Tree Top Treats & Sketchy Nights

Our final entry from our Singapore visit now and we begin with a short visit to West Coast Park on 11th January. In keeping with the regular weather trend of our visit, conditions were grey, overcast and quite cool. Even the light at West Coast Park was against us on this visit, but we made the most of what we could find. An Oriental Honey Buzzard tree-hopped around us rather obligingly, offering a great deal of camera time.

This bird appeared to have quite a different plumage to most of the other OHBs we have seen. Perhaps we had a juvenile here or was this bird in transition from one morph to another?

Other than the camera-happy OHB, it was rather slim pickings at West Coast Park, but this Pied Triller lived up to its trilling name, making some wonderfully melodious calls and showing itself briefly for Mrs Sausage.

Once again we found Olive-winged Bulbuls, noisy Asian Koels and a White-Throated Kingfisher.

With no sign of any other bird or birder action, we decided to take our chances and head back to Pasir Ris Park. Our decision to cab across Singapore proved worthwhile. We had the resident Spotted Wood Owls as our target, and after some internet research on their location, we were fairly confident we could find them. With a strong breeze blowing through the park and rain seemingly imminent any minute, we made our way through. We did pause though for this Common Kingfisher, posing with no little sense of avian irony.

I’m sure that this is one sign bound to be ignored!

With some patient neck-straining and walking around in circles below some pretty tall trees, we were finally rewarded thanks to Mrs Sausage and her keen eyes.

There is something quite unreal about Spotted Wood Owls. Taking a close look at them through our binoculars, they almost resemble soft toys, such is their downy plumage and feathery feet, orange heart-shaped facial disc and those big dark eyes. One look at the talons though and you realise these are serious hunters once the sun goes down!

As they were dozing in the mid-afternoon coolness, we were able to spend a little time below them without disturbing them in any way. Utterly captivating birds and although we have seen them before these lingering views in good proximity were quite special.

With the wind picking up, suggesting rainfall was due any moment we made our way to the mangrove boardwalk, partly for shelter, partly for opportunities of any sheltering birds. The viewing stage brought us shelter and the sight of these Little Egrets decorating the bare branches of this tree, something akin to large snowflake decorations.

Closer inspection of the pictures shows this to be a mixture of Little and possibly Intermediate Egrets. We found some Blue-tailed Bee-eaters perched at some distance from us too as the rain cascaded down.

Somewhat closer and another new species for us was this gorgeous young Clouded Monitor Lizard. (Edit. Many thanks to Kam-Yung Soh on Singapore Birders who has shared the knowledge and advised this is a young Malayan Water Monitor, we have amended our tagging)

I think there was no little amount of serendipity that our final visit to Pasir Ris Park this trip brought us some bounteous treats.

Our next few excursions were somewhat random in both location and sightings. A rainy morning stroll around One North Park brought us a single female Tiger Shrike, plenty of swifts and swiftlets around the tall buildings and a small party of Crested Laughing-Thrush.

A brief and very rainy visit to Dairy Farm left us only this huge grasshopper on the wall of the Wallace Education Centre.

This Common Mormon butterfly was also posed nicely for us.

On our way back from Dairy Farm, Mrs Sausage suggested an evening stroll through the Botanic Gardens to see what nocturnal sightings may be on offer. With the Gardens still lit in places, especially around some of the fruit trees we were able to stand still and watch a LOT of bats flittering in, out and around the hanging fruits. We remain transfixed by both their agility and the sheer number of them. A superb “close encounter” with one of Singapore’s less seen species. As we don’t possess any night-vision photography equipment here’s an “artists” impression of our experience:

We weren’t the only nature watchers there though, and as we approached a macro photographer with his lens deep in some bushes, a large, dark mammal cut swiftly across our path and crossed the manicured grass by Symphony Lake. At first we thought otter due to size and shape but after striking up conversation with the macro photographer, we have settled on our shadowy sighting being a Common Palm Civet. Another first for us! And for you, another “artists” impression of that experience, it’s like you were there with us, right?

We also managed to see one of the night-time creatures our macro-cameraman was interested in – this Lichen Moth, a stunningly coloured creature of the night.

Our very last location for our trip was Sungei Buloh at Kranji Way. Just getting to Sungei Buloh was a episode. Our taxi driver took nearly 90 minutes on a Sunday morning to get from Holland Village to Sungei Buloh on a journey that included around half a dozen circular trips on roads to nowhere, compunded by his reticence to use his cell phone’s GPS. In the end, we borrowed his cell, put on the GPS and directed him ourselves. As a result of this epic and unnecessary voyage, we did lose some valuable early morning birding but there was enough activity happening as we arrived to ensure our few remaining hours were still worth it. The endangered Straw-headed Bulbul was the first bird to greet us on arrival.

With their beautiful song echoing around the visitor centre and the sight of seeing them in the open our last adventure was off to a great start.

From the small reed bed we just caught sight of a dark-coloured Bittern take flight and drop down again and despite extensive scanning and patient waiting, it didn’t show again. I was sure this was something different for us but alas, nature holds no guarantees or rewinds. Giving us really good, close views however was this male Yellow-bellied Prinia.

Behaviour here was very interesting as it went from hiding within bushes to topping and singing very loudly. My guess is that this was either territory establishment or signalling availability to a potential mate (or both).

We also had our best views of the Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker here.

For once, this smallest of Singapore’s woodpeckers was staying still as we quietly snapped from below.

And a puffed up Lineated Barbet:

For our non-birding eyes were the elegant Female Leopard Lacewing butterflies. (Huge thanks to Michael Soh for the ID of these on the Butterflies Without Borders Facebook page).

And there we have it. Strangely, our birding this round ended with a butterfly. It is indicative perhaps of a two week trip that was interrupted quite regularly with some unrelenting rainfall and thunder storms. Whenever there was a break, and sometimes even when there wasn’t, we persisted in our quest and I think we got some well-deserved rewards.

Our sincere thanks as always go to all the members of the Singapore bird and nature community, who on nearly every occasion were happy to share their findings and knowledge with us. Without some of this priceless advice, our trip wouldn’t have been half as interesting! We hope to be seeing some of you again later this year. Until then, happy sighting!

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3 responses to “Tree Top Treats & Sketchy Nights

  1. Hi Tony i see you made it to one north park, mu backyard. It can be quite at times since Nparks landscaped it but the birds are slowly returning to the place. You could have taken a walk around the black and white houses at Wessex estate. You will not feel out of place there. We have document about 105 species in the area since 2010.. Not bad but the place has lost a lot of wild patches.

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