Who says there is little to do in Singapore besides shopping and then more shopping? With abit of detective work, I found a guided birdwatching session provided free of charge by National Parks Board (NParks) Singapore.
This post takes readers through one of these sessions at Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve and documents some of the things I’ve learnt from the 1.5 hours there.
Preparing to do birdwatching
It was an early Saturday morning and at 9.30am , a group of us found ourselves in Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve for “Birdwatching 101”. Sungei Buloh is part of the East Asian-Australian flyway and is recognised as an important site for migratory shorebirds.
Every year, thousands of birds fly from Russia, , Far East Mongolia, North China,Japan and Korea to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Some take a rest here and continue on their journey to Indonesia, Autralia and New Zealand while others stay on until after winter before flying back.
Leading the team to find these birds was KB, our guide for the day!
White is not a subdued colour – KB
One of the first things learnt that you should dress in subdued colours. White, says our guide is not one because in a natural environment, it stands out – and true enough, one of the first things that we notice in the far distance are the white egrets. This is because many birds see not only white but luminous colours as warning signs.
Another consideration is comfort. In fact, in the email that NParks sends out to the participants, they advised that long sleeve shirts and long pants to be worn. This of course depends on where you are going. In Sungei Buloh, there may be mosquitoes and covering up prevents unwanted discomfort.
I was surprised when Nparks very thoughtfully loaned us their binoculars to use during the session. As we were first timers, we listened to a quick run down on how to use it. Being bespectacled, it was news to me that the rubber flaps should be upturned so that our eyes are as close to the lenses. I assume that this is to prevent distortion of the light due to the greater distance it has to travel.
One of the most useful tips I got while at the session was the way to spot the subject using your naked eye , bringing up your binoculars and not lose track of the subject. I’ve had that experience many times during my safari trip back in August 2016. The trick is essentially to keep your entire body perfectly still while bringing up your binoculars. I’ve tried this trick a couple of time during the session and it works!
The trick is essentially to keep your entire body perfectly still while bringing up your binoculars.
Jargon can be used quite a bit during the course of birdwatching as well. Our guide told us about the use of the word “Lifer”, which is for an observer’s first ever sighting of a particular species of bird.
Another important resource that KB recommended is a reference guide to help identify the bird you spotted.
There are some features that you should look out in the bird when you first see it in order to find it in the reference guide.
You can compare the size of the bird you see to something that you already know, as a guide for identifying the bird. For example, I might compare a bird I spot to the common Myna.
Length of Bill
Another feature that you can use is the bird’s bill. The length of a bill is considered long when it is more than two times the width of it’s head. If it’s less than a width of it’s head, it is considered short.
The common Redshank pictured above is considered to have a long bill. For most of the time we spent photographing the bird, it had the company of its friend.
The length of legs and any distinctive markings can also help in the identification.
Lastly, the behavior of the bird can be quite revelatory as well. The common sandpiper, for example, likes to bob its bottom up and down and this can instantly set it apart from other birds.
It was a novel experience walking around in nature and trying to identify birds. While it was not a day where we managed to catch sight of many birds, I think slowing our pace and just learning to pay attention to our surrounds has a component of mindfulness to it.
At times I think that we may be too caught up in our daily lives to really notice our surroundings. But up there, in the trees, potentially in a park near you, sometimes perched motionless on a branch, sometimes singing a merry song, a bird’s story awaits.
Will you tell it’s story?
This experience has gotten me interested in not only in the birds that can be found in Singapore but biodiversity in general.
Recently I also found out that we can do more as citizens for science. NParks started the Citizen Science Programme, where the community participate in organised research endeavours by identifying flora and fauna. What is more, training is given for these programmes!
To learn and then contribute to science sounds like an amazing experience to me and will be looking to see if I can get involved in their activities.