03 January 2009

Return to Sungei Buloh

Sungei Buloh is the reason why I'm involved in the shores.I first started nature guiding at Sungei Buloh and I used to spend every weekend there.

Guiding and/or exploring. I made many friends at Buloh and learnt a lot from them. I started my first online journal based on these trips. This was before free blogging services and before digital cameras! It was real struggle printing, scanning photos and putting everything up manually as a webpage. Looking back, I really appreciate how easy it is to do field trip journals nowadays!

It was while I was at Sungei Buloh that I was introduced to Chek Jawa before deferment of reclamation. Since then, I started working intensively on our shores and spent less and less time at Buloh. It's been years since I actually strolled through my favourite mangroves.How nice to bump into Brandon when I arrived. He showed me the Mangrove pit viper (Trimeresurus purpureomaculatus) that had been hanging around near the Main Bridge for the last five days! It sure looks like it had eaten something very large and was slowly digesting it.

Brandon has been photographing since he was 10! He has a blog with links to fabulous shots on his flickr photos! Do check it out.There were Egrets in the trees at the stream and we heard all kinds of other birds. Huge and fat halfbeaks and archer fishes swam under the bridge as the tide streamed in. It was just like the good old days! Alas, no otters.

I was at Buloh today for a gathering of Buloh volunteers to discuss the Sungei Buloh Masterplan.There was an exhibition of the Plan at the Visitor Centre with lots of exciting details about how this special Nature Reserve will be enhanced and expanded. Here's a recent post about the Master Plan with more media reports about it on the wildsingapore news blog.

Before the meeting started, I thought I'd take a quick stroll through the Mangrove Boardwalk.
I was stopped in my tracks by this very lazy Malayan water monitor (Varanus salvator) that had sprawled right across the boardwalk.It barely moved as I snuck around it, merely lifting its head to glare at me. It too looks like it had a good meal recently.The boardwalks are still very popular with families, even with small babies. These two ladies were trying not to jostle the sleeping infant in the pram as they trundled down the boardwalk.The boardwalk was a lot shadier as all the trees that I remembered had grown much taller. But the familiar guiding stops were still there. Like this Torch ginger with its pink infloresence. What's new are these posts with little electronic things which are part of the Wireless Learning Trail @ Sungei Buloh. Wah, impressive!As in the good old days, there were huge webs of Tent spiders everywhere. Tent Spiders build three-dimensional webs which work differently from flat orb webs. The Red Tent Spider (Cyrtophora unicolor) builds a huge web usually with one or two curled up dried leaves in the centre. This suggests that the spider is a poor housekeeper. But this is far from the truth. The spider has carefully chosen and placed the leaf there and ingeniously hides inside. If you find a web that is built above eye level, you can easily spot this beautiful large red spider by looking up into the underside of the curled up leaf.
Sungei Buloh is one of the few places in Singapore where you can easily view the unique ecosystem of created by Mudlobsters (Thalassina sp.). The mounds of mud chucked up by these burrowing crustaceans provide shelter and food for a variety of animals, many of which are found nowhere else.
The Mangrove Boardwalk is a great, easy introduction to mangroves. You can walk right up to take a closer look at interesting plants such as these tall Nipah palms (Nypa fruticans).
And peer closely at pretty mangrove flowers such as the red ones of Tumu (Bruguiera gymnorrhiza) (left photo) and the white ones of Bakau putih (Bruguiera cylindrica).The Rhizophora tree that I remember and love has grown a lot taller. But its leaves are still full of these neat circular holes. To this day I still don't know what makes these neat hole-punched cutouts.Even at high tide like today, you can get up close to admire the special tree formations of mangrove roots. These roots not only keep the tree upright in soft unstable mud, and help it breathe, but also provide lots of places for small animals to cling to in the rising waters.Mudskippers (Family Gobiidae) of all shapes and sizes are commonly seen here. Tree climbing crabs (Episesarma sp.) crowd around the mangrove tree trunks to stay out of the rising waters where large predators might lurk, looking for a crabby snack.Some trees can have a lot of crabs! It can be hard to photograph the crabs as they often scuttle to the other side of the tree as soon as they detect you.
Alas, some familiar trees are no longer there, and this one has just fallen over. Mangroves are dynamic ecosystems that face the pressures of tidal movement, soft ground and of course old age. Change is a natural part of mangroves and other wild places.The diligent Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve officers do give Mother Nature a hand. I could see replanting going on with some young trees, still attached to posts.Rare mangroves orchids were also tied in place on various trees.

After the meeting on the Master Plan, James brought us to take a look at some of the rare and special trees that are being nurtured and planted at Sungei Buloh. In particular, Dr Chua Ee Kiam (who is in the midst of writing a book about Sungei Buloh) wanted to see the Bruguiera haineseii.This tree is considered very rare indeed, and there were two small ones growing in the back mangroves.There was also a Barringtonia racemosa tree which is flowering! Its pink fluffy blossoms emerge in a long drooping stem. They bloom at night, so we only saw the remains of last night's flowering. The fruits are tear drop shaped (top left photo). This rare tree is also planted at Chek Jawa and there, I did once see the beautiful flowers.At the entrance to the Visitor Centre, Dr Chua points out the rare Mangrove trumpet tree (Dolichandrone spathacea). It has beautiful white trumpet shaped flowers (none today) which develop into long bean-like fruits, that split open to reveal small flat white seeds.And right in the middle of the pond at the Visitor Centre is a small Berembang (Sonneratia caseolaris) which is extremely rare in Singapore. Its flowers are like the more common Sonneratia alba but with a bright pink tinge! On the way out, what a treat to bump into Mr Tay who planted many of these rare trees at the Reserve. It was so nice to meet other old friends at Buloh too.

Sungei Buloh has always been a special place to me, and it has become even more precious with these rare plants now thriving in the Reserve. With a healthy mangrove, Buloh is also home to many other special animals both on land, in the sea and in the air.

The Master Plan is indeed exciting and provides hope that future generations can continue to enjoy and be inspired by this natural and national treasure.

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