Friday, 21 September 2012

Return to Eden

On the hill, 7.30am, Singapore 14.8.12

Through the unbelievable generosity of big-hearted friends I have returned to Singapore and to the hill. An Eden that I believed was only ever to be accessible to me through memories, sketches and photographs. After a year away it is familiar yet still every bit as alien as before. It is hot and moist, the air is full of the constant whine of Cicadas, the 'chak-chaking' of Geckos and the exotic calls of what to me are 'jungle' birds. Most of the calls are unknown to me and I am reminded of every film or TV programme featuring jungles of any description from any part of the world. The heat here is unlike the heat of even the hottest day in England. There it is a direct and dry heat, a little like standing by a fire, and it is readily avoided by seeking a little shelter and shade. Here the heat is enveloping and penetrating and it makes you warm to your bones even in the shade. To some this type of heat is a discomfort to be avoided in the artificial cool of air conditioning, but to me it is welcome.

The hill

One call that I can distinguish is the laugh of the White Collared Kingfisher. My friends know it as the 'squeaky toy bird' because the sound resembles the noise that a dog's toy will make as the dog bites it. It was one of the first calls of any Singapore bird that I could recognise. They call loudly and can often be tracked down quickly by following the call. It feels right that the first bird in my sketchbook is a White Collared Kingfisher, a personal favourite. My first scribbles do prove that lack of practise has made the shapes of the birds unfamiliar. A Racket Tailed Drongo is calling from cover, loud and insistent. I spy him and he spies me with his bright, blood-red eye. Both of his magnificent tail streamers are still intact which is unusual and I try to photograph him. My photos are shaky, perhaps from the lack of light or, more likely, from my ineptitude with a camera. The sketch that goes in the book is little better as I underestimate the length of his streamers and end up adding them to the side as an extra.

White Collared Kingfisher

Racket Tailed Drongo

There are Myna birds on the hill (Javan Myna aka White Vented Myna) they patrol the slopes in gangs, like overgrown and over-dressed Starlings. They are noisy, boisterous, gregarious and funny. They strut around with that 'Ministry of Silly Walks' approved step of theirs and they make me smile every time.

Javan Myna

The beautifully named Olive Backed Sunbird is as common here as Blue Tits back home, they are almost as small and their call is similar too.

Olive Backed Sunbird

Yellow Vented Bulbuls are another very common bird here, singly or in pairs and trios they root around the bushes, trees, vines and grass looking for berries, fruits, young shoots and insects. I sketch one on 'the stump', just to loosen my wrist and to get used to the accursed finger splint that I am currently sporting on the ring finger of my right hand. (I injured it in a bizarre underwear related incident just a day or two before my trip.) 'The stump' is somewhat unusual for Singapore. I am in a public park, not a reserve, and the Singaporeans have a bit of a penchant for tidying things up. There are always gangs of workers trimming the trees beside the roads, or sweeping leaves and so on. Even Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is currently undergoing a bit of a 'make-over'. Hopefully the powers that be will not tidy it up to the point where it stops being a reserve and becomes just another park. Already there are visitors being attracted to the place who treat it more like a park than a reserve: They talk loudly and they laugh and shout, generally not showing any real regard for either the wildlife or those visitors that come to the reserve to enjoy it.
OK, rant over, back to the stump. It was here last year and here it remains so maybe someone somewhere has suggested that it should be left to rot down naturally into perfect insect habitat. It would be good to think that there is at least one voice of reason arguing for the value of non-intervention from time to time. I like the stump and I hope that it is allowed to decay with dignity and that it doesn't fall victim to the sweepers, shredders and removers for the sake of a 'tidy' hill.

'The stump' with Yellow Vented Bulbul