Monday, December 21, 2009

Day over at Ubin on 19 Dec 2009

108th Discovery Posting:

On the recent Saturday (19 Dec), I together with a group of nature volunteer friends visited Ubin for a lesson on Birds (thanks to LK for inviting us along) and exploration around the island (thanks to the NParks staff, especially Adelle for hosting us).

It was an early start to the day for all of us as we had planned a morning bird watching session (picture below).
Upon arrival, M pointed out to me this signage found on the jetty on Ubin (picture below). We did had a small laugh over it as there was something wrong about the signage. Can you spot it? I guess there may be a letter printing mistake as it should read: "No Camping Allowed on Jetty".

Anyway, back to the trip. After our bird watching session (no photos as my camera only has a limited optical zoom) in the morning, we set off for our afternoon walk around session. This was nearly canceled as a heavy storm was ongoing on Ubin in the afternoon. Luckily for us, it stopped around 3pm and we went on with our program.

Not long after we set off, M pointed out this (picture below) to us. Can you spot it? Clue: It is green and quite long. Here's a closer look at its head (picture below). First 'discovery' and it is a oriental whip snake.First off, the oriental whip snake is a mildly poisonous snake, although it may not be kill us with its bite, it would still be best not to handle it or any snakes at all. It is commonly found in forested and rural areas and most encountered by us while it suns itself on plants along the forest edge.

For more information and pictures, you may visit:

Later in the evening, we were also given a chance to explore the Chek Jawa inter tidal area. It was somehow a highlight for me for the day as I have not stepped on the inter tidal flats of this place for about a year plus ever since helping KS with his project. Here's some photos of the place itself (pictures below)Notice the Chek Jawa boardwalk on the background. Some critters we saw include the second 'discovery', sand stars. Here's one of them (picture below)Some call this (above) the plain sand star. Well, one reason is because there is another kind of sand star. The painted sand star (picture below), third 'discovery'! As you can see, their appearance differs a bit. But you can find long spines along both sides of its arms. Their similarities goes on, they are more commonly seen in our northern shores and are more active when it is dark or near dark. If I am not wrong, they feed differently from the common sea star, which you can find on Chek Jawa as well. For the common sea star, it would push its stomach out from its body to feed while the sand star would usually just ingest or swallow them whole.

Next up, third 'discovery', sand stars (picture below)!They may not look like sea stars, but do you know that they are actually related? Yes, sea stars, sand dollars, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, brittle stars and feather stars all belong to the group of animals which we call enchinoderms. A bit too scientific? Well, then just look closer at the picture above, do you see a star shape? This isn't a good guide to identify animals belonging to this group though.

Anyway, the name sand dollars came about mostly because they resemble dollar coins and at the same time are mostly found in sand bars. They might not alive to you, but if you ever have the chance to handle one, you will feel that they have tiny little spines that can tickle you when you touch them. But do remember not to remove them from sea water for long, as it would stress them.

One more thing which we saw a number was this, a peacock anemone (picture below). Fourth 'discovery'.
They are good to look at and bad to touch. Why? This is because peacock anemones can sting you with stings in their stinging cells. Besides that, do you notice that they have a layers or rings of tentacles? One is the outer, the other is the inner. The function of the outer layer is to gather food from the surroundins towards the inner layer and then the inner layer would transfer food to its mouth. Works like a bit like a conveyor belt, don't you think so?

As we explored, we moved towards the coral rubble area. But alas, the tide wasn't low even for us to even step into the place. So for safety reasons, we decided to just look around the other places in the area. I did however get a nice sunset shot nearby the coral rubble area (picture below). =D As we moved on, we came across this small little biscuit sea star (picture below). Fifth 'discovery'.Like other sea stars, it is best not to take biscuit sea stars off from sea water. But if you do, do return them back after a quick look, as they need sea water as we need blood. This is basically because they circulate their bodies with sea water.

Sixth 'discovery' is one sea cucumber which I think that hasn't been properly IDed yet. But at the moment, I think we are calling it the smooth sea cucumber (picture below).The last featured animal and seventh 'discovery' is a noble volute (picture below).These creatures are probably one of the largest sea snails you can encounter on our shores. This is because noble volutes can grow up to about 10 plus cm long. However, they are threaten as they are collected for their beautiful shells as well for food.

Well, that about wraps up this post. Thanks again to LK for organising and Adelle for hosting us and of course all friends who make it another great day out. =D

Sunday, December 6, 2009

1st time encounter with this Star on Semakau

107th Discovery Posting

Probably one reason that I continue to enjoy going for inter-tidal walks is the joy of discovering something which I have never seen before. And this happened recently on Friday night when we (a few Project Semakau volunteers and myself) went for an exploration walk at Semakau after we did some bird and insect surveys.

