Lena Chow’s fascination with nature started in 2006 when she was introduced to the colourful world of birds. While observing birds, she was intrigued by Yellow-vented Bulbuls (Pycnonotus goiavier) darting out of treetops as if in a choreographed dance. No one could provide her with a credible explanation for such a strange behaviour. Undaunted, she continued with her observations to find an answer. In August 2006 she made her maiden contribution to the Bird Ecology Study Group’s website LINK to spread awareness. Lena suggested that the birds were drying off their wet plumage right after the rain. This was a new behaviour that must have happened hundreds of times but never reported by birdwatchers, if at all they noticed it.
Three years later she again encountered a similar “dance” but this time she had photographic evidence LINK. In July 2010 she posted a video clip of the “rain dance” LINK that eventually led to a possible answer to the Yellow-vented Bulbuls’ strange behaviour. The bulbuls were in fact darting out from the crown of the tree to feed on the alate termites that emerged from their nests after the rain LINK.
Her fascination with bird behaviour saw a regular stream of contributions that included the unusual nest of the Yellow-vented Bulbul that made use of masses of tissue paper LINK to a pair nesting in an artificial plant LINK.
From originally taking still shots, Lena has, since 2009, been taking video clips, first with her Lumix FZ18, then with her faithful compact Lumix FZ40, a camera with zoom and HD-video functions LINK. Examples can be seen In her recording of the calls of the White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) LINK and the duetting of the endangered Straw-headed Bulbuls LINK. Indeed, she is a local pioneer in documenting bird calls and songs embedded in video clips.
Of Lena’s more than 100 posts so far, I think the most fascinating was on the termite hatch she documented in Nepal LINK. The video clip shows breathtaking scenes of alate termites emerging from their nest in the ground to fly into the air and eventually land on the ground where they discard their wings and look for a mate.
Besides contributing snippets of bird behaviour to the BESG website, Lena actively contributes to the ‘Dragonflies of Singapore’ and the ‘Butterflies of Singapore and Malaysia’ Facebook pages with regular posts accompanied with photos and videos. In November 2012 she recorded a new butterfly species for Singapore – the Indian Nawab (Polyura jalysus) LINK. She is also the lead author of NSS’ Field Guide to the Dragonflies of Singapore LINK.
Lena is one of the few local amateur naturalists who takes a holistic view of nature. Her curiosity, attention to details as well as her use of digital technology to record things in the field that others would simply give a cursory glance, have made her a naturalist with few equals. Indeed Lena Chow has come a long way since her early encounters with bulbuls that shot out from tree-tops.
Lena is a lawyer by training. After more than a decade in the international corporate scene, she decided to share her knowledge of the law through teaching for a change, and has since 2008 been lecturing business law at Temasek Polytechnic.
(Image by Amy Tsang, taken during a recent trip to Borneo)