Photo Essay: Vivid Singapore

After a 1 hour bus ride through Singapore’s CBD in 2011 (transit tourism), we figured it could be fun to spend more time in that city-state. So we went back for 1 week this year, crashing at friends.

While malicious tongues claim it’s not worth it to spend a whole week in Singapore, we wouldn’t agree. We were actually quite occupied, never bored, and didn’t even manage to see all places of interest. The locations we enjoyed most were the ones standing out for their colourful appearance. Please click on the photos below to read their captions and learn more.

Anja’s “Singapore To Do List” (for a 1 week visit):

  • Stroll around the Marina Bay to soak up the skyline (best combined with the daily laser show schedule)
  • Visit the Marina Bay Sands casino (bring your passport since you officially “leave” Singapore when entering the place) and cocktail bar on the roof (you better win some cash in the casino for this one)
  • Marvel at beautiful native plants and orchids in the Botanical Garden
  • Visit China Town and plan in enough time for the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, shopping and lunch
  • Walk in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and watch out for macaques
  • Do the 11km circuit to the Tree Top Walk and back in MacRitchie Reservoir
  • Visit Singapore’s Zoo and try to join 2 or 3 of their daily animal shows or feeding sessions
  • For more shopping, Orchard Street is a must, though I admit it made me really tired
  • Shopping on a local market however is fun; try to taste (or completely avoid) Durian fruits

Got time left?

  • Visit one of the men-made islands (e.g. Sentosa) in the South for some beach flair
  • Book a 1-hour-flight to Kuala Lumpur and visit Malaysia for a day

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Perfect Faith


The reason birds can fly and we can’t is simply because they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings.
~J.M. Barrie, The Little White Bird

Photo details (please click on the image for best quality):
Canon EOS 60D, 70mm, ISO 320, F9, 1/800 sec., no filter, no flash.
Location: Muriwai Gannet Colony, Auckland, New Zealand.

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Weekend Wanderings: Rare Birds, Dinos, And Hungry Eels

New Zealand’s National Wildlife Centre, Pukaha Mount Bruce, is a place where I could easily spend a few hours.

Double rainbow over Mt Bruce Nature Reserve New Zealand

Perfect welcome ceremony at Pukaha Mount Bruce (not sure they do that every day though ;) )

White New Zealand Kiwi Bird Manukura

While the Centre is famous among tourists for having a rare white kiwi – Manukura – it was the first place in New Zealand where I had the chance to see a kokako (after 3.5 years in the country).

Rare Bird Kokako Mt Bruce New Zealand

Kokakos are native birds who have different songs (“dialects”) depending on where they live. They are extremely endangered; only 40 of them are living wild in the Pukaha forest!

New Zealand Tuatara Dinosaur

Tuataras – “living fossils” that were already around during the age of the disonsaurs – are always nice to observe. Though I wasn’t 100% sure who was actually observing whom…

Mt Bruce New Zealand Eel feeding

The main attraction at Pukaha Mount Bruce are the daily eel feeding sessions. Volunteers are very welcome!

Mt Bruce New Zealand Eel feeding

Beside enjoying some gentle strokes, the Pukaha longfin eels want to be fed with a silver spoon.

Mt Bruce New Zealand Eel feeding

Their diet: Veggies with bacon and a couple of mice for dessert. Yummi!

Beside nature reserves like Pukaha Mount Bruce, community driven projects for bird recovery and pest control are a popular method to protect New Zealand’s native tuataras and endangered bird species like kiwis and kokakos.

Listen to the sound of the video below to get an impression of how a New Zealand forest can sound like thanks to successful pest control management and animal protection. I’m loving it!

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Hermit Crab Shell Change

Hermit crabs are usually extremely shy and patient creatures, not performing any big acts in front of an audience.

However, the crab in my video below was changing from a very perforated shell into a less draughty home. Urgent matters can’t wait I guess!

I filmed this short “crab-changes-shell” movie while stumbling out of Rarotonga’s lagoon with my GoPro. I was actually quite close, but the camera’s fisheye lens makes it look like I’m far away. Just watch the video twice in case of doubt ;)

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Exploring Rarotonga’s Lagoon With The GoPro

[Please click on the Play buttons to view the videos]
1: In the middle of a shoal; literally surrounded by hundreds of goldband fusiliers.

2: Scissor-tail sergeants and butterflyfish circling around me while I was standing in the lagoon, water till the belly button.

3. Curious damselfish attacking my GoPro. The video is a bit shaky because this really made me laugh :)

4: Enjoying the wide frame of the fisheye lens for GoPro selfies during our island roundtrip on the scooter, and while exploring the lagoon by kayak, paddleboard or while snorkeling.

5: This is a slightly longer version of the three videos above including some additional footage of a parrotfish, a pipefish and an impression of how it looks like under water when the sun hits the surface.

