Friday 5 August 2022

Pesta Ubin 2022: Fun @ Pulau Ubin Shore to Summit Walk


Pesta Ubin 2022: Fun @ Pulau Ubin Shore to Summit Walk
By Tan Shin Ying, NSS intern

On 25 June 2022, NSS Education Committee Vice Chairperson Gloria Seow led a group of 19 NSS members on a fun shore to summit walk at Pulau Ubin. The walk coincided with Ubin Day, the finale for Pesta Ubin, an annual festival celebrating the culture and environment of Pulau Ubin.

Right after getting off the boat, Gloria directed our attention upwards to some Asian Glossy Starlings perched on the roof of the jetty. Why the bird is so named became apparent to us as the adult’s glossy green plumage shone beautifully under the sun. These birds are highly gregarious and are often found in large flocks at fruiting trees and roosting sites throughout Singapore. A good example are the ones we can hear calling raucously along Orchard Road in the evenings.

Asian Glossy Starling perched on the roof of the jetty.


Near the Assembly Area, we found ourselves gazing at what seemed to be a cluster of trees. In truth, it is a single Strangling Fig or Banyan Tree surrounding a shorter host tree. Gloria explained that a Strangling Fig begins life on the branch of its host, extending its aerial roots downwards which thicken to form pillar roots that resemble tree trunks. These roots progressively surround the host tree and prevent it from growing in girth. Overtime, this tree also tends to out-shade its host with its taller canopy. True to its name, the Strangling Fig might eventually ‘strangle’ its host tree to death.

Strangling Fig surrounding the host tree.

On our way to Pekan Quarry, we were excited to see a Golden Orb Web Spider’s giant web next to the path. Weaving the second largest web in the world, the beautiful hand-sized female spider immediately drew oohs and aahs. This native spider exhibits sexual dimorphism, with the female’s body length of 40 mm to 50 mm nearly 10 times bigger than that of the male’s 5 mm to 6 mm body length.


Female Golden Orb Web Spider.


We observed the native Dutchman's Pipe growing along the fence at Pekan Quarry. This is the host plant of Singapore’s National Butterfly, the Common Rose, whose caterpillar feeds on the climber’s toxic leaves. Gloria shared that the caterpillar and adult butterfly in turn acquire the toxins and ‘dare’ to be highly visible. This is an example of aposematic or warning colouration, where the bright colours of the insect advertise that it is toxic, so that birds and other predators avoid eating them. We were happy to see several Common Rose butterflies fly by. At Pekan Quarry, we peered through the scopes provided by Ubin Day volunteers, for close-up views of the Grey Heron colony and even a Brahminy Kite.

 Passing through the mangroves at Jelutong Bridge, we were greeted with numerous Mud Lobster mounds reaching about 1 m tall. They act as ‘condominiums’ for numerous species including Tree-Climbing Crabs, snakes, spiders and insects. Despite being common, Mud Lobsters are rarely seen as they are mostly underground recycling nutrients in the ecosystem through their feeding excavations. Gloria pointed out colourful Fiddler Crabs lining the mudflats. The male fiddler has one greatly-enlarged claw that he waves around to court females and fend off rivals, but is too big to use for feeding. With only one functional feeding claw, males are less efficient in stuffing themselves compared to female crabs with two feeding claws.

We found many Archerfishes and Striped-nosed Halfbeaks swimming in the mangrove river. The archerfish can shoot a jet of water to knock an insect off a leaf into the river below and its waiting mouth. Halfbeaks have lower jaws much longer than their upper jaws, which they use to scoop food floating on the water surface. Their diet includes algae, zooplankton, insects and small fishes.

Our final stop was climbing up Puaka Hill. At 74 m, it is the highest point on the island. Gloria directed our attention to a White-bellied Sea Eagle’s nest built on a tall tree on the other side of scenic Ubin Quarry. This is Singapore’s largest resident raptor with a 2-m wingspan. Sea-eagles are known to repair and reuse their nest each breeding season. Overtime, a nest can become too heavy and snap the branches. We admired a Weaver Ants’ nest halfway up Puaka Hill. Weaver Ants work together to pull the edges of leaves into shape to form a nest, woven together by sticky ant larvae silk.

Weaver Ants’ nest.

This walk was an eye-opening experience for me, and is suitable for participants of all ages. Many thanks to Gloria who guided the group through the walk very patiently and eloquently, allowing everyone to learn more about the flora and fauna that can be found on Pulau Ubin.

Fun with Nocturnal Animals at the Rail Corridor

Fun with Nocturnal Animals at the Rail Corridor
By Gloria Seow, Education Committee Vice Chairperson
Photos by Gloria Seow & Lena Chow

The Rail Corridor is teeming with nocturnal wildlife.

