“Eurasian Bullfinchs or Grey-bellied Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula griseiventris are beautiful birds but it seems that more is required to work out differences between subspecies. A number of authors (Brazil 2018 & HBW 2019) call the north Japan (Hokkaido, north Honshu) subspecies the Grey-bellied Bullfinch (Pyrrhula griseiventris). Most descriptions of the male P. p. griseiventris are of a black cap and lore contrasting with bright pink cheeks and throat and distinct grey underparts (Brazil 2018, Clement 1993, Moores 2012).
“This is in contrast to the pyrrhula, cassinii, and rosacea subspecies which have pink on the breast and underparts. P. p. griseiventris birds move during the winter; although predominately within Japan but also to Primorsky Krai (far eastern Russia) and South Korea. Hence intergrades are possible.
“We saw a number of birds and you can see, in some of the males, a clear pink wash to the breast; brighter in some (top, above). This is unlike the pure grey expected.
1. Peter Clement (writing in HBW 2019 with Christie) suggest that there are two ‘variants’ of the P. p. griseiventris (see drawings in HBW 2019). They say ‘underparts soft grey ….. extent of pink suffusion below variable, some have sides of breast and belly tinged or washed pink or pinkish-orange (‘roseacea‘)’.
2. The article by Moores 2012 is worth a read on colour variation.
3. Koji Tagi, posting in the OBI database on this bird says ‘Probably, all individuals photographed here are of the subspecies griseiventris. However, most of males show a hint of pink on the breast and belly like rosacea”.
4. Note that some bird images taken in Japan in the OBI database are labelled ‘Pyrrhula pyrrhula rosacea‘. Most authors I have read would suggest only the Pyrrhula pyrrhula griseiventris subspecies for Japan. I recognise the OBI editor’s note that ‘some authorities merge rosacea in griseiventris‘.
“Note the prominent white rump in the above image, another feature of this Bullfinch.
1. Mark Brazil. Birds of Japan. Helm Field Guides 2018 2. Peter Clement, Alan Harris, John Davis. Finches and Sparrows: An identification Guide. Princeton University Press. 1993 3. Nial Moores. Bullfinches in the ROK: From Pink to Grey and Much Between! Birds of Korea. 2012 (available HERE. 4. Clement, P. & Christie, D.A. (2019). Eurasian Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona LINK.
I am saddened by the passing of Subaraj Rajathurai on 22nd October 2019 at the age of 56. I came to know of him about two decades ago when I was Hon. Secretary of the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch) and he was an active member of the Bird Group. When I led the newly formed Nature Society (Singapore) in 1990, we worked closely together to save a large chunk of the Lower Peirce forest from being turned into another golf course.
He was a self-taught naturalist, being able to identify most of the resident birds as well as the migratory species that visit during the northern winter. Not only could he identify a bird from afar, he was also one of the very few that can identify birds by their calls. This naturally gave him an advantage during the annual Bird Race where he was actively involved in during the initial years. Participants of the race were supposed to identify all the bird species encountered during a 24-hour period. Indeed, in many races his team was top scorer, so much so that subsequently the rules were changed to ban the use of calls in the identification of birds.
Subaraj’s personal bird race
In the 2012 race, his team was barred from participating due to late registration. Subaraj had a medical condition then and his wife Shamla was against him joining… but relented when his two sons protested. Initially his application was accepted when Shamla phoned the society’s office but when the written request was received by the organisers rejected his application. Determined not to disappoint his sons, Subaraj went on a “personal bird race,” parallel with that of the official race LINK. His unofficial team scored 141 species spotted as compared to 120 species spotted by the official Bird Group winning team. Naturally Subaraj team’s score was not recognised – but it gave him great satisfaction in beating the official winner.
While birdwatchers only notice birds in the field, Subaraj never failed to notice other life forms
At the Jelutong Tower in Sime Forest to observe birds in October 2005, he was fascinated by the Common Tree Nymphs (Idea stolli), a whitish butterfly with numerous white spots “floating around like a white tissue paper with dark spots…” as well as seven other butterfly species, in addition to spotting many birds LINK.
Seeing beyond the plumage
Subaraj had the ability to see beyond the plumage of birds. Yes, you need to know the plumage to be able to identify the species. But after identifying the bird, instead of moving to look for another, he stayed to study its behaviour. When he came across a Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus) with whitish feathers, he recognised it as being leucistic. Being different in colour from the normal species, it is usually ignored. In this case the leucistic bird was accepted by the normal mynas LINK. And when he heard a Grey Nightjar (Caprimulgus indicus) calling, he concluded that it must be a winter visitor to Singapore, not a passage migrant LINK. After all, a winter visitor needed to create a territory for itself… not so a passage migrant.
While other birdwatchers were watching birds, Subaraj was studying them
In an effort to encourage birdwatchers to study birds and their behaviour, a handful including Subaraj, got together in 2005 to form the Bird Ecology Study Group (BESG) LINK. He remained an ardent supporter and regularly contributed his observations on bird behaviour to the BESG website.
