A really good Friday… [Update]


As always when we do things on a weekend, short or long, it’s because Lamia did some research on the web to discover a place we have not been to, yet. For today – Good Friday – she suggested to go to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. This place is located in the North of Singapore. When you stand on the main bridge after the visitor center, this is what you see when you look to the left…

Yep, what you’d expect: jungle foliage and murky water.
And when you look to the right…

Oh, that building there? That’s Malaysia, kids.
Geez, that’s really close! It’s the first time we are in this area and though I have often seen how close Singapore is to the Malaysian shore on one of my flights back home coming from the North, it’s still sort of surprising to see this in person.

Now here we were and thanks to my second-to-none wife we were about to have another wonderful walk in our adopted home country with some stunning and very surprising experiences.

Here’s she and the boy on said main bridge, ready for adventure:

There are several hikes you can do at Sungei Buloh, and we picked a trail that circled around some of the reserve so we didn’t have to drag along Oskar’s car seat.

Much what we saw at the beginning was nice, of course. I am spoiled, however, and when I am hauling my Canon 6D and both my L lenses I sort of think I deserve nature pulling out some sensational things to photograph. But like I said, don’t fret: it should become a truly “good” Friday. Here’s a typical view of what we saw in the beginning:

I guess when you arrive early in the morning you see more action, especially from birds (if our experience from the Carmargue may be any guidance here). We hit the park only around 9 am, which I suspected was already too late for cool stuff.
Anyway, the walk was very pleasant. The pathways are wide and very comfortable to walk on and there were not too many people around. There were more of these Giant Golden Orb Weaver above our heads, however, which are really darn big and allegedly belong to the biggest spider species in the world: I’ve read they can apparently reach a total diameter of 20 cm. The ones we saw were not as big, but easily in the 12-15 cm range.

Even though I was closer to them height-wise, Lamia consistently discovered them first. That girl just has a sixth sense to detect big, eight-legged friends…

As we continued, we passed by a deep pond in which quite a big monitor lizard was chilling. Now, monitor lizards are nothing special in Singapore, to be honest – we run into them all the time (sort of). I have to say that seeing such a dragon-ish or dinosaur-ish beast roaming free is still quite special for me. I tried a few photos of that fellow in his mud bath, but nothing turned out quite right. The angle was not right and I was not…

Lamia: Hey…

… happy with what I got. I thought about…

Lamia: Honey!

… maybe trying…

Lamia: HONEY!
Leo: What now!?
Lamia: There’s another one and it’s coming right towards the walkway!
Leo: Oh…

There was indeed a second monitor lizard and despite the fact it was not as big as the one in the “tub”, I have never had the chance to take photos of one of these so close and under such good light conditions (I was very close to the one on Bintan, too, but the light was not as good as here and – more importantly – I did not have my zoom lens).
Hey there, little buddy:

This one really let me come as close as a few small steps.
Here’s a good top view:

And a lovely portrait :)

Pretty awesome!
You know, at that point in time I was already happy with the trip. Not that a monitor lizard is adding a lot of news to my photo collection, but shooting some great quality photos was already satisfying for me (and don’t judge me, but this is really important to me when I go to a nature reserve like this).

After we had sufficiently photographed that lizard we walked on.

Some Mangroves… I love how the black and white photo helps unveil much of the detail especially at the roots.

Every hundred meter or so we passed by bird observation hides, large and small. Not much to be seen from any of them, but to get the most out of such a hide you need to stay there for a while, of course. And you need a bigger zoom than my (in this case) rather paltry 300 mm. Otherwise you get a grand overview like this, which is cute, but not too noteworthy:

Time for a little snack…

To repeat myself: at this point in time I was already happy photography-wise.
I had that decent photo of a spider and very good photos of a monitor lizard. Unfortunately I had missed a Kingfisher that I had spotted earlier (though I think Lamia got him), but all in all the photo yield was not too shabby.

Turns out we were about to come to the end of the hike and we were close to the main bridge again. It was then when we noticed a crowd at the side of the pathway.

Lady: There’s a snake. A pretty long one…

A snake?
Uuuh! Exciting!
I walked around the crowd in hope to get a good view of it. And yes: I could spot it. Not a good angle to take a photo, but I was impressed. This snake was indeed quite long. And it was about to show itself a little more. Lucky old man that I am, I was just at the right location – next to half a dozen smartphones – when the snake decided to dare a closer look at the crowd.

