By Max Khoo
There I was standing on Henderson Waves on a Saturday in October 2020. The sky was blue, the sun was scorching, and the bridge was packed full of big-name bird watchers and photographers. My friend and seasoned bird watcher Bryan Lim had invited me to join him here to catch the annual autumn raptor migration, but I arrived early. It was my first time here and I did not know anyone else. So, I found an empty spot by the corner of the “main pack” and avoided all conversations. The show had already started when I arrived: Birders pointing into the sky every few minutes, seemingly random, and screaming out names, abbreviations, and acronyms that sounded so alien to me. “Accipiter, above the DSTA building!”, “OHB, 12 o’clock!”, they hollered. I felt terribly lost. It was not only a challenge to spot the birds, but it was even more challenging to identify what species they were. Most of the birds were flying several to tens of kilometers overhead. They were small, and the rays of the sun shining on them makes it so that you can only see the birds’ silhouette most of the time. The birds all looked the same to me, and I was afraid to ask the very knowledgeable people around me as to how each bird was identified as I was scared to take up their time and too ashamed at my shallow knowledge. The three hours went by really quickly that day, and although it was utterly overwhelming, I was so captivated by the spectacle of flocks and birds flying past us continuously.
Raptor watching is not easy. The barrier to entry is high, and it is often said to be only for the “serious” bird watchers because identifying the birds is difficult. But it does not have to be this way, and I believe everyone can do so and enjoy the process. The two blog posts introducing the common and uncommon raptors of Singapore (RAP101 and RAP201) by Sandra Chia of the Singapore Birds Project team have helped me tremendously when I went back to catch the raptor migration for the second year in 2021. Based on the two posts, I had the idea of consolidating all the information together into a single-page guide so that it is even easier for anyone to refer to. So here it is, introducing the field guide to identifying raptors in flight based on its silhouette titled: “What is that Raptor?”. I hope this will serve as a useful resource for all who would like to pick up raptor watching, and even for the veterans who may want to brush up their knowledge before the annual raptor migration season.
PDF for download here.