After having explored Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve many times, we decided it was time to head over to the neighbouring Kranji Marshes for more exciting bird-watching opportunities.
With more than 170 species of birds, 54 species of butterflies and 33 species of dragonflies, including a whole load of endangered species, Kranji Marshes offers noob bird-watchers like us an opportunity for a delightful wildlife experience and intimate bird encounter.
The marshland was created thanks to the damming of Kranji River to form Kranji Reservoir back in the 1970s. The resulting flooding of the surrounding low-lying areas created a freshwater marsh habitat that attracted the birds and wildlife, who then decided that maybe it would be a good idea to move in permanently and settle down here. The migratory birds that come from far north every winter also seem to like holing up at this resort whenever they visit Singapore.
From the park entrance at Kranji Gate, a 1-km paved path leads us on an educational journey along the edge of Neo Tiew Woods, where two bird hides (the Weaver Shelter and Woodpecker Shelter) provide a chance to spot rare, endangered birds.
Birds that we could hope to see in the grass habitat along this path include the Oriental Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus orientalis), Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus), Straw-headed Bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus), Scaly-breasted Munia (Lonchura punctulata), Coppersmith Barbet (Psilopogon haemacephalus), Laced Woodpecker (Picus vittatus), and Baya Weaver (Ploceus philippinus), so called because he weaves a distinctive funnel-shaped hanging nest out of strips of grass and uses it to attract unsuspecting females.
If we’re lucky, we might run into the Brown shrike (Lanius cristatus), who is a common visitor during the winter migratory months.
The coquettish Common Iora (Aegithina tiphia) is an eye-catching bird who likes to tease us as we walk by, flashing his bright yellow body as he flits from tree to tree.
Supposedly common in our urban parks and gardens, the first time we have spotted this attractive fellow is at Kranji Marshes.
We’ll know that we have reached the end of the short 1-km path, when we find ourselves looking up at with the majestic Raptor Tower. We’ll have little option but to scale the tower all the way to the top.
That is something we’ll not regret…
…when we finally spot an egret!
At the top of Raptor Tower, educational boards tempt us with the names and pictures of raptors that we can only hope to see from the high vantage point, such as the Crested Serpent Eagle, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Sparrowhawks of the Chinese and Japanese varieties, Black Kite, and many more fantastic names that had never once crossed our lips.
If we do get to meet one, it’ll most likely be the White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster), one of the most common raptor in Singapore…
…or the Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus), another common sight soaring through our skies…
…or the Changeable Hawk-eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus), also sometimes seen here.
It would be our lucky day indeed, if we were to spot a Black-winged Kite (Elanus caeruleus) or two.
We were also fortunate to be at the top of the Raptor Tower when a huge flock of several hundred Asian Openbills (Anastomus oscitans) decided to fly past and circle overhead. Their presence in Singapore in such large numbers is apparently unprecedented, as these storks are typically very rare in Singapore.
They usually occur in large numbers in the Indian subcontinent and the northern region of Southeast Asia, and they forage for prey such as water snails in the rice fields of countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, especially along the Mekong and Chao Phraya River basins. It has been speculated that unseasonally dry conditions in the Mekong basin could have driven the storks so far south beyond their usual range.
Having developed a very sophisticated palate, these Asian Openbill Storks have a rather peculiar liking for snails, such as the Golden Apple Snails. They are so named because of the gap between their bills, which allow them to better handle their snail prey.
Several other bird hides located at the Marsh Station include the Moorhen Blind and Swamphen Hide, from which we can try to spot some of the more elusive marsh birds.
The marsh may seem like a boring place – all quiet and still like nothing at all is happening – but after settling down for a while and adjusting our senses, we were soon able to hear a medley of bird songs emanating from the lush green vegetation surrounding us.
The calls of the Lesser Coucal (Centropus bengalensis) are quite distinct – alternating between a series of low “whoop whoop whoop” and a higher pitched “hoo hoo hoo” – and are quite easy to make out from the background of bird calls.
The hyper-active Ashy Tailorbirds (Orthotomus ruficeps) are also usually audible as they zip in and out of the reeds.
If we see a group of paparazzi wielding their big guns in one of these bird hides, it must mean that some sensational celebrity has been spotted.
The celebrity snipe happened to be in hiding that day, but we managed to spot the Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) poking around the mud for a snack…
…and a pair of Red-wattled Lapwings (Vanellus indicus), having their breakfast al fresco.
Under the Kingfisher Burrow is a cozy open-air classroom where we can get educated on how to identify birds by their feet, their bills, and how they catch their prey.
We could also hope to spot one of the many kingfishers that roam around the area, such as the White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)…
…or the Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis).
Although the whole of Kranji Marshes is a whopping 56 hectares in size, the area open to public is only a tiny 8-hectare slice, the rest being the Core Conservation Area that is too ecologically sensitive for us rowdy tramplers to be allowed in as we are bound to stress out the shy birds.
The West Marsh, a small section within the Core Conservation Area, is however accessible via guided tours or at specific timings advertised on the NParks website and under the supervision of the ‘Kranji Marshals’.
So of course, we couldn’t pass up on this rare opportunity to walk through that wide-opened gate…
…that beckoned us into the lush green expanse of the West Marsh.
The footpath is uneven and described as unsuitable for young children. Or rather, young children are unsuitable for the place, as their loud voices may spook the skittish birds and frighten them into hiding.
Out of the many bird hides planted around West Marsh, only three are accessible to us, Duck Hide, Bittern Hide and Bee-eater Blind.
At Duck Hide, we took the first opportunity we could to duck away from the sun and hide from the birds. The friendly marshal stationed at the hide was all ready to answer every one of our inane questions and introduce us to the birds that can be seen in the area.
At Bittern Hide, we half expected to see some Bitterns. Instead, out from the marshy reeds emerged the Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea), in search of breakfast with ravenous eyes.
At the end of the 1-km path, we popped into Bee-eater Blind, hoping for a chance to observe more of the marsh birds.
We were not disappointed, as a handful of Little Ringed Plovers (Charadrius dubius) were scuttling around and busily picking worms from the mud. These plovers are migratory birds that breed in the north and choose to spend their winter holidays in sunny Singapore every year.
We were intrigued to observe the plover foraging in the mud while constantly shaking his leg, one leg at a time, as he darts around.
We thought that he was afflicted with some kind of restless leg syndrome. This is in fact known as the “foot trembling” feeding behaviour associated with plovers; the foot movements apparently help to stir up worms and other prey hidden at the bottom of the mud, where his short bill would not be able to reach.
Besides Kranji Marshes, the lanes outside including Lim Chu Kang, Neo Tiew Harvest Lane and Turut Track are also a haven for the birds. Join us on our next expedition as explore this birding wonderland.