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“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” – Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

Last Sunday, Fresh Brainz went on a day trip to the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Although the nature park has been open since 1993 (and gazetted as a Nature Reserve in 2002), I've never been there before.

Let me think of an excuse for myself... er... I'm a white-coat biologist, not a green-coat biologist, so I can park my lazy butt in the lab all day! HAHAHA!

I see from your expressionless face that it was a pathetic excuse.

How about... erm... I melt in the sun and Sungei Buloh is closed at night?

Anyway, I finally went there.

I hopped on bus service 925 at Kranji MRT station, from the bus stop on the same side of the road as the station.

If you're going there for the first time, it's a good idea to ask the bus uncle where the Sungei Buloh bus stop is, because the entrance isn't very obvious.

It's just a sign by the side of the road. The visitor centre and carpark are concealed by trees and cannot be seen from the main road.

On the way in, I noticed this letterbox that's shaped like a birdhouse.

Heh, a nice touch, and it reminds us who the real stars of this park are.

The visitor centre! Even on a Sunday, there isn't many people. Unlike major attractions like the Singapore Zoo, the entire park seems very quiet. A good place to be when you want to get away from the maddening crowd.

I went to the ticket counter and noticed that there is a discount for students! WHOOPPIE!

So I handed a staff member my one dollar coin. He promptly plopped it into his cash box.

"Here's your ticket sir," he said cheerfully.

Then I looked at him with a puzzled expression.

He suddenly remembered.

"Oh and here's your 50 cents change. Have a nice day!"

There was a time when 50 cents meant diddly-squat to me. Those days are long in the distant past.

Once inside, I toured the mini-museum that housed a number of wetland exhibits. There are many superb photographs mounted on the wall - they appear to be taken using powerful telephoto lenses.

Here's an exhibit showing the diversity of beak shapes and lengths in the wetland habitat. Anatomical variation allows different bird species to find their niche food source and co-exist together.

The mini-museum is clean and well-lit, but based on the out-of-sequence numbers on exhibit placards, I believe that some of the original exhibits have been removed and were not replaced. In addition, some display models were missing, leaving behind empty spaces.

This gives me a feeling that the park is sort of a second-class attraction, since it isn't the kind of touristy place that can rake in the dollars.

A nice feature in the visitor centre are these rubbish bins that have original artwork on them. It isn't a sticker - what you see is an actual oil painting that is directly painted on the metal cover.

Now - time to take a walk along the Mangrove Boardwalk! The first organisms to capture my attention are these weird looking yellow flowers.

Then more weird looking flowers greeted me. This type of flower tends to be fiercely infested with ants for some reason. Maybe they are exceptionally sweet!

The boardwalk is supported by concrete legs that raise it about a metre over the mangrove itself.

Walking along the boardwalk reminds me of the short story "A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury, except that the only penalty you get from veering off the assigned path is a pair of muddy shoes.

Or maybe more mosquito bites.

Did I forget to mention them? It's a good idea to wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers, and bring along some mosquito repellant. While I didn't run into a swarm of them that day, I did get a few bites on my arms and face.

The roots of the trees in the mangrove really stand out. They look evil.

As you can see, it was low tide at that time, so most of the roots are exposed. Look at this tree - the roots almost go up two stories high!

I was about to leave the boardwalk when I saw this guy carrying a massive bazooka camera and a tripod that is sturdy enough to hold a movie camera.


Despite the immense weight of his equipment, he wasn't slouching, no sir... he was striding along tall and confident - a REAL man.

Next, I crossed the main bridge to embark on Route 1, a trail that would take me closer to the birds.

On the bridge I saw this crocodile warning sign.

Oh yes, I forgot that this is not a zoo! Wild animals can enter the park anytime.

The bridge spans the Sungei Buloh Besar river (Sungei means river), which is quite big indeed (Besar means big). In this photo I was facing north - the buildings you see in the distance are across the sea in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

To allow visitors to observe the birds without alarming them, and to provide protection from the weather, wooden shelters are built along the trail.

This main hide is the largest one.

They thought of everything - the wall is adorned with information on how to identify the birds, long benches provide comfort and an extended platform lets you set up a tripod or rest your elbows when using binoculars.

The first birds I saw were these sandpipers by the mudflats. I know this isn't a spectacular photo, but they were really far away, and I realized that even a 190mm zoom isn't good enough for birding purposes.

Time to consider the Panasonic FZ18!

