Time to finally conclude our Singapore birding activities – this blog is long overdue! Our last few days in the country allowed us some brief excursions sandwiched between family and social commitments. Pasir Ris Park was our first location, which we visited on 23rd October. Sadly, bird action was somewhat sporadic since the park was full of noisy plant equipment as landscaping work was taking place. We were however fortunate to meet Kim Keang of the Singapore Bird Group who had made an exceptional sighting high up among the trees on the boardwalk. An unidentified owl was sitting quite still and only partially visible.
Neither us nor the long-lens birders present could get a clear view of the owl at all. Kim Keang seemed certain it was a rare visitor but it would not give us a clear view at all to confirm its species. The arrival of another senior Singapore Bird Group member, Alfred, meant we were able to listen to some of Singapore’s most experienced birders discuss this mystery bird. The consensus of the experts was that we were looking at a Northern Boobok. Usually a resident of eastern Russia, Korea, north and central China and Japan, this one was somewhat off course it seemed.
We had no luck with Pasir Ris Park’s other resident owls, the Buffy Fish Owl and the Spotted Wood Owls. The rumbling construction work left most of the trees empty of birds. Species spotted during our visit were Little Egret, White-throated Kingfisher, juvenile Striated Heron and a Mangrove Jellyfish (with three little fishes apparently guiding it).
The 24th saw an afternoon visit to Bidadari. Recent days had seen a few cuckoos arrive, so we were hopeful. This was almost certainly the last time we would experience Bidadari as a haven for migrant and passage birds. “Development” is scheduled to start early 2015. It was hot and very quiet when we finally arrived at Bida. It took us 4 hails before we found a taxi that knew where to go – it would seem that the Former Bidadari Cemetery is already well on its way out of the Singaporean mindset. There were only a few birders present. Bidadari stalwart Frankie Lim was of course one of them.
Our first sighting was of at least two very mobile Asian Paradise Flycatchers. Catching my attention however were two Common Flameback females. Dancing and facing each other off around the trunk of a tree in a display I would normally associate with courtship.
In a flash, our eyes were averted from this site as a raptor zipped through the trees at around head height. We managed to track its flight with our binoculars into some dense trees where it disappeared. A fellow birder was also on the trail and told us it was a Sparrowhawk (but unable to confirm whether this was a Japanese or Chinese Sparrowhawk) Very exciting to see but the downside was it put every other bird in the area into deep hiding. We did manage to find this discreetly located Jungle Brown Flycatcher in a covered copse but a distinct quiet had descended over Bida in the wake of the Sparrowhawk.
We made a few circuits with eyes and ears peeled and was close to calling it a day when I saw a fellow birder with camera trained on a high branch. “Indian Cuckoo” was the confirmation and I just had time to get a quick shot off before this migrant cuckoo flew into deeper cover.
Whilst on the MRT we realised that we had taken something from Bidadari with us, albeit inadvertently. This small, shiny beetle had hitched a lift on our rucksack and was traveling without paying a fare! Mrs Sausage managed to transfer it from the bag to her EZ Link card and she carefully carried it all the way from Woodleigh MRT to Commonwealth before releasing it into some greenery. It was the least we could do seeing as this insect would be losing its home next year.
With that, our time was up at Bidadari. It is with no small regret that we walked out of this wonderful refuge for birds. Recent sightings at Bida have been plentiful and varied and we have followed updates from local birders with some envy since e have not been able to enjoy the sights. Without doubt, the development of Bidadari is a massive blow to Singapore’s biodiversity and we can only hope that the feathered visitors at least are able to return to new locations in Singapore next year. Bidadari is also home to a wide variety of insect, reptilian and mammalian wildlife and the opportunity to experience these creatures in their natural environment will be lost to future generations as concrete and steel replaces trees and grass.
Our last day, Saturday 25th saw us go to two different locations. I will let Mrs Sausage tell her own tales of Chek Jawa whilst I spent a few afternoon hours at Lorong Halus. It was a very warm and sunny afternoon as I walked across the Halus Bridge, one of the resident Smooth Otters was swimming below me, stopping frequently to check the surroundings before diving below the surface.
Olive-backed Sunbirds were in good number, bold and bright against the clear blue sky.
The noisy and very common Yellow Vented Bulbuls were also making their presence known.
Just as I was approaching the Serangoon Dam I had a quick glimpse of rusty brown and black feathers. A Lesser Coucal vanished almost as quickly as it had appeared. I quietly stalked the area where I had seen it but no sign at all. I was compensated however, with this very obliging Paddyfield Pipit.
Exhibiting typical Paddyfield Pipit behaviour, it didn’t take to the air when I got too close, just ran quickly to a safe distance giving me a chance to indulge a little. Probably the most obliging birds of our trip were the the Striated Herons and this one at Halus was no exception.
Other birds seen were Pied Fantail, White-throated and Common Kingfisher, Common Sandpiper, Baya Weaver and just as I was making my way along Punggol Promenade this White-bellied Sea Eagle. It took me by surprise, flying low along the river so it’s not the greatest picture, definitely only a record shot but a fitting bird to end our visit on.
addendum by mrs sausage: whilst husbean was out traipsing around lorong halus, i was incredibly fortunate to be given the opportunity to follow team seagrass on one of their monitoring expeditions out to chek jawa, a unique and diverse 100+ hectare wetlands located off the tip of pulau ubin. needless to say, i was eager, not least because this would be my first time out on the the wetlands. footfall here is restricted for conservation purposes, and guided tours are almost always booked out by the time we have our singapore dates confirmed; although, mercifully, there is a boardwalk close by so visitors can still enjoy the site, which attracts a great number of migrant waders.
team seagrass is comprised mainly of volunteers assembled every now and again to carry out regular quadrat and transect monitoring of seagrass meadows found along singapore’s shorelines. whilst easy to overlook, seagrasses are a critical and highly valuable part of many intertidal marine environments. these grasses form rather lovely, dense watery ‘forests’ that provide habitat, food source, nutrients and filtering ‘services’, therefore sustaining littoral zone species and ecosystems. more information and great pictures of seagrasses found on singapore’s shores here. i did develop a soft spot for the beautiful Beccarri’s seagrass (Halophila beccarrii), which is apparently rare globally but fairly abundant in chek jawa. so it was a real treat to be able to see and handle this little beauty up close!
it was great to see so many brave volunteers on the trip – i say brave because this was genuinely the first time i realised just how many possibly dangerous, bitey and insanely poisonous species (see also: stonefish) exist along our exciting shorelines. i also found it heartening that on this particular monitoring trip, minister of state desmond lee was part of the team. i say this in all sincerity, without cynicism – he was an active, interested participant, and it is increasingly clear to anyone who works in the area that we need policy-makers like him. my sincere thanks also to the team organisers, particularly dr siti yaakub, a friend who has given me valuable insight into environmental work going on in the region.