Friday, 31 January 2014


Happy Chinese New Year! In Singapore, we're fortunate to be able to
celebrate the new year twice. Spring is arriving in China and it's 
apparent here too; despite our perpetual summer, the butterfly 
numbers are starting to recover from December's monsoons. Chinese 
New Year is always a vibrant time of the year that brings families 
together. It's the year of the horse now, so let's gallop into 
prosperity and happiness!

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Sea Eagles over the Forest

It's not actually that out of place. Many of our forest reserves fringe 
reservoirs or disused quarries. If not, they're already in close
proximity to the actual coast. Recently, White Bellied Sea Eagles 
have become quite a familiar sight all over the island. After 
disappointing day at Dairy Farm, I took a walk to the summit of
Bukit Timah hill on impulse and met an eagle.

It was circling around the summit for a while so I decided to 
fiddle around with my camera settings, ending up with many
striking silhouette shots. Another eagle joined in not long after.
Here is a more conventional picture, showing the white belly.

The White Bellied Sea Eagle is a large (hovers around 80cm) 
diurnal raptor and as its name suggests, fish makes up most of its
diet but it also preys on other animals. In Singapore, being one 
of the largest raptors, it has been known to harass other smaller
birds-of-prey for their catches.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

First Butterfly of The Year

There will be a sudden influx of Lime Butterflies soon. Along with the
gaudy orange and red decorations that Chinese New Year brings each 
year, the festival also brings in a wave of Kumquat plants and in 
turn, population boom of lime butterflies. These gorgeous urban 
swallowtails have adapted to use many citrus species as their 
caterpillar host and the kumquat is amongst them. So my first 
butterfly of 2014, by default, had to be this species.

The upperside of the lime butterfly is black with a dazzling display of
greenish-white spots. It has a distinctive erratic flight and is actually
a frequent sight along the roads, being one of the many species that
have successfully adapted to life in the city.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Kangaroo Island Birds

Before we begin, I just want to make sure that we're all on the same
island. Kangaroo Island is Australia's third largest island with the 
most beautiful unspoilt wilderness and a lovely Mediterranean 
climate. When we arrived, we were surprised by how quiet the place 
was; it almost felt like we had the island to ourselves. Also, thanks 
to the island's isolation, its natural vegetation suffered much less 
damage than the mainland did during the eighteenth century when 
the European settlers arrived in Australia. To start off, here is one of
the biggest birds on the island, the Australian Pelican. 

I was surprised by its ability to take off so gracefully from the lamp 
post it was resting on. The lamp, however, didn't take it so well and 
was shaking after the pelican drifted off. I saw plenty of seabirds 
during our stay. There was a group of Great Crested Terns residing 
at Emu Bay, where we stayed. Being amongst the flock of terns was 
one of my favourite moments from the trip. This one decided to 
have some peace and quiet away from the crowd.

We also came across a group of Australian Pied Cormorants quietly
preening their feathers to keep them waterproof.

Gulls were a common sight just like in Adelaide. While we mainly saw
Silver Gulls, the occasional Pacific Gull showed up. These gulls were
huge. They were usually solitary or in pairs but I never saw a group
of them. This one is the South Australian subspecies, georgii, which
has a white iris. The West Australian birds have red eyes.

This is the far more abundant Silver Gull.

I was quite excited to see some shorebirds for the first time too. I 
saw a pair of Pied Oystercatchers walking along a seaweed-littered
mudflat. They looked much fluffier than how the guide books often
showed them to be: with perfect sleek plumage, probably because
the wind was very strong at that time and it was awfully chilly too.

I must have been very lucky to have seen this rare little Hooded 
Plover just five minutes from my holiday home. Its population is 
declining due to the increased amount of human activity in its 
preferred habitat - sandy beaches. The disturbance has caused a low 
breeding success rate and the increase in gulls and ravens has not 
helped either. It is now 'Vulnerable to global extinction' on the IUCN 
Red List. I was glad to hear that they have been thriving on 
Kangaroo Island, a promising sanctuary for the beautiful wader.

A similar looking species that is doing just fine worldwide, the Ruddy 
Turnstone, was found nearby. They never let me get within pouncing
distance from them so I sat from afar to watch them scuttle along
the shore.

Now for the perching birds. Outside our house there was a tree that
was constantly occupied by busy New Holland Honeyeaters. They were
very vocal, making loud 'chip' sounds as they darted from flower to
flower. The restless birds didn't spend more than five seconds at the 
same perch! Whenever I approached the tree, all the birds would 
sound harsh alarm calls and retreat to the other side of the tree. The
shot below did not come easily.

Welcome Swallows were common too. In the morning they would all
line up on the telephone wires outside our place. A pair had built a 
nest outside the Seal Bay Visitor Centre and swooped by to deliver 
insects every two minutes or so. They were so fast, I had to aim my 
camera at the nest and wait for the bird to arrive, then rapidly fire 
in order to get a shot, also earning many stares as the nest was near 
the toilets!

The morning choir in Kangaroo Island was spectacular and one of the
lead vocalists was the introduced Goldfinch, a tiny bird I would have
expected to see in Europe. The males often sang from the telephone 
wires, twittering cheerfully.

While the Goldfinch has just a splash of red on its face, the flashy
Crimson Rosella is predominantly of that colour, with trimmings of 
blue here and there. This obscured view was the best I could get of
a group high up in a tree in the mallee scrub.

