Site Meter

Friday, September 29, 2006

Faecal sac

Faecal sac

How do birds deal with wastes generated by their nestlings? Those of the Peaceful Dove (Geopelia striata) seen on the left obviously do not practice sanitary hygiene, soiling their nest with their faeces.

Some parent birds actually eat the faeces during the first few days after the nestlings hatch. At this early stage, the droppings are rich in partially digested food as their intestines lack the necessary bacteria for complete digestion.

As the nestlings grow older and the bacteria set in, the faeces need to be disposed of. Many nestlings simply turn around, point their posteriors away from the nest and fire away. Depending on the aim, they may keep the nest clean or end up fouling it.

Others dispose of their waste via faecal sacs. These sacs are made of strong mucous that the parent birds can easily pick and dispose of some distance from the nest. Robins and bluebirds have been reported to fly off and drop the sacs some distance away. Grackles almost always drop faecal sacs over water but when they nest in backyards where there are no rivers or streams nearby, they tend to drop them in swimming pools.

A recent study in Georgia, USA found that Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) places these sacs on electric wires, wooden fence posts, tree branches and even on top of a utility pole. Why? To reduce the chance of predators locating the nests through visual or chemical evidence.
Local birders have always been aware that certain species of birds dispose of the nestlings’ wastes via faecal sacs. The image above shows a female Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker (Dicaeum cruentatum) removing a faecal sac full of mistletoe seeds from a nestling. We take for granted that these sacs are disposed of some distance from the nests. But we should keep a look out on exactly where these sacs are disposed.

In November 2004, Tang Hung Bun observed an off-season nesting by a pair of Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers. He videoed the feeding and removal of the faecal sac which was extra large. This large sac contained green, undigested mistletoe seeds.

Input by YC, images by YC (top, middle) and Tang Hung Bun (bottom).

Link to video provided by Tang here and another videoed by Prof Ng Soon Chye here.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Attack of Dollarbirds’ nest by starlings II

Attack of Dollarbirds’ nest by starlings II

On 16th September 2006 we posted an account of the attack by a small flock of Asian Glossy Starlings (Aplonis panayensis) on an open Dollarbirds’ (Eurystomus orientalis) nest in Lim Chu Kang. Unfortunately the account was not accompanied by images. The photographer has since found and forwarded these images to me. Captured on film, the attack of the starlings and the panic defense of the dollarbird pair make for awsome viewing.6.38 pm: One of the Dollarbirds was by the nesting hole while its mate was on a branch nearby. The former noticed the arrival of the starlings and gave alarm. 6.39 pm: The bird on the nearby branch immediately flew to join its mate by the nesting hole.6.39 pm: Both birds were aggressively defending their nest, screaming loudly. One starling approached...
6.39 pm: Then there were two starlings...
6.40 pm: One of the Dollarbirds lunged an attack...
6.40 pm: chase off the arriving starlings.

The second Dollarbird joined in the attack. The nesting hole was left undefended. The rest, as they say, is history...

Thanks Meng and Melinda Chan for making available these dramatic images.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Tale of the Stork-billed Kingfisher

Tale of the Stork-billed Kingfisher

Seeing a kingfisher fishes for its meal in swift, precision manoeuvre is always a joy nature provides. Witnessing a ruthless kill of the catch by whacking the fish to death against a thick branch beside which the bird perched, sent me speechless. Having that one rare opportunity to digiscope a Stork-billed Kingfisher (Halcyon capensis) trying to swallow a catch bigger than his head, sent tremors to my fingers as I nervously raced against time to capture this gorgeous and disproportionately colourful bird framed in that moment of time - time that stood still... just for me.The Stork-billed Kingfisher belongs to the family of Alcedinidae and is one of the 86 species in the world under the sub-family description of Halcyon. The word ‘HALCYON’ is derived from Greek mythology. How it was given this name is told in the following and interesting ‘Romeo & Juliet Grecian-style legend. 'Halcyone’, once Goddess of the Winds married a Trachisan king called Ceyx. Soon after their marriage, the king drowned in a stormy sea. The grieving queen having learnt of his death in her dream was overwhelmed with sorrow and took her own life by jumping into the sea close to where King Ceyx’s ship was wrecked. The Gods felt sorry and took pity on Halcyone and resurrected Ceyx, changing the King and Queen into kingfishers so they may live happily together, always close to the element of water. It was also promised by the Gods that when Halcyone and her descendants were hatching eggs in their nests, which were to be lined with fish bones floating on the tide, the winds would be stilled and the waters calmed.

