Saturday, January 31, 2009

Monitor lizards and company at Sungei Buloh

It's a Saturday morning and I'm at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve to guide a group of girls from PLMGSS. The trip was made special not only with the company of fellow students but also by the company of the flora and fauna in the mangroves.

Mangroves and Wetlands are considered as one of the 14 biomes listed in the world and it is amazing to be able to visit it at our own country in the comforts of the boardwalk.

Early in the morning while the little egrets are wading in river banks, suddenly a dog ran down and started to go around the birds. I did not witness the dog harassing the birds too much though.

I guess the main character of today's trip is definitely the Malayan water monitor lizard (Varanus salvator). They can be found almost at every part of the reserve, even at the pond of the river.

Or even at the side of the boardwalk...

Or even BENEATH the boardwalk as spotted by the girls.

Monitor lizards are like vaccum cleaners of the mangroves because they can eat anything that they can swallow. Their broad diet ranges from tiny insects, to crabs, molluscs, snakes, eggs (of birds and crocodiles), fishes, birds, rodents, small mouse deer, even other monitor lizards. They even eat rubbish, human faeces, and even dead bodies!!!

The special find of the day must be this pair of hugging monitor lizards spotted by the teacher! It might look bizzare to you at first, but as for me I knew of such a behaviour because Siva showed our class before of a video on them hugging with each other.

According to Ruo Yu's account at the RMBR intern blog, she mentioned:

"Also caught wrestling in action were two male monitor lizards. The video clip was shown again with excited ooos and ahhs from the students as Mr. Siva pointed out the object of the conflict - a female monitor lizard slipping of coyly into the mangrove waters. The males battle it out by just pushing each other about through a hugging (not mating) position. The winner would be the one who is able to hold on the longest without falling over. Following this, we were told how a scratch would be fatal to these creatures as the forest they live in are full of bacteria and flies that carry diseases. One can just die from an infection of a shallow cut. Fortunately, the battle doesn't involve hurting each other a lot; only a lot of pushing around. Nevertheless, this certainly makes me all the more thankful I'm human and living in sanitary urban areas."

Interesting isn't it?!

At the pond in front of the visitor centre, you might think that it might be a boring place to check out for birds. You are wrong! There are many professional photographers with the telescopic looking cameras doing ambushing. They are waiting for birds to land on the Simpoh Air plant and indeed, I witnessed different types of birds including the pink neck green pigeon.

And just at the pond in front of the visitor centre you can find several types of animals.

Like this White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus). They eat mainly on seeds, insects and small fish. They also nibble on worms and small snails; and snack on shoots and roots of marsh plants.

This shy bird found in the pond is a yellow bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis). Thanks Ivan for the id.

There was also this motionless common greenback (Hylarana erythraea) which I didn't really notice until much later.

Later at the boardwalk during the guided tour, the class witnessed a plantain squirrel (Callosciurus notatus) crawling past the boardwalk in front of us! It was my first time to get so close to this cute squirrel. It's action was quick and thus no photograph. One of the students got it on her camera though.

The squirrel was carrying materials like dried leaves and twigs on its mouth which I wondered why. After browsing through the book "Private Lives: An Exposé of Singapore’s Mangroves", I found a photo of a squirrel also carrying materials and it explained that it is for its nest, which is usually built on a fork in the tree.

At the end of the trip, it was time to take a group photo with the wonderful girls at the gallery.

And the mud-lobster mound display proves to be quite popular, good that they now know the importance of mud lobsters as keystone species of the mangroves.

There was a time for nature reflection for the girls to draw or write about today's trip and I was impressed at one of the girl's artistic talent.

We were surprised to also find a cotton stainer bug inside one of their bags which we mysteriously don't know how it fell inside. We didn't see these bugs at the sea hibiscus tress today though. Nevertheless, it was a great chance for them to see it alive before we returned this distressed bug back.

Towards the end of the trip, we were also fascinated by the different flora like this Singapore Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum) with the pretty purplish flower that only last one day.

