Category Archives: Reptiles

A Cold-blooded Encounter at Bukit Timah

Hiking up Bukit Timah Hill in Singapore with a long lens setup is never a truly enjoyable experience for me. The weight of the system, the steep climb and the general lack of any bird life on the way to the top meant that I am often staring at the road ahead instead of looking at the trees. The reward is often at the summit itself where birds tend to congregate.

So it was on one fine afternoon in late January 2012, that I found myself once again attempting to climb the summit. The climb was uneventful as things go and I was almost reaching the top. As is my normal routine, I tend to quicken my pace near the end just to get it over and done with.

Out of the blue, on the last big curve towards the top, a frog jumped out from the bushes by the side of the road. It hopped towards my direction and as my eyes was trying to keep track, something even bigger rushed forward towards me as well. I was so stunned by what was happening that I did not move any part of my body, except for my head that was tracking two things moving towards me, and then away from me. Had it been anything dangerous, I would have been toast. It took maybe 1-2 seconds before it registered in my mind that a frog was being chased by a snake. Almost instinctively, I raised my camera system that was slung on the side of my body towards my face, dialed the shutter speed knob of the camera a few notches clockwise and started tracking the two creatures. By the time I locked focus, they must have been 10 meters away. It was just a matter of clicking the shutter continuously while tracking their movement. Not an easy task considering that I was half exhausted from the climb, but the adrenaline rush helped somewhat.

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Spiny Terrapin at Sime Forest

The Spiny Terrapin (Heosemys spinosa) or Spiny Hill Terrapin or Spiny Turtle is a globally endangered species of forest terrapin.

It normally inhabit rainforest near shallow, clear streams. Normally it camouflage itself well among the leaf litter and can be more easily spotted once it moves.

It is named as such because the juveniles have a carapace which is heavily serrated at the margin. As it grows older, this is worn down. So one can tell whether it is a juvenile or adult by looking at the extent of the spines. The purpose of the spine is believed to be defensive in nature, so as to prevent predator from swallowing it whole. Perhaps as it grows older and bigger, such spines are no longer essential.

On a very wet day at Sime Forest in July 2012, I had the misfortune to have the main exit from the trail flooded. Even after the rain subsided, the stream was too overflowing with water to cross safely. So I decided to make a long detour to another exit. This entail climbing up a hill and descending. It was not a pleasant thing to do, considering that the descending part was waterlogged as well.

Dillenia Hut-2012-07-05 11.24.05
(Dillenia Hut flooded, as well as the nearby stream where I normally cross to exit. Photo taken from my phone.)


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Everett’s Scops Owl of Mindanao

One of the places I visited while in Mindanao, Philippines was a place called PICOP. It stands for Paper Industries Corporation of the Philippines. As the name implies, it was a logging site that produced paper and other timber products. It has long since been closed down and the forest now is unfortunately being decimated by other factors. Nonetheless, it is still an important site to get a lot of endemic Philippines birds.

One of the endemic bird there is the Everett’s Scops Owl (Otus everetti). It is a recent split from the Philippines Scops Owl, and the outskirt of the town of Bislig is apparently a good place to find it. At dusk, we arrived at a nondescript place with a patch of secondary forest, a road, and nearby some sort of worker’s compound. The place did not seem like much, but we were assured that the bird has been spotted here before.

Once the place got dark, the guide started playing the call of the owl to attract its attention. Minutes passed by, and then some more. Nothing. Motorbikes passed by every now and then. Mosquitoes abound and took a liking to us, and it looks like the guide was getting quite nervous. I was getting a bit impatient.

It must have been at least 15 minutes and the place was really dark when suddenly a flash of a bird flying pass. Everyone scurried to the landing place and the torches were aimed squarely at the owl. No one made any noise save for the rapid shutter sound from the cameras.

Everett's Scops Owl
(Everett’s Scops Owl with a Philippine Parachute Gecko in its mouth, perched on a bamboo clump)

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The Japanese Sparrowhawk and the lizard

The Japanese Sparrowhawk (Accipiter gularis) is a bird of prey that migrates from Northern Asia to South-east Asia during the winter months. They are birds of open or wooded area. Normally one can more easily see them near grasslands in Singapore, preying on small birds like munias by swooping them up in flight with their superior flying ability.

