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!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Changi Beach on 29 Oct 2011

I was back on Changi Beach with a few friends today. Was rather worried that we may not see much stuff due to the rainy weather, but fortunately, there were still plenty to see! Here's a quick listing of some of the highlights:

A Sea Moth (Pegasus volitans) was found in a little tidal pool.

Several Transparent Sea Cucumbers (Paracaudina australis) were seen, and this one was in the process of burrowing into the sand.

There were many little Black Sea Urchins (Temnopleurus sp.), though instead of clustering around the same area like what I saw last time, they were rather spread out.

I only saw one Salmacis Sea Urchin (Salmacis sp.).

The Swimming Anemones (Boloceroides mcmurrichii) were definitely in season, as they were every where!

Again, I saw a pair of Tiger Moon Snails (Natica tigrina). Not sure if they were mating or trying to eat each other.

This tiny little Snapping Shrimp (Alpheus sp.) had very pretty blue claws.

Some Snapping Shrimps live commensally in other animals, such as the one above which lives in a soft coral colony.

There were quite a few small Haddon's Carpet Anemones (Stichodactyla haddoni), but I did not see any big ones.

Flower Crabs (Portunus pelagicus) were still common among the seagrass.

There were much fewer sea stars though. I saw a few small- and medium-sized Biscuit Sea Stars (Goniodiscaster scaber), but no huge ones.

There were a few small Cake Sea Stars (Anthenea aspera) too.

The Sand Stars (Astropecten sp.) starting appearing only after it turned dark.

There were still lots of Asian Date Mussels (Musculista senhousia) and their nests.

I found a sea pen, and saw many little brittle stars on it.

The sea pen also had a few commensal Porcelain Crabs (Porcellanella picta).

The resident Sea Apple (Pseudocolochirus axiologus) was still around! Can you see a little butterflyfish just above it in the photo to the left?

On the Sea Apple. I also saw this little crustacean - not too sure what it was though. Some isopod?

I spotted this Diamond Tuskfish (Halichoeres dussumieri) as it turned dark.

This Mantis shrimp (Harpiosquilla sp.). kept stirring up the sediment as I was trying to get a photo of it.

Under a rock, I found an Ovum Cowrie (Cypraea ovum), a Rock Star (Asterina coronata) and a little porcelain crab, among the other sessile organisms.

There's also a peanut worm. Previously from the phylum Sipuncula, recent studies shown that it's actually an annelid (phylum Annelida) which has lost its segments through evolution.

Tube Anemones were surprisingly abundant today.

And lastly, a pretty colony of sea pen.

As usual, Changi had lots to offer :)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Quick Look at Sisters Island on 26 Oct 2011

I was back on Big Sisters Island today for a picnic organised by a friend. As the main focus wasn't on the shore life, I only managed to sneak out to check out the shore for like an hour or so. Tide wasn't that low by then, but fortunately I still managed to find a number of stuff :)

I was most excited to find this Fluted Giant Clam (Tridacna squamosa) in the lagoon - had not been able to find it for my past few trips here! The metal stick on the right probably indicated that Mei Ling, who worked on giant clams, was studying it. This one is about 30cm wide.

Most of the people on the island were more excited about the Long-tailed Macaques (Macaca fascicularis) though. There were more than 10 of them and they were really rather daring. We were kept busy for quite a while keeping them away from the food.

The smaller lagoon, as usual, had many Sand-sifting Sea Stars (Archaster typicus). These sea stars sift among the sand for tiny decaying matter (detritus) to feed on.

There were quite a few moon snail trails. I dug one out and it was a Pear-shaped Moon Snail (Polinices mammilla).

At the mouth of the small lagoon, there were a few Haddon's Carpet Anemone (Stichodactyla haddoni), and I found some Anemone Shrimps (Periclimenes brevicarpalis) on them! These shrimps had a layer of mucus on their body to prevent the anemone from stinging them, while being protected from predators by the stinging tentacles.

I found a few tiny Ocellaris Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris) in some of the Giant Carpet Anemones (Stichodactyla gigantea) near the mouth of the lagoon too!

Branched Sea Anemones (Phymanthus sp.) were as abundant as ever. They looked like little flowers of the sea...

Leaf Slugs (Elysia ornata) were in season, and I saw many of them among the seaweed. These sea slugs sucked the sap of the seaweed and retained the chloroplast in their body for photosynthesis. And so they were somewhat "solar-powered", like plants!

At the rocky areas, I saw many Black Sea Cucumbers (Holothuria leucospilota) among the rocks and coral rubble.

There were many snails on the sea wall, but the limpets caught my eye, as I suddenly remembered a friend who was studying them for her honours project.

I only saw one nudibranch, a Discodoris boholiensis. "Nudibranch" means "naked gills", refering to the flower-like gills on the back of most species.

Fanworms (Sabellastarte sp.) were also rather common at the coral rubble area.

The Red Maiden's Fan (Oceanapia sagittaria) is probably my favourite sea sponge - the bulk of the sponge is actually hidden in the ground.

Sisters Island has a very nice and dense intertidal coral reef. All the brown boulders above were hard corals! They are mostly brown due to this golden-brown algae (called zooxanthellae) that live inside them. The algae photosynthesize and provide nutrients for the corals, while getting shelter in return.

Some corals, such as the Turban Coral (Turbinaria peltata) above, have their own colour pigments that act as sun block, and hence they may appear greenish, bluish or even purplish.

Coral reefs can get rather colourful sometimes - the above shows some corallimorphs among some sponges.

Algae, like the red algae above, can be brightly coloured too!

So are the colonial ascidians.

Some of the areas had lots of Zoanthids (Palythoa mutuki), which looked like little flowers carpeting the area.

Even smaller are the tiny polyps of the Toadstool Leather Coral (Sarcophyton sp.).

The tide came back rather quickly, and I had to stop my exploration. As we were leaving the island, I noticed that the trash bin were really not very monkey-proof... Hopefully Sentosa will do something about this, since they are managing the island!