Monday 16 April 2012

Singapore Straits Pelagic

Last Sunday I joined a group of birders from Singapore for another pelagic.

Again, the birding was slow, but this time it was steady. Every once in a while a bird would do a fly-by, keeping us on our feet and more than once, waking many of us up!

Singapore's harbour is one of the busiest ports in the world (it may even be the busiest?) Needless to say, there are some (a lot) of big ships there:

Occasionally we came across some patches of debris. Most likely swirled together by currents.

*All the following photos were taken by Francis Yap (a Singaporean bird photographer) who has generously allowed me to use them here*
He has photographed well over 100 species this year to help document the Singapore Big Year!

Lesser Crested Terns were the most common tern of the day. We came across almost 50 individuals.

The first non-crested tern were 2 Common Terns. The long forked tail, and dark primaries helps identify this bird in flight when you're on a rocking boat. They also fly differently than the crested terns. The crested terns seem to have a more direct and strong flight, while the Common Tern is more graceful and 'light' (that probably doesn't make sense) - I had a feeling these birds weren't crested terns when we originally saw them from a distance.

The most exciting birds of the trip were Aleutian Terns. No one got good enough looks at the birds to identify them. Only the photos were able to confirm the identity.

The best way to distinguish this species from the similar Black-naped Tern is the dark secondary band on the underwing

This photo shows the dark secondary band more clearly. Also, notice that this bird seems to have less white on the top of the head, indicating that it is still in non-breeding plumage, whereas the previous bird was in breeding plumage.

These birds have a 10'000+ kilometer flight ahead of them in order to make it to the breeding grounds in North Asia and Alaska. The wintering grounds of Aleutian Terns remain mostly unknown. However, every year they are seen in the Singapore straits indicating that they may over-winter in the region. However, where the bulk of the population over-winters remains unknown.

Interestingly, Aleutian Terns have been observed in Singapore waters in mid-May. Yet the birds begin to show up in Alaska by early May. You can see their world range on eBird.

We only came across 2 Little Terns during this trip (last trip we saw about 150):

One flock of about 15 White-winged Terns consisted of a wide range of plumage. This first bird was clearly still in non-breeding plumage:

While this one has almost completed it's molt into breeding plumage:

Here's the route we took. Singapore is to the North-West, Malaysia to the North-East and Indonesia to the South.

Don't forget about the Bird Song Quiz below! There's two parts to it, and so far the 'advanced' part has been confusing everyone!