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Weekend Wanderings: Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium

I can’t recall how often I drove past Kelly Tarlton’s ever since I moved to Auckland. Last week I finally went inside the Aquarium for the very first time. Now I can’t recall what took me so long; what a lovely little place!

OK, it’s not the most convenient place for photographers. It’s much easier to capture the sea in the sun instead of moving animals in low light. I actually had to up the ISO to 6,400 for most of the photos below. Yikes.

And I reached a moment when I completely gave up the happy snapping. Me in low light on a conveyor belt leading through the shark tunnel full of moving fish…you get the idea.

A few fun facts: Kelly Tarlton’s aquarium…

  • …is the only in the world where you can see spiny sea horses
  • …is home to New Zealand’s only colony of Antarctic penguins
  • …has been build into former sewage storage tanks of the city

For more fun facts and information about each of the photographed animals please click on the images and read their captions.

If you wonder about the name: Kelly Tarlton was a New Zealand marine archeologist and diver who wanted to make the wonders of the under water world more accessible to the public. Tragically he died only 2 months after the aquarium opened in 1985.

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Why Australian Fires Can Be Good

Here I am, trying to summarize a rather surprising lesson I learned during our recent vacation in Australia. So far, the media had managed to paint a different picture of bushfires in Oz in my head. 

Fires have been a specific feature of the Australian continent since millions of years. Primarily eucalyptus forests as well as banksia woodlands have evolved to be dependent on fire. But not only plants, even animals depend on fire for reproduction or survival.

Aboriginal people have long been aware of this relationship of fire to bush regeneration. They learned to live with bushfires and began to manage them through strategic man-made fires. This form of vegetation management is nowadays maintained by the Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife, which uses prescribed burnings in both urban and rural areas.

Prescribed burnings are used as hazard reduction during the cooler months to reduce fuel buildup and decrease the likelihood of high intensity fires. Controlled fires are generally less than a metre high, erasing bushes and leaving behind a layer of ash which acts like fertilizer and helps to maintain biodiversity.

Thanks to our recent trip through the south-east of Australia I can give you a concrete example of where prescribed burnings could be a lifesaver for a bunch of cuddly koalas, and another example of how a fire stimulates germination:

Victoria, Australia

1. In Hordern Vale, a region at the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, these adorable koalas on the photo above suffer from a lack of bushfires. The absence of flames over there allows coastal scrub to spread throughout their eucalyptus forest. Low dense plants prevent the sunlight from reaching the forest floor where new eucalyptus seeds depend on the warmth and the light of the sun to grow. As the coastal scrub acts like a pest the next bushfire could help to eliminate that problem and allow new eucalyptus seedlings to grow.

Have a look at the photo below: The black and white image shows a severely affected part of the Hordern Vale forest as seen in December 2013. The old eucalyptus trees are not only surrounded by dense bushes, they are bald as well; partly because of their age, partly because of koalas. The cuddly marsupials “waste” up to 3 kg of eucalyptus a day (in fact, one koala eats up to 1 kg and throws up to 2 kg to the ground – they are a picky bunch!). To guarantee their survival new trees are needed.

As you can see, a prescribed fire might be one possible solution with which the Hordern Vale locals could try to combat the decline of their eucalyptus forest. If they fail, they might need to think of a strategy to relocate the koalas; a process which many of them might not survive.

Victoria, Australia

2. A vast number of Australian plants only produces flowers and seeds as reaction to fire; one could say it’s a survival strategy. Their seeds are therefore fire proof and able to survive large bushfires. The ashes act like soil fertilizer and help the seeds to germinate.

Let’s have a closer look at the different stages of a Banksia tree flower.

Banksia flower stages

4 different stages of a Banksia tree flower.

Top left: Nectar producing flower spikes.
Top right: old flower spikes get brown and “hairy”.
Bottom left: Old Banksia cones only form follicles with seeds when under threat (for example due to extreme heat).
Bottom right: The cones require the heat of a fire to open and disperse the seeds.

Does all that mean global warming is no major threat for Australia? Not at all! Global warming increases the chances for wild bushfires and decreases the opportunities for prescribed hazard reduction burnings. More frequent “megafires” means less time for nature to recover from former fires, but it still takes up to 5 years till new plants are able to produce their fire-proof seeds which ensure the survival of complete forests.

To wrap up, wildfires can have a positive impact on wildlife and landscapes. However, if they reach high intensity they can kill and injure humans and damage property. To prevent or reduce the size of wildfires prescribed burnings are a possible approach and the reason why my post is titled “Why Australian Fires Can Be Good”.

Please let me know what YOU think. I am aware that some people oppose prescribed burnings as they fear they damage the environment. Do they cause more damage than high-intensity wildfires getting more and more frequent?

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