15 March 2009

Strange clouds over Semakau

Another glorious sunrise trip to Pulau Semakau!A pink dawn glows over waving grasses as we take a slow stroll to the shore.

There's nothing more uplifting to the soul than to witness the birth of a new day. First rays of the sun lighting up a wild place.
As the birds awaken, Subaraj and team rapidly identify birds from their song and signs! What seems to be a speck to me is identified by these experts by their movements and other signs. I am thoroughly impressed.In the pink new dawn, a streak of 'clouds' emerge from the industrial installations of Pulau Bukom just across from Pulau Semakau. There was also a sampan near the shore with a man busy attending to lots of buckets and containers, and another man on the mangrove flats carrying five large sacks.Just as we arrive on the shore, another kind of 'cloud' from Pulau Bukom. Something was being flared at a chimney, leaving a big black cloud that hung around as a smudge for some time in the still morning air.And yet another cloud, following loud booms. No it's not the large ship anchored off Pulau Semakau catching fire. It seems be live firing on Pulau Senang.

Despite these, the shores of Pulau Semakau are very much alive. Today was a very fishy day as Serin seemed obsessed with gobies.There were lots of these speckled gobies, which Subaraj says is the Java fat-nose goby (Pseudogobius javanicus). Wow, I've always wondered what this little fish was. It's quite commonly seen on hot sandy pools left behind at low tide.Another commonly seen goby is the Brown shore goby (Drombus triangularis). A nice addition to the Semakau checklist. I'm kind of embarassed I didn't take a photo of it all this time.Another sighting that completes the checklist is this Head-stripe goby (Amblygobious stethophthalmus). Only Helen had a photo of this fish for Semakau so far. Serin also found a dead one of these fishes. Alas.Although often mistaken for a goby, this is probably a Dragonet (Family Callionymidae). This one is different from the Schaap's dragonet (Callionymus schaapii) that we usually see on the Northern shores. It has different markings and we've seen this also at Cyrene Reefs.As we explored the reef edge in the incoming tide, in the murky waters we spot a seahorse (Hippocampus sp.) ! We're not sure what kind it is as its tail is not banded. But it was a pregnant papa so we left it alone.

We also see many different mudskippers, and all kinds of small fishes zipping away into crevices or hiding among seagrasses as we approached. It's tough taking photos of fishes during the daytime. As the pre-dawn trips approach, we'll have more opportunities to photograph them at night, when they are less wary.

Besides the fishies, we also saw lots of Knobbly sea stars (Protoreaster nodosus) today. As well as yesterday.It's good to know that there are more of these beautiful sea stars on Semakau these days. We also saw lots of happy mating Common sea stars (Archaster typicus).

On the high shores, everyday, we can see the busy fiddler crabs.These appear to be the Porcelain fiddler crabs (Uca annulipes), whose males have a smooth enlarged claw. Marcus did a great post about fiddler crabs which includes gruesome details about Dr Dan's experiments on these crabs.

Yesterday, we also saw a stranded Upside down jellyfish (Cassiopea sp.) on the high shore.
The kids were thrilled to see that when we placed it back in some water, the jellyfish proceeded to turn itself upside down. The animal prefers to be upside down because it harbours microscopic, single-celled algae (called zooxanthellae) inside its body and tentacles. The algae undergo photosynthesis to produce food from sunlight. The food produced is shared with the jellyfish, which in return provides the algae with shelter and minerals. It is the algae which gives the jellyfish its colours. Because it relies on photosynthesis, the jellyfish tends to be found in shallow waters.

Yesterday, we also saw a large and active Orange-striped black flatworm (Pseudobiceros uniarborensis).
These handsome animals are carnivores that eat other animals!

Other intertidal sightings included some special hard corals on the reef edge, lots of Noble volutes (Cymbiola nobilis) laying eggs and Suay Hwee found one young one too.

It was a relief NOT to see any driftnets, at least on the portions of the shores where we visited. But we did see at least four boats with fishermen lined up along the reef edge at the incoming tide.

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