Tag Archives: White Throated Kingfisher

Large reptiles plunder whilst kingfishers wonder…

I have been going to Pasir Ris mangroves in Singapore a lot lately, in my spare time. During a recent visit , the dam that holds back catchment water in the Tampines River was again unleashed, with water speedily making its’ way out  to sea. I wrote a blogpost about how a Stork Billed Kingfisher managed to cope with the coloured water after the torrent, by changing his fishing strategies to take fish visible only on the surface of the muddied waterway.

Recently, I witnessed this dam being unleashed again, though this time the state of the tide was very different; once the water had made it’s way towards the sea, the mangroves and surrounding area quickly returned to a state of low tide. VERY low tide. Again the nature photographers that were there as the dam was released decided to leave, as the calm waterway turned into a torrent . I stayed. And I’m so-oooo glad I did 🙂 …

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Little egret juggle a fish into position, for easy swallowing.

Birds that are natural fishers had a bounty this time, as the waters quickly receded and laid on a great opportunity to fish. I was able to observe a lot of natural activity in a very short space of time. Egrets gathered and fished to their hearts’ content in the ebbing water flow.

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Little Heron ‘stuns’ prey on nearby rock.

Little Herons took their places on rocks made visible by the shrinking waterway.

They were catching fish very regularly – even more regularly than usual.

 

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White Throated Kingfisher taking the opportunity to catch fish sheltering around obstacles now being revealed by ebbing waters.

The waters left for the sea as quickly as they had been racing by, revealing many fish trying to take shelter around the now shallowing underwater obstacles, to the birds that had gathered to feast.

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Gotcha! Stork Billed Kingfisher with meal… its’ last easy meal, before the 2nd dam release coloured the waters.

Birds took fast and quick advantage. For a while, at least. But only for a while as the dam was then released again, this time in full force, and now the water became very muddied really quickly. The torrent intensified and waters rose very quickly to again cover those ‘bird friendly’ perches that had previously been exposed.

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Nice dive… but no fish this time.

Our friend the Stork Bill (above and left) was struggling to make good on his superior hunting and angling skills after that catch, as the fish could no longer clearly be seen.

 

Foray after foray into the water left him fishless.

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No fish but still looking majestic, exiting the water and taking wing back to the hunting perch.

Time after time the flight back to the perch was with renewed ambition for the next dive for its’ prey.

This went on for around half an hour and eventually the waters receded to levels even beneath what they had recently been. No angling birds were present now and the Stork Billed Kingfisher left in search of better hunting opportunities.

I thought I’d have little chance to photograph much until the tide returned more water to the scene and fish stocks may be replenished anew.

And then it came. And this beast was HUGE. I’m guessing head to toe this specimen would have been 2 metres long and with a considerable weight… certainly over 15Kgs by my estimation. This was the largest Water Monitor Lizard I had seen in Pasir Ris. I imagine for Singaporeans these creatures are somewhat “passé”, as they are relatively common. but to a European, they’re always fascinating – we have no creatures like this in the UK!!!

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“Tasting” the surroundings… Water Monitor’s sense much through their forked tongue.

I’d photographed them before, swimming capably, often flicking out that tongue to ‘taste’ (sense) their surroundings.

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In search of… prey, nests with eggs, chicks, etc.

 

Despite their size, they are consummate climbers and do so to pillage birds’ nests, to feast on eggs, or indeed chicks. My devious blog posting “David meets Goliath” narrates how a Stork Billed Kingfisher attacked a Water Monitor Lizard, most likely as an act to protect a nearby nest.

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On the day where this dam was again released, and once the waters had subsided, the tide was very low and much of what would typically be submersed was clearly visible. To my surprise, this very large Water Monitor emerged and had interesting strategies for taking full advantage of those rushing waters having ebbed.

