Tag Archives: travel

Tulip extravaganza at Keukenhof, South Holland

It is impossible to live in Amsterdam in spring and not hear the name ‘Keukenhof’ tossed around a fair bit. This being my first spring in Amsterdam, I was not going to let my allergies stop me from visiting this floral wonderland.

The literal translation of Keukenhof is ‘kitchen garden’. It is said that in the early part of the 15th century, the Countess Jacqueline of Hainaut, Holland and Zeeland, gathered fresh produce for her kitchen from the woods surrounding her castle. Soon enough, the area began to be referred as ‘Keukenhof’.

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The main entrance to Keukenhof

Over the centuries, the area went through a series of transformations and today, Keukenhof serves as a platform for Dutch floriculture suppliers to showcase their best, spring-flowering bulbs. In the current edition of Keukenhof (held from 23rd Mar till 21st May 2017), an estimated 7 million flower bulbs were planted in the 32-hectare park, by nearly 100 suppliers.

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One of the many stunning tulip patches

Visiting Keukenhof is a highly sensory experience. Interestingly shaped flower patches, the vibrantly coloured tulips, cultivars with flowers in every conceivable shape, a medley of floral scents – all  dazzle the senses. The many passerine birds that dart furiously across the shrubs and trees, provide a cheerful background symphony.

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Vibrant colours everywhere! 

Beyond the periphery of Keukenhof, are privately owned tulip fields. These fields are harvested by end-April, so be sure to go early if you’d like to pose amidst long rows of brightly coloured tulips. I went mid-May and sadly, missed seeing the tulip fields in bloom.

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Harvested tulip fields as seen from the viewing platform of the Keukenhof windmill

I have however, seen the tulip fields from a distance, during a train ride from Amsterdam to Delft. A real feast for the eyes, despite the distance and the speed of the train.

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View of the tulip fields in Lisse, from the train

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Another view of  tulip fields from the train

On the subject of tulips, few people know that these flowers, so synonymous with the Netherlands, are not actually native to the country. They were introduced here by botanist Carolus Clusius in 1493, when he served as Director of Leiden University’s Hortus Botanicus, now the oldest botanical garden in the Netherlands. To cut a long story short, it was those very tulips that birthed the Dutch tulip industry.

The name ‘tulip’ is widely believed to be derived from the Persian word dulband, meaning turban; possibly in reference to the shape of the flower resembling the male headwear that was popular in the Middle East, India, and parts of Africa, in those times.

Back to present day! Both Keukenhof and the tulip fields are located in the town of Lisse, an easy day trip from Amsterdam. The connectivity via public transport is excellent. For exact directions, click here.

During the 8 weeks that Keukenhof is open, there are several events and activities – a delightful Flower Parade, flower shows, flower arranging demonstrations, guided tours and the likes. You can read more about that here.

I leave you with a few more pictures from my visit to Keukenhof….

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Windmill at the edge of the gardens

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Chessboard display at Keukenhof

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Above the treetops at MacRitchie Reservoir Park, Singapore

Up until a few months ago, I was living in sunny Singapore. Since then, I have moved continents, to the land of canals and krokets, Amsterdam, and find myself trying to make sense of a very fickle spring.

When I think about my time in the Little Red Dot, I’m happy I was able to capture different facets of the city, via my articles for PASSAGE, the bimonthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore. So here is, the last of these nuggets from the city I called home for nearly 6 years.

My article in the May-June’17 issue of PASSAGE encapsulates my many wonderful memories of the MacRitchie Reservoir Park in Singapore. Please click on the image below to view the PDF of this article.

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(Reproduced with the permission of the Editor.)

I’d like to reiterate that when visiting any nature reserve/park, please be extremely respectful of the environment. Loud chatting or music will disturb wildlife and ruin any chance of spotting them. Going off-trail to get a picture damages the ecosystem that nurtures these species. As the old saying goes…

Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.

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You can read more about the wildlife/natural history of Singapore in the following posts:

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Pasir Ris Park

Birds of Singapore

The Wallace Trail

Singapore Botanic Gardens

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Birdwatching in Amsterdam

Following my birdwatching experiences in Singapore, India, Seychelles and Sulawesi (Indonesia); I’m delighted to add Amsterdam to the list. In the 6 weeks that we’ve lived in the Dam, I’ve been able to observe and photograph a good number of birds. Staying in the vicinity of Vondelpark has its advantages.

