Flying kites & fishy business at Sungei Buloh

A reunited Team Sausage kicked off our shared adventures proper at Sungei Buloh yesterday. Although we had done some light birding along the Rail Corridor between Tanglin and Queensway the evening before, the only picture we got of any noteworthy sightings was this beautiful bat captured by Mrs Sausage. She saw it land on this cluster of ripe mangoes just under a streetlight, and managed to get the shot as it feasted on the fruit. We are not sure what type of bat this is, so any id suggestions would be appreciated!

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The following morning, after the initial horror when we checked the weather forecast predicting thundery showers for the next two weeks, we decided to just make the most of the days, and deal with the weather gods as they deal their hands. So off we marched to Kranji for the Express, where we soon discovered that there are now two entrances to Sungei Buloh, one shiny visitor entrance at Kranji Way, and the old one at Neo Tiew Crescent. We disembarked at the Neo Tiew entrance, and made our way to the old car park, where we bumped into two wonderfully friendly and informative fellow birders, Ang and Priscilla. As we began chatting like old friends over birds, life and everything in between, we spotted two Oriental Magpie Robins, which Tony has been looking for three years. Ang informed us that these birds were common, and Priscilla mentioned that they are quite used to humans and will allow for rather close proximity.

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It is always lovely to meet fellow enthusiasts, and chatting with Ang and Priscilla reinforced for us the best of the social aspect of birding. Stories swapped, hints and tips exchanged, we went our seperate ways in search of our respective targets and aims. This charming Many-lined Skink became our next sighting as it broke the cover of the leaf litter to welcome us back to one of our favourite locations.

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The bridge into Sungei Buloh proper offered a fine view of around a dozen Milky Storks awkwardly perched on the trees alongside the water.

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With the tide in, the view from the first hide was a watery one with very little bird action. This Common Flangetail dragonfly presented itself in a very nice pose.

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We decided to head off to the Mangrove Boardwalk for a quick peek despite the high tide, given that the boardwalk was closed on our previous visit. The quick circuit brought us a few non-bird sightings including the usual tree climbing crabs:

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This curious blue-eyed Mud Skipper:

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And this lovely butterfly which I believe is a Common Palmfly:

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Mrs Sausage suggested we wait for the tide to go out before a second attempt at the Wetland sites, and so we decided to explore the Coastal trail toward the Kranji visitor centre. A new part of the reserve for us, it brought some immediate photographic bounty with this female Crimson Dropwing dragonfly.

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This was soon followed by another dragonfly, a Variegated Green Skimmer, that landed just in front of us and remained perfectly still.

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The heavy conditions were perfect for insects but the bird life was a little subdued. Making the most of the invertebrates were dozens of Swifts and Swiftlets, some getting as low as head height in their feeding swoops. Most frequently seen along the Coastal Trail were Common Sandpipers, their constantly flicking tails giving away their location despite being very well camouflaged against the mangrove.

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Keeping up the butterfly sightings was this Great Eggfly, sat on a leaf just above eye-level.

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A single Grey Heron was fishing just on the shore as we moved inland and toward the new visitor centre.

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After some very necessary refreshment, we were considering our next route when our eyes were diverted to a very light-coloured but sizable bird perched high atop some exposed branches just behind the visitor centre. It was definitely a raptor, and my first thought after a quick look through the binoculars was a Black-winged Kite.

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We moved closer to get a better look and although our pics are very much record shots only, the view through the binoculars from a little closer confirmed the sighting before it flew off toward the main reserve. A first sighting for us both and a real bonus bird. Despite its resident status in Singapore, numbers of Black-winged Kites have dropped as natural habitats of open areas are at an ever-increasing premium.

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A single Yellow-vented Bulbul was taking quite an interest in our work too:

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We caught the Kranji Express shuttle bus back to the old reserve entrance in calculated hopes that the tide had ebbed and brought in the waders. We bumped into Ang and Priscilla again at the Main Hide, and they showed us some great shots of young Estuarine Crocodiles they had spotted earlier in the day. In the main hide at this time however, apart from the ubiquitous Cattle and Little Egrets, and fantastically noisy Collared Kingfishers, there was not much action and no reports of the recently seen visiting Pacific Reef Egret.

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We decided to continue on the trail, but were soon stopped short about four hides in due to a stormy downpour. We hid out in this hide for almost an hour watching Little Egrets, House Crows, Striated Herons, Brahminy Kites, Collared Kingfishers and Common Sandpipers duck in and out of the rain; although Mrs Sausage made good use of this downtime to take a nap. Not the first time she has napped at Sungei Buloh either!

As soon as the rain had relented, we were back toward the Mangrove Boardwalk, and were very quickly rewarded for our persistence with the fantastic sight of a White-bellied Sea-eagle hunting over the open water, about half a kilometre away from us. We had just readied our cameras when it appeared to have made a kill and disappeared from sight. While waiting to see if the impressive eagle would return, we spent plenty of time fascinated by a Horseshoe Crab in the shallows. This incredible species has changed little in 450 million years, and it is a shame we were not able to capture any usable image, as we could wax lyrical for some time about all the amazing things this living fossil does. We were however able to indulge in more of the lanky Milky Storks probing the soft ground:

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We had almost made our way out of the Boardwalk when Mrs Sausage exclaimed for me to stop. The reason for the plea was this perfectly still Atlas Moth, one of the largest moths in the world. It had a wingspan that was comfortably 20cm, but remained completely docile despite our proximity. Along with the Black-winged Kite, this Atlas Moth was a pleasant and unanticipated sighting for us.

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A quick check back over the Main Bridge gave us fleeting glimpses of an adult Estuarine Crocodile, for the most part enigmatically submerged saved for eyes surveying its territory:

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One of our main motivations for going to Sungei Buloh was the regular sightings on the Singapore bird pages of a Buffy Fish Owl, a bird that Mrs Sausage has been hoping to see for a while now. Ketupa ketupu has eluded us on all our Singapore birding adventures so far, despite visiting known sights and talking to wise birding heads aplenty. Ang had earlier pointed out to us the most likely places to find it at Sungei Buloh but warned that we may have to wait until early evening for a sighting. So here we were past 6pm, carefully scanning the trees for movement. More in hope than anything and watching the clock for the last Kranji Express of the day. We were sidetracked slightly by some Pink-necked Green Pigeons and Plantain Squirrels when suddenly Mrs Sausage excitedly called out “Ketupa Ketupu!” There, sitting quite conveniently in a patch of early evening sunlight was our Buffy Fish Owl.

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We were very, very lucky that we had a good 3-4 minutes with this wonderfully enigmatic owl. It remained in the same sunlit area, surveying its surroundings and probably us, before flying out of view.

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Its impressive size and bright attentive eyes made it an incredible sight at the end of a long day back and forth-ing around Sungei Buloh. As with all owls, this species carries with it a certain anthropomorphic personality and those eyes that seem to look straight at you when you are observing or photographing it. The “centre parting” head plumage accentuates this perception with the Buffy.

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To say we left Sungei Buloh brimming with good sighting endorphins would be an understatement!

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