Sunday, November 7, 2010

MacRitchie Reservoir Park

Last weekend I left Bryan at home with his video games and headed over to MacRitchie Reservoir Park.  It was a great day- the sun was shining but there was a nice breeze coming off the water.  Even though it was a weekend, the park was pretty empty.  Aside from a few kayakers and runners, I was the only one around.  I decided to take the Prunus and Petai trails, which run near the reservoir for awhile.  They're easy trails but I'd never taken them before and was hopeful that I might see something new.
MacRitchie Reservoir

Right away I heard some noisy birds in the bushes.  I saw a crimson sunbird and a little further along the path, what I think were a pair of Asian paradise flycatchers.  I can't be sure about that though, because I didn't manage to get a good photo- I needed Bryan with his photography skills!  These bright dragonflies perched nearby, glistening in the sun.

The heat can get really oppressive in the forest- sometimes the air feels so thick with humidity that it's like breathing in through a wet washcloth.  So when I came to a bench at the edge of the wooden pathway, I decided to relax and have a big drink of water.  I zoned out for a while, staring into the undergrowth and enjoying the peace and quiet of the forest.  And then...shit.  Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit. There, about six inches from my feet.  A vine that wasn't a vine.  That distinct, red to yellow pattern.  My dad's voice echoed in my head "Red to black, friend of Jack.  Red to yellow, kill a fellow."  I fought the overwhelming urge to scream and jump and run.  I took a deep breath and slowly drew my legs up to my chest, spun around, and took a giant step away from the pit viper.  Safely out of striking distance, I stared at it, making sure it didn't move while I took some deep breaths and tried to get my heart to stop hammering out of my chest.  Then I crouched down and took some photos.
Thanks for not biting me, man
It was either a male or a young female- all the juveniles start out green with the red and yellow pattern, but by the time the females reach adulthood, they've changed substantially.  They grow to be much larger than the males, and they have a black and greenish-yellow pattern, the bright green and red totally gone.  The males stay smaller and keep the bright pattern, so their adult selves look similar to the juvenile version.  I think this was probably an adult male, and as I looked at him, it seemed silly to have been so afraid.  He was so small  that it seemed impossible that he could do much harm.  But it would be a mistake to underestimate the little guy- while their venom isn't known to be fatal to humans, it could certainly ruin your day.  Hemotoxins in their venom prevent blood clotting and inflict serious organ and tissue damage.
See how I missed it in the foliage?
After I had my fill of the snake, I headed onward down the path, still feeling a little spooked by my encounter on the lonely path.  About 10 steps later, I heard a loud twig snap and I stopped and whirled around and saw...nothing.  I stared into the woods for a second, then mentally mocked myself for being such a wuss.  I took another step forward and almost tripped over a monkey that seemed to have materialized out of thin air.  He must have crawled out from under the wooden path, and he'd planted himself right in front of me, seemingly unconcerned by my presence.  He startled me so badly that I jumped.  He looked annoyed and stood up and backed away a few steps.
I skirted the irritable monkey and moved on.  About another 10 steps on, I heard a noise and assumed that the monkey was just following along.  I glanced to the side and instead saw a large water monitor digging in the leaf litter.  Sheesh, had the jungle shrunk overnight?  I was literally tripping over the local wildlife!
Not much farther along, I ran into the rest of my monkey friend's group.  The group was rather large, and I guessed that their range on the edge of the forest probably meant that they got a lot of human food.  I was proved right a few minutes later.  As I chatted with some German tourists who were admiring the monkeys, everything seemed to happen all at once.  A Singaporean family rounded the corner- parents with their two kids, Dad toting plastic grocery bags with potato chips inside.  I saw him just before the monkeys did, and shouted" PUT YOUR BAG OVER YOU HEAD!  THE MONKEYS ARE GOING TO STEAL YOUR FOOD!"  He looked at me like I was crazy, and I threw my hands over my head, "Your GROCERIES.  The monkeys are going to TAKE them!"  He continued to gape at me like I was an idiot.  In the meanwhile the monkeys snatched the bags from his hands and began feasting on fattening potato chips.  His kids screamed, and he stared at the monkeys angrily.  I shook my head and rolled my eyes.  While they were all still screaming, an old man walked by and something happened that I'd never seen before.  All of the monkeys that didn't already have food in their hands jumped onto the path and started following the man.  He had a big trail of monkeys behind him, crawling all over one another in an effort to get closer to him.  It dawned on me that he must feed them all the time.  Sure enough, as he rounded the corner, I saw a bag drop out of his hand.  Now the monkeys had been fed on either side of me and the tourists, and the monkeys were rushing past us in both directions, fighting over junk food.  It was a scary few minutes as about 80 monkeys screamed in the trees and on the ground all around us.  I wanted to smack that man.  He'd put us all in danger by intentionally feeding the monkeys, even though he knew very well he shouldn't.  There were signs everywhere.  As soon as they saw an opening, the tourists took off in the other direction.  I waited until the fighting died down and walked in the direction the old man had gone.  There was food all over the place.  I sighed.  It seems that people just won't learn.
Monkey Feeder
After all the monkey excitement, I was glad to just walk along quietly, without seeing any people or animals for a while.  I did stop to stare at this funky fungi.  I liked the geometrical pattern.
 I also spotted a red-eared slider sunning himself on a log.  The invasive species is often released by locals who get them as pets and then decide they don't want them.  Releasing them into the wild is bad- turtles raised in captivity often die in the wild, as they don't know how to fend for themselves.  In addition, they decimate native species.  I felt a little pity for the turtle, but for the time-being, he looked pretty content in the sunshine.
Along the trail a little more, I found a newly completed little rest hut.  I poked around and was surprised to see a lizard on the ground near the hut.  I inched closer to get a better look and was even more surprised that the lizard didn't dart off.  They tend to be pretty skittish, and understandably so- the monkeys think they make tasty treats every now and then, snakes like to munch on them, birds gobble them up, and little  human children make a game out of trying to catch them.  They have a lot to be worried about.  But this one stayed put.  I saw that it was probably a Sumatran flying dragon, and wondered if it might be stunned- perhaps it had been gliding and had missed its mark.  It was neat to see one up close, but I didn't stay long- even though the lizard wasn't moving much, I figured my presence was making it a bit jumpy.
Not so  fierce for a dragon
Eventually I popped out at the end of the trail and headed for the visitor centre to use the bathroom before I headed out.  I was shocked to see monkeys raiding dumpsters right in front of the visitor centre.  I don't think that the bins belonged to the park, but they were right out in front of it, and I couldn't believe that they were properly bungee corded shut.  NParks officials are always telling people not  feed the monkeys, but here the monkeys sat, right in front of the visitor centre, happily chowing on food out of wide open trash bins.  It certainly didn't send a good message. trash, a monkey favorite
After the visitor centre, I headed over to catch a taxi home.  There were more monkeys on the sidewalk, just hanging around.  I watched them for a little bit, then had a strange experience- I stepped away from the wild monkeys and directly into a waiting taxi.  Weird.
MacRitchie Baby


  1. Great article, going to do a solo walk myself in the next few weeks. You certainly got the best of the wildlife. I hope to see similar. I was a little disapointed with lack of nature seen at Pulau Ubin recently, albeit I did witness hornbills in the wild.

  2. Ubin's been kind of hit-or-miss for us. One day we went and saw two snakes, wild boar, water monitors, a hornbill, and even a dead scorpion. Another day we went back and saw hardly anything. Try, try again, I guess : )