Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Surprisingly Wild Day at Chinese Garden

Bryan and I have been very lucky in the month of March to have not one but TWO visitors (hence my somewhat spotty updating of the blog). Bryan's mom, Kathy, made her first trip out of North America to come see us all the way on the other side of the planet for two weeks. While she was here, my friend Shira, who I met while working in the Boundary Waters, also stayed with us for a few days as part of a larger trip she was taking around Southeast Asia. Both Shira and Kathy enjoy nature like Bryan and me, so we had fun showing them all our favorite places. We took both of them to Pulau Ubin and East Coast Park (post about that coming soon) and since Kathy was here longer, we also took her to MacRitchie, Bukit Timah, Sungei Buloh, and Chinese Garden. In the course of all these outdoor escapades, we saw lots of fun stuff!

First we took Kathy to Chinese Garden, which is only about a 15-minute walk from where we live, and a nice, tame introduction to Singapore wildlife. Usually it's just birds, some lizards, turtles, and fish. That day as we were walking in, we were surprised to see a molted snakeskin right beside the path! Although Chinese Garden seems like a fine habitat for snakes, we've never actually seen any there, so this was neat.

We also found this acrobatic little plantain squirrel, munching on a morning snack. Plantain squirrels are also known as red-bellied squirrels (notice the rust-colored stomach), and they are adorable.

We stopped awhile at a shady little pond where a family was feeding bread to the fish and turtles (which you're actually not supposed to do, according to posted signs). There were huge catfish surfacing and sucking in huge chunks of soggy bread, along with big gulps of water. The catfish were intermingling with lots of smaller fish and the inevitable red-eared sliders, one of Singapore's most successful invasive species. Swimming around with all the others was a freakishly deformed turtle that looked like someone had flipped the edges of his shell inside out.
We named him Invertle.
Hungry catfish

The garden is a great place for birdwatching, and we saw more than a few that day- sunbirds, the usual mynas and sparrows, and even a few heron. I'm not sure exactly what type of heron these are, so if you know, please share in the comments! other birds! The first one is a yellow bittern and the second is a little or striated heron. (Thanks for the help in the comments!)
Bittern, looking for some lunch
Not a fish's best friend

We moved on to go check out the pagodas. On our way there, we got a big surprise. A snake! The first one we've ever seen in Chinese Garden! And it was a paradise gliding snake (a.k.a. paradise tree snake)! I'd seen one in Thailand, but although I knew they're also native to Singapore, I've never seen one here. The paradise gliding snake I saw in Thailand was greenish yellow and black, while this one was red and black. The Singapore one was also a lot thinner than the one I saw in Thailand. It also had eyes that were really large in proportion to its head (a common trait in young animals), making me wonder if it might be a juvenile. It was pretty exciting!
At first I thought it was a coil of electrical wire!

The snake was really active, so we hung around a while and watched it. When I first spotted it, it was coiled up on a pipe jutting out from a building. As we observed it, it began slithering into another position, with the front part of its body sticking far into the air. Then it leaped off of the pipe and into the tree! It was pretty awesome to see the little guy in action, although it would have been especially exciting to see it glide. Paradise tree snakes can flatten their ventrum and launch themselves into their air and glide (kind of like colugos).
Gymnast snake
So cute.

The day's wildlife was nicely rounded out by this cocky, photogenic changeable lizard.
King of the castle

Of course, most people go to Chinese Garden not for the wildlife, but for the idyllic scenery, and we enjoyed that too. Unfortunately the bonsai garden, which is my favorite part of Chinese/Japanese Gardens, was closed for maintenance, but there was still plenty to see.
Peaceful garden stream
Intimidating mythical creature
Seven-storey pagoda
Kathy and me in front of the pagoda

After tromping all around Chinese Garden, our day had only just begun! We caught a cab and headed over to Bukit Timah for the Monkey Walk that I was leading...but that's a post for another day!


  1. hmmm..... sorry, but I can't help you with what kind of herons those are. I did some research, but didn't find anything. The snake is adorable!!! That sounds like a great place to go!!!

  2. The first one's a yellow bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis), judging by the looks of it

  3. Nice sightings!

    1st heron is a yellow bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis), while the 2nd one is a striated or little heron (Butorides striatus).

  4. Thanks!! There are so many birds in Singapore, it's hard to learn them all. But I'm working on it!

  5. That turtle is a female Red Eared Slider. It looks similar to Audrey, but that one looks more flat.