Category Archives: Habitat

Around the Mulberry Bush

“Here we go around the Mulberry Bush

The Mulberry Bush, the Mulberry Bush,

Here we go around the Mulberry Bush

So early in the morning”  A Children’s Song.

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Morning shooting session around the White Mulberry Tree at Dairy Farm Nature Park. 

It is more than a Mulberry Bush at the Dairy Farm Nature Park that is attracting many of the frugivorous birds for the past two months. It is the White Mulberry Tree, Morus alba, a native of China. It is a fast growing tree cultivated in China for its leaves to feed the silk worms. It has adapted to the tropics turning into an evergreen here. It soft berries are sweet but bland and a favorite with the flowerpeckers and starlings.

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A female Asian Fairy Bluebird bending over for a ripe berry.

Over the months more than a dozen forest, woodlands and garden species have been seen feeding on the fruits of this tree.  Even some generalists like the leafbirds and fairy bluebirds were attracted to the white berries.

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A juvenile Greater Green Leafbird, a generalist likes the sweet berries as well.

So far four species of bulbuls have been photographed feeding on the berries on this tree. The Yellow-vented, Cream-vented, Olive-winged and Black-crested. Both the Blue-winged and Greater Green Leafbirds were frequent visitors, but no signs of the rarer Lesser Green Leafbird.

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A bit of the habitat shot of the White Mulberry attracting the garden and parkland Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker.

Both the Orange-bellied and Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers were the regular feeders on the soft white berries. The former would more often or not chased the intruding Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers away. They will pass out the seeds some else where and help to propagate this tree.

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The forest specialist Orange-bellied Flowerpecker is more aggressive of the two, often chasing away the Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker for intruding into its habitat.

The more common species like the Javan Mynas, Pink-necked Pigeons and Black-naped Orioles did not seem to like the berries as much as the figs that is available elsewhere in the park, but they will still fly in for a bite or two. I have yet to see barbets or squirrels feeding on them. The Long-tailed Macaques did seem interested at all.

For the photographers the tree’s small size and the low branches offered perfect opportunity and easier shooting of some of the less common forest birds.

Reference: 

Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore) 2009                            Yong Ding Li, Lim Kim Chuah and Lee Tiah Khee. A Naturalist’s Guide to the Birds of Singapore. John Beaufoy Publishing 2013.

 

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Nesting Nightjars – Changing color of plumage for protection?

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Photo 1. The Large-tailed Nightjar can hide from predators by keeping still under cover from the weeds and grasses.

Ground nesting birds are always at the mercy of terrestrial and aerial predators. The Large-tailed Nightjar, Caprimulgus macrurus, is no exception. They lay their eggs on dry leaves on the ground often in some quiet open waste land. Lucy Davis flushed a nightjar from its nest accidentally while taking a walk at her Wessex Estate last week. I had a hard time trying to find it yesterday as it was sitting quietly in a small depression surrounded by grasses and weeds (photo above). Only its head is visible. You can be a few feet away and yet will not see it.

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It chose to nest among the dead leaves on the ground and changed it plumage color from dark brown to light brown to match the lighter color of the leaves. ( Original photo without toning or coloring). Photo 2.

Another strategy is to blend in to the immediate surroundings. In this case the nightjar chose to nest amidst the dead leaves on the ground as its normal dark brown plumage will make it look less noticeable. For any predators looking from above, it is almost impossible to pick it out among the carpet of dead leaves. But something does not look right.

P1292815This is a roosting nightjar I took at the Botanic Gardens last year (left). This is its usual color which is dark brown like most of the nightjars I seen in the field. Now take a look back at the one Lucy found ( Photo 2). It has a lighter brown plumage to match the color of the dead leaves to blend in better. Somehow this nightjar managed to change its plumage color to match that of the fallen leaves. This is something I have not come across before. Do the birds have this ability to change their plumage to that of the surroundings for camouflage like a Chameleon? Your comments are most welcome.

Singapore Wild Places.

Channel News Asia will be screening the much anticipated “Wild City” this coming Sunday as part of the SG50 Celebrations. I for one am looking forward to watching it and hearing the voice of nature of Sir David Attenborough. Some of you may remember HSBC’s three part series “Nature in Singapore” way back. Lets see how much have changed. I do not have the resources of CNA but I have collected over years of birding around Singapore images of wild places which I would like to share. Try not to read the captions and see if you can name the places. If you can get more than 10 correct, give yourself a pat on the back. 

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     This can be from any of our abandoned woodlands, so it is not fair for you to guess. This was taken inside Khatib Bongsu before it was declared a restricted area. We went there to document the nesting of the Grey-headed Fish Eagle which at that time was confined to forested areas like Khatib Bongsu.

