Monday, 8 March 2021

Online Workshop: Fun with Mangrove Wildlife

In view of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Education Committee led by Vice Chairperson Gloria Seow has temporarily suspended all nature walks. We have instead organised a number of online workshops and talks. Watch them on NSS's YouTube Channel or below:

Online Workshop: Fun with Mangrove Wildlife (conducted on 20 February 2021 on Zoom)



Join Gloria Seow in this online workshop to learn how to spot and identify the common wildlife found in mangroves around Singapore, such as at Sungei Buloh, Pasir Ris Park and Pulau Ubin. These hardy plants and animals can tolerate the salty and wet high tides, yet do not dry out completely during the low tides. Learn about the clever adaptations that allow them to survive in this amazing habitat. The workshop was followed by a Q&A segment. In the post-webinar survey, one participant remarked that "The workshop was very informative and I enjoyed it very much."

If you cannot view the video above, please go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HkYFMDb0dZw 

About the Speaker Gloria Seow is a volunteer from Nature Society Singapore and has been running the Fun with Nature programme for children and their parents since 2008 as the former Chairperson, and now as the Vice-Chair of the Education Committee. She has been involved in bird and wildlife surveys for close to 15 years and has travelled to many countries to watch wildlife. She formerly worked as a communications professional but switched to become a financial consultant and professional nature guide a year ago.

If you wish you engage Gloria and/or other nature guides for affordable private, school or company walks, please contact Gloria at gloria_seow@yahoo.com.


Monday, 1 February 2021

Online Workshops: Fun with Backyard Birds (Parts 1 & 2)

In view of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Education Committee led by Vice Chairperson Gloria Seow has temporarily suspended all nature walks. We have instead organised a number of online talks and workshops. Watch them on NSS's YouTube Channel or below:

1. Fun with Backyard Birds (Part 1, conducted on 21 November 2020 on Zoom)


Keen to start birdwatching? Even without binoculars, you can spot colourful birds in your backyard if you know how. In this interactive webinar, Vice Chairperson of the Education Committee Gloria Seow revealed the 33 common bird species found in our parks, streets and water bodies, from the showy blue Collared Kingfisher to the sunny yellow Black-naped Oriole. Participants learnt how to tell these birds apart, where similar-looking species were juxtaposed to good effect. Gloria also shared the typical behaviour of these birds and fielded questions in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) segment. In the post-webinar survey, one participant summed up the sentiments saying that she "thoroughly enjoyed this as a starter". 

If you cannot view the video above, please go to:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OewotRLw544


2. Fun with Backyard Birds 
(Part 2, conducted on 
12 December 2020 on Zoom)


Continuing the workshop in this interactive webinar, 
Vice Chairperson of the Education Committee Gloria Seow elucidated on the basics of birding including binoculars use as well as spotting and recording birds. She also recommended various useful resources available for birders, including guide books, apps, websites and guided walks. Gloria then fielded questions in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) segment. In the post-webinar survey, one participant remarked as follows: "Good session, will recommend highly".

If you cannot view the video above, please go to:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qu1mWN1UTNc&t


About the Speaker Gloria Seow is a volunteer from Nature Society Singapore and has been running the Fun with Nature programme for children and their parents since 2008 as the former Chairperson, and now as the Vice Chairperson of the Education Committee. She has been involved in bird and wildlife surveys for close to 15 years and has travelled to many countries to watch wildlife. She formerly worked as a communications professional but switched to become a financial consultant and professional nature guide a year ago.

If you wish you engage Gloria and/or other nature guides for affordable private, school or company walks, please contact Gloria at gloria_seow@yahoo.com.

Online Talks: 1. Fun with Hornbills & 2. Fun with Otters

In view of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Education Committee led by Vice Chairperson Gloria Seow has temporarily suspended all nature walks and has instead organised a number of online talks. Watch them on NSS's YouTube Channel or below:

1. Fun with Hornbills (conducted on 2 August 2020 on Zoom)

Singapore has two hornbill species – the iconic Oriental Pied Hornbill and the rare Black Hornbill. In this interactive webinar, Ms Ng Bee Choo revealed fun facts and unravelled the behaviour of these beloved birds, as well as shared about the ongoing conservation efforts in Asia. Bee Choo is the International Coordinator for the Hornbill Research Foundation based in Thailand, as well as the Programme Officer for the IUCN Species Survival Commission – Hornbill Specialist Group. The Fun with Hornbills online talk ended with a Q&A segment as well as a fun quiz for kids between 4 to 12 years old, where the winner walked away with the book "Hornbills of the World". 