In addition to shelters, there is a number of wooden screens like this one that lets people observe the birds without being noticed.

There are also two platforms that extend into the Straits of Johor, providing a nice vista of the coast and an unobstructed view of Johor Bahru.

This location is so near Malaysia that my cell phone keeps switching to Maxis service, and I received four "Welcome to Malaysia" SMS messages.

When I was at platform 1, some enthusiasts were observing something through their spotting telescope. They were using what looks like a 50mm instrument, which is adequate for birding purposes.

But I was constantly thinking to myself: "it's a midget compared to my 80mm Celestron astronomical telescope. Us space geeks have the fattest glass in the business. MUAHAHAHAHAR!"

Sorry ladies... it's a boy thing.

As I mentioned earlier, even at full optical zoom I couldn't get much detail out of my Nikon L5. I tried to use digital zoom, but I got a smudgy-looking result instead.

Here is a photo of a heron from about 30 metres away - I would have preferred to see the details of its eyes, but I guess that's the reason why you'd need a bazooka telephoto lens.

And here's a plover that was dipping its head in and out of the water to peck for food, making pretty circular waves around it.

Quite a noisy little chirper.

Awww it's so cute, just like a little ducky!

Though birds are the star attractions in this park, occasionally other interesting animals also wander into view. Take for example this butterfly, resting on a leaf.

Or this beetle that strayed into the gravel footpath and scurried away towards safety. It had such a bright red colour that it looked like a plastic toy.

One can imagine the delight that Wallace felt when he collected beetles like these in Singapore over 150 years ago.

And last but definitely not least, the magnificent Malayan water monitor - a common sight in the wetlands area.

Over 1.5m long on average, it's quite agile and can also be seen swimming casually in the ponds around the visitor centre.

Psst, tell you something... I saw a pair of these lizards engaging in lurid PDA (public displays of affection) just outside the ticket counter.

Such scandalous exhibitionism in front of curious, underaged kids.

(Of course I took a video of it.)


Please people, won't anyone think of the children!

Aside from the natural sights on offer, there are many thought-provoking signs scattered throughout the park. This quotation by Emerson is a good example. Often we like to think of success and failure as opposing states on a single dimension, but in reality they are very context-dependent.

In fact, the exact same reason why something fails for one purpose can end up making it useful for another purpose. 3M stickies is a classic example, but there is another obscure example in stem cell biology, which I'll talk about some other time, if people want to know.

Here's another thoughtful sign. Intended as a reminder not to litter the park, I find that it has deeper meaning.

For one day, like the great dinosaurs before us, nothing will be left of our presence on Earth save a few fossils and footprints.

What is the footprint that you wish to leave behind for future generations?

Is a poem? A song?

A mountain of non-biodegradable plastic waste?

(Note to self: do NOT mention Paris Hilton.)

Or an infamous sex video?


There are funny signs too. Here's a cafe that doesn't cater to human customers - quick bites for hungry shorebirds on the go.

"Waiter, the soup is too salty!"

Of all the signs in the park, this has to be my favourite.

PhD students know what it means.

(If it doesn't make sense to you, wait until the third year.)

Finally - there is an 18m-tall observation tower in the middle of the park, also called an Aerie. An opportunity to take yet another panorama!

In this panorama the camera is facing east. Johor Bahru is on the left and the main hide is slightly left of centre. You can see some white birds in the centre of the photo.

And that concludes my tour of the park. If you have some free time this weekend, why not go to Kranji MRT and check out some animals in action?

Then, after you're done with the horse races, come to Sungei Buloh for a bit of the ol' peace and quiet.

I'd bet you'll need it.


Blogter said...

You missed the mudskippers! Their big goggly eyes would have made a nice photo.

Also, you missed the crocodile. Last time I went, I saw one. It made my hair stand on end as it was only a few metres away. It could have charged up to land from where he was lying in the water. Thankfully, it didn't.

Lim Leng Hiong said...

I also missed the tree-climbing crabs, among other common denizens of Sungei Buloh. A beginner's eye doesn't spot much. Heh.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this blog. I plan to go to the the wetland reserve and was looking for more info on it. and i visited your blog. nice pictures. and sometimes very funny, eg 'bazooka' etc. i'm looking forward to go there.

Lim Leng Hiong said...

To Anon 10:04,

You're welcome, and thanks for visiting Fresh Brainz. Have fun in Sungei Buloh!

Anonymous said...

i went there. it was very dirty. but fun XD...