Friday, 12 June 2009

Downtown Singapore Birds, 2008

House Swift

I awoke, refreshed and at a normal hour, to a view of downtown Singapore’s towers bar-charting against a clear blue sky. Below me, separating the hotel from apartments opposite, an alleyway hosted swifts. I grabbed my Davison, the most compact field guide I had found for the area, and immediately discovered its shortcomings.

It is a photographic guide and, no matter how good the shots, they don't compare with drawings for reliable identification. It wasn't too bad for these birds: their white rumps and throats narrowed them down to a choice between fork-tailed and house swift. The brief text persuaded me that house was the more likely and the world list was off again, up to 851. Even so, I wished I had my Robson guide to the whole of South-East Asia.
Sadly, it was too weighty and bulky to justify its inclusion for a mere two days.

I walked into town via the sports and riverfront complex at Kallang, logging little egret, common sandpiper, spotted dove, collared kingfisher, Pacific swallow and tree sparrow amongst the usual alien city birds. I added yellow-vented bulbul and black-naped oriole to my life list and finally, next to probably the last patch of native jungle downtown, Chinese pond-heron. This area held me before I plunged into the glass and steel of the city. It seemed so fertile, so promising, so mysterious.

Then I spent the rest of the day being the tourist, gawking at the skyscrapers, refusing to fork up $20 for the Flyer, throwing peanut shells on the floor at Raffles (at $17 a beer I felt entitled to dump my household rubbish there) and eating in Little India.

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