Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Nest @ NUS

Tucked in a lonely corner of NUS, a cup shaped nest made of mud with the insides lined with soft bedding like feathers.

3 little heads looked down at me when I was curiously looking at it. Baby Pacific swallows! Update >> Just learnt from Dingli told me they were not barn swallows (which I thought was initially) cos they were immigrants (so wun nest here) from the North.

Are they hungry?

Parent on the watchout for intruders

The parents dun take kindly to passerbys. It attacked Juanhui (missing by inches), directly at lionel and me (had to duck away) when we walked pass below the nest on separate occasions. Still, I do hope those chicks survived and fly free in the sky soon.

Friday, June 22, 2007

A Guide to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Kicking start our Tioman field studies module, we were told that part of our grading assessment will be based on guiding 2 field trips in singapore to our foreign friends who were taking this module too. The first trip is on Bukit Timah nature reserve. Being true blue kiasu Singaporeans, Kaiqin, Denise and me decided to make a recee there first. Shun de, Pei xin, Daniel also came except for Diana as she was not feeling well. We invited our guide for the day Dingli to show us around this place where he often bird frequently. He is an excellent guide! Thanx dingz for taking the time off for us.

Dark green color showing our remaining primary forest

Bukit Timah is the highest point in Singapore but it just reaches up to 164m above sea level. It contains a dense area of primary forest but other parts of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve also contain isolated fragments of it surrounded by secondary forests. We can see how disturbed our forest are from its primary state. It takes a long time for secondary forest to regenerate to its initial primary state, which can take up to a thousand years or more as mentioned by our guide.

Dingz emphasizing the importance of dipterocarps

One of the defining vegetation in a primary forests of this region is the presence of dipterocarp trees. Dipterocarps are also an important source in providing high quality wood and is commonly known by meranti in the timber trade. The largest genera in this family is Shorea with their characteristic 'shuttlecock' fruits.

Shorea curtisii

Shorea curtisii, or more commonly known by their malaya name Seraya is the most dominant dipterocarp species here. They are grow well over 30metres, often defining the topmost canopy, which is why it often succumb to lightning strikes. The tree is very easy to spot by their thick tall trunks and fissured bark.

Their leaves grow in little clusters like a cauliflower. Another interesting feature about this tree is their fruits, which are shaped like shuttlecocks with 3 fully defined wing like sepals and 2 underdeveloped ones. The tree fruit rather rarely, about once every 5-10 years so its a rare sight to see them! Well, but we werent so lucky this time...

Terantang (Campnosperma auriculata) is also a very common tree here (common in secondary forests), with many saplings too. The defining features is their leaves, which is notched at the top middle end and a characteristic "ear lopes" at the auricle, which is also the basis of their species name. Some of its economical uses includes making of match boxes using their soft wood.


Palms are a definite score if we know how to ID, as many were growing just at the sides of the trail. Rattan is an example of such and it consists of abt 600 species of taking forms from climbers to shrubs. Many have sharp spines to aid in climbing or protection. The stem of the rattan is an impt source for weaving furnitures and baskets.

The Burmese fishtail palm is another common palm of the secondary forest, so common that I din bother to take a picture of it. As the name says, the leaves looks like the tail of a fish.

The Tampines tree

One tree that Singaporeans should know about is this tree, Streblus elongatus or Tempinis. Our housing estate Tampines is named after this tree. The wood of Tampinis is very hard and tough, thus they are used to make tool handles.

Another tree, Keranji (Dialium indicum), as you guessed it, is used to named the estate Kranji. Due to its attractive sheen of dark red or brown, the timber is often used for decorative paneling and flooring.

A large pandan sp. plant with pleated leaves for additional support. Pandan, P. amaryllifolius in particular, is commonly used in SEA cooking, to add flavor on nasi lemak, pandan cake etc.

Mosses are found commonly at moist areas due to a lack of cuticle to prevent water loss and the need of water to complete fertilization. They are non-vascular plants aka bryophytes hence the small size.

These mini rambutan like things are actually galls. It can be said to be something similar to a tumour, with proliferations of cells causing the bumps. Galls are form due to chemical excretions by various factors, like fungi, bacteria, insects, mites and even other plants like the mistletoe for example. The shape of the gall is very characteristic of the agent causing it, thus they can be identified directly by the type of galls form. Generally, they are not fatal to the plant itself, its just unsightly and gross... Definitely not a plus for gardeners...

