Monday, 4 March 2013

NSS Kids’ Fun at Tampines Eco Green
By Gloria Seow, Education Group Chairperson and Timothy Pwee
Photos by Lena Chow

An iconic feature of Tampines Eco Green is its picturesque snags or dead trees, left standing as perches and nesting sites for birds.
Located at the junction of Tampines Avenues 9 and 12, Tampines Eco Green is unlike the typical public park. It does not boast an orderly landscaping harking back to colonial roots. Instead, it is a ‘show park’ for an ecosystem type often deemed as ‘wasteland’. Here, a mix of grassland, swale, scrub and pioneer secondary forest are all on display, albeit curated to feel like a public park. A small group of NSS Kids and their parents took an eventful stroll here on 3 June 2012 led by Auntie Lena, Uncle Timothy and Auntie Gloria.

Instead of the usual paved path or boardwalk, Tampines Eco Green offers a green trail composed of carpet grass. The trail wends its way in a loop around the park, making for a nice cushioned walk. We visited its flushless eco-toilets. They work by using bacteria to decompose human waste into compost. Surprisingly, despite the absence of cleansing water, the loos did not smell one bit.

Next, we poked at the Giant Sensitive Tree (Mimosa pigra) to watch its leaflets fold up. It did so at a much slower rate compared to the Touch-Me-Not weed (Mimosa pudica) which has attractive pink flowers. The phenomenon of plant movement in response to touch or vibration is called thigmonasty or seismonasty. The Water Mimosa (Neptunia plena), which looks like the Touch-Me-Not except for its yellow flowers, is also sensitive to touch. At night, the leaves of these plants close up (nyctinastic) or go to ‘sleep’.

The highlight was coming across the nest of the Lesser Banded Hornet, and admiring its beautiful scallop patterning
The trip highlight was coming within 30 cm of the nest of the Lesser Banded Hornet (Vespa affinis). At first, we mistakenly identified it as the similar-looking Banded Paper Wasp (Polistes sagittarius), which build open nests with exposed combs. In contrast, the nest of the Lesser Banded Hornet has beautiful scallop patterning enveloping the combs. The imbricate (overlapping) envelope is made of mixed layers of papering. The ‘paper’ fibres are collected from wood and tree bark, and fixed with saliva. On hindsight, we were foolish to approach the nest so closely and were fortunate not to be attacked. Instead, we spent many happy moments admiring and photographing the handiwork of the hornets, truly an artistic masterpiece. There were a few buzzing hornet guards clambering about and flying around the nest, and they too, were a pretty sight to behold. According to, the Banded Paper Wasp is more slender-bodied than the Lesser Banded Hornet, has longer legs in relation to its body size, and flies with its legs extended vertically downwards.

Such open scrubby land is ideal for fast-colonising trees like the Acacia (Acacia auriculiformis) and Albizia (Paraserianthes falcataria) which thrive here. Unfortunately, both are invasive exotics from Australia and East Indonesia respectively. However, they have been naturalised to a large extent, so much so that local birds and other wildlife feed and nest in them. In fact, we saw the hanging nests of many Baya Weavers (Ploceus philippinus) as well as that of the exotic Asian Golden Weaver (Ploceus hypoxanthus) housed in the Acacia tree. Both weavers were seen actively constructing their nests and hunting for insects. The Asian Golden Weaver is an escapee from the caged bird trade, originally from Indochina and Java. Also nesting in treeholes above us were Red-breasted Parakeets and Collared Kingfishers. We encountered typical parkland birds such as the Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Olive-backed Sunbird, Black-naped Oriole and more. Over 70 bird species have been recorded here.

There were ample signages illustrating the wildlife that can be found here.

We then wandered along the swales. These are stretches of water-logged land that gather rainwater. The plants in them cleanse the water by removing any pollutants. The park is home to at least 10 species of Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) including the Yellow-Barred Flutterer, Common Chaser and Coastal Glider. They were zipping about effortlessly, joined by a bevy of butterflies such as the Peacock Pansy, Striped Albatross and the rare Black Veined Tiger.

An iconic feature of Tampines Eco Green is its picturesque snags or dead trees, a surreal sight indeed. These snags were not removed when the park was developed and they now serve as perches and nesting sites for birds. Back at our starting point, we were greeted by a row of exotic parrots. Apparently we had stumbled upon free-flying parrot hobbyists who train their pets to fly around on their own but to return when called. This strange encounter capped an enjoyable morning of exploration.

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