Trip Report: Singapore, April 22-24, 2000

Ron Hoff, Clinton, Tennessee, USA;

My wife and I were able to do some birding in Singapore and wanted other birders to be informed of some places to bird and birds to be found at this time of the year. We were jet-lagged the first day (4/22), so we just went to the Jurong Birdpark on the west side of the island. We would highly recommend this place for everybody. Considering the volume of people who go there, it is well maintained and contains a vast array of birds including bee-eaters, bird's-of-paradise, hornbills, raptors, and kingfishers. The live raptor exhibition is excellent. We think it's well worth the price and time. There's an observation hill above the park entrance that can be productive and provide several species. It was the only place we saw Greater Coucal. Also seen here were: Strong-billed Crow, Brahminy Kite, Pied Imperial Pigeon, White-throated Kingfisher, Black-naped Oriole, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Javan Mynas (split from White-vented Mynas and now the most common myna on the island - per our guide), Brown-throated Sunbird, and Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker. Pacific Swallow and Cattle Egrets were also seen and are common everywhere.

4/23 - We started out by going to the Sime Forest. To get there go to Sime road, off of Lornie road. This will take you past the club house of the Singapore Island Country Club. Go to the end and there will be a crossbar. You can take a cab to get there. Cabs in Singapore are cheap and honest. You don't need a rental car.

Start walking in and the trail will split to the right after a bit. Follow it and it will parallel the golf course. When we were here a couple of years ago, we were shown Collared Scops Owl and Brown Hawk-Owl along here by Raj Subaraj, Singapore's best bird guide. This track meanders around the west end of MacRitchie Reservoir through the forest and is used by hikers and bicyclists. This is a pretty good forest patch and has a good bird population for a small island of 3.4 million people! The trails are not marked particularly well, but they are safe (as is all of Singapore), so if you get lost somebody will eventually come by and direct you to the nearest street. Some of the birds here (not in any particular order) are: Pink-necked Green Pigeon (common on the island); Dollarbird; Olive-winged and Cream-vented Bulbuls; Stork-billed Kingfisher; Greater Racket-tailed Drongo; Drongo Cuckoo; Striped Tit-babbler; Arctic Warbler; Dark-necked Tailorbird; Hill Myna; Brown-throated, Purple-throated, Olive-backed, and Crimson Sunbirds; Little Spiderhunter; and Orange-bellied Flowerpecker. There's supposed to be a Blue-eared Kingfisher in the area, but we didn't see it. A couple of raptors flew over, but we couldn't identify them. We think they were Changeable Hawk-eagles. We eventually saw a Changeable Hawk-eagle later on. Long-tailed Parakeets, Banded Woodpecker, Gray-rumped Treeswift, and Collared Kingfisher were also seen. White-bellied Sea-eagles are easy to see on the island as well.

When we came out of the forest, we got a cab and went to eat. It was getting late, but we decided to go out to a place I had been to before and is great for birds. This is Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve on the very northwest part of the island. If you have a map, just point to it for the cab driver and he'll get you there. The area is near the Kranji industrial area and this is known by almost all cab drivers. Getting back is another story. If it's on a Sunday, there's a bus that runs every 30 minutes or so until about 6:30 p.m. If it's a week day or Saturday, you'll only need to walk about 1/2 mile out to a main road and wait until a bus comes by. Get on any bus until it takes you to a busy place with lots of traffic. There you can usually get a cab without too much of a problem.

Sungei Buloh is located on the Straits of Johor and is a wet area with well maintained trails and dikes. It has lots of mangroves and is a magnet for shorebirds, herons and bitterns, and some forest birds. We were a bit late for the shorebird migration, but had Broad-billed Sandpipers there in October a few years ago. The cost to get in is minimal, and there is a snack bar there with water.

Birds we found here include: Gray, Purple, and Striated Herons; Little, Intermediate and Great Egrets; Yellow Bittern (Schrenck's are there but we've not found them); White-breasted Waterhen; Pacific Golden Plover; Mongolian Plover; Whimbrel; Common Redshank; Marsh Sandpiper; Common Greenshank; Terek sandpiper; Common Sandpiper; Ruddy turnstone; Curlew Sandpiper; Stork-billed Kingfisher; Common Iora; Oriental Magpie Robin; Ashy Tailorbird; and Pied Fantail.

