Hilltop Chestnuts & Dairy Fairies

Our first proper birding excursion this trip took place on Monday 17th April and started at Hindhede Nature Park, with not too much of a plan, route or targets in mind. Located at the foot of Bukit Timah, Hindhede is a modest 9.5 hectares park with an old quarry and trails of varying length and difficulty for the casual and keen walkers. Arriving just after 9am, our first sighting a few minutes in was this Laced Woodpecker making a brief tree trunk appearance.

We made our way to the quarry area just as the morning sun began to beat down in earnest. The quarry offered an expansive vista which looked like perfect habitat for Fish Eagles or even Peregrines. While stunning in its own right as a view, our only feathered sighting was a single White-throated Kingfisher hunting the quarry water.

On the way back down as with at the quarry, there was a lot of bird noise from the dense trees around us. We are no experts with calls but our reading suggests some of the sounds we were hearing may have been Moustached or Short-tailed Babblers. We also managed to spy several Ashy Tailorbirds and Pin-striped Tit Babblers.

With the various trails offering the chance to explore further, we decided to take the trail up to the summit of Bukit Timah. Despite a largely birdless but pleasant ascent encountering many people walking backward for some strange reason, we were rewarded atop Bukit Timah with a most friendly Dark-necked Tailorbird (id courtesy of Alan Ow Yong).

Mrs Sausage then managed to find this Asian Brown Flycatcher, which was consistently showing in and out of the abandoned installations atop the hill.

Whilst snapping the flycatcher, Mrs Sausage also heard, then spotted, around half a dozen large birds flying high just over Bukit Timah. A quick look with the binoculars showed these to be Milky Stork.

We continued on the nature trail towards Dairy Farm Nature Park. We paused around a third of the way down Bukit Timah at a small clearing to scan some of the canopy. A patient wait brought us some exciting rewards as a very noisy Cream-vented Bulbul squawked and cackled its way into the trees above us. Cream-vented Bulbuls are certainly one of the scarcer of Singapore’s Bulbuls and the fact this one hung around barely long enough for a fumbly record shot shows just how keen they are on remaining hard to see.

The all too brief sighting of the Cream-vented Bulbul heralded the start of a frenetic period of feathered action. First up was the fairly common Greater Racket-tailed Drongo:

Just we we were focusing on that a flash of what at first appeared to be white ribbon fluttered and twirled past my line of sight. I followed it to find that the owner of this extravagant plumage was an Asian Paradise Flycatcher in white morph. Try as we might, and believe me, we both tried very hard, we could not get a clean shot of this wonderful bird. Constantly moving, pausing only behind leaves and branches momentarily, neither of us could get a photographic fix on it.

Frustration and exasperation was soon cast aside with the appearance of a Chestnut-bellied Malkoha. Another lifer with this genuinely secretive and almost silent forest dweller.

Singapore only has one Malkoha species remaining on the island and this globally threatened cuckoo was sitting above our heads! All our shots have some amount of greenery or branches in the way – this bird was taking care not to expose itself and despite being around 40cm, it was most adept at camouflage.

This sighting made missing out on the Paradise Flycatcher far more bearable, as this is a bird we have been hoping to catch ever since we started our Singapore birding four years ago.

As always, we keep our eyes to the ground as well as the sky when we are out exploring and we managed to spot a few interesting butterflies when making our descent of Bukit Timah. First up was this forest dwelling Common Faun, its blue eye standing out against the brown wings.

Resting calmly on the un-even steps down toward the Dairy Farm trail was this much larger and colourful Archduke (corrected from a Black-tip thanks to Kam-Yung Soh)

And this Branded Imperial – I couldn’t get a shot of the flamboyant orange and white outer wings and had to make do with the still beautiful open wing look.

As we moved from Bukit Timah to the Dairy Farm trail, Pin-striped Tit Babblers still dominated the small bird action. Mrs Sausage managed a shot through the leaves and branches to capture this one carrying nesting material.

A brief pause in the cow shed at Dairy Farm and we were off again, Mrs Sausage continuing her good spotting with a quick capture of both adult and juvenile Straw-headed Bulbul, another scarce Singapore bulbul to add to our list for the day.

Another brief lull in sightings was broken with a very fleeting appearance by a Red-crowned Barbet entering the upper reaches of a tree. Mrs Sausage just managed to get a few barely record shots of this colourful bird, the least common of Singapore’s three barbet species.

Once again we were in a period of exciting activity as an Asian Fairy Bluebird entered the same tree the Red-crowned Barbet was in. Yet another life tick for us, two in the same tree in fact!

The Asian Fairy Bluebird is regarded as an uncommon resident but we thought that the beautiful plumage alone was good enough reason to be excited at this sighting.

It didn’t take too long before we also found a female Asian Fairy Bluebird a short distance away from where we found its’ male counterpart.

We felt that after all that excitement our day could not get much better and decided to make our way out of Dairy Farm and head for home. It was as we were making our way along the trail we would be treated just once more by gods of avian adventures. We had sightings of both a Greater Racket-tailed Drongo and an Emerald Dove as we kept our eyes peeled on our exit journey. Our last bird of the day, well it turned out to two birds, was a sighting of two more Chestnut-bellied Malkohas.

Moving quite silently and in seperate directions before coming close to each other, we were able to clearly see both hopping, clambering and carefully making their way through the trees above our heads. You wait nearly four years for one and you end up getting three in a day!

We couldn’t have hoped for a more perfect start to our time here but make no mistake, we worked hard for our birds this day. With the climb up Bukit Timah then down the challenging route to Dairy Farm in the searing midday sun and early afternoon humidity, each sighting was earned with plenty of sweat and substantial sunburn. Completely worth it though and we are ready for more!

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