Category Archives: Guide Resources

The Batman of Our Forests: The Malayan Colugo

What is it: Huh? Colugo? Simi lai eh?? (translation: what on earth is that?). Well, given its elusive nature and well camouflaged body, it is not surprising that these creatures are not commonly spotted by visitors to our nature parks. Colugos are arboreal (meaning tree dwelling) gliding creatures belonging to the order dermoptera and family cynocephalidae, of which there are 2 extant and 2 extinct species [1]. The species we have in Singapore is the Malayan Colugo or, if you are feeling particularly intellectual, you can tell your friends that you have seen a Galeopterus variegates!

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Cute colugo!

How does it look like: Given that a picture  paints a thousand words, let’s look at a picture of one. We can see that the Malayan colugo has fur that is mottled grey (2) or brown that is sometimes tinged with green. It is this abstract pattern that allows it to blend in so well with the canopy, making it difficult to spot.

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Picture from pintrest.com

Additionally, it has two large, forward facing eyes bestowing it with fantastic binocular vision [1]. This could be what allows it to judge distances accurately when gliding from tree to tree. Complete with its small cupped ears, its face is certainly one that is very cute indeed! However, its party trick are its huge membranes (scientifically known as patagium) that  extend from limb to limb, even in between its digits in order to give it as large a surface area as possible [1]. Just like Batman’s cape, these membranes allow it to glide amongst the canopy, hence giving rise to its other common name, which is the flying lemur. Here’s a picture of its pretty insane looking patagium in action!

What does it eat: The diet of the Malayan Colugo consists mainly of leaves, flowers and young shoots along with some insects [3]. It even consumes durian flowers which might not seem like good news for those durian lovers out there! However, it also performs crucial ecological functions such as seed dispersal [1] so it’s a pretty important member of the forest as well!

Where can you find it: The Malayan Colugo is mainly found in nature reserves such as the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) as well as Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (BTNR). Outside of nature reserves, parks such as Bukit Batok park also harbour some populations [4]. I have also personally seen a few at Hindhede nature park (which is next to the BTNR) as well as on trees growing next to the golf courses of the Singapore Island Country Club.

Other interesting trivia: Did you know that the Malayan Colugo can glide up to 100m [3] while losing only 10m in elevation? Also, having lived in trees all its life, you might think that the colugo would be an adept climber but it is far from it! It uses a clumsy hopping motion [3] to move up and down trees which is not exactly the most elegant method of locomotion. Lastly, the colugo rarely ever ventures to the ground, not even to defecate! Here’s a picture of it defecating from a tree!

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Picture from curioussengi.wordpress.com

As you can see, it has to lift its tail and wrap the membrane over its body just to take a poop. Looks really weird doesn’t it! Attached below is a fascinating video on how the colugo hops up trees and glides. Enjoy!

Well, that’s all from me today. I hope that this post has given you folks a better understanding of the colugo, which is just one of the many interesting creatures inhabiting our forests. Until next time!

Written by: Noel

References:

  1. https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Colugo
  2. https://www.ecologyasia.com/verts/mammals/colugo.htm
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunda_flying_lemur
  4. https://www.nparks.gov.sg/florafaunaweb/fauna/4/7/478

Intertidal Watch

It is a truth universally acknowledged that trudging around in the mud is the greatest of joys.

Just kidding I made that up. But I know that deep within you, a wild spirit calls for the embrace of dirt and the salt of the sea. If, like me, you derive considerable happiness from being damp and muddy, you’re probably perfect for the Intertidal Watch.

Heard of citizen science? It’s an initiative undertaken all over the world to involve the public in data collection, mostly through simple surveys that anyone can learn to do. Counting birds, for example. Or butterflies. With the help of volunteers from the public, agencies like the National Parks Board can accumulate comprehensive information about the environment over years and years, something that has become increasingly important as we anxiously observe the effects of climate change taking the world by literal storm. That’s the unromantic and frankly depressing explanation. The romantic explanation is that we all have within us an innate curiosity, a sense of wanting to go out there and discover the world. That’s science at its foundation. It doesn’t matter what you studied or what you’re good at; if you have a clipboard and pen, you can be a scientist.

A citizen scientist, anyway.

