Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The path away from civilisation begins here

The little path in the photo appears to be leading to nowhere, unpretentious. What lies beyond is a totally new experience of another world. This is a world of what Jurong was before it became an industrial estate in the late 1960s. Here it is still unspoilt and barely touched by the bulldozers.

It took about half an hour to get away from the concrete maze of a bustling city to get to this wetland reserves. The journey was smooth and pleasant, which was a little disappointing as I was expecting the rough and tumble of driving along an unpaved jungle track and the fun of a 4 wheel landrover . The nearer I got to the reserve, the lesser was the bustle and noise of an over populated city state. The traffic was also much less of an annoyance. Things just quiet down.

And now, a short walk from the car park, I was staring at a little tunnel of dense tropical vegetation, and the promise of a walk with mother nature, far from the maddening crowd. And there was a no smoking sign too. What a thoughtful idea. The birds and animals would not want to be addicted to nicotine too.

Almost there

It got brighter as the foliage canopy gave way to a new opening in the forest. A wooden structure stood ahead, linked by a little bridge from the road. It was just about eight on a Sunday morning in March.

The Visitor's Centre

Oh, a couple of foreign tourists had arrived ahead of me. The wooden structure was the Visitor's Centre. A beam across its front said 'Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve'. There was a pond on the left and another wooden hut at the far end of the water. I found out later that it was the cafeteria.

It was so quiet and peaceful around here. The rushing around disappeared and the pace of life just scaled down to the rhythm of leg power.

Nature's Treasure Troves

There was a solitary uniformed staff at the reception counter. He was a bit surprised when I offered to pay the entrance fee of $1. He said, 'Free for early birds.' Me, an old bird!

That was a pleasant surprise though the $1 ticket was not too much to pay for. The reserve only charges visitors on weekends and public holidays. Senior citizens, above 60, need only pay 50c. Free on weekdays for all!

To get myself acquainted with the place I turned right into a Nature Gallery for a little introduction. Eight o'clock in the morning wasn't too early and there were others already inside the Gallery.

The first exhibit on the right of the hall displayed a few bird nests and commentaries on their natural owners and why the nests were constructed in those ways.

More exhibits

More exhibits on what to expect inside the reserve. The crab was unusually big. Was I visiting Jurassic Park?

Night life at Sungei Buloh

The map should be useful. The Encounters at Dusk was a bit dark inside and some stuffed night birds on display. Incidentally, the reserve opens at 7.30am and closes at 7pm daily. No visiting at night.

The journey begins here

Ok, this was where I started. This was the short path behind the Visitor's Centre which led directly to a bridge. The main bridge across the river and into the reserve proper, the longest bridge at about 60 metres in length.

Monday, March 16, 2009

River on the left

Looking to the left of the bridge, the early dawn just breaking, was an unusual calm of a river at low tide. Stretch the eyes a little further and one could catch a glimpse of a flock of white birds at the far edge of the river bank. These were the egrets waiting for breakfast. They were earlier than the worms.

For those who were wondering why dawn was just breaking at eight in the morning, there was a little story behind this anomaly. The island shifted its official time ahead to be in line with Hongkong which was much further to the East. The normal time for dawn was seven in the past but now technically at eight.

The birds and the worms were not deceived or affected by this artificiality in time.

This stretch of the river is best when the tide is low or just coming in. The egrets and herons will be wading in the low water for their meals. Kingfishers, stockbills and white collars, make this their fising ground too.

Crocodiles too can be seen here without having to venture deep into the reserve. Do not go into the water. Take the warning signs seriously.
This crocodile just snapped a fish so hard that some of the flesh flew out from its jaws.
These are the grey mullets jumping out of the water while threatened under water. They are regularly seen coming in together with the early tide.

Water gate on left

Nearer the bridge, in front, was the entrance of a water gate. The gate would be open to release water from the adjacent pond in/out of the river. In front of this gate is the favourite spot for a crocodile. If oftens appeared when the tide is just coming in. Behind this gate resides another crocodile.

Most of the ponds here were cut from the natural surroundings, mostly mangrove swamps, and reconstructed for prawn breeding and rearing ponds.

Bird watchers

The bird watchers were there ahead of me. They could not be mistaken with the binoculars glued to their eyes, and their intense concentration in the trees or bushes ahead.
The other group was watching for crocodiles. A couple is often seen feeding in the spot below.

