In Otter Disbelief

They come in a shout, a brief cry of astonishment – something emerging from the water, sleek and brown and running across a small island before slipping back in with barely a ripple to form gravestone to their presence. We blink and it is over. The one picture I manage to snap is ridiculously over-exposed; not even one body is visible. A field of white.

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I sigh. I have waited to see otters for years, it feels. The Bishan 10 did not abandon my Facebook feed for several weeks. Articles of residents complaining at Sentosa perplex me: what does one care for a few fish with the pleasure of having otters in your backyard? (The thousand-dollar price tags of said fish, of course, are of little consequence.) Even in Valparai, someone studying otters kept pointing out places to me: oh, I saw them here once. Oh, I saw them there.

I am a little frustrated. And now I have seen them, and it is hardly enough.

Continue reading “In Otter Disbelief”

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.

Grenade of Colors

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Scarlet Grenadiers (Lathrecista asiatica) are another example of a common species that should not be underestimated in terms of ability to stun. Despite being found from India to Australia, they are still restricted to forested nature reserves in Singapore – this individual was spotted at Pasir Ris Mangroves.

Quiet Contemplation

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A young clouded monitor lizard (Varanus nebulosus) was engaged in quiet contemplation at Pasir Ris Mangroves. The most common monitor in Singapore, despite the fact that these lizards cannot harm you, one individual caused pandemonium when it took up residence on a housing estate.

Land of Opposites

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The mangrove is a land of opposites. The grey area between land and sea, it represents a transitional zone that’s neither here nor there and thus is all the more precious; Singapore’s mangroves have decreased a dramatic 97% due to land reclamation. Perhaps no creature represents this conflict better than the giant mudskipper (Periophthalmodon schlosseri), a familiar denizen of the mangroves and (arguably) the weirdest of them all. It is, quite literally, a fish that walks. Adapted to survive in the sometimes-mud sometimes-water habitat that is Singapore’s coastal ecosystem, they have evolved some really weird leg-like appendages for – you guessed it – skipping about on the mud, hopping out of water, and even climbing trees. At low tide, they relax in their own private mud pools; food is in abundance for them in the form of algae, small worms, crabs, and snails, as they have little to no competition – no other creature wanted to take the million-year-long long route to evolving to fit this particular ecological niche. Its bulbous eyes are positioned on the top of its head and are kept above water at all times. It can breathe through its skin. And they’re a type of tropical goby. Mudskippers, I tell you. Opposites indeed.