In early 1997 a group of us (Alfred Chia, Kenneth Kee and others) trudged up Bukit Timah Hill at night to looked for the Barred Eagle Owl (Bubo sumatranus). This was my first attempt to try to see this rare owl which was believed to be resident in Singapore. Our attempts was a follow up to a record of an individual heard and seen close to the summit on November 1996 (Peter R. Kennerley in litt,1996)). Looking for owls at night with hand torches was not the most effective way of locating birds. We can only hope that it called, which would then lead us to its perch. It was not to be.
The Barred Eagle Owl was a former resident that was thought to have gone extinct (Lim K.S. 1992i). We received several reports of possibly the same owl at the Nee Soon Swamp forest from 1998 to 2008. It was placed in Category B for wild birds that were not recorded in the last 50 years. It has since been upgraded to Cat A based on a definitive record by Marcus Chua who photographed it on 17 Jan 2009 on Pulau Ubin (Lim K.S.).
On 11 Feb 2012, another group comprising of Alfred Chia, Albert Low, Lim Kim Keang, Lim Kim Chuah, Lim Kim Seng, Yong Ding Li and myself mounted a night owl hunt to the western part of Pulau Ubin to find the Brown Wood Owl ( Strix leptogrammica) and the Barred Eagle Owl. We had then received reports that students from the National University of Singapore photographed the Barred Eagle Owl near to the Outward Bound School area a few weeks back. Bashing around the forest in the dark without hearing any owl calls was frustrating to say the least. Another failure! (Although Kim Keang, Kim Chuah and I managed to see the Brown Wood Owl and its chick a few months earlier, thanks to Robert Teo’s alert).
In mid-January 2013, Anna Deasley with a British bird group videoed (Link) a Barred Eagle Owl in the daytime at the Central Catchment Forest near to the Tree Top Walk. This was followed shortly by a sighting by Yong Ding Li and others during a survey for mammals in the reserve two weeks later. Nevertheless, we had to go and check it out. It was like looking for a needle in the haystack. Another TKO!
Barred Eagle Owl along the Summit Path by Lee Li Er in 2014. She reported that the Drongos were seen attacking the owl as well.
Presently, the Bukit Timah Nature Reserves is partly closed for upgrading works but we were aware of sporadic reports of weekend visitors seeing a large owl, probably the Barred Eagle Owl, near the Visitors Center. On 30 March 2014, Lee Li Er and her husband were trekking up the summit path at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve when they heard the Greater Racket-tailed Drongos dive bombing a large owl. They did not realised at that time it was the rare Barred Eagle Owl. But it was not until a post by Kennie Pan on 8th Dec 2015 that the hunt for this elusive owl was over for many of the birders here. See Toh Wai Yew rushed down that late evening and found the owl perched high up inside the boarded area. Co-incidentally he also reported that the Drongos were attacking the owl as well. By an unfortunate twist of fate, I was taking to my grandson to the Clique de Soliel show “Totem” that same evening, and had to grind my teeth at this missed opportunity. Those who went down were rewarded with some decent shots. I went down first thing the next morning hoping that it will be using the same tree as a daytime roost. You got it. The guard told me that the owl has gone. Just like that, my fifth dip. This was a hard one to swallow. So close and yet so far away.
I was working on the Singapore Birds App at home on a late afternoon on 12 Jan 2016 when a message from See Toh Yew Wai popped up on my screen.”BEO at btnr same tree now“. I almost fell off my chair. This time, I tried not to drive beyond the sound barrier to get there as quickly as possible. See Toh had his lens pointed at a dark brown shape perched high up in the tree when I got there. At last, I was actually looking at a Barred Eagle Owl in Singapore. See Toh told me that he was about to go to the Hindhede Park side to check but decided to take a look at the same tree. He could not believe his eyes when he found the owl perched at almost the same position as the last sighting. The bonus is that I completed my owl list for Singapore with this sighting, thanks to See Toh’s prompt alert.
Ref: The Avifauna of Singapore. Lim Kim Seng. 2009. The Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia. Craig Robson 2000. Thanks for the additional information and editing from Yong Ding Li.