Thursday, 28 May 2009

Southeast Arizona

My airline has recently reviewed it’s travel concession policy and has allowed me to add my long-time friend and birdy-buddy, Martin, as a travel companion. In anticipation of the new rules, I requested a trip to Phoenix and Martin arranged some space in his diary. A 5-day trip gives 2 full days of birding plus a little extra something on the fourth morning.
We planned a route that would take us into the famed southeast corner of Arizona. This area is noted for being a hotspot for birds reaching their northernmost limits, just squeezing into the USA past the omnipresent border patrols. Birds more commonly associated with Mexico and Central America can be found here among other specialists of the desert and mountain habitats.

Day 1. 20th May.

Low cloud all day kept the light low and photos to a minimum.
Our first stop was to be the noted Pecan Grove close to the Pinal Air Park. First light found us just short at the side of the road with our first target bird, a Greater Roadrunner. No trip to the desert would be complete without a roadrunner. My navigation narrowly missed the pecan grove at the first attempt, but once we saw it across the fields, it was an easy mistake to correct.
It was not immediately obvious whether or not we could enter the grove. Etiquette was high on the priority list of the author of our guide book, so we elected to stay in the car and skirt two sides. Already we had a handful of beautiful birds. Gambell’s Quail(one of the local specialities), Lesser Nighthawk, Blue Grosbeak, Western Tanager and Phainopepla to name but a few. To this we added, Yellow-rumped Warbler, White-crowned Sparrow and Black-headed Grosbeak. Less spectacular were 2 Mallard that flew over. The fields on the approach had given up some Horned Lark amongst the many Red-shouldered Blackbirds. On the return to the road, the fields gave us a snake. My best guess at the moment is a kingsnake
I am worried that there are so many reptiles and insects appearing in this increasingly misnamed bird blog, but just look at him. I don’t know what it is yet, I am hoping for a herp to find this blog and start cataloguing for me. Watch out for the rattlesnake later!
The plan was to be at the Sonoran Desert Museum by opening time at 07.30, but this was never going to happen. Easily distracted, we stopped a few times en-route for Pyrruloxia, Gila Woodpecker, Ashy-throated Flycatcher, Verdin, Cactus Wren and Curve-billed Thrasher. We eventually arrived at the museum closer to 09.00, having already seen most of the birds that we were hoping to see there. I wanted to see the hummingbird aviary. The Anna’s Hummingbird below sat provocatively on an open perch and allowed us to approach very closely. I would have loved to get a shot of one in flight, or at a flower, but it was not to be. Two females were tending nests, one with an egg, the other with two chicks, one of which had just fledged.There were plenty of wild birds in the grounds including the Hooded Oriole, Bronzed Cowbird and a Wilson’s Warbler. There were more grosbeaks, wrens, thrashers and woodpeckers too.
Our plans changed from here. We had anticipated the desert to be fiercely hot by 10.00 and were intending to head up into the mountains. The temperature was 107F when we landed the previous evening, but had plummeted overnight. To our delight, the mercury was barely over 80F. So we continued our meanderings in the lower lying habitats, taking in the area at the crossing of Shannon and Broadway (Say’s Phoebe and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher of note) and on to the Sweetwater Wetlands. Roger’s Ponds across from Sweetwater was playing host to the resident Harris Hawk family. A youngster was calling pitifully while two other family members fussed around it. A Vermillion Flycatcher hawked from a low branch beneath them.
Sweetwater Wetlands is a series of reed-lined ponds surrounded by cat-tails. The first pond had a few ducks, but we suspected that they may have been clipped or rescued or otherwise not present at their own volition. A board outside which listed all the birds alphabetically claimed the Cinnamon Teal and Shoveller to be resident, but with the Harris Hawks and Gambell’s quails separating the ducks on the list we questioned the credibility of the information.
On the larger bodies of water beyond the fence were American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, Killdeer and Great Blue Herons. Martin wandered off and left me to my own devices and guess what? I ended up taking pictures of dragonflies again. I had previously missed the rodents, but I imagine the Harris Hawks know all about them. Chubby chaps with short tails, I was informed that they were packrats, but I have not yet been able to verify this. Also worthy of mention were Common Yellowthroat, Abert’s Towhee, Northern Roughwinged Swallow and a rattlesnake. Again I throw myself at the whim of a passing herp to tell me which of the many kinds it might be.
We made a quick detour to Madera Canyon to check on our accommodation for the next night only to find Santa Rita Lodge ominously quiet. Then, puzzled, on to Nogales to spend the night at the Holiday Inn Express, which, in case you are interested, proved to be clean, comfortable, quiet and affordable.
Day 2. 21st May

