We had left London in the midst of winter. It was cold, grey and wet. With bright eyes, bushy tails and polished binoculars we began our Singapore birding time in what was cold, grey and wet conditions. Plus ça change! To be honest, we weren’t cold but it was certainly the coolest we can recall being in Singapore. It was wet though, very wet and on New Years Eve, the rain was unrelentingly heavy. Refusing to let conditions dictate our plans or dampen our enthusiasm we made our way down to Sentosa Island, for here we were told there were cuckoos and more to feast our eyes on!
On our way up to Fort Siloso we bumped into a familiar face from a few years back. Ang Teck Leng was among a number of birders congregating in hope of finding the recently reported Chinese hwamei. Ever friendly, he shared with us some of the current hot locations for our target birds and regaled some tales of his recent sightings. With a list of places to go and birds to see we were grateful for his knowledge sharing and tips and began by heading straight for the current hot-spot in Singapore, a Ficus tree at Fort Siloso. Except today this was far more of a damp squib than a hot spot. The tree had recently seen an extraordinary influx of cuckoos due to a bloom of Tussock Moth caterpillars. Among the cuckoos was a Singapore rarity in the shape of an Asian Emerald Cuckoo, taking advantage of a full larder of hairy caterpillars. This was the first record of an Asian Emerald in Singapore since 2006, but with the heavens seemingly wanting to wash 2016 away in a never-ending shower of rain, there were no cuckoos to be seen. We were not bereft of birds though, the tree is also home to a pair of Crested Goshawks who were sat out defying the rain in a most stoic fashion.
The Crested Goshawk is Singapore’s only resident accipiter or hawk and despite the never-ending rain we did manage a few record shots as this was a lifer for us both.
We were very lucky to get even better views as we made our way along the Fort Siloso Skywalk where we had an eye-to-eye view thanks to the treetop level of the walkway.
With no end in sight to the heavy rain on Sentosa, we decided to try our luck at Botanic Gardens on our way back home. With conditions grey at best and an ever increasing threat of what was now just regular rain getting heavier we took ourselves on an express circuit to look for the Von Schrenck’s Bittern and Dark-sided Flycatcher. We were greeted by a pair of Buffy Fish Owls (thanks again to Ang’s advice)
With the light fading almost by the minute we managed a very blurry record shot of the Dark-sided Flycatcher:
Sadly the rain forced us out from the gardens before we had time to linger long enough for the Von Schrenck’s Bittern. A few obliging Pacific Barn Swallows and a single Asian Brown Flycatcher were all that was on offer at the Eco Lake.
New Year’s Day and we planned for an early morning mission, guided by advice to see the Red-billed Blue Magpie at Telok Blangah. With a very noisy and long thunderstorm on New Year’s Eve still carrying on into the morning we had to wait for late-morning, early afternoon before the monsoon conditions relented. Signs of improvement in the weather came with some very welcome sightings just outside our windows though. Two Oriental Honey Buzzards landed to dry out on the opposite block:
Shortly after the OHB’s arrived and the dry-out finally began we were called to the windows by the loud, melodic calling of Hill Mynahs. They were so close to our 16th floor windows that we were getting the full HD version of they wonderful and distinct warblings.
With the cessation of the rain, we made our way to Telok Blangah and the mid-level walkway point where the Red-billed Blue Magpie had been seen. With the air warming there was something of an ethereal mist rising from the wet undergrowth below us and clearly insects had begun to take to the air again. This in turn brought in a good number of noisy and busy birds. The insect cafe had finally opened and it was time for the feathered ones to dine. Within a short time of our arrival we were treated to eye-level views of:
Down below us was this male Tiger Shrike, feasting on those insects that thought keeping low was safer:
Whilst feeding was the main activity we also had Common Flamebacks checking out the real estate around us. Good quality natural wood residences are in demand this season.
Somewhat less frenzied than the other birds around us was this Laced Woodpecker, perched just ahead of us and patiently drying itself out.
Our target bird put in an all too brief showing, as if its intention was only to show itself amid all the other distractions we had. The Red-billed Blue Magpie appeared, then disappeared as quickly as it possibly could. Tick yes, lifer yes, portrait, sadly not.
Despite missing the chance to photograph our target, compensation came in not only the general feathery hullabaloo around us but also another lifer for myself with the appearance of several calling Blue-crowned Hanging Parrots. They even posed just long enough for a quick picture:
With no further sign of the stunning Red-billed Blue Magpie we were about to make our way home when Mrs Sausage spotted an interesting, cuckoo-shaped bird landing adjacent to where we had just been standing. It didn’t stay for too long but we did manage to fix my bins and her camera on it quick enough to ID it as an Asian Drongo Cuckoo an uncommon resident and migrant to Singapore and a great way to end our visit.
From the lup sup in the shape of Asian Glossy Starlings, Black-naped Orioles and Pink-necked Green Pigeons to the lifers, this was a wonderful session of colour and noise and the perfect way to celebrate the New Year.