The Trus Madi Conservation Area at the Crocker Range in Sabah is well known among insect and moth lovers as the place to go and see the hundreds of insects of the tropical montane hill forests. The Trus Madi Entomology Camp, better known as the Borneo Girl Jungle Camp was set up in the conservation area primarily to study the insect life there.
Insect screens with special lights to attract the insects were erected at the both sides of a ridge near the camp. On most nights, these screens were swamped with insects, mainly moths of all shapes and sizes, cicadas, beetles, cricket and wasps. April I was told is the peak month.
Every morning the resident Pig-tailed Macaque will make its way to the ridge and pick out the biggest and juiciest cicadas that are still on the screen. It will tear away the wings before biting off its head and then the body. These fruit eating monkeys would not pass off a chance of tasty snack that is rich in proteins as well. We saw some squirrels around but did not see them taking any of the insects.
During the night, another opportunistic raider was on standby. The Barred Eagle-Owl waits patiently at the near-by tree for some of the larger moths and cicadas to fly by before swooping down to pick it up. These insects will supplement their usual diet of rodents and squirrels.
When dawn breaks, the rest of the insectivorous birds would gather at the trees on both side of the ridge to start their day with easy pickings. The Ashy Drongos and the White-throated Fantails will sally out for the smaller flying moths. Flocks of the endemic Chestnut-crested Yuhinas will flush out the rest of the insects for a quick meal. While the Black-bellied Malkohas and the Red-bearded Bee-eaters wait for the larger ones. Even the small tailorbirds were able to pick and choose their food from the buffet in front of them.
This feasting must be a ritual for these birds every morning. Free and easy food in the cool montane air. For the bird watchers and photographers, it is an opportunity not to be missed.
With Wilson Leung, Theresa Ng and David Tseu ( Nature guide).
There is only so much HDD and balcony birding one can do during this CB period. With the release of the 2020 edition of the Birds of Singapore Checklist, I decided to go through my list of 359 species to date to see how many bird family “grand slams” (of 5 or more species) do I have. If you are doing this as well, do let us know what your “grand slams” are.
A magical place inside CCNR. How insignificant are we? Photo: Glenda Heng.
Not that many as it turned. Only 11 out of a total of 26 families with 5 or more species in it. I was missing the Little Green Pigeon for the 14 Pigeons and Doves Columbidae family. But now with the acceptance of the Oriental Turtle Dove, a national first, it will be that much harder to complete.
I though I have the 12 Rails and Crakes Rallidaefamily done and dusted but found out that the Eurasian Coot, a stray last seen in 1988, is in this family. Arrrrh……
Thanks to Francis Yap:) I “lost” the 13 Bulbuls Pycnontidae family when he photographed the Black and White Bulbul at Jelutong Tower in 2012.
A big thank you and shout out to all my friends, past and present for the timely alerts and help. Many of you will recall the happy memories of when we got these species together. Special mention to all my mentors and my long time birding friends Alfred Chia, Kenneth Kee and Yang Pah Liang for being with me in this journey since the early 1990s. These are the stories of the sighting of the last species of each of the eleven families.
1. Ardeidae (Bitterns, Herons and Egrets) 19 species.
It was a late afternoon phone call from Vincent Ng that an Indian Pond Heron was seen at Bidadari Cemetery. Joseph Tan had photographed it on 11 April 2015 but did not processed it until Er Bong Siong posted his a week later. It was subsequently identified by Francis Yap. Link. Our first record was from Senoko on 20 March 1999 by Lim Kim Seng and Lim Kim Chuah. It was listed in Category D ( Wild birds but possibility of released or escaped cannot be ruled out). Since then, we had 8 more records from Farmway 3 in 2012 and 2016, Bidadari 2015 and 2018, Bishan Park 2018, Jurong Lake in 2019, Windsor Park and Transview Golf Course in 2020. This should not be a difficult family to complete.
The first Indian Pond Heron seen in Bidadari in 2015.
2. Charadriidae ( Lapwings, Plovers) 11 species.
I was late to tick the Grey-headed Lapwing at SBWR on November 2011, found by Lim Kim Chuah. But when news that one was scoped inside Kranji Marshes on 23 October 2016, we went running in to the tower to look for it. I remembered missing it by 5 minutes as it flew over the open field outside the Marshes. Geoff Lim and I decided to drive into Harvest Lane to look for it. We flushed it just after we got out of the car. For most the Common Ringed Plover will be your nemesis in this family.
