I tend to nag Geoff a bit when we travel. ‘Don’t put your wallet in that pocket!’ ‘Lock your passport away!’ But when I saw my first Crimson Sunbird, all my rules were forgotten. We were on the island of Pulau Ubin just off the coast of Changi, being introduced to the birds of Singapore by Willie, a local birder. We’d stopped for a drink in a small stall on a bush track. I was intently scraping the flesh from the inside of a young coconut when Willie heard something, sprang from the table and rushed outside with his binoculars, saying, ‘Crimson Sunbird!’ I abandoned my drink and ran after him. I also abandoned my wallet sitting on the table. Geoff noticed! But his smugness was more than matched by mine when I ticked off the Crimson Sunbird, a bird I have often admired in field guides.
Singapore’s two-hour time difference and balmy weather after Canberra’s chill helped us to get up before dawn two days running to join local birders. It was well worth it. We were introduced to more than fifty species, half of them new to me. A flock of eight Oriental Pied Hornbills staged a fly past for us over one of the lakes of Pulau Ubin. The furtive and rare Straw-faced Bulbul, so strident in its song but furtive in its behaviour, was spotted with Subaraj’s help. The Grey-headed Fish Eagle, also endangered, sat as if if nailed to its branch for a good half hour. I’d better not go on about each and every bird. If you’d like the full list, please ask.
Chris and local birder, Subaraj, scan the trees for birds
This is the first of this series of travel epistles. They have become a bit of a tradition on our adventures. Expect a few more before the end of November.
We have stayed at Changi Village several times now on our Singapore stopovers and we have a growing appreciation for the slower greener side of this island state. Our birding friends took us to its wetlands, nature reserves and parks. As well as birds, we saw smooth-coated otters, the atlas moth, the Malay water monitor and the paradise snake. And you don’t have to go to the more remote corners of Singapore to see wildlife. Geoff and I caught a bus to the Singapore Botanic Gardens near the heart of the city and spotted a White-breasted Waterhen almost immediately. We then spent the best part of a day wandering tracks through rainforest, palm gardens and a wonderful display of orchids, punctuated by Rufous-tailed Tailorbirds and Pink-necked Green Pigeons.
A White-breasted Waterhen forages in the Singapore Botanic Gardens
For a change of pace we went to Chinatown one evening but decided we preferred Singapore’s wilder side. We were entranced though by the spectacle of fifty or so local line dancers, some complete with Stetson hats, practising their steps in the square behind the old Buddhist temple. It was if an introduced species had invaded the niche once occupied by Tai Chi devotees.
All in all, our time in Changi surpassed our expectations. My bird list has expanded considerably. Geoff’s intention to swim each day in the rooftop hotel pool while simultaneously spotting planes coming in to land at the adjacent airport was realised. And we made new friends. First—our fellow bird watchers. Then there was the young Burmese man on the hotel staff who shares mutual friends back in Rangoon and put us back in touch with them.
Geoff combines two hobbies–swimming and plane-spotting—from the Changi Village Hotel
We arrived at Amsterdam airport yesterday to be met by our friends Rosmarie and Rinze Marten who have generously allowed us to stay in their house again while they travel. (Sadly there is no elderly Wolletje cat to care for this time.) After handing us the keys, they continued on their way. We boarded the 300 bus for Haarlem, well known to me as it was the one that carried me daily to visit Geoff in hospital when he chose Haarlem to have a small heart attack some years ago. As we hauled our luggage on board, a young man appeared from nowhere to help us. To our thank you, he replied, ‘No worries!’ Another young Australian had replied the same way on the plane the day before when he gave us a hand.
It was a timely antidote to worries about securing wallets and passports. It will still be fun to nag Geoff now and then, but travel is also a reminder that there are a lot of generous and helpful people in this world. They will happily introduce you to sunbirds, share their houses and even protect your forgotten wallets. It’s hard not to respond in kind.