Checklist Revision for August 2022

Prepared by the Singapore Bird Records Committee

The latest update of our checklist, version 2022-2, has been published. It can be accessed at our Downloads page.


Since our last checklist update in February 2022, the Records Committee has considered and voted on 80 records of rare birds in Singapore. We would like to thank all the observers who submitted their records, and these votes are published on our Recent Decisions page with our Live Checklist tracking additions and deletions to the checklist on a live basis. 

We have also launched monthly roundups, published every month, to update the community on the latest sightings every month. Many of these incorporate sightings from our database in addition to eBird sightings, so we would also like to thank those who have contributed by sharing their observations.

Nearly 200 historical records have also been added to our database since February. This is all thanks to the work of our Records Gathering team, comprising Clarice Yan, Geraldine Lee, Hong Yao Lim, Hui Zhen Tan, Kee Jing Ying, Yip Jen Wei, and Zachary Chong, who have meticulously trawled social media, eBird, and other publications for important historical records. This work is still under way, with a further 130 records on track to be uploaded within the next one week, and the updated compilation status for each species is always available in our Rarities List.

Our Records Committee’s operating guidelines have been formalised as well, and will be published on our site in the coming weeks.

This article includes the updates to our checklist since our last revision in February 2022. Our checklist is based on the International Ornithological Committee (IOC) taxonomy, and this version is based on IOC 12.2. This is the latest taxonomical version and was finalised this month.

This edition of the checklist is version 2022-2, and can be downloaded at our Downloads page. There are now 427 species in the Singapore Bird Checklist with the species additions in this update.

Added to checklist

Christmas Frigatebird Fregata andrewsi [Record 10163]: One bird at Marina East Drive on 26 Jan 2022 moved this species from to Category A. While this species has been recorded from Singapore before (most recently in 1986, at the National Stadium), this was more than 30 years ago. The last record was from outside Singapore’s territorial waters in May 2013, and this record had put this species in the Annex of the Singapore Bird Checklist.

Masked Booby Sula dactylatra [Record 383]: The committee reevaluated one record of a bird rescued from the Pan Island Expressway in August 2018, and determined it was most likely a legitimate record. The species was added to Category A.

Black-backed Swamphen Pophyrio indicus [Record 10281]: One sighting of a bird at Changi Business Park was the first confirmed record of this species in Singapore. Features noted by the committee in accepting this record included the shape of the frontal shield as well as the dark head colour, which indicated this was not a Grey-headed Swamphen P. poliocephalus instead. We have identified some past sightings which may also pertain to this species and intend to review them as well in the coming months.

Removed from checklist

No species were removed.

Other minor changes

Western and Eastern Osprey are lumped, so Western Osprey in our checklist is changed to Osprey.

Brown Hawk-Owl is renamed to Brown Boobook.

Messages from the Cinereous and Streaked Bulbuls

In the winter of 2014/2015, Singapore experienced a flood of Cinereous Bulbuls and Streaked Bulbuls. An influx of some sort, it seemed. These typically uncommon bulbuls appeared all over the country, with observations including a flock of nearly 200 Cinereous Bulbuls at Pulau Ubin. During that period, many other surprises showed up: two separate Green Broadbills, Yellow-eared Spiderhunter, Yellow-vented Flowerpecker, and Thick-billed Flowerpecker to name a few. Most of them were species that are rare visitors to Singapore (the Green Broadbill especially, being the first two records since their extirpation in 1941) though common in the lowlands of the region, such as the forest patches of Johor just an hour’s drive by car, or the islands in Riau a boat ride away.

The next few seasons were lacklustre with regards to these groups of birds despite the rapid spike of birdwatchers in the country. Both bulbuls only appeared sporadically and in much smaller numbers, and regional lowland rarities (?) continued to be found but at a rather slow pace. In the 2018/2019 season, a handful of Cinereous Bulbuls appeared and were once again accompanied by some Streaked Bulbuls. Their numbers dwindled through summer, and the 2019/2020 season was a similar case.

Then in the winter of 2021/2022, Singapore observed a familiar scene of mass Cinereous Bulbul arrivals. Streaked Bulbuls followed suit, and multiple rare regional species showed up in Singapore as if their calendars were synchronised: two Black-thighed Falconets (the first since 1990), Green Broadbill (first since 2014), Scarlet Minivet (first since 2001), Yellow-vented Flowerpecker, and Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker (first confirmed record for Singapore).

The peaks and troughs of Cinereous Bulbul (blue), Streaked Bulbul (red), and locally significant Sundaic visitors (green) sightings in Singapore. Sundaic visitors are considered “locally significant” for the purposes of this illustration if they have less than 10 records in the last 10 years. The table below this article lists all the records of these locally significant Sundaic species from this illustration. Note that a single record is defined as an individual or group of individuals present at one site for a period of time. So although there were hundreds of Cinereous Bulbuls across Singapore in both the 2014 and 2021 peaks, the number of records is far smaller.

These sightings are more than just déjà vu; they possibly hint towards some form of ecological force driving the birds southwards that we are yet to understand (assuming they primarily came from Johor). Indeed, unorthodox movements of birds – be it at a large or small scale – are periodically observed. In 2019/2020 we had a spate of Indochinese birds arriving in Singapore, and just last season we were kept busy with species that typically winter in the Indian and Middle-eastern region (remember the Cinereous Vulture, Amur Falcon, Black Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher?).

Very recently in May we also observed a rush of regional species to Pulau Ubin, with Black-and-red Broadbill, Black-and-white Bulbul, Lesser Green Leafbird and Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker showing up. Strangely, Cinereous and Streaked Bulbuls were absent from the rave, and the birds were concentrated to Chek Jawa but not elsewhere in Singapore – perhaps the cause for the latest event differs from the seemingly periodic influxes we get. Could it have been due to land-use change in the region? Was there a particular tree in Chek Jawa blocked from our views that provided a very attractive food source? We don’t know, and these are at best educated guesses. However, with proper housekeeping of local bird records, we might eventually be able to search for the answers to these questions. For example, reliable long-term data coupled with environmental modelling showed that the Indian Ocean Dipole event (a phenomena where the Indian Ocean’s western section becomes unusually warmer than the eastern section) led to an influx of Red-necked Phalaropes to the region around Kenya in 2019/2020). Our continued and collective efforts to document Singapore’s birds will surely play a key role in advancing our knowledge in the years to come.

As for now, while our understanding is limited, the patterns suggest one thing: get your gears prepared and be on high alert when Cinereous and Streaked Bulbuls start showing up. These two species seem to serve as messengers for the rendezvous of regional birds rare in Singapore. There are many species on our checklist to look out for: Silver-rumped Spinetail, Whiskered Treeswift, White-bellied Woodpecker, Great Slaty Woodpecker, Malayan Black Magpie. Or perhaps other megas not even on the Singapore checklist – I’d like to place an order for a Brown-backed Flowerpecker please!

We recently contributed an article to BirdingASIA to highlight these avifaunal records from our community during the 2020-2021 season and the possible implications behind them. As the national borders start opening up, many of you who picked up this obsession hobby of birding recently must be craving to, or might have already started to explore beyond Singapore. If you’re keen to read more about birding news from the Asian region, do consider subscribing to the Oriental Bird Club! You’ll receive two copies of BirdingASIA with more exciting articles from the region, as well as one copy of the Journal of Asian Ornithology where latest research on regional avifauna are highlighted. (Just for the record, the Singapore Birds Project is not affiliated in any way to the Oriental Bird Club. We do not get any commission or benefits from promoting them.).

Happy birding, and please do share your sightings if you happen to come across any of these rarities and submit your records to the Singapore Bird Database for proper archival!

