International Day of Biological Diversity 2022: A celebration of birds seen in Singapore

22 May is the International Day for Biological Diversity.

I was inspired to do a video as a preview to some of the common and less common wildlife seen in Singapore in the past couple of years.

Some of the videos were shot during my solo recces, while others were taken during group hikes (thanks to my hiking buddies).

Almost all the shots feature birds, except for one featuring a butterfly, which shows I am biased towards our feathered friends.

The video features:

  • Common kingfisher (uncommon migrant)
  • Hill mynah (forest-dependent indicator species)
  • Asian koel (common resident)
  • Red jungle fowl (endangered)
  • Common Caerulean Butterfly
  • Greater racket-tailed drongo (forest-dependent)
  • Blue-tailed bee-eater
  • Pacific reef heron (uncommon resident, dark morph)
  • Grey heron
  • Intermediate egret

The common kingfisher is actually not so common, compared to the collared kingfisher and white-throated kingfisher in Singapore.

It was spotted in Woodleigh park forest, where it was filmed after catching a fish from a canal that leads to Kallang River flowing through Potong Pasir.

The hill mynah was heard before it was seen near Springleaf nature park and Sembawang Woods, which was being partially cleared for the North-South Corridor viaduct to be built.

This forest-dependent bird is one of the six indicator species, in NParks’ ongoing nationwide ecological profiling survey to study how best to connect existing fragmented forests.

The Asian koel is a modern version of our local “alarm clock” that helps to wake us up from our sleep in the morning, or sometimes from our nap in the afternoon too.

The red jungle fowl is the traditional version of our natural alarm clock, whose crowing reminds us of good old kampong days.

The greater racket-tailed drongo has striking features, such as iridescent dark feathers and a conspicuous fork-like tail.

It is also a forest-dependent bird, and has been spotted in secondary rainforests, like Bukit Brown heritage park and Bukit Batok hillside park area.

The blue-tailed bee-eater was spotted in a vacant land in Jurong industrial estate, which possibly flew over from Jurong Lake Gardens across Ayer Rajah Expressway.

The Pacific reef heron was dressed smartly in sooty grey plumage, matched with its yellow bill, eyes and legs.

It was a pleasant surprise to see this uncommon bird in Jurong River, where few surviving mangrove strands lay forgotten and hidden from public consciousness, after mass destruction of the mangrove and freshwater swamp forests took place in the 1960s-1970s to make way for industrial development.

The grey heron is one of the largest birds in Singapore, found in various waterways and estuaries.

The intermediate egret has a yellow bill and black feet (which differentiates it from the little egret who has a black bill and yellow feet).

To support forest conservation, may I invite you to sign the petitions to conserve at least 30-50% of Tengah forest and the rest of Bukit Batok hillside park area?


Our disappearing forests: From Nature appreciation to Nature conservation

Aerial view of Bukit Batok Hillside Park area on 26 January 2021
Aerial view of Bukit Batok Hillside Park area, after part of the forest was cleared to make way for BTO flats on 6 April 2021

In view of our disappearing forests, I am learning to move beyond mere Nature appreciation to Nature conservation.

A plant observation or animal sighting becomes less of an academic exercise and more of an emergency exercise, in order for us to document as many species as possible, so as to (hopefully) protect them from being destroyed in the name of unrelenting development.

After all, undocumented flora and fauna species are like undocumented humans, who will stay invisible and marginalised and fall through the cracks of a discriminatory and dysfunctional dystopian regime.

As long as they are unnamed and unaccounted for, they remain unacknowledged, in spite of the intrinsic value they hold in the natural ecosystem.

Although they may be indigenous on this tropical island, they have become refugees in their own homelands, having been displaced by human migrants, no thanks to imperial colonialism in the 1800s and capitalistic nationalism since the 1960s.

Crass consumerism has resulted in certain “cute” wildlife and certain manicured gardens gaining celebrity status and being commodified for wealth and status, while other wildlife and unmanaged vegetation (such as in Tengah forest and Lentor forest) fall by the wayside.

It is an ongoing struggle for emancipation, as we seek to restore biodiversity in a holistic and sustainable manner, such that no one will be left behind.

Wild reflections on the nature of forests

Aerial view of Bukit Batok nature park, which is sandwiched between Upper Bukit Timah Road, Old Jurong Road, Hillview condos and Bukit Batok East housing estate.

As I wandered deep into the forest after finishing my shift and catching up on rest, I found myself wondering what Mother Nature could be telling me.

I am learning to keep my senses open and attuned to the quiet mysterious voice of Nature, allowing Her to be my teacher.

While I was sitting on a park bench and typing this post a while ago under the dimming evening sky, a beetle suddenly landed on my phone screen.

It gave me a startle, and I dropped the phone on my lap, and away flew the beetle.

Such an unpredictable encounter underscores the very nature of Nature – that there is always something new and/or unexpected to be revealed during a nature outing.

Perhaps the allure of the wilderness is not that we will eventually figure everything out, but rather that we will learn to embrace the unknown and accept the mystery.

After all, the whole forest is greater than the sum of its parts – it is much more than simply a certain area of the forest having an X number of species, or absorbing Y amount of carbon dioxide, or cooling the surroundings by Z degrees Celsius.

Instead, there is a certain X factor about wild Nature, which we cannot quite put our finger on but know intuitively that is important, if not indispensable, to our existence.

