Monthly Archives: September 2014

Pacific Reef Heron at Seletar Dam

I have written previously about the Pacific Reef Heron (Egretta sacra) here before.

The last time I saw a dark-morph Pacific Reef Heron at Seletar Dam was in 2012. So it was a pleasant surprise when I bumped into it again a few days back. The tide was receding in the evening at the beach and I was monitoring the waders there. Nonetheless it was still a bit high when I arrived. The heron saw me and promptly flew away to the jetty near the patch of mangrove. Hidden away, I didn’t track its presence, but instead sat down to await the waders arrival.

As one Common Sandpiper landed at the mangrove area, my binoculars pointed to that direction and next to it was the heron, neatly camouflaged by its greyish colour. I approached nearer to photograph it, but the soft mud prevented me moving too close.

A few minutes later, it decided that the tide was sufficiently low for it to start feeding so it flew considerably closer and I had to retreat to the nearby rocks. As I sat there, it went about its business of wading in the shallow waters to look for food. A few unsuccessful pecks yielded seaweed, and so it decided to be closer to land and came towards me at the rocks. It was searching for food and it seem more successful picking up foodstuff between the rocks. I could not see what it was picking up, but it spent quite a long time moving between the rocks and pecking away.

At times, it came too near me and I had to signal to it my presence by standing up. This prompted it to retreat slowly.

As the tide retreated further, it started flying towards the sandier part of the beach and again started looking for food. I saw it picking up a few pieces of organic material but no crustacean so it threw them away. By that time, I was more interested in the waders that was streaming it, so I left it to feed by itself.

In all the time I was watching it, it alternated between the mangrove patch, the shallow waters, the rocks and the sandy beach. When not looking for food, it stood on rocks or trees. Once it was active, it preferred a hunched appearance, walking calmly and deliberately with its eye scanning intently.

 
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Satyr Tragopan in Bhutan

If the Himalayan Monals are the most dazzling member of the pheasant family in Bhutan, and the Blood Pheasants are the ones with the most character, the Satyr Tragopan must surely hold the title of the most elegant.

The Satyr Tragopan (Tragopan satyra) is also known as the Crimson Horned Pheasant. That describe the male bird perfectly. The crimson refers to the plumage and horn refers to the two fleshy blue horns that project above the eye during male displays. The female on the other hand is a drab brown bird.

We had the first opportunity to see the male bird on the way down from the monastery where we met the Himalayan Monals. It was late evening, and the light level was rather low when we saw a male by the roadside. Most encounters with the birds of the pheasant family are by the roadside. This time around the bird was actively foraging. The low light level coupled with a foraging bird meant we had a tough choice to make. Up the ISO and shutter speed and get a sharp but noisy picture, or lower the shutter speed and hope that there are times when the tragopan stop to pose. I chose the latter, and as such most of the pictures were unusable. Fortunately there are a few that are of reasonable quality. The thought was that tehre will be other encounters that will result in better photos.

Our next encounter was at another place in the morning by the roadside. This time around, although light level was fine, the background of the road made for a less interesting composition. So in the end, the first encounter was the best. If I were to return to Bhutan, the Satyr Tragopan will be high on the list of birds to photograph again.

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The Grey-tailed Tattler in Singapore

The Grey-tailed Tattler (Tringa brevipes) is a medium-sized wader that breeds in northeast Siberia and migrates southward to South-east Asia and Australia post-breeding.

There are two species of tattler birds. The Grey-tailed Tattler and the Wandering Tattler. They both look alike, and both fittingly called tattlers because they have the habit of issuing alarm calls to alert other birds if an observer gets to close. Both these tattlers migrate to different parts of the world, although there are places where they overlap. When they do, the best way to differentiate them is by their call. The Grey-tailed Tattler has a disyllabic whistle, and the Wandering Tattler has a rippling trill.