First hide

This is the first hide facing the bridge and more or less inviting the visitors to walk right in, and be amazed by what were in store for the unwary. When in season, the migratory birds will only be a stone's throw away. The monitor lizards will take their strolls among the birds who will watch them very closely. Have never seen the lizards attacking the birds yet. Heard that they are vegetarian. It opened a window to a wide expanse of nature, deliberately shielded away from the hassling and noise of the approaching visitors. To be quiet, to walk stealthily, was a virtue and would be richly rewarded.
These migratory birds flew in large groups as a protective mechanism. They are seen here flying past the first hide.

Morning calm

Wow, everything seemed to be sleeping. The tranquility was an experience to behold, and the freshness of cool clean air. The picture in front was real, but almost lifeless, like a still. Look carefully around and enjoy the serenity of nature, and the peacefulness. The birds were there to feast the eyes, like little props to the trees and vegetation.

Tower hide

This is the top of a viewing platform, a 50 ft structure in the centre of the reserve. No lift is available, just plain steps to the top. It offers a commanding view of the whole reserve and into the horizon. There were no high hills to block the view. Ponds and vegetations on all sides.

Getting nearer

A closer view of the birds. And they were motionless. Probably still asleep. And the water was like a polished mirror reflecting every image in perfection.

A flock of egrets, sandpipers and plovers

A closed up look, and yes, there were egrets, sandpipers and plovers, a few dozens of them. Some still had their heads tucked in sleeping positions. Now I was wondering why they said the birds rose early to catch the worms. These birds were still snoozing. And it was way past 8 am!

What were they waiting for? Worms falling from the sky?

Hornbill and purple heron in the reserves

An Asian Pied Hornbill flying across the dense vegetation. Below picture is a purple heron, one skimming across the water.

The egrets have landed

An egret doing a perfect landing on the river.
Two egrets battling it out for male supremacy.
Closed up of two egrets.

Bird sanctuary

The bird sanctuary is a temporary home to more than 220 species of migratory and resident birds. Depending on the season and timing of the day, only selected species can be seen. The local residents include the water hen, kingfishers, notably stockbills and white collar, sun birds, magpies, cuckoos, green pigeons, owls, eagles, egrets, grey and purple herons, little herons, etc etc.

The season for migratory birds from as far as Siberia and Mongolia is between late August and January. Sandpipers, wimbrels, plovers are aplenty during this period of the year.

Water gate and what lies beneath

From the first hike visitors could either take the right or left route to go round the reserve. There were 3 planned trails covering distances of 3 km, 5 km and 7 km. I took the right route towards the direction of the Straits of Johore.

A water gate along the trail. The tide was still out and most of the ponds and rivers looked pretty hungry for water.

Now what was this? A monitor lizard in its natural habitat, camouflaged like a piece of log. There were plenty of such creatures in the reserve. And there were warning signs of crocodiles as well. Don't dip your feet into the water. But monitor lizards are known to be quite harmless. Children could really get quite close to the lizards along the pathways. They are tree climbers and could be spotted on tree branches.

This crocodile is a regular at the wetland.

A drop of life

A precious drop of water glistening on a water hyacinth leaf. The leaf is obviously waterproof and water will simply slide away.

Flora of Sungei Buloh

Some colourful flora in the reserve. Notice that the two photos of white flowers are the same but the leaves are different?


Damselflies were found in the small ponds around the reserve. They are different from dragonflies. The brilliance in its body colour was an indication of how healthy this one was.

Red dragonfly

These dragonflies are crimson red in colour. Have not seen them in other parts of the island. One was totally red while the other had a black thorax.

Actually the few species here were pretty new to me. Well, city folks are not too familiar with such beings. Not very close to mother nature.

Rainbow dragonfly

These dragonflies are blue from the top but have multi hues on their sides. So I called them rainbow dragonflies. Just my take.

All peace and quiet

Another stretch of serenity. No humans, no cars, no man made noises, no children. It was a very peaceful feeling sitting there admiring the stillness of nature. And no wind this morning. I got this guilty feeling for moving around and disturbing the peace.

This cannot be busy Singapore. It is like some remote corner of a jungle somewhere in Africa or Indonesia.

Wait a moment, where is everyone? There were several groups of people ahead of me, including a big group of about 40 senior citizens trotting along. Where have they gone? I can't even hear their non stop chatting.

Am I feeling lonely, in the midst of a jungle?