Pelagic Bird Survey at the Singapore Strait – 5 May 2018

On 5 May 2018, a boat with 10 birders/bird photographers boarded from Marina Cove, Sentosa and headed towards the eastern part of the Singapore Strait up until closer to coast of Pengerang, Malaysia.

The weather was fine, and we expected we should see a mixture of the usual resident seabirds as well as some spring migrants on passage. Early May should bring us some Swinhoe’s Storm Petrels and Short-tailed Shearwaters. Our hunch proved correct.

The Short-tailed Shearwater is listed as a rare passage migrant for Singapore, and we were glad to see 3 of them in this trip, with a close view of a pair quickly flying past our boat.

Short-tailed Shearwater at Singapore Strait

The Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel is a reliable and common passage migrant at the Singapore Strait. We expected bigger numbers to show up, but we did manage to see at least 6 birds.

Distant shot of Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel at Singapore Strait

What was unexpected was an appearance of a faraway Gull-billed Tern, which was a bonus bird. Unfortunately, it was only seen by a few people on board.

Distant shot of a non-breeding Gull-billed Tern at Singapore Strait

Other terns seen were the usual Black-naped Terns, Lesser Crested Terns, Greater cRested Terns, Little Terns and Bridled Terns.

A pair of Bridled Tern at Singapore Strait
A juvenile Bridled Tern at Singapore Strait
Lesser Crested Tern at Singapore Strait
A Black-naped Tern lit by the warm glow of the morning sun. Photographed at Singapore Strait

Here is the table of the bird count for the trip:

Bird Name Count
Short-tailed Shearwater 3
Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel 6
Bridled Tern 19
Little Tern 30
Gull-billed Tern 1
Black-naped Tern 2
Greater Crested Tern 2
Lesser Crested Tern 29
Tern sp 10
Swiftlets sp 6
Route for the Pelagic Bird Survey – 5 May 2018

Bird List Revision for April 2018

The second revision of the Singapore Bird List for 2018 is now available at our website. The Excel format of the list is available HERE.

There is one new species added in this revision, the Indian Paradise Flycatcher. A single bird was reported by Feroz Fizah at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve on 23 March 2018 and seen the following day and week. Once its identity was established, Oliver Tan managed to retrieve from his photo archive an older record at the same location on 2 December 2017. Presumably, the bird was wintering in the vicinity the entire season.

Indian Paradise Flycatcher at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve in March 2018

With this addition, our Singapore bird list now stands at 400 species. Eleven years ago in 2007, the Pocket Checklist of the Birds of the Republic of Singapore (2007 revised edition) by Lim Kim Seng listed 364 wild bird species being recorded in the country. Subsequent additions and removals resulted in a net gain of 36 species. In other words, we have had a net increase of 10% in the total number of wild bird species recorded compared to 2007. If current trend continues, we can expect addition of an average of 3 new species a year.

Part of reason for this rapid addition of new species into our list can be explained by advancement in the field of bird taxonomy resulting in splitting of what used to be one species into multiple newer ones. A key example is that in the past, the Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher, Amur Paradise Flycatcher and the newly included Indian Paradise Flycatcher were once lumped together as a single species, the Asian Paradise Flycatcher.

Another important reason is the increasing number of birders and bird photographers in the field over the past decade. There are simply a lot more people in the field looking for birds these days compared to merely a handful in the past. The relative affordability of camera systems play a big part in the increase of number of bird photographers, and a greater awareness of our environment contribute to more people taking up the hobby as well. These days, our nature reserves, parks and gardens are teeming with people participating in all sorts of outdoor activities (including birding), increasing the odds of finding rare birds in our midst.

Lastly and more speculatively, climate change may have affected bird migratory patterns causing unexpected vagrants to turn up. Three of the vagrants newly included in our checklist, the Booted Warbler, Indian Paradise Flycatcher and Jacobin Cuckoo are migratory birds that normally winter within the Indian subcontinent. It will be interesting to see whether there will be a measurable increase in the frequency in which such vagrants turn up in our tiny island in the future.

Visitor numbers for for January 2017 to March 2018.

