I recalled lamenting in my previous post on how my neighbourhood park, Punggol Park, is lacking in nature compared to the semi-natural Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West. Oh, how ignorant I am!
Even though I jog in the park at least once every week, I am pretty much unaware of the life that lurks behind the scene of this green space which seems to be meant solely for humans – till now.
This park was created more than 20 years ago. I recalled when I was just a little boy, the land just north of this area was all mangroves and I had caught some tadpoles from there to rear. Now, they were all filled up and formed the Sengkang and Punggol new towns.
The highlight of this park is a large pond where people do fishing and also sometimes play with their remote control miniature ships.
But what lies beyond the pond? Birds for one, is a major attraction for me ever since I bought my new telephoto lens. Throughout many of my nature-focused walks in the park, I got to know many of these park residents.
This Pied Thriller (Lalage nigra) on a Golden Shower tree (Cassia fistula) is one of those that I see often. However, they often forage high up the tree branches searching for caterpillars so it is considered lucky for me to get this decent picture above.
The Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) and the Common Iora (Aegithina tiphia) are two are beautiful residents in the park. Just like the Pied Thriller, I have seen the Iora feeding on caterpillars, especially the Grass Yellow caterpillars that were plentiful on their host plant, the Golden Shower.
Despite my strong appreciation for nature, there are some wildlife which I can’t stand. The Weaver Ants (Oecophylla smaragdina) definitely ranked the top. They built spherical nests using live leaves. If you are not careful while walking on the grass patch, one of them might just climb up your leg or even ‘heliborne’ onto your head from a tree above, delivering a painful bite with their large jaws. Just to enhance the effect, they sometimes inject some acid from their abdomen onto the wound.
Talk about adding salt to the wound eh?
The bank of the pond is tastefully planted with Cat’s Tails (Typha angustifolia). Often lurking within the tall aquatic plants is the Yellow Bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis). With stripped lines running down its neck and body, they camouflage well within the foliage just like zebras among tall grasses.
They are also excellent gymnasts, apparently being able to do leg splits very well (see the left photo). In fact, they are able to walk from each leaf to the next like that. Ouch…
There were many plants that were cultivated specifically to attract nectar birds like this male Olive-backed Sunbird (Nectarinia jugularis). This is the tiniest and most common sunbird in the park, with a distinct curved beak that allows it to reach into the Coral tree (Erythrina species) above.
Have you ever romanced under a mistletoe? I think most of the couples who visited this park have, since it is a common sight to witness smooching activities when I jog at night since young till now. :x
Mistletoes (Dendrophthoe pentandra) are abundant in Singapore and certainly no less so in Punggol Park. Their flowers provide good flow of nectar for birds while their leaves feeds the pretty Painted Jezebel caterpillar (Delias hyparete metarete).
The Tea Tree (Melaleuca cajuputi) gives a flush of white with their erected bottle-brush flowers when they bloom. This species is nationally-extinct in Singapore, but can be found in coastal and swampy areas around Southeast Asia and Australia. Catch this, the oil in the leaves is the key ingredient of the Tiger Balm!
Brushy flowers are insect-pollinated, and butterflies are included in this category too. On the left is the Painted Jezebel butterfly which I mentioned earlier on mistletoes.
The Leopard (Phalanta phalantha phalantha) butterfly is a guarantee sight among the numerous saplings of the Flacourtia inermis plants. They often hover already it, presumably searching for a nice spot to lay their eggs on it since its caterpillars feed specifically on this plant species.
The Kapok Tree (Ceiba pentandra) is unmistakable when its ripe pods split. When it does so, smooth silky cotton is released to disperse the seeds entangled within. Some people call it the False Cotton Tree too since cotton wool itself is made from a distantly related plant species, Gossypium hirsutum.
Since there is water, there is a high chance to see the kingfishers. The Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris) on the left is a very ticklish species which gives off a loud and unmistakable laughing call. On the other hand, the White-throated Kingfisher, despite having a bigger mouth, have a more pleasant voice.
This is the flower of the Handkerchief Tree (Maniltoa browneoides), so named because of its drooping young leaves. I find its flowers more intricate though. From the looks of it, it is probably a nice insect attracting plant.
Besides birds and insects, mammals are very prominent here too. I know of a few felines that live in the park but this particular tree-climber was new to me. In fact, this is the first time I saw one on a tree!
One of the most domesticated birds here is the Zebra Dove (Geopelia striata). This is due to active feeding from park goers. While it is therapeutic to see the wildlife enjoying the meal one offers, I wouldn’t encourage it since pigeons are known to spread certain diseases. You wouldn’t want their population to bloom and after that, getting culled by the authorities would you?
This was the only chance encounter with the majestic White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster). In fact, I ran from one end of the park to another in order to get a clear shot of this where it glided low above the pond, probably eyeing at its next potential meal in the waters. Unfortunately, it left after awhile without displaying its dive-bomb fishing ability.
Singapore has many green spaces that I feel are under-appreciated in terms of their value in nature. In this increasingly urbanised city, with diminishing natural greenery, our younger generations might not have the chance to access throughly wild nature in the future. However, we can still inculcate conservation values just at our nearest park.
So why not start observing nature at your doorstep?