01 June 2009

Chek Jawa with the Naked Hermit Crabs

A hot sunny afternoon and I'm out with Ley Kun and Ivan to conduct the monthly Chek Jawa boardwalk tour at Pulau Ubin by the Naked Hermit Crabs.
Though the tide is high, there's lots to discover at Chek Jawa!

I was too late for lontong at Pak Ali, and had their equally yummy mee siam instead. A little too early for the rest of the Crabs, I hung around for a while at Ubin Town.

What do visitors at Ubin get up to? Eating is great at Ubin! There's lots of seafood.
After cycling around the island, it's fabulous to have a well earned meal by the sea.
And on the way home, grab some local fruits on sale near the Ubin Jetty. It's the season for 'nangka' or jackfruit. Soon, durians! At other times of the year, you can also get rambutans.
Near the Jetty, people are exploring the tidal pools under the huge mangrove trees.
At the very breezy jetty, a family is fishing.
While boatload of people continue to arrive even in the hot afternoon. Many obviously came just to have a stroll around the island. This group seem to be getting ready to camp out. They have brought loads of wood with them. For the campfire? Hmm...
Here's MORE about Pulau Ubin, how to get there and what to do and see.

Then it was time to start the guided walk! At the Chek Jawa drop off point, Ley Kun shows how rubber is tapped from a rubber tree.
Rubber was one of the agricultural activities on Pulau Ubin in the past. And there are many rubber trees on the island, including around the Chek Jawa entrance.

As we were waiting to start the tour, Ivan finds a skull near the Chek Jawa Information Kiosk!
He believes its a skull of a wild boar!

As the group heads out for the boardwalk, we are thrilled to encounter a pair of hornbills!
There are lots of these Oriental pied hornbills (Anthracoceros albirostris) on Pulau Ubin. Hornbills have fascinating breeding behaviour where the male seals the female into a nest hole in a big tree (more about this on the Bird Ecology Study Group blog). Hornbills depend on having enough suitable nest holes to breed. A project has been running on Pulau Ubin to provide artificial nest boxes in support of the hornbill population there (more about this on the Bird Ecology Study Group blog).

We also heard the melodious bubbling call of the Straw-headed bulbul. Alas, this bird is threatened by trapping for the songbird trade. Fortunately, there is still a good population of these birds at Pulau Ubin (more about this on the annotated budak blog).

We also saw this strange bird hopping about. It was too large to be a Pied fantail, and the tail was too long for it to be a Magpie robin.
It is possibly a White-rumped sharma (Copsychus malabaricus) (here's a nicer photo of this bird on the Bird Ecology Study Blog). This bird is also a target of the caged bird trade.

One of the first stops for my group was up the Jejawi Tower for a refreshing breeze and spectacular view of the surrounding area.
We can see all the way to Johor on one side, and mainland Singapore on the other. As well as have a good view of Pulau Tekong. On the ground, in verdant splendour, the mangroves and nipah palm groves of Chek Jawa.

The Nipah palms (Nipa fruticans) were blooming today! With lots of clusters of male (long) and female (ball-shaped) flowers. All kinds of insects were attracted to the blossoms.
Eventually, the female flower develops into a ball of fruits. When ripe, the fruits drop off to float away and settle on some other shore.

The sharp-eyed kids in my group spotted crabs big and small.
Including the tiny colourful fiddler crabs (Uca sp.) with red eyes on red stalks. I've so far only seen these crabs on Chek Jawa and I still don't know what they are. This little one in the photo is a female is she has two small pincers and lacks the enlarged pincer that only males have.

Everywhere in the back mangroves of Chek Jawa are the mounds of created by the mysterious mudlobster (Thalassina sp.). These mounds are kind of like condominiums, where all kinds of creatures find shelter in burrows. These condominiums come complete with swimming pools!
Pools of water trapped among the mounds shelter yet more animals such as small fishes. My favourite is the Blue-spotted mudskipper (Boleophthalmus boddarti) which is most easily seen on this stretch of the Chek Jawa boardwalk.

After taking a look at various mangrove trees and plants, we head out to the sea!
It's a very breezy day with an incoming tide. We have a quick look at the fiddler crabs before they are covered in water, and are delighted to see a whole school of mudskippers energetically hopping about in the fringes of the incoming tide.

At the end of the trail are several Seashore nutmeg trees (Knema globularia). These trees are listed as 'Critically Endangered' on our Red List and Chek Jawa is a good place to see them.
The pretty red fruit is eaten by hornbills that disperse the plant. The flower is tiny!

Also in bloom today are the many Kopi hutan (Fagrea racemosa) at Chek Jawa.
These tall plants with broad leaves have beautiful white flowers in pendulous clusters. The fruits are dispersed by bats. I've only commonly seen this plant at Chek Jawa, and this is the first time in a long time that I've seen them all burst into bloom.

We had a good rest after the hot walk at the Visitor Centre overlooking Pulau Sekudu. And observed White-bellied Sea Eagles (Haliaeetus leucogaster) soaring over Chek Jawa as the day started to cool towards evening.

More about the encounters made by Ley Kun's and Ivan's groups on the Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs blog.

There's quite a lot to see at Chek Jawa even during a quick walk on a hot day at high tide! And we made some new friends, and we hope visitors had an enjoyable day discovering more about their natural heritage.

It was disturbing, however, to observe several kayaks over Chek Jawa. They were quite close to the boardwalk and seemed to be struggling against the wind and the currents of the incoming tide.

While kayaks on their own don't cause much damage especially if the kayakers don't get on to the shore, it was heart wrenching to observe the safety boat zooming around the kayakers over the seagrass lagoon in shallow waters. This rips up the soft ground and can cause extensive damage.

The entire Chek Jawa area including Pulau Sekudu is off limits to boaters and other water recreational users.
This is the map that accompanies the official designation of the Chek Jawa Wetlands area.

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