On a different note, the number of website visitors for the site have steadily increased as seen from the graph above. We are averaging around 600 page views from 130 visitors on a typical day for the month of March 2018. Of which, about 66% of the page views are from Singapore IP addresses, meaning that a large percentage of our visitors are local readers looking for bird information. It seems we are reaching our target audience as intended.

We are glad that there have been sustained interest in this website’s content, despite the recent lack of regular updates. Thank you once again for your continued support!

Bird List Revision for January 2018

The latest revision of the Singapore Bird List is now derived from IOC World Bird List Version 8.1.

Changes are as follow:

  1. Addition: Little Stint– Two birds at Chek Jawa, Pulau Ubin on 21 September 2017 by NParks (David Li, Jacky Soh and Fadhli Ahmad)
  2. Addition: Verditer Flycatcher – A single bird photographed by George Presanis at Dairy Farm Nature Park on 9 October 2017 is the first confirmed record of the species.
  3. Addition: Booted Warbler– Single bird at Kranji Marsh reported on 10 December 2017 by Martin Kennewell and Richard Carden. An earlier sighting on 4 December 2017 of an unidentified warbler by Muhd Fadhil of NParks was subsequently confirmed to be the same bird.
  4. Taxonomic change: The local subspecies of the “purple swamphen” complex (subspecies viridis) is now treated as a subspecies of Grey-headed Swamphen instead of Black-backed Swamphen.
  5. Taxonomic change: Crow-billed Drongo‘s scientific name is now changed to Dicrurus annectens.

The latest list can be found HERE.

Bird List Revision for August 2017

We are pleased to publish the latest revision of the Singapore Bird List to include taxonomic changes based on the latest IOC World Bird List version 7.3.

The changes are:

  1. Replacing Glossy Swiftlet with Plume-toed Swiftlet due to split of the Glossy Swiftlet species complex (Rheindt et al. 2017)
  2. Change of genus name for Garganey and Northern Shoveler from Anas to Spatula (Gonzalez et al. 2009)
  3. Change of genus name for Gadwall and Eurasian Wigeon from Anas to Mareca (Gonzalez et al. 2009)
  4. Family Scolopacidae (sandpipers and snipes) resequenced to follow Gibson and Baker (2012)

The latest list in Excel format can be found HERE.

Bird List Revision for June 2017

We have revised our Singapore Bird List with the following changes:

The changes are:

  1. Addition: Ruby-cheeked Sunbird – 2005 record from Martin Kennewell
  2. Addition: Green Broadbill – 2014 records from Pulau Ubin (Keita Sin) and East Coast Park (See Toh Yew Wai)
  3. Deletion: Western Marsh Harrier
  4. Taxonomic change – Himalayan Cuckoo from Oriental Cuckoo

The downloadable bird list in Microsoft Excel format has also been revised for clarity, printability and accuracy.

A brief sampling of regional bird checklists indicate error rates ranging from 0.9% to as high as 5.5% (sampling English Names and Scientific Names only). A high proportion are typo errors, followed by outdated taxonomy for Scientific Names. To avoid such issues, we have minimised manual typing and linked our list directly to the latest IOC list for every records.

The latest list can be found HERE.

Pelagic Bird Survey to the Horsburgh Lighthouse – 29 April 2017

In the early morning of 29 April 2017, 2 boats with 10 birders/bird photographers on board each set off from Marina Cove headed towards Horsburgh Lighthouse. The lead boat “Boon Teik” was followed closely by its sister boat “Popeye“. This is the second trip organised by See Toh Yew Wai with mainly contributors to the Singapore Bird Project. The first trip was documented previously in this blog here.

Here is the summary of the bird count for both boats.

Bird Name Boon Teik Popeye
Aleutian Tern 2 5
Black-naped Tern 4 15
Bridled Tern 26 >16 excluding Horsburgh birds
Lesser-crested Tern 21 44
Little Tern 2
White-winged Tern 3 1
Parasitic Jaeger 1 1
Long-tailed Jaeger 2
Short-tailed Shearwater 26 13
Bulwer’s Petrel 1 1
Pacific Swift 4 2
unID shearwater 1 4
Black-nest Swiftlet many at Horsburgh many at Horsburgh

As you can see, the count for both boats differ rather significantly due to the presence or absence of some star birds. This despite the fact that the boats were hardly 50 meters apart most of the time. As we have discovered previously, the scanning ability of the participants greatly affect the outcome of what was seen or missed. For instance the Long-tailed Jaegers were seen only on Popeye and the Parasitic Jaegers seen by both boats were reported at different location. Likewise the Bulwer’s Petrel was mainly noticed by the Boon Teik’s participants and only glanced through by most of the Popeye’s photographers.

