2014

We have come to the end – of an era, maybe not, but of a rotation around the sun, of the usage of 2-0-1-4 in dates, of – well, really, nothing. Still, it’s as good a time as any to round up what I’ve done and figure out where I’m going. No doubt you’ve been overladen already with these kind of posts, but really, I can’t think of a better time just to say thank you. When I began this blog, I expected nothing. And I mean nothing. As in zilch, zero, nada, in terms of followers, or likes, or really anything. You guys have overwhelmed me. The fact that people want to (or are forced to) actually read my rants about nature is beyond comprehension. This year has been a huge one in terms of my photography and my experiences in nature.

My trip to Africa in July produced many unforgettable experiences which I am far from done with sharing with you guys. In October, I visited Kullu, a district in the Himalayas; aside from 25 species of birds, I came away with a renewed appreciation for the simple beauty of nature. And just recently – two days ago, in fact – I returned from a trip to Coorg and Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary. I’m still at a loss for words to explain my experience there, but when coherence returns you will see what I saw, as best as I can show it to you. Closer to home, I made numerous trips to MacRitchie (including one trip with Lavanya of My Nature Experiences, who is a person so amazing I have no idea why I didn’t meet her sooner, and also my former partner in crime for the Crazy Tiny Insects challenge), Dairy Farm Nature Reserve, Sungei Buloh, Greenleaf Forest, the Green Corridor, and many, many more fantastic places within Singapore. When this was combined with an afternoon spent with Birds of Singapore, my count of birds I’ve seen within – you guessed it, Singapore – was pushed up to a whopping 92, not including swiftlets. (They are irritating little buggers to identify, ok?)

On the photography front, I would like to say I have gained a greater understanding of a) how and when to use my camera and b) how and when not to use my camera this year. Maybe it paid off. I won a Consolation Prize in the NParks Trees for Life competition, and also received third place in an intra-school photograph competition, for a photograph I featured earlier on one of my Journal Journeys posts. (I haven’t mentioned this earlier on my blog, actually. So yay?) In addition, my photograph of Karambe, the largest black rhinoceros on the Masai Mara, received Spotting of the Day on Project Noah. My photograph of a yawning African Spotted Hyena was selected as Pic of the Day on National Geographic’s Great Nature Project.

I have no idea why any of you would have wanted to read all of this or indeed why any of you came here in the first place. I certainly have no idea why I came here or, indeed, where I’m going. So my New Year’s Resolution, I guess, is to keep it fresh. Never forget the feeling of whispering forests in the afternoon, or the call of birds at some unearthly hour in the morning, or the thrill of excitement in identification and realization. Nature is – well, nature is what it is, and that is something uncorrupted by humans, something more beautiful than hoping or wishing or any of these twenty-six letters, really. And nature, I believe, is essential – for us, in the moment of knowing, and for itself, in the moment of being.

Beneath are all of the photographs I’ve uploaded to this blog this year. See at will. This is my 100th post, fitting for my final words of 2014, which (really) don’t matter. Still, for what it counts – thank you.

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Crazy Tiny Insects: Crazy Curious (Tiny) Spider

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I still haven’t identified this spider, spotted at Pasir Ris Boardwalk on a walk there with the Naked Hermit Crabs last weekend.

(Admittedly, I know zilch about arachnids.)

So, once again, I’m going to talk about something that’s not really related to this cute critter at all: namely, Singapore’s endemic animals. For such a tiny island, we do have some animals that are only found here, and that’s actually not surprising given Singapore’s location in the Sundaland biodiversity hotspot. These include a few plants (most of which have gone extinct– surprise, surprise), a dance fly, a creeping water bug, an endemic subspecies of Banded Leaf Monkey, Lesser Mouse Deer, Plantain Squirrel, and a Cream-colored Giant Squirrel to call our own– oh, wait, that’s most likely extinct as well. Sorry!

And spiders. Lots and lots of spiders. But as a whole, so much of Singapore’s endemic wildlife is confined to our mangroves. Given that from almost the entire coast of the island covered in mangrove all original mangrove left (sorry, Paisr Ris!) is the tiny section at Sungei Buloh, that’s pretty astounding. The number of species entirely new to science discovered there is jaw-dropping. Glass gobies, our endemic almost-transparent now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t fish, a bizarre mangrove dwelling sea slug, the Mangrove St Andrew’s Cross Spider, the Mangrove Big-jawed Spider– those are only a few.

While this spider may not be endemic, or even moderately rare, it serves as a reminder of Singapore’s diversity, even in the harshest of conditions.

Crazy Tiny Insects: Demonic Butterflies

Believe it or not, there are actually butterflies smaller than 5 cm. There are some pretty crazy tiny butterflies– some that could be still concievably seen as a conventional, brightly colored butterfly, and others… not so much.

Exhibit A: the Banded Demon (Notocrypta paralysos varians).

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Banded Demons, though common, aren’t normally seen in urban areas, preferring nature reserves, especially areas around spiral ginger. They belong to a group of similarly-shaped butterflies known as the skippers, often mistaken as moths, because (gasp) they’re brown! What else could they be? I mean, brown! And in fact, they’re closely related to a group of butterflies called the moth-butterflies, whose morphological feautures toe the line between moth and butterfly. But these ones are butterflies for sure– their clubbed antennae prove as much– and while they might not be as flashy as some of their cousins, they are certainly as interesting. Notice the proboscis probing the flower for nectar in the first photograph, and the tiny, barely visible dot towards the end of its wing: that’s the only distinguishing mark from it and other, similar species. They tend to be found in groups of adults, moving very quickly from flower to flower, as I saw as I spent about 10 minutes trying to get a decent photograph of one.

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 But my frustration as their quick flight is really frustration at their name: they ‘skip’ from place to place, and they’re not named after a nautical… well, thingummy, as I initially assumed.

Have you got more information on these fascinating bugs? Any other butterfies that don’t really look like the conventional image? Tell me in the comments!

Back at you, Lavanya. Can’t wait to see what you have.