It was also promised by the Gods that the seven days before the shortest day of the year in December was the time to build their nests and the seven days afterwards to hatch the eggs. Keeping in mind that the legend came from Greece, the Mediterranean Sea is usually calmer during the shortest days of the year. This ties in with the old stories, hence the term ‘halcyon days’ refers to a period of contentment and calm.

It would also be interesting to research the Chinese Almanac to determine when the shortest day would be for those who aspire to search for nesting sites of the Stork-billed Kingfishers in Asia. Should you come across a nesting site - a hole lined with discarded fish bones, you should know that it belongs to the Halcyon subfamily of kingfishers, one that lives on fish provided as promised by their mythological Gods.

If you see and photograph a nesting site of the Stork-billed Kingfisher and be unseen, one has to be born under a lucky star.

Submitted by: DAISY O’NEILL, PENANG, MALAYSIA. All images by Daisy.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Osprey and the White-bellied Sea Eagles

The Osprey and the White-bellied Sea Eagles

Allan Teo was at his friends’ farm in Kahang, Malaysia, recently when he noticed an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) flying towards the fish pond. The pond had more than 1,000 fish and was the territory of the White-bellied Sea Eagles (Haliaeetus leucogaster). Such a rich fishing ground was too tempting for the Osprey but the sea eagle were not about to allow an intruding Osprey fish there.The Osprey started fishing and two eagles immediately gave chase. This did not deter the Osprey. It eventually caught a fish even though it was harassed by the two eagles. Not satisfied, the eagles chased the Osprey for more than a kilometer until it was out of sight.

As Allan noted: “When I returned to examine my photos, I noted this perfect mirror image shot that I did not notice in the field.

“I was told that raptors do not do 'loops' in the sky. However this photo shows that to be not true. Again the camera captures what the eye cannot see. Even when one-meter wingspan birds are fighting over your head.

“So the Osprey can fish while being harassed. I was glad this happened as it allowed extended camera opportunities.”

Our bird specialist R. Subaraj has this to say: “The White-bellied Sea Eagle featured is not a full adult. Ospreys are not residents but visitors to our shores. Confrontations between competitors for fish are not as rare as we think and more observations should produce more stories of such encounters.

“I remember back in the late 1980s watching a White-bellied Sea Eagle continually harassing an Osprey carrying a fish over Kranji Reservoir until it dropped its prey, which was then taken by the eagle. This is almost a form of kleptoparatism, like what frigatebirds and skuas normally indulge in.

“As for the aerial acrobatics, raptors often lock talons in mid-flight during courtship displays, with one upside down like in the photo. They can also invert themselves during territorial battles or when fending off harassment from pests like crows. Excellent photos though!”

Account and images by Allan Teo, September 2006. Osprey on the right (top image), left (centre image) and top (bottom image).


Friday, September 22, 2006

Blue-throated Bee-eater

Blue-throated Bee-eater

Like all bee-eaters, the Blue-throated (Merops viridis) is an earth-hole nester. It excavates a tunnel in the sandy ground, often from a slight incline, but also on flat lawns. The one metre or more tunnel enters the ground at a shallow angle, ending in an egg-chamber. And seldom does the bird reuses it the next year. The sharp, hooked claws and long tail of the bird adapt it well to perching on vertical banks. From this position it excavates its burrow, using its bill to stab at the compacted soil and its powerful claws to dislodge the loosened earth. As the cavity deepens, the bird clears the loosened earth by using both legs, supporting itself on its ‘wrists’ and bill tip. Invariable a small heap of soil forms in front of the nest hole entrance

These strong fliers are mostly long distance migrants and have complete mastery of the air. They are accomplished aerial hunters with their wheeling and gliding flight on long, pointed wings, and with twists and turns in the chase or slow pursuit.
Although the bird spends most of its time in the air, it comes to the ground for short periods to preen and to sunbath. It lies spread-eagled on the ground with its wings fully extended and tail feathers fanned. At the same time it pants to cool itself.

Input and images by Joe Yao,


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Small home high off the ground: Nesting ecology of the Grey-rumped Treeswift.

Small home high off the ground: Nesting ecology of the Grey-rumped Treeswift.