The Rose-throated Becard was not to be seen at Patagonia rest stop early the next morning. He has not been seen yet this year I understand. Past years he has built his nest alongside Sonoita Creek opposite the rest stop and vainly waited for a mate. Perhaps he has found a more productive spot at last. Good luck to him.
Thick-billed Kingbirds were very much in evidence and a Canyon Wren entertained us with his song and gave good close-up views as he moved among the rocks close to the road. Ravens passed over as did a pair of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.
A Lucy’s Warbler was calling insistently from the hillside and I mistook it’s clear song for a wren. Martin found a Lazuli Bunting which at last gives me reason for buying that red ink refill. My first lifer since starting the blog. Actually the theme of the morning was red. Northern Cardinals, Summer Tanagers, Vermillion Flycatchers. Oh for some light to take pictures by.
We left the rest stop as the rain began. It lasted through breakfast at the Stage Coach Inn and for the rest of the morning while we sat under the awning at the Patons’ house. This is supposed to be May in Arizona. Still, what better way to sit out a rain shower?
Our count for the garden was over 30 birds including Yellow-breasted Chat, Violet-crowned Hummingbird, and a disputed Mississippi Kite. It was out of it’s normal range, but there was no doubt in my mind that it was a Mississippi Kite. The obvious candidate was a Grey Hawk, but there was no sign at all of any banding in the tail. Nor was there a white vent or rump when it flew. It was a slim bird, grey with a flat, white head. It took a turn around the locality and showed no patterning on it’s underside apart from a slightly darker tail. So my red pen is out again.At the front of the house a Cassin's Kingbird was hawking from the wire.
The Patons deserve a mention before we drive off. Wally and Marion hang feeders all around their house and welcome anyone who wishes to come and visit. They thoughtfully provide a shade pagoda with chairs, field guides and identification guides for the hummingbirds. Thanks to them and don’t forget to donate to the sugar fund if you visit.
There was not much left to see in Sonoita Creek Reserve that we had not already seen in the Paton’s garden so we took a cursory drive along the road that runs parallel to the creek. A Black Vulture was added along with good views of the local White-tailed (Coues’) Deer and, just as we were leaving, our best look at the Greater Roadrunner when 2 crossed the road in front of us. We wasted some time trying to find a sophisticated spot for lunch. By sophisticated, I mean we were hoping for cutlery, but had no luck, settling for yet another fast meal in Continental. By the time we reached Santa Rita Lodge, we only had about an hour of useful daylight left. We needed to be at the lodge to see the Elf Owl leave it's roost.

We had heard that an Elegant Trogon had been showing well the previous day on the Mount Baldy Trail. An hour looking for trogons was an hour well spent in my book. Actually my book also said that taped recordings were forbidden in Madera Canyon. I only noticed this section later and am ashamed to admit that I played a recording to whistle-up a trogon

Playback is a very effective way to catch a bird's attention, but I agree with the authorities in Madera Canyon to ban playback where rare or sensitive birds are nesting. I was thoughtless.

The Elf Owl, though we were assured that they still nested there, did not show. They have been nesting in a telegraph (utility) pole at Santa Rita Lodge for some years now. Someone suggested that the temperature was keeping them indoors. The temperature had by now dropped below 70F and overcast. This was wonderful weather for heat-haters like Martin and myself, but not for Elf Owls it would seem.
As we waited for the Elf Owls to show, we tried to identify the music of the night. Most easily recognised was the tri-syllabic call of the Whip-poor-will. After we had given up on the owls, we were returning to our chaletand the whip-poor-wills were calling very close by. I shone my torch up into the tree and through a fortuitous gap in the foliage, shone the eyes of 2 Whip-poor-wills.

Day 3. 22nd May.

