Hey let’s take a picture with thi…MY BAG!

Hi guys, it’s been a while but we’re back! So, with all the trekking up and down the forest, we realized that a lot of Singaporeans don’t really know how to deal with wildlife. We’re a city in a garden – but do any of us knows what that really entails?

Opening walk!
Opening walk: All those happy faces after a hard walk!

So, this post will be about wildlife-human conflict: learning how to live near a forest and all its inhabitants. Understanding this is just part and parcel of being stewards of this land, and although we claim to be fully urbanised, green spaces are also included! Living on a small island like Singapore means that we often have direct contact with any of the wildlife we have, whether they are roaming our urban landscapes as familiar creatures or encroaching on our spaces by venturing out of their usual natural habitat. The 2012 boar attack saga and our continual struggle with long-tailed macaques only highlight the fact that many of the us are still ill-equipped to deal with wild creatures in our interactions with them.

So here’s the post to boost your knowledge! We will be covering two main topics: conflict with monkeys and what to do with an injured animal.

Long-tailed Macaque
Long-tailed Macaque

Conflict with long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) have been a huge issue in Singapore in the recent few years. As our housing estates inch closer to forested areas, so does our proximity with the residents of these nature areas. As we start to interact with one another, inappropriate behavior has exacerbated the already tense situation.

So to those who are faced with macaques, here are some tips to live by:

1. Don’t freak out.

While macaques can look terrifying at times, we are ten times more scary to them as they are to us. We are their equivalent of King Kong and not in the fun way. So when we scream and flail, our panic is palpable and they will react to the situation too. So, resist the urge to shriek and wave sticks in their direction as it only worsens the situation. If you feel that they are getting too close, establishing boundaries by pointing (not waving!); a stick will be effective. However, it’s better to just walk away and as the saying goes, Keep Calm and no seriously, keep calm.

2. Do not stare or smile (This is not a zoo exhibit).

Back away…slowly

It would be good to keep in mind that these monkeys are wild and are not domesticated or tamed in any way. Hence, staring and smiling at them as if they are in a zoo exhibit is not a good idea at all. For one staring, in monkey psychology, is an aggressive behavior and when they stare at you, this means they feel threatened. So, when you stare back, especially in the eye, you’re challenging them. Another important point is smiling, you should not, never, smile at a monkey. While we Homo sapiens view this as friendly behavior, they do not. When you bare your teeth at them, this makes them uncomfortable as fang-flashing is a scare tactic in the primate world. Should you feel the urge to coo at them, then smile with your lips and not with your teeth.

3.Plastic bags…just don’t.

Other than the fact that they’re environmentally unfriendly, the crinkling of plastic bags is, to put in the words of Amy and Sabrina (an awesome pair of monkey researchers), “monkey crack”. They have long learnt to associate plastic bags with food and they will snatch it right out your hand. Survival of the fittest so bringing one into a area where you know troops of monkeys are hanging out is like wandering into dark alleys in the middle of the night. Don’t do it. Use wonderful reusable cloth bags that make no such sound and don’t rip like plastic bags do. If you have a snack that you want to eat, try to make as little noise as you can. However, it’s not a good idea to eat in front of a troop of hungry monkeys. So if you are starving, it’s better to move to an area where there aren’t any monkeys waiting to pounce on you for your chips.

4. Monkey vs Human: Monkey wins (usually).

You and what army?! (Cue entire troop of monkey hiding in the trees)

So the next time, a monkey snatches something of yours, don’t try to play tug of war with it. You’re not going to win even with your superior size because these macaques travel in troops and they are big on teamwork. The big males in the troop will often step in and help. It’s best to simply let them take it, your safety is more important! They usually lose interest in it and drop it. However, do take note that even things that they have set down, they still consider it theirs. So it’s better to wait until they’re not looking before you take your stuff back. Then again, it’s best to keep all your valuable items in a secure place, backpack or purse to prevent anything or getting stolen.

With that, I hope you have a better understanding on how to deal with macaques. Now, on to our second topic: What if I see an injured macaque or animal?

1. Don’t freak out.

This is pretty much the golden rule for any wildlife encounter (or really any strange encounter in life). They are already stressed from being injured and your terror will only make the situation worse.

