A Short Visit to Jurong Eco Gardens.

20160909_101040

Made a short visit to Jurong Eco Gardens on Friday 8th September to check if any of the migrant flycatchers or shrikes were around. It was rather quiet for most of the morning. Even the usual residents were absent except for four Straw-headed Bulbuls and a pair of Oriental Magpie Robins. At least their melodious song livened up the place.

Magpie Robin at JEG
After so many years, this is the first time I managed to get this pose of the Oriental Magpie Robin. 

So the next best thing to do is to do some butterfly watching even though the Leea indica plants were past their flowering. Luckily the butterflies were out in force even if they are the more common species.

Leea indica
The Leea indicas were all past flowering. Morning dew hanging on the buds of the Leea indica.

The Common Mormons were easy to see, so was a Common Birdwing. The rarer Grey Pansies were chasing each other in the company of the Chocolate Pansies. But the summit was quiet this morning, no signs of the Lesser Harlequins.

Grey Pansy at JEG
Grey Pansy, the rarest of the four species of pansies enjoying the sunshine. Surprised to see a few of them around. 

Two Leopards were flying around the Weeping Willow trees, their host plant, by the side of the pond.

Leopard at its host plant
Leopard at its host plant

Like some alien species, this young shoot of the Elephant Foot Fern.

Elephant foot Yam
Vulnerable Elephant Foot’s Fern.
Commom Mormon at JEG
The Polytes female form of Commom Mormon feeding on the Lantana.

The Traveler’s Palm from Madagascar is not a true palm. It is elegant looking but is out of favor as the base of its fronds trap water for mosquitoes to breed. I found only a small cluster here.

p9092208 Symmetricand colorful patterns of the Travelers Palm

Found several new species of butterflies in the park.

Marina Gardens and Barrage-Birding Hotspots Downtown.

3rd September 2016

Decided to dropped by the Gardens by the Bay this Saturday morning to check out if any other passerine migrants have arrived following Danny Khoo’s report that a Common Kingfisher was seen there on 31st August.

Instead I got this uncommon resident Ruddy-breasted Crake that was moving around the gardens some months back. This shot showed its long toes which are needed to walk on the floating vegetation in the water.

Ruddy-breasted Crake at GBTB
Ruddy-breasted Crake looking for earthworms.

I never get tired shooting sunbirds because you get both the colorful sunbirds and the bright flower. The Brown-throated Sunbird has its own iridescent beauty.

Brown-throated Sunbird at GBTB
The yellow Canna flowers certainly add color to the photo.

Glad to run into Siew Mun who showed me this friendly Laced Woodpecker. How not to take a photo when it was showing it best profile to us. The red crown stripe of the male always made a great photo. This is the only woodpecker that comes down to the ground to forage for food.

Laced Woodpecker Male at GBTB
The male Laced Woodpecker with its red crown stripe. 

Siew Mun sharp eyes picked out this Common Frangetail, a rather large common dragonfly in our parks and gardens. It seems to be eating one of its own after mating. Any dragonfly experts care to comment?

P9031886

I have not photographed a Common Myna for years. I am surprised to see them here by the food court as the White-vented Mynas have driven most of them to the outskirts of the city. This one seem to have a attitude and was giving orders to others.

Common Myna at GBTB
Common Myna at the Food Court.

It was high tide around noon so I decided to swing over to the Marina Barrage to see if there are any visiting terns flying around. Didn’t know that there were Pokemons to catch at the breakwaters.

Didn't know there are Pokemon at the Marina Barrage.
Catching Pokemons at the breakwaters at the Marina Barrage?

A family of Little Terns were still around with the juveniles practicing how to catch fish from the surface of the water.

This sub adult has lost some of its juvenile feathers that gave it the scaly look.

Little Tern Non breeding
Little Tern moutling into non breeding plumage.

Good to see our resident Malaysian Plovers roosting around the barrage after breeding. To be able to see them so close to the city without venturing to Tuas or Changi is a bonus. This female is feeling very at home among the pool of water on the bund.

Malaysian Plover Female at Marina Barrage
Malaysian Plover Female at Marina Barrage.