It is easy to spot different kinds of fungi on logs laid as steps along the trail. Fungi are not plants and they do not photosynthesize. Instead they digest dead organic matter for their nutrition and plays an important part in decomposition and nutrient recycling.

Lichens can be found everywhere on trees barks and they consist of a symbiotic relationship of a fungus and algae. The fungus is obligatory towards its algae inhabitant, needing it that it photosynethsize for carbon sugars for food. But theres this ho ah over whether its algae parthner is strictly dependent of the fungi. Since the scientists cant make any sense of it too, I wun go any further on this ;p

Since Im already on the topic on symbiosis, I will continue with it here. Sure tested (as this plant is found everywhere near the trail) is the relationship of this plant, the common Mahang (Macaranga bancana / Macaranga triboba) with the heart-gaster ants. The ants live in the hollow stems of this plant, and obtain food from the protein rich red-brown stipules (see picture). The ants got their shelter and food from this plant and the plant benefit too as they will drive off herbivores. This mutual relationship is termed as mutualism.

Another classic example of mutualism is of the fig and fig wasps. Figs bear fruit like structures called the syconium on their stems and branches. Inside them contain the male and female flowers of the plant. The female wasps squeeze themselves through tiny openings of the syconium, very often losing their legs and wings in the process. The wasps lay eggs within the flowers and subsequently dies due to the injuries they substained. The young wasps feed on the ovules of the flower after hatching and the young males dies off without leaving the syconium after mating.

The female wasps leave the riped and soften syconium and repeat the process again with another. They act also important pollinators for these plants in the process.

It was a good day for Peixin, the spider woman (cos she work in the spider lab), cos there are tonnes of spiders around, just that they are abit too tiny to be photographed. Haiz for me too, as my macro lens adaptor blocked my flash, making it impossible to get a gd shot without bright light.

The above shows a jumping spider, easily recognized by its anatomy and its eight eyes arranged in a row for a wide view. They are the largest family of spiders, consisting of over 5000 plus species.

A very attractive spider, common name St. Andrew's cross spider. It normally holds its eight legs together in an X. They also make an opaque white silk in a zig-zag fashion, called a stabilimentum as it was thought that they serve to stablize the entire web structure.

Some more spider shots

And more... can see its hairy joints

A big question mark for this? Looks like some sorta a cocoon. After looking at this picture, I noticed there were 2 flies sitting on it. Still, it doesnt make any sense. Anyone?

The clouded monitor lizard is largely similar in appearance and size to the more common Malayan monitor lizard. The way that people tell them apart is through the distance of their nostrils to their snouts. The clouded have their nostrils further away from the snout while the malayan have it at the tip of it. For a better comparison look here. Somehow I think they are also distinguishable by their skin color with malayan having a darker tone.

;;Lizards are reptiles, that means that they are also cold-blooded and unable to regulate their body temperature themselves. Which is why they are often seen basking in the sun to warm themselves up.

Birds are also a hot topic, naturally for Dingli, the bird enthusiast. As usual, he continued to wow us by IDing birds through their calls. I still remember the distinctive hooting sounds of the beautiful
red-crowned barbet. Also heard the crimson sunbird, hill mynas, tailorbirds etc. We also saw the Greater racket-tailed drongo. Their long tail feathers still never failed to amaze me.

Guess if this person is walking up or down the slope? Hes walking down! They were telling us that it is easier to walk down backwards.

And thats about the end of this trip. We didnt reach the summit cos there were just too many things to see. BT hill indeed makes a good educational trip.

1) The big trees
2) Natural heritage of Singapore
3) A guide to Bukit Timah nature reserve
4) Bukit Timah nature reserve guidesheet
5) Wikipedia

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Of sole fishes and flounders

The sole fish is always one that marvels me and many others. Also known as flatfish or flounder, I din know they can be found in our waters till seeing other blogs. Update >> Ron corrected me that actually solefishes and flounders are actually from two distinctly different suborder/family while the collective name of both are flatfishes of the order Pleuronectiformes. As to how to differentiate btw them, perhaps someone can enlighten me?