The Santa Rita Lodge was good value at $95 between us.
We had arranged a bird walk for Friday morning and sure enough, at 07.oo, Jack Murray arrived and took us, with 3 others down to the edge of the grasslands at Proctor Parking.
This gave us a good view out over the grasslands wherein, he claimed, Botteri’s Sparrow lived. Having never even heard of Boterri’s Sparrow before now, it suddenly became a priority. We didn’t find one, but in the sage words that Martin saves for occasions such as these, “it gives me a good excuse to come back and look again.”
In conversation with Jack, he was telling us that he did 80% of his birding by ear these days as his eyes were beginning to let him down. His hearing though was still reliable and he was able to pick out birds long before we got close to them.
We did find Bell's Vireo, Summer Tanager, Black-chinned Sparrow, Turkey Vulture and Verdin before heading back up the slope.

We stopped at Kubo Madera where Jack knew of a Flame-coloured Tanager, apparently the only one in the USA. It was calling from a large, leafy Arizona Sycamore which made him very difficult to locate amongst the superficially similar Black-headed Grosbeaks. While we were trying, a Magnificent Hummingbird came to the feeders nearby and a trogon called from the adjacent property.
Eventually the tanager came down to the feeders at Kubo Madera and gave us a good view.

Finally, we moved up onto the mountain and headed up the Vault Mine Trail. Her were Painted Redstarts, Lucy's warbler and Plumbeous Vireos. One of our group was especially keen to see a Red-faced Warbler. He became quite ecstatic when Jack tracked one down after hearing it calling.
Acorn Woodpeckers were common throughout the forst. A male Hepatic Tanager showed off above us and Yellow-eyed Juncos picked through the leaf-litter on the forest floor.
We reached Jack's objective of a comfortable array of rocks within sight of a trogon's nesting area. Here we sat to wait. Trogons patrol up and down the creek beds in their chosen territory, so an effective way to see them is to position yourself well and wait for one to fly past. The trogons did not appear, but a Grace's Warbler showed well while we were waiting.
We started back down the hill and saw the Red-faced Warbler again, this time in full sunshine.
As we neared the bottom of the trail, Jack recognised 3 regular birders who were settled comfortably at the side of the trail. They all had their binoculars trained into a large Arizona Sycamore acroos the path. One of the golden rules of birding is "never ignore anyone with binoculars, especially if they are looking intently at something in a tree."

There was an Elegant Trogon, hidden slightly by the foliage. I use the red ink now as I am still slightly embarrased about the playback incident. With a quick skip back up the trail the angle was sufficient for a decent view and Voila!

So there we are. It was time to return to Phoenix for the flight back to the UK, but it had been a succesful trip. I was returning home with enough lifers for a clumsy turner's handful and I suspect Martin may have scored a couple of armfuls. I hope he enjoyed himself and I will try to tempt him with a trip to Cape Town some time soon.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

A big thank you

Photos for the blogs from Sydney and the return leg in Singapore are made possible by John 3:16.
This enigmatically named photo supply shop in Funan Plaza, Singapore was able to help me when no-one else was prepared to do so.
I had already fired 800 shots and used up 3 batteries. I don't usually get so trigger happy and so I do not carry the charger with me.
When I went to Harvey Norman to ask if it were possible to charge a battery, the salesman could not help me. In Song Brothers, The salesman tried to sell me a charger. I already have a charger as well as one for my phone, i-pod, computer etc. I don't need any more. I just want a boost. 
The Canon shop tried to sell me a new battery. "Is it charged?" I asked, "No, but you could buy a charger."
It seemed that my request was beyond the ken of mortal retailers. Then I met Samual Gan. His shop is named for the biblical quotation John 3:16. With a smile, he took my batteries and suggested I came back in a couple of hours. Mr Gan did not expect me to make a purchase and refused a contribution for his time and energy.
So a big thank you toMr Gan and his staff.

Bring more water next time.

