Sunday, May 10, 2009

Finds with Spines on Siloso

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I have to admit, I have a vertebrate bias. Here on this islet off Siloso Beach, I encountered many familiar species of fish, fishes that I'd grown accustomed to seeing in these murky waters. But as I've realised time and time again, Siloso Beach has yet to reveal all of its fishy secrets.

Fish are not easy to photograph, even under the best of circumstances. They are usually so skittish that they will flee at the slightest approach. As I moved about in the darkness, I spotted many shoals of fish that quickly swam out of sight, beyond the small pool of light cast by my headlamp. Fleeting glimpses that enabled me to spot Kops' glass perchlet (Ambassis kopsii) and crescent perch (Terapon jarbua), while sand whitings (Sillago sp.) and shadow gobies (Acentrogobius nebulosus) darted about on the seabed, which is a mixture of fine sand and muddy silt. In the darkness, occasional loud splashes hinted at the stirrings of much larger fish.

Even though I came prepared, with a pair of aquarium nets and plastic containers, I had little hope of trying to catch these fishes. However, I could try my luck with some of the other species that lived along this shore.

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Such as these halfbeaks. I managed to catch these 2 broad-nose halfbeak and a twig-like halfbeak (F. Hemirhamphidae).

While examining the seaweed that grew on the bridge, and considering the likelihood of success if I tried to go after the fish that were swimming tantalisingly out of reach, I noticed a piece of flotsam that was moving about rather oddly.

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It was a filefish! This is probably the strapweed filefish (Pseudomonacanthus macrurus).

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After releasing it, I soon caught 2 smaller ones. Eventually, I spotted at least 6 of these filefish close to the bridge.

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Close examination of the seaweed reveals that there are many tiny juvenile fish hiding amongst the fronds.

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Such as this silver moony (Monodactylus argenteus).

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And this banded archerfish (Toxotes jaculatrix).

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There was also this trumpeter perch (Pelates quadrilineatus). All of these fish were hardly the size of my thumbnail!

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Large numbers of tropical silversides (Atherinomorus duodecimalis) can be found swimming close to the surface, with shoals of young silversides sticking close to the rocks at one end of the islet.

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As I peered into the murky depths, I spotted a couple of orbicular cardinalfish (Sphaeramia orbicularis) hanging around the rocks. I managed to catch one for a closer look.

Even in the darkness, the birds were beginning to stir. I heard the familiar calls of the collared kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris) and Asian koel (Eudynamys scolopaceus), along with the cries of the blue peafowl (Pavo cristatus) and the screeching of cockatoos (Cacatua sp.). Peafowl are definitely not native to Sentosa, having been introduced for ornamental purposes. The cockatoos are also of captive origin; the flocks seen in Sentosa and elsewhere in Singapore are descended from escapees and released pets.

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I found a lonely tape seagrass (Enhalus acoroides). Remembering the time I had found a common seahorse (Hippocampus kuda) clinging to the tape seagrass on the other islet, I took a closer look. An odd-looking piece of seagrass moved. It wasn't a seahorse, but it was an exciting find all the same.

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I had found a feathery filefish (Chaetodermis penicilligerus)!

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This is the first time I've ever encountered this species. As you can see, it is superbly camouflaged, and to the casual observer, may be mistaken for a clump of floating seaweed.

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Close to the rocks at one end of the islet, I found the unmistakable tracks of a Malayan water monitor (Varanus salvator). What I found interesting was that there was one set of tracks that showed the monitor lizard crawling down the beach to forage amongst the rocks. Nearby, another set of tracks showed that the monitor lizard was heading up the beach back towards the vegetation.

The birds were really out and about; besides the near-ubiquitous urban birds such as the house crow (Corvus splendens), spotted dove (Streptopelia chinensis), common myna (Acridotheres tristis) and Javan myna (Acridotheres javanicus), I heard the calls of little heron (Butorides striatus), and saw one flying from Siloso Beach to another islet. Pacific swallows (Hirundo tahitica), house swifts (Apus affinis) and swiftlets (Collocalia sp.) swooped overhead, in hot pursuit of flying insects. I also saw a male Oriental magpie robin (Copsychus saularis) perched on a rock, tail in the air, calling to a nearby Javan myna, which didn't seem too amused.

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While chasing spotted moon crabs (Ashtoret lunaris), one of them bumped into a pipefish. I let the moon crab escape, since this was the first pipefish I had seen in a long time, and definitely the first pipefish I had ever found on Sentosa.

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I think it might be a seagrass pipefish (F. Syngnathidae), although I couldn't find any seagrass in the area.

After washing up, I made my way back to Beach Station. Along the way, I spotted olive-backed sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) and scaly-breasted munia (Lonchura punctulata), and when I paused to look at another stretch of Siloso Beach, I happened to look up just in time to spot a Brahminy kite (Haliastur indus). And as it soared overhead, heading in the direction of Palawan Beach, I saw a white-bellied sea eagle (Halaeetus leucogaster), effortlessly flying towards the Rasa Sentosa Resort.

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What an exciting morning it was, documenting the various fishes that lived in these seemingly lifeless waters. In such a short span of time, I added 5 new species to my list of fish species found in these lagoons. I wonder how many more species are out there, waiting for a more comprehensive survey to be done?

I'm now seriously contemplating getting an underwater housing for my camera, and a snorkel as well, even though the water can be disgusting to swim in, considering all the rubbish that's floating around. But with an upgrade to my equipment, I might be able to venture into deeper water, and see what else is out there.

Seriously, is there anyone out there crazy enough to do a muck dive in the lagoons?

This is part 2 of a 2-part series on a trip to Siloso Beach on 10th May, 2009.

Part 1: Seeing Stars on a Siloso Shore on Sunday
Part 2: Finds with Spines on Siloso (this post)

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