Many bird species spotted in urban green pockets

Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Desmond Lee examining the moult of a dragonfly held by life sciences student Sean Yap at Kent Ridge Park yesterday. "We need everyone to be custodians and stewards of the natural heri
Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Desmond Lee examining the moult of a dragonfly held by life sciences student Sean Yap at Kent Ridge Park yesterday. "We need everyone to be custodians and stewards of the natural heritage we have been blessed with," said Mr Lee.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

NParks initiative trains 'citizen scientists' to monitor biodiversity in community spaces

Neighbourhood parks could be home to rare species of birds such as the blue-crowned hanging parrot and spotted wood owl.

Of the 152 bird species spotted by volunteers during three garden bird-watching sessions over the past two years, 110 of them were found in urban green pockets such as Yishun Park, Punggol Park and Choa Chu Kang Park.

This was one of the preliminary findings from the National Parks Board's (NParks) suite of Community in Nature Biodiversity Watch programmes, launched in April 2015.

Under the initiative, NParks trains the public to spot wildlife, turning them into volunteers whom it calls "citizen scientists". There are now 1,000 volunteers, up from 400 at the start.

The data that they gather will help NParks to monitor biodiversity, populations and habitats and develop site management strategies to conserve biodiversity.

  • Winged wonders

  • Singapore is home to 392 bird species and 324 butterfly species. It has five times more butterfly species than Britain, and more bird species than Germany. Rare birds and butterfalies have been sighted by NParks volunteers, or "citizen scientists" over the past two years. Here are some of their sightings.

  • The blue-crowned hanging parrot is native to Singapore and nationally endangered. It has been seen at Dairy Farm Nature Park, Kent Ridge Park and Mount Faber Park.

    PHOTO: FRANCIS YAP AND HORACE TAN 

  • The charismatic spotted wood owl, sometimes seen in a pair, is widely distributed throughout the island. Volunteers spotted it at Pasir Ris Park. 

    PHOTO: FRANCIS YAP AND HORACE TAN 

  • The common evening brown, a moderately rare butterfly in Singapore, is active at dawn and before dusk. It was spotted at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. 

    PHOTO: FRANCIS YAP AND HORACE TAN 

The findings so far show that larger parks generally support a wider variety of habitats, leading to a larger variety of bird and butterfly species.

For instance, a park that contains water bodies and grasslands will be more likely to support birds such as herons and munias.

Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Desmond Lee shared the findings yesterday at an event at Kent Ridge Park.

Mr Lee said that to continue to be a "city in a garden", the country needs "community stewardship": "We need everyone to be custodians and stewards of the natural heritage we have been blessed with."

So far, three garden bird-watching sessions, two butterfly watches and three BioBlitzes have been carried out. BioBlitzes involve participants spending either 12 or 24 hours documenting biodiversity in an area.

Citizen scientists also spotted 77 species of butterflies in 45 parks. These are among the 324 resident species of butterflies here.

Greenview Secondary School student Joey Lim, 14, who took part in a BioBlitz at Kent Ridge Park yesterday, said that she never knew Singapore was home to such a diverse variety of wildlife.

She said: "Today, I personally spotted at least five different types of dragonflies at a pond here."

National University of Singapore life sciences undergraduate Sean Yap, 24, who took Joey and her classmates through Kent Ridge Park, said: "As scientists, we point out the wildlife they might miss. This helps to raise awareness about Singapore's rich biodiversity. "

Mr Lee also announced a new dragonfly watch programme, scheduled to be rolled out later this year.

He said that Biodiversity Week will be held from May 20 to 28.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 26, 2017, with the headline 'Many bird species spotted in urban green pockets'. Print Edition | Subscribe