Sunday 26 November 2017

Tree Sparrows in Singapore

Sunday 19th November and it was an early start to catch the train to Hong Kong Airport for our flight to Singapore. The flight was very pleasent and on arriving in Singapore it was sunny but very hot and very humid.

We visited Singapore as part of our Asian trip back in 2008 along with Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and Bintan in Indonesia, and again it was interesting to see how much more developed Singapore had become since our visit 9 years ago with lots of building still going on. The most obvious change was the huge Marina Bay Sands Hotel on the waterfront, a massive 3 towered building with a roof deck that dominated the skyline. Singapore too remains a bastion of consumerism and materialism and there was even more Christmas crap going on than there had been in Hong Kong with Christmas trees and lights, Santas and constant piped Christmas music everywhere but the prices were astronomical, much higher than the UK. Public transport and simple food stuffs were very cheap though but alcohol was very pricey even during Happy Hours.

The weather was mostly cloudy with occassional sunny periods and frequent thunder and lightning storms and heavy rain showers but we managed to get out and about and enjoyed the brief cooler periods following the rain before the heat and humidity rapidly returned.

We stayed in The Pan Pacific Hotel near the famous Raffles Hotel which was very nice and well situated to see the main sights and with a lovely rooftop swimming pool where Javan mynas and tree sparrows flitted about looking for food scraps.

Javan Myna

Tree Sparrows

Tree Sparrow

Monday 20th and we visited the Gardens by The Bay, a fantastic garden space that has been grown on reclaimed land and with 2 massive biodomes that put the Eden Project in Cornwall to shame. The domes were cooled with one containing temperate vegetation (European, North American and South African) with a very kitschy Christmas display and the other containing fantastic cloud forest vegetation with both being very interesting and quite amazing (and wonderfully refreshing from the heat and humidity outside).

Orchid Sp., Gardens by The Bay

Orchid Sp., Gardens by The Bay

Tuesday 21st and we visited Sentosa Island where despite the rain we had a good laugh on the Luge race track, drank mojitos on the beach and watched butterflies flitting about in the butterfly park. A few birds were also seen including black naped orioles, pink necked green pigeons and a crimson sunbird.

Black Naped Oriole, Sentosa

Pink Necked Green Pigeon, Sentosa

Clipper, Sentosa Butterfly Park

Rice Paper, Sentosa Butterfly Park

Banded Swallowtail, Sentosa Butterfly Park

Emerald Swallowtail, Sentosa Butterfly Park

Great Mormon Butterfly, Sentosa Butterfly Park

Emerald Swallowtail Butterfly, Sentosa Butterfly Park

Victoria Ground Pigeon, Sentosa Butterfly Park

Wednesday 22nd and I headed off to the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve for the morning, a fantastic nature reserve I had visited 9 years ago where I had spent a fantastic morning wildlife watching and an experience I hoped to repeat again. An early start with no dillying or dallying and I arrived at the reserve to start my walk at 08:20am. The reserve has been extended and developed into a more educational resource but remains unspoilt and relatively unvisited (on a weekday anyway). I headed off along the nature trail and after around a minutes walking remembered I needed to apply my mosquito repellant only to find I already had 3 large bites on my leg - thank goodness I remembered when I did otherwise I would have bitten to hell!

Birds were everywhere, feeding out on the mudflats and flitting about in the thick vegetation and making unfamiliar calls and it was initially a little overwhelming but eventually I managed to focus and found some good birds and other wildlife.

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve from the Aero Tower

Two estuarine crocodiles were very sinister looking as the lurked in the murky water and 3 water monitor lizards basking in the sun on the footpath scared the poop out of me when I stumbled across them as they scuttled off into the water. A squirrel species was the only mammal seen as I failed to see any smooth otters this time but I did find some of their poop and footprints immortalised in the concrete footpath. Mudskippers were busily mudskipping before the tide came in, crabs were watched climbing up tree trunks, various species of fish were splashing around in the water and insects were buzzing in the trees. A few butterflies were seen too but they were very active and mobile and difficult to photograph.

