Monthly Archives: August 2014

Large-tailed Nightjar In Singapore

The Large-tailed Nightjar is a widespread species of nightjar found in from eastern India all the way to northern Australia. The genus name Caprimulgus in Latin means “goatsucker”, which is the older name of nightjars due to the past believe that they sucked milk from goats. The subspecies in the Malay Peninsula and Singapore is bimaculatus.

Like most nightjars, it is a nocturnal and crepuscular species. During daytime, it rest inconspicuously in shady areas along the edges of vegetation or leaf litter. Its cryptic plumage helps in concealing its presence. When an intruder gets too near, it will fly off suddenly to a different spot.

As it is a common resident, it can be found almost anywhere, although it has a distinct fondness for cemetery. Hence the Malay name for it is burung tukang kubur (“gravedigger bird”). Although difficult to see in the day unless disturbed, in the night they are easily heard, with very distinct, monotonous and repetitious calls. Something like ‘chonk-chonk-chonk’ or ‘tok-tok-tok’. It is hard to describe in actual fact, so here is a call recorded by Yong Ding Li in Pulau Ubin.

During the breeding season, the nightjar normally lays two eggs on the ground without a proper nest, a few days apart. When incubating the eggs, the nightjar is even more motionless than usual, to protect the eggs. If an intruder gets really too near, they have been reported to fly a short distance away, and land near enough divert the attention of the intruder. It then act as if it was injured to further lure the intruder away. This broken-wing display is a form of distraction display that is widely utilized by birds that lay eggs on unprotected ground like waders, plovers and nightjars.

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Pacific Reef Heron in Singapore

The Pacific Reef Heron (Egretta sacra) also known as the Pacific Reef Egret is a bird of the heron family that is resident from South-east Asia region to Australia and New Zealand.

It is a peculiar heron species that exhibit non-sexual dimorphism, that is that some birds are entirely white-plumaged (white-morph) and some entirely charcoal grey (dark morph). The grey plumaged birds formed the majority of the population worldwide (but apparently the opposite in Singapore in the past) but they breed freely. There have also been cases of intermediate coloured morph but that is rarer.

These herons are predominantly coastal birds, and can be found near the shore, where they time their feeding according to the tide level. They hunt for fish, crustaceans and molluscs om the shallower part of the water.

In Singapore, they can be found near the seaside, with the largest population at the shores of the various southern islands. However they can be found in other places. These past few years, they have been reported near West Coast Park, Pasir Ris Park, Seletar Dam, Pulau Ubin and even a canal along Telok Kurau.


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Bird collections of Stamford Raffles

Sir Stamford Raffles is widely regarded as the founder of modern Singapore. A statesman and a soldier, his exploits in Asia is well documented, and a short blog post does no justice to the man. Suffice to say, modern Singapore owes him a great deal. He was involved in drafting the first constitution in 1823, which among other things outlawed gaming and slavery. Importantly, a specific regulation in the constitution called for the multi-ethnic population of Singapore to remain as is, and there shall be no crimes based on race.

Back to topic, when one normally talk of Raffles and nature, many know of Rafflesia, the plant genus which has the largest single flowers that was named after him.

What is less well known, although it should be is the fact that he was also a naturalist. He was one of the earlier avid collector of the various flora and fauna in the South-east Asian region where he was based. Raffles himself described and published in journals quite a number of mammals and birds that were new to science then.

For birds, these are the species first described by Raffles: Crestless Fireback, Milky Stork, Malayan Night Heron, Great-billed Heron, Red-legged Crake, Black-naped Tern, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Raffles’s Malkoha, Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, Barred Eagle-Owl, Brown Hawk-Owl, Red-naped Trogon, Black Hornbill, White-crowned Hornbill, Blue-backed Parrot, Green Broadbill, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Dusky Broadbill, Giant Pitta, Ashy Minivet, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Mangrove Blue Flycatcher, Crimson Sunbird and the Large Woodshrike. There is a debate over the naming of the last species, but altogether there are 24 bird species listed.

More than just being a collector of wildlife, upon his return to England after his distinguished service in South-East Asia, he went on to establish the London Zoo and the Zoological Society of London. In Singapore, the first museum established in 1849 was named Raffles Library and Museum. Subsequently it was renamed the National Museum of Singapore, and the large zoological collection was transferred to the appropriately named Raffles Museum of Biodiversity and Research. Of course, time marches on, and now that name too is gone, replaced with one that commemorate a rubber, sawmill and pineapple tycoon instead.

