Whither water?

The 22nd of March is just around the corner, and we all know what a special day that is!

No, you schmuck, I don’t mean International Goof Off Day, though I am glad something like that exists. I’m talking about World Water Day, a day where we celebrate, oh, just the fluid of life that runs through our veins and blesses us with health, wealth, beauty, and all things good on this planet… not a big deal, right?

Of course it’s a big deal. World Water Day was first brought into the world through Agenda 21 of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Then, in 1993, the United Nations General Assembly gave World Water Day its first theme for celebration. This year, the theme for World Water Day is: wastewater! Amazing! Okay, I admit that it’s not a very sexy topic. It is, nonetheless, a topic worth talking about; the management of wastewater is a major environmental challenge, and geniuses all over the world are cracking their heads open to come up with sustainable solutions to wastewater management.

Some of these geniuses have come up with something so astounding that I’m surprised people aren’t running down the streets shouting about it: poop water. Poop. Faeces, converted into fresh drinking water. Fine, NEWater already does it. What if I told you it also produces electricity? That’s right, folks, your humble little Hershey’s Kisses have the potential to nourish a thirsty family AND power their home. The future is here and it’s one hell of a ride. If you think I’m exaggerating, just take a look at that video where Bill Gates literally drinks water that, moments, before, had been a pile of tepid turds, and then writes “I would happily drink it every day” on his blog. Sublime. If you’re miserably using mobile data on the bus, let me summarise it for you:

Sewage sludge is fed into the Janicki Omniprocessor, where it is first boiled to release water vapour, which is collected to make fresh water. The remaining dry solid is then transferred to a furnace. Hot steam is made from the burning of the solids, and this steam is moved to a steam engine, which creates electricity via a generator. This provides the power needed to work the entire machine, plus a little left over that can be delivered back to the community. The true beauty of this system is that it’s simple and self-sufficient. It is a feasible addition to needy communities with poor sanitation – the owner of this processor would earn from the collection of the sewage, the production of water and electricity.

It turns out that one man’s trash is also that same man’s treasure. Thank you, Peter Janicki.

So we can’t all be like Peter Janicki. That’s okay. The value in the World Water Day campaigns around the world is that everybody can take part in them. In 2014, the UNICEF Tap Project created an app that encouraged participants to go without using their phone for as long as possible. For every 15 minutes spent away from your phone, you contributed a day’s worth of potable water to those in need. In Canada, over a hundred non-profit organisations carried out rain barrel sales across the country. Having a rain barrel in your home means an added source of water, which you can use to maintain gardens, lawns and house plants.

In Singapore, schools, grassroots, corporate and non-governmental organisations launched special events in support of World Water Day. Walks, tours, carnivals, even, yes, yoga class discounts. There really is something for everyone. You can check them out on the official Singapore World Water Day website.

Have a happy World Water Day, and don’t forget to watch the city turn blue this coming Wednesday! Oh, you’ll figure out what I mean.

Words by: Qiu Jiahui

New team, new guides, new initiatives!

It’s just been slightly more than two months into 2017 but we’ve had so much going on! Three walks have already been concluded, and we’ve also had a booth at the Biodiversity Roadshow in NUS. But apart from all the guiding action, BES Drongos has also undergone several revamps!

Our flock has expanded!

As with every new semester, BES Drongos has recruited new members to join our flock. This time, we have a record addition of 15 new Dronglets into our BES Drongos family!

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The 2017 BES Drongos family (Photo by Nicholas Lim)

Our new guides have been all trained up, and are ready to put up a good show for you. Do join us in our remaining walks to catch both them and our more senior guides in action!

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Research and Training Head Xiao Tong giving an introduction on guiding to our new guides (Photo by Angela Chan)
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New guide Dillen honing his skills in front of other new guides (Photo by Angela Chan)

Besides guides, we have also formed up a new writing team and photography team to bring you more insights into our biodiversity and all the action happening at our walks, so stay tuned!

A brand new committee

Just like ecological succession in our forests, change in leadership is also a natural progression for us here at BES Drongos. With committee handovers completed, a new team is born! We have a diverse team comprised of Drongos from Year 1 all the way to Year 3, and we sure hope this diversity will give BES Drongos a breath of fresh air!

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BES Drongos Committee 2017/18 (from left): Nicholas, Angela, Ashley, Sandra, Juin Bin, Sara, Ying Zhi, Tak Wei and Xiao Tong (Photo by Nicholas Lim)

Presenting, the BES Drongos Committee 2017/18:

President: Lee Juin Bin
Vice President: Sandra Chia
Secretary: Chow Tak Wei
Volunteer Manager(s): Sara Choo & Chua Ying Zhi
Research and Training Head: Quek Xiao Tong
Publicity Officer(s): Angela Chan, Ashley Tan and Nicholas Lim

With new blood and a new team, we are definitely stoked for what’s ahead, and we hope you are too!

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