Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Pulau Ubin...Again!

Yes, we went back to Pulau Ubin for the third time.  You see, I went to the library last week to pick up the first volume of The Singapore Story, and in the process of tracking that down, I also found two other jewels: a Chek Jawa Guidebook and a big book with a lot of pictures called Pulau Ubin: Ours to Treasure.  The books got me all excited to get back out there and search out some wildlife, so we headed off on Sunday.  The cheap way to get to Pulau Ubin is to take the MRT green line to Tanah Merah, then catch bus number two to Changi Village Ferry Terminal, where you pay $2.50 (yup, the price went up) to take a short bumboat ride to the island.  But we were in a fired up hurry to start taking pictures, so we took a taxi to Changi Village to get some lunch at Tequila Blue.

A quick sidebar about Tequila Blue: The first time we ever went to Ubin, we stopped for Mexican food at this restaurant.  The food was decent- nowhere near as good as the Mexican food you get in the U.S., but still the best Mexican food we'd had in Singapore.  We tried to go back the last time we went to Ubin, but when we stopped by at 3 PM, the woman working told us that they don't serve food at that hour.  This time, I checked their hours online, and it said they opened at 11:30, so I was confident that they would give us some lunch when we got there at 11:35.  Wrong.  They sent us away again, and we ended up at Subway for the second time.  So- if you want to go to Tequila Blue, maybe you should call ahead.

In Changi Village, the red-breasted parakeets were out in force.  I mentioned in this previous post that these birds are an invasive species that seems to be thriving in this one part of Singapore- I've never seen them anywhere else.  Last time, we only saw two up in one tree, but this time we saw six or seven, flying around and eating and apparently tending to nests.  A local told us that the ones with shorter tails (like those of the two birds in the bottom photo) are juveniles.

The boat ride to Ubin was short and pleasant, like usual.  It was a beautiful day, and it was relaxing to watch the sun dance on the waves.

When we got to Ubin, we decided to take a meandering walk to Chek Jawa, starting out on the Sensory Trail, which is full of cultivated plants like banana, jackfruit, and durian trees, as well as spices like ginger.  As we were walking toward the trail, I noticed something that I'd missed on our previous two visits.  Right behind the police station is one of the most well-concealed abandoned buildings I've ever seen!!  It's a small little structure that was probably once used either as storage or as a guard booth, and it's almost completely hidden by growth, especially trees and vines.  The dark doorway is pretty much the only thing you can see from the path.

The wildlife started rolling pretty quickly when we got on the trail.  Our first spot was this lovely dragonfly with intricate wings.

I think this butterfly is a grey sailor, but I'm not positive.  The sailors look similar to the sergeants, and I'm not an expert lepidopterist.

Before long we'd made it to a beach, where we stopped to watch the waves and the scuttling crabs.  They were porcelain fiddler crabs, and we even got to watch these two duel with their oversized claws!  I was surprised to learn that fiddler crabs can change colors, and that males often brighten up during mating season.

We also found this fascinating little sand bubbler crab.  This type of crab eats the detritus off the outside of sand, and deposits the leftover sand in sand balls, which it litters around its burrow.

We also saw a sea slug.  I'm usually very appreciative of the beauty of nature, but I think these things look like big, wet boogers with sand stuck to them.  Blech.  The slug blends in so well with the sand that it's hard to even tell what you're looking at, but if you look closely, you can see stalks pointing off to the right.

Here I am, relishing a warm sea breeze.

 Eventually we tore ourselves away from the seaside and got back onto the path.  Before long we saw the telltale signs that pigs had been rooting around- busted up coconuts and mussed up soil.  We were on edge, expecting to meet a wild boar around any corner when we heard something crashing around in the brush behind us.  I whirled around, nearly jumping out of my skin, just in time to see a HUGE water monitor come zipping out onto the path.  I could hardly believe his size.  He really was one of the largest that either of us had ever seen, but he was gone in a split second.  He ran right across our path, and splashed into the water on the other side.

I checked a couple of resources, including Wild Birds in Singapore, but couldn't identify this bright yellow bird.  Any suggestions?  (update: It's a brown-throated sunbird).

There are fruit trees all over the place on Ubin.  The overladen jackfruit trees are interesting.  Before moving to S'pore, I'd never even heard of jackfruit, and I was surprised the first time I saw a bulbous green fruit about the size of a toddler, propped up at a fruit stand in the Boon Lay Bus Interchange.  I don't much like the taste of jackfruit (too much like durian), but I enjoy watching the monkeys munch on them.

This bird appears to be saying, "Seriously, WHAT are you looking at?!  Get out of here!"  Unfortunately, I don't have an identification for this bird.  Sigh.  I really need to invest in Birds of Southeast Asia. (update: It's an ashy tailorbird, a type of bird that is common in mangrove habitats).

Bryan was happy as a clam, out of the hustle and bustle of the city, taking pictures of wildlife.

 In the mangrove area of Chek Jawa, we found tons and tons of crabs, as usual.  If you look closely, you can see that there are two in this picture.  I love their red eyes, and I'm always amazed at how fragile their eyestalks are.  They look like they could be damaged so easily.

This fat mudskipper had spots on his side that appeared to glow in the dark.  The ones on his face looked like sparkly freckles!

Bryan and I ran into some hardcore photographers with a very long, camouflaged lens, and they pointed out this bird for us.  I think it's an orange-bellied flowerpecker.  (update: It's a Mangrove Blue Flycatcher, a member of a species that is nationally threatened in Singapore.  Low Bing Wen Albert has some interesting comments on the bird in the comments below.  Thanks to him, Ivan, and everyone else that has continued to help me identify the birds of Singapore!)  Before Bryan and I got interested in photography, we often passed birds by without much interest, but having the camera has turned us on to birdlife.  It's been fun getting to know the birdlife better, especially in a place as diverse as southeast Asia.