Heres why they are interesting, they have 2 eyes situated on the same side! However when they are young, they look like any normal fish. But after metamorphosis, one of the eye migrates to the other side.

Whether which side it migrates depends on the species. For this one is the left. ID anyone?

They are benthic and ambush predators. Meaning that they stay at the bottom of the seabed and lie in wait for their prey to come unknowingly. Lying flat on the ground, with the side with both eyes facing up, it is hard for the prey to spot them cos they are so well camouflague (look at the earlier picture, compare with it flipped over). As for why 2 eyes are on the same side, I guess its so obvious that I no need to explain it lao~ =)

Update >>
Thanx to lionel, he found out the ID of this fish. It is possibly the Largetooth Flounder (Pseudorhombus arsius). Defining features includes eyes on the left, and brown spots on the body. They are edible also.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Parakeet @ NUS

Woke up super early yesterday to catch the vehicle to bring us for diving. Was walking through out of the tunnel through university hall and out towards a line of small trees when this bird flew away just in front of me. It was totally green and camouflaged, so no wonder I cant see it. It was a parakeet!

Luckily my half spolit camera was always with me and I immediately started snapping away. Felt a real dire need for a more powerful zoom after this and the pink dolphins encounter.

The parakeet was munching away at some unriped legumes at the row of trees. Is this a male Alexandrine Parakeet? Highly likely that I'm wrong, since I'm not a birder. Do correct me if so. Update >> Thanx to Hai ren, this bird is the Rose-ringed Parakeet. Sorry for the mistake!

According to Wiki, this is a male with its characteristic black strap at its neck. They are very intelligent and one of the best talking parakeets, which can learn up to 250 vocabularys. They are the few parakeets that have successfully adapted to the urban lifestyle.

And it soon flew away up the raintree (i think) and forming a nice siluoette picture.

Dolphins !!!

I guess the title speaks for itself! Dolphins are occasionally seen in our waters and now its my turn to witness it! Wohoo!
Is that some Rubbish?

Was out diving with Lionel, Juan, Marco and Tse yang to collect some coral rubble our honours project. Just as we passed by St. John, I was gazing far and thinking whether there are dolphins around here. As if someone up there heard me, I saw a few fins going up and down! Dolphins!!! I screamed to everyone.

Jaws? No they are dolphins!

Our dear boatmen immediately stop the boat and me, Juan and Marco began flashing out our cameras and started snapping away and taking videos. It was rather hard to take the photos, (well only x4 zoom) and they only surfaced for a moment then going under so I just kept taking and taking ;p

See the pink dolphin's nose on the left?

They are so adorable! Those are pink dolphins, as seen the one on the left, with quite a few other grey colored ones which Juan told us were the juveniles. There was a small school of them, about 6 - 10 (cant really give an accurate number cos not all of them up at the same time). They look so adorable, splashing about, and turning around. Kinda a spolier when another boat came crashing into their direction, almost banging into them and ignoring or din hear our calls. But I guess no harm was done from the looks of it.

Now this is what I called Uniquely Singapore.

Dun be distracted by the rubbish at the front. The dolphins are further back!

This video is clearer I guess =)

Do watch out Juan's posting (better picts and videos!) on her
Ashira blog

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Luck out @ Semakau

Semakau. I think I broke my record for the least photos taken in an intertial walk. Only 11 photos and barely half of it are of animals! =.= Why? Read on...

My second time as OJT with me tagging with July this time. Less stressful too I guess, hehe. I remember wowing over his laminated script on what he should say, its so damn detail and good!

Upon reaching the island, we hastily get changed and brisk walked to our entry forest area to the intertidals because we were getting late. Also, the sky was glooming pale and dark.

And after the safety briefing, we entered the forest as the last group, with me as the last person. Gee...

My first 'arrow' is to introduce this tubular organism called the sea cucumber. They are actually related to sea urchins and sea stars even though they dun look anything like them, but they all have an endoskeleton and little tube feets. The more interesting fact is that they breath through their butt. If disturbed, some sp can actually vomit out their internal organs to startle or distract predators while they escape. They will not die (although it is likely to cause tremendous stress) and the organs will be regenerated after some time. Some cucumbers like the sandfish cucumber are edible (popular during CNY) but their toxins must be treated first before eating.

