Alfred Chia and I started bird watching around the same time in the late 80s. We have flushed many quails and button quails at the Simpang, Punggol and Marina East grasslands to make this an easy tick. But truth be told, we never made it. They were just too fast for us to pick out the field markings. That was until early this week when Alfred saw a family of four King Quails, Colurnix chinensis, running across a clearing at an open grassland at Punggol Barat. He got his lifer after 25 years of trying.
I could not pass up this opportunity and drove down the very next day. I got my tick very late in the evening when a male made a split second dash across the path. News came in from the photographers that there were up to seven birds roosting inside the tall lallang patch. Some managed to get fleeting shots of them which were be the first set of photographs of this secretive resident taken in Singapore. So the hunt is on for the first open view and photo of this highly sought after species.
Getting comfortable under the hot sun (top). Friends waiting for the quails to appear.
I came prepared for the long wait under the sun the following afternoon. I brought a flower pot base, fill it with water and left it out hoping that they will take a bath. But it rained the night before, so it was not such a clever idea after all.
At about 4.30 pm, a female walk across the path. Alan Ng, Shunda Lee and I were caught out and did not take any shots. A male followed. It dashed across the opening. All we got was a glimpse. Now we were on full alert. Within minutes I saw some movement below the nearest grass bush. Another male walked out slowly this time round picking up and eating the bird seeds left by others. We could not believe our luck. The clicking was fast and furious and all of us got all the photos we came for in that three seconds or so. We were smiling and all the sweating under the hot sun was soon forgotten. We got our prized lifer.
It is the first species in our checklist formally listed as Blue-breasted Quail. An uncommon resident found in semi dry grasslands, scrubs and reclaimed land all over the island. But because of its secretive habit of hiding in thick grassy patches, it is difficult to see them. One is more likely to flush them only to see them flying away for a short distance before dropping down to another grassy patch. It has a wide range from South and South-East Asia to the East Asia, Greater Sundas, Philippines and down to Australia.
Source: The Avifauna of Singapore 2009. Lim Kim Seng. Many thanks to Alfred Chia, Francis Yap, Alan Ng, Frankie Lim, Con Foley, Joaquim Aw and Eric Tan for their help.