I have described the Central Catchment Area, Macritchie Reservoir in a section called Singapore Site Guide. This is where I found myself this morning. I was trying a new and exciting way of getting there, but realized that the tried and trusted route as described in the site guide is probably best.
Thick-billed Pigeon

The usual suspects were to be found in the trees separating the fairways on the golf course. From the Lornie Road end of Sime road, I could see into the Singapore Island Country Club ( Bukit )grounds. The line-up consisted of Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Black-naped Oriole and Asian Koel. I didn’t linger long, I was keen to be in the forest.
The first part of the track has been much improved since my last visit, but the second section of the trail was still very rough. I consistently forget how frustrating birding in the forest can be. I go in with such high hopes only to find that either the forest is as quiet as the grave, or that it is full of birdsong without a single bird actually being visible. On this occasion a huge chorus was calling, but managing to flit, in silhouette, through the canopy without me getting a good look.
The morning was already hot and very sticky. Every time that I stopped, my glasses steamed up. I had to take them off and wave them about to clear them. Eventually, 2 Greater Racket-tailed Drongos came out of the tangles and showed that they were the main culprits of the chorus. I was surprised by how much noise they could make between them. A Chestnut-vented Malkoha kept to the shadows, but was distinctive with it’s large size and light greenish bill.
Out in the open of the golf course, 2 Collared Kingfishers sat together on a branch overlooking a water hazard. On my right the reservoir steamed gently. It was so sticky that I was unsure whether the reservoir was giving up water to the atmosphere or the moisture was being wrung from the air itself.
I stopped to try to get a picture of a Thick-billed Pigeon. Despite having ladled factor 15 sunscreen on to myself and although it was only 09.00, I was still being hurt by the intensity of the sun.
I moved on towards the shade of the boardwalk and the forest beyond. I was halted just before the boardwalk by another dragonfly. I will have to find a good field guide for these chaps. Does anyone know of a good one for Singapore?
The day was becoming increasingly, unpleasantly, hot. There were a few local Singaporeans braving the elements and the unmistakable bray of English ex-pat who was, insanely, jogging with her friend. A little early in the day for mad dogs, but the English do hate to pass up opportunities to show quite how ridiculous they can be. I felt foolish enough myself with my hankie draped from the back of my cap to protect the back of my neck.
Not surprisingly, the birding was quiet. Nothing unexpected had shown up until I moved into the damp section of boardwalk. I had stopped for yet more dragonflies when something fluttered up from the ground and alighted about 5 meters away, just visible. I could see it was a nightjar, but could not make out which one it might be in the gloom of the understorey. I tried a photo, but didn’t hold out much hope. I was surprised therefore to see quite a bit of detail in the picture when I got it home. There are a few candidates for nightjars in Singapore, so I had to check the mug shots. It was easy to narrow the suspect list down to 3; the Large-tailed, Grey and Savannah. From the evidence, I am tempted to suggest Large-tailed Nightjar, but would have preferred to see the broad white tips on the tail.
I would be pleased to hear any opinions.
Next, I met up with the Monkeys. Long-tailed Macaques are common in the forest and quite bold. I encountered them just as I was leaving the boardwalk and approaching the Jetulung Observation Tower. The tower raises you up through the mid-levels to the canopy 6 storeys above. There is no shade on the top level, so I set up my stake-out from the 5th. I unpacked some water and a snack and took off my cap and camera. The monkeys had joined me on the tower and were fascinated by all the gear lying around. They kept looking for opportunities to snatch something. Yawning and bearing of teeth with the white eye-lid display is a sign of aggression and or nervousness among the macaques. It was a little intimidating, but they were quickly moved on with a simple “Boo!”
At last I started to see a few birds. From the 5th storey I saw Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, Scarlet Sunbird, Yellow-vented and Olive-winged Bulbul. The monkeys suddenly dived for cover as a large bird of prey flew by. It was White-breasted Sea-eagle. I don’t suppose the sea-eagle would mean any harm to the macaques and they were probably reacting instinctively to the silhouette of a raptor.
Beyond the tower, the jungle steamed uninvitingly. I was beginning to realize the importance of bringing enough water. I was already beginning to suspect that my meager supplies were going to be hopelessly inadequate. There is a drinking fountain at the ranger’s station. If I had chosen the right fork in the path beyond the tower, I might be halfway there by now. But I had elected to head for the Rifle Range Link and was now becoming quite distressed. The sweat was pouring off me and I had precious little to replace it with. It would be a further 5Kms before I was likely to find any water or transport.
I was becoming so distressed that on seeing a trogon-like silhouette on a branch above the path, I muttered, “Please don’t let it be a trogon.” In other circumstances, it would have been a dream photo, but I had no desire to stop lose any more liquids while taking pictures.
As it happens, I got lucky. After reaching the tarmac road, I only had to walk about a kilometer before reaching a radar array. Against all the odds, a taxi was dropping a passenger here and was surprised and pleased to find another fare.
Normally, I prefer to use public transport as much as possible, It’s not the principle, it’s the money. Today, rather than getting the cab to drop me at the nearest bus-stop, I gladly let him take me all the way home.
My colleagues are of the type who are very fastidious about their appearance. Practicality and necessity are no substitute for fashion and style. Imagine the amazement of two of them as I alighted from the taxi in front of them. Dripping, stinking and still with my hanky hanging sodden from the back of my cap, “Minging” I think was the word they used. Once in the cab and making our air conditioned way along Rifle Range Road, I could see that it possibly held some birding opportunities. There was forest on both sides of the road and it looked quite “birdy”. Perhaps next time I will ask to be dropped at the Radar array and walk the trail in reverse. But this time I will bring more water!

