Thursday, January 01, 2009

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

The Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve covers an area of 130 hectares, and is an important stop-over point for migratory birds during the winter months. The reserve is named after the river which flows through it. "sungei" means "river", while "buloh" means bamboo. However, no native bamboo species were recorded from the area so far.

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve Entrance
The area was discovered by a a group of birdwatchers from the then Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch) in 1986. They subsequently proposed to the government to conserve the area, and eventually 87 hectares of wetlands was designated as a nature park in 1989, and officially opened on 6 Dec 1993 by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. It was officially gazetted as a nature reserve on 1 Jan 2002. Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve was also recognised as a site of international importance for migratory birds with Wetlands International, and was included into the East Asian Australasian Shorebird Site Network.

Dos & Don'ts
  1. Stay on the trail! Wandering off the trail may result in trampling of the flora and fauna.
  2. Bring water and some light snacks, but avoid eating or drinking when there are monkeys around.
  3. Do not feed any animals, as they may become very dependent on human to feed them, and forget how to find food on their own. 
  4. Keep your volume down, or you may disturb the very animals you want to see, and they may hide away from you.
  5. Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but foot prints. Bring your litter out with you, and never take anything from the forest. Poaching has resulted in severe reduction in the population of much wildlife in many places.
  6. You may want to consider wearing long pants, e.g. light track pants etc. There could be mosquitoes.
  7. Please bring insect repellent. Mosquito pads are usually not very useful for such outdoor activities as the mosquitoes can be quite aggressive.
  8. Please bring a cap/hat in case of sunny weather, and raincoat/poncho in case of wet weather. I would also recommend bringing a few plastic bags to keep your electronic products in case it rains.
  9. Bring a camera along, but remember to have a plastic bag to keep it dry in case it rains.

Getting Started

The reserve has several trails, shelters and boardwalks to allow you to have a good view of the various organisms living there.

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve Nature Gallery
A good place to start your journey into Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve will be the nature gallery, where there are exhibitions and descriptions of the various things you can expect to see during your trip. It also has a huge model of a mud lobster mound, which is very popular with kids.

If you follow the guided walk provided by the volunteers at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, you will usually be given a tour around the mangrove boardwalk, the bridge and the main hide.

Malayan water monitor lizards (Varanus salvator)
But wherever you go, it's quite likely that you will bump into one of the many Malayan water monitor lizards (Varanus salvator). This is one of the top predators in the reserve, and eats almost anything that it can fit into its mouth, alive or dead. While it has a weak venom, it is not known to be venomous enough to kill humans, but the bacteria in its mouth may cause serious infection if it ever manage to set its teeth on you. You don't have to be paranoid though. The usual rule of thumb with wild animals is as long as you leave them alone, they will leave you alone. So please respect these wild animals and do not disturb them.

Mangrove Boardwalk at Sungei Buloh
The Mangrove Boardwalk starts off at the back mangrove area, and many of the plants you see here are not true mangrove plants, meaning that they cannot survive in the brackish water.

Torch ginger (Etlingera elatior)
Some of the plants were remnants of the farming activities here before it became a reserve, such as the torch ginger (Etlingera elatior) above. It was popularly planted during the kampong days as the flower bud was used in various local dishes, such as rojak, fried rice, curry etc.

Once you get under the vegetation, you will probably hear the distinctive and continuous cicada song made by the many male cicadas (Family Cicadidae). The song is produced by special structures called "timbals" on the sides of the male cicada's abdomen, in order to attract female cicadas. In addition to the mating song, some cicadas are known to be able to produce distress call (when they are caught) or courtship songs.

Sea hibiscus (Talipariti tiliaceum)
The back mangrove area is also where we can find coastal plants like the sea hibiscus (Talipariti tiliaceum). The flowers of this tree start off yellow in colour when they bloom in the morning, then as the day proceeds, they slowly turn orange by evening time. So what you are seeing above are a fresh yellow flower, and an orange flower from the previous day, which will wither and drop off soon.