Table of records of locally significant Sundaic species, as displayed in the chart above (2014-2021)

Species Date Location Count
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker Dicaeum chrysorrheum 27 Jul 2014 (imprecise) River Safari 1
Yellow-eared Spiderhunter Arachnothera chrysogenys 20 Nov 2014 to 22 Nov 2014 CCNR 1
Thick-billed Flowerpecker Dicaeum agile 22 Nov 2014 Central Catchment Nature Reserve 1
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker Dicaeum chrysorrheum 22 Nov 2014 CCNR 1
Green Broadbill Calyptomena viridis 27 Nov 2014 to 29 Nov 2014 East Coast Park 1
Green Broadbill Calyptomena viridis 25 Dec 2014 Pulau Ubin 1
Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus hirundinaceus 28 Jun 2015 Pulau Ubin 1
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker Dicaeum chrysorrheum 26 Sep 2015 Dairy Farm Nature Park 1
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker Dicaeum chrysorrheum 14 Feb 2016 Bukit Timah Nature Reserve 1
Little Green Pigeon Treron olax 16 Mar 2016 Jelutong Tower 1
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker Dicaeum chrysorrheum 09 Jul 2016 Lower Peirce Reservoir 1
Black-and-red Broadbill Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchos 24 Aug 2017 Pulau Ubin 1
Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus hirundinaceus 20 Jan 2018 CCNR 1
Great Slaty Woodpecker Mulleripicus pulverulentus 02 May 2018 to 12 May 2018 Bukit Timah Nature Reserve 1
Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus hirundinaceus 06 May 2018 Pulau Ubin 1
Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus hirundinaceus 24 Sep 2018 Pulau Ubin 1
Little Green Pigeon Treron olax 12 Oct 2018 Windsor Nature Park 1
Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus hirundinaceus 21 Oct 2018 Pulau Ubin 1
Large Woodshrike Tephrodornis virgatus 22 Oct 2018 Jelutong Tower 1
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker Dicaeum chrysorrheum 05 Jan 2019 to 21 Jan 2019 Bukit Timah Nature Reserve 2
Black-and-red Broadbill Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchos 20 Mar 2019 Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve 1
Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus hirundinaceus 22 Apr 2019 Dairy Farm Nature Park 1
Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus hirundinaceus 22 Jun 2019 Pulau Ubin 1
Black-and-red Broadbill Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchos 07 Jul 2019 Pulau Ubin 1
Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus hirundinaceus 14 Jul 2019 to 21 Jul 2019 Pulau Ubin 1
Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea 07 Sep 2019 to 18 Sep 2019 Pulau Ubin 1
Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea 18 Oct 2019 to 24 Oct 2019 Singapore Botanic Gardens 1
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker Dicaeum chrysorrheum 29 Oct 2019 Bukit Timah Nature Reserve 1
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker Dicaeum chrysorrheum 16 Nov 2019 Bukit Timah Nature Reserve 1
Thick-billed Flowerpecker Dicaeum agile 16 Dec 2019 to 25 Dec 2019 Dairy Farm Nature Park 3
White-bellied Erpornis Erpornis zantholeuca 16 Jun 2020 to 17 Jun 2020 Bukit Timah Nature Reserve 1
Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea 25 Jan 2021 Pulau Ubin 1
Black-thighed Falconet Microhierax fringillarius 12 Feb 2021 Yishun Street 21 1
Scarlet Minivet Pericrocotus speciosus 25 Feb 2021 Goldhill 1
Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea 15 Mar 2021 Jurong Lake Gardens 1
Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea 20 Mar 2021 Clementi Woods Park 1
Green Broadbill Calyptomena viridis 06 Apr 2021 to 22 Aug 2021 Pulau Ubin 1
Black-thighed Falconet Microhierax fringillarius 30 May 2021 Goldhill 1
Malayan Black Magpie Platysmurus leucopterus 09 Jun 2021 Hindhede Quarry 1
Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus hirundinaceus 21 Jun 2021 Chek Jawa 1
Black-thighed Falconet Microhierax fringillarius 09 Jul 2021 to 11 Jul 2021 Jalan Mashhor 1
Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea 12 Oct 2021 to 13 Oct 2021 Central Catchment Nature Reserve 1
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker Dicaeum chrysorrheum 26 Oct 2021 to 14 Jan 2022 Bukit Timah Nature Reserve 1
Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus hirundinaceus 05 Nov 2021 Pulau Ubin 1
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker Dicaeum chrysorrheum 22 Nov 2021 to 29 Nov 2021 Bukit Timah Nature Reserve 1
Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker Prionochilus thoracicus 29 Nov 2021 Bukit Timah Nature Reserve 1

References

Nussbaumer, R., Gravey, M., Nussbaumer, A., & Jackson, C. (2021). Investigating the influence of the extreme Indian Ocean Dipole on the 2020 influx of Red-necked Phalaropes Phalaropus lobatus in Kenya. Ostrich92(4), 307-315.

Sin, Y.C.K., Narayanswamy, R., Ng, D., Chia, S., Ng, E., & Kennewell, M. (2022). Beyond the pandemic: gems from Singapore in 2020-2021. BirdingASIA, 37, 101-108.

8 resident bird calls you should know from Singapore’s parks

  1. Sin Yong Chee Keita, Kee Jing Ying, Tan Hui Zhen

Singapore’s urban landscape hosts various wildlife ranging from birds, butterflies, to otters. These animals are often appreciated visually, but one of the less-discussed aspects that make birds unique  is their songs. The wide range of vocalisations that birds have fill up most  of nature’s soundscape and are actually quite easy to learn! Knowing the sounds of different birds can also make you a better bird-spotter. Here are the calls of 8 common birds in Singapore’s parks with mnemonics (some are a little stretched, but we tried xD) that you’ll definitely be able to remember.

Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis

Black-naped Orioles have highly variable calls ranging from meows, shrieks to their namesake: the “O-RE-O”. The melody of their songs are quite variable but are typically characterised by having a fluty tone unique to them. Oftentimes you will see these bright yellow birds around the mid to high canopy, especially in fruiting trees. 

Olive-backed Sunbird Cinnyris jugularis

The high-pitched “tsu-it!” of the Olive-backed Sunbird call can be frequently heard in gardens and parks, especially in the early mornings. They can often be seen enjoying nectar from flowers. Male Olive-backed Sunbirds are easily recognisable from their bright blue throat, yellow body and olive coloured back. During courtship, they display their orange pectoral tufts to attract females. Females lack the blue throat but can be distinguished from other sunbirds in Singapore by their white tail tips.

Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis

Oriental Magpie-Robins light up various urban parks in Singapore with their songs. They like to sing for prolonged periods of time from open perches especially in the mornings, and have melodious and joyful-sounding songs. Their songs sound less “rich” than Black-naped Orioles because of their generally higher pitch. The beautiful songs they possess are a double-edged sword as it makes them prominent to traders. In fact, this species once suffered a population crash due to heavy poaching and the current population are survivors from introduced birds.

Collared Kingfisher Todiramphus chloris

The highly nasal song of this bright blue kingfisher can be heard in almost every corner of Singapore. Although they are named kingfishers, they eat insects too and can sometimes be found away from water. They can frequently be seen in parks and sometimes even along canals.

Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopaceus

Every person in Singapore would know the Asian Koel. They are unfortunately disliked by many due to their loud and persistent “KO-EL!” songs. Despite being large and loud birds, they can be surprisingly hard to see as they like to perch on the top of tall dense trees! Try finding them next time they are calling – their bright red eyes are actually pretty cool looking.

Large-tailed Nightjar Caprimulgus macrurus

The Large-tailed Nightjar is a nocturnal species that is typically most vocal during dawn and dusk. They have a unique “tiu? tiu? tiu?” that sounds like no other local bird. This species is commonly encountered in Singapore’s parks and is also sometimes found sleeping on the ground in the day.

White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus

The White-breasted Waterhen is common along the water bodies in Singapore and can often be found hiding amongst reeds or the edges of ponds. Their most frequently heard song is a croaking “chu-guoo chu-guoo” song. Males have red on the forehead while females don’t. This species, like other rails, can be heard singing at night time too during certain times of the year.

Yellow-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus goiavier

The Yellow-vented Bulbul is one of the most common parkland birds and their dawn chorus can be heard from almost everyone’s homes. Their song sounds like a bubblier version of R2-D2 (a Star Wars character for those unfamiliar).

