Saturday, 24 July 2010

bukit brown cemetery bird watch

Today, I attended my very first bird watch with the Nature Society of Singapore . The location for the walk was the historic Bukit Brown Cemetery , also known to the local chinese community as "Kopi Sua" or Coffee Hill.

The 213 acre piece of land where the cemetery now stands was bought by a ship owner trading in Singapore trading to China and Japan named George Henry Brown. He arrived from Calcutta via Penang about 1840. He called the land Mount Pleasant. The land was then bought by Ong Kew Ho and the Hokkien Huay Kuan who gave it to the She Ong Kongsi, a Chinese association. The government then acquired the land in 1919 after facing much reluctance and resitance on the kongsi's side and developed it as a public burial ground. The commitee managing the burial ground was led by Tan Kheam Hock and See Tiong Wah , native agent of the Hongkong Bank, on 1 Jan 1922. The cemetery is also known as Kheam Hock Road Cemetery because it is situated along Kheam Hock Road.

Bukit Brown had been acquired and passed into municipal hands by the municipal authorities in 1919 after pressure had been put on it to provide a municipal cemetery for the Chinese communities in Singapore.[11] The cemetery was opened on 1 January 1922 and was managed as a public burial ground by a committee led by committee leaders Tan Kheam Hock and See Tiong Wah–who was at that time comprador of the Hong Kong Bank. By 1929, Bukit Brown Cemetery accounted for about 40 per cent of all officially registered Chinese burials within municipal limits. The cemetery was eventually closed. In the 1970s, the cemetery faced the threat of being cleared for redevelopment, but it was eventually granted reprieve. Now, the cemetery is home to many bird species and wild life, and has as such become popular again–this time, with nature lovers. Interestingly, a MRT line (Circle Line) runs just under the cemetery and a station has even been built called Bukit Brown. Clearly, the government has plans to redevelop the area in the future, so this gem of a paradise for nature lovers may not last very long. For those interested in reading more, you can either read this or just google for literature on the area.

Jason, Yong and Kenny joined me for this walk and the meeting time was at 7:30am at Bukit Brown itself. For these type of walks, no registration or fee is required as the NSS's main objective is to create awareness, and this is done by encouraging Singaporeans to attend. Some 30 odd people from all works of life turned up for the walk. However, as I'm not particularly fond of group tours because they tend to be slow, I found myself walking ahead of the pack, along with the trio. Besides, I did have some recollection of the place, having driven through once several weeks back.

I was glad I rented the Canon Zoom lens EF 100mm to 400mm 4.5/5.6 from the Camera Rental Centre as it would have been pointless using the normal zoom lenses. In fact, I could have done with something even more powerful, but that would have meant that I carry a tripod with me. Anyway, we did come across some birds and butterflies, though most of them were high up in the trees or flying about, thus making shooting virtually a challenge. Nevertheless, we did get some interesting shots. I was hoping to see some snakes or other mammals such as the very rare Sambar deer which has been sighted before at Bukit Brown, but I wasn't quite so lucky. The only mammals we saw were the squirrels scurrying around from branch to branch. I can see the allure of the cemetery, with its quite serene environment accompanied by the sounds of birds. Severals joggers as well as walkers and their dogs appear to venture into the area routinely, which in all fairness, isn't as eerie as I thought it would be. No, I didn't see the rare and elusive bird which I saw when I last drove through Bukit Brown, but I did find out that it was probably the Greater Coucal (Centropus sinensis).

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