Site map | NSS Home Page
Official Magazine of the Nature Society (Singapore)

Photo by Jimmy Chew
in Hot Pursuit of Birds

By Goh Si Guim
Photos by Lee King Li
(unless otherwise stated)
Entertainers aren't known to be early birds... but a group of Singapore's TV personalities (from Television Corporation of Singapore - TCS) prodded themselves out of bed, pried their bleary eyes open and joined sporting stars (S-League footballers) for an early Sunday morning birdwatching race in April. Humour writer Sylvia Toh Paik Choo must have said it for all these local celebrities when she exclaimed,, "Must get up so early hah?!'... "Yes, Ms Toh", she was told, "because it's the bright and early bird(er) that catches the most birds" with their keen sight and all for a great cause, naturally. Billed as the Celebrity Bird Race, the goal of Nature Society (Singapore) was to raise as much money as possible for the Society's Building Fund.

As the race progressed, the celebrities found that their participation was an "eye-opener" in more ways than one. They weren't just having fun while raising money for Nature. They were learning about the birds and the bees, the flowers and the trees under the expert guidance of some of NSS's most seasoned birders from the Bird Group. Many for the first time too.

Sylvia Toh Paik Choo with Keith Hillier in the "Hornbills" team (each team was led by an expert birder and featured a celebrity), sped to Sungei Buloh Nature Park. She was bowled over... "First time ... never knew it (Sungei Buloh) existed ... able to see so many birds. Did not believe so many birds exist in Singapore." Her awed remarks were echoed by many other celebrities, with variations.

The teams combed the island's prime birdwatching areas, from rain forests to mangrove-lined creeks and from long-grassed areas to downright unglamorous spots in ulu places. Yes, vibrant patches of wilderness, home to resident and sometimes migratory birds, can be found even in such unlikely places as refuse dumps. One such spot is at Lorong Halus in Tampines.

The enthusiasm of our intrepid birders was infectious. Our guests were visibly impressed. We could tell by the excitement on their faces as our binoculars and telescopes brought the exquisite beauty of kingfishers and other dazzlers up close.

"It was wonderful and amazing... I never expected to find so many birds," enthused TCS artiste Jamie Lee who was with expert bird and butterfly man, Lim Kim Keang in the 'Terns'. Their team went looking for forest birds in the wooded areas along old Upper Thomson Road and the fringes of Seletar Reservoir.

Popular TCS artiste, Ann Kok was touched by the love and caring showered by adult White-bellied Fish-eagles on their nestlings in a nest on a branch of a large tree at Sime Forest. Ann Kok was in the 'Pittas' ably led by Lau Wong Soon.

Popular TCS artiste, Ann Kok
was touched by the love
and care showered by
White- bellied Fish-eagles
on their nestlings (at left)

Super support from
Singapore Celebrities
Back row from left: Wendi Koh, Terence Cao, Lisa Ang
and Darryl David.
Front row from left: Ann Kok, Emile M'bouh M'bouh, Hakan Soderstjerna and Jamie Lee.

At left, TCS celebrity presenter,
Mr Darryl David campaigning
for unspoilt nature places
during his interview by
deejay and musician
Mr Vernon Cornelius

Celebrity newscaster
Mr Duncan Watt (second from left) with his "Sunbirds" team-mates

Celebrities being interviewed about the race by presenters
of "We Are Young",
a popular Chinese Youth programme on TCS 8

Humour writer
Ms Sylvia Toh Paik Choo
all set with her
snazzy blue binoculars

Richard Hale looks on as
Dr Wee Kim Wee gives out
presents to sponsors

Ann not only enjoyed this heart-warming encounter but she was able to share it soon afterwards with viewers on a TCS 8 programme 'Entertainment Beat'. What's more Arm happily 'broadcast' her enriching experience to her Channel 8 colleagues and reports that they were very glad to find some parts of Nature being protected for birds to survive.