2. Is it really injured or in need of help?

Observe them calmly for a moment to decide if they are really injured. This might sound stupid but sometimes a second glance can really clarify things. If you think you have found a lost young animal, your heart of gold tells you to rescue it. Don’t do it! Sometimes, young animals wander off like toddlers do so don’t take them even if they look lost! Their parents are often not far away and they will react negatively to you seemingly kidnapping their offspring. Moreover, removing healthy wildlife from their natural habitat is a criminal offense for majority of species in Singapore.

3. Domestic or Wild?

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 4.48.41 pm
Domestic (startled cat) vs Wild (beautiful baby starling)

There are different steps to do if you are faced with a hurt dog or a hurt bat. So, take a moment to see if the animal is a domestic one (dogs, rabbits, cats etc) or a wild one (macaques, civets, bats etc.)

4 Approach the relevant authorities 

Wild animals are not used to giant hands touching them and they are likely to attack if they feel threatened. Moreover, since majority of us are not trained specialists, we are far more likely to harm the animal rather than soothe it. Call ACRES Wildlife Rescue Hotline: 97837782, they will assist you and a ACRES Wildlife Rescue Team will likely be dispatched to help the animal. If you have to move it to a safer location (away from a road), cover it with a box with breathing holes and slide a lid/thin board underneath. Then, carry it away. However, it’s best not to touch it at all unless it’s in a dangerous location. Read the ACRES extremely useful website for more information.

Domestic animals like dogs and cats are used to human touch so there is a lower chance of them biting your hand if you attempt to move them. However, there is still a chance. So, check the situation and if they are snarling and growling, it’s best to just leave them as they are. Call SPCA 24 –Hour emergency hotline: 62875355. They will give you advice and assist you in helping the creature. Read their very instructive page for more detailed information on what to do.

Thus, we have come to the end of this (hopefully) informative post that will help you become better stewards of our earth! Or at least, how to handle wildlife. Well, see you at the next post:)

Many thanks to a whole lot of people who have made this post possible! Firstly, Amy and Sabrina for their great information on macaques! Secondly, Joy for sharing this information with us! Lastly, Jac for the awesome photos!

For more cool photos, check our Flickr page!

Words by: Melissa Wong


Variable Anim…Drongo!

Hello everyone! The BES Drongos recently conducted our last training walk before the official opening for public trail walks.

Look at all the ready faces!

Ready to Rumb…Guide!

As with every walk, we see different things and it’s part of the reason why these walks are exciting because you never know what you will see! Animals aren’t stationary, like many of us who constantly check the fridge for something to eat. They are in constant motion and we cannot guarantee that you will definitely see an animal during our walks. They could be sleeping, feeding, hunting for prey… at any point in time as you’re walking along the Petai Trail boardwalk, which is a singular route that you can take along the edge of the forest that will minimise your disturbance to the quiet nature reserve.

Oooo, what’s that?

However, the wonders of reading mean that even if you could not spot them on our walks, you can read all about what it’s like to experience them here! This post is on Variable Animals, animals that you might see along the walks – but have unpredictable behaviour and roam all over the nature reserve, unlike plants which are stationary and usually can be found in the same place from one week to the next.

Our mascot bird!

This is our namesake bird, the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus). These birds are common in forested areas and have two distinctive elongated tail feather bare shafts. When they are in flight, it looks like they’re being chased by a pair of carpenter bees!

We call ourselves the Drongos because these birds, like us, are both noisy and clever. They can not only mimic calls of other birds very well, they also use this unique ability to steal food from other creatures. How do they do so? Well, they can use alarm cries known to, perhaps, pigeons to scare them away, stealing what food they have left behind. Scheming, aren’t they? This looting behavior is known as kleptoparasitism.

This video below shows how a clever fork-tailed Drongo, not the same species as the ones found here, steal food from a group of Meerkats!

This is not the only interesting foraging behavior they show. They have also been seen following in the trails of troops of monkeys to eat the insects that these monkeys stir up in their wake. In fact, our slogan, “Follow that monkey” is inspired by this sneaky behavior.