Another flower that also last for a day will be this Simpoh Air (Dillenia suffruticosa) flower that opens at 3am.

Most of us still wanted to stay longer to explore this fascinating place but we had to go eventually after a final group photo at the entrance.

Thanks girls and monitor lizards for your company on this great morning out at Sungei Buloh!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rare sand dollar at Lazarus?

Yesterday, I was back at the reclaimed sandy lagoon at Lazarus Island which I visited one month ago.

The tide wasn't very low but I found many more common sea stars (Archaster typicus) on top of the only two found during the previous trip. It was exciting to see many of these sea stars colonizing this artificial beach.

I only had a quick walk around because the drizzle turned into a downpour. Nevertheless, there were several Creeper snails (Family Cerithiidae),Dubious nerite snail (Clithon oualaniensis), Sand collars of moon snails (Family Naticidae), Horn-eyed ghost crab (Ocypode ceratophthalmus), Spoon seagrass (Halophila ovalis), and also many Cake sand dollar (Arachnoides placenta).

What surprises me are several dead tests of sand dollars.

A closer look at these tests reveal that these does not belong to the Cake sand dollars based on its size and shape.

The underside reveals the the middle portion is hollow.

I suspect that this is the rare Laganum sand dollar (Laganum depressum) and the test matches the description of this Laganum sand dollar at the Wildfacts page.

"Body diameter 4-6cm. Somewhat pentagonal rather than circular. On the upperside it is thick at the edges and at the centre, and thinner elsewhere, creating a shallow circular depression around the centre."

This rare sand dollar is listed as 'Vulnerable' on the Red List of threatened animals of Singapore.

I look forward to check out this lagoon in the future during a lower spring tide to find them alive than the washed up tests of these rare sand dollars.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cycling to Pasir Ris

It's Chinese New Year Day 2 and to combat against all the new year goodies and good food, my brother and I decided to challenge ourselves by cycling from home to Pasir Ris Park.

It involves cycling along several park connectors and above is the route we took.

After some distance of cycling we reached Siglap Park Connector where there was a part we had to cross an overhead bridge over PIE expressway.

Something underneath the overhead bridge caught my attention because there was a huge carpenter bee (Xylocopa sp.) flying around the flowers of this vine.

This flower actually belongs to Thunbergia grandifolia, common name, Trumpet Vine which originated from India.

According to the Garden Voices website, the carpenter bee (Xylocopa spp.) has established a monophilic relationship with this flowering vine. Monophilic means that pollination of this Trumpet Vine is almost exclusively carried out by carpenter bees. Unfortunately, I didn't manage to take a photograph of the bee.

Soon, I pushed my bicycle over the overhead bridge and crossed over the expressway towards the other side where the Bedok Town Park is. It was a hilly route though along the way before we reached Bedok Reservoir area.

Most of us know about Bedok Reservoir but I guess less of us realize there is yet another large waterbody across the road. It looks wild with many birds calls. Seems like a nice place and I wonder why it was left wild or unused since our country needs land or water body for reservoir quite badly.

There are some nice looking flowering plants around like this yellow flowers that look like candles in the air.

Update: Indeed they are called Candle Bush (Senna alata). Ria's Sungei Buloh page listed as Cassia alata but the current accepted name is Senna alata as Cassia is the old name for this plant. Thanks to Alex Yee for sharing all these!

Next we turned from Tampines Ave 10 to Tampines Ave 9.

And we hit the Tampines Mountain Biking Trail! I've not been here before and I cannot resist not going in to take a look.

And the inside seems to have good trails for mountain bikers to have a good time.

With some parts of the trail modified for more stunts to be carried out with your bike, not for me though.

I would prefer to bike myself in trails that look more natural.

We got out of the trail as soon as we entered because there was a longer way to go, yes, to Pasir Ris.

Following along the sides of Sungei Tampines, we were on our way to Pasir Ris Beach. There were many birds along the way like the egrets and kingfishers.

We were thrilled to make it to Pasir Ris Park and enjoy the sights of the mangroves there.

The mangroves leads to the sea off the shore of Pasir Ris where many marine life still thrives.