The Intertidal Watch is one of those citizen science programmes, created and conducted by NParks. It is an effort to study the biodiversity on our shores during the low tide. That’s when the sea retreats from the land, leaving a few precious metres of muddy beach that’s just teeming with life. Hermit crabs, sea cucumbers – you name it, we’ve spotted it – wriggling on the beach. Volunteers step gingerly around these creatures and take pictures of them like enthusiastic tourists; more importantly, they count and record the species and number of organisms present. This information is then carefully entered into NParks’ database, to be used by conservationists and researchers who make decisions on how to manage Singapore’s coastline.

I myself joined this programme as a volunteer just last year. It was all very simple: I went to their booth at the Festival of Biodiversity, saw a picture of a knobbly sea star and immediately signed up to be on their mailing list. Knobbly sea stars have that irresistible seduction.

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Ever seen anything so charming? Feel free to marvel at the quaint asymmetry (Photo: Qiu Jiahui)

Once you’re on their mailing list, you’ll be notified when they conduct a survey or training workshop. It’s best, though not strictly necessary, to go for a training workshop before embarking on your first survey. You’ll learn about the surveying method, how to identify the different types of flora and fauna on the various beaches, as well as how to record information reliably and succinctly. After that, you’ll be ready for your first citizen science experience.

Depending on the time of year and the tides, the survey can be conducted from the middle of the sweltering afternoon to the crack of dawn. At present, the surveys are mostly limited to a few beaches such as Changi Beach and East Coast Park, but plans to include other coasts are underway.

Recycling old plastic bottles and taking showers instead of baths are excellent and necessary ways of protecting the environment, but if you’re itching to do more, why not go out into the environment itself? Not only is it deeply meaningful, you’ll also get to know the side of Singapore that too many people miss out on: its rich and slightly wacky biodiversity. So don’t hesitate! Plan an unforgettable outing with your friends, take your date to see the sunrise and sea cucumbers – all you have to do is drop NParks a little email at Intertidal_Watch@nparks.gov.sg.

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See you there! (Photo: Gwendolyn Chow)

Words by: Qiu Jiahui

 

The Unspoken Code of Conduct of Nature Photography

Photo and design by Aw Jeanice

Hohoho! What a joyful Christmas! While we give back to our loved ones, don’t forget to also be kind and loving to our wildlife. 🙂 As promised, here is a discussion about ethical wildlife photography.

Recently, there were reports of questionable behavior of nature photographers which received heavy backlash from nature lovers and other photographers alike. Here at BES Drongos, our photographers love to shoot but we love and respect the nature and wildlife as well, and here are some tips we use to uphold the secret (okay just kidding) commandments of wildlife photography.


Safety first

The most important is one that is often flouted, and it encompasses safety for yourself, for others and for wildlife.

  • Stay on the trail. You might encounter venomous animals and other dangers (such as from rattan spines) if you veer off trails and boardwalks
  • Ensure your position and gear do not obstruct other people to prevent falls and injuries
  • Keep a safe and respectful distance with the subject to prevent attacks and so as to not startle it

Going too close might also let the subject become accustomed to human presence, and this is something not just photographers have to take note. For example our long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) in MacRitchie have now associated humans with food and this has worsened the human-wildlife conflict with nearby residences.

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A long-tailed macaque rummaged up a milk carton from a rubbish bin / Photo by Aw Jeanice, 12 July 2015

Keep it real

Naturally, photographing endangered or rare species is exciting and none of us want to screw up such opportunities. But where do we draw the line as to how far we can go to get a great keeper? How do we retain the authenticity of a wildlife/nature shot?

  • Don’t bait, just wait.

Recently, there was heavy scrutiny over actions of some photographers who stuffed polystyrene foam in live fishes and injected air into their swim bladders to keep it afloat and attract a grey-headed fish eagle (Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus) which is critically endangered in Singapore. You can read all about it here. Not only is this practice harmful to the eagle as it ingests bits of foam, this is also cruel to the fishes.

If you really want the food in mouth shot, just wait for it.

Baiting might condition the animal to think that humans can provide them food, which alters their behavior and ability to look for their own food in the long-term. Next, the animal might associate the baiting site to be bountiful in food. Also, baiting when done too regularly can cause it to become too accustomed to humans which increases poaching risks. If the bait food is unable to provide the required nutrients, it can also cause imbalances in the animal’s diet.

