It is the Rooster Year

2017 CNY post.jpgCock-a-doodle-doo~ The year of the rooster is here! In certain parts of Singapore, you can still see the ancestors of the domesticated chicken, which are the Red Junglefowls! For those who have joined us on our walks, you might recall seeing or hearing this bird near the start of our trail. And yes, it is a bird, that CAN fly! Many people think that they can’t fly, but when the Red Junglefowls are disturbed, they can very well fly. They even roosts in the tree.

While the numbers of the Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus) may appear to be on the rise in Singapore, not every ‘chicken’ that you see may be it! Many are the domestic chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus); some are hybrids. The Red Junglefowl is the wild ancestor of the domestic chicken, and can be distinguished by its white ear patches, white rump patch and grey legs. While its call may initially sound like the familiar ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’, listen carefully, and you will realise that it actually ends abruptly (versus the trailing end note of the domestic chicken)! It is believed that the Red Junglefowls on Pulau Ubin are of pure stock, and while individuals (probably) do occur on the mainland together with their domestic counterparts, it is difficult to tell for sure as hybrids can look very similar. One thing’s for certain though, the Year of the Rooster is upon us, and we’d like to wish all a Happy Lunar New Year (else happy holidays)!

Highlights for the Semester

Throwback to one month ago, we conducted our last public walk for this semester. Here’s a a BIG thank you from all of us at BES Drongos, and our namesake Greater racket-tailed drongo, for all the support you have given to us all this time!

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Greater racket-tailed drongo (Photo by Sandra Chia)

A quick summary

From September to November 2016, we conducted 4 public guided walks and as always, it has been real fun for us to share with the public the interesting animals and plants of MacRitchie forest. Even after many guided walks, the nature and biodiversity of the forest still never fail to amaze us! We got to meet cool creatures, and for some of us here at BES Drongos, it was the first time we got to see these animals in person! Another memorable walk will definitely be on 6th November, when we encountered a fallen tree across the Petai Trail.

Other than the public walks, the other main highlight for this semester will be that our flock of BES Dronglets has once again grown larger, with many new juniors joining the team of volunteers! Read on to find out more and to see some photos about our highlights for this semester.

Dronglets recruitment

During August, the BES programme ushered in our 5th batch of students and with that, BES Drongos decided to conduct a walk specially for the students of BES. Other than to share with the BES students about native flora and fauna, we also hoped to inspire more students to join us on this movement. The turnout was great and our BES Drongo flock has since then successfully expanded with 14 new volunteers! Many of the new volunteer are in their freshmen year, so we are very excited for any new ideas that these young bloods can bring to the team.

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BES juniors amazed by a rattan stick (Photo by Rachel Lee)
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All the new faces! (and some old ones)

As per the usual practice, our new Dronglets underwent both indoor and outdoor training under the supervision of existing guides. On top of that, the new Dronglets received special training by the team from LoveMacRitchie as well (big thanks to the LoveMacRitchie team). Some of the new volunteers have already guided in our walks so do sign up for our walks in future to meet these new passionate guides!

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Dronglets at the the test trail (Photo by Sandra Chia)

A first for the BES Drongos 

Other than new people, we also met with many new creatures for the first time! This includes one of the most raved about animal in the recent months – the adorable Oriental Boobook, also known as the brown hawk owl. In November, when Bukit Timah Hill first reopened, everyone was very excited to find the Oriental Boobook near the visitor centre. The BES Drongos was also lucky to have seen one earlier during our October walk along Petai Trail. We also saw an Asian paradise flycatcher and a Crow-billed drongo for the first time during our walks.

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Oriental Boobook (Photo by Sandra Chia)

Besides these popular birds, there’s also the cool invertebrate critters that can be found in our forest. BES Drongos are learning more about these critters and training our skills in spotting them so that we can show them to you on future walks. These critters are often overlooked due to their smaller size but they play a huge role in our forest as well, and many of them have their own awesome stories to share.

