After a 2-month hiatus, we're back for the first guiding session of 2009 on the Chek Jawa boardwalk.
As announced previously, only a very small handful of guides were available this month, since most of us were busy with other matters. As such, we were a little worried about the size of the turnout, and whether the number of visitors would be too much for us to handle.
But as we made our way to Pulau Ubin, we could see that trouble was brewing in the skies above.
Upon arriving at Chek Jawa, it seemed all too clear that a downpour was imminent.
Maybe the weather played a part, or maybe it was the fact that it was the first weekend after the end of the March holidays, but the size of the crowd that greeted us at the Information Kiosk was stunning.
There was nobody at all!
For some time, Anuj and I were wondering if this month's session was going to end up with the both of us walking down the boardwalk
Just when we were about to head off on our own, we were joined by 2 brave souls, Siok Ai and Maggie, who were enthusiastic about visiting Chek Jawa despite the gloomy weather.
And so, the merry band of 4, consisting of 2 guides and 2 visitors, set off on an epic journey of adventure, peril, and fortune. Nah, just kidding. We'd barely reached the Jejawi Tower when it really began to rain, forcing us to scurry back to the Information Kiosk. What a way to start the session.
While the rain poured, Siok Ai and Maggie browsed through Anuj's copy of Pulau Ubin: Ours to Treasure by Dr Chua Ee Kiam, which he had borrowed from a library. And as they flipped through the book, Anuj and I did a bit of static guiding, sharing more about Pulau Ubin and Chek Jawa in general, from the legend of Pulau Sekudu to the mass death of early 2007. When you are stranded at the Information Kiosk in the midst of a thunderstorm, you do what you can to prevent the visitors from getting bored.
Finally, the rain lightened into a mizzle (Ria's nickname for a miserable drizzle), and we decided to resume our walk.
First thing we noticed were the durian flowers that were scattered all over the ground!
In a few more months, the durian trees will be full of ripening fruit. Remind me to watch my head then. This photo was taken in late June last year.
As we turned the corner, we were treated to a shocking sight.
The tongkat ali was completely bald!
Tongkat ali is an evergreen plant, meaning that if you see a bald tongkat ali, something bad must have happened to it. What on Earth happened here?
Here's a photo of the tongkat ali in happier times, with a full crown of leaves.
This wasn't a case of the plant getting all its leaves stripped off by a bad caterpillar infestation, neither was it shedding its leaves due to disease. Someone or something had completely hacked off its crown, leaving behind just the stem. Anuj said that when he was here last week, the plant wasn't looking like this at all.
Anuj also noticed that it looked as if something had been digging at the base of the stem, exposing some of the roots.
Was this deliberate vandalism, or even a foiled poaching attempt? We forgot to check with the ranger on our way out.
As I explained to Siok Ai and Maggie, this is the dilemma faced by people everywhere. Do we open up access to nature areas, enabling more people to revel in the beauty of these places, while at the same time increasing exposure to undesirable behaviours like poaching, littering, harassment of wildlife and vandalism? It's a situation that is seen all over the world, and frankly, the solutions aren't simple.
I hope the tongkat ali manages to regrow its leaves soon.
Further up, we encountered more evidence of ugly visitors.
Sigh. Yes, there aren't dustbins situated every 100 metres along the boardwalk, but is it too much to ask that you hold on to whatever rubbish you have until you return to the Information Kiosk or House No. 1?
I swear, if I ever see anyone deliberately leaving trash behind along the boardwalk, I am going to give them a piece of my mind. What sort of message are we sending to other visitors? That the government halted reclamation of Chek Jawa and built this boardwalk, only so that we could trash and abuse this place?
Now that the rain had cleared up, we were able to take a nice leisurely stroll along the coastal boardwalk. We were joined by many birds; swiftlets and swallows were flying overhead, while after hearing its distinctive calls on numerous occasions, a collared kingfisher made an appearance, followed shortly after by a stork-billed kingfisher. We were treated to the sight of a common sandpiper foraging on the rocks, while small flocks of whimbrels flew past. We also managed to spot little egrets, little herons, and a pair of great-billed herons hunting for food in the water close to the sandbar. We even heard and saw one of the resident white-bellied sea eagles! In the coastal forest, we could hear straw-headed bulbuls and red junglefowl, but they proved elusive.
