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Toddycats @ Pesta Ubin 2016 (Part I): A Celebration of Singapore’s Marine Biodiversity and a plea to Reduce our Plastic Footprint

As in previous years, we’ve come together and contributed to a couple of events for the Pesta Ubin 2016 calendar!

This year Ubin Day has morphed from one weekend of short-lived fun into a month-long festival from 14 May to 12 June (Pesta means Festival in Malay). It was designed to celebrate Ubin’s kampong lifestyle, the Ubin Way, and its value as a nature refuge and to offer the public a glimpse of our past heritage.

Despite the rain, the booths from various local NGOs received a strong showing from the public. About 3000 visitors came to soak in the festive mood by participating in the myriad of events and informative booths. The celebratory atmosphere was buoyed by kampong games such as capteh and hopscotch. Activities such as cycling, kayaking and coastal clean-ups were made available too.

It was a delight to educate and raise awareness of the importance of conserving our local marine biodiversity in Singapore. Ten specimens on loan from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum were chosen to highlight some examples of marine life found on our shores and the disastrous after-effects of littering, boat crashes, illegal fishing and the importance of conserving our local biodiversity.

Our specimens from LKCNHM included a baby dugong, a dog-faced water snake, a giant mudskipper, an Asian small-clawed otter, shells from various local marine clams and snails, a black-tipped reef shark, a tree-climbing crab, a hawksbill turtle and seahorses. Pictures of our sperm whale, Jubilee, were also on display to highlight the imminent threat that plastics can have on sea creatures, even on large ones like whales. Our local marine biodiversity too is not immune to this global crisis of plastic waste.

There are four ways in which marine life is impacted by plastic littering:  strangulation of animals from entanglement, ingestion of plastics when animals mistake it for food, bioaccumulation when young fish or crustaceans eat micro-plastics (microbeads found in face-wash products) and the leakage of toxic pollutants into the ocean as plastics slowly degrade.

Minister for National Development, Mr Lawrence Wong, and Senior Minister of State, Mr Desmond Lee, graced the event as our guests of honour. Mr Wong announced that by mid 2017, the National Parks Board (NParks) would take on the role of central management agency and be in sole charge of managing Ubin.

In his speech, Mr Wong also highlighted several books launched in celebration of Ubin such as “Footprints on an Island: Rediscovering Pulau Ubin” by Chua Ee Kiam, Choo Mui Eng and Wong Tuan Wah and “Hunt for the Green Boomerang” by Neil Humphreys.

Apart from the humans, other living creatures such as the oriental-pied hornbills and green imperial pigeons were also in attendance during the event. Their presence further illustrates that Ubin continues to be a birdwatcher’s paradise and an important refuge for threatened species. Even Ubin’s friendly resident stray dogs came to pay a visit and provided great company.

The children had their fair share of activities to take part in and be excited about as well! We organised a badge-making session which kept the children thoroughly entertained in creating their very own badges, giving them a colourful experience and a sense of pride in putting their creativity to good use.

To conclude, Pesta Ubin was a celebration of all things nature and our kampong roots. If our heritage in Pulau Ubin is lost, we would not only lose our window into the past, but something more significant – our identity with nature. Our local biodiversity may be resilient but if we are not mindful to reduce our carbon footprint and protect our environment, we may stand to lose much of our precious Earth.

For more pictures, view our Flickr album!

 

Love MacRitchie Update July 2015-May 2016

Love our MacRitchie Forest continues to be a highly successful program in educating and expanding a growing circle of Singaporeans to appreciate our precious biodiversity living in our forests!  From the second half of 2015 to date, the Toddycats have conducted 21 Love MacRitchie Walks with 378 participants. Our walks have been a tremendous success with every fortnightly walk being fully subscribed. Let’s look at some fantastic highlights.

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Families enjoying a day out with nature! Photo by Chloe Tan.

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Brotherly love in action! An unconventional common mahang leaf umbrella. Photo by Chloe Tan.

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A happy tour group photoshoot after a very fulfilling walk around Venus Loop. Photo by Chloe Tan.

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Our walks cater to all ages ranging from families with young children to the young at heart. Photo by Alvin Wong.

The walks are a small step but a giant leap forward in nurturing a love for our biodiversity across all ages – from young children, adults to seniors. They also help to educate us of our responsibilities to our natural heritage so that plans for developments such as the Cross Island Line will not proceed without informed inputs.

There have been many wonderful encounters with unique plants and animals along the Venus Loop trail. It is an amazing experience to witness people marvel in awe of nature’s little intricacies such as the common mahang’s symbiotic partnership with ants or little blue-rumped parrots delightfully having a starfruit feast.

