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.

Local extinctions of Singapore birds

There is an interesting paper recently published in the prestigious journal Conservation Biology by members of two National University of Singapore (NUS) labs titled “A robust non-parametric method for quantifying undetected extinctions” that came to our attention.

In it, they presented a novel method of estimating undetected extinction, i.e. the type of extinction events that may have taken place without humans taking note of them. They applied this new method to all 195 breeding bird species ever recorded in Singapore over the last 200 years. Of this number, 58 (~30%) are known to have gone extinct. They project probably another ~10 species have gone extinct without ever being discovered, thereby providing a more realistic extinction rate at ~33%.

The extinction of one-third of our resident bird species over the years represent a significant loss of our biodiversity. The authors also project based on the data from Singapore, an additional 14-16% loss of bird species in the region by the year 2100 with current deforestation rate. Some of our favorite birds are already extinct in Singapore. More will join their ranks without further conservation efforts, and it won’t be long before they are gone for good in the region as well.

One of the interesting side product of this new study is a new, extensively vetted list of all breeding birds ever recorded in Singapore based on thorough literature reviews going back to the 1800s. Reproduced with permission at the bottom of this post is a table containing the bird list of current and extinct species. This data represent a best effort by the authors at the time of publication. This website will use it as a starting point to update its own list in the future.

Photos of some of the birds that have gone extinct in Singapore:

Chisholm R.A., Giam X., Sadanandan K.R., Fung T. & Rheindt F.E. (2016). A robust non-parametric method for quantifying undetected extinctions. Conservation Biology.


Table A1. Resident native birds of Singapore recorded since 1819. This list excludes species that were introduced by humans or for which evidence for breeding activity is too sparse. Some species for which breeding evidence is doubtful are included in the table but were excluded from the analysis described in the paper.