With nature walks grinding to a halt during the two-year pandemic, it was a delight to gather once more on 21 April 2022 for a cool night walk at the Rail Corridor to seek out nocturnal animals. We split into two groups of 20 persons each, led by volunteers and professional nature guides Gloria Seow and Andrew Tay respectively. The walk was conducted with Covid-19 safe management measures in place. Both groups started at opposite ends of the Rail Corridor to avoid intermingling, with safe distancing between sub-groups.  

Armed with torches and a huge dose of enthusiasm, Gloria’s group set off from The Rail Mall and walked the grassy stretch towards Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. We shared the path with many night cyclists. Almost immediately, we spotted a Sunda Colugo (Galeopterus variegatus) up a tree. Closely related to primates, the Colugo has a membrane called the patagium that connects its limbs, tail and neck. When fully opened, this mammal looks like a kite and is able to glide up to 136 m between trees. It has even been observed ‘flying’ across a six-lane highway, never mind the cars below.

Next, we explored the freshwater stream that ran parallel to the path. We encountered Lowland Freshwater Crabs (Parathelphusa maculata) scavenging for food and in turn keeping the stream clean. Stirring the muddy bottom was the occasional Common Walking Catfish. During the rainy season, this Catfish can gulp air directly and wriggle between puddles, ‘walking’ from one waterbody to another. Its ‘whiskers’ (barbels) enable prey location even under muddy conditions.

Lowland Freshwater Crab

Ghost Shrimps (Macrobrachium spp) were present at some stretches, sometimes arching their body and shooting backwards when threatened. Participants were excited to see several Malayan Giant Frogs (Limnonectes blythii), marvelling at their enormous getaway leaps. Where the water was more settled, we found the tadpoles of the Copper-cheeked Frog (Chalcorana labialis). The curious bird-like call of the Masked Rough-sided Frog (Pulchrana laterimaculata) and the incessant clicks of the Dark-sided Chorus Frogs (Microhyla heymonsi) proved intriguing. Joining the night chorus were crickets and katydids. We learnt that only male crickets sport wings, where one wing has a comb-like structure while the other has a scraper to produce the classic nocturnal soundscape for mate location in the dark.

Malayan Giant Frog

Gloria deployed her ultra-violet (UV) torch and revealed that certain lifeforms like insects, fungi, lichens and plants indeed glow in the dark. For example, chlorophyll in plants absorbs the invisible UV rays and re-emits them as red light. Kids were enthralled that the plastic in their sports shoes provided a multi-coloured UV light show.

The mesmerising effect of glow-in-the-dark UV light

There were many spiders sitting in their orb webs and waiting for aerial insects to blunder in. We learnt that only 50% of spiders spin webs, mostly at night. Gloria pointed out a well-camouflaged Two-tailed Spider (Hersilia sp) waiting on a concrete pillar sans web. When an insect comes within range, this spider will jump on it and bind it in spider silk before envenomating it.

Despite looking hard, the Common Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) did not make an appearance. Instead, we were treated to flight displays of Common Fruit Bats (Cynopterus brachyotis) zipping overhead and feasting on Rough-leafed Stem Figs and Yellow Stem Figs. We turned around at the rail marker halfway between Woodlands and Tanjong Pagar. Here, participants learnt that conserving the 24-km long Rail Corridor is important as it provides connectivity for wildlife in different forest patches to move and breed freely. All told, it was a fun first outing after the long hiatus.

Online Talk: Singapore’s Amazing Array of Spiders

Online Talk: Singapore’s Amazing Array of Spiders (conducted on Zoom 26 February 2022)

Speaker :    Mr Nicky Bay, Macro Photographer

Hosts :        Hosted on Zoom by Ms Gloria Seow & Dr Yong Ding Li on behalf of Nature Society (Singapore)

Talk Synopsis
Join internationally-acclaimed macro photographer, instructor and author Nicky Bay to learn about the uncommon and rare spiders of Singapore. He will showcase his stunning collection of photographs that reveal the fascinating body plans and vivid colours of forest and urban spiders. His photos also capture hunting and other behaviours. Nicky will provide tips on how and where to find and photograph these beauties. The talk will wrap with a Q&A segment.

Speaker Biography
Mr Nicky Bay is a world-renowned macro photographer based in Singapore. His works have been featured on National Geographic, BBC, WIRED and many other publications. Nicky has held solo exhibitions in Europe including Senckenberg Museum in Germany and Galerie du Lion in France. He has accumulated one of the largest arthropod photo databases in the world with about 40,000 high-quality macro shots. These can be found on His photos are also featured in his book "Borneo Spiders". Nicky runs macro photography workshops in Borneo, Africa and Central America, attracting participants from around the world, many of whom are advanced photographers themselves. In addition, he is a competition judge for the Singapore Nature Photographer of the Year award.


