Black Bittern

The Black Bittern (Ixobrychus flavicollis) is a rather uncommon winter visitor to Singapore. Thus when it appeared in Jurong around early November 2006, birders as well as photographers were all there to witness and to record its presence.

The bird is reported to rarely appear by day except during rainy periods or when the sky is overcast. The images shown here were taken after a shower when the sky was overcast. But on other days the bird was always around – morning, noon and evening, and I assume, even at night. The area was well shaded by trees and thus even at the height of noon it was dimly lit.

The bittern was seen foraging around the lake fringe (above), staying on the banks or flying low from one location to another. It stayed motionless for long periods at the water’s edge or in the shallow water, waiting for a fish to swim close by. Then it suddenly extended its long neck and either grabbed or speared the prey with its bill (below).

The image below shows the bird with a catfish fry held firmly in its bill.

The bird also moved into the shallow water, its body parallel to the water surface, its neck fully extended and its bill pointing straight ahead. Movement was extremely slow, one foot after the other. It always remained around the shallow water and with the sun always in front, so that it does not cast any shadow and alert the fish in the water.

The frustratingly slow pace of the bird tested the patience of birders and photographers alike, who were gathered to witness some action. But when the action came, it came fast and rapid…

Input and images by Meng and Melinda Chan.

Jerdon’s Baza: Earlier sightings

posted in: Miscellaneous | 0

With the posting of the third sighting of the Jerdon’s Baza (Aviceda jerdoni) and details of the bird feasting on a lizard, interests on the past two sightings have been generated. Thanks to Wang Luan Keng for the lead, we are posting here details of the 2002 and 2004 sightings – mainly because this passage migrant is so rare and rarely encountered in Singapore.

The first Jerdon’s Baza in Singapore was recorded on 6th December 2002 (Wang & Lim 2003). The bird probably crashed into a building and was picked up by a member of the public in Maju Camp, off Clementi Road. It died a few hours later. Upon autopsy, this bird was shown to have a bullet wound that subsequently healed. The specimen was a male (above and below).

Two years later, on the morning of 23rd January 2004, Tang Hung Bun sighted another bird at Marine City Park. He was walking with his family along Marina Promenade just after a heavy downpour when he sighted the bird perching on a branch some 40 m away. Unfortunately he had a simple point-and-shoot digital camera with him then. He only managed two shots which are reproduced below. The bird was later confirmed to be a Jerdon’s Baza. And he was told that that was only the second time the bird was sighted in Singapore.

The global range of Jerdon’s Baza as listed by Wells (1999) is SW India and Sri Lanka, the Himalayan foothills east from Darjeeling; SW Yunnan and Hainan; Southeast Asia to Sumatra, Borneo and the Philippines; and Sulawesi to the Banggai and Sula islands. According to Robson (2005), it is also seen in Peninsular Malaysia, although rarely so.

Robson, C. (2005). Birds of South-east Asia. London: New Holland.
Wang, L.K. & Lim, K.S. (2003). First record of Jedon’s Baza Aviceda jerdoni ) for Singapore. Singapore Avifauna 17(2):30-31 (mimeo.).
Wells, D.R. (1999). The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsular. Vol. I, Non-passerines. Academic Press, London.

Input by Wang Luan Keng and Tang Hung Bun; images by Luan (skins) and Tang (birds).

Antarctica 4: Piecing the last jigsaw of Antarctica

posted in: Travel-Personality | 1

The crossing of the 7-mile Lemaire Channel, widest at 1 mile across and half-a-mile at its narrowest was first navigated by De Gerlache in 1898. Expedition members on this journey made the journey again on Christmas Day, 107 years later – a very short period of time in terms of history.

As such, the crossing was met with much anticipation and excitement. Everyone on board was struck silent just listening to the ice-crushing barge cruising through ice precariously between the twin snowed peaks (below). It reminded me of the blockbuster movie, ‘Jason and the Argonauts’. It was simply awesome!

The finale of the Antarctic expedition came when announcement bellowed through the loudspeaker to prepare for a ‘zodiac’ cruise among the icebergs. With the numerous landings we have had and rehearsed, dressing up for the outdoor became much easier and quicker. Soon, even the senior members were strapping on life jackets expertly, double layered socks inside our boots and were able to waddle smartly up and down staircases and onto awaiting zodiacs in a jiffy.