In the beginning, I thought that this was a biscuit or cake sea star (photos below).
But after R pointed out that this could be a galloping sand star (Stellaster equestris), I decided to give it a double check. To my joy, R was correct. According to David's Lane, A Guide to Sea Stars and Other Echinoderms to Singapore, the galloping sand star has "variable amounts of dark-pigmented patterning on the oral surface." This was observed on the oral side of the sea star we've seen (photo above). So this is a 'first' for me! Rightfully, the first 'discovery' of this posting.

Not only did we manage to see one of them, but two! Here's the second one (photo below).
I almost forgot to mention that this could be the first time anyone in Singapore has seen it in the inter-tidal area as previous specimens has been only found through dredging. Thanks to R for pointing this out! Oh, by the way, unlike most other sea stars which move by gliding across the substrate, this sea star is able to move by jerking or leaping.

During our walk, we also managed to spot the usual big sea star suspects, the knobbly sea stars. Here's two of them and the second 'discovery' (photos below).Initially, I thought the third 'discovery' was a gong-gong. But R pointed out this was a Strombus marginatus, thanks again! (photo below)I did a quick search and found a recent paper on this shell, here's the link (you can check out the pictures if you're not interested in reading it):

It was quite a fruitful night as we across came across a number of squids, here are some photos of them below.It has been said that squids are probably the fastest moving aquatic invertebrates with some reaching up to 40km/h but the ones we saw were quite still. Maybe it was because it was night time or rest time?

Some people like me tend to mix up squids and cuttlefishes, so one good way to tell them apart is to look out for fin. An all round fin is a cuttlefish while the squid's fin is a triangular flap at the tip of the body which acts as stabilisers.

To read more about them, you can go to

Well, it was a great night out and we were out again on the shores on the night after (sat). You can read about them @

Monday, October 19, 2009

Semakau Inter Tidal walk on 18 Oct 2009

106th Discovery Posting:

Finally, after almost a month of non inter tidal outings, I'm back out at the shores again. Yesterday, I was back out on one of my favourite shores and island in Singapore, Semakau, doing guiding. Have to give a special mention to my group, the fiddler crabs, because they are mostly compromised of people who I have seen during the nature explorers' trip to Tioman Island during the September school holidays. Seeing them does brings back memories of that trip...

Anyway, past memories aside, here's one of the first few things we saw during the trip. The first 'discovery' of this posting an olive whelk (picture below). Something really common but I have not seen before or probably never taken note before.
Like all whelks, the olive whelk is a scavenger. Well, for example, if you died on the natural shore (touchwood) and no one removes your body. Scavengers such as whelks will come and 'clean' you up. Get what I mean? =D

Dead bodies aside, let's take a look at some live ones captured on photographs...hahaha (picture below).Our second 'discovery' for this posting would be common sea stars (picture below).Although their common name is common sea stars, they are actually not really common on our shores due to over collection and especially habitat loss. Maybe we should call them "uncommon sea stars" instead...=P

Okay, back to the trip. Next up, third 'discovery' is the really pretty juvenile cushion star which we have been spotting for the last few months (picture below). It looks healthy and has been slowly increasing in size over the past few months, which is great news. It's pretty amazing to know that cushion stars can grow to about the size of our heads or even bigger if given a good environment with sufficient food. Just to let you know, cushion stars of these bigger sizes are usually seen during diving trips.

However, you don't need to get wet to see all the beautiful marine organisms. An inter tidal walk along the shores can also bring you surprises comparable to diving trips. Take for example, this noble volute which spots a good looking shell, our fourth 'discovery' (picture below).
Due to its attractive looking shell, the noble volute has been harvested and its numbers have plummeted as a result.

Colourful creatures do stand out in the shores where it's usually brown and green around. For example, this nudibranch, the fifth 'discovery' (picture below). In the natural world. creatures with colourful colours are usually 'bad' to eat or what we say as warning colours. The result of eating them could lead to poisoning or even death in worst case scenarios. Probably that's why the nudibranchs grows up losing its shell. Cause it doesn't really need a shell to protect itself, its colours are already a protection or warning to others.

We also had the great luck to see our one and only unknown sea star on Semakau and probably in Singapore as well. Sixth 'discovery' (picture below)!
Our hunter seekers also found us one of the resident knobbly sea stars on Semakau (picture below) for our last station.And after a little coaxing, I managed to get my group to pose for a group shot with the knobbly (picture below) =D.All in all, another great day despite being real hot in the beginning. And it's great to see the familiar faces from nature explorers, I hope it would not be too long before I see you all again! =D

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Colourful crabs plus an insect and a plant @ Chek Jawa

105th Discovery Posting:

Today, together with volunteers guides from Naked Hermit Crabs (NHC), we visited Chek Jawa for 2 purposes. The first purpose was to guide people who have signed up to join the Naked Hermit Crab monthly guided walk on the Chek Jawa boardwalk. The second was explore Chek Jawa for a short while after our visitors left. Side tracking a bit, for those who are interested to find out more about the monthly guided walks on the Chek Jawa boardwalk, please visit for information.