Long-tailed Jaeger at Singapore Strait. Photo Credit: Goh Cheng Teng

The star bird of the trip was of course the Bulwer’s Petrel, the second sighting of the season. It is likely the same bird seen previously in November 2016. The Short-tailed Shearwater numbers were very encouraging too. A yet to be identified shearwater also proved to be exciting, but it was quite a distance away and the photos proved rather inconclusive to ID so far. The sightings of the Long-tailed Jaegers and Parasitic Jaegers were also of significance and they were in their breeding plumage with their tail projections seen.

Bulwer’s Petrel at Singapore Strait. Photo credit: See Toh Yew Wai
Short-tailed Shearwaters at Singapore Strait

The biggest stars to most of the participants were not birds though. A small pod of 3 Indo-Pacific Humpbacked Dolphins swam around both the boats at Horsburgh Lighthouse delighting us all.

Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin at Horsburgh Lighthouse

Photos Gallery:

Minor checklist revision for April 2017

There have been some minor English Name as well as Scientific Name changes to be in sync with the IOC World Bird List version 7.2 published in Aoril 22 2017.

The English Name changes are are:

  • Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher from Oriental Paradise Flycatcher.
  • Rufous-bellied Eagle from Rufous-bellied Hawk-Eagle.


The Scientific Name changes are:

  • Ruff from Philomachus pugnax to Calidris pugnax
  • Broad-billed Sandpiper from Limicola falcinellus to Calidris falcinellus
  • Spoon-billed Sandpiper from Eurynorhynchus pygmea to Calidris pygmea
  • Buff-vented Bulbul from Iole olivacea to Iole crypta

The Singapore Bird Checklist is downloadable in Excel format here:
Singapore Bird Checklist-2017-Rev-03

First checklist revision for year 2017

We have made some additions as well as deletions to our checklist based on recent sightings or the lack of them.

The new additions are:

  • Jacobin Cuckoo which was sighted in December 2013 and on subsequent season in 2014, both at Lorong Halus Wetland.
  • Black Hornbill with a subadult male sighting in July 2015 at Pulau Ubin, followed by ongoing sightings of a female also at Pulau Ubin.
  • Bulwer’s Petrel sighting at Singapore Strait on a pelagic trip organized by photographers on 12 November 2016.

The following bird species were deleted from the list:

  • Black-winged Starling
  • Crested Myna
  • White-capped Munia
  • Java Sparrow

All four were introduced species that went feral but subsequently extirpated. Our reasoning is that there is no possibility of re-introduction from neighbouring region since they are introduced species. Any new sighting will have to be new introduction/escapees.

The following species have name changes due to taxonomic revisions:

  • Eastern Barn Owl, Tyto javanica, formerly Western Barn Owl as the subspecies javanica in the Malay Peninsula is now clumped with their Australasian brethren.
  • Pomarine Jaeger renamed from Pomarine Skua for consistency as their genetic relationship to Catharacta skuas requires confirmation.

Lastly, thanks to the effort of Tou Jing Yi, the complete Malay name for all the bird species in the checklist is now included. The Chinese name for the birds have also been updated to reflect changes since the last revision.

The Singapore Bird Checklist is downloadable in Excel format here:
Singapore Bird Checklist-2017-Rev-01

Pelagic Bird Survey at the Singapore Strait – 15 October 2016

A few of the regular contributors of the Singapore Birds Project organized and gathered together for a pelagic bird survey trip to the Singapore Strait. This time, we decided to head west of Sentosa (our starting point) towards the direction of Karimun Island and Kukup, Malaysia and heading back towards Singapore in a loop. This part of the straits is sadly much less explored birding wise and we wanted to find out what sort of bird life exist there.

