Monday, 4 March 2013

NSS Kids’ Fun with Forest Butterflies
Text & Photos By Lena Chow

Ten-year old Tan Teong Seng developed a passion for butterflies after rearing some caterpillars given out at a NSS Butterfly Walk just over a year ago. This sees him spending many happy weekends at butterfly hotspots around Singapore, and reading up fervently on the island’s myriad butterfly species. On 24 November 2012, Teong Seng put his knowledge to good use. He led nine other children as well as their accompanying parents and caregivers on a fun with forest butterflies session at Dairy Farm Nature Park. Truly, it was a walk for kids by a kid!

Our 10-year old guide Tan Teong Seng in action.
Teong Seng began by introducing the butterfly species commonly encountered along the Dairy Farm trail. Auntie Lena then explained the life cycle of a butterfly. She passed around Lime butterfly caterpillars in various stages (instars) of development, live pupas as well as a pristine Lime butterfly specimen. The caterpillars were later given away to a few lucky participants. Hopefully, witnessing the fascinating transformation of these caterpillars into butterflies will spark off an interest in butterfly appreciation as it has done for Teong Seng.

A Sixline Blue puddling on granite which Teong Seng gingerly lifted up for all to see!
To everyone’s delight, just a few steps into the trail, Teong Seng had a little Ciliate Blue land on his hand. It stayed put for a few minutes, feeding off his perspiration as this species is wont to do. This was a wonderful close-up demonstration of ‘puddling’, a common behaviour that had been explained just minutes earlier. Puddling is when butterflies unfurl their proboscis to sip water with dissolved salts and minerals from the ground, or in this case, from a sweaty hand.

Our young shutterbugs had many photo opportunities during our walk.
We next encountered a Chocolate Grass Yellow. It too was engrossed in puddling by the roadside, providing an awesome photo opportunity. Despite a cloudy morning, Teong Seng’s sharp eyes spotted various species that appeared along the trail. These included several Grass Yellows flitting near the ground and in the trees above, as well as a Common Posy showing off its long tail streamers. Our young guide next pointed out the black-and-white striped Common Mime, which mimics the appearance of the distasteful Tiger butterfly, thereby gaining protection against predators.

We had the excitement of watching a huge Praying Mantis feast on a decapitated cricket.
 At the abandoned hut just beyond the Wallace Education Centre, we ran into the Common Mormon, Plain Nawab, Lesser Dart, Common Palmfly and a Cruiser decked out in striking orange. These painted wings were feeding amongst the Lantana and Pagoda flowers. We also enjoyed stunning views of a Sixline Blue. It was so absorbed with puddling from a piece of granite that Teong Seng actually managed to lift the stone with the butterfly still on it to show everyone!

Next, we had the excitement of watching a huge Praying Mantis feast on a decapitated cricket while perched on some Lantanas. This provided a great action shot for all the shutterbugs in our group. We then encountered a curious-looking grasshopper with a strange sagging body and upright wings. Teong Seng promptly identified it as a Monkey Grasshopper.

The curious-looking Monkey Grasshopper.
  As we headed back towards the carpark, we came across the highlight of our trip: Two large and handsome male Archdukes were puddling side by side in the leaf litter, slowly fanning their striking black-and-blue wings as they fed. They were joined shortly by a pretty blue-eyed Common Faun. We were grateful that both butterfly species co-operatively posed for us. In all, the morning proved to be most rewarding for all who came, especially for those new to forest butterfly watching.

NSS Kids’ Fun with the Wildflowers of Bidadari
By Gloria Seow, Education Group Chairperson
Photos by Lena Chow 
Common Vernonia, a tiny wildflower that is widespread in Singapore.
Bidadari Cemetery was exhumed between 2001 and 2006. Today, the former Muslim side of Bidadari is overgrown and wild, serving as a magnet for migratory birds and the foraging grounds for a good number of wildlife species. Bidadari also offers a motley assemblage of plant life ranging from figs to wildflowers. But come December 2012, much of this green expanse is slated to give way to both public and private housing developments.