Common Name Name First record Last record
Blue-breasted Quail Coturnix chinensis chinensis 1819 2014
Red Junglefowl Gallus gallus spadiceus 1985 2014
Lesser Whistling-duck Dendrocygna javanica 1977 2014
Barred Buttonquail Turnix suscitator atrogularis 1819 2014
Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker Dendrocopos moluccensis moluccensis 1819 2014
Rufous Woodpecker Celeus brachyurus squamigularis 1819 2014
White-bellied Woodpecker Dryocopus javensis javensis 1819 2001
Banded Woodpecker Picus miniaceus malaccensis 1819 2014
Crimson-winged Woodpecker Picus puniceus continentis 1819 1949
Checker-throated Woodpecker Picus mentalis humii 1819 1949
Laced Woodpecker Picus vittatus vittatus 1819 2014
Olive-backed Woodpecker Dinopium rafflesii rafflesii 1819 1949
Common Flameback Dinopium javanese javanese 1819 2014
Greater Flameback Chrysocolaptes lucidus chersoneus 1819 1908
Orange-backed Woodpecker Reinwardtipicus validus xanthopygius 1819 1920
Buff-rumped Woodpecker Meiglyptes tristis grammithora 1819 1949
Buff-necked Woodpecker Meiglyptes tukki tukki 1819 1949
Great Slaty Woodpecker Mulleripicus pulverulentus 1819 1949
Grey-and-Buff Woodpecker Hemicircus concretus sordidus 1819 1949
Lineated Barbet Megalaima lineata hodgsoni 1996 2014
Red-crowned Barbet Megalaima rafflesii malayensis 1819 2014
Blue-eared Barbet Magalaima australis duvaucelii 1819 1949
Coppersmith Barbet Magalaima haemacephala indica 1957 2014
Brown Barbet Calorhamphus fuliginosus 1819 1949
Oriental Pied Hornbill Anthracoceros albirostris convexus 1819 2014
Red-naped Trogon Harpactes kasumba kasumba 1819 1921
Diard’s Trogon Harpactes diardii sumatranus 1819 1921
Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis orientalis 1819 2014
Blue-eared Kingfisher Alcedo meninting verreauxi 1819 2014
Stork-billed Kingfisher Halcyon capensis malaccensis 1819 2014
White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis fusca 1819 2014
Collared Kingfisher Todiramphus chloris humii 1819 2014
Rufous-backed Kingfisher Ceyx erithacus rufidorsa 1819 1949
Ruddy Kingfisher Halcyon coromanda minor 1819 1986
Banded Kingfisher Lacedo pulchella 1819 1949
Rufous-collared Kingfisher Actenoides concretus concretus 1819 1938
Blue-throated Bee-eater Merops viridis viridis 1819 2014
Banded Bay Cuckoo Cacomantis sonneratii malayanus 1819 2014
Plaintive Cuckoo Cacomantis merulinus threnodes 1819 2014
Rusty-breasted Cuckoo Cacomantis sepulcralis sepulcralis 1819 2014
Little Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx minutillus malayanus 1819 2014
Violet Cuckoo Chrysococcyx xanthorhynchus xanthorhynchus 1819 2014
Drongo Cuckoo Surniculus lugubris barussarum 1819 2014
Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea malayana 1819 2014
Rhinortha Rhinortha chlorophaea 1819 1895
Black-bellied Malkoha Phaenicophaeus diardi diardi 1819 1949
Chestnut-bellied Malkoha Phaenicophaeus sumatranus sumatranus 1819 2014
Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis bubutus 1819 2014
Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis javanensis 1819 2014
Blue-rumped Parrot Psittinus cyanurus cyanurus 1819 2014
Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot Loriculus galgulus galgulus 1819 2014
Long-tailed Parakeet Psittacula longicauda longicauda 1819 2014
Glossy Swiftlet Collocalia esculenta cyanoptila 1819 2014
Black-nest Swiftlet Collocalia maxima maxima 1819 2014
Edible-nest Swiftlet Collocalia fuciphaga amechana 1819 2014
Asian Palm Swift Cypsiurus balasiensis infumatus 1819 2014
House Swift Apus affinis subfurcatus 1819 2014
Silver-rumped Needletail Rhaphidura leucopygialis 1819 1949
Grey-rumped Treeswift Hemiprocne longipennis harterti 1881 2014
Whiskered Treeswift Hemiprocne comata 1819 1969
Barn Owl Tyto alba javanica 1970 2014
Collared Scops Owl Otus lempiji lempiji 1819 2014
Barred Eagle Owl Bubo sumatranus sumatranus 1819 1925
Buffy Fish Owl Ketupa ketupa ketupa 1819 2014
Spotted Wood Owl Strix seloputo seloputo 1985 2014
Brown Hawk Owl Ninox scutulata scutulata 1819 2014
Malaysian Eared Nightjar Eurostopodus temminckii 1819 1989
Large-tailed Nightjar Caprimulgus macrurus bimaculatus 1819 2014
Savanna Nighjar Caprimulgus affinis affinis 1988 2014
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis tigrina 1819 2014
Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica indica 1819 2014
Peaceful Dove Geopelia striata striata 1819 2014
Cinnamon-headed Green Pigeon Treron fulvicollis fulvicollis 1819 1927
Little Green Pigeon Treron olax olax 1819 2014
Pink-necked Green Pigeon Treron vernans griseicapilla 1819 2014
Thick-billed Green Pigeon Treron curvirostra curvirostra 1819 2014
Pied Imperial Pigeon Ducula bicolor bicolor 2004 2014
Green Imperial Pigeon Ducula aenea polia 1819 1970
Red-legged Crake Rallina fasciata 1819 2014
Slaty-breasted Rail Gallirallus striatus gularis 1819 2014
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus javanicus, chinensis, phoenicurus 1819 2014
Ruddy-breasted Crake Porzana fusca fusca 1819 2014
White-browed Crake Porzana cinerea 1819 2014
Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio viridis 1986 2014
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus orientalis 1973 2014
Greater Painted-Snipe Rostratula benghalensis benghalensis 1819 2014
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus himantopus 1992 1994
Malaysian Plover Charadrius peronii 1988 2014
Red-wattled Lapwing Vanellus indicus atronuchalis 1993 2014
Black-naped Tern Sterna sumatrana sumatrana 1819 2014
Little Tern Sterna albifrons sinensis 1987 2014
Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus vociferus 1986 2014
Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus intermedius 1819 2014
White-bellied Fish Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster 1819 2014
Grey-headed Fish Eagle Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus 1950 2014
Crested Serpent Eagle Spilornis cheela bassus 1819 2014
Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus indicus 1987 2014
Changeable Hawk Eagle Spizaetus cirrhatus limnaeetus 1819 2014
Black-thighed Falconet Microhierax fringillarius 1819 1986