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A white-throated kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis) with a carpenter bee in its mouth / Photo by Aw Jeanice, 5 November 2015
  • Say no to Studio.

Some photographers alter the surroundings of the subject to get a better or cleaner look by clearing the vegetation, snapping off twigs and branches that might obstruct their view. Not only is it damaging to the habitat, it also exposes the subject to predators and poachers as well. Clearing the vegetation around a nest or roost can mean snakes or birds of prey can easily find the subject, the eggs of birds, or the young. When it comes to endangered animals, such practices can undermine conservation efforts and worsen population decline. These “studios” are also often strewn with litter from photographers.

  • Hands off.

A photographer made a bad reputation for himself when he was caught tying a chick of a tern to a bush. He was fined $500 for the act of cruelty. I think this one speaks for itself – remember to care about the well-being of wildlife, not just about your photographs.

  • No playback audio.

Scientists and field researchers sometimes use playback audio to observe the behavior of an animal in response to a call of a mate, prey or predator. Some bird photographers use playback audio to attract birds forward but a study on the effects of playback audio was carried out in 2013 and have found this: “playback audio could negatively affect species if they become stressed, expend energy, or take time away from other activities to respond to playback audio.” Other activities may include feeding, grooming, mating or even caring for their young.

Be aware of other photographers

It is important to know that most nature photographers love what they do and they find it enjoyable, which is why it is also paramount that we do not make their photography experience a bad one.

  • Keep it down and do not make a lot of noise so as to startle the subject.
  • Do not go too close to the subject and scare it away, therefore not allowing others to get an equal opportunity at getting a shot. It should also be said that we should all let other photographers have a chance and take the spot once you are finished with your shoot
  • Using baiting, playback or other unethical means mentioned above can ruin the experiences of other photographers
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A blue-winged pitta (Pitta moluccensis) baited with worms on a log placed at its roost, and when I realised this, I felt immensely upset and this photograph no longer felt earned anymore” / Photo by Aw Jeanice, 5 November 2015
  • Do not use flash photography without ensuring the other photographers have had their chance since it may startle the animal and cause it to flee. Your fill flashes might also affect shots of other photographers. When it comes to nocturnal animals which have more light-sensitive eyes, a sudden burst of flash could stun them.

All in all, just shoot with love and care – you can’t go very wrong with that! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!

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Comic drawn by resident artist Jacqueline Chua

Words by Aw Jeanice

Wildlife shooters (relax, I mean photographers)

Hello! It’s been quite a while since the BES Drongos are in action, but stay with us because next year we will be bouncing back with new trail dates and other activities!

As 2015 is coming to an end, we like to recap this year’s best work and feature our heroes behind the lenses – our own trail photographers! Here, we present our camera crew and their work with a description in their own words. Presenting #2015throwback…

Emmanuel_bio
Photo by Loke Kah Fai

An animal lover from young, Emmanuel Goh is an aspiring conservationist who loves translating his vision of nature into pictures for others to enjoy. Having enjoyed Animal Planet and National Geographic, he aims to document the wildlife of Singapore like the great Sir David Attenborough. He hopes that his photos will be able to show how amazing biodiversity can be, so that Singaporeans will believe in the value of preserving Singapore’s natural heritage.

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Green-crested lizard  / Photo by Emmanuel Goh, 28 August 2015

“The green-crested lizard (Bronchocela cristatella) is a bright green lizard with a bluish tinge on its head. Well camouflaged in vegetation, it feeds on insects and invertebrates (notice the spider-web thread on its head) while hiding from snakes. It has a distinctive dark ring around each eye and dark spot at the back of its head. When threatened, it will turn dark brown or grey. Its tail makes up 75% of its body length! In Singapore, its confinement to forests is believed to be caused by the aggressive Changeable Lizard (Calotes versicolor).”


