Sunless Sungei Sunbirds

Monday 20th October was Sungei Buloh day for us. Once again it seemed the weather gods were not with us though with grey, threatening skies and distant rumbles of thunder echoing across the Straits of Johor. But we hadn’t come all this way to sit under trees and feel sorry for ourselves and despite conditions, we were sure from experience that there would be something of interest on the sprawling reserve on the edge of Singapore.

First sighting of the day was more of a half-sighting at best. The resident Archer fish were regularly breaking the surface of the water by the main bridge with a sudden splash. Despite their ability to accurately shoot down insects with a jet of water they are more than happy to leap up and catch a passing victim too. The first hide was active with life but all at long distance. We managed to spot Pacific Golden Plover, Little Egret, Brahminy Kite, White-throated Kingfisher and Milky Stork in our short pause. An approaching school-party convinced us to move on sooner rather than later.

The Malayan Water Monitor Lizards were languidly making their way across the paths as we made our way to the next hide. Among the largest lizards in the world, these scavengers are one of Singapore’s top predators. Able to climb trees, swim and even remain underwater for up to thirty minutes, they are always in good number at Sungei Buloh, and seem to have come to a peaceful space arrangement with the human visitors who come along.

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The second viewing area saw a good gathering of waders. Largest in number were the Common Greenshank.

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Mingling among the Greenshank were Redshank and a few Common Sandpipers. A few juvenile Striated Herons were also seen, slowly and carefully waiting for an opportunity to strike.

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Making plenty of noise and commotion were the House Crows. A fair sized murder (collective noun alert) were moving among the trees and then were suddenly airborne, caw-ing away quite aggressively. We moved to get a clear view and quite quickly saw that this was a mobbing. A juvenile White-bellied Fish Eagle was being harried and hustled by this dark-coloured congregation. We followed this feathery crowd-scene through our bins, watching the Fish Eagle seek refuge in some trees before a heavy downpour forced us to take shelter at Platform One.

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The eagle disappeared as the rain fell but Sungei Buloh continued to share its biodiversity with us. A confiding Plantain Squirrel paused half way up a tree to check us out.

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If anyone can help id this butterfly too we would be grateful.

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We have found the Singapore butterflies to be a lot more mobile in comparison to the species we have frequently photographed in the UK and most of our attempts were thwarted by them moving on just as we had them focused. As things dried up after the rain, the bird life became a little more visible. As we entered the Mangrove Boardwalk we saw this Ashy Tailorbird,  a notoriously skittish small bird, this one broke the leafy cover for a few seconds.

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We were then lucky enough to have this Copper-throated Sunbird appear right above us.

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The shade provided by the leaves really doesn’t allow the iridescent purple and blue plumage to be fully appreciated though.

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We took a break at the visitor centre but our attention was soon drawn by a steady stream of birdsong coming from inside a nearby bush. Peering carefully through the gaps in the leaves and branches we found the protagonist. A Crimson Sunbird.

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The unofficial national bird of Singapore, this small nectar-feeding bird was well and truly singing its heart out while staying well ensconced within the bush.

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We had to try a number of different angles and approaches to try and get a good glimpse without scaring it away. It was well worth the trouble however, a stunningly coloured bird.

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Despite the threat of more rain we went back to the mangrove boardwalk, primarily to look for Horseshoe Crabs as the tide was still out. Sadly, apart from a few Mudskippers and tree climbing crabs, we were not to be indulged. As thunder rumbled around us it seemed likely that we wouldn’t be seeing much at all. This Common Sandpiper was the first to brave the elements, probing the mudflats for food.

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With Grey Herons and Little Egrets loitering in the middle distance the trees around us seemed quite alive with activity. Avoiding our camera, although not for the want of trying, was at least one Asian Paradise Flycatcher, several Collared Kingfishers and a couple of Rufous Woodpeckers.

With darkening skies and intermittent bursts of rain, birds would break cover in search of better shelter. If we were lucky a brief pause on an exposed branch would offer us an opportunity of a quick picture. This Dollarbird was almost beyond range when it appeared. Although it often appears almost all black at first glance (save for its ‘dollar patches’), this bird is actually a beautiful mix of black, turquoise and blue.

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We were luckier however with this Crow-billed Drongo, finding focus between branches proving the hardest task.

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Crow-billed Drongo’s are winter visitors to Singapore and the weather was starting to resemble the grey, wet conditions we thought we have left behind in London.

We moved out of the mangrove and back onto the main reserve were it seemed we were just about the only people around. It was quiet on the bird front too as mid-afternoon approached. Luck had not totally abandoned us however as a small brown flash caught a corner of the eye. Sitting quite still not too far from us was this Asian Brown Flycatcher.

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I certainly think the lack of any other people on the trail allowed us this opportunity.

The trail led us around the edge of some of the reserve’s wetland areas where we observed this muster (collective noun alert) of Milky Storks.

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Collared Kingfishers were screaming their way all around the trails and the occasional Black-naped Oriole could be seen.

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As we approached the end of the trail a large congregation of waders came into view. The majority were the Pacific Golden Plovers we had seen at the beginning of our day.

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Scattered among them were Redshank and the very obvious Whimbrels, looking almost haughty among the smaller birds.

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We were offered one last indulgence before we left Sungei Buloh. A family of Ashy Tailorbirds were busying themselves in some very sparse greenery by the visitor centre. After a day of dark, grainy and mainly long-distance photos, we couldn’t resist a little time snapping these.

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One response to “Sunless Sungei Sunbirds

  1. We can now identify the mystery butterfly as most likely being a Blue Nawab. A semi-rare species in Singapore. Big thanks goes to Esther Ong on the Birds, Insects N Creatures Of Asia Facebook group for answering our plea for an id 🙂

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