By Kwong Marcus Alaric
Bird watching, or “birding” to me is more than just going out to take snaps of pretty birds. It allows me to fully immerse in nature and puts my daily stresses and concerns away, to really appreciate Singapore’s wonderful green sceneries and biodiversity.
On the morning of 12th March, I decided to disconnect from schoolwork for a nice relaxing walk at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. I started my walk at the Tanglin Gate with no expectations of seeing particular birds, so I was already happy with seeing an Olive-winged Bulbul near the Learning Forest. Walking towards the Ginger Garden, I remembered that an Ashy Drongo was spotted near the Rainforest entrance a few days before and I thought to myself, “why not try my luck?”. The Ashy Drongo was not there, which was slightly disappointing, but I knew that nothing can be taken for granted when it comes to birding. I made my way into Rainforest and stopped just 5 to 10 meters into boardwalk to see a Hornbill moving around a tree. Suddenly, I saw something flying in and perching on the same tree. At first glance, the bird was entirely grey and was just smaller than the Hornbill. I initially thought it was a juvenile Hornbill but after a second inspection through my camera, I realised the bird was hanging on the tree like a woodpecker, and its features resembled one too. “Probably some sort of woodpecker juvenile”, I thought, but the unusually large size of it really confused me.
I used the trusty Google to look it up and the hits showed that I was looking at a Great Slaty Woodpecker! Once I saw the term “extirpated” was used to describe its status in Singapore, I started to realise how significant this sighting can be to the local birding and nature communities. Without hesitation, I quickly uploaded one of my shots to the Bird Sightings Facebook group to confirm my discovery. Sure enough, I was reaffirmed that the bird was in fact the rare Great Slaty Woodpecker and was overwhelmed by the number of responses and questions on the post. I shared the sighting location and stayed around the area to tell the influx of birders about my encounter with this elusive species. The boardwalk was quickly jam packed with more than 30 eager birders firing up all their senses to detect its presence. The lone Great Slaty Woodpecker eventually came out and graced everyone with the opportunity for photo taking, but it often perched high up and posed challenges for clear shots as it flew around the vicinity, making the big group of birders literally sprinting after it. The action continued till evening and reminded me of the scenes from the Indian Paradise Flycatcher sighting, also in the Singapore Botanic Gardens but several months back.
I’m pleased to know many are so passionate about birding. My greatest satisfaction, alongside being the first one to spot the Great Slaty Woodpecker since 2018 and making it the fourth ever official sighting in Singapore, was seeing the big smiles on many birders’ faces. Throughout the day, I got the chance to chat with experienced birders that missed the opportunity of capturing the same bird species 5 years ago. The genuine happiness they had after finally getting their shots this time truly made my day. As a heartwarming bonus, some expressed their gratitude by saying “thanks for sharing!”, offering handshakes, pats on the shoulder, and even treats to a bottle of cold water (a delight under the blazing sun!). Some others also left thankful comments on my post and included shoutouts about the generous and timely sharing of information I provided that day. I’m grateful to be receiving these kind gestures as a foreigner and I felt being welcomed into the local birding community where members encourage and care for others. I hope there will be many more discoveries like this in 2023 for everyone to share with each other, joining hands to continue contributing towards the amazing biodiversity and stunning nature that Singapore offers!