A bumper crop of walks for Nature Lovers have been planned by the Nature Society (Singapore) for March from bird watching to an introduction to plants in Bukit Brown.
Saturday 10 March 8 am – 10 am, join Wing Chong as introduces you to the various bird species that call Bukit Brown home. Please check in here to register interest
Later in the afternoon Goh Si Guim will reprise this nature ramble in the afternoon from 4pm – 6pm . Register here.
Sunday 11 March 9am – 10am Angie Ng will introduce you to plant life of Bukit Brown including some edibles if you are lucky . Please register your interest here
Please check in next week for the Nature Society’s events.
Check out our handy tips for a more enjoyable walk here
Report & photos by Goh Si Guim (Nature Society)
Bukit Brown Nature Ramble 19 Feb 2012
The Bukit Brown locale is made up of small, gentle and wooded hillocks. Thousands of graves were densely laid on the slopes of these hills. Being away from mainstream traffic, it has been mostly undisturbed for most parts of its existence. This has allowed the vegetation, particularly large trees and shrubs to mature. The area also received colonization of pioneer plant species from the adjacent rainforest of MacRitchie.
The enhanced diversity has, in turn, enabled Bukit Brown to support a great diversity of wildlife. These are certainly greater than that found in manicured and sparsely vegetated parks in the midst of urban centres.
The original vegetation of the area was lowland rainforests, very much similar to the nearby MacRitchie forest. Little, if any, of these can be found here today. The vegetation type here is compose of colourful ornamental shurbs planted alongside graves. Some large shade trees were also planted, such as the Daun Salam, Tembusu and Raintrees.
Many beautiful towering wild-grown Albizzia trees are also widely distributed over the landscape. Many of these old-growth trees have achieved stature and elegance. In particular, many giant Raintrees are festooned with a variety of ferns and orchids. Looking up from underneath one of these trees gives one a sense of awe and the laden outstretched limbs make a breathtaking sight. Be it against a clear blue sky or silhouetted against a grey backdrop, it is a mesmerizing picture.
Many of the large fig trees, such as the Banyans and Warringins were most probably left alone during the initial land clearance. Some, especially those found associated with large trees, could have been brought in by animals such as birds and squirrels. These ‘strangling figs’ can now be seen in the advance stages of ‘snuffing out’ their host plants.
Wildlife is ever present but do not lend themselves easily to observation. Most of what we see would be more active and by chance, sometimes with the aid of equipment such as hand lens, binocular or camera. Most of the wildlife resides in the deeper recess of the dense vegetation.
During this trip, there was a profusion of small snails and slugs on trees and dead vegetation. There was a constant presence of birds in the forest. They can be observed actively foraging for food or their calls can be heard over great distances.
Commonly encountered birds include sunbirds, Common Flamebacks (woodpecker), Banded Woodpecker, Striped-tit Babbler, Pink-necked Green Pigeons, Spotted Dove, Blue-tailed Beeeaters, Yellow-vented Bulbul and Changeable Hawk Eagle. Rare encounters reported include the critically endangered Grey-headed Fish Eagle and the White-bellied Woodpecker. Winter migratory birds also visit Bukit Brown to forage for sustenance.
Some plant common to secondary rainforest are also found here. The Macaranga hypoleuca stands out from the greenery as the underside of the leave is white, even in dried, shed leaves. Another related example is the Macaranga gigantea, whose leaves are large, hence the name.
These are but a small selection of flora and fauna in Bukit Brown that can be encountered at any one time. A great variety of plants and animals have yet to be uncovered. Their relationship and association has developed over a long period of time into a complex ecosystem. A habitat of equilibrium has been established.
This equilibrium is resilient but is susceptible to disruptions. This must be avoided or minimized.
Read about the Nature Society’s position paper here.
After the nature ramble, Suki Singh found these green pigeons and the chicks at the entrance, near Lorong Halwa:
If you have come to know Bukit Brown and feel that it embraces our collective identity of Heritage.Habitat.History, then join the people of all ages and from all walks of life who have signed the open letter to the authorities to save it. Spread the word so it may be appreciated by future generations as a living legacy.