Compare two pictures. To an amateur, like me previously, they both look alike to me. But the left is a flatworm. They have amazing powers of regeneration, try cutting anywhere and it probably will regenerate itself. Flatworms are also hermaphrodites and the one playing the male will stab its penis into the other, often causing injuries to it. Talk about rough sex!

As I had pondered with Ron earlier about the little dot at the middle of the worm's 'head' (see below), it seems to be the eye of the flatworm, after surfing on its anatomy (not totally sure though). So its actually a cyclops! But it is said that the eye can only detect light direction and intensity, not proper vision like u and one have. (Note it also have another eyes located elsewhere, refer to Ron's blog)

Back to the other picture on the right, it is not a flatworm but a Bohol nudibranch! One can spot the difference through its naked gills sticking out.

And thats the end of my animal pictures....

Not long later, Luan Keng sounded the signal to turn back due to lightning and rain. July quickly gathered the group to take a photo with the knobbly seastars. Yea, I guess it will be a waste without the this photo right? =) But as we look down, we can see the storm flying fast towards us. O god, I was still bragging to Juan about how lucky I am not to have rain when I'm out. Guess my luck ran out. And somemore totally unprepared without poncho, and ziplock my stuff....

The storm soon envelops over us and my nice little handy notebook was drenched =( luckily, my electronics were still safe... phew. And I hate walking in my wet undergarments...zzz

Still its rather a nice experience to get soaked in the rain, just as many other participants commented too. And np Ron, as u said, I'm a forgiving person ;p Besides, all this cold, trembling and craziness did make me forget my blues for a while.

And back in the canteen for a change of clothes. Gotta be prepared next time!

Please refer to Ron's tidechaser blog, Juan's Ashira blog and Tiong Chin's mountains and seas blog with more photos (as they have weather proof cameras!) and vivid descriptions.

Amazing photos of anemone fish in Samson's Manta blog too!

Update> July's post is up too!

No more OJTs for me lo! Yes I graduate lao. too bad my next trip will be at Sep. O_O Blinks~~

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Day 3 with the hermit crabs @ Sentosa

Its Day 3 and the final stretch of intertidals with the Naked Hermit Crabs! Today is the day for the friends of NHC to come and explore this amazing little known cliffy shores at Sentosa.

We start off in the burning sun at the adventure trail with my two diving friends Nick and Crys (below) who came to support me. Thanx!

Here are they..

We came pass this cotton tree (kapok tree as ID by July) near underwater world. Take a look at his marvellous blog for more info :)

The beautiful thing about this place from other intertidal areas is the naturally formed reddish cliffs and small caves. The color is due to oxidation of iron present in the rocks.

And how about pitcher plants hanging down from the cliff? It is also named after our founder, Sir Stamford Raffles! More info on pitchers pls refer to my earlier post.

Cute little onchs are hard to spot about the rocks cos they camouflage so damn well! But if u just focus abit, there are actually hundreds of them crawling all over the rocks! So be careful when stepping on the rocks! Rem Ley Kun or Crystal called them as Mr Ong :p

Heres Mr Ong, flipped over, showing its muscular foot. Mr Ong is actually a kind of slug that breathe air on their backside! Gee...gross...

As I told KS before, if theres just one thing new that I see at the intertidals I will be very happy lao. But theres many first times today so... :D

#1 A branched tentacle anemone feeding on a crab. I wonder how long it will take to ingest the crab.

#2 One of the most posionous mosiac crab (Lophozozymus pictor) around this region. People have died eating them as the toxins cannot be remove through cooking. Another interesting thing is that the red intensity of their shells seems to reflect their level of toxicity.

#3 Phyllodesmium briareum nudibranch as ID by KS. Apparently this nudibranch doesnt sting, and it has symbiotic algae which it acquired from the soft corals which it feeds on.

#4 Normally I won't bat an eye to fishes, especially small ones. But this tiny creature has an amazing ability, it can change its skin tone! from a dull grey color to a fiery electric blue! Amazing right?

A fine day at Sentosa again. That comes to the end of this stretch of Naked Hermit Crabs trips, so happy to get those cute pins! Looking forward to my next collectable pin at Semakau next week. ;p

Group and Onch photos are taken from Crys album, thanx!
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