Thursday 16th saw Team Sausage head for Lorong Halus in rather fickle extremes of weather. We had hedged our bets with the trip despite the skies looking threatening all morning and the occasional downpour interspersed with periods of bright blue skies. We hoped with naive optimism that the torrents would soon abate and we would be able to catch the bird action that always seems abundant after the rain.
We barely took 20 steps off the LRT train before we glimpsed our first birds of the day, but viewing pleasure would, of course, would be interrupted by yet another downpour which made us run for cover. It would be twenty minutes before the precipitation ceased, and it seems that the sheer intensity of the rain even took the birds by surprise. This bedraggled Long-tailed Shrike bears testimony to the relentless rain.
These Sooty-headed Bulbuls also broke cover once the rain stopped and were preening each other in the open. Like these Bulbuls, Team Sausage were also undeterred by the rain.
After a bit of an embarrassing adventure taking wrong turns to arrive at our actual destination, we arrived at the wetlands with dark clouds threatening again. Ever the intrepid explorers, we decided to carry on. Our first encounter with the Halus wildlife actually took place in the toilets. Mrs Sausage took this photo of a very inquisitive, pervy lizard in the ladies.
Despite the constant threat of rain – we had to turn back and find shelter once or twice because the rain was soaking our ponchos through – there was plenty of bird noise and activity around us. The Sungei Serangoon waterway was busy with Swallows and White-winged Terns zipping up and down, hunting for insects and fish respectively. There was always a cluster of birds on the dam equipment too. Grey Herons would take the buoys and the Terns the machinery.
The land-side was busy with some slightly less active birds. Dollar Birds, Mynas and this White-throated Kingfisher were all gathered in the top branches of a dead tree.
And a male and female Koel faced each other in opposite trees.
And as always, more very camera-happy lizards.
As we moved on, this Ashy Tailorbird decided to show very nicely, making up for the very elusive one we barely photographed last year, found in the same location as last year.
At the small clearing where Team Sausage encountered otters last year, we were hoping for a repeat run-in, of course. Alas, there were no distinct otter calls or tell-tale signs of life on the surface of the water. There was, however, a flurry of winged activity. We saw Baya Weavers
and Olive-backed Sunbirds
Mrs Sausage spotted a vividly blue bird that didn’t stay visible long enough for a photo. Having gone through our bird books, it really could be one of several species – we suspect some sort of niltava – but this will sadly remain a mystery. A brief flyover by a White-bellied Sea Eagle added to the sightings and this lone Common Sandpiper joined the White-winged Terns on the boom in front of the East Dam.
Along with a lot of very active, ‘lup-sup’ Yellow-vented Bulbuls, it seemed as if all the action was occurring at this end of Lorong Halus. Unfortunately, with evening engagements looming, we had to make our way back to Punggol Promenade. We were about to head back to the LRT when a group of children were seen and heard making quite a commotion. We made for their location and were just in time to see an audacious Smooth-coated Otter scuttling across the boardwalk! The sheer size of the mammal and the distinct wet, slapping sound of its feet against the wooden boards took us by surprise, and we just managed this quick photo before it made for the safety of the water.
We managed a good enough look at it on land and we both agreed it was surprisingly large and incredibly clever, very likely resident in the area since it had obviously worked out the ins and outs of the waterways so well to be that bold, and to have made its exit from the boardwalk that quickly and easily. We tried to follow it along the river, and occasionally a curious head would break the surface, scan the surroundings, look at us curiously and dive again.
Despite our amateur attempts at trying to track the otter’s path by scanning the water for bubbles, we were constantly finding it popping up somewhere completely different to where we anticipated.
Our visit last year to Lorong Halus brought us two otters, and our first visit this year bore more of the fruit we had hoped for. We had plenty of time observing these enigmatic creature and could not have asked for a better reward for braving the earlier inclement weather.
Our return route along Punggol Promenade brought us two more sightings for the day. Firstly this very visible Long-tailed Shrike. Unlike those seen earlier in the day, this one was looking resplendent in dry, bright plumage.
And this Common Sandpiper, seen just as we left the area to make for home.
It is also worth mentioning that our encounter with the otter did continue to the very end of the day. As we dodged one final shower under a shelter before making a break for the train station, we observed a handnet fisherman on the other side of the bank. The otter was around and stayed surprisingly close to the fisherman. We suspect this is because it could have been familiar and knew it could get an easy dinner catch! To make the scene more exciting, we soon noticed a white-bellied sea eagle circling the pair overhead, and it appeared to drop something from its talons into the water, possibly an earlier fish catch. The raptor circled overhead for quite a while after, maybe because it too knew the fisherman was drawing in potential dinner… The interactions between human, otter, eagle and (unseen) fish was incredibly fascinating but unfortunately not easily translated to photographs or video, because of the distance, rain, light and just how much was going on.
All the same, for a day that started with bedraggled birds and soaked Sausages, we did alright after all – both on the feathered and non-feathered front. As usual, please click on any of the pics for large, sharper images.