Subaraj and anting
In 1988, a young student by the name of Kevin KP Lim noticed a Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus) placing ants on its plumage and jumping around as the ants moved through its feathers. No local birdwatchers could provide an explanation for such a behaviour then. However, with the formation of BESG in 2005, Subaraj related the incident. This led to subsequent Google search that provided the answer. The myna was anting, using ants to rid its feathers of ectoparasites LINK. Had it not for Subaraj’s memory for such unusual behaviour, the incident would have been forgotten.
An astute observer
Whenever the large fig tree at the summit of Bukit Timah was in fruits, hordes of birdwatchers gathered to list the different species feeding on the figs LINK. Subaraj was the first to suggest that observers should also take note on whether the birds swallowed or bit at the figs; time of arrival of the different species; whether they arrived alone, in small groups or in flocks; the interactions between the species; whether there were pecking orders among and between species, etc.
A hard-core conservationist
Subaraj was a conservationist at heart, opposing many proposals to clear habitats, etc. In 1992, when Government proposed to excise a large tract of protected secondary forest at Lower Peirce for a golf course, Subaraj was naturally at the forefront protesting the move LINK. He was among the many who came forward to compile lists of flora and fauna that were found in the area to make up the environment impact assessment report. The report was distributed to policy makers and to generate public awareness. The government eventually abandoned the proposal. To date, this was one of two major successes of the Nature Society (Singapore), the other was to successfully persuade government to set aside a piece of degraded mangrove into what is now the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.
Subaraj and Sungei Buloh
When Richard Hale came across Sungei Buloh and its swarming migratory birds, he approached a handful of birdwatchers that included Subaraj to compile a report. With the report, Richard worked behind the scene to eventually get government’s agreement to set an area as a bird sanctuary. When subsequent claims by certain birdwatchers for credit in “Saving Sungei Buloh” LINK Subaraj was quick to put the record straight LINK and LINK.
Subaraj’s “Field Checklist of the Birds of Singapore”
Since long ago, Subaraj maintained a personal “Field Checklist of the Birds of Singapore” LINK. This checklist differed from the official checklist maintained by the Bird Group of the Nature Society (Singapore). Why, you may ask? To be included in the official checklist, the bird needed to be seen by experienced senior members of the group. Subaraj was a senior member when the group was formed. In fact, he was the “Official Recorder” of the group. However, when he got married and went on his honeymoon, he was replaced by another during his absence. So he was not a member of the “in group”. And as far back as 1998, Subaraj’s checklist included the Asian Emerald Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx maculates). But this was not recognised until 2008 when a decision was made to include this cuckoo into the official list. This came two years after photographer-birder KC Tsang managed to photograph an immature bird. This episode reflects the superior skills of Subaraj in the field of birdwatching.
The publications of Subaraj
Subaraj published extensively in popular as well as scientific journals, a selection of which is given below.
1st November 2019
Addendum: Selected publications of Subaraj Rajathurai
1. Avadhani, P.N., Y. C. Wee, L. M. Chou, C. Briffett, R. Hale, H. C. Ho, K. Lim, K. K. Lim & R. Subaraj, 1990. Master Plan for the Conservation of Nature in Singapore. Malayan Nature Society, Singapore Branch. 152pp.
2. Hale, R., G. Pereira, R. Subaraj & Y.C. Wee, 2006. Announcement of a new bird group affiliated to the Nature Society (Singapore). BirdingAsia 5: 5.
3. Lok, A. F. S. L. & R. Subaraj, 2008. Porphyrio porphyrio viridis Begbie, 1834 (Purple swamphen), gem of Singapore’s marshes. Nature in Singapore 1: 219-224.
4. Lok, A. F. S. L. & R. Subaraj, 2009. Lapwings (Charadriidae: Vanellinae) of Singapore. Nature in Singapore 2: 125-134.
5. Lok, A. F. S. L., B. S. Tey & R. Subaraj, 2009. Barbets of Singapore Part 1: Megalaima lineata hodgsoni Bonaparte, the lineated barbet, Singapore’s only exotic species. Nature in Singapore 2: 39-45.
6. Subaraj, R. 1988. Migrating sunbirds. Singapore Avifauna 2(2): 27-29.
7. Subaraj, R. 1988. Discovered at last! A Night Heron Heronry in Singapore. Singapore Avifauna 2(2): 32-34.
8. Subaraj, R. 1996. The birds of Batam and Bintan islands, Riau archipelago. Kukila 8:86-113.
9. Subaraj, R., 2006. The nuptial flight of termites makes a veritable winged feast. Nature Watch 14(4):10–13. (With additional input by Y C. Wee.)
10. Subaraj, R., 1991. Conservation proposal for Marina South. Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch Group). 12pp.
11. Subaraj, R. & H. C. Ho, 1989. Conservation proposal for Khatib Bongsu (Yishun) heronry. Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch Bird Group). 9pp.
