Conversations: Bird Watching with Ann Ang
Have you tried bird watching before? We’re rather enthusiastic about this topic because of how therapeutic it is to spend time amidst nature and spotting movements in the trees.
The dynamics of bird watching is slightly different from looking at animals in the zoo, and the fun comes from the myriad different experiences that are unpredictable each time.
We followed Ann Ang, a local author, educator, and bird watcher, and traipsed around Chinese and Japanese Gardens, two of her favourite bird-watching haunts in Singapore. Armed with binoculars and excitement (we could hardly contain), we set out on our little expedition slightly after sun rise.
Read our interview with her below.
Super Farmers: What is bird watching to you? Is it a hobby, an interest, a balance to your hectic life?
Ann: I feel like it is more like a hobby. I started out bird watching 7 years ago, and at that time I had wanted to spot as many different species as I could. There’s a term in the bird watching world – twitcher – used on people who would travel distances just to check a bird off their checklist. I used to be a twitcher, and would try to go bird watching every week.
Now I’m more relaxed about it. I like the process of bird watching, and I spot birds for the pleasure of it instead of just checking off lists. But of course, I still feel the thrill when I spot lesser-sighted species!
Super Farmers: Do you have favourite bird watching spots?
Ann: I think one great thing about bird watching is that you can really do it anywhere. Like I said, there are people who can travel to places just to check birds off their lists, but if you simply revel in the process of bird spotting then you can get all the joy anywhere.
Super Farmers: If you had to choose, what bird would you liken yourself to and why?
Ann: If I may, I’d liken myself to a White-throated Kingfisher. I feel like even though they are there, people don’t really see them. I also think people often think that they know all about the White-throated Kingfishers, but you can always still find out new things about it. It’s unobtrusive, but interesting once you get to know it. It’s actually a pretty funny bird, which I think is quite like myself, if I dare say. [laughs]
Super Farmers: I understand that apart from being an avid bird watcher, you are also an educator and an author. How do you balance your busy schedule and still find time to breathe and slow down?
Ann: I just have to take time out intentionally. I think, a lot of times I’m just lazy instead of being busy. [laughs] So it’s helpful to schedule it, write it down, and make the trip. I know I’d be rewarded at the end of it.
Super Farmers: Any advice to our readers on bird watching?
Ann: Just go out and try it. If you have always wanted to, don’t wait and don’t need to have doubts. Get a couple of like-minded friends and go to a park, follow the sound of birds and try spotting them. I was hooked on it after my first bird watching session; I think anyone would feel the same.
Otherwise, simply join an association to get started. There is a Bird Group – a special interest group by Nature Society (Singapore) that organizes bird watching sessions at various places across the country that the general public can participate in.
You can bird-watch with your naked eye, with your binoculars, or with your camera lenses. You experience different things from each medium, so test out the various mediums and find your preferred experience.
It was a mellow morning as it had rained throughout the previous night. We were lucky because the birds were all out to play after the rain had stopped. According to Ann, the golden hours for bird watching is between 7.30am to 9.00am and even then, there is a possibility we wouldn’t be able to spot anything. Our little adventure was nothing but fruitful. We spotted a total of 24 different species of birds, and even managed to catch sight of two of the most common raptors in Singapore – the Brahminy Kite and the White-bellied Sea Eagle.
In addition, Ann also showed us the nesting area of the Herons, which were in plain sight and had in fact dominated some of the trees around. But had she not pointed it out, we would have missed it and dismissed the distinctive calls of the Herons as common birds flying past.
In the process of spotting birds, Ann doesn’t forget to appreciate her surroundings – saying hi to the resident cat at one of the Zen Gardens, taking pictures of bridges, wondering about the history and purposes of certain structures, and even cheering up at the sight of sunbathing Terrapins.
Finally, Ann also introduced the different available apps we can download onto our smartphones to help identify birds. For example, an app called Birds of Singapore is a free app that acts like a portable guide for bird watchers. Xeno-canto is also a website that shares bird songs that avid bird watchers can listen to for free, so that you can learn to identify birds by their songs next time! A tip from Ann - bird watchers carry a bird guide around because sometimes apps do not show all the details of birds, so it is important to counter check with pictures and identifiers displayed in these guides.
Above it all, it was more than just a therapeutic bird watching adventure with Ann, but a great learning experience as we talk to her about taking time out to do something that truly brings her joy. Whether you’re an aspiring bird watcher or not, Ann’s advice of just going out to do it is a really useful one for all facets of life.
For those interested in the 24 birds that we’ve spotted, here’s a list—
- Chinese Pond Heron
- Javan Mynah
- Yellow Bittern
- Zebra Dove
- Pink Necked Green Pigeon
- Pied Imperial Pigeon
- Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker
- Olive Backed Sunbird
- Laced Woodpecker
- Yellow Vented Bulbul
- Pied Fantail
- Black Naped Oriole
- Grey Heron
- Striated Heron
- White-throated Kingfisher
- Asian Drongo Cuckoo
- White-bellied Sea Eagle
- Brahminy Kite
- Spotted Dove
- Long-tailed Parakeet
- Rock Pigeon
- White-Breasted Waterhen
- Asian Glossy Starling
- Brown Shrike
*author’s note: Ann Ang’s answers have been paraphrased, but fact-checked for accuracy.
Written by Ange Chua
Edited by Cynthea Lam
Ange Chua is an aspiring bird-watcher trying to fix her black thumbs. When she is not writing, you'd find her drinking tea out of teacups or reading in bed with her dog. She thinks her spirit animal is an alpaca.