Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Mimosa - Is there another species?

Typically, the Mimosa (Mimosa pudica) that we know has pink flower, and somehow "spiky", like a pin cushion.

Or this yellow water mimosa (Neptunia plena)

But I came across this mimosa with curled filaments!
Not too sure whether this is a new species, or a stricken Mimosa pudica!

But if this is a stricken mimosa, then there should not be so many of them!

I am puzzled?
Any mimosa expert can shed some light?

Spoke to a plant expert, this is actually M pudica, the flowers are withering.
However, what I cannot understand is that the whole field of M pudica was with withering flowers.
There must be some form of stimulants (excessive rain; continuous sunshine etc) that must have triggered a mass withering.
This is again intriguing, so have to keep an eye even for a mimosa that most of us would consider as weed.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Upper Seletar Park - Red Bird of Paradise and Barn Swallow

Have not been to this place for a long time - and wonder what has changed!
Like most part of Singapore, few things remain status quo - we are always on constant change.
And surprisingly, and thankfully - nothing change!

Was hoping for insects, and thus I carried my macro lens, and ended up shooting "birds", both the flowery and feather kinds!

Peacock Flower (Red Bird of Paradise) 
Caesalpinia pulcherrima 
Originate from America, this plant has many names PoincianaPeacock FlowerRed Bird of ParadiseMexican Bird of ParadiseDwarf PoincianaPride of Barbados, and flamboyan-de-jardin, but locally it is better known as the Peacock Flower.

I have seen this plant with its beautiful flowers many times, and thought that it came in these colours.
Not too sure whether, it is natural.  Regardless they are all beautiful.

The usual colour combination - yellow with red petals
But also saw this white and pinkish specimen!

And this totally yellowish orange

And totally Red, which is also seen in the first picture
Torenia fournieri among the Grass
While walking about, I noticed these beautiful flowers among the grass.
From the flower pattern, it displayed the typical "orchid" look, and the peculiar "wishbone" that can be seen in the enlarged picture (bottom flower). Thus sometimes it is also called the Wishbone Flower.
Mostly this plant grows upright, but for this case, it was creeping together with the grass!

Very small flower, compare them to the blade of grass.

Close up of the flowers, look very much like orchid!
Barn Swallow 
(Hirundo rustica)
For the longest moment, I thought I was seeing the Pacific Swallow (http://mountain-n-sea.blogspot.sg/2012/09/pacific-swallow.html), they were flying very swiftly, and occasional there will be the orangy colour breast, until I saw the fork tail, that I am quite sure these are the Barn Swallow!
Very common species, and sometimes consider as pest because of the droppings that cause so much mess.
But then, these are insect feeders, and especially love mosquitoes.
With more of these, perhaps there will be less fogging!

It was flying very low, and both the Pacific Swallow and Barn Swallow are insects catcher, that is they chase after they meal.  In this shot, the longer tail can be seen, that differentiate it from the Pacific Swallow.
Purposely make this picture very large, for you can see that its beaks are open, and for good reason, a speck to the left, and you can see that it is aiming for that prey.  Not only this bird is a good flyer, it has superb eyesight!  (that speck is not dust on the camera sensor, or it will turn up in all the pictures!)

Beautiful and Agile

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Admiralty Park & Sungei Cina

As part of the Heron Watch (population count) team, we were assigned Admiralty Park and Sungei Cina to perform the count on 31st Aug 2013.
As we were unfamiliar with that area, I decided to do a pre-watch survey "Heron Survey".

Heron and Egret - none.
Plenty of Javan Mynah; Yellow Vented Bulbul, Swallow, Olive Throated Sunbird, and occasional Black Nape Oriole

But some things held interest in me

Putat Sungei (Barringtonia racemosa)
A critical endangered plant in Singapore, and so glad that there are many of these plants in this park.
Hailed for its medicinal value by local people, for treating the symptom of chicken pox (relieving of itch), to sore throat, as this plant produce a toxin called saponin, which is concentrated in the seeds.

Saw these beautiful flowers on the ground.
Then these undeveloped flowers.

Closed Up of the yet to be budded flowers.

Hanging so pretty on the stalk.

And the fruits

These Nests

With just their beaks, the weaver birds can construct such beautiful nests.
Alas, I waited for hours, no birds were seen, and there seem to be no activities in the nests.

Nipa Palm - Attap Palm
(Nypa fruticans)
The palms were fruiting, and came upon this one with flowers and fruits.
The flowers remind me of the Anthurium!

Waterway - Polluted Sungei Cina
Maybe that is why there are no water fowls!

Seemingly idyllic, but flowing in this water way are trash!  Somehow this river is treated as a convenient disposal system!

Oil slick from upstream

When we attended the Heron Survey briefing, we were told that many places in Singapore have lost the heronry (breeding heron site), because of
  1. fogging (in the attempt to rid the mosquitoes, we also ended up ridding the good bugs and birds); remember the "good old day" of DDT, effective but cause much damage to the environment.
  2. encroachment and disturbance
  3. pollution to the waterway where they feed
and not too exactly sure what is keeping the herons, egrets and bitterns away!
Perhaps it is the disturbance as construction is going on to widen the track; smell of tar is very strong; or there is nothing in the river to feed these water fowls, as the water is also polluted.