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Crimson Sunbird in Singapore

The Crimson Sunbird (Aethopyga siparaja) is a widespread species of sunbird resident from tropical southern Asia to Indonesia.

The adult male is a brightly coloured bird, with a crimson head, mantle and upper breast, hence its common English name. It is widely believed that it was voted as the unofficial National Bird of Singapore in 2002 due to the description of it as a “tiny red dot”, just as Singapore has been described.1 (link)

There is however another equally important connection to Singapore. The first person to collect, describe and publish on this species in a journal is non other than Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore. He did so in 1822 while stationed in Bencoolen (now Bengkulu, Sumatra). The scientific species level name is siparaja, probably derived from the name of the bird in the Malay language, which is Kelicap Sepah Raja. The etymology of this probably is best left to scholars, but ‘sepah’ means scattered in modern usage, and ‘raja’ means king. So perhaps a sunbird scattered by king? Update: Sepah is used currently as the name for minivets in Indonesia, and sepah puteri (‘puteri’ is princess) is used for flowerpeckers in Malaysia.

Currently in Singapore, the sunbird is considered a common resident breeder. The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Central Catchment Nature Reserve and Bukit Batok Nature Reserve are places where one can find them rather easily. In the past, Mandai Orchid Garden is about the easiest place to see them, but has since been closed down. The pictures below are taken from that locality in 2010.

Sunbirds belong to the taxonomic family Nectariniidae. As the name imply, most of these birds feed on nectar. Their thin downward curving bills and brush-tipped tubular tongues are adaption for nectar feeding. Flowers that cannot be directly accessed are simply pierced at the base near the nectaries for feeding. They also supplement their diet with small insects when feeding young.

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White-rumped Shama in Singapore

The White-rumped Shama (Copsychus malabaricus) is a songbird that is native to South Asia and South-east Asia. It has a rich and highly melodious voice which unfortunately made it one of the most popular cagebirds in its native territory. Due to this fact, it has been poached to near local extinction in the mainland of Singapore. However it is still found in good numbers in the offshore island of Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong.

The male and the female bird differ in appearance, with the male being more striking with its very long tail, glossy blue-black on the head, breast and upperparts. The underparts is deep rufous-orange. In comparison, the female has a dark grey (not glossy) parts at the same location and the underparts a duller rufous colour.

Because they have a very melodious voice, locating them by the song they make is much easier than sighting them, as they tend to be rather shy and skulking in behaviour. If they are not singing, they oftentimes call with a harsh ‘tschak’ while foraging or alarmed that is also indicative of their presence.

The best place to find them in Singapore is currently Pulau Ubin where a morning walk from the jetty to Chek Jawa will invariable reveal 3-4 of them if one knows what to look out for. In the mainland, it is much harder to find them. They are still present and breeding, and have been found in various locality like Central Catchment Nature Reserve and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Due to the ongoing poaching activities, exact locality cannot be provided.

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Coconut Lorikeet in Singapore

The Coconut Lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus) or Green-naped Lorikeet is a bird native to southern Maluku, West Papua islands and western New Guinea. For a long time, they have been considered a subpecies of Rainbow Lorikeet. In fact, some authorities still consider them a subspecies of Rainbow Lorikeet. However quite recently, both IOC and Birdlife International decided to accord them full species status. This means that the proper Rainbow Lorikeets (Trichoglossus moluccanus) are now confined to Australia.

In Singapore, the Rainbow Lorikeet we have in our current checklist is actually the Coconut Lorikeet. They are an introduced species that has been reported to be widespread since 1980s. They can be found at many localities and believed to be locally breeding. Recent sightings include the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, Choa Chu Kang, Buona Vista, Sunset Way, Singapore Botanic Gardens, Bishan Park and the former Bidadari Cemetary.

These lorikeets are gregarious birds that tend to congregate together especially in the late evenings. They roost in hollows of tall trees, which they presumably also use as nesting sites. Like other parrots and parakeets in Singapore, they have been observed feeding on the seeds of the African Tulip tree and ripe rambutan fruits.

Below are some pictures and a video clip of the Coconut Lorikeets, with captions of their locality and behaviour. Also in the gallery is the picture of a Rainbow Lorikeet for comparison.
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