Kang Ting from RGS writes about her guiding experience at Venus Loop

[Early last month, the Toddycats received an invitation from Kang Ting, member of the Science, Environmental & Math club, as well as the Wild Side of Raffles Girls' School to conduct a nature walk for the school as part of Nature Week at RGS. We could not agree due to conflicting schedule but proposed to train Kang Ting and her friends and equip them with information so they can guide their classmates around Venus Loop instead! We are very glad it worked out and here is Kang Ting's entry on her reflections on the activity. - JL]

On the 8th of April, 15 student guides from Raffles Girls School brought 90 of their fellow students for a walk at Venus Loop. These student guides have been trained beforehand by Toddycats! on 22 March (photo album from that day on flickr). The first two groups entered from each end of Venus loop, and the other 4 groups stayed outside to learn about the history of MacRitchie Reservoir as well as the significance of the Cross Island Line’s re-routing.

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Photo taken by Angela from Photographic society, RGS.

Photo taken by Angela from Photographic society, RGS.

One thing fascinating about this walk was the close attention to small creatures one usually ignores. As a guide, it was amazing to be seeing insects looking so spectacular captured on camera.

Seeing these photos after the walk was really amazing, I reflected that while guiding I had no idea these tiny creatures looked so beautiful or that such shots could be taken. It is true that as long as we open our eyes and play close enough attention, we can see so much that one normally wouldn’t.

We were really lucky to see mating beetles as well.

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Other highlights of our walk included spotting two greater racquet tailed drongos and a family of long tailed macaques. Our participants were amazed to hear that the drongo was known as “slave bird of the macaque” in malay, and they are commonly found near each other. The long tailed macaque live in the edge forest, and females stay in the same group throughout their life and inherit rank whereas males leaves the group to join a different one once they’ve reached maturity, which they must then fight for their rank.

One of the groups during the walk, lead by Kelsie Tan, Tricia Lim and Chloe Young.

One of the groups during the walk, lead by Kelsie Tan, Tricia Lim and Chloe Young.

We also talked about the stream, and in lower reaches of the stream, silt could be seen. This was partly due to construction going on, and it is a sign to what might happen if the Cross Island line is built. The river silting would affect freshwater crabs among others.

Pond skater taken by Leong Tze Kwang

Pond skater taken by Leong Tze Kwang

Another 2 groups, guided by Nadine Foo, Teo Jia En, Tan Kang Ting, Christine Chiang, Kunalika Sathish Kumar, Doreen Goh.

Another two groups, guided by Nadine Foo, Teo Jia En, Tan Kang Ting, Christine Chiang, Kunalika Sathish Kumar, Doreen Goh.

Love MacRitchie Walk – can this mushroom be eaten?

On 29 Mar 2014, six Toddycats took 18 eager participants on this Love MacRitchie Walk at Venus Loop. Through learning about the plants and animals that depend on our forest reserves to survive, participants gained a deeper understanding on the importance of keeping the Cross Island MRT Line out of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

Group 1 guide, Katie Tan, sharing about the Common Mahang and symbiotic ants.

Group 1 guide, Katie Tan, sharing about the Common Mahang and symbiotic ants. Photo by Chloe Tan.

Guides and participants of Group 2. Photo by Yang Yi Yong.

Guides and participants of Group 2. Photo by Yang Yi Yong.

The highlight of this walk was certainly this handsome male Banded Woodpecker (Picus miniaceus). The more drab-looking female was also in the vicinity but was harder to spot. Banded Woodpeckers’ habitats are restricted to forested areas only.

Banded Woodpecker. Photo by Chloe Tan.

Banded Woodpecker. Photo by Chloe Tan.

The recent rains also revealed an amazing diversity of mushrooms and fungi that greeted us as soon as we entered the trail. “This looks like Enoki!”, remarked one of the participants, followed by the question food-loving Singaporeans always ask – “Can this be eaten?”

Well, the answer is probably a “no”, because many fungi contain mycotoxins. And there just aren’t enough mycologists in Singapore or Southeast Asia to study the phenomenal variety of fungi in our tropical rainforests. This diversity is what ensures efficient nutrient recycling in the ecosystem, as different fungi breakdown of different components of dead matter.