The Long-tailed Macaque (Macaca fascicularis) is another animal that practices Kleptoparasitism and more often than not, they steal from us! I’m sure everyone has been warned of the practice not to bring along food or plastic bags on the trail (if you have not, please read our Essential Information page for trail etiquette pointers). This is because the BES Drongos, along with people who live close to the habitats of the macaques in Singapore as well as those who frequent these places, have observed the macaques’ behaviour of having their belongings snatched away by these fleet-footed creatures.

These Old World monkeys are intelligent – they have even learned to use rocks as tools to crack open the shells of crabs to eat them! This gives rise to their other common name, the crab-eating macaque. Why crabs? These macaques originally thrived in the mangroves of Singapore where crabs are a common food source. Gradually, their populations have spilled into more forested settings, like the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

Macaques are also a species that like to roam around the edge of their habitat. Since Singapore’s forest cover has diminished over the years, these macaques have increasingly smaller areas to forage for food, and thus, they turn to urban areas. Many people, at the sight of an adorable-looking wild animal, reach for food to feed it. However, by regularly feeding these macaques, they have learnt to associate humans with food. Some of them have abandoned their usual foraging behaviours because humans subsidise them with food! The food you give them are not in their regular diet and might make them sick. So, the next time you are faced with a macaque, please keep your distance and refrain from feeding it!


This huge turtle you see here is the Asian Softshell Turtle (Amyda cartilaginea). This particular creature is fondly referred to as the “Mother-ship” by the BES Drongos. Why? As it is observed that wherever it goes, a trail of Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) seem to follow. It brings to mind a giant Mother-ship spaceship with the smaller spacecrafts swerving behind. DA DA DADADADAAAAADA DA…

Well, moving on…like the Red-eared Sliders, this species is not native to Singapore. It could have been brought over to Singapore to be boiled for soup. Yikes! Furthermore, since they are considered a delicacy in many Asian countries, their populations have been dropping. In fact, it is classified as Vulnerable under the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List. So, the next time you are at a Chinese restaurant, maybe you can order lotus root soup instead of turtle soup.

Slinky skink

Lastly, this Common Sun Skink (Eutropis multifasciatus) is another cold-blooded creature you can often see basking under the sunlight along the boardwalk. As you can observe from this photo, they have a glossy, somewhat angular body with smaller legs. This feature, along with the fact that they have no pronounced neck, helps differentiate them from true lizards (Family: Lacertidae). They are also remarkably pretty under the morning sun with glints of auburn and bronze gleaming off their scales.

Like the “lizards” we find at home, or rather more accurately Geckos (Family: Gekkonidae), these skinks are known to practice Autotomy. Doesn’t sound familiar? Well, word comes from the Greek words “auto-“ meaning self- and “tome” meaning severing. I’m sure, all of you have seen, at one point or another, a clever gecko escaping leaving its wiggling tail behind to distract its predator. The Common Sun Skink is also known to exhibit this behavior but it doesn’t grow back perfectly. So, don’t go trying any experiments!

Well, as a familiar bunny goes, That’s all folks! I hope you have enjoyed reading about the interesting animals you can see along our trail. With the start of the Opening Walks, hopefully some of you guys will actually get to see some of these critters.

We are fully subscribed for this season but do come and join us for our next upcoming season in January. We look forward to see you then!

Planet of the Apes! Kind of.

Hey all! With the public walks coming up, BES Drongos have been going down every weekend to hone our guiding skills. It’s been hard work but fun at the same time.

BES Drongos Flock:)

This post will be slightly different as it will be both about the creatures that we saw and about invasive species. We hope not only to show what the BES Drongos are doing but also to show readers how nature works.

So, what is an invasive species?

As you can infer from the video, they are usually an exotic (not native) flora or fauna that has a negative impact on the local environment. They usually thrive in the introduced environment and can outcompete local species (which is a fancy way of saying they can snatch away precious food, water and other natural resources). It’s kind of like Planet of the Apes, only that highly evolved apes are more often than not highly evolved plants and smaller creatures and the people who are being terrorized are the local biodiversity, which might or might not include us.