The Education Group was privileged to have Yap Von Bing and Angie Ng lead us on a hunt for Bidadari’s wildflowers and botanical wonders on 15 September 2012. Uncle Von Bing came armed with his compact wildflower guidebook published by the Singapore Science Centre. We met at the entrance of Woodleigh MRT station, right by the Christian side of the previous burial grounds. This portion of Bidadari is now open parkland with flat fields criss-crossed by running tracks, and interspersed with the occasional bush or tree.

The distinct yellow petals of the Yellow Creeping Daisy made identification a cinch.
Immediately, we spotted a cheerful patch of Yellow Creeping Daisy (Wedelia trilobata). Its distinct yellow petals made identification a cinch. However, the other wildflower species we were to come across were far smaller and relatively inconspicuous. We had to carefully examine what was underfoot before discovering a surprising array of miniscule beauties.

A bee visiting the Coat Button, a familiar wildflower that can be found in most open fields.
The most commonly encountered wildflower had to be the Coat Button (Tridax procumbens). Its long green stalk blends in with the sea of grass. This is topped by a white-and-yellow inflorescence that is fairly nondescript from afar, but is rather pretty when viewed up close. Time and again, we found ourselves bending low to observe tiny blooms such as the Common Vernonia (Vernonia cinerea), Common Asystasia (Asystasia gangetica) and the Malayan Eyebright (Torenia polygonoides). Not surprisingly, the kids loved the Touch-Me-Not plant (Mimosa pudica with pink pom-pom flowers) for its thigmonastic effect – its responsive leaflets close immediately upon touch. These diminutive wildflowers can be found in most open fields.

The Touch-Me-Not or Mimosa plant was a kids’ favourite for its thigmonastic leaflets that close immediately upon touch.
After a bout of squinting, we were happy to see the big yellow flowers of the Mickey Mouse Plant (Ochna kirkii) flanked by its red and green fruit that resembles the eponymous mouse. Auntie Angie then pointed out the fragrant white blooms of the Tembusu tree (Fagraea fragrans). We were particularly drawn to the attractive pink flowers of the Rain Lily (Zephyranthes grandiflora).

The red and green fruit of the Mickey Mouse Plant supposedly resembles the eponymous mouse.
Uncle Von Bing next taught the kids the telltale signs of a Ficus (Fig Tree). Breaking its leaves produces a white sap, while buds of new leaves appear pointy and sharp. He demonstrated these traits in the Waringin (Ficus benjamina) and the Bodhi Tree (Ficus Religiosa). We also came across botanical curiosities such as the aromatic Indian Curry Leaf (Murraya koenigii), the antioxidant-filled fruit of the Noni Tree (Morinda citrifolia), and the locally widespread Acacia (Acacia auriculiformis), a leguminous tree originally from Australia that has curly pods containing black seeds and edible yellow arils. Upon examining the bare carcass of a fallen tree (probably struck by lightning), we found remnants of a mistletoe that once grew on it. It was fascinating to note that the tree had a light brown bark, contrasting with the mistletoe’s almost-black branches.

After the session, some of us crossed Upper Aljunied Road and strolled over to the heavily wooded side of Bidadari that once held a Muslim cemetery. This is the core conservation area in NSS’ recently submitted plans to the authorities (see article on Pages XX & XX). To date, some 141 bird species have been recorded in this relatively small grove, giving it the highest bird density in Singapore. Fifty nine of these are migratory, with many rare birds showing up in recent years. Apart from buildings, the authorities also have plans for a public park. The park’s boundary is roughly the same size and has some overlap with our proposed conservation area, giving NSS some hope of a compromise.