If you cannot view the video above, please go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7n5dwpdjlQ


2. Fun with Otters (conducted on 
25 October 2020 on Zoom)


The Smooth-coated Otter is a national darling when it comes to wildlife in Singapore, appearing in the news ever so often, in countless social media posts, artworks and even government banners. Aside from finding them irresistible, how well do you know your otters? Wildlife photographer "OtterGrapher" Bernard Seah opened our eyes to their colourful lifestyle in this interactive webinar: from their hunting behaviour to mating, parenting, exploring, sheltering, territorial disputes, and interactions with other species including humans. He also shared about the threats they face and dished out tips on where and how to watch them. The talk ended with an AMA (ask me anything) segment.

If you cannot view the video above, please go to:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cfqa-A9pJaA&t


Sunday, 31 January 2021

NSS Kids’ Fun with Birds at Lorong Halus Wetland

By Gloria Seow, Education Committee Vice Chairperson 

The 8-km long Serangoon River wends its way across the Hougang, Sengkang and Punggol housing estates. It is flanked by the park connector network of cycling and jogging paths and prettified with stylish viewing decks and fishing platforms. The river terminates at the rehabilitated former landfill site of Lorong Halus Wetland, where a dam constructed across its mouth in 2011 converted it into a reservoir. 

While folks went about their morning exercise at Halus, NSS kids and their parents, led by Auntie Lee Ee Ling, gathered on 28 December 2019 to check out its thriving bird life. First up, Auntie Gloria Seow spotted a White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) that had sauntered out of the riverside vegetation onto the footpath. It quickly dived back in when it saw us, and continued to forage on the ground, shielded by thick cover. Auntie Ee Ling then had us tune in to the soothing background coos of the Zebra Dove (Geopelia striata). Soon enough, we found a couple in a nearby tree as they belted out their duet.

Self-taught 9-year old birder Jorge with Auntie Ee Ling (carrying scope).

We saw the usual suspects of garden birds such as the Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier), Pink-necked Green Pigeon (Treron vernans) and Brown-throated Sunbird (Anthreptes malacensis). One of the participants, 9-year old Jorge, turned out to be an impressive self-taught birder. He had persuaded his parents to buy him a pair of binoculars, read up obsessively on Singapore’s (and other) birds, and even had an app on avian calls. He was able to identify the birds we encountered, dutifully recording them in his notebook. Such kids are as scarce as hen’s teeth.

 The flamboyant blossom of the Sea Poison tree.

One of the trip highlights was the Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri). This large green bird announced its presence as it nosily flew into view with a flourish. It proceeded to do a few energetic swoops and even perched obligingly for us to take a good look. It was not just birds we admired. Auntie Gloria picked up the flamboyant Sea Poison (Barringtonia asiatica) flower from underneath its tree and handed it around. This night-blooming flower is pollinated by moths and bats. Kids were fascinated to learn that the lantern-like fruits of the Sea Poison contain seeds that could be pulped and used to stun fish, hence its name.

At the landmark red Halus Bridge, we encountered a Malayan Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) swimming lazily in the river. Auntie Ee Ling put her scope to good use, giving kids close-up views of a handsome Pacific Swallow (Hirundo tahitica).


Suddenly, Uncle Timothy Pwee drew our attention skywards as a flock of some 30 Asian Openbills
 (Anastomus oscitans) swirled in the distance towards us. These storks had been in the news with thousands upon thousands observed coming down Peninsular Malaysia. Then they started appearing all over Singapore with the largest flock seen numbering about 1,000 birds, a rare phenomenon indeed. Some were even photographed flying across the sun during the annular solar eclipse on 26 December 2019. 

These storks usually forage for prey such as water snails in the rice fields up north, especially along the Mekong and Chao Phraya river basins. However, the drought in countries such as Thailand could have reduced their prey base and triggered their flight south in search of food. The Asian Openbill is so named as adult birds have a gap between their bills to allow them to better handle water snails, much like a nutcracker. Curiously, young storks do not have this gap. As we gawked at the majestic sight, another 30 Asian Openbills flew in from the opposite direction. The two flocks crossed each other before parting again, which set our party all atwitter with excitement.

