The Oriental Darter (Anhinga melanogaster) is a waterbird that is found in South-east Asia and South Asia. Historically they were breeding residents in Peninsular Malaysia (which include Singapore), but have vanished from this region save for some vagrant records. Recent records in Peninsular Malaysia include birds at Kinta Nature Park in Perak and Batu Kawan in Penang, which gives hope of possible reestablishment of this species in the region. So when a darter-like bird was reported in Singapore, it was time to it check out.
This darter was first reported in early August 2014 by Jean-Marc Chavette at a disused quarry at Bukit Gombak. The bird was rather shy and often flew in to the trees upon seeing human presence. Occasionally it will come out and sun and preen itself at the far end of the pool, unreachable by anyone. I managed to get some close shots of the bird through the longest possible focal length (500mm lens with 2X teleconverter and 1.6X crop camera, effective focal length of 1600mm), and they revealed that the bird was un-ringed and the feather condition was rather pristine. Coupled with its wary behaviour, it does suggest a bird that was wild or at least not recently kept.
Once in a while it will swim around the pool at the far end, and hunt for fish. I managed to get a few shots of a successful hunt.
Checking with AVA, Jurong Bird Park and the Zoo revealed that there were no imports of darter to the country. There had been a previous sighting of a flying darter at Neo Tiew Lane 2. In the end, the Bird Group’s record committee was undecided on the status of this particular darter.
Recently, there were a couple of reports of a pair of darters in the quarries at Pulau Ubin. It will be interesting to follow up on those sightings, to ascertain their status.
(Video of the darter sunning and preening itself. Note that it was very wary of its surroundings)
Wells (1998) The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, Volume 1