Going to do another survey - and this time hopefully can see herons.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bukit Timah Cycling Trail - Improvement but at a cost!

After the original posting was done, I was contacted by NPark Officer to clarify the situation that I have observed,  I do appreciate the prompt response, and the explanations that have been given. The explanation and clarification, was about the safety of the users of the trail.  As most of us may know, occasionally there will be incidents involving the hikers and cyclists on common trail (like this one), and NPark has decided to create a new route solely for cyclists. 

This old trail will be used by hikers; and a new cycling trail will be created.  However, the choke point will still be at the bridge.  By then, the cycling trail will be on level ground instead of slope, and thus and hopefully, the cyclist speed would have slowed down.
In the process of creating this new cycling trail, I was told that NPark and the contractor have already surveyed the ground; and those trees that have been fell were dead, and to prevent it from uprooting or crashing unexpectedly, they were fell.  Further, I was also told that stringent measures have been taken to ensure that

  • the wheel barrow that is being used cannot be wider than the track
  • saplings that are removed will have to be replanted
  • trails that are created for the ease of construction will have to be returned to their former condition

Though I appreciate such measures being taken, however as a frequent hikers in this area, I wish that more appropriate action can be taken as I have seen the forest degrading.  For the past 7/8 years, I have seen 

  • many trees uprooted; 
  • erosion of the ground leading to exposed roots; 
  • newer trails to circumvent fallen obstacles and the unusual high steps.
  • more and more "sun seeking" ferns flourishing in areas that trees have fell

Going back to the original post that started this discourse; the forest can recover, but at its own recovery speed, and we (NPark and users of the reserve) can assist, if we
  • do not create unnecessary trails
  • do not cut down trees, though safety reason can be cited, but then this is a reserve, and not a park. He who enters the reserve, must know the risks, for beside falling branches there are also poisonous scorpions and snakes! 
  • be vigilant to ensure minimal damage is done in the name of "improvement"
  • be transparent to the reason for closed trail (to the public, Tiup Tiup path is always closed; and the last communication to the public via the newspaper was a landslide in that area, but that was many years ago!)

From the Dairy Farm Road, leading to Wallace Centre, there is this signboard that said "Cycling Trail being improved"

But a mould of dirt block the common passage, thus forcing trekkers and cyclists alike to form new trial to circumvent this obstruction! New trail means new "dead" zone!  This is an example of convenience for the contractor, but at the expense of the forest. Here I wish the NPark will educate the contractor to be more considerate.

The actual cycling trail is lower from where this worker in purple was going, but this is a short cut from the mould of dirt to the working site.  Again, it may be convenient, but a new trail has been created. I would opt for the usage of the cylcing trail even if I have to travel a few metres more!

This is the actual cycling trail.  The fell trees as mentioned were dead before they were fell.

It used to be dark, and that is what a rain forest should be, but with fallen trees - the canopy has a big gap, and in the tree's place, pioneer species will sprout, and soon it will be fern and softwood tree!

This tree is healthy and located opposite the cycling trail.  It is not dead, for leaves are seen sprouting from the stump. Though the explanation (not confirm) is that the trunk may have snapped, and thus it was cut.
I would like to thank all readers who have stopped by to read and browse, and hopefully this posting has brought much awareness for all.  We are all living on a small island, and there are economics reason as well as recreation that need to be balanced.
We all have to do our parts, if we are to pass down this natural heritage to our future generations.

Puncak Mahameru -The Great Mountain

Gunung Semeru
This is the other name for this Great Mountain.
Located on the Java Island of Indonesia, it is also the highest strato-volcano on this island.
50 m shorter than Rinjani, but many times tougher to climb.

Standing at 3,676 m, Semeru from a distance looks beautiful and majestic, and on close inspection, it looks even more imposing!

We have climbed Gunung Rinjani on Lombok, and we thought "what is another volcano", we have the experience.  We were totally wrong!

Prior to the climb, somehow the authority requires climbers to get letter of "fitness" from doctor certifying that we are able to climb.  So each of us having to cough up RP 35,000, we went to the clinic on the eve of Hari Raya Adilfitri, and we didn't get to see the doctor, but a nurse measured our Blood Pressure and Weight.  Worse, the Blood Pressure was taken wrongly, and the weight was written down by us!
Other than contributing RP 35,000, I still am clueless what does that "Letter of Fitness" bought us.

Gunung Semeru in the background, looking from Gunung Bromo

After passing the lake, and meadering through the valley, we were presented with this magnificent view of Gunung Semeru.  Observe the treeline, this will be about 3,200 m; and observe the light colour soil on the face of the volcano (somewhere in the centre), that will be the trail for ascend.
Ranu Pani Village to Kalimati Campsite

We arrived in this village on the day of Hari Raya Adilfiltri, thus the many flags that are up, and much celebration going on.
Also, the flag of Red and White symbolises the Indonesian state flag, and soon they will be celebrating their indenpendence day too.

