All posts by Alan OwYong

About Alan OwYong

Retiree birder and photographer.

Snakes Alive! at Singapore Quarry.

Birding can be rewarding even if the target birds do not show. Last Sunday evening 12 August, I went down to look for the Barred Eagle Owl that was seen by the road leading to the Singapore Quarry. Most fortunate to bump into Geri Lim who was looking for Wagler’s Pit Viper further up the road.

Pit Wranger Male Singapore Quarry

It turned out to be a male, about a foot long, curled up among the leaves of the “toilet paper tree”. The green color blends in well with the tree making it hard to find. According to Serin Subaraj this is an adult which is much smaller than the females. They are nocturnal, arboreal, venomous and can stay in the same place for days waiting for its prey.

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Coincidently, there was another Wagler’s Pit Viper further down the other end of the road. This was a much longer and larger black and yellow female,  It has been here for days, resting on a thin branch about 2 meters up. It may have eaten a rat or some small prey from the look of its bulging belly.  Mostly found in matured forest in the confines of CCNR, with frequent sightings at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

Walking back with Lim Kim Keang and Veronica Foo, we were taken back a bit when a 2 meter greyish brown snake slide across the road right in front of us. It has a cobra like head but a pretty net-patterned tail. Serin Subaraj identified it as a Keeled Rat Snake, a uncommon non-venomous, diurnal and terrestrial forest inhabitant.

Racer Singapore Quarry

By now, we were feeling rather chaffed, seeing two great snakes within minutes. I told them that that the chances of seeing a third snake this evening will be like striking 4D. As we walked further down, we heard a ruckus coming from one side of the road. Then we saw two very agitated squirrels and an Olive-winged Bulbul scrambling around and calling frantically. We knew that this unusual behavior meant that another snake was around.

Sure enough a snake slide out of the grasses on to the road. It is about 2 meter long, all green except for a reddish-brown tail. Kim Keang identified it as a Red-tailed Racer, an arboreal non venomous snake that can be found in our central forest. It hunts in the day and takes birds and small mammals.

Red-tailed Racer Singapore Quarry

This is the first time I came across three snakes within minutes of each other and outside of the central forest as well. Could the current hot weather be driving them out into the open urban surrounding? This may also explain why the Barred Eagle Owls breed here where their prey are plentiful.

Reference: Nick Baker & Kevin Lim. Wild Animals of Singapore 2008.                        Many thanks to Geri Lim for showing us the Pit Viper.

 

 

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Jungle, Tree and Tit Babblers of Panti.

Cover photo: Logging track into Panti Forest Reserve just before the dip with Gunung Panti Ridge in the distance.

Jungle, Tree and Tit Babblers of Panti.

“Babblers are the most infuriating group of birds to shoot”, Morten Strange, retired professional bird photographer once told us. We cannot agree more. They are sulking, confining and always on the move inside the dark under storey. You hear them calling more often than you will see them. Getting a good look was enough to make your day. You will need persistence, quick fingers and lots of luck to get decent photographs of these lowland forest babblers.

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Much easier to zoom in on the birds at Panti’s sparsely wooded second clearing with from left Milton Tan, Alfred Chia, Veronica Foo, Patricia Tiang, Jimmy Chew and the author. Photo: Lim Kim Keang.

The lowland rainforest of Johor has 20 species of these Babblers. (See list below). You can find all of them at the Gunung Panti Forest Reserve. Some of the more common ones like the Black-capped and Chestnut-winged Babbler are more conspicuous and vocal, while others like the Grey-breasted are rare. They are mostly insectivorous, moves in family groups and non migratory. Forest fragmentation is a threat.

I was lucky during some of my recent visits to find a few either having a bath in the open, nesting building, feeding its chicks or popping out in the open for a split second. Here are some record images of them.

Chestnut-winged Babbler with nest material

This pair of Chestnut-winged Babblers were busy gathering leaves to build their nest and did not care too much about our presence. We have a small vulnerable population in our Central Catchment Forest and they are not so easily seen.

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We found this Fluffy-backed Tit-babbler bringing back food for its chick. Even so they were very cautious and we had to stayed at a distance before they will feed the chick.

Black-throated Babbler

On hot mornings, the Black-throated Babblers cannot resist a dip in the puddles of water at the quiet tracks. Inside the undergrowth, it is hard to get the sheen of their plumage.

Black-capped Babbler

The Black-capped Babbler is one of the most vocal and common babblers in Panti. Still it is not easy to see them as they prefer to stay inside the forest. Best is to wait for them to fly out into the open and hope to snap it in the split second.