Hairy Clidemia

A famous example of invasive species is the Hairy Clidemia (Clidemia hirta). This hairy leaf is commonly seen along the edges of our forest and is found throughout Singapore. While this plant might look innocuous, it has spread from its native continent (South America) to as far as Australia. Producing about 500 fruits in a single year, it is capable of outcompeting local plant species by sheer reproductive capacity. This has given it its nickname, Koster’s Curse. Koster, in fact, was the man who introduced this species to Hawaii. The plant wrecked such havoc on the coconut plantations there that it was considered a curse. Hence, Koster’s Curse, which in hindsight might not exactly be the legacy you want to leave behind.

However, as of the time this post is written, the Hairy Clidemia is not considered an invasive species in Singapore. This is because it is currently found only at forest edges and not within the forest itself. However, this does not mean it has no effect on the local ecosystem.

Look familiar? A Red-eared Slider as seen in Bishan

It’s not just plants that are invading our local forests, animals are too. The cause this time, are Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans). They don’t sound familiar? I’m pretty sure you have seen them before, just take a look at the picture below.

Red Eared Sliders Boardwalk
Red eared sliders spotted by the boardwalk along the Petai Trail

They’re the cute terrapins that you had as pets as kids. Small and placid, they were perfect when you were little. However, these terrapins live for up to 30 years and grow much bigger. They’re no longer able to keep them in those small, blue plastic tanks. These terrapins, more often than not, are released into reservoirs and ponds. They’re in their natural environment, right?

Wrong! These Red-eared Sliders originate from the Land of the Free, USA. They’re brought over here because they’re so popular as pets. When people release them into our ponds, they start competing with our local turtle species for basking and nesting sites. This has led to a great decline in numbers of local turtles. They’re so successful as an invasive species that places like Australia and Europe has banned the trade of them. Maybe it’s time for Singapore to do the same.

Green Crested Lizard, spotted along Petai Trail

Another example of local species being outcompeted by invasive species is the displacement of the Green Crested Lizard (Bronchocela cristatella) by the Changeable Lizard (Calotes versicolor). The pictures are both Green Crested Lizards, native to Singapore. As you can see, they’re a brilliant green-bluish colour though (as seen above), prior to mating, the lizard has been observed to change into a dark brown colour (as seen below).

Another Green Crested Lizard though not quite green. This is likely due to the mating season.

In Singapore, these lizards have often been displaced by the more aggressive Changeable Lizard, an exotic species. Now, Green Crested Lizards can rarely be found in urban areas and forest edges but are still frequently seen in our nature reserves and forests.

Photo taken from Ecology Asia
Changeable Lizard, photo taken from Ecology Asia

However, we cannot always blame the invasive species for the fall in local diversity.  These species could simply be moving into abandoned areas, rather than outcompeting native species. What do I mean? Take for example the construction of a park. This would undeniably change the natural habitat from a forest to an urban area. Native species, unused to such an environment, would eventually leave because they cannot find food and other necessities. Hence, it would be inaccurate to say that the invasive species are the cause of displacement of native species when they are simply expanding into an abandoned area.

Habitat disruption as a matter of fact is far more likely to be a greater threat towards biodiversity than invasive species. Habitat disruptions is a global trend and occurs even in Singapore. A very recent example that its currently happening in the Johor straits would be the reclamation of land causing destruction of coral habitats, or the clearance of existing forests to build more housing. These are just some examples of habitat disruptions that have changed natural habitats to such great extent that native species can simply die out. This trend is so prevalent in our time that many scientists are now certain that we are going through the 6th Mass Extinction! This is frightening if you consider how the last Mass Extinction was the period by which the dinosaurs went extinct. So, here’s a short video that would tell you more about this event and why we should worry about this.

Well, all these issues might seem insurmountable and a problem best left to the authorities and experts. That’s not exactly true. This problem is our problem and sticking your head under the sand like an ostrich is not going to make it go away. Such large issues need both global and community action and your choice to be aware of such an issue can be a tipping point for your community. We encourage you to read, research, join our guided walks and watch more TED videos in order to, in the words of Jac the research officer, find out what you have to lose and then decide if you want to save it or not.

Well, we have more misadventures ahead of us whether on the Petai Trail or on the other roads of life. So, do continue to come back to read more about it!