4/24 - This day was to be awesome. We had contracted with Raj Subaraj to guide us for the day and it proved to be a great time. He charged 800S for the day ($480 US), and we split that 7 ways, so it came out to about $70/person/day. This included the driver, a van to hold 9 people, lunch, a few snacks on the way, and boat cost over to Pulau Ubin island. We were changing to another hotel that night and he took us there also, thereby saving us a cab fare. We finished up at 9:00p.m.! My feet even hurt after this day, but we saw loads of birds. Raj is definitely The Man when it comes to Singapore birds. He knows the birds, where they're at for the current season, and is a very nice and easy going person. We highly recommend him to anyone. He will maximize your birding time there.

Our first location was the Singapore Country Club before dawn. We picked up Large-tailed and Malaysian Eared Nightjars. After it got light, we were at the edge of MacRitchie Reservoir and spotted the Grey-headed Fish-Eagles that hang around there. Also seen were: Blue-tailed Bee-eaters; Asian Fairy-Bluebird; heard a Red-legged Crake; Banded Woodpecker; Olive-winged Bulbul; Asian Koel; Emerald Dove; Long-tailed Parakeets; Fork-tailed and House Swifts; Pied Triller; and Arctic Warbler.

Next stop was the Sime Forest, which we walked to from the golf course. Looked for Short-tailed and Chestnut-winged Babblers, but no luck. Some of the group heard and got a brief glimpse of a Drongo Cuckoo. We saw many of the same species we had seen there the previous day, but still no Blue-eared Kingfisher.

From here we drove to Changi area (East end of the island) and took a boat over to Palau Ubin. This is a small but birdy island off the east end of Singapore. We drove about 2 km into the island and then birded our way back to the docks on foot. We picked up some goodies here including: Mangrove Pitta (2 birds); Crimson and Copper-throated Sunbirds; Yellow-bellied Prinia; White-chested Babbler; Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker; a gorgeous Blue-throated Bee-eater; Black-headed and Scaly-breasted Munias; Spotted and Zebra Doves. A few saw Straw-headed Bulbul and Rufous-tailed Tailorbird. Near the docks for the boats to Palau Ubin, on the Changi side, we saw Tanimbar Cockatoos and Red-breasted Parakeets. After returning from Palau Ubin, we ate a delicious lunch at a local eatery. Then we went to Loyang camp. This is a military base of sorts that I would have never found on my own. Here we picked up Coppersmith Barbet.

Now we were off to the place every good birder dreams of - the sewage lagoons! This was the Serangoon Sewage works. Smelly but birdy as usual. Birds added here were: Yellow Bitterns (6 in all); White-browed Crake; Common Moorhen; Greater Painted Snipe (pair); Pintail Snipe; Red Collared-doves (pair); flushed a nightjar off the nest that Raj thought was a Savannah; Oriental Reed Warbler; Zitting Cisticola; Yellow Wagtail; Brown Shrike; Baya Weaver; and Streaked Weaver.

Time was running out and we got into rush hour traffic, so we opted not to try for Red-legged Crakes in order to try for the Spotted Wood-Owl. Good choice. Raj has a pair staked out near the botanical gardens on Tyersall Road. We parked in the main gardens lot and walked to where the owls were. A few of us were behind the group and spied a Black Bittern on a small island in the middle of a pond in the park. We got to where the owls were in time to watch them for about 4-5 minutes. They flew off into the evening, thus ending our birding for the day.

All in all a great day. Raj is an excellent guide, and he found most of the birds I had asked about by email. His email address is Telephone - 065-787-7078. Don't hesitate to email him and ask about guiding if you're going to be in Singapore. Make sure you do this in advance, as he is booked quite often. The first time my wife and I used him, he already had a client, but allowed us to join him for the morning.

In the 2 times I have been in Singapore, I have found it to be one of the safest, cleanest cities of it's size anywhere in the world. The people are very nice, and most speak English. The cabs are safe, clean, and don't overcharge. We stayed at the Garden Hotel on Balmoral Road. With breakfast included, it came out to be $80 US/night. Singapore is not a cheap place, but this hotel was very nice, centrally located and reasonable. There are 2-3 restaurants in the hotel. The hotel allowed us to keep our bags there during our birding day. We came back and picked them up late, and there was no charge. I looked up "hotels + Singapore" on the internet and was able to find out much information about hotels in Singapore. I'll be glad to answer any questions if I can. Just email me. If there are any mistakes in this report, they are mine alone.

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This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; June 7, 2000; updated January 16, 2001