Sunday, September 30, 2007

Semakau Inter-Tidal Walk on 29 Sep 2007

Twenty-sixth discovery posting:

(Entry @ 28 Dec 2007: For fifth 'discovery', Flat worms belong to a different Phylum as sea slugs, so flat worms are not sea slugs. Thanks, Ria for the information.)

Good Afternoon Semakau~ A second day on the serene and out of Singapore feel island is where we were again yesterday.

And today, we had KC, who just returned not long ago from her months of travel, to hold the tag of "If we don't see anything interesting today, then blame me". hahaha.

Anyway, in the afternoon walks on Semakau Land fill island, the participants were treated to a presentation by NEA staff on the land fill island and then brought on a land fill tour to the southern most part of Singapore where the public can access.

Here's the road that leads to the southern most part of the island (picture below) and according to NEA, there was a couple who came recently to the island to have their wedding photos taken, talk about out of the norm. =P
And the last item of the visit was the highlight of the trip to the island, the inter-tidal walk~

Went past the usual mangrove stop quite quickly as the mosquitoes were still swamping my group in numbers (especially me -_-" ) to find our first 'discovery', a 'baby' common seastar (picture below).
Discovery Note:
1. Although people commonly call them star fish, we prefer to call them sea stars. As they are not fishes.
2. If you look on the underside of the sea star, you will find the tube feet of the sea star.
3. These tube feet are used for walking, handle food as well as breathing, talk about multi purpose!
4. Sea stars get stressed when out of water, so please don’t take them out of the water for too long.
5. And although they are called the common seastars, they are no longer common due to over collection and habitat lost, let's hope with the sight of this young one will give us hope of more young ones to appear on our shores.

The second 'discovery' was a sandfish sea cucumber, and one of the 'Sea Slugs', i was head 'Sea Slug' of the day, pointed out another sandfish sea cucumber also.. Great eyesight!
Discovery Note:
1. Being related to the sea stars, sea cucumbers have a soft, wormlike body and range from a few centimeters to 90 centimeters in length.
2. Unlike the sea star, however, they have no arms but use a cluster of tube-like feet around their mouth to gather food.
3. To repel predators or when stressed, a sea cucumber might expel their innards or ‘vomit’. And if too much of their innards are expelled, they might die off as a result.
4. The sandfish sea cucumber is the species of sea cucumber which people consume. But they contain toxins, so it must be properly prepared before consumption.

Third 'discovery' of the day was a moon crab, this moon crab does look a bit different from the ones we usually see though... ahem...
Discovery Note:
1. Instead of the usual walking legs we see on crabs, all four pairs of legs of the moon crab are paddle like.
2. This helps the crab to swim and used as spades to quickly bury themselves into the sand.

3. These crabs normally burrow just below the surface during the day.

4. They feed on small shellfish, worms and other animals and they usually eat at night.

Fourth 'discovery' is something which was spotted quite some time ago, but i never had the luck to chance upon it. But yesterday was my lucky day, that something is this outstanding green sunflower mushroom coral (picture below).
Discovery Note:
1. Most mushroom corals do not form colonies like most other corals and most mushroom coral is usually a single polyp.
2. Unlike most corals, most mushroom corals are attached to the reef only when they are small.

We also came into encounter with ourselves, sea slugs meet sea slugs (picture below)! Fifth 'discovery'!

Entry @ 28 Dec: Sea slugs belong to the Phylum Mollusca, while flatworms belong to the Phylum Platyhelminthes, so they are not the same. And therefore fifth 'discovery' should be flat worms. Discovery Note:
1. Flatworms are hermaphrodite, which means a flatworm has both the male and female sex organs.
2. And certain species of flatworms engage in penis fencing, in which two individuals fight, trying to pierce the skin of the other with their penises; the first to succeed inseminates the other, which must then carry and nourish the eggs.

After the meeting ourselves session, we soon saw a blue spotted stingray (picture below), wow, KC was doing a great job and of course, Luan Keng who was with her too.
=P Anyway, this is the sixth 'discovery'!Discovery Note:
1. The position of the eyes allows the blue spot stingray to see almost behind it.
2. The gills and mouth are found on the underside of the body.
3. The blue spot stingray doesn't really have teeth—instead, the mouth is outfitted with two food-crushing plates.
4. Rays dart away when they sense trouble approaching. When caught off guard, these fish fend off predators with a flick of the tail, which is equipped with two venomous spines. Since its tail is so long, the blue spot stingray can even strike at animals directly in front of it.
5. The large tail spine of the blue spot stingray is dangerous and even deadly. The barbs in the tail are so large; people have bled to death from a sting.

