Sunday, October 3, 2010

Hornbills in Bandung

Behind Bars
For the benefit of the Singaporean crowd, no, we're not talking about hornbills pickled in the drink bandung *shudder*. These are hornbills spotted in an ill-maintained(if one can even consider what little they seem to do maintenance) zoo in Bandung, Indonesia. While in the wild these amazing birds would have very large ranges of kilometers of land, just for the benefit of mankind, they have been crammed into relatively tiny enclosures and expected to just deal with it. That's a whole different story we shall not get into; we'll just focus on the hornbills. Or at least, we'll try. No promises.

There were two tiny enclosures housing wreathed hornbills and oriental pied hornbills- both of which can be found in Java, assuming they haven't all been stolen from the wild to be sold in the infamous bird market in Yogyakarta, or put in other tiny enclosures around Indonesia. *oops...there we go again...*
Hornbill enclosure in the forefront of the picture

In the shadows (Rhyticeros/Aceros undulatus)
Wreathed hornbill (Rhyticeros/Aceros undulatus)

Wreathed Hornbills(Rhyticeros/Aceros undulatus)

Oriental Pied Hornbills
Hornbills & Indonesia
Indonesia is home to many different species of hornbills, including the Wreathed and Oriental pied hornbills in the pictures above. However, it is important to note that not all the species can be found on every island. Also, some islands of the Indonesian archipelago have endemic species of hornbills, found nowhere else except in those couple of islands. Island populations are often known to harbour endemic species of organisms simply because they are, to a certain extent, cut of from "the rest of the world" or more accurately, from other populations of hornbills. After a couple of hornbills have painstakingly got their feathery behinds to some remote island, one of two possibilities is likely to occur(there are other possibilities apart from the ones stated here, of course...):
  1. They are unable to survive in this new, exotic environment and die out.
  2. They manage to survive long enough to reproduce, enabling natural selection to take over and soon enough, you (possibly) have an entirely new species of hornbill. One that is more adept at facing what the island throws at them.
And before we get carried away with trivia about Indonesia and/or evolution, both fascinating in their own right, let's focus on the hornbills ya? We've gone on and on about Oriental Pied hornbills time and time again so me(we?!) thinks it's time to introduce yet another member of Club Hornbill- the Wreathed hornbill.

Wreathed Hornbills
Big Wreathed hornbills are known to start making miniature wreathed hornbills at around 3 to 4 years old. In Indonesia and Malaysia, they are believed to nest throughout the year. Interestingly, these hornbills have ridges on their casques. These ridges are a rough indication of age since they accumulate ridges as they mature. You might be wondering what the point of knowing how old(or young, for all you age-sensitive folk out there) a hornbill is. Seeing as how no one has been able to master hornbill-speak, nerdy scientists with big, groovy brains have had to make some intelligent guesses and test out these guesses using the all important scientific method. This is what they've come up with so far:
Generally, hornbills' ability to make babies that survive to a ripe old age (and produce more babies of their own along the way) increases as they get older... up to a particular point, where it reaches a maximum and then, their ability to produce healthy babies decreases once again.It is believed that this is due to their increased ability to provide lots of nutritious food to the self-imprisoned mother and baby hornbills. 
Why do older birds provide provide better for their families? Having more ridges may give the bird a higher "status", as compared with hornbills with fewer ridges on their casques. This enables their all mighty feathery behinds to shoo away younger birds when getting food, i.e. they get the best pickings!   
So let's say you're a female hornbill. Which potential Mr. Right are you on the look out for? The hornbill with fewer ridges and is only mediocre at providing for you and your babies... or the hornbill with a whole load of ridges and is well equipped to provide well for you and your babies?  
You decide :) 

BirdLife International (2010) Species factsheet: Aceros everetti. Downloaded from on 9/9/2010 

Kemp, A. (1995). The Hornbills. United States: Oxford University Press Inc., New York.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Circular motion

Did-he-do-it? Did-he-do-it? 
No, it's got nothing to do with Grant and what he did. Rather, it concerns one(or a couple) noisy bird that has been demanding answers in the vicinity of Sebana Cove. Ever the skeptic eh? Don't believe us? Go ahead then. Watch the video. We dare you!