In Singapore, we only have Grey-tailed Tattlers visiting us. They are classified as rare winter visitors or passage migrants. There are some years where they were not seen at all. Mostly there are only reports of 1-2 birds a year. In recent years, the best place to find this species is at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve although in the past, they have been reported at the sandy shores of Changi as well. In 2011, there was a bird in breeding plumage at Sungei Buloh in late August to early September. In 2012, there was no bird reported, and in the previous season in 2013-2104, there was a bird that spent its entire winter months at Sungei Buloh. This season, there is a bird currently at Sungei Buloh.

The Grey-tailed Tattler has almost the same shape and size as the much more abundant Common Redshank and they like to mingle with the Redshanks for protection. However they can be told apart by a few features. Firstly, they have short yellow legs instead of the longer reddish legs of the Redshanks. As with the legs, the bill is also yellowish base. The white eyebrow stripe (supercillium) extends beyond the eye and contrasts with a prominent dark loral stripe which also continues a little behind the eye. This contrast is really apparent compared to the Redshanks. They also have unpatterned, greyish wings and back.

More observations and comments at the photo gallery below.

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The Terek Sandpiper in Singapore

August and September marks the start of search for migrant birds in Singapore for most birders. And shorebirds are the first to arrive. During this time, similar looking shorebirds start appearing mainly at our mudflats and our limited shoreline. It is a confusing time for the new birders, as sorting out the various species is not helped by the fact that their plumage and size does not differ much. So here is a short introduction of one of the easier species to pick out, the Terek Sandpiper.

The Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus) is a smaller sized wader that migrates from their breeding ground that stretches from Finland all the way to Siberia. They make a journey of anywhere between 3500km – 4800km to their wintering grounds in Africa, India, the Malaysian Peninsula and Australia. The female starts their journey first in early July and the males and females follow in August. They reach Singapore as early as late July although more commonly seen by September.

The bird itself is rather distinctive. It has short orange legs and a prominent long upcurved bill that is orange at the base. As the scientific specific name implies (cinereus means grey), this wader has a grey back, face and breast in all plumages. Behaviourally, it is a busy looking bird that walks briskly pecking at the surface or probing in shallow water, on soft wet intertidal mudflats and even sandy beaches.

Where can one find the wader and do they appear in large numbers? Normally the Terek Sandpiper will appear at Sungei Buloh, Mandai Mudflats, Seletar Dam. They also appear along Changi Coast, but that location is currently off limits. As they are listed as an uncommon winter visitor, one does not expect a large flock, but perhaps a few birds here and there in any one locality.

This year, one Terek Sandpiper was already reported at Sungei Buloh on 31 August. There will be more to come, as is usually the case.

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The New Zealand Falcons in Rotorua

Not every trip I make overseas is to the wild. Sometimes, it is more convenient to experience a taste of wilderness when traveling with family members in a more convenient location. When I was in Roturua, New Zealand, I was recommended a nearby place called “The Wingspan National Bird of Prey Centre“. It is a facility that undertake captive breeding and rehabilitation of the threatened New Zealand Falcons. Visitors can visit and see birds of prey up close during interactive flying displays, so we timed our visit for just such an occasion.

The New Zealand Falcon or kārearea (Falco novaeseelandiae) is New Zealand’s only endemic falcon and the only remaining bird of prey endemic to New Zealand. It is a versatile hunter that has the ability to hunt in both forested and open habitats. Nonetheless, it is a threatened species. Like most native New Zealand bird species, it evolved during a time when the land was free of mammals and human. Consequently it nests on the ground, which now means that they are susceptible to modern introduced predators. This, combined with widespread habitat loss, modification and degradation means that falcons have fewer places to successfully nest.

During the flying displays, both a male and a female were set free to fly about and rewarded with morsels of meat once they successfully perform certain difficult aerial maneuvers. This training permits them to regain natural strength so that they can be successfully re-introduced to the wild one day. The males and the females differ in size and looks, with the males only two-third the weight of the females. Although I was not observant enough to differentiate, apparently the size difference meant their hunting strategies differ, so the training for them differ too.

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