Photos by Lena Chow and Moira Khaw
Some 20 kids and their parents enjoyed a balmy morning of bird and wildlife watching on the idyllic island of Pulau Ubin on 20 February 2010. From the get-go, sightings materialised at a fast and furious pace. At the Ubin jetty itself, we got to peer closely at the blue-and-rufous plumage of the Pacific Swallow, the azure feathers of the Collared Kingfisher, the bobbing tail of the Common Sandpiper and the waving red pincers of tiny fiddler crabs.
The Oriental Pied Hornbill was undoubtedly the star bird of our trip.
Just off the jetty, Auntie Gloria spied the distinctive profile of a Peregrine Falcon soaring above. This migrant raptor then landed high up on a radio tower where it perched for many long minutes, affording us good views through the scope. Kids learnt that the Peregrine is the fastest bird alive, diving at speeds of up to 390 km/h into one of the wings of prey flying below. The broken wing sends the injured bird tumbling out of the sky, making a delicious meal for the peerless Peregrine.
Handy binoculars enlarge sightings by 8 to 10 times!
Even while taking a toilet break, two Oriental Pied Hornbills flew in to join the falcon on the same radio tower, sending everybody into an excited frenzy. We were to encounter these charismatic hornbills many more times during our walk. Oriental Pied Hornbills are uncommon residents on mainland Singapore. However, there is a thriving population of about 30 birds living and breeding in Ubin and Changi Village.
Auntie Gloria led the walking safari of Ubin’s bird and wild life.
Strolling along, we pointed out a kampong house made of wood and zinc. Later in the tour, somebody spotted a well where people still draw water from. The children saw for themselves the simplicity of life on Ubin, where amenities we take for granted, such as tap water and electricity, are considered luxuries here.
The sweet song of the Straw-headed Bulbul, Singapore’s famed avian songster, serenaded us as we wended forward through the countryside. Kids were wowed by the humongous Golden Orb Web Spider that sat on a giant web above our heads. Pink-necked Green Pigeons, White-vented Mynas, Common Mynas and Asian Glossy Starlings feasted at a fruiting tree. The little ones giggled at the antics of the numerous mudskippers littering the mangrove mudflats. Here, we witnessed a Little Heron catch and swallow a wriggling fish. Other swimmers like the Halfbeak and Archer Fish added to the list of sightings. Suddenly, Auntie Gloria caught sight of three hornbills winging towards us. Most fortuitously, two of these giant black-and-white birds landed on a ‘botak’ tree right in front of us, giving all jaw-dropping views. Two Long-tailed Macaques (also known as Crab-eating Macaques) were seen foraging at the mangroves, possibly for crabs.
Towards the end of our walk, we felt lucky to encounter two Peaceful Doves (also known as Zebra Doves), sitting peaceably on the dirt path just five meters ahead of us. Kids watched inquisitively as Scaly-breasted Munias explored for grass seeds, while Yellow-vented Bulbuls flitted from tree to tree. The trip concluded at the colourful NSS Green Hub @ Ubin located in the middle of Ubin town, which has paintings of hornbills and other Ubin wildlife decorating its façade. Here, we held a quiz on the various sightings encountered, with doggy prizes handed out for correct answers. We would like to thank Uncle Timothy, Uncle Benjamin, Auntie Lena and Auntie Mabel for assisting in wildlife spotting.