Online Workshop: Fun with Singapore Marine Life

Online Workshop: Fun with Singapore Marine Life (conducted on Zoom on 20 February 2022)

Speaker :    Ms Lisa Lim, NSS Marine Conservation Group

Host :          Hosted on Zoom by Ms Gloria Seow on behalf of NSS Education Committee

Talk Synopsis
When the tide is extra low, a large swathe of intertidal habitat becomes exposed, where diving is not required to experience the marine world. Join Lisa as she shares the fascinating marine life found in Singapore’s shores.
One can expect to see colourful sea cucumbers, sea stars, sea slugs, sand dollars, sea urchins, and even seahorses and giant clams if you know where to go and how to look for them. Singapore has hard and soft corals as well as sponges, which are home to an array of crabs, fishes, octopus, squids and more. Lisa will also share tips on how to explore the intertidal habitat safely and the challenges in safeguarding them for future generations. The talk will wrap with a Q&A segment.

Speaker Biography
Ms Lisa Lim is an avid scuba diver and an active volunteer with Nature Society (Singapore)’s Marine Conservation Group as well as NParks. At NParks, she is one of the pioneer intertidal guides at Sister's Islands Marine Park and helps in the marine turtles' conservation programme. In NSS, she is the project representative for the Restore Ubin Mangroves Initiative, where she conducts guided mangrove walks and guided kayaking along Pulau Ubin’s mangrove-lined rivers. Lisa organises regular mangrove and coastal clean-ups as well as activities that highlight mangrove biodiversity and marine pollution. She participated in the NSS Horseshoe Crab Rescue and Research programme and outreach activities at NSS’s “Nature in the Heartland” roadshows. In addition, Lisa is the Lead Organiser for “The Young Marine Biologist” online programme, inspiring children to become good stewards of our marine environment.

Online Workshop: Fun with Forest Trees & Plants in Singapore

Online Workshop: Fun with Forest Trees & Plants in Singapore (conducted on Zoom on 26 December 2021)

Speaker :     Dr Ngo Kang Min, Ecologist

Host :           Hosted on Zoom by Gloria Seow on behalf of Nature Society         
                     (Singapore) Education Committee

Talk Synopsis
The tropical rainforest offers a cornucopia of plant forms, from shady undergrowth plants to drapey lianas and awe-inspiring forest giants. Join forest ecologist Kang Min to learn how to identify the common plant life that thrives in Singapore’s primary and secondary forests. Get an insight on how the forest organises itself to function as the green lungs of our city state, and how it supports other life forms and perpetuates itself generation after generation. Kang Min will also share fascinating findings in her research work at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. The workshop will wrap with a Q&A segment.



Online Workshop: Fun with Insects in Singapore

Online Workshop: Fun with Insects in Singapore (conducted on Zoom on 6 November 2021)

Speaker :    Mr Sean Yap, Entomologist

Host :          Hosted on Zoom by Ms Gloria Seow on behalf of Nature Society (Singapore) Education Committee

Join entomologist Sean Yap in this fun talk to learn about the insects that can be found in Singapore. We will explore questions such as: How is an insect different from a spider? Why are some insects active in the day while others are active at night? How do insects benefit the human race? Learn the difference between solitary and social insects. The talk will also introduce us to the common insects that can be seen in Singapore’s parks and gardens, if you know where to look. The talk will wrap with a Q&A segment.

Online Talk: Why do Birds Fall Out of the Sky?

Online Talk: Why do Birds Fall Out of the Sky? (conducted on Zoom on 16 October 2021)

Speaker :    Mr David Tan

Host:           Hosted on Zoom by Dr Yong Ding Li (Bird Group) and Mr Timothy Pwee (Education Committee) on behalf of Nature Society (Singapore)

Talk Synopsis
Bird-building collisions are estimated to kill up to 1 billion birds annually in the United States. Outside of the US, this phenomenon is poorly understood. Why do birds knock into buildings? What species are the most vulnerable to building collisions? Join David Tan in this talk as he presents the results of a 7-year long citizen science study conducted in Singapore, exploring where, when, and why birds collide with buildings. As one of the first studies conducted in Asia, it provides useful insights into how we can reduce the number of bird-building collisions in Singapore, and make our city a bird-friendly one. 
The talk will wrap with a Q&A segment.

