Friday, December 25, 2009

032. Hisses from Semakau Island – Semakau Land Survey 2

4th – 5th December 2009

IMG_2634-1This was how close I was to the snake when I cycled past it during my last overnight stay at Semakau Island. This snake – with its triangular-shaped head – is one of the most venomous snakes you can encounter on Semakau Island. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Mangrove Shore Pit Viper (Trimeresurus purpureomaculatus). In a pitch-black condition where your partner 1 meter is away is just a black silhouette, this snake looked very much like apiece of dead wood. But then this bit at the corner of my mind whispered, 

“Doesn’t it look too S-shape for a piece of wood… it’s a snake, you idiot!”

Though I know I could be wrong, and there’s a possibility that it might turn out to be a piece of worthless junk that some asshole threw into the sea, I knew in my heart of hearts that it was a snake. And not just any snake, during the first time we did the 1st land survey at Semakau, it was somewhere near the southern point (about where I was standing) that one of the volunteers saw a Mangrove Shore Pit!


This is my second pit viper in the span of 1 year. Venomous creatures, one strike from the viper can hurt – even kill. Quick and deadly, the shore pit usually prefers the cover of trees and bushes than open areas. But I guess it was looking for dinner (usually small rodents and lizards, sometimes birds even) when I bumped into it. More active at night than it is in the morn, the snake started to slither away slowly when it noticed that some pesky humans were in its company.









As the light bulbs started flashing from my camera, the snake slowly took a turn towards the landfill where there were more peace and quiet.

“Probably more animals to hunt too without these pesky human flies buzzing around”.

I have tried finding out whether snakes get hurt by the camera flash but got nothing much out of it. The one at Sungei Buloh, Singapore has scales that are darker and more monotone.  







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An overall shot of the snake as it slided and slithered across the warm tarred road. Many a times, it reared back its head, going into the S-shaped defensive position. Yes, I might have gotten struck or bitten by the snake, especially at such a close distance – and it would have served me right too, for having invaded the private space belonging to the snake.

Lesson learned: Respect! *checked and duly chastened too!* >_<



Last but definitely not the least was the encounter with a Dog-Faced Water Snake (Cerberus rynchops) on the second day after the Hunting-Seeking session in the evening. Eagle-eyed Marcus saw this slithering fellow by a dead piece of wood and notified the four girls trailing after him. I guess it was karma from the day before and my camera’s flash just refused to work.

Compared to the Shore Pit, the Dog-Faced’s venom is not that fatal. But it is sufficient against smaller prey like fish and crabs. Though I personally do not feel that this snake shares any resemblance to a man’s best friend in any way, the one who named this snake might have felt otherwise. Because it lives in water, the eyes are positioned best when it’s located at the top of the head. That so because this allows the snake to see what’s at the top when its entire body is soaked in water.


There was a 3rd snake (Common Wolf Snake) but it was too quick and there were just too many blood-sucking vamp… I mean, mosquitoes.

3 snakes in the wild, 2 days… what more can a girl ask for right? That reminds me, first aid training! =)

031. Like Moonshine…. – Semakau Land Survey Pt. 2

… they warm the cockles of your heart.

It’s been a long time since I last updated and have decided at least 3 blogs per week if I can make it. But who knows, I would probably have to swallow my words next time round. Damn, I hate feeling guilty when I go to my blog and know that’s it’s been lying around in the coffin for months. Anyway, I read this from somewhere in Facebook:

Procrastination is like masturbation…
It feels good but in the end, you know that you are only screwing with yourself.”

Anyway, today doesn’t feel any different from any other day.. but it will mark the beginning of a change! I love my blog, but I swear sometimes it can be very high-maintenance at times. Rather than writing a half-assed entry, I rather leave it till when the mood arrives. In all that times of perfection, I seemed to have forgotten who this blog is really for – ME. It’s for me to refresh, to think back and to learn from what I have seen, touched, smelled and listened. All right, before I get on and on like some hot air balloon, my actions will do the talking.

  • The moon was beautiful on that 8th of November, and a BBQ was just the perfect thing to set the mood going. 


  • Thanks to Ron and the RMBR gang, we got the best ingredients for the BBQ party. Chicken satay, pork and some weird mushroom thingie which Hen ordered. Delicious but still weird. =) Just a couple of hours before we sat down and relaxed, the Bird Team were tagging the last bird for the evening.