The route taken for the survey. The green arrow is the starting point at Sentosa.
The route taken for the survey. The green arrow is the starting point at Sentosa.

We chartered two boats. “Boon Teik” the lead boat is our regular survey boat, while “Popeye” was a new boat by the same operator and was to follow the alongside the lead boat. The author was assigned to “Popeye” so all of the bird photographed and counted are taken from this boat.

Due to some unfortunate delay, the lead boat was late, so “Popeye’ went ahead slowly towards Pulau Sebarok, where we encountered our firsts seabirds. These were Little Terns hunting in a group together with at least one Black-naped Tern. As it was still early, lighting was bad. As we slowly sailed on, we met a resident subadult White-bellied Sea Eagle out early on a hunt. This particular bird was interesting as its head was black. We suspect perhaps it’s residual oil trapped from its previous hunt, but we have no way of knowing for sure.

White-bellied Sea Eagle at Singapore Strait. This particular bird has blackened head feathers.
White-bellied Sea Eagle at Singapore Strait. This particular bird has blackened head feathers.

Next we saw two adult Brahminy Kites perched on a yellow structure. It’s interesting to see how our bird life use man-made structures to perch out in the sea.

Brahminy Kites at Singapore Strait. These two are seen as tiny bird perching on the right hand side of the yellow structure.
Brahminy Kite at Singapore Strait. These two are seen as tiny bird perching on the right hand side of the yellow structure.

You can see that there are what look like giant “tubes” on the left hand side of the yellow structure. That was where we spotted the resident white-morph Pacific Reef Heron. That bought some joy to the bird photographers as it’s increasingly difficult to find this variant of the species in the mainland.

Pacific Reef Heron at Singapore Strait.
Pacific Reef Heron at Singapore Strait.

More Little Terns were seen at Pulau Semakau and leading to Raffles Lighthouse. By then, the lead boat caught up with the second boat and we started speeding up to head towards the open sea.

The lead boat, "Boon Teik". Photo courtesy of KC Ling.
The lead boat, “Boon Teik”. Photo courtesy of KC Ling.

The first interesting (and almost impossible to find inland) is the Bridled Tern.

Bridled Tern at Singapore Strait. It was diving for food.
Bridled Tern at Singapore Strait. It was diving for food.

In our excitement and due to the choppy sea condition, one of our participant got slightly hurt knocking against the railings. Two others at “Popeye” soon succumbed to sea-sickness. Things got progressively worse, as the choppy seas coupled with our trailing boat attempt to keep up with the leading boat made for a poor birding experience especially for the first-timers.

We were somewhat cheered up when we saw our first of a few Aleutian Terns flying past around 9:30am. But they were quite far and challenging to photograph. It was only when we started our trip back and made our loop that the ride improved and it was then that we saw our first Aleutian Tern perched on wooden plank. We managed to get the boat nearer for closer shots, and as it flew off from the plank, some shot of it flying pass nicely as well.

Aleutian Tern at Singapore Strait on a wooden plank, taking flight.
Aleutian Tern at Singapore Strait on a wooden plank, taking flight.
Aleutian Tern at Singapore Strait. In flight and close by.
Aleutian Tern at Singapore Strait. In flight and close by.

The next tern to excite us was a Common Tern of the subspecies longipennis. It was a quick flyby, but good enough for a positive identification.

Common Tern at Singapore Strait
Common Tern at Singapore Strait

Journeying back, we also kept our eyes on bird species other than the usual seabirds. Not long after our Common Tern encounter, we noticed around 5 Pacific Swift flying low over the sea. These must be in the process of migrating over to Indonesia. We were to again see at least another 9 later at Sisters’ Islands.

Pacific Swift at Singapore Strait. Flying very low just above sea level.
Pacific Swift at Singapore Strait. Flying very low just above sea level.

The Swinhoe’s Storm Petrels did not make many appearances. In fact, for the trailing boat, we only saw two in the entire journey. The first was a very brief encounter, but the second permitted at least a closer look and photographs.

Swinhoe's Storm Petrel at Singapore Strait. Second bird photographed.
Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel at Singapore Strait. Second bird photographed.