Nature continues to surprise and remind us of its resilience and fragility – from squirrels bravely squaring off against slithery snakes to skinks basking in the dappled pockets of sunshine that slip through the forest canopy – despite our encroaching urban world.

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Red tailed racer vs. plantain squirrel. Photo by Marcus Ng.

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A beautiful striped sun skink basking on the forest floor. Photo by Risk Koh.

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Blue-rumped parrot enjoying its starfruit feast! Photo by Chloe Tan.

Aside from walks, our volunteers also gave talks to the public and schools, and manned conservation booths, reaching an additional 3968 people! In March 2016, we organised the March for MacRitchie movement, which brought together passionate advocates from various nature groups to speak up for the conservation of MacRitchie Forest.

We hope that these activities will continue to inform and inspire people to greater ownership of our remaining precious forest biodiversity while enthusing others about this urgent cause. May they help nurture our collective consciences to ponder questions such as the cost of exchanging our priceless carbon sinks for a faster train-ride home. Or what our future generations may miss of our retreating native ecosystems as society advances materially. Let’s Love Our MacRitchie Forest!

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Our forest skies! Can we look forward to a greener future? Photo by Chia Han Shen.

 

Sign the letter to LTA here:

http://tinyurl.com/lta-crl

Join us for our walks:

https://lovemacritchie.wordpress.com/love-macritchie-walks/

 

 

 

 

Highlights of Love MacRitchie Walks by Toddycats, Season 4

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Young and not-so-young participants delight in the forest that is full of surprises!

Between January and May 2015, Toddycats conducted Season 4 of our (almost) fortnightly Love MacRitchie Walks. On these walks at Venus Loop, our guides shared with participants the amazing wildlife that we have in the heart of Singapore, raising awareness about our natural heritage at risk. Love MacRitchie Walks are part of the Love Our MacRitchie Forest movement, which was launched in response to the LTA’s proposal for the new Cross Island MRT Line (CRL) to tunnel under the fragile ecosystem of MacRitchie Forest. This season, 141 participants were treated to a leisurely walk through the rainforest. Here’s a breakdown of the numbers for each walk:

  • 24 Jan – 19 participants, 4 guides (photo album)
  • 7 Feb – 21 participants, 7 guides (photo album)
  • 22 Feb – 27 participants, 8 guides
  • 7 Mar – 16 participants, 8 guides (photo album)
  • 21 Mar – 17 participants, 7 guides
  • 4 Apr – 20 participants, 4 guides (photo album)
  • 2 May (Jane’s Walk) – 21 participants, 7 guides (photo album)

Looking at the feedback that our participants shared, it seems that once again, the cute and cuddly mammals, especially the Malayan colugo (Cynocephalus variegatus) made the deepest impression. Well, that’s hardly surprising because these really weird looking creatures that are so hard to spot are extremely adorable! We managed to spot colugos during most of our walks. And when we got really lucky, we saw two colugos together!

With a young one in tow!

With a young one in tow.

One above the other!

One above the other!

Slender squirrels (Sundasciurus tenuis) also showed up pretty frequently but being the skittish creatures they are, we never really managed to have a good look at it. Not until one was spotted just as we rounded up the 7 Feb walk. It was resting on a branch right where we would usually take our final group photo!

Slender squirrel resting on a branch.

Slender squirrel resting on a branch.

Not forgetting the long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) that showed us just how capable they are of looking for their own food in the forest. So please do not feed the monkeys as this would condition them to approach people, sparking human-wildlife conflict. This was one of the key take-home messages, which was reinforced by the HUGE new sign put up by NParks near the start of the trail!

Long-tailed macaque eating fishtail palm fruits.

Long-tailed macaque eating fishtail palm fruits.

Long-tailed macaque foraging among the leaf litter.

Long-tailed macaque foraging among the leaf litter.

Please do not feed the monkeys!

Stop feeding the monkeys!

The Malayan blue coral snake (Calliophis bivirgatus) appeared on a couple of walks. This species made quite a statement with its flashy colours, warning others that it’s highly venomous. Here’s a video of it slithering across the forest stream! Some of the other reptiles and amphibians we came across include the black-bearded flying dragon (Draco melanopogon), yellow-bellied puddle frog (Occidozyga sumatrana) and American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeiana). The latter SHOULD NOT be found in the forest stream and it is likely to have been released by somebody. This alien species has the potential to outcompete and threaten the survival of our native forest amphibians. With Vesak Day just around the corner, Toddycats with PUB, NParks and other volunteers are conducting Operation No Release to raise awareness about the harm releasing animals into nature areas can inflict.