I work in the Singapore Botanic Gardens and the Grey-rumped Treeswifts (Hemiprocne longipennis) do well here. Outside the Visitor Centre they perch in the big trees, they always select the tallest branches, often dead exposed ones. From there they sally for insects, and I presume they nest, although I have never had a chance to study it. But in 2006 I got the chance. A friend who comes in our shop told me about a nesting pair she had near her home, a high rise development nearby off North Buona Vista Road.

The treeswifts form a small family, Hemiprocnidae in the Apodiformes order which includes three families: treeswifts, swifts and (maybe a bit surprisingly) hummingbirds. Hemiprocnidae is only in the Oriental region and only has one genus with four species. Treeswifts differ from true swift in that they can and often do perch on branches, they are arboreal birds. True swifts form a much larger family (92 species world wide); they spend almost all their time in the air, they even sleep and mate on the wing. They cannot perch on a branch or on the ground, they can only grab a vertical surface with their small, weak feet; therefore they only land when they have to nest, which they do in caves or under cliffs, or under man-made structures like buildings and bridges (a few species fly into tree holes), using the only building material available to them: their own saliva and feathers.

The Grey-rumped Treeswift forms a superspecies and was previously considered conspicific with the Crested Treeswift (H. coronata). The former occurs in the Sunda subregion plus Sulawesi, the latter replaces it in Thailand and Indochina into India. Incredibly, for these widespread and fairly numerous two species there are big gaps in our knowledge of their nesting biology, neither incubation nor fledging periods have ever been recorded (Handbook of Birds of the World, Vol. 5, p. 465). The North Buona Vista pair built a small nest in some dead branches in a tall tree, some 20 meters off the ground, it was clearly visible from the balcony of a nearby building. The nest was a tiny cup made of hardened saliva mixed with minute pieces of what appeared to be bark or moss (above, chicks in nest). When the adult sat on the nest the whole structure was invisible, covered by the bird! We know that the egg was laid somewhere between 7th -11th May 2006, it hatched 3rd of June. I visited the nesting site with my son Adam on 5th June. He took some photos with his digital compact camera - the chick was then 2 days old. Both female and male (recognisable by the rufous ear coverts) took turn attending to the chick and feeding it with a regurgitated substance, presumably somewhat pre-digested insect matter. I visited the site again on 16th June. The chick was bigger of course but still covered in down, still fed regularly and still sheltered completely by one of the parents between feeds. Later on it started to develop feathers, it moved away from the tiny nest and perched on the branch on its own, feeding became less regular. On 1st of July 2006 it left the nesting branch, almost the same hour in the afternoon that it hatched. We now know the fledging period of the Grey-rumped Treeswift: it is exactly 4 weeks! (above, male tending to young; below pair tending to young) So, how is the Grey-rumped Treeswift doing? Well, none of the four treeswifts are globally threatened with extinction. However, the HBW states that ‘Pesticides are suspected to be behind recent population declines in Singapore’. David Wells states something similar: ‘Declining in some suburban areas, including on Singapore main island where the largest party of non-breeders recently recorded was of only five birds’ (The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula Vol. 1, p. 473).

Luckily, in the Singapore Botanic Gardens we still have many more treeswifts than that. The treeswifts like to interact and fly around high together while calling, often late in the day; it is not unusual to see 10-12 birds at one time during those occasions. One evening during ‘winter’ a few years back I was at the exercise ground around 6 pm when a Japanese Sparrow-Hawk (Accipiter gularis) flew quickly by towards the rainforest area, and out of the blue congregated a large flock of treeswifts to mob it. I managed to positively count 35 individuals in the air at one time, but there must have been more, maybe 40. They swerved around excitedly for a few minutes after the hawk had disappeared before they gradually dispersed, many settling around the edges of the rainforest.

Text by Morten Strange; images by Adam Strange.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The call of the Asian Koel

The call of the Asian Koel

From mid-October 2005 right through to February 2006, I had been hearing the call of the Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopacea) almost every morning at about 6.30 am or thereabout. Sometimes I would hear the call later in the morning and once in a while in the evening as well. I have had people complaining of being awaken by the call as early as 4.30 to 5.00 am but in my area the birds apparently wake up later. These birds, there must be more than a pair, roost among matured trees growing in an abandoned area between two housing estates, seldom visited by people. As such I never saw them but always heard their calls.

Asian Koels are extremely shy birds. Years ago they were always heard and seldom seen. More recently they had been making their presence known especially when they visited my Alexandra palms (Archontophoenix alexandrae) to feed on the ripe fruits. But they were still shy, flying off once they noted my presence.

