Tag Archives: wildlife

An oasis in Mumbai’s concrete jungle – the Sanjay Gandhi Nat’l Park

Growing up in the western suburbs of Bombay (now Mumbai), the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) was the venue of my annual school picnic for many an academic year. But despite the annual visit to the park and its proximity to my parents’ home, as a school kid, I had no inkling (or for that matter, any education) about the ecological value of this national treasure.

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Map of the SGNP

SGNP is one of the few national parks in the world located within city limits. I’ve been told it is 35 times the area of NYC‘s Central Park but I think, the comparison is quite unfair – the SGNP is a naturally occurring forest, the latter a man-made park.

In a space-starved city like Mumbai, the SGNP is a refuge for the city’s inhabitants. You have to be at the entrance gate at 6am to see the incredible number of people who use the park for their morning run/walk or simply just to socialize.

Having lived away from India for a stretch of nearly 7 years now, every trip back to Mumbai has included a visit to the forests of SGNP. Home to nearly 600 species of fauna and over 1,300 species of flora, SGNP is best visited in the monsoons when the foliage is lush, the streams are gushing and the verdant hillsides are streaked with small waterfalls.

In recent years, however, I’ve not been able to make it to Mumbai or SGNP in the monsoons. But I have a few memories of the park from that time of the year – dark, brooding clouds casting shadows on the hillsides in the afternoon sun; mushroom-covered logs of wood strewn all over the damp, forest floor; me quite comically slipping off wet rock faces! Miraculously, I escaped unhurt….

The most remarkable aspect of the SGNP is that it has the highest leopard / carnivore density anywhere in the world (38 individuals in an area of 104 sq.kms.), in a city that has one of the highest population densities in the world. This unique cohabitation of humans and a big cat species, has garnered a fair bit of international attention, including that of the hallowed National Geographic, which thankfully has helped the leopard’s cause (I suspect)!

I’d be ecstatic if I spotted a leopard (from a reasonable distance of course!) but the creatures being nocturnal in their habits, are very difficult to spot during day time. I’ve had to make do with leopard droppings and their pee markings, along some of the trails I’ve visited in the park.

Most of my recent visits to the SGNP have been in the last quarter of the year, when the forest is dry and appears sparse as compared to its monsoon avatar. However, it’s much easier to navigate the various trails at this time of the year.

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A section of the Bamboo Hut Trail, which stretches about 12kms (start to finish)

The SGNP website (https://sgnp.maharashtra.gov.in) has lots of great information about the park and its flora and fauna. Sign on to the SGNP FB page (https://www.facebook.com/SanjayGandhiNationalPark/) for updates on upcoming treks and workshops. You may also contact the Nature Information Centre of the SGNP for a special tour request (https://sgnp.maharashtra.gov.in/1127/About-NIC).

Also within the SGNP limits are the Kanheri Caves, a spartan (yet stunning!) cluster of Buddhist rock-cut caves, some which date back to the mid-3rd century BCE. There are a 100+ of these caves and the number differs based on which source you reference. However, all sources agree on the fact that the name ‘Kanheri’ comes from the Sanskrit word Krishnagiri, meaning ‘black mountain’, alluding to the basalt mountain from which the caves are carved. Once a major Buddhist centre, the complex is a protected archeological site today. Best visited with a knowledgeable guide.

The forests of SGNP also support two (of seven) lakes that provide potable water to Mumbai – Tulsi Lake (completed in 1897) and Vihar Lake (completed in 1860). The forests serve as a catchment area for these two lakes and play a crucial role in ensuring water supply to the city.

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View of Tulsi Lake (in the foreground) and Vihar Lake (partially visible in the background)

Both lakes can be clearly seen from Jambulmal, the highest point not just in SGNP but also in the entire city, located 468 meters (1535 ft) above sea level. Given the key role the lakes play in the city’s water supply, direct access to them is restricted and requires special permission.

The SGNP is revered as the ‘green lung’ of Mumbai. However, it is no match for the ever-increasing pollution and the rapid development in this bustling metropolis. Hopefully, Mumbai’s citizenry will continue to value this last vestige of forest, and preserve the city’s fragile and only connection to nature.

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View of the concrete jungle beyond park limits

 

If you live in Mumbai or are visiting the city, consider adding the SGNP to your list of ‘places to see’. I wish you lots of luck with spotting the elusive Mumbai leopard! 

I leave you with a few pictures of the fauna I’ve seen along the Shilonda Trail of the SGNP……

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A Green Bee-eater enjoys the sun

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A male Purple-rumped Sunbird, a species endemic to the Indian subcontinent

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A Long-tailed (Rufous-backed) Shrike

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A female Chestnut-shouldered Petronia, also known as the Yellow-throated Sparrow

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The Southern Plains Gray Langur, known locally as the Hanuman Langur

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A handsome male Chital, also known as the Spotted or Axis Deer. The metre-long antlers are shed (and re-emerge) annually.

