Saturday, October 31, 2009

Eagle-like bird spotted at Serangoon North Ave 2

 Eagle-like bird spotted at Serangoon North Ave 2
STOMPer John Patrick's wife and son spotted this huge eagle-like bird perched on a tree top at Serangoon North Ave 2.

In email sent to STOMP today (Oct 31), the 49-year-old civil servant wrote:

"My wife and son spotted this bird which looks like the eagles we see in Jurong Bird Park from our eighth floor flat at Serangoon North Ave 2.

"This was in the afternoon of Oct 29 and it appeared to be a very large bird."

Do check out the video posted on STOMP.

The video quality is horribly poor, but if I had to make an educated guess, I wouldn't be surprised if it was an Oriental honey buzzard (Pernis ptilorhynchus).

Bidadari Cemetery;
(Photo by NatureInYourBackyard)

Oriental Honey-Buzzard
(Photo by hiker1974)

Bukit Panjang;
(Photo by kampang)

As the name suggests, the Oriental honey buzzard actually has quite a unique diet; it specialises on raiding the nests of wasps and bees for their larvae, although it also feeds on other insects, and will take small vertebrates.

Oriental honey buzzard feeding on wasp nest, Japanese Garden;
(Photo by NatureInYourBackyard)

Compared to other raptors, the Oriental honey buzzard appears to have a long neck with a small head. Its nostrils are slits, and it has special scale-like feathers around its face, nostrils and forehead. These are adaptations to protect the bird from the stings of wasps and bees.

(Photo by NatureInYourBackyard)

(Photo by cedphotos)

This is a species that is more commonly seen in forested and wooded habitats, although it is becoming quite frequently encountered in urban areas in recent years. Even your jaded Singaporeans, more used to mynas (Acridotheres spp.), feral pigeons (Columba livia), tree sparrows (Passer montanus) and house crows (Corvus splendens), would find it very hard to miss the large raptor perched right outside their homes.

Bukit Panjang;
(Photo by kampang)

The Oriental honey buzzard is not known to breed in Singapore; instead, most sightings are believed to be of migrants from further north. There are 2 main populations; the northern population, belonging to the subspecies orientalis, breeds from Siberia east to China and Japan, and migrates to India and Southeast Asia during the winter. The bulk of sightings of Oriental honey buzzards in Singapore are of birds belonging to this population, and it is considered to be a common winter visitor and passage migrant. Birds belonging to this subspecies have little or no crest.

Khatib Bongsu;
(Photo by kampang)

(Photo by cedphotos)

The southern population consists of 5 subspecies resident in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia; the most distinctive feature that sets these subspecies apart from the northern population is the presence of a crest.

The nominate subspecies (ptilorhyncus) is endemic to Java;
(Photo by dimar_bioui05)

The subspecies torquatus is an uncommon resident breeder in Peninsular Malaysia. It is likely that the occasional records of this subspecies in Singapore are of newly fledged birds dispersing after the breeding season, in search of new territory. Such birds account for most records of Oriental honey buzzards here in the summer months.

(Photo by Laurence Poh)

The torquatus subspecies is considered to be an uncommon non-breeding visitor in Singapore; however, there is always the possibility that eventually, some of these might establish themselves and start breeding locally.

Here is a very interesting photo taken in Malaysia; the bird on the left is a male Oriental honey buzzard belonging to the resident race torquatus, while the bird on the right is a male of the same species, except that it belongs to the migratory race orientalis. You can see how different they are in terms of coloration of plumage, and by the presence of a crest in the resident form.

One very interesting fact about the Oriental honey buzzard is that it apparently mimics other raptor species. In terms of plumage, the Oriental honey buzzard is said to bear a close resemblance to several species of hawk-eagle (Nisaetus spp.) of Southeast Asia.

For example, the subspecies torquatus, resident in Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo, closely resembles Wallace's hawk-eagle (Nisaetus nanus).

This is an Oriental honey buzzard belonging to the race torquatus, photographed somewhere in Malaysia;
(Photo by Laurence Poh)

This is a Wallace's hawk-eagle, Kinabatangan;
(Photo by Leif Gabrielsen)

There is also a much less common morph of torquatus, known as the 'Tweeddale morph', that bears great similarity to Blyth's hawk-eagle (Nisaetus alboniger).

Here is an example of the 'Tweeddale morph' of the Oriental honey buzzard, taken at the Mandai Orchid Garden;
(Photo by Micky Lim)

And here is Blyth's hawk-eagle, Panti Forest;
(Photo by Micky Lim)

The 'Tweeddale morph' bird spotted at the Mandai Orchid Garden proved to be the source of some confusion earlier this year.

