Category Archives: Birds

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.

If you are interested in the bird species I have photographed, the latest photos (one photo per species) arranged alphabetically is posted in my Google Photo album. The ones posted below are randomly placed.

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Indian Pond Heron at Bidadari

The Indian Pond Heron (Ardeola grayii) is a common heron that is found breeding in the Indian subcontinent ranging to Iran. Its alternate name is paddybird, which is derived probably from its preferred habitat, marshy wetlands or in cases where these have been cultivated by human, paddy fields.

Indian Pond Heron
(The Indian Pond Heron standing still looking for its prey. Taken on 18 April 2015)

In the official checklist of the Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group, there are two species of pond herons found in Singapore. The more common Chinese Pond Heron (Ardeola bacchus) and the rarer Javan Pond Heron (Ardeola speciosa) both which are closely related to the Indian Pond Heron. In fact, in non-breeding season, all three pond herons are indistinguishable from each other. It is only when they change into their breeding plumage that each of these species are easily separated visually. However this changeover into breeding plumage also signal their return to their breeding grounds away from Singapore. So there is only a small window in the season when they are around for us to ascertain their identity locally. In the case of the Indian Pond Heron, there have only been two prior records of their sightings in Singapore, one in Senoko and another in Pasir Ris Farmway 1. For some reasons, these sightings have not resulted in the Indian Pond Heron being included in the checklist yet.

So it came as a shock to me that I recognise this bird species while perusing through my friend Er Bong Siong’s pictures taken at Bidadari on 17 April 2015. As it was late in the evening when I first came upon them, I only managed to go to Bidadari the next morning after running some family errands. By that time, there was a already a group of avid birders and photographers searching for the bird and they managed to locate it before my arrival.

I managed to see the bird first resting on a tree, and subsequently perched on a bare branch before coming down to hunt for food on a grass patch below. Unfortunately it only stayed around until the early afternoon. The noise from tree cutting nearby and the presence of more people probably resulted in its early departure.

Indian Pond Heron
(Perching on a bare tree branch just next to the carpark at Bidadari)

Indian Pond Heron
(Stalking a prey on a grassy patch at Bidadari)

All in all, I managed to get some pretty clear photos and video of the pond heron. Hopefully this sighting and the previous ones will result in the acceptance of this species into our checklist. My opinion is that although rarer than the other two species of pond herons, part of the reason for the lack of records is due to the fact that most people overlook this species. The non-breeding and breeding plumages of these three ponds herons are confusing unless a birder knows what field marks to look out for.

Lastly, I just want to note that Bidadari, a place slated for development soon seems to continue to surprise everyone with the constant appearances of locally rare migrant bird species, underlining once again its importance as a stopover/refuelling point for many bird species in this region.

Photo Gallery


The Short-tailed Babbler in Singapore

The Short-tailed Babbler (Malacocincla malaccensis) is one of the resident ground babblers (Family Pellorneidae) in Thailand, Peninsula Malaysia including Singapore, Sumatra and Borneo. As the description implies, it tends to stay on the ground or perched very low in the undergrowth of the forest. In Singapore, is found in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, and its plaintive call is often part of the dawn chorus in these places.

Short-tailed Babbler
(A Short-tailed Babbler along Golf Link trail at Macritchie Reservoir. Calling loudly for a mate)

More often heard than seen, it is not exactly very skulky, but it’s most active before 9am. If one were to trek through Rifle Range Link in the early mornings, there is a good chance of encountering this bird either by the side of the trail or even in the middle of the trail if there is no one else around. Its tall leg is suited for hopping on the ground, and when it tries to perch on vertical stalks of plants, it has a rather distinctive gait.

Short-tailed Babbler
(A different Short-tailed Babbler perching on a vertical stalk at Rifle Range Link)

While still common in Singapore, it is listed as a Near Threatened species elsewhere. Even in Singapore, habitat fragmentation and low genetic diversity are of great concern as the long-term viability of this species locally is questionable. In fact we have in the recent years lost the population in Singapore Botanic Gardens. More needs to be done to conserve this and other forest species before time runs out.

Please view the Youtube video below for a presentation of the topic.

Photo Gallery

The Oriental Darter at Bukit Gombak

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.

Oriental Darter
(An Oriental Darter sunning itself at a disused quarry pool at Bukit Gombak)

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.

Oriental Darter
(In the water just having done a successful hunt)

Oriental Darter
(Swimming back to the bank of the pool and getting ready to swallow fish)

Oriental Darter
(Om nom nom!)

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)


Photo Gallery


Wells (1998) The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, Volume 1