Sunday, November 30, 2008

November Rain

There's nothing like a heavy downpour to spoil your afternoon at Chek Jawa.

Storm clouds were gathering ominously when we first arrived on Pulau Ubin, and we were fervently hoping that the weather would hold. We've always been blessed with good weather when guiding at Chek Jawa. Alas, while our van was making its way down to Chek Jawa, it began to rain heavily.

We fled for the Information Kiosk, where we spent a few miserable moments, waiting for the skies to clear. Since it was the school holidays, we had expected to meet a huge crowd. But I guess many people changed their minds when they saw the lousy weather.

Still, there were some brave souls who were determined not to let the weather dampen their spirits. The skies soon cleared, and we set off when the rain finally petered off into a light drizzle.

Alyce and LK led a small group.

While Allen took charge of one group.

And so did Kok Sheng.

I wandered around and took photos.

I ended up spending most of my time shadowing Kok Sheng's group. While the tide was falling, we saw large groups of mudskippers (Periophthalmus spp.) gathering near the water's edge.

These highly specialised fish never fail to attract our visitors' attention.

Last month, we'd discovered an orange mud crab (Scylla olivacea) half-hidden in its burrow, right next to the mangrove boardwalk.

I've seen it on at least one other occasion since, and I guess it's well on its way to becoming a regular fixture on our boardwalk tours.

I wanted to station myself so that I could point it out to Kok Sheng's group. It wasn't easy, considering that for some reason, the mosquitoes in that spot were extremely voracious. Unfortunately, just before Kok Sheng came around the bend with his group, the mud crab decided to retreat further into its burrow. Damn.

Oh well, at least I had the photos to show to the visitors.

And here's Kok Sheng's group, at the top of the Jejawi Tower.

While on the Coastal Boardwalk, I did a bit of guiding, and shared about the sea hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliaceus). One visitor was alert enough to spot the many cotton-stainer bugs (Dysdercus decussatus) that could be found all over the plant.

This is the nymph, or the immature stage of the bug's life cycle.

And these are the adults. This photo was taken at last month's walk.

No walk seems complete without stopping to observe the fiddler crabs (Uca spp.) running around.

Where it comes to fiddler crabs, the larger your claw, the sexier you are.

Oh look, more mudskippers.

As the tide continued to recede, Kok Sheng and I talked about seagrasses and dugongs, and we even spotted a small leaf porter crab swimming near the surface. Huge schools of small fish swam close to the boardwalk, to the delight of our visitors.

We ended the walk at House No. 1, where all of us received a special treat. A wild boar (Sus scrofa) was out on the mudflat!

Soon, our visitors got round to writing down their thoughts and comments on their experience.

Here's some of the things they wrote.

We do get quite a lot of tourists and other foreign visitors from all over the world. Visiting Chek Jawa is usually an eye-opening experience for them, since it does present a side of Singapore that few people are aware of.

The wild boar are definitely a highlight of any trip to Chek Jawa!

We do get a lot of families, and the children are often such a delight. It's great to see more parents trying to instill a love for nature and the great outdoors in future generations. Beats staying at home playing computer and video games all day long.

We also get a lot of young adults. These enthusiastic visitors were from Kok Sheng's group.

Some of the visitors from Kok Sheng's group went for a walk down the Viewing Jetty, and saw plenty of marine life! From crabs and shrimps, to large schools of fish, they saw how the seas around Chek Jawa were home to all sorts of marine creatures.

We even saw a cute little kite butterflyfish (Parachaetodon ocellatus), a large flower crab (Portunus pelagicus), and a massive carpet anemone (Stichodactyla haddoni).

One of the real highlights was this octopus, which appeared only for a few moments before vanishing among the clumps of seaweed.

Our sharp-eyed visitors were thrilled to see this baby stingray (Dasyatis kuhlii)!

As if the day had not been exciting enough, the wild boars paid us a visit again. As we made our way out, we met a small group, consisting of two adults and two piglets, busily foraging in the vegetation around the Information Kiosk.

It seems they're really getting quite used to the presence of people, although they are still a little skittish. The wild boar fed noisily, largely ignoring the excited people taking photos several metres away. I hope other visitors to Chek Jawa have the sense to keep their distance and refrain from feeding them; these are after all still wild animals.

Thanks to Allen, Kok Sheng, Alyce, LK and Ivan for not letting the rain spoil the mood. And a big thanks to all our wonderful visitors, who came in spite of the terrible weather just before we began! We hope you've had a wonderful experience, learning about some of the amazing things to be found in Chek Jawa.

ED: You can check out Kok Sheng's post on the walk over at his blog.

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