From mid-February 2006 the call dried up to an occasional kwaking. Then around the end of June the call was again heard, but not as regularly as previously.During the first few days of July I had the opportunity to view them close-up. Four male koels flew in at around 5.30 pm and stayed for about an hour to an hour and a half. A bird would suddenly arrive and perch on a fruiting branch of my Alexandra palm accompanied by loud kwaking. Another would soon fly in to be followed by the remaining two. Sometimes they would fly to the Golden Penda (Xanthostemon chrysanthus) tree along the roadside.A pair, perching on different branches but facing each other, would then indulge in duetting. The perching appeared precarious as the birds rocked forward and backward, as if trying to balance themselves. Their tails would flare out somewhat and sometimes they would touch beaks. During this time one or more may regurgitate seeds from earlier feeds. After some time they would simply perch quietly, not moving much and not appearing to communicate. Then suddenly they would all fly off.

A lone male koel was recently seen perching on a branch of the Golden Penda and wailing continuously. As it belted out a series of koel-koel-koel calls, its wings flap up while the tail feathers flare out. This went on for up to five minutes before the bird flew off.

Account and images by YC.


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Gloria and her Pink-necked Green Pigeon 1

Gloria and her Pink-necked Green Pigeon 1

On 3rd July 2006 Gloria Seow spotted a female Pink-necked Green Pigeon (Treron vernans ) sitting in a nest lodged between the branches of a tree (possibly Aphanamixis polystachys). The tree was just behind her first floor office in the MacPherson Road area, near to where the regular office smokers congregated to discuss their battle plans. For the first few days she saw only the female bird incubating the eggs. Only much later did she see the more colourful male at the nest.

The bird would sit quietly in the nest, occasionally shifting positions. The sudden appearance of a Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker (Dendrocopus moluccensis) on a branch close by was totally ignored.

As Gloria recounted: “Showed most of my colleagues the female and male birds with my binos. They were suitably impressed and intrigued that there could be green pigeons in Singapore…” On 11th July the eggs hatched.

“I thought I saw papa regurgitating (at that time I didn’t know what he was doing). He would arch his neck downwards and contraction waves would pass along the length of the body as food pours forth within... Suddenly papa moved and revealed one chick beneath him!” So there were two chicks.
“Papa was feeding the chicks with crop milk every 5 to 15 minutes. When one chick was fed, the other would call out softly in protest. The chicks were covered in yellow down, their eyes appeared to be still closed and sealed within a thin membrane, and they had a yellow beak. I reckon that they were barely 1-2 days old. Papa looked tired, his feathers appeared ruffled and un-preened and he was forever wary of foreign sounds, whipping his head around in alarm with every new aural interference, human or avian made. Thank God such disturbances were few and far between.

“My presence was acknowledged as papa quickly orientated his body and sight line in my direction when initially he was facing the other way. Of course, I posed very little threat as I was seated a good 4 meters below him and every time somebody walked by, I diverted attention away from the nest by fiddling with my other papers and equipment.”

Input by Gloria Seow and images by Chan Yoke Meng - top down: female with chicks, tree where nest was, male in nest, male with chicks. Ali Ibrahim helped identify the tree.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Attack of Dollarbirds’ nest by starlings

Attack of Dollarbirds’ nest by starlings

An earlier account saw how a Long-tailed Parakeet (Psittacula longicauda) attacked the nest of a pair of Dollarbirds (Eurystomus orientalis) but was physically evicted from the nest. Here, the attack by a flock of Asian Glossy Starlings (Aplonis panayensis) was under different circumstances.

Meng and Melinda Chan were at Lim Chu Kang when they noticed a pair of Dollarbirds nesting in an open cavity at the top of a dead tree trunk. A small flock of Asian Glossy Starlings was flying over when they noticed the Dollarbirds’ nest. The starlings suddenly flew down to raid the nest. Predictably, the pair of Dollarbirds retaliated, attacking the former. Being outnumbered, the nest was raided and what appeared to be a well-developed embryo was taken away by one of the starlings. The starlings flew away leaving the Dollarbirds to assess the damage.

Thanks to Meng and Melinda Chan for the observation. Images by YC.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Purple Heron: Feeding behaviour

Purple Heron: Feeding behaviour

Herons are carnivores, feeding on a wide range of live animals found within their aquatic environment. These may include fish, frogs, snakes, lizards, birds and small mammals. They also take aquatic insects and crustaceans.