The lizard clearly had something in mind and I was surprised to see this beast use its’ head to dislodge rocks, some of which I’d estimate to be in excess of 2 kilos. A flick of the tongue, on towards another group of rocks, and more dislodgment. A repeated pattern. I wondered what it was doing and had no idea that a feast awaited this creature…

It seems that fish, especially tilapia, had decided to take refuge under these rocks, in order to escape the unassailable flow of water that the unleashed dam had created. I can understand this in hindsight, as this flowing water would have been all but impossible for a fish to controllably swim in – it would have been swept clean away, most likely to become battered against rocks or similar during the unplanned journey. The fish were, however, now trapped in pools beneath these rocks, and had no ability to escape into the main waterway as it had totally receded. I could only see rocks and had no visibility of these pools beneath them. The Water Monitor Lizard, however, was using its’ tongue to ‘taste the air’, getting full sensory input as to where prey might be.

A39T9840-impAnd then they’d stop. Taste again. And move large rocks to investigate a potential bounty.

Like kingfishers, the ‘eyelids’, (those protective membranes that shield the eyes), would be called upon often whilst dining. I imagine this is to protect the eyes from the thrashing of it’s prey.

A39T9969-impIt was evident that the lizard was adept at fishing yet at times less than adept at holding it’s prey.

This tilapia was making a ‘break for it’ and had managed to wriggle out of the lizards’ clasp. But not for long.

A39T9974-impThe lizard quickly followed the tilapias’ fall and snapped its’ jaws closed to reclaim the meal, just barely managing to trap the fish in its’ clasp by getting hold of the top fin of the fish.

SO in this instance, there was little chance of escape for this fish, despite its’ valiant dash for freedom.

A39T9839-impThe Water Monitor Lizard dined well this afternoon.

It seems that maybe a shoal of tilapia had sought refuge in these rocks and perhaps normally this would have ben an excellent strategy for mitigating the unnavigable water and channels.

A39T9985-impBut not on this day.

Fish after fish were located, uncovered and unceremoniously devoured with great speed. I wondered just how big this creature’s appetite might be.

A39T9990-impBut the gorging went on… sheer opportunism at its’ natural best.

I’d never seen a Water Monitor Lizard behave like this before.

8D3A1043-impI had seen them fight previously, in Sungei Buloh wetland reserve in Singapore. They get aggressive.  Real Aggressive. And I’d not want to be on the receiving end of their jaws, claws or teeth. But they are very hardy creatures. This portrait shot reflects one that has been in a fight and has not emerged unscathed. Yet it seems unperturbed. Even when red ants are all over its’ wounds.

So what an afternoon I had in Pasir Ris! All manner of birds getting their daily fill of fish, and then some! And that was followed by having the chance to observe quite an awesome Water Monitor Lizard. What a treat! I’m glad i stayed around that day!

Happy Days 🙂

 

When is a common kingfisher not a common kingfisher?

The answer is simple… when it is not a Common Kingfisher, but actually is a common kingfisher. Confused? I’m not surprised…

In Singapore, we’re blessed with several species of Kingfishers. Recently I posted a blogpost about a River Kingfisher, the “Stork Billed Kingfisher” whereas today’s subject is a Tree Kingfisher, the “White Throated Kingfisher” (WTKF). In Singapore they’re very common, whereas the Common Kingfisher, a completely different bird, ironically isn’t so common and only graces our shores between September to March.  So what’s in a name?

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Common Kingfisher, migrant in Singapore

Common Kingfishers in Singapore are the same as we see in the UK… after all, the UK really only has that one species of kingfisher.

These birds are sadly not with us year round, as they are really pretty.  The example (left) was taken earlier this year and shot from a distance of around 30 metres.

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White Throated Kingfisher – Singapore’s most common kingfisher species.

Singapore’s “common” kingfisher, from a frequency of distribution perspective,  is called the White Throated Kingfisher and they are very widespread indeed. As they have evolved into “tree kingfishers”, WTKF’s are happy to take fish, though they more commonly dine on other prey. This includes large insects, amphibians, small reptiles such as ghekos and other lizards, to name but a few.