Heritage. Habitat. History.
We support The Green Corridor in Singapore
is a ground up effort to preserve the former KTM rail corridor that traverses Singapore from North to South as The Green Corridor.
(The Rail Corridor after tracks, ballast and all equipment had been returned to Malaysia)
We support the preservation of Bukit Brown because like The Green Corridor , it is about heritage and the environment, connects the past with the present and leaves a legacy to the next generation.
We were successful in engaging with the authorities to let Singaporeans share their ideas here on how they would like to see The Green Corridor be developed. We wish Bukit Brown the same success.
To support our ongoing effort, please like this page
– A Walk with Dr Ho Hua Chew. Sunday 19th, Feb 2012.
by Rosalind M Tan.
It was a morning not unlike any other, except that I had not expected that it would take five and a half hours to go on a nature walk in Bukit Brown! I wasn’t warned! But ask me now if I would do it again……and my answer is a resounding, Yes!
It was my second meeting with Dr Ho Hua Chew, passionate naturalist and expert on birdlife in Singapore. I knew I was in good hands.
The morning’s tour began with a map. Like all educational tours, we had to have an idea of where we were heading. Whipping out a map, Dr Ho showed us where the new proposed road would be. Upon re-alignment, it is now slated cut across at least two valleys of Bukit Brown. We were there to see first-hand the dreaded potential ecological loss and damage to the natural habitat that has matured over the decades.
First off at 815am, about twenty of us headed towards hill 4. Seeing the stakes in the ground was like having stakes driven into one’s heart. But what captured my attention next were the beautiful and gorgeous matured trees that loomed tall and majestic. It was my first initiation to a parkland landscape in a cemetery! Native and alien tree species abound – the Angsana; the Rain Tree, the Morinda, the African Tulip, the Waringin, the Fish-tailed Palm, etc. With deep hues of yellow, red and orange, the ornamental Croton is aplenty, adorning the graves like a garden landscape.
Seen here, winding vines with tiny figs, clinging on tenaciously for dear life. Nonetheless, host and parasite seem to have a harmonious co-existence. I must admit this was the first time in my entire life that I have seen such “figs”. The figs that I had in my garden then did not look anything like this.
As we approached the end of hill 4, it was just incredibly unbelievable that we might lose equally magnificent banyan trees! How does anyone justify this? The thought of it makes me sad for the generations to come. Not that I am not sorry in the here and now for me and all of us. But because, in our very midst now, we are deliberately and consciously hell-bent on destroying these beautiful gifts from Mother Nature. This ole banyan may have stood for longer than most of us have lived, but all it takes is one fell swoop to decimate her. If trees could talk, listen. Should we do this? In exchange for what, I ask?
As we were leaving hill 4, Dr Ho pointed out the only one large visible stream left in Bukit Brown. The rest are either covered by overgrown vegetation or simply, choked up. I am given to understand from the tomb caretaker whose families lived here for three generations before, that the streams provided water for tomb maintenance and drinking! I have noticed some people fishing in this stream before.
There were other surprises in store. Flying high above our heads and as far as the eye could see, were flocks of swallows and swifts. How do you tell them apart? Dr Ho explained. But I was distracted! A flock of pigeons was spied balancing on the top of trees! What an act! Cirque du Soleil would be proud. Moreover, the trained and experienced eye of some members of the Nature Society of Singapore spotted eagles. Like all avid bird watchers, not having their binoculars was not an option. I was just grateful to be been there!
Monkeys! Someone mentioned monkeys. Come to think of it, it suddenly dawned on me that the monkeys in Bukit Brown were never a bother to anyone. I go to Bukit Brown often and never once have I witnessed any mischievous or vicious behaviour on their part. Unlike the reports that we read in the papers of monkey mischief and attacks around Pierce, Seletar and MacRitchie reservoirs, I have come to the conclusion that they behave such because we have encroached on their natural habitat! Destruction of their habitat to give way to rapid development and urbanisation has driven them out to scavenge for food. Where else would they go? But in Bukit Brown, they are contented, peaceful and playful because they are in their own comfort zone. It is their natural habitat. See for yourself in the picture taken on a previous visit to BB.
