Monday morning saw Team Sausage waking up at an ungodly hour for our next adventure. We had also somehow managed to persuade one of our dear friends, hitherto referred to as Agent Sim, to join us in our geekery at Bidadari.
As a Singaporean, Mrs Sausage cannot underscore enough the legendary status and symbolic significance of Bidadari within Singapore’s psyche. Associated closely by death, spirituality, heritage, peaceful religious coexistence, the sacred and the profane, Bidadari was until recently sprawling cemetery and grounds, the final resting place for close to 150,000 Christians and Muslims.
However, in land-scarce Singapore, even the most revered of public spaces are not exempt from being forcibly possessed to meet the demands of the demons of development. The last burial in the cemetery was in 1972, and in 2001, despite the efforts and protests of a few good people, the dead of Bidadari were exhumed to make way for the living.
In the interim of turning Bidadari into yet more high-rise developments, Bidadari is now a sort of temporary paradise in limbo. The stillness, sublime beauty and marble remains struck us as belying the end of a significant space-time of Singapore’s nature and history. Bidadari has proved to be a haven for both resident and especially migrant birds in the region, with news of a Hodgson’s Hawk-Cuckoo being spotted just the day before we visited.
We started our walk through Bidadari in a light drizzle (the last of the overnight downpour) and poor light, which made for great difficulty in spotting any birds to go with the many strange and new noises we were hearing. Our first confirmed spot were more Pink-necked Pigeons and these jaunty Hill Mynahs. Not to be mistaken for the ubiquitous and smaller Commons, Hill Mynahs are far more melodious and sport very distinct bright yellow/orange wattles on the sides of their heads.
Sounds continued to be more abundant than sightings, and spotting became an exercise in patience, even at trees we knew were simply teeming with birdlife. Koels were, as usual, easily identifiable through their distinct vocals echoing throughout the area, but clear sights were elusive for the camera, this female being the best we could manage:
And, it took almost twenty minutes for this flitty little female Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker to come into full view.
A few muddy puddles later, Agent Sim spotted a Variable Squirrel, but these agile, super-quick nibblers were to evade Husbean for most of the day until much later. We also spotted a more obliging White-throated Kingfisher from afar, just minutes before we bumped into the first of other local birders we have met on our trip so far.
We quickly became acquainted with a friendly, experienced and highly knowledgeable birder, Frankie, who showed us incredible pictures of previous sightings at Bidadari, and explained that we had now stumbled into the group at this spot because this was where he had seen the Hodgson’s the day before. While waiting, we also briefly saw a Tiger Shrike, and a smaller unidentified bird with a bright yellow belly. We were also told that the constant loud call we had been trying to locate the source of was that of a Lineated Barbet, which we had never seen and were eager to. With Frankie promising to alert us if he saw anything but giving us the friendly caution that we would be so lucky to see any of those green Barbets blended well against the canopy, we headed toward the call.
There were, as warned, no Lineated Barbets to be spotted, despite swearing we were so close to the calls. But we were soon to learn yet another crucial lesson about birding in Singapore. Husbean, who was walking ahead, had possibly managed to raise the hackles of a nearby black juvenile Equatorial Spitting Cobra with his heavy boots. In its attempt to slither away, as most snakes do in the situation, the cobra found its way to less than half a metre away from Agent Sim and Mrs Sausage. Mrs Sausage saw the cobra’s slightly flared hood, but thankfully, it slinked off away into a grassy undergrowth. We were all slightly rattled, least to say, and it was an important reminder that birding here is not birding in UK. Over there, the worst that could happen if you kept your eyes to the skies and not the ground might be trampling in cow poop. It was also a reminder for Mrs Sausage to buy proper shoes.
We were soon jolted back to the scene by an expert call from Frankie across the trail (we did for several moments think his whistle was another new birdsong). There was a sighting of a forest wagtail, but alas, the bird was gone with the moment. However, with the skies now mostly cleared, the sun out and lighting much better, we started seeing a lot more, including this huge African Grey Parrot, definitely an escapee.
All the while, the Lineated Barbet’s calls echoed teasingly throughout the woods, but a sighting would remain elusive. Just before we decided to head out toward concrete so Agent Sim could head out and fulfil familial obligations, we shared a few moments with this Tiger Shrike, seen here with its’ breakfast.
En route to the Sim-mobile however, Team Sausage were severely side-tracked by a promising array of fluttery feathers on an open field across the road from Bidadari. Agent Sim had to leave while Team Sausage pursued a couple of ground-hopping Paddyfield Pipits.
And a Dollarbird, a common resident throughout the region, with a distinct silver patch on the underwing (hence the name).
Not moments later, Husbean caught sight of a shrike-like silhouette atop a dead tree. Its behaviour soon confirmed its identity, and we had ourselves a lovely Brown Shrike, a widespread and common passage winter visitor.
Amidst the abundance of Yellow-vented Bulbuls, Mrs Sausage soon became obsessed with getting pictures of a Variable Squirrel, an introduced and rather vilified rodent. This proved to be a task and a half, but here are the results.
Our circuit continued for another kilometre or so, but there was, as had been the pattern, lots more to be heard than seen. We eventually called it quits just past 1pm, as the sun was starting to fry Husbean. We did receive a message from the very kind Frankie later in the day reporting sightings of the Hodgson’s, a Drongo Cuckoo and an Oriental Pied Hornbill just past noon. While we regretted exiting the main Bidadari trails too early and missing these spectacular birds, Team Sausage were happy with our exploits for the day. More importantly, we were happy to experience the green beauty of Bidadari before it is forever just a memory.