Black-bearded flying dragon (female).

Black-bearded flying dragon (female).

Juvenile yellow-bellied puddle frog.

Juvenile yellow-bellied puddle frog.

Juvenile American bullfrog, an alien species.

Juvenile American bullfrog, an alien species.

We also saw many birds, including the usual suspects like the greater racket-tailed drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus), olive-winged bulbul (Pycnonotus plumosus) and red jungle fowl (Gallus gallus). One of the more unusual sightings was the changeable hawk-eagle (Spizaetus cirrhatus), an uncommon resident, perching up high on an Albizia tree. Our sighting of the blue-throated bee-eater (Merops viridis) in April signaled the end of the bird migratory season. The blue-throated bee-eater tends to make a comeback in Singapore when its cousin, the blue-tailed bee-eater (Merops philippinus), a winter visitor, returns to its breeding grounds in the higher latitudes. More on the bee-eater’s migratory behaviour HERE.

Changeable hawk-eagle.

Changeable hawk-eagle.

Blue-throated bee-eater.

Blue-throated bee-eater.

And now for the creepy crawlies a.k.a. arthropods! Where ever we looked, we would spot these little creatures so we hardly ran out of things to talk about. Every little thing in the forest is interesting. You just need to look closely!

A mating pair of grasshoppers.

A mating pair of grasshoppers.

A green jumping spider!

A green jumping spider!

Flower chafer beetle (Taniodera monacha).

Flower chafer beetle (Taniodera monacha).

Millipede on a bracket fungus.

Millipede on a bracket fungus.

What did these two young men spot?

What did these two young men spot?

A bright red net-winged beetle (Taphes brevicollis)!

A bright red net-winged beetle (Taphes brevicollis)!

Heartgaster ants milking honey dew from scale insects under a common mahang leaf. Tripartite symbiosis in action!

Heartgaster ants milking honey dew from scale insects under a common mahang leaf. Tripartite symbiosis in action!

Just a few of the butterflies we came across.

Just a few of the butterflies we came across.

The butterflies got this girl all excited!

The butterflies got this girl all excited!

Over these few months, we witnessed some changes in and around the forest at Venus Loop. Across the stream from the trail, we saw bulldozers and some new tree saplings. The area is to become the new Windsor Nature Park – one of the four new nature parks that will serve as buffer zones for the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR). These buffer zones will help ease visitor numbers within the reserve. The construction works will be completed by end 2016. More information HERE.

Windsor Nature Park under construction.

Windsor Nature Park under construction.

During the final walk on 2 May, we were shocked to see how badly the forest was hit by the previous days’ storms. Several trees were uprooted, including an Albizia tree and a couple of strangling fig trees. The forest here is what we call an edge habitat that is exposed to the elements, making it pretty susceptible. We took the opportunity to talk about the importance of buffer zones like Venus Loop in reducing the exposure of the core forest within CCNR to storms.

First fallen strangling fig.

First fallen strangling fig.

Second fallen strangling fig.

Second fallen strangling fig.

Fallen Albizia that had been sawed into segments by NParks.

Fallen Albizia that had been sawed into segments by NParks.

The Albizia brought down some bamboos with it.

The Albizia brought down some bamboos with it.

To round things up, here are some of the group photos we took at the end of the walks. Up next – Love MacRitchie Walks Season 5 in the second half of 2015! Keep supporting the Love MacRitchie movement to help encourage our government to reconsider the alignment of the CRL through the CCNR.

  1. Follow us on Facebook
  2. Sign the Show of Support – http://tinyurl.com/lta-crl
  3. Tell your friends/family about the Love MacRitchie Walks – http://lovemacritchie.wordpress/love-macritchie-walks
  4. Write in to the government (Land Transport Authority) to voice your concerns about the proposed alignment of CRL
  5. Watch, enjoy and share “Love Our MacRitchie Forest” – Official Music Video, specially produced for this movement – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMKsHZzYMRw

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Join NUS Toddycats at Ubin Day 2015 – Pedal Ubin and the ICCS, Palm Civet and Otter booths!

Once again, Ubinday2015NUS Toddycats are part of Ubin Day 2015! This very special Open House event is conducted by people and groups who love Ubin. We come together to organise special events for the public to celebrate Pulau Ubin on Sat 13 June & Sun 14 Jun 2015.

