Crouching Monkey, Hidden Eagle

It would be an understatement to say that Singapore is an uber-modern city where green space is at a premium. As our first post showed however, there is much to be discovered even within such an urban environment. The 183-acre Botanical Gardens in the heart of Singapore is a something of a man made oasis among the hustle and bustle of city life.

Our morning visit on 25th September began in early morning sunshine with cool temperatures. As we made our way toward Swan Lake, swerving joggers and dog-walkers, signs were encouraging. Pacific Swallows were criss-crossing the still water, catching insects and skimming the surface with an aerobatic agility that made photographing them a near impossibility. Fortunately one or two chose to take a pause from their invertebrate hunting and perched nicely, if a little beyond good focus range, on the swan statue at the far end of the lake.

IMG_3852Smile please:
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Frequenting most of the greenery surrounding the Swan Lake was another of Singapore’s most common birds, the Yellow-vented Bulbul.
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Also seen fleetingly among the greenery was an Olive-backed Sunbird and at the waters edge, yet another White-breasted Waterhen.

Further into the gardens, bird noise was everywhere but becoming hard to locate as parties of tourists and early morning tai-chi groups populated much of the pathways and good viewing spots. As we wove our way between coach-loads of camera happy tourists and synchronising seniors, we kept our eyes skywards.

Among the high-reaching palms of, well, Palm Valley, Glossy Starlings were congregating, chattering and swooping to take fruit from nearby trees.

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And here’s a female about to have her breakfast:

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In an attempt to leave the crowds behind we pressed on to some less populated paths. This turned out to be an excellent decision as among the heavy leaves and branches we saw and heard a very noisy Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo and our first sighting of an Oriental White-eye, then another. As I am discovering, the smaller species are incredibly mobile within the branches and leaves of their habitats and trying to capture clear images requires both patience and a huge dose of luck sometimes.

It was shortly after these sightings that clouds began to gather, the temperature noticeably dropping and wind picking up. We were in for rain, a lot of it!  As I have learned over many years of visiting Singapore, you don’t want to be in the wide open spaces of anywhere when it starts to rain, even less so when the thunder starts to roll and lightning starts to flash.

Without much more ado, this dynamic duo made a dignified but fairly hasty withdrawal to the visitor centre cafe. We discussed how this sudden downpour could work in our favour, forcing some birds down to shelter until it passed or softening the ground for insect hunting. At one stage I did wonder if our time may have been better spent building an ark, such was the volume of water unleashed from the skies. The ever-present Common Mynahs joined us and the other visitors in sheltering from the elements.

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As the rain eased off somewhat we made our move. We were on limited time today with family commitments, so wanted to make the most of our time here. As we were about to leave the cafe area we noticed another wild visitor had take refuge among the tables and chairs:

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This Long-tailed Macaque was calmly sitting on the veranda to the cafe, sheltering from the rain and mostly ignoring everyone else. It was only when someone either threw or dropped a packet of nuts that he made for a nearby palm tree to nibble his snack in peace.

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With the rain threatening to return in force again our theory of seeing any more birds was looking unlikely to hold any water (did you see what I did there?) until Mrs Sausage noticed something of considerable size atop a tree in the middle distance.

It was still incredibly grey and dark and neither our binoculars or the camera could clearly pick out what it was for some time. What we did know, was that it was a bird of prey, it was big, and it was not very far away. It also insisted on keeping it’s back to us, making it even harder to see what it was. Despite mini-showers and rumbles of thunder we persevered, hoping for better light.

This impressive raptor had clearly settled atop the trees to shelter from the rain and take some time to preen itself. This was the best shot we had so far:

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This confirmed our guess that this was an eagle of some kind but we were desperate for it to turn around, especially as the light was slowly improving but was clearly not going to last too long. We even had some passing visitors asking what we were looking at. It seems that birders are none too common at the Botanical Gardens, yet those that asked were all surprised and interested to know they had an eagle in the park.

Our patience was rewarded and allowed me to get some grainy yet identifiable images at last:

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We had a Grey-headed Fish Eagle. This impressive bird is an uncommon visitor to Singapore and this was certainly a case of right place, right time and right weather.

There have been Grey-headed Fish Eagles at nearby Little Guilin over the years and I am guessing this was one of those. Reluctantly, both the weather and our non-birding commitments meant we had to leave before we could watch it take off and see which direction it headed in.

Whatever else we are lucky enough to see on this trip, this will be one of the highlights.

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