Vol 10 No 2
Smooth operators smooth otters of Buloh
Young Naturalist Programme
Mangroves a family outing to Buloh
Bird RInging in the
Keolado National Park
article was originally published in LianHe Zaobao on 15th February, 2004.
It was written by Ms Tan Geok Choo and translated
by Ms Yap May Li.
Have you ever seen mangroves at
high tide? Have you noticed its beauty and charm, or listened to the sounds
On one particular day, I brought my children to a mangrove walk conducted
by the Nature Society of Singapore. Led by the volunteer nature guide, we
were strolling along, admiring the mangrove forests, when suddenly, I was
completely swept off my feet by what was revealed before my eyes.
It was high tide, and the entire patch of submerged mangroves ahead of me appeared
like a forest on water, tranquil and almost surreal!
That breathtaking sight left a deep impression on
my mind, constantly tugging at my heartstrings. Oh, how I yearn to take in
its beauty one more time! But alas, the following few visits that I made to
the mangroves did not coincide with the high tide, and I was denied the
chance to see those watery forests again.
On a recent visit to the mangroves at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve one early morning, I had with me,
four children in tow, ranging from six to nine years of age. We walked
leisurely along, pausing now and then to seek out the birds roosting amongst
the branches of the trees, and those scurrying along the shores, searching
for food. We gazed at the fishes gliding in the watery depths, and observed
the unique trees and greenery around us.
Having sensed the rising tide level, we decided to stay on at the reserve for
a little while longer after lunch. I had hoped to catch a glimpse of that
watery forest again and share the joyous moment with my loved ones.
It was a fine day. Despite the faint rumblings of thunder in the distance, it
did not rain. We strolled along the boardwalk in the blowing breeze, watching
the gentle waves lapping the shore and gradually inching up the coastline
with the rising tide. It was indeed a bewitching sight.
Mangroves at low tide appear to be an entire patch of undulating mud and
slime, but underneath that decaying mass, it is teeming with life. You will
find mudskippers clambering clumsily in the puddles, countless crabs
scurrying around, and the constant clamping sounds from bivalves opening and
shutting their shells. But as the rising tide gradually covers the muddy
coast, what is revealed is a luscious carpet of seawater.
At times when the water level is
not too high, you will be able to see the different species of mangrove
trees, with their interesting root structures. The Rhizophora
trees bear stilt roots, very much like a Gothic architecture. With minimum
amount of material, such roots keep the trees firmly in the ground against
the flowing current. Have you ever wondered why these trees do not have
buttress roots like those in the rainforest? Well, if this were the case,
being subjected to the constant battering by the pounding waves, it would
only be a matter of time before the tree gives way and gets washed away by
The Rhizophora have evolved a simple but
effective way to address this problem by growing stilt roots, spread over a
large surface area. There is another Rhizophora
tree in the reserve, with roots that grow in symmetry. Each time I pass by
this tree, I would pause to admire its intricate and unique root structure.
The first time I laid my eyes upon it, I was very amazed by the wonders of
nature. For every root that grows from the base of the trunk, a
corresponding root would sprout out from the other side, in perfect balance
and symmetry. It is incredible that mangrove trees are able to balance
themselves in this simple manner, without any complicated computation or Mans interference, and yet achieve the perfection
of symmetry which Man has constantly pursued for ages.
Besides providing physical support for the tree itself, the interlocking
roots also form a shelter for countless marine organisms. Climbing up the
roots or tree trunks, many crabs and snails hide from their predators lurking
in the water below. Adults and children alike, they always find it a joy to
challenge one another to locate all crabs on a tree. Wouldnt
this be as interesting as contemporary puzzle games?
The only catch is that there is no right or wrong answer. Would this lead to
a sense of uneasiness for our children who are used to questions with
definite answers? I wonder.
Oh, listen to the gurgling currents! The sounds of waves pounding on the
mangroves trees, so haunting and sonorous, like a tune that is beyond any
means to transcribe into a score. Yet, it offers me serenity and total
peacefulness within myself.
The scenery during high tide is entirely different. Mangroves become
submerged in the water, no trace of their roots in sight. The water creates a
mirror reflection of each leaf, branch and root,
even the billowing clouds in the sky are not spared. Such is the allure of
mangroves at high tide! This is indeed the watery forest that I have longed
for all this while.
We took a respite at one of the
gazebos near the sea. We could hear the intermittent calls of some Collared
Kingfishers. A blue shadow flitted passed, and stopped to rest at a nearby
branch. With its handsome coat of blue and distinctive white collar, the kingfisher
looked as if it had a certain dignified air about it. As we looked on, we
realized that it was stalking its prey, staying motionless on the branch,
only to dart forward at the opportune time to snare the unsuspecting fish.
Besides the sound from the waves, there is also the constant shrill
chirping from cicadas in the background. The children had a great time
challenging one another to find the well-camouflaged cicadas. With their
acute hearing, it took them no effort at all to trace the calls back to
their source - cicadas that blend perfectly well with the tree bark,
waiting for their mates.
Whiffs of the salty water reminded
me of my childhood days, when occasionally, my father would bring the family
to visit a relative living near some mangroves. We even had the chance to
ride a boat across the mangroves once! But that was a long, long time ago,
what remains in my memory is only fragments of those happy times.
A pair of Common Flame-backed Woodpeckers flew past. It was naïve of me to
know only one woodpecker, namely the Woolly Woodpecker, which is a popular
cartoon character with a signature laughter. In my
first encounter with a real woodpecker in our forest, I was elated and could
not imagine that we do have woodpeckers in Singapore!
Now I know that there are a few species of woodpeckers in Singapore.
Moreover, the male members tend to be more brilliantly coloured than the
females. Gazing at the pair of male and female woodpeckers, busy pecking at
the branches looking for food, I felt a sense of tranquility and peacefulness growing in me.
At that moment, I wished for a boat to roam amongst the mangroves at will, along
the watery paths. Wouldnt it be awesome to be surrounded by masses of mangroves?
I am deeply grateful to have these beautiful mangroves right here in Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.
There is no need for one to travel beyond our own shores to enjoy such
beauty. To spend a peaceful and quiet afternoon admiring the sights of these
watery forests is indeed a delight!