Setting the scene (and the seen) in Singapore

Lines on a page:

Tham Pui San – artist, observer of nature, environmental interpreter – on-site at Sungei Buloh, Observation Hide 1A

ps draws

ps hands 2

Drawing comparisons:

An artist’s notebook, a writer’s notebook

sungei notebook 2

ps vj 1;;


The Poetry Foundation’s emailed poem of the day, the morning after Sungei Buloh.

The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls

The tide rises, the tide falls,

The twilight darkens, the curlew calls;

Along the sea-sands damp and brown

The traveller hastens toward the town,

And the tide rises, the tide falls.

Darkness settles on roofs and walls,

But the sea, the sea in the darkness calls;

The little waves, with their soft, white hands,

Efface the footprints in the sands,

And the tide rises, the tide falls.

The morning breaks; the steeds in their stalls

Stamp and neigh, as the hostler calls;

The day returns, but nevermore

Returns the traveller to the shore,

And the tide rises, the tide falls.

 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882);

26-curlewEurasian Curlew, a rare visitor at Sungei Buloh, in October 2008.


Birds of passage in Penang

Flightpathproject is in Penang 4 and 5 March 2014

 Bird of passage:

n. pl. birds of passage: 1. A migratory bird; 2. A person who moves from place to place frequently.


Birds on the beach:

‘To date, about 165 bird species (80% of the total for Penang Island) have been recorded in Penang National Park. The best times to visit the park is during autumn from October to November and spring from end of February to March. During these months, it is possible to observe a variety of migratory species ranging from waders to raptors and thrushes…Shorebirds such as Broad-billed Sandpiper and coastal species such as Little Tern have been seen on the mudflats…’

Broad-billed sandpiper

Broad-billed sandpiper

Photo: Ian & Jill Brown at

When the tourists fly in:

‘Tourism Malaysia Penang is aiming to attract some 5.5 million tourists to visit the state next year…’

Article ‘Preparing for 5.5 million tourists’, New Straits Times, 28 December 2013 See

Pulau Payar, Penang

Pulau Payar, Penang

Photo:  Shahnoor Habib Munmun at Flickr

When the tourists flew in:

…When the tourists flew in
our men put aside
their fishing nets
to become waiters…

…When the tourists flew in
what culture we had
flew out of the window…

…When the tourists flew in
we could no longer
go down to our beaches
the hotel manager said
“Natives defile the sea-shore”…

from When the tourists flew in by Cecil Rajendra (Penang, 1978)

Different birds of passage:

RAF Butterworth/Penang 1941-1957

RAF Butterworth/Penang 1941-1957

RAAF Butterworth/Penang 1957-1988

RAAF Butterworth/Penang 1957-1988

RMAF Butterworth/Penang 1988 to present

RMAF Butterworth/Penang 1988 to present

On wings in Singapore

Flightpathproject is  in Singapore 26 February to 3 March 2014

Pre-flight reading:Sing bird books 2

Sing birds books 3

On the shelf: Natural History Drawings: The Complete William Farquhar Collection, Malay Peninsula 1803-1818 (Editions Didier Millet & National Museum of Singapore, 2010); Birds of Singapore, Clive Briffett & Sutari Bin Supari, (Oxford University Press, 1993); A Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia, Ben King, Martin Woodcock, EC Dickinson (Collins, 1975)

Stopping over:

sungei buloh sign

‘. ..108 species of migratory birds have been sighted at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve over the past decade. As a site along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway for migratory shorebirds and an ASEAN Heritage Park, migratory birds are the main attraction at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, especially during the annual migratory bird season between the months of September and March.

As many as 60 different species of birds can be spotted in a single day during this period, as thousands of migratory birds from their breeding grounds in Russia, North China, Japan and Korea make Sungei Buloh their resting point before continuing their flights down south.

From commonly seen birds such as the Common Redshank, to the incredible ones, such as the tiny Pacific Golden Plover’s uncanny ability to travel over great distances (from Siberia to Singapore), Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve has only too many interesting sights to amaze you…’


 In transit:

Changi airport

A total of 51.2 million passengers flew through Singapore in 2012…



Pink-wing_flying_fish wikimedia commons

‘…The process of taking flight, or gliding, begins by gaining great velocity underwater, about 37 miles (60 kilometers) per hour. Angling upward, the four-winged flying fish breaks the surface and begins to taxi by rapidly beating its tail while it is still beneath the surface. It then takes to the air, sometimes reaching heights over 4 feet (1.2 meters) and gliding long distances, up to 655 feet (200 meters). Once it nears the surface again, it can flap its tail and taxi without fully returning to the water. Capable of continuing its flight in such a manner, flying fish have been recorded stretching out their flights with consecutive glides spanning distances up to 1,312 feet (400 meters)…’


 Another form of flight

bird vase grace

Bird Vase-Grace by New York-based Singaporean ceramicist Wee Hong Ling.