I know very little about European birds, so this is a great opportunity for me to educate myself on the subject. And make some great additions to my ‘Life List’ too. Here goes….

In our garden / neighbourhood

Common Chaffinch

A female Common Chaffinch enjoys the onset of Spring

Eurasian Blackbird

This is the legendary Eurasian Blackbird, popularised in the nursery rhyme ‘Sing a song of six pence’

Common Wood Pigeon

The Common Wood Pigeon is a large bird in the pigeon/dove family

Tufted Duck

A male Tufted Duck photographed in a neighbourhood canal

Eurasian Coot

The white frontal shield of the Eurasian Coot gave rise to the phrase ‘as bald as a coot’

In Vondelpark

(photographed over multiple visits to the park, including a Amsterdam Bird Walk led by Arjan Dwarshuis, the record holder for the Global Big Year 2016)

European Robin

The adorable European Robin is called ‘roodborstje’ in Dutch, in reference to its red chest

Long-tailed Tit

The tail of the Long-tailed Tit (at 7-9cm) is much longer than its tiny body (5-6cm)

Eurasian Blue Tit

The Eurasian Blue Tit is a delightful little bird with a blue crown

Great Tit

At 13-14cm, the Great Tit is a larger in size that other species in the tit family

Eurasian Nuthatch

This is the Eurasian Nuthatch. The name ‘nuthatch’ comes from its tendency to hack at nuts it has stored  away in crevices

Great Spotted Woodpecker

The male of the Great Spotted Woodpecker exhibits red markings on the head/neck

Carrion Crow

A Carrion Crow walks around looking for food

Eurasian Magpie

The Eurasian Magpie, a species in the crow family, is a highly intelligent bird

Egyptian Goose

A family of Egyptian Geese. This  species is native to Central & South Africa but there is a self sustaining population in the Netherlands

Common Moorhen

The Common Moorhen is part of the rail family

Grey Heron

A Grey Heron watches the water for its prey

Male Mallard

The blue speculum feathers of a male Mallard visible as it preens itself

Female Mallard

A female Mallard enjoys the water

Indian Rose-ringed Parakeet

A sleeping Indian Rose-ringed Parakeet. This tropical bird has made Vondelpark its home

In Zaanse Schans

(a charming Dutch town on the outskirts of Amsterdam)

Northern Lapwing

The Northern Lapwing is listed by IUCN as ‘Near Threatened’, due to habitat loss and the fact that it’s eggs were once considered a delicacy

Black-tailed Godwit

Also listed as ‘Near Threatened’ by IUCN, the Black-tailed Godwit was once highly prized as food

Eurasian Oystercatcher

The national bird of the Faroe Islands, the Eurasian Oystercatcher is also listed as ‘Near Threatened’ by IUCN

Caspian Gull

A Caspian Gull rests in the grassland

Greylag Goose

The Greylag Goose was revered in ancient European cultures

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There are many more species that I’ve spotted or heard. Hopefully, I’ll be able to photograph them in the days to come. So do check back for more pictures of birds, seen in and around Amsterdam.

Tot ziens! 😀

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A Himalayan Retreat in NYC – The Rubin Museum

Like most seekers, and artist of every kind, I’ve been drawn to the Himalayas for as long as I can remember. Thanks to my recent relocation to Amsterdam, it’ll be a while before I can even think of undertaking a trip to this wonderous part of the world.

During my last trip to New York City (Dec 2015), I was thrilled to hear about a museum dedicated to Himalayan art, right in the heart of the Big Apple. The Rubin Museum of Art focusses on the preservation and promotion of Himalayan artistic traditions, and has a permanent collection of over 2,500 paintings, sculptures and textiles from the Tibetan plateau as well as neighbouring areas in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Mongolia and China. The private collection of Donald and Shelly Rubin forms the core of the permanent collection but the museum is a non-profit, public one.

One of the highlights of the museum is the recreation of a Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room. I could have spent hours in this serene haven. If at anytime, you are looking for an oasis of calm in the midst of the NYC chaos, this is the place to visit.

More about the Rubin Museum in my article for the Mar-Apr’17 issue of PASSAGE, the bimonthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore.

Please click on the image below to view the PDF of this article.

Rubin Museum_NYC

(Reproduced with the permission of the Editor.)

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Memories of Pasir Ris Park, Singapore

I was reminded by a fellow-nature lover that today, March 3rd, is World Wildlife Day. So the timing of this post couldn’t be any better! 🙂

Following my much loved blog post on Pasir Ris Park, I had the opportunity to share some of the pictures once again via a photo feature in the Mar-Apr’17 issue of PASSAGE, the bimonthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore. Please click on the image below to view the PDF of this article.