Flying in circles (Vanellus indicus)

Hmm... okay. Maybe it doesn't sound quite like "did-he-do-it", but apparently some people out there in our world so blue feel otherwise. So convinced are they that they're even going around calling it the Did-he-do-it bird. We prefer to stick with the more unimaginative name of Red-wattled Lapwing(Vanellus indicus).

This distinctively coloured bird is said to be relatively common in Malaysia, other parts of Southeast Asia(Singapore being the exception yet again- endangered there) as well as West and South Asia. Such distinctive colouration and yet we managed to overlook it in a book. Old age and failing eyesight, forgive us. We didn't manage to get close enough to get a good shot of this highly conspicuous bird, unfortunately. Even though it hung around the area for quite awhile, advertising its presence with its bird song, if you can call it that.

Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus)

The bird was often on the ground, running around in short spurts, and then stopping just as soon as it had started. It descends to the realm of the flightless for a very predictable reason- feeding. It is known to pick insects, snails and other invertebrates off the ground. We didn't get to see it catch anything though; no, unfortunately, he(or she) did not do it.

BirdLife International (2009) Species factsheet: Vanellus indicus. Downloaded from on 24/3/2010

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Avian toupee

Crested Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela)
We were making our way back for lunch after a somewhat disappointing walk(the hornbills were in hiding), and lo and behold! A find that made up for the hornbills going AWOL! A Crested Serpent Eagle, named as such because of it's black feathered toupee(okay so it's not quite a toupee but it sure looks like one) and it's diet which consists of a helluva lot of snake(as well as plenty of lizards).

Interestingly, it's black toupee(or as the scientists call it- crest) stands on end when it gets agitated. Unfortunately this one was all calm, and stalking him(or her) while enthusiastically clicking away at our cameras didn't seem to ruffle its feathers.

Crested Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela)
When you first look at the bird, all you think is woah! Big bird! But it's actually considered to be a  "medium-sized" raptor. It's about 1/2 m to 3/4 m tall. Heck, there are hornbills bigger than that! Nevertheless, it is a beautiful bird and a very pleasing find! Not considered to be endangered because of it's large range, but sadly it is on the verge of extinction in Singapore. It can be found from South Asia, and throughout much of Southeast Asia and parts of China even. Its species name comes from its Hindi name- Dogra cheel.

It was rather curious that a raptor should choose to perch on relatively low branches by the road, but apparently, some have observed this predator taking the easy way out and waiting for various vehicles to come along and squash some snake. Car-cum-meat-tenderizer? Also, as already mentioned previously, it didn't seem to be too bothered by us. We'd like to think it's because we were giving off peaceful, loving vibes.

Snubbed by a Crested Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela
What looked like a strange bald patch on his/her head(as seen in the photo above) is actually likely to just be it's baby feathers. Juveniles/younger birds tend to have more white bits on their heads apparently. So perhaps these white bits are vestiges of its younger days? The photo taken below in Indonesia provides a better view of those little white bits of feathers that occur on the head of this magnificent eagle.

All caged up at Bandung Zoo, Indonesia
Chickening around 
[Adapted from this website on 11 August 2010]
A little strange to be seeing an animal as beautiful and majestic as this eagle is, walking around like a lowly chicken. Or maybe it's just that elitist mentality creeping into our Singaporean brains...

References (n.d.). Home : Wildlife in India : Indian Birds : Crested Serpent Eagle : Crested Serpent Eagle Facts. Retrieved August 11, 2010, from

Tsang, K. (2007, June 15). Crested Serpent Eagle: Snakes alive. Retrieved August 11, 2010, from Bird Ecology Study Group:

Friday, August 6, 2010

Starry starry night...

Taking a stroll pass what Grant has christened- The Citadel, when we noticed too much chirping for our curious selves to resist. And strangely enough... it seemed to be coming up from The Citadel. So climb the millions of steps we did(okay, so maybe this is a bit of an exaggeration, hundreds of steps?), to find small black birds hidden under the roof. At first sight, they looked like small mynas. But wait, they have ... demonic red eyes! AHHHHH! 