NSS Kids’ Fun with Baby Birds @ Jurong Bird Park
By Gloria Seow, Education Group Chairperson with Timothy Pwee

The new Breeding and Research Centre at Jurong Bird Park (BRC @ JBP) was the main enticement for our visit on 21 July 2012. It is not every day that one gets to see baby birds up close. Only when we arrived did we realise that the BRC can be accessed by any park goer. Still, it was worth paying extra for two guides to walk us through the exhibits, and for a feeding session that the public was not privy to.

Eggs are turned automatically every hour so that the embryonic membrane does not stick to the egg shell.

The BRC is where the JBP conducts its breeding programme, located next to the Kings of the Skies performing arena. We were split into two groups. Our first stop was the Incubation Room. Here, we were told that eggs are incubated at temperatures of between 36.9°C to 37.2°C. The eggs are turned automatically every hour so that the embryonic membrane does not stick to the egg shell. Eggs hatch anytime between two to six weeks, with smaller birds hatching earlier. The new-born chicks are then transferred to the Nursery, and isolated in sound-proof brooders where temperature and humidity are controlled. We saw around 10 brooders containing mostly parrots. The one that drew the most admiring sighs held a most adorable Sunda Scops Owl. 

In the nursery, baby birds are isolated in sound-proof brooders where temperature and humidity are controlled.
When the chicks are old enough, they are placed in the Weaning Room – one for water birds and another for all other birds. Here, we saw two baby pelicans sitting in tubs. Although there looked big, they were still largely featherless. Young Hyacinth Macaws (a rare parrot that has been successfully bred by the JBP) and a whole lot of other parrot species were held in individual cages. The larger the bird, the longer they take to wean, sometimes needing as long as one year. At this point, birds are fed a nutritious mix of nuts, grains, fruits and insects, depending on the species. 
We saw how chicks, like this two month old White Cockatoo, are hand-fed using a syringe filled with liquid formula every two to three hours throughout the day.

In our classroom session, we were shown the gigantic eggs of the Ostrich, Emu and Cassowary, three of the biggest birds alive. In contrast, we also handled the miniscule eggs of the local Tailorbird, barely one centimetre across. The bird keeper then brought in a two month old saccharine-cute White Cockatoo chick. This little fella knew that lunch was close at hand, and was thus calling incessantly and bobbing its head eagerly. The keeper showed us where the baby’s crop was (a food sac near the breast area). Then she filled a syringe with liquid formula food and in one second, emptied its contents in the chick. We could see now that the crop had become swollen. We were told that babies are hand-fed every two to three hours throughout the day. Bird keepers themselves work 14-hour shifts from 7 am to 9 pm.

Before and after the BRC session, we were free to roam the park. Most of us caught the Birds and Buddies show as well as the Kings of the Skies performance. The former is a re-run of popular circus acts with a utilitarian Singapore twist, such as making birds pick up litter. The latter is a much better production with a fetching falconry sub-theme. Several bird handlers were togged up in falconry gear from around the world, namely Mongolia and Arabia, complete with horseback, fake rabbit, and even a bloodhound to simulate a hunt. The world of raptors was encapsulated in a half-hour spectacle of eagles, owls and vultures swooping low on the audience and looking regal with their piercing stares, powerful talons and massive bills. The only local raptor showcased was a flock of Brahminy Kites trained to catch food in mid-air. 

Walking around, we were glad to see that the Bird Park has been improving by phasing out the old practice of small individual cages that allow no more than a few flaps of the wing. There were many more aviaries than before, offering close encounters with free-flying birds in naturalised settings. Still, some old-fashioned coops were cleverly contained within aviaries – giving the impression of wild jungle and faux freedom. Nevertheless, it was better than drab concrete cells with sorry looking birds. Our wish is for JBP to hurry up and build habitat aviaries for the hornbills and larger parrots.