Other than all creatures great and small, I was privileged to be shown the flowers of the star fruit; the domestic lime plant and that of the noni fruit! In the commercial market place, the juice extract from the Hawaiian noni fruit would cost an arm and a leg (well, almost), but our little monkeys were happily helping themselves!
Should we deprive our little friends of their sustenance? When they are driven out of Bukit Brown, where will they go? Who will feed them? Should we put them down when they turn aggressive? If your family is threatened, what will you do?
The proposed highway will mercilessly cut through this valley, eight lanes of traffic. It only means added carbon emission that will choke and suck out the life of living things and creatures. On Jan1, the European Union imposed on airlines a carbon emission tax. Are we are not already contributing enough to global warming? Notice the countless air conditioning compressors in all our residential, commercial and industrial buildings in our little red dot. Granted, in equatorial Singapore, we do need air-conditioning. But to what degree? I see office workers coming out to lunch – to defrost! In our glitzy shopping malls, the eskimos would be very much at home. We seem to gas ourselves, slowly but surely. Let not Earth Hour be in vain. I recall the recent floods. The unprecendented extra high rainfall that can cripple economies and devastate livelihoods. Let global warming be a warning.
Exiting hill 4, a handful of participants decided to call it a day! But we were only at the two-third mark of the morning’s nature walk. Dr Ho may look like your friendly neighbourhood, unassuming and good-natured uncle, but boy could he walk! Some of us were half his age, but did not even have half his energy! I wasn’t ready to fly the white flag!
So, we continued and took another path to Lau Sua, known as Gan Eng Seng Hill. Lo and behold, greater treasures and rewards await those who endure and persist.
We owe a debt of appreciation to Dr Ho for his quiet persuasion, for encouraging us to carry on – “only one third more”. Frankly, it would have been terribly embarrassing not to complete this walk. We were supposed to be younger and fit, if not fitter! He could put all of us to shame. You wouldn’t want to ask the man his age. But I could use mine as an excuse to gracefully bow out. But no way, was I going to give up after having covered two-thirds of the walk. And best of all, he was freely dispensing food for the body, mind and soul.
In the picture above, Dr Ho with nary a bead of sweat! Measure his blood pressure and we will be scrambling for a health check! I suspect he’s the Ironman in disguise! A 42km marathon would be no sweat to him!
Oh, but we were just thankful for the above brief respite of a pit stop! The air was surprisingly cool and smelt sweet. You could almost taste it! Perhaps it was because of what was lurking under that sturdy….or was it, a creaky wooden bridge!
Crystal clear “longkang” water. A stream, if you like. You can see the reflection of the blue sky! Now I fully understand how the ladies of ancient times did their make-up before the era of mirrors. Dragon flies flit and you can also hear faint sounds of gurgling water. In the past, this was also drinking water for the families who lived here, as told to me by a tomb caretaker, Mr Lim. This is borne true by Dr Ho. He said, “The presence of dragon flies is an indicator of water purity”.
The ripples are caused by tiny fishes. Vegetation life here is lush and full.
From here, we cut across the open field (that once held graves) on the left and our sure-footed single-minded leader led us to another forested path in the direction of Onraet Road. It was tempting to throw in the towel. But not just yet. I was on a high, dosed on the generous sights and smells of Mother Nature. Secretly, I thought to myself, “If Dr Ho can do it, so can I!” Come hell or high water or the noon day sun, I will make it. Talk about “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak!”
Determination and a good pair of walking shoes saved the day. Incidentally, one participant had earlier left her sole in hill 4!
Even if all I saw was his back, it only meant that I had to catch up. Trailing behind was not a problem, so long as he was within sight. Thankfully, the man has the patience of Job.