Nah, they aren't in anyway demonic, but they are red. Which is a distinctive feature of these beautiful birds. That and their shimmery feathers that look metallic blue-green at times. And the reason they look like mynas- they're pretty much cousins! Sort of... They're all from the same family: The Sturnidae. For those unfamiliar with what a family is in biological terms, all living things are grouped together in certain groups. As one goes close and closer to the species level, organisms in the groupings become more and more closely related. The picture below should give you a pretty good idea about what we're failing at trying to explain.
Image adapted from this website on 25th June 2010
They're against the light, so they look completely black. But if you had been there with us(spiritually or otherwise...) you would have noticed that their "underbelly" was white with black stripes. Caused a little bit of confusion- aren't Asian glossy starlings supposed to be black all over with metallic shiny blue/green bits when under sunlight? Strange aliens sent from outer space pretending to be starlings to spy on us? Mutant birds carrying merciless diseases that will wipe out all of mankind? Questions, questions... and no closer to any answer! AHHHHH!
GOD* SPEAKS: They were juveniles.  
US: Oh...

Juvenile Asian Glossy Starlings(Aplonis panayensis)

Watch the video till the very end for a surprise visitor ;)

Look out world!

Heard the cackling at the end of the video? Maybe the Oriental Pied Hornbills wanted to steal the little starling's thunder :) The video ended when we decided to rush to the tree the hornbills were at- a African Tulip that was nearby. Unfortunately, they flew off as soon as we got there. Darn it! Such a tease! 

BirdLife International (2010) Species factsheet: Aplonis panayensis. Downloaded from on 25/6/2010

Tan, R. (2001). Asian Glossy Starling. Retrieved August 6, 2010, from Mangrove and wetland wildlife at Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve:

God*: refers to our bird guide book.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Taking a stroll

Everything just looks so different in the morning light. Cliche as it sounds: the wonders of nature. How upsetting to think that one day, this may all be gone...
Tricksy picture
Walking on, surprise surprise! Two little wild boars! Looked like they were lost though. Male wild boars usually lead solitary lives but females live in small groups. Wonder what happened to momma boar...


Thursday, June 24, 2010

What the...?

Pacific Swallows (Hirundo tahitica)

Bird A flies towards Bird B.
Bird A attacks Bird B.
Bird B squawks.
Bird A flies away.
Bird C: What did i miss? 

Well, at least it looked that way when we first spotted these Pacific Swallows. 

It was only when we stood there and kept watching that we realised that it was a fledgling up there! Often, when baby birds first leave their nest, they still stick close to mum and dad for a bit. Eventually they leave the comforts of home, unlike some Homo sapiens who stick with their parents and mooch off them FOREVER AND EVER. This period is very important for the young bird. It is only then that it gets to see exactly how this whole hunting business goes about. It learns about all things good, bad, and ugly.

After weeks of confinement in it's cup-shaped mud pelleted nest(The full nesting period lasts from around 35 to 40 days), a completely helpless nestling, it has now emerged to experience all that is life. We wish it well :) 

Snuggling in a corner (Juvenile above)
Pacific swallows can be found from South Asia(Parts of India and Sri Lanka), through Southeast Asia, up till the Pacific islands even! Their large range means they are not considered to be endangered or threatened. 

Unlike Swifts which are very much like flying vacuum cleaners eating anything that crosses their path while flying around in a frenzy, these birds sit and wait patiently until they spot something yummy with their keen eyesight. What follows is a high-speed aerial chase that is simply amazing to watch!

These birds are relatively common, particularly near water bodies. So take some time off, sit back, relax, and watch these little acrobats do their thang. Oh, and dont forget the mosquito repellent :)

Note: We apologize for the bad quality of the video. Our excuses: Bad lighting and a crappy digital camera(On our Christmas wish list: a good camcorder. It is a time of giving ain't it?). Needless to say, no fault of the amateur videographer :P

Hails, C. J. (1982). The breeding biology of the Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica in Malaysia. Ibis , 198-211.

Tan, R. (2001). Pacific Swallow. Retrieved June 23, 2010, from Mangrove and wetland wildlife at Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Selamat jalan

19th June 2010 Leaving Changi jetty, on our way to Sebana Cove. A relatively pleasant, though uneventful, journey. No Krakens or anything. Can't say we weren't the least bit disappointed...

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, heigh-ho

The big blue, that's not quite blue

What dreams may come