Large flocks of Asian openbill storks continue to excite birdwatchers in Singapore

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Asian openbill storks spotted at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, on Dec 23, 2019. PHOTO: ST READER STEVEN CHEONG
Asian openbill storks spotted at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, on Dec 23, 2019. PHOTO: ST READER STEVEN CHEONG

SINGAPORE - Thousands of Asian openbill storks were spotted across Singapore on Monday (Dec 23) and over the weekend - a Christmas delight for many birdwatchers.

Updates soared on social media platforms such as Facebook and messaging app Telegram, as birdwatchers across the island posted photographs and videos of this rare sight, and updates on where and when the birds were seen.

Jokes also flitted about as to how the arrival of storks - a symbol of fertility in many cultures - could mean a boost to Singapore's birth rate.

On Monday, the birds were seen in the morning at St John's Island, located south of the mainland, and in the Changi area of eastern Singapore around noon. Thousands of them were also seen in East Coast and flying overhead in Orchard on Sunday.

Retiree Steven Cheong, 58, saw about 30 to 40 storks flying overhead near Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Yishun on Monday morning.

He told The Straits Times: "It was amazing to see such a large flock, as the last time I sighted this bird was a solitary one on Apr 1 this year at Sungei Buloh."

Large flocks of the Asian openbill storks were first spotted in the Kranji area earlier this month, but their appearance in Singapore in such large numbers is unusual as only one or two had been spotted at a time previously.

The Straits Times reported earlier this month that the storks usually forage in the rice fields in continental South-east Asia - especially along the Mekong and Chao Phraya River basins - for prey such as water snails.

"The drought and the dry weather experienced in countries like Thailand could have reduced the number of snails in that region," said Dr Yong Ding Li, an ornithologist at conservation group BirdLife International.

This could have led them to fly our way in search of sustenance.

Last month, the Mekong River Commission said in a statement on its website that "severe to extreme drought" is expected to hit countries in the lower Mekong basin from now until next month.

The commission works with the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam to jointly manage the shared water resources and the sustainable development of the Mekong River.

The drought is caused by factors including insufficient rainfall, due to the delayed arrival and earlier departure of the monsoon rain, said the statement.


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