The “punishment” proved to be worth it! No pain, no gain. How so very true in this instant. On the contrary, I would ask “What did I do to deserve this?” Ah………….
The “penthouse” view! The grand finale. The grand prize. We were standing on this hill, with the traffic of the PIE beyond. The terrain was undulating, yet the slopes were gentle. Crotons adorned the graves. The verte green of the trees, the fullness of the plants and the openness of the vast space at our feet! What more could we ask for? Nothing, except, please don’t destroy this! It was a horrible thought – housing! A piercing scream in the stillness. A fatal stab.
A recollection of the great escape of Mas Selamat (once Singapore’s most wanted terrorist) had a calming effect in that blasting heat! “When he jumped out of the Whitley Road detention centre (through the toilet window?), Mas Selamat escaped through the thick forested area here (not unlike the Malaysian jungle); then he went up Thomson Road; headed for Whitley Road and promptly disappeared into Toa Payoh!” Wow! Mas Selamat was here!! Here’s looking at you!
The sun was beating down hard on us, the last remaining survivors! Soaking in the view, listening to the lively chirpings and singing of birds to the muffled sound of traffic from the PIE, it was easy to forget that we were standing among graves! If a healthy imagination permits, an evening spent looking at the stars atop this hillock would complete this million, correction, billion dollar view! It was indeed a sight to behold. You see more green than graves. Hopefully future generations will see this too. In this unaffected natural state.
Reluctantly, for once, it was time to return to base Bukit Brown. But Dr Ho had one last remaining treat up his sleeve. What he promised, he delivered. This man is a consummate. Never have I met one such. I thank my lucky stars today. For, before this, I never really saw beyond the graves at Bukit Brown since the discovery of the ancestral tombs of my grandparents in 2011.
What splendour. What magnificence. Unfettered. Where in Singapore does one find such scenic beauty of the landscape? A parkland landscape of hillocks and dense woodlands supporting the Wild Cinnamon, the African tulips, the Albizias, the Giant Mahang, all the favoured haunts of a variety of birds. This is pure, virgin forest. Seeing is believing, that such exist in our midst of bricks and mortar of urban Singapore.
Seeing this green pigeon in flight up-close and personal was pure enchantment. Our eminent Dr Ho perked his ears to the calls of the Woodpecker, the deep full throated sounds of the Bulbul and the Kingfisher. Thankfully, I still have an acute sense of hearing and smell. Birds chirping and singing is music to the ears.
Had it not been for this initiation by Dr Ho, I would not have been able to tell the difference between one bird call from another. Ignorance is not bliss. The morning amble was hands-on and very much a healthy, living and learning outdoor work-out in the most conducive surroundings ever.
Apart from its high biodiversity value in terms of birdlife, there is also the cultural heritage value and its related significance in Bukit Brown. The whole of Bukit Brown deserves to be recognised and protected for its aesthetic, therapeutic and recreational uses. In the early morning or evening, many come to jog, walk their dogs or cycle. Even the horses from the nearby polo club come a-sauntering!
Dr Ho’s selfless giving leaves an indelible mark. Take a walk on the wild side and see for yourself. And if you are lucky, you just might have the honour of being in the company of our eminent environmentalist and authority on birdlife, Dr Ho Hua Chew.
If we choose to continue to sit on our hands, we may lose what matters most – our sanity, and with it our humanity, for we risk greater damage in our propensity for rampant expansion in the name of development. It is time to take a breather and gather our senses. Let our children be children. Humans are not robots. We can live in harmony with Nature. After all, how many cars can we drive at any one time? How many condos can we live in, at any one time? It would be a crying shame to know the price of everything, but the value of, nothing.
Rosalind is a passionate Peranakan nonya who helps administrate the Facebook page, Heritage Singapore – Bukit Brown. Her grandfather Tan Yong Thian is a pioneer buried in Bukit Brown. You can visit the beautifully restored Teochew tomb in Block 2, Group 2 tours. all things Bukit Brown thanks her for this contribution, and hopes we will continue to get her beautiful prose and photos.