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The Horsfield’s Babbler resembles the Abbott’s Babbler except for the faint streaks on its breast. Theirs were the first calls you used to hear as part of the dawn chorus at the first clearing. Unfortunately they have moved further in and are hard to find these days.

Rufous-crowned Babbler

Rufous-crowned Babblers are very jumpy and prefer to stay inside the dark mid storey. Light is always a premium for getting any good shots. Looks similar to the Scaly-crowned Babbler except for the grey legs.

White-chested Babbler

The White-chested Babblers inhabit the freshwater swamps of the lowland forests. Uncommon in Panti so great to have this record shot. It is very rare on mainland Singapore, last seen and heard in the early 2000s.

Reference: Graig Robson. The Field Guide Birds of Thailand and South East Asia. Lim Kim Seng and Lim Kim Chuah. Pocket Checklist of the Birds of Johore, Peninsular Malaysia. My thanks to Lim Kim Keang, Alfred Chia, Jimmy Chew, Veronica Foo, Milton Tan, Thio Hui Bing, Patricia Tiang, Luke Teo and Timothy Liew for their great company and help during these trips. 

  1. White-chested Babbler
  2. Ferruginous Babbler
  3. Abbott’s Babbler
  4. Horsfield’s Babbler
  5. Short-tailed Babbler
  6. Black-capped Babbler
  7. Moustached Babbler
  8. Sooty-capped Babbler
  9. Scaly-crowned Babbler
  10. Rufous-crowned Babbler
  11. Grey-breasted Babbler
  12.  Rufous-fronted Babbler
  13. Grey-throated Babbler
  14. Grey-headed Babbler
  15. White-necked Babbler
  16. Black-throated Babbler
  17. Chestnut-rumped Babbler
  18.  Chestnut-winged Babbler
  19. Pin-striped Tit-babbler
  20. Fluffy-backed Tit-babbler

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “Little Brown Jobs” of Panti Forest.

Not all forest birds are as colorful as the Trogons or Barbets. Some are just plain and drab looking and obviously does not attract the same attention from bird photographers.  I would like to highlight a few of these under the radar “Little Brown Jobs” that we photographed at Panti Forest last month.

Grey-breasted Spiderhunter

The Grey-breasted Spiderhunter is one of the rarer spiderhunters at Panti. It has a all grey underside with faint streaks. The eye-rings are absent. Usually found sipping nectar from flowering trees by the roadside, they also has shorter bills. Was a former resident in Singapore.

Plain Sunbird

The Plain Sunbird is a very rare resident of Singapore with the last confirmed record on 25 January 1986 when a male was seen at Senoko. There were unconfirmed reports from CCNR and Rifle Range Road in 1998 and 2006. This is another species that is attracted to certain blooms in the forest. The male can be identified by the small bluish patch on its forehead.

Buff-vented Bulbul

The Buff-vented Bulbul is another very rare resident of Singapore. All the sightings so far were from Bukit Timah NR. Best chance of finding this bulbul is when the ficus tree at the summit is fruiting. They are common at Panti especially along the “old road” feeding on the berries and figs there.

Spectacled Bulbul.

 

It could be the low numbers why this Spectacled Bulbul went extinct in Singapore while the Red-eyed and Cream-vented Bulbuls survive today. With a healthy population in Panti, there is always a chance they will make a comeback. The orange eye-ring is a good id feature for this bulbul.

Reference: Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore) 2009. Craig Robson. A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia. Asia Books Co. Ltd

 

Sentosa’s Undersea Wonderland.

Sentosa’s Undersea Wonderland.

I did not know that there are sea spiders in our waters until I saw Lena Chow’s post. I decided to swap my birding trip for some beachcombing at Sentosa last Sunday to look for them. We had a super low tide that weekend. Large expanse of the seabed was exposed. Corals, sponges and trapped marine life were left high and dry. Perfect time to see them without getting wet.

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Great to see some patches of Taped Sea Grasses growing here. Labrador at the background with Pasir Panjang Container Port in the distance.

Unfortunately I did not find any sea spiders. I was told that they are really small and hard to find. But this was well compensated with other weird and wonderful marine creatures like this Brittle Star found in a tidal pool.

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Brittle Star. ID welcome.

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In the same tidal pool was a pair of mating Common Sea Stars pointed out to me by Lena. They were moving around during the whole mating session.

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This Goby has a red forehead but despite of this feature I cannot find the species.

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A stranded False Clown Fish on a carpet anemone taking the risk of getting dried out.

