The Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus) is by no means a dull bird in character. In fact it is one of the liveliest bird around, with the ability to mimic and create a variety of calls and sounds. It has been suggested that it’s ability to mimic other birds, serves the function to create mix-species flocks. The purpose being to steal food (kleptoparasitism) from the member of the flock or to find insects disturbed by other foragers around.
In Singapore, they have been observed following macaques around, probably gathering food or insects disrupted by the activity of these primates. There are many other stories about this very interesting drongo, that I will leave for another time.
Today the attention is towards photography. And unfortunately for the drongo, it’s a rather neglected species photographically. Its plumage colour is a glossy bluish black. That alone is a turn-off for many photographers who would gladly choose more colourful birds. The other thing is that it has a distinctive, long outer tail shafts ending with twisted pendants. That is a very attractive feature, but is challenging composition wise to get a ‘balanced’ picture, without it being blocked or cut off.
So what are the so-called features of a good bird photo? The answers are varied and for every feature I say is good, someone is bound to disagree. But generally, a few things normally stand out.
The Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot (Loriculus galgulus) is a small parrot found in South-east Asia from southern Thailand to Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo.
It Singapore they are more commonly found in the forest reserves, Singapore Botanical Gardens, and gardens where fruiting trees are present. There have been reports of sightings in the city centre but one is not likely to find them all that often there.
In my early days of birding, this was one of the harder to find species, and it took me quite some time before finally photographing a few of them at Malcolm Park. They were fond of the oil palm fruits and the African Tulip flowers that were abundant there. The problem with finding the birds are two-fold. They are small in size (13cm in length) and they are green, which meant that they are well camouflaged.
There are of course easy ways to find them if you know their behaviour. They are fond of ripe fruits. A fruiting rambutan tree, or oil palm or a myriad others ripe fruits in the garden tend to attract them. So houses with ripening fruit trees near the forest reserves are likely to have them around. The other give-away of their presence is the sound they make while flying. A very shrill and high pitch “tsi” that once you recognise, will indicate their presence nearby.
A very good place to see them flying about is Jelutong Tower at the Central Catchment Nature Reserves. Every morning, there will be little torpedo-like little green birds flying straight and rather low, with their calls emanating loudly. If you are lucky, they will perch on a nearby tree, giving you better views.
Below are some pictures in the gallery with more information on separating the sexes and also a video of a juvenile feeding on a bunch of African Tulip flowers.
The Plaintive Cuckoo (Cacomantis merulinus) is an uncommon resident in Singapore. In the past it was called the Malayan Brain Fever Bird. The Malay name is “Burung Anak Mati” which translate to dead child bird. All these names refer to the mournful sounding call that the adult male use to attract the female bird.
Although listed as uncommon, the male can be rather easily found during the breeding season if one recognises its call. And it can be found in many areas in Singapore. It is a brood parasite, with hosts reported including ioras, prinias, cisticolas and tailorbirds.
Below are some of my encounters with the species.
(A male at Tuas Grassland. Contrary to what some guide books mentioned, which is that the Plaintive Cuckoo is separated from the similar looking Rusty-breasted Cuckoo by the lack of yellow eye-ring, here this plaintive does have a yellow eye-ring. The difference is that it’s eye-ring is rather incomplete.)
The Banded Bay Cuckoo (Cacomantis sonneratii) is an uncommon resident cuckoo in Singapore. It is found in forest edge, mangroves, secondary growth, orchards, plantations and wooded gardens.
Recent sighting include areas like Central Catchment Nature Reserve, Bukit Timah, Neo Tiew and Lorong Halus. It is most easily recognized by its call. The male bird normally sings from the top of a tree to attract the mate.
(Front view of an adult male seen calling at Jelutong Tower in January 2014 perched on a vine at the top of a tree.)
(Back view of the adult. It is normally seen perched upright as in this picture.)
The Japanese Sparrowhawk (Accipiter gularis) is a bird of prey that migrates from Northern Asia to South-east Asia during the winter months. They are birds of open or wooded area. Normally one can more easily see them near grasslands in Singapore, preying on small birds like munias by swooping them up in flight with their superior flying ability.
One a fine morning in late October 2013, I was at Jelutong Tower to find some raptors in the forest as it was peak raptor migration period in Singapore. In the forest, it is harder to see them perched amidst all the trees and lower light level. The plan was to see them take to the sky once the warmth of the rising sun causes hot air to rise from the ground. Then the overnight roosting raptors, that are normally passaging through Singapore will start on their journey south to their wintering ground using the rising air as additional lift.
That morning I had the good fortune to find a Short-toed Snake Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) and a male Japanese Sparrowhawk, the former being much rarer in Singapore and only the second photographic record locally. But I digress.
(A male Japanese Sparrowhawk at Jelutong Tower, with red eyes mainly differentiating it from the female and juveniles with yellow eyes)
Fully satisfied with my find for the day, I made my way out of the forest via Rifle Range Link. Nearing a flat portion of the trail, there was a quick flash of a bird flying across. I hurriedly scanned the trees where it presumably landed. With a bit of effort, a raptor was sighted up on a tree trunk. Fortunately, there was a concrete structure around 1.2 meters tall that I climbed on to get a better view of the bird. It was immediately apparent that I was looking at a Japanese Sparrowhawk and it was staring back at me.
The Blue-winged Leafbird (Chloropsis cochinchinensis) is found mainly in North-East India through South East Asia. It is the commonest of the 3 species of leafbirds in Singapore. It can be found in Bukit Timah, Central Catchment Nature Reserve, Southern Ridges extending to Mount Faber and even Sentosa Island.
The male differs from the female in appearance (see pictures below). They are normally found in pairs and sometimes in a small flock. Normally, they are hard to spot unless on the move while feeding or flying to a new destination due to their green colouration.
One of the benefit of Jelutong Tower in spotting of leafbirds is that it has a good view of the surrounding forest, so the movement of leafbirds are easy to monitor. The other reason is that the leafbirds like the plants around the tower, particularly the Poikilospermum climber. It has also been seen feeding on insects.
(Front view of the male. A black face and bib, bordered by yellowish head. Notice how close in colour it is to the leaf)
(Side view of the male, showing the blue colours of the wings and tail feathers. Some field guides do not show the full extent of the blue feathers)
(The female in comparison lacks the black face and bib)
(Another female, this time with worn feathers)
(A male, capturing a large green insect)
(In flight, wings folded)