Photos

Francis Yap: Black-naped Oriole

Keita Sin: Oriental Magpie-Robin, Collared Kingfisher, Olive-backed Sunbird, White-breasted Waterhen & Yellow-vented Bulbul

Tan Hui Zhen: Asian Koel, Large-tailed Nightjar

Sound recordings

Keita Sin

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to our Singapore Birds Project teammates (especially Sandra!) for help and comments.

Soaring all over Singapore: Himalayan Vultures in the 2021/2022 season

Written by Yip Jen Wei and Sin Yong Chee Keita

Editing by Tan Hui Zhen, infographic by Kee Jing Ying

In the winter migration season of 2021/22, our community was graced by five appearances of Himalayan Vultures Gyps himalayensis. These massive birds are rare but increasingly annual migrants to Singapore and never fail to spark huge hunts for a chance to see them perched or to witness their incredible wingspan in flight. 

No other species seems to unite the entire community in a truly islandwide effort as much as a flock of Himalayan Vultures slowly soaring across the island. Their size and slow flight means that regardless of where you are at the time of sighting, if they pass by your general vicinity, there is a chance you will get to see them. 

Here are the accepted records of Himalayan Griffons the 2021/2022 season, as per the Singapore Birds Database:

Sighting 1: 8 Dec 2021

    1. Flyby of a single bird over Dairy Farm Nature Park, by Feroz and KW Seah.
    2. Most likely the same bird seen flying by over Singapore Botanic Gardens that evening, by Marcel Finlay.

Sighting 2: 27 and 28 Dec 2021 (Novena flock)

    1. Five birds soaring over Novena in the evening, by Wong Weng Fai.
    2. Almost certainly the same five birds seen again the next morning at the same site and across Singapore.

Sighting 3: 29 and 30 Dec 2021 (SBG flock)

    1. Five birds at Singapore Botanic Gardens (possibly the same five?), along with Singapore’s first Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus seen by perhaps over 300 birdwatchers across two days before taking off on the morning of the 30th.

Sighting 4: 12 and 13 Jan 2022 (Punggol pair)

    1. Two birds seen soaring over Punggol by Daryl Tan, with one bird later observed being mobbed by crows at Pasir Ris by Emily Koh.
    2. The next day, one bird – likely one of the two seen the previous day – at Pasir Ris Park by multiple observers.

Sighting 5: 18 to 19 Jan 2022 (Bukit Batok flock)

    1. Seven birds seen over East Coast Park by Rachit in the afternoon, last seen roosting at Bukit Batok Nature Park by Francis Yap and JJ Brinkman. All 7 birds were seen flying off the next day.
A marvellous comparison of Singapore’s first Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus (left) and a Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis, 30 Dec 2021, Singapore Botanic Gardens. Photo credit: Trevor Teo.

The very unique result of all the excitement surrounding Himalayan Vulture sightings is that every aspect of their presence—how many of them, their behaviour, their flight path—is quite well tracked. Combine that with Singapore’s tiny country size and the recent massive increase in community size, we have an extremely high observer density: the movement of the birds across the island were particularly well-documented on 28th Dec 2021 (Novena flock) and 18 Dec 2022 (Bukit Batok flock). The Bukit Batok flock also allowed many who could not pop their heads out of the window during work to look for them later that evening and the next morning.

Annotated flight paths of sightings 2 and 5 starting from Novena and Bukit Batok respectively, recreated based on the collective information shared by birders of Singapore through various social media groups.

All sightings from this season were of immature birds, as are most records from the region. Young birds are typically known to wander around more so than adults, and in the cases for the birds that end up in Singapore, quite far off course from where they would usually be. Records show that there’s an increasing trend in their numbers arriving over the years too. Of course, we have to be careful about extrapolating too many conclusions from this: as the number of birdwatchers go up, so do the number of rare sightings, but could other factors have contributed to their increased sightings in Singapore? Climate and land use change are speculated to have increased their occurrence in the region over the past few decades. Additionally, a vulture restaurant has been set up in Phuket since 2019. Could this have allowed some birds to accumulate enough energy to make it further south than previously possible? There have been talks on introducing such a system in Singapore toohow could this potentially help or affect the birds? There are many more questions than answers for now, much of it requiring research and discussions beyond the scope of this article.

Another slightly easier question that comes to mind is: were this season’s sightings of the same flock flying around, or new birds arriving each time? Those birds that were seen on two consecutive days at sites they were known to roost are quite surely the same individuals, but what can we make of the separate sightings? We could attempt to answer this question by examining some photographs taken across the sightings.

Left: Himalayan Vulture over Dairy Farm Nature Park on 8 Dec 2021 at 1506h. Photo credit: Feroz, Right: Himalayan Vulture over Singapore Botanic Gardens on 8 Dec 2021 at 1713h. Photo credit: Marcel Finlay

As seen from the images, many of the birds have rather worn wings and tail feathers, making it quite difficult to ascertain individuals. However two birds did have comparatively “unique” wear.

Interestingly, it appears that one individual from the Novena flock photographed on 28 Dec 2021 had several matching features of wear and tear of plumage. This is strongly suggestive that at least one (if not all) of the 5 Vultures from the Novena flock reappeared in the SBG flock along with the Cinereous vulture. The case is even more compelling when we note that both sightings had 5 Vultures: perhaps the same flock left Singapore on the 28th at 1300h, only to return on the evening of the 29th at SBG?

Comparison between one of the five birds from Novena on 28 Dec 2021 and one from 30 Dec 2021 at Singapore Botanic Gardens. Note the long tear in tertials, as well as the matching notches in primary tips. Photo credit: Con Foley (left), Wee Aik Kiat (right).

Then we notice that one bird from the Novena flock with a somewhat unique missing secondary (giving it a very “long-looking” tear) could (??) have participated in the Bukit Batok flock.. If the two photographs taken were indeed of the same bird, it suggests that the bird could have hung around the region and returned to Singapore after three full weeks! As always, it is important to keep in mind that plumage wear is common in long distance migrants and that this singular feature is suggestive but not indicative. 

Comparison of one of the five vultures over Novena on 28 Dec 2021 and one of the seven vultures over Satay by the Bay that eventually made its way to Bukit Batok on 18 Dec 2022. could these two possibly have been the same individual? Photo credit: Yip Jen Wei (left), Siew Mun (right).

It goes without saying that many of the above deductions are based on guesswork, but exercises like this could bring us one step further to learning more about their behaviour in Singapore. When the vultures next arrive, taking ample photographs of them from multiple angles, will help to pin-point traits unique to individuals (if any) to help us estimate how long the birds typically stay around for.

Using plumage wear to identify individual birds is helpful in determining the number of otherwise rare migrants. The same technique was applied on an interesting case study this season elsewhere: we are quite confident that there were two Common Kestrels on the same day at Seletar Aerospace Drive. On 14 Dec 2022, one bird with strongly marked underwing coverts was photographed there by Lim Ser Chai. The next day, this species was seen again by Woo Jia Wei twice, but once at 1340h involving a bird with faintly marked underwings and broken primaries, and later at 1500h a bird that looked like the previous day’s individual!

Finally, the question that we all hope to know the answer to: what’s the best strategy to search for them again next season?

Five sightings is far from a good sample size, but the observations from this season might provide hints when searching for them again. First, if the birds are seen soaring late in the afternoon, chances are that you might be able to head down to observe them later in the evening or the next morning if they roost somewhere visible. These birds seem to have a tendency to remain in Singapore island overnight when detected later in the day. Given their massive size, they are highly reliant on thermals (rising hot air) to engage in soaring flight, making water bodies a possible deterrence for them. Perhaps this could be part of why the seven birds from the Bukit Batok flock chose to fly along the coast rather than further south to Bintan/Batam? For those aiming for flight shots, their take-off time is also likely highly dependent on the weather, though typically not too early in the morning. The Novena flock took flight around 0900h, the SBG ones around 1020h, and the Bukit Batok flock, around 1145h. Again the presence of thermals is essential for their flight, though where they might head off afterwards remains unknown to us for now.

Becoming the first person to find the vultures requires a little more serendipity. Initial sightings of Vultures are fairly unpredictable and highly dependent on being at the right time at the right place. However, knowing when to pay attention helps: previously, scarce sightings were from late December and January, but the 8 Dec 2021 proved a new early date, and no birds were detected past January despite the many occurences. For now, December to January seems to be the prime time to keep our eyes glued to the skies, and you can refer to the bar charts from our Singapore Bird Database for more information on when to look for them (and other rarities too!)

