Wednesday, 6 January 2016

NSS Kids’ Fun with Nature at The Rail Corridor (Singapore)

By Gloria Seow, Education Group Chairperson

Uncle Ben pointing out the area’s abundant plant life including an epiphyte-laden Oil Palm.
Running 26 km from Woodlands to Tanjong Pagar, the north-south oriented Rail (Green)  Corridor presents an unbroken extent of gratifying greenery. It allows wildlife to move freely between adjoining nature areas. The former KTM railway line has since been stripped of its tracks in most parts, providing near obstacle-free access to nature lovers, cyclists, joggers and trekkers.

An energetic group of NSS Kids, along with their parents and caregivers, got to explore the two kilometer stretch near the old Bukit Timah Railway station on the morning of 25 August 2013. We congregated at King Albert Park Macdonald’s Place (off Bukit Timah Road in Singapore), itself an iconic landmark at the junction of Bukit Timah and Clementi Roads. Sadly, it will soon make way for yet another condominium. Given Singapore’s relentless pace of development, we were thankful that the government has decided to preserve the Rail Corridor in its entirety.

Although the rail tracks have been stripped away in most parts, key sections such as those at the former Bukit Timah Station still retain their tracks.
After a safety briefing by trip leader Uncle Benjamin Ho, we proceeded to the nearby trailhead. The continuous greenery that stretched before us put everybody in a relaxed mood. A number of fruit trees lined our path. First up was the banana, heavy laden with, unfortunately, unripe fruits. Some wild bananas have huge seeds in them, unlike the seedless ones we get in our supermarkets. Kids learnt that banana flowers are a favourite source of nectar for birds. We came across a flowering mango tree, but not a single mango was in sight. Next, Uncle Ben found an Oil Palm covered in epiphytes.

Auntie Gloria then located a Pacific Swallow in her scope. It perched cooperatively, long enough for a good number of kids to observe it up close. For many, the bird was a lifer, a term used by birdwatchers to denote birds seen for the very first time. Other feathered delights that came our way included the gregarious White-crested Laughingthrushes, bright flashes of green from Long-tailed Parakeets, and flocks of Asian Glossy Starlings.  

The trail is characterised by the huge heart-shaped leaves of the Giant Taro or Wild Yam (Alocasia macrorrhiza). Kids had fun feeling its waxy texture and playing amongst its foliage. Native to the region, its edible root has to be cooked for a long time to get rid of the needle-like calcium oxalate crystals. Likewise, its sap is a skin irritant. The Orang Asli use its humongous leaves as impromptu umbrellas. Another familiar root vegetable plant seen everywhere was the Tapioca. To the older generation, this plant reminded them of the war years when it was one of the most dependable food sources around.

The trail is characterised by the huge heart-shaped leaves of the Giant Taro or Wild Yam.

Uncle Ben then singled out the distinctive purple flowers of the Singapore Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum) and its edible deep purple fruits. He also showed the kids the Giant Mahang (Macaranga gigantea), one of the most common pioneer secondary forest trees in Singapore. Its sapling has a specialised relationship with ants that live inside the hollow stems and feed on its food bodies. In return, the ants appear to protect the young plant from being eaten and from competition from climbers.

The energetic kids ended off the nature ramble with a round of games.
After a bout of nature rambling, we stepped into the shade of the old Bukit Timah station where kids saw how complicated the railway track shifting mechanism was. We then strolled across the classic truss bridge that spans Bukit Timah and Dunearn Roads, bringing us over to the start of Rifle Range Road. Uncle Ben had the kids race each other across the bridge back to the other side, balancing on the tracks that had been left in situ. The children then clamoured for more action, and ended up playing ‘Dog and Bone’ and other games, a rousing finale to a lovely walk.

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