Category Archives: nature and technology

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.

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.

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

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!

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…

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.

Green Crested Lizard_Emmanul
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 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!

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.”

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.

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.”

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!

A Tribute to Singapore’s Chief Gardener, Lee Kuan Yew

“If a garden is well maintained and neatly landscaped, there must be a dedicated and efficient gardener.”

– Mr Lee Kuan Yew (1923-2015)


From Garden City to City in a Garden, Singapore has been utterly transformed by the work of our late founding father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, whom we dub affectionately our Chief Gardener.

In Chapter 13 of his book From Third World to First, Lee Kuan Yew details his experiences and intentions in transforming Singapore’s physical landscape into a tropical garden city, an “oasis” as he called it.

During those early days, the challenge of improving the living environment of Singaporeans was intricately connected to the push for modernity, particularly the behaviour of the people. In the quote below, Lee Kuan Yew promoted environmental education in schools and cultivated a sense of pride for our green surroundings:

“Perseverance and stamina were needed to fight old habits: People walked over plants, trampled on grass, despoiled flowerbeds, pilfered saplings, or parked bicycles or motorcycles against the larger ones, knocking them down. A doctor was caught removing from a central road divider a newly planted valuable Norfolk Island pine which he fancied for his garden. To overcome the initial indifference of the public, we educated their children in schools by getting them to plant trees, care for them, and grow gardens. They brought the message home to their parents.” 

Despite all odds, his ambitious plans of improving environmental quality were successful. Most notably, the Singapore River cleanup of the 1980s and the construction of reservoir and canal networks are outcomes we continue to appreciate today. In a moving story about the Red Box that Mr Lee carried with him, Minister Heng Swee Keat writes that Mr Lee saw trash floating in the Singapore River, and immediately sought to do something about it.

Lee Kuan Yew became our Chief Gardener when he saw the value of the shade provided by street trees and roadside vegetation. He set in place tree-planting programmes, which are ubiquitous in community gatherings even today. His vision of a lush, thriving city is what we see today in our streetscapes of verdant sidewalks planted with familiar Angsana trees, Yellow Flame trees and others. These trees mitigate the temperature increases caused by the urban heat island inevitably enveloped the city as urbanisation reduced vegetated land cover.

“I have always believed that a blighted urban landscape, a concrete jungle destroys the human spirit. We need the greenery of nature to lift our spirits.” 

– Mr Lee Kuan Yew, 1995

While one may argue that garden may not necessarily mean nature, and that street trees are not ecologically sufficient, there has been a shift in perceptions to embrace urban biodiversity conservation. Today, NParks, Singapore’s statutory board for providing and enhancing greenery in our urban environment, has advanced the vision of a Garden City into a City in a Garden.

Lee Kuan Yew’s key contributions to the biodiversity community are undeniable, as a leader who valued greenery and vegetation even when development priorities came first, and set in place the institutions that would champion the cause for biodiversity later on. To that, we salute our Chief Gardener, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

Other Tributes: 

NParks: A Special Tribute to Mr Lee Kuan Yew The Man Behind the Greening of Singapore

Otterman’s Blog: A message to the biodiversity community about our Chief Gardener 

Channel NewsAsia: Mr Lee Kuan Yew was Singapore’s ‘chief gardener’: Khaw says in teary tribute

Words by: Judy Goh | Graphic by: Jacqueline Chua

Water everywhere… Happy World Water Day!

Hey everyone! World Water Day is today, and we’ve come up with this special post to share how forests, such as the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, and water, such as our Macritchie Reservoir, go hand in hand to ensure a thriving ecosystem!


First, a brief history lesson. The BES Drongos lead nature walks around the oldest reservoir in Singapore, standing at 147 years. First completed in 1868, Macritchie Reservoir was named after James Macritchie, an engineer that looked to expand it to accommodate an increasing population. When the impounding reservoir was built, the plantations around it were closed down and the forest was allowed to naturally recover from the agricultural deforestation that had been taking place. This dense thick vegetation served a purpose: it protected the reservoir as a precious water resource! Things have changed now. Since the nature reserve and Macritchie Reservoir were opened to the public, it has become a recreational hub for joggers and secondary water sports enthusiasts. But, people are not the only ones who benefit from the water; flora and fauna residing in the area also rely on the reservoir’s water. This is not just only for hydration, but as a living habitat for some species as well, such as turtles.


Water quality in our reservoirs is important to monitor, not just for human consumption, but also as an indicator of how healthy our ecosystem is. Interestingly, dragonflies are known to be indicators of good water quality because they thrive in such areas.

IMG_2984 The presence of forests around the reservoir aid in maintaining this high quality. Leaf litter all around the forest is able to trap potential water pollutants like rubbish such that it does not reach even close to the reservoir. Also, bacteria in wet forest soils carry out denitrification, which is the process of converting nitrates into nitrogen gas to be released into the air. This prevents nitrates, a form of nutrient, from entering the reservoir and causing algal blooms which are capable of killing aquatic wildlife.


Additionally, forests improve infiltration and stabilize slopes with presence of plant roots, which reduces erosion of soil into the reservoir. The roots of trees create gaps in the soil so that when it rains, water can sink into the soil before subsequently being absorbed by the roots. These root systems of trees and other plants also keep soils porous. Water is filtered through various layers of soil before entering ground water and this process thus allows for toxins, nutrients, sediment, and other substances to be filtered of the water, and kept from entering the reservoir body as well. Without forests, soil is more prone to erosion, so sediment would make the water body murky and also affect the visibility of animals in the water.

IMG_2655 These characteristics of the nature reserve are also re-created with deliberate greenery design in MacRitchie Reservoir Park as part of PUB’s Active, Beautiful and Clean Waters programme. One example is the submerged boardwalk, where plants on the reed beds similarly serve to absorb pollutants, removing these harmful substances from the water supply before it even reaches the reservoir’s filtration system.

An intermediate egret looking for lunch in the reservoir.

With several countries experiencing issues of water scarcity and water pollution, clean water sources are without doubt important not just for our daily lives, but also for the survival of species in green spaces around us. In Singapore, the presence of the MacRitchie Nature Reserve and other forests help tremendously in keeping water in our many reservoirs clean. Thus, should we continue to cherish both the water we drink and our environment we live in, Singapore will indeed have many more prosperous years to go.

Words by: Chow Tak Wei