Discoveries on our Trail by Fire!

Hello everybody! The BES Drongos are quickly gaining traction as they begin their first edition of Trail by Fire – a series of trails where selected members of the public (aka our friends) to join our walks and add that little bit of authenticity to our practice walks. Why “Trail by Fire”? It’s a pun on ‘trial by fire’, nature trail style.

Trail by Fire Group Photo

Last Saturday’s trail saw us encountering new biodiversity, particularly birds! It was the first time that we, the BES Drongos, encountered our namesake – the Greater Racket Tailed Drongo! Its scientific name is Dicrurus paradiseus. The drongo is an immensely interesting bird, and not just because they are our mascot animal. They are visually very distinctive as they have a pair of long unique tail feathers called “rackets” as seen from the photo. They are excellent mimics and can imitate the calls of a variety of other birds, although they tend to attach a metallic ring to the end of the call, which is unique to this bird.

This picture of the drongo was captured during another trail at the Venus loop of the Macritchie Reservoir Park.
This picture of the drongo was captured during another trail at the Venus loop of the Macritchie Reservoir Park.

Drongos are also sneaky creatures. They are known to practice kleptoparasitism, which means that they often steal prey from other foraging animals such as macaques. One of their favorite tricks is to follow a flock of birds like babblers, and then make an alarm call to scare the foragers away while the drongo picks up the spoils. This is the story behind the BES Drongos’ tagline, “Follow that monkey!”. 

Trail by Fire Entrance

As we were walking through the trail near the entrance to the Petai Trail, we heard a distinctive call that reminded us of a rooster. These were the calls of Red Jungle Fowl, also known as jungle chickens! Red jungle fowl are essentially the ancestors of our domestic chickens, and can be distinguished from them by their white ear flaps.

This picture of the red jungle fowl was captured during another trail at the Venus loop of the Macritchie Reservoir Park.
This picture of the red jungle fowl was captured during another trail at the Venus loop of the Macritchie Reservoir Park.

Red jungle fowl also distinguish themselves from their more placid descendants in that they can fly, often flapping their way up trees to escape predators! Their call also differs from domestic chickens in that the end is cut off (sounds kinda like it has a sore throat). An excellent example of this call can be heard in the Youtube video below:

Blue-throated Bee Eater

This beautiful bird perched on the tree overlooking a large water body near the end of the trail is a Blue-throated Bee Eater. This bird is not a permanent resident of Singapore. Instead, it migrates around the SEA region seasonally. They normally visit during their breeding season, although they are sometimes also classified as uncommon winter migrants (that means that they spend time here during winter, but rarely). They are insectivores that favor flying insects, and the one that we saw was eating dragonflies that it picked off from the surface of the water. When taking venomous prey or prey with stings, they will “wipe” their prey against their perch to get rid of the venom or sting. This is probably where they get their name from; they basically specialize in eating stinging insects that other birds find unappetizing.

The photo below is of a bird that is as yet not properly identified because it is unclear, but we suspect that it is a Pin-Striped tit-babbler. During the trail, we may have also seen a forest babbler but failed to get a photo.

petai_16Aug-8536

Babblers are common residents in most of our nature reserves in Singapore, including the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. They can be noisy little birds with a distinctive and repetitive call, as seen in this Youtube video:


Babblers are important to note because they are one of the vulnerable bird groups that could be affected detrimentally should the Cross Island Line be built through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. This is because certain species like Abbott’s babbler can only live in the lower story of mature secondary or primary forest, which is obviously quite scarce in rapidly urbanizing Singapore. Because of their small size, these birds also dislike flying across large open spaces. As fragmentation occurs due to the building of developments across the nature reserve, these birds are unlikely to travel between forest fragments. Thus, their breeding potential is limited and their gene pools are reduced due to less mixing between populations.