As the summer months approach, it is quite unlikely that we will see any more vultures before next season (but who knows!?). We’re approaching the season to search for possible Austral migrants and dispersals from Malaysia, but come December some of these birds might head here again. With so many pairs of keen eyes and quick cameras around nowadays, it has become easier than ever to track the habits of these vultures. The small bits of information we are able to piece together through social media may not seem like much, but as we repeat the process year after year, new insights into the birds’ habits may reveal themselves. It doesn’t take much to help: just share your sightings and submit your record to our database!

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to Con Foley, Daryl Tan, Feroz, Herman Phua, Jared Tan, Justin Jing Liang, Lim Ser Chai, Marcel Finlay, Martin Kennewell, Siew Mun, Trevor Teo, Wee Aik Kiat, Wong Weng Fai and Woo Jia Wei for sharing excellent images of the birds. We also thank the community for sharing the sightings very promptly, allowing everyone to get exciting views of the birds. Last but not least we thank the Singapore Birds Project team for comments on this article.

References

Praveen, J., Nameer, P.O., Karuthedathu, D., Ramaiah, C., Balakrishnan, B., Rao, K. M., Shurpali, S., Puttaswamaiah, R., & Tavcar, I. (2014). On the vagrancy of the Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis to southern India. Indian BIRDS, 9(1), 19-22. pdf

Yong, D. L., & Kasorndorkbua, C. (2008). The status of the Himalayan Griffon Gyps himalayensis in South-east Asia. Forktail, 24, 57-62. pdf and associated erratum  

Errata
18 May 2022: We previously mislabelled the dates for the Pasir Ris Park and Bukit Batok Himalayan Vulture photos, the map, and the first Common Kestrel photo.

Checklist Revision for February 2022

Prepared by the Singapore Bird Records Committee

The latest update of our checklist, version 2022-1, has been published. It can be accessed at our Downloads page.


Since the last bird list revision in September 2021, our team has voted on over 100 records of rare species in Singapore. Although our latest votes are always available at our Recent Decisions page, we will continue to publish regular updates to keep our readers updated on the latest avifaunal developments, including recent advances in taxonomy. 

Along with this update, we are also launching a live version of our checklist! For the past six years, the Singapore Birds Project has published checklists every half a year. However, with the growth in observer effort and information available, the combined knowledge of Singapore’s birding community is rapidly increasing. Within a short span of five months since our last checklist update, the checklist has seen a net gain of seven species. We will continue to release half-yearly checklist updates in Excel format, but latest developments can be tracked in the live checklist.

There are now three versions of our checklist: the simplified live list on our main website, the more detailed live checklist on our Records Committee site, and lastly, a snapshot of the checklist published at regular intervals, accessible at our Downloads page. The first two are updated as the Records Committee evaluates new records, while the snapshot is typically updated twice a year along with IOC taxonomic revisions.

Our downloadable checklist now also comes with new information on each species, including status in the Singapore Red Data Book, as well as rarity status (based on our Rarities List), local status, checklist category, and links to our Singapore Bird Database for relevant species.


Added to checklist

Ashy-headed Green Pigeon Treron phayrei [Record 10001]: The committee deliberated extensively on this bird recorded at Dillenia Hut from 9 to 11 Oct 2021. This species is not known to occur south of the Isthmus of Kra, with no records in Malaysia, but Treron pigeons are known to wander widely in search of fruit sources. The final decision was to accept the individual as a wild bird and place the species in Cat A (for species that have occurred naturally in the wild within the last 30 years), a thorough discussion of this record is available in this article and at the link above.

Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata [Record 10002]: One record at Kent Ridge Park from 15-29 Oct 2021. While there are recent records in the Philippines and Taiwan, this is the first record for continental Southeast Asia. The committee voted unanimously to place this species in Cat A.

Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis [Record 10005]: A single bird off Clementi Road, 19-31 Oct 2021. Like the Spotted Flycatcher, this species is a long-distance migrant with most of the population wintering in India and Africa. Regarded as a vagrant and placed unanimously in Cat A.

Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris [Record 10082]: One record of a single bird at Marina East Drive from 13 to 15 Dec 2021. A known vagrant with records in Malaysia and further north, as well as Borneo, but this is the first national record. Placed in Cat A on a unanimous vote.

Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros [Record 10069]: One record at Pasir Panjang, first seen on 28 Nov 2021 and subsequently by many observers; still present as of Feb 2022. Age, sex, and subspecies remain unclear as of writing, but further observation of the bird may provide more insight. Regarded as a vagrant and unanimously placed in Cat A.

Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus [Record 10106]: A vagrant individual with Himalayan Griffons Gyps himalayensis at Singapore Botanic Gardens, 29-30 Dec 2021; subsequently found weak and unable to fly near Holland Road. Rescued, rehabilitated, and released early this year. Placed in Cat A on a unanimous vote.

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus tenellipes [Record 10030]: One record of a vagrant present from 12 Nov to at least 3 Dec 2021 at Macritchie Reservoir was unanimously accepted and the species placed in Cat A. This species is a regular winter visitor to Thailand but is believed to be rarer than the visually identical Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. borealoides further south in the peninsula.

Previous records not accepted, but species maintained in checklist

Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta [Record 10032; Record 748]: A previous record in April 1991 was reviewed by the committee and not accepted as the descriptions provided do not conclusively rule out Dark-sided Flycatcher M. sibirica. However, a single bird present from 9-17 Nov 2021 was accepted as the first national record and the species was therefore retained in the checklist in Cat A.

Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker Prionochilus thoracicus [Record 10056; Record 10055]: Upon review by the committee, a record from 1 Jan 2015 was not accepted due to lack of supporting evidence. The record of an individual at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve on 29 Nov 2021 was, however, accepted and the species was retained in the checklist in Cat A.

Considered for inclusion

Long-eared Owl Asio otus [Record 10042]: After much deliberation, the committee decided on a split vote that the single sighting of this bird at Marina East Drive on 20 Nov 2021 most likely pertained to a ship-assisted individual rather than a wild bird. For more detailed discussion of this record, see the record linked above.

Removed from checklist

Temminck’s Stint Calidris temminckii [Past records]: As the last record of this species in Singapore was in Oct 1984, it exceeds the 30-year threshold for inclusion in the checklist. The committee placed this species in Cat B1 (for species which would appear in Cat A, but without records within the last 30 years).

Eurasian Coot Fulica atra [Past records]: Like Temminck’s Stint, this species has not been recorded locally in the last 30 years and was therefore assigned to Cat B1 and removed from the checklist.

Still pending review

Christmas Frigatebird Fregata andrewsi [Record 10163]: A record in May 2013 was outside Singapore’s territorial waters; the most recent confirmed record within Singapore’s geographical boundaries was in May 1986, which exceeds the 30-year threshold for inclusion in the checklist. If the record from Marina East Drive (see record linked above) is accepted, the species would be moved from the Annex to Cat A.

Other minor change

Stejneger’s Stonechat is renamed to Amur Stonechat following taxonomic updates by the IOC. 

Singapore Birds Database: A Digital Museum of Local Bird Information

~Record keeping with the future in mind~

By Sin Yong Chee Keita & Dillen Ng

Summary

  • The Singapore Birds Database contains an easy-to-use search interface that allows you to look up information on locally rare bird species
  • More than 1000 records across over 160 species are now freely available to the public
  • You can contribute to our project by completing this simple form if you encounter any rare birds
  • Feel free to contact us via the Singapore Birds Project regarding any feedback or suggestions
  • If you need help with identification,  don’t hesitate to ask on our Facebook group where many regionally experienced birdwatchers are present
  • To find out more about our philosophy and objectives of this database, check out this write-up

Basic questions but who has the answers?

