Where to spot owls and other beautiful birds in Singapore

Two free apps here aim to make birdwatching accessible to enthusiasts with information on identifying bird species

Saw an interesting-looking feathered friend at the park flitting from tree to tree?

Nowadays, you do not have to lug around a heavy book on birds to identify it. Just use an app on your mobile phone.

The launch of two free apps in recent years educating users about birds that can be found in Singapore has brought cheer to the bird- watching community here.

The first, titled Birds Of Singapore, is put together by the Nature Society (Singapore)'s Bird Group, which aims to promote birdwatching as a hobby.

It has been available on the iOS and Android platforms since 2012 and 2014 respectively, and has been downloaded more than 5,000 times.

The Android version, for example, features more than 500 bird photographs of all the 392 species published in the 2015 checklist compiled by the records committee of the Bird Group.

  • Birdwatching tips

  • • Wear dull-coloured clothes, such as those in brown, dark green or grey, to blend into the surroundings.

    • Bring binoculars or scopes for a good view of the birds.

    • Keep a safe distance.

    • Keep noise to a minimum.

    • Avoid trampling on vegetation.

    • Refrain from feeding or using artificial lures and calls to attract the birds.

    • Stay on designated trails.

    • Do not enter closed areas of parks and nature reserves.

    • Source: National Parks Board, Mr Alan OwYong

It has entries that range from the charismatic spotted wood owl to the striking crimson sunbird.

This version also features 140 bird calls and songs to help with the identification of birds in the field.

Retiree and birder Alan OwYong came up with the idea for the app in 2011. He then worked with fellow birder Lim Kim Keang to put it together.

Mr OwYong, 71, who is a committee member of the Bird Group, says: "I wanted to use technology to reach out to the younger generation of birders.

"Having an app is also more convenient and saves users from having to buy a book on birds and carrying it around while birdwatching.

"They just need a mobile phone to access the basic information. If they want more details, they can then turn to the books."

Another app, SGBioAtlas, helps users to identify birds and other animal species.

Launched by the National Parks Board in 2015, the app provides a way for the public to report sightings of interesting animals by uploading photos tagged with the location of the sightings.

The app has been downloaded almost 8,000 times.

Such apps have made it easier for young birders, such as junior college student See Wei An, 17, to identify the feathered creatures during excursions.

He says: "When I started out, I would have to observe the bird, guess what species it was and flip to the right page in a book of birds to see if I was right."

But since using the Birds Of Singapore app in March, he has been turning to the book less often.

"With the app, I can apply filters such as 'shorebird' or 'nightbird' to narrow my search and this makes it much easier and faster to know what type of bird I am looking at."


Birds of many feathers

1

Rainbow lorikeet


Rainbow lorikeet PHOTO: NATIONAL PARKS BOARD, TERENCE TAN

Spotted at: Malcolm Park, Singapore Botanic Gardens, Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park

A bird commonly found in Australia, it is among the most colourful parrots - with red, blue, green and yellow feathers.

Birders say its beauty is why it has been brought to many parts of the world, including Singapore. The Singapore Birds website says this species was introduced here in 2006 and seems to be doing well.

2

Collared kingfisher


Collared kingfisher PHOTO: NATIONAL PARKS BOARD, TERENCE TAN

Spotted at: Coney Island Park, Bedok Reservoir Park The most common kingfisher in Singapore and identified by its distinctive white collar, this species hunts fish, prawns, crabs, lizards and insects. Its habitats include mangroves, parks and gardens.

Known for being territorial, these birds have been seen chasing other birds from their own nesting areas.

3

Red-breasted parakeet


Red-breasted parakeet PHOTO: NATIONAL PARKS BOARD, TERENCE TAN

Spotted at: Clementi, Changi Village

Not native to Singapore, this species is believed to have escaped from pet owners and then later bred in the wild.

This small green bird seems to be doing well. In fact, it was the most abundant parrot seen at a spot near Buona Vista MRT station, according to a 2011 Straits Times report.

In the article, a wildlife consultant was also quoted as saying the species was competing with native birds for food.

4

White-bellied sea eagle


White-bellied sea eagle PHOTO: NATIONAL PARKS BOARD, TERENCE TAN

Spotted at: Woodlands Waterfront Park, Sembawang Park, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

Reputed to be Singapore’s largest bird of prey, this magnificent creature is 60 to 70cm long and has a wingspan of 2m.

It is usually spotted above water bodies and forests hunting for food. It has sharp claws to snatch and grasp prey from the waters.

5

Crimson sunbird


Crimson sunbird PHOTO: NATIONAL PARKS BOARD, TERENCE TAN

Spotted at: Dairy Farm Nature Park, Singapore Botanic Gardens

Handsome and striking, this red-breasted bird has been described as a tiny red dot, just like Singapore.

No surprise that it was voted Singapore’s unofficial national bird by members of the public in a Nature Society (Singapore) poll in 2002.

This native bird is also noted for its high-pitched trill and can be seen flitting from flower to flower in search of nectar.

6

Long-tailed shrike


Long-tailed shrike PHOTO: NATIONAL PARKS BOARD, TERENCE TAN

Spotted at: Admiralty Park, Jurong Central Park

This bird can be seen in parks, grasslands and other open habitats.

The adult bird has a white throat, black bill and a thick black stripe on its head, which encloses or appears to run through the eye. There is a variable amount of reddish-brown on the sides of its body.

It is noted to be a ferocious hunter. Lizards and large insects are part of its diet.

7

Spotted wood owl


Spotted wood owl PHOTO: NATIONAL PARKS BOARD, TERENCE TAN

Spotted at: Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, Coney Island Park, Pasir Ris Park

A nationally threatened species, this nocturnal creature can sometimes be spotted in the day roosting in trees. Birders have photographed it preening its feathers, stretching a wing or leg and even sunning itself.

It has a loud barking call, which is said to resemble a dog’s.

8

Purple heron


Purple heron PHOTO: NATIONAL PARKS BOARD, TERENCE TAN

Spotted at: Woodlands Waterfront Park, Sembawang Park, Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park

Standing at about 1m tall, this bird is among Singapore’s largest and can be found in mangrove swamps, ponds, waterlogged fields and reservoirs, picking delicately through the mud and water for fish.

Birders say its population has been decreasing over the years.

9


Buffy fish owl PHOTO: NATIONAL PARKS BOARD, TERENCE TAN

Buffy fish owl

Spotted at: Pulau Ubin, Pasir Ris Park, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Singapore Botanic Gardens

Also known as the Malay fish owl, this bird is among the rare resident owls found in Singapore. It can also be found in Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Peninsula Malaysia.

According to the 2009 book The Avifauna Of Singapore, one owl could be found in a forest near the cable car station on Sentosa in 2007, but it disappeared when the area was developed at that time for Resorts World Sentosa.

10

Oriental pied hornbill

Spotted at: Holland Drive, Pasir Ris Park, Pulau Ubin, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

With its large, spectacular bill, this bird is a sight to behold. It was extinct in Singapore for nearly 100 years, but recolonised Pulau Ubin in the early 1990s.


Oriental pied hornbill PHOTO: NATIONAL PARKS BOARD, TERENCE TAN

It has since spread more widely on mainland Singapore. Usually seen feeding in small groups on fruit trees, it also consumes small lizards, snakes and large arthropods.

It plays an important role in the health of forests, dispersing seeds that are too big for smaller birds to eat.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 09, 2017, with the headline 'A bird app or two in hand'. Print Edition | Subscribe