Saturday, 3 July 2010

Singapore. Botanical Gardens, Paser Ris, Central Catchment Area


The general trend seems to be wet mornings for Singapore this week. I spent 3 hours drinking tea at the cafe in the Botanical Gardens while the rain pounded down in real tropical monsoon style.
A brief window of opportunity at dawn produced only a few birds and notably, no Asian Koel. This bird is usually very vocal in the mornings, but I did not hear one until nearly midday today. Some Spotted Dove, a Pink-necked Green Pigeon, a Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker and a load of Javan Mynas were all I saw before retiring to the cafe as the rain set in.
By 10.00 the downpour had petered out into a light drizzle. I ventured towards the Eco Pond only to be caught in another sharp shower.
As I sheltered I had plenty of time to compare the whistling ducks on the edge of the pond. Some had the flank plumes of the Wandering Whistling Duck, whereas a couple did not. They also lacked any spotting on the breast and had a buff, not a chestnut belly.
The identification guides that I have show that Lesser Whistling Ducks may also have contrasting feathers on their flanks, indeed the “plumes” became more or less obvious as the birds preened. As I understand it Wandering WD has a rare status in Singapore so I would be interested to know from anyone else more familiar with them.
The rain finally stopped for a while and the sun even came out.
An Olive-backed Sunbird picked at blossoms on the plants by the water’s edge. A White-breasted Waterhen foraged along the shore.
A dragonfly that I had not seen before flitted past and settled on a snag nearby. If it had a popular name it would possibly be Bumblebee Skimmer or something similar. It’s black, yellow, black pattern on the hind wing makes it easily recognisable in flight. It is known among the world of Odonata watchers as Rhyothemis phyllis. It sadly did not present itself for a hind wing picture, but the bumblebee colouration is visible here.
In some short papyrus-like emergent bank-side plants, an Asian Pintail female, Acisoma panorpoides was waiting in ambush for tiny moths.
The boardwalk is closed here at the moment so I was round the lake quicker than I had planned. It is funny how events conspire to put one in a certain place at a certain time. The rain had delayed me, then I did not get a chance to linger on the boardwalk as I would have liked. In any other situation I would not have been on Cluny Park Way to see a small rallid run across the path about 10m ahead of me.
I knew immediately that it was a Red-legged Crake. To be brutally honest I have often thought this about glimpses of White-breasted Waterhens before now, but this time it was the real thing. I panicked and took a picture of my feet, dropped my tripod, then, having lost sight of the bird, fired a dozen shots into the concrete ditch and the undergrowth in the hope that I might find it later.
I understood these birds to be very rare and very shy, so I was thrilled when it came back down to the edge of the path and actually started towards me. I will also add that it was now 13.30 local time, so I can no longer support my long held misconception that rallids are crepuscular.
I will concede that the photograph is of a similar standard to the ones I have of The Loch Ness Monster and Sasquatch. In one of my Singapore field guides, the authors, probably for lack of a decent photo, fail to even mention the crake.
It stayed for just a few brief moments before taking fright at something and scuttling away behind a fence. I looked for a while, but here was no sign of it at all.
A young Oriental Magpie Robin picked among the fallen leaves as the path slanted upward towards the Evolution Garden.
I was feeling rather full of myself, but soon my weak, Western Palearctic constitution was worn down by the strong sun and humidity of the tropics. On my way out of the park, I skirted Swan Lake and was rewarded with another new dragonfly. This one was also easily recogniseable as Pseudothemis Jorina. It would not settle for a picture, but our old friend Ictinogomphus decorates posed happily for me.
The Bus no. 7 still runs past the Tanglin Gate at the southeast corner on Napier and Holland Road for SIN$1.20, but a new MRT station is being built at the northwest border of the garden with an entrance immediately by Eco Pond.

Bird species; 24

Black-crowned Night-heron 1, Wandering Whistling Duck 12, Lesser Whistling Duck 2, Red-legged Crake 1, White-breasted Waterhen 10, Pink-necked Green Pigeon 1, Spotted Dove 20, Zebra Dove 6, Long-tailed Parakeet 1, Asian Koel 2, Little Swift 8, White-throated Kingfisher 2, Collared Kingfisher 3, Blue-tailed Bee-eater 3, Pacific Swallow 8, Yellow-vented Bulbul 5, Oriental Magpie Robin 3, Common Tailorbird 3, Asian Glossy Starling 5, Javan Myna 200, Olive-backed Sunbird 2, Plain-throated Sunbird 2, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker 1, Eurasian Tree Sparrow 15.

