Saturday, September 29, 2007

Semakau - Island of Surprises (28th Sep 2007)

Today, the HSBC conducted the walk on Semakau, and 4 of us (the regular Semakau Guides) were tasked to be the hunter-seeker. Such a priviledge is rare, as we are usually the guides and lack the opportunity to explore. This time for convenience of work, I can only arm myself with my shorter macro lens (Nikkor 105 mm Macro - all pictures taken with this lens. Camera set to Speed mode at 1/500 sec).

Well that priviledge did come with a price, I mean a "menu"from the HSBC guides. For things they would like us to find! But... the weather is hot, the lowest tide was at 6 pm, and we were at the inter-tidal area at 3:30 pm. Our experience told us that most creatures rather hide in such blazing sun, and to compound the problem - the tide was still high.

Look at the water line near to these mangrove (Rhizophora sp), usually these are dried ground!

Undaunted, we have a task to perform, and we can only scout the areas before the sea-grass meadow. Honestly we were getting desperate, even the common sea-stars were nowhere to be found. So we landed ourselves - Flower Crabs, Gong Gong, Chu Chu - things we seldom point out during our guided walk as they were in abundance. That was how desperate we were!

But the tide has to recede, and slowly we ventured deeper and outer and that is where the Surprises begin.

Greetings us on the opposite shore, was this beautiful Great Billed Heron (Ardea sumatrana), the tallest bird in Singapore and also one of the rarest. There are couple of them that have taken up residence in the southern part of Singapore, and all the more so - Semakau is a very important site for both this bird as well as our nature heritage.

Apparently it was feeding time for most of the crabs were foraging in the sea-grass and sea-weed areas. I came upon this Eye-wide-apart crab (Thalamita spinimana) or Red Swimming Crab feeding on the sea-weed. This is a very aggresive crab, unlike the other types of crab which will scurry away, this type of crab will stand its ground.
Realising I was intruding, it raised its pincers to tell me to ward off. So this crab should be the emblem of any security unit for this crab apparent motto is "Be Alert and Stand your Ground"!
On the "menu"was Fan Worm (Family Sabellidae), a filter feeder with the feathery tentacles. When disturb, the worm will retreat into its tube, and this happens in lightning speed. The tube can be seen in the lower part of the picture below. Another specimen of the fan worm, but this one - the mouth can be seen. The tentacles will draw the food into the mouth.

We found numerous Noble Volutes (Cymbiola nobilis), some laying their transcluent egg capsules, other burrowing in the sand looking for preys.

I was intrigued by the way the volutes laid the egg capsules, somehow there is a pattern to it. At this time for want of a proper description, I will call it the 2-1-2 formation. Why 2-1-2 formation, look at the photos below.
Due to the way, the volute lays its egg capsule, it seems to be dong from one direction to the next, and then do the centre, and so-on.
The 2-1-2 formation is clearer in this picture below.
In one specimen, I managed to capture this close-up of one of the capsule. It is very beautiful.
Heart Cockle (Corculum sp) - not on the "menu" but we have seen them couple of times on Semakau. This bivalve has a symbiotic relationship with a type of single celled algae in its tissue, excess food from the algae photosyntheiss leached out to provide nourishment to its host.
One of the star attraction to Semakau, is the Knobbly Sea Star (Protoreaster nodosus). This is sometimes called the Chocolate Chip Sea Star because of the black nodules. Sadly, this poor Knobbly is suffering from some damage as though some creatures had taken a bite at the "chips".
Again on the "menu" was nudibrance, we spotted this Orange-spotted (Gymnodoris rubropapulosa) stranded on the sand, away from its natural habitat of sponge and rocks.
Another Nudibranch (Chromodoris lineolata) was spotted in its natural habitat.

Glad that we have the opportunity to be the hunter-seeker, which provide opportunity for us to document our findings.

At last, the real low tide - picture of sunset was taken at 6:55 pm. What a glorious sunset, and the people still loiter refusing to depart.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Lightning (Nature Firework)

Lightning formed when there is a potential difference between two sources. It can be from the clouds to the ground, or from the ground to the cloud and in all these pictures below, the lightning travels from clouds to clouds.

