The discovery of the White-crowned Hornbill in Singapore

By Shubo (Kiri) Zhang

On this azure planet, there are roughly over ten thousand species of birds that inhabit various corners of the seven continents and five oceans. Some soar in the blue sky, some hop in the forest, some feed in the water, and some live with humans. The diverse range of birds constitutes a part of the diversity of the ecosystem, and observing and recording their appearance, calls, and behavior is an essential aspect of the bird-studying, resulting in the bird field guides. The pleasure of birdwatching and collecting Pokédex share a similar sentiment, and I have hence become an avid birdwatching enthusiast.

During the farewell lunch for my birder friend Frank who was about to return home, I happened to learn about the appearance of the Black-winged Flycatcher-Shrike in the Chek Jawa Wetlands, Pulau Ubin. This is a small bird widely distributed in various Southeast Asian countries, but it is very rare in Singapore and only appears occasionally during certain months each year. Among the birding friends present, only Jinchi and I had not seen the Black-winged Flycatcher-Shrike yet, and we decided to seize this rare opportunity and head to the Chek Jawa Wetlands the next day to search for this elusive little fellow.

As of 16 April 2023, there were only two species of hornbills in the Singapore bird list: the Oriental Pied Hornbill and the Black Hornbill. The Oriental Pied Hornbill is widely distributed throughout the whole Singapore, but only one female Black Hornbill is on Pulau Ubin. Therefore, besides the Black-winged Flycatcher-Shrike, the Black Hornbill was also one of my target birds on Pulau Ubin.

The next morning, the weather map showed a large dark cloud moving along the southwest to northeast direction, which coincided with our route to the jetty. If this cloud drifted over Pulau Ubin, our plans would be ruined! We boarded the car with anxious hearts, racing alternately with the dark cloud, and the scenery outside the car was constantly changing between rain and sunshine. Luckily, the dark cloud passed by the edge of Pulau Ubin and continued to drift northeast, and we finally arrived at Chek Jawa Wetlands unimpeded.

The heavy rain did not fall on this tranquil island, and everything in the wetland seemed to just be waking up. We walked along the boardwalk by the sea, the gentle sunlight shimmering on the rippling sea, and the soft sea breeze caressing our drowsy faces. Suddenly, I faintly sensed some movement in the trees on the opposite shore – such a big movement, there might be something interesting! The sleepiness left my mind immediately, and I observed between the leaves carefully with my binoculars, seeing a huge bird jumping up and down in the tree. Although I could vaguely see its black body, white tail, and some blue, it was almost certainly a Black Hornbill based on its size – because there are no other such large forest birds on the island. Unfortunately, the cover of branches and leaves was too heavy, and it was impossible to take a complete photo of the bird with the camera. I still couldn’t confirm if it was the Black Hornbill. Therefore, I continued to patiently wait on the boardwalk, hoping to see the moment when it revealed itself.

The first photograph of White-crowned Hornbill inside the tree which is almost unidentifiable.

As the saying goes, “Nothing is impossible for a willing heart.” After more than ten minutes, it finally flew out and landed in a wide-open branch within our line of sight – a complete and clear photo could now be taken! It had a white crest, blue face, and pure white tail feathers, none of which matched the characteristics of the Black Hornbill. At that moment, several other birders happened to pass by, and one of them quickly found a bird guide containing all the Hornbills. After comparing them one by one, we believed it was a female White-crowned Hornbill – the first recorded sighting of this bird in Singapore! I couldn’t contain my joy and immediately shared the news with my friends, who were also very surprised and quickly rushed over.

The White-crowned Hornbill stood on an open branch, which is the first identifiable photograph that allows for a definitive identification of the species.
The White-crowned Hornbill flew out from the trees.

The joy of discovering the White-crowned Hornbill almost made us forget our original goal for today – we had not yet found the Black-winged Flycatcher-Shrike! Adrian Silas Tay, the birder who had also discovered the bird here yesterday, came back again because of the White-crowned Hornbill. He quickly found the inconspicuous little bird with his sharp hearing, and we successfully added it to our bird list.