What makes the Oriental honey buzzard so interesting is that here in tropical South and Southeast Asia, all the different variations in colour and pattern of plumage seen in this species correspond to those of various species and age-classes of hawk-eagle. Besides Wallace's hawk-eagle and Blyth's hawk-eagle mentioned above, other candidates for mimicry include the changeable hawk-eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus) (itself a highly variable species), Javan hawk-eagle (Nisaetus bartelsi), mountain hawk-eagle (Nisaetus nipalensis) and Philippine hawk-eagle (Nisaetus philippensis).

What is the purpose of this mimicry? It is not often known that larger raptors and owls can be significant predators of other species of raptor and owl; in what is called intraguild predation, smaller predatory species often fall prey to larger predators. However, a large raptor or owl would probably think twice about attacking a well-armed hawk-eagle, especially since it would increase the risk of injury. By mimicking the heavier, more powerful hawk-eagles, the relatively weak and defenceless Oriental honey buzzard probably gains some immunity against predation by other raptors.

The Oriental honey buzzard is just 1 of several raptor species that visit Singapore during the winter months, although it is among the most common. In spring, when it is time for these migrants to head back north to their breeding grounds, these birds may form large flocks, creating an amazing natural spectacle. Tanjung Tuan in Port Dickson is highly popular with birdwatchers each spring, as large numbers of Oriental honey buzzards and other raptors reach the Malay Peninsula, after crossing the Straits of Malacca from Sumatra.

Huge rats seen at Yishun Park

 Huge rats seen at Yishun Park
Something must be done to prevent a rat infestation, says STOMPer altonlsg, who was shocked to see huge rats and several burrows at Yishun Park.

This STOMPer says:

"These pictures was taken after a run on a bright morning, around the nearby Yishun Park when I was walking back home.

"I was looking at the scenery when I saw something odd.

"I saw a rat, not moving but still alive. Its size was quite big and from what I saw, it should be an adult one.

"This could be seen as trivial but I hope the relevant authorities can look into it as this area is a huge piece of land and easily neglected.

"I like the area as it provides a good running route but if I can see one rat there in the morning, I do not know what happens at night.

"Also, a few burrows were seen. Hope something can be done before they continue to breed."

 Huge rats seen at Yishun Park
 Huge rats seen at Yishun Park
 Huge rats seen at Yishun Park
 Huge rats seen at Yishun Park

The oceans' bounty

Picture 376
Perhaps one of the best ways to catch a glimpse of marine biodiversity is to visit your local fish market. Jurong Fishery Port is no Tsukiji, but on your average early morning visit, it's hard not to be stunned at the sheer volume and diversity of marine life.

Picture 442
All manner of fishes, crustaceans, and other forms of seafood from all over the region arrive here, to be auctioned off and sold, then shipped to markets scattered throughout Singapore.

Picture 304

And yet, viewing the riches of the oceans, marvelling at the kaleidoscope of shapes and colours, one begins to wonder just how much longer we have until we truly reach the end of the line.

Picture 373

With numerous fisheries on the decline, and others on the brink of collapse, it boggles the mind to read about how acute myopia still cripples efforts to save the very resource so many communities depend on.

Picture 300

Aquaculture can provide solutions, but also creates many problems if mismanaged, with greater consequences for vital habitats.

Picture 314

Indeed, more and more are waking up to the fact that the oceans are far from bottomless, and that continued plunder to sustain our insatiable greed will only create undersea deserts.

Picture 408

The need for consumers to make a stand on sustainable seafood is a reality. By choosing what seafood we eat, and what we abstain from eating, we are making decisions that will have trickle-down effects on the suppliers. When demand drops, there will be less of a need to continue to pillage the ever-shrinking fish stocks.

Picture 350

It's a concept that hasn't quite taken root here in the region, although steps are being made to rectify this. As a nation that obviously loves seafood, it's about time we became more responsible and ecologically conscious in what we choose to eat.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The real deal


Today afternoon, I helped lead a group of students from the National Police Cadet Corps of Coral Secondary School, who were out on their Unit Hike and Community Involvement Programme at Sentosa. It had been raining heavily in the morning, so I was quite pleased that we were experiencing perfect weather.

We started out with a pleasant stroll from the Beach Station up to Imbiah Lookout, where we then began on a ramble through the Sentosa Nature Discovery.