With the great sunset as the background, the iconic knobby seastar as the 'mascot', and 'Sea Slugs' as the main cast, here's a group photo(picture below), thank you everyone for being such great 'Sea Slugs'! =)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Semakau Inter-Tidal Exploration on 28 Sep 2007

Twenty-fifth discovery posting:

After a month plus of not stepping on the 'rubbish-island' aka Semakau Land fill, we were back. Don't misunderstand, although it's a land-fill island, you won't see or smell the stench of rubbish there, click here to read more about the island.

Well, yesterday, a batch of us didn't had to guide but assigned to the role of hunter seekers, which means we need to find all the interesting stuffs, get time to photograph them and also the tag of 'If you don't see anything interesting today, blame them." =P

Why didn't we had to guide (Not all of us had the luxury, Luan Keng and Robert had to guide)?

HSBC Green Volunteers was conducting a walk for their own staff and clients. So they took up the role of guides.

Here's the refreshed Luan Keng (picture below), who had just returned from the heights of Yunnan, busy at work...
After reaching Semakau, 'running' through the forest trail (especially for me, since i attract the most mosquitoes) and reaching the inter-tidal area, we found that we were ahem... too early... we couldn't even see the seagrass trail which leads us further out... so we decided to walk around and exlore the area.

Here's the first 'discovery', a spiral melongena (picture below)
Discovery Note:
1. This is a 'pole-vaulter' like the conches, which means they vault from place to place.
2. This is not a conch but is related.
3. The Spiral Melongena preys on barnacles.

As the tide receded, we moved further out and found 2 noble volutes laying eggs, here's one of them (picture below), second 'discovery' and my second time seeing this!
Discovery Note:
1. Volutes are carnivorous.

2. They prey on bivalves, enveloping the victim completely with their foot forcing the bivalve to finally open from exhaustion and lack of oxygen.

3. They can grow to more than 20cm and used to be common but now threaten due to 'harvesting' from humans and habitat lost.

Third 'discovery' was a heart cockle spotted by Samson.
Discovery Note:
1. The cockle lives in sand and mud in shallow water.
2. All cockles are hermaphroditic, which means they possess both the male and female sex organs.

3. Show your love by not taking them away from their homes as they are a rare find on our shores. =)

The iconic stars of Semakau, the knobbly seastars (picture below) is the fourth 'discovery', one found by Ed and one by me. Discovery Note:
1. They get their name from the knobs they have.
2. Although most of them are mostly red or orange in colour, beige or brown coloured knobbly sea stars have been spotted before also.
3. Can you believe that a knobbly seastar might be larger than your face? It’s about 30cm across! (look at the picture below to get an idea)
As this was an evening walk, we could find crabs out in numbers , here's one swimming crab with a beautiful carapace (picture below), fifth 'discovery'.Discovery Note:
1. They have paddle-like swimming legs which can rotate like boat propellers to enable them to swim rapidly.
2. They usually swim sideways, but they can also swim backwards and forwards!
3. They possess long pincers armed with sharp spikes to snatch fishes and other fast-moving prey.

Whose eyes are these?
Oh, the spider conch, sixth 'discovery'!Discovery Note:
1. This beautiful large shell is considered vulnerable due to habitat degradation and over-collection for food and as ornaments.
2. Like its relative the Gong-gong, it "pole-vaults" to move around.
3. Being rather speedy for a snail, it has large eyes to see where it is going (notice its eyes on its underside).
4. The flared shell helps to keep it from flipping over as it "hops" along.

Seventh 'discovery' are two nudibranches, the photo below shows a Gymnodoris rubropapulosa. And this below is a Chromodoris Nudibranch. Discovery Note:
1. 'Nudibranch' means 'naked gills'. The name comes from the flower-like gills found on the back of many nudibranchs. These nudibranchs use the gills to breathe.
2. Nudibranchs are related to snails. Little baby nudibranchs are born with shells, but they lose them when they become adults.

3. Most nudibranchs are carnivores, they eat immobile or small, slow-moving prey. Examples are sponges, ascidians, hard corals, soft corals, sea anemones etc.

Besides having a great site for inter-tidal walks, Semakau is also a place to enjoy great sunsets. Here are some shots of it (pictures below)
As the sun disappeared below the horizon, we left the inter-tidal area and head for home.