From Surabaya town it will take about 3 hours of driving to this outpost, also the beginning of the track to Gunung Semeru.

The track from here to the campsite, will be about 16 km long, with ascent of about 200 m, that is to say, not much gradient.  This is good, if you can consider that we need to warm up those climbing muscles!

This is the main street in Ranu Pani
An unfortunate Whip Scoprion made its presence felt on the road, after this picture was taken, the villager fearing that this is a scorpion, promptly squahed it!  What a pity.  (Picture courtesy of Loh CH)

Along the way, we walked pass this river, with the local going about their daily chore.

Beautiful flowers greeted us along the way (a species of Daisy I believe)

Farming Village - step terrace for cultivation dotted this landscape

The hikers proceeded with their journey after registering for the climb, and with the "Letters of Fitness"

Rows and rows of vegetables.

Fertile soil - thanks to the volcanic soil

Idyllic lifestyle - with no care to the modern day woe, but you still have to worry about the crops and weather

At the entrance - this sign said "Selamat Medaki" (Peaceful Climb)

Direction sign - our journey to Ranu Kumbolo (the intermediate point where the lake is located)

As always at this altitude, the deciduous pine reins supreme.

At 2,400 m, there will always be the occasional mist. 
Along the path, I chanced upon this mouse - either it is so conditioned to human traffic, or I smelt like the jungle!

A living tunnel, forms by branches and leaves

After an hour plus of walking, Ranu Kumbolo is in sight.  This is a big lake, which offers campers water and refuge!
To the valley, we will need to descend via this eroded path.

And to the edge of the lake

Only to see careless campers and hikers treating this lake as a convenient dump!

We saw fishes thriving in this lake, and many lines and hooks attempting to catch the bigger ones.

After the lake, and to the valley floor we will walk, and this time it will be towards the campsite.
Tall grasses grow here, and once we walked into the bushes, we were basically dwarfed by these tall shrubs.
In this tall bushes, birds make their home.  Not too sure what species is this?

Another sign - our first leg is coming to a close.
Beautiful Semeru is now before us - and I wonder how are we going to make that climb!
Add caption
The shape changes as we get nearer

Kalimati Campsite to the Summit and back to Campsite and Ranu Pani

Awaken at 01:30 hr, and with a simple breadfast, we started our climb at 02:30 hr.  We were told that it will take us about 1.5 hours to reach the treeline, and then another 1.5 hours to the summit, so that we can view the sun rise.

So with headlamp and cautious anticipation, we started our climb (Picture courtesy of Loh CH)

We trod and trod, and we were still in the tree line ((Picture courtesy of Loh CH)

We didn't realise that we have passed the treeline - after all it was so dark, but then on this slope, the sun is about to rise.  3 hours from campsite to summit, this timing must be for the super fit.

Tired and exhausted, we plodded on.  To be rewarded with this beautiful sight of Sea of Cloud

At higher ISO, and you can see the struggle just to climb.  here, a fellow trekker with the aid of the local, was being helped along.

There will be many pit stops for it was a grueling climb.  Imagine if you have to walk on the sand, and your feet cannot find any good grip for traction, compound this with a steep gradient, and you can imagine that for every 3 steps up, you may end up with 2 steps down.  And many of us, have got stuck in places that we just simply cannot move up.

Oh well, might as well appreciate the beautiful sunrise since we are stuck!
Finally, oh finally - at 09:00 hr, the last 2 climbers were up.  Of the 15 of us that set forth, 1 fell sick, and stayed in the camp, and 3 got stuck going up, and thus there were 11.  11 happy souls felt so triumph for managing to reach the summit, and on this day "Singapore National Day 2013" What do you do when you have reached after an arduous climb, and moreover it was Singapore National Day - that is right, we recite the pledge.  Reminder of how, tiny Singapore struggled to become a First Class Country from independence in 1959 and separation in 1965.
A view from the top before we start our descend.

Preparation for a tough journey down - tough as our muscles are now so spent, from the ascend.
Soil is loose, and slope is steep, but hey it beats climbing up!

Along the way, we picked up one of our stragglers, a pity for he was just a mere 30 m to the summit!
See the soil, loose like sand.

Downward journey - it was like snow skiing - except this was sand.

Now that we can see better in daylight, we wonder how we managed to climb to the summit in the night.  Amazing!

After our lunch, we started our journey back to the village. A backward look to the mountain, that we have decided to name - the Greatest Volcano that we have ever climbed.

Slowly we walked, and now we can appreciate the beautiful sight that we have missed, as we, the day before, tried to reach the camp before the last light.

Another view of Semeru.
The name of the Lake

The return journey, with the lake on the left.

Beautiful flowers dotted our way

On hind sight, for such a mountain, we should have given more time, but we were trying to take advantage of the long weekend, and everything was done within 5 days.  After the climb, we were attempted Gunung Bromo on a 4 by 4, to view the sunrise.
This was one whirlwind climb; and for our record - Semeru surpassed Rinjani on the toughness scale.