Tuesday saw Team Sausage take a trip to one of Singapore’s four main reserves, Sungei Buloh. Set in 130 hectares of mangroves, mudflats, ponds and secondary forest, hopes were high for some new and interesting encounters on this particularly sunny, sticky day.
On arrival, the reception staff informed us that as it was still low tide there would be a chance of crocodiles on the reserve and that some had been seen earlier that morning before opening time. It was clear that our insect repellent would be of minimal use should this wildlife encounter become a little too hands on!
Mrs Sausage led us across the main bridge and as if triggered by boots on the boards, two Collared Kingfishers and a Stork-Billed Kingfisher shot left to right across our eye-line. The Collareds perched in clear but distant view but didn’t offer great photo opportunities and the Stork-billed disappeared in dense leaves and branches.
The first of the reserve’s hides was straight off the bridge and with the tide out, the mudflats revealed -some interesting detritus in the form of hundreds of rodongs. These are large (ice-cream cone sized) snails whose main diet is sucking up algae and other items from the mudflats. They are apparently edible themselves, but I have yet to be offered one….a polite decline may be in order this time around.
Also inhabiting the mudflats were both small and giant mudskippers, an ever growing colony of noisy Little Egret, one more Stork-billed Kingfisher and a Brahminy Kite overhead in the distance and over the viewing tower. We moved on down the pathway where Water Monitor lizards of varying sizes lounged or slowly ambled ahead of us. A Plantain Squirrel scurried among the low hanging branches of near-by trees curious but unconcerned despite our very close proximity.
To our left a high pitched call rang out and as we scanned the opposite shoreline a lone Common Sandpiper bobbed into view. Sungei Buloh is home to significant numbers of waders and shoreline birds, some of them very familiar to British birders.
Mrs Sausage suggested we back-track and check out the Mangrove Boardwalk before covering the rest of the reserve and we popped back into the first hide again. It was an inspired suggestion as more Little Egret were descending onto the open mudflats, followed by another familiar sight, small flocks of Redshank. As we watched these familiar faces from home, some 20-30 Whimbrel came in from the north-west, circled around and made for the ground to our left. Whimbrel have been fairly elusive to us (with the exception of a brief glimpse of a pair at Otmoor earlier this year,) and here we were, far from home with several dozen within twenty feet of us.
The Mangrove Boardwalk was a new environment for me and brought with it more than just birds to interest us. Expertly guided by Mrs Sausage, we saw a wide variety of crabs among the exposed roots of the mangrove trees. From Vinegar Crabs (also known as Tree Climbing Crabs) to Mud Lobsters and an array of shells and molluscs, the area was alive with crustaceans, bivalves and assorted mangrove life. Well camouflaged against the dark mud, once you had attuned your eyes to picking them out, you could see them everywhere, some on trees, others visible only with movement, and yet others feasting in corners, such as this crab devouring a razor clam.
There was plenty of bird-life in the mangrove too, with very close encounters with a Collared Kingfisher, this Little Heron (also known as a Striated Heron) and this very confiding Sandpiper.
After a brief pause to refresh, un-attach sweat-connected clothing, replace lost fluids, and confirm our myriad sightings so far, we were on our way again. Although the Singapore Air Force was making repeated maneuvers over the reserve the birds seemed particularly un-perturbed by the roar of jet engines; stark evidence of this was apparent as we entered our second main hide.
The area was a mass concentration of early winter waders with significant numbers of Whimbrel, Redshank, Greenshank and Little Egret. Collared Kingfishers were noisily criss-crossing the water and at one stage actually harried a group of Redshank away from a patch they clearly considered their own territory. Throughout the day, the Collared Kingfishers were among the noisiest and most active birds at Sungei Buloh; very much the opposite behaviour to the Common Kingfisher’s observed in the UK.
Leaving this growing wader gathering behind, we made our way up the Aerie, an above treetop-level observation tower that afforded views over most of the reserve. The cooler air here was most welcome although activity here was minimal. We were able to spot several areas where Little Egret were gathering, their stark white plumage making them almost appear as melting snow against the rich green leaves of the trees. A distant raptor also skirted the edge of the reserve but at maximum binocular distance it was impossible to confirm the species. Mrs Sausage also had a quick nap, further confirming her ability to sleep anywhere is unsurpassed!
Back to terra firma and we found our way along a narrower pathway. Here we had low hanging branches, over-grown leaves and dense flora way above head height. There was sound and glimpses of movement all around but difficult to pinpoint. A recently shaken leaf would be followed by much neck-craning and re-focussing of the eyes. We were finally rewarded by spotting and identifying an Ashy Tailorbird and actually managing to catch a photo of this Striped Tit-babbler. No mean feat in either case as both these birds were extremely skittish and would barely stay still long enough to identify, let alone get focus for a photo.
Also seen as we followed the path through this section of the reserve was a Grey Heron, a briefly seen but unidentified woodpecker and this Changeable Lizard.
Mosquito activity was intensifying as we were now surrounded on two sides by still water. After some concentrated and determined spraying of ourselves with repellent we made our way through a mist of the flying, biting, little bastards into Hide 3a. To be honest, we were all for turning round immediately for fear of becoming blood banks to a civilization run by mozzies but one thing held us in place. There, not two metres in front of us was an opened-mouthed, sun-bathing Estuarine Crocodile.
Along with most of the wildlife at Sungei Buloh it remained un-perturbed and disinterested in our presence. Probably not a bad thing either! The crocodile here are not captive or introduced and certainly they belonged here more than we did.
We took our pics and left the hide, took a wrong turning and realised that between us and the aforementioned croc there was nothing now but some lovely flat grassland and a small pond! We discussed our options should the sunbathing reptile decide to get better acquainted with us. Apparently the only safe thing to do would be to climb a tree, alas no trees in sight. Quietly, carefully, we about-faced and with slight trepidation made our way back on to the beaten path.
Our final section of the reserve was the Mangrove Arboretum. This board-walk path offered us more crab action and some frequent arm-waving as we tried to dissuade mosquitoes from becoming blood brothers. Bird activity here was minimal, but we did have a brief view of an Oriental Whip Snake as it slithered under the boards just in front of us.
All in all we covered around 85-90% of the reserve, walking about 8km over a six hour period. Sticky, aching but very happy with our sightings we could not muster the energy to leave the Kranji Express bus service around the country-side and completed the whole route before disembarking at Kranji Station at its second visit. Our last sighting of the day was this winsome Peaceful Dove (or Zebra Dove) at the Jurong Frog Farm.