NSS Kids' Fun with Water Birds at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

Text by Alastair Liew, age 9, & Ryan Liew, age 7

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is home to migratory birds and many other species of plants, animals and as we were to discover, lots of insects! We set off early on a cloudy morning on 3 February 2013 with a group of about 20 children and adults.

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The Liew brothers in action at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

 The mangrove swamp is a harsh environment that is boggy, oxygen-depleted and high in salt content. Mangrove roots have special adaptations. The Avicennia mangroves have pencil-like pneumatophores or air-breathing roots poking out of the mud to allow the direct absorption of oxygen. Prop roots in Rhizophora trees provide strong anchors in the mushy mud, preventing them from collapsing when the tide ebbs. These mangroves cope with the excess salt by secreting them on the underside of their leaves.

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A water monitor lizard well camouflaged in the mudflats.

  Although we were too noisy and probably scared off the tree-climbing Vinegar Crabs, we had a monitor lizard that posed obligingly for photographs. We also saw cute mudskippers. One of the highlights was encountering the rarely-seen Mangrove Stingray. We counted five of them ‘flapping’ gently in the shallow brackish waters.

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We were delighted to see a feeding Oriental Pied Hornbill at close range. Photo courtesy of Dr Tan Kong Chong.

 A little bird tweeted a secret in our ears: the best place to see the magnificent Oriental Pied Hornbill is by the men’s toilet! This is because the janitor feeds them papaya. We also spotted both Common and Collared Kingfishers, Little Egret, Grey Heron and even the Great-billed Heron, Singapore’s largest bird. 

Along our hike, we caught sight of many magnificent spiders and their webs. The Orb Web Spiders weave huge, intricate webs that catch not only prey but even unwanted leaves and twigs. Sometimes the spiders have no choice but to abandon their homes when they become too cluttered with ‘rubbish’. The female Orb Web Spider rules the roost as it is many times larger than the male. Sometimes, she even cannibalises her mates after mating. We also spotted the St Andrew’s Cross spider, named for its geometric cross-like formation or stabilimentum through the centre of its web. The web reflects ultraviolet light, which in turn attracts insects to fall into the deadly trap.

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A Cotton Stainer Bug perched on the Sea Hibiscus.

 Katydids or bush crickets are related to grasshoppers and crickets. They are nocturnal. Perhaps that is why we found one hiding between the wooden floorboards in one of the observation hides. We then photographed what we thought was a Shield Bug with a beautiful cross on its reddish back. It turned out to be the Cotton Stainer Bug. We found out that the Cotton Stainer feeds on the seeds of the Sea Hibiscus growing by the seashore. It is considered a pest as it stains cotton red.

Do not be fooled by the cute, fluffy ‘cotton balls’ bunched up in a row on the branches of shrubs. These are Mealy Bugs, destructive pests that suck plant juices and can destroy crops. We thought that they resembled the Lallang when clustered together on a twig. We were surprised to see a plant with glossy, serrated leaves that looked just like the Christmas Holly growing right here in Singapore. It is actually called the Sea Holly and it flourishes by the mangroves, lobster mounds and river banks. But it is not related to the Holly used overseas as Christmas decorations, which has dark green leaves and red berries.

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 Our Oriental Whip Snake resembled a green vine, blending perfectly into its surroundings.

 Our walk ended with the sighting of a superb Oriental Whip Snake. Mildly venomous, this fluorescent green serpent feeds on lizards, frogs and birds. Many of us exclaimed that it was a great start to the Year of the Snake!