Friday, 15 May 2009

Singapore Site Guide

Central Catchment Area Reserve, Macritchie Reservoir.

This is the largest expanse of forest on Singapore. It is contigious with Bukit Timah after a long walk. Easy to reach in a cab or MRT/cab. Facilities only at Ranger Station and at Main Entrance.
Birds; In the forest, look for Chestnut-bellied Malkoha,Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Orange-headed Thrush. On the golf course, Collared Kingfisher, Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Asian Koel, Asian Glossy Starling and Black-naped Oriole are all common. From the tower bulbuls, sunbirds and flowerpeckers are frequently seen.
Also look for Plantain Squirrels and Long-tailed Macaques.

Cab from Swissotel, The Stamford, takes approx 15-20 mins $15.
Or, take the MRT to Braddell on the Northern Line. From Braddell take a cab, 5 mins $4.

Golf Link Trail

Ask for the Sime Rd entrance to Singapore Island Country Club off Lornie Rd.

The main entrance to Macritchie Reservoir is on Lornie Rd. There are facilities with toilets, parking and a visitor’s centre. Continue along Lornie Rd a further 2 Kms to Singapore Island Country Club at Sime Rd. The Golf Link Trail begins 100m back along Lornie Rd from here. There are no facilities for toilets or refreshments. Bring plenty of water. A ranger station at the far end one branch of the trail has a drinking fountain and toilets. Short sections of the trail are rough with rocks and mud and can be treacherous when wet. There are scant opportunities for sheltering from the rain.
It is possible to make a full circle around the reservoir, time permitting.

The first part of the trail to Jetulung Tower, is 2.7 Kms. There are distinct sections to this path. It starts with dense forest with a rich and varied understorey. Then it opens out with the banks of the reservoir on the right and the sculpted golf course on the left. Then a boardwalk passes through a damp area before re-entering the forest at the tower. Jetulung Tower has 6 storeys, but no shade on the top section. From here it is forest all the way.

Map detail showing Golf Link Trail entrance at bottom right.
Rifle Range Link leads off to the left.

Beyond the tower there is a fork in the path.
The right fork leads towards the Treetop Walk and the Ranger Station. Nearby, a road leads out of the park and back to Upper Thompson Rd where a cab or a bus might be found. Alternatively, one can continue around the reservoir ending at the main entrance on Lornie Rd.
The left fork, after approx 1.5 Kms leads onto Rifle Range Road. It is a long walk out along Rifle Range Rd, but the road is good and lined with forest. There is a lot of Singapore Army activity along this stretch so consider how they will react to someone in camouflage gear with binoculars and a long lens.

Re-tracing your steps to Lornie road is often the best guarantee of finding transport back home.
Consider walking the trail backwards, starting from the end of Rifle Range Road.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Plover or Dotterel?