Some 60 Asian Openbills filled the skies above Halus.

A female Olive-backed Sunbird on the Heliconia flower.

Crossing the bridge, Auntie Lena pointed out the Common Parasol (Neurothemis fluctuans), easily distinguished from other red dragonflies as the only one with reddish wings (versus clear wings). We also enjoyed eye-level views of an Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) when one came to collect nectar from the Heliconia flower. Too bad we ran out of time for the Little Grebe pond, but the morning’s many great sightings well made up for that.

NSS Kids’ Fun with The Bigfoot Leave No Trace Challenge

 By Gloria Seow, Education Committee Vice Chairperson


Bigfoot (also known as Sasquatch) is a mythical ape-like bipedal creature that people claim to have seen in the wilds of America and Canada. However, investigations by scientists and the authorities have never found it, and Bigfoot is regarded as mere folklore, a misidentification or a hoax, rather than a real animal. Just as 'Bigfoot' leaves no trace of his passing through wild areas, we should do the same, to minimise our impact on the environment. This was the message that Uncle Hang Chong brought to NSS Kids on 5 October 2019 in a fun session held at MacRitchie Reservoir. 

One of the seven Leave No Trace principles is to 'Respect Wildlife' by not feeding them intentionally or unintentionally, and viewing them from a respectful distance. How far is a 'respectful distance'? A rule of thumb that Uncle Hang Chong taught was to literally use one's thumb as a gauge. Hold out one's thumb at arm's length and close one eye. If your thumb is able to block out the animal you are observing, then you are far enough. We tried this on a troop of playful Long-tailed Macaques about 20 m away and were glad that we were already keeping a respectful distance from them. 


Another Leave No Trace principle is to 'Dispose of Waste Properly'. This is in line with the Keep Singapore Clean mantra. Uncle Hang Chong modelled this behaviour by picking up banana peel litter and binning it. In the context of outdoor camping, this principle will require people to pack up their trash to take away with them, bury their faeces, wash things about 70 m (200 feet) away from water sources to prevent pollution, amongst other measures.    


Uncle Hang Chong took out a variety of objects from his backpack including a torchlight, magnifying glass, magnetic compass, insect repellent, rain gear, map etc. Every kid chose an item and Uncle Hang Chong proceeded to explain each object's use in an outdoor trip. He was also demonstrating another Leave No Trace principle of 'Plan Ahead and Prepare'. 


One parent spotted a bird which Auntie Gloria identified as the majestic Stork-billed Kingfisher, the largest of nine kingfishers found in Singapore. This was a welcome break to appreciate wildlife living in the great outdoors. 


Uncle Hang Chong then played a game with the kids, getting them to sort through photos and cluster them under the correct Leave No Trace principles they represent. Read more about the seven principles at https://www.bigfoottrail.org/route/leave-no-trace/. 








NSS Kids’ Fun with Butterflies at Ubin Butterfly Hill

By Gloria Seow, Education Committee Vice Chairperson

On the fine morning of 14 July 2019, Auntie Lena Chow led us on a butterfly and insect walk at Pulau Ubin's Butterfly Hill. Our first find was the nymph of the Tortoise Beetle looking all prickly. There were a number of these larvae but no sign of any adults.

Kids and parents were equally thrilled to see a Ladybug/Ladybird (species unidentified) hiding under a leaf. There are about 5,000 species of ladybugs in the world.  

We were fortunate to see the rare Bamboo Tree Brown (Lethe europa malaya), spotted by Auntie Gloria who happened to have just read about it on a nearby information board. Its host plant is the bamboo that is cultivated in lowland areas. This butterfly is usually seen during the rainy season. According to www.butterflycircle.com, only a handful of sightings have been recorded in the past decade, including at Khatib Bongsu, Sime Forest and the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Butterfly Hill is planted with the host and nectar plants of many butterfly species. We found three Blue Glassy Tigers (Ideopsis vulgaris macrinaand a Dark Glassy Tiger (Parantica agleoides agleoides - 3rd from left) actively feeding. 