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(Reproduced with the permission of the Editor.)

Once again, I’d like to emphasize that when visiting any nature reserve/park, please be extremely respectful of the environment. Loud chatting or music will disturb creatures and ruin any chance of spotting them. Going off-trail to get a picture damages the ecosystem that nurtures these species. As the old saying goes…

Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.

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For my original post on Pasir Ris Park, please click here.

You can read more about the wildlife/natural history of Singapore in the following posts:

MacRitchie Reservoir Park

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Birds of Singapore

Wallace Trail

Singapore Botanic Gardens

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My Farewell Tribute to Singapore

After six wonderful years in Singapore, the hubs and I recently moved to Amsterdam. I couldn’t have offered a better farewell tribute to Singapore than this 12-page feature in the Mar’17 issue of Holland Herald, the inflight magazine of KLM airlines.

First published on 21st January 1966, Holland Herald has been around for over half a century and holds the remarkable distinction of being the oldest inflight magazine in the world. There had to be a history angle! 😉

So without further ado, here it is – my article about the city I once called home. Kindly note, that the pictures in the article are not mine.

(Please click on the image below to read the PDF of the article)

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(Reproduced with permission)

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Vasai Fort: Remnants of a Forgotten Empire

A white peacock dances in all its ethereal glory. Sadhus (holy men) in their flowing, orange robes float across the screen. Beyoncé is dressed in resplendent Indian (more like Bollywood) attire. This is the opening sequence of Coldplay’s ‘Hymn for the Weekend’ video, filmed at the imposing Vasai Fort, on the outskirts of Mumbai (Bombay), India.

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Entry to the Gonsalo Garcia Dominican Church, established in 1583. This one of the 7 churches in the Vasai Fort complex.

My fascination with Vasai Fort goes back a long way. I spent my childhood and early adult years, not too far from this magnificent edifice but it is only more recently that I began digging into its history. Here’s my attempt at crunching 500 years of its history into a quick read.

After 11 perilous months at sea, Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama landed on the shores of Calicut in southwest India on 20th May 1498, thus pioneering the highly sought after sea route to India. But even before this momentous discovery, the city of Vasai (on the west coast of India, to the north of Calicut and Bombay) was a thriving port, frequented by traders from the Middle East and Europe, including the famous Venetian merchant, Marco Polo.

Early navigational maps, like the India Orientalis (1579) by Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius, mention Baçaim (the Portuguese name for Vasai). Such was its prominence in those days.

On 23rd December 1534, the city of Vasai was ceded by its then ruler Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat to the Portuguese. The Portuguese went on to build a massive fort, Fortaleza de São Sebastião de Baçaim (Fort of St. Sebastian of Vasai), with an entire town enveloped within the fort walls. Vasai Fort served as the capital of the powerful northern Portuguese province (Corte da Norte) and until it was lost to the Marathas in 1739. After multiple battles between the Marathas and the British for control of the fort and surrounding areas, they came to a mutually convenient arrangement in 1802. The British however, preferred the neighbouring island of Mombaim (Bombay), which became a key centre for the East India Company; and in due course, Vasai lost its significance. Presently, the fort is managed by the Archaeological Survey of India.

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The inside view of one section of Vasai Fort

On our recent visit to Vasai Fort, we only had a couple to hours to spare. This was barely enough time to walk through even one small section of this 110-acre fort complex. But even in this very short span of time, it was not hard to imagine the grandeur of the fort in its hey days.

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An art student sketches a part of the Vasai Fort

So if you happen to be in Mumbai and are looking to do a fun day trip, consider the Vasai Fort. It is best visited with tour companies like No Footprints, who organize bespoke Mumbai experiences. If you are local, you know how to get here.

I leave you with some of my pictures taken in and around the fort.

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The Church of Our Lady of Life (Nossa Senhora da Vida), established in 1536

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A grazing cow accompanied by a Cattle Egret, walks around the fort

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An uncommon sighting of a Bengal monitor lizard at the fort

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A Rose-ringed Parakeet enjoys the morning sun

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A golawala (‘gola’ means ball, ‘wala’ means seller) readies his cart for business, outside the fort. He sells shaved ice balls, served in a variety of flavours.