After the storm petrel, we encountered the second and last perched Aleutian Tern. Again it cheered up our participants, who by now have generally recovered from their previous sea-sickness. Many photographs were taken of this rarely seen species. We in Singapore should be thankful on the ease of seeing this species in our waters. Despite its name, the Aleutian Tern is not easily seen at the Aleutian islands.

Aleutian Tern at Singapore Strait. It provided both boat with close views and shots.
Aleutian Tern at Singapore Strait.
Aleutian Tern and the participants of "Popeye" photographing the bird. Photo courtesy of Richard White.
Aleutian Tern and the participants of “Popeye” photographing the bird. Photo courtesy of Richard White.

We were to encounter a few more Aleutian Terns along the way. In total we estimate we saw 10-15 of these terns. Quite good numbers. In fact, we think that the western side of the strait holds more of these terns. We were also surprised by the lack of crested terns (Greater and Lesser) that seem to be common birds on the eastern side of the strait. For the Bridled Terns, the trailing boat photographed only 2 birds. Again their numbers seem low in comparison to the eastern side.

After our return and immigration clearance, we have enough time to head towards Pulau Jong for some photographs. It turned out that we saw a pair of nationally threatened Great-billed Herons in breeding plumage. It gives us hope that their numbers will increase soon. A fitting end to our journey!

A pair of Great-billed Herons in breeding plumage at Pulau Jong
A pair of Great-billed Herons in breeding plumage at Pulau Jong
Obligatory participants photograph at the end of the trip. Photo courtesy of Adrian Silas Tay.
Obligatory participants photograph at the end of the trip. Photo courtesy of Adrian Silas Tay.

Loke Wan Tho – A Company of Birds

Published in 1959, the book “A Company of Birds” is a collection of bird photographs, ornithological notes and a semi-autobiography by Loke Wan Tho. These days, not many people recognise the name. Cathay Organization is perhaps better known in Singapore and Malaysia as a cinema chain, and in the past as a film studio as well. Loke Wan Tho was the founder of Cathay Organization and a business tycoon with other business interest in hotels, restaurants, tin mines and rubber plantation. He was also the Chairman of Malaysian Airways, Malayan Banking, Singapore’s National Library Board.

With such a busy life, one can imagine there’ll not be much time for other pursuits. In the words of Malcolm MacDonald (then Commissioner-General for the United Kingdom in South-East Asia) in the preface for the book, “Mr Loke Wan Tho is one of the the finest bird photographers in the world, and perhaps the finest in Asia, so the appearance of a volume of his pictures of Asian birds is a welcome event“. Yet, the man himself humbly note “The photographs which appears in the following pages represent the product of the holiday and leisure hours of a businessman“.

For this book, the photos, observations and accompanying notes are organized mainly by the locality in which they were photographed, namely India, Papua New Guinea and Malaya. His collection spanned many years between 1940s to 1950s and his trips outside of Malaya were organized to suit his busy work schedule. Most of the photos are in black and white and taken mainly with his quarter-plate film camera with flash.

Contemporary bird photographers may at first dismiss the now antiquated and limited equipment used then, yet a cursory look at his bird photos will reveal a technical mastery and artistic expression that will rival the best photos taken today. Birders who are interested in bird behaviour will also be delighted by his keen observations of various species that he managed to photograph, especially so when describing the nesting behaviour of many inaccessible and now seldom observed species.

It is interesting to note that one of his photo of the Black-naped Tern that is featured in this book was used as the basis for the drawing in Singapore’s old One Dollar banknote. According to Singapore Mint, there were 698.75 million pieces printed, probably making his photograph the most reproduced Singapore bird photo in existence.

Although I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in birds and photography, the one catch is that it is now out of print. Thankfully there are many second hand book dealers that have copies of it for sale. I bought mine from AbeBooks a few years back.

Lastly, the legacy for Loke Wan Tho in the field of Asian ornithology is not just confined to his own bird photographs, notes and observations published in this book. His enduring friendship and support for Salim Ali (the famous “Birdman of India”) surely influenced the outcome of Indian ornithology for the better as well. But that is a story for another time.

Below are some scanned page to give you an idea about the book’s content.