Monday, February 23, 2009

My first Hantu Dive

Finally, I got to dive in local waters! Followed the Hantu Blog's monthly dive last Sunday (22 Feb 2009).

Visibility was quite bad, but the diversity of marine life we was was still quite amazing! During my second dive, at one point I actually lost sight of CH, who's my buddy for the trip, when she was like just a body length away. Haha. Luckily after swimming forward a little bit, she came back into sight again :P

Anyway, here's just a quick listing of some of the things we saw:

There were lots of sponges, including many of these huge barrel sponges (Xestospongia sp.). This huge sponge was often mistaken as the Neptune's cup sponge (Poterion patera) which was described from Singapore in 1822, almost 200 years ago. The real Neptune's cup sponge was once believed to be extinct until recently, when it was rediscovered in Australian waters.

Due to the low light-penetration, there were lots of cave corals (Tubastrea spp.) in various colours.

There were lots of sea fans too!

Despite the low light condition, there were several colonies of hard corals, and I especially like this little colony of anemone coral (Goniopora sp.).

Other hard corals encountered include this Diploastrea sp.

And this Pachyseris sp.

Saw quite a few flatworms, but only managed to get a decent shot of this one, probably a Pseudobiceros sp.

Except for the numerous feather stars, I didn't spot any other echinoderms.

But there were lots and lots of slugs! The blue dragon nudibranch (Pteraeolidia ianthina) was the common, and I lost count of the number I saw.

There were several Ceratosoma gracillimum. Before this, I have only seen it once at the intertidal area of St John's Island.

This is probably a Phyllidiella pustulosa.

The pretty Glossodoris atromarginata, a rather common but photogenic species.

My first time seeing a Chromodoris fidelis in local waters!

A few Gymnodoris rubropapulosa were also spotted, looking fat and cute. Wonder what slug did it just eaten...

Looking rather similar to the former, this is probably a Gymnodoris alba instead.

A tiny Dermatobranchus sp.

Thuridilla gracilis - this is not a nudibranch, but a sap-sucking slug.

We also saw this huge prawn which wasn't camera shy at all!

All kinds of tunicates can be found growing on the soft substrate.

And we saw quite a few tigertail seahorses (Hippocampus comes), both male and females! The above was a pregnant male.

On the whole it was a great trip. I must remember to use flash when I go diving next time though - noticed that most of my photos turned out very blue or green... :P

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Birding at Sungei Buloh on 12 Feb 2009

Frankly speaking, I didn't really go Sungei Buloh for birding. I was there today to conduct a mangrove workshop for some secondary school students. Somehow, however, I managed to get a few decent shots of a few birds, so thought I will do a blog entry on these feathered creatures for a change.

Common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
Before the students arrived, I went to the bridge area to see if there's anything interesting and spotted this common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) on the branch of an api-api putih (Avicennia alba). I often see this wader walking alone by the edge of the water, bobbing its head and tail as it walks.

Yellow bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis)
The yellow bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis) can sometimes be seen near the various fresh water ponds of Sungei Buloh, and today, we were rather fortunate that one decided to make its appearance.

Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus)
Since it's still the migration season, we saw lots of other waders at the main hide, including this flock of whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus). These birds have a distinctive long down-curved bill, allowing it to reach deep into the mud for little animals.

Male pink-necked green pigeon (Treron vernans)
Before the students arrived, I also saw this male pink-necked green pigeon (Treron vernans) near the information counter.

Male pink-necked green pigeon (Treron vernans)
After the workshop, I saw it in the same area again, which makes me suspect that its mate is probably nesting nearby.

Female pink-necked green pigeon (Treron vernans)
Looking around, I saw a female pigeon just a short distance away, blending in nicely into the surrounding greenery with its greenish plumage. I didn't managed to spot any nest though.

Female pink-necked green pigeon (Treron vernans)
Here another shot of it from a different angle.

Today was the last session of the mangrove workshop for these students, and it has been an interesting experience with various interesting finds. I will be coming back at the end of the month for yet another series of walks, and well, I certainly look forward to more exciting sightings to come! :)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Changi Over 2 Days

I helped conducted 2 workshops at Changi Beach on 9 & 10 Feb for some MGS students, and these are some of the stuff we encountered during the trip.

We found one hairy sea hare (Bursatella leachii). This sea hare is seasonally abundant, and sometimes we can find hundreds, if not thousands of them on places like Chek Jawa.

One of the groups found this bamboo clam, also known as a razor clam. It is about the size of my middle finger.

For both days, we found an olive snail!

Several moon snails (Polinices didyma) were spotted prowling around the sand, probably seeking for little shells to feed on.

I was quite happy to see this helmet shell (Semicassis bisulcatum) for the first time! Guess I hasn't really been paying much attention to snails until the mollusc workshop for Project Semakau recently :P

The noble volutes (Cymbiola nobilis) we found here were really huge! While it's rather slow moving, it's a fierce predator of other snails and clams.

Some of the noble volutes were found were dead ones though, occupied by the orange striped hermit crab (Clibanarius infraspinatus).

One of the groups also find a very small but pretty pebble crab! This crab can burrow very well, and can disappear into the sand in an instance.

Amantis shrimp also decided to pay us a visit on both days!

We also found this sea cucumber which I have seen several times, but still don't know what species it belongs to.

The pink thorny sea cucumbers (Colochirus quadrangularis) were in season, and there were lots of them every where. So were the white salmacis sea urchins, but unfortunately I forgot to take a photo of them.