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis poggei 1994 2014
Pacific Reef Egret Egretta sacra sacra 1819 2014
Great-billed Heron Ardea sumatrana sumatrana 1819 2014
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea jouyi 1983 2014
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea manilensis 1940 2014
Striated Heron Butorides striatus javanicus 1819 2014
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax nycticorax 1983 2014
Yellow Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis 1986 2014
Cinnamon Bittern Ixobrychus cinnamomeus 1819 2014
Lesser Adjutant Leptoptilos javanicus 1882 1882
Mangrove Pitta Pitta megarhyncha 1819 2014
Garnet Pitta Pitta granatina coccinea 1819 1949
Dusky Broadbill Corydon sumatranus sumatranus 1819 1871
Black-and-red Broadbill Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchos malaccensis 1819 1949
Banded Broadbill Eurylaimus javanicus pallidus 1819 1927
Black-and-yellow Broadbill Eurylaimus ochromalus ochromalus 1819 1871
Green Broadbill Calyptomena viridis viridis 1819 1941
Golden-bellied Gerygone Gerygone sulphurea sulphurea 1819 2014
Asian Fairy Bluebird Irena puella malayensis 1819 2014
Greater Green Leafbird Chloropsis sonnerati zosterops 1819 2014
Lesser Green Leafbird Chloropsis cyanopogon cyanopogon 1819 2014
Blue-winged Leafbird Chloropsis cochinchinensis icterocephala 1819 2014
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach bentet 1969 2014
Mangrove Whistler Pachycephala grisola vandepolli 1819 2014
Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos macrorhynchos 1819 2014
Dark-throated Oriole Oriolus xanthonotus xanthonotus 1819 1941
Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis maculatus 1936 2014
Bar-bellied Cuckooshrike Coracina striata sumatrensis 1819 1969
Lesser Cuckooshrike Coracina fimbriata culminata 1819 1969
Pied Triller Lalage nigra nigra 1819 2014
Fiery Minivet Pericrocotus igneus igneus 1819 1969
Scarlet Minivet Pericrocotus flammeus xanthogaster 1819 2014
Pied Fantail Rhipidura javanica longicauda 1819 2014
Bronzed Drongo Dicrurus aeneus malayensis 1819 1949
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo Dicrurus paradiseus platurus 1819 2014
Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea prophata 1819 2014
Asian Paradise-flycatcher Terpsiphone paradisi affinis 1819 1990
Common Iora Aegithina tiphia singapurensis 1819 2014
Green Iora Aegithina viridissima viridissima 1819 1949
Rufous-winged Philentoma Philentoma pyrhoptera 1819 1949
Maroon-breasted Philentoma Philentoma velatum caesia 1819 1879
Large Woodshrike Tephrodornis gularis fretensis 1819 1949
Mangrove Blue Flycatcher Cyornis rufigastra rufigastra 1819 2000
Oriental Magpie Robin Copsychus saularis musicus 1819 2014
White-rumped Shama Copsychus malabaricus mallopercna 1819 2014
Asian Glossy Starling Aplonis panayensis strigatus 1819 2014
Common Myna Acridotheres tristis tristis 1935 2014
Hill Myna Gracula religiosa javana 1819 2014
Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica abbotti 1819 2014
Straw-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus zeylanicus 1819 2014
Black-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus atriceps atriceps 1819 2014
Grey-bellied Bulbul Pycnonotus cyaniventris cyaniventris 1819 1949
Yellow-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus goiavier personatus 1819 2014
Olive-winged Bulbul Pycnonotus plumosus plumosus 1819 2014
Cream-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus simplex simplex 1819 2014
Yellow-bellied Bulbul Alophoxius phaeocephalus phaeocephalus 1819 1924
Buff-vented Bulbul Iole olivacea olivacea 1819 1949
Spectacled Bulbul Pycnonotus erythropthalmos erythropthalmos 1819 1949
Red-eyed Bulbul Pycnonotus brunneus brunneus 1819 2014
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis malaya 1819 2014
Yellow-bellied Prinia Prinia flaviventris rafflesi 1819 2014
Oriental White-eye Zosterops palpebrosus 1819 2014
Common Tailorbird Orthotomus sutorius maculicollis 1819 2014
Dark-necked Tailorbird Orthotomus atrogularis atrogularis 1819 2014
Rufous-tailed Tailorbird Orthotomus sericeus hesperius 1819 2014
Ashy Tailorbird Orthotomus ruficeps ruficeps 1819 2014
White-chested Babbler Trichastoma rostratum rostratum 1819 2014
Abbott’s Babbler Malacocincla abbotti olivacea 1819 2014
Short-tailed Babbler Malacocincla malaccensis malaccensis 1819 2014
Black-capped Babbler Pellorneum capistratum nigrocapitatum 1819 1899
Moustached Babbler Malacopteron magnirostre magnirostre 1819 1986
Chestnut-winged Babbler Stachyris erythroptera erythroptera 1819 2014
Striped Tit Babbler Macronous gularis gularis 1819 2014
Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker Prionochilus maculatus maculatus 1819 1969
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker Dicaeum chrysorrheum chrysorrheum 1819 2014
Orange-bellied Flowerpecker Dicaeum trigonostigma trigonsostigmum 1819 2014
Plain Flowerpecker Dicaeum concolor borneanum 1819 1931
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker Dicaeum cruentatum ignitum 1819 2014
Plain Sunbird Anthreptes simplex simplex 1819 1874
Brown-throated Sunbird Anthreptes malacensis malacensis 1819 2014
Purple-naped Sunbird Hypogramma hypogrammicum macularia 1819 1969
Purple-throated Sunbird Nectarinia sperata brasiliana 1819 2014
Copper-throated Sunbird Nectarinia calcostetha calcostetha 1819 2014
Olive-backed Sunbird Nectarinia jugularis microleuca 1819 2014
Crimson Sunbird Aethopyga siparaja siparaja 1819 2014
Little Spiderhunter Arachnothera longirostra longirostra 1819 2014
Thick-billed Spiderhunter Arachnothera crassirostris 1819 1920
Yellow-eared Spiderhunter Arachnothera chrysogenys chrysogenys 1819 2014
Grey-breasted Spiderhunter Arachnothera affinis modesta 1819 1949
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus malaccensis 1819 2014
Paddyfield Pipit Anthus rufulus sinensis 1819 2014
Baya Weaver Ploceus philippinus infortunatus 1819 2014
White-rumped Munia Lonchura striata subsquamicollis 1883 2014
Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata fretensis 1819 2014
Black-headed Munia Lonchura malacca sinensis 1819 2014
White-headed Munia Lonchura maja maja 1819 2014