The experience I had on Pulau Ubin has left a profound impact on me. If no one had shared the information about the Black-winged Flycatcher-Shrike, we would not have come to Pulau Ubin. If I had not been so persistent in my search for the Black Hornbill, I could not have discovered the White-crowned Hornbill. And if we had not shared information timely, we might not have been able to find the Black-winged Flycatcher-Shrike in the end. All of these coincidences unfolded like a dream, with each piece fitting together perfectly, yet they happened to me in a very real and tangible way. I deeply felt the warmth of the birding community. Here, bold exploration brings about new discoveries and actively sharing yields greater assistance.

Finally, I would like to thank Loong Fah Cheong and Xiaoxuan (Matilda) Yan, who helped me to identify the White-crowned Hornbill on-site. And I would like to express the sincerest gratitude to who have provided guidance, encouragement, and company in my birdwatching life: Bear Jia, Frank Chen, Jinchi Han, Jen Wei Yip, Jared Tan, Chien Nien Lee.

Singapore Birds Project Booth at NTU!

Earthlink NTU’s Biodiversity Week 2023 Exhibition kickstarted last week on 20 March, where the various biodiversity and conservation efforts of Singapore were highlighted. We were warmly invited to be part of the event, and unlike 2022 where we could only contribute through standalone exhibits due to pandemic restrictions, we were able to have in-person booths this year! We had the chance to chat with participants about the avian diversity in Singapore and NTU, as well as the local threats the birds face such as habitat modification and building collisions.

Thanks Earthlink for organising this event, as well as to everyone who dropped by our booth! We hope that you managed to learn a new thing or two about the cool birds we have in Singapore. For those of you who we did not have a chance to meet, don’t worry, our posters will still be up at Sky deck @ North Spine until 30 March. Enjoy 🙂

Once in a Lifetime Experience

By Kwong Marcus Alaric

Bird watching, or “birding” to me is more than just going out to take snaps of pretty birds. It allows me to fully immerse in nature and puts my daily stresses and concerns away, to really appreciate Singapore’s wonderful green sceneries and biodiversity.

On the morning of 12th March, I decided to disconnect from schoolwork for a nice relaxing walk at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. I started my walk at the Tanglin Gate with no expectations of seeing particular birds, so I was already happy with seeing an Olive-winged Bulbul near the Learning Forest. Walking towards the Ginger Garden, I remembered that an Ashy Drongo was spotted near the Rainforest entrance a few days before and I thought to myself, “why not try my luck?”. The Ashy Drongo was not there, which was slightly disappointing, but I knew that nothing can be taken for granted when it comes to birding. I made my way into Rainforest and stopped just 5 to 10 meters into boardwalk to see a Hornbill moving around a tree. Suddenly, I saw something flying in and perching on the same tree. At first glance, the bird was entirely grey and was just smaller than the Hornbill. I initially thought it was a juvenile Hornbill but after a second inspection through my camera, I realised the bird was hanging on the tree like a woodpecker, and its features resembled one too. “Probably some sort of woodpecker juvenile”, I thought, but the unusually large size of it really confused me.

I used the trusty Google to look it up and the hits showed that I was looking at a Great Slaty Woodpecker! Once I saw the term “extirpated” was used to describe its status in Singapore, I started to realise how significant this sighting can be to the local birding and nature communities. Without hesitation, I quickly uploaded one of my shots to the Bird Sightings Facebook group to confirm my discovery. Sure enough, I was reaffirmed that the bird was in fact the rare Great Slaty Woodpecker and was overwhelmed by the number of responses and questions on the post. I shared the sighting location and stayed around the area to tell the influx of birders about my encounter with this elusive species. The boardwalk was quickly jam packed with more than 30 eager birders firing up all their senses to detect its presence. The lone Great Slaty Woodpecker eventually came out and graced everyone with the opportunity for photo taking, but it often perched high up and posed challenges for clear shots as it flew around the vicinity, making the big group of birders literally sprinting after it. The action continued till evening and reminded me of the scenes from the Indian Paradise Flycatcher sighting, also in the Singapore Botanic Gardens but several months back.

