Our next location to check out (as advised to us by Frankie at Bidadari) was Lorong Halus. Situated in the far north west of the island, the Lorong Halus wetland began to take on mythical status as we attempted to locate it using public transport.
There were no taxis in existence at Punggol MRT. Mrs Sausage had told me earlier Punggol should translate to “middle of nowhere” – I thought she was just exaggerating! We eventually decided to take the LRT to Kandaloor in the hope of making a local connection.
After much walking around at Kandaloor, we eventually struck it lucky with an incredibly obliging, daring and experienced taxi uncle who confessed as he pulled into the entrance to the wetlands that he had never been here before. We could not blame him, the Wetlands are well tucked away and signposts are in short supply. We might have had better luck looking for Serangoon Dam, but we did not know this at the time.
Once there, with no certain means of return, we headed on to the bridge that straddles the Serangoon Reservoir and found ourselves watching terns hunting, diving and zipping across the water over our heads. We were sure there were two species active here, White-winged Terns and Little Terns.
As we made our way across to the far side a wader made a dash across the reservoir for a rocky shoreline just ahead of us. A Common Sandpiper again, as seen previously at Sungei Buloh. It was while taking pics of this familiar bird that Mrs Sausage spotted a Common Kingfisher sitting in the greenery just above the wader.
Terns, waders and kingfisher in the first ten minutes was a very encouraging start to our visit and made the slightly elongated journey worthwhile.
Our next sighting was a Rose-ringed Parakeet and was again another sound and sight of familiarity from London, where large colonies of these colourful and very noisy birds have grown over recent years.
We went back on our ourselves at this point as we wanted to explore the greener part of the reserve. As we re-crossed the bridge we had Collared Kingfishers and an unidentified raptor making it’s way down the reservoir and disappearing into the tree-line beyond our sight.
The trees nearest to us at this point were full of movement and noise. Skittish, small shapes were hopping from branch to branch, showing for a second then moving on. This has been a trend with the smaller birds in Singapore and a real challenge for both identification and photography. Patience and persistence paid off somewhat here as we were able to catch a reasonable view of this Common Iora in among the flora.
More greenery movement had us scanning again elsewhere. Not everything that moves among the leaves and branches is a bird here though. Lorong Halus was also very much home to Changeable Lizards in considerable numbers. They were also far more obliging to our camera than their feathered co-habitors.
Our chosen path took us parallel to the reservoir so we were getting constant views of the terns overhead as well as fighter jets and transports of the Singapore Air Force. These high-decibel, frequent fly-overs did not seem to have any effect on the bird activity here, with nothing seeming to take to the sky in panic at the roar of the engines. In fact, after two jets had screamed over our heads, we had another flypast, this time of a White-bellied Fish Eagle. It was as if it had been hitching a ride on one of the fighters and decided to hop off over Lorong Halus for some hunting.
The pathway was now becoming greener and less man-managed as we made on. Lizards were showing really well atop the stronger branches and there was almost constant bird noise and obscure movement. Two Koel were exchanging their cuckoo like calls across the reserve, and we spent some time stalking this Ashy Tailorbird in and out of the overgrowth before getting this brief glimpse.
We then heard what we thought was another bird calling, perhaps a White-breasted Water Hen as it sounded like a type of waterfowl more than anything else. We scanned the far shoreline and then just in front of ourselves but there was nothing to be seen. The water held the answer though, as we let our ears track the noise, our eyes were drawn to two shapes making elegantly smooth progress through the calm waters of the reservoir. Otters!
These two came swimming up to within around ten feet of us, calling out with their high-pitched almost whistle like calls. Once we had been checked out they about faced and headed for the opposite shore. This was by far the closest encounter we have had with wild otters, stunning stuff.
We then spent the next 30-45 minutes risking dengue by scanning and searching an area of abundant trees and bushes whilst standing on the banks of some very still standing water. There was noise and movement everywhere here, but all at some distance. Every now and then something would show then hide among the greenery again. We could still hear the Koel and our clearest views of anything turned out to be the ever present Yellow-vented Bulbuls but there was so much potential in this spot we tried to hang around hoping for a sighting of something else. All the while we were being buzzed by mosquitoes (despite copious amounts of spray and patches) and other small creatures.
We had heard the otters calling from behind us whilst scanning the trees and just assumed they had decided to make another circuit of the reservoir, our attention really focused on the search for the very audible bird-life. From nowhere came a loud crashing to our right as something moved through the long grass and roots. We turned quickly, saw the moving grass and then heard a splash. One of the otters had left the reservoir, crossed the path and dipped into the still water we were standing on the edge of. It was less then six feet away as it smoothly coasted away from us into the reed beds.
We had to move on at this point as the mosquito density was increasing. Taking the path all the way down to the reservoir control centre, Along all the buoys that were strung across the reservoir here were resting Terns and Grey Herons. Almost every buoy had a sitting tenant on it.
We headed down the dam service road to where we had hoped to pick up some transport for home. In keeping with the trend of the day, there were barely any people, let along vehicles here, so we kept on walking along the road which was taking us behind the trees we had been scanning earlier.
There was plenty to see here too, a Common Flameback, Black-naped Oriole, Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker and a Sooty-headed Bulbul.
Our route took us all the way back to the wetlands entrance and it was on the road leading to the main building that Mrs Sausage spotted some movement. Flitting among the long grass here were Baya Weavers. It looked like we had come across quite a community here as there were over a dozen of these master nest makers here and they gave some excellent photo opportunities.
We decided to follow the Punggol Promenade and take the first LRT station we came across. We were only just across the Halus Bridge when this Long-tailed Shrike perched on some trees just in front of us, He buzzed around this area for 5-10 minutes, taking up locations on exposed branches for a few seconds before moving on to another. He was very mobile but a lovely bird and allowed us a few opportunities for some pictures.
The Punggol Promenade led us to the large construction sites that are indicative of the further reaches of Singapore. As the population grows the demand for new housing increases and land is at a premium here. With Bidadari already set for concreting over, it was no surprise that the open land here too was rapidly filling up with concrete towers in various stages of development.
Even here though, nature was still adapting to the encroachment. These Scaly-breasted Munia were quite numerous, weaving in and out of the grass at the feet of a half-built tower block.
Friends and family have told us that Lorong Halus is apparently haunted. Some research regales tales of fisherman finding human heads attached to their hooks when reeling in a catch and of ghostly figures begging for food and money. While we were not so lucky (or unlucky) to bump into any evil undead, we can certainly testify that this location is full of life and activity.
More pics on our Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/94900571@N05/