In complying with strict regulations of the Environmental Protocol, on each returned trip to ship, we had to walk passed a trough of disinfectant solution. Leaned against the edge of the ship, front facing, we lifted our foot behind us, and had our boots water blasted under high pressure jet from a fireman’s hose (above).

Cruising around the ice, this was what we saw.

Ice came in various sizes and formations (above). Some white, some with many hues of blue; there was the green Jade ice, black ice with dimples like orange peel that has been floating in the sea for many, many years. Surfaces of ice carved by ocean currents came in different facets, designs, each unique in appearance and in form. On some icebergs, nature’s frozen platforms were created for crabeater and leopard seals to laze around (below).

Encrusted on some cliff rocks were nesting colonies of the Antarctic Blue-eyed Shag (Phalacrocorax atriceps), a species of cormorant with a more efficient swimming foot – with web connecting all four toes instead of 3 in most seabirds. They have no external nostril openings and their breeding grounds are often near or among penguin colonies.

Another unique species of bird is found here – the ubiquitous Snowy Sheathbill (Chionis alba) – the flying ‘cleaning machine’ of Antarctica (above).

This pigeon-sized species while appearing white, quiet and innocent looking, is the most conspicuous scavenger of all. They are the flying cleaning machines that gobble up penguin ‘poo’ and thrive on anything organic from carcasses and afterbirths of animals to sucking eggs or even kill life chicks of penguins. With rounded wings, they can swim and when on land, would perch unperturbed, taking their place amongst the penguins in a compromised liaison of recycling.

How does one continue to keep the largest wilderness area on earth relatively pristine yet permitting tourists’ visitations to this ecosystem wonder of nearly 14 million square kilometres? The National Environmental Research Council recorded 10,000 visiting tourists in 1999 alone during the summer season.

Much of the stimuli for Antarctic exploration in the 18th and 19th century were of commercial interests, bringing the Antarctic fur seals to near extinction and an over exploitation of various whale species that ended up in numerous sushi bars.

In 1980, the Antarctic Treaty nations adopted the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, to correct and maintain the populations of all the species in the Southern Ocean marine ecosystem through its strict monitoring and effective fishery management.

Activities in the Antarctic are governed by the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, signed by various nations designating Antarctica to be for peace and science. In 1991, the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties adopted the Protocol on environmental protection designating Antarctica as a natural reserve. It sets principles, procedures and obligations for the comprehensive protection of the white continent and its wildlife within and oceans around.

The Environmental Protocol applies to tourism, governmental and non-governmental activities in the Antarctic Treaty Area ensuring that minimal impact on the Antarctic environments is made as possible.

Hence, the IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) was conceived and began the registration of tour operators to adopt a voluntary code of conduct for visitors to Antarctica. Today, tour operators adhere to strict guidelines and undertake the responsibility to ensure visitors to the continent abide by the set rules as delivered by the expedition cruise company.

It does not end here. Many works are still being done quietly behind scenes by scientists and researchers on their tour of duties to the continent (above). They claim no glory for themselves but for science. The British Antarctic Survey is one of them and aspires to become the leading international centre for Global Science in the Antarctic context by 2012.

Having visited this 7th continent, it is not hard to see who those people are and why they are drawn to this cold, isolated and inhospitable world. One needs either one or all – passion, aloneness and addiction to the wilderness to be able to stay on and want more of it!

To me, it has been an educational field exercise of environmental and soul searching expedition; an open university in evoking the awareness of the importance of environmental conservation in one’s own conscience; of which guarantees no participant failures. It fuels a challenge to put thoughts into practice… a lonely and uphill path to take and few would really succeed.

Global warming is real in Antarctica and every visitor to the continent is a witness to view dramatically, frozen iced cliffs breaking off. The whipping sound of cracked ice was like a gunshot fired across the bay and chunks of ice formed millions of years ago just collapsed and crashed into the sea, creating a tsunami-waves enough to stir and wake a sleepy ocean bay.