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The “sentry” stands guard on a man made perch…

Most anywhere you go around the island, you’ll see these birds, whether in urban, forest / jungle or around waterways. The bird is highly adaptable and for its’ size is sufficiently aggressive to stake out territories in which it hunts and feeds.

They’re most commonly seen perched, as if ‘standing guard’ over their hunting areas that have been staked out as their own.  They’ll happily be every bit as at home perched on a man made structure, such as steel fencing, street signs and the like, and this is where they are often seen most.

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A ‘more natural’ perch and pose.

Additionally,  they’ll undertake their guard duties and hunting activities from natural perches, and often within proximity to urban life and dwellings.

There are rich pickings to be had in such habitats for a bird such as this, who despite its’ hunting skills, has evolved to master scavenging type feeding activity without any problems whatsoever. I imagine this is why its’ distribution across the island is so widespread.

Some of these WTKF’s live in very close proximity to waterways and in these instances have a greater affinity to behave more like a river kingfisher. Fish becomes elevated as a food source… not to the exclusion of other food, but as a higher priority.

I’ve been watching WTKF’s fishing for some time now, and unlike river kingfishers, it is clear that the WTKF does not prefer to get itself wet. As a result it has developed hunting strategies and techniques that differ materially from river kingfishers. The latter dive with extreme gusto, causing the water to erupt, the bird to momentarily disappear, to shortly thereafter emerge from the water with either its’ prey, or obvious disappointment. WTKF’s do not undergo this perpetual diving / emerging / feeding / drying / preening / diving cycle; their hunting forays seem less ambitious, more conservative, perhaps practical even, and definitely less flamboyant. Or so I thought…

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Low Trajectory flight over water espying fish close to the surface.

The WTKF chooses to have a very flat trajectory over the water, as it searches out fish that are either on, or very near to, the surface. The bird has seen activity when perched and then proceeds to “zoom in” for a closer look in the place(s) where they believe their prey will most likely be able to be caught.

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Fish jump out of the water in alarm as the WTKF embarks on its’ hunting foray…

At times the bird is in such close proximity to fish that are near the surface that the potential prey is clearly visible. In the picture (left) you can clearly see the fish jumping out of the WTKF’s flight path as they deploy their avoidance strategies in order to avert becoming the ‘next meal’.

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Hunting by “touch”, skimming the surface with dexterity and precision of flight.

The bird at times adopts strategies somewhat similar to “Skimmers” in India, for example, and upon seeing prey on its’ flight path, proceeds to dip the bill in the water in order to locate and entrap their prey.

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An “in motion, fly-by catch” sees a fish captured with some precision.

When prey is located, the WTKF will then proceed to arch the head backwards to catch the fish, all whilst still I’m motion, and all the time remaining as dry as possible! The flight may be slowed at this point  to enable the subtle entrapment of the fish in the birds’ mandibles (kingfishers typically fly at around 40- 50+ Kmph in a straight line).

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Gotcha!

Once the prey is caught, then the bird adjusts its’ posture to remain in flight and regain a more traditional flight pattern, all the time making sure that the prey is held onto tightly.

The prey is pulled free from its’ watery home and both bird and fish take to the air, one willingly and the other with far less enthusiasm :).

 

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OK… let’s go eat!

After that it’s merely a case of returning to a perch where the meal can be enjoyed in peace.

These birds may well be common, but I never tire of seeing them proudly perched aloft, surveying their patch, hunting therein and defending their territory with vigour and astonishing volume when agitated or angry.

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On lookout duty…

So there you have it.

A common kingfisher in Singapore that’s not actually a Common Kingfisher.

And certainly one that does not behave in traditional kingfisher ways in its’ pursuit of prey.

 

 

I hope I get more chances to photograph these birds in future…

Happy Days 🙂