Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Guided Walk at Sungei Buloh

Bryan and I have been to Sungei Buloh quite a few times now, and we always enjoy it. We've taught ourselves a lot about the nature of Singapore, but when an opportunity came along to go on a guided walk at the wetland reserve, we thought it might be a chance to learn something new, so we took it. The walk was organized through the National Population and Talent Division. The agency organizes events for foreigners living in Singapore, and sometimes we get kind of random things from them. We got invited on this nature walk, and they also sent Bryan a $5 Starbucks gift card in the mail for no apparent reason.

We met everyone else who signed up bright and early on a Saturday morning. Then the organizers gave us free notebooks, little motorized fans, and sandwiches in big plastic containers. It was a nice gesture, but I feel like every time I go to an organized, supposedly environmentally-friendly event around here, I get handed a bunch of plastic crap I don't need. It's kind of counter to the intended message. Anyway, once everyone was all signed in, we loaded onto a big private bus and had a smooth ride up to the reserve.

As soon as we got there, guess what I spotted just inside the visitor center?!?! BATS! Lesser dog-faced fruit bats, to be exact. Two of them, hanging upside down from the roof beams. The NParks attendant at the front counter said they just kept sticking around after all the other bats left. Aren't they neat?! I know bats are associated with creepy things, but I think they're amazing. I mean, seriously, echolocation is sweet. You just wish you could do it.
Also known as the short-nosed or common fruit bat.
(Insert cheesy vampire joke here).

When we were done craning our necks to ogle the bats, we met our guides, who coincidentally were from the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, where I just went last week! Our busload split into two groups, and our guide spent some time telling us a lot of stuff that we already knew about Singaporean nature. Bryan entertained himself by taking pictures of some little tadpoles we found nearby.

Pretty soon our group set off on the mangrove boardwalk just next to the Visitor Center. As we walked along, our guide told us about some of the plants we were passing. I don't know as much about Singapore's flora as I do about its fauna, so I was enthusiastic to learn. For example, did you know that the fish-tail palm is covered in little needle-like spines that can cause reactions if you touch it? But if handled properly, it can be tapped for its sap! Just don't rub yourself all over it.
Fish tail palm
Our knowledgeable guide

Crabs were all over the place, especially tree-climbing crabs. We stopped a couple of times to admire spots where a whole bunch of crabs had congregated together.
Crab party!
Way more happening crab party!
Tree-climbing crab

About 15 minutes into our walk, Bryan had a great sighting. A SNAKE! In the water! It was a dog-faced water snake (our second "dog-faced" sighting of the day!). We'd seen this type of snake one other time, also at Sungei Buloh, and Bryan had been the one to spot it then too. I think he has superpowers when it comes to seeing snakes in the water.
This snake's diet consists mostly of fish

As our group stood, peering over the edge of the boardwalk at the water snake, another guided walk came by. Their guide told our guide there was another snake up ahead. We moved on, and before long, we found it! It was another species that Bryan and I have seen at Sungei Buloh in the past (actually, on the same day we saw the dog-faced water snake). The snake was a mangrove pit viper, which is, in my opinion, one of the most awesome snakes in all of Singapore. They have RED EYES and they're venomous and aggressive, but tend to be less active during the day. This one looked like it was probably still a juvenile.
Mangrove pit vipers are also called shore pit vipers

I was interested in what our guide had to say about the plants around us, but it was all a little more dull after the excitement of seeing two snakes in one day. Anyway, she introduced us to the fish poison tree. Apparently Malay fishermen used to use the fruits of the tree to poison fish in the water. The fish would float to the top, and the fishermen would collect them up. Makes fishing sound a lot easier than what my dad showed me how to do, which involved hooks, hot dogs, and a LOT of waiting!
The fruit of the fish poison tree

We also saw these really funky roots, which I thought looked like something out of a Salvador Dali painting.
Trippy mangrove roots
Picturesque canopy

Another plant also had unique fruits, but I don't think they had any poisonous properties. It's kind of like a star, but I guess "starfruit" was taken.
Star-shaped fruit

We also saw some insects, but unfortunately I'm no good at identifying them. I liked this bright red one though!
Cool bug. I guess it's obvious I'm not an entomologist!

Of course, no trip to Sungei Buloh is complete without the mighty water monitor! We saw plenty, and our guide informed us of something I didn't know. These guys are poisonous! Apparently their bite is mildly poisonous, which is problematic for smaller animals (although if they're in the jaws of a water monitor, I'm guessing their day is pretty much ruined anyway), but isn't too threatening to humans. I had no idea.
The water monitor should be the official mascot of Singapore's wetlands.

So, a two-snake day at Sungei Buloh. Not bad! And if you have an opportunity to take a guided nature walk at any of the reserves in Singapore, I recommend taking it. You might not cover a lot of ground (we sure didn't go very far), but you'll probably learn something!

1 comment:

  1. From post: "Another plant also had unique fruits, but I don't think they had any poisonous properties. It's kind of like a star, but I guess "starfruit" was taken."

    Your photo shows the fruit of Sonneratia caseolaris (Mangrove Apple). The white furry stuff on the fruit are sap-sucking Mealy Bugs. Ripe fruits are edible raw or cooked. This tree species is locally critically- endangered in the wild, & is a host plant for fireflies.

    This page shows you how to differentiate between the 3 Sonneratia species in S'pore, as based on fruit morphology.

    From post: "We also saw some insects, but unfortunately I'm no good at identifying them. I liked this bright red one though!"

    The photo shows the nymph of Dysdercus simon (Thespinia Firebug). The nymphs are distinguished by their bright orange-red bodies (with or w/o black markings) & their BLACK heads. The host plant is the back-mangrove Thespesia populnea (Portia Tree), whose seeds are a food source for these insects. This bug species is listed as locally-endangered, & reported only from Sungei Buloh, Kranji & Pulau Ubin.

    The similar-looking but more common Dysdercus decussatus (Cotton Stainer Bug) have RED heads instead. The bodies of the nymphs are also bright red/orange in colour. The preferred host plant is Talipariti tiliaceum (Sea Hibiscus), although some insects might be sighted on other plant species nearby but with similar capsular seeds.

    * 4 Dysdercus simon nymphs with lone Dysdercus decussatus adult (Flickr - Jan 2011)
    * Dysdercus simon adults at Pulau Ubin (Flickr - Dec 2008)
    * Cotton Stainer Bugs: Dysdercus spp. (WILD Factsheets - Mar 2009)