On the Monday morning of 10 November 2008, I lingered on at home because of the rain....and it paid off. Happened to look out of the windows while working on my computer, and I saw a raptor fly into the grove of trees in front of my house at around 10am. However, the bird got lost in the thick foliage. So I zipped downstairs and after some 15 min of scanning the trees in the constant drizzle, I found the bird huddled high up in the branches above, its back towards me.
I had just met bird photographer Lee Tiah Khee the day before at the Raptor Watch dinner, so I thought of him straight away to help photograph the bird since he works next to where I live (as chief photographer for Chinese newspaper Lianhe Zaobao). He kindly complied...and being the pro photographer, he found us a better angle to snap the bird's front view. The bird was at the same perch, taking shelter from the rain, for at least one hour.
After consulting local veteran birders Yong Ding Li, Alan Owyong and Lim Kim Chuah, they confirmed that it was a resident (non-migratory) Oriental Honey Buzzard (OHB), subspecies torquatus (Pernis ptilorhynchus torquatus). See images A & B taken by Gloria & Tiah Khee respectively. The torquatus race is the resident subspecies of OHB found in Southeast Asia, with breeding records from the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo. In Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, it is regarded as an uncommon resident.
Image B: OHB torquatus race seen in Toa Payoh, Singapore. Photo by Lee Tiah Khee.
In comparison, the commonly-seen migratory OHB is called Pernis ptilorhynchus orientalis and it breeds in Ussuriland, Siberia, visiting Singapore only in the northern winter months (September to March). So, if you see an OHB in the summer months (outside the migratory season), it is likely the torquatus race. Confusion arises when both the orientalis and torquatus races are seen in the winter.
Alan Owyong’s email got me excited:
“I went back and looked at a picture of a 17.5-week old OHB torquatus sent in by Chiu Sein Chiong from Ipoh. It has a very similar plumage (see image C). Several pairs have successfully bred on a tree (by the golf course) in front of his house. I went up there last year to do a video of the fledging. So this bird must have been dispersed from Malaysia. This is quite an exciting find as most of us are not familiar with this SEA (Southeast Asian) resident subspecies. If there are more being dispersed, we may even have our own breeding pair. Gloria, keep looking around the woods at your place.”
After a google search, I found 3 entries on our local BESG blog of the aforementioned breeding:
Notice that the Ipoh torquatus OHB has a brown face instead of the usual grey in the migratory orientalis subspecies. According to Chiu, the Toa Payoh torquatus OHB is too young to determine its sex. Ding Li helped me map out the various differentiating features between the torquatus and orientalis races:
Oriental Honey Buzzard: Comparison of two races seen in Singapore
* Long Head Crest
* Rufous Neck
After posting this blog on the various Singapore/Malaysia bird forums, I had a flutter of responses which have been reproduced below, contributing much to the understanding of the resident torquatus race. In response, I have corrected my blog entry above to incorporate the pointers below:
From Yong Ding Li, Singapore:
Gloria, that's a good sighting, the torquatus is less common compared to the migratory race especially for Singapore. I don't think the species split has been adopted here in Malaysia yet.