Stop and Look Up: Herping in Mandai

Living in the concrete jungle of Singapore, being constantly surrounded by high rise buildings, roads and a cacophony of over 5 million people speaking in different languages while bustling about, it’s convenient to think that that’s all there is to our ‘little red dot’. But if you’re game enough, it’s just as easy to have a change in scene and experience a different side of Singapore. And all you have to do is hop on a bus. It’s that simple. The wonderful thing about Singapore for any nature enthusiast is just how accessible nature is. There aren’t many countries in the world where you can take public transport from the city centre straight to the forest in under an hour, or oftentimes much faster than that. Many of us Singaporeans forget about this, and perhaps it’s been taken for granted.

Last Sunday evening, some of us went up to the Mandai Park Connector. The moment we got Central Catchment PCoff the bus, we had the honour of being greeted personally by a resident of the Mandai forest – a young monitor lizard who scurried across our path into the neighbouring bushes.

While walking along the forest trail looking out for anything that moved, I couldn’t help but feel drawn to the things along the way that didn’t move: like the small number of lone stone walls, an old defunct well and a mysterious opening in the ground off the path with brick walls – perhaps remnants of what used to be a kampung. We weren’t just going back to nature, it seemed like we were going back in time.

But I digress. We walked further down the path when Ing Sind suddenly stopped, pointing IMG_9022upwards into the trees right above us. There, lying on a thin branch was the Painted Bronzeback (Dendrelaphis pictus), our first snake of the evening! Looking at it, it wouldn’t have even crossed my mind that the slender white figure would be a snake, because it really looked like just another twig off that tree. Guess it really pays off to look up and change perspective every now and then!

Moving deeper into the forest, we heard a different cacophony of voices, this time not from people but frogs. Lots and lots of them. While most amphibian calls tend to resemble something much like a musical belch or fart, there was one call that stood out for us – the call of the Spotted Tree Frog. Its rather mechanical call is highly unique, sounding very similar to a watch’s alarm (‘beep beep beep beep’).  Although we didn’t manage to find the Spotted Tree Frog, we did have the pleasure of coming across a number of the other frogs with their less-sophisticated (but nonetheless equally enjoyable) calls.IMG_9031

The Black Eyed Litter Frog (Leptobrachium nigrops)was one of them, resting among the leaf litter, and was very easy to approach. Just next to it lay a pool of water, where we observed two species of tadpoles – the ones that were darting around quickly in the water belonged to the Field Frogs (Fejervarya limnocharis), while the ones suspended almost motionless in the water belonged to the Microhylidae family. Further down from the pool of water, we found a number of Four-Lined Tree Frogs (Polypedates leucomystax) – one pausing midway in its journey asIMG_9036 if forgetting what it came for, while not too far from it was a couple of them mating strategically above a water source as a home for their young.On the way back, we came accross two Common Asian Toads (Duttaphrynus melanostictus), where one of them was sitting in a hole in a tree trunk.

Just after a blur of bikers whizzed past us, Ing Sind stopped in his tracks again and pointed upwardIMG_9047s. Lying on a thin branch way up above us was a Wagler’s Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri)! It was too high up to tell whether it was a male or a juvenile (but according to us women, they’re essentially the same thing!)

As the walk came to an end, the sound of the Spotted Tree Frog seemed to be escorting us out, though we never did manage to find the frog itself. It is incredible, just how much value and wonder lies right under our noses (or just above our heads) that goes by unnoticed. Perhaps by merely whizzing by too fast down a straight path, being so caught up in reaching a destination, we fail to truly enjoy the process of stopping to appreciate the little hidden gems all around us. And perhaps all we need to do, is take the time to stop in our tracks, take a step back and look up.

Image of Central Catchment Park Connector: Source

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