Sunday, October 30, 2011

Langkawi with NParks Friends

In colloquial Malay, "lang" (short for "helang") means "eagle", and "kawi" is the colour reddish brown. And if you take a boat ride down the mangrove rivers of Pulau Langkawi, you will know why the island is named after a reddish brown eagle, or what is commonly called the Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) - a raptor with a reddish brown plumage and a white head and breast.

On 7 October 2011, a group of NParks staff and volunteers arrived on this island of the Brahminy kite for a four-day field study trip. Such field trips to various nature spots in the region are organised once a year to foster better relationships between staff and volunteers, and at the some time expose them to the various tropical ecosystems. The experiences gained from these field trips can also be applied back at the local scene, when volunteers participate in field work or nature guiding.

We flew into the island using a budget airline - the first time that an annual field study trip for volunteers required air travel! Greeting us at the airport was the field trip coordinator from Malaysia, Gary, who had organised some of the previous field trips. We checked in at our hotel at Kuah Town for lunch and had a short rest before heading out to our first destination, the Seven Wells Waterfall.

Locally known as Telaga Tujuh, which means "seven wells", the Seven Wells Waterfall is a picturesque waterfall, so named because its flowing water is broken by a series of seven natural pools. It was a short, but steep, and hence tiring climb to reach the pools, but we were rewarded with beautiful scenery and refreshingly cool water, which some of us dipped our feet in.

We then went to Gunung Raya, the tallest mountain on Pulau Langkawi, where we had a very misty experience as the clouds were hanging around the summit. We concluded the day with a nice dinner by the beach.

Day Two started off with the main highlight of the trip - a boat ride through the mangroves of the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park! We lost count of the number of Brahminy kites we saw during the boat ride, as there were so many of them!

And this was my favourite photo of the Brahminy Kite.

There were several White-bellied Sea Eagles (Haliaeetus leucogaster) as well, but I did not manage to get a good shot. The above was the best I managed to capture.

We saw this Common Sandpiper, (Actitis hypoleucos) along the river.

Like our mangroves in Singapore, the Malayan Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) was a common sight.

Several troupes of Long-tailed Macaques (Macaca fascicularis) were seen, and some of them were totally not shy about getting passionate in the open :P

We saw many Dusky Leaf Monkeys (Trachypithecus obscurus) too, and some of the luckier ones even saw dolphins!

There were plenty of plants for the plant-lovers too, including species that were rare in Singapore, such as the Kacang-kacang (Aegiceras corniculatum), Api-api Jambu (Avicennia marina).

Many of the plants were not even found in Singapore, such as this cliff cycad (Cycas clivicola). We also visited a few limestone formations and caves, before we proceed to a fish farm for lunch.

After lunch, we went to Oriental Village to take the cable car up Gunung Mat Cincang. We had a few minutes at the summit for some photograph-taking before it starting pouring, and hence we did not managed to visit the famous Hanging Bridge - it was closed for safety reasons due to the bad weather. The rain stopped as we were leaving Oriental Village, and we had a steamboat dinner at a restaurant near our hotel.

Day Three was free-and-easy, and most of us went bird-watching in the morning at Gunung Raya. It was really foggy though, and hence we only saw a few birds. There were other interesting organisms though.

We found this unidentified Tractor Millipede (Order Polydesmida) on the road.

We also saw what looked like a flatworm feeding on an earthworm.

I was unlucky enough to get attacked by 3 leeches...

And Andy found this Siamese Peninsula Pit Viper (Trimeresurus fucatus).

In the afternoon, it was own-time-own-target. A few people rented a car to drive around the island. Others either revisited Gunung Mat Cincang, or walked around Kuah Town and Eagle's Square, or just rested and relaxed in the vicinity of the hotel. I went to Eagle's Square, and saw several shore organisms.

The sandy shore had lots of little crabs. The above looked like some species of Ghost Crab with its burrowing behaviour and fat eye-stalks.

The Sally-light-foot Crab (Grapsus albolineatus) was quite abundant on the sea wall.

But what really amazed me was the many Giant Chitons. Not sure if they were the same species as the one found in Singapore though, but huge chitons were so uncommon in Singapore.

After visiting the shore, we went for a walk in a nearby park, and that turned out to be a good decision, as we saw a number of animals there too!

There were a pair of Red-wattled Lapwings (Vanellus indicus) by a pond.

And we saw several Dusky Leaf Monkeys!

We also saw 7 juvenile Oriental Pied Hornbills (Anthracoceros albirostris) in the same park, and lots of other birds!

We flew back to Singapore in the morning of the fourth day.

While we did not get to experience everything in the itinerary due to the bad weather, it was still a very fun and enriching trip, and certainly a good opportunity for volunteers and staff from various NParks branches to get together to foster better relationships and learn from each other!

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