Monthly Archives: June 2014

Banded Bay Cuckoo in Singapore

The Banded Bay Cuckoo (Cacomantis sonneratii) is an uncommon resident cuckoo in Singapore. It is found in forest edge, mangroves, secondary growth, orchards, plantations and wooded gardens.

Recent sighting include areas like Central Catchment Nature Reserve, Bukit Timah, Neo Tiew and Lorong Halus. It is most easily recognized by its call. The male bird normally sings from the top of a tree to attract the mate.

Banded Bay Cuckoo
(Front view of an adult male seen calling at Jelutong Tower in January 2014 perched on a vine at the top of a tree.)

Banded Bay Cuckoo
(Back view of the adult. It is normally seen perched upright as in this picture.)

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Everett’s Scops Owl of Mindanao

One of the places I visited while in Mindanao, Philippines was a place called PICOP. It stands for Paper Industries Corporation of the Philippines. As the name implies, it was a logging site that produced paper and other timber products. It has long since been closed down and the forest now is unfortunately being decimated by other factors. Nonetheless, it is still an important site to get a lot of endemic Philippines birds.

One of the endemic bird there is the Everett’s Scops Owl (Otus everetti). It is a recent split from the Philippines Scops Owl, and the outskirt of the town of Bislig is apparently a good place to find it. At dusk, we arrived at a nondescript place with a patch of secondary forest, a road, and nearby some sort of worker’s compound. The place did not seem like much, but we were assured that the bird has been spotted here before.

Once the place got dark, the guide started playing the call of the owl to attract its attention. Minutes passed by, and then some more. Nothing. Motorbikes passed by every now and then. Mosquitoes abound and took a liking to us, and it looks like the guide was getting quite nervous. I was getting a bit impatient.

It must have been at least 15 minutes and the place was really dark when suddenly a flash of a bird flying pass. Everyone scurried to the landing place and the torches were aimed squarely at the owl. No one made any noise save for the rapid shutter sound from the cameras.

Everett's Scops Owl
(Everett’s Scops Owl with a Philippine Parachute Gecko in its mouth, perched on a bamboo clump)

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Ruddy Kingfishers in Bidadari

The Ruddy Kingfisher (Halcyon coromanda) is both a rare resident as well as an uncommon migrant kingfisher to the shores of Singapore. The resident subspecies (minor) is confined to the mangroves of Pulau Tekong, and not many people have seen them due to the restricted access.

The migrant subspecies (coromanda) on the other hand comes in small numbers in two waves during the migratory season. Once during the main influx in October to November and then on their passage home to the north between February and March.

I had looked at the recent records (2006 to present) to find the locality of their sightings. They have been sighted before at Jurong Lake district, Dairy Farm, Khatib Bongsu, Nee Soon Swampforest, Sungei Buloh, Malcolm Park, Lower Peirce reservoir, Pulau Ubin and even the Central Business District. The place with the most sightings is the former Muslim cemetery in Bidadari. The birds have been seen there annually since 2011.

Photographically, they pose a challenge as the bird tends to be skittish and can fly a good distance away once disturbed. However with patience, an observer can get close enough for a good look and photos.

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Giant Scops Owl of Mindanao

The Giant Scops Owl (Otus gurneyi) is an endemic owl of the Philippines. Also known as the Mindanao Eagle-Owl, it is intermediate in size and structure to the scops and the eagle-owl. It is a threatened species due to habitat loss but little is known about it’s biology and behaviour.

On my trip to the Philippines to see the Philippines Eagle nesting in Mindanao, I had an opportunity to encounter this bird. While staying in a resort near Davos, our bird guide mentioned that he will be looking for this owl species at the resort itself in the early hours of the morning as he had heard its call on a previous trip. If he succeeded, he will wake us up immediately to get a view.

We thought little about it, and proceeded to sleep peacefully that night. In the middle of the night I was rudely awaken by some shrieks just outside my chalet room. I thought what an awful noise made by some unknown animal and try to get back to sleep. Just then, the phone rang, with our guide informing us that he had seen the bird. Without much preparation and just with my bare camera and lens, I rushed out to meet the guide who was shining his torchlight at a short distance away.

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Zitting Cisticolas of developed grasslands in Singapore

One of the feature of Singapore birding is that the places for birding are getting less and less, and those that pops up temporarily eventually will give way to development.

Many of the mini patches of grassland that pops up are usually prior cleared land that is left temporarily untouched. These have finite lifetime as the land clearing is for developmental purposes.

While the grass grows, birds come and make it their home. And one of the most easily seen and heard is the Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis). Although often overlooked, they are in fact interesting birds. Their name is derived from the ‘zit-zit-zit’ sound that they make in flight.

Zitting Cisticola
Location name: Tuas Grassland
Previously status: A motocross venue
Current status: Being developed into a train depot.
Last accessible: 2011
Remark: The cisticola is holding a piece of material for nest building.

Zitting Cisticola
Location Name: Jurong West St 22
Previously status: Secondary forest cleared for development
Current Status: Partially developed as a building for a transport company
Last accessible: 2012

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Australasian Gannets at Muriwai Beach

Muriwai Beach is a coastal area in the North Island of New Zealand about 40 minutes drive from Auckland. It is a popular beach for human activities, and also a dense breeding ground for the Australasian Gannets (Morus serrator).

It is an interesting place for photographers for two rather disparate reasons. It is a beautiful and unique place for landscape photography, as well as an excellent place to photograph flight shots of the gannets due to their huge numbers. For birdwatchers it is also an excellent place to learn about the social life of the birds during their breeding period. I had an opportunity to spend an hour or so to partake in all these.

Landscape photography is not my strength, but the coast is beautiful and the dense colony serve as an excellent subject against the backdrop of high cliffs and clear blue ocean. I am afraid I do not do the place enough justice, but here are some pictures nonetheless. I think the golden hour would accentuate the beauty of the place, but I was happy enough to get sufficient light for handheld photography.

Australasian Gannet
A view from the trail leading down to the inland colony.

Australasian Gannet
A closer view of the colony at the rocks further away from the beach.

Pleased with the nice landscape photo moments, I next turned my focus on bird flight photography. At any one time there are probably close to 100 birds in the air at various location, and getting flight shots was a breeze. It was a matter of getting the right bird, at the right angle and with the right background.

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