Apart from several sand stars, a group of students found this juvenile biscuit sea star (Goniodiscaster scaber) too!

This pretty flatworm (Pseudobiceros gratus) delighted many of the girls when it started swimming by flapping its sides.

We ended the workshops with the girls doing a short exercise to answer a few questions on shore ecology and conservation. Was really glad that the girls got most of the answers correct. Hopefully this workshop will allow them to better appreciate the little nature treasures that Singapore has got left! :)

Monday, February 09, 2009

First Semakau Walk of the Year

Finally, after a few months of rest, we had our first Semakau public walk for 2009.

It was an exceptionally good trip with lots of interesting finds - certainly a very auspicious start for our walks this year. Here's a quick listing of come of the things we saw.

As usual, I was able to find one of the long synaptid sea cucumber in the seagrass meadow.

We have not seen an ocellated sea cucumber (Stichopus ocellatus) for quite a few walks already, so it was really nice that one decided to show itself during our first walk of the year!

Yet another sea cucumber we saw was the sandfish sea cucumber (Holothuria scabra). This is one of the most valuable sea cucumber in the market, especially during the Chinese New Year period now.

Right after crossing the sea grass meadow, there was a huge population of sand-sifting sea stars (Archaster typicus). As the name implies, these are able to burrow into the sand to hide from predators and also to look for food. They feed on tiny organic particles among the sand.

And the star of the day is always the knobbly sea star (Protoreaster nodosus). We found 3 of them today. These brightly coloured sea stars can grow up to about 30cm wide, and is one of the bigger sea stars that can be found in Singapore.

And the special sea star we first spotted during the launch of Project Semakau also decided to make an appearance! We still don't know what species it is though.

This heart urchin (probably Maretia sp.) has a somewhat heart-shaped skeleton, thus its common name.

ST found a sea hare, which I have seen a few times on our southern shores, but still not really sure what species it belongs to. This was also the first time we found a sea hare during a walk too!

The black phyllid nudibranch (Phyllidiella nigra) is commonly seen on Semakau and our other southern islands. Nudibranchs from this family are said to able to release very toxic chemicals into the surrounding water when they are stressed.

The green ceratosoma nudibranch (Ceratosoma sinuatum) appeared to be in season.

It was really nice to see another "heart" after the heart urchin. This is a heart cockle (Corculum cardissa), which can come in various colours, such as orange, yellow, red and blue. Unfortunately, having such a pretty shape comes with a price, and they are often collected, cleaned and sold. Hopefully those seeking for tokens of love for their love ones will rethink about buying dead animals now that Valentine's Day is just round the corner.

There are lots of scallops in Semakau. These bivalves are able to swim by flapping their shells!

A much bigger bivalve will be our resident fluted giant clam (Tridacna squamosa), which can grow to about 40cm wide.

We found many noble volutes (Cymbiola nobilis) with their eggs today. Interestingly, I found a hairy crab (Pilumnus vespertilio) right in front of the volute, which somehow looked as if it was guarding the latter while laying eggs! Haha.

This spider conch (Lambis lambis) had a colony of Porites coral growing on its shell. I wonder if one day the coral will outgrow the shell?

Another mollusc we saw was this squid (Sepioteuthis sp.), which could change its colour to blend into its surrounding. I also found an octopus, but unfortunately was unable to grab a shot before it disappeared.

The upside-down jellyfish (Cassiopea sp.) appeared to be another animals which was in season. These jellyfish has symbiotic algae living it its tentacles, and thus it is usually found swimming upside-down to expose the algae to the sunlight for photosynthesis. Some of the food made by the algae will be passed on to the jellyfish.

The relative of the jellyfish, the hard corals, can be found in a wide variety on Semakau. Many people have probably seen this staghorn coral (Acropora sp.) while snorkelling at our neighbouring countries. It can be found on Semakau too.

Corals come in various growth form other than the branching form. This purplish boulder is actually a Porites coral!

Most of the corals we see are colonial animals, and the Pocillopora coral above is home to thousands of little coral animals known as polyps.

This soft and fleshy looking clump is also a hard coral, Euphyllia ancora! It has a hard skeleton underneath.

Not all corals live in a colony though, and some of them, like this sunflower mushroom coral (Heliofungia actiniformis), is one single animal.

Apart from the hardies, we have the softies too. Here's a colony of soft corals. The greenish ones are those with the polyps extended, while the pinkish ones are the ones which the polyps have retracted.

There were quite a few magnificent anemones (Heteractis magnifica) in the intertidal area of Semakau. Unfortunately, I did not see any anemonefish in the one above.

The bulb tentacle anemone (Entamacea quadricolor) can also be found at the reef crest.

One of the less common anemone, Heteractis crispa, which so far I've only seen on Semakau. I've seen at least 3 of them at various locations over the past 3 years.

Anf of course, we have the usual gigantic carpet anemone (Stichodactyla gigantea), and this one has an anemone shrimp (Periclimenes brevicarpalis).

Talking about shrimps, we should forget about their relatives - the crabs! There were lots of porcelain fiddler crabs (Uca annulipes) near the mangrove area, and the male crabs were busy waving their big claws, probably trying to catch the attention of the females!

We also found a few of the Acanthozoon flatworms.

And I also managed to find a tigertail seahorse (Hippocampus comes) at the site which I usually found them!

Certainly, today was a great start for the year. Looking forward to more great trips with lots of special finds for the rest of the year!