2012: The year in review… and the fears of birdwatchers

posted in: Reports | 5

The Year in Review
It has been a year since the Bird Ecology Study Group [BESG] and the Nature Society (Singapore) [NSS] went on their separate ways LINK. And during this period contributions continued to pour in such that we managed to post a total of 372 items on bird behaviour. We now have a total of 2,686 posts since mid-2005 when we started operation LINK.

When the clock struck twelve to herald in the new year, the website’s counter recorded 3,218,174 hits. This is an increase of around half a million since a year ago. Or about 1,400 hits a day. This is not too bad for a website on bird behaviour that is operating out of Singapore.

We have also remained more or less consistent in being the first 10 most popular bird blogs out of a total of 496 monitored by the Nature Blog Network LINK.

BESG’s success story can be attributed solely to the many contributors and readers, comprising birdwatchers, photographers, naturalists and others from Singapore and throughout the world. The continued support of everyone is very much appreciated. Thank you all.

But all is not well with local birdwatchers…
On 6th October 2012 The Straits Times featured “Matching trees and birds” that highlighted BESG’s compilation of an archive listing over 200 species of trees that attract birds LINK. The publicity attracted a letter in the daily’s Forum Page of 16th October LINK and another in its Online Forum of 20th October LINK.

Both writers are birdwatchers, one possibly a member of the NSS’s Bird Group. The other had only recently stepped down as Chair of the Group. The contents of both letters are somewhat alarming. The writers may know how to identify birds, but they appear clueless about the nature surrounding the birds they observe. Most birdwatchers are too obsessed with just looking for new species of birds to increase the ticks on their checklists that they fail to see the forest for the trees. LINK.

The two writers cautioned the introduction of the common macaranga (Macaranga bancana) as it is a forest species LINK (above). Their fears? That the tree can be a potential roost for mynas and starlings. I can understand their not knowing that most of our trees in the urban landscape originated from the forest but I am appalled that a Bird Group leader is totally in the dark about why roosting birds choose a particular tree instead of another. Does he not know that it is more about where the tree is planted than which species it belongs to?

The other point involves fears that the mahang will rain ants when birdwatchers shelter below its branches or should someone “…unwittingly touches them, or if they drop on someone standing below the tree…” LINK. Sadly the writer knows nothing about the tree!

Obviously the ”Can Eat-Can Bite Syndrome” is alive and well in Singapore (Wee, 1991). Many, when shown a colourful flower during a nature walk or an unusual fruit, will pop the question, “Can eat ah?” With an uncommon animal, the response is usually, “Can bite ah?” I have even read of people, when viewing a stingray in an oceanarium, commented, “Can barbecue ah?”

I would find it amusing to read about ants raining down from branches of trees, if not for the fact that this is an indication of the deep-seated fear of nature that has still not left the psyche of most Singaporeans.

Obviously the NSS needs to instruct trip leaders to explain how nature works, not simply point out the odd plants and birds during conducted tours. There should be more quality instead of stressing on quantity in these conducted walks.

Nature is not just about getting familiar with the individual organisms but about knowing the relationship that living organisms have with each other and with their natural environment they exist in.

Have an exciting and fruitful 2013….

YC Wee
1st January 2013

Wee, Y. C., 1992. Singapore? In harmony with nature? In: Yap, S. K. & S. W. Lee (eds.), Proceeding of the International Conference on Tropical Diversity, In Harmony with Nature. Malayan Nature Society, Kuala Lumpur. Pp. 528-533.

Follow YC Wee:

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

5 Responses

  1. Lim Swee Im (Datin Dr)

    YC. l believe most of us who visit this website appreciate and value your work in keeping this site alive. It is not only Singaporeans who have become alienated from nature and its amazing diversity and interaction or interdependence. Easy to despair as we see this alienation phenomenon grow and spread like a malignant growth all over the world at different rates. May be better to just look at the brighter side and remember that “no amount of darkness can put out the light from one small candle”. May we all offer our little candles of light from all corners of the world and knowing that it is not a futile effort. Utmost blessings to you. Im

  2. YC

    Thanks Swee Im for the encouraging note and the offer of the little candles. Yes, we do need the candles…

  3. Bird Ecology Study Group 2013: The Year in Review…

    […] As birdwatching and bird photographing become more and more popular, we were appalled that many in the field, including veteran leaders of groups are ignorant of the nature around them. They may be experts at identifying birds but are totally ignorant of their habitats that consist of the plants and the many groups of fauna that together make the ecosystem – see HERE. […]

  4. Bird Ecology Study Group BESG 2014: The year in review

    […] This was because we made a major decision in 2013 to widen our field of cover beyond birds LINK. This came about when experienced birdwatchers made comments in the local press and in the process unintentionally publicised their lack of knowledge of the local nature (besides being able to recognise birds in the field) LINK. […]

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