16 June 2018

BioBlitz Singapore

Bioblitz Singapore
Citizen Science Biodiversity Surveys in Singapore

A group of butterfly watchers checking out some