A few of the fungi spotted during the walk (fungus beetle in the bottom left picture). Photos by Chloe Tan and Yang Yi Yong.

A few of the fungi spotted during the walk (fungus beetle in the bottom left picture). Photos by Chloe Tan and Yang Yi Yong.

The ex-kampung area at Venus Loop also turned up several familiar fruits that looked almost ready for harvest, including the belimbing and starfruit. Scattered on the ground were flowers of the durian tree, hinting that the durian season is almost here! However, tempting as it might be to pick these fruits, always remember that you should take nothing but photographs!

Clockwise from top left: belimbing, starfruit, durian flowers. Photos by Chloe Tan and Yang Yi Yong.

Clockwise from top left: belimbing, starfruit, durian flowers. Photos by Chloe Tan and Yang Yi Yong.

Since it was also Earth Hour day, we rounded off the walk emphasizing that every individual has the power and responsibility to protect our environment and planet. More photographs of this walk can be found here - https://www.flickr.com/photos/habitatnews/sets/72157643153918993/

The next Love MacRitchie Walk by Toddycats will be held on 12 Apr 2014 (fully subscribed). If you would like to receive updates about upcoming walks, sign up on the waiting list at http://tinyurl.com/lovemacritchiewalks-wait. Find out more about the Love Our MacRitchie Forest movement at http://lovemacritchie.wordpress.com.

Love MacRitchie Walk – kampung games and ethical wildlife photography

After a brief foray to explore the Prunus-Petai Trail –part of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve – the Love MacRitchie Walk made a return to Venus Loop trail.

The walk, held on 15 March 2014 saw 19 members of the public, including six exuberant youngsters, go on a 2.5-hour jaunt through the regenerated secondary forest under the lead of six Toddycat guides.

Love MacRitchie Walk by Toddycats 15 Mar 2014 Group 1

Participants and guides of Group 1. Photo by Yang Yi Yong.

Participants and guides of Group 2. Photo by Henrietta Woo.

Participants and guides of Group 2. Photo by Henrietta Woo.

Right at the start of the trail, the ground was littered with empty rubber seed pods. This was a wonderful opportunity to show the younger participants how  the older generations used to entertain themselves before the age of televisions and mobile devices. The halves of the pods were quickly assembled to resemble a windmill that spun when blown on, giving the kids a glimpse of a simpler time when people had to be more creative in making use of the resources around them.

Rubber seed pod windmill. Photo by Yang Yi Yong.

Rubber seed pod windmill. Photo by Yang Yi Yong.

The walk proceeded along the trail, with the guides sharing their knowledge on the plants and animals that can be found there, when attention was drawn by excited cries of a young boy. His sharp eyes had spotted a Long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis), which brought the rest of the youngsters scrambling to his spot. And true to its name, in the vicinity was also found a Greater racquet-tailed drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus), or “hamba kera” (slave of the macaque) in Malay. The drongo earned this moniker due to its habit of following troops of macaques, picking on insects stirred up as they move through the forest canopy.

Long-tailed macaque. Photo by Yang Yi Yong.

Long-tailed macaque. Photo by Yang Yi Yong.

A noticeable difference of this walk compared to previous ones was the presence of a large group of photographers camped along the trail, all cameras seemingly pointed on the same subject. At first glance, the attraction seemed to be a Red-legged crake (Rallina fasciata) which was foraging on the ground right in front of the group. A closer look, however, revealed the star attraction to be a Black-backed kingfisher (Ceyx erithaca), a small and rare migrant. It is hoped that these photographers adhere to an ethical code of conduct and not resort to practices such as forcefully posing or baiting animals just to get their “perfect” shot. 

Photographers shooting the Black-backed kingfisher. Photo by Sean Yap.

Photographers shooting the Black-backed kingfisher. Photo by Sean Yap.

Black-backed kingfisher. Photo by Henrietta Woo.

Black-backed kingfisher. Photo by Henrietta Woo.

As the 15 March marked the celebration of World Water Day, the walk was an opportunity to educate the participants on the importance of forests in maintaining good water quality in our reservoirs. This brought home one of the reasons the Central Catchment Nature Reserve should be left undisturbed, and not sacrificed in the line of some unjustifiable development. The next Love MacRitchie Walk at Venus Loop will be held on 29 March 2014 (fully subscribed).