Image and article at 10 Feb 2014

Other winged things

Daedalus and Icarus:

Icarus describe

from The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Literature, Second Edition 1977

The Fall of Icarus:

The fall of Icarus

 The Fall of Icarus by Peter Paul Rubens, 1636. Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels. Image uncredited at

 Icarus and Amelia Earhart:

…She was swallowed by the sky / Or by the sea, like me she had a dream to fly / Like Icarus ascending / On beautiful foolish arms…

 from Amelia by Joni Mitchell. Video from

Amelia Earhart and Electra, the aircraft in which she disappeared over the Central Pacific in 1937

Amelia Earhart and the Lockheed Model 10 Electra, the aircraft in which she disappeared over the Central Pacific in 1937

Image at  on Wikimedia Commons


Lepidoptera means ‘scaly-winged’ in Greek. It is the large order of insects that includes moths and butterflies.

atlas moth

Atlas moth: an illustration from Natural History Drawings: The Complete William Farquhar Collection, Malay Peninsula 1803-1818 (Editions Didier Millet & National Museum of Singapore, 2010)

Small Moth by Sarah Lindsay

She’s slicing ripe white peaches
into the Tony the Tiger bowl
and dropping slivers for the dog
poised vibrating by her foot to stop their fall
when she spots it, camouflaged,
a glimmer and then full on—
happiness, plashing blunt soft wings
inside her as if it wants
to escape again.


Chiroptera means ‘hand-winged’ in Greek. It is the order of mammals that includes bats.

Lesser false-vampire bat, Singapore

Lesser false-vampire bat, Singapore

Image uncredited at

What is it like to be a bat?

…Our own experience provides the basic material for our imagination, whose range is therefore limited. It will not help to try to imagine that one has webbing on one’s arms, which enables one to fly around at dusk and dawn catching insects in one’s mouth; that one has very poor vision, and perceives the surrounding world by a system of reflected high-frequency sound signals…In so far as I can imagine this (which is not very far), it tells me only what it would be like for me to behave as a bat behaves. But that is not the question. I want to know what it is like for a bat to be a bat. Yet if I try to imagine this, I am restricted to the resources of my own mind, and those resources are inadequate to the task…

Thomas Nagel, in The Philosophical Review, October 1974

Poetry with a sting in the tale:

bee journal 1

‘This book is a kind of uncut home-movie of bees. I like its oddness and hurriedness, its way of catching the world exactly as it happens in the split second before it sets into poetry…’

Alice Oswald reviewing Bee Journal

The fall of Icarus

Honey from Bartholomew’s Meadery, Denmark, Western Australia

Follow the leader

Why do birds fly in V-formation?

V-formation ed yong nat geoweb

See USA Today 15 Jan 2014:

Image: Ed Yong/National Geographic

 High flyers

The bar-headed goose can reach nearly 21,120 feet…

bar-headed geese clement francis web small

Image: Clement Francis

Himalayan foothills home to half the world’s bar-headed geese

Bar-headed geese landing at Pong Dam

Bar-headed geese landing at Pong Dam

Image: Sanjeeva Pandey

 ‘One of the largest made wetlands in the foothills of the Himalayas, the Pong Dam reservoir in Himachal Pradesh, is currently home to around 43,000 bar-headed geese, probably half their numbers globally, wildlife officials said on Sunday…’ Monday 3 Feb 2014, relayed by Shivakumar N. on Delhibird

And meanwhile…

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

from Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

Geese at Pong Dam, with Dhauladhar Range behind

Geese at Pong Dam, with Dhauladhar Range behind

Image: Sanjeeva Panday

Lost and found

Vagrant: n. 1 a person without a settled home or regular work; 1.1 archaic a wanderer; 1.2 Ornithology a bird that has strayed or been blown from its usual range or migratory route eg ‘most birders are hoping to find the wind-blown vagrants of migration’


Being lost:

‘[The child’s] imagination was captured by the presence of this strange white princess from a land far over the sea…as she knew from the map that Rhayader showed her, and on which they traced the stormy path of the lost bird from its home in Canada to the Great Marsh of Essex.’

from The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico

snowgoose_illus scott web

First illustrated edition of Paul Gallico’s The Snow Goose, published by Michael Joseph in 1946; illustrations by ornithologist, conservationist and painter (later Sir) Peter Scott. Image

Being found:


The Snow Geese by William Fiennes, 2002: a story of home, inspired by Paul Gallico’s novel.

Being somewhere in-between:

I sit at a turn from where

Roads lead in all directions.

from Crossing by Gulzar

fingerpost-signs_02 web


I am the one

who always goes away.

Sometimes I’m asked if

I were searching for a place

that can keep my soul

from wandering

a place where I can stay

without wanting to leave.

Who knows.

Maybe the joy lies

in always being able to leave –

But I never left home.

I carried it away

with me – here in my darkness

in myself.

from The one who goes away by Sujata Bhatt

We are guest people

without land or name, moving south and south,

wild birds seeking a place to call home.

from My Hakka Grandmother by Eileen Chong

Hakka hat

Hakka hat