Monday, April 11, 2016

Singapore: Tampines Eco Green

When I left Southeast Asia in April 2014, I did not expect to be back for several months at least. Then, on July 1, Eileen and I received a late-night call from her daughter Fiona.  Our two-year-old grandson Royce, Ryan's middle brother, had been diagnosed with cancer. The next day we were on a flight to Singapore, where he was to be treated at the National University Hospital.

Royce was in for a difficult siege - months of treatment at three Singapore hospitals, NUH, KK Women's and Children's Hospital and Mount Elizabeth, followed by a year with us in Canada under the care of Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. I am happy to say that he is now in remission, back home in Kuching, and a very happy little boy. My very deep thanks to Royce's entire medical team - it's been a long haul, but at least we can now hope for the best. Here's Royce on his fourth birthday at our home in Mississauga, February 9, 2016.

Naturally, I did not intend or expect that our dash to Singapore would be for a nature-watching trip. Nonetheless, I decided that the best way to preserve a positive attitude would be to bring my binoculars and camera gear, in the expectation that I would have a chance to use them as Royce went on to recovery. Thanks to our cousins Chris and Susan Chang and their daughter Cynthia, I had the chance only the second day after I arrived.


 Eileen spent the first weekend at the hospital, but we decided that as visitors were limited I should stay back until Monday when Royce was to undergo surgery. On the late afternoon of July 5th, 2014, Chris, Susan, Cynthia and I used our time to visit Tampines Eco Green, a fairly new reserve at the eastern end of Singapore Island. It was a welcome way to throw off both jet lag and, for at least a short time, worry.


The reserve is a combination of woods, open country and marshy ponds bordered with a local cattail (Typha angustifolia).  It proved to be a very good place for a short nature break - check out this thorough writeup by a young Singapore naturalist.

Plain Tiger (Danaus c chrysippus)
Dark Glassy Tiger (Parantica a agleoides)
We had barely arrived when we found numbers of butterflies visiting flowers at the reserve entrance.

Plain Tiger (Danaus c chrysippus)
Plain Tiger (Danaus c chrysippus)
Plain Tiger (Danaus c chrysippus)
Plain Tigers (Danaus c. chrysippus) were particularly common, probably because the reserve managers had planted the area with its larval food plant, the Giant Milkweed (Calotropis gigantea). 

Dark Glassy Tiger (Parantica a agleoides)
Dark Glassy Tiger (Parantica a agleoides)
With them were a few Dark Glassy Tigers (Parantica a. agleoides). 

Blue Pansy (Junonia orithya wallacei)
Blue Pansy (Junonia orithya wallacei)
In a single clump of flowers around the entrance sign we found a lovely, if slightly ragged, Blue Pansy (Junonia orithya wallacei), presumably the survivor of a narrow escape from a hungry bird...

Tawny Coster (Acraea violae)
... and a butterfly that was far less familiar to me, the Tawny Coster (Acraea violae). This is a particularly interesting insect, a representative of the genus that is widespread and diverse in Africa, but with far fewer representatives in other parts of the world.

Tawny Coster (Acraea violae)
Tawny Coster (Acraea violae)
The Tawny Coster is a recent arrival in Singapore, first recorded there only in 2006. It is now common, apparently (according to Khew Sin Khoon's A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore) because of the widespread distribution of it's larval food plant, Passiflora foetida.  However, this plant - locally known as Stinking Passionflower - is actually a native of the Americas, so in using it the Tawny Coster has made an evolutionary shift - though perhaps not a great one, as in other parts of its range Tawny Coster caterpillars eat a wide range of food plants, including native passionflowers.

Lesser Grass Blue (Zizina otis lampa)
Much less obvious - tiny and unobtrusive, actually - were two grass blues (Zizina).   Based on the pattern of spots on the underside, I believe that these are Lesser Grass Blues (Zizina otis lampa), a common Singapore species. 

Small Branded Swift (Pelopidas m mathias)
I am usually pretty terrible with skippers, but comparison with the excellent photographs in Butterflies of Singapore I am more than usually confident that this is a Small Branded Swift (Pelopidas m. mathias). Of course, now someone will tell me that I've got it wrong...

Club Silverline (Spindasis syama terana)
As we walked down the trail, Susan and Cynthia called my attention to a most interesting and attractive little butterfly: a Club Silverline (Spindasis syama terana), Sitting quietly and most cooperatively on a leaf at a high-level. Apparently, this butterfly is not only uncommon in Singapore (though frequently seen at Tampines Eco Green), but normally spends most of its time flitting actively about and, presumably, not posing for nature photographers.

Club Silverline (Spindasis syama terana)
It is one of the hairstreaks, and the combination of an orange blotch and a pair of tails at the end of each hindwing are presumably there to convince hungry birds that this, and not the insect's real head, is the place they should focus their attack. Cynthia and Susan, although not particularly interested in  butterflies as cuisine, were fooled in precisely the same way.

Club Silverline (Spindasis syama terana)
The illusion that this was indeed the head was even more realistic than this photograph might suggest, because the butterfly seems to have the ability, though I don't know how it manages it, to move its "tails" independently as though they were wiggling antennae.

Oriental Garden Lizard (Calotes versicolor)
Oriental Garden Lizard (Calotes versicolor)
Singapore, like (for example) Miami, is full of exotic species - everything from plants and birds to lizards. This is one of them - a female Changeable or Oriental Garden Lizard (Calotes versicolor), a  rather large and agile reptile that reminded me of the common Green Crested Lizard (Bronchocela cristatella) I see frequently in Malaysia. 