View more photos from this walk at https://www.flickr.com/photos/habitatnews/sets/72157642477618975/

Love MacRitchie Walk at Prunus-Petai Trail – Forest in bloom!

Unlike the usual Love MacRitchie Walk at Venus Loop, the walk on 1 March 2014 was held at Prunus-Petai Trail – part of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. Through this 3.5 hour long walk, Toddycats aimed to help participants appreciate the difference between the mature/primary forest  there and  young secondary forests like that at Venus Loop. 20 adventurous participants were guided by seven Toddycats on this very fruitful walk.

Participants and guides of Group 1. Photo by Joelle Lai.

Participants and guides of Group 1. Photo by Joelle Lai.

Participants and guides of Group 2.

Participants and guides of Group 2. Photo by Chloe Tan.

Due to the recent dry spell, this walk  provided a timely opportunity for us to see the forest in bloom – plenty of plants were flowering! Perhaps the most prominent are the flowers of the Wild Rambai tree (Baccaurea parviflora), which filled the air with a pleasant citrusy scent throughout the trail. The Common Mahang (Macaranga bancana) and Leaf Litter Plant (Agrostistachys borneensis) were flowering as well. Other plants such as the Petai tree (Parkia speciosa) that had started flowering a few weeks ago, were already fruiting so we could see the smelly beans in their pods! Many tropical rainforest plants are known to undergo masting following brief bouts of drought. Masting is the mass flowering/fruiting of several species at the same time – a strategy that the plants have developed to maximize their reproductive success in response to environmental stress. The sheer amount of food available for animals overwhelms them, ensuring that there are still viable propagules that can germinate in future when conditions are right.

Flowers at the base of a Wild Rambai tree. Photo by Sean Yap.

Flowers at the base of a Wild Rambai tree. Photo by Sean Yap.

Common Mahang flowering. Photo by Chloe Tan.

Common Mahang flowering. Photo by Chloe Tan.

Leaf litter plant flowering. Photo by Chloe Tan.

Leaf litter plant flowering. Photo by Chloe Tan.

Animals of the forest also graced us with their presence. Participants delighted in the sights of vertebrates like the Oriental Whip Snake (Ahaetulla prasina) and Crimson Sunbird (Aethopyga siparaja), as well as invertebrates like the Branded Imperial (Eooxylides tharis distanti) and Common Posy (Drupadia ravindra moorei).

Oriental Whip Snake spotted by one of our participants! Photo by Sean Yap.

Oriental Whip Snake spotted by one of our participants! Photo by Sean Yap.

A fleeting but wonderful glimpse of a male Crimson Sunbird. Photo by Chloe Tan.

A fleeting but wonderful glimpse of a male Crimson Sunbird. Photo by Chloe Tan.

A Branded Imperial (on right) and two Common Posies. Photo by Chloe Tan.

A Branded Imperial (right) and two Common Posies (left). Photo by Chloe Tan.

The boardwalk, which fringes MacRitchie Reservoir also offered a great context to remind participants about invasive species, with all that Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) and arowanas thriving in the water.

One of the many arowanas in MacRitchie Reservoir. Photo by Chloe Tan.

One of the many arowanas in MacRitchie Reservoir. Photo by Chloe Tan.

Love Our MacRitchie Forest will celebrate Singapore World Water Day 2014 with our next walk at Venus Loop on 15 Mar 2014 (fully subscribed!). Sign up on the waiting list at http://tinyurl.com/lovemacritchiewalks-wait, and we will contact you about upcoming walks.

See more pictures at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/habitatnews/sets/72157641698353635/with/12901158985/

First Love MacRitchie Walk of 2014: Macaques, drongos and bird waves

On 15 February 2014, seven Toddycats took some 25 participants on a Love MacRitchie Walk at Venus Loop. This was the first of a series of fortnightly free guided walks for the public planned for 2014. Through our second guiding workshop earlier this year, we have more than doubled our crew of trained guides to 40! This ensures a high guide to participant ratio for future walks.

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Participants and guides of Group 1. Photo by Chloe Tan.

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Participants and guides of Group 2. Photo by David Teng.

