Monday, June 1, 2009

Hot and Humid May

The last day of May was unrelentless in its heat and humidity. We thought it was deterrent enough for the typical air-conditioner-loving Singaporean, and so we were not sure how many people will turn up at our Chek Jawa Boardwalk trip. But we were pleasantly surprised. 45 people came!

We started the walk by showing the visitors the durian trees. The fruits will be ripe towards the end of June and early July. Ubin durians are quite famous for their sweetness and soft flesh. They are "Old World" durians as these trees have been growing on the island for a long time. So if you come back again in a few weeks' time, you can easily buy them at Ubin town. The rambutan trees were absolutely heavy with green fruit too. These fruits ripen at the same time as the durians.

One nature fact concerning durians: The durian trees are pollinated by bats. So, saving the bats on Ubin are important for the durians. Put simply, no bats, no durians.

On the boardwalk facing the sea, the kids got excited watching the fiddler crabs and mudskippers with their mad antics. The creatures were so busy feeding. There seemed to be more mudskippers than normal, perhaps because the tide was coming in. Mudskippers are such an enigma. They are fish that are learning to walk on land! I cannot help but feel that we are witnessing a tiny sliver of the evolution process.

The mangrove trees next to the boardwalk have their own story to tell. The seeds of the bakau kurap mangrove trees already start sprouting their first tap roots while still growing on the tree. They look so much like long beans! The tap root helps the bakau kurup seed survive better in the relatively hostile environment of the mangroves.

The mud lobster mounds are interesting too. By building huge mud mounds, the mud lobsters are constantly changing the landscape of the mangroves. Inside the "condo-like" network of tunnels live a myriad of other animals such as crabs, snakes, scorpions, spiders and of course the mud lobsters. The tunnels help to make the mangroves healthy by loosening the soil and introducing air into the soil. This is very much like the good work that earthworms do in our gardens.

Having seen the small mudskippers at the shore, the kids were even more excited when they saw the giant mudskippers deeper in the mangrove area. These mudskippers are HUGE! The ones we saw were at least 10 cm long.

Up on the Jejawi Tower, my group saw a pair of White-bellied Sea Eagles soaring over the forest canopy near the Kampong Maman area. For a brief moment, we thought we saw them lock talons in mid-air. They were a long way away but we were nonetheless happy to observe the magnificent birds.

At the end of the boardwalk, we stopped to look at the Seashore Nutmeg Tree. The seashore nutmeg tree was thought to be extinct in Singapore until they were rediscovered in Chek Jawa. Now there are several small clusters on the island and it is believed that the Oriental Pied Hornbill is one of the many birds that helped to spread the seeds on the island. Further up the trail, we were happy to see the Tongkat Ali tree doing well again. For several months, this particular Tongkat Ali tree was bare where its crown should be. We are glad to see a new crown of leaves and that no permanent damage was done to it.

My group heard the loud calls of the Oriental Pied Hornbill but could not see them. So near and yet so far! Ivan and Ria's groups were luckier. They spied the hornbills on their way out to the boardwalk. My group stopped by to see the artificial nesting box installed high up on a tree. The visitors now understand how the female hornbill and her babies are totally dependent on the male papa bird to feed them during the nesting period. It is a fascinating story that sometimes mirror human behaviour too. You can read more about the hornbill breeding cycle at the BESGroup website.

We ended the walk at the English Cottage in the cool of the evening sun. The nature show at Chek Jawa never ends. We were rewarded with the sighting of a pair of White-bellied Sea Eagles soaring gently above the English Cottage. We saw their impressive wing span.

We hope the visitors had an enjoyable day at Chek Jawa. For those who came with their children, we applaud you for making the extra effort to get them to know more about the natural world around them. Hopefully the kids will remember Chek Jawa when they grow up. Better still, let's all hope that Chek Jawa continues to be conserved for future generations of Singapore kids to explore, enjoy and admire.

The nature guides on Sunday were Ria, Ivan and LK. Thanks for giving your time!

Read more about this trip at Ria's "wildshores" blog

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