By encouraging fellow birding friends to follow one’s own environmental-conscious behaviour; advocating the protection and conservation of important habitats in the world we live in and love the birds that live within; will we hope to contribute, to ensure whatever that is left, remains pristine for the enjoyment of future generations.

Have humans learned from past mistakes or are we continuing to abuse, hack down natures’ wonders as though there is no tomorrow?

Will Antarctica… the final, frontier continent be next to be axed?


The Antarctica series is dedicated to the memory of my English foster parents – Bert and Phyllis Johnson and to my spouse, James O’Neill, without which this journey could not have been made nor be written.

The fig tree at Upper Seletar: Addendum

posted in: Plants | 3

Meng and Melinda Chan reported fondly on the Benjamin fig (Ficus benjamina) at Upper Seletar that eventually fell and was chopped down (left).

The tree was the focus point of many birds as well as long tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) whenever it figged. As it was sited in a less accessible site, unlike that at Bukit Timah (1, 2 and 3), it attracted few birders and thus was less known.

The posting attracted the attention of Prof Vilma D’Rozario, a Nature Society stalwart and Chairman of its Education Group, who wrote: “I remember this tree fondly and will miss it. My family and I, and Angie, stationed ourselves just by the tree in May when we were doing our Vesak Day duty of watching out for illegal animal release. We saw monkeys feasting on the figs of this tree – beautiful. But yes, it was hanging precariously over the water. I think Angie took a photo of me and my family, if I am not mistaken… did you Angie?”

Well, Angie Ng did take the pictures and kindly sent them to me, one of which is shown above. Vilma is in the centre, posing with her sister-in-law Adrianne, and niece Jillian (12) and nephew Andrew (7) – all members of the Nature Society (Singapore). The photograph was taken on Vesak Day this year at Upper Seletar. The group had chosen to ‘guard’ the water by the tree as this was a favourite release ground! And sure enough, they stopped three men from releasing four turtles and a family of four from releasing two baby red-eared sliders into the reservoir at that spot.

This clearly shows that there are nature lovers who are aware of this particular fig tree and are missing it now that it is there no more. As Vilma adds, “To me, the loss of this lovely fig tree is very sad indeed. I have on many occasions sat right by it, and enjoyed the vista before me. On Vesak Day this year, it was figging and there were macaques feeding on the figs.”

Any more people with fond memories of this tree shown above?

Input by Prof Vilma D’Rozario, images by Meng and Melinda Chan (top and bottom) and Angie Ng (centre).

Antarctica 3: Passage to Antarctic Peninsula

posted in: Travel-Personality | 0

On the wings of the Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) will we imagine to fly, visit flightless birds that epitomize the Antarctic- the penguins (Sphenisciformes). We will visit 3 species-the Adelie (Pygoscelis adeliae), Chinstrap (Py. antarctica) (below right) and Gentoo Penguins (Py. papua) (below left) – a near threatened species.

Seventeen species of flightless penguins are identified in the southern hemisphere; while being the most aquatic of all sea birds, land only when moulting and in breeding mode. For the rest of the time, they live in the oceans, feeding on squids and krill (crustacean) – food of the whales that roam the Antarctic waters.

The first continental landing was made with the zodiacs (inflatable boats strapped with Yamaha engines). This is where we will alight from the boat craft systematically and wave ‘adios’ to the ‘Queen of the Southern Ocean’.

I soon found myself on an alien land, walking on black pebbly stones of the shoreline, fully clothed in all winter gears in a summer lit Antarctica. Strapped in by my life-jacket like a moon walker, I waddled like the Adelie Penguins and was greeted by loud and noisy honking calls (below). A colony of rabbit sized birds with reduced wings, flat and stiff were flapping happily to receive the expedition members.

We received mandatory briefings on good bird ethics. ‘Strictly no less than 15 feet distance from any bird at anytime or at any distance that would startle a nesting bird’. That was the order of the day.

In summer Antarctica, most of the penguin species are social, open nesters in colonies where most nests are lined with pebbles collected from the beach or stolen from nearby nests. Both parents share the incubation of eggs and feeding the young.

The sights, sounds and odour emitting from these penguin colonies were simply unforgettable. Bloodstained rocks were the result of duel fights that drew blood as seen in the picture, where lonely males approached partnered females too near for male competitor’s comfort.

