As one of the most densely populated cities in the world, tiny Singapore would be thought of as being highly urbanized. But we also know that the country is a garden city, though those are man-made. So it can be a real treat to know that not only does our little red dot boast of being a green city, we actually have natural habitat still in relatively pristine conditions.
There are a number of nature reserves in Singapore, mainly around the water catchment areas in the central portion of the island. But up in the northwestern end, is a small yet impactful 130 hectares of low lying flats that are home to many species of migratory birds. The Sungei Buloh wetland reserves had humble beginnings but gained its gazette in 2002.
Aside from driving here either on your own, taking a taxi or coming with a tour coach, public transport is actually quite viable. Simply take bus service 925 which stops at the PUB quarter at the tip of the Kranji reservoir:
The bus service runs between Woodlands MRT station to Choa Chu Kang station. Tip: take note that the bus service runs as a loop on Mondays-Saturdays. Where you get off (PUB Quarters), it is also where you need to get back from. Only on Sundays and Public holidays, the service runs all the way to Choa Chu Kang station.
It is probably better to take the bus from the Kranji MRT station, where the bus stop is just outside the station (do not cross the road, that’s the return leg). From there it is an easy 10 minute ride through an industrial estate (about 12 stops). It is time to alight when you see the large body of water to your left that is Kranji reservoir.
The nature reserve & Coastal trail
A small gate on the side of the road welcomes you to the nature reserve. And the first place you will get to is obviously the visitor centre. On the weekend I was here, there was only one counter staff. There are many exhibits here at the center too and is a good place to get some background knowledge of the history of this reserve. Nearby is heron point, and not just a few of these birds can be seen stalking for fish here.
But the real attraction would be the coastal trail.
This trail extends for about 1.6-2km depending on how you walk it and hugs the northern coastline facing Johor and the strait. One popular stop is Eagle point, where photographers position themselves to catch snapshots of sea eagles and Ospreys that has made this part of Singapore and southern Johor their home. Studies have confirmed that mangroves are critical in helping protect coastlines from erosion by the sea. But it is also critical for another reason : it is an important part of the ecology in the life cycle of many marine and even shoreline species.
And as a wetland, it definitely supports migrating birds to take shelter, rest and refuel before their onward global journey. The walkway is a great way to see the mangroves up close without the discomfort of walking in them or damaging them in the process.
On a clearer day it would be possible to see more, and along the coasts there are observatory ‘nest’ pods that serve as a hideout for visitors. These pods afford people being hidden away to watch the birds.
For some fun for the kids, let them run wild on the mid canopy walk. The springy walkway is fun for the adults too… All along the coast you need to be aware that local macaques rule. They scour the coast foraging. In other words do not try to feed them or approach too closely to them. I was walking along the coast when a group of stray dogs started to attack a family of them. Fortunately for them the mangrove trees saved the day and they managed to evade becoming the dogs’ a meal! I was actually sad for the abandoned dogs, who were probably formerly pets…
Wetland reserve & Migratory bird trail
The wetland area itself has its own visitor center and exhibits. There are facilities to support events and there is a theatrette too. To demonstrate how “wild” the place actually is, a large monitor lizard (it’s not a pet) greeted me on the entrance.
To access the wetlands, one needs to get to the main bridge that separates the visitor center. In all of my photos, you will notice that the wetlands are not really wet. Perhaps the estuary riverlets… that is because it was low tide.
So there are two things to do at the main bridge: admire the Sungei Buloh besar or the larger Sungei river. Perhaps you may spot a Kingfisher or two flying overhead on the way to a perch. Or in my case, look through the lenses of the volunteer guide who had a large professional camera.
And on this lucky day I had the opportunity to meet with the local baby alligator and its wannabe. Before embarking on the trail, stop at the main hide. All over the wetland reserve there will be a few of these structures that provides shelter for the casual visitor or serious photographer a refuge from the elements.
It is also a structure to shield the overt presence of humans in the reserve so as not to affect the behavior of the fauna in their natural living environment. Wild creatures that had been too familiar with humans have often ran into trouble and invariably these creatures are mostly on the losing end.
I walked along the trail on the southerly circuit, that is turning left at the main hide.
This took me first to a series of observatories laid on the side of the trail. It is usually a clearing of the trees and undergrowth, basically a wooden screen wall with viewing slits.
First stop – Aerie tower. At 18m tall, it provides the panorama of the entire reserve and can see well over to Johore. Today most of the folks I met while climbing up or down were photographic enthusiasts lugging really large cameras and tripods. Today most of the tidal flats are dry at low tide, with only a small pool remaining near the main hide. But in the distant what appeared to be egrets or herons seem to be moving in a flock.
With the tidal flat now drained, the giant mudskippers can be seen moving about skipping as their name suggests. I was surprised that I did not see more of them and was not sure if this was because they were hiding from potential avian predators?
I walked on to hide 1B, following the flock of grey herons Its coming to mid day and they seem to be taking a break from flying about hunting and foraging. Standing still there like soldiers on attention, it was a great sight to behold. Perhaps now you will understand why the birdwatchers are so enthusiastic.
If you have time, take a detour to the mangrove board walk. While you will not see any bird life here, you get to get up and close to the mangroves themselves, well at least near enough to see how they are critical to holding the marshlands against the tidal waters, preventing them from being washed away.
Look up the National parks website, they have regularly scheduled walks on the trails led by experienced volunteers. These are free to join, so sign up for them. Otherwise, you can also come to the reserve and join in. They are informative and much more fun to do in a group then on your own.
There is a Kranji express bus service that ply a route from the Kranji MRT station to Sungei Buloh. For a fixed fee of S$3 per trip, you can make your way more comfortably and right to the entrance of the wetland reserve.
If you are one that worry about insect bites, perhaps take the necessary precaution though I had to say it wasn’t as much of a worry when I was there. Perhaps I am blood type B+ had something to do with it. In the rainier season, it is said that the high tide could cause some of the dry trails to be flooded. So, take note of that too. Finally, be prepared to spend at least half a day here, since you’ve made it this far out from the “civilized” part of Singapore!