Thank you for a wonderful sight and See you again (very soon), Semakau~

Thanks also to everyone for making this trip another photo crazy trip.. =)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fun with Snakes on 15 Sep 2007

Twenty-fourth discovery posting:

(Entry @ 17 Sep 2007: Correction of activities done at Station 3 and 4, thanks to Dr Vilma for informing me about the actual activities being carried out)

Puzzle of the day: What are they doing? (picture below)

Guess: Creating a new Guinness record for the longest human body chain?

Read on to find out...
As i looked around where the kids were lying down, i spotted some sea hollies (picture below), 'first discovery'.Discovery Note:
1. These plants have no relation whatsoever with the Christmas Holly, although they appear similar.
2. The Sea Holly grows on mud near the hide tide mark or along river banks. But it grows especially well in areas with more freshwater input.
3. Unlike some mangrove plants, Sea Holly does not exclude salt at the root level. In fact, their sap is salty and excess salt is secreted through the leaves, to be removed by rain or wind.
4. Sometimes, the excess salt can be seen as a white crystalline layer on the upper surface on their leaves.

First look, you might think, "Hey, this looks like Sungei Buloh."

Well, Pasir Ris park was the location, and the mangrove boardwalk within the park was the place where the NSS education group held "Fun with Snakes".

Side Note:
Visit NSS's website here for more activities by them.

The picture below shows Nick (future teacher) leading the participants to the registration point.
Puzzle of the day (Answer):
How many children do you think we need to form the length of a python we can find in Singapore?

Here, the kids had estimate and then lie down to get the answer themselves (picture below).

Well, the longest python sighted in Singapore was about 8 meters in length, how many children do you think we need to form the length of this 8 meter python?
As i was supposed to be stationed at a station, i quickly moved towards the location of my station before the kids moved out. And on the way back, i spotted quite a few of tree climbing crabs, here is one of them (picture below), second 'discovery'.
Discovery Note:
1. Tree-climbing crabs can be seen easily in the day from the boardwalk. At this time, they usually climb only high enough to clear the water level and remain motionless on tree-trunks, leaves or boardwalk legs.
2. This is probably a predator-avoidance behaviour, especially with the many predatory species of fish and crabs that hunt with the incoming tide.
3. At night time or dusk, they emerge to feed on the forest floor and have been seen climbing up trees to heights of more than six metres to graze on algae as well as eating leaves.

As soon the kids reached the gathering point for a introduction to snakes, they were asked to draw a picture on how they think a snake would look like to them (picture below).
Their completed drawings = Kids' Snake Art exhibition (pictures below):Look at the picture below, i don't think i need to write much on what was the next activity the kids had.On the event, we also had Chee Kong (who really know loads about snakes) with us to give everyone a short talk on the differences between humans and snakes.
Discovery Note (Some differences between humans and snakes):
1. Humans are warm-blooded while snakes are cold-blooded.
2. Humans give birth to their young alive while snakes lays eggs or give birth to their young alive.
3. Humans have limbs (arms and legs) while snakes don't.
4. Snakes have scales while humans don't.
5. Snakes shed (completely) every few months while humans shed (little bits here and there) everyday.

Challenge of the day: Are you able to list out some more differences or even similarities? =)

After a comprehensive introduction, the children were grouped into 4 groups and proceeded to different stations.

The station master for station 1 was Chee Kong himself (pictures below), i won't write what station 1 was about, as the answer lies within the pictures.
Discovery Note (What & How do snakes eat):
1. All snakes are carnivorous
or you can say they only eat meat.
2. Some snakes have a venomous bite, which they use to kill their prey before eating it.

3. Other snakes kill their prey by constriction or called 'wrapping you up and then squeezing you to death'.

4. Still others swallow their prey whole and alive.

Just next to station 1 was station 2, it was about where do snakes live and how do snakes move. There was also two videos at this station where the kids could watch. One was about a flying snake, the paradise tree snake, the other, a swimming snake, the yellow-lipped sea krait.

How did i know so much? Well, i was the station master. =P
Discovery Note:
1. The paradise tree snake does not have wings to fly, actually it doesn't fly, it glides.
2. Before getting airborne, the paradise tree snake hangs from from a branch, looks for a spot to land, and then they leap off the branch to their landing spot.
3. Read more about how they do it at here.

Side Note:
1. There is a person, Jake Socha, who studies the flight of the paradise tree snake, read his dedicated website for the flying snake here.
2. At his website, you can also find videos of how does the paradise tree snake 'flies'.

(Entry @ 17 Sep 2007: What was Station 3 and 4 about?)