Ong Kiem Sian – A Passion for Birds

With the explosive growth of bird photography as a hobby in Singapore in recent years, it is hard to imagine a time when the number of local bird photographers can be counted with the fingers of one hand. That was the case in the 1990s, in the days before the Internet, social media and pervasive connectivity. There was no one to tell you about the latest birds sightings. You have to just get out there (often alone) and master your fieldcraft and if lady luck smiled on you as well, you get your reward. It was also the age of film and slide photography, and no instant gratification in photo playback or rapid firing of successive shots of digital cameras that we take for granted these days.

Looking around at the bird photography community these days is to see a predominantly male pursuit with heavy, long supertelephoto lenses and the latest expensive professional camera system. So it comes as a surprise that one of the few bird photographers back then was a petite middle-aged woman with modest equipment. Her name was Ong Kiem Sian. An optometrist by profession, she started bird photography at a late age, prompted by the call of adventure in 1990.

And adventure was what she pursued, with vigour, persistence and patience. In the course of her hobby, she waded in thigh deep waters, trekked for hours in the wild, endured leeches in tropical rainforests, all for the perfect shots. Something that most serious bird photographers can relate to all too well! Many of her friends have described her as a tireless, curious and enthusiastic nature lover that went well beyond just getting a photo of a bird.

I came across her photo book “A Passion for Birds” a few years back. Flipping through the pages, one could see her mastery of the craft, with beautiful bird pictures, some very rare species and even rarer moments captured, many of which have stood the test of time. Technology may have greatly advanced since then, but between the pages of that book, are images that other photographers can only hope to emulate.

In doing research for this website, I was looking at some of her published photos, and was amazed that her local owl photo collection included the Short-eared Owl, a very rare winter visitor to the island and she managed to get a beautiful picture. Next to that owl was another species of owl. In those days, it was referred to as a Brown Hawk Owl. Just last year, based on latest research, that particular owl could be a Northern Boobook instead, a new bird to the Singapore checklist. So indeed she was a lady way ahead of her time.

I have elected not to write too long a story, but to let the lady and her photos speak for themselves. At the end of this article are links for further reading. Her book is sadly out of print, but I have asked and obtained permission from Morten Strange of Draco Publishing to reproduce some pages to share. In the Gallery, click on the “View Full Size” link on the bottom right hand corner to get a bigger scan image.


