24 January 2011

How many monitor lizards are at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve?

Volunteers have turned up to help out in Sungei Buloh's effort to survey the population of monitor lizards in the Reserve.
We are divided into smaller groups, paired up with Buloh staff, and head out all over the Reserve at the same time. After a short briefing, we're off to find lizards!

Thank goodness I was paired up with Sharon, because as usual, I'm terrible at spotting things. Even enormous things like monitor lizards. We were assigned the area of the mangrove boardwalk and Visitor Centre. 

The tide was super high today! The water nearly reached the boardwalk! I heard that the water sloshed over the boardwalk a few days ago. Wow!
A lovely view of mangroves at high tide!
I love Sharon's tag line of "Submerged Forest" to describe the mangroves. Indeed, this is one of the many fascinating aspects of my favourite trees. That they can snorkel underwater for some time.
Younger mangrove trees are submerged
in this super high tide day.
Among the special plants we saw on the boardwalk was the Kempudang baran (Cassine virbunifolia) tree.  And it was fruiting profusely! This tree is listed as Critically Endangered.
Even elsewhere, this plant is considered uncommon.
We also come across some Dungun air (Brownlowia tersa). This plant is listed as Endangered as there are few remaining habitats suitable for it. It is an understorey plant and so far, I seem to see it growing near the back mangroves. Like other mangrove plants, it can tolerate being underwater for some time.
Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and nearby Kranji Nature Trail
has many of this interesting mangrove plant.
We also saw an Oriental pied hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris)! I didn't know Sungei Buloh had these birds too. They look so serious in black jacket over fluffy white pants.
But where are the lizards? "There's a lizard!" Sharon points out the first one we come across. "Where?!" I say. It's a good thing I got paired up with Sharon because she spotted all the hidden monitors.
Another hidden lizard that I totally missed.
This one is definitely a LARGE lizard. We could only see its enormous tail while the rest of the beast was hidden under the bush.
Another monitor lizard! This one is quite well fed.
There were a lot more lizards near the Cafe and Visitor Centre than on the boardwalk. Here's two of them lying around the edge of the Visitor Centre. The other one is peeking around the corner.
For some reason, there was only one small lizard lying on the floating platform in the pond at the entrance. Usually there are several of them. The lizards seem to know we are counting them. All the ones we saw today were Malayan water monitors (Varanus salvator).
Desperately searching for lizards, I totally missed the Smooth otters (Lutrogale perspicillata) having an afternoon snooze at their favourite rub-and-lay area near the Visitor Centre. Until Sharon points them out.
One of them looks up blearily for a while, before resuming its nap.
We interrupted Supardi who was in the midst of surveying freshwater fishes. And had a quick look at some of the very pretty fishes that he found. This one is a kind of gourami.
While we are all not sure what this one is.
Near the Theatrette, a mama White-breasted water hen was escorting her rather grown up chicks. Although still black and fluffy, their legs are quite long and they can run very fast!
The beautiful Berembang (Sonneratia caseolaris) at the entrance is blooming and fruiting! This tree is listed as Critically Endangered.
At the end of a few hours, we all gather back to hand in our survey sheets. Kenneth from NUS is part of this study too.
Well, so far, the number of monitor lizards seems rather underwhelming. Much fewer than I expected. The surveys will continue and hopefully we will find out more about how many there are and what they are up to.

Ivan just did a great series of articles about Singapore's monitor lizards for the Celebrating Singapore's Biodiversity blog. Check out his posts to learn everything you wanted to (and didn't want to) know about these amazing reptiles.

If you would like to volunteer at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, drop by their website for more information. There is an online form to sign up as well as more contact information.

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