I’m pleased to know many are so passionate about birding. My greatest satisfaction, alongside being the first one to spot the Great Slaty Woodpecker since 2018 and making it the fourth ever official sighting in Singapore, was seeing the big smiles on many birders’ faces. Throughout the day, I got the chance to chat with experienced birders that missed the opportunity of capturing the same bird species 5 years ago. The genuine happiness they had after finally getting their shots this time truly made my day. As a heartwarming bonus, some expressed their gratitude by saying “thanks for sharing!”, offering handshakes, pats on the shoulder, and even treats to a bottle of cold water (a delight under the blazing sun!). Some others also left thankful comments on my post and included shoutouts about the generous and timely sharing of information I provided that day. I’m grateful to be receiving these kind gestures as a foreigner and I felt being welcomed into the local birding community where members encourage and care for others. I hope there will be many more discoveries like this in 2023 for everyone to share with each other, joining hands to continue contributing towards the amazing biodiversity and stunning nature that Singapore offers!

A Student’s Big Year

By Kaeden Sim

Twitching and dipping, words I have never heard before. Now, during my Big Year (a personal challenge to see as many species of birds as possible in one calendar year), I would never be more familiar with those two words.

I remember seeing Jen Wei’s Facebook post summarising his epic 2021 Big Year, and being mesmerised by the sheer number of mega rarities all compiled in one photo and to think that they were all seen in a span of one year by one person! It was especially awe-inspiring to personally witness Jen Wei twitching the Yellow-vented Flowerpecker at Bukit Timah summit.

With major exams and other school commitments set to gradually build up over the next few years, I decided that Secondary 1 was a relatively free year to take on the monumental, time-consuming mission of a big year. Nonetheless, the life of a student is still crammed with school related activities, leaving me with much limited time for recreation. Birding only on weekends and holidays practically shortened my ‘big year’ to less than half a year. Every hour spent off the field was truly nerve-wracking – whenever I checked my phone after school, I would be distraught to see reports of rarities, praying that the bird would stay a week for me to twitch. That being said, even if it was challenging, that was what made it so fun.

In the course of the year, among all the lucky finds and successful twitches, two birding encounters made a particularly special impression on me.

It was 18th September and based on trends from data on eBird and SBP, Forest Wagtails would have started passing through Singapore en route to their wintering grounds. However, none were reported recently from the famous wagtail roost at Yishun. An encounter with this elusive bird on Rifle Range Link would otherwise necessitate an ankle-breaking hike at the crack of dawn. Taking a gamble of luck, I decided to head down to Yishun. The wagtails would usually fly in to roost at 6:15, leaving me with 45 minutes to search for the Forest Wagtail before nightfall. I climbed every block, checking each palm tree meticulously. Half an hour passed, and my determination was fading as I routinely scanned through hundreds of commoner Grey Wagtails. At that moment, just as my patience was wearing thin, I noticed a bird that was significantly different. An olive-green and white wagtail with a contrasting triangular black bib on its breast – a Forest Wagtail! Words cannot describe the satisfaction of finding the needle in a haystack, something special hidden within the common birds.

As the year drew to an end, it was naturally becoming increasingly hard to obtain new year birds. Since June, I had been trying sporadically to find the supposed resident pair of Cinnamon-headed Green Pigeons on the west end of Pulau Ubin. Pulau Ubin was one of the most rewarding sites for my year list, with many dispersants and visitors appearing on this small but significant island between Malaysia and main island of Singapore, but yet one of the least accessible and out of the way. Birding at Ubin was always an arduous and tiring task, not to mention the need to pay for a bumboat ride to and from the island, and a taxi to take us to opposite ends of the vast nature sanctuary that it is. With dreadful stories of many failed twitches of these nomadic, unpredictable pigeons, I decided not to give up on this beautiful bird yet, and returned to Ubin one last time in November before I went overseas. Thus, I arranged to bird with my friend Joshua and his brother for an entire day, in the hopes of giving my year list a final push. When we arrived at Changi Ferry Terminal, it was deserted save for two idle fishermen. Our sought-after pigeons were previously sighted in the early hours of the morning and time was of the essence. Out of desperation, my mother decided to pay an extra fee so we could fill the boat and leave early. As the boat set sail, we were off to a good start, having spotted an unexpected Lesser Crested Tern from the boat, trailing a flock of Greater Crested Terns along the coastline at the break of dawn. Stepping foot onto the sleepy island, rain clouds gathered ominously, and we reached Ubin Living Lab just before rain started to pelt down, forcing us to take shelter. We solemnly counted the passing swifts and swallows as we awaited the cessation of the rain. Little did we know, us being grounded by the passing thunderstorm would become a blessing in disguise. Out of the blue, Joshua spotted two Treron pigeons zooming past the shelter. Even before raising my binoculars, I could immediately see the distinct chestnut head and maroon wings of a male Cinnamon-headed Green Pigeon. I was melting on the floor in sheer joy. Later on in the day, we would go on to see a Broad-billed Sandpiper at Chek Jawa, my landmark 300th Singapore lifer, but yet, this pigeon, number 299, stood out to me as special, by far the most memorable experience throughout my entire big year, and it was because of my mother’s support and my friend’s help.

