Singapore Strait 29Apr17
On 29 April 2017, we joined the pelagic trip (2x boats) organised by See Toh and Francis. Straits of Singapore is probably one of the last few frontiers for birdwatching in Singapore. There are still a lot of knowledge to discover concerning the movement of seabirds through this part of the world. With a bit of fortuity, a vagrant may appear - which is the case in other waters of the world. For birdwatchers seeking an additional tick for their Singapore list, the Straits of Singapore is the place to explore.
Setting off at 7am from Sister's islands where we had just cleared customs, we headed eastwards towards Horsburgh Lighthouse, our key destination for the day. For the first one and a half hour, we saw nothing. The weather was not favorable with dark clouds before us. Our first bird was a pair of Little Terns. Following which, we encountered an Arctic Skua in the distant. Thereafter, it was just Bridled Terns and Short-Tailed Shearwaters capturing our attention. To think that a couple of years ago, the latter was not even recorded and our count has exceeded 10 by the time we had reached Horsburgh Lighthouse!!!
At Horsburgh Lighthouse, I was honored to finally record the Black-Nest Swiftlet for my Singapore list. To do so, I had to spot the birds on the black nest built below the window ledge of the buildings on the outcrop. Tough work!
Another interesting sighting at the lighthouse was a pod of three Indo-pacific Humpback Dolphins including one calf. To demonstrate our delight for the sighting, we actually spent additionally time circling the outcrop two times in search of them. Alas, they did not show again...
Heading back, we stayed close to the Indonesian side of the International waters. This rewarded us with further sightings of Short-Tailed Shearwaters, Bridled Terns, three White-Winged Terns (including one individual moulting to breeding plumage) and an Aleutian Tern in breeding plumage. Great sightings, especially the birds in breeding plumages.
Hoping to find something different, we checked the yellow buoys off the coastline of Indonesia and found resting Lesser Crested Terns, a new bird for the trip.
Just as we were leaving the last buoy to head back to Singapore, we saw an all-dark bird gliding at the surface of the waters. The flight of the bird resembled that of the Shearwaters. Thus, I was too quick to identify it as just another "Short-Tailed Shearwater". Thankfully, See Toh was quick to point out something unusual about the bird - it had pale upperwing coverts. This was no shearwater, it was a passing Bulwer's Petrel!!! Out of our excitement, we actually made a U-turn and attempted to look for the bird. The bird was probably long gone by then but we just wanted so much to re-find it. The significance of the sighting was simply the bird has yet to be recorded in our Singapore checklist. Any sighting of the species could mean a step closer to its inclusion...
After seeing 10 species of seabirds, including a potentially new species for the Singapore checklist, all the participants were in fine spirit. All of us would like the birds to come closer to our boats but as with any pelagic outings, nothing is certain. The potential of finding new birds or the risk of going home empty handed makes pelagic outings so interesting. With eagerness, we await our next pelagic adventure...
- Bulwer's Petrel (Bulweria bulwerii) 1
- Short-tailed Shearwater (Ardenna tenuirostris) 27
- Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) 1
- Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) 1
- White-bellied Sea-Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) 1
- Arctic Skua (Stercorarius parasiticus) 2
- Long-tailed Skua (Stercorarius longicaudus) 2 - Species only seen by participants on another boat
- Bridled Tern (Onychoprion anaethetus) 26
- Aleutian Tern (Onychoprion aleuticus) 2
- Little Tern (Sternula albifrons) 2
- White-winged Black Tern (Chlidonias leucopterus) 3
- Black-naped Tern (Sterna sumatrana) 4
- Lesser Crested Tern (Thalasseus bengalensis) 22
- tern sp. (Sterninae sp.) 36
- Black-nest Swiftlet (Aerodramus maximus) 100
- Pacific Swift (Apus pacificus) 4
- Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 3
- Pacific Swallow (Hirundo tahitica) 10