1. Tributes to the First Lady of Bird Photography Ong Kiem Sian, NSS NatureNews
2. A Passion for Birds, Lady of the birds (Wildsingapore – originally published by Straits Times)

Ong Kiem Sian passed away on 14 June 2009 at the age of 63. She is fondly remembered and regarded as the first lady of bird photography in Southeast Asia.

Updates for January 2016

Although on the surface it seems that we have slowed down somewhat the completion of the write-up for the various species, the truth is that there have been a lot of work going on behind the scene.

For example, we have now included where possible, the link to the IUCN Red List assessment page for each species. There are of course a few species without any such link. The simplest reason is that IUCN list is derived from the BirdLife International checklist, whereas our Singapore list is derived from IOC. There are differences in what constitute a species and their range between these two lists. The most apparent example is the Javan Myna in our Singapore checklist which is our most common introduced bird species. There is no Javan Myna in the BirdLife/IUCN species checklist because it’s lumped with the White-vented Myna that is very abundant in Indochina. So it is listed as Least Concern. Yet, the Javan Myna is a rare bird in Java (personal communications), its home ground. So linking it to the White-vented Myna IUCN page is not the correct solution, as that misses out the story of its decline in numbers.

On the bird photos front, we have as of today covered about 100 species, or approximately 25% of the bird species in our list. It’s slow work as uploading and checking each photo takes time, but we are getting there. Our back of the paper calculation shows that collectively there are 346 species in which photos exist of the species taken in Singapore. So a further 50 species were sight records only. That means we have to supplement these with photos taken elsewhere. This is especially true of the migratory waterfowls that no longer have suitable habitat to winter in our region. So our head writer See Toh is now in Tokyo looking hard for ducks to photograph!

In the meantime, the IOC checklist version 6.1 just came out. Our cursory checks shows no further taxonomic updates that affect Singapore birds. If there are any changes, we’ll hopefully be the first to cover it.

Beach Stone-curlew at Bali. Photo Credit: Francis Yap
A Beach Stone-curlew from Bali. There exist a pre-digital distant photo of this species by Alan OwYong, and that is the only photo record of this very rare resident species in Singapore. So it’s necessary to supplement it with bird photos from overseas.

How the website began – Part 1 (the checklist)

When I started taking birding seriously in 2010, information about birds whereabouts and what sort of wild birds there were in Singapore was hard to get. At first I relied on Wikipedia which list out all the birds that have been seen, and where they are likely to be found. Forums like Naturepixels and NPSS where bird pictures were shared were also sources of information about the latest birds found. Soon after, Facebook groups started sprouting up and I joined a few. That took the interest to another level with latest sighting discussed in closed group free from prying eyes. Whatsapp chat groups soon replaced SMS and one can instantly know what’s the latest news about any new birds.

Social media and technology have totally changed the way one approach birding in Singapore. While fieldcraft and technique matters to the serious birders, one can do birding quite well with just knowledge of which Facebook group or Whatsapp group chat to join.For the lists of birds found in Singapore, the choices was rather limited for the longest time. There is Wikipedia and there is Nature Society’s bird checklist. The latter being more authoritative yet the nomenclature used was strange. Both were available in format incompatible with how I kept track of my own burgeoning bird count. I had mine in a relational database with easy sorting of birds and all the benefit that comes with it. Wikipedia format made it difficult to transfer all the birds into the database easily, and the NSS one was in PDF which was also needlessly difficult. Nonetheless one day I managed to write a script to convert the NSS checklist into my database format.

With that came the ability to easily find out which birds I do not have, their relative abundance, and the start of my picture database. More importantly, I started to do a Singapore Big Year in 2012, and it was important to keep a separate Big Year list to help me track my progress in that competition. With the help of the database, the newly incorporated NSS checklist, and a list of possible location for each species, data analysis became much easier and more powerful than the pen and pencil approach that others were taking.

All was good, except Javan Myna was a White-vented Myna, and an Intermediate Egret was a Yellow-billed Egret in the NSS checklist and a whole other list of strange names, and keeping track of these difference took up my time. So one day I decided the best way forward was to stick to IOC nomenclature as they publish an updatable world bird list, and painstakingly go through every entry in NSS checklist and convert them into IOC names.

With that completed, I joined Singapore Big Year 2014. Armed with a revised Singapore checklist, I was constantly updating the database with my bird count that year and my guesstimate of my rival’s species count. A running species comparison between my 2012 effort and the 2014 also let me pace myself better since my work load had increased since 2012. I was also able to track everyone’s progress easily once I keyed in their data. That’s what a database is meant for; to query out useful information. So much so that by mid-November that year, I already knew I was 5 birds ahead of my nearest rival and that was enough to win the competition.