Unexpected tree fall

The final highlight for this semester we’d like to share is the tree fall that we encountered during one of our November walks. Because of the tree fall, The guides and participants took a walk on the wild side and had to climb over the tree fall in order to continue with the trail. Good job to the brave and adventurous bunch!

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Tree fall across the Petai Trail (Photo by Christabel Tan)

Tree falls can happen naturally in our forest due to old age, diseases or bad weather conditions (such as storms). As the Petai Trail lines the edge of the MacRitchie Reservoir, these trees are more exposed to the strong winds during storms. Trees in poorer health are particularly vulnerable during such tumultuous weather conditions. While tree falls tend to be seen as something dangerous and disastrous, it can actually bring about new opportunities for the forest. When a tree falls in the forest, it creates a treefall gap and such disturbance can help maintain the diversity of plants by providing some other species a chance of growing as well.

That being said, the effects of tree falls are mixed and things do not necessarily change for the better all the time. High rates of tree falls can be an indication that the forest is succumbing to Edge Effects, a phenomenon exacerbated by fragmentation of the forest, where the forest’s edges increasingly become exposed and vulnerable. Sudden tree falls along our forest trail can be dangerous for the trail users as well. However, despite the potential dangers that tree falls bring, it should not deter you from exploring our forest! Just remember to stay safe while on forest trails and head out of the forest in times of bad weather.

Also, here’s what you can do if you encounter a tree fall along the trails in our nature reserves:

  1. Call NParks’ 24hour hotline at 18004717300
  2. Email them at nparks_public_affairs@nparks.gov.sg
  3. Drop them a PM on their Facebook page to attach photos

Till next year!

With that, we’ve come to the end of the summary post of this round. The BES Drongos will be a taking a break and we’ll be back in January 2017 so do stay tune for more updates. This month is also the month that site investigations for the Cross Island Line will begin. This gives us even more reason to continue sharing about our wonderful forest and how it should be protected from the potential impacts brought about by the site investigations.

Rad Reptiles (Part 1): The Specimens

It’s been a pretty wild summer and we just had another great walk last week along the Petai Trail. It was pretty awesome to talk with so many interested Singaporeans about the natural heritage we can find at the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CNNR).

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Woo, another fun walk! (Photo by Sandra)

As you can probably guess from the title, the theme for this post was inspired by the cool reptiles we managed to spot along the way.

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Photo by Sandra

This critter digging his snout into the ground is most commonly known as the Malayan water monitor (Varanus salvator). Among the largest lizards in the world, you can probably spot this lumbering reptile in areas with dense forest like CNNR and Sungei Buloh. Not just native to Singapore, these reptiles are commonplace throughout Southeast Asia and can even be found in urban areas [1].

Their abundance has largely been attributed to the adaptability of this cunning creature. Though it is a primarily terrestrial species (lives mainly on the land like us homo sapiens), it has been found to climb trees and swim in the reservoirs, using it’s flattened tail to propel itself forward like a tadpole. With its ability to climb and even dive underwater, few animals are safe from its jaws. From insects (probably what this particular one is searching for) to crabs scurrying about in the mangroves to birds resting on a perch, they have been noted to consume almost anything they can get their claws on [2].

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Peek a boo. (Photo by Sandra)

The next reptile that one of our guides spotted was the Buffy Fish Owl (Ketupa ketupu). Hang on a minute, that’s a bird not a reptile! Well, a Cool Science Fact to blow your friend’s mind: birds are actually classified under reptiles. Part 2 of Rad Reptiles will be explaining why so keep your eyes peeled for it!

Now, back to the Buffy Fish Owl. Though you can only see its speckled brown back in the picture above, the smallest of the fish owls can be distinguished by it’s brilliant yellow eyes and adorable ear tufts that are usually tilted at 45 degrees [3]. Since they are largely nocturnal, it can be difficult to spot owls at daytime when they are usually resting silently in trees, an indistinguishable shape on the tree. However, birders have reported an encouraging increase in local sightings of this elusive fish owl in the recent years [4]. If you haven’t spotted one, there are always pictures. Check out this awesome one of the infamous one-eyed Buffy Fish Owl [5]!