Here's Siok Ai and Maggie, our 2 brave visitors.
The smaller creatures never fail to amuse and excite our visitors.
Such as these mudskippers.
Or the ever-present fiddler crabs.
Close to the junction of the coastal boardwalk and mangrove boardwalk, we came upon an unusual sight.
It's the skull of some sort of animal!
I'm sure it's a mammal, and judging by the teeth, probably a herbivore. I don't think it's a dugong skull though, since it has a longish tapering snout. Wild boar, perhaps? But it lacks tusks. Too bad it was upside down, and quite far from the boardwalk, so we couldn't take a closer look.
We were surprised when an oriental pied hornbill swooped into view, completely silent except for the beating of its wings. Unfortunately, it soon vanished before any of us could take photos.
As we entered the mangroves, we came upon even more rubbish tossed by inconsiderate and irresponsible visitors.
To be honest, I get extremely annoyed when people write off the garbage on our shores as having drifted in from Malaysia, and therefore there's nothing we can do about it.
There's no way all this trash was washed in by the sea and neatly deposited on the boardwalk.
Everybody has been taught since kindergarten or primary school that littering is wrong. So why do people still do it, especially in our nature areas? Are people so lazy or so blind that they fail to see the consequences of their behaviour?
We worked hard at spotting some of the denizens of the mangroves, such as tree-climbing crabs and giant mudskippers. Alas, the mud crab that we used to see quite often last year is missing in action. I hope it was just hiding in its hole; there were a couple of large clam shells on the mud just outside, so I hope it's a sign that the burrow is still occupied.
One of the nipah palms was flowering. We also saw a couple of piles of dung left behind by the common palm civets, providing us with an opportunity to share about kopi luwak.
On the last leg of our walk, we climbed the Jejawi Tower.
Beautiful, isn't it? Earlier this morning, a whole group of us were busy helping out with TeamSeagrass.
Siok Ai and Maggie take in the view. We were hoping to spot the hornbills, and we did actually hear them, but they were hidden from view.
The Jejawi Tower is another good place for visitors to learn about the abuse of our nature areas. It's great that people want to visit our nature areas for recreational purposes. But at the same time, a proportion of these visitors behave extremely badly. Less than 2 years after it was opened to the public, the Jejawi Tower is now badly covered in graffiti.
What makes people get this seemingly uncontrollable urge to write or carve their names? Does anyone else seriously care? Of course, it does in a way make it easier for us to narrow down the target of our contempt and scorn. We could probably spend an hour on the Jejawi Tower and come up with an entire "Hall of Shame" gallery.
Yes, I'm talking about you, students from Meridian Junior College Photography Club.
And the whole bunch of you army guys.
And yes, you as well, members of sgforums.com. I'm not going to dignify your vandalism with a link to your site.
We returned to the Information Kiosk, where Siok Ai and Maggie did their wonderful guestbook entry.
It was getting late already, so we made a quick trip to House No. 1. I was glad that we did, because we were treated to the sight of not one, not two, but FIVE hornbills flying past us! I didn't manage to get any good photos though.
But for your benefit, here's a photo of one that Marcus spotted from the Jejawi Tower this morning.
We finally headed back towards Ubin Jetty, and I couldn't resist taking a photo of the beautiful sky at sunset.
It's great to be back at Chek Jawa, and guiding such a small group was a very relaxing, stress-free affair, made better by the cloudy sky and cool breeze after the rain. But I was saddened to see all the signs of abuse by visitors, from litter on the boardwalk, to vandalism on the Jejawi Tower. Perhaps for future walks, I think it would be a good idea for us guides to carry along plastic bags for us to retrieve any litter we find along the way for proper disposal at the end of the walk. If there is anything to be gained from such an act, I guess it would help visitors to understand that they themselves have a responsibility to keep our nature areas clean and litter-free.
I'm now looking forward to our next walk in April. What will we find then?