Rachel

Rachel is a nature and animal lover who loves spending time out in the wild. Check out her WildInDays journal she wrote about her volunteering trip to a wildlife sanctuary in Africa – what an adventure!
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Oriental whip snake / Photo by Rachel Lee, 24 January 2015
“Snakes ain’t always scary and this happy fellow here is the Oriental whip snake (Ahaetulla prasina). Though it is mildly venomous, it is a shy creature and will rather move away when disturbed. Its venom is used mainly for hunting small invertebrates like frogs and lizards. This species of snake has an extremely slender body and is often overlooked as a twine along the branches. They can grow to about 2m long with nearly 40% of its body length made up by its tail! So next time you walk along the boardwalk, pay careful attention to the twines in the forest around you and you might just be lucky to meet this fella, or its friends.”

JacJacqueline is a year 4 BES environmental biology student currently studying urban bats. She has been taking photos of random things since she was 13, and her favourite lens is a Samyang fisheye for her Olympus OMD. When not guiding, taking photos or nagging other guides, she enjoys drawing comics and squishing her cats. Check out her new Facebook page – Classroom Cartoonist, where relatable comics and biology humour will be posted from time to time!

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“Myotis muricola, or the Whiskered Myotis, are little-known but very amazing bats that live in curled up banana leaves. While this series is not the clearest of photos that I have taken, they certainly required the most effort. I had to get a stepladder and check the rolled leaves of a few different plants over the course of a month, and even then most of the time the bats I find would not even be facing me. Still, all that effort has made this photo series one of my favorites, and I think the whiskered myotis is my favorite bat now.”


Nic_bio
Photo by Angela Chan

Nicholas is currently a year 2 student in the BES programme. His favourite group of animals are the insects which he has always found to be fascinating. He picked up photography in his junior college years and have been doing it ever since. He started off mainly in macro-photography of bugs and insects but have more recently started to dabble in bird and wildlife photography.

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Pied warty frog / Photo by Nicholas Lim, 16 July 2015

“This photo was taken in Cuc Phuong National Park in Vietnam. I think it is the pied warty frog (Theloderma asperum) but we call it the commonly call it bird shit frog. It mimics tree bark and can be quite hard to spot in the field. However, we managed to spot a few of them and this was my best photo for the day.”


Jeanice_bio
Photo by Jenny Fong

It’s me! It’s my dream to be a photojournalist, hoping to amalgamate my passions for the environment, nature and photography together. I want to document life in every part of the world and make a difference through my lenses everywhere I go. I also enjoy graphic design and cinematography!

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This is admittedly not my best work, but the most interesting encounter of an yellow-vented bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) as the adult on the fence actually led me to its family! These bulbuls are really common in parks and gardens, able to adapt to urban areas with its varied diet in insects and fruits. Mama and papa bulbuls both help to incubate and raise the young, which was what I observed with this little family.  I was excited to capture the juvenile spreading its wings, and you can see clearly its developing wings and even the shaft connecting it to the bones.

Some of these photos will appear on our Facebook page over the next few months as well. Coming up next: Learn more about photography ethics when it comes to nature and wildlife!

50 creatures in CCNR for SG50!

50 amazing wildlife found in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. Spot the odd one out! All adorable pixel animals by our resident artist Jacqueline Chua.
50 amazing wildlife found in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. Spot the odd one out! All adorable pixel animals by our resident artist Jacqueline Chua; Collage design by Adeline Koh.

The BES Drongos are back! We are here to celebrate Singapore’s big fifty with the natural heritage of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) – you can find all 50 amazing wildlife (as pictured above) in our nation’s largest nature reserve! (See, Singapore got wildlife what.)

CCNR is known as the green lung of Singapore, occupying up to 2800 hectares of lush greenery – housing a magnificent diversity of flora and fauna right at the heart of the city-state. A mixture of young and mature secondary forests, as well as retaining a small patch of virgin primary forest near MacRitchie Reservoir, CCNR is home to fascinating creatures such as the Crimson Sunbird, the slow loris, the Sunda pangolin and even the critically endangered Raffles’ banded langur.

Can you imagine a better way to celebrate national day than spending it in CCNR, walking through the verdant forests and observing dazzling flora and fauna? I can’t.

Keep your eyes peeled for the next 50 days as we bring you more interesting facts and figures on each of the fifty species – right on our Facebook page!

Also, stay tuned for more updates on the next guiding season – we are currently gearing up for public walks soon, with new stations and more entertaining stories from our guides!