A Digital Museum. Quite a catchy name, isn’t it? Now that we have grabbed your attention, here are some simple questions that we want to ask you: How many times has the Fairy Pitta been recorded in Singapore? The answer is twice. Easy, right! It’s been all over the news recently. Okay then, what about Chinese Blue Flycatcher? Hmm, there were some recent records but it’s difficult to be certain of the total count. Two? Three? The answer is four. Well, what about the Northern Boobook? Now that’s a tough one. Does anyone have this information at their fingertips…? A rather basic piece of information, it seems—just how many times a species has been seen. Yet no one appears to have the answer.

From left: Fairy Pitta Pitta nympha, Chinese Blue Flycatcher Cyornis glaucicomans, and Northern Boobook Ninox japonica. Photos by Dillen Ng and Sin Yong Chee Keita.

To find out more, let’s check what Singapore Birds Project has to say about the Northern Boobook.

Local Status: Uncommon migrant

Location: Records from Tuas South, Pasir Ris Park, and Satay by the Bay but could conceivably occur in any place with trees. 

This gives us some rough ideas about the species. It certainly is not a common bird, so maybe less than 20 records in total? Still we’d like to know more details. After all, it is still a highly sought after species—knowing where and when to look for it provides clues on the best way to find an individual.

Searching eBird is not particularly effective either. There are a large number of data points with some being repeats of the same sighting, and it would be too time consuming to click through every point on the map.

Map of Northern Boobook sightings on eBird

Finding the answer to this seemingly simple question is actually rather difficult. One would first need to make an excel spreadsheet, click through every eBird data point, then collapse possibly duplicated sightings…and that’s not all. To obtain pre-eBird era information, there would also be a need to flip through old literature to tabulate all records.

This used to be the convoluted journey that any curious birdwatcher had to take to learn about most species, but that will no longer be the case.

Introducing the Singapore Birds Database

Using our newly launched Singapore Birds Database, you can get your answer in just a few clicks. All you need to do is to search for a species name, and voila! We can see that there are at least 16 confirmed local records of the Northern Boobook. How easy is that?!

The Singapore Birds Database contains local records of over 160 species of rare birds. Not only are details on the dates, location and species name of sightings included, we also provide links to primary sources (if available online) such as Facebook or scientific publications so that anybody can verify the data for themselves. For cases where there are records of a rarity at the same (or nearby) location after a period of absence, if we think that multiple records refer to the same individual, we provide internal links so that users can cross-reference the records.

A search of Northern Boobook in the Singapore Birds Database

How the Singapore Birds Database was conceptualised

In 2019/2020, we had a tremendous migration season with vagrants such as a Fairy Pitta, Daurian Redstarts, and Taiga Flycatchers showing up. It was quite extraordinary and we worked to publish about its peculiarity together with Singapore’s eBird reviewer, Martin Kennewell. Researching for our paper was very challenging because basic information about a species in Singapore (e.g. how many times has it been seen) was not readily available.

We thought to ourselves, why not create a database to address this problem? In January 2020, we decided to embark on a massive project to compile all records of significant bird species in Singapore. And let’s not just compile it for personal use. Let’s make it public. Let’s make it comprehensive. Let’s make it easy to use. Let’s make sure that it is regularly updated. Let’s make it free to use. And most importantly, let’s make it transparent. We aim for this database to provide records, substantiated with primary evidence, such that users can also question and independently arrive at answers themselves.

We reviewed over 1000 records manually by checking through every available primary source, visiting libraries countless times, and trawling through the web like crazy. After 1.5 years of effort, we are finally ready to launch this database via the Singapore Birds Project website. For those who are keen, you can find out more about the processes and philosophy of our work in this write-up.

How can you be a part of our project?

  1. If you encounter any rare species, please submit your sighting at this link to play a part in documenting Singapore’s avifauna. We also strongly encourage you to make use of eBird for your day-to-day birding adventures.
  2. Please let us know if you notice any errors! We will do our best to update the database as soon as possible and with proper acknowledgements.
  3. Lastly, if you have any ideas for our database or the Singapore Birds Project, feel free to contact us!

Moving forward

All records submitted to our database will be reviewed by the Singapore Birds Project Record Committee. One key focus behind our integrated user submission system and database is transparency, because we believe in making all records and decisions publicly accessible. Given that sightings are shared across a variety of online platforms nowadays, we will continue to actively look out for records of rarities to prevent data from slipping through the cracks, while encouraging user submissions. We aim to cover all bases by being vigilant and using a future ready approach.

The birdwatching community in Singapore has been growing rapidly and everyone is yearning to learn more about our feathered friends. The Singapore Birds Project has filled in the niche for being a reliable source of updated and accurate bird information. This new database is a big step forward in our aim to contribute to the local community. We aim to update our database with more information and explore various avenues to utilise this data. We hope to continue doing our work, not alone, but as a community together with all of you.

Acknowledgements

Raghav Narayanswamy and Francis Yap: A massive thank you to the two of you for creating the digital platform to present our database in such an elegant manner. If not for your efforts, our work would have been constrained to a single excel spreadsheet.

Adrian Silas Tay, Goh Cheng Teng, Lester Tan, Martin Kennewell, Richard White, and See Toh Yew Wai: The feedback all of you provided when testing the initial stages of our database helped improve our public interface tremendously.

Elize Ng, Geraldine Lee, Movin Nyanasengeran, Sandra Chia, Tan Hui Zhen, Twang Fang Qi: Your reviews helped to greatly refine our overarching document that explains the processes behind our work. Thanks for your time in reading through 18 pages of texts. We will probably continue sending you all our future blog posts, so be prepared :p

Martin Kennewell: We are constantly blown away by how you take on the herculean task of curating Singapore’s eBird data with such precision. Your efforts over the past few years in promoting the use of this platform locally is finally paying dividends. Thank you so much for your work!

Bird Ecology Study Group, Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group, Oriental Bird Club: Efforts and publications by these organisations have served as key documentation for numerous historical records, to which we are grateful for.

The past and present administrators of key Facebook groups (Bird Sightings, Birder’s Group, Singapore Birders): Curating content on Facebook is not easy [I know, because I’ve recently become one of them! – Keita] and the efforts have allowed us to search for important information when compiling modern records. Thank you for your effort.

Every single person who has contributed to advancing the local ornithology scene over the past two centuries: Thank you, if not for the efforts of everybody who documented and shared their records, we would be living in a very different community today.

PIPIT101: Identifying Singapore’s First Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis

Written by Richard White, infographic by Keita Sin
Editing by Martin Kennewell, Keita Sin, Sandra Chia, & Dillen Ng

The birding community was presented with an identification challenge today with the arrival of a vagrant pipit species. These small, brown, streaky birds can be difficult to identify at the best of times. An unfamiliar, out of context, vagrant can be a real headache. So how to start the identification process? These notes might help.

Worldwide, there are about 40 species of pipit, mostly in the genus Anthus. Within Southeast Asia nine species are regular; in Singapore Paddyfield Pipit A. rufulus is a resident breeder, Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus is an annual non-breeding visitor in small numbers and Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni is a rare vagrant with only one record at Bidadari in December 2010.

A bird discovered in a small suburban park in Clementi, Singapore, on 23 October 2021 by Soh Kok Choong was initially misidentified as a Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis. This species is a rare vagrant to Singapore with one previous record at Pandan Reservoir in November 2018. Jan Jaap Brinkman saw the post on 25 October, realized it was not a Eurasian Skylark but more likely to be a Tree Pipit A. trivialis (a first record for Singapore), and alerted the birding community. It was relocated quickly on 25 October and the identification of Tree Pipit confirmed.

But how do we know it is a Tree Pipit? Ideally, it would have been heard to call. While pipits tend to look alike (variations on brown and streaky), their calls are helpful and in most cases distinctive. Calls are notoriously hard to describe, which is why I am going to direct you to resources such as Xeno-canto should you wish to learn more about pipit calls. Unfortunately, this bird was either silent or could not be heard to call over the traffic on Clementi Road.

Faced with a silent pipit, how do we make an identification? First, let’s discount the commoner options (without spending time here on why it is not a Eurasian Skylark).