The other parrot species I sighted on the island was the small but 
brightly coloured Purple Crowned Lorikeet, named after the indistinct
dab of dark purple on its forehead. I only saw this individual who
stopped briefly before continuing on its search for flowers.

I have saved the best from the last. Recently voted as Australia's 
favourite bird in BirdLife Australia's national poll, this little bird has 
fascinated me ever since I began learning about nature. I heard their
trilling songs all over the island but the Superb Fairy Wren finally 
came into view on our front lawn on the first morning.  This was the
bird that I was dying to see. Watching the group of them hop around
the lawn was absolutely breathtaking; I literally forgot to breathe.

The name 'superb' is superbly fitting. The male sports an intense sky
blue head and back, while the chest and tail are both a deeper 
ultramarine. While the female doesn't pack quite the same amount 
of colour, she is just as exquisite. They look like tiny feather puffs 
with wonderfully long waggling tails.

Here is another male.

That's all I have for the birds of Kangaroo Island. One I would have 
hoped to see is the endangered K.I. subspecies of the Glossy Black
Cockatoo. However, just being in Kangaroo Island was amazing. I 
loved all of its untamed wilderness. During our three day long visit, 
we went sand surfing in the Little Sahara, walked amongst the lovely 
Australian Sea Lions and of course, met many feathered friends.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Adelaide Birds

To kick off the new year, I'll continue with my Australia pictures. 
During the four days my family and I spent in Adelaide, we saw a 
bounty of birds, most of which I had never seen before; at least in 
the wild. To begin with, here's a lucky shot of one of the continent's 
most well known creatures, the Laughing Kookaburra. On many 
occasions I heard their raucous calls but I only saw the bird itself 
once. It is one of the largest kingfishers in the world, tying in with 
Africa's Giant Kingfisher.

It doesn't 'fish' though; the kookaburra's diet consists mainly of 
lizards, small rodents and even snakes. The most common bird in 
Adelaide was probably the telenocula subspecies of the pied 
Australian Magpie. These beautiful crows were everywhere, from 
outside our hotel to the countrysides. Their most remarkable feature 
was their song; a combination of metallic clinks, melodic gurgles and 
warbles. Good thing we didn't visit in Spring though, for they are 
known the swoop at people who unknowingly wander near their nests.

Magpie Larks looked rather like whiter miniature magpies but they 
are not at all related. This is a male and his two fledglings.

Another frequent sight was the lovely looking Crested Pigeon. They 
were often accompanied by the introduced spotted doves which are
native in Singapore. The crested pigeon is one of the two species of
the family to sport a quirky upright crest, the other being the smaller
Spinifex Pigeon, a resident of the more arid parts of the continent.

My trip to Australia would have been incomplete without seeing the
regions most diverse group of birds - the Honeyeaters. A familiar
sound in Adelaide was the penetrating squeaks of the aptly named
Noisy Miner. They were very sociable birds, often seen together
in large groups. I mostly saw them flying in and out of flowering 
trees, sometimes descending to the ground to forage too.

This one really had me excited - seeing my first gull, in the heart
of the city! The Silver Gull is the most common gull in Australia, most
likely because it is a successful scavenger. We also saw them in their
more natural habitat - by the coast at Cape Jervis. I love the contrast
of the red legs and beak against the clean white body.

The gulls weren't the only 'pests' whose presence was more than
welcome to me. I was thrilled to finally hear sweet the song of the 
Common Blackbird. I spotted them on a few occasions in the woods.
They were not so easy to see though; I had to strain my neck for 
quite some time, looking up into the trees, before managing to 
locate the origin of the song.

In the Mount Lofty Ranges by the Adelaide Hills, I heard the calls
of the Little Raven rather frequently. Whenever they made their
throaty 'ark's, they would loosely flick both wings upwards.

This charming little Brown Treecreeper appeared briefly in front of 
me at the summit of Mount Lofty, gliding to the bottom of each tree
then working its way up, foraging for insects. It's a pity that my only
record of it has the bird facing away.

Water birds were often seen around the lakes in the Botanic Gardens
as well as in the beautiful suburbs. The most common of them was
the Australian Wood Duck. I saw them in sizable congregations, one
group being at least fifty-birds-big.

Now, absolutely no post on Australian birds could go without 
featuring the most colourful and well known members of the avian
world, the parrots. It was amazing to see these birds flying swiftly
from tree to tree, screeching away. In Singapore there are a few
of native parrots but the species I saw in Adelaide were completely
different. The Eastern Rosella was a spectacular sight. I only saw
them a handful of times and this picture was taken when one flew
to the ground to forage.

While in Mount Lofty, I mostly encountered Adelaide Rosellas, the
South Australian form of the beautiful Crimson Rosella. I found this
odd bird amongst them and until just half an hour ago I was clueless
about its identity. Here's the fact that gave it away: the blue cheeked
rosellas have juveniles that are largely green. This fellow turned out 
to be just another immature Adelaide Rosella.

As a finale, I present the gaudiest of the gaudy, the Rainbow 
Lorikeet. There couldn't be a better name to describe this 
stunning species. They were quite often seen but had my blood
pumping every time one showed up. Surprisingly, they became
difficult to spot once they landed in a tree. Most of my sightings
of them were streaks of electric green flying past. However I
did manage to get up close with one on a lucky occasion.

Last but not least, a Rainbow Lorry drinking from the snake's mouth.

That's all for my Adelaide bird pictures. Next week I'll share the birds
I saw in the beautiful and unspoilt Kangaroo Island, which includes 
the one that I told myself I wouldn't leave Australia without seeing.