Sometimes it is interesting to know how things are named. Most people with a passing familiarity with this blog knows that I writes mainly about birds, with occasional articles about the other wildlife that I encounter. But it will be a small minority that will know what I refer to as a grey thickhead unless they really know where is Ghost Island.
Ghost Island is the literal translation of Pulau Hantu (a Malay name), a small island (actually 2 islet, Pulau Hantu Besar and Pulau Hantu Kechil) located south of Singapore. It is best known as a destination for fishing, scuba diving and snorkeling, as well as a weekend retreat for campers.
The island itself is pretty small at 12.5 hectares, so chances of meeting many birds there is limited. Yet I have been to that island a total of 4 times since 2011. The reason is very simple. I was looking for the grey thickhead. What is this bird that doesn’t seem to have a Wikipedia entry? Thickhead is the old name for a genus of birds called the whistlers. It is a literal translation of the generic name, which is derived from the Ancient Greek terms pachys “thick” and kephale “head”. In other words, all the birds under the genus Pachycephala are called whistlers. In Latin ciner means “ashes”, and in scientific naming convention, normally is used to refer to the colour ashy grey. So Pachycephala cinerea is grey thickhead. Its English name is Mangrove Whistler, but that really isn’t very evocative of how it looks.
I am probably boring everyone with etymology, so perhaps another fact of the Mangrove Whistler. The bird itself is from a family of birds that traces its lineage to the Australo-Papua region. but the Mangrove Whistler itself is found in South-east Asia, South Asia, Greater Sundas, Lombok and the Philippines. In Singapore, it is a rare resident bird species. They can be found in the mainland, with the last report at Changi reclaimed land in 2011. But it is much easier to find them at the various small offshore islands. And one of the island that is more easily accessible is Pulau Hantu.
So the next time a birder mentioned about going to Pulau Hantu, you can be sure the trip include looking for the Mangrove Whistlers. Below are some photos of the birds. There are at least 2-3 birds in the island itself. They are not hard to find, but perhaps not so easy to get nice photos of.