As you can probably guess from its name, it feeds exclusively on aquatic creatures such as fish. Because of their special diet, they aren’t like your typical owl. Unlike the snowy owl (Harry Potter’s tragically dead pet), the Buffy Fish Owl does not fly silently. They don’t need to since their prey (fish) are unlikely to be able to hear them anyway. Another unique behaviour of the fish owls are that instead of swooping down to catch their prey like we so often see on documentaries, they actually wade into shallow waters to catch their prey [6]. Pretty cool, huh?

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Photo by Sandra

Last of the reptile species we spotted is the Abbott’s babbler (Malacocincla abbotti). Named after the Lieutenant Colonel who discovered it, they are one of the more common babbler species still found in Singapore. While majority (well, three of the five) babbler species such as the short-tailed babbler (Malacocincla malaccensis) are predominantly found within relatively undisturbed forests (mature secondary and primary), the Abbott’s babbler are habitat generalist. This means that they have been spotted to use disturbed habitats like regenerating secondary forest (like the forest along Petai Trail) [7].

Babblers are one of the harder bird species to identify since they are rather small (usually the size of the iPhone 6). The easiest way to identify a babbler is by its distinctive call. The Abbott’s babbler is known by its characteristic wee-woo-wee call. [8]

Well, that’s all for now. Do keep out for Part 2 where we will discuss why birds are considered reptiles, about their evolution from dinosaurs and why some scientists stuck a plunger on a chicken’s butt for science reasons.

  1. Baker, N. (n.d.). Malayan Water Monitor. Ecology Asia. Retrieved Aug 1, 2016, from http://www.ecologyasia.com/verts/lizards/malayan_water_monitor.htm 
  2. Tan, R. (2001). Malayan Water Monitor Lizard. Naturia. Retrieved Aug 1, 2016, from http://www.naturia.per.sg/buloh/verts/monitor_lizard.htm 
  3. Ho, HC (n.d.). Close Encounters with Owls of Singapore. Nature Watch. Retrieved Aug 1, 2016, from http://habitatnews.nus.edu.sg/pub/naturewatch/text/a051a.htm 
  4. OwYong, A. (2016) First known nesting record of the Buffy Fish Owl. Singapore Bird Group. Retrieved Aug 3, 2016, from
    https://singaporebirdgroup.wordpress.com/tag/buffy-fish-owl/ 
  5. Seng, A & Loei, J. (2015). Encounter with a one-eyed Buffy Fish-owl. Bird Ecology Study Group.  Retrieved Aug 3, 2016, from http://www.besgroup.org/2015/07/11/encounter-with-a-one-eyed-buffy-fish-owl/
  6. Royal Society SEARRP. (n.d.). Buffy Fish Owl (Ketupa Ketupu). Stability of Altered Forest Ecology. Retrieved Aug 4, 2016, from http://www.safeproject.net/animal-sightings/buffy-fish-owl-ketupa-ketupu/ 
  7. Yong, DL. (2009). Persistence of Babbler (Timaliidae) Communities in Singapore Forests. Nature in Singapore 2009, 2, 365-371.  
  8. kh. (n.d.). Babblers. Singapore Birds. Retrieved Aug 4, 2016, from http://singaporebirds.blogspot.sg/2012/07/babblers.html

 

Words by Mel 

To conserve or not to conserve…

It’s officially been the second year since we have begun this venture and it’s has been a great learning adventure. This semester has been especially wild with the media buzz surrounding the Cross Island Line and all the activities surrounding the March for MacRitchie campaign.

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With seven exciting walks along the Petai Trail conducted this semester, we had a great time bringing participants along the Petai Trail and talk about the various inhabitants that share our nature reserve. From creepy-crawlies like the ferocious dragonfly to furry critters like the Slender Squirrel, there were much to explore in our nature reserve! Ecological concepts were also explored and explained using funny examples.