The long neck and sharp pointed bill are well adapted to harpoon preys. The bird stands motionless in shallow water among vegetation until a prey approaches. It then suddenly seizes it with the bill or if large enough, impales it. An account on the baiting strategy of Little Heron (Butorides striatus) has been posted earlier.

Herons swallow their prey whole. They have an excellent digestive system that takes care of their food efficiently, leaving only bones, feathers, exoskeletons and fur that get regurgitated as pellets.

Adults feed their chicks by regurgitating the prey whole. The chick may swallow the food whole or if too large, the parent bird may break it up into smaller bits.

The image above, provided by Chan Yoke Meng, of a Purple Heron regurgitating a rat, tail-first (it cannot be otherwise) to feed the chick, was taken at Yong Peng, Malaysia in August 2005. Obviously the regurgitated rat needed to be repositioned before the chick can swallow it. Or did it swallow the rat tail first?

The image below by YK Chia shows another Purple Heron, this time a juvenile, with a lizard between its beak. If you look closely, you can see where the lizard had its body pierced.
Thanks to Chan Yoke Meng and YK Chia for the use of their images. Check out YK's blog.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Chestnut-bellied Malkoha manipulating caterpillar

Chestnut-bellied Malkoha manipulating caterpillar

On 23rd June 2006, photographer HP Lim came across a pair of Chestnut-bellied Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus sumatranus), each with a large hairy caterpillar between its beak. The birds were swinging the caterpillars vigorously, obviously to kill them. They next passed the entire lenght of the caterpillar back and forth between the beak to remove the stomach contents. The image above shows one of the bird with the somewhat flattened caterpillar between its beak.

The video clips that HP Lim managed to capture (1) and (2) show the above in a much more dramatic fashion. In case you are not able to connect properly to the videos, he has given alternate links in (3) and (4).

Caterpillars are a favourite food of many species of birds. The brightly coloured ones can be poisonous while those that are hairy can be tricky to manipulate. An earlier posting gives an account of how birds generally handle these caterpillars.

Another account describes the way a Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris) manipulated a large privet hawk moth’s caterpillar - in this case the caterpillar was clean shaven, no hairs!

We wish to thank HP Lim for generously sharing his image and videos and to Meng and Melinda Chan for introducing him to BESGroup's blog.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Pong pong tree

Pong pong tree

The pong pong (Cerbera odollam) is a medium sized tree that was once commonly planted along roads in Singapore. Its popularity then was because there was a plentiful supply of large fruits that collected on the ground below. These were collected and easily germinated to be used as wayside trees. With the maturity of the garden city and availability of a more varied selection of tree species, pong pong became less of a favourite. Its general shape is not all that attractive. Besides, the large, round fruits that litter the ground below became quite of a nuisance. However, there are still many areas where such matured trees can still be seen.

The tree has been called Singapore apple because of the large, round fruits. The green outer covering of the fruit encloses a thin pulp and a thick fibrous stone containing a single seed. This seed is reportedly poisonous, containing the poisonous substances cerebin and odollin. It has been used locally to poison rats.

For a long time now no animals have been observed to eat the fruits, or at least the outer pulp. Being a coastal tree, the fruits are adapted for water dispersal, not animal dispersal.
However, birders have recently observed seeing Tanimbar Corella (Cacatua goffini) feasting on these fruits. Johnny Wee sent an image of this bird eating through the outer part of a green fruit, apparently chewing through the tough fibrous layer covering the seed. The bird is seen perched on a branch with its right leg tightly clutching it while its left leg clutches the green fruit.

At Eng Neo area, certain mornings the pong pong trees will be swarmed with these corellas as they noisily fly from branch to branch and tree to tree, pecking on the fruits. Typically wasteful eaters, these birds end up littering the ground below with the partially eaten fruits.

According to our bird specialist R. Subaraj: “Tanimbar Cockatoo (now known as Tanimbar Corella) was first seen around 1970s when it was misidentified as Little Corella (Cacatua pastinator) from Australia. A visiting Aussie birder in the mid-1980s said it weren't theirs and that finally lead to the accurate confirmation of the species.”

This is an introduced bird, now getting more common. It has obviously found a feeding niche that no other birds have occupied before. Besides feeding on pong pong fruits, it also goes for green starfruits (Averrhoa carambola) and fruits of sea almond (Terminalia catappa), fruits not popular with other species of birds.