Station 3 was about how snakes grow and how they shed their skin. And a story called "Verdi" (about a young snake who didn't want to grow up) was also read to the kids.

Station 4 was about informing the kids on which snakes are common and which are rare, what do you do if you encounter a snake and of course some conservation messages for snakes.

It was a pity that i couldn't look at how was Station 3 and 4 conducted as i had to be at station 2. But there is always another time!

Anyway, once everyone had completed all the 4 stations, the kids then proceeded on a art and craft project, refer to the pictures below for the process and completed products.
A snake hunt, spotting of snakes within the mangrove forest was the last and most anticipated part of the event. The children and their parents were brought into the dark mangrove forest (on the boardwalk) to spot snakes. Although i couldn't join the 'hunt' as i stayed back to look after possessions, i heard that they spotted the dog-faced water snake and crab eating water snake. Wow!

But that wasn't the last activity for us though, after every child and parent had left the boardwalk, we went on a 'hunt' ourselves. The location of the 'hunt' wasn't on the boardwalk, but the sides of the water near the mangrove forest.

Reaching the site, everyone shone their torches into the waters and every now and then, a snake was spotted.

Here's one which Chee Kong 'picked' up from the water, a dog-faced water snake (picture below), third 'discovery'!Discovery Note:
1. The dog-faced water snake feeds largely on fish trapped in mud puddles during the low tide.
2. Their eyes are positioned on the top of their heads so that they can remain with their body submerged in water and yet are able to see above the surface.

3. They have poisonous fangs on the back of their jaws, but their venom is not known to have any serious effects on humans.

4. They give birth to living young, and appear to be largely nocturnal in habits.

Finally, like to thank Dr Vilma for letting me to help in the event, Chee Kong for teaching everyone more for snakes, everyone who helped and of course all the participants!

Last Note:
If you are interested in snakes, you can read more about them on SLOG (Singapore Snakes Blog), where Chee Kong is one of the contributing writers.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

NHC @ Chek Jawa Boardwalk on 8 Sep 2007

Twenty-third discovery posting:

Question: What does it take to be a nature lover?

Answer: A gung ho spirit!

Although this morning's island-wide rain really had me worried for moments if the walk today was still going to be conducted or not. All worries were dispelled when i saw the other Crabbies (Naked Hermit Crabs) all ready to leave for Chek Jawa (CJ). =)

As i waited alone (the other crabbies went off to CJ first) for the participants from NIE to arrive, phonecalls and SMS-es continued to pour through my phone, the sky continued to pour with rain..hahaha.

Two commonly asked questions
"Is the event still on?"
"Where is the meeting place?"

So after a single mad man rush of collecting money and checking who's here and not, everyone finally managed to board the boat to Ubin.

A group shot for the blog and my 'swimming' camera's first meaningful photo (picture below) while on the boat to Ubin.
Drizzles of rain continued to fall from the sky as we left the Changi Jetty (picture below).
I was suppose to guide the thunder crabs today, but then as our groups was a bit small, so i decided why not combine the group of thunder and vinegar crabs, actually i was also feeling a bit lazy after all the rush at the jetty earlier =P. Have to say thanks to Ron for doing most of the guiding. =)

Anyway, here's OJT PeiHao doing an explanation for first 'discovery', the sea nutmeg tree (picture below).
We couldn't manage to find any red fruits for the tree today, so here's a photo from my collection (picture below).
Discovery Note:
1. It was once thought that this tree could no longer be found in Singapore, however it was discovered to be living in Chek Jawa.
2. The bright red pulp of the fruit attracts large birds such as the Oriental pied-hornbills (picture below), that eat and disperse them.

Side Note:
We did not spot any Oriental pied-hornbills, but i'm going to put it as the second 'discovery' as this is the iconic bird of Ubin.
Discovery Note:
1. The Oriental pied-hornbills on Pulau Ubin are the only truly wild hornbills found on Singapore.
2. The hornbill's trademark is its large, long bill. The bill, however, is not as heavy as it appears. 3. It is not made of solid bone but of a honeycombed tissue.
4. Their call is harsh and penetrating and has been described as a loud, staccato cackling; or a yak-yak-yak; and even as the cackling of a witch on a broomstick!
5. The Oriental pied-hornbill plays an important role in the health of the forest as it disperses seeds that are too big for smaller birds to eat.