This walk, like previous ones in 2013, was anchored around five major stations along the trail, giving participants a holistic learning experience of the importance of forest reserves, forest ecology and human impacts. The walk was also peppered with fun facts about plants and animals encountered along the way.

A young participant getting to know the rubber tree with guide David Tan.

A young participant getting to know the rubber tree with guide David Tan. Photo by David Teng.

Among other stories of forest critters, participants on this walk would probably best remember the foraging habits of the Long-tailed Macaque (Macaca fascicularis), Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus) and other birds. The drongo is known as “burung hamba kera” in Malay, meaning “slave bird of the Long-tailed Macaque (kera kera)”. We watched in wonder as the story behind their common names played out, with drongos following behind a troop of macaques, picking on the insects stirred up as they moved through the forest canopy. Then, calling the participants to a brief moment of silence, we listened to a medley of bird calls, which we believed to be a bird wave! A bird wave is composed of various species flocking in to pick up prey rustled by other foraging birds. Drongos are also capable of initiating bird waves with their ability to mimic the calls of other species.

Long-tailed Macaque

Long-tailed Macaque. Photo by David Teng.

Greater Racket-tailed Drongo. Photo by Chloe Tan.

Greater Racket-tailed Drongo. Photo by Chloe Tan.

View more photos from this walk at http://www.flickr.com/photos/habitatnews/sets/72157641073077383/

Love Our MacRitchie Forest will celebrate World Wildlife Day with our next walk at Prunus-Petai Trail on 1 Mar 2014 (fully subscribed!).

Toddycats HOWL 9: the museum, our logo, endemic crabs, Singapore flowering, otters and a song

With the full moon on Saturday, it was time to arrange for a HOWL session. So much is going on which should be shared with Toddycats, and we called for a pow-wow on Wed 26 Feb 2014.

And we were sure glad we did – twenty-two Toddycats listened to and discussed a slew of topics. And most importantly, everyone explained about how we should move forward in relation to our focus and identity. And in subtle but also firm ways, which was good to see.

Joelle did wrestle with some outreach figures before an impromptu discussion about where how our endemic freshwater crabs were distributed and how they might be coping during this very dry spell.

An extremely tired Adrian Loo who had surfaced from Gardens by the Bay explained in a very soothing manner about the very inclusive Singapore Flowering facebook page (just post pictures of flowering with location), and Otterman told a few stories, including the museum’s modern history and smooth-coated otters along our eastern shores.

When Chloe updated us about the Love MacRitchie project, we were reminded about the lovely four-minute Love MacRitchie video with its lovely tune and visuals. It does help us realise the extent of the fauna in this very precious forest patch which we have. The video highlights some treasures of this precious patch of forest and shares the wonders we could retain for the future, with a realignment of the Cross Island Line to avoid the fragile forest.

I don’t mind ta-king a longer ride on the MRT

For MacRitchie”

Do you?

Today Joelle chaired the session and bore the burden of time management to ensure we would vacate our lovely venue by 10pm. This is an exhausting job while we engage in one diversion after another, so we will share the responsibility in future! We did not complete the agenda (not unusual) and we’ll look forward to the rest of it during HOWL 10.

See you there!

Toddycats Coordinator Joelle had sole charing duties today
2014-02-26 20.53.29

Who and where, attendance by Amanda Tan
2014-02-26 20.53.39 HOWL 9

A brief history of the museum, with an emphasis on recent highlights
2014-02-26 20.54 HOWL 9 HIstory of Museum

Recent temperature trends and flowering – the motivation behind Singapore Flowering
20140226-AhBloo SG FLowering

Toddycats Howl 9 on Wed 26 Feb 2014: 7.00pm

Toddycats are meeting for HOWL 9 on Wed 26 Feb 2014 at 7.00pm
Do sign up to let us know you are coming as indicated by the mailing list notification.

The agenda includes the future of the museum and Toddycats, how effective outreach has been in 2013 (Joelle Lai), smooth-coated otters at GBB (Otterman), what and who is behind the Singapore Flowering fb project (Adrian Loo), how to report offences in nature reserves, updates from the Biodiversity Roundtable (Otterman) and Love MacRitchie project (Chloe Tan) and about a wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia (Alvin Wong).

Cheerio!

Joelle Lai & Sivasothi