Gardens by the Bay is becoming an oasis for migrants based on the many that dropped by last season. It is getting a lot of attention from birders and photographers partly to its accessibility and being right in the center of the CBD. Lets seen which rare migrant will be coming for a visit this season.

Forest Butterflies at our Reservoir Parks

30th August 2016

Butterfly watching is somewhat different from birding but just as absorbing.  For one thing they are smaller and harder to identify in the field. The best part I like about it is not having to wake up at the break of dawn, as the butterflies are active much later in the morning. Lim Kim Keang, veteran birder and a keen butterfly watcher first got me interested in butterflies. On some slow birding days I got a chance to do some butterfly watching with him and also learn from other members of the Butterfly and Insect Group.

Mango Hawk Moth at USR
Mango Hawk Moth, about half the size of my palm, found by Yong Yik Shih

Recently I was fascinated with the forest butterflies that were seen at our reservoir parks. Some of the rarer ones are found at the host plants inside the forests, which is not very accessible. But they will move out when the plants along the forest edges flower.

Humming Bird Moth at USR
I have been always wanting to get this Humming Bird Moth on my sensors. They were also attracted to the nectar of the Sycygium flowers.

Early this month a row of Syzygium spp at the Upper Seletar Reservoir Park bloomed. I was lucky to see a proliferation of rare Awls, Snow Flats and Skippers that were not normally seen outside the forests. To top it all we had a rare mango moth to end the season. I had a total of eleven lifers thanks to the help from so many butterfly experts I met there. Here are some of the butterflies and insects we managed to get on our sensors during those few mornings.

Robberfly at USR
This Robber fFy was found inside the trails of the Seletar Forest.

 

Common Snow Flat at USR
Common Snow Flat is a sun loving butterfly and likes to bask with opened wings
Brown Awl at USR
Brown Awls were out in force on all the days when we were there.
Ultra Snow Flat at USR
You can only see small white specks zipping around. They are the Snow Flats. The Ultra has more markings at the base of the hind wings.
Malay Lascar at USR
Malayan Lascar is very similar to the Common Lascar but are less common. Do comes down to the ground to feed.
Tree Flitter at USR
Tree Flitter, a small skipper is not easily seen. Spotted by Chan Yiu Nam.
Pale Mottle at USR
Pale Mottle likes underside of leaves that are infested with Asphids. Like the ants they are attracted to the secretions of the Asphids.
Common Posy at USR
Common Posy looks like the Branded Imperial but has more black Stripes on its hind wings. Often returns to the same sun lit spot. 
Darky Plushblue at USR
Darky Plushblue was the rarest butt seen during the past few days, thanks to the Kim Keang’s sharp eyes 
Cruiser at USR
A low perspective of a uncommon Cruiser. Loves to feed on excrement and dead animals.
Hoary Palmer at USR
This fairly large Skipper, the Hoary Palmer was really friendly and stayed around for all of us to get our shots. The heighten White hind wings are good id features.

P8170768

The Purple Duke is the only butterfly in its genus found here and Malaysia. When disturbed it will zipped away and hide at the underside of leaves with folded wings.

Male Form Gardineri Baron
Unfortunately this is not the White-tipped Baron that Lena Chow saw the day before. It is a male Form Gardineri Baron.
Malayan Snow Flat
Malayan Snow Flat is rarer than the look alike Ultra. This was pointed out to me by by Khew Sin Khoon.
White Banded Awl
The White Banded Awl should have a more colorful name. When the hind wings catch the sunlight, you can see the purplish sheen on it like in this photo.

 

Acknowledgement: I like to thank Lim Kim Keang, Khew Sin Khoon, Yong Yik Shih, Lena Chow and Chan Yiu Nam for showing me these butterflies and how to identify them. 

Reference: A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore. Gan Cheong Weei and Simon Chan. A Guide to the Common Butterflies of Singapore. Steven Neo. Butterfly Circle Butterflies Checklist.