And it was a beauty!

I have not much of a clue about snakes, but this one was really, really pretty. It does not look that big from this angle, but trust me, it was crazy long. I thought it might be 1.50 meters or so, but to be honest every time I tell the story it gets longer :)
It did not move closer than what you see on the photo above, but I was very happy with how close I was able to zoom in and how sharp the photo turned out.

Now the snake turned around and climbed up the trees.
Shit! It f***ing climbed up the trees! I’ve seen this on TV before, but watching this performance in real life is actually much more impressive. This helped me to take a photo of the snake that actually provides a better feeling for its size.

I was able to follow its way onto a branch and I love the next photo: the snake and the ant.

Now I was over the moon with the photo “take” of the day, of course.
This is the first time I took a photo of a snake that I crossed my path in the wild. And then it was such a beautiful specimen! Absolutely marvelous!

Naturally the burning question is now what kind of snake this was?

This is not an easy answer to give for someone like me who is not in the business of identifying snakes. There are different sources to help track down a species and I found Ecology Asia rather helpful. The South-East Asia snake section has photos of all the usual suspects. And there are really not that many to pick from. I first thought we had met some sort of cat snake. Or an Indochinese Rat Snake.

But none of them really seemed to fit.

But then I got it! And at first I could not believe it.
But we actually had run into a King Cobra!

I know what you think:

You: This is not a King Cobra! I’ve seen pictures and they look like this:

I nicked this photo from a site called TopHQimages.

Well, I understand, but you gotta read more about them. First, check Ecology Asia and you will start to appreciate the differences in the colors and particularly the scale structure of all kinds of snakes. You will eventually come to the King Cobra section and while the specimen they show photos of does not have the exact same color as the one I photographed, I argue you will eventually have to agree it is at least the same kind of snake.
Then go to Wikipedia and look at this very helpful scalation of a King Cobra and compare it with my photos above and this one here:

The top view is very easy to confirm with the scalation graphic, and the three scales behind the eye seem to be also very typical. The above photo is also helpful if you are missing the infamous hood of the cobra. Do you see these “wrinkles” behind the head? Well, I do admit I could still be terribly wrong – after all I am no expert by any means – but I am pretty sure this is how the hood looks like when it is not extended.

Again: I daresay we crossed paths with  what I would reckon was a young King Cobra. This one was max 2 meters (I told you: the size increases every time I tell the story :) ), but Wikipedia says they can become 3-4 meters long. Oh and yes: the bite of this snake is bloody fatal (if not treated quickly enough), and I do wonder now how close I really got to it in the end (well, just to be clear: all of the pictures you see above were taken at the maximum focal length of 300 mm – I was likely further away than some folks with their smartphones).

Just wow!

Once the snake had disappeared in the foliage, we made our way back to the visitor center, crossed the bridge… and Lamia, who had been walking in front of me was suddenly all excited, waving at me. There were suspiciously many people on that bridge…

Lamia: And now there’s a crocodile!

You got to be…!
I was only quick enough to see a fricking huge, scaled body making an elegant, swift diving motion under the bridge – and then it was gone. Shoot! I should have been faster! Unfortunately the crocodile did not surface right after the bridge. Somebody spotted it little bit later in the distance, close to the shore and under some trees.

This would have been the cherry on the cherry of the cake.
But what a great day for a photographer this was already!!

Oh, hey: there was also a very cute boy on the bridge…

… and I had clear view towards him when he was speeding in my direction.

This little guy just makes me smile…

Eventually we returned to the visitor center. Now, remember the monitor lizards I mentioned earlier? And that they are very common in Singapore? Well, it seems they are also very common in the pond at the visitor center. We saw four or five of them in different sizes. Here’s a fat chap who apparently just had a very big brunch…

Again: what a great day!
And what a lovely family:

I am pretty sure this won’t have been our last time at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

Edit April 5:
Fixed some typos and rewrote a few sentences which were too “bumpy” upon reading them again today.

2 responses »

  1. Wow, seeing these pictures I so much regret not having been there during our visit last year…but you cannot go everywhere in five days… really great photographs… chapeau, chapeau…

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