Going On Shrike

The second day of adventure for a rather jetlagged Team Sausage, and we decided to squeeze in a few hours walking along the old railway track before crawling back into bed. Mrs Sausage has a soft spot for the old railway track, which used to form part of the primary link between Malaysia and Singapore. This track has (at least for now) been converted to a wonderful nature and recreation corridor of sorts. It is rare that Singapore decides to leave such a significant space and large tract of land for green pursuits instead of pouring some amount of concrete over the land.

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Beginning our three hour trek from the old Bukit Timah station, we were immediately transported from busy roads and some of Singapore’s most expensive houses to the unmistakable sights and sounds of the forests, including acrobatic displays by a generous number of swifts and a symphony from thousands of invisible crickets.

We stood just past the section of the railways left intact for posterity as Mrs Sausage had seen much bird action thereabouts in the past. There were countless flashes and zooms of feathers, but nothing that would settle in sight, or for long enough. However, waiting soon rewarded us with our first proper sighting of the day, unexpected, stunning blue-throated bee-eaters, perched high above, on the branches of a dead tree.

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Continuing along onto the path lined by increasingly dense foliage, much more teasing by way of bursts of feathers, colours, sounds of movements, incessant strange birdcalls, but nothing to be seen sitting still for long enough to be id’d, much less photographed. The decision to trek through long grass to get to the canal on the other side of the forest was quickly revised, as one half of the team was in a short dress, and the other half was not comfortable with the possibility of inadvertently angering any snakes that might have been in the grass.

We got back on the main path, and were flanked by very friendly, incredibly agile and acrobatic swallows (suspected to be pacific swallows) that were happy to zoom in and out of our way. We glanced over to the much smaller but more accessible section of the canal, and to our surprise, saw a greater racket-tailed drongo perched and perfect visible just about ten metres away. We had seen a drongo on the trip to the Ghim Moh but it had eluded capture, partly due to poor lighting. This drongo however, was very happy to pose for us, as the results show.

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Further down the path, we found an easier and less grassy access to the main canal, albeit still precarious in terms of the terrain. Few people venture that way, for good reason. There was enough activity, but all in the distance. The bee-eaters were still about, two woodpeckers were too far away to get an id on, and two brahminy kites (we strongly suspect) circled in the distance. We ventured further into the less explored forest path parallel to the main path, but our courage (or stupidity, however you want to see it) was not rewarded by further sightings for that stretch of the walk.

We managed to re-join the main path after about half an hour, with the tracks leading back well into some sort of urban landscape. Despite no lack of joggers, cyclists and dog walkers, our birding fortunes quickly reversed, and everything started to appear all at once. This may have been in part due to Mrs Sausage’s plan to synchronise timing to coincide with dusk, when the birds head back to roost sites. First to appear, predictably on the lalang (long reedy grass), were scaly-breasted munias, who are almost always seen in groups.

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Almost at the same time, a gorgeous pink-necked pigeon that seemed completely impervious to our presence drops right onto the top of a bush right in front of us. It remained there more than long enough for Husbean to get these photos, and to be convinced that some species of pigeon can be elegant.

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Shortly thereafter, we were treated to the photographically elusive olive-backed sunbird. It had been flitting in and out of a nearby tree, and we were unsure at first, but received confirmation when it hopped out into the open, onto a telephone wire. Unfortunately, Husbean’s camera has tardy focus, which means no pictures.

A little further down the path however, we spotted something most unusual on the fence of a nearby school field. We had almost convinced ourselves it was a yellow-vented bulbul, until the bird in question graciously came to within 5 metres of where we were standing. It was a tiger shrike, a winter visitor to the region, and it was our most obliging model of the day.

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We made it back to our short-cut exit back home just before dark, with plenty of time to make a great day fantastic with a lovely bowl of ice cocktail jelly, and plenty of time to snooze before the next day’s early-start epic adventure out to Sungei Buloh.

These pics and more in glorious un-compressed technicolour on our Flickr stream

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