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The leaf litter plant (Agrostistachys indica) or as we like to call it the kiasu plant, is used to explain the concept of an ecological niche. As an understory plant, it uses a different strategy to survive among the towering canopy trees you usually find in our tropical rainforest. Like us Kiasu Singaporeans, this clever little plant has found a way to survive in this competitive environment. It doesn’t just absorb nutrients from the nutrient-poor tropical soil but also from its leaves. How? With its leaves growing in a spiral, it is able to capture the leaves that fall from its taller neighbouring trees. Using the little rootlets growing on the base of its leaves, it can absorb the nutrients directly as these leaves decomposes [1]. Talking about getting the best of both worlds!

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Just some of the cool creepy crawlers you can find in the CCNR! (Photo by Rui Xiang)

We also held conservation booths at the NUS campus. Lining up the wooden benches, we managed to display an even larger haul of preserved specimens loaned from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (Thanks again!). Cool jars filled with specimens hovering in ethanol, we were excited to share more about the species that were difficult to spot in the wild and less common to the public eye. The adorable but nocturnal Lesser Bamboo Bat is a prime example. Being one of the smallest bats, it grows only to about 4cm (the size of your thumb)! Usually found roosting in the hollow core of the bamboo, it’s not exactly the easiest creature to find [2].

Students, intrigued by creatures they don’t usually encounter, were eager to learn more about that flora and fauna we can find in our rainforest. Engaging with more than 250 students over those two days, it was encouraging to see the zest our generation had for nature. We hope that students left with a greater appreciation for our nature reserves and a deeper understanding on the Cross Island Line issue. We would like to thank all the participants who came down for our events and we hope that we have managed to incite some passion for our precious nature reserve!

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With the Cross Island Line still lingering at the back of the minds of Singaporeans, there have been many interesting articles that rationalise and reason out why we should conserve what’s left of Singapore’s wildlife. (While it can be argued that nature has no need for humans, that’s a story for another day.) Some might argue that we, nature lovers, tend to preach to the converted, those who are already passionate about the environment. So, here is a attempt to reach out to the stereotypical urban dweller who would rather hang out in a cool air-conditioned shopping mall than trek through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR). Other than the intrinsic value of nature, what other benefits could be used to appeal to the ever-pragmatic Singaporean masses?

With thousands of visitors heading to CCNR annually, water sports and various other recreations activities make the nature reserve a brilliant outlet for stressed-out Singaporeans to take a break from the rat race of work. “Well, Singapore has over 300 parks [3].” you might point out, “I’m sure that there is an entire spectrum of alternative green areas for Singaporeans who want to enjoy fresh air.”

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What can the forest give us? (Photo by Crystle)

What about the ecosystem services that the CCNR provides? As the biggest continuous stretch of forest found in Singapore, it acts as the “green lungs” of our nation among various other valuable services.

“In comparison with the entire of Singapore,”you might object, “the CCNR constitutes a mere 4% of Singapore’s total land area. Does the ecosystem services it provides really make a difference to us?” Well, maybe it doesn’t make as much of an effect to the whole of Singapore but it certainly makes a difference for the residents (both animals and humans) who live near or within the CCNR.

Well, let’s bring up something that hasn’t really been touched upon: the wonder and awe that nature invokes. The natural environment has inspired humanity for centuries. From arts to architecture, natural wonders are so central to our culture and progress that almost every nation in the world has ideas and creations that reflect our awe of nature.

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The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai (Photo by Met Museum)

“Wait!” you might protest, “Art and all this airy fairy stuff might be very interesting but that won’t be able to fill our rice bowls.” Well, as the wise Robbie Williams once said, “medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” But I see your point.

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Birds: The first “planes” (Photo by Sandra)

To them, I say: industries have been built on nature. The Wright Brothers, who are widely credited for inventing the first aircraft capable of sustained flight and the father of the aviation industry, were inspired by the flight of pigeons [4]. You might remain unconvinced, after all biomimetics (field of study of designs inspired by nature) is a relatively new term. Has there really been that many innovations evoked from nature to justify saving our natural environment? Singapore’s uniform and ubiquitous HDB blocks resemble lego bricks more than they do rainforest trees.

