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.

The Pit Viper of Pasir Ris

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*loudspeaker voice* Who here’s afraid of snakes?

You? You? And you? Well, if you are, be glad you didn’t meet this one. Probably one of the hardest snakes I’ve ever photographed. At least ten times I thought it was going to bite me; it was so active, moving up and down, I could even see its fangs, dripping with venom, and this one time it struck out and bit the air right in front of me, man, that snake was murderous –

And, also, asleep. If I had any trouble from photographing this reptile, it resulted solely from the fact that the light was fading; if I had a tripod, I literally could’ve set up a one second exposure and not have any fear of the reptile moving during that time. It was a statue.

Come night, though, I wouldn’t have wanted to meet it. This is a Shore Pit Viper (Cryptelytrops purpureomaculatus), also known as a Mangrove tree-dwelling pit viper (because *gasp* it’s found in mangroves and lives in trees), and is listed as Endangered within Singapore: its intertidal habitat ensures that Singapore’s constant reclamation of land puts it in more and more danger every day. It’s not like it can’t defend itself, though: it can get aggressive and strike out at people disturbing it. Other than that, however, it’s a fairly shy snake and camoflauges well with the tree branches it’s so fond of gripping onto with its prehensile tail.

Still scared of snakes?

The Golden Rule

Now, the golden rule of life is that to make something cute, you make it fluffy. You only need to look at a panda and the crowd of people surrounding it to prove that. (Pandas are a debatable topic with me. I’ll address that later.) Other examples include but are not limited to kittens (Internet, why you so obsessed with them?!), bunnies, and teddy bears.

Basically, fluffy baby=cute. So when I heard that the Spotted Wood Owls at Pasir Ris Park (a bird I’d been wanting to see for ages!) had had a chick, I was determined to get there. This meant driving a whole 40 km there and back, which is a LOT in Singaporean terms.

As soon as I got there, I was greeted by a group of photographers clustered around a Coppersmith Barbet, an absolutely stunningly beautiful bird that I’ll talk about in more detail in a later post. Repeated interrogation (the silver rule is never distract a birder from his/her object) revealed that to find the owls, I would have to walk further inside and look for the second group of photographers. Which I did.

However, I also found a grown man telling a tree, “Baby.”

Seriously. He was repeating, over and over, “Baby, baby, baby!” and making clucking sounds with his tongue. However, examination of his viewfinder showed that he was not addressing the tree, or the leaves, or the grass, or even the other photographers, but instead the Spotted Wood Owl chick, who I had nearly walked right past– because it was right over my head.

I’m not going to say anything more. Here’s the picture.

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Pose for the picture!

Wait a moment. I am. (Going to say something more, that is. Thank you if you had the decency not to laugh at that frankly terrible joke.)

The chick was behaving like a baby, and in the manner of all babies, it was restless. It stretched its wings a few times (no good pictures unfortunately!), looked up and down and here and there and right at me, too, as the above picture demonstrates, leaned up and down, and basically did everything except sleep like a normal owl. And then there was its coat of fluff.

In other words, it was adorable.

I should like to interrupt this broadcast, though, to say a few words on respecting nature. The photographer I mentioned earlier, the one who was “baby”ing the owl: well, he was doing that so the owl looked at him and he had a good picture to post on Facebook. Yay. Except it’s not. By doing that, any possibility of rest for the already restless baby disappeared. For the sensitive hearing of owls, I’m sure it was like having a bulldozer blaring in their ears. Please don’t do that. Stay quiet. Be respectful. Take a few pictures and go. Let them rest. They need it.

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Somewhere in the sky…