After this, my year list started to plateau, partly due to my travels and the shortage of rarities appearing in December. On 28th December, I found the adult male Blue Rock Thrush at the urban rooftops of The Pinnacle@Duxton – my 284th year bird and the final one of my Big Year. Including ‘plastic birds’, my year count was 300, meaning I managed to see 82.2% of all the species seen over the course of 2022.

As a student, over the course of the year, I learnt how to balance my studies with my hobby effectively. I also realised how connected the birding community is in Singapore, whenever a “star bird” is discovered, the news is always generously shared allowing all to enjoy the presence of it. I have learned so much from the community and have improved my skills significantly, not only in the field, but out of the field, with regards to identifying birds.

Another main difficulty I faced during my Big Year was deciding where to go to maximise my chances of ticking a year bird. Tools that proved to be extremely useful for my Big Year was eBird’s target species function and Singapore Birds Project’s data. eBird allows a simple and easy view of all the year birds I had yet to tick and shows the spots where they have been spotted before, by month. eBird was also very useful in being able to compile my year list and be able to track my progress easily without needing to painstakingly keep my list manually. (eBird is a community science initiative, meaning that this function only works because of the many diligent eBird users submitting their checklists and sightings so I encourage more birders to start using eBird!) Singapore Birds Project’s Singapore Bird Database and Migrant Bar Charts are phenomenal, providing up-to-date information on rarities, allowing better predictions on when and where to go to find certain target species.

I would like to thank all my birding friends especially Jamie, Qian Xun, Pluem, Samuel, Gideon and Joshua for being great company. Secondly, I want to thank Francis, Oliver, Vincent Ng, Keita, Jen Wei, Jared, Raghav and many others for the guidance in the field and amazing finds throughout the year.  Lastly I also would like to thank CN and Benjamin Lee for the advice and tips and congratulate them on their impressive Big Year counts!

However, without the support of my parents, my Big Year count would have been a far cry from what it turned out to be. As the year progressed, my appreciation for my parents grew deeper and deeper. At a moment’s notice, my parents were always ready to rush me down whenever a rarity was spotted. Accompanying me on my birding endeavours, they drove me across the entire Singapore no matter how near or how far. Whenever I was disheartened from an unsuccessful twitch or when I was bursting with pride after a great find, my parents were always there supporting me. My Big Year would not be possible without them and I am forever grateful to be able to have such a thrilling and enriching Big Year with memories that I will cherish for a lifetime.




Year in Review – 2022!

2022 was perhaps an improved year from a Singapore birding perspective – we could enjoy our feathered friends with more comfort compared to the previous two years thanks to the still ongoing incredible efforts to combat the global pandemic. The was a year filled with excitement ranging from the many Himalayan Vultures spilling over from last year, irruption of rarities at Chek Jawa, and a raptor watching season with an abundance of Pied Harriers (including one long staying that offered great photo opportunities) and a more than average numbers of Short-toed Snake-eagles and Besra/Shikra sparrowhawks. Three new species were added to Singapore’s checklist: Black-backed Swamphen (that prompted a review of an older record), Black-headed Ibis and Brown-breasted Flycatcher.

All these records of local rarities are properly documented and curated in our database, and we’re thankful to all of you who have submitted your records. By combining these with other citizen science efforts, this year we’ve also started preparing monthly roundups, accurate bar charts, and various tools to guide everyone’s birding journey. While keeping up with the busy birding scene we’re also glad to have started organising guided walks and booths. Three walks at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, as well as three weeks worth of raptor watching at the Henderson Waves bridge.