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Nature as a “think-tank”? (Photo by Mel)

But there is a whole plethora of nature-inspired products that can be found all around us. From the tiny pieces of velcro strapping across the white shoes of primary school students to the giant artificial “supertrees” towering over the Gardens by the Bay, there are numerous instances of innovations that have found inspiration from nature. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering how all of us are successes of millions of years of continual R&D process, better known as evolution. We are all “products” that have been ruthlessly and relentlessly refined and prototyped.

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What’s this? Another of nature’s product?

To honour nature, the most experienced designer of us all, we will be releasing a new Nature and Technology series: Biomimicry, bringing the nature to you “innovations” of the forest. These posts will talk about creations that are inspired by the creatures we can find in our very own little island. Look forward to them!

P.S. (We will be conducting walks during the Summer! So, for all those who need a break from the urban jungle, join us at our natural one!)

  1. Wang LK, DCJ Yeo, KKP Lim & SKY Lum. (2012) Private Lives: An Expose of Singapore’s Rainforests. Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, Singapore. 298 pp.
  2. Baker, Nick. (n.d.). Bamboo Bats – Tylonycteris spp. Ecology Asia. Retrieved May 29, 2016, from http://www.ecologyasia.com/verts/bats/bamboo-bats.htm
  3. National Parks Boards (2015, January 5). Parks & Nature Reserves. Retrieved May 29, 2016, from https://www.nparks.gov.sg/gardens-parks-and-nature/parks-and-nature-reserves
  4. The Wright Brothers. (n.d.). Retrieved May 29, 2016, from http://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/wright-brothers/online/

Words by: Mel

Infographics on the EIA

March for MacRitchie ended on a good note last week, with people sharing about the aspects of MacRitchie that they like and have fallen in love with. To follow up with all that has happened, here’s a post reminding us on the importance of MacRitchie and what we can lose with the construction of the Cross Island Line. If you are not familiar with the Cross Island Line issue, you can read our summary over here first.

Now, we all know that MacRitchie is a key area for Singapore’s biodiversity with many of its areas, including those being surveyed during the site investigation, having important ecological values. With over 2000 plants species and 347 species of animals, this area of high biodiversity is considered to be important for conservation.  However, the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (that MacRitchie is a part of) faces fragmentation pressures and stressors from human use and developmental works. Fragmentation, the break-up of contiguous land masses, limits wildlife movement and compromises the fitness of individuals. Any additional stresses or threats may affect the wildlife and hence the health of their future generations, as well as genetic variability of small populations. In view of this ecological baseline of MacRitchie and the Nature Reserve, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was done to highlight the potential impacts arising from soil investigation works and what can be done to mitigate such impacts.

However, we know that reading through the lengthy EIA can be tiring. So here’s some bite size infographics focusing on the EIA’s main findings in volume III, as a continuation of our previous “EIA101: All you need to know!“.  

1. Soil investigation

2. EIA Infographics_noise

EIA Infographic (Water Quality)

While the mitigation measures are comprehensive, here’s a thought from the monkeys:

EIA Infographic (Future Considerations)

We hope these infographics have been useful to gain a better understanding of what the soil investigations are and what impacts and mitigation efforts they entail. Hopefully, this can help you in developing a more informed standing in this issue as well. Now, if you’ll like to help save our MacRitchie forest, here’s two simple steps that you can take: Spread the word about the issue and sign the petition to re-route the line around the forest! You can also share our infographics about volume III of our EIA on Facebook here.

Last but not least, we will like to acknowledge the following individuals/organisations for their invaluable contribution: Main graphics by Rachel Lee, Jacqueline for her amazing pixelated animals drawings, Lahiru and the Love Our MacRitchie Forest team for feedbacks and ideas on the EIA, Chope for Nature for allowing us to use their summary as reference, and last but not least, a big thank you to all of you for supporting our MacRitchie forest!! 🙂