Flying Dragons

My blog’s title isn’t hyperbole. This is literally a flying dragon. Not kidding.

FlyingDragon2_ProcessedLogo

Well, the ‘dragon’ part you may consider taxonomical license. The technical name of this particular lizard is the common gliding lizard – but it belongs to a family colloquially known as flying dragons. They’re rather smaller than the public’s general perception of dragons. But they deserve the moniker, because they can fly.

See, the traditional image of lizards is of them scurrying across the ground – maybe up a tree, at a stretch. This one literally jumps into the unknown and soars – for distances up to 8 meters, that is. It’s not sustained flight; rather, it’s a flight enabled by neat little flaps on their abdomen, visible in the above picture. Essentially, between its ribs is stretch a large membrane called the patagium – this membrane folds in when not in use. When they do, however, want to use it, they spread their ribs forward, thus increasing the surface area of their body and in due course transforming themselves into a lean, mean flying machine. Their long, slender tails act as a rudder, directing them on to new heights.

FlyingDragon_ProcessedLogo.jpg

The patagium isn’t the only flap hidden on their body. The second one is on the throat of males – in this species, it’s yellow, but it varies. During the breeding season males rapidly extend it when sitting below a female in a display of their manliness. The lizard above probably wasn’t trying to attract a female, though – sometimes they do it just for the heck of it, or, rather, to make themselves seem bigger than they actually are. In females, the throat flap is much smaller and blue-mottled: they don’t need to work to get the boys.

And before you sigh, and mutter, well, kudos for you, but I’m never going to see it, I have to tell you that you’re wrong. This species is a common inhabitant of parks and lightly wooded areas. Two more species are found in Singapore’s forests – the black-bearded and five-banded flying dragon, the latter only discovered in 2001.

Our little island holds more than we know.

Also, this is my 200th post. Who knew?

Reed Life

DragonflyAmongsthteReed_ProcessedLogo.jpg

Pulau Ubin is the last rustic island in Singapore. Of course, here, the definition of rustic is flexible – but Ubin is about as rustic as you can get. There’s no highway connecting it to the mainland: instead, you take a bumboat to get there. People still go fishing for their food. The coconuts grow there, not Thailand. You can camp. You can hike.

Forests still remain on the island; mangroves are there, too, as are seagrass meadows where dugongs graze. It’s a slower pace of life out there, in the reeds where dragonflies roam. Sometimes you feel as if the world contains just the blue sky, and the trees, and you.

What You Lookin’ At?

Insect_ProcessedLogo.jpg

An insect (unidentified) that I spotted at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve a few months ago. What do you think it’s trying to say?

Note: this post is scheduled, and all following posts till the 29th of December will be too. Where will I be? Wait till I get back to find out!

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.