There were times when eggs got predated by scavengering Brown Skuas (Stercorarius antarctica) in unattended nest sites (above).

While incubation usually lasts 5-6 weeks, fledging of chicks vary according to different species and may range from 7-14 weeks. The penguins have no problem surviving in the harsh climate of Antarctica with 80 % of insulative feather properties, 20% fat with a high internal body temperature of 38ºC (101ºF).

With bodies extremely streamlined, penguins developed a method of swimming- termed ‘porpoising’. While most penguins can submerge for 5-7 minutes, the largest species – Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) a breeding endemic, can submerge for up to 18 minutes and takes to dives of 630 meters with a swimming speed of about 24 kph.

Unless one is involved in a specialized, winter scientific expedition, it is not likely to chance the sight of the Emperor Penguin as this species breeds only in winter, close to shore or near edge of pack ice where it is thickest.

The fascination of this species is that the male incubates the egg by huddling the egg in his feet covering it with a brood pouch and shuffles around for about 2 months bracing the harsh winter, while his mate it out at sea feeding.

Luc Jacquet’s Oscar award latest winning documentary, ‘The March of the Penguins’ tells of this fascinating wild life of the enduring Emperor Penguin in search of a mate by walking miles upon miles in blizzards of the Antarctica, the courtship that followed, and to just lay an egg… only to see it taken. A ‘must see’ documentary film of endearing avian love that puts in question the inadequacies of Homo sapiens compared.

The passage through the Antarctic Sound is paved by the ice-breaker cruising in between huge icebergs and crushing smaller floating ice along the way (above). The ‘Iceberg Alley’ as it is nicknamed, holds spectacular icebergs formation of various sizes.

There were several landings made to interesting historical places and observation of whales, dolphins and several species of seals were also had. Apart from a polar plunge by some high spirited and adventurous expedition members, a walk up the snow mountain was simply breath-taking.

It was on this mountain that Christmas Day, I sat on the snow slopes and looked around, that it hit me – I was in a different world! A place beyond my humble dreams but a journey well taken, fulfilled to keep in memory. I felt grateful and so lucky. I would deeply have regretted if I had not taken this personal journey, had not the yearning to be with oceanic birds, wild life and nature beckoning me on.

It is a world with a horizon made by peaks of undulating snowed hills; a white world not even a tree stands with wood that can make a toothpick from or for a bird to perch on a branch; a world, with no neon lights or concrete jungles nor the aroma of fresh bread from a bakery for the city sleekers.

Can any human live in such an ecological wonder- a wilderness so barren, yet so serene, pristine yet soul searching and rich in avian and wild animal life?

Join me for the final fourth part series of this adventure to view the highlights of my travel. To view… the scenic Lemaire Channel and imagine King Poseidon- the mythological Greek god of the oceans, awesomely hold twin, snow-peaked mountain rocks apart with his outstretched muscled arms, his fish tail beckoning your arrival, whipping up a water rainbow shower splash and water falls like colourful sparkling confetti to welcome you!

Come, view…. the endemic bird that completes the avian portrait of Antarctica.


Jerdon’s Baza feasting on a lizard

posted in: Feeding-vertebrates | 1

An earlier posting reported the sighting of a pair of Jerdon’s Bazas (Aviceda jerdoni) at Lim Chu Kang. This is a rare passage migrant, having been reported only twice before. The current posting reports on the birds catching and feasting on Changeable Lizards (Calotes versicolor).

Chan Yoke Meng just happened to be at the right place at the right time. But of the two feedings, he managed to document only the second when his view was not obstructed by vegetation.

The bird flew into the crown of a tree from a nearby perch (above). It then moved on to the lizard nearby, doing a partial somersault in the process and caught it just below the head. Firmly clutched in its talons, it flew back to its original perch (below).

Although unable to move, the lizard put up a spirited fight, opening its mouth wide and baring its teeth. But it was no match against the baza’s deadly bill (below).

A few powerful blows on the head was enough to render the lizard lifeless. The baza then had a meal of the lizard’s head after wrenching it off the body (below). It then began to dismember the rest of the headless lizard.

