10 November 2013

Exploring Sungei Buloh on a wheelchair

What can a wheelchair user see at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve? I've broken my foot so will spend sometime in a wheelchair. Today, kind and patient friends brought me on a picnic at the Reserve.
And we saw lots of interesting wildlife! While I had a chance to see how handicapped-friendly the Reserve really is.


We arrive very early just after a morning rain storm. This Malayan water monitor lizard (blue arrow) was lying very close to the boardwalk, probably hoping to warm up in the morning sun.
We're having a potluck picnic today. And everyone has brought all kinds of yummy stuff, which are quickly set up at the Main Bridge. There's hot coffee and teh massala, sandwiches of all kinds, cakes and other baked goodies, chicken wings, curry puffs some with chilli surprises and lots more!
Heng Pei Yan's sandwich is the winner! Wow! Very tasty.
Before we could even get started on breakfast, a crocodile was spotted! There are several of these magnificent wild animals in the Reserve and they are often sighted from the Main Bridge, especially at low tide when they hunt for fishes.
Soon after, a second crocodile was spotted! I don't know how the team can spot this one that was so far away and well camouflaged. An egret was walking nearby ... uh oh ... but the egret spotted the crocodile (yellow arrow) well before it got too close.
Alyce spots a hornbill in a tree far far away. There were also lots of kingfishers and other birds, including a Black Baza spotted by Andy flying past.
As usual, there are many large Malayan water monitor lizards near the Main Bridge and Visitor Centre. This one looked particularly regal.
We then moved to one of the shelters on the Mangrove Boardwalk, with pretty tiles on the roof and lots of interesting critters to look at all around us. While we continued to munch on the never-depleted picnic.
There were lots of these delightful Blue-spotted mudskippers near this shelter. Their comical antics are endearing, particularly how they move the head side to side as they skim off the algae growing on the surface of the mud. It makes them appear to say "no no no no!" vigorously and repeatedly.
This mudskipper reversed tail first into its burrow!
The soft mud was also teeming with tiny crabs of all kinds.
We watched how some smaller egrets were energetically foraging in the shallow low tide pools with a pair of more sedate storkbills.
Very close to the shelter, a sandpiper landed on a rotting log. Bobbing its tail up and down as it inspected every nook and cranny on the log.
The bird was picking out tiny crabs from the dead log!
I spotted a few patches of the rare Beccari's seagrass, considered among the rarest seagrasses in the world. Singapore has good growths of this seagrass at Sungei Buloh as well as nearby Kranji and Mandai mangroves.
We then decided to end at the Main Hide to have a look at the shorebirds as it is now migratory season. We bumped into Allan who gave each of us a delicious tiny mandarin orange! We finally managed, with Allan's help, to finish the picnic!
The best time to spot shorebirds at the Reserve is at high tide from the Main Hide. Shorebirds can't perch on trees. They have to rest on mudflats. As the tide rises, mudflat areas all around Singapore are reduced. At the Reserve, at least one of the ponds would be kept unflooded through the use of sluice gates. Thus, at high tide, flocks of shorebirds started heading for the Reserve. It's very easy to spot these from the Main Hide. Ivan, who now works at the Reserve, took a few minutes and counted hundreds of several kinds of shorebirds on this mudflat today! More about shorebirds here.
It was really nice to see many family groups at the Reserve, exploring and spotting all kinds of wildlife there.
It seems we missed the otters seen by other visitors today at the Reserve. Oh dear. Probably because I've kept the team from walking on the gravelly paths to platforms 1 and 2 of the Reserve, where the otters have recently been sighted. Alas, wheelchairs cannot travel the gravel. So sorry guys!

So how easy was it to explore the Reserve on a wheelchair?

The Main Bridge is very easy for the wheelchair to negotiate. Broad smooth planks with tiny spacings. The boardwalk between the Visitor Centre and the Main Bride was also alright although a little bumpy. And with help I could get past the short gravelly bit between the Main Bridge and the Main Hide. But it was a bit of a challenge to get past the steel plate with the soft spongy mat at the Visitor Centre which is placed there to disinfect visitors' feet. A wheelchair laden by a huge person like me would get stuck in the soft mat. Thanks to the help of my friends, I managed to get past it by transferring myself to the bench next to the steel plate, with friends pushing the empty wheelchair across. It might be more challenging for someone who can't get out of wheelchair easily.
I found the Mangrove Boardwalk to be very bumpy. But the main difficulty were the gaps between the small boards. These gaps are almost exactly the same width of the wheels and trap the small front wheels when I try to turn.
The gaps also trap the big wheels and small wheels when I travel parallel to the boards. So it makes moving around on the boardwalk a little jarring. When the wheels get stuck in a gap, I have to stop, step up on my good leg, pull out the wheelchair wheels and try again. I think someone who cannot get out of the chair may have a more difficult time, even with a friend to help.
I also tried out the handicapped restroom at the Visitor Centre and it worked fine. The boardwalk towards the new Visitor Centre looks nice and smooth. Alas, I was too lazy to trundle out to the carpark and waited for Andy to drive up at the old Visitor Centre. Thanks Andy for the ride!
There are indeed, lots of rewards to reap from a trip to Singapore's wild places. We have many and some, like Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, are easily explored even by someone in a wheelchair. With the help and happy companionship of friends!
Thanks to all kind friends who brought me out on this wonderful picnic. I really needed the communion with nature and nature friends after being cooped up indoors for five weeks since I broke my foot.

Since my foot is a more personal issue, I've shared about my one-legged adventures on facebook instead of this blog. There I've shared notes about my experiences week 1, first surgeon's review, week 2, week 3 and week 4. I expect to be wheelchair bound for at least another month and it may be more months before I can walk again and resume my field trips. I could not have made it this far without all the support, help, gifts and prayers and good wishes of countless people. Thank you!
I've also found solace, advice and friendship on the Lisfranc Fracture Club on facebook, people who share the same kind of fracture that I suffered, and also going through the very long and often frustrating recovery before we get back to normal.

So please take care of your feet and appreciate them! It's really tough to lose even one of them.

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