Sunday, August 30, 2015

So much to see at Chek Jawa Wetlands!

Our outing to Chek Jawa on 22 August was a fun and eventful one! We saw so many animals and had an encounter with a venomous sea snake. Lots of photos to share with everyone.

Truly, we say it again and again - Chek Jawa is ALIVE! If you have not visited Chek Jawa, come visit this gem of a nature place with the Naked Hermit Crabs. We run a monthly nature tour on the boardwalk as part of our educational outreach to fellow Singaporeans and residents, and the next one is on 12 September.

We hold our walks on the boardwalk. At Chek Jawa, there are 2 segments of the boardwalk - the mangrove boardwalk and the coastal boardwalk.

This is the outer mangrove segment where we always stop to watch the cute fiddler crabs.
Mangrove boardwalk

When the tide is low, it is wonderful to be on the coastal boardwalk because you can see so much up close. Well, next best thing to being on the mudflat itself.
Coastal boardwalk

Hey! What's that green animal? It's the Haddon's carpet anemone. This is a beautiful animal, roughly 60 to 70 cm in diameter. The green colour is due to microscopic algae growing in the anemone. The carpet anemone has a large oral disk on which are lots of tentacles that can sting and trap small animals that swim past it. We used to have a lot more carpet anemones at Chek Jawa, but the encouraging news is that we are slowly seeing more of them these days.
Haddon's carpet anemone

This is a garfish, sometimes known as a needlefish too. Not a common sighting these days. It's a pretty long fish, roughly 50 cm long by our estimation. Our visitors got quite excited by this sighting.

We were able to spot this sea cucumber too in the water. Sea cucumbers are bottom-dwelling animals. Some species of sea cucumbers like to bury themselves in the sand with only their feeding tentacles sticking out. Others, like this 'garlic bread' sea cucumber move about on the surface of the sand. This species is classified as 'Vulnerable' on the Red List of threatened animals of Singapore due to loss of natural habitats and over-collection as food. Our visitors told us that this is their first time seeing a live sea cucumber on the seabed! How cool is that!

Sea cucumber

There are horseshoe crabs in Chek Jawa too! Unfortunately this one may have died. 

Now for the encounter with the venomous sea snake ....

Some of our visitors spotted a Marbled Sea Snake below the coastal boardwalk and alerted the guides. There seemed to be a wound on its body, and it was swimming rather erratically. One of our guides, Sean, went down to the water, and with the use of plastic bags and a long stick, he managed to retrieve the snake and placed it in a pail of seawater. Never handle a sea snake with your hands as they are known to be venomous! And bravo to Sean! As it turned out, the snake was indeed seriously injured, having 2 punctures at its heart and lungs. The snake eventually succumbed to its injuries, but did not die in vain because it was handed over NParks officers who took it to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum for further studies and kept as a record of Singapore's biodiversity.

Marbled Sea Snake (Photo by Ian Siah)
It was heartening to hear the kids ask so many questions about this incident. They demanded to know why we took the snake out of the water, why it was injured, whether it was REALLY injured, whether it could have been saved. Those were great questions which we took pains to explain to the kids that the snake was very seriously injured and would succumb to its injures in the end, and why it is good for science to have it handed it over to the natural history museum. Bravo to these wonderful kids!

Read the full story, Sea Herp: An Injured Marbled Sea Snake @Chek Jawa, in the Herpetological Society of Singapore blog. You will read in the blog about the possible cause of the 2 punctures.

As the tide was relatively low, it gave us an excellent opportunity for us to look at some track marks made by animals that walked on the mudflats too.

These are tracks made by a monitor lizard. The tell-tale sign is the line made by the tail in between the foot prints. Monitor lizards are known to go down to the mudflats at low tide to hunt for food.

We also saw lots of foot prints made by the wild boars.

The birds are always a welcome sight in Chek Jawa. There was a pair of White-bellied Sea Eagles flying above the clump of mangrove trees in the northern sandbar. One of them flew close to where we were, giving us a better view of it.
White-bellied Sea Eagles 

A lone heron stood in the water, fishing for its meal in the incoming tide.

In the mangrove area, we sighted a small bird with red feathers on its crown. It's the Scarlet-backed flowerpecker. One of the visitors came prepared with the NSS Bird Guide application installed on her smartphone, so we were able to identify the bird quite easily. It is great to see the app in use out in the field!
Scarlet-backed flowerpecker

Another bird sighted is the White-rumped shama. We heard it before we saw it. The shama has one of the loveliest songs in the forests of Asia, and we are so glad that this species is still there in Chek Jawa. Unfortunately, this species suffers from the relentless poaching for the song bird market throughout Asia. For every bird sold in a pet shop, the sad truth is that many more have died needlessly before reaching the marketplace. If only people are content with seeing it in its natural habitat rather than in a cage at home.
White-rumped shama (photo by Ian)

Crabs are plentiful in Chek Jawa. The porcelain fiddler crabs at the outer mangrove area are easy to spot. These crabs have beautiful markings on their shells. Their pincers are smooth, hence its common name is porcelain fiddler crabs.
Porcelain fiddler crabs

At the inner mangroves, the tree-climbing crabs are often spotted standing guard outside their large burrows. Everyone loves to watch these crabs.
Tree-climbing crab

One of our visitors, SK, pointed out the leaf miner found on a leaf. What's a leaf miner? According to Wikipedia, a leaf miner is the larva of an insect that lives in and feeds on the leaf tissue of a plant. The larvae could be the young of many types of insects.
Leaf miner

Our lovely visitors on August 22! About 60 people turned up. Thank you for coming down to Chek Jawa to spend the Saturday morning with us! Sorry, the guides are not in the photo. I think we are a little shy! Thanks go out to our volunteer guides - Ivan, Becky (her first time guiding with the Naked Hermit Crabs), Sean, Sumita, Tim, Ria, LeyKun and Ian who was accompanied by his son, Ethan.
Photo by Ian

At the end of each walk, we always hold a short drawing session to allow our visitors, young and old alike, to express their thoughts about Chek Jawa. Here are some of their drawings and words of encouragement.

This message from a visitor is for Ivan, our super guide whose love for nature and limitless knowledge of nature is just amazing! We totally agree with you too!

"Chek Jawa has beautiful biodiversity and should be a place for future generations to enjoy"

This drawing by Ava, age 11, has such great details. See the picture of the snake, inspired by the marbled sea snake. She also drew Becky, our guide!

The Marbled sea snake features here in this drawi!ng too

Little Wensi, age 7, drew a lovely leaf for us. The fiddler crab features an enlarged pincer, exactly what she saw on the shore.

This drawing is cheeky! A male fiddler crab calling out to the female fiddler crabs. Haha! See the enlarged pincer of the male crab. Good on you, Maya!

Do spread the word about our nature walks. We accept signups from small family and friend groups, but not large groups from corporations or organisations. The signup form is found here.

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