One a fine morning in late October 2013, I was at Jelutong Tower to find some raptors in the forest as it was peak raptor migration period in Singapore. In the forest, it is harder to see them perched amidst all the trees and lower light level. The plan was to see them take to the sky once the warmth of the rising sun causes hot air to rise from the ground. Then the overnight roosting raptors, that are normally passaging through Singapore will start on their journey south to their wintering ground using the rising air as additional lift.

That morning I had the good fortune to find a Short-toed Snake Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) and a male Japanese Sparrowhawk, the former being much rarer in Singapore and only the second photographic record locally. But I digress.

Japanese Sparrowhawk
(A male Japanese Sparrowhawk at Jelutong Tower, with red eyes mainly differentiating it from the female and juveniles with yellow eyes)

Fully satisfied with my find for the day, I made my way out of the forest via Rifle Range Link. Nearing a flat portion of the trail, there was a quick flash of a bird flying across. I hurriedly scanned the trees where it presumably landed. With a bit of effort, a raptor was sighted up on a tree trunk. Fortunately, there was a concrete structure around 1.2 meters tall that I climbed on to get a better view of the bird. It was immediately apparent that I was looking at a Japanese Sparrowhawk and it was staring back at me.

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Tiger slaying Dragon

Tiger slaying Dragon or Dragon-slaying Tiger?

Tiger Shrikes (Lanius tigrinus) are a migratory bird species that winters or pass through Singapore. Normally in the autumn months, the juveniles will pass through in significant numbers, and the former Bidadari Muslim Cemetery is a good place to see them.

The lizards from the genus Draco (meaning dragon) are commonly called flying dragons. They have an outstretched membrane made of skin between their ribs that aid in their gliding. They too can be found in Singapore, and Bidadari is an ideal environment as there are plenty of insects that serve as their food.

Tiger Shrike
(A juvenile Tiger Shrike with a flying dragon, Draco sumatranus)

This is a story told in pictures about the encounter of the Tiger and the Dragon that took place in September 2011.

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Saltwater Crocodile at Sungei Buloh

The saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), also known as saltie, estuarine or Indo-Pacific crocodile, is the largest of all living reptiles, as well as the largest terrestrial and riparian predator in the world. The male can reach lengths of up to 7 meters and weigh as much as 2 tonnes. The female is much smaller and usually does not exceed 3 meters in length.

It is a formidable and opportunistic apex ambush predator capable of taking almost any animal that enters its territory, including fish, crustaceans, reptiles, birds and mammals, including other predators. Due to their size and distribution, saltwater crocodiles are the most dangerous extant crocodilian to humans.

The above is taken in part from Wikipedia. Sounds really dangerous. I had a few encounters with them before in Sungei Buloh and once at Kranji Bund.

This particular encounter in August 2013 was the closest. Nonetheless I kept my distance and was stationed at a bridge while the crocodile was down below with no chance of contact. All photos were taken with my 500mm lens, so the crocodile appears closer than in real life. If you do encounter a crocodile, you are ill advised to go near to take a close-up shot. They may be still or appear sedentary, but the danger is still there.

Saltwater Crocodile
(Very still in the water, may even be mistaken for a piece of driftwood from a distance)


Saltwater Crocodile
(In dry land, you can see the body. This one is around 3m, a small sized specimen, but still dwarfing a human nonetheless)


Saltwater Crocodile
(A closer look at the head)


Saltwater Crocodile
(A closer look at the tail)


Saltwater Crocodile
(Going back to the water. Notice one of it’s tooth is stained red)


Saltwater Crocodile
(A saltie taken at Kranji Bund in 2011. This one is nicknamed Barney. Recently deceased 1. Seen here with some foolhardy illegal anglers nearby. One of them was taking a picture of it)

1. Asiaone report on Kranji crocodile