Credit for the brilliant photos: Aw Jeanice, Ecology Asia, Jac and Rachel Lee.

For more fascinating photos, check out our Flickr account.

Trails by Fire, the nomnomnom edition.

Hey Everyone! I hope you’re getting excited about our upcoming public walks! Trails by Fire, 24 August, happened last Sunday and it was awesome to see the great lengths that BES Drongos have improved since the start!



Look at all the Drongos diligently guiding their fellow Drongos!

The weather was the typical unpredictable Singapore weather with odd drizzles in the middle of the trail. Thankfully, there wasn’t lightning and the drizzles were short so we pushed on. We managed to see some animals particularly the Malayan Blue Coral Snake and Malayan Pit Viper which we had seen previously on our trails. However, this post will be about something that we haven’t talked about, something that will satisfy our stomach…


You guessed it: Fruits! While we humans cannot consume all the fruits of the forest, they are nonetheless a source of food for the creatures of the forest. Here are some the fruits we spotted along the trail:


These Golden Hairy Figs (Ficus aurata) crowding at the base of the leaf does sort of look like a longan, doesn’t it? However, they are in a completely different family as their fellow tropical fruits and are inedible. This particular fig-tree can be distinguished by its distinctive stiff golden hairs that cover its leaves and fruits. It isn’t just the nickname that reflects this fig’s characteristic nature. In fact, it’s latin name, aurata, meaning glided with gold also hints at the golden hairs found on the plant. This shrub is common throughout Singapore so try to spot this enchanting tree if you can!


Here’s another hairy fruit: the berry of the Hairy Clidemia (Clidemia hirta). This plant is extremely common throughout Singapore and can be found on the outskirts of forests. You can easily recognized it by its hairy leaves! These sweet dark purple berries are a favorite of birds and as you can guess, are dispersed by animals. This berry is supposedly edible and taste like deeply favoured blueberries. However, one should try it with caution as you could get a stomachache.

We have encountered this particular plant many times on our trails so to read more: click here and here.


This woody pod is not actually a seed as some of you might think; it is actually a fruit! It is the unopened seed pods of the mighty Chewing Gum Tree (Dyera costulata) or perhaps a name that you might be more familiar with: Jelutong. Well, you might be astonished to find that this brown, stiff pod is actually a fruit since we are all used to seeing our typical juicy and fleshy fruits in the supermarkets.

This is due to the mode by which the seed is dispersed from. As you can observe, this unappetizing fruit is probably not going to attract any animal to eat it. Instead, this tall tree (can grow up to 60m!) disperses its seeds via wind. The seedpod will usually open high up in the tree canopy, releasing winged seeds which will be scattered by the wind. It is similar to how your clothes sometimes fall from the bamboo poles. They are rarely found directly under the pole but some distance away!


This blueberry lookalike is actually the fruit of the Nibong palm (Oncosperma tigillarium). The Nibong Palm is usually found in clusters near water bodies and is distinctive due to its black spine on the stem of the trees. Though the berries might look delicious, they are likely to be inedible so don’t eat them if you see them! However, should you need food desperately, the heart of the palm (inner core of the palm) can be eaten raw or cooked with coconut sauce. Yum!

Unripe fruit of Rattan palm
Ripe fruit of Rattan palm

This colorful, scaly fruit is from the Rattan palm (Calamus sp.)  The fruits shown above aren’t ripe yet, but they will soon take on various shades of brown. While we cannot eat it’s fruits, it is still important in the musical world!. Some of the fruits of the rattan will exude a red resin which is called, interestingly, Dragon’s Blood. It is currently being used as a vanish for violins. There are even more common uses for the rattan palms itself how the skin of rattan strands can be weaved into baskets, “cores” made into furniture and perhaps the one we are most familiar with: the rattan cane our parents used to smack us with.


Last of all, this striped dark and light brown seed is a Rubber Seed (Hevea brasiliensis). It might look innocuous but the capsule (fruit that contains the seeds) actually exploded to throw this seed as far as possible from the parent tree. Though this seed looks rather unextraordinary, the struggle to bring these seeds out of Brazil (the native country) is fraught with bio-piracy, controversy and blood. This makes a fascinating read if you can spare the time.

