Three Gardens, Four Herons

21 April Thursday and 22 April Friday was planned around the weather gods and scheduled appointments, and we somehow managed to weave in three sites. Our destinations were the Botanic Gardens, Jurong Eco-Garden and Pasir Ris Park.

We arrived at the Singapore Botanic Gardens on Thursday a wing and a prayer as dark storm clouds were approaching. We had waited well past the forecasted rain period, and took a chance as the sky did not seem as threatening when set off. Weather-wise, our gamble paid off; but the murky, grey skies meant that photographing our spots was a challenge. Nonetheless, our first sighting of the day was this Grey-headed Fish Eagle, and despite the light, the pictures we got this time are some of the better pictures we have of this majestic bird.

The Eagle appears to have taken up residence in the Gardens as there have been reports and sightings of it hunting in the Swan lake. No surprises given the number and size of catfish and arrowana to be found in the lake!

Without a good spotting eye, the Eagle blended in exceedingly well against the foliage of the high trees it was perched in.

There were also good number of Pacific Swallows also hunting over the water, and the somewhat more recent but surprisingly bold Red Junglefowl getting quite pally with humanfolk walking by the lake’s edge.

A return to the spot where we had previously seen the Oriental Pied Hornbills was rewarded with a family scene of two adult and three juveniles feeding on red berries, unconcerned with the many people passing under and gawking up at them.

Our main purpose in persisting with the Botanic Gardens was sightings of two of our target birds, the Blue-Winged Pitta and the Hooded Pitta. Our previous sojourn to the Gardens turned up neither, so we had come to try  again in other potential locations around the garden, including the Ginger Garden and the Dell. All we got was this Flying lizard:

And the Oriental Magpie Robins we are sure were the same ones as the trip before:

Despite being one of the most common birds, I couldn’t resist this photogenic Yellow-vented Bulbul on the way out of the gardens:

The morning of 21 April Friday started with heavy, thundery showers, which meant that despite best intentions for an early start, we got to sleep in fitfully whilst waiting for better indications of clearer birding weather. This eventually came in the late morning when the rain fizzled into a drizzle, so we hopped off to explore a new site. The Jurong Eco-Garden looks promising, being tucked away in what appears to be good forested areas. The short walk toward the visitor shelter was indeed interesting enough, with Pied Imperial Pigeons flying over in good numbers and two hunting Blue-throated Bee-eaters.

We then made a decision to follow the temporary nature trail through a forested area, lured in by pretty little streams and high trees offering bird prospects. The decision to go this way was one that proved to be incredibly unwise. Given the inter-monsoon rains barely an hour before, the mosquitoes and midges were out in full force. Mrs Sausage learned the hard way, quickly, that mosquitoes can bite through tights, and even though we were both sprayed and patched up to high heavens with repellent, we were bitten constantly through the approximate 1.2km walk. There were also few birds to speak of, let alone any to make all the bites we were enduring worth the while. The trail signs eventually showed 72m to the end… but with about 65m to sweet sweet escape, we came across this small pool blocking the entire path.

Since neither of us were wearing wellies or had remembered to pack the mini sampan, we had no choice but to turn back into the seventh circle of purgatory. Despite making brisk work of the U-turn walk, we were still walking targets for the mozzies, and now have dozens of bites to show for it. Back in the less infested main areas of the site, we were a lot more successful. Mrs Sausage had wandered off and found yet another first for us, this resplendent Purple Heron with nesting material in mouth.

We waited while it skulked around and zipped through the expanse of the main waterway in the gardens.

Whilst the Purple Heron is a common bird in Singapore, it can be fairly elusive, being a shy and solitary bird that prefers to stay hidden. We were very lucky to see it showing so well in the open, that too with the prospect of the bird doing well since it appeared to be looking to nest.

After attending to an appointment and recharging with some kopi, we headed out to Pasir Ris Park at about 5.30pm. Our main hope was for a quick peek of parks enigmatic one-eyed Buffy Fish Owl. Over the bridge, we saw this Little Egret on one side:

We had a Grey Heron on the other side of the bridge and then flying in came what we thought at the time was a Striated Heron, however later looks at the pictures would suggest this may be a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron:

Any suggestions or confirmations are welcome on this.

Two back and forths between the first two viewing platforms did not turn up too much, and with the light rapidly falling, we returned to the bridge, where we saw this vividly coloured Stork-Billed Kingfisher:

As the light started to seriously fade our particular stretch of the Tampines River came alive. First in was a definite Black-Crowned Night Heron, another lifer for us both!

Having followed the river down to get closer to the Night Heron Mrs Sausage pointed out that in this concentrated space we had a Striated Heron, a Grey Heron and a Black-crowned Night Heron all hunting in the near dark.

Despite not catching the Buffy Fish Owl we were well compensated with a lifer in the shape of the Black-crowned Night Heron and a glimpse of Singapore’s nocturnal bird life on the Tampines River.

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