Sunday, 11 March 2018

NSS Kids’ Fun with Birds at Kranji Marshes

By Gloria Seow, Education Committee Vice-Chairperson
Photos by Gloria Seow and Lena Chow

 Auntie Ee Ling giving us an insider tour of the Core Conservation Area.

Kranji Marshes is Singapore's largest freshwater wetlands, serendipitously created when Kranji reservoir was dammed in the 1970s, which caused the nearby low-lying areas to become flooded. The marshy vegetation has matured, forming an attractive habitat for water birds. On the morning of 23 April 2017, we were privileged to have chirpy Auntie Ee Ling of the Bird Group as our guide. She was quick to rattle off interesting Kranji Marshes factoids, while directing our chartered bus that had picked us up at Sungei Buloh to a spot on the Turut Track. Here, she unlocked a gate to reveal the ecological paradise of Kranji Marshes’ core conservation area, generally off limits except on NParks approved walks. It felt special to have the whole place to ourselves.

Even as our bus was navigating an incredibly narrow lane that led to these marshes, Auntie Lena had found us an imperious Changeable Hawk Eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus). It was perched on a lamp post and was scanning the terrain for a spot of breakfast. Our streak of raptor sightings continued as we stepped into Kranji Marshes proper. In a faraway tree, the handsome chestnut-and-white plumage of a Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) advertised its presence readily. Everyone enjoyed wow views through scopes and binoculars. Auntie Ee Ling then spotted two Pacific Swallows (Hirundo tahitica) sitting on a wire which she prompted scoped. She also picked out a lone Tiger Shrike (Lanius tigrinus) hunting in the distant grassland, and later, an Oriental Dollarbird (Eurystomus orientalis) high up on some bare branches.

The handsome chestnut-and-white plumage of the Brahminy Kite advertising its presence at Kranji Marshes.

The wetland was quiet in comparison as the migratory season had just concluded. What remained were resident birds. We found several Red-wattled Lapwings (Vanellus indicus) resting on a log across an idyllic waterbody, and watched raptly as Little Terns (Sternula albifrons) did their hover-and-dive routine to expertly capture wriggling fishes. Auntie Lena then produced a Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea) poking the reed beds for a tidbit. We also had a regal White-bellied Sea-eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) fly by us. Part of the enjoyment of being out here was the beauty of the marshes itself. Some ponds were filled entirely with blooming pink lotuses, while others stretched out in a liquid shimmer into the horizon, accented by green patches here and there.

All too soon, we reached the end of the restricted access area. We then passed through another locked portal into the public part of the marshes. Auntie Ee Ling gave us a 45-minute free-and-easy slot to explore this area ourselves. Some parked themselves in the bird hide where there were solid views of common marshland birds to be had, such as the White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) and Striated Heron (Butorides striatus). Others wandered around, encountering birds such as a calling but hidden Blue-winged Pitta (Pitta moluccensis), Common Tailorbird (Orthotomus sutorius), and several cuckoo species. Unfortunately, the 10 m high Raptor Tower was closed for repairs. Back in the hide, the fluty tunes of the Common Iora (Aegithina tiphia) attracted our attention. Auntie Gloria duly pointed out the sexual dimorphism of the male and female pair in a nearby tree.

We convened to return to our locked-away ‘secret garden’ and meet the bus at the other end. While crossing a bridge, Auntie Gloria explained that the bubblegum pink stuff stuck on the walls of the canal were the eggs of the invasive Golden Apple Snail (Pomacea canaliculata) from  South America. The snail can be eaten if cooked. Upon peering closely, we could see that many of these snails were grazing just beneath the water surface. Another cool sighting on the stroll back was that of a Black-winged Kite (Elanus caeruleus vociferus), a raptor that employs a distinctive hovering flight pattern that many witnessed. Auntie Ee Ling then picked out a Yellow Bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis) partially obscured by some reeds.

 Pink lotus blooms covering one of the many waterbodies.

All of us guides were impressed by 9-year old Samuel Lim who could identify some birds without aid, even though this was practically his first field trip. His head knowledge of other wildlife was just as jaw dropping. His mum explained that he has a voracious appetite for nature books, and he actually cajoled his parents to come for this walk. His enthusiasm seemed to be rubbing off his 6-year old brother Emmanuel. Indeed, there is hope yet for our future generation of naturalists – both of the citizen science and formally trained variety.

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