Of the three pipit species previously recorded in Singapore, Paddyfield Pipit is the commonest and therefore most likely pipit to be encountered. It is one of the larger pipits, >16 cm long and has a longer-legged and more upright appearance than the other pipits which are smaller and more horizontal in their stance. Size has to be used carefully, since the smaller pipit are merely < 16 cm long. Without being very familiar with pipits, this marginal size difference in a lone vagrant individual may not be helpful. The other feature that points away from Paddyfield Pipit is the extensive streaking across the breast of this bird, more than would be found on a Paddyfield Pipit. This combined with the short-legged, more horizontal gait, indicate that this pipit is not a Paddyfield.

Red-throated Pipit is the next most likely option. Smaller, with a more horizontal gait, this species is similar to a Tree Pipit in non-breeding plumage. However, the streaking on the breast typically extends strongly onto the flanks which this bird does not have. The upperparts are usually more boldly streaked to the rump as well, again lacking in this bird. Red-throated Pipit also typically has strong off-white mantle braces. These pale lines can be seen on this bird, but are not as well marked as would be expected on a Red-throated Pipit. The plumage tones of this bird give an impression of warm buff/browns in tone, while Red-throated Pipit should be colder grey/browns. So it appears the bird is not a Red-throated Pipit and therefore a real rarity.

Olive-backed Pipit is the only other pipit species to be recorded in Singapore. As the name suggests, the upperparts of this species should give an impression of olive/brown, which is not seen on this individual. Olive-backed Pipit typically also shows a strongly marked head and face pattern, with a clear supercilium above the eye and a well marked spot at the rear of the ear coverts. Lacking these features, this bird is not an Olive-backed Pipit either.

Now into the territory of a national first, the list of possibilities opens up. Within the region, Rosy Pipit A. roseatus would be more boldly marked, and Buff-bellied Pipit A. japonicus lacks the warm plumage tones of this bird. It is not one of the larger pipits (Richard’s A. richardii, Blyth’s A. blythi or Long-billed A. similis). We are left with Tree Pipit or maybe something even more extreme from outwith the region, such as a Pechora Pipit A. gustavi or Meadow Pipit A. pratensis.

Pechora Pipit is easily discounted since it shows a distinct primary projection beyond the longest tertial, which this bird does not show.

Meadow Pipit, typically a short distance migrant, is an outside chance from much further west. Though this makes it less expected, it should be considered. It is superfically very similar to Tree Pipit, but typically shows a clustered spot of streaking in the centre of the breast not shown by this bird. It is also less likely to perch in trees as this bird did often. The call is different but this silent bird does not help us. Finally and conclusively, scrutiny of digital images shows this bird has a short hind claw – shorter than would be seen on a Meadow Pipit.

Our lone, silent, pipit can be confidently identified as a Tree Pipit based on the plumage and structural features, as well as the behaviour and gait (jizz):

  1. Underparts: Well marked narrow black streaks across the chest/breast on a warm buff base. Streaks do not extend strongly onto the flanks
  2. Upperparts: warm buff/brown, with dark centred feathers giving a well marked, but not strongly contrasting, appearance. A well marked row of median primary coverts were slightly darker centred and paler fringed than surrounding feathers, producing a clear (but not bold) wing bar.
  3. General behaviour: spent most time walking through long grass foraging for invertebrates with a horizontal gait and occasionally giving gentle tail pumps (which is also a feature of Olive-backed Pipit). Flew with a strong bounding flight into mid-canopy of trees where it would perch, rest and preen before returning to feeding on the ground.
Key identification features of the Paddyfield, Red-throated, Olive-backed and Tree Pipit. Photo and infographic: Keita Sin
eBird screenshot of the Tree Pipit, taken 25 October 2021. It can be seen that this species is a long-distance migrant that winters in Africa and India.
eBird screenshot of the Meadow Pipit, taken 25 October 2021. This species is typically a short distance migrant, distributed further west than the Tree Pipit. It is therefore less expected for this species to arrive in Singapore.

Further notes:
1) Edited 26 October 2021: The upperparts description previously read “A well marked row of greater primary coverts … …”. This has been corrected to “row of median primary coverts … …”.
2) After the release of our article, Siti Soedarsono shared with us that she photographed the bird earlier at the same site on 19 October 2021. This date serves as the new first date for this record. We thank Siti for graciously sharing the information.

Why you should start using eBird!

Imagine a world where you could predict the arrival of your favourite migratory bird, get immediate identification help for an unfamiliar bird, and contribute to science and conservation just by being out in the field. I have some fantastic news for you…that’s the world we live in now!

BirdCast is a forecast map that utilises weather forecast maps to model bird migration. Scientists from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are able to track data on how birds travel, allowing myriads of research ranging from the effects of climate change, to single events such as the influences of hurricanes on bird movements to be projected. One of the key components that makes BirdCast functional is data from eBird. The most rudimentary form of data – actual bird encounters from the birdwatchers in the field – are combined with highly intricate weather surveillance infrastructure, to make fairly accurate predictions of bird migration. A well-known example of how eBird data has transformed the birding experience of beginners is the Merlin platform which uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to identify birds. Users simply need to upload a photograph or sound recording of the bird and the AI will suggest several potential candidates. This complex AI did not magically appear, though – it was made possible through feeding tons of photographs and sound recordings to the computing system, once again with the help of eBird data. These platforms allow birding to be much more targeted, focused, and friendly, both for beginners and the most hardcore of birdwatchers. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Now here’s the catch: at present, BirdCast is only available in the United States. The platform was first launched in 2018, and research is still concentrated in the area where eBird data is most abundant. On the other hand, although Merlin started out being only available in United States initially, there is now a package for Singapore, though it still struggles with similar looking birds such as Phylloscopus warblers. With enough contribution from the regional birding community, other platforms such as BirdCast will hopefully be made available to us as well. A massive way you could contribute to improving the precision of these tools is by contributing to eBird.

eBird is a citizen-science platform that was first launched over 10 years ago (Sullivan et al., 2009) and anybody is able to create an account for free. Through the platform, bird sighting information, along with their photographs and sound recordings, can be uploaded. A highly user-friendly mobile phone application is available and all you need to do when you are out birding is to start a list, select a location, and just tap a button that corresponds to a species you encounter in the field. Detailed information such as sex, behaviour, and other observations can be optionally added. A web platform is also available where you can later upload the photographs and sound recordings you took.

A simple example of how the eBird mobile app works. All you need to do is tap some simple buttons!

In your eBird account, not only will you be able to check your daily sightings, but you can also track your birding statistics by generating monthly or yearly summaries. Furthermore, there is a particular function that you would definitely love as a birder – the needs and rarities alert. These alerts will send you emails when other eBirders find a bird that you need (i.e. not recorded in your eBird account) or are locally significant. In these alerts, you can even set multiple filters to suit your needs: for example, if you have seen a Fairy Pitta Pitta nympha elsewhere before, you might not necessarily find the need to see one in Singapore so you can filter it out from your personalised eBird alert list. On the other hand, if you are doing a big year, you might want to search for relatively common birds such as the Dark-sided Flycatcher Muscicapa sibirica the moment one is locally seen.

The eBird settings page where you can subscribe to your preferred alerts.

Some might have reservations regarding immediate sharing of sightings – certain sites such as housing estates might be sensitive, or some birds might be nesting when you find them. In such cases, you can also upload your data post-hoc through an easily formattable excel sheet once you are comfortable with making the data public. Likewise, if you prefer to be private, there are options to upload your sightings anonymously or hide your lists (you will still need an account, but your name/list will not be displayed publicly). Additionally, concerns about the dangers of publicising locations for species such as the Critically Endangered Straw-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus zeylanicus due to the presence of poaching activities can be eased: there is a “sensitive species” filter set by regional reviewers that hides specific sites.