As each piece was torn off it casually swallowed it. In the process it paused a little to defecate (above). After swallowing the last piece, the bird proceeded to clean its bill against the branch (below). The entire process was completed in 20 minutes.

There was a sudden high pitch cry of “pee-ow” from the other bird nearby and the baza flew off to join its mate.

These birds feed mostly on large insects, also on lizards and frogs, and sometimes on small snakes. It hunts from a perch, sallying to the ground or into a tree once a prey is sighted.

Input and images by Chan Yoke Meng. Identification confirmation of the baza and identification of the lizard by R. Subaraj.

Antarctica 2: Birding, bracing the dreaded drake

posted in: Travel-Personality | 0

The journey of a thousand kilometres began late afternoon when it was time to walk up the ramp towards the welcoming expedition crew of the Yugoslavian made icebreaker, chartered to lead 104 passengers on a 10-day expedition to visit Antarctic Peninsula.

Passengers were invited to the stern deck to participate in a ceremonial last look at Ushuaia and the snowy Feugen mountains beyond. Many hands were waving. I wasn’t quite sure who was waving to whom but to the shorebirds of ‘The Land of Fire’ I did.

In my heart, I took on a mission to carry an unspoken message from the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) ‘King of the Andes’ to the ‘Queen of the Southern Ocean’- the Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) that I can just about summarised in verse.

A gift of feathered-donut garter pure and white,
Seek her, ride her, tell her as she wanders wide.
Whisper, “I’ll always cherish you in my dreams,”
But my home is the Andean mountains of Fire,
My lover, the Southern Ocean of mans’ desire.

Garter her with all my love much can be,
To love her is to leave her and be set free.
She lives on krill and I a scavenger freak,
I say, I am ebony and she in gilded ivory,
Of a piano keyboard brushed in eternity.

And soon the time finally came to find myself on a huge floating, metal barge cruising the calm waters of the Beagle Channel. Ushuaia slowly disappeared into the horizon, chased by Patagonian winds eastwards towards the treacherous, famous Drake Passage.

This dreaded stretch of watery corridor was sailed by various explorers during the Golden Age of Exploration (15th Century) and after; and more recently by scientific explorers of the early 20th Century- Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton.

It was not until satellites were beamed from the sky that the outline of the continent what used to be known to the early Greeks as, ‘Terra Australis Incognita’ was revealed. It showed places and seas later named after famed explorers and scientists who contributed immensely to the upside world. Scientific explorers too, mapped out oceanic avians known to congregate in and beyond the Antarctic Convergence.

The Antarctic Convergence is a natural boundary like a ring of water around the continent of Antarctica. It is the meeting area of the warm Sub Antarctic Surface Water and the cold Antarctic Water where the latter dense water sinks beneath the warmer waters resulting in a drop in sea surface temperature. This zone of convergence of more than 20,000 kilometres of watery area around the continent is of distinctive importance as a biological phenomenon, influencing the distribution of fish, plankton and various species of birds.

I wasted no time in orientating myself to the ship for the best vantage point to view the oceanic birds from deck. Many hours were also spent at the ship’s library to research the varied interests of this journey, gulping cups of tea, coffee from a 24-hour, beverage-snack bar and treated to unending rounds of mouth watering pastries.

The Forward Lounge where mandatory briefings, lectures, recaps, cocktail parties, entertainment shows, documentaries and movies were held brought passengers of 17 different nationalities together like a big family.

A professional ornithologist with the expedition crew was also at hand to enlighten us with picture slides and talks on some of the 45 species of birds found in the Antarctic Peninsula and surrounds. Daily sightings of birds were ticked off on a bulletin board to update birders.

Leading to my own cabin, I noticed seasick bags hung along the winding, staircase railings ready for the ship to ‘Rock N Roll’ at the Drake Passage. My cabin was at sea level and through the porthole, I could see the waterline and the blue sky and had opportunities to view birds that would follow-fly with the cruise ship (above).

I wasted no time to taking my first prescription tablet when I noticed the first splash of sea water smacking the porthole.

Frequent important announcements were issued by the expedition leader, in keeping passengers alerted to climatic changes and to standby for any eventualities. There were two life jackets in my room and they soon became my best and closest companions for every ‘zodiac’ (landing craft) landings.