Cotton stainer bugs (Dysdercus decussatus)
And when there are sea hibiscus trees, you will often find cotton stainer bugs (Dysdercus decussatus) which feed on the seeds of the sea hibiscus.

Plantain squirrel (Callosciurus notatus)
Sometimes, cute little plantain squirrels (Callosciurus notatus) can be seen jumping from branch to branch, or even tree to tree! They eat mainly fruit and nuts, but are also known to feed on small insects.

Mangrove Boardwalk at Sungei Buloh
The Mangrove Boardwalk will eventually bring you into the true mangrove forest.

Blind-your-eyes (Excoecaria agallocha)
One common mangrove tree that can be seen at Sungei Buloh is the blind-your-eyes tree (Excoecaria agallocha). The sap can cause blisters if it touches your skin, and may even cause blindness if it gets into your eyes.

Mud lobster mound
The blind-your-eyes tree can often be found growing on mud lobster mounds. Mud lobsters (Thalassina sp.) are believed to eat tiny organic particles in the mud, and as they process the huge amounts of mud and sand to seek food, the processed mud is piled around their burrows, forming the little "volcano-like" structures. Mud lobsters play an important role of bringing nutrient-rich soil to the surface. Many other plants and animals live in or on mud lobster mounds too, attracted by the nutrients, and also, higher ground and free lodging (burrow made by the mud lobster) to get away from the sea water.

Sea holly (Acanthus sp.)
The sea holly (Acanthus spp.) is a shrub commonly found growing on mud lobster mound. It gets its common name from the shape of its leaves, which resemble those of the holly.

Tree-climbing crabs (Episesarma sp.)
An animal commonly seen on mud lobster mounds is the tree-climbing crab (Episesarma sp.), which usually dig burrows into the mounds or at the base of trees. During high tide, you may encounter many of them climbing up to trees to avoid the predatory fishes in the water.

Bakau (Rhizophora spp.)
The mangrove is a very harsh environment to live in. The soil is very poor in oxygen and very unstable, which is why many of the trees have roots exposed to the air to take in more oxygen, and the roots often spread over a wide area to allow the trees to stabilise themselves on the soft mud. The bakau trees (Rhizophora spp.) above have prop and stilt roots to serve the above functions. The wood from this tree can be made into charcoal or furniture. The above image shows the prop and stilt roots of the bakau kurap (Rhizophora mucronata) and the propagules of bakau minyak (Rhizophora apiculata).

Bakau putih (Bruguiera cylindrica)
One of the most common mangrove tree in Singapore is the bakau putih (Bruguiera cylindrica). Like the other Bruguiera species, it has exposed kneed roots. Both the Rhizophora and Bruguiera mangrove trees demonstrate vivipary, a condition whereby the young plant within the seed grows first to break through the seed coat then out of the fruit wall while still attached to the parent plant. Since the mangrove habitat is a very harsh environment, these plants have adapted such that the parent plants prepare their young as much as possible to increase their chances of survival.

When the propagule drops into the sea water, it will first float horizontally. After a few weeks when the sea water carries it further away from the parent plant, the lower part of the propagule tends to absorb water better and get heavier, and it will float vertically. Eventually when it reaches shallow water again, it will sink into the soft substrate vertically when the tide goes down, and starts growing roots and leaves immediately.

Mangrove apple (Sonneratia alba)
Another harsh condition faced by mangrove plants is that they will be soaked in salt water, which can remove water from the plant tissues through osmosis. To deal with this condition, plants like the Rhizophora, Bruguiera and the mangrove apple (Sonneratia alba) can selectively absorb only certain ions from the sea water through a process called ultrafiltration. But this process is not 100% effective, and some salt still gets into the trees, and will be removed by transpiration of the leaf surfaces or accumulated in old leaves. The sea apple has cone shape pneumatophores (i.e. upward extension of the root system).