NSS Kids’ Fun at Tampines Eco Green
By Gloria Seow, Education Group Chairperson and Timothy Pwee
Photos by Lena Chow

An iconic feature of Tampines Eco Green is its picturesque snags or dead trees, left standing as perches and nesting sites for birds.
Located at the junction of Tampines Avenues 9 and 12, Tampines Eco Green is unlike the typical public park. It does not boast an orderly landscaping harking back to colonial roots. Instead, it is a ‘show park’ for an ecosystem type often deemed as ‘wasteland’. Here, a mix of grassland, swale, scrub and pioneer secondary forest are all on display, albeit curated to feel like a public park. A small group of NSS Kids and their parents took an eventful stroll here on 3 June 2012 led by Auntie Lena, Uncle Timothy and Auntie Gloria.

Instead of the usual paved path or boardwalk, Tampines Eco Green offers a green trail composed of carpet grass. The trail wends its way in a loop around the park, making for a nice cushioned walk. We visited its flushless eco-toilets. They work by using bacteria to decompose human waste into compost. Surprisingly, despite the absence of cleansing water, the loos did not smell one bit.

Next, we poked at the Giant Sensitive Tree (Mimosa pigra) to watch its leaflets fold up. It did so at a much slower rate compared to the Touch-Me-Not weed (Mimosa pudica) which has attractive pink flowers. The phenomenon of plant movement in response to touch or vibration is called thigmonasty or seismonasty. The Water Mimosa (Neptunia plena), which looks like the Touch-Me-Not except for its yellow flowers, is also sensitive to touch. At night, the leaves of these plants close up (nyctinastic) or go to ‘sleep’.

The highlight was coming across the nest of the Lesser Banded Hornet, and admiring its beautiful scallop patterning
The trip highlight was coming within 30 cm of the nest of the Lesser Banded Hornet (Vespa affinis). At first, we mistakenly identified it as the similar-looking Banded Paper Wasp (Polistes sagittarius), which build open nests with exposed combs. In contrast, the nest of the Lesser Banded Hornet has beautiful scallop patterning enveloping the combs. The imbricate (overlapping) envelope is made of mixed layers of papering. The ‘paper’ fibres are collected from wood and tree bark, and fixed with saliva. On hindsight, we were foolish to approach the nest so closely and were fortunate not to be attacked. Instead, we spent many happy moments admiring and photographing the handiwork of the hornets, truly an artistic masterpiece. There were a few buzzing hornet guards clambering about and flying around the nest, and they too, were a pretty sight to behold. According to, the Banded Paper Wasp is more slender-bodied than the Lesser Banded Hornet, has longer legs in relation to its body size, and flies with its legs extended vertically downwards.

Such open scrubby land is ideal for fast-colonising trees like the Acacia (Acacia auriculiformis) and Albizia (Paraserianthes falcataria) which thrive here. Unfortunately, both are invasive exotics from Australia and East Indonesia respectively. However, they have been naturalised to a large extent, so much so that local birds and other wildlife feed and nest in them. In fact, we saw the hanging nests of many Baya Weavers (Ploceus philippinus) as well as that of the exotic Asian Golden Weaver (Ploceus hypoxanthus) housed in the Acacia tree. Both weavers were seen actively constructing their nests and hunting for insects. The Asian Golden Weaver is an escapee from the caged bird trade, originally from Indochina and Java. Also nesting in treeholes above us were Red-breasted Parakeets and Collared Kingfishers. We encountered typical parkland birds such as the Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Olive-backed Sunbird, Black-naped Oriole and more. Over 70 bird species have been recorded here.

There were ample signages illustrating the wildlife that can be found here.

We then wandered along the swales. These are stretches of water-logged land that gather rainwater. The plants in them cleanse the water by removing any pollutants. The park is home to at least 10 species of Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) including the Yellow-Barred Flutterer, Common Chaser and Coastal Glider. They were zipping about effortlessly, joined by a bevy of butterflies such as the Peacock Pansy, Striped Albatross and the rare Black Veined Tiger.

