The wind grew stronger as the dark clouds loomed. The meeting point was crowded with people from the approaching rain. Even the resident long-tailed macaques were indoors to seek shelter. It was a quarter to nine when our guides started to worry. Will the trail carry on or will it be cancelled? Just as the clock struck nine, the clouds started to part and the sun shone brightly on MacRitchie Reservoir Park. It was time to commence the trail!
Our five nature guides and six participants made their way to the start of Petai Trail for the Bachelor of Environmental Studies (BES) Drongos guided walk. As they began, the team spotted the native red jungle fowl from its distinctive call. Who would have known that such a brightly-coloured and loud animal could be found in our forests?
As our guides shared about the history of Macritchie Reservoir Park as a plantation and a kampong¸ they pointed out distinctive plants that have remained through the ages. They included the tall and majestic chewing gum tree (also known as the Jelutong), and the twirling rattan tree.
The trail was filled with the sights and sounds of many of Singapore’s native wildlife. Thanks to our nature guides, our team was able to spot and identify a wide diversity of animals such as the pin striped-tit babbler, long-tailed macaques and common sun skink.
Long-tailed Macaques (Photo by Nicholas Lim)
Common Sun Skink (Photo by Nicholas Lim)
As the trail came to an end, the group was greeted by a cool breeze along the reservoir. It had been an exciting and informative trail, with both the participants and nature guides learning more about Macritchie Reservoir Park from each other.
If you are interested to learn more about the wildlife in Macritchie, then join us for a free guided walk at Petai Trail by signing up here. Our friendly nature guides would love to take you on a trail you will not forget!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
Asian paradise flycatcher (Photo by Sandra Chia)
Crow-billed drongo (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.
Yamfly, Loxura atymnus fuconius (Photo by Chloe Tan)
Ornate Coraltail, Ceriagrion cerinorubellum (Photo by Chloe Tan)
Scalloped spreadwing, Lestes praemorsus (Photo by Chloe Tan)
Rhyothemis obsolescens (Chloe Tan)
A kind of orb weaver (Chloe Tan)
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!
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:
Call NParks’ 24hour hotline at 18004717300
Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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).
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.
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 .
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 .
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 . 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 . If you haven’t spotted one, there are always pictures. Check out this awesome one of the infamous one-eyed Buffy Fish Owl !
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 . Pretty cool, huh?
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) .
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-weecall. 
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.
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.
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.
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 . Talking about getting the best of both worlds!
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 .
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!
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 .” 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.”
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.
“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.
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 . 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.
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.
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!)
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.
It’s been a wild month! As part of the March for MacRitchie campaign organised by the Love Our MacRitchie Forest Movement, we have hosted a bunch of cool activities to raise awareness about our natural heritage and the proposed Cross Island MRT Line (CRL).
Through events like conservation booths and guided trail walks, we have sought to ignite a zest for nature. It was fantastic to have so many interested individuals come forth, eager to learn more about the CRL issue and our beautiful nature reserves. From signing the petition (over 11,000 signatures and counting!), to writing postcards and to talking about why they want to conserve our nature reserves, it was heartwarming to see support being so enthusiastically given.
It was also great to see so many participants coming down on our walks, brimming with eagerness and questions. A big thanks to all those who came down to support our events! We hope you walked away having learned something new and rekindled your passion for nature.
As you might know, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has been exploring the possibility of constructing the proposed CRL through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CNNR). With the completion of part 1 of the EIA and the recent media hype about the Cross Island Line, there has been a surge of interest in our nature reserves. The countless articles written by people from all walks of life has provided a rich perspective on this issue. If you’re clueless on where to start, we have plenty of recommendations on our Facebook page. It remains ever vital that people are informed about upcoming plans for our forests. After all, you cannot miss what you don’t know.
CCNR retains one of the few patches of primary forest left in Singapore . This is important as primary forest (untouched jungles) are known to support a rich spectrum of biodiversity unlike most secondary forests (regenerated jungles) . Many cool creatures inhabiting its depths such as the Sunda Colugo (Galeopterus variegatus) and the Malayan blue coral snake (Calliophis bivirgata).
It is also likely that this patch of forest does provide priceless ecosystem services for Singaporeans. Other than acting as the green lungs of earth, forests are able to provide various other benefits such as filtering rain water, resulting in a cleaner and clearer reservoir . This wonderful piece of natural heritage deserves our protection and we continue to stand by the Zero Impact policy. We advocate conserving the ecosystem, avoiding any long-lasting impacts on the environment.
Through the March for MacRitchie campaign, the word about the CRL issue and the beauty of our nature reserves have spread. However, the fight has only begun! We will continue to seek to reach out to more of our fellow Singaporeans. It is our hope that these few patches of untouched forest with its numerous inhabitants would still be here to inspire generations to come.
Ng, P.K.L. et al. (eds.) (2011) Singapore Biodiversity: An Encyclopedia of the Natural Environment and Sustainable Development. Editions Didier Millet, Singapore.
Corlett, R. (2014). The ecology of tropical east asia (Second ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199681341.001.0001
Chapin, F. S. I., Matson, P. A., & Vitousek, P. M. (2011). Principles of terrestrial ecosystem ecology (2nd ed.). New York: Springer.
Mark your calendars for the new set of BES Drongos trails are here!
To kickstart 2016, come and join us on a remarkable adventure through the stunning forests in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve along the well-trodden Petai Trail!
Did you know that a walk in nature can relieve stress and improve physical well being? Besides, you get to know a lot more about the critters worth protecting in our reserves, while learning about the ecosystem they are living in and dependent on. Wait no longer! Share our walks with a few fun-loving friends and sign up on our EventBrite page without further ado.
Visit our Essential Information page for more details on the meeting location and duration of our walks, as well as other safety tips generally useful in any nature walks!
Stay tuned for our recent developments in forming a new committee and training new volunteer guides!
Once again, the greater racket-tailed drongos (Dicrurus paradiseus) never failed to make an appearance on our walks. Could be that they are exhilarated that we are named after them… Of course I’m kidding.
We had a surprise visit by a very photogenic green crested lizard (Bronchocela cristatella). This native lizard is so hard to find, because of possible competition from the widespread changeable lizard (Calotes versicolor), that is has mostly retired to the nature reserves and only a handful of parks. Learn more about invasive species and their impacts here.
To see more of the cool stuff we saw on our adventures such as the twin-barred tree snake (Chrysopelea pelias), check out (and follow) our flickr page.
On our trail this opening weekend is a fellow NUS student, Choo Rui Zhi, a talented sketch artist. He picked up this hobby during his travels, starting out with sketches of cityscapes. Keen to explore drawings of nature, he was diligently drawing plant forms during the trail. If you are interested in his work, you can visit his @messy_lines instagram account, which has amassed a lot of followers!
If you have missed us on our walks, follow us closely here and on our facebook page and you will be the first few to know our upcoming walks. Next up: 5th and 20th September walks are waiting for you to sign up!
The BES Drongos adventures on the Petai Trail and more!