Api-api putih (Avicennia alba)
The api-api trees (Avicennia spp.) and the sea holly (Acanthus spp.), on the other hand, use another method known as salt secretion. They excrete salt with the salt glands on the leaves as the plants were expending energy. The above photo shows the fruits and aerial roots of the api-api putih (Avicennia alba).

Unlike the bakau trees, api-api trees exhibits cryptovivipary - a condition whereby the seeding grows to break through the seed coat but not the fruit wall before it splits open.

Giant mudskipper (Periophthalmodon schlosseri)
Living in the mangrove are various animals, such as this giant mudskipper (Periophthalmodon schlosseri), which is the largest mudskipper in Singapore. This fish is able to survive out of water by holding water in its mouth and gill chambers. It can breathe through its skin when it is wet too.

Sometimes, if you look carefully among the trees, you may also spot the less common mangrove animals, such as this shore pit-viper (Trimeresurus purpureomaculatus). More active at night, this venomous snake feeds on little birds and lizards.

Lined nerite (Nerita articulata)
A walk at the shore area is never complete without sea shells, and one of the more common ones is the lined nerite (Nerita articulata). Interesting, studies shown that this nerite is tree-specific. It usually returns to the same tree during high tide, after its feeding expedition on the ground when the tide is low. It feeds on algae.

Lokan (Geloina sp.)
This large bivalve, known as the lokan (Geloina sp.), are often found near the back of the mangrove. In other countries, they are often collected and sold as food.

Stork-billed kingfisher (Halcyon capensis)
As you exit from the Mangrove Boardwalk to the main bridge, you may sometimes hear a harsh laugh "kak, kak, kak, kak" made by the stork-billed kingfisher (Halcyon capensis). This is the largest kingfisher in Singapore, and it doesn't just feed on fishes, but frogs, crabs and even lizards too.

Paradise tree snake (Chrysopelea paradisi)
The vegetation near the main bridge is often a good place to spot the paradise tree snake (Chrysopelea paradisi) too. This snake is able to glide from tree to tree by launching itself off a tall branch, and sucks in its abdomen to become flattish to trap a cushion of air below it.

During high tide, the main bridge area is also an excellent area to spot fishes! The slim ones are the stripe-nosed halfbeaks (Zenarchopterus buffonis), the ones with big spots are the spotted archerfish (Toxotes chatareus), and the only one with lots of little spots is a spotted scat (Scatophagus argus).

Orange mud crab (Scylla olivacea)
During low tide, on the other hand, you will have a good chance seeing orange mud crabs (Scylla olivacea). These crabs usually feed on clams which they crush with their powerful claws. They are very valuable in the local market, and are used in various popular local dishes such as the chilli crab, black pepper crab and crab tang hoon.

Smooth otter, Lutrogale perspicillata
Smooth otters (Lutrogale perspicillata) are often seen hunting for fishes at the main bridge area. Unfortunately, according to visitors to the reserve, one of the otters were killed by stray dogs recently.

Estuarine Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)
The estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) can be seen at the main bridge area once in a while. This is probably the largest wild predator that can still be found in Singapore. A few of these awesome creatures can be found in Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

Away from the the main bridge to the main hide, flocks of migratory birds attracted droves of visitors from October to February every year. Some of these birds come all the way from Russia to escape the cold winter, and this is also one of the reason why Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is so important. If it is gone, the birds will lose their feeding ground, and most of them are already very weak by the time they reach Singapore and may starve to death!

Mangrove St Andrew's cross spider (Argiope mangal)
Sometimes, at a corner of the main hide or on some of the low branches, this pretty mangrove St Andrew's cross spider (Argiope mangal) can be found resting on its web. The web contains two zig-zag bands, making it rather distinctive.

