Mystic Flamebacks and Flying Lizards

Our next few trips for wildlife sightings were ones we squeezed in between family and friend commitments. Our first mini trip was to the Botanic Gardens on Saturday 3rd September. It was another day when the temperature in the Singapore oven was set to blistering. Our first sighting on arrival was an old favourite, the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo.


With all the flowery goodness that the Botanics have, it was no surprise find Sunbirds enjoying the colourful bounty on offer.


Ever elusive Ashy Tailorbirds teased us with fleeting glances from within green cover. At least we thought we had an Ashy Tailorbird, local birders Alan Ow Yong and Dirk Tomsa have both suggested this is a Dark-necked Tailorbird. This Tailorbird is usually only found around the Central Catchment area so we can claim an unusual find for the Botanic Gardens!


The hot, bright conditions and the huge array of flora was also a haven for insects and this Powder Blue Dwarf dragonfly was one of hundreds to be found atop green posing pedestals.


We also had Brahminy Kites and a Grey-headed Fish Eagle circling high overhead, Pacific Swallows insect hunting over the ponds and Asian Glossy Starlings noisily congregating on treetops.

The following day, we made our way back to MacRitichie for another shorter tour of the forest with the couple of hours we had spare. We started to make our way in at the Venus Drive entrance where Mrs Sausage just failed to get a clear shot of our first Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker. We had really hoped to find the male Yellow-rumped (or Korean) Flycatcher we briefly spotted on the visit before, to improve on the single picture Mrs Sausage previously managed to snap, but it would appear we would have to be content with that one-off sighting.


The good weather had also brought out a large number of day trippers, hikers and families and we decided these were not optimal conditions for good spotting. To take a breather from the crowd, we moved far from hustle to the greenery adjacent to Upper Thomson Road. It proved to be a wise move as we found a nice array of insects and birds in this small, quiet patch. Hundreds of tiny moths would fly up as we tried out best to move carefully over the grass. This was also busy dragonfly territory, this Scarlet Skimmer being one of many that surrounded us.


The small green enclave was also hosting some noisy and very active birdlife. Another Greater Racket-tailed Drongo with a single racket was the first bird we found but the area was dominated by woodpeckers, noisy, showy ones at that. The Common Flameback is probably the most abundant of Singapore’s woodpeckers and we had at least two pairs moving from tree to tree, unafraid and making their presence clearly known with unmistakable calls. The Flameback (Dinopium javanense) is also known as Pelatuk Bawang in some parts of the region, and there is apparently a fair bit of gory mysticism that some people have attached to the bird.



Breaking up the Flameback profusion was this Banded Woodpecker which lingered on a tree trunk for some camera practice for us.



It was Mrs Sausage who had the sighting of the day though as her attention was taken from the Banded Woodpecker by this Common Gliding Lizard.


As the pictures show it was extremely well camouflaged on tree. The movement of the yellow gular flag drew her attention to it.


We showed our pictures later to Mrs Sausage’s dad, and got into a conversation about lizards, which threw up some wonderful snippets of cultural information. We learned that there are particular lizards found locally that are also colloquailly called ‘sumpah-sumpah’. ‘Sumpah’ translates to ‘curse’ or ‘oath’, and this might be to do with the constant movement of the throat or flanges under the throat of some of local reptiles, which make the creatures look like they are forever muttering/chanting under their breaths. More information on this naming is not easily forthcoming on the world wide web, but from archaic expedition texts, this naming appears to apply mainly to the Calotes (Changeable Lizards). The Gliding Lizard is more aptly called cicak terbang (flying lizard), or, understandably, bidadari (angel or fairy).

Heavy storm clouds began to gather and this White-throated Kingfisher was the last bird we managed to photograph in the green oasis.



We took the decision to walk up Island Club Road to see if we could find the Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker again among the tall trees. We were half way up when an intense storm decided to unleash a deluge down upon us, leaving us pretty much stranded along the open road and soaking even through our military grade ponchos. However, we were very fortunate that an incredibly kind minibus driver saw us, stopped to pick us up and dropped us off at the bus stop on Upper Thomson. So this blog must be signed off with a shout-out of profound appreciation to that wonderful man!

3 responses to “Mystic Flamebacks and Flying Lizards

  1. Hello you two, nice to see more pictures from your Singapore trip. The tailorbird is not an Ashy though, it’s a Dark-necked. The Ashy has grey upper parts and mainly occurs in mangroves. Anyway, my UK trip is getting closer, my seminar is now confirmed for 22 November and I’ll try to squeeze in one or two birding trips around that day. Would be nice to catch up then. My main target will be Short-eared Owl:) Cheers, Dirk

    • Couldn’t agree more there, there was something genuinely suprising and wonderful realising we had spotted this almost perfectly disguised creature 🙂

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