Yong Ding Li has been looking at birds since he was 12 years old. Now that he is reading life sciences at the National University of Singapore, his knowledge of birds is definitely beyond the plumage. Yes, he started off as a typical twitcher, listing the species he saw and compiling list after list of the different locations he visited – in Singapore as well as in Southeast Asia. To date, he has ticked off 1,217 species, but his recent trip to Sri Lanka has boosted the number to 1,280.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a twitcher. After all, most birdwatchers start off as twitchers. Except Ding Li went beyond twitching and is now observing birds, not just looking at them.
His exposure to academia during the last few years has deepened his appreciation of the avian world. And his knowledge is definitely not confined to guide books only but also to ornithological texts and journals articles. His recent writings reflect this and I refer in particular to his paper on “Bird Species New to Science from Southeast Asia – The Last Ten Years.” I am sure Ding Li will be happy to send you his manuscript if you e-mail him at email@example.com. Check out his website to view his bird writings and drawings – yes, he is also an artist, although he prefers to be known as an illustrator.
Indeed, Ding Li has proven to be a rare birder who is fast becoming an ornithologist in the real sense of the word. That is him above, on the left, with the Himalayan Griffon (Gyps himalayensis) that appeared in Changi on 23rd January 2006. He is currently attached to the Conservation Ecology Laboratory of the Department of Biological Sciences, NUS. He is reading for his Honours degree under the supervision of Prof Navjot S Sodhi, the internationally renowned ornithologist and conservation biologist. Ding Li’s academic interest is avian fauna.
Singapore has only a short history of birdwatching (Wee, 2006). Introduced during the colonial era, the active birdwatchers were then mainly members of the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch) that later morphed into the Nature Society (Singapore). The society then had a loose following of birdwatchers and it was only in 1984 that a formal Bird Group was constituted. The core leaders then were Clive Briffett, Christopher Hails and Sandra Sabapathy. Of these, only Chris was an ornithologist, being recruited by the government to attract birds back to the urban environment.
This newly formed Bird Group initiated activities like annual bird race, water bird census and bird count to attract members. The committee also started the Singapore Avifauna to record bird sightings and updated the checklist of birds. It is heartening to note that all these activities have been faithfully carried out every single year until today.
When Chris left for WWF a few years later, the birding community was led by recreational birders. And stress was naturally on recreational birding, with birdwatchers just looking at birds.
This may at last be changing. Ding Li is now editor of Avifauna, a privately circulated newsletter put out by the Bird Group of the Nature Society (Singapore). Hopefully, this is his introduction to further involvement in the leadership of the Bird Group. Should this happen, there is an excellent chance that the local birdwatching scene would experience new, challenging and innovative activities.
(The image of Ding Li was taken from the NUS’s Conservation Ecology Lab website while that of him with the Himalayan Griffon is by Wang Luan Keng.)
Wee, Y. C., 2006. Forty years of birding and ornithological research in Singapore. Birding Asia 5:12-15.