It is most amazing when one looks at the formation of the lightning, storm cloud laden with water, molecules rubbing with one another, thus building up the charges. The cloud banks behave like a giant capacitor till it can not hold the charges, and in a twinkling of an eye, the charges are released.

During the release, the surrounding air are superheated to temperature that is about 5 times the temperature on the surface of the sun! In this instance, the superheated air enters into the state of Plasma! (Usually we understood Liquid, Solid and Gaseous, but there is another state of matter which is called Plasma). In the plasma state, the air are highly ionised, and thus you can see the various colours of the ionisation of the air. Observed the colours surrounding the lightning strokes!

I took these pictures at home, with my camera pointing out of my window to the general direction of the lightning and adjust from there after each shot. It is impossible to frame or focus into the darkness, therefore manual setting must be done. All shots taken with 1/1.5 sec at F5.6. I did not hear any thunder, therefore these lightnings must be happening really far away. (Rule of thumb, when one see the lightning, one counts the second and stop when one hears the thunder, then multiply by 400 metres, that will give you the rough distance of the action).

Alexandra Hospital (8th Sep 2007)

Alexandra Hospital
One of the oldest hospital in Singapore, it was established in 1938 by the British. and possesses one of the sad story during the 2nd World War. When the Japanese breached the defence up North, and came down South. The Japanese Imperial Army met resistance along the Pasir Pangjang area, though they managed to overcome the resistance, but it did not quelled their anger. They stormed into Alexandra Hospital on that fateful day 14 Feb 1942, and
massacred the medical staff and patient!

The past is gone but the memory remains. For when one enters into Alexandra Hospital, it is always good to be reminded of that Gory Past.
Now Alexandra Hospital is one of our hospital specialising in Diabetic Treatment and Care.

After renovation, Alexandra Hospital can boast to have one of the most fascinating garden of all hospitals in Singapore. It is into this Butterfly Garden that I went this rainy Saturday.

The rain has just stopped, it is still very cooling and most cold blooded creatures (insect) were still slow in their movement, thus giving me opportunity to really come up close and these shots. I am very weak in identifying insects and flowers, therefore if you can identify any of them, I am much appreciated.

The Anthurium
Family Araceae, this is a herb just like the banana. Herb refers to plants that does not have woody trunk. Most of us are very familiar with the Anthurium as they are usually used for flower arrangement. As can be seen from the pictures below, the Anthurium flower is actually the middle "stalk" called the Spadix. On this Spadix, small little flowers sprout. You can see from the pictures below, that the pollinators (flies) were having a grand breakfast of nectar. Many people tend to think that the white "petal"is the flower, that is called the Spathe which is a modified leaf.

One of the largest flower Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum) in the world which emit a foul smelling odour belongs to this family

Found this lone ant foraging for food on the Heliconium.

This Red Flower (unknown ID) were attracting bees. So I set up my equipment, and managed to fire couple of shots when one of the bee flew by.

Finally the butterflies emerged and I was not properly equipped to take butterfly with my macro lens. Managed to capture these two when they landed nearby. My friend July helped with the id of these two butterflies and shared his knowledge on them.

The one at the top is the Blue Glassy Tiger (Ideopsis vulgaris macrina) and the bottom one is the Chocolate Pansy (Junonia hedonia ida), obviously. Both of them are common in Singapore, both in the reserve as well as in the urban areas. The Chocolate Pansy flies in the usual gliding fashion of the Junonia species and can be observed basking in the sun with its wings opened flat.

I find this flower to be most intriguing, the stalks of the stamen were long as compared to the size of the flower! Again, I have no idea what is the id of this plant.
This will not be my last trip here, in fact the next time I will be more prepared.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Sekudu - Se Kali Lagi (2nd Sep 2007)

Sekudu once again (2nd Sep 2007)
Barely made it as I was late in registering due to overseas commitment.
But am very glad that Ria managed to “squeeze” in a place for me! I have been to Sekudu twice and this will the first time after the great deluge that wipe out a lot of the organism.

We landed on the sand bank closed to 8 pm with the tide still a bit high, not withstanding – most of us hit the intertidal areas wanting very much to be surprised by the finds.

Plodding through the mud, sand – somehow I have this eerie feeling that Sekudu is still slow in recovering. For the last 2 trips we have seen so much but it was pretty “quiet” for this trip.