Images by YC except second from top by Johnny Wee and bottom by Chan Yoke Meng.


Friday, September 08, 2006

"Trapeze Artist" with nictitating membrane

"Trapeze Artist" with nictitating membrane

A scheduled Saturday night of owling turned unforgettable for a birding trio.

With birder-photographer Chien, a budding Mike, and me dressed for the occasion, it was meant to be a night out putting our new toys - a night vision aid and my ‘third eye’ – headlights, to a test!

We were just about to call it a night after having seen the owls as hoped, but we decided to retrace our steps once more to the known site of the Mangrove Pitta (Pitta megarhyncha) (see also 1, 2 on Blue-winged Pitta), to add more bird sightings to our owling list.

At this point, I would like to take readers back two months.An adult pitta was sighted by me and photographed by Chien on 27th May 2006. It was our lifer of the very first pitta species and for the very first time sought after. It was the first time ever that such an elusive bird was captured on camera in that brevity of moment while picking nesting material. The bird flew towards the opposite direction from the nesting site as a decoy upon having seen us. There had been numerous confirmed sightings in the past by other birders but no photo opportunities were had prior to this day.

Stalking the Mangrove Pitta for the first time together on 27th May has been our ‘stepping stone’ of numerous good moments in bird-photography. We seem to have that incredible birding luck as a team.

For harnessing such good fortune together, I now present and share with you that moment with Chien and triple luck, young birder-photographer Mike.

I believe 30th July is to be one and one life time only opportunity to bear witness to this account – sighting a juvenile Mangrove Pitta at 12 midnight. It did not occur to us that this species that eludes so many birders in the daytime could be possibly seen at night and in deep slumber on a unique, open perch.

We crept single file along the short boardwalk beside the river and into total darkness under tree canopy of mixed banyan trees and nipah palms. Instinctively, my flashlight went searching for the floor coverings and subconsciously I was thinking wishfully and whispering aloud to Chien: “It would be a miracle to see a pitta at this time of the night!”

Chien chuckled in disbelief but knew I was not looking for owls but for an elusive hope of sighting a pitta - a chance in a million to ever see one that night.

That nice quiet feeling of unexplained euphoria rose to the challenge and continued to hang over me as I led the way with my searching flashlight. With birder Mike walking behind and charting new virtual birding horizons on ventured birding trips with us, he was elated.

Suddenly I saw a white object hanging in mid-air. We approached cautiously as there were numerous banyan roots hanging down from tree canopies as well as twisted stems of woody climbers dangling across. The white object appeared to be levitating from this dangling stem in the dark!

“It’s a pitta! Shh…….” Excitedly, I whispered to Mike who passed the message to Chien, birder-photographer cum bodyguard for the night.

We approached just in time to see this white object raised its head that snuggled, in an under-winged position to reveal its identity as a juvenile Mangrove Pitta.

This was a five weeks old juvenile with pinkish belly already showing. Earlier in the week the same chick was sighted in the morning. Now it was confirmed by three birders at night.We stood on the boardwalk and stared silently at the juvenile in disbelief. We were stunned by the snoozing bird that was just perching on the stem like a trapeze artist. I cautiously waved my flashlight at the bird to observe for any response from it. The bird remained motionless in sleep mode and thus allowed some beautiful night photography pictures from Chien’s Nikon D200 and Mike’s Nikon D2H (DSLRs). My Nikon P4, toy by comparison, ‘also can’ showing the ‘Apparition Pitta’ on a ‘trapeze’ (above).

Chien could not believe that it was happening. Stalking a pitta in the day was difficult and sweaty enough. Having a pitta perched and posed in front of the camera for as long as he wanted was simply unimaginable and photographing one at midnight had to be a miracle. It happened! There had been a couple of moments when the pitta yawned and scratched. Caught in action by Mike’s camera, it showed a crescent nictitating membrane emerging from the inner corner of the eye (above). Chien’s photo showed a ‘full moon’ nictitating membrane taken at the time when the pitta was scratching. Was that an involuntary reflex like when one walks and swings the other hand? (above).

Yawning action was captured with pitta’s eyes opened (below). Did the bird not see us? We were about 3 metres away! Doesn’t the bird see at night? Was it blinded by our flashlight? These were the questions that puzzled us.We decided to put another observation to the test. From communication with initial hand signals to whispers that got louder and louder, we proceeded to speaking in normal tone and deliberated openly on the subject of ‘nictitating membrane’.