Oriental Garden Lizard (Calotes versicolor)
Oriental Garden Lizard (Calotes versicolor)
Oriental Garden Lizard (Calotes versicolor)
Here's another, perched on a clump of flowers.   Males develop red throats in the breeding season, earning them the otherwise-undeserved name "bloodsucker".  The species is widespread in Southern Asia and Indochina, and even occurs naturally on nearby Sumatra, but it is an exotic on Singapore.


Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker (Dendrocopos moluccensis)
The park is a good spot for birding, even if some of the more obvious, like the lizard, are exotics (lots of Javan Mynas (Acridotheres ) and Red-breasted Parakeets  (Psittacula ), for example). The park has been deliberately planted with fruiting trees and others that attract birds like these Sunda Pygmy Woodpeckers (Dendrocopos moluccensis). 

Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker (Dendrocopos moluccensis)
The park is apparently a good woodpecker spot; besides these little Sundas, we also found a pair of Common Goldenbacks (Dinopium javense), but the birds gave me no chance for a photograph. 

Slaty-breasted Rail (Gallirallus striatus)
One bird gave me quite a start. I spotted a couple if tiny black balls of fluff poking around on the grass at the edge of a cattail bed. I knew they were young rails, but didn't realize which species until their parent stepped out of the reeds. It was a Slaty-breasted Rail (Gallirallus striatus), a shy and skulking bird of which I had had, only once before in Brunei, but the briefest glimpse. 

Slaty-breasted Rail (Gallirallus striatus)
Unfortunately I failed to get a photo of the young birds, but the adult - though it  soon disappeared back into the reeds - was a splendid, and totally unexpected, surprise. 

Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis)
We tracked a very persistent call to a juvenile Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis) still demanding attention from its parent. 

Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis)
Black-naped Orioles are abundant city birds in Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia, but they are, for some reason, extremely rare in Borneo so I 'm always glad of a chance to see them. Besides, they are, besides being abundant, spectacular birds. 

Baya Weaver (Ploceus philippinus)Baya Weaver (Ploceus philippinus)
Baya Weaver (Ploceus philippinus)
In a shrub bordering a stretch of open water we found half a dozen nests of the Baya Weaver (Ploceus philippinus) in various stages of construction or disrepair, with at least one adult male and a few juveniles or females in residence.  There were no nests in operating condition, but then the breeding season - from December to March in Singapore - was long over.


Sedge sp
Tampines Eco Green centres on a number of ponds, some  ringed with sedges and reeds.


Golden Apple Snail eggs (Pomacea canaliculata)
Here are more invasives: Golden Apple Snails (Pomacea canaliculata), their presence betrayed by their clusters of bright pink eggs above the waterline....


Red-eared Slider (Pseudemys scripta elegans)
...and another introduction from America, the Red-eared slider (Pseudemys scripta elegans). 


A few weeks later, On August 3, 2014, we returned to Tampines Eco Green - this time with Ryan, who had come over from Kuching to visit his brother, in tow.


Dark Glassy Tiger (Parantica a agleoides)
Dark Glassy Tiger (Parantica a agleoides)
Butterflies, including this Dark Glassy Tiger, were still busy feeding.


Painted Jezebel (Delias hyparete)
Among them was this Painted Jezebel (Delias hyparete), a member of one of the most (if not the most) diverse butterfly genera.  There are about 250 species, ranging from India to Australia.  This is Singapore's only resident species, though another, the Red-base Jezebel (D. pasithoe), has been recorded as a stray.


Baya Weaver (Ploceus philippinus)
Baya Weaver (Ploceus philippinus)
Baya Weaver (Ploceus philippinus)
Baya Weavers were much further along on their construction projects than on my previous visit.  Obviously nest-building, and nest-guarding, are priority male activities even in August, months before the start of the breeding season.  For a male weaver, nests are critical in attracting females, and for that you can't start too soon.


Oriental Garden Lizard (Calotes versicolor)
This Oriental Garden Lizard (as compared with the animals I saw on my earlier visit) demonstrates why these animals are often called Changeable Lizards in Singapore.  Differences in colour pattern may reflect the lizard's mood.

Brachydiplax chalybea
Given that the park features (and advertises) it's freshwater wetlands, I expected to see plenty of dragonflies there. To my surprise I saw very few - just a couple of common species, including this Brachydiplax chalybea (known in Singapore as the Blue Dasher, the same name we use in North America for the very similar Pachydiplax longipennis),

Ceriagrion cerinorubellum
Ceriagrion cerinorubellum is known as the Ornate Coraltail - not a bad name!  Despite their beauty and delicacy these are voracious insects.  They even devour each other on occasion.


mantid sp
Other insects we came across included this little mantid....


Mud dauber wasp (Sceliphron sp.)
...and a mud dauber wasp (Sceliphron sp.) searching for nesting material.  She will fill her solitary nest with paralyzed spiders, a living larder for her brood.


White-bellied Sea-Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster)
From the tiny and fascinating to the large and spectacular - I managed a quick snap of this White-bellied Sea-Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster), surely the largest of the birds of Tampines Eco Green, just as it took off.


Tampines Eco Green attracts a lot of Singaporeans, but not always for the same reasons as mine. Ryan, Susan and I found these two gentlemen releasing plastic bags full of fishes, bought from an aquarium store, into the central ponds. As they didn't speak English I was unable to discover why they we're doing what they were doing, but I suspect that they were either animal lovers, or Buddhists seeking to make merit by releasing an animal, or both. Unfortunately, the fishes that they were releasing were exotic aliens: mollies, swordtails and like, native to Mexico and Central America. I can understand that their hearts were in the right place, but introducing yet more exotics into the already-stressed Singapore ecosystem is not, I'm afraid, a good idea.

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