14 January 2011

Documenting seabirds that pass through Singapore

Seabirds spend most of their time at sea, most coming to land only to nest. While the migratory shorebirds that visit our mudflats and shores are more familiar, few may realise that seabirds also migrate through Singapore's waters.
Nine major migratory waterbird flyways in the world,
Singapore is part of the East-Australian Flyway
from Partnership for the East Asian-Asutralasian Flyway

A team of intrepid observers have made an effort to document the marvellous seabirds that pass through Singapore waters.
Pomarine Skua photo by Con Foley
Colin Poole shared their recent encounters. With his kind permission, I reproduce his email below, with only a few of the awesome photos taken by Con Foley of these amazing ocean-going birds. Colin also shares information on how you can participate in this effort too!

Email from Colin Poole:

Over the past few months there appears to have been an increasing interest in seabirds in and around Singapore waters, and a number of birders have been out on boats to see what can be found.

This seems to be the first time this has been done in earnest since early pioneering work in the 90's, much of which was done by Richard Ollington et al. from the slower and open-decked ferries of the time.

Kim Seng earlier posted to this list the results of an October 2010 trip to Horsburgh Lighthouse, and to my knowledge there have been at least five other similar such boat surveys in parts of the Singapore Straits since October 2010, of which I have been fortunate to be on four.

Preliminary results indicate that both Swinhoe's Storm Petrels and Aleutian Terns were seen in numbers in October, but have now moved on or are present only in very small numbers.
Aleutian Tern photo by Con Foley

Swinhoe's Storm Petrel photo by Con Foley

This is perhaps what would be expected of the former on passage to winter in the Indian Ocean, but perhaps not of the latter which is known to winter just across the Straits at Pulau Karimun in the Riau Archipelago?
Long-tailed Skua photo by Con Foley

In addition two jaegers have been recorded, both north of eastern Batam, a Long-tailed in October and a Pomarine in November. These species are both currently classed as vagrants to the area, but based on the growing understanding of their occurrence elsewhere in the region, maybe they'll turn out to be more regular as people look more? Great pictures of all these birds can be seen on Con Foley's amazing web site.

After this initial success, the plan now of several of us is to continue such trips throughout the year to try and get a more comprehensive picture of the status and occurrence of seabirds around Singapore. Much of the earlier work was primarily in spring and autumn, so who knows what might be found at other times of year?

Dr Geoffrey Davison of NParks has ensured that such seabird surveys are now being integrated into the ongoing Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Surveys of NParks, so all data gathered will be put to additional good use, and in addition NParks will support some surveys.

There may potentially be some additional places for volunteers on the NParks sponsored surveys, and anybody who wants to register interest to participate if spaces are available should send a personal email direct to Geoffrey at Geoffrey_Davison@nparks.gov.sg

I would encourage anybody going out to sea looking for seabirds to use a GPS (or iphone!) to record accurate locality data for what they see (this helps also to determine what’s in or out of Singapore waters!), and if possible a camera. Few of us can produce results as good as Con, but photographs have already proved extremely valuable in confirming some potentially complex species identifications, particularly of the jaegers.

Then, in addition to sending information to the relevant local bodies, please also forward the data to Geoffrey so it can be included the bigger picture analysis for NParks.

Finally, given the growing interest that is out there now in seabirds within the Indo-Pacific Region (roughly encompassing mainland South-east Asia, Indonesia, the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Andaman Sea), Nick Brickle (Indonesia), Dave Bakewell (Malaysia) and I thought it was time we created a regional mailing listserve to share information. I would encourage anybody interested to join and share their experiences. To subscribe send an email to indo-pacific-seabirds-subscribe@yahoogroups.co.uk

Colin Poole

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