Monday, March 9, 2015

Singapore - Birding at the Lower Peirce Reservoir Park

Last night, I was looking through the National Parks website and decided I wanted to hike a trail in the morning. I picked a quick 45min easy trail that looped around the Lower Peirce Reservoir because the description said that I would be able to spot some native birds. I haven't really gone bird watching since I came back, so this would be a good opportunity as I had nothing on my agenda today. Zero. Amazing.

The weather in the morning was beautiful. Clear blue skies with not a cloud in sight. I took my time to have breakfast and Face Timed my in laws for an hour. When I decided to finally set off, the sky looked a little iffy. Newsflash! My weather app projected a 90% chance of rain. That didn't deter me. By my strange and stubborn logic, I thought I could perhaps outrun the clouds, get to the trail and finish hiking and birdwatching before the heavens opened.

I know what you're thinking. Uh-oh. This story does not have a good ending.

As the bus neared my destination, I could see dark ominous clouds lurking over the exact spot where I was going to hike. I muttered a silent prayer for the clouds to hold up, even just for an hour. I wasn't going to be greedy, just one hour please. The sun was still shining, even though I felt tiny droplets at random moments. I looked at my still-pretty-darn-new pair of walking shoes. Damn, they're about to get real muddy.

Still, i plodded on.

If there weren't enough warnings, a sign at the trailhead read : Do not enter in the event of stormy weather. Sailed right past it.

I was relieved to find that the trail was a boardwalk the entire way (I love you Singapore, and your no nonsense efficiency. I applaud you for your foresight). Muddy shoes, a thing of the past. The towering trees also covered much of the skies, so the rain suddenly became a distant memory. Very soon, I was straining all my senses in hopes of finding myself a new bird for the life list. Nada. I saw a monitor lizard, and a skink. And just a couple of other hikers. I could hear them little birdies chirping away, but identifying them by song is the least of my capabilities. I remembered reading on the website that the trail takes you to an open area to the quarry lake, where the birds are most likely found, so I doubled my pace to look for water.

There are many things an avid birder would avoid. One, dressing in bright colors, because let's face it, they don't call it the bird's eye view for naught. Two, making too much noise. The ultimate birder's nightmare was about to happen to me. I had reached the part of the trail that edges the quarry lake, and walked past an old man, who was doing some gentle stretches, minding his own business (as was I). To my horror, he started swinging his arms back and forth, clapping when his hands met. Now, I am all too familiar with this clapping shenanigan that the local older folks call "exercise". Here was one prime example, just doing it at the worst spot! In an effort to get away from all that ruckus, I quickened my pace so the birds won't flee from me into oblivion. Reaching a bend in the trail, I heaved a sigh of relief as I thought I had put some distance between us. I raised my binoculars to search for my little birdies when the sounds of  clapping traveled to my ears. Very faint at first, but approaching. Definitely advancing. Cursing under my breath, I picked up my pace and moved quickly along the trail.

It had to be a blessing in disguise. Because I wandered to the end of the trail and into the reservoir park proper. There was a little pavilion at the end of a cobbled path that led to nowhere. I decided to take a break from walking, and also seek shelter from the bigger drops of rain that were now falling. Right next to the shelter were two huge flowering trees. One was the beautiful flame-of-the-forest, but I had no idea what the other was called. It had pretty clumps of orange flowers that looked like the ixora, but I didn't think the ixora grew on trees. This was my big birding break. I could hear a symphony of chirping, I just couldn't see the birds. For now.

I spent the next two hours sitting on the bench, propping my elbows up on my knees. Birding can be a tiring affair, as I have come to remember. Holding the binoculars up for an extended period of time causes the arms to burn. Really bad. And then you start to tremble, which is not good at all for looking through the binoculars. You need really steady hands. And then there is the disconnect between spotting a movement with your eyes, then raising the binoculars and trying to look for that same spot. I was only getting the hang of it by the end of the two hours. And then comes the challenge of trying to catch a glimpse of unfamiliar birds. If only they would stay put long enough for me to note their features for identification later on! As if teasing, these birds flit in and out of the trees, behind leaves or in the glare of the sun so you don't really think you'd seen what you saw. But patience always pays off. If you follow a bird long enough, sooner or later you'll get a good look, and bam! Field notes taken, image committed to memory. New bird for life list. Mission accomplished!

My two hours of hard work yielded sightings of a purple-throated sunbird - a beautiful bird the size of a hummingbird with a iridescent turquoise crown and bright red belly, and of course, its shiny purple throat. I also saw a common flameback. - a magnificent woodpecker in flight, with yellow wings with a bright red crest on its head. A common tailorbird that drove me nuts for the first hour as I could only hear it's incessant chuk-chuk-chuk, but could never spot it. When I'd finally seen it, you could only imagine the amount of satisfaction and relief flowing through my veins. Adding to my list are four female pink necked green pigeons, a crimson sunbird, a yellow vented bulbul, a black naped oriole, two barn swallows and a thousand mynas. Oh and three macaques.

The rain never did fall. I must have been in the area with 10% chance of precipitation.

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