A wild Singapore surprise: Sungei Buloh

Singapore is known for it’s built environment and impressive economic power, but not necessarily wild places. It’s an amazing city, but given it’s limited space, it is difficult to experience the true magic of wild untamed places.

However, if you are after some real wildlife in an amazing wetland reserve Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is the place to go.

To be expected – a long list of “Don’t” in Singapore, along with some of the amazing local birds in the dense tropical forest.

Although the entrance sign has a big list of restrictions, once you get into the park it’s easy to see that Sungei Buloh is a natural environment – not a zoo or bird park. The tranquility and jungle atmosphere of Sungei Buloh make it hard to believe you are on the edge of this crowded modern city. It is totally different to other places in Singapore, away from the stressful crowds.

Aerial walkways have been built through the mangroves that grow along the extreme edge of the coastline.

Sungei Buloh is on the north west edge of Singapore, but it is still within a 60 minute taxi ride from Changi Airport and even less from the city. My visit started before the 7am sunrise in the Western Car Park. Another option would be a sunset visit, if you want to avoid the harsh midday heat and humidity. Birds and animals are smart – they avoid heat conditions so early mornings or late evenings are the best time for exploration.

A large tower has been built so visitors can look out over this amazing wetland. Walkways also allow easy access through the densely forested landscape.

The reserve has amazing facilities that respect the habitat. Pathways are well maintained but they are humble & discrete – you still get close to the birds and animals that live here. Pathways cross through crocodile infested mangrove forests in addition to lowland swamps: some boardwalks also rise up above the mangrove swamps, so you get a unique view of this amazing tropical environment.

A local squirrel in the dense undergrowth of the tropical jungle.

I started my journey from the main entrance at dawn – although it was very early, an eager park ranger provided me with excellent maps and information on the wildlife that was seen recently. You enter the reserve by crossing a bridge across a channel.

Walkway to the wetland reserve.

Once you are in the reserve, there are many paths that pass through dense tropical jungle. This landscape is loud – a place of suspense and loud noises. Insects constantly buzz and birds sing loud aggressive songs. there are few early morning visitors as I think most Singaporeans wake up late. It possible that a crocodile could jump out of the water and drag a visitor into the murky water – so its a good idea to keep to the marked pathways.

The well trodden pathway is the safest in Sungei Buloh

Sungei Buloh is amazing for the sheer density of wildlife activity. Within an hour, you should be lucky enough to see heaps of birds, within a very short walk of two or three kilometres. The main track goes around two or three lagoons that are linked to the sea – it follows the coastline, along the Strait of Johor. This is another aspect of this walking trail that is interesting to foreigners who visit Singapore, as you can look out to the north and see Malaysia within 500 metres. Singapore has a wildlife reserve here, while large apartment blocks have been built along the coastline on the other side of the strait. Many Malaysians live in these apartments and do a daily commute into Singapore.

Seems line a stone’s throw to Johor in Malaysia. So close but another country.

So what makes Sungei Buloh really special? It’s the birdlife.

It’s highly likely that you’ll see amazing tropical birds within a very short timeframe in their natural environment.

Within the canopy of the dark forest, Laced Woodpeckers and Stork-billed Kingfishers can be seen, along with White-Breasted Waterhens. On the waterways, herons and egrets are common – as they are smart enough avoid the crocodiles.

Striated heron – a common but majestic bird throughout many parts of the world

In terms of international travel, birds are like humans – they love a Singapore stopover. Singapore is an important point for many waders and sandpipers that stopover for their long journeys from the northern to southern hemispheres and back again. Wimbrels are a common visitor on their long flight from Siberia to Australia and other parts of South East Asia.

Whimbrels are a common visitor to Singapore’s Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve – although do not have the luxury of flying on Singapore Airlines!

My early morning visit also included an encounter with some of the local residents – larger storks and herons on the open waterways and lagoons.

A Painted or Milky Stork – unique to Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia but under increasing threat from wide scale urban development of coastal lowlands, particularly in Sumatra (Indonesia)

In terms of the storks, it’s so sad to think about them being threatened by people, even though they deliver our new born babies to their mothers. They are a gentle and graceful bird that has lived in harmony with people for many generations. However, storks are facing tough times in this part of the world, as Indonesia and Malaysia are developing rapidly – only a stone’s throw from Singapore. My heart really went out to these storks, as their population has dwindled significantly in the past few years to less than 1,500 individuals with the rapid development of Sumatra, which is only a short distance from Singapore. Coastal mangrove habitats are being rapidly replaced by bland residential developments – destroying any chance of supporting a widespread stork population. While experiencing an encounter with these beautiful creatures in Sungei Buloh is an uplifting experience, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the depressing reality of their demise if larger habitats are not saved.

We are lucky that this location in Singapore is being beautifully maintained and monitored by the national park service in Singapore, especially given that it is so important to migratory birds and local birds that are under increasing threat.

Getting there and away:

If starting before 7am, get a grab, which is the local version of Uber – easy to install and use on your mobile phone. Alternatively get a cab.

After 7am to late evening, Sungei Buloh is also served by the 925 Bus which runs every 10-13 minutes from Kranji MRT station. This takes you to the edge of the reserve on weekdays, with an extension to the centre of the reserve on weekends.

Other links:

E-bird data on Sungei Buloh – the top spot to see wild birdlife in Singapore

Migratory Bird Information at Sungei Buloh

Singapore Tourism Website on Sungei Buloh

Google map of Sungei Buloh

Bird’s vacation Paradise – Singapore

4 thoughts on “A wild Singapore surprise: Sungei Buloh

  1. Interesting post. I visited Singapore in both 1975 & on the way home from London in 1976. Don’t remember this reserve. Is it newly opened in recent years?

    Beautiful shot of the Striated Heron.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s