Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve

Situated in the North West of Singapore in Kranji sits Singapore’s first ASEAN Heritage Park. It was recognised as an important site for migratory birds and a vast array of other interesting wildlife, flora and fauna which spreads over 87 hectares!

Mud Skippers can be seen at low tide

Back in 2018 we made our very first visit and fell in love with the place. Unlike many other tourist areas this place doesn’t have cafe’s and shops surrounding it and I rather like it that way. We set out with two little children, one still in a buggy and went in search of the famed crocodiles! Sadly we didn’t see any but the amount of other nature there was incredible – large and small. Our son, Milo, loves bugs and we always fostered that in him and his sister Aspen has followed suit.

Fast forward to 2021 and at 5 and 7 years old they still love looking for minibeasts and wildlife. In the UK we were surrounded by it, many of which we probably started to take for granted thinking it is always going to be there. If you’re feeling like you need a nature fix Sungei Buloh is the place to go. We decided to take an MRT to Marsilling and then a taxi. We passed many industrial looking buildings and yards before getting to the reserve. In many of the nature parks you can hear the distant rumble of a road, but not here. You can get a bus but as we later found out it wasn’t running the day we went! So it pays to check that before you spend 5 minutes waiting for one!

Knowing there wasn’t any food and beverage shops there we filled our tummies and a back pack with goodies before we left. There are vending machines for snacks and drinks but most had sold out on our visit so its best to go prepared, especially with water bottles which you can re-fill at a water station at the entrance of the Reserve. We covered ourselves in bug spray and packed it for top ups too. Aspen and I seem to be the tastiest in our family.

Upon arriving we saw an employee showing another family something in a tree. We followed their gaze and could see a large nest way up high in the tree, very well camouflaged, and a white head poking out on the look out. It was an eagle, waiting for their mate to return and help guard the nest.

We found a large map and chartered our route – the coastal trail. Relatively short and it would take us to the other side of the reserve to begin our crocodile hunt! There is an information centre and the only restroom you’ll see for a little while! We made that our first stop then started our trail. The walk has decked platforms to walk out on and see more with lookout pods which remind me of falling seeds.

Our kids love exploring. Milo is a great walker and can walk long distances without seeming to get tired. He’s climbed Scarfell Pike which is England’s Tallest Mountain! Aspen gets tired quicker but can be persuaded with some snacks to keep her going. Walking around there we had no ‘I’m tired’ calls from a few meters back because everything kept their interest. We saw a bridge going off the path and ventured off on it before heading back onto the Coastal Trail. With the sea one side and the jungle the other nature had our full attention.

We looked high and low, keeping our eyes peeled for flowers, small bugs on handrails, tadpoles in a puddle! We had no particular time constraints and it was lovely just allowing time to search and explore. Part of the walk was shaded by huge trees which grow the poisonous fruit called Pong Pong fruit. Before long we reached a car park and the entrance to the other side of the reserve. Dusty paths turned into wooden boardwalk that meandered over the vegetation and mudflats. Warning signs for crocodiles fuelled my excitement to find one.

This side of the walk saw more look out pods with gaps in them forming little windows to have a look at what’s around without disturbing the nature. We saw fish swimming in rows from above, spotted a large black bird whose call we could hear from much further away and as the tide was out could see the tangle of roots that form the mangroves. No crocs yet mind you.

In 2015 Sir David Attenborough released a short series on Singapore called Wild City and I remember we watched this over and over when living in the UK and coming to live here in Singapore was still what seemed like a far off dream. Standing in the same spot where part of the show was filmed seemed surreal and I could hear Sir David’s voice in my head talking about the mud skippers as we looked down on them from above on a built platform. The ones we saw were about a foot in length and look almost alien like moving themselves about with little side flippers over the slimy mud. Two mud skippers had a bit of a fight as we watched, one guarding its puddle by flinging itself at its opponent. All I could hear was the famous phrase ” and here we see two mud skippers, one defending their self built home. The mud skipper swallows the mud and spits it back out to dig a home in the hope of attracting a mate.” Sir David has one of those recognisable voices. On a Sunday afternoon we love to sit together and watch one of his shows, an incredible man. He’s one of the people I’d love to have over at a dinner party to hear his stories and life.

Moving on we saw many more birds and another eagle which Milo identified as a White Bellied Eagle. Around the park are many boards with photos and information about the wildlife and plants so that you can identify what you see and learn a bit more about them. We waved at Malaysia from another lookout pod that jutted out over the sea. The wetlands is tidal so coming at different points of the day means you’ll find different wildlife too. Thunder had been rolling in for some time but no rain had followed it. The sky was a deep and moody grey but it didn’t darken our trip. It made it much cooler which was appreciated! We had a short snack stop before continuing along.

We saw eagles flying over head here!

We walked on, the kids making up pretend games as they walked together. Milo wondering what we’d do if a crocodile came after us! Aspen asking lots of questions about what she’d seen. We had no idea of the time or how long we’d been walking for we were just enjoyed being. We arrived at another information centre, used the bathroom and topped up our water bottles. We took the large bridge that would lead up to a circular walk around another section of the reserve. It was getting late by this point and the reserve would close at 7pm so we knew we wouldn’t make it the whole way around today.

We chatted with some photographer with some serious looking equipment and zoom lenses. We asked them if they had seen and crocodiles and they told us now was a good time as the tide would be going out. we scoured the mangrove edge. Trying to find a creature so good at camouflage would be hard. It was Milo who spotted it first. It’s back in the tree roots and upper body and face just under the surface of the water. We weren’t sure at first, I longed for him to be right though! Jonty had brought his camera with a zoom lens and used that to get a better look. After a few more moment of me squinting I looked in the view finder and it was a crocodile! Right there. In its home – not in the River Safari behind glass.

When we arrived the tide was high and the crocodiles head was submerged.

The crocodile didn’t move for the whole hour or so we were in that side of the park. Waiting, resting or sleeping. Even though it didn’t ‘do’ anything it was amazing to see. We left the crocodile and walked a little of the path which looked like it was getting ready to be paved before a ranger advised us to go back as we wouldn’t make it around in time. The sun sets pretty quickly in Singapore and I didn’t fancy my chances of being locked in a nature reserve that’s teaming with crocodiles, monitor lizards and spiders! Even if we did still have our bag of snacks. On returning to our crocodile some one else pointed out two more swimming in the water. One of which we could see the nose and the other you couldn’t see at all, but you could tell it was under the water by the light waves it was leaving behind.

As the park ranges were getting nearer to ask us to leave we were surrounded by kingfishers, cranes and several other birds that I’m yet to learn the names of. Many other photographers and keen bird watches were also leaving, everyone wanted to spend that little bit longer in nature before returning to the city.

Have a look at our vlog here to see for yourself.

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