Third 'discovery' is Pulau Sekudu
aka Frog island (picture below), have to say thanks to the participants in my group for correcting how to say the name of this island, as i kept getting it wrong.. hahaha Discovery Note:
1. There is a legend saying that the frog island was formed by a XXXX (it's a no brainer, right?).
2. For the exact story, please come for the CJ boardwalks conducted by NHC =P

A number of mudskippers out in action today, was it due to the tide? I wonder. Anyway, this is the fourth 'discovery', a mudskipper (picture below).
Discovery Note:
1. Mudskippers are amphibious animals and they are fishes! So they are able to breathe on land and underwater.
2. Underwater, mudskippers breathe through gills like other fishes. On land, mudskippers use their enlarged gill chambers to retain water which aids them in breathing on land. Something like a scuba diver’s air tank, only that this ‘tank’ is filled with water.
3. Mudskippers can also tolerate high levels of toxic substances such as cyanide.

Besides interesting animals and plants which we can 'discover' along the CJ boarwalk, there are also other wonderful sights which are worthy of camera shots. Here's one (picture below). As we walked into the mangrove forest, fifth 'discovery' was pointed out, the seashore pandan (picture below).Discovery Note:
1. This is also called the Seashore S
2. It is a formidable plant to encounter as it has dense clusters of long, stiff leaves armed with three rows of short spines.
3. The compound fruit resembles a pineapple and are dispersed by water.
4. Like many other screwpines, the leaves are used to make mats and baskets.

And of course, mangrove trees were 'discovered' in the mangrove forest. The pictures below shows the aerial roots of the mangrove trees, sixth 'discovery'.

Discovery Note:
1. Mangrove plants developed aerial roots so that they could cope with living in unstable, water-logged (during high tide) and oxygen-poor mud.

2. Aerial roots are roots that arise from the ground.

3. These roots help them to
stabilise the mangrove plants and they can take in atmospheric air when exposed.
Discovery Note:
1. Foreground of picture above shows kneed roots from the Bruguiera species.
2. Background of picture above shows prop roots from the Bakau (Rhizophora) species.
Discovery Note:
1. Picture above shows the pencil roots frmo the Api-api (Avicennia) species.

What were these two rock like objects on the mangrove floor? Seventh 'discovery'!
Discovery Note:
1. These are the vinegar crabs or tree climbing crabs.
2. The Teochew are known to pickle this crab in black sauce with vinegar, and take it with porridge. That’s why they are also called vinegar crabs.
3. The Thais like it salted, with the roe or simply fried whole.

4. There is a tree climbing crab named the Singapore vinegar crab (E. singaporense), it has entirely red claws and commonly sighted in or near mud lobster mounds.

Side Note:
Made a mistake today for saying the Singapore vinegar crabs has red and white claws. Sorry, everyone =P

Eighth 'discovery' was a Atap Plam, here's its fruits (picture below).
Discovery Note:
1. Found in areas with calm waters of low salinity (amount of salt in the water is low).
2. The Nipah palm is the only true mangrove palm.
3. Its mature fronds are used for thatching the roofs of houses, therefore the name of “attap house” and are also woven into mats and baskets.
4. Its most recognisable use locally is its edible young seeds (attap chee).

After an hour plus, we soon reached the second last station of the walk, the Jejawi Tower (picture below), ninth 'discovery'.
Discovery Note:
1. The tower is named after a Jejawi Tree found nearby the tower.
2. A Jejawi Tree is actually a fig.
3. The tree is about 20 meters tall, about the same height as the tower itself!
4. Climbing to the top of the tower would enable you to do bird sighting or view the different ecosystems found in CJ.
5. It would be a bad idea though to climb this tower when the weather is bad, especially when there is lighting.

And once on top of the tower, everyone's attention on was this long tailed Macaque (picture below), tenth 'discovery'!
Discovery Note:
1. Macaques are hardy, intelligent primates with stout bodies and powerful limbs.

2. These macaques are commonly seen in our nature reserves.

3. The population of the macaques are growing because they have no predator.

Side Note:
1. The macaque we spotted was eating the fruits of the Jejawi Tree.
2. So it goes to say, that they are able to find their own food!
3. Conclusion: Please don't feed the monkeys! =)

What would a group walk be without the group photo? Here's the thunder and vinegar crabs with Ron and Pei Hao (picture below). Oh, i'm not 'in' as i was taking the photo. =P So after making a last stop at House No.1 and a short debrief, the walk ended with the participants writing on the NHC guest sheets.

Thanks to all the NIE participants for turning up despite the early morning downpour. You dudes are really gung-ho! =)
Also thanks to all NHC crabbies for making this another event to remember!