Estuarine Crocodile

Estuarine Crocodile


Water Monitor Lizard

Water Monitor Lizard

Water Monitor Lizard

Dragonfly Sp.

Dragonfly Sp.

Lizard Sp.

Dark Tit Butterfly

 Dot Dash Sergeant?

Dark Branded Bush Brown

The birds were the stars of the trip with some good views obtained of some great looking birds. Black naped orioles were very noticeable in the trees, giving their beautiful oriole call along with a harsh and screechy note. A brahimny kite, a single bee eater species and 2 white bellied sea eagles were noted overhead and olive backed sunbirds and a female common iora were flitting about in the tree tops.

Black Naped Oriole

Black Naped Oriole

White Bellied Sea Eagle

White Bellied Sea Eagle

Olive Backed Sunbird

Water birds were much more obvious with greenshank, redshank, whimbrel and common sandpiper being familiar birds and white breasted waterhen, collared kingfishers, milky storks (feral birds from Singapore zoo) and Chinese pond heron less so.


Milky Stork and Little Egret

Milky Stork

I had seen a dollarbird on my previous visit 9 years ago and was very pleased to see 2 birds this time in exactly the same place I had seen them before with a third bird seen in the tree tops by the reserve entrance as I left to catch the bus back to the MRT station. I always buy a bird guide before I travel to foreign climes and look at the images before I go to pick out birds I would like to see and dollarbird was one such species I had highlighted back in 2008. I was very pleased to have see one back in 2008 but it was a brief view only so to see 3 birds and to see them so well this time was very special.





Other highlights were an oriental pied hornbill, a purple heron, a great egret, a long tailed shrike, a family group of red junglefowl (introduced), Asian glossy starlings, black headed munia, olive backed sunbird, zebra dove and little heron before it was time to leave and I was a very hot, sticky, sweaty and smelly but smiley mess as I headed back on the air conditioned bus and train to meet David for lunch back at the hotel - a fantastic mornings wildlife watching again.

Oriental Pied Hornbill

Oriental Pied Hornbill

Pink Necked Green Pigeons

House Crow

Long Tailed Shrike

Zebra Dove

Thursday 23rd and it was time for the journey back to the UK, an early start for the 10am flight back to Hong Kong where we tranferred to a flight back to Heathrow, a 16 hour flight time in total with an hours transfer window in Hong Kong. It wasn't too bad though but we were knackered on arriving at Heathrow at 8pm and were glad we had decided to stay the night in an airport hotel before travelling back to Plymouth the next morning.

And so it had been a fantastic holiday with some great sight seeing, lovely food and some excellent wildlife. I feel like I need a holiday though to recover from it all with the jet lag on our return being a bit less of a bitch than it was on our arrival in Hong Kong but still quite unpleasent. And so back to work with the joys of Christmas to look forward too - roll on 2018.

Saturday 25 November 2017

Tree Sparrows in Hong Kong and a Trip to Macau

Friday 10th November and it was off to Gatwick Airport with Julie and Matt for an overnight stay at The Hilton before flying out to Hong Kong for Julies 50th birthday holiday.The drive up to Gatwick was uneventful and along the way the usual red kites were seen soaring overhead by the motorway.

We flew from Gatwick at 11:30am (local time) on Saturday 11th and arrived in Hong Kong at 06:30 am (local time) on Sunday 12th on a 12 hour flight but the jet lag was an absolute bitch and it wasn't until Thursday 16th that I felt back to normal. The weather on arrival wasn't great either with grey skies and rain but it was warm and humid and the sun finally did appear on Thursday when it then became hot and humid but we made the most of it and went out and about to see the sights.

Having visited Hong Kong 9 years ago in 2008 it was interesting to see how it has changed with a lot more building and development going on and a much more Chinese feel. It still remains a bastion of commerce, materialism and consumerism but I do really love the place and its energy and history and its air of Britishness. My previous visit was in September when it had been hot and humid with a typhoon adding to the excitement but a visit in November meant better weather conditions but more tourists so it was much more busy and crowded when out and about. It was also more expensive with just HK$10 to the pound instead of the HK$15 we were getting back in 2008.