More people are showing an interest in biodiversity and many have joined our birding community this year, a trend we’re happy to see. We believe that this energy can be channelled into improving our knowledge on birds as well as into conservation. We hope that the Singapore Birds Project’s works have come in handy and thank all of you for the overwhelming support. See you in the field next year and happy birding!

Singapore Birds Project Raptor Watch at Henderson Waves

Group photo of raptor buddies on 6 November. Photo: Adrian Silas Tay

The Singapore Birds Project held our first raptor watching booth across three Sundays: 23 October, 30 October and 6 November at Henderson Waves Bridge. We would like to thank all who dropped by and participated in our raptor count – we hope you picked up a tip or two on raptor identification or raptor spotting!

Across the three weekends, we spotted a total of 52 Crested Honey Buzzards, 60 Japanese Sparrowhawks, 29 Chinese Sparrowhawks and resident raptors like the Changeable Hawk-Eagle, White-bellied Sea Eagle and Brahminy Kite. We also snagged a few goodies like a Besra, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Greater Spotted Eagle, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Grey-faced Buzzards and Jerdon’s Bazas. It’s already a great feeling seeing these rare birds, and sharing their directions to a bridge full of enthusiastic birdwatchers makes that even better!

Photo collage of bird, bee, balloon and plastic bag lists from each day. Photos: Keita Sin
Photo collage of some raptors seen (clockwise): Greater Spotted Eagle, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Grey-faced Buzzard (photoshopped x99 for the memes, we don’t get these numbers in Singapore and actually only saw two :”) ), Jerdon’s Baza, Crested Honey Buzzard, Besra. Photos: Raghav Narayanswamy (GSE, GFB), Francis Yap (EMH, JB, Besra), Keita Sin (CHB)

Raptors will still continue to pass through Singapore (in lower numbers) across the migratory season, you can check out our raptoring e-resources on how to identify the birds you see: RAP101: How to Identify Common Raptors, RAP201: How to Identify Uncommon Raptors and RAP301: What is that raptor? You can also check out our bar charts to find out when your favourite raptor peaks or our On This Day function, featuring rarities seen in the day or week. Some raptors you haven’t seen yet might come over the next two weeks or so!

Lastly, we would like to thank Max Khoo for giving us permission to use his raptor identification poster as a resource, the National Parks Board for their support and logistical help, Hui Zhen and Jing Ying for designing the migratory movement poster and our booth guides, Adrian, Cheng Teng, Dillen, Francis, Geraldine, Jing Ying, Keita, Movin, Raghav, Sandra and Zachary for the tireless work across the three weekends. See you all at the next event!

Signing off, 

Better Birds, Birders and Birding Through Data (Singapore Edition)


Ask any experienced birder in Singapore about what’s the best and busiest month for birding and you’ll hear either October or November mentioned. After all, migratory birds are coming in fast and furious during this period. One must therefore ask the question, “Are there any studies done to establish whether these two months are indeed the best month for birding?” And if such a study exist, is it October, November or some other months? Now is as good a time as any to have find out.

Before that, let’s have two other interesting questions that are often asked. “Where are the best places for birding?”, “What’s the best time to photograph/observe birds?”. Almost everyone has thoughtful answers for them, based on their own experience and what have been passed on as common wisdom from more experienced birders. It’ll be good if we can get some hard data to confirm these as well.

Birding observation platforms like eBird or iNaturalist may provide some answers to these questions through the sheer amount of data they accumulate from birders over the years. I expect Raghav (our resident data wrangler) to provide some answers and more to these questions sooner or later, using his amazing number crunching skill.

In the meantime, playing the role of a citizen scientist, I am presenting another method here. Not as good, but simpler and tailored for photographers willing to undertake similar projects.

Most photos these days are taken with additional data (metadata) that reveals for example where and when the photo was taken. They also include what sort of camera settings that used to take these photos. When a smartphone is used to take photos, companies like Google and Apple make use of these metadata to customize and remind users of life events like past birthdays and anniversary photos for example (based on date and time encoded in photos), or maybe organize all photos taken on an overseas trip (based on location data encoded in photos) on their virtual album for the users to peruse through.

Using the same type of metadata on bird photos taken using camera gear specialized for that purpose, accumulating enough of them, and cataloging these photos and supplementing these with additional data (when necessary), one can build a mini database of information that allows more definite answers to the questions that were posed at the start of this article.