Trial by Fire

We hope you have enjoyed this short sharing on some of our discoveries on the Petai Trail at Macritchie Reservoir Park. Each trip is an eye-opening experience and as you can tell from our posts, we never cease to find something new and unexpected each time! More Trails by Fire will take place over the next few weeks. We will be providing more information on the impacts that developments within nature reserves can create, such as forest fragmentation and soil disturbance in future blog posts, so keep an eye out for them. For now, pop by the Love Our Macritchie Forest website, run by the Toddycats, to find out more about how the Cross Island Line can impact the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

Credits to Jacqueline Chua for the photos.

For more awesome photos, check out our Flickr page!

Toddycats and Drongos Unite!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This week the Drongos had some special guests with us, the Toddycats! The Toddycats are nature and environment volunteers with the upcoming Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, and they run another trail in MacRitchie, called the Venus Loop that is located further down Upper Thompson. The Toddycats also manage the Love Our MacRitchie Forest movement, which was launched in response to the proposed Cross Island Line (CRL) that would cut through MacRitchie. The Toddycats hope to educate the public through their walks about the fragile ecosystem and stunning biodiversity we have here through their trails, and the Drongos are hoping to follow in their footsteps. So in a way, the Toddycats are our mentors, and we certainly learnt a lot from them on this trail.

petai_3rdaug_edit-0916

This trail was also pretty special because it was the first time our volunteers were presenting to non-Drongos, and we are proud to say that they are shaping up to be promising guides!

petai_3rdaug_edit-0917

However, we all certainly still had a lot to learn, as the Toddycats amazed us with their uncanny ability to spot all sorts of biodiversity along the trail. So for today’s post, there are a whole lot more animals, and we hope that with more experience we can someday be as sharp as the Toddycats in spotting such amazing creatures!

petai_3rdaug_edit-0877

This Ornate Coraltail (Ceriagrion cerinorubellum) was flitting around near the boardwalk. The Coraltail is a damselfly, which is not the same as a dragonfly, even though they look very similar. Both dragonflies and damselflies are from the order Odonata but are generally classified into two different suborders, with dragonflies under Anisotera and damselflies under Zygoptera. The most obvious difference between dragonflies and damselflies is that damselflies have a long, slender body as compared to dragonflies, which have shorter, stockier bodies.

petai_3rdaug_edit-0883

We were very lucky for this trail as we spotted both a Malayan Blue Coral Snake (Calliophis bivirgatus) and Wagler’s Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri )(photo below), highly venomous snakes that we had not seen since our first recce of the trail. A fun (and rather frightening) fact that we learnt from the Toddycats was that the Malayan Blue Coral Snake is also known as the Hundred Paces Snake, because its venom is so powerful that a person can only make it about a hundred paces after being bitten before they die. Ouch.

petai_3rdaug_edit-0951

It seems that the snakes like to bask near the boardwalk because the vegetation is not as dense there and thus has more sunlight. Because venom takes a while to make, it a good thing to remember that snakes generally will not attack non-prey animals (for example, us) unless they are highly threatened or cornered, so if you ever see a snake, give it some room and back away slowly so as to not startle it. Always ensure that the snake has an escape route, and you should be fine!

petai_3rdaug_edit-0892

Another interesting reptile we saw today was a Clouded Monitor Lizard (Varanus nebulosus), named as such because it has beautiful yellow cloud-like markings on its back. Monitor lizards are closely related to Komodo Dragons (the largest lizards in the world which grow up to 3 meters long), but thankfully all the Monitor Lizard species in Singapore are unable to grow that big.

petai_3rdaug_edit-0929

This Common Sailor butterfly (Neptis hylas papaja) was resting on some Resam ferns (Dicranoptris linearis). Both the Common Sailor and Resam like the sun, and both are common species found on nature reserve fringes.

petai_3rdaug_edit-0965

Speaking of butterflies, we found this fantastical caterpillar (Eudocima smaragdipicta) creature so strange that it really seems otherworldly. Other than the weird Pokémon ball-looking patterns found on its body, the oddly shaped “head” at the end of the caterpillar facing up in this photo is actually its tail! The caterpillar uses its false head to give the impression of a rearing snake as it raises its behind, serving as a defense against birds and other hungry predators.

petai_3rdaug_edit-0895

While we are on the topic of fake snakes, we also found the flower of the Rattan Plant (above) and the resulting fruit (below). The scaly fruit develops in between the “cups” of the long, segmented flower, and the cups only fall off after the fruit is ripe, exposing the fruit bunches.