Mangrove pitta, Pitta megarhyncha
If you venture deeper into the reserve on one of the trails, you may be lucky enough to spot a mangrove pitta (Pitta megarhyncha)! It is a rare resident in Singapore, and globally near-threatened due to loss of habitat.

Outdoor classroom at Sungei Buloh
If you have the time to explore further, take a walk to the outdoor classroom to check out the many medicinal plants in the compound.

Freshwater pond at Sungei Buloh
A nearby freshwater pond allows you to see the local aquatic plants and animals.

Mangrove Arboretum at Sungei Buloh
If you venture further, there is a Mangrove Arboretum with various mangrove plants and animals, some of which are less common at the mangrove boardwalk.

Freshwater marsh land at Sungei Buloh
There is also a freshwater marsh land, which has lots of dragonflies, and a few uncommon water birds.

Indeed, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is thus not just a place to spot birds during the migratory season as many people assumed, and has several types of natural habitats and serves as an excellent outdoor ecology classroom for all Singaporeans.


PeaceFromTrees said...

What an amazing piece of work this is... I look for material like this on the internet every day and this is a rare find!

You can even break this post down and repost it as many different posts & add additional maps & info?

This is quality work!

It's rare and hard to find!

For the love of all things wild please keep doing it!

Be well, Deane

Ron Yeo said...

Thanks :)

Will probably post a few more related entries when I have the time in future.

Anonymous said...

Wild otters, mudskippers, halfbeaks, flying snakes, lobster mounds....Im very jealous! A bit of a contrast to the duck and swans we have ice skating on the currently frozen lakes!

This place looks like somewhere worth visiting for sure!

Ivan said...

Great post!

*is envious of snake, otter and crocodile photos*

Ron Yeo said...

Hi Neil, it's certainly a great place to visit :)

Ivan, visit Sungei Buloh a few more times, and I'm sure you'll have the luck to see them too :)

Anonymous said...

your post is quite informative! good job! and very good taken photos! keep it up :D

Ron Yeo said...

Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

I am from a Nature Explorer Programme in my school and your post has selped me alot! thanks :)

pamoedji said...

we need go to Sungei Buloh , from Bangka Goes Green / bangka Botanical garden / Marthin Girsang

tc said...

hi, do you know why Episesarma spp are both burrowers and tree climbers? If they can climb trees during high tide, it seems little use for them to have a burrow. As a comparison, Uca spp hide in the burrow during high tide. Regards. TC.

Fareea said...

Hi I am doing a small project to produce some educational material to help some less privileged children understand the ocean and the mangrove and their key role in sustaining it. Was sourcing for some photos and was wondering if you will allow me to use the photo of the sea holly and credit you?

chingesictheblogger said...

I am connected to, this is a consortium of peoples organization in Eastern Samar, Philippines. However, our operation is limited only to seven municipalities, but there is a similarity of what we have been doing for more than twenty years, and we have good sites in our area much like yours. I like your site and if possible I like a connection:

Anonymous said...

I can't see the crocodile! I keep going there to find it :(

Anonymous said...

Oh! But you did not explain how you felt!

Danish said...

Wow! I like this info.But there's lots of dangerous creatures around.

Anonymous said...

great site with interesting info and great to find nature in urbanite Singapore!

Ron Yeo said...

Hi all, thanks for visiting my site! Have to just add that the so-called dangerous things are nothing compared to the dangers we have in our urban jungle. Hardly anyone got hurt by wild animals these days in Singapore, but almost everyday we get traffic accidents, and every now and then, gangsters in the neighbourhood, robbery etc.

Anonymous said...

interesting on how you get all this.i cant find a thing!

Anonymous said...

Hi , I have been to the reserve twice but looking at the pictures of otters and crocodile , I do envy you :) . The pictures are awesome .. makes me wanna visit the reserve again .. needlesss to say , looking for the otters ...
Plz do check dis out ...

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

i went to sungui buloh last thursday, it is very interesting u should go too!