singapore and we have been contracted by Mandai Park Development to carry out design and build works relating to the exhibition interpretive displays in this new Bird Park.

    Some background of the new Mandai Bird Park project; it will build upon the legacy of the Jurong Bird Park – https://www.wrs.com.sg/en/jurong-bird-park.html by retaining and building upon a world-reference bird collection and creating a place of colour and joy for all visitors. The new Bird Park will have a world-reference ornithological collection displayed in a highly immersive way with large walk-through habitats. To enhance visitors’ experience with storyline and narrative of the bird park, transition spaces are added to display exhibits that provide a varied type of fun, intuitive, interactive and educational experiences for all visitors. One of the habitats features the Laced Woodpecker on a flora panel It is in this flora panel that we are seeking your permission to feature the Laced Woodpecker. We are looking to use the first image on the link here.
    Link can be found here: https://besgroup.org/2012/06/28/laced-woodpecker-and-durians/

    We would like to ask if this is something that we can explore further and if yes, how can we go about with putting through a formal permission request. Thank you so much for considering our request and we look forward to hearing from you.

    Warmest Regards,
    Wee Ming
    SPACElogic Pte Ltd

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