Singapore’s proudest horticultural achievement, Gardens by the Bay houses an amazing collection of plants seldom seen in our tropical climate, right smack in the heart of the city. Little wonder that it has captured the hearts of both tourists and locals alike.
Other than the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest that charge an admission fee, wandering around the Gardens is free, so we can feel free to wander.
With so many attractive and tasty plants strewn all over, both local and tourist birds have settled in, making Gardens by the Bay a huge hit among the bird-watchers as well.
Commonly encountered birds include the Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) and Brown-throated Sunbird (Anthreptes malacensis). Large numbers of them can be heard twit-twit-twitting in their high-pitched shrill voices, before they are seen flitting from tree to tree, or caught drinking nectar from their favourite flowers.
The male Brown-throated Sunbird has striking iridescent green, blue and purple upperparts with a brown throat and yellow belly, that is hard to miss.
Another common resident of the Gardens is the Ashy Tailorbird (Orthotomus rifuceps), who can occasionally be caught cavorting with the sunbirds and fantails in the same bush. His marvellous ability to use his beak as a needle to stitch his nest together with leaves, cobwebs and plant fibres is what earned him his name.
The Malaysian Pied Fantail (Rhipidura javanica), so named because of his habit of spreading and flapping his tail feathers like a fan, is also often seen around these parts.
A tiny but highly gregarious bird is the Swinhoe’s White-eye (Zosterops simplex), who loves congregating in small flocks and frolicking amongst the many flowering bushes in the Gardens.
Every so often, we would hear the strident laughter of the Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris) that goes “hee-hee…hee-hee…hee-hee…hee-hee”…
The Common Myna can, however, still be spotted in certain areas such as the Botanic Gardens and Gardens by the Bay.
We were delighted one fine August morning to run into a juvenile Plaintive Cuckoo (Cacomantis merulinus) wandering around the Gardens all alone without his parents.
We walked in on him happily munching on big fat juicy caterpillars for his breakfast.
The Plaintive Cuckoos – like most other cuckoos – are brood parasites. With so many resident tailorbirds constructing nests all over the Gardens during breeding season, it is very easy for the Plaintive Cuckoo to drop off his eggs in one of these convenient locations and leave his young to be brought up by nannies. What shrewd outsourcing!
With pockets of water bodies all over the Gardens, many species of resident water birds can be seen skulking around in one of the ponds, such as the Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)…
…the Striated Heron (Butorides striata)…
…the Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea)…
…the Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)…
…and the Yellow Bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis).
We witnessed a Yellow Bittern with a huge catch one day, and watched him try to chug the fish down his throat. The bittern looked like it was struggling and about to choke at some point, but we suspect it was probably having a good time.
One of two known resident species of ducks in Singapore, the Lesser Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna javanica) is becoming an endangered species here due to habitat loss and poaching.
If we’re lucky, we might get to observe these ducks and their not so ugly ducklings swimming around in the ponds…
…or trying very hard to catch a few winks.
If we look up once in a while, we might actually spot a raptor or two soaring in the sky. The area around the Gardens is popular with the White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster), so keep a lookout for him.
The ponds of the Gardens seem also quite appealing to the many species of migratory birds, that flock to Singapore during their winter vacation months and settle down here at the Gardens for bed and breakfast.
Now, the prolific Brown Anole is a permanent resident of the Gardens, and some of these fellas have even been spotted elsewhere on the island.
Keep a lookout for the family of Smooth-coated Otters (Lutrogale perspicillata), who love hanging around the Marina Bay area. Popularly known as the Bishan otter family – because they once lived in Bishan Park – these undeniably adorable otters have become celebrities in Singapore.
We were delighted to be able to observe these otters one morning, as they frolicked and rolled around in the sand. On closer inspection, they seemed to be performing a pre-siesta ritual, hugging each other and making whiny mewling sounds, before falling asleep in each other’s arms.
They couldn’t seem to sleep still in one position for long.
Any tiny movement or sound seemed to rouse them, and they would proceed to roll around and mewl in each other arms again…
…before promptly falling back to sleep.
With so many paths and side trails to get lost in, we could spend several days exploring just the free sections of the Gardens.
But if free stuff is not your kind of thing, the two cooled conservatories – the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest – are a good way to spend money ($20 for both conservatories, $12 for one).
The mild and dry climate maintained in the Flower Dome allows plants found in semi-arid tropical regions to thrive. The Cloud Forest, on the other hand, has a cool and moist climate resembling that of a tropical mountain, giving us the feeling of having conquered a mountain without having to actually exert those muscles.
The flowers on display in the Flower Dome are seasonal and ever so pretty, they tempt us to come back year after year.
If climbing real trees doesn’t really cut it for you, try scaling a Supertree instead. If you can bear to part with another $8, you’ll get to ascend the OCBC Skyway that connects the two larger Supertrees and feel good looking down on everyone else.