Methodology (briefly)

The base photos for this particular analysis located in a photo album posted online at

The album contains representative photos of all the Singapore bird species I have photographed and curated over 12 years of bird photography. At the time of analysis, there are 1248 photos over 368 species. To be clear, these are non-random photo selections based on my preferences and birding habits. Photo aesthetics and other technical considerations influenced the final photo set as well.

The program/app called EXIFTool ( is used to extract metadata of all the photos mentioned above and subsequently written to one XML file. The resulting XML file is imported into a database and through some SQL queries, tables and charts are prepared for presentation. The second step can be done in different ways. I am just outlining my general approach. Time and date-centred queries to the raw data from the photos were pared down to 11 full years starting from October 1, 2011 to September 30, 2022. The first year or so of birding wasn’t the most productive nor the most insightful, as lack of experience and a lot of trial and error on the author’s part probably distorted the data in that earlier timeframe.

Full disclosure: There are 5 photos with the wrong EXIF data information due to new camera misconfiguration. These were taken in November 2014 but the EXIF information showed October 2014. Those have been manually reassigned for the graph. The possibility always exist that human error can result in wrong interpretation of data. Luckily these errors were known ahead of time.

Results and analysis (with apologies to serious data scientist)

Best months for birding

A plot of month of the year vs number of photos. Click to see larger chart.

Let’s start with the assumption that bird and birding activity is correlated with the number of bird photographs posted in the album. Extracting and compiling the data on the date in which each photo was taken, we have the chart above.

Mid-year seems to have the least amount of activity locally, as migrant bird species are absent. It is a good time for birders to consider going overseas for birding. Activity start picking up during autumn migration from the north starting from July/August and reach its peak in the month of October. Hence the answer to the first question posed is October.

November and December are still active months for birding, but action tend to slow down in the new year. A modest rise in activity in March can be attributed to peak spring migration. where the migrant birds from the south return up north for their breeding season, passing briefly through Singapore.


Best time of the day for birding

A plot of time of the day vs number of photos. Click to see larger chart.

From the analysis of the time where each photo in the album was taken, we can deduce which hour is the most productive or unproductive for bird photography, and as a proxy, the best time of the day for birding.

The answer, which is from 8am up to 10am is in line with expectation or conventional wisdom. Likewise, there is a distinct lack of birding activity in the afternoon and a slight upturn in activity in the evening from 4pm to 6pm peaking at 5pm.

Due to the restriction in place for access to the nature reserves, nighttime birding is not easy nor productive, and save for some owl species, not worth the effort.


Best sites for birding

Screenshot of the number of photos taken overlayed on the map of Singapore. Click on the map to bring you to the live site.

This is a screenshot of a web page generated using the same dataset used in the previous two analysis, with the help of a plugin for the photo website called Piwigo-openstreetmap. The URL contain the GPS location of all the bird photos in the album.

Let’s talk about the photos and their GPS coordinates. Some of these photos were encoded with built-in GPS capability in the camera (Canon EOS 7D Mk II, Canon EOS 1DX Mk II), some were from external GPS device attached to the camera (Nikon D500), some were encoded via GPS sent through the camera from the smartphone through connecting app (Sony Alpha 1, Sony Alpha 9, Canon EOS R5). Lastly, for photos taken with older camera models, i.e. photos prior to 2014, manual GPS encoding were done through memory of the places, sometimes with the help of old maps using Google Earth. This does alter the selection of photos, as I may have forgotten the precise location of some older photos and cannot put in the corresponding GPS coordinates. Hence some ‘worthy’ older photos were excluded from the photo album.

From the screenshot, the best site for birding is at the Central Catchment/Bukit Timah/Dairy Farm area. There is a particular bias in the data towards a location at Jelutong Tower, as I spent a lot of time photographing forest birds and migratory raptors at that particular location.

Pulau Ubin, Sungei Buloh/Kranji, Seletar/Punggol/Lorong Halus and Marina East/Southern Ridges areas are also noteworthy hotspots for birding.

Since the dataset is navigable through the website, it is best for those interested in specific data to explore the URL listed above for more information.


Most commonly used shutter speed

Plot of shutter speed settings vs number of photos. Click to see larger chart.

