As dawn brightened the
sky one April morning, a perfect reflection of the forest formed on the
calm waters of MacRitchie Reservoir. The occasional bubbles and ripples,
created by turtles and fish surfacing for air, added mystique to this almost
primeval setting. At first the forest seemed to be in a trance, but as the
morning light filtered into the forest, the momentum of life began to pick
up: the first sounds came from a chorus of forest songsters.
MacRitchie's Forest Riches
riches of this forest are many. Some see only the beauty of the birds
and trees, but the forest floor, its leaf litter, also teem with life.
Take a walk with Goh Si Guim and
see the depth of the forest's worth. All photos by the author unless
Calm reigns over the waters
of MacRitchie Reservoir
at the break of dawn
From their perches high
on the Tembusu tree, the resident Collared Kingfishers uttered barrages
of shrill staccato 'laughs'. Moments later, a pair of Hill Mynas appeared,
their yellow head wattles glowing brilliantly in the first rays of the morning
sun. The piercingly loud but melodious whistles of the mynas are more pleasant
to the human ear than the kingfishers' calls.
It is now bath-time for a White-throated Kingfisher. I watched as
it splashed repeatedly into the water. After each splash it would
return to its perch, fluff its feathers and preen them. Then, from
somewhere amongst the trees, came the unmistakable loud cries of the
colourful Banded Woodpecker. In the background was the incessant 'whine'
of the cicadas.
Back to the water's
edge, and I spotted a Yellow Wagtail pacing the muddy bank, its wagging
tail revealing flashes of its yellow vent. Numerous pond skaters were
sliding back and forth on the surface, creating countless ripples.
Near the far bank, a monitor lizard was propelling itself through
the shallow water, sensing for food by flickering its tongue in the
air. Small butterflies like the Branded Imperial, Common Grass Yellow
and dragonflies were fluttering over small bushes...
Further inland, Sun Skinks would sometimes lie motionless by the side
of the trail but, when approached too closely, would dash away blending
in with the leaf litter. Later in the day, I discovered one rummaging
under the leaf litter, looking for food. On another occasion, I saw
young monitor lizards, also foraging for food amid the leaf litter.
Flying Lizards are more active. They glide swiftly, flashing their
menacing yellow throat "blade", as they move from tree to tree. On
another walk in the MacRitchie forest, some rustling in the resam
thicket stopped me m my tracks. I waited expectantly, wondering what
would present itself. It turned out to be a native Spiny Hill Terrapin.
This little animal paused, then raised its head to sniff the air.
Sensing no danger, and ignoring my presence, it trudged across the
path slowly on its stumpy legs.
The fluttering Branded Imperial
is a delightful distraction in
the forest. It is shown here on
its caterpillar foodplant,
the Smilax vine.
Common Sun Skinks
are often encountered along
forest trails or they can be
heard scurrying away
as you approach
Flying lizards glide from
tree to tree with wing flaps
on the sides of their bodies.
This male displays his yellow
throat flap from his perch.
Photo by Phang Tuck Phew
A flush of tender
add colour to the
monotone of green
from the tender leaves
The forest is not always a monotone of green. Flushes of new growth,
flowering and fruiting plants add a splash of colour here and there.
Some young leaves are intensely purplish red. Tender and succulent,
they are much favoured by caterpillars. Other insects that feed on
young leaves are white frilly scale insects, also known as mealy bugs.
These creatures use their hypodermic-like stylet to penetrate into
and draw nutritious sap from the soft plant tissue. Mealy bugs have
a symbiotic relationship with ants. Honeydew excrement exuded by the
mealy bugs are collected by the ants to feed their larvae. In return,
the ants tend and even protect them. As the leaves mature, they gradually
turn green and become tough.
Fruiting trees always
attract a host of frugivorous animals. The resident troop of Long-tailed
Macaque monkeys was up, engaged in their routine of grooming themselves
and each other, and foraging in the branches overhead and on the ground.
In their wake was a Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, picking off insects
disturbed by the monkeys. Two species of squirrels, the Red-bellied and
the Slender, having converged on the same tree, were engaged in raucous
territorial conflict. However, on the same tree, the Asian Glossy Starling
and the Pink-necked Green Pigeon were feeding peacefully, displaying nonchalance
at the dispute among the rodents.
see a splash of orange and it is the wild Ixora bearing clusters
of tiny light-orange flowers at the apex of its branches.
More spectacular are the white, fragrant and large trumpet-shaped
flowers of the treelet, Rothmannia macrophylla. This plant
flowers infrequently so one is lucky to come across it in bloom.
Look under some large leaves and you may see the numerous attractive
but inconspicuous flowers of the Thottea grandiflora. Each
flower of this small plant has a distinctive purplish-brown lampshade-like
perianth, with pale netting-like veins. It exudes a faint unpleasant
Another visit, three weeks later, and I found fruits in place of
flowers. The Ixora bears berries while the Thottea bears
slim okra-like pods.
Quite unexpected was the discovery of the fruit pods of the Sterculia,
borne in sets of four and hanging like chandeliers. I must have
missed the flowers on the previous walk, but this time the bright
orange-red opened elliptical pods did not escape my attention. They
were not yet opened in the cool of the morning.
Walking back later in the day, I saw that one pod had dehisced,
revealing several jet-black seeds attached along the rim.
The crowded and brightly
coloured inflorescences of
Ixora adds much needed
colour to the forest
The most distinctive feature of
the flower of Thottea grandiflora
is its three-lobed campanulate
or bell- shaped perianth.
It is a relative of the Aristolochia
vine and is a caterpillar foodplant
for two locally rare butterflies.
The ripened pods of Sterculia
are strikingly red and stand out
amongst the greenery
Flowering and fruiting trees are beacons for animals such as bees, butterflies,
moths, birds and bats in the forest. They play important and varied roles
as pollinators of the flowers and dispersal agents of seeds. The forest
provides and the favours are returned, a crucial and mutually beneficial
relationship that ensures the perpetuation of species.
the Leaf Litter
What most of us do not appreciate as we crunch our way over the abundant
plant litter on the forest floor is that it acts as ground cover, preventing
loss of vital topsoil during torrential rain. More than this, the dead
and decaying leaves represent a huge store of nutrients just waiting to
Yes, the forest is
a intricate green tapestry made up of a multitude of lifeforms interwoven
in a complex way To uncover and truly appreciate Nature's splendour, tune
into the gentle soothing rhythm of life in the forest. You will be amazed
by each discovery. Do not hurry. Nature never reveals her secrets all
key agent for releasing this resource are the termites. Some species
have bacteria in their gut that aid in the digestion of the tough
woody material while others carry the material back to their nest
where they are used to cultivate fungal gardens. One large swarm
I encountered were working their jaws into the forest litter, guarded
by aggressive soldiers. The mechanical crunch was audible when I
placed my ears close to the ground.
Many other tiny unseen animals, including millions of insects and
their larvae, also contribute to the recycling and life-giving process.
Fungi permeates many aspects of the forest, silently breaking down
these indigestible substances. Almost everything is efficiently
re-utilised by the plants in the forest.
Termites are efficient and
of the forest nutrient
This colourful mushroom
curiously pushed itself
through the leaf litter
Note: Forests are precious ... and so fragile. As soon
as trees are cut down and the forest floor laid bare, it takes only one
season of monsoonal rain to divest the once-lush forest of its life-giving
Goh Si Guim is a Perfusionist (providing
life support during Open-heart Surgery) with the Cardiac Department, National
University Hospital. He is an active member volunteer of NSS, being an
exco member as well as leading nature walks.
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