With the people fanning out, it was matter of time that discovery was made. Soon we managed to locate sea anemone, sea cucumber, sleeping damsel, climbing crab, minuscule nudibranch, 8 legged sea star and many more. Still compare to previous trip it was pretty “quiet”.

Wish that the recent downpour that we are experiencing, it will not delay the recovery of Sekudu. And I am really glad that the authority has made the landing on Sekudu a “permit required” zone, hopefully this will aid in the reocvery.

I was armed with my favourite Tamron 180mm F3.5 Macro lens, why favourite because I do not have to bend down so much as compared to the shorter lens! Taking macro picture is already tough, but couple with night shot, and flash photography on water surface or wet body, that become worse. Thus to take proper macro shot, one has to be like the octopus.

You need more than 2 hands to hold the flash light, lens, camera body, specimen etc. Some of us resort to using the mouth to hold the light, but the best “octopus” method is to be with buddy. Taking turn to provide illumination to the specimen so that the other party can focus and steadily take the shots.

On this trip, my desire was to take real close-up of the specimen, I focused for the eyes, the skin, the tiny feet, the rhinophore, leaf blade etc. Well hope you enjoy this series.

This succulent brown sea weed seems to be proliferating here.
Found these anemones, the “flowers” of the sea. Below is the Peacock anemone, which in reality is not a true anemone (Order Ceriantharia) whereas the order for anemone is Actiniaria.
This Swimming Sea Anemone (Boloceroides mcmurrichi) was attached to the sea weed. Most unusual relationship, or probably it was just “relocating” and has just landed!

Moving along, I sense movement in the water and there was this Thunder Crab (Myomemnippe hardwicki) feeding merrily in the sea grass. Stole this shot while it fed in the rippling water.
Subsequently, I came across this egg capsule of the Spiral melongena (Pugilina cochlidum). Have seen them many times, and decided to do a real close up. A very interesting shape forming to a pair of “horn” at the end of the capsule. What we must be amazed is the pitch that is so orderly and precise between two egg capsules! Such precision, is it for water to flow through between them more efficiently so that they can be aerated, such is the mystery of the sea!
On some of the rock face, and there are many rocks and bouders in Sekudu, there were a lot of colonial ascidian (Family Polyclinidae ) clinging and thriving.
What is the locomotion of the clam? The venus clams (Family Veneridae) usually burrows downward, it will extend its foot and dig downwards. But in this instance, they seemed to be making horizontal movement. In these pictures, it looked like it is moving with its hinge portion forward . As you can see they left behind the “excavation” mark. Perhaps, these individuals were being pushed by the wave or tides! This again will chalk another mystery of the sea.

On one of the rock, we saw two Purple Climbing Crabs (Metopograpsus spp), happily feeding on the rock.

Nowaday, the eight legged Sea Star wonder Luidia Maculata is a rare visitor to our shore.

The last time I saw a Luidia Maculata was my very first trip to Sekudu, and now will be my second time to have this privilege again.
Compare with the previous specimen, this was like a juvenile with a span of about 20 to 25 cm.

In the water, this specimen somehow has a build in “compass” with all its 8 legs pointing towards the sea! Somehow, it just wanted to get back to the deep end.

This Sea Star is a carnivore, which likes to eat other sea star. Observe the masses of “legs” and the pattern on its skin. The pigmentation is unique and beautiful for such a rough skin (echinoderm).
Chay Hoon, our “nano” specialist caught this common squid (Sepioteuthis sp). Observe the skin colouration also called Chromaphores. Extremely effective in the changing of colour, for camouflage prupose, and some scientists believe also as a type of signal to the other squid, for mating as well as to ward off competitors. First time I am noticing that there are lens covering for the eyes, with the black eyeball seemingly in the centre.
Our Chay Hoon lived up to her name sake (nano hunter) with this nudibranch. She found 3 of them, the largest being 1 cm in length, and the other twos at about 5 mm and 8 mm. It was really tough taking pictures of these minute creatures. For another close up, please refer to the tidechaser blog.
(Anybody know the ID of this nudibranch? Kindly let me know, so that I can update this blog)
Ria, our mentor naturalist always tell us – make sure you take the underside of slugs. So this is the underside of this nudibranch.

Ria was right, you can break your back trying to take pictures of these marine creatures, but frankly it was worth it, of course the long lens did help.