An iconic feature of Tampines Eco Green is its picturesque snags or dead trees, a surreal sight indeed. These snags were not removed when the park was developed and they now serve as perches and nesting sites for birds. Back at our starting point, we were greeted by a row of exotic parrots. Apparently we had stumbled upon free-flying parrot hobbyists who train their pets to fly around on their own but to return when called. This strange encounter capped an enjoyable morning of exploration.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Fun with Bukit Brown’s Natural and Cultural Heritage

By Gloria Seow, Chairperson of the Education Group

Some of Bukit Brown’s many lion statues.


The rain poured on and on and refused to stop. When it finally gave way to a drizzle, we got out of our cars and cancelled the event on 21 April 2012. However, since five families braved the downpour to turn up, we decided to show them around as private individuals rather than as an official NSS Kids’ outing.

Armed with umbrellas and raincoats, we set off in the gloomy weather, albeit under a lightning-free sky. The walk was led by Uncle Peter Pak, an active Bukit Brown culture guide and NSS member, as well as good old Uncle Tim. Our first stop was a cluster of four tombstones belonging to former Chief Chinese Translator for the colonial government Ho Siak Kuan and his family. This grave group stood out as each tomb is characterised by a rectangular tablet capped with a roof, a style reminiscent of northern China. Sadly, this tiny cluster, as well as some 3,000 odd tombs, are due to make way for an eight-lane expressway that will slice the cemetery in two. The affected tombs are indicated by numbered stakes.

This unique group of graves will sadly make way for an expressway, as indicated by numbered stakes. It belongs to the family of the former Chief Chinese Translator for the colonial government.

Next, Uncle Tim pointed out the many Rain Trees that line the cemetery along its tarmac path, giving it a park-like feel. The trees themselves are home to epiphytes growing on their branches, such as Bird Nest and Staghorn ferns, as well as Pigeon Orchid. Due to the incessant downpour, the birds were all in hiding.

A typical Hokkien tomb has bricks outlining the womb-shaped mound. Similar-looking Teochew tombs also have womb-shaped mounds but these are not brick-lined.

Bukit Brown is the largest Chinese cemetery outside China housing some 100,000 graves. It is also the oldest surviving Chinese cemetery in Singapore, with certain tombs nearing 200 years old. For the bulk of the graves found here, the building style is predominantly Hokkien or Teochew. Many of these womb-shaped tombs are covered in elegant carvings, far more elaborate compared to their modern counterparts. Both Hokkien and Teochew tombs feature a courtyard in front of the grave slab. The courtyard serves to gather in qi (life force) and good fortune. Directly behind the slab is a mound of earth shaped like a woman’s womb. Hokkien tombs have bricks outlining the womb shape, whereas Teochew tombs lack this feature. The grave slab itself states the deceased’s ancestral village in China, serving to confirm if the tomb is indeed Hokkien or Teochew.

As we sloshed along, Uncle Tim showed kids and their parents plants such as the Croton, a reddish shrub that is toxic but commonly planted around graveyards for luck. As Bukit Brown has been left relatively undisturbed for a long time, it is overgrown with secondary vegetation. These include the Macaranga, Noni tree, mile-a-minute creeper, figs, palms and more. The further one strays from the paved path, the thicker the vegetation becomes. This verdant greenery is home to some 92 bird species, mammals like the Long-tailed Macaque, Sunda Pangolin and Colugo, as well as fishes, eels and frogs in its streams.

Uncle Peter showed us the famous Sikh Guard statues, as tall as a boy, guarding the tomb of a Singapore pioneer.

Uncle Peter was animated in telling the stories behind some of these graves. Many belonged to important personages who were instrumental in building up early Singapore. Kids were intrigued with the famous tomb featuring a pair of Sikh guard statues, vividly painted in red, yellow and black. Those who stayed throughout the walk, were rewarded with a visit to the Ong Sam Leong family grave. It is the largest burial site in Bukit Brown, the size of 10 three-room HDB flats. To reach it, we had to traverse the hilly terrain, passing many smaller tombs that were draped with attractive foliage. We were greeted at the top by a male Crimson Sunbird chirping its lungs out, the only visible bird for the trip. The Ong Sam Leong family tomb has another pair of Sikh guard statues, and is decorated with Chinese carvings of the Classic 24 filial piety acts. We then finished the circuit around the cemetery to end where we had begun.