National Day Ramble

Went for a morning ramble to the Peirce Reservoirs with my wife this National Day. It was quiet at the Lower Peirce Boardwalk with a few families out enjoying the nature. But the old Thompson was pretty crowded. Long Tailed Macaques were lining up by the side of the road waiting for handouts from the stream of cars passing by.

P8090567-002

Good to see they were wearing the national colors to celebrate the nation’s birthday at the Lower Peirce Boardwalk.

P8090634-001

This pair of GRT Drongo siblings were still unsure about themselves. They were looking around for their parents and kept calling out to be fed.

Slender Squirrel at LPR
The Slender Squirrel stays close to the Central forests

This Slender Squirrel was moving up and down the trunk of this tree rubbing its face on the bark. I think it is leaving its scent on this tree to mark its territory.

Suffused Flash at UPR
Suffused Flash 

Over at the Upper Peirce Reservoir, I found a rare butterfly, the Suffused Flash, the best catch of the day. There were no flowering plants around and it stayed on the same leaf for a long time. This forest butterfly can be found at the Upper Seletar Reservoir as well.

Scarlet Backed Flowerpecker at UPR
Scarlet Backed Flowerpecker 

A small bush behind the toilet has a parasite plant growing on it. The Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers love the berries of this plant. This male was at eye level and presented a great side profile for me to shoot. Earlier I saw another Flowerpecker, a juvenile Orange-bellied inside the Lower Peirce Forest.

 

Little Terns at the Marina Barrage.

Breakwater at Marina Barrage
Very disciplined shooting session at the breakwaters by the Marina Barrage. Nature next to the CBD.

I think that the breakwaters by the side of the Marina Barrage was built to prevent erosion of the beach fronting the barrage. But it turned out to be a great place to study the post breeding behavior of families of the Little Terns, Sternula albifrons. Besides the Black-naped Terns, Sterna sumatrana, the Little Tern is the only other tern that breeds in Singapore, although we had some sporadic records of the Bridled Terns, Onychoprion anaethetus, breeding at Horsburgh Lighthouse.

Coming in to land.
Frontal flying shots will not be possible without knowing where they will land.
Fluffing up is part of preening to keep the feathers healhty
Preening and fluffing to keep their feathers healthy

Since early July, a few adult terns were using the breakwaters to teach their juveniles flying and survival skills of catching fish in the open waters. As the juveniles are not able to fly for long periods, the breakwaters is a convenient place for them to come in for a rest.

Dinner time.
Parent terns were able to demonstrate the art of catching small fishes to the juveniles near the breakwaters.

At first the parents will bring back the fish for the juveniles and then gradually entice the juveniles to follow them out to fish at sea. The parent birds will catch the small fishes and dropped them back to the water for the juveniles to practise fishing . By the end of July, a few older juveniles were seen fishing on their own having mastered the art of finding and catching the small fishes from the parents.

The juveniles under the watchful eyes of the adult
The juveniles practise flying at the breakwaters under the watchful eyes of the adult

Unlike the period before the chicks fledged, the parent terns at the breakwaters were very tolerant of intruders. They allowed the photographers to come close knowing that the juveniles were able to fend for themselves. Those of us that tried shooting the young chicks at the open grasslands will tell you the ferocity of the adult terns dive bombing every intruder including House Crows that get too near to their chicks.

Stop showing off.
Showing off landing to its siblings much to the delight of the parent on the right.

This in turn allow us to get some stunning photos of these terns in flight, fishing, feeding preening and fighting for food in a natural surrounding. This will not be possible if not for this breakwaters which is just outside the CBD.

Last feed for the juveniles
Parent tern still hard at work with the last feed for the day

Reference: A Field Guide to the Waterbirds of Asia. 1993 The Wild Bird Society of Japan.

Birding China-Wuyuan

Day 8. 4 June  2016

Wuyuan.

The post-card picture perfect village by the river side.
Wuyaun countryside, quaint villages and scenic river and rolling mountains.

Wuyaun at the north-east of Jiangxi province is a scenic tourist destination fame for its colorful countryside in summer and unique architecture of its houses.  One of the main attractions is rafting down the many serene rivers. This is also our last stop of the trip with a critically endangered Blue-crowned Laughingthrush to tick.