It was hard to believe that our presence and discussion went on until 1am and the bird was still perching on the same vine unperturbed by neither our voice nor presence.

The conclusion to this juvenile pitta’s behavior could be that, pittas do not see nor hear well in the dark as opposed to extreme acute sight and hearing in the daytime.

The innocent juvenile 5 week-old chick had not been exposed to human predatory presence nor acquired survival skills yet. Besides, the tide was high that night and the ground underneath the boardwalk was flooded. No escape for the juvenile but to play ‘stand and look dead’?

We left thanking and leaving the juvenile Mangrove Pitta the way we first sighted it - in sleep mode.

For us trio, we each went home with a great feeling that we had struck the national lottery. We took that euphoric feeling to bed. The juvenile Mangrove Pitta probably did not care and continued with sleep. We slept not.


Images from top to bottom: Breeding Mangrove Pitta with nesting material by Tse Chien; 'Apparition' juvenile pitta on trapeze by Daisy O'Neill; Crescent nictitating membrane by Michael Ng; 'Full moon' nictitating membrane by Tse Chien; and Yawning Pitta by Tse Chien.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Nesting of Asian Paradise Flycatcher

Nesting of Asian Paradise Flycatcher

The Asian Paradise Flycatcher (Terpsiphone paradisi) is an impressive bird, especially the male morph whose long tail can reach more than 27 cm long. As the bird flies it’s long white tail dangles and sways suggestively like a butterfly fluttering about. The bird winters in tropical Asia and is seen in Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia as a passage migrant. Tan Swee Nam had an exciting encounter with a pair of nesting birds in Taman Negara, Malaysia on 7th June 2006 and brought back the two images shown here. He arrived just a few days too late to see the male flycatcher replenish with his long white tail. A Malaysian birder saw the birds feeding the chicks on 29th May, probably hatched about two days earlier. The male still had its long tail when he left in 3rd June.The chicks fledged on 9th June at 11 am, about 13 days after hatching.

This species is usually found in forested areas. Three or four eggs are laid in a neat cup-shaped nest, usually lined with hairs and decorated with mosses and liverworts. The male starts life with rufous plumage that develops white feathers by the second year. By the third year the plumage is completely white, other than the black head. The female resmbles the rufous male, but has a grey throat, smaller crest and lacks the tail streamers.

Thanks Swee Nam for the imput and images.


Monday, September 04, 2006

Durians and birds

Durians and birds

About a year ago or earlier, Goh Si Guim came across a durian tree (Durio zibethinus) at Bukit Batok West with a ripenig fruit whose outer skin had a hole, probably gnawed by a squirrel. There was a Laced Woodpecker (Picus vittatus) around the fruit. Whether it was actually eating the durian flesh or looking for insects was not established. Fuhai Heng managed to capture an image of the damaged fruit with the woodpecker on it (below). There the matter rested until James Heng took a walk along Venus Drive on 10th July 2006 and encountered a tree laden with fruits with many squirrels and birds crowding around the ripening fruits. This is what he wrote:

“This evening I passed a durian tree which was laden with fruits. What was unusual was that there were lots of sunbird and flowerpecker activities.

“As the durians are getting ripe soon, many plantain squirrels (Callosciurus notatus) (with a black and cream coloured band on the side of its belly) have gnawed through many of them. Whenever a squirrel had had enough and moved away, Plain-throated Sunbirds ( Anthreptes malacensis ) quickly appeared and perched on the durian's thorns and pecked away at the exposed flesh. They were also seen licking the white inner portion of the husk.

“Several Orange Bellied Flowerpeckers (Dicaeum trigonostigma) were also busy darting about that tree. On several occasions, they landed on the durians and pecked away. Unfortunately, from my angle, I could not see if they were reaching into any of those bored cavities in the fruits.

“Hmm, seems that like humans, some birds just cannot "tahan" the lure of this fruit.”
Johnny Wee later visited the tree and took a picture of the woodpecker that was eating away at a fruit with an opening for about 8 minutes before it flew away satisfied (above). Again, Johnny was not sure whether the bird was eating the fruit or the insects/worms found around it.

It has been established that woodpeckers are insectivorous as well as fruigivrous.

We thank Goh Si Guim and James Heng for their input; Fuhia Heng and Johnny Wee for their images; and R. Subaraj for identifying the squirrel.


Site Meter Amfibi Directory Singapore Blogger Organisation