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A local friend shares the front seat with the rickshaw driver, on the ride from Vasai Railway Station to the fort

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Salt pans spotted en route to Vasai by train

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A Walk in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Singapore

One of the first forest reserves established in Singapore (1883), the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, is the largest remaining tract of primary rainforest on the island. It was closed to the public for two years for some much-needed restoration work and reopened on 22nd October ’16.

Overjoyed to be back in this thriving rainforest, I wrote a quick piece for the Jan-Feb’17 issue of PASSAGE, the bi-monthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore. Presenting my first article in print for 2017…..

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I cannot emphasise this enough – when visiting any nature reserve/park, please be extremely respectful of the environment. Loud chatting or music will disturb creatures and ruin any chance of spotting them. Going off-trail to get a picture damages the very ecosystem that nurtures these species. As the old adage goes…

Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.

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You can read more about the wildlife/natural history of Singapore in the following posts:

MacRitchie Reservoir Park

Pasir Ris Park

Birds of Singapore

The Wallace Trail

Singapore Botanic Gardens

************************************************************************

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‘Artist and Empire’ at the National Gallery, Singapore

The word ‘empire’ evokes different reactions from different people, especially among those from the erstwhile colonies. So when I first heard of the ‘Artist and Empire’ exhibition at the National Gallery of Singapore, I had mixed feelings about the concept. However, the exhibition focusses solely on the art that originated from Britain and its colonies (16th century to date), and I’m too much of an art lover to miss the masterpieces that came in via this association with the Tate Britain, London.

My political opinions aside, here are some of my favourites from the exhibition. As you can well imagine, there is some sort of personal link, either to the artist or the subject.

Paintings by Victorian botanical artist, Marianne North

I first heard of Marianne North during my time in the Seychelles this year.

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A trailblazer in her own right, Marianne defied societal norms prevalent in the late 1800s for women, and travelled (mostly alone) to 17 countries in six continents, including the Seychelles, India and Singapore.

A self-taught artist, she painted 848 pieces of flora and fauna between 1871 and 1885; of which 833 are on permanent exhibit at the Marianne North Gallery in Kew Gardens, England. Among the 46/47 paintings Marianne painted in the Seychelles, there are several versions of the fabled Coco de Mer.

Five of her paintings from Asia are currently on display at this exhibition.

‘Remnants of an Army’ by Lady Butler (maiden name Elizabeth Thompson)

A few years ago, while reading about the Afghan Church in Mumbai, I chanced upon this poignant painting.

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This artwork depicts Dr. William Brydon, assistant surgeon in the Bengal Army, arriving at the gates of Jalalabad (in modern day Afghanistan) on a dying horse, in January 1842. At the time, Brydon was believed to be the lone survivor of the First Anglo-Afghan War, which saw the massacre of thousands of British soldiers and the subsequent British retreat from Kabul.

Painted in 1879, in the midst of the Second Anglo-Afghan War, this artwork is believed to depict Lady Butler’s feelings about the futility of the war in Afghanistan.

About the Afghan Church in Mumbai: Consecrated in 1858, this church was built by the British to commemorate the deceased from the First Anglo-Afghan War, most of whom came from the East India Company’s Bombay Army. This Anglican Church is one of the most beautiful and serene churches in the city.

‘General Gordon’s Last Stand’ by George William Joy (1893)

Another Seychelles connection! Even today, the Vallee de Mai on Praslin island in the Seychelles, is rumoured to be the site of the biblical Garden of Eden and this myth originates from General Gordon’s remarks during his visit to the valley in 1881.

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This painting depicts General Gordon as the quintessential hero, defending the city of Khartoum against its invaders. In reality, this would have been the scene, moments before his death and subsequent beheading.

‘The Jester’ by Sir Gerald Kelly (1911)

A portrait of British playwright, novelist and short story writer, Somerset Maugham, the title of the painting refers to the writer’s famous wit. Maugham is not forgotten here in Singapore, thanks to a suite named after him at the legendary Raffles Hotel.

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Maugham made three visits to Singapore between 1921 and 1925 and gathered material for his short stories collection, ‘The Casurina Tree’, set in 1920s Malaya. A regular guest of the Raffles Hotel, the suite named after him at the hotel, is the one in which he stayed during his last visit in 1960.

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Among the 211 exhibits on display, there are also a significant number of artworks from the former colonies, from South Asia to the Oceania region.