Speaker Biography
Mr David Tan is a PhD student at the University of New Mexico and the Museum of Southwestern Biology. He is currently studying the biogeography of the genus Pitta. As Singapore's former ‘Dead Bird Man’, he has been collating records of dead birds from across Singapore in the last 7 years as part of a long-running citizen science initiative.

Online Workshop: Fun with Singapore Snakes & Frogs

Online Workshop: Fun with Singapore Snakes & Frogs (conducted on Zoom on 5 September 2021)

Speaker:     Ms Natalie Quah, Herpetological Society of Singapore

Host :          Hosted on Zoom by Ms Gloria Seow on behalf of Nature Society (Singapore) Education Committee

Talk Synopsis
Snakes are seen as slimy and dangerous, and most people fear them. Join Natalie Quah from the Herpetological Society of Singapore as she dispels the myths surrounding snakes, and shares fun facts about those found in Singapore. Learn the difference between venomous and poisonous, how to observe snakes safely and where to find them. Aside from snakes, Natalie will also highlight other fascinating herptiles (i.e. reptiles and amphibians) resident in Singapore, including frogs, lizards and turtles. The talk will be followed by a Q&A segment.

Speaker Biography 
Ms Natalie Quah is a volunteer with the Herpetological Society of Singapore and has a keen interest for reptiles, amphibians, and all things nature! Since her teens, she has helped out in various conservation efforts within Singapore and hopes to spread an awareness of our rich biodiversity to everyone. She is currently an undergraduate studying Environmental Science in UCLA, and hopes to learn more about the magic behind all things green and blue.

Online Talk: Orangutan Fossils – Conservation Lesson from the Deep Past

Online Talk: Orangutan Fossils – Conservation Lesson from the Deep Past (conducted on Zoom on 28 August 2021)

Speaker :    Mr Lim Tze Tshen

Hosts:         Hosted by Dr Yong Ding Li (Bird Group) and Gloria Seow (Education Committee) on behalf of Nature Society (Singapore)

Talk Synopsis
The Orangutan is the only surviving non-human great ape in Asia. It is the only extant great ape with a relatively ‘readable’ fossil record, stretching from 2.5 million years ago to the time when its current geographic regions were occupied by human hunter-gatherers. Both facts make the Orangutan a unique subject matter when discussing current environmental and human impacts on great apes. Prime among the paleontological and zooarchaeological sites that yield Orangutan remains are the archaeological sites at Niah Caves in Sarawak, Borneo. The deepest zooarchaeological record is around 45,000 years old, and is also the most complete and relatively unbroken record known so far from Borneo. What do these ancient remains tell us about past populations in prehistoric Niah? Is there a conservation lesson from these old bones and teeth? What do recent findings beyond Niah tell us about past distribution of the Orangutan? In the natural history exploration of Southeast Asia, who may have first encouraged the systematic search for Orangutan fossils? Who uncovered the first Orangutan fossils known to the modern scientific world, and where did this happen? Join vertebrate palaeontologist and zooarchaeologist Lim Tze Tshen as he sheds light on these exciting scientific and historical questions. The session will wrap with a Q&A segment.

Speaker Biography
LIM Tze Tshen (MPhil, Cambridge) was a research fellow of the Sarawak Museum Campus Project from 2019-2020. He is now based in the Geology Department, University of Malaya. By profession, he is a vertebrate palaeontologist and a zooarchaeologist. Lim has carried out systematic research on historical and more recently discovered orangutan fossils kept in museums worldwide.

In collaboration with colleagues from the University of Malaya and Palaeontology Society of Malaysia, he is also actively involved in the search for and study of fossil orangutans and other mammals recovered from palaeontological sites in Peninsular Malaysia. His research topics in Sarawak Museum focused on the systematic cataloguing of the rich and diverse zooarchaeological collections stored in the museum, and detailed investigation of the large mammal remains from Niah Caves archaeological sites, particularly, primates and other locally extinct mammal species.

Online Workshop: Fun with Singapore Mammals

Online Workshop: Fun with Singapore Mammals (conducted on Zoom on 3 July 2021)

Speaker :    Ms Gloria Seow, Vice Chairperson Education Committee, NSS

Host :          Hosted on Zoom by Mr Timothy Pwee on behalf of NSS Education Committee

Most of Singapore’s mammals are nocturnal, waking up at dusk to begin their day. Join Gloria Seow as she sheds light on the mammals that become active when they feel the protection of darkness, from the enigmatic Malayan Colugo that can glide up to 136 m between forest trees to the House Shrew that scurries around on their cute short legs in urban areas, giving off squeaks now and then. She will also share fun facts about Singapore’s diurnal mammals such as the Long-tailed Macaque, Plantain Squirrel and Wild Pig. The workshop will be followed by a Q&A segment.