With only two days remaining for both of us to bird together in Singapore, it seemed both poignant and appropriate to re-visit Bidadari. Sightings of recently arrived migrants were being reported daily on the Birders Group and Bidadari Facebook pages, illustrated with some outstanding photography.
Secondly, with the imminent destruction of Bidadari it could well be the last time either of us would be able to enjoy this green oasis. In the end, it was an easy decision to make.
We arrived late morning and members of Singapore’s birding community were already present. It seemed wise to follow the first crowd scene we saw and it paid dividends very quickly. Long lenses were all pointing to a single point and a friendly birder soon pointed out the subject of all the attention. A Malaysian Hawk-Cuckoo.
This was one of the birds we came had come to Bidadari to see but missed on our first trip there. A winter migrant to Singapore, moving down from as far away as Siberia and the foot of the Himalayas, the bird was proving extremely popular with the birders here. The bird, in turn, was kind enough to show extremely well, quite unperturbed by the human activity around it.
We then bumped into Frankie again, who immediately pointed us toward another avian paparazzi scene. “Indian Cuckoo, very low” came his advice. One cuckoo made us chuffed, two cuckoos would be indulgent surely? Who were we to argue?
At first glance it was looking rather similar to the Malaysian Hawk-Cuckoo to our inexperienced eyes, we were surprised as to how still, exposed and calm this winter visitor also was. It let us see and shoot it from all angles, and as a result, we quickly learned some distinct differences between our two cuckoos, most obviously in breast markings. This was a rare and true treat, given that these birds are known to be solitary and shy.
Happy with our shots of the incredibly obliging model, we moved on from the forested area to some open ground. A White-throated Kingfisher was seen and what seemed like a never ending set of calls from Lineated Barbets continued to be heard, as with our first trip to the site. The forest canopy seemed to echo with their calls without pause, but they remained invisible the whole time.
Less invisible was a stunning orangey-red streak that caught the eye as we approached one of the entrances to Bidadari by the Mount Vernon columbarium. This resulted in us wandering under a set of three or four trees for what seemed like an eternity trying to catch a clear sight of this mystery bird. Mrs Sausage was adamant it was an Asian Paradise Flycatcher but we only had fleeting glances and one blurry passing shot on the camera. We checked with a passing birder, who told us that it was likely to be the flycatcher in question; and when we checked at home, there was enough to be seen on the chance shot to confirm that Mrs Sausage was indeed right. Always trust the locals!
At this stage it was almost a case of thinking our day had peaked and maybe we should head for home. We were in fact half way out of Bidadari when we felt compelled to head back in to the forested area again. Whether it was the bird noise, some mystery sixth sense or just the feeling that time was at its most precious here, we were rewarded thanks to the very keen eyes of Mrs Sausage.
It only took the fleetest of movements for her to spot this Drongo Cuckoo among the mid-level trees. It’s dark plumage made it very hard to see if you weren’t lucky enough to follow it’s movements. The pics aren’t the best, but it was pretty flighty and had a habit of perching exactly where it was hardest to pick out.
Nevertheless, this was a real bonus for us as reports of this bird being at Bidadari had only come in a day or so before. Like our other two cuckoo this species is also a winter visitor to Singapore, spending summer in the Himalayas from Kashmir to Bangladesh.
All three cuckoo seen today also display the species habit of brood parasites. Hijacking an established nest and brood and effectively forcing the host species to raise and feed its young. I imagine the appearance of the Drongo cuckoo and the two hawk-like variations seen earlier aid in this parasitism. Mimicking other more predatory and intimidating species and enforcing their “foster care” onto the host species by sheer intimidation.
With three cuckoo to our names we were convinced there would be nothing left to top the day and the Drongo Cuckoo had made for treetop level, making observation nigh on impossible. We then saw three local birders making for the area where we last saw the Drongo Cuckoo and was about to point out it’s last known location when the Malaysian Hawk-Cuckoo flew straight across our path and stopped within six feet of us. One of the birders even commented that the bird seemed to like us!
It posed, looked around, waited for the other three birders to approach from the other side and admire then went to ground right in front of us. These were golden opportunities and the bird was hidden to everyone except us.
This was indeed the apex of our day and as the cuckoo broke cover and made for the trees again we finally bade our farewell to this wonderful place.
The general mood among the local birders is that this is very likely Bidadari’s last year of existence. What this will mean for the passage birds and winter migrants I do not know. There is talk of the new development maintaining a ten hectare forest within the area and additional talk of re-locating it north of the housing development in order to fall into the path of the migrants.
It may be sometime next year before we return to Singapore, but we are keeping a daily watch on both the visitors and the development of the area. We may have said reluctant good-byes to Bidadari, but you can’t help but hold on to the thinnest of hopes that the future of this area may still see these visitors return.
As usual, all these pics and more on our Flickr page