Despite the bitterly and freezing temperatures outdoor, I would make the effort to dress up on every opportunity that came whenever announcements were made of birds’ sightings. With 8×42 binoculars, field guide and a camera, I made a quick exit for the deck (above). I could however, tolerated only 5 minutes of viewing at a time before my bare fingers went numbed. With thick gloves on, it was extremely difficult to even feel the grip of my ‘point, zoom and shoot’ camera. What more to feel for the ‘click’ button!

The first flock of Cape Petrels (Daption capense -35cm) with striking black and white dorsal patterns were seen and soon there were more chasing the ship (above). Although the flocks were small in number, less than ten, they provided the thrill of seeing them ‘zoomed’ past like sorties of miniature fighter planes, along the starboard and port and suddenly disappeared as fast as they first appeared… from nowhere.

Social evenings went well and friendships made over sumptuous Austrian 5-star catering in the dining hall. When the sea became rough and the ship was tossed like a bobbling matchbox in a roaring ocean, only one-third of the passengers were seen trickling into the dinner room and brave enough to tuck in their dinners while struggling to keep their cutleries on the table. The rest remained in their cabins. I was staring at my sick bags and eventually surrendered my steak dinner in one of them. Eating came to a full stop.

Tall waves churned clockwise by sea currents were crashing on to the ship as it charged forward, splashing the decks, sending retreating waters only to be met with the next onslaught. Contents kept inside my bolted bedside table were rolling inside the drawer. I could hear the crashing of loose drawers and unlocked wardrobe doors swung opened and slammed shut in neighbouring cabins, in competition with mine.

I could do nothing right but lay in bed and stared at the porthole of continuous churning of water outside, followed the rhythm of the waves and drifted in and out of sleep. I felt as though I was inside a, ‘switched on’ washing machine and confined for two and a half days and night!

Eventually when the promazine tablets did kicked in, I was able to tolerate small amounts of dry bread and banana, which a kind soul of a new, found friend brought to my cabin. However, when I had to stagger around and had to cling on to side railings for support, I felt like I just wanted to be back to bed and die quietly. Had the Wandering Albatross (Dio. exulans) appeared to receive her garter, I wasn’t at home!

Finally when I found my ‘sea legs’, I was up and about and out onto the deck in no time to catch up with the birds. I was not disappointed as sightings of the Gray- headed Albatross (Dio. chrysostoma – WS:2M), Black-browed Albatross (Dio. melanophrys – WS: 2.2M) (above), Light-mantled Albatross (Phoebetria palpebrata – WS: 2.10M) – Near Threatened were made.

Finally, I made visual contact with the ‘Queen of the Southern Ocean’- the Wandering Albatross (Dio. exulans – WS 3.2M) arriving almost in white with black winged tips and reminges. She was like wearing a white silky gown laced with black trimmings at the edge. She wore a long rosy bill with a horn coloured tip. Her eyelids -the colour of pink rose petals.

Sharing the ocean with the ‘big boys’ were the Antarctic Giant Petrel (Macronectes giganteus WS: 2.15M) -Vulnerable, Southern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialoides – WS: 1.10M), Antarctic Petrel (Thalassoica antarctica – WS: 1M)-Breeding Endemic and the small Antarctic Prion (Pachyptila desolata – 28cm).

Land was first sighted on the third day of my journey at Penguin Island but landing was impossible due to strong winds.

The official first landing on Antarctica came on the fourth day at Brown Bluff (above). I was left staring at a rust-coloured, giant, ice-capped rock from deck and white, pigeon sized Snow Petrels (Pagodroma nivea – 34cm) were gregariously flying around with quick erratic flight displays.

“Was that all to see in Antarctica?”

The sea that began yielding fragments of ice in the Antarctic Ocean; the ice that was swelling in size, shape and frequency soon were dominating everywhere as though the horizon has disappeared, leaving only hanging clouds in the sky and occasional ozone free rays of sun shining through – to warm my body amidst the bite of the wind (above).

“So, what’s behind the Bluff?”

Come, ride with me and see through the eyes of the Wandering Albatross and be taken on a royal tour of some breathtaking icebergs, see how many penguins and species of penguins you can help me count in my third part series.