Along one portion, known as the Nepenthes trail, the cadets were treated to a close look at 2 of Singapore's native pitcher plants, the slender pitcher plant (Nepenthes gracilis) and Raffles pitcher plant (Nepenthes rafflesiana).

This photo of the pitcher of a slender pitcher plant was taken along the trail during a previous visit.

This is Madam Nora, one of the teachers helping out with the event.


Once we'd completed the trail, and ended up at Siloso Beach, I gave a quick briefing about the next leg of the day's event, and one that I found to be of great significance - the Community Involvement Programme.


I had planned to get the cadets to clean up a stretch of shore at Tanjung Rimau, hence the purpose of my most recent visit. I knew that as students, they would probably have done quite a fair bit of beach cleanups; in fact, the lower secondary students had spent Monday and Tuesday morning picking up litter at the beach at Pasir Ris Park. However, I wanted to show them a real eye-opener, an authentic example of what happens when trash is continuously being deposited on the shore.

I find beach cleanups to be ridiculously simple jobs, especially if they are taking place mere hours after the army of cleaners has already removed much of the litter on the shore. East Coast Park and Pasir Ris Park do get heavy loads of trash, but most of it is cleared by the cleaners, who are often already hard at work even before sunrise.

Litter being cleared at East Coast Park;
(Photo by Ria)

In contrast, places like Tanjung Rimau, Tanah Merah and Pulau Semakau have almost never been cleaned up before, and so suffer from a heavy load of trash that just keeps accumulating.

Trash on Tanah Merah;

Trash on northern shore of Pulau Semakau;

And so, although we would probably make only a small dent in the amount of rubbish on Tanjung Rimau, at least the cadets would truly realise the impact of marine trash, and how they could help make a difference, both as individuals and as a group.

The cadets reached the shore and got down to work. This was what they had to tackle:

This photo was taken on my previous visit, but you get the idea.

Most of the cadets were truly taken aback at all the rubbish that had washed up on the beach, and many of them soon took to their task with enthusiasm.

Some ventured into the undergrowth to clear up all the empty water bottles and plastic bags.

We were there for only a short while, but the bags were filling rapidly, and we soon ran out of trash bags. We only managed to clear the rubbish from a small portion of the shore, but I like to think that we did make a difference in helping to rid Tanjung Rimau of some of its marine trash. Every little bit counts.

Here we are with our haul:

Well done, everyone! I'm really proud that the cadets were so willing to put in the effort. As far as I know, this is the very first cleanup session at Tanjung Rimau ever; hopefully there will be more to come.

So convenient to dispose paint into Geylang river when renovating tennis court

 So convenient to dispose paint into Geylang river when renovating tennis court
STOMPer Lester was not happy when he spotted paint apparently being discharged into the Geylang river for the renovation of a private tennis court at Aston Mansions.

Says this STOMPer:

"Aston Mansions at Lorong 42 Geylang were renovating their tennis court Lor 42 Geylang.

"Discharged paint into the Geylang river."

 So convenient to dispose paint into Geylang river when renovating tennis court
 So convenient to dispose paint into Geylang river when renovating tennis court

Monday, October 26, 2009

Monkey population in Bukit Panjang growing too fast

 Monkey population in Bukit Panjang growing too fast
STOMPer icebleue says that the monkey population at Bukit Panjang has been growing because residents feed them, and worries that this could become a problem.

Says the STOMPer:

"I wish to highlight the monkey problem surfacing in Bukit Panjang.

"It all started with two or three monkeys appearing at Zhenghua Park along Petir Road, near Blk 203.

"Recently, due to irresponsible feeding from a resident at Blk 203, throwing oranges and food around 4-5pm daily, the monkey population has grown to about 20.

"Today, a fed up resident, also from the block, started throwing water bombs to frighten the monkeys away.

"I hope the irresponsible resident could stop his/her ugly act of throwing food for the monkeys.

"The monkeys need to survive on their own.

"Imagine 100 monkeys next year at the same park."

 Monkey population in Bukit Panjang growing too fast
 Monkey population in Bukit Panjang growing too fast
 Monkey population in Bukit Panjang growing too fast
 Monkey population in Bukit Panjang growing too fast

People just don't understand why feeding of wildlife is a bad idea, do they?

Long-tailed macaques
(Macaca fascicularis) may seem cute and amusing, but feeding brings a whole lot of problems, creating unnecessary conflicts that usually leads to the monkeys being culled.

Here's a page giving more details as to why we should not feed the monkeys.