For most parts, the photoset on the website consist of photos taken handheld. Most static photos of birds are taken at the most optimal handheld shutter speed that maximises the chance of good quality photo yet remain as noise-free as possible. A shutter speed between 1/125-1/200s is my preferred option. Hence the peak at that range.

Anything below until 1/30s probably meant the birds were obliging enough, and lower lighting conditions that necessitate a lower shutter speed and consequently less odds of getting sharp photos. At 1/15s and below, shots were taken on a tripod which shutter release cable for low light conditions. Shots taken between approximately 1/250-1/1000s meant a higher probability of active birds, or action shots. The shots taken at 1/2000s and beyond are mainly flight shots.


Most commonly used ISO settings

Plot of ISO settings vs number of photos. Click to see larger chart.

A website that tries to showcase the best representation of local birds would naturally emphasise quality photos over ones that are sub-optimal. Hence the dominance of lower ISO shots especially ISO 100 which is the base ISO for most cameras.

A slight increase at ISO 400-ISO 640 can be explained by the prominence of properly exposed flight shots on sunny days with that ISO range being used.

Although modern camera can give good photos up to ISO 6400 in some cases, bird photography is a special case. This is because while an ISO 6400 shot is acceptable if the bird subject fills the frame with no cropping, the reality is that even at 600mm full frame, most wild birds in Singapore do not fill the frame. In fact, many photos in the album are 100% crop, meaning they are cropped all the way. At such distance and at such extreme crop, high ISO photos are not the best looking. Hence the preference for lower ISO shots.

Context matters in the type of photos selected. Wild bird photos in Singapore are not taken in managed environment (like hides or feeding stations). And in many cases of uncommon or rare birds (which is a focus on the website photos), sometimes there are only a few chances given to photograph the subject. They may be very distant, taken under lower light in uncommon habitat, in the case of rare birds, with many birders squeezed in tight space with limited views, or other sub-optimal conditions.


Camera brands and models used in the photo album

Make/Brand Model Photo Count
Canon Canon EOS 5DS 23
Canon Canon EOS 70D 2
Canon Canon EOS 7D 67
Canon Canon EOS 7D Mark II 29
Canon Canon EOS R5 16
Canon Canon EOS-1D Mark IV 124
Canon Canon EOS-1D X 206
Canon Canon EOS-1D X Mark II 158
SONY ILCE-6400 2

One may be tempted to imagine that there are great insights to be had in looking at a table like the above. One may argue that the Canon brand is pretty dominant in bird photography due to the sheer number of models represented, or that the Sony Alpha 1 is excellent for bird photography due to the fact that on a model basis, it has the highest number of photos on the website.

Such conclusion cannot be justified by this table, because context matters. All cameras are used by only one photographer. Canon is overrepresented because in the past the author used camera for that brand exclusively for the longest time (and still does occasionally). The Sony A1 has the most entries because pre-2014 camera did not have GPS data, and some good photos cannot be posted from those models because the precise location cannot be ascertained. Camera technology have also advanced greatly, hence photos taken in recent years regardless of brands and models are overrepresented because the success rate for ‘good’ photos have greatly increased.

So what else can actually be interpreted from the above table? Well for one, there are too many cameras bought for the relatively small number of photos posted!


It has been fun to dig into the metadata provided by the website/photo album. Most of the results presented here are broadly in line with expectations. A larger dataset would have been helpful to get finer grained results. But we’ll leave that to another day. Hopefully what’s been presented has been insightful to others especially newer birders. Happy birding everyone!

Migrant bar charts – Sep 23 update

We have added 26 species to our new migrant bar charts in the last two weeks, which can be accessed HERE. They will continue to be released in batches over the coming months. To learn more about these, you can read our summary blog post.

Some of the species added in this update:

Migrant bar charts – Sep 9 update

We have added 31 species to our new migrant bar charts in the last two weeks, which can be accessed HERE. They will continue to be released in batches over the coming months. To learn more about these, you can read our summary blog post.

Some of the species added in this update:

Migrant bar charts – Aug 28 update

We have added 21 species to our new migrant bar charts, which can be accessed HERE. They will continue to be released in batches over the coming months. To learn more about these, you can read our summary blog post.

Some of the species added in this update: