Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pacific Reef Egret Snared in Fishing Line

I went for a walk at Changi Point with my family this morning, and while walking along the boardwalk, we came across a Pacific Reef Egret (Egretta sacra) sitting on a rock below the boardwalk. This egret can come in black or white morphs, and the one we saw was in the black morph having a charcoal-grey plumage.

Pacific Reef Egret (Egretta sacra)
We were on the boardwalk like about 2 metres away from it, but it did not even move a bit. I was rather surprised, as most wild birds would stay away from humans. Was something wrong with it? I suspected that its legs were probably caught in fishing lines or something, but there's nothing we could do to verify that without scaring the bird. We decided to leave it as it was and walked on.

Malay Water Monitor Lizard (Varanus salvator)
Along the way, I saw a few Malay Water Monitors (Varanus salvator). These monitor lizards are rather common in Singapore, and are known to scavenge for dead animals, or hunt for fish and other smaller animals. This got me a little worried for the egret.

Pacific Reef Egret (Egretta sacra)
When we were heading back, we walked passed the egret again. This time, it was up and hunting around the rocky area! I saw it caught a few Sea Slaters (Ligia sp.). Previously, I have only seen Pacific Reef Egrets hunting for fish! It was just moving over the rocks, and would suddenly extend its neck in a split second and pick up the prey with its long beak.

Pacific Reef Egret (Egretta sacra)
And while it was moving around, I could see the legs and my worries were confirmed - its legs were indeed entangled in a fishing line! It appeared that one of its claws were already broken by the fishing line. Both legs were entangled together, and hence the egret had difficulty walking - it was sort of half hopping and flying around. I guess that's probably why it was just resting on the rock earlier.

Pacific Reef Egret (Egretta sacra)
I wonder how much longer this poor creature could survive... It appeared that it's still able to find food rather effectively, since it caught quite a few Sea Slaters in just a few seconds. But will it be able to escape from predators like monitor lizards or even stray cats?

Every time I see incidents like this, I couldn't help but feel both sad and angry. How I hope that the anglers will be more responsible and look where they throw their lines, and retrieve lines that were caught in the vegetation or rocks. A discarded fishing line may appear simple and harmless to human, but it is a potential killing machine to birds, crabs and many other wild animals.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Stonefish Bay Without Stonefish. Phew...

For today's Project Semakau survey, we went to where we called "Stonefish Bay". We had seen stonefish here before, and SK actually saw two (almost stepped onto one) during a trip! As such, I was rather worried and gave a longer than usual safety briefing to ensure that the volunteers note where they step. Fortunately, no stonefish was encountered during the trip, and we had a few good finds too!

Stonefish Bay's marine life were a lot denser compare to the usual intertidal area that we went, and the nicest thing about it must be the Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica). While the other intertidal area had hundreds of sea stars (knobbly sea stars in some areas), here we got hundreds of these huge sea anemones that come in shades of purple, red or brown.

On this rock, there were 9 of them! Some of them even had clownfish and anemone shrimps living inside them! It is unfortunate that there was a cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) bloom and these dark furry algae covered lots of the other sessile organisms, or this would be an even prettier sight.

Several other sea anemones were spotted, included this unidentified one.

There were several areas which had lots of these Mushroom Anemones (Order Corallimorpharia). Related to sea anemones, these sessile animals are often seen in clusters, sometimes so extensive that they cover huge areas several metres wide like a huge carpet.

Also related are the zoanthids (Order Zoantharia), which exist in colonies with hundreds or even thousands of individuals.

I noticed this shore had a lot more colonies of these bluish furry soft corals compared to the usual side that we visit too.

I came across this rather interesting looking soft coral, which I don't think I have seen before.

Fanworms (Sabellastarte sp.), which are basically segmented worms with the fan-like tentacles on their heads, are rather common here too. These worms live in tubes, which they build using sand and mucus. They use their tentacles to filter plankton or other tiny organic matter from the water.

Marine Spiders (Desis martensi) were seen busy scampering over rocks and corals hunting for small prey with their venomous fangs.

There were lots of Red Swimming Crabs (Thalamita spinimana) among the algae. They are able to swim rather quickly using their paddle-like back legs.

Another rather abundant swimming crab is Thalamita danae. The species name is named after the princess of Argos in the Greek Peloponessos, a daughter of King Akrisios. Those who have seen Clash of the Titans will be familiar with the story. Danae is the mother of Perseus.

I was rather happy when I spotted this Hairy Hermit Crab (Dardanus lagopodes), as I seldom see them. It was living in a dead Noble Volute's shell, and living with it attached to the insides of the shell were a few Slipper Snails (Crepidula walshii, the flat, white and rounded things behind the hermit crab).

And here's a living Noble Volute (Cymbiola nobilis). Its shell was covered with silt and dirt, allowing it to blend rather nicely to the surrounding sandy habitat.

Yet another well-camouflaged snail was this Spider Conch (Lambis lambis), which got its name from the long spines on one side of its shell.

I did not find any echinoderms in my zone, but saw quite a number of brittle stars and sea cucumbers on my way there and back, including this Stonefish Sea Cucumber (Actinopyga lecanora). Note that this is different from the venomous stonefish, which is a fish.

We did not have to survey fishes for this trip, but that didn't stop me from taking photos of some of the more colourful ones, such as this Copperbanded Butterflyfish (Chelmon rostratus).

While we fortunately did not encounter any stonefish, we encountered a few venomous Blue-spotted Fantail Ray (Taeniura lymma). Like most other venomous fishes, if you don't touch them and just observe them, they are not dangerous at all.

The most exiting moment of the day must be the spotting of this Yellow-lipped Sea Krait (Laticauda colubrina)! By the time I saw the snake, its head had already gone under water. A few of the other fortunate volunteers got to see and photograph it though. We often see other snakes like the Dog-faced Water Snake and Banded File Snake here, but none can certainly match seeing this very venomous sea krait! One bite from this snake can kill a human! However, they are generally not aggressive unless provoked, fortunately, and that's also why we could observe rather closely.

The terrain was really tough over this shore, and this was possibly the most tiring Semakau trip I ever made, but it was certainly all worth it, with so many great sightings! :)

Friday, October 08, 2010

Back Guiding at Chek Jawa

It's been a while since I last went to help out at Chek Jawa, so I was quite glad that I finally managed to find time to do so.

When I reached the Ubin Volunteers' Hub, I was surprised to see the area next to the hub covered with Rattlebox plants (Crotalaria sp.). Guess that shows I really have not been here for a while. And on the flowers, I found a number of these pretty moths.

I have not seen these kind of day-flying moths before. Two of them here.

And here are three of them. Didn't realised the plants were Rattlebox plants until KS Wong told me. The usual ones I saw came with compound leaves with three leaflets. Apparently there were quite a few species of Rattlebox plants in Singapore.

There were a few Pea Blue (Lampides boeticus) butterflies resting on the Rattlebox plant, which was supposed to be their host plant. I saw a number of caterpillars feeding on the leaves, which I assumed should be Pea Blue caterpillars.

There were also a few Blue Glassy Tiger (Ideopsis vulgaris macrina).

Soon, all the volunteers arrived, and we made our way to Chek Jawa.

And greeting us was the resident Wild Boar (Sus scrofa).

Thanks to Terry, who decided to guide on my behalf, I got to do hunting-seeking, something which I have not done for quite sometime at Chek Jawa. While heading to the intertidal area, I noticed that the Mata Ayam (Ardisia elliptica) were fruiting! "Mata" means "eye" and "ayam" means "chicken", and this plant was so named supposedly because the fruits appeared like chicken eyes.

The first animal I spotted was this female Flower Crab (Portunus pelagicus) among the seagrass. Seagrass meadows are very important habitats for many marine animals, many of which can be eaten by human, such as this Flower Crab. This crab is a type of swimming crab, characterised by the paddle-like back legs, which allow them to swim rather quickly.

Also in the seagrass meadow, I found this Crenate Swimming Crab (Thalamita crenata). Related to the flower crab, it also has paddle-like back legs, and is also edible. I have seen fishermen collecting them when I was in Bali. It was quite aggressive, and kept flashing its claws whenever I got near to it.

But the top swimming crab I found must be this Orange Mud Crab (Scylla olivacea) that was initially half-buried in the sand in the seagrass meadow. It was humongous! I found two of them but only took one to show the visitors.

So I guess you can imagine that without seagrass meadows, many of the seafood we love will be gone too.

While seeking for interesting animals, I came across this Orange Striped Hermit Crab (Clibanarius infraspinatus), which has climbed out of its shell. Not sure why it climbed out of the shell though. Unlike true crabs which have a hard exoskeleton all over, hermit crabs have a soft abdomen and hence they hide in the shells of dead snails, such as the Noble Volute above, for protection.

Here's a living Noble Volute (Cymbiola nobilis). Found 3 of them during this trip. This huge snail hunts for other smaller snails or clams to feed on. They will wrap their muscular foot around the prey to attempt to suffocate them. When the snail or clam emerge to breathe, the volute will feed on them.

Yet another predator of smaller snails and clams is this Pear-shaped Moon Snail (Polinices mammilla). Note only can it wrap its prey with its huge foot, it can also secrete an acid to soften the prey's shell, and using its radula (something like a tongue) to slowly create a hole through the shell to feed on the animals inside.

There were a few Haddon's Carpet Anemones (Stichodactyla haddoni) on the sand bar. This one was quite big, more than 30cm wide. Like other sea anemones, it uses its stinging tentacles to sting and capture prey.

It's definitely a Sandfish (Holothuria scabra) day, as I saw so many of them! This is the sea cucumber that we normally find in Chinese restaurants. Note that they must be properly treated by people who are trained to remove the toxins in them before they can be consumed.

We saw a few other types of sea cucumber, but one of the prettier ones must be this one which we called the Pink Thorny Sea Cucumbers (Colochirus quadrangularis). It's also seasonally abundant, and sometimes we can see hundreds of them!

As usual, there were lots of Sand Dollars (Arachnoides placenta) at the sand bank. They feed on tiny algae or other organic matter among the sand.

The only star of the day was the Sand Star (Astropecten sp.). It used to be very abundant here, but possibly because nowadays we are seeing less button shells and small clams here that they feed on, and hence their population here appeared to be going down as well.

After my hunting-seeking duties, I managed to run over to take a look at the Pemphis (Pemphis acidula), a mangrove plant that is critically endangered in Singapore.

Here's a look at both the fruits and the flowers. This plant is commonly used as a bonsai plant in the region, and in some places, are over-collected because of that. The seeds are dispersed by water.

Sure hope that I will soon see more of this plant around, since it appeared to be fruiting quite well! :)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Green Turtles at Terengganu Sep 2010

Another much overdue entry :P

I went to Terengganu with a few friends in Sep 2010. My main objective for this trip would be to see wild marine turtles at Rantau Abang.

We visited the Turtle Information Centre when we reached, and were really glad to find that some baby Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas) just hatched the night before we arrived!

They were really cute. At times, they would keep still and float on the water surface.

Otherwise, they would be swimming around flipping their flipper-like legs.

Here's another look at one of them.

The baby turtles were kept in this round tank. Eventually when they are bigger and strong enough, they will be released to the sea.

Another batch of newly hatched turtles waiting to be placed into the tank.

Legends said that Rantau Abang was visited by many turtles because of this Batu Penyu (Turtle Rock) at the top of a little hill.

It certainly looked like a leathery turtle from certain angle, with some imagination, of course... :P

On our first day there, we patiently waited for nightfall for the turtles to come ashore, and was greeted by a beautiful sunset with colourful clouds.

As it turned dark, little animals, such as this hermit crab, appeared.

We saw a huge dead jellyfish on the sand.

There were many ghost crabs, and this one has caught a moon crab for dinner.

This other one caught a fish for dinner.

Unfortunately, we waited for quite a while, but no turtles appeared...

Near our resort was this natural history museum, which unfortunately was closed for some holiday when we were there. It had a minke whale skeleton! Singapore used to have a minke whale skeleton in its museum too, but unfortunately some goondoo decided to give it to our neighbour.

We went to Lake Kenyir after Rantau Abang, and went on a trip to visit one of the waterfalls. Along the way, we saw lots of Dipterocarpus sp. fruits.

Many of them had even germinated!

And finally, we reached the waterfall!

Here's another view of it.

We saw this giant millipede on the rocks just next to the waterfall.

There was even a little softshell turtle!

On the way back, we had problem getting bus tickets back on Sunday, and hence only managed get back to Singapore on Monday morning. Guess the lesson learned is always to get a return ticket :P