Marshes at Sime Road Forest

This one should be easy. The fresh water marsh at the edge of MacRitchie Reservoir next to the SICC golf course. This was the place to see the rare resident Black-headed Bulbul in 2012.

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The edges of our reservoirs are very accessible and well connected by a series of boardwalks. An inlet at the MacRitchie Reservoir (top) and the boardwalk leading to the inlet. All of our four resident owls call this place home.

Ketam QuarryHindhede Quarry

The main quarries are at the Bukit Timah area and Pulau Ubin. They are too deep for water fowls but the surrounding forest hosts Kingfishers, Straw-headed Bulbuls and Pied Fantails. Ketam Quarry (top) and Hindhede Quarry looking down from Bukit Timah Hill.

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The Lorong Halus Grebe Ponds. These ponds trapped and cleaned the water flowing out from the old rubbish dump site before it gets into the Serangoon River. The nationally threatened Little Grebe has been recorded breeding at both ponds. A new highway will be built across the end of the old pond (top). What will it do to our last stronghold of the Little Grebe is anyone’s guess. 

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Fresh water wetlands are the most diverse habitats in Singapore and at the same time the most threatened. Kranji Marshes is one of our last remaining wetlands where Purple Swamphens and Common Moorhens can still be found. Thankfully NParks is clearing up the vegetation to open up more ponds to attract ducks and water birds back to the area.

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Two very different Longkangs. The Bishan Park stream (top) is now frequented by herons and crakes after it was de-concretised. The untouched canal at Farmway 3 (bottom) is more natural and attracts Pond Herons and the rare migrating Black-capped Kingfisher. Lets start a “Save our Longkang” campaign?

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You will not be seeing longkangs like this in a few years time. This scene does not look like it is in Singapore but if you drive into Lorong Halus it is on your left. So where is this uncle going to do his fishing? 

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Last year’s drought has turned the banks of Serangoon Reservoir brown. But the grassland species like the Yellow-bellied Prinias and Baya Weavers have no problems surviving the drought. 

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The deserted coast of the Changi reclaimed land (top) is off limits as the 3rd runway and the 5th terminal will be built here. The only place where the “White-faced” Plovers can be found. The mud flats by the side of Seletar Dam are used by Lesser Sand Plovers and even the rare Oriental Plover as their refueling stop. Soon the old jetties will give way to coastal development. Another great wader location gone?

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Forest streams have to be kept pristine for birds like the Blue-eared Kingfishers which depend on the native fishes for food. The Trans Island Line will destroy the ecology of the Venus Loop Stream (bottom) if build. Another forest stream at the Kampong Chantek forest (top).

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The estuary on the top is taken at the reclaimed land at Changi, a place we dubbed Changi Cove. Mostly sandy and ideal for habitat for shore birds. An estuarine mangrove at the Belayer Creek (bottom) where occasionally the Great-billed Herons come to forage at low tides. Eleven species of Mangroves have been recorded in this small creek.

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I have to include the soon to be developed old Muslim Cemetery “Bidadari” in our wild places as this is our top migrant location for the past years. This woodland is not just for bird watchers as artists come to paint the greenery before it is gone. A 10 hectare park will be incorporated into the development but it will not be able to stop the loss of biodiversity.

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Another cemetery that may go is Bukit Brown, the largest Chinese cemetery outside China. A 8 lane highway will cut across the western part and many of the graves have to be exhumed. The Nature Society (Singapore) and the Heritage Society were fighting a lost battle to stop the building of the highway. The whole cemetery is slated for housing after 2020. We will keep up the fight for Bukit Brown.

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The “canopy walkway” at Kent Ridge Park looks into an open grassland of Alexander Park and Npark’s plant nursery. The vista is spectacular with Tanimbar Corellas and Cockatoos making noisy fly pass now and then. Good place to watch raptors as well.

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The black and white colonial bungalows at Alexander (top) and Portsdown Road are surrounded by lush greenery and old growth. Close to 100 species of birds some rare has been recorded at Portsdown Road and One-north. The hill forests of Mount Faber (bottom) is untouched by development as yet. Our uncommon resident Changeable Hawk Eagle is nesting here on a regular basis.

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The green corridor (top) runs through the spine of the island. As a wildlife connector it is god send and presents us with a once in a life time opportunity to create something unique. The Belakar Trail (bottom) skirts the Bukit Timah Nature Reserves. On the other side is the BKE. The Ecolink starts near the top of the trail and hopefully reconnects the wildlife between Central Catchment Forest with BTNR.

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I will end the tour with photos of Casuarina forest and grassland growing wild at the sandy reclaimed land at Changi Cove. They will be cut down and cleared. Aeroplanes will be landing here in the future. I am glad that we were able to enjoy its beauty and wildlife while it was around. Thank you all for your viewing and I hope that you will be able to visit these places soon.