It is such that no high resolution photograph or video can fully encapsulate the experience of being in a wild forest – the sights and sounds in a nature documentary cannot capture the indescribable thrill of being there.

Unlike a garden that is arranged by human hands, a forest has no apparent order.

At the most, we can describe a forest by its structure, age, size, biodiversity, and so on, but is that all there is to it?

Research suggests that the seemingly random sights and sounds of a forest calm the nerves and inspire creativity.

It is almost as if the forest has a way of unlocking the untapped potential and hidden primal memories from ages past, buried deep in our soul, which we would not have known had we stayed entrenched in a programmed modern society.

In other words, the forest may well be a mirror of who we really are, independent of the social identities and societal expectations imposed on us by the system.

Four main reasons why Dover forest is so important for conservation

Lush interior of the recovering secondary forest, supporting a rich biodiversity

1. The size of Dover forest is significant enough to combat climate change on a micro level.

Despite its relatively small size, Dover forest is sizeable enough to cool the urban heat island effect significantly, compared to small parks or gardens.

At 33 hectares in size, Dover forest has densely growing trees that can lower the temperature of the surrounding air more effectively than fragmented parks, small gardens or roadside trees.

“The results of the present study illustrate that the highest cooling effect distance and cooling effect intensity are for large urban parks with an area of more than 10 ha; however, in addition to the area, the natural elements and qualities of the urban green spaces, as well as climate characteristics, highly inform the urban green space cooling effect.”

Source: “Urban green space cooling effect in cities

It is especially crucial in the context of climate change and global warming we are experiencing today, due to rapid deforestation, urbanisation and emission of greenhouse gases.

How replacing Dover forest with concrete buildings will exacerbate the urban heat island effect in the region

2. Dover forest has rich biodiversity and ecosystem service benefits that are worth at least millions of dollars in economic value.

The biodiversity of Dover forest is pretty impressive, according to the environmental baseline survey report released by HDB and studies done by Nature Society (Singapore).

The ecosystem service benefits that Dover forest provides, such as food, shelter, nutrient recycling, preventing flash floods, and so on, would be worth at least million of dollars in economic value.

While replanting trees around the island is necessary, why should we have to destroy the lush forest and then spend many more millions of dollars to replant trees and implement environmental damage control measures that take years to take effect when we can enjoy the benefits that Dover forest already provides freely, abundantly and immediately?

3. Dover forest enhances our physical and mental health, while serving as a natural green buffer for our nature reserves.

Dover forest can meet the growing demands and needs of people for natural wild green spaces to relieve stress, build immunity and enhance mental health.

The forest serves as a green buffer to prevent our nature reserves from being negatively impacted by overcrowding.

4. Dover MRT station is a gateway for the general public to access the forest for recreation and outdoor education conveniently.

Its proximity to Dover MRT station means that residents can visit Dover forest easily and do not need to travel all the way to the nature reserves.

Just like Kranji MRT station is a gateway to Sungei Buloh wetland reserves and Kranji countryside, Dover MRT station is a gateway to Singapore Polytechnic, Holland private housing estate and Dover forest.

Aerial view of Dover forest, which has the potential of a world-class nature park that is easily accessible via public transport

Let’s make sustainable development a living reality.

For us to truly practise sustainable development, we urgently need to choose redevelopment of underutilised lands over deforestation, especially when climate emergency affects all of us locally and globally.

How would you envision sustainable development through conserving secondary rainforests and redeveloping brownfield sites?

P.S. To sign the petition to save Dover forest, click here.

Bukit Batok West ridge with lush tropical grassland, scrubland and secondary rainforest

Sometimes, we don’t have to travel too far to enjoy Nature in relative solitude.

In Bukit Batok West, a couple of natural ridges stand close to newly constructed BTO flats.

One ridge has about 70% forest and 30% grass/scrubland (as shown in the photos).

The other ridge is almost covered with secondary rainforest (aka Bukit Batok Hillside Park area).

Unlike their more well-known neighbours (Little Guilin and Bukit Batok Nature Park), these two forested areas hardly have human presence.

It is probably because of the dense plant growth and steep slopes that circle round much of their perimeter.

Nevertheless, it is becoming rare to see wild nature scenery in an increasingly urbanised Singapore.

It is better to cherish these nature places before they disappear, especially since they are marked for development according to URA 2019 concept plan.

In the meantime, I am recording their tranquil beauty to advocate for the conservation of the natural habitats and our biodiversity.

No doubt the vegetation has been modified by humans to some extent, mainly due to our past history regarding rubber plantation.

But the grassland, scrubland and rainforest are recovering and taking on some resemblance of natural landscapes.

I believe they are worth conserving rather than having the hillslopes cruelly dug and the natural vegetation replaced with concrete buildings and manicured gardens.

If that were to happen, not only we will lose our biodiversity, we will also have to bear the consequences of environmental degradation, such as:

  • warmer microclimate
  • higher risk of flash flood due to increased surface runoff over impermeable ground
  • more insect pests such as cockroaches and dengue-carrying mosquitoes invading our residential areas.

As one article noted:

“Plant biodiversity can limit herbivore pest outbreaks.

By contrast, pest control that relies heavily on insecticides can lead to detrimental rebounds of herbivore pests as pesticide application may destabilize the communities of natural enemies.

“Our experiments show that conserving plant diversity provides multiple benefits for controlling herbivore pests”

(from “More plant diversity, less pesticide“)

Christmas candle stick bush