Soon, we headed back and stopped midway for breakfast at Ikea. We were recharged and sped back home for the later CNY visitation.

What a great CNY morning to cycle instead of stuffing ourselves with more food. Haha. Will try this route again.

If you are interested in cycling around Singapore with the park connectors, check out this Cycling Around Singapore page.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Birds of Kallang River

I'm back with my bike to cycle to new places that I've not tried. This time I wanted to try cycling up to Bishan Park along the Kallang Park Connector. In fact this is not my first time on this Connector. The first time was a couple of Sundays ago during a morning when I cycled with my brother. However, the portion between Kallang MRT and after the PIE across towards Potong Pasir is highly discontinuous with PLENTY of roads to cross, detours and overhead bridges to carry your bike across. By the time we crossed PIE, my brother gave up and we didnt make it to Bishan.

This afternoon, I was solo (yes my brother refused to join me already :P) cycling another way up to the point we stopped the other time and started from there.

Today's ride was a very smooth one and it was tranquil cycling beside Singapore's longest river, Kallang River. Yes, Kallang River stretches all the way from Marina Bay to Lower Pierce Reservoir at Thomson Road.

In the river that has concrete walls, there are plenty of fishes of small sizes. You need to look out for black patches in the river.

And also larger fishes viewed from top. Unfortunately due to the murkiness of rivers, fishes are almost impossible to photograph.

It was interesting to be able to cycle underneath the Central Expressway (CTE).

The path towards Bishan Park only has one overhead bridge to cross at Braddell Road. But it is so friendly to have the sides paved for us to push our bikes up and down. So it was no (or little) sweat!

Along the way, I was surprised to encounter several different kinds of birds!

The most common bird sighted today must be this Little Egret (Egretta garzetta).

Unfortunately, without the 10x zoom of my precious TZ1 Lumix camera, bird photographing became a huge challenge. Please forgive me for the noisy and unclear photographs of the birds.

The Little Egret is considered to be the smallest and most common egret in Singapore.
Our lovely country receives a good concentration of these migrants during the winter period and therefore they can be seen at almost many islandwide locations.

I just simply adore their bright yellow feet. :-)

These egrets can also stand on one leg. Haha.

Another bird encountered will be this White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus). They are considered as the most common of the Rail family in Singapore, often heard before they are seen. Their loud quarrelsome calls sound like their Malay name, Ruak Ruak.

It was quite a treat to also spot the White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis) which is my first time actually. This bird is amazing in terms of its broad diet including crabs, frogs, skinks, lizards, grasshoppers, beetles, termites, scorpions, centipedes, rats, mice, voles, nestling birds and even snakes up to 65cm long!

Another kingfisher spotted will be this Collared Kingfisher (Halcyon chloris). According to the Sungei Buloh fact sheet, this interesting kingfisher has a variable laughing calls from a soft quiet chuckle to harsh loud maniacal kek-kek, kek-kek. At rest, has a gentle chup-kree.

Next bird to be sighted along the canals of Kallang River will be this Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos). I didn't really expect this bird to be found in canals until I went to the fact sheets and it said that Common Sandpipers run along the water's edge, visually locating prey on the surface and not by probing in the mud. Thus they avoid soft mud and prefer to forage on rocky coastlines and breakwaters. They may even forage in concrete drainage ditches, and inland grasslands.

According to the book "Private Lives: An Exposé of Singapore’s Mangroves", this Striated heron (Butorides striatus) is usually encountered even in canals like Kallang River, in addition to mangrove forests, ponds, mudflats, estuaries, inland reservoirs, streams and coasts.

Do not belittle this bird because it is intelligent enough to intentionally float pieces of leaf or twig or other food such as bread to lure fishes.

Soon, I drew nearer to Bishan estate as I pass by beneath the MRT Track.

In no time, I arrived to Bishan Park. It was nice to see some freshwater ponds which are definitely great places to look out for dragonflies and butterflies. Next time I might try spending more time there.