My Singapore checklist proved very useful to me, and so I published it in Excel format since 2013 for others to use. Since then, the checklist had been continually updated with new features and capabilities. It seemed to me the basic usage for a checklist have changed over time. For example, I have never physically printed out the checklist because I don’t do data entry by pen and pencil. Therefore a checklist in PDF format did not make sense to me. At least in Excel format, one can cut and paste the bird name to search for more information elsewhere. I thought wouldn’t it be good if we can do automatic links to those those websites for each species? With that realization, I started providing those links. The rationale for putting in names in other languages was very simple, there were requests for them and it made sense.

With all these information already incorporated into the database, it seems logical that when we started the Singapore Bird Project, the database and the checklist it produced would form the foundation for the new website. I’ll talk more about the database in a later article.

A quick way to organize bird pictures

One of the pitfalls in nature photography in the digital age is that we take way too many pictures to manage and somehow, when asked to retrieve something we took 3-4 years back, we’re stumped as to where we put the picture files. Thankfully if we are using Adobe Lightroom, there are many ways to organise the files. Using a combination of Lightroom and simple storage in Google Drive, I have manage to save significant photos of the birds organised by their English names and quickly retrievable and shared with those who want them.


Today’s example is the processed Greater Sand Plover pictures stored as above in Google Drive, named in a logical way, bird_name-date-rawfilename-folder.jpg together with the rest of the other bird species (see above). This means at a quick glance I can sort out quickly my processed photo library by the bird name, when it was taken and which folder the original RAW file is kept. How to go about doing it without significant effort and with other added benefits?


The above is the original file being processed. You can see that the RAW file name and folder at the bottom left. Since I want to keep a processed copy of this file, I go to the Library tab, and put in the bird name as the Title in the Metadata section, and the description I want for this bird at the Caption box (see white box above).


Then when we want to export, we go to File > Export menu and a Export One File dialog box appear. You noticed that I rename the file with a custom name. This is a preset created by clicking on the rename combo box.


This will open up the Filename Template Editor. You will see the various options displayed and you can customise to your heart’s content. Since this preset can be saved, the next time around, you can just reuse it without doing anything at all. So it’s just a one time effort.

What’s the benefit of this way? Perhaps a simple renaming manually will be easier than tinkering? For one, by doing all these steps, you are basically able to filter out the bird name in the Lightroom catalog in the future. Also, if you were to upload to Flickr, or your own Facebook Photo Album, the Title and the Caption will appear automatically. The same thing happens in WordPress and other sites that can read the metadata. So if you were to share your file with these things tagged, you will have an easier time filling in details of something you took ages ago and probably cannot remember fully any more.

Hope this helps you in organising your picture library. Please pardon the atrocious writing style. This was meant as a quick and dirty write-up.

Our first milestone

The team in the Singapore Bird Project had been busy posting bird species update for the past week and we now have a total of 10 pages worth of detailed description of the various birds. We have completed the Paradise Flycatchers and in the midst of completing the swifts and swiftlets family.

Today, we’ll like to show you the new additions to the website. Firstly we have an online Singapore Bird List now, with brief description of every birds in our checklist (396 so far) and appropriate links to the various resources to help the birders in identifying and understanding the bird species.

We’re also issuing a new checklist in Excel format that is easier to understand and provide linkages back to this website so that you can keep current with the latest updates and changes.

Last but not least, we now have a Contributors page that list down the various people helping out. It’s still a short list, but we hope to change that soon.

Since the website has just begun, it’s good to remind everyone that we will strive for accuracy and completeness. Nonetheless we realise that with every project, there are bound to be mistakes and inaccuracies. Please do leave a a message and we’ll correct those promptly.

How this site is organized

The Singapore Bird Project main aim is to document all the wild birds in Singapore. Every species will have its own page. For example the Grey Wagtail page is For now they are not organized, but there will be a landing page where all these species pages are plotted out.

The other section is the blog which is located at and is accessible using the main menu. The blog itself contain the more general postings. These may include project status updates, special posts about bird behaviour, round-up of bird news etc. Whatever that is related to birds in Singapore.

The last menu item is the Singapore Bird Checklist where the latest checklist is available for download in Excel format. There will be more content coming soon at that section, as this website is developed.