Honey Buzz And A Sting In The Tale

Monday 9th November and the beginning of our last week in Singapore. Our plan was to head north-east, to Punggol, Lorong Halus and the recently publicly accessible Coney Island. Plans for a quick getaway were once again interrupted post-breakfast as I spotted a large brown shape fly past the open window. Now, we were on the 16th floor so something flying at that height and that size was bound to be interesting. I just managed to get to the window in time to follow the flight of the bird and was delighted to watch it land in some treetops well within camera and binocular range. Equipment grabbed and my guess was proved correct – an Oriental Honey Buzzard had settled for some quite obliging “urban birding” shots.

IMG_0394a pic from Mrs Sausage

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Having had a great opportunity to take a long and fairly close look at this bird of prey, Mrs Sausage and I both agreed it looked somewhat like a menacing chicken. There is no doubting that the body and those feet are typical raptor features but the long neck and disproportionately small head did give it something of a fowl-like appearance. As such we are guessing this may be an immature male OHB.

IMG_0397apic from Mrs Sausage

We hoped that the early sighting of the OHB would be a positive feathered omen for the rest of our day and set off for the wilds of Punggol. Our sightings began on the Punggol Promenade with this Common Kingfisher.

IMG_0406aMrs Sausage

Rather than head straight for Lorong Halus, we explored a little on the Punggol side of the Serangoon Reservoir. Two birds we have seen in this area on previous trips made their scheduled appearances. First up were a good number of Sooty-headed Bulbuls. They were quite flighty and didn’t allow our curious cameras to get too close, but a little patience enabled a few shots of this bulbul with snack in bill.

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For once, the Long-tailed Shrike didn’t pose long for us. Previous visits to Lor Halus have always presented us with long indulgent views, today we were not so lucky and had to make do with record shots.

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Also teasing us from long range were the Blue-tailed Bee-eaters. We had two of these colourful birds perch just about in camera range. They did however pick the flimsiest of branches to rest on and it was incredibly tricky to get focus on a bird that was pretty much see-sawing up and down.

IMG_0417aMrs Sausage

Our most obliging bird on this side of the reservoir was this solo Common Sandpiper, and even this subject was fairly light on it’s feet.

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Once we had crossed Lorong Halus Bridge but bird sound and bird sightings dropped off a bit. Compensation came in the form of this sedentary and lovely Common Mime butterfly.

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One butterfly led to another with this yet un-identified subject. As always, please leave us a comment if you know what this one is Great Eggfly (id courtesy of Arunavo Bruno on Identify Your Butterfly Facebook group)

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We also had this Stork-billed Kingfisher scanning a large pond for the next meal.

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As planned we moved from Lorong Halus Wetlands straight onto Coney Island. For our non-Singapore based readers, Coney Island or Pulau Serangoon is a 45-hectare island just off the coast of mainland Singapore, connected by a 100 metre walkway from Lorong Halus. Described as “a piece of rustic island nature” it was opened to the public in early October and we were keen to explore for ourselves. Our first sighting was this male Tawny Coster butterfly.

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This particular individual looked to be in a bad way though, barely able to leave the ground and moving in a very haphazard fashion. I have tried to research the Tawny Coster and the behaviour we saw may well be quite normal though. Standard characteristics are weak and unsteady wingbeats and its defence from predators is to play dead and exude a nauseous and obnoxious yellow fluid from its leg joints.

It was hot and humid on Coney Island and apart from our crafty Coster there was not a lot of action to take our minds off the sticky conditions. There were plenty of feral pigeons among the trees, a single Common Flameback and this Tiger Shrike.

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There were plenty of signs of other birds having been present, Mrs Sausage captured these superb Baya Weaver nests as a prime example.

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We left Coney Island a little disappointed. Visits to Lorong Halus have always been full of sightings and interest and with some rare un-spoilt habitat in the shape of Coney Island immediately adjacent we had high hopes of this continuing. It may well be worth a re-visit next year though, the potential for wildlife here is obvious.

The next day, Tuesday 10th November was a public holiday in Singapore (Deepavali) and it seemed that a large amount of the population had the same idea as us and were visiting Macritchie Reservoir Park. The day started with clear blue skies and very warm temperatures but would end like a typical English Bank Holiday, in torrential rain. Our taxi dropped us just off Venus Drive, by the Singapore Country Club. A family of Long-tailed Macaques drew our attention even before we started our walk to the Macritchie entrance.

IMG_0438aMrs Sausage

The alpha male was very vigilant and was making regular eye-contact with us. It made for some good photo opportunities but we were careful not to get too close to his young family.

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The youngsters were exploring the forest floor looking for anything tasty or interesting. This one seemed to be keen on a cup of coffee.
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Whilst the alpha male was being groomed by one of his troop.
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Keeping with the non-bird sightings, this Malayan Monitor Lizard crossed our path just as we left the primate party to their foraging. Despite their prehistoric appearance, the monitors go out of their way to avoid people but occasionally pause long enough for a quick close up.

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Macritchie itself was awash with people and the amount of footfall didn’t bode well for too many sightings. We took a trail just off the main path in the hope of finding some wildlife. We were rewarded quickly with a Brown Shrike, this one quietly perched with its back to the noisy day-trippers.

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As we climbed up-hill we had a Greater Racket-tailed Drongo perch just above our heads.

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Getting a full length shot of these birds has always been tricky but those long rackets need to be seen.

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It was whilst I was trying to work an angle and get focus on the Drongo that I heard a clear but dull thud just in front of me. It’s quite usual to get fruit and bits of tree fall naturally in the forests and I am not sure why I even looked down. Because whatever hit the ground missed me by only centimetres, my curiosity was piqued. Imagine my shock to look down and find a scorpion scurrying away from my boot. I called Mrs Sausage over with a simple cry of “scorpion”. She just managed a few shots before being quite vigorously out-muscled by a group of macro-photographers who were on the same path.

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There is not a lot of info out there regarding Singapore’s scorpions but we have managed to find out that this semi-airborne critter is a female Long-tailed Scorpion (Lychas scutilus) also known as the Spotted Scorpion. Whilst not poisonous they can give a very nasty sting (as testified on this forum post http://www.arachnoboards.com/ab/showthread.php?238129-Lychas-scutilus).

Mrs Sausage was next up with a good sighting, she had two Sun Skinks facing each other on a fallen trunk.

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Whilst she was busy with the lizards, I was engaged in my own attempt at some macro pictures with this Pyrgomorphidae family member (i.d courtesy of Ashish Nimkar on Birds N Insects of Asia Facebook group) a very young grasshopper from the Gaudy Grasshopper family.

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Birds were still at a premium for us, with sounds rather than sightings indicating what was around. We heard more Greater Racket-tailed Drongo’s, Abbotts Babbler and Red Jungle-fowl all near-by. By now the temperature had fallen tangibly and we knew that rain at best, a thunder storm at worst was heading our way and our time at Macritchie was limited. We spent this time quietly and patiently trying to get a shot of a Striped Tit Babbler. Mrs Sausage had seen some movement in some greenery at around knee height and a scan with the binoculars picked up these small and very active birds. A lucky piece of anticipation finally got me this somewhat obstructed photo.

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With some serious thunder rumbling ominously close by we made our way out of Macritchie to be met with a heavy downpour. You don’t argue with the weather gods, especially in a forest during a thunderstorm! As the rain tumbled from the sky we made our way to the concrete and glass of urban Singapore. With one more day of birding left, we hoped for clear skies and good favour, tomorrow we would head for Sungei Buloh.

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