Old village riuns with the unique roofs design in the background
Old village ruins with the unique roofs design in the background. Birding overseas bring us to places like this off the beaten track.
Villagers spent their time outside their homes
Village life is so unhurried. 
Blur-crowned Laughingthrush
Blue-crowned Laughingthrush came out to greet us when we got to the site after walking through the village. I was lucky to get this shot early. The entire population is confined to the mixed forest areas in  Jiangxi
IMG-20160604-WA0035
The woodlands site for the Blue-crowned Laughingthrush . The village headman (with umbrella), the self appointed guardian of this laughingthrush kept asking us to leave even though this is a public place. Part of the reason could be the threat of poaching for the cage bird trade. Out of respect for his age, we left.
Tony led the way through the country path behind the village.
Tony Pang led the bash through the country path behind the village for another chance to see the Elliot’s Pheasant and the Short-tailed Parrotbill. It was great that he came along to help us with the birding. We ticked the  Rufous-capped Babbler, Dusky and Huet’s Fulvettas here. Menxiu tried to find the Long-billed Plover by the riverside for us, but the high water level covered many of the sandbars where they like to rest. 

The Barn Swallows were busy feeding its chicks with crickets. The Red-rumped entire nest is made from mud from the river banks.

Red-rumped Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow returning to its nest to feed its young. They made their nests under the balconies of houses in the countryside.

P6041112

Roof top hide
The nest hole of the Pied Falconet brought a windfall for this hotel. The owners built a hide on the roof top for birders looking for close up eye level shots of this rare falconet. Unfortunately the parent did not move out of the nest and the other did not return during the afternoon when we were there.

 

Light-vented Bulbul with a beetle for its chick.
Common Light-vented Bulbul with a beetle for its chick.
Common butterfly helping to pollinate the cucember plant
Menxiu what is this common butterfly that helps to pollinate the cucumber plant?

Finally it leaves me to thank Menxiu Tong, our guide for his bird knowledge and guiding expertise in getting the target species and ordering great food for us, Alfred and his wife for putting this trip together, birding friends Ju Lin, Ping Ling, Pah Liang for their great company and help and Tony Pang for sharing his knowledge of the local birds with us.

The dish of the trip.
And the best dish of the trip was …. the Steamed Pork Knuckles at Wuyuan.  Menxiu turned out to be quite a foodie and knew the off road family restaurants that served signature dishes. The cook told us that he had to steam this dish for 6 hours before he will serve it. We are still drooling over this dish.

Birding China- Poyang Lake

Day 7. 3 June 2016

Poyang Lake.

Reed beds at Poyang Lake
Reed beds at Poyang Lake, largest fresh water lake in China. The size of the lake varies with the season. During winter, the lake is an important site for the Siberian Cranes and half a million migrant waterbirds.

This was not on our itinerary. But since we ticked the Reeve’s Pheasant on the very first day, our guide Menxiu decided to take a detour to Poyang Lake, China’s largest lake in Jiangxi Province to try for the Marsh Grassbird, which we dipped. It meant that he had to go down to the train station to change our train tickets, re-book our hotels and organise a coach to take us there. We are most grateful to Menxiu for doing his best to maximise our birding.

Birding at Poyang Lake with the Visitor's Center on the left
Birding at Poyang Lake with the Visitor’s Center on the left. Six Cotton Pygmy Goose were resting on the roof of the Visitor Center.

 

P6030739
We were looking for the Cotton Pygmy Goose on the water but Menxiu found them perched on top of the Visitor’s Center  instead.

 

P6030913
This happens in the summer when the lake overflows and made it impassable even for vehicles. We all had to bash through the tall reeds to get back to our car.

 

Whiskered Tern in breeding plumage back at its nesting grounds
Whiskered Tern in breeding plumage back at its nesting grounds
Yabbies from Poyang Lake
Fishing at the lake has since been banned but this did not stop the locals from catching Yabbies.
Cotton Pygmy Goose
Cotton Pygmy Goose on a dreary day. Not that common here.

Next: Wuyuan.