Toddycats will offer Pedal Ubin, as we did in 2014 – this exploration of Pulau Ubin on bicycle includes visits to Ubin Quarry, Ketam Beach and the German Girl Shrine.

We also join other groups at the bazaar in the main tent on 13 & 14 Jun 2015 – International Coastal Cleanup Singapore will engage visitors about marine life in Singapore and the hurtful impact of marine trash. The Common Palm Civet and Otter Watch groups will introduce the public to native mammals which we are lucky to have live amongst us still in Pulau Ubin and Singapore.

You can join us to help out in the Toddycats Pedal Ubin programme or as an Exhibition Guide to talk about marine life, civets and otters. Just sign up here: tinyurl.com/toddycats-ubinday2015. A training workshop will be conducted on Sat 06 Jun 2015..

Another Junglefowl, Joelle, talking about Ubin Quarry.


Pedal Ubin guide Joelle Lai, introduces the Ubin Quarry at Ubin Day 2014.

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Public engagement by various groups at the main tent on Ubin Day 2014.

Come join us at the Festival of Biodiversity (26 & 27 May 2012)

Calling all nature lovers! Whether you are an avid animal or plant enthusiast, or simply looking for an enriching way to spend the weekends with your family, you are in for a fabulous treat! Next weekend, the inaugural Festival of Biodiversity will bring you a whole line-up of exciting programmes and activities that feature the best of Singapore’s biodiversity.

The Festival of Biodiversity will be held at the Botany Centre, Singapore Botanic Gardens on 26 & 27 May 2012 from 9.00am to 6.00pm.  This event marks a major milestone for biodiversity conservation in Singapore and is jointly organized by NParks and the Biodiversity Roundtable. The theme of this event is to create awareness and promote efforts in conserving and enhancing our local biodiversity.

© 2012 NParks

You may not be aware that Singapore is home to more than 400 species of marine fishes, 250 species of hard corals,  as well as native species such as the smooth-coated otter and the banded leaf monkey. Fret not, as the line-up of programmes are certainly able to facilitate your learning journey of Singapore’s rich biodiversity!

There will be a myriad of activities targeted at different age groups during the festival. Families can revel in the plethora of specimens and informative exhibits featured at more than 14 interactive booths set up by schools, corporate groups, non-governmental organisations, nature-interest groups, volunteers and public agencies. Besides the wealth of information displayed at the booths, children can also participate by exercising their creativity at the various hands-on art and craft workshops such as painting and creating origami animals or their very own bookmarks! Alternatively, they can find joy by listening to the wonderful  stories of “The Giving Tree”, “The Lorax” and more at the storytelling sessions. These eye-opening activities will certainly leave you and your family enthralled.

Let your children’s creative juices and imagination flow at the Art and Craft Workshops.

The fun continues at the Function Hall as a wide range of talks, featuring unusual topics, such as animal forensics and biodiversity iPhone applications, are open to you! The ‘Conserving our Biodiversity’ Symposium also promises a deeply insightful experience. This symposium will take place from 9.00am to 12 noon at the Function Hall of the Botany Centre and is ideal for school teachers, principals, community leaders, corporate groups and NGOs. Alternatively, you can attend the various thrilling film screening sessions to broaden your perspectives of the importance of biodiversity conservation.

Enjoy “The Return of the King”, a film featuring the return of the Oriental Pied Hornbills to our urban landscape.

Interested in wildlife photography? Then rejoice at the sight of flora and fauna as you explore the guided rainforest tour or simply visit the “BiodiverCity” Photography Exhibition.

With so many exciting activities in store for all at the festival, the event is not to be missed! By participating in the vivacious festival, you will be rewarded with a deeper understanding and appreciation of Singapore’s rich biodiversity, its benefits and relevance to us in Singapore. So join us this weekend at the Festival of Biodiversity; we look forward to seeing you!

Getting to the Botany Centre at Singapore Botanic Gardens

Map of Singapore Botanic Gardens © 2012 NParks
Click image for larger view.

By Foot:
Entrance to the Gardens is easy through the Gardens’ major entrances: Tanglin Gate, Burkill Gate, Nassim Gate and Cluny Park Gate, and through the Bukit Timah Entrance.

By Car:
Car Parking Facilities are available at the Singapore Botanic Gardens’ Visitor Centre, Bukit Timah Car Park at Bukit Timah Core, Botany Centre, Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden and Public Parking along Tyersall Avenue.

For more information on the Festival of Biodiversity, please visit:
http://festivalofbiodiversitysingapore.wordpress.com/ or
http://www.nparks.gov.sg/festivalofbiodiversity/