We came across this striking Spider Wasp from the Pompilidae family.

Common Tiger (Danaus genutia genutia) feeding on the nectar of the Blue Snakeweed (Stachytarpheta indica (L.) Vahl). 

The Tawny Coster (Acraea terpsicore) is a common butterfly that can be seen all over Singapore. This butterfly's southward expansion to Singapore from India took place over a span of 30 odd years. It was first recorded here in 2006. Due to the commonness of its host plant and weed Passiflora foetida, it is now widespread across the island and of course has arrived in Pulau Ubin. Here, it is seen feeding on the Bidens pilosa.

Some of us stayed back after the walk and explored a nearby area of Ubin where we found the Wild Cape Gooseberry/Bladder Cherry (Physalis minimalooking like an elaborate lantern. It is a most attractive weed, and its orange berry is edible when ripe. 

We also found the Castor Oil Plant (Ricinus communisgrowing wild. Its seed is used to produce castor oil. 
 




NSS Kids' Fun with Marine Life at Changi Beach

 By Gloria Seow, Education Committee Vice Chairperson

We gathered bright and early on 8 June 2019 at Changi Beach. Uncle Marcus Ng was our guide, assisted by Auntie Lena Chow. As advised by Auntie Gloria, all of us were togged out in covered shoes. Uncle Marcus even came in long sleeves and pants, a precaution against vicious sandflies. We avoided the use of insect repellent as we were entering the water and it would injure marine life. 


The inviting expanse of the seagrass bed, exposed by the low tide, teems with intertidal life. 


It is always a delight to find the Noble Volute, a gorgeous snail with zig-zag markings on its attractive shell. Its body is largely black with orange spots. As a predator, it feeds on clams. It has a restricted range of only Singapore and Malaysia as it does not have a free-swimming larval form (conducive to being carried by sea currents). As such, the Noble Volute is vulnerable to over collection. 

Even when dead, its shell is useful, serving as homes for large hermit crabs. Hence, we should not collect shells from seashores as we would be depriving hermit crabs of suitable abodes.

Tiny Biscuit Sea Stars are relatively common on the seagrass beds. Larger ones are usually found on coral rubble.

The underside of the Biscuit Sea Star has orange tube feet tipped with suckers.

White Salmacis Urchin with short and sharp spines. It feeds on seaweed. This sea urchin can quickly gather various items, including seaweed and shell, to cover itself as a form of camouflage.

A hermit crab sitting on Mermaid's Fan Seaweed. This seaweed can be eaten and is used as animal feed, fertiliser and traditional medicine.

An unidentified shrimp.

A gangly-looking Elbow Crab with enormous pincers many times longer than its body.

Haddon's Carpet Anemone with Ball Sea Cucumber and Pink Warty Sea Cucumber.


Green Gum Drops Ascidians clinging onto seagrass. Each 'drop' comprises many zooids embedded in a common tissue. 

Our best find of the day is the Spearer Mantis Shrimp, a formidable predator. On the left is its armoured tail while its head is partially hidden. Its huge pincers are akin to that of the Praying Mantis, hence its name. As a spearer, it has sharp spines on its pincers that attack at lightening speed to impale darting prey like fish and prawns. 

Miliaris Cowrie with its mantle showing. The mantle can cover the shell completely such that it resembles a sea slug. The shell is glossy smooth and not encrusted because of the enveloping mantle. As a special organ, the mantle deposits a layer of pearl-like substance, and is responsible for the cowrie's colour, pattern and shell repair. The mantle also enlarges the shell. When threatened, the mantle retracts into the shell.



Saturday, 11 May 2019

NSS Kid’s Fun with the Shorebirds of Sungei Buloh

By Gloria Seow, Education Committee Vice Chairperson 

This contingent of Lesser Dog-faced Fruit Bat (Cynopterus brachyotis) is always reliably present at the entrance of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve to greet us each time we visit. They made no exception on 13 April 2019 when Uncle Ding Li guided us on our morning walk. We were there to bid adieu to the shorebirds before they embark on a long flight back to Siberia, Japan or China where they will raise a new brood. However, we were too late. Perhaps due to climate change which messes up the seasonal temperature differential (hot becomes hotter and cold becomes colder), practically all the migratory shorebirds had flown. Thankfully, we still had plenty to see. 