NSS Kids' Fun at the Butterfly Trail @ Orchard

By Gloria Seow, Education Group Chairperson
Photos by Timothy Pwee

Butterfly host and nectar plants have been planted along and adjacent to Orchard Road to form a 4-km stretch known as the Butterfly Trail @ Orchard (BTO). The ongoing BTO project is spearheaded by the Butterfly Interest Group (BIG) of Nature Society (Singapore). We had the privilege of traipsing along the trail on 12 February 2012, led by BIG Chairperson Gan Cheong Wei, with co-guides Simon Chan and Anuj Jain.
Kids and parents were intrigued by the many caterpillars, butterflies and plants encountered.

Starting at the National Museum of Singapore, we rode the outdoor escalator up to Stamford Green, which itself marks the beginning of the hilly Fort Canning Park area. We encountered the Plain Tiger, Painted Jezebel and Lemon Emigrant in energetic flight. These butterflies were going from plant to plant, poking their proboscis into the many flowers that bloomed freely here. As they paused for a sweet drink, kids and their parents snapped away with their digital cameras.

Uncle Gan also photographed an Apefly at Stamford Green, a new record for the trail! The Apefly is so called because part of its pupa has an ape-like appearance.

We then took a relaxing stroll down the slopes toward Dhoby Ghaut Green. This lovely manicured garden, complete with trellises, is located just outside the MRT station of the same name. Here, we found our first colourful caterpillar, that of the Autumn Leaf butterfly. It turned out that these caterpillars were numerous around the garden, appearing in their various instars. Uncle Anuj explained that this was because the Autumn Leaf’s host plant, the Pseuderanthemum reticulatum was planted in abundance in the area. We even detected the Autumn Leaf’s pupa in quiet repose beneath a leaf.

The spiny and colourful caterpillar of the Autumn Leaf butterfly was numerous around Dhoby Ghaut Green, the manicured gardens just outside the Dhoby Ghaut MRT station.

Surprisingly, some of the kids present were already little experts in their own right. Their experience stem from observing and rearing butterflies in their grandma’s garden. One of these kids even shared tips on how to spot caterpillars. The first clue: holey, half-eaten leaves. Then, look for caterpillar droppings that typically appear as clusters of tiny black balls. Finally, turn the leaves over and you will likely find the chomping culprits. As Lena Chow attests, the best way to interest kids in butterflies is to rear caterpillars at home, and watch their fascinating transformation into the adult form. She has already distributed a few dozen caterpillars of the Lime Butterfly and the Common Mormon to several kids and even to a teacher for his science lessons. As a result, one of these recipients, 10-year old Tan Teong Seng, has since been inspired to learn all about butterflies, and has developed a knack for spotting and identifying them.

We ambled through the Istana Park to reach the Penang Road Open Space. This is another garden that is the size of nearly two basketball courts, located across the street from Orchard Central. BIG had the Aristolochia acuminata planted here, the host plant for the Common Birdwing. The ultimate dream is to see the large and easily-recognisable Birdwing, a black-and-yellow beauty with a stunning 14-cm wingspan, fluttering along Orchard Road. (PS: This happy sighting has since occured). Over here, we spotted the caterpillars of the Plain Tiger that feed off the leaves of the Crown Flower. Anuj also showed us the Cycad, an ancient plant that hails from the age of the dinosaurs, host to the Cycad Blue butterfly.
Penang Road Open Space is a green oasis in the middle of Orchard Road, located across the street from Orchard Central.

