Sunday, 5 February 2017

NSS Kids’ Fun with Creatures of the Night at Pulau Ubin (Singapore)

By Gloria Seow, Education Committee Chairperson

Photos by Lena Chow

The Education Committee and Vertebrate Study Group joined hands in a critter spotting night safari to Pulau Ubin (island off the northeastern coast of Singapore) on 11 June 2016. Given the immense publicity surrounding Pesta Ubin (Malay for Ubin Festival), this activity was oversubscribed by almost four fold. But as regulations go, we could only take in 40 participants. Ubin was already bathed in twilight when we met up with a bunch of eager juniors and their parents. We split into two clusters, with Auntie Bee Choo, Uncle Sek Chuan and young naturalist Saker leading the coastal Sensory Trail, while Auntie Gloria, Uncle Timothy and Auntie Lena took the second group into the forested interior path.

We found a wee Common Tailorbird fast asleep with eyes wide open while balancing on one leg.

First up, we had glimpses of at least two Large-tailed Nightjars (Caprimulgus macrurusas well as several tiny Asiatic Lesser Yellow House Bat (Scotophilus kuhlii) hawking for insects in the inky sky. Then Auntie Lena saw a huge flying form which she believed to be the rare Malayan Flying Fox (Pteropus vampyrus). A few of them had been sighted earlier on Ubin. She promptly found a Common Tailorbird (Orthotomus sutorius) fast asleep with eyes wide open. This birdy was still perched on the same banana leaf when we looped back some two hours later. It was incredible to see how it could balance on one leg while snoozing soundly.

   A Four-lined Tree Frog posed proudly for us.

At the expansive lotus-and-water-lily ponds, we had good numbers of Crab-eating Frogs (Fejervarya cancrivora) and Field Frogs (Fejervarya limnocharis) that comically leapt out of our way as we trooped in. Next, Uncle Tim spotted a Four-lined Tree Frog (Polypedates leucomystax) up in a bush. It posed proudly for us, illuminated by the waxing half moon, our torches, and some camera flash. Auntie Gloria and Auntie Lena exclaimed ‘Snake!’ in unison when we spied a Striped Keelback (Xenochrophis vittatus) slithering along a narrow side path. To escape, we witnessed the snake lifting up a third of its body and ‘climbing’ into the flanking scrub. Its quick disappearing act meant that only a handful of us got to see this beauty which was a lifer (seen for the first time) for us. The Striped Keelback is a diurnal reptile active during the day, which made it more cool to encounter it at night.

      Our highlight was seeing the diurnal Striped Keelback climbing a shrub.

Returning to the tarmac, we moved as silently as a large group with excited kids could move. Before long, Auntie Gloria picked up a great deal of activity in the branches above us. We saw 10 to 15 fruit bats (likely the Common Fruit Bat Cynopterus brachyotis) zipping in and out of a figging tree as well as hanging upside down to chomp on figs. Kids and parents alike admired the feeding frenzy with yelps of amazement. We pointed out several Spotted House Geckos (Gekko monarchus). The first was camouflaged against some wooden planks left by the roadside, while the second was on a tree trunk.

   A Giant Shield Bug resplendent on the leaves of the Simpoh Air.

On the way back, we bumped into Auntie Bee Choo’s group. They reported seeing the Dog-faced Water Snake (Cerberus schneiderii), a family of Eurasian Wild Pigs (Sus scrofa), Asian Toads (Duttaphrynus melanostictus), spiders, mudskippers and mangrove crabs, amongst other sightings. In a cluster of Simpoh Air (Dillenia suffruticosa), Auntie Lena did a quick search and located her target – the Giant Shield Bug (Pycanum spp) – a majestic insect that feeds on the leaves of this shrub. Back at the ponds, we found a sleeping Marbled Goby (Oxyeleotris marmorata) known locally as Soon Hock, a Golden Apple Snail (Pomacea canaliculata) as large as a clenched fist, and more leaping frogs.

We had specially arranged for two ferries to get us back to the mainland. Uncle Tim sent off the first two groups. The rest of us settled down to wait for the boats to come back, and took time to recount the splendid night sights of Unforgettable Ubin. Indeed, the island never fails to surprise.

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