Well, I hope you have been enlightened about the seeds and fruits of our forest. We’re be going about our trail soon again so do look out for our next misadventures.

For more cool photos: check out our Flickr

Talk Science To Us

Hello everybody! Jac the research officer here. For this post, we are going to take a break from all the cool things that we discover along the Petai trail and talk about, well, talking about science. As we all know, telling stories about biodiversity is not the easiest thing to do, even though it seems effortless. So, to help us along with the guiding process, I would like to introduce to you all some of my favorite science youtubers, and why I love them!

First up is Emily Grasilie from The Brain Scoop. She is a science communicator and Youtube presenter, and currently works as the American Field Museum as their first ever Curiosity Correspondent. What I love about her is her incredibly infectious energy and relaxed, conversational tone when she presents about all the weird specimens she has at the museum, which tends to make the viewer feel excited about whatever she is talking about purely because… she seems excited too. I personally think she manages to pull off such great energy because she really is genuinely very passionate about whatever she is talking about, and she always draws her audience’s attention using emphasis when she speaks (“Sometimes they are called… THE WALKING ARTICHOKE or anteater pinecones, because basically thats what they look like.”). Plus, she makes great use of her hand gestures when describing a specimen at hand to point out all their crazy features and how they work, so in a sense she makes her dead specimens come alive through her actions and descriptions, which in turn also work because they tend to be delivered in the form of simple and funny comments. So if you are incredibly excited about nature and think you are or can be as cute as Emily, I do suggest you look at her video on Owls and Romantic Ants. A warning though; some of the brain scoop videos can be a bit gory because she taxidermises some animals, but the three in this post are gore-free. I promise.

Next we have Zefrank1, who runs an incredible nature narration series called True Facts. Not much is known about Mr Zefrank other than that he has a soothing voice that rivals the legendary Sir David Attenbrough, but what we do know is that he spices up his presentation with a descriptive language that borders on the ridiculous. In a manner, Zefrank makes fact so much stranger than fiction, and the resulting hilarity makes the whole package work. His sarcasm and jokes are what make information stick, and he is not afraid to make relatable comparisons between animal and human behavior to get the audience to understand how and why animals do certain things. It may not be possible for us mere mortals to write a script as golden as Mr Zefrank, I am certainly going to try. For more inspiration, I suggest you also listen to his take on the Anglerfish and Chameleon.

Last but not least, I would like to give you all a throwback to the 90s, where one of the best science presenters took to the air. I know he’s not part of youtube formally, but Bill Nye the Science guy is a tough act to follow, even today. Bill Nye really appeals to me even now because he makes complex things simple. This particular episode about biodiversity sums up everything about all our process keywords like ecosystem, biodiversity and the idea of scale when it comes to such keywords. What is amazing is that it is simple enough for kids to understand, but it does not sound dumbed down. Bill Nye episodes are also interesting because he has a segment called “Consider the Following” (at 9:11), in which he actually deals with more controversial issues on an equal level with his audience and actually asks for opinions while effectively introducing his own. This is fun because it gets people thinking, which in turn gets them involved with the information being presented. Another thing I like about Bill Nye episodes is that they run along themes that he comes back to often to broaden the viewer’s understanding, and to re-enforce the main message, like in this episode where the emphasis falls on how everything is connected. This makes the whole episode seem neat, and this would work nicely for anything that has to be presented in a continuous time block, like our walks! For your viewing pleasure and daily dose of nostalgia, I suggest you watch all of the Bill Nye episodes on youtube. ALL OF THEM.

Aaaaand that is it! These are all my favorite science presenters on youtube. But before I go, I would like to leave with you a clip from my favorite comedian on one of my ex-favorite nature presenters Steve Irwin:

R.I.P Steve. While your exploits thrilled us, touching everything dangerous is generally not an example most of us can (or should!) follow.

If anyone has any comments or questions, feel free to drop me an email at besdrongos@gmail.com! Just put a “To Jac” in the subject header and I will try my best to answer any queries you all may have. Till then, happy guiding! (:

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.


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!


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.


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!


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!


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!