The Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) is a widely distributed wagtail species that spends the summer months in the Paleartic region. In winter, they migrate to Asia and Africa. One of the destination in Asia is Singapore, where the species is listed as an uncommon winter visitor.
It is one of the earliest migrant, with reports of the birds appearance as early as mid-July. In the field, they are quite likely to be confused with the commoner Eastern Yellow Wagtails. Yet, they differ from that species both morphologically as well as behaviourally. Unlike the Yellow Wagtails, the Grey Wagtails have grey upperparts. The underparts is white in non breeding plumage but turns yellow in breeding plumage. The male has a diagnostic black throat and breast. The vent is yellow throughout. Behaviourally, this wagtail prefers to hang around streams and drains, with fast moving shallow water, in contrast to the Yellow Wagtails that are more land based.
So in order to see them, one has to check streams, ponds, drains and canals. Since they tend to come back to the same place year after year, they can be quite easy to track down if one knows about previous season sightings. There is one canal at Bukit Batok West that almost always have 1-2 Grey Wagtails at the right time of the year. Other recent sightings include the small pond in Jurong Lake Garden and the canal just outside of Buona Vista MRT station.
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.