Von Schrenck’s Bittern (Ixobrychus eurhythmus)
Corporation Drive, 18th November 2013

This particular carcass has an interesting story. Von Schrenck’s Bittern is considered an uncommon winter visitor and passage migrant in Singapore, with the last recorded individual being a single female in the mangroves at Pasir Ris Park in late April-early May this year (i.e. during the tail end of the 2012-2013 migratory season).

This individual, a male, might be the first local record of the species for the 2013-2014 season. Charmaine Chong encountered the carcass as she was leaving for work and tweeted a photograph of it (the image at the top). This was then forwarded to me by Justin Chan.

Once I was able to view the photo, I shared the details with my friend David Tan, who is a research student from the Avian Genetics Lab at the National University of Singapore (NUS), and who has been going around collecting bird carcasses reported all over Singapore.

David was subsequently able to retrieve the carcass, and took more photos, which he shared on Facebook. The bittern has been sampled for DNA and added to the Zoological Reference Collection of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR), for future research purposes. The cause of death is still unknown, although it might have collided with a building, or simply died from exhaustion while on migration.

It’s especially sad to think that a migrant like this Von Schrenck’s Bittern could have come from as far away as Japan, Russia’s Amur region, or northern China, and survived all sorts of challenges along the way, only to die in Singapore. The possibility that this bird’s journey came to a premature end because it crashed into a building or window makes it even more heartbreaking; how many more of Singapore’s birds, both residents and migrants, are killed by buildings?

It also makes one wonder about all the rare birds that could be seeking refuge or simply passing through various parts of Singapore, with their presence going unreported because people in the area don’t initially realise their potential significance to ornithologists and birdwatchers.

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