So if you are visiting Singapore before 26th March 2017, I highly recommend a dekko*

from the Hindi word ‘dekho’ meaning to look 😉 

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Wildlife in an urban jungle – Pasir Ris Park, Singapore

Don’t let Singapore’s glitzy urban appearance fool you. The city is teeming with incredible wildlife, if one knows where to look. With over 300 parks and 4 nature reserves, there are several places where Singapore’s native wildlife thrives.

This weekend, hubby and I decided to check out the Pasir Ris Park, in the northeastern part of Singapore. In addition to many family friendly facilities, this beach park also includes a 15-acre mangrove forest. A short boardwalk enables visitors to explore the various sections of this mangrove forest.

Just as we were entering the park via the Pasir Ris Park Connector, a family of noisy otters jumped into the waters of the adjacent Sungei Tampines – right before our eyes! Such a pity I didn’t have my camera ready but it was definitely a sign of things to come.

We spent the entire morning at Pasir Ris Park, enthralled by the rich biodiversity of the place. Here are some of the creatures I did manage to photograph….

(Please click on the image to see an enlarged version.)

Lunch time at Pasir Ris Park!

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A lizard lunch for this Paradise Tree Snake

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Almost halfway done….

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Spot the lizard in the snake’s belly!

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Headed up the tree for a post-lunch siesta

The Sleepy Hornbill

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After much looking, we managed to spot an Oriental Pied Hornbill hidden in the foliage

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Here it is, dozing off….

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Seems like a full blown nap now! 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Water Monitor Lizards everywhere!

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Here’s one basking high up on a tree…

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Another monitor lizard enjoys its afternoon swim. Notice how the limbs of the monitor are drawn close to its body while swimming. It navigates the waters using its tail.

Other residents of Pasir Ris Park

(includes pictures from subsequent visits)

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The striking Black Baza is a small sized bird of prey and is known to perch for long durations on the bare branches of tall trees.

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After much debate by experts about the exact species of this bird, the verdict is that it is a Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo, meaning it is a cuckoo that resembles a drongo

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Notice the keyhole-shaped pupils of the Oriental Whip Snake, which enables snakes of this genus to have binocular vision

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A Yellow-lipped Water Snake in search of newly moulted crabs

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One of the most vocal residents of Pasir Ris Park, the Red Junglefowl, the wild ancestor of the domesticated chicken.

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A Black-crowned Night Heron out and about during low tide

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A Little Egret walks around the dry channel of Sungei Tampines

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It’s yoga time for this Grey Heron!

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A Sandpiper by Sungei Tampines

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A Striated Heron waits patiently for a catch, in the mangroves by Sungei Tampines

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The skittish Ashy Tailorbird was by far the hardest to photograph

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A male Flameback Woodpecker in the woods around the mangroves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The gender of a Laced Woodpecker can be identified by the colour of its crown – the female has a black crown while the male has a red one.

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A Blue-tailed Bee-eater takes a break

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Oriental Magpie-Robin foraging on the ground

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A female Common Iora, with pollen stuck on her beak after feeding on nectar

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A pair of Yellow-vented Bulbuls pose perfectly for this pic!

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A male (with pink neck) and female Pink-necked Green Pigeon, scan their surroundings

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A White-throated Kingfisher enjoys the surroundings from its prominent perch

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A Collared Kingfisher awaits its meal by Sungei Tampines…

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A Scaly-breasted Munia rests for a brief second

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A Mud Crab steps out of its burrow in the mangroves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Red-eared Slider (also known as Red-eared Terrapin) in the waters of Sungei Tampines

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A Giant Mudskipper in the mangroves of Pasir Ris Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Who knew there were jellyfish in the waters of Sungei Tampines???!!!

There are many creatures that I haven’t yet managed to photograph – the otters of course, the Stork billed Kingfisher, the Common Kingfisher, the raptors that fly overhead, the many skittish birds hidden in the foliage. These call for yet another visit to Pasir Ris Park.

I leave you with this Pasir Ris Park Guide I found online. Happy visiting! And don’t forget to let me know what you spotted!

Lastly, I cannot emphasise this enough – when visiting any nature reserve/park, please be extremely respectful of the environment. Loud chatting or music will disturb creatures and ruin any chance of spotting them. Going off-trail to get a picture damages the ecosystem that nurtures these species. As the old saying goes…

Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.

*********************************************************************

For my article on Pasir Ris Park in the Mar-Apr’17 issue of PASSAGE, the bimonthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore, please click here.

You can read more about the wildlife/natural history of Singapore in the following posts:

MacRitchie Reservoir Park

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Birds of Singapore

The Wallace Trail

Singapore Botanic Gardens

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