Bicentennial Park has changed it's name to Sydney Olympic Park. It takes about 40 minutes by train from downtown Sydney. The fare is $4Aus one way. Starting at Wynyard, 800m from Circular Quay, board a Northern (red) Line train bound for Hornsby via Strathfield. The stop for SOP is Concord West. Exit the station to the left following the signs for Kings Street. SOP is 300m straight ahead along Victoria Ave.
Sydney Olympic Park, edging onto the shore of Homebush Bay, comprises the stadia used for the 2000 Olmpics. Of more immediate interest to me, it contains saltmarsh wetlands, mangrove boardwalk, freshwater lakes, indiginous woodland and lawns.
Just before you go through the underpass which welcomes you to Sydney Olympic Park, you will see a sign for Mason Powell Creek pointing to the left. More of this Later.
As I passed down Victoria Ave this morning on the approach to the park, I saw Spotted Dove, Noisy Myna and Common Myna. The Common Myna is a starling, the Noisy Myna is not.
Once in the park I had a particular goal, the bird-watching hide at the far end of the Budu Mangroves. The hide looks out onto a saltwater lagoon. The approach to the hide skirts the edge of the lagoon and I could see hundreds of birds including Black-winged Stilt, Chestnut Teal, Silver Gull and Black Swan, so I had a pretty good idea of what was on the lagoon before I reached the hide. But it was only when I was settled and scanning that I noticed the small waders at the water's edge. I recalled once seeing a Dotterel here and assumed it to be the same species. But there are 2 dotterels from Australia which are superficially quite similar, so I referred to my field guide to jog my memory. According to my guide, the bird I was looking at was not a dotterel at all, but a Black-fronted Plover. I realised that this is a bird who has disputed family lineage and the name depends on whom you listen to.
Despite questions of his breeding, this is a delightful little bird. The loose flock of 34 individuals were roosting at the water's edge when I arrived. Shortly, reacting to the incoming tide, they began to feed with little darting runs. The rising water levels and their feeding activity brought them closer to the hide. They had been too distant before to get a decent shot, although I wasted a lot of card space trying just the same. Behind them, the stilts continued probing the deeper water with a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits who had stayed behind when the rest of them had headed North for the Siberian summer. Time was pressing this morning and I wanted to check out the newly renovated wetlands at Mason Powell Creek, recently renamed Mason Park Wetlands. So I started back towards the Victoria Ave entrance. On the way is a bend in the path with a bottlebrush bush hedge. This is usually a good spot for Superb Fairy Wren. Absent on the way down, they were now calling deep in the hedge. A female responded to some pishing, but the male stayed stubbornly deep in the hedge. As if I hadn't had enough mangrove boardwalks this week, I took a quick detour through the Budu mangroves on the floating walkway. I was rewarded at the other end with a Royal Spoonbill and a Great Egret. As I walked alongside the lawns, I reflected that I had not seen any Magpie Larks. Then as if by magic, one landed right in front of me and pulled a grub from the grass.
I left the park, and followed the aforementioned sign to Mason Powell Creek. The sportsfields on the left, played host to some Australian Ibis, Australian Black-backed Magpies and Masked Lapwings. At the end of the road, a bridge crosses over Powell Creek and into Mason Park Wetland. This area has undergone renovations recently with extensive plantings and removal of Casuarinas which were encroaching onto the wetland and blocking the flyways.
There were far fewer birds here but I did notice some Silvereye and Welcome Swallows that I had not seen in SOP.
Return trains from Concord West to Wynyard usually run every 30mins. the train due at 11.09 was running 10 minutes late, but easily got me back to the city in plenty of time to start the longhaul back to London via Singapore again.

Cockatoos at Dusk.

Late afternoon in Sydney Australia, it has been raining all day and my activities have been curtailed. I met up with a colleague, Sigi, who was keen to try out her camera on the Sydney wildlife and headed for the Botanical Gardens.

At the very heart of Sydney City, the gardens are a delightful place to aquaint oneself with the common local birds.We met two of the most obvious birds of the park before we even arrived at the gate. Rainbow Lorikeets are fantastically coloured birds and they provide spectacular scenes when a flock desends on the fruit at a feeder table. But their glory as a visual treat is spoiled by their assault on ones hearing. Their screeching calls are awful. The Noisy Myna by comparison is subdued, but still not tuneful. The Noisy Myna is a Honeyeater, not a starling as the name might suggest. Honeyeaters are one of the families of birds that exist only in the Australasian Zone.

And so into the park. As if the Rainbow Lorikeets were not enough, we almost immediately encountered a flock of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos. It has been said that surrounding property prices crash when a flock of these, otherwise beautiful, birds decide to form a roost, such is the raucous noise.

