corridor closures & halus heartstoppers

Sausage reporting for duty, since Tony is not due on these sunny shores for another week. My return was greeted today with some lovely thumping experiences at Lorong Halus, which I thought were too good not to share.

However, my birding foray did get off to a bit of a frustrating start yesterday, when I decided to reccy the part of the rail corridor that I have frequented in past years. Like many Singaporean birders/joggers/cyclists etc, I was aware of planned closures along the corridor due to PUB works, laying the Murnane pipeline. But the information on the official PUB map regarding the exact locations of closures is a bit vague, and I could not figure where the closures began/ended, what the alternative paths were, and which sections were open. So having done some legwork at least for the stretch from Buona Vista MRT to the old Bukit Timah rail station, the closure along this stretch runs from under Buona Vista MRT station to behind Greenleaf Road. Between Greenleaf and Bukit Timah rail, the corridor is accessible and does not appear closed to public.

Perhaps in part due to focusing more on finding my way than actually birding, the sightings were not particularly rich, and photo ops were terrible. Once again, I missed out on capturing one of my favourite bird, the White-Crested Laughingthrush. The one I saw this time was strangely solo and sadly quiet, but as usual, fast moving and partially hidden. In the past, I have only ever seen this charismatic punkish bird in social groups, usually at around dusk, noisily facing off the Lineated Barbets along the rail corridor. As dusk fell making my camera almost useless, the birding did get better, and among the birds seen were a very loud group of Common Hill Mynahs with their distinctive bright yellow facial wattles, lots of Yellow-Vented Bulbuls, some Golden Orioles and Pink-necked Green Pigeons, Dollarbirds, unidentified parakeets, and the unmistakable silhouette of a Racket-Tailed Drongo.

Today was a slight bit more successful on the camera front, but on the whole, it was a solid birding day at Lorong Halus that brought me much joy. I started late in the day (past 5pm), and despite the rather significant expansions of residential construction work around the area, the usual suspects of Swifts and Swallows were highly active over the water, though these ones were taking a break:

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And the long-tailed shrike was where we have seen it for the past three years, although this one was a bit more camera shy.

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It was good to see some familiar bird faces and to take a peaceful, quiet stroll through Halus in the dusk light, so imagine my delight when I stumbled into an absolute haven of avian activity kicking off toward Serangoon dam. It started when I saw a large branch in the back pushed down by some substantial weight – I knew it had to be a big bird, and lo and behold, I saw this juvenile raptor, which has now been identified as a juvenile Brahminy Kite, seated comfortably behind the branch on a low perch, well at eyeline.

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The bird song and sounds around me as I was focusing on this raptor was incredible though, and highly distracting. I took my eye off for a moment, and saw right in front of me, this beautiful flash of blue, in a repetitive swoop and settle motion (in the same area, back to the same branch). I have never been this close to a Blue-throated Bee-eater before, and this was the first time I got to see some of its acrobatic hunting capabilities. But more than the aesthetics and maneuvers, this bird made the most incredible sounds, and its close proximity meant that I was so fortunate to hear these sounds. Its call seemed to be melodic but short, and it occasionally tapped that slender, slightly curved beak to make this woody resonant sound. I was so captivated by this Bee-eater that when I turned back to look for the kite, it was nowhere to be seen.

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Its sounds were heard over and above another new sound to my untrained ears – the incessant, frantic natter of a whole flock of birds; and as I made my way slightly further down the path, there was, in plain view, a brilliant sight of very busy Weavers making their nests. There were perhaps about two dozen or more of these Weavers flitting in and out of nests and on and off the little ‘nest islands’. I had never seen this bird before, and my amateur instincts recalled that the plumage, and head/face colouration of the males of this species were too distinct to be Baya Weavers.

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The nests (there were almost two dozen of these too) also appeared to be different from Baya Weaver nests – these seemed to be more loose structures with broader leaves that were rather artistically overlaid.

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From some searching, these birds appear to be non-native Golden-backed Weavers (or Jackson’s weavers) originating from east Africa – but I might of course be totally wrong. If correct though, previous BES reports between 2012 and 2014 seem to indicate sightings of this species at Lorong Halus, but in small numbers. The social unit I saw was somewhat healthier, and the males appeared to be doing most of the weaving, with the females more the guarding and finishing – but I didn’t observe this behaviour long enough to confirm anything.

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This was because the hiding young Brahminy decided to fly out from the thicket right over my head and across the water. It was one of those lovely moments when a bird leaves the birder in awe, and the camera is forgotten. Here’s hoping there will be many more such moments on this Singapura visit!

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