You might also be thinking: “I’m not a bird expert, what if I make mistakes?” – don’t worry! eBird data is constantly curated by regional reviewers that will ensure that the information is as accurate as possible. When potential mistakes are noticed, you will be notified via email. Moreover, when you are submitting data via the eBird application, the platform will flag out potential rarities that will allow you to enter specifics of your sightings. These filters are constantly reviewed and updated by the local expert (the eBird reviewer) to ensures that the flags do not appear irrelevantly. Uploading photographs and sound recordings will also be helpful, as not only is the reviewer able to check the data, any eBird user is able to report incorrect identifications. Similarly, you might be apprehensive about the perceived “quality” of the data you are contributing: “what if all the birds are common and boring? Won’t such data be useless?” – the answer is no! Data of all species – however common they are – are very valuable when conducting scientific research and consequently conservation planning. For example, if there is a site with 100 checklists per month, mostly filled with common species such as Yellow-vented Bulbuls P. goiavier and Brown-throated Sunbirds Anthreptes malacensis, we can be quite sure that conclusions we make based on information from the area is fairly accurate. Conversely, if checklists at such sites are not created because the species assemblage is “mundane”, the area will end up becoming a big question mark – could there be an undetected population of Greater Green Leafbirds Chloropsis sonnerati hiding there? Could there be huge numbers of introduced waxbills colonising the place? Furthermore, species that we think as “common” today might not continue to be in the future and vice versa. For example, the Red-wattled Lapwing Vanellus indicus, ubiquitous in most grassfields in Singapore today, was actually a locally rare bird just 20 years ago (Lok & Subaraj, 2009; Wang & Hails, 2007)! A steady stream of checklist will tremendously improve the data quality.

In Singapore, many of us share our sightings through social media sites such as Facebook groups or Telegram/WhatsApp groups; the eBird patronship fraction in our community is still relatively low. However, the number of eBirders has been rapidly picking up since ~2015, and the impacts of this increased usership have been tremendous. For example, Singapore’s first Siberian House Martin Delichon lagopodum and Hair-crested Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus were only discovered months after the birds were gone by A/P Frank Rheindt from the NUS Avian lab when he was scrolling through eBird photographs of the similar looking Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus and Crow-billed Drongo Dicrurus annectans. Similarly, counts from eBird were very useful in quantifying the sheer oddity of the 2019/2020 migration season we enjoyed two years back, especially for species including the Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica and Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida (Sin, Ng, & Kennewell, 2020). Data are not just restricted to members from the Cornell lab, but can be downloaded by any citizen-scientist or researcher upon request. These database, unlike information that are stored in notebooks, scattered pdfs, or people’s memory, are easily searchable and accessible. Both scientific and conservation action can be achieved with fine scale information, to which you can be a part of.

eBird data confirmed that the Red-rumped Swallow occurred in very high numbers during the 2019/2020 migratory season. This photograph was taken in Japan. Photo credit: Keita Sin

With all that said, I hope this article has broadened your perspective on how you can be an important contributor to bird science as well as improve the birding experience in our local scene!

Acknowledgements

A massive, massive thanks to Martin Kennewell (Singapore’s eBird reviewer) for the constant efforts in promoting the platform locally as well as taking on the tremendous task of moderating the data throughout the past few years. I also thank my team members from the Singapore Bird Project (Dillen, Francis, Movin, Raghav, Sandra), as well as Tan Hui Zhen and Geraldine Lee for comments on this article. Last but not least, a huge thanks to all eBird users out there, and if you are not one, I hope this article has convinced you to be one!

Disclaimer: Cornell is not paying me to write this article and I am also not presently involved in any research with them at the moment (I wish they did, and I wish I were!). I am an ardent eBird user and believe in the importance of data sharing and accurate data curation by the appropriate reviewer.

Literature cited

Sin, Y. C. K., Ng, D., & Kennewell, M. (2020). An unprecedented influx of vagrants into Malaysia and Singapore during the 2019–2020 winter period. BirdingASIA, 33, 142-147. Link: https://avianevonusdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2020/09/sin-et-al-2020_unprecedented-influx-of-vagrants-into-malaysia-and-singapore-2019-2020-1.pdf

Sullivan, B. L., Wood, C. L., Iliff, M. J., Bonney, R. E., Fink, D., & Kelling, S. (2009). eBird: A citizen-based bird observation network in the biological sciences. Biological Conservation, 142(10), 2282-2292. Link: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Rick-Bonney/publication/248200195_eBird_A_citizen-based_bird_observation_network_in_the_biological_sciences/links/5747432808ae14040e28cf96/eBird-A-citizen-based-bird-observation-network-in-the-biological-sciences.pdf

Lok, A., & Subaraj, R. (2009). Lapwings (Charadriidae: Vanellinae) of Singapore. Nature in Singapore, 2, 125-134. Link: https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/app/uploads/2017/06/2009nis125-134.pdf

Wang, L. K., & Hails, C. J. (2007). An annotated checklist of the birds of Singapore. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Supplement, 15, 1-179. Link: https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/publications/raffles-bulletin-of-zoology/supplements/supplement-no-15/

Bird List Revision for September 2021 – Special Edition

The Singapore Birds Project checklist is updated regularly according to taxonomic updates by the International Ornithological Committee (IOC). Our team recently conducted a thorough review to vote on additional species to be added to or removed from the checklist. In the spirit of ensuring that accurate information is provided in a timely fashion, we decided to release a Special Edition prior to the next IOC update. The downloadable list (in Excel format) is available HERE.

Along with this update, we would like to welcome Raghav to the team. Our growing Singapore Birds Project main team consists of Keita Sin (chair), Sandra Chia (vice-chair), Dillen Ng, Francis Yap (site admin), Movin Nyanasengeran and Raghav Narayanswamy. Many of you have provided us generous comments for our work which we are very grateful for. Suggestions and constructive criticisms, as always, are strongly welcome! Please feel free to reach out to us via the Contact Us section.

A write-up of how our checklist operates will be released soon. In the mean time, here are the details for the changes to the checklist.

Added

Orange-breasted Green Pigeon: A vagrant to Singapore with a single record of a male from Japanese Garden on 22 December 2007.

Masked Lapwing: This species native to Australia has breeding records dating back to at least 2004. The growing population seems to be sustainable and recent sightings include a flock of ~50 birds along a canal in Bedok.

Javan Plover: A single, very likely breeding record from Pulau Tekong in mid-2021. More records of this expanding species might be expected in the near future.

Milky Stork and Painted Stork: Both species of storks have been introduced to Singapore since at least 1987. Their breeding is indicated by ever-present juveniles at multiple sites in Singapore coupled with the numerous nests around Mandai. A recent genomic analysis by Baveja et al (2019) revealed an alarming result that many of the storks in Singapore are hybrids at some level. However, some genetically pure Milky Stork still exists. The Painted Storks sampled in the study were at best backcrosses between first generation hybrids and pure ones, but this species is also added to the checklist on balance that evidence suggest the presence of pure individuals.

Pied Kingfisher: A single record from Punggol on 18 September 1995. The same species was recorded at Southern Johor in early 2016 as well.

Crimson-winged Woodpecker: Sightings from Bukit Timah in 2001, at least one of which was accompanied by sketches. Several other reports continuing up to 2008 are unsubstantiated thus far.

Monk Parakeet: This species is native to South America and has been present since at least 2009, with nesting records dating back to 2012. The presence of multiple breeding records coupled with the recent westward expansion is indicative of an alarming population growth.

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch: Multiple sightings of a single individual in Bukit Timah from 1996 to 1999. A non-breeding visitor to Singapore.

Red-billed Starling: A total of four records in Singapore. While the provenance of each specific record remains to be assessed, increasing evidence of vagrancy from Indochina and the Philippines are indicative that wild birds occur in Singapore.

Golden-backed Weaver: The proliferation of this species in suitable habitats has been highly visible. Strongholds at Kranji Marshes and Lorong Halus show that this species is clearly well-established. The obvious displacement of native Baya Weavers is worrying.

Deleted

Yellow-crested Cockatoo: This introduced species only occurs in small numbers in Singapore, indicative that there is a lack of a self-sustaining population. Multiple reports of hybridising Yellow/Sulphur x Tanimbar Cockatoos are also strongly suggestive that individuals are struggling to find mates from their own species. Moreover, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos are more numerous than this species.

The following species were deleted from our checklist on the basis that there have not been any conclusive records in the nation for over 30 years.