While hanging out on the boardwalk, Bryan and I heard some telltale, obnoxious squawking (seriously, it's so loud and crazy.  It reminds me of Scuttle from The Little Mermaid).  We went off looking for a hornbill, since we knew one had to be around somewhere.  We were delighted to find not one, but TWO Oriental pied hornbills.  We hurried to the top of the nearby observation tower to try to get some photos of them soaring around.  We didn't have the best of luck, but we did snap a couple of decent ones.  I think the bird in the top photo is eating a fig.
The hornbill was once believed to be extinct in S'pore, but has recently been mounting a comeback, largely thanks to the Singapore Hornbill Project, which has undertaken projects such as building nest boxes for the birds.  Now the birds seem to be doing well on Pulau Ubin, and it's hoped that they'll begin to thrive on parts of the mainland as well.  This video on the Hornbill Project doesn't have much information, but it does have some cool footage of the birds.

On our way out of Chek Jawa, we noticed a commotion off to one side of the road.  I was astonished to see a docile wild boar (is that an oxymoron?) being fed by a man.  I was sad to see that the boar was being fed- human feeding isn't a problem that's isolated to the monkeys- but it was still really exciting to see a wild boar.  The man doing the feeding was a van driver who ferries people back and forth between the jetty and the wetland, and he had a group of people with him.  After they'd all posed for photos and gotten dangerously close to the wild animal with their small children, they left and Bryan and I had the area to ourselves for awhile.

 The first boar we saw was a female, but she was soon joined by a burly male with a streak of black bristles down his back .  As they rooted around, another, smaller female popped up, and trailing along behind her was the sweetest little striped piglet!!  While Bryan took photos, I made the cooing, squeaky sounds that most women make when they see a baby animal.

After watching the boar for awhile, we headed down the road and back in the direction of the jetty.  Along the way, Bryan and I talked about the monkeys that live on Ubin.  We'd heard that there are several groups on the island, but we had never seen a single monkey there.  A few minutes after that discussion, I heard an infant macaque calling back in the trees, and then we saw a big group of monkeys roaming around the road.  It was pretty exciting to finally see some Ubin monkeys, and it was interesting to see how timid they were.  Most of them took to the trees, where they perched to stare down at us.

The monkeys were our last major excitement for the day, but we did see some neat things along the road, like this immaculately organized legion of ants that we first ignored because it was so perfect that it looked like a crack in the road.  I also appreciated this fallen orange flower against the asphalt background.

We went back to the main island happy, and we even managed to eat at Tequila Blue (it wasn't as good as we remembered, but it was still probably the best Mexican food we've had in Singapore.  Dammit, I just want El Rincon).  But before we had mediocre Mexican food, we got to end our day with a sunset boat ride, and it was a lovely way to end the day.

(Thanks to The Singapore Daily, Singapore Surf, and Wild Singapore for posting links to this entry on their sites!)


  1. Low Bing Wen AlbertJune 2, 2010 at 6:15 PM

    The first bird picture under the Water Monitor is a male Plain-throated/Brown-throated Sunbird.

    The 2nd picture directly below that is an Ashy Tailorbird, a species commonly associated with our mangrove forest.

    Finally, the 3rd picture is the best of them all. Its a male Mangrove Blue Flycatcher. This bird is a mangrove specialist and is nationally threatened in Singapore due to habitat destruction. In the past, it used to be found only on Pulau Tekong and the small islets surrounding it; due to the extensive mature mangroves remaining there. The reason the bird has attracted so much attention on Ubin is because a pair were found nesting on the mangrove boardwalk at Chek Jawa, which I believe is where you took the picture. Last I heard the chicks have fledged already, and its heartening to know that this species is making a comeback into our mangrove forests.


  2. Nice shot of the monitor lizard running across the trail!

    Yes, I agree with Albert's ID of the various birds.

    One of the van drivers (Uncle Chu) used to be a resident of Chek Jawa, and had raised a wild boar from young. She was named Priscilla and when the villagers were evicted, she remained behind, and often came out to greet visitors. Unfortunately, Priscilla died in 2004.

    As far as I know, the van drivers (mostly Uncle Chu) have currently semi-tamed one female, and he told me that they only do this with sows as they don't get too pushy and remain independent enough to forage for their own food. They wouldn't do this with the males (can get aggressive as they grow older) or with the monkeys.

    Oh by the way, the large captive male that you saw the other time is named Jack and was rescued as a piglet when he was found wounded 11 years ago.

  3. Thanks so much to both of you for your help. Bryan and I are obviously kind of "fledglings" at birding, and we're especially just learning these unfamiliar Asian species- we're used to being surrounded by cardinals, robins, and blue jays! I really appreciate the feedback, and was especially interested to learn a little more about the Mangrove Blue Flycatcher we saw- it was on the boardwalk at Chek Jawa, so it probably was one of the pair that you mentioned.

    Ivan, the monitor was Bryan's shot. It all happened so fast, I was impressed that he managed to get a shot in! And thanks for the info about the boars- interesting!!

  4. O yes, seems like we saw the Mangrove Blue Flycatcher at Ubin on the same day today! haha. I saw mine at the mangrove of Chek Jawa. Cheers!

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    sites from both singapore and malaysia

  6. Nice shots. Love looking at shots of nature & enjoy connecting with nature. Haven't got the chance to see hornbill yet, wished I could see them & many other exotic birds. Anyway thanks for sharing. :D