As the weather look not too clear with black clouds, I quickly headed back. While waiting for the traffic light next to Bishan Park, it was cool to see this special traffic light only for bicycles. The pedestrian traffic light is just a stone's throw away.

I love cycling in Singapore, it is not only an exercise and an environmental friendly mode of transport, I can also enjoy the nature around even urban areas. How I wish our government can make cycling more user friendly as a mode of transport than trying to eradicate the problem of too many cars in our roads by placing more ERPs which eventually makes many Singaporeans grumpy.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mysterious bubbling sand at Changi

Last Tuesday I was at Changi Beach and I encountered this phenomenon that I have no idea what was happening.

Please play the video (13 seconds in length) to take a look. The sound at the background comes from the wind, not from the bubbling itself, so please ignore it.

There was a tidal pool of continuous bubbling sand and I was surprised and puzzled. I tried to use a twig to check the bubbling out but apparently, it seems deep where I couldn't reach the bottom. Yet, I managed to dig out a Thumbs-up sea squirt (probably Polycarpa sp.) from it but the bubbling did not cease.

Did anyone have any idea what was happening? I have friends thinking it's a hotspring.

Feel free to leave your comments, would like to hear your two cents worth.

Uncommon strong winds in Singapore

The strong winds had made our past week of low spring tide trips much colder than before, with my biggest impression at Pulau Semakau.

Even photographing animals like this carpet anemone with nemos was quite a challenge as the wind causes lots of ripples in the tidal pool, stirring up sediments as well.

Here's an article to explain the phenomenon by Sufian Suderman, Today published on 16 Jan 09;

Uncommon strong winds in Singapore

SINGAPORE: One person said it has become so difficult to play tennis, while another is putting off plans to go on a picnic. Singapore Polytechnic has even decided, for safety reasons, to take down two banners after one was blown away.

Some feathers have certainly been ruffled by the winds in Singapore this week. In a country where the average wind speed is around 15 to 20 kilometres per hour, it has reached the time of the year when that figure goes up to 30 to 40 kmh.

Yesterday and on Wednesday, when this newspaper checked the National Environment Agency's website, which lists a range of forecasts such as fair, cloudy and rain, there was only one outlook for all five districts and 45 town areas - windy.

And while strong winds are not uncommon when there are thunderstorms, it has been "generally fair" with rainfall "below average across the whole island", noted the NEA on its website.

That has been good news for event coordinator Michelle Ting, 19, who told TODAY: "I think it's awesome. I don't mind going out more even though it's sunny, as it's not so hot." Others, though, who prefer the sunnier side of Singapore have lamented that it's as cold outdoors as it is in their offices.

Temperatures have dropped to lows of 24 degrees Celsius and will stay that way, according to the NEA's latest three-day outlook.

In its fortnightly outlook, which it posted yesterday, the NEA said: "Moderate North-east Monsoon conditions should continue to prevail with Singapore experiencing occasionally windy conditions."

During this period, showers with thunder in the afternoon can be expected on four to five days, while stronger north-east winds may bring moderate to occasionally heavy rain on two to three days.

The agency told TODAY that between December to March, stronger winds over the South China Sea and parts of the region are caused when "occasional surges of cold air" head this way from northern China.

"The impact of the high pressure system is windy conditions across the island as we have been having the past couple of days," said the NEA.

In Thailand, the cold snap has been severe and news reports on Wednesday said temperatures have fallen to 2 degrees Celsius in the north, killing five people and prompting the authorities to declare an emergency zone across half the country.

In Singapore, some say they are falling ill. "As it is sometimes hot and sometimes cold, I had a sore throat and my daughter had high fever," said housewife Maimunah A Hamid, 56.

But for the most part, the weather has been a light-hearted topic of discussion. Operations assistant Haslinda Md Yasin, 33, said she is pleased that the wind is drying her laundry faster than usual.

Marketing executive Jasmine Yuan, meanwhile, told TODAY: "The winds are crazy. We were walking for a bit outdoors and our hair is being messed up... Until the winds improve, I'll not do my hair." - TODAY/fa

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