Petai_19July-8270

As most of us know, the main stem of the plant is often used to make furniture and other products (like canes), but did you also know that the fruit produces a red resin known as “dragon’s blood” and is often used to dye violins?

Well, that is about it for this trail! We would like to give special thanks to the Toddycats Chloe Tan, David Tan, Yi Yong, Sean Yap and Amanda Lek for taking the time to come down to our trail with us! We hope that as we develop our own stories and gain experience as guides that we will one day make you guys proud. (:

(Thanks to David Tan, Sean Yap and Samuel Chan for pointing out some initial mistakes in the post!)

For more photos, check out our Flickr albums!

First Flock Session

Hello everyone! The Drongos have had their first guiding for our expanding flock! Due to stormy weather, our guiding session was pushed back for half an hour. Because we started a bit late, we did not manage to see as many animals as we did previously. However, it was still a very fruitful session with the flock picking up many new and fascinating stories about the trail!

watermarked-IMG_6963

Jac, the ponytailed one in blue, was our official guide. Though hoarse from all her work in the zoo, she was enthusiastic and incredibly knowledgeable throughout the trail!

photo 11

These thick, woody Lianas can commonly be seen weaving through the gaps of trees. They are commonly referred to as Tarzan’s vines as you can very well imagine him swinging through the forest using one of these. OOOAAAOOOOO!

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 5.53.49 pm

The recent wet spell seems to have resulted in a great mushroom boom, and we certainly saw a pretty big variety today! They sprouted almost everywhere: from amongst the leaf litter to rotting logs. We are not quite sure what the exact species of these shrooms are but it is better to not to pick or eat any mushrooms growing in the wild. Some mushrooms can be very poisonous (even if they look pretty familiar or tasty), so try not to eat and random mushrooms you find outside your supermarket!

Branded Imperial (Eooxylides tharis distanti)

This Branded Imperial Butterfly (Eooxylides tharis distanti) was spotted perching picturesquely on the stem, allowing for this wonderful shot. It is a rather common sight and can be seen in gardens and parks all around Singapore.

watermarked-IMG_6988

This Hairy Clidemia (Clidemia hirta)might be a common sight along the roads of Singapore but did you know that it is an alien species? It actually originates from the American Neotropics (Mexico to Paraguay) and has invaded three continents including Africa! Its nickname, Koster’s Curse, is well-founded as it is known to grow in dense thickets and smother hence outcompeting native vegetation.

watermarked-IMG_7033

This winged fruit is from a Diterocarp (Greek for two-winged fruit)tree, likely belonging to the Seraya genus. It’s three wings help disperse the fruits so that it would not compete with the parent tree for resources such as water and sunlight. It was great fun watching these fruits spinning down like helicopters! Moreover, these tall trees are known to be keystone species, it’s effects far outweighs its abundance, serving as a home for mammals and providing food for them. Isn’t it cool how such little seeds are so important?

Golden silk orb spider

A Golden silk orb-weaver (Nephila pilipes) was seen hanging by sidewalk, a common sight in most nature reserves in Singapore. Surprisingly, the Golden within the name does not refer the bright yellow strips on the spider but how some threads in their web glimmer like gold in sunlight.

watermarked-IMG_7045

The Rattan (Myrialepis paradox) looks forbidding with its spiky bark but more people are familiar with it when the spikes are gone. After all, it is from this plant when our parents commonly get their canes from!

Sweat Bees (Nomia sp.)

This Halictidae (Nomia sp.) or more commonly known as Sweat Bee, seems intent on gathering nectar from this Sendudok (Melastoma malabathricum). Its nickname is apt as these bees are known to be attracted to perspiration.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was a fun, informative and wet session spent together with the flock! Do look out for our next exploits with our new flock and hopefully more sightings of animals!

Credit for the brilliant photos: Aw Jeanice, Judy Goh and Jac Chua

Recruitment!

