Incidental Birding on a Singapore “Roadtrip”

Our next adventure was a little unconventional – it wasn’t a traditional or typical birding trip at all. Saturday 22nd April saw us and two very good friends, Agent IK and Agent Pigeon, take a roadtrip around Singapore. No taxis, buses or MRT travel, just the open(ish) road and four longtime friends exploring the island, wherever the mood took us. We set off just before sunrise and made for Kranji Marshes just as an overnight storm was in its last throes.

As we approached the viewing tower and hides, we had the quickest of glimpse of either a Ruddy-breasted or Red-legged Crake moving from one pond to the next. Our first identifiable sighting was this Pied Fantail singing away next to the hide.

The lingering storm seemed to be keeping the dawn chorus somewhat subdued but there were signs of life rousing as we then had an Oriental Magpie Robin singing atop some bare branches. Mrs Sausage then found something a little more exciting with this Banded-bay Cuckoo.

The grey, overcast conditions didn’t lend themselves to making great photos but she managed to get a few record shots in.

Cometh the light, cometh the raptors as the sky above us had two Brahminy Kites chasing each other and seeming to grab insects with their talons whilst in flight. We watched this scene for several minutes as they made repeated passes, swoops and grabs. With a slightly larger Brahminy joining them it looked very much like we were watching two young birds undergoing their training. A lovely moment of avian behaviour as we were able to witness some rites of passage for the young Brahminy Kites.

Raptor watch was briefly interrupted with a brief sighting of a female Common Flameback. One of our compadres, Agent IK then pointed out a large silhouette sat astride a branch high above us. It didn’t take long to realise that we were under the eye of a Changeable Hawk Eagle.

It took some serious neck-stretching but we managed some clear views of this stern looking bird of prey.

From Kranji Marshes we took the short drive to Sungei Buloh via the new extension on Kranji Way. We were just ahead of a bus-load of visitors, so we waited to see where they were heading and made for the opposite direction. This turned out to be a fortuitous move as we had the rather interesting experience of sharing the Fantail viewing pod with this somewhat intimidating Orb Weaver spider.

Venomous but very much non-lethal to humans, this is one of the world’s largest spiders – we were unnecessarily wary of sharing the pod with the arachnid which had weaved a web that dominated the ceiling and mid levels of the interior. Its size alone was enough to command our awe.

The boardwalk was home to more large spiders, but somehow they seemed less menacing when viewed in the wide open spaces of the mangrove and boardwalk.

Mrs Sausage went exploring the areas below the boardwalk and picked out a Horseshoe Crab among the detritus.

This was my first sighting of this incredible, prehistoric-looking, blue-blooded crab and credit must go to Mrs Sausage for the find as it was fairly well camouflaged.

Our walk back to the car brought us a a nest-building Lineated Barbet, a passing White-breasted Sea Eagle and a host of dragonflies. The grasses near the car park were busy Common Waxbills and Scaly-breasted Munias:

We then had our next lifer of our Singapore trip in the shape of a party of Chestnut Munias in some long grass.

They were none too concerned at our presence, clearly the priority for these distinctively plumaged birds were grass seeds and more grass seeds!

Having shared some our birding locations as well as less visited parts of the island with our patient accomplices who were beginning to understand and appreciate our passion, we took a break from the bird-focus to visit Hay Dairies and Bollywood Veggies, the former where we met goats who were exceedingly chew-happy, and the latter where received a wonderfully informative crash course on local bees and beekeeping from Nutrinest’s Xavier. As pollinators, bees are integral to local ecosystems and wider food chains, but have in recent decades shown dramatic declines in numbers. It is wonderful to know there are folk like Xavier and colleagues educating the public – the message was clear: don’t bring in the exterminators to destroy beehives, call the more friendly beekeepers in instead. The honey produced by Xavier’s bees was also exceptional, and some varieties were truly like nothing any of us had tasted before. All Singapore-based honey lovers, this is the place to go for your fix!

We’d fed the goats, fed ourselves and were ready to resume some exploring. Where better to head than Sungei Buloh? This time was went for the traditional location in search of snakes, crocodiles and whatever else we could find. Sightings came almost as soon as we set foot in the reserve with a small party of Long-tailed Macaques socialising on the roof near the entrance.

With the tide on its way out, we were quite hopeful of seeing Estuarine Crocodiles. As we made our way onto the bridge at Sungei Buloh three or four were already visible, largely motionless in the now shallow water.

By the time we had taken a good look around we had at least six crocodiles below us. Not a bad haul at all.

A scan further along the shore and flats revealed a large number of Redshank were present:

Of course where there is water there is fish and where there fish you have herons. We saw both Grey and Striated Heron along with several Milky Stork;

And a single Common Sandpiper:

Having enjoyed a large part of our day in and around Kranji, we set off for pastures new in the shape of Seletar Aerospace. This was certainly a trip borne of curiosity rather than particular knowledge or even based on any bird or wildlife sightings. However whilst exploring the area Mrs Sausage was ever vigilant and managed to catch these Long-tailed Parakeets atop some trees.

Our final port of call on our road trip was the somewhat busier Lorong Halus, another location our friends had not seen much of so a chance to share one of our favourite locations with some of our favourite people. Saturday evening activities were well and truly underway and there were a lot of people enjoying the walkway so we made our way over the river and onto the furthest seating spot at the wetlands reserve.

As we sat and enjoyed our picnic, watching the wild dogs, seeing Swallows picking off insects and swatting away the mosquitoes, a White-bellied Sea Eagle sailed across the treeline, an elegant white arrow effortlessly passing us by. It was almost dark when our final feathered sighting appeared. A Long-tailed Shrike, a bird we always seem to see at Halus was sitting inside one of the shades. Once it made a move out to hunt Mrs Sausage made the most and in challenging post sunset gloom managed a few good shots.

On a day when we weren’t really trying to get any particular sightings or species, we managed two lifers, several raptors and shared some of our favourite locations and activities with two of our closest friends. From sun up to sun down a day of relaxed and enjoyable wildlife watching in Singapore’s further flung and less urban areas.

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