Birdwatching at Pulau Ubin

My interest in birdwatching was sparked last year when I helped out in a survey project. While looking out for my study subject in an urban setting in mainland Singapore, I came across birds such as the Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach), Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopaceus), Asian Glossy Starling (Aplonis panayensis), Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis), sunbirds and even the rather uncommon Rufous Woodpecker (Celeus brachyurus). They were enough to interest me as I was a noob in bird identification. Armed with a superzoom camera, I was able to take close up photos of these birds and with the NSS Birds of Singapore Iphone app (Pokedex alike!), I was able to identify the birds. The real excitement was during the migratory season when I observed a flock of estimated 30,000 Purple-backed starlings (Sturnus sturninus) and tens of thousands of roosting Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica), which I waited out of curiosity after I saw a carpark full of droppings. It was such a sight!

Pulau Ubin holds a special place in my heart and is one of my favourite nature places in Singapore. It gives off the rustic, calm and peaceful feeling which is nearly impossible to find in another place in Singapore. I have been to Pulau Ubin for different reasons – research, cycling, nature walk, OBS and even staff retreat.  For the first time, I visited Pulau Ubin twice in two weeks (recce and class) with the objective to birdwatch.

As we reached Pulau Ubin public jetty, we were greeted by flocks of Asian Glossy Starlings and House Crows.

Asian Glossy Starling (Aplonis panayensis)

Swallows and swifts (they are really difficult to differentiate!) can be sighted flying around in the air, probably foraging.

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Pacific Swallow (Hirundo tahitica)

Taking a right turn after the jetty which leads towards the Sensory Trail, we spotted the Peregrine Falcon. It was my first time sighting this falcon which is the fastest animal in the world!

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

Grey Herons are a common sight on Pulau Ubin, often seen near the shores, resting at the Pekan Quarry or flying over our heads.

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)

One can see the egrets at the Pekan Quarry too.

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Little Egrets (Egretta garzetta) and Great Egrets (Casmerodius albus)

High up on the fronds of the coconut tree, we sighted a pair of Pink-necked Green Pigeons. These birds are sexually dimorphic where the male has a pink neck and orange breast while the female is green.

Pink-necked Green Pigeon (Treron vernans) Male (L) and Female (R)

As we continued walking along Jalan Ubin, we heard the Common Goldenback busy pecking up on a coconut tree.

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Common Goldenback (Dinopium javanense) Female

The bird that comes to my mind when one mentions Pulau Ubin is the Oriental-pied Hornbill, probably not my mind only as a Japanese tourist told us that he was there to look for the hornbill and asked if we have seen it. We were really lucky to have sighted 6 hornbills! This species was once extinct in Singapore but returned to Pulau Ubin, then mainland Singapore. If you are interested to find out more, NParks recently published a book on their conservation efforts such as building artificial nest boxes and the use of CCTV cameras - Hornbills in the City: A Conservation Approach to Hornbill Study in Singapore by Marc Cremades & Ng Soon Chye.

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Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris)

We spotted a small bird perching on the fence. We agreed it is probably a tiger shrike!

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Tiger Shrike (Lanius tigrinus)

We also saw the Blue-tailed Bee-eater which is a migratory species. My second time sighting this bird!

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Blue-tailed Bee-eater (Merops philippinus)

A bird that is common in NUS, recognisable by its masked look and yellow vent. The Yellow-vented Bulbul can be found at urban areas too.

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Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier)

The Straw-headed Bulbul on the other hand is less common and it was my first time seeing one. It has a pleasant chirpy call!

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Straw-headed Bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus)

This songbird has such a melodious voice, we stopped to listen to it singing!

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Oriental Magpie-Robin (Copsychus saularis)

The Spotted Dove, like its name suggests, is easily identifiable by the spots on its collar.

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Spotted Dove (Spilopelia chinensis)

Another dove we saw was the Zebra Dove with black stripes over its body.

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Zebra Dove (Geopelia striata)

This dove-like bird was a little too far for us to identify.

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Anyone can help to ID this dove?

We saw several Olive-backed Sunbirds and other groups were really lucky to see the Purple-throated Sunbird (Nectarinia sperata) and the Crimson Sunbird (Aethopyga siparaja)!

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Male Olive-backed Sunbird (Nectarinia jugularis)

We saw raptors too!

The Brahminy Kite is unmistakable by its white head and brown body and wings. We were so excited to see a pair flying low and one of them was carrying plant materials. They could possibly be building a nest!

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Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus)

The White-bellied Sea Eagle is one of our largest birds in Singapore, recognisable by its white underpart and black flight feathers. We were so lucky to see one flying really low!

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White-bellied Sea Eagles (Haliaeetus leucogaster)

We were very surprised and excited when a large raptor landed on a bare tree near us. Its presence scared away some of the birds perching on the tree but soon took off several minutes later. I was waiting for it to take off and captured this moment with my camera. We were unsure of the identity of this bird and thought it may be a juvenile White-bellied Sea Eagle.

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Anyone can help with the ID of this raptor?

We spotted this raptor far away and was unable to identify it.

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Anyone can help to ID this raptor?

At the mangroves, we sighted the Collared Kingfisher perching on a branch.

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Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris)

On our way back to the jetty, we saw a pair of Common Myna. It is however not as common as the Javan Myna and can be differentiated by its yellow eye patch and a brownish body.

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Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis)

Back at Changi Village, we saw the Tanimbar Corella and the Red-breasted Parakeet.

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Tanimbar Corella (Cacatua goffini) at Changi Village

Red-breasted Parakeet (Psittacula alexandri) at Changi Village

Red-breasted Parakeet (Psittacula alexandri) at Changi Village

It was a great day birding at Pulau Ubin sighting over 20 species of birds and learning more about these birds from each other! The list is definitely not exhaustive. There is so much more that Pulau Ubin has to offer as a nature area -the variety of ecosystems and biodiversity, the shores, the forests, the mangroves and its history. The landuse plan by the Ministry of National Development that was released last week shows that we may lose Chek Jawa and many other shores of Singapore to development. Will we lose the whole of Pulau Ubin to development eventually? What does Pulau Ubin mean to you? Hopefully, the field trip has inspired the class, some of whom will protect our nature in future. For me, this trip has definitely reinforced my passion in conservation and outreach work.

I hope Singaporeans will take some time off their weekends to visit Pulau Ubin and be rewarded by its beauty. I will definitely return to Pulau Ubin to birdwatch (and visit Bidadari too before it is gone) and am excited to embark my research on the common palm civets (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) on this island after one and a half years.

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