Dragonfly species; 8

Orthetrum Sabina 6, Ictinogomphus decoratus 2, Brachydiplax chalybea 12, Acisoma panopoides 1, Neurothemis fluctuans 15, Pseusdothemis jorina 2, Brachythemis contaminata 1, Rhyothemis Phyllis 3.

Mammal species; 1

Plantain Squirrel 6

Green line train to Paser Ris, 25 mins Sin$2.60.
I skirted the fishing lake at Paser Ris this morning before moving on into the park. A small group of trees were hosting a “sunbird special” with Olive-backed, and Copper-throated varieties present. A monitor lizard may have been the reason for the fuss. I am told by Dave of http://www.digdeep1962.blogspot.com/ that this one is a Water Monitor, Varanus salvator.
A Sunda Woodpecker landed on the trunk of one of the trees. I do not often see this endearing woodpecker, so was surprised to see three of them in the course of my walk through to Paser Ris Park. Sadly they were too quick for me this morning.
The water level was very low today and I suspect that it may have been a spring tide. As the river spills into the sea, an expanse of weed covered mud was exposed. I had never seen the tide this far out, possibly 200m beyond the farthest mangrove.
A Grey Heron had caught a fantastic fish and was determined to eat it, but was struggling to do so. 
Four Collared Kingfishers squabbled raucously in a tree above me. They may have been parents with a couple of demanding offspring.
On a couple of occasions today, I noted chickens. In the normal course of events, so close to human habitation, I would not count them, but it occurs to me that Pulau Ubin, a small island close by, boasts wild Red Jungle Fowl. So why not? They are free roaming, very shy and do not appear to be habituated in any way. I am sure that a couple of miles of water would not prove an insurmountable obstacle.
A monitor lizard, nearly a meter long cruised down the river as I crossed the bridge into the park.
The parkland is lightly wooded which proves popular with the White-breasted Kingfisher and on this occasion an Asian Pied Hornbill which sat, preening above one of the shelters.
The tower is always my aim in Paser Ris and I spent a happy couple of hours watching from a position elevated among the treetops. A flowering tree was attracting the sunbirds and I set myself the task of getting a nice picture.
The birds were more keen on feeding than posing, but I managed an acceptable one of a Brown-throated Sunbird as it alighted on a dead branch before it dived out of sight into the leaves and flowers. Black-naped Orioles, Ashy Tailorbirds and Pink-necked Green Pigeons passed over or stopped in the trees. The normally ubiquitous Yellow-vented Bulbuls were few and far between today.
Before heading back, I stopped at the freshwater pond to see if any exciting odonata were sunning themselves there.
Sure enough a Potamarcha cogener allowed me close enough for a picture. On a prominent stalk nearby, a Crocothemis servilia was drawing admiring glances from the ladies.

Bird species; 22

Grey Heron 15, Striated Heron 2, White-breasted Waterhen 1, Spotted Dove 4, Pink-necked Green Pigeon 6, Long-tailed Parakeet 2, White-throated Kingfisher 1, Collared Kingfisher 4, Northern Pied Hornbill 1, Sunda Woodpecker 3, Common Flameback 2, Pacific Swallow 20, Pied Triller 1, Yellow-vented Bulbul 4, Common Tailorbird 1, Ashy Tailorbird 2, Brown-throated Sunbird 8, Olive-backed Sunbird 8, Black-naped Oriole 3, House Crow 2, Asian Glossy Starling 10, Javan Myna 25.

Odonata species; 4

Potamarcha cogener 5, Orthetrum Sabina 1, Crocothems servilia 3, Acisoma panorpoides 1.


