Author Archives: Francis Yap

About Francis Yap

Nature photographer, bird twitcher and blog writer.

10 Years of Birding

Just a short post announcing the completion of 10 years of birding for me. Photo below is a collage of all the bird species I have seen in Singapore for that period of time.

10 Years Species Singapore

The number of species photographed in Singapore from 29 April 2010 to 28 April 2020.

Birding update on November 2018

I am still indulging in this hobby after all this while! Nothing much have changed, but most postings and activities have shifted to Facebook groups.

It is getting progressively harder to find new bird species, but there is no real timeline to achieve any goals these days. I have settled on a routine of visiting certain places regularly with my camera. Mostly I get to see more common species. On bad days, I just get rained out. On very good days, I get the thrill of seeing something new and get reminded why I still lug my heavy equipment to the field.

So here’s a collage of all the wild bird species I have seen so far in Singapore since I started 8 and a half years ago. 331 species seen and photographed. Not a milestone, just a snapshot of my birding progress. Seen from afar, the collage is mostly small birds with blue sky and sea, green foliage and earthy tones. Just the way I like them!

Special Ks

It’s been almost nine years since I was diagnosed with keratoconus, a degenerative eye condition that result in blurred vision and acute astigmatism. Both my eyes are affected, with my left eye having a severe case that cannot be corrected by eyeglasses. That left me with my right eye (with a milder form that is correctable to a greater degree) to take care of all this vision thing that almost everyone else take for granted.

A recent check in November with an eye specialist revealed no substantial worsening or improvement on the condition. What prompted the visit was however more interesting, as I had a lump growing rapidly at the corner of my left eye. That resulted in a visit to the hospital and hence the check with eye specialists, and subsequently a day surgery. After the removal of the lump, histopathology test revealed that I have another condition called Kimura’s disease, a rare but benign chronic inflammatory disorder. There are still remnants of the lump after surgery but for now, the proliferation of the cells have abated. I should be thankful that things are what they are, and I can continue to go about my life somewhat normally. Not having good eyesight certainly have not stopped me from indulging in birding as a hobby, but getting a health scare does make one evaluate things a bit.

2016 was a relatively relaxed year for birding, similar to what it was in 2015. I’ve settled on routine weekly walkabouts at my regular birding spots, a few overseas jaunt, and the occasional scrambling when a local bird rarity appears. Since my last post a few months back, I’ve photographed a couple of new birds. The count is now 318 bird species photographed in Singapore. I reckon if I keep at this pace, 330 birds should not be a problem in the next few years. The goal now have shifted to getting better photographs of existing birds.

Last year, together with some birding friends, we started a community project to better document the bird species found in Singapore. The Singapore Bird Project website was launched with write-ups and photos of birds from a bunch of top bird photographers in Singapore. This informal group also went on to organize a few pelagic trips, resulting in the addition of a new bird species for the Singapore checklist, the Bulwer’s Petrel. The website itself is growing stronger with increased monthly readership over time.

Another new initiative in 2016 was to set up a new Facebook Group, Wildlife of MacRitchie & Central Catchment to showcase and raise awareness of the diversity of wildlife at MacRitchie and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve in Singapore.

To complement my existing personal Facebook Page, I have also set up an Instagram account to post photos of birds I have seen along the way. So all in all, it has been a very busy and productive year despite the special Ks getting in the way.

Let me end by posting a few photos taken in 2016. Here’s hoping 2017 will be an even more eventful year!

Six years of birding

The blog is still pretty much dormant since the last time I wrote. I’m still birding but more and more, the pictures and stories are shared in Facebook or Instagram. There are still stories to be told, birds behaviour to note down in longer format, and in more details, but I’ll leave that for another day.

I’ve just completed my 6th year of birding today. Travelled overseas a bit more this year and saw a few more local birds. Pretty happy with the hobby and hope I can continue further.

Below is a collage of all the bird species I have photographed locally in Singapore so far. All 310 species of them. All taken in tiny Singapore. Larger photos with description at my Google Photo album.

Singapore birds shot between April 2010 to April 2016.

Singapore birds shot between April 2010 to April 2016.

The quest for 300 Singapore birds

When I first purchased a telephoto lens and camera in April 2010, the main goal was to have a walk around set up in the neighbourhood and documenting the wildlife that inhabit it. Soon my focus turned specifically to birds.

Years ago, when I bought a DSLR to photograph my growing child, I had started learning about photographic techniques in a local photographic forum. I must have browsed through many photos in the forum looking for inspiration. Among them were truly well taken photos of birds from a small group of local wildlife photographers that travelled around the entire island looking for our feathered friends. I wished then that I had that luxury of time to pursue such a hobby.

Once I started focussing on birds myself, it was not long before I started doing the same chase. Neighbourhood walks turned to long car drives and then long treks. A handful of birds turned into 50 and then 100 birds within a few months. Months soon turned to years and my photo collection grew. Five and a half years later, I have photographed 303 wild bird species.

That’s not a big number. In Peru, a team of committed and well prepared birders saw a total of 354 species in a day! Nonetheless, I am pleased to break the 300 species mark in Singapore itself. There is no big celebration or announcement. I have participated in two Big Year competition against other birders in 2012 and in 2014, but this one was different. It’s a quiet personal journey with no definite time frame. I hope to and will work on seeing more birds in the future, one new species at a time.

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The Red-crowned Cranes of Hokkaido

The Red-crowned Crane (Grus japonensis) is an endangered crane species that is found in northern Asia. One of the places where it can be more easily seen is in Hokkaido, Japan where they are a resident species, unlike the migratory ones elsewhere. In Japan, they are called tanchōzuru or shortened tanchō (red-head). They are considered sacred and seen as a symbol of fidelity, love and longevity. But they were on the brink of extinction due to hunting, mainly for their plumage.

Although hunting them is a thing of the past and conservation work is ongoing, currently there are only around 2,750 birds left in the wild, including about 1,000 birds in Hokkaido. In fact in 1926, there were only about 20 birds left in Hokkaido, but urgent conservation work increased their numbers substantially. One of the measures they did was to set up feeding grounds for the cranes during wintertime.

At the end of 2014, I brought my family to Hokkaido for a vacation. It was not a birding trip, but since my wife arranged for one where we had an opportunity to see the Red-crowned Cranes feeding, I brought along my long lens for the trip. Arriving on a cold and snowy day, I was delighted to see so many of these cranes at the feeding site next to Akan International Crane Centre at Kushiro.

Hokkaido

Red-crowned Cranes together with other birds at the feeding centre

Although snowing and frankly having too long a lens, I managed to take some photos of the cranes and even a sequence of their famous courtship ritual.

Hokkaido

Start of the courtship dance

Hokkaido

First, a bow. The browned headed crane on the left of the frame is a juvenile

Hokkaido

I must admit I don’t know which is the male and the female

Hokkaido

Intertwining necks, close to the highlight of the dance

Hokkaido

They are now considered ‘one’. This would have been a great shot, if only there were no other cranes in the frame. But it is a busy feeding lot and I did not have time for a re-do.

Hokkaido

Coming apart. This was not the end of their courtship ritual, but the couple continued on. But it was hard to pick them apart in heavy snow and with the lack of contrast, so I lost track soon after.

As most of the tour group were not nature lovers, and coupled with the fact that it was cold and snowing heavily, we spent less than an hour at that place. I so dearly wished we had more time to see these enchanting cranes. Perhaps a return journey one day to see them, the Stellar Sea Eagles and Blakiston’s Fish Owls.