Saturday, March 21, 2015

Singapore - Birding in the Southern Ridges

One more bird watching trip before I leave tomorrow. I had enthusiastically signed up for a bird watch walk with the Nature Society some weeks ago, and regretted the decision last night. The walk will start promptly at 7:30 in the morning, and I was still up at 1am the night before. I had received group emails from people backing out of the trip, and was very tempted to do the same. In the end, I decided that it was my last day in Singapore, possibly my last birdwatching trip for a good while, so I bit the bullet as I set my alarm for 5am the next morning.

Obviously this was going to be a group walk. I hadn't forgotten my lesson about birdwatching with company. But I hadn't expected a crowd this size as I got out of the cab at the group's meeting point. There must have been over twenty people, adults and children alike. I had forgotten this was the tail end of the March week-long school holidays. Families were out with a vengeance, trying to make the most out of the last couple of days of the break. My heart sank as I counted the number of children present. Could they possibly walk in the silence and reverence that was required on such a journey? There wasn't anything I could do but follow the two guides as the tour started. Luckily, they decided to split the group into two. I quickly jumped in to join the first group after gauging that there were less children than in the other.

For the first stop, the guide brought us to the Henderson Waves Bridge, built at the tree top canopy level. The morning sun blazed a bright red, but we were able to gaze directly at it because of the hazy atmosphere. Within minutes, we spotted a collared kingfisher perched high on the branches. We also saw the very common Yellow Vented Bulbul, which we would consistently see throughout the walk today. Several people came equipped with their fancy cameras with their even fancier bulky lenses. I half wished I had borrowed my dad's until I remembered that his lens weren't powerful enough for long distances. I watched enviously at the little boy standing next to me, big-ass camera slung around his neck, aiming his shutter at the beautiful pink necked green pigeons, trigger happy and clicking away. Do I really have to pick up another hobby for my latest hobby??

Next, we were led through the treetop canopy walk on the Southern Ridges. Adding to my life list was the Racket-Tailed Drongo, also a fairly common but splendid sight - dark glossy black, with two single long tail feathers, falling like a regal train down its back.

Halfway through the walk I gave up trying to keep up with my group. They forged ahead even as I fell behind, taking my time to seek out the birds that I heard but could not see. By this time, the lesson was firmly etched into my brain - birdwatching is a solitary activity. Period. No ifs or buts. It was when I fell behind that I saw the most. A couple other stragglers from my group were by no doubt, serious birders themselves. I hung around them in silence, as I decided with a sweeping glance they were more experienced and seasoned birders. My patience paid off as one of them spotted a dollarbird in a far off tree. Through my binoculars I could only make out its bright and thick orange bill. As I pulled out my newly purchased Singapore Birds Field Guide to confirm my sighting, another guy pointed out the four long-tailed parakeets perched at the very top of another tree. Man, was I glad I stuck around! These guys are good! In the following fifteen minutes, we walked into a clearing and proceeded to spot two common flamebacks, multiple pairs of common hill mynas, and even a lineated Barbet!

By now, the sun had come out in full force and most of us decided to call it a day. One of the guys had struck a conversation with me, and when I described my birding experiences in Singapore thus far he remarked, "Wow, you're quite an adventurous girl!" To which I had no reply. I had never pictured myself that way, certainly not in Singapore where it is very safe to travel around on your own, by and large. But I felt a little flattered and a lot more confident.

I can be alone, I may actually have the courage to be on my own.

Bird list: collared kingfisher, yellow-vented Bulbul, Pink necked Green pigeon, olive-backed sunbird, oriental Dollarbird, long-tailed Parakeets, Javan Mynas, Common Hill Mynas, Dark-necked Tailorbird (?), Lineated Barbet, Common Flameback, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Black-naped Oriole, Asian Glossy Starling

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