The Malayan Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) is another denizen that is easily observable at Buloh. 


Instead of brownish squat shorebirds, we encountered good numbers of whitish leggy birds that were harmoniously feeding together: Little Egrets (Egretta garzetta), Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis), Intermediate Egrets (Ardea intermedia), Painted Storks (Mycteria leucocephala), Milky Storks (Mycteria cinerea) and Grey Herons (Ardea cinerea). The Little Egret is generally migratory, but small groups are known to stay the summer in Singapore.


More white birds feeding. 


The Spotted Scat (Scatophagus argus), along with other fishes, likes to hang around under the Main Bridge that spans Sungei Buloh (i.e. Buloh River). Its name 'scatophagus' means 'faeces eater', a clue to its diet which includes the droppings of animals, on top of detritus, algae, worms, insects and crustaceans. Anglers like to catch adults as table fish or keep juveniles in aquariums. The Spotted Scat can tolerate fresh, brackish and marine water.


Do you sense danger lurking? This Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) was just off the main path, cooling off in the water barely 3 m from our group. One cannot be too complacent around crocodiles. 


It was quite amusing to see white birds lining the entire length of a stream that cuts through this patch of mudflat. The round depressions in the foreground is likely made by Giant Mudskipper. 


An iridescent Cuckoo Wasp, the size of a housefly, was buzzing around in the mangrove swamp. 


There were many Tree-climbing Crabs (Episesarma spp) that were barely noticeable, going about their lives stealthily amongst the roots and trunks of the mangrove trees. There is also a Lined Nerite Snail (Nerita articulata) in this photo. It is possibly the most widely-distributed of Singapore's nerites, abundantly found on seawalls, canals and mangrove trees. It feeds on algae. 


We ended our walk back at the Main Bridge where another Saltwater Crocodile graced the mudflats with its presence. Crocodiles are crowd favourites, and this one prompted a good deal of finger pointing and camera snapping. 

NSS Kids’ Fun with Marine Life at Sentosa’s Natural Shore

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


Our favourite shore guide Uncle Marcus Ng wowed us with the marine life at Sentosa’s natural shore in Tanjong Rimau on 24 November 2018. Setting off from the cable car station, we skirted the periphery of Shangri-La's Rasa Sentosa Resort to access this stretch of rocky beach where our exploration began. 



A Barrel Sponge (Xestospongia testudinaria) standing erect amidst clumps of seaweed and corals exposed by the receding waters. This sponge is maroon to pinkish in colour and has a cavity in the centre that makes it a ready receptacle for animals to take refuge in.  


This amazing shoreline brims with life, from colourful corals to crabs, fishes, molluscs and more. We are always motivated by the possibility of new discoveries carried in by the tides. 


The Giant Carpet Anemone is made up of masses of swaying tentacles that host symbiotic single-celled algae called zooxanthellae. Food produced by zooxanthellae photosynthesis is shared with the host. Carpet anemones supplement their diet by trapping fine particles, but do not eat large animals. If you look closely, you might find Peacock-tail Anemone Shrimp (Periclimines brevicarpalis) or False Clown Fish (Amphiprion ocellaris, or simply 'Nemo') amidst the tentacles. 

Nudibranch means "naked gills" and there are about 3,000 species in the world today. We came across the dapper Polka-dot Nudibranch (Jorunna funebris), a handsome blob at 5 cm long with feathery gills on its back. It feeds on a blue sponge (Neopetrosia spp). 


This is an odd flattened view of the Ornate Leaf Slug (Elysia ornata) with its 'wings' or parapodia fully obscuring its head and long body. Usually, it appears slug-like with parapodia that ripple with each passing wave. It is fairly well camouflaged against what it feeds on - the Hairy green seaweed (Bryopsis spp), which gives it a greenish coloration that varies between individuals. 



Does this coral resemble a fried egg? It is called the Omelette Leathery Soft Coral. 

Unfortunately, halfway through the walk, we were chased away by a Sentosa ranger. He claimed that we needed a permit from Sentosa to be there. There was no such requirement in the past. Such bureaucracy is uncalled for as we were simply accessing a public area. Perhaps the best solution is to construct a proper footpath at the hotel's periphery for the public, to eliminate any possibility of trespassing into hotel grounds.