Breeding ecology of the Little Tern 2: The first few days

posted in: Nesting | 0

Most of the newly hatched chicks can be grouped into two main groups. They can be hatched helpless, with eyes closed, naked or sparsely covered with down, in which case they are altricial. On the other hand they can be hatched with their eyes open, covered with down and can soon walk or swim, then they are precocial.

The chicks of the Little Tern (Sterna albifrons) are neither altricial nor precocial – they are semi-precocial. Although the chicks can move about within a few hours after hatching and are covered with down the next day, they are hatched with their eyes closed and partially covered with down (above). The advantage here is that the chicks do not need total parental care in a habitat that is exposed and dangers lurks at every corner.

By the second day the chicks are fully covered with down (above). They lie motionlessly and await the calls of their parents. When the parents are nearby and no threat seems to be around, they pop out with gaping mouths, sometimes chirping (below). At any instance of danger, they remain motionless again.

Otherwise they prop up and open their beak when they hear the calls of their approaching parents (above). The parents feed them non-stop, having no time to preen themselves after splashing in sea water to refresh. The chicks find comfort having the parent close by (below).

The days of the adult involves warming the chicks, protecting the chicks from the environment and feeding the chicks. Feeding usually take the form of broken down fish parts since the chick cannot swallow. Feeding is rotational and also cycles between the chicks.

Input and images by Dr Jonathan Cheah Weng Kwong.

Sighting of Jerdon’s Baza

posted in: Raptors | 2

On the morning of 10th December 2006 while Chan Yoke Meng was out photographing birds in Lim Chu Kang, he chanced upon a pair of Jerdon’s Baza (Aviceda jerdoni) landing on a branch of a tree nearby. He managed to capture the image of the baza and subsequently confirmed its identity. This was further confirmed by our bird specialist R. Subaraj.

Jerdon’s Baza is one of two bazas that can be seen in Singapore. The other is Black Baza (A. leuphotes). Both are winter visitors but Jerdon’s is an extremely rare passage migrant, with only two previous recorded sightings.

The global range of Jerdon’s Baza as listed by Wells (1999) is SW India and Sri Lanka, the Himalayan foothills east from Darjeeling; SW Yunnan and Hainan; Southeast Asia to Sumatra, Borneo and the Philippines; and Sulawesi to the Banggai and Sula islands. According to Robson (2005), it is also seen in Peninsular Malaysia, although rarely so.

As far as Singapore is concerned, the first-ever recorded sighting was on 6th December 2002 (Wang & Lim, 2003). The bird probably crashed into a building in Maju Camp where it was caught. Unfortunately it eventually died. A second sighting was on 23rd January 2004 by Tang Hung Bun in Marina City Park. This current sighting would make it the third time the bird is sighted in Singapore.

According to del Hoyo et al.(1994), it is possible that some birds, probably juveniles from the northern range, dispersed from the main flock or migrate south into Thailand, where their movements had been recorded. From Thailand the birds or some of them moved south into Peninsular Malaysia, where the only records were during winter. The Singapore records must have come mostly from these movements.

The bird can be recognised by its short, stout legs and feet with well-developed talons, the lower tarsus being unfeathered; and the two or three black, white-tipped feathers on the nape, elongated as a crest. Another important character is the two tooth-like indentations along the edge of the upper mandible (Wells, 1999) (top, arrow).

del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J. eds. (1994). Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 2. New world vultures to guineafowls. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.
Robson, C. (2005). Birds of South-east Asia. London: New Holland.
Wang, L.K. & Lim, K.S. (2003). First record of Jedon’s Baza Aviceda jerdoni ) for Singapore. Singapore Avifauna 17(2):30-31 (mimeo.).
Wells, D.R. (1999). The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsular. Vol. I, Non-passerines. Academic Press, London.

Wang Luan Keng and R. Subaraj provided additional information.

Poaching of Straw-headed Bulbul

posted in: Illegal-Irresponsible | 0

The Straw-headed Bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus) is a popular cage bird valued for its “glorious bubbling song.” The 1994 Singapore Red Data book designated the bird as “vulnerable” as the birds were regularly trapped for the songbird trade. It was then known that small populations existed in a number of locations on the main island, with the largest concentration of an estimated 60 birds in Pulau Ubin.