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Stone or Thunder Crab trying to hide and blend into the surroundings. 

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This medium size Hairy Crab is common here. Its color and appearance made it hard to detect if it stays still.

Orange Fanworms have to adapt to surviving out of the water at least for a few hours.

Soft corals and sponges make up the diverse forms of marine life here. They come in different shapes, forms and sizes.

Leathery Soft Coral

Jabba the Hut, a character in Star Wars must have been inspired by this huge Soft Leathery Coral. According to Lena this particular one has been at the spot since she started exploring here exploring this beach many years back. She likened it to pig-skin.

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This another soft coral, the Broad Leathery Soft Coral. It has only one type of polyp ending in eight tentacles. The whole coral has an overall blue tinge.

These are all Silvery Blue Sponge at different stages of growth. The left clump looks like a staghorn fern 

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This is a Barrel Sponge even though it feels hard to the touch.

Hard corals are more easily recognised.

Thin Disk Coral

The Thin Dish Coral has many different shapes, this one looking like a cup.

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Jigsaw Mazed Coral has this intricate ridged patterns on its round surface.

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The Hexagonal Favid Coral is of the same size and shape as a rock melon.

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Haddon’s Carpet Anemone greenish color made it attractive to collectors.

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The Giant Carpet Anemone on the other hand has an abstract feel to it.

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Adding colour to the seafloor is this Halymenia Red Seaweed.

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Not able to find any references for this sea plant in the sea weeds and sea grasses indexes.

Reference: Ria Tan’s WildSingapore Fact Sheet on Marine and Seashore Life.

 

 

 

Southern Ridges – A Bird’s Eye View

Southern Ridges from the Air.

Today the Jiak Hong Birder takes you up in the air for a bird’s eye view of the Southern Ridges, more precisely the Forest Walk section from Gillman Barracks to Telok Blangah Hill. These photos were taken with the Samsung 5 handphone.  The lucky residents of the apartments facing the Southern Ridges get to enjoy these million dollar views everyday. And what a view! I listed some of the birds that were reported at this part of the Ridges as a footnote. Be free to add in any that I missed out.

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Forest canopy walkway with the blocks of Telok Blangah HDB apartments in the background.

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Lush canopy of the Albizias trees where the Changeable Hawk Eagles and Parakeets roost. Below is where a pair of Red-billed Blue Magpies nested earlier this year. This part of the forest is the most productive for bird watching.

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Looking west towards Kent Ridge Park in the distance with Gillman Heights in the foreground and Depot Road in between.

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Is this a clump of Nibong used for the construction of Kelongs?

1-20180512_115148Looking north with the twin telecom towers of Bukit Timah Hill in the distance and the stacked Interlace Condominium on the left.

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This tree is in bloom along the canopy walkway. The flowers are growing from along the stem of the leaf. Anyone knows the name? (PS Pianggu. Horsefieldia irya id by Sg Beachbum)

Bird List reported along the forest walkway:

  1. Red Jungle Fowl
  2. Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker
  3. Rufous Woodpecker
  4. Banded Woodpecker
  5. Laced Woodpecker
  6. Common Flameback
  7. Lineated Barbet
  8. Coppersmith Barbet
  9. Oriental Pied Hornbill
  10. Asian Dollarbird
  11. White-throated Kingfisher
  12. Collared Kingfisher
  13. Blue-tailed Bee-eater
  14. Blue-throated Bee-eater
  15. Asian Koel
  16. Greater Coucal
  17. Coconut Lorikeet
  18. Tanimbar Corella
  19. Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot
  20. Rose-ringed Parakeet
  21. Red-breasted Parakeet
  22. Long-tailed Parakeet
  23. Swiftlet Spp
  24. Spotted Dove
  25. Zebra Dove
  26. Common Rock Pigeon (Ah Huay)
  27. Pink-necked Pigeon
  28. Pied Imperial Pigeon
  29. White-breasted Waterhen
  30. Slaty-breasted Crake
  31. Black Baza
  32. Crested Honey Buzzard
  33. Brahminy Kite
  34. White-bellied Sea-eagle
  35. Golden-bellied Gerygone
  36. Tiger Shrike
  37. Brown Shrike
  38. House Crow
  39. Large-billed Crow
  40. Black-naped Oriole
  41. Pied Triller
  42. Violet Cuckoo ( Keita Sin)
  43. Ashy Minivet
  44. GRT Drongo
  45. Common Iora
  46. Asian Brown Flycatcher
  47. Asian Glossy Starling
  48. Common Myna
  49. Javan Myna
  50. Common Hill Myna
  51. House Swift (Ah Huay)
  52. Grey-rumped Treeswift ( Keita Sin)
  53. Barn Swallow
  54. Pacific Swallow
  55. Yellow-vented Bulbul
  56. Olive-winged Bulbul
  57. White-rumped Shama ( Ah Huay)
  58. Common Tailorbird
  59. Dark-necked Tailorbird
  60. Oriental White-eyes ( Ah Huay)
  61. Arctic Warbler
  62. White-crested Laughingthrush
  63. Pin Striped Tit-babbler
  64. Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
  65. Brown-throated Sunbird
  66. Olive-backed Sunbird
  67. Crimson Sunbird
  68. Eurasian Tree Sparrow
  69. Scaly-breasted Munia