This morning I visited Macritchie Central Catchment Area with an intention of stalking through the forest and staking out the treetops from the Jetaling observation tower.
Striped Tit-babblers moved acrobatically through the treetops reminiscent of Great Tits. At one point a bird was dangling by it’s beak, from the beak of another. Whether this was courting, feeding or mucking about, I could not say.
The forest was noisy with babblers accompanied by a few other species. Notably a Green-winged Leafbird, Pink-necked Green Pigeon and Greater Racket-tailed Drongo.
The path (known as the Golf Link) runs from the entrance to the golf course at Sime Road through the forest for a few hundred meters before opening up with the fairways on one side and Macritchie reservoir on the other. It is sometimes difficult to watch your step and birds at the same time. Bring sturdy boots.
Joggers are common along the path which could describe a circle if you wished. It would be about 11 kms around.
The rain started as I emerged from the forest, but a red crayon Lestes praemorsus damselfly made me indifferent to it. This species was very common today and is likely to be more so in the future from the look of it.
Water on both sides had emergent grasses and strategic points for perching odonata.
Also in the margins were Ceriagrion cerinorubellum,
Pseudagrion microcephalum and Brachydiplex chalybea
The trees here held Collared Kingfishers and a Clouded Monitor Varamus bengalensis, monitoring.
A White-bellied Sea-eagle pair nest in a tall tree on the course. Much to the chagrin of the groundskeeper, who stopped to chat, they can frequently be seen catching the ornamental carp that he stocked in the lakes and carrying them up to the hungry chicks
Soon enough the path leads back into the forest. A boardwalk raises the path above a wet area with a stream to the right. A Greater Racket-tailed Drongo was very vocal. It flew into an open tree and I thought it might make a photograph when I saw the reason for its noise.
A Brown Hawk Owl was roosting on an exposed branch. Birds took it in turn to harass the owl, but it was unconcerned. Merely opening it’s eyes slightly and turning it’s head was enough to keep the passerines at wing’s length.
Thunder was rolling all around me as I approached the tower. I had to consider if climbing a four-storey metal structure was advisable in the circumstances. I felt vulnerable enough carrying a metal tripod over my shoulder, so decided against it. My umbrella has aluminium spokes in it. How well does aluminium attract lightening I wonder? As the rain was still only light I opted to weather it for the moment.
The boardwalk has been quite a productive area for me in the past with nightjars, cuckoos and the like. Today it gave me the owl on the way out and a Drongo Cuckoo and a White-rumped Shama on the way back. The Drongo Cuckoo was calling with it’s distinctive upward cadence. The bird flushed from about head height just ahead of me and alighted on a small branch just long enough for me to get a look at it. The shama was in deep shade in a big tangle. It flew off as I approached, but continued it’s fluty song from nearby as I stood and listened.
Back by the water a dragonfly, perched in a patch of long grasses proved to be a Trithemis pallidinervis. As I was taking a picture, a group of men approached and said “hello”. I was feeling rather full of myself again and told them about the owl and the crake that I had seen in the Botanic Gardens. My bubble didn’t burst so much as develop a slow leak when one of my new friends told me that the crakes in the gardens are known for being quite approachable and that I had missed a Malayan Night Heron which had recently been seen in the gardens and had been extremely confiding.
Ah well, I have something to look forward to already for my next visit.
A Diplacodes nebulosa watched for passing insects from a partially submerged stem. A Rhyothemis Phyllis gave a better look and enabled me to get a better angle and shoot the hind wing pattern.
To return home, I turned left out of the forest onto Lornie Road to the bus stop a short way along. Any bus going in this direction is likely to go close to one of the MRT stations.

Some other dragonflies that I saw during the day are pictured below. I am hoping that someone will recognise them and help me with identification.
 Thank you very much to Ian at http://www.odonata-malaysia.blogspot.com/ who has pointed me towards Orchithemis pulcherrima for the above and confirmed my suspiscions for the ode below as Urothemis signata.
 Ian was also able to tell me that the picture below is of a pair of Pseudagrion microcephalum.
I wasn't able to give him enough information to go on in order to identify this one below, but he reckons that it is potentially a young male Orthetrum.

  David from the glorious blog, digdeep1962,blogspot.com has given me the name of the scaly one above as a Many-lined Sun Skink Mabuya multifasciata. He also provided me with the correct ID for the monitors.
This ode above and below, was found in deep shade over a small stream and Ian has confidently identified him as a young male Tyriobapta torrida
Thanks again to Ian and David.
Bird species; 16 Visit the dedicated Asian page for more posts from Singapore, Including Sungei Buloh and The Central Catchment Area

Spotted Dove 2, Pink-necked Green Pigeon 4, Blue-rumped Parrot 2, Asian Drongo-cuckoo 1, Brown Hawk Owl 1, Collared Kingfisher 2, Pacific Swallow 6, Yellow-vented Bulbul 4, Blue-winged Leafbird 1, White-rumped Shama 1, Common Tailorbird 2, Striped Tit-babbler 35, Copper-throated Sunbird 2, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo 4, Asian Glossy Starling 12, Javan Myna 20.
Odonata species; 9

Lestes praemorsus 60, Ceriagrion cerinorubellum 4, Pseudagrion microcephalum 12, Urothemis signata 1, Brachydiplex chalybea 4, Trithemis pallidinervis 2, Diplacodes nebulosa 1 Tyriobapta torrida 1, Orchithemis pulcherrima 2.

Visit the dedicated Asian page for more posts from Singapore including; Sungei Buloh and the Central Catchment Area