Thursday 25 April 2019

Birding in Singapore

A two (!) day trip in early March for no other reason that I felt I needed some tropical heat and tropical birds.
  • Flights with British Airways to Singapore had been purchased in a sale at £400, and once again I used some airmiles to get a flat bed for the way back - the return journey is always important as I typically go straight into work after landing. Other airlines are available. Allegedly.
  • I stayed at "The Hangout" at Mount Emily. Cheap and Cheerful, but like everything else in Singapore, clean.
  • Transport was mostly by Grab, the Asian equivalent of Uber and very reasonably priced. The MTR is of course a lot cheaper, but I wanted to move between sites very quickly with my limited time. You can set the Grab app up before you leave but you can only add payment card information once you arrive for some reason.
  • Over the course the weekend I saw exactly 50 species. That doesn't sound a lot but all I can say is don't underestimate how hard it is to keep going all day carrying a large camera - the heat and humidity are intense. On my last day I also had to carry around all my other things as I was headed straight to the airport. Luckily for a part of the day I was able to leave my stuff in a locker in the Gardens by the Bay.
  • Literature was "Birds of South East Asia" by Craig Robson.

Day 0 (Saturday PM): A walking tour around Central Singapore but no time for anything other than this. 

Day 1 (Sunday): First light at Macritichie Reservoir, late morning at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, afternoon at the Botanic Garden, evening at Gardens by the Bay East in order to take a non-existent sunset photo of the Singapore skyline.
Day 2 (Monday): First light at the Botanic Garden, rest of the day at Gardens by the Bay.

Blue-winged Stunpitta

Overall Macritchie had more birds than anywhere else, including a Blue-winged Pitta that I somehow jammed, but photography was far better in the Botanic Gardens. Part of the reason for this was that the place was crawling with early morning joggers and trekkers. And I mean crawling, the Sime Trail was over-run with people, and it was only once I got onto the boardwalk trail that goes past the canopy tower (plenty of Parakeets and Sunbirds from up here) and skirts between the reservoir and the golf course that it started to thin out a bit. I guess this is just what happens on weekends. It was on the boardwalk trail that I found the Pitta, having first found a Red-legged Crake in exactly the same place. Trying to photograph it another bird flew away, but soon came back and I could scarcely believe my luck. What a stunning bird - apologies for the crappiness of the photo, the bird was in near darkness but I had amazing views. There was a troop of Long-tailed Macaques here too.

Red Junglefowl aka Chicken

Long-tailed Macacque

Plantain squirrel (Callosciurus notatus)

Greater Racket-tailed Drongo

Plaintive Cuckoo

Once the forest thinned out a bit it became easier to see birds. A Greater Racket-tailed Drongo and a Dollarbird were perched high up on a dead tree, and a smaller tree next to the lake had a Plaintive Cuckoo and several Asian Brown Flycatchers in it. By this time it was mid-morning so I took a Grab. It was about a half hour ride to Sungei Buloh wetlands, and the sun was high in the sky.

Nonetheless I slogged it around the western loop seeing all sorts of Herons and both White-throated and Collared Kingfishers. There were a few waders out on the mud, including Whimbrels, but I had no scope and they were just too far away for the most part. The bushes on either side of the path had a few smaller birds, including an Arctic Warbler, so remember if you see one of these on Shetland or wherever, think how far it has travelled to be with you.

White-throated Kingfisher

By now it was midday and all sensible people were indoors in air-conditioned comfort, but I persisted, first walking the Mangrove boardwalk and then taking the path all the way to the eastern entrance. In truth I saw very little for my troubles, a few Doves and an immature White-bellied Sea Eagle.

Next stop was the Botanic Gardens where I was able to finally get a nice cold drink and something to eat beyond the bananas I had been carrying. I had been here on each of my previous visits and had forgotten how nice it was. I resolved to come back first thing the next day as it opens very early. I wandered around primarily enjoying all the plants, but also making mental notes of which spots to come and visit in the cool of the following morning. By mid-afternoon I was pretty dead and went back to my hotel to have a rest, but only a short one as I wanted to catch the sun setting from Marina Bay east. As with most of my trips recently the weather seemed to have other ideas so the glorious photo remains untaken. Having arrived from the south I then walked all the way around the north side of the bay and back to the Helix Bridge and the massive food court on the bottom floor of the Marina Bay Sands complex - known as Rasapura Masters. Gorged I retired to my hotel at Mount Emily with extremely sore feet.

The next morning the first thing I saw was an Otter - a Smooth-coated Otter to be precise. I heard an almighty splashing from one of the pools right next to the Cluny Road entrance, and was delighted to find an Otter demolishing ornamental fish. Nom nom nom. 

Olive-backed Sunbird

Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker

Yellow-vented Bulbul

Oriental Magpie-robin

The next four hours were spent mostly around the Pulai Marsh and the Keppel Discovery Wetlands, as well as the extensive stands of heliconias to the east of Symphony Lake which were a haven for Sunbirds. All too soon it was time to go back to the hotel and pack up but I had had a much more productive session with the camera. On day one of a trip I am generally always useless and then up my game later on.

Olive-backed Sunbird

After checking out I headed to the Marina Bay Gardens.This time I had to cart not only the camera but also all my clothes etc. After lunch at the same food court and after exploring the actual building, I got lucky with a left luggage locker near the Dragonfly bridge. I dumped as much as I could and spent the whole rest of the day making circuits of the gardens which are highly impressive. There were birds everywhere - Herons and Waterhens in the pools, large numbers of Pacific Swallows and a few Paddyfield Pipits over "the Meadow", and generally really rather good. I also visited the Supertree grove, the Barrage, every single lake, and once again spent a lot of time looking at plants. The cycad collection is particularly noteworthy, and having chatted to one of the gardeners the rate of growth is unbelievable. Whilst I am jealous in a way it is a good thing that growth is so slow under glass in the UK, otherwise I would be divorced by now.

Pied Fantail

White-breasted Waterhen

Ashy Tailorbird

It had been another hot day, and whilst I had planned to stay for sunset again, a large rainstorm put paid to my ambitions and I headed to the airport. I was able to have a shower, several fruity drinks and a nice meal before gratefully falling asleep on the plane. 

Trip List

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