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A Brahminy Skink (also known as the Keeled Grass Skink) hidden in the foliage…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The nest of the Crematogaster Ant (made with dry leaves, saliva and mud) resembles a pagoda and is hence called a ‘pagoda ant nest’

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The maze-like exterior of the Harvester Ant nest prevents the entry of water into the dwelling

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The Baronet Butterfly

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The Blue Pansy Butterfly

Oriental Common Sargeant

The Oriental Common Sergeant Butterfly

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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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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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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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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.

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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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Tangkoko Nature Reserve, Sulawesi – A Birdwatcher’s Delight!

A couple of months ago, when hubby suggested he wanted go diving in the Lembeh Strait, my first reaction was to look for it on the map.

Located off North Sulawesi (Indonesia), Lembeh Strait is famous in the diving community as a ‘muck diving’ haven, where all kinds of weird and wonderful underwater critters like octopi, sea horses, nudibranchs etc, abound.

Only much later did I realise that our trip to North Sulawesi would bring me right back in the footsteps of Alfred Russel Wallace. Between June and September 1859, Wallace spent time collecting specimens from around North Sulawesi. The below map from his book, The Malay Archipelago, shows his route across North Sulawesi.

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Interestingly, in the North-East corner of this map, is ‘Limbe Island’ (what is known today as Lembeh Island). Lembeh Resort on this very island was our home for the week that we stayed in North Sulawesi. (More on Lembeh Island and diving in the Lembeh Strait, in an upcoming post. )

One of the main objectives of Wallace’s visit to North Sulawesi was to collect specimens of the maleo bird. Maleos, which are endemic to Sulawesi, are highly endangered today and rarely seen.

We had hoped we would spot a maleo during our day at the Tangkoko Nature Reserve (wishful thinking on our part!) but we had no such luck. We did however manage to photograph nearly 30 species of birds, most of which are found only in Sulawesi, as well as endemic mammals like the endangered black crested macaques, bear cuscus and the spectral tarsier.

Tangkoko Nature Reserve is accessed from Batu Putih village (which can also been seen on Wallace’s map). If you decide to stay on Lembeh Island (like us), after the ferry crossing to Bitung, the drive to Batu Putih takes little less than an hour.

Batu Putih can also be reached from Manado but the journey takes much longer (about 2 hours), than if you were coming from Bitung.

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The black sand beach of Batu Putih 

I leave you with some pictures from our day at Tangkoko Nature Reserve. It’s a goldmine of endemic species and a must visit for any nature lover!

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The stunning male Sulawesi wrinkled hornbill

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We almost missed this Green-backed Kingfisher (endemic to Sulawesi)

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Another species endemic to Sulawesi – the Yellow-billed Malkoha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A striking specimen of the Sulawesi Drongo

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A male Ashy Woodpecker, busy at work. Also endemic to Sulawesi.

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A pair of Sulawesi Scops Owl asleep in a bamboo grove

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A family of Black-crested macaques with a newborn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These macaques are critically endangered and only about 5,000 individuals remain in their original habitat in North Sulawesi.

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A Sulawesi Bear Cuscus high up on a tree branch

The Bear Cuscus is a small bear, similar to the koala. Very little is known about these bears but what is known for sure is that it’s a marsupial – the female carries the baby in an external belly pouch.

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A pair of White-rumped Cuckoo shrikes spotted in the mangroves off Batu Putih village (endemic to Sulawesi)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Great-billed Kingfisher resting in the mangroves (endemic to Sulawesi)

At the end of that really long day in Tangkoko, my legs were riddled with bites (insect/mite/whatever the hell can bite through my pants) but the sheer joy of seeing these magnificent creatures first-hand surpassed all discomfort! I know I will be back for more! 🙂

With that, we headed back to the comfort of our cozy resort on Lembeh island, just in time for another of those glorious Lembeh sunsets!

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Another sublime sunset over Lembeh Strait!

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Tracing the footsteps of A. R. Wallace in Singapore

Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), the British naturalist and co-propounder of the evolutionary theory of natural selection, arrived in Singapore on 18th April 1854. This was the start of his long, 8-year stay in Southeast Asia.

In Singapore, from the Dairy Farm area alone, Wallace is believed to have collected over 700 species of beetles. Today, a 1km track in the Dairy Farm Nature Park, named the ‘Wallace Trail’, commemorates his time in Singapore.

I explore the Wallace-Singapore connection in my article for the Nov-Dec’15 issue of PASSAGE (the bi-monthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore).

Wallace Trail, Singapore

(Reproduced with the permission of the Editor.)

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

MacRitchie Reservoir Park

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Pasir Ris Park

Birds of Singapore

Singapore Botanic Gardens

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