Flurries of Excitement

GodwitsandWhimbrels_ProcessedLogoWe take a break from our (semi)regular posts to bring you a flock of assorted Whimbrels, Common Greenshanks, (possibly?) a few Pacific Golden Plovers… and ten Black-tailed Godwits.

To be frank, the Black-tailed Godwit isn’t a particularly impressive or beautiful bird. It is the dull brown that graces most waders; its black-tipped bill is the main differentiator from the otherwise drab Whimbrels. While graceful, frankly the sheer size of species like the Eurasian Curlew outranks it easily. Its impressive yearly migratory flights – from Mongolia all the way to Singapore – are commonplace for birds during migratory season here.

In Singapore it is merely uncommon – nothing compared to, say, the Nordmann’s Greenshank. Worldwide, however, its population is declining rapidly, and it is listed as near-threatened on the IUCN red list – a keen reminder of why mudflats and mangroves such as Sungei Buloh are so important to preserve.

Still, I could apply all of these descriptions, with a few modifiers, to Bar-tailed Godwits (which have the added distinction of the longest migratory flight ever measured) or aforementioned Eurasian Curlews. So what makes the Black-tailed Godwit so special?

Well, it is my 100th species of bird seen in Singapore. *does happy dance*

Admittedly, my record-keeping began recently, and I am notoriously bad at identification. (Also, I am prone to avoiding any rare birds visiting Singapore, simply due to the crowds associated with said bird. And I hate waking up in the morning, a necessity for uncommon forest birds.)

Still, this one-century milestone represents an added seriousness to my birding: I can now with confidence misidentify birds, rather than somewhat nervously as I did when my list hovered in the mid-70s. Yes, I can say, lowering my binoculars with a somewhat-manic look in my eyes, the venting is indeed a different color and the barring on the primaries do mark it apart. It is most definitely a… One more species and I can even add, I’ve seen over one hundred species in Singapore – I know these things. These hundred species are a badge I can proudly rattle off when prompted: Blue-winged Pitta, Abbott’s Babbler, Black-capped Kingfisher, Buffy Fish Owl… Each one has a story, a day I can recall with fondness – a smile at a flash of blue, or the building excitement as a song becomes increasingly closer; the anticipation when leafing through a field guide, perhaps, or a growing sense of wonder when reviewing photographs. One hundred birds represents one hundred scientific names, one hundred journeys I can take/have taken across the Internet, examining taxonomy and origins and discoverers and evolution.

It means one hundred memories.

And now I can add the black-tailed godwit to that hundred, and to my memories the fluttering, heart-palpitating excitement sweetened by a Sunday afternoon.

Roots – Black and White Challenge Day 1

So there’s a challenge going around Facebook right now – essentially, it’s posting five black and white photographs in five days. I was tagged by Preeth and decided that there was no point in just letting FB followers see my posts – I wanted to transfer it to my blog, too. Here’s my first image, taken at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve last Thursday.

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The lighting was such that this image was already almost all black-and-white. All I had to desaturate was a small area of green that was hardly noticeable in the upper left corner. I love the interplay of the mangrove roots and leaves, and the sense of interconnectedness to it all. Mangrove forests are vital to an ecosystem’s continued health, especially in the tropical regions; and what makes this image all the more ironic is that in the background are the construction sites of Malaysia, where formerly more mangrove used to be.

Like a Tailorbird to Water

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These Ashy Tailorbirds (Orthotomus ruficeps) perplexed me on a recent trip to Sungei Buloh. Rarely, if ever, do you see such small, sunbird-like warblers so close to the water: an earlier sighting that remains ambiguous in terms of identification on the same trip was, if, identified correctly, of one taking a bath in the mangrove water itself! Their familiarity with the water is obviously a product of evolution; there being no other such species of birds in the mangrove biome, they’re merely filling an ecological niche, and have succeeded successfully, being exceedingly common in most mangroves in this region.

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.