Guest Post by Chua Sek Chuan, Marine biologist and ecologist
With all the deforestation for urban development, fortunately, wooded areas still exist in Singapore. They are scattered throughout the length and breadth of our country and hold a surprising level of wildlife.
The area around the Singapore Science Centre including the Chinese and Japanese Gardens are part of these green spots of Singapore. These are parkland areas with trees and bushes that provide cover as well as sources of food for wildlife.
The waterways surrounding the Gardens and Science Centre are also historically important. These waterways, which now form Jurong Lake, were originally connected to the sea.
There is now a dam separating the lake from Sungei Bajau Kanan, which leads to the sea. In the past, when the connection was open, there were mangrove forests that stretched from the sea to quite far inland.
Today, there are small remnants of the original mangrove forests, but there still remains coastal Riparian trees along the water’s edge, such as the Pong Pong tree (Cerbera odollam) with small white flowers and very round fruits. As it is a coastal tree, the fruits are buoyant, allowing dispersion via water. The seeds are poisonous and should never be eaten.
Even before we leave the Science Centre as a group of nature enthusisasts on the ‘Nature Discovery Trail at Jurong Lake’, we can already hear the soft chirrups of sparrows flitting through the Centre.
On the trees in the Centre as well as during the walk around the Chinese and Japanese Gardens, the yellow-vented Bulbuls (Pycnonotus goiavier) sing with their distinctive bubbling melody, while flowerpeckers (Dicaeidae) fly high overhead “tsk, tsking” as they fly, and hop among the branches.
We spot a flash of bright yellow as the Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis), clearly distinguished by its bright yellow mantle, swoops to another landing spot. As it lands, it watches us carefully to check that we are just passing through.
In the distance an Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopaceus) calls stridently, “Koo-ELL!” This is a familiar bird in Singapore that more people hear, rather than see. As many will testify, it is better than an alarm clock that attempts to wake you ataround 5 am!
The loud, staccato “Kree” signals another commonly seen bird, the Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris). Seen just about everywhere, the kingfisher not only hunts for small fish, but also preys on small reptiles and insects and has been known to even catch smaller birds!
Higher in the sky, soaring on ephemeral currents of wind, are Brahminy Kites (Haliastur indus). Their eyes keep watch below for the movement of any prey upon which they will swoop with talons extended.
Stalking along the water’s edge, a Grey Heron (Ardea cinera) silently and deliberately walks, trying not to alarm its fishy prey. A sudden movement catches our eye, as a Plantain Squirrel (Callosciurus notatus) leaps across branches, pausing to glare at us while it shakes it tail and furiously “chucks” at us for disturbing its peaceful foraging in the trees.
Below, watchful eyes spy on us. A Changeable Lizard (Calotes versicolor), introduced from Southwest Asia, eyes us cautiously. It is silent as it clings onto a stalk of grass. The Changeable Lizard is now a common sight in Singapore as it has ousted our native species to take its place in gardens and parklands.
As we cross a bridge and look over the side, a large reptile slowly raises its head. Basking in the sun to raise its internal body temperature, the Malayan Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) assesses our group and finds no particular danger.
Typically growing to more than two metres in length, the Malayan Water Monitor is considered to be the second largest lizard in the world and is found throughout Southeast Asia. It is a scavenger by nature, but will also hunt if need be.
As we return to the Science Centre, the last enduring vision will be that of the Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus) strutting boldly across the sidewalk before hopping onto one of the tables at McDonalds to ferret out any leftovers from diners that have not bothered to clean up after themselves.
Chua Sek Chuan is a Singaporean marine biologist and ecologist. He was formerly chairman of the Marine Conservation Group of the Nature Society. With his colleague and well-known nature guide, Subaraj Rajathurai, he takes turns to facilitate the ‘Nature Discovery Trail at Jurong Lake’ on the first Saturday of every month. For more details on this exciting trail, click here to access information on how to register for the walk!