Just as impressed by the sight of so many birds flying free was Darryl David, host of 'Pyramid Game'. "Birds should not be kept in cages" was this popular TV personality's comment. Darryl David was a member of the 'Kingfishers' who were led by the sharp-eyed Alan Owyong to the Sime Road forest, one of Singapore's best birding sites. Like all the others he fervently hopes that "still unspoilt nature places", such as the one he wandered through, will be conserved.

Another instant 'convert' was TCS 8 artiste Terence Cao who passionately proclaimed that "birdwatching is the greatest (activity) and everybody should try it." Terence Cao also had the extra thrill of being in the winning 'Coucal' team led by Sutari Supari whose experience enabled them to 'bag' the most birds in one morning. But it wasn't just winning that enthralled Terence. "Birds are beautiful, trust me, beautiful," he said to his viewers.

While the Celebrity Bird Race had served as a timely introduction to 'Nature' for our city-bred local TV and sports personalities, for newscaster and adventure novelist Duncan Watt, it was an opportunity to dip, once again, into one of his favourite pastimes. Duncan Watt was in his element racing with See Swee Leng in the 'Sunbirds' spotting so much more than mynahs and sparrows".

Though a self-confessed "passive" nature lover and one who wished he knew more about birds, Duncan has nevertheless toured nature reserves in Africa and has also been in the rainforest of Malaysia's Taman Negara. More than this, the multi-talented Duncan also writes a series of books for young people. Titled The Wallace Boys, his books are full of nature information and adventure. Nature often plays an important role in the plots.

Duncan generously donates some of the royalties he gets from his books to Nature conservation organisations in Africa and Southeast Asia. Naturally our Nature Society has been a grateful beneficiary.

At the end of a magnificent morning Duncan seemed to have spoken for all the others when he said, he "really appreciated the expertise of our seasoned birders." Talking to some of these appreciative celebrities, I feel that this event has given them a much better understanding of not just birds but all of Nature, and how nature habitats can be conserved with everyone's active participation.

The Celebrity Bird Race - a tribute to our unsung bird lovers
This "race" held on a glorious Sunday morning (April 6, 1997 , was the brainchild of NSS's Vice-President, Richard Hale (former CEO of HongKong Bank). Richard personally went around getting vital commercial sponsorship, both in cash and in kind, from 21 companies. Supported by an energetic organising committee, the event succeeded in raising $135,000 which (together with money raised from earlier projects), brings the society nearer to its target of $1 million for the Building Fund.

To ensure success, the committee had gone around getting some of Singapore's best known artistes and personalities from the Television Corporation of Singapore (TCS) and popular S-league footballers from local clubs to participate. They were fielded in teams, each comprising one "celebrity" and three experienced birdwatchers. Clearly the success of this event also rested on the turnout by veteran birders from the society's Bird Group. Their participation was strong and Richard Hale said he was "very happy" and also 'very glad to see that all have done well."
The Celebrity participants, while they clearly enjoyed themselves, may be somewhat relieved to learn that this "race' was a short one compared to the annual Singapore Bird Race (held in October) which is normally a 24-hour affair. The race was brought to a fitting close by the former President of Singapore, Dr Wee Kim Wee who, as gracious Guest-of- Honour, presided over the closing and prize-giving ceremony. Vital commercial sponsorship for this event, both in cash and in kind were from the following companies: Television Corporation Singapore, Bormill Singapore Pte Ltd, Delta Overseas Investments Pte Ltd, General Accident Insurance Asia Ltd, Golden Hill Orchids, Hong Leong Foundation, HSBC Investment Bank Asia Ltd, Lam Soon Realty (S) Pte Ltd, Marco Polo Developments Ltd, New York Plastic Co Ltd, Richard Ellis Pte Ltd, Rich-Art Enterprises Pte Ltd, RSP Architects Planners & Engineers, Shriro (Singapore) Pte Ltd, Singapore Environment Council, Mr George EK Teo, Thakral Brothers (Pte) Ltd, The Hour Glass Ltd, Woh Hup (Pte) Ltd, Jim & Hall's Construction Pte Ltd, Performance Motors Ltd, Singapore Professional Football League Pte Ltd and Tiong Bahru United Football Club.

<<Back to Issue contents
© Nature Society Singapore