Next we came upon the bats. The Grey-headed Flying Fox colony has been a feature of the gardens for years.
Grey-headed Flying Fox from a previous visit
After trying everything that they could think of to gently encourage them to move on, the park has now accepted these protected animals and the colony is expected to break through 10,000 soon. Bats can also have a bearing on the desirability of a neighbourhood. In Gordon, a suburb of Sydney, there is a colony of 70-80,000 bats, all of whom seem to jettison their acidic fruity waste as they return to their communal roost after a night's feasting. Hence the popularity of carports in the area.

The light was leaving the sky quickly now as Sigrid took pictures of the bats and she was having to use her flash in the gloom. As we reached the small ornamental pond by the edge of the bay the light was almost gone, but a very approachable cockatoo was sitting on the rail of the bridge, so I tried my flash too.

Vey few birds were seen today, particularly missed was the Buff-banded Rail, which should have been very happy in the damp, gloomy conditions.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Singapore. Paser Ris Park.

To get to Paser Ris Park, take the MRT on the East/West Line to Paser Ris. The journey takes 25 minutes from City Hall Interchange. The park is a short walk from the station. Although Paser Ris is the last station on the line, the elevated track continues and disappears into an overgrown area. This is a wild section of Paser Ris Park. Access can be found 100m either side of the train line. I usually start to the right. This quickly brings me to a river with a barrage and a cement gutter downstream that can usually be relied upon to produce Striated Heron and Little Egret. Today, an early storm had flooded the river which was sweeping through the gutter in a torrent. The Striated Herons were forced up the concrete sides and onto the barrage. A large Monitor lizard had taken refuge high on the bank to avoid the rushing water. The high water brought the herons and the monitor closer to the path and closer to the people who walk and ride bicycles along them. They looked unsettled at the proximity. I decided to break with tradition today, and change my accustomed route through the park. A new stretch of boardwalk had been built into the mangroves and I was keen to explore this. Here I found tree-climbing crabs that I had never noticed before. Further along, a platform opens onto the river. I had once observed a Buddhist throwing cockles into the water from here. She bought them at the local market and then released them back into the wild from the platform. Today was Buddha's birthday, but there were no offerings or gestures being made. Instead a group of Black-crowned Night-herons were roosting on a branch above the flooded river.
The new portion of boardwalk finally brought me back to the familiar observation tower. The tower was productive this morning and gave me the chance to photograph one of the most visible birds of Singapore, the Yellow-vented Bulbul, as they fed in a fruiting tree beside the tower. There were Pink-necked Green Pigeons at eye-level from the top, a female Asian Koel, Plain-throated Sunbirds and Common Iora. Black-naped Orioles swooped below me and a common Tailorbird barked monotonously nearby.

These Red-breasted Parakeets probably came from escaped cage-bird stock

I crossed the river by the lower bridge. I would normally expect to find kingfishers here, but the water was still very high and coloured, so nothing today. Then I walked back up along the connector path, with the river on my right, to the new bridge just downstream from the gutter.
The park is popular with the local residents and often becomes very busy. The public holiday to celebrate Buddha's birthday brought crowds to walk and ride bicycles. Some were even camping out. The connector path was especially busy and I had to stay off the path to avoid being bumped. Here I saw a pair of Laced Woodpeckers and a Fantail. Further along a lizard sat for a picture while I listened to the raucous calls of a pair of Ashy Tailorbirds. Across the bridge and back onto the mangrove boardwalk, I was re-tracing my steps from earlier. The tree-climbing crabs were gone, but a Collared Kingfisher was in their place. Another species of lizard was posing irresistibly. I will have to find a herpetologist friend to help me identify and classify. Further along the boardwalk, I was able to compre the songs of two species of tailorbird. A common Tailorbird and an Ashy Tailorbird were both singing in close proximity.
Beyond the mangroves, is an area of lawns, with paved paths and a light scattering of trees. Singaporean families picnic and use the barbeque pits in drier weather. A small flock of Asian Glossy Starlings were feeding in a small fruiting tree beside the path. They have such bright red eyes, that I was quite startled the first time I saw one. It would look very dramatic in a photo. The fruiting tree was also attracting Pink-necked Green Pigeons and a Black-naped Oriole passed through as I was snapping the starlings.

Finally I exited the park throught the Eastern car park, completing the circle on arrivng back at the MRT station.