Being based in Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island again I wasn't expecting to see much in the way of wildlife but managed to see a few birds while out and about - familiar birds such as kingfisher, little egret, grey heron, magpie, cormorant and tree sparrow, more exotic birds like black kite and yellow browed warbler and exotic birds like Chinese bulbul, oriental magpie robin and masked laughing thrush.

Tree Sparrow, Nan Lian Gardens

Masked Laughing Thrush and Tree Sparrow, Kowloon

Chinese Bulbul, Victoria Peak

Red Whiskered Bulbul, Nan Lian Gardens

Japanese White-eye, Nan Lian Gardens

Spotted Dove, Nan Lian Gardens

Juvenile Oriental Magpie Robin, Kowloon Park

We took a day trip to Macau on November 14th, travelling out on a high speed catamaran and returning on a high speed hydrofoil, a trip we made back in 2008 as well, and we had a great day out. Macau has changed even more than Hong Kong with a huge amount of building and development having occurred. A few birds and butterflies were seen as we toured around the old town before heading out to the Macau Tower to watch crazy humans bungee jumping off the top.

 Chinese Bulbuls, Macau

 Tree Sparrows, Macau

Great Egg-fly (Male), Macau

A trip to the Hong Kong Wetland Park on November 16th was a bit of a bust - a late start, dillying and dallying around and a longer journey time than expected meant a very brief visit but it was nice to see how much the plantings had grown and matured since my visit 9 years ago. Not much in the way of birds were seen but a wood sandpiper, a greenshank and a green sandpiper were familiar waders with tufted ducks, shovelers, teals and wigeons also familiar ducks from home. Unfortunately there were no sightings of the black faced spoonbills I had hoped to see but yellow browed warblers were very vocal and I managed some good views of one individual as it responded to my phishing and came very close - in fact yellow browed warblers were vocal everywhere as we travelled around Hong Kong, much more vocal than birds I have seen in the UK, but they mostly kept themselves well hidden.

 Pied Kingfisher, Hong Kong Wetland Park

Black Faced Spoonbill, Hong Kong Wetland Park - the only one I saw!

The birdlife may have been a bit thin on the ground at the park but at  least there were plenty of butterflies flitting about in the hot sunshine although they were absolute swines to try and photograph.

Common Indian Crow

Red Base Jezebel

Ceylon Blue Glassy Tiger

Blue Spotted Crow

Blue Spotted Crow

The highlight for me was a trip to see Indo Pacific humpback dolphins off the island of Lantau on November 15th, a trip we also did back in 2008. The dolphins are a pink colour for unknown reasons and on our previous trip we had some decent but mostly distant views of them but this time they showed much better and much closer, coming right up to the boat and swimming around us. First sighting was an individual leaping out of the water some distance away with 2 more animals swimming nearby. The leaping dolphin moved away but the other 2 moved towards the boat where they stayed for some time giving some good views. They eventually moved away when 3 more dolphins appeared but the 3 kept their distance before moving away too and then it was time for us to head back to port. A great trip on our "western style cruiser" and interesting to see the bridge and tunnels being constructed to link Hong Kong to Macau, a 60km long massive construction project.

Leaping Indo Pacific Humpback Dolphin in front of the new Hong Kong - Macau Bridge 

Indo Pacific Humpback Dolphins

Indo Pacific Humpback Dolphin

Indo Pacific Humpback Dolphins

Indo Pacific Humpback Dolphin

Indo Pacific Humpback Dolphins

Indo Pacific Humpback Dolphins

Indo Pacific Humpback Dolphins

Indo Pacific Humpback Dolphins

And so a great time in Hong Kong was had by all - ate too much food, drank too much booze (despite how expensive alcohol was, thank heavens for 4 hour long Happy Hours!), walked miles and had a good laugh. A great place and great fun but it was time to fly on to Singapore on November 19th for the second part of our trip.