THE DRONGOS ARE LOOKING TO EXPAND THE FLOCK, AND ARE RECRUITING!

drongo_this

Who we are: We are a group of ardent nature lovers from BES (Bachelor of Environmental Studies, NUS) who are keen on passing on this passion to the general public. We call ourselves the drongos because they are iconic birds within our central catchment area, birds with a penchant for following monkeys. (They do this to feast on insects the monkeys stir up; aren’t they clever?)

What our goals are: To educate the public on the value of our resident ecosystems as well as raise awareness about the importance of our central catchment nature reserve.

What we are looking for: committed and interested nature-lovers who are free on weekends (You do not need prior guiding experience or any relevant knowledge, we will provide workshops and information!)

What you will do: Guide a group of interested participants through the Petai trail with two or three other guides, pointing out interesting plants and animals and explaining intriguing and relevant ecological issues.

What is the Petai Trail: it is a popular nature trail in the Central Catchment Reserve, within MacRitchie Reservior Park. For more detailed information, click this link: https://www.nparks.gov.sg/cms/docs/diy_guide/prunus_trail_macritchie.pdf

What can you see: pit vipers, shiny beetles, skinks and well more than we can list! Click this link to see our recent recce trip: https://besdrongos.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/testing/

What commitments: Attending guiding workshops (dates tentatively in July, weekends), provide guiding on weekends twice a semester.

How to sign up: Fill up this form and email to envhelp@nus.edu.sg by 16 June! It’s that simple!

We hope to see more potential drongos signing up, and we can’t wait to meet you all soon!

Petai Trail Recce

Hey everybody! We are the BES Petai Trail team (name pending) and we are happy to report that our first recce of the petai trail along MacRitchie Reservoir was while wet, was also very fruitful. The Petai Trail is a boardwalk that explores an intriguing area of jungle that sits right next to the reservoir itself, and is home to a variety of very interesting plants and animals. The trail itself is located 0.5km from the main MacRitchie reservoir visitor center and is a fairly easy walk. As we are still exploring the area and developing our stories to tell, please enjoy these photos we took on our first trip for now!

Image

We found quite a few of these shiny beetles (Colasposoma auripenne) hiding among the plants. This particular one is sitting between the leaves of a Hairy Clidemia (Clidemia hirta).

Image

A Wagler’s Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus walgleri) was found curled up in a bush near the boardwalk. These snakes are some of the most common in Southeast Asia and is considered venomous, although this species is generally not very aggressive. However, that does not mean that it is safe to touch; as with all other wildlife, one should always admire snakes from a distance, and not provoke them!

Image

This Blue Malayan Coral Snake (Calliophis Bivergatis) is one of our most venomous local snakes, and has been known to eat other snakes as well! Don’t worry though, staying on the boardwalk means that the snakes was largely unhindered by our presence, and simply slithered away without even bothering to take a second look at us.

Image

This Many-Lined Sun Skink (Eutropis multifasciata) was pretty well camouflaged in the leaf litter. These skinks are quite common in many parts of Singapore, and can be found in both primary and secondary forest and can sometimes be found in parks.

Image

The lovely view of the reservoir from the trail!

Image

The recent spate of rain has resulted in quite a few mushrooms popping up all over the place and can be found on a variety of things, from rotting logs to dead leaves. We are not too sure what kind of mushroom this is, but it sure has some nice gill ridges.

Image

This fabulous unidentified cricket is posing on a Singapore Rhodendron (Melastoma malabathricum), which is also commonly known as Sendudok. This plant is considered medicinal by a variety of cultures across Southeast Asia, but is often called a noxious weed in the US. 

 

Image

The Leaf Litter Plant (Agrostistachys longifolia) is an understory plant with leaves that grow in a spiral, that tends to catch fallen leaves, thus earning itself such an odd name. The plant directly absorbs nutrients from the decomposing leaves trapped in its own leaf spiral, enabling it to grow quickly in the undergrowth.

Well, that’s all for now. Look out for our next misadventure soon, featuring the Toddycats as we do our second recce of the trail!