Since then the population of this bulbul has increased, thanks to the success of the Singapore Government’s Garden City Campaign. I have even seen them in my garden in the Bukit Timah area.

There was a study on the distribution of the bird in Singapore in the late 1990s by T.G. Tan who submitted the thesis to the University College London. This was followed by another study by Dr Ho Hua Chew on its distribution in Pulau Ubin.

On 16th November 2005 Dr Ho gave a talk on his study of the Straw-headed Bulbul in Pulau Ubin. He reported that the bird was doing relatively well in the offshore island.

A review by “Mr Budak” entitled “Living on the Edge: The Straw-headed Bulbul in Pulau Ubin,” highlighted Dr Ho’s findings in the blog on 18th November as follows:

“…the Straw-headed Bulbul, which has found a safe haven in Singapore’s wooded areas, in particular Pulau Ubin. Remarkably, there is no record of this species in Singapore prior to 1951, and even till to 1970s, the bulbul was not known to be common, even on Ubin. A bird survey in 1992 counted 50 birds on Ubin, which fell to 30 in 2000. However, the population rebounded to about 32 breeding pairs in 2001, whilst the mainland recorded an estimate of 76-93 birds.

“…The bulbul’s rich, melodious song, described as liquid gold, is more often heard than the bird itself, and has led to the species’ disappearance from of its former range. Once found throughout the Sunda Shelf from Burma to Borneo, the bulbul is now believed to be extinct in peninsular Thailand and Java and near extinction in Sumatra. …Habitat destruction… is one reason for this fate, but the widespread practice of trapping songbirds for the pet trade is thought to be a significant factor in the bird’s rarity, a fate shared by the once common White-rumped Sharma (Copsychus malabaricus). The bulbul is now classified under the CITES Division 2, which allows for trapping and trade of the species under specified permits and quotas.”

The Straw-headed Bulbul has never been a popular cage-bird in Singapore. But this does not mean that poaching of this bulbul does not exist here, as seen in an earlier posting by an individual using decoy birds (above).

We all know that the Straw-headed Bulbul is now common in Singapore, especially in the island of Pulau Ubin. With its populations in Thailand and Indonesia drastically depleted due to poaching, poachers are now naturally targetting Peninsula Malaysia and Singapore. And due to such poaching activities, most birds at Mandai and Choa Chu Kang have disappeared, as with the birds in Pulau Ubin, where information on its distribution is commonly available.

Our bird specialist R. Subaraj has recently unearthed a well-organised effort at poaching of this bulbul, coordinated purportedly by a prominent local bird dealer. And according to his source, many birds have already been poached and the birds already sent to waiting buyers in Sumatra.

Thus unless we do something to stop this activity, and stop it fast, the future of the Straw-headed Bulbul in Singapore looks bleak.

NOTE: Any member of the public who witnesses wildlife poaching in progress can contact the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) during office hours as follows :

AVA Wildlife Regulatory Branch:
Ms Lye Fong Keng – Tel : 6325 7349

Other contacts in the same branch include:
Mr Gerald Neo – Tel : 6325 7290
Ms Yvonne Low – Tel : 6325 7626

After hours or at weekend, we suggests you contact the Police directly. Inform the Police of the presence of ‘suspicious characters’, not mentioning poachers.

Ho, H. C. (2001). The Straw-headed Bulbul in Pulau Ubin: its breeding population, distribution and species’ habitat requirements with recommendations for conservation. Msc dissertartion, University of East Anglia, UK.
Lin Yangchen & Ong Kiam Sian (2006). The Straw-headed Bulbul’s legendary song. Nature Watch 14(2) 8-10.
Ng, P. K. L. & Y. C. Wee (1994). The Singapore red data book – Threatened plants and animals of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore). 343 pp.
Madoc, G. C. (1956). An introduction to Malayan birds. Malayan Nature Society, Kuala Lumpur. (revised ed.)
Tan, T. G. (2001). Population distribution of Straw-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus zeylanicus in Singapore and strategies for conservation. MSc dissertation, University College London, UK.

Images of the bulbul by Chan Yoke Meng.

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:

  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…

  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?

  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!


  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 – 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:

    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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