IMG_2169-1Not just any dude can take a net and come back with a haul of ten birds. For the researcher, it takes some time to learn, because once the bird ends up in the net – it could either mean heaven or hell for the bird. For one, the bird may end up dead while trying to struggle from the net. And another thing which I learned from my friends were that any bird left unattended for too long can end up as dinner for the big boys up in the sky. It’s not a pretty sight but that’s the rule of the jungle, eat or be eaten. 

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(left): First off, the birds are kept into small bundles of sacks. That’s for easy handling when the birds are measured for their weight later.

(right): Next, is to measure the length of the lil’ birdie’s beak. Nothing is forgotten as every measurement taken down is important for records and any research that might be conducted later. 

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The measurement of the tarsus comes next (left) followed by the Zitting’s wingspan. Tarsus – that’s part of the leg. If I have to make a comparison, it would be like portion of our leg between the our foot and the thigh. You would have never imagined, that while it was being turned back and forth to get its measurements done, the little birdy was as quiet as a church mouse. Not a squeak nor a chirp was from its little throat..

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(left): Twisting and turning the bird gently, every record from the length of its tail to its height were noted with great detail. No sloppy and slapdash work will be tolerated, thank you very much.

While the bird was made to lie down on its back in the picture on the right, it was important to go easy with the flash. Any shock and slightest disturbance may prove to great for the bird and kill it. Till that moment, I have never held something so small, something so fragile in my hands. To feel its heartbeat pumping “da-dup, da-dup” against your palms –  its life was literally in my hands – and for a moment, I thought my own heart was going to burst.

So that was how it felt to have something at your whim and mercy…”, I thought to myself later on. Sounds like I might be treading on the dark edges of becoming a psychotic killer with that train of thought, but no worries (I think). =) Although, I still think it’s better if the world never hears another buzz from the mosquitoes.

IMG_2158-1(above): This is another way of the 2 ways to hold the bird without breaking its neck. Compared to the “Ringer’s Grip”, this way is saved for those who have more experience in bird-handling. Though he wasn’t much of a squawker, this tiny bird is clearly agitated. 

One way to know that is when you see its crown – that’s the top part of their head – stand up, Mohawk-style. I think it’s pretty much the same for dogs too. When my doggie gets pissed, his fur at the back will stand up while giving out the most chilling of growls. Trust me, when that happens, this is another situation where you will wish the ground will open up and swallow you up. *nods*

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After going through various rulers and scales, it was time to tag the bird. All tags will mention Sungei Buloh, Singapore because that’s the main location where birds on the main island get ringed and released.

IMG_2125-1With a quick flick to the right and slight turn to the left, the Streaked Fantail Warbler (Zitting cisticola) now has its very own tailor-made ring!

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Here’s checking for moult or new feathers before giving the lil’ birdy a tiny reward for the slight interruption we have imposed on its evening schedule. Its bit of rewards are several drops of sweet syrup.  A slight, sweet change from their daily diet of insects. Thank you, Mr (or Miss) Zitting for your time of the evening~~

IMG_2134-page-1A composite shot of the tiny bird. According to Luan Keng, this bird is still quite the young bird as it has a rather fleshy gape. That’s the part where the top part of our lips meet the bottom part of our lips : illustration. Rather noisy shots since they were taken from quite afar.

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Other 2 birds which I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance with was the silver-beaked Chestnut Munia (Lonchura malacca). The one on the left is an adult while the one still coated in brown on the right is still a juvenile. I have always thought that beaks ranged the colours of red, orange and yellow till that day. It was as if the bird had dipped its beak in silver paint and polished it till it shone. Gorgeous!

Like other seed eaters, parrots for example; the Munias also have the characteristic beak that’s rather thick in size. These short, stout beaks provide the toughness they need to crack open seeds.  Unlike the Zitting, the Munia wasn’t much of a fan of the sweet treat that was fed to it. \

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The Yellow Vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) was the last customer of the day before we ended the 1st Land Survey at Semakau Island. Surveys and field trips are tiring, there are no arguments about that, but when Mother Nature takes you into her arms, and starts showing you tiny, interesting facts of the hidden gems in her collection.. sights and sounds, at that moment, which she shares with you and no one else that gets you hooked.

So when did I start losing the sight of it all..?