The Critters of Dairy Farm NP

Joined my friends for a walk at Dairy Farm NP this Sunday morning after hearing of a sighting of the Black-crested Bulbul there by Geri Lim. But it did not show. A few of us had brief glimpses of the Greater Green Leafbird feeding on the White Mulberry. Other than that it was rather quiet. So we ended up looking for the other creatures at the Park.

Stink Horn Fungi

Thanks to Meilin Khoo for showing us this Stink Horn Fungi growing by the roadside. Unfortunately the sweepers unwittingly broke half of the “skirt”, but it was still a good find. The smell of rotting flesh of the spore head attracts flies and other insects, and they in turn help to disperse the spores.

DFNP

The Nephilengys malabarenis was first found at the Malabar Coast of South India. This particular specimen was spotted by Art Toh hanging under the pile of Tembusu logs at the hilltop at its web. It quickly moved away just as we were trying to get some shots.

DFNP

Assassin Bug lived up to its name. This one found a male Golden Orb Spider. It will inject vernon to kill the prey and then suck out its dissolved remains.

Oriental Whip Snake DFNP

A pair of Oriental Whip Snakes by the Wallace Center provided us with some distraction. This one was moving its head up and I managed to catch a view of its underside. Mildly venomous, it can take small birds like the Pygmy Sunda Woodpecker.

St Andrew's Spider DFNP

St. Andrew’s Cross Spider rest with each pair of legs stretched out forming a cross. They also spin zig-zag whistish webs in the form of an X just where the legs rest like in this photo. Females are larger than the males.

Malay Viscount

A Malay Viscount, a common butterfly at the park looks very similiar to the Horsfield Baron.

Upper Seletar Reservoir Park Surprises

I seldom leave empty handed from visits to the Upper Seletar Reservoir Park. It is also one of the more accessible forest parks in Singapore. You can step right into the forest straight from the carpark. Even during midday, it can be rewarding if you venture into the nooks and crannies, away from the open areas.

The bird activity around this time was poor. Most were resting in the cooler shade inside the forest. But the butterflies loved the sunny day. One of the workers there was photographing this female Great Mormon and was kind enough to alert me. He seems to know his butterflies. Later he showed me hundreds of photos of butterflies and insects taken with his hand phone at the park. He even had a photo of the rare Plane. I was impressed!

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The male Great Mormon had to be the luckiest butterfly around. It had so many forms of females to choose from. This beautiful female is of the esperi form.

The find of the day had to be this 20 cm uncommon Variable Reed Snake. Serin Subaraj told me that reed snakes are like warblers, all of them are very similiar. He identified this by the black bands at the underside near its head, which is absent on the Pink-headed Reed Snake.

Pink-headed Reed Snake USR

The young Variable Reed Snake has a orangy red head which makes it looks like a Blue Coral Snake. According to Ecology Asia it lives in mature forests and is confined to the Central Catchment. It is nocturnal and not known to be venomous. 

Sapphire Flutterer USR

A treehugger hugging a wall, thanks to Lena Chow for the ID. Looks like the Sapphire Flutterer except that it does not have the bright blue on the base of the hind wings. 

USR

Singapore during the time of Raffles was a great place to collect beetles. It is not so easy to find them now unless you know where to look. I don’t and was happy to see this Bess Beetle out in the open. Their pair of antennae has many more smaller antennae. They lives in groups inside rotting logs and stumps. 

Brown Awl USR

Not the most spectacular butterfly this Brown Awl is still a good find as they stay still in the undergrowth.

Clouded Monitor. USR

Ended the day with a lazy Clouded Monitor Lizard out sauntering and sniffing around with its long tongue. These are forest lizards can be separated from the water monitor lizards by the snort position. 

So the next time you visit a forest park in Singapore, take your time to look around. You will never know what is lurking around the corner.