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Copyright ゥ Ecology Asia 2014
   

 

   
     
     
  Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve  
    ... wetlands and mangroves of the bamboo river  
       
 
Introduction
   

   

Mangrove system at low tide - this area is dominated by the aerial roots of Rhizophora sp.

   

Prior to the settlement of Singapore the land around the inlet of Sungei Buloh, in the northwest of the main island of Singapore, was dominated by tidal mudflats and mangrove systems. It is possible that bamboo once existed in the area, hence the name (Sungei = River, Buloh = Bamboo), however the bamboo is long gone. In the 19th Century, with an increasing rural population, prawn farming became the mainstay of those settling the coast. Now the prawn farms are gone and the mangroves are regenerating under the protection afforded by the Nature Reserve. Opened in 1993, this 87 hectare wetland refuge is of supreme importance during the migration of waders and shorebirds between the summer breeding grounds of North Asia (Siberia, China etc.) and the wintering grounds of the Southern Hemisphere (Australia etc.). This migration route is the East-Asian Flyway.

The migratory birds are attracted by exposed mud flats in the long-abandoned prawn ponds. Water levels in the prawn ponds are still controlled by sluice gates; the aim is to maintain some exposed mud flats at all times, even during high tide, thereby attracting waders and shorebirds. In addition to tidal systems there are a small number of freshwater ponds and patches of secondary forest which add to the reserve's biodiversity.
 

 
   

Visitor Facilities

Run by the National Parks Board (NParks), Sungei Buloh boasts an excellent visitor centre complete with educational displays, theatrette, knowledgeable staff, a cafeteria and public toilets. Viewing hides are dotted at strategic locations, and the trails are well maintained and clearly marked. Boardwalks, currently under renovation, allow visitors to explore deep into the mangroves.


What to expect

 
 

Flocks of shorebirds migrate through the reserve from September to March

   

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve allows easy viewing of the elements which comprise a Mangrove Ecosystem. Compare the root systems of Avicennia, Bruguiera and Rhizophora mangrove species, each of which has evolved different morphology to allow growth in an anoxic, muddy environment. The littoral zone (i.e. the region between low and high water marks) is dominated by crabs and mudskippers; keep an eye open for occasional fights between the territorial male mudskippers. Above the normal high tide level are mud lobsters; look for their volcano-like mounds. In these margins you will encounter the Malayan Water Monitor; these, large fearsome looking lizards have recently become quite numerous, probably as they are no longer hunted. Adults of up to 6 feet can be seen.

The cessation of fishing in the area has allowed the recovery of abundant fish life. Easily seen from the main bridge across the Sungei Buloh inlet are shoals of Mullet, Halfbeak, Green Chromite and Archer Fish. The latter will attempt to shoot down unwary insects who stray too close with a well-aimed burst of water.   

 

Purple Herons Ardea purpurea nesting at 
The Heronry

 
   

During the migration season, from September to March, the mudflats near the Main Hide are alive with thousands of wading birds feeding on the rich fauna of bivalves, crabs, worms and molluscs. Species to expect include Whimbrel, Common Greenshank, Common Redshank, Mongolian Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper and Pacific Golden Plover. In the margins the Yellow Bittern, Cinnamon Bittern and Striated (Little) Heron may be seen preying on small fishes. 

During the summer breeding season, from April to August, one's attention is not only drawn towards the resident Little Egret and Great Egret, who prefer to keep their distance, but also to the mixed breeding colony of Purple Heron and Grey Heron. The Heronry comprises hundreds of nests, some under construction, others struggling to contain noisy, hungry fledglings with indignant expressions. The constant arrival and departure of the adult birds makes the skies as busy as Changi Airport !

 
 

A flock of Little Egrets Egretta garzetta takes flight

   

At all times of the year passerine bird species can be seen, including the Collared Kingfisher and Stork-billed Kingfisher patrolling the mangroves. Dollarbirds occur high up in the treetops swooping down on larger insects, and the locally common, but likeable, Yellow-vented Bulbul is always seen bubbling amongst the flowering trees. In total, over 170 species of bird have been identified in the reserve.

Many mangrove species are shy. Wildlife observation at Sungei Buloh, as elsewhere, requires patience, a careful eye and a quiet demeanour. Slow down and you may well be rewarded with a special encounter.
 

   
 

This resident family of Smooth Otters Lutra perspicillata have an easy life in Sungei Buloh

 
   

If You're Lucky ...

Otters occur within Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve; a family of four Smooth Otters has recently been seen, and the addition of cubs suggests they are breeding locally. Hopefully the now abundant fish life will encourage an expansion of the otter population. Should you see any otters report their location in the Observations Book kept at the reserve entrance. For further details on the Smooth Otters see the article "Ring Of Bright Water".

During the annual bird migration rarer species may be seen including the Asian Dowitcher and the endangered Chinese Egret. Ducks and geese are not common, however the locally uncommon Lesser Whistling-duck (Lesser Treeduck) may sometimes be seen in the freshwater ponds. 

Which Trail to Take ?

 
 

St. Andrew's Cross spiders weave their webs high in the mangroves

   

There are three well-defined routes :

Route-1 encircles the two main ponds where, between September and March, migratory waders tend to congregate. The route also gives a good view across the Johor Straits to the Malaysian border town of Johor Bahru. Allow at least two hours to complete this three kilometre circuit.

Route-2 leads off Route-1 and passes the Heronry. When re-opened the Main Boardwalk will allow visitors to complete a circular route back to Route-1. Allow four hours to complete the five kilometres of both Route-1 and Route-2.  

Route-3 leads from Route-2 to the freshwater ponds, adding an extra 1.5 kilometres before returning to Route-2. This quiet, peaceful corner of the reserve my reward visitors with sightings of the hanging nests of the Baya Weaver and other shy species. Allow at least 5 hours to complete the total 6.5 kilometres of trails.

Volunteer Program

Under the auspices of the National Parks Board a volunteer program operates in Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Volunteers provide free guiding at the weekends, assist in species surveys, and help promote the activities of the reserve to the public. These include "Prawn Watch" where visitors are shown a working Prawn Pond, and "Heron Watch" where they are introduced to the ecology of the Heronry. To join the volunteer program contact sbwr@pacific.net.sg