3. Cuculidae ( Cuckoos and Coucal) 19 species.
The last cuckoo was supposed to be the Lorong Halus’s Jacobin Cuckoo in 2015 but a female Asian Emerald Cuckoo turned up at Siloso, Sentosa in late December 2017 changed that. Link . Topping this was our third record and this time an adult male in its full brilliance found by Kelvin Ng and friends on 23 March 2020 next to the Ulu Pandan Canal behind MOE Ghim Moh.
The adult female Asian Emerald Cuckoo was much easier to identify than the first juvenile female photographed by KC Tsang in 2006.
4. Tytonidae/Strigidae (Owls) 10 species.
January 2016. Another late afternoon phone call this time from See Toh that almost knocked me off my seat. A juvenile Barred Eagle Owl was spotted again at the car park at Bukit Timah NR. I missed the last appearance as I was away and was glad to have completed this difficult family which has the vagrant Short-eared Owl, Northern Boobook and the most sought after Brown Wood Owl in it. I had an old entry in my notebook of a BEO sighting on 16 Nov 1996 near the summit of BTNR during a survey, but I do not have any strong recollection of this sighting.
5. Alcedinidae ( Kingfishers) 8 species.
The migrant Black-capped Kingfisher is known to be super skittish, secretive and hard to find here. Most of the old records were from Pulau Ubin, hidden in between the mangroves. That was where I got mine. For many of the birders it was the most wanted kingfisher. Most should have this family grand slam by now with the Ruddy Kingfisher ever presence at Kranji.
6. Picidae (Woodpeckers) 8 species.
I was lucky to be birding when the White-bellied Woodpeckers were still around. Then the former resident Great Slaty Woodpecker made a spectacular reappearance on May 2018 at BTNR. But it was the Buff-rumped Woodpecker that eluded most of us until Adrian Silas Tay found one at Pulau Ubin on May 2019. Good thing it stayed around long enough for us to tick it.
This male Buff-rumped Woodpecker stayed around the same patch at Pulau Ubin.
7. Psittaculidae ( Parrots and Parakeets) 6 species.
The rare forest wanderer, Blue-rumped Parrot numbers have remained small all these years. They can be seen flying across the Central Catchment Forest in small flocks on good days. It was only the discovery of a fruiting Star Fruit tree at Venus Loop that we were able to see them close up. This should be an easy grand slam for all.
Nationally threatened Blue-rumped Parrot feeding on the Star Fruit at Venus Loop.
8. Monarchidae ( Monarch and Paradise Flycatchers) 5 species.
None of us expected to see an Indian Paradise Flycatcher here as it was not their usual wintering range. But Oliver Tan photographed one at SBWR on 2 December 2017 which was later identified by Dave Bakewell. Link. Our second and third records the following year were at SBWR as well.
The identity feature of this Indian Paradise Flycatcher is the long crest.
9. Hirundinidae ( Swallows and Martins) 5 species.
Both martins in our Checklist were hard to find, Surprisingly I got the rarer Asian House Martin before the more common Sand Martin. Both can be easily overlook unless you pay attention to any flocks of flying swallows.
10. Phylloscopidae ( Warblers) 5 species.
The Dusky Warbler would be the missing warbler for this family for most but I was around when Peter Kennerley mist netted one at Tuas in 1994. Instead my warbler to complete this family was the SakhalinLeafWarbler that was heard calling along Dairy Farm Loop by Lim Kim Keang on March 2014. We had the Pale-legged Warbler in our Checklist, but the sub song was clear enough for us to replace it.
Sakhalin Leaf Warbler replaced the Pale-legged Warbler in our checklist.
11. Cisticolidae ( Cisticolas, Prinia and Tailorbirds) 6 species.
This is an easy family to complete as all the 6 species are our common residents. Among them the forest edge Rufous-tailed Tailorbird was the hardest to find and photographed for some time. But their presence at Dairy Farm and Venus Loop made it much easier now.
This Rufous-tailed Tailorbird was photographed along the railway track at Wessex Estate.
HDD Hard Disk Digging. CB Circuit Breaker, CCNR Central Catchment Nature Reserve, MOE Ministry of Education, BEO Barred Eagle Owl, BTNR Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, SBWR Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.
Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore 2009. NSS
Craig Robson. The Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia.
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 Owlin 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.