12. Subaraj, R. & A. F. S. L. Lok, 2009. Status of the Lesser Adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus) in Singapore. Nature in Singapore. 2: 107-113.
13. Teo, R. C. H. & S. Rajathuari (1997). Mammals, reptiles and amphibians in the nature reserve of Singapore – diversity, abundance and distribution. In: Chan, L. & R. T. Corlett (eds.). Biodiversity in the nature reserves of Singapore. Gdns. Bull., Singapore 49: 353-425.
14. Tsang, K. C., R. Subaraj & Y. C. Wee. 2009. The role of the camera in birdwatching in Singapore. Nature in Singapore 2: 183–191.
15. Wee, Y.C., Y.M. Chan, M. Chan, G. Sreedharan, Philip Tang & R. Subaraj, 2006. Battle for nest-holes in urban Singapore. Nature Watch 14(3):6–10.
16. Wee, Y.C. & R. Subaraj, 1994. A guide to Orchard Road. Singapore: Mobil Oil Singapore Pte Ltd & Nature Society (Singapore). 13 pp.
17. Wee, Y.C. & R. Subaraj, 2005. Of palms and birds. Nature Watch 13(4):7–11.
18. Wee, Y.C. & R. Subaraj, 2006. The Bird Ecology Study Group, Nature Society (Singapore): one year on. BirdingAsia 6:6.
19. Wee, Y.C. & R. Subaraj, 2006. Aberrant behaviour of a pair of female Great and Rhinoceros Hornbills in Singapore. Birding Asia 6:18–22.
20. Wee, Y.C. & R. Subaraj, 2009. Citizen science and the gathering of ornithological data in Singapore. Nature in Singapore2: 27–30.
21. Wee, Y.C., K.C. Tsang & R. Subaraj, 2010. Birding in Singapore and the challenges of the 21st century. Nature in Singapore 3:53–58.
“Saw two Pied Triller (Lalage nigra striga) females foraging together on the ground for an extended period (25 minutes). This is less common foraging behaviour. Wells (2007) states ‘more rarely, hunts on the ground…‘ I have usually seen them in trees foraging but at time seen them descend to the ground to get prey. Not seen them walk about on a lawn foraging like Mynas.
“The presence of two female together may suggest a family unit.”
When danger lurks, as when a Reticulated Python is nearby, it gives out its characteristic call LINK.
This squirrel, resting on a trunk of a wayside tree, was heard making the same call. However, no predator was seen nearby (see video below).
As it calls, it flicks its tail up and down. This flicking may carry a message as from where the predator is coming from. Vocalisation may be used to warn off the predator or to alert the predator’s presence. Tail flicking and vocalisation can also be an alarm signal.
MeiLin Khoo’s October 2019 video shows how an adult female Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus) jumps over a wide drain thus encouraging her three chicks to follow suit.
This led Jeremiah Loei to comment: “So life skills are parental taught in the animal kingdom?”
YC Wee responded: “The recently fledged chick sticks to the adults for a certain number of days during which the former is taught how to find food, how to recognise and avoid predators, etc. This is why you should not pick up a helpless looking chick that crashed to the ground during its first flight and bring it home to care LINK. We are not able to teach the “rescued” chick “life skills” and when it is ready to fly off, it becomes easy target for predators.
For more of the Red Junglefowl’s fledging moments, see HERE and HERE.
“It seemed like a typical sunny day for one of the two Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) chicks inside their nest hanging over a body of water to explore the world outside (above, below). One of the chicks moved out of the nest entrance but lost confidence and tried to move back in. However, it lost its footing and struggled to hang on to the nest.
“The adult sunbird, apparently watching from nearby, flew to the nest but was unable to help the struggling chick.
“As the chick clung onto the nest, its struggle caught the attention of a Malayan Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) in the water below.
“The monitor lizard waited patiently for 10 to 20 minutes before the helpless chick finally fell into the waters. It was an easy meal for the opportunistic monitor lizard.
“This could be an attempted fledging incident with the adult nearby encouraging the chick to make its first flight out of the nest. Unfortunately the nest was built above the water and a monitor lizard was lurking below.
“No further nesting activity occurred in the days that followed this incident. I am assuming the other chick perished as the adults stopped coming.
“The drama happened some years ago at the Hippo Pond, Gardens by the Bay.”
“As part of the courtship display, the presumed male White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis perpulchra) spreads out the wings repeatedly for 1-3 seconds. This is repeated a number of times. There was a second White-throated Kingfisher watching from a nearby perch, the presumed female.
“I was watching this adult Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis tristis) forage on the ground by turning over dead leave to look for worms and insects underneath (above).
“I was also interested in the circular array of silvery white spots in the iris (‘stars in the eyes’) and the discoloration at the base of the lower mandible (above).
“Of interest was the accompanying bird, a juvenile (above, below). As I have posted before (12 May 2013, in OBI database) the juvenile’s plumage is in moult, especially in the head and neck. The bare skin around the eye is increased in volume.”