‘Tis the season to be jolly! Migratory season special (09/12/2018)

Mid zone of Sungei Buloh mangroves

Seaward zone of Sungei Buloh, now studded with the white plumage of herons

MERRY CHRISTMAS!! The migratory season is finally here! It gives naturalists in warmer climates all the more reasons to celebrate a colourful Christmas *<:>> Migratory season spans from September to March next year, but from personal experience, November to January is the more boisterous and exciting period, with birds flying all the way from Northern China and Siberia to seek refuge in this sizzling hot little red dot (and the surrounding Southeast Asian countries e.g. Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia). Sungei Buloh, with its geological advantage and abundance of food in the mangroves, attracts migrants and nature photographers alike. Enjoy this single-act play on the grand theatre stage of Nature, on show 24/7. Shushhh, the curtains are about to open…

Exposition – the wetland biome


The mangrove forest is mainly divided into three zones, with different types of plants thriving on distinctive adaptations: the landward zone with the roots covered only during high tides, the mid zone with roots intermittently plunged by seawater, and the seaward zone with roots submerged even during low tides. The mid zone plants, such as Rhizophora, develop prop roots to withstand the rushes of sea waves; the seaward plants possess aerial roots to breathe oxygen above the airtight marshy mud.

Act 1 – landward zone

Scene 1 – The Abbey

Main character – Brown-capped woodpecker Picoides moluccensis (15cm)

A stripe of blackish moustache and white collar symbolise its prestigious presence as a specialist in mangrove areas. Its small stature, a brown hat, and a slick brown suit patterned with white bars allow it to perfectly disguise itself in the woods. 

The brisk sound of knocks on a low wood branch by its chisel-like beak. What does it fancy for luncheon today? A plump larvae, insect eggs, or the tree sap? 

It halts for a second or two, as if listening to the nearing of its distinguished guest’s carriage. Then, all of a sudden, it darts into the distance.

Scene 2 – The Market

Boisterous chatters fill the market air. Fervent and anxious calls between couples, chirpy laughters among children running around, far-carrying commands by the police… 

The mysteries of their identities can be revealed here. (Share the bird calls and songs you hear where you are from! Identifying birds from their calls is a must-have skill of any birder, which comes in handy in forests.)

Act 2 – Mid zone

Main character – Malayan Sunbeam Curetis santana malayica 

Bright coppery red above with a black border on both the fore and hindwings. The silvery white underside has obscure black dots in the submarginal and marginal areas. Its antennae are black and straight, with tips that beam yellow under the sun. The white markings on its legs distinguish it from other sunbeams. Sunbeams are the only cheerfully-dressed members of the Lycaenidae family, otherwise known as “grass blues”, which flutter their inconspicuous blue wings gloomily among the grass. 



Act 2 – seaward zone: the Climax

Main character – milky stork Mycteria cinerea (95cm)

“Fancy seeing you here, Mr. Stork!”

“All the way from Malaysia!”

“What’s your travel plan here, sir?”

The entry of Stork sparks awes and flaunts from the huge flocks of chestnut-coloured curlew sandpipers (Calidris ferruginea 25cm). A polite nod for acknowledgement for these migrants would be most appropriate, thought Stork, and so he did. This shy and mysterious guest then flung open its snowy white wings with black flight feathers, and flew all the way to the other bank of the estuary. His S-shaped neck is reminiscent of herons, and his pink, long legs resembles that of flamingoes. However, his heavy yellow bill and fiery red bare head set him apart. 

Glancing around his new haven, Stork let out a sigh of relief. With an endangered status hanging around his neck, it has never been harder to find a place to land his feet. Here in Sungei Buloh, with a never-draining supply of fishes, crabs and mudskippers, he and his few travel mates can settle down a while before their next adventure for survival. Or, he thought delightfully to himself, he might have just found a new home for building a family.

Little egret in seaward marshes

Great egrets


Davison G.W.H., Chew Yen Fook. (1995). A Photographic Guide to Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore. UK: New Holland Publishers.

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