Eurasian Teal, Dunlin, Roseate Tern, Hen Harrier, Plain Sunbird, Yellow-breasted Bunting, Eurasian Woodcock, Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle, Oriental Hobby

Shifted to Annex

This category houses species that have been recorded in the vicinity of Singaporean waters in the past 30 years. One should keep a lookout as there is a chance that these birds can be encountered within our national boundaries during pelagic trips. We keep an open mind about pelagic species and consider both quantitative (GPS coordinates) and qualitative evidences (descriptions of the sighting and ecological background of the species) when assessing such birds.

Lesser Black-backed Gull: A record from 20 November 2011 along the Singapore Straits with an unfortunate lack of GPS coordinates nor detailed descriptions.

Christmas Frigatebird: A single record outside Singapore waters from 4 May 2013.

References

Baveja, P., Tang, Q., Lee, J. G., & Rheindt, F. E. (2019). Impact of genomic leakage on the conservation of the endangered Milky Stork. Biological Conservation, 229, 59-66.

An Indonesian Archipelago Wishlist: Birds to Look Out For

The recent sighting of the Javan Plover Charadrius javanicus at a reclaimed site northeast of Singapore island was exciting yet unsurprising. Exciting because it was a first for Singapore and continental Southeast Asia that caught everyone off guard (then again, none of us are really prepared for megas!) and unsurprising because this is a species whose range has been slowly expanding over the years (Iqbal et al., 2011; Eaton et al., 2021). The appearance, and likely breeding of this species is highly relevant to recent changes in regional avifauna, especially when taking into account the first breeding records for the Pied Stilt Himantopus leucocephalus and Black-winged Stilt H. himantopus that were documented at the same site in 2019 and again this year, respectively.

Apart from the Javan Plover, several other species traditionally known to be from the Indonesian Archipelago (that comprises Sumatra, Borneo, Java and other Indonesian islands west of the Wallace Line) could potentially be found in Singapore and the neighbouring regions. Here are the distinguishing features of the Javan Plover and seven other species readers can keep an eye out for!

Javan Plover Charadrius javanicus

This species closely resembles the Kentish Plover, a locally uncommon migrant. Features including warm buff ear-coverts and relatively heavier bill and longer legs point to the Javan Plover. For those keen to learn more, detailed distinguishing features are described in Iqbal et al. (2013). Other regular plovers in Singapore can be distinguished by a combination of several other features. Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers have incomplete white-bands on their neck, Malaysian Plover have more “sandy-looking” upperparts, and White-faced Plover has a plain looking face as its name suggests.

Wandering Whistling Duck Dendrocygna arcuata

Although this species used to be an uncommon introduced species (Wang & Hails, 2007), the last local sighting was in 2016 (eBird) and the feral population has likely crashed for good. Being highly dispersive, wild birds could possibly wander here in due time. In fact, there is a record from Perak, Malaysia, that may conceivably be of wild provenance (but note that the current status of this species in Peninsula Malaysia is also introduced). It can be distinguished from the locally uncommon Lesser Whistling Duck by its lack of yellow eye ring and distinct white flanks.

Sunda Teal Anas gibberifrons

A species that seems to be undergoing a rapid range expansion across Borneo, Sulawesi and Sumatra (Eaton et al., 2016; 2021; Iqbal, 2016; MNSBCC Records Committee, 2016). With records in Sumatra not too far from Singapore, this funny looking duck might make its way here in the near future. It is much darker and browner than the local Whistling Ducks, with a distinct bulge on the male’s forehead. It prefers brackish water although other wetland habitats are also possible sites to look out for this species. Although various breeds of domestic ducks have been released in Singapore, these typically look more Mallard-like, with variable amount of colouration on their heads and wingpanels. Having said that, most if not all wild ducks in Singapore are typically worth celebration, so if in doubt of identification, it’s best to share the sighting for confirmation.

Black-backed Swamphen Porphyrio indicus

Swamphen taxonomy is rather incongruent, with much left to be discovered (Garcia-R & Trewick, 2015; Callaghan et al., 2020; Eaton et al., 2021; Gill et al., 2021). Records from Singapore are thought to be the Grey-headed Swamphen viridis (Wang & Hails, 2007; Callaghan et al., 2020), but possible integrades have been recorded before locally (Wells, 1990). The distribution of the Black-backed Swamphen is also contentious especially on Sumatra, with the two forms likely mixing (Wells, 1999; Taylor, 2020; Eaton et al., 2021). The Grey-headed Swamphen is another species struggling to survive in Singapore – a common theme for local waterbirds – and was last seen in 2018 (eBird). But if you do happen to see one, be sure to check its back colour. Black-backed Swamphen can be distinguished by having darker upperparts and face.

Australasian Grebe Tachybaptus novaehollandiae

The Australasian Grebe is capable of undertaking overwater dispersals (Llimona et al., 2020). Recent new records from Sulawesi and southern Sumatra (Eaton et al., 2016; Eaton et al., 2021) suggest a possible range expansion underway. Its habitat requirements are similar to the locally rare Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis from which it can be distinguished by its darker neck and ear coverts. Given that the Little Grebe is already struggling to survive in Singapore at the moment, the chances of the Australasian Grebe breeding here like the plovers did are probably low, but they’re certainly worth looking out for.

Little Black Cormorant Phalacrocorax sulcirostris

Another species that seems to be experiencing a spread across the Sumatran coast (Eaton et al., 2021). Waterbodies – both coastal and inland – are potential locations to find this species. Locally, escaped individuals of the Great Cormorant and Little Cormorant have been documented (Wang & Hails, 2007). There were apparently two local records of the Little Black Cormorant as well in August and September 1993 (Oriental Bird Club, 1994; Lim, 2009). Assessing the provenance of cormorants can be a challenge in Singapore so do try to obtain high quality images of them (especially the legs) if you find one.

Little Egret Egretta garzetta nigripes

Knowledge on the distribution of this taxon in our region is far from ideal. Present from Indonesia through eastern Australia, it seems to be spreading across Sumatra (Iqbal, 2012; del Hoyo et al., 2020; Eaton et al., 2021). Their local status varies from “uncommon”, “sparing” to “probable” (Wang & Hails, 2007; Robson, 2014; Puan et al., 2020) and there is still much for us to document. Possible integrades have been seen in Singapore too. Various bare part colouration distinguishes this taxon apart from the locally common migrant Little Egret garzetta (Bakewell, 2019), perhaps most distinct among them being their toe colour – black in nigripes, yellow in garzetta in breeding plumage (images 14 & 15). However, caution should be taken during identification as juveniles and non-breeding garzetta can have duller feet and mud can affect feet colour (Robson, 2014).

 

Sacred Kingfisher Todiramphus sanctus

This species breeds in Australia and is a highly likely contender for showing up on Singapore given that it is an Austral migrant to Borneo and Indonesia, similar to the Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis. Multiple people have claimed an encounter with this species in Singapore and it is also listed to be present in Robson (2014). However, none of the records have been adequately substantiated and a record from Thailand in February 2019 (Round et al., 2020) is the only formal record in our region thus far. The Sacred Kingfisher can be distinguished from the Collared Kingfisher T. chloris by its turquoise upperparts (as opposed to blue), smaller overall size and bill, and buff wash on its lores and flanks. Care is required in distinguishing this species from immature Collared Kingfishers as they can show some buff wash as well, but typically with scalloped plumage on their breast.

Acknowledgements

Huge thanks to Dave Bakewell, James Eaton and Khaleb Yordan for identification discussions on the Javan Plover identification online, as well as others we had offline. I would also like to express my gratitude to Frankie Cheong for documenting and sharing pictures of Singapore’s first Javan Plover, to the Singapore Birds Project team (Dillen, Francis, Movin, Raghav, Sandra) for comments on this article and to the following for sharing their excellent photos: Dillen Ng, Geraldine Lee, Goh Cheng Teng, Khaleb Yordan and Lim Hong Yao.

Literature Cited

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del Hoyo, J., Martínez-Vilalta, A., Motis, A., Collar, N., Kirwan, G. M., & Christie, D. A. (2020). Little Egret (Egretta garzetta), version 1.0. In Billerman, S.M., Keeney, B.K., Rodewald, P.G. & Schulenberg, T.S. (Eds.), Birds of the World. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.litegr.01

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