Anyway, during the guided walk and also our own exploration, we saw the really pretty and colourful fiddler crabs found alongside the boardwalk in the mangroves of Chek Jawa. My photos of them are not really clear as my camera possesses only a 3x optical zoom. I should get one with more optical zoom soon... anyway, here are some photos of them (pictures below).
During guiding, I came across this really well-camouflaged insect on a leaf. I have no idea what insect this is, probably someone can help me out? (picture below)And before our guided walk started (you can see that my order of photos are in a reverse chronological order...hehehe), we were looking at this plant and wondering what this plant is. I do remember that I have the ID of this plant somehow in my computer. After searching, I believe this plant is called Chassalia curviflora (picture below). More pictures of this plant can be found @

Well, that's about it for this post. I'm not going to feature all the things which I have seen during this trip as one, I did not take photos for everything and two, you can visit for a detailed blog entry for the walk.

Lastly, thanks to all my participants in my group who came for the walk and I hope you had a great time as me. =D

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Semakau Inter-Tidal Walk on 19 Sep 2009

104th Discovery Entry:

It is the time of the year again when the lower low tide of the day changes from the morning to the afternoon/evening.

This also means that we (inter-tidal nature guides and explorers in Singapore and probably also around the region) don't need to wake up at unearthly hours just to 'catch' the low tide. This luxury will last us for about 6 months before we return to the cycle of waking up SUPER early again. Anyway, it's great that the 'evening tides' are here.

Now back to the main focus of this post. Just yesterday, together with other RMBR nature guides and 50+ participants, we went for an evening inter-tidal walk at Semakau.

So our first 'discovery' of the day was this juvenile horseshoe crab (picture below). They are really interesting not only because that they have blue colored blood and it is also because they have existed on earth longer than us and the dinosaurs. Although we call them crabs, they are not actually crabs but more related to spiders.
Moving on closer to the seagrass meadows, we found three things which our hunter seekers have found for us. And two of them were flatworms, and that's the name for my group for the day! Second 'discovery' (picture below).As their name suggest, flatworms are really flat. This can help them to squeeze or move into narrow and small spaces to find food and at the same time to hide from their predators. At the same time, being really flat means that their bodies are easily tore when handled, so please handle them with them or don't handle them at all. One really interesting thing about them is that flatworms are hermaphrodites. In really simple terms, this means that a flat worm is both a guy and gal. In specific terms, flatworms have both the male and female reproductive organs.

After glancing at 'ourselves', we waddled across the seagrass meadows and I stopped everyone for a stuck-in-the-seagrass-meadow group photo shot (picture below). Here's the wacky version (picture below).After crossing the seagrass meadows, we immediately saw three garlic bread not ginger bread (I think I told my participants the wrong name for this yesterday, so sorry) or the sandfish sea cucumber. Our third 'discovery' (picture below).This kind of sea cucumber is one of the ones which are commonly collected as a Chinese delicacy. However, it would be good for you to know that it needs to be properly processed before it can be eaten as tests have conclude that sea cucumbers contain toxins.

In every guided walk to Semakau, we have to highlight and remind our visitors to mind their step as they might step on the mine, ops, I mean star field (picture below).
Star field refers to the community of common sea stars which lives on substrate of the inter-tidal zone of Semakau. Here's one of them (picture below).It was a star-studded star, as we saw not only lots of common sea stars, we also came across...

Not one but two juvenile cushion stars (pictures below)...The yet-to-be-identifed sea star (picture below)...At least 4 knobbly sea stars(picture below)...And so how could we miss the chance to take a group shot with the sea stars themselves (picture below).And while exploring around by ourselves, one of the boys found a cuttlefish hiding amongst the sea weed, GREAT JOB! And I managed to spot this really beautiful greenish sunflower mushroom coral (picture below). As I mentioned to the flatworms, mushroom corals are usually made up of one or a few polyps compared to a lot of polyps in a coral.

To round up, yesterday was really a cool walk in terms of the weather and the participants (and of course if we minus the mosquito experience =P). Although the clouds blocked our view of a great sunset, it did provide us with photo opportunities of a different style (picture below). Thank you all Flatworms again for providing me with another great guiding experience. See all of you around if possible. =D

1) Read Tidechaser's entry for this trip for other interesting stuff: