Saturday, November 28, 2009

Teach the young ones

We had a most wonderful trip out to Chek Jawa Boardwalk with several enthusiastic families this morning.

We decided to hold our trip in the morning so as to avoid the holiday makers that descend on Ubin during a long holiday weekend. We were glad that we did as we practically had Chek Jawa to ourselves before the crowds started to arrive in the late morning.

See these happy faces? The kids had a great time bonding with nature with their parents. In the process, they learnt a lot about life in a mangrove, how the animals behave and the kind of habitats they live in.

We are glad that although we live in a highly urbanised city, many of our Singapore parents continue to impart a love (and respect)) for nature to their children. One of the mothers said to me, we are "stewards of the earth that is created for us".

Let's read what they saw during their trip to Chek Jawa.....

There we were, bright and early at 9 am on a Saturday morning. See how the gentle sun rays in the morning gave a soft glow on the ceiling of the Information Kiosk.

This is the famous Jejawi Tower at Chek Jawa. Everyone gamely trooped to the top of the tower to view the environs surrounding Chek Jawa. From our vantage point, we could see the mangroves and coastal forest, and although it was high tide, we were able to point out the sand bar and seagrass lagoon that are covered by the tide. In the horizon, we could see the state of Johor, and even the mouth of the Johor river.

All the families gathered for a group picture at the top of the Jejawi Tower. The tower is named after the Jejawi Tree (also known as the Malayan Banyan Tree, Ficus microcarpa) which you can see in the background. This is the tallest tree in Chek Jawa, even taller than the 20 metre tower itself. We are not sure if 'Chek Jawa' is named after the Jejawi tree or whether it is simply derived from 'Encik dari Java'.

We told the kids to help us look out for animals, and they took their assigned responsibility very seriously. There were squeals of delight when the kids spotted the animals themselves. They saw the tree-climbing crabs, some fiddler crabs in the mangroves, and lots of giant mudskippers too.

Have you ever seen kids this enthusiastic about biology? Chek Jawa is really the perfect outdoor classroom for our kids.

One particular Giant Mudskipper (Periophthalmodon schlosseri) that we saw in the mangrove was as long as a human foot. It was guarding its little patch of muddy water very carefully.

Can you see the protruding eyes of the mudskipper? Please do remember that a mudskipper is a fish and not an amphibian. It breathes through its gills like all fishes do, except the mudskipper has developed a pouch that enables it to carry water to keep its gills moist at all times.

By the time we got to the outer mangroves, we saw that the mud was in a disturbed state. Ria explained that these were signs that the wild boars have been digging in the area. Wild boars are omnivorous and so they have quite a varied diet. They usually dig for underground tubers and stems for food. Sometimes, they develop a taste for snails, worms, crabs or any small animals along the intertidal zone too.

The gold-spotted mudskippers found at the outer mangroves were seen flashing their dorsal fins especially when they were in groups. If you observe them long enough, you too will be able to see the erect dorsal fins. The kids certainly saw them today.

The complex root systems of the mangrove trees are a wonder. These bakau kurup trees on the outer side of the boardwalk had stilt roots that were even taller than a man. The stilt roots provide stability to the tree and allow it to grow tall and strong even though the soil in a mangrove area tend to be soft and unstable. These trees when grown in a large clump provide added stability to each other too.

Who says there is nothing to see from the boardwalk during a high tide? We saw these garfishes (or needle fishes). They are quite a rare sight and we were glad that we spotted this pair in the water.

Besides the garfish, we also saw a large school of large square-tail mullets swimming in a straight line formation nearby at the rocky coast. We spotted them exactly a week ago at around the same time. By coming more regularly to Chek Jawa, we were able to see some patterns in animal sightings. These mullets with yellows tails were spotted in the same spot at roughly the same time a week apart.

What is this long-tailed macaque doing on the floating pontoon? The little fellow looked scared. It probably wanted to run back to the safety of the forest but was scared when it saw group after group of humans walking on the boardwalk. For those of you who have not seen our earlier blogs about the long-tailed macaques, may we gently remind you not to feed the monkeys found in many parts of Singapore. Feeding the monkeys causes them to lose interest in hunting for their own food, and in the end they become a nuisance to people. Don't feed the monkeys! The forests provide enough food to sustain the macaque population.

Here is an idyllic view of the boardwalk and the colourful forests that hug the shoreline. Ria has blogged about these colourful forests of Chek Jawa too. The coastal forest in Chek Jawa is an excellent example of a primary forest as the trees there have never been chopped down by humans for land clearing.

When we were nearly at the end of our walk, the kids spotted this brightly coloured Oriental Whip Snake near the toilets. It has such a beautiful luminous green colour. It slid away quickly but the kids saw it and were absolutely thrilled. This snake is mildly venomous but does not pose a danger to humans. We just love to spot this snake. Do read Chay Hoon's blog on an interesting encounter with an Oriental Whip Snake that ate a gecko for lunch.

Just when we thought there was nothing else to see, those of us who were walking in front saw this male wild boar near the electro-generator. The wild boar is the largest mammal found on Pulau Ubin, not counting the homo sapiens species!

We ended our walk at the English Cottage. The kids drew their impression of Chek Jawa. We will post the drawings in the next blog after I have scanned them onto my computer.

This young man drew the gold-spotted mudskipper by looking at his photo. Good initiative! The camera is a wonderful learning tool, and we are glad to see the kids making full use of their cameras. Many of them were busy taking photos of the animals throughout the trip. We heard one of the young men keeps a blog. Do share that blog with us if you have written about nature in Singapore. We are more than happy to help promote your blog to fellow nature lovers.

While waiting for our vans to arrive at Punai Hut, LK took the opportunity to explain how rubber (or more accurately, latex) is obtained from a rubber tree. Rubber trees are tapped at night, and the latex sap will ooze from the tree for the next one to two hours. The latex is collected in cups attached to the tree. Rubber tappers will then make a second round in the day to collect the latex. One of the mothers in the group told us that she grew up in a rubber estate in Perak. She said her father owned a rubber smokehouse and so she is familiar with how latex is processed to form rubber sheets. Natural rubber is an important raw material used in the manufacturing of all kinds of goods, from shoes to tyres.

We hope the families who joined us today had an enjoyable time at Chek Jawa. Please continue to explore the nature places in Singapore. There are so many interesting places to visit. The kids will learn so much more by actually seeing, observing and touching. Do subscribe to Ria's Wild Singapore Happenings blog to get a weekly update of wild places to visit.

For families or groups of friends who want to join us for our monthly walks, the next date is:

Date: 26 December 2009 (Saturday)
Time: 9 am
Meeting place: Chek Jawa Information Kiosk
Registration: write to

Thanks to Ria, CH and LK for giving your time to share the wonders of Chek Jawa with our new friends.

Other blogs written about the same trip:
Animals and colourful coastal forests of Chek Jawa on the wild shores of singapore blog.

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