In all, the BIG has recorded 60 butterfly species along the BTO, up from a paltry 20+ species before the plantings. Butterfly watching is attractive to late risers as walks typically start at 9.30 am. This is because the butterflies themselves need ample sunshine and heat before they come out to feed. After two hours of butterflying, we became familiar with references to butts, cats and pups, short for butterflies, caterpillars and pupas. We left feeling a greater affinity for these delicate painted wings and a burning interest to learn more about them.

NSS Kids’ Birding Fun at Lorong Halus

By Gloria Seow, Education Group Chairperson
Photos by Lena Chow

Kids and their parents crowded around Uncle Alan as he guided us on Lorong Halus’ exciting birdlife.

NSS Kids had an eventful outing to Lorong Halus Wetland to take in its riverine and grassland birdlife. This took place on 11 December 2011, led by none other than Bird Group Chairperson Alan Owyong.

Lorong Halus, a former rubbish dump, now sits next to Singapore’s 17th and newest reservoir – the Serangoon Reservoir (previously known as the Serangoon River). How does national water agency PUB purify the run-offs that flow through the old dump into the reservoir? It built Lorong Halus Wetland. Opened in March 2011, the wetland comprises a series of holding ponds with plenty of water plants that filter and absorb pollutants from the water. Long before the current wetland came to be, birders have been visiting Lorong Halus for its plentiful birdlife. Its claim to fame is its Grebe pond. Here, our rare resident, the duck-like Little Grebe has been living and breeding for years.
A dirt path led us towards the Grebe pond. Along the way, we spotted grassland birds such as munias.
We met at the newly-built Visitor Centre and took a stroll to the scenic bridge that spans the Serangoon Reservoir. By simply standing on the bridge alone, we recorded close to 10 species of birds. We quickly saw our first avian star, the White-throated Kingfisher perched in a nearby tree. The keen eyes of 11-year old De Xuan Tranter picked up a Common Kingfisher out hunting on a faraway buoy. Auntie Gloria then found a Striated Heron that blended perfectly with the vegetation that lined the river bank. It stood stock still, waiting to spear its fishy prey with its lethal beak. Uncle Hang Chong and Uncle Kum Sang helped scope the birds spotted, while Auntie Lena and Uncle Timothy busied themselves snapping photos and finding more birds.

The bridge across Serangoon Reservoir was a good vantage point to spot birds.

Uncle Alan was the jovial Santa Claus, giving out bookmarks to kids who answered his pop quizzes correctly. He pointed out the Grey Heron, one of Singapore’s largest birds that live around our coastal waters. Later on, we found 23 of these biggies perched on a long row of buoys that snaked across the breadth of the river. While still on the bridge, two raptors soared by. The majestic White-bellied Sea Eagle drew gasps of wonderment, followed by three Black Bazas, decked in their black-and-white striped belly feathers. Lots of Pacific Swallows circled the skies. Some of them afforded us good views through the scope as they landed on buoys and trees. A good number of swiftlets (Germain’s and Black-nest) also patrolled the air space above us, hawking constantly for flying insects. All this while, Uncle Alan flashed bird photos from the accordion-like compact publication ‘A Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore’. This guide features the commoner 106 of the 370 odd species that have been recorded in Singapore. It is available for just $5 at the NSS Office (members only) or $10 in bookstores.

 Uncle Alan engaged the kids with bird photos and birdy bookmarks as quiz prizes.

We also binoculared the Little Egret, the Common Sandpiper and White-winged Tern. Moving inland, we caught sight of several Scaly-breasted Munias feeding on grass seeds, as well as commoners such as the Eurasian Tree Sparrow, White-vented Myna, Common Myna and Spotted Dove. Before the rains descended, we squeezed in one last stop, the Grebe pond itself. We found a single Little Grebe warming a nest made of reeds and water plants, while another was merrily swimming and diving for food. Satisfied, we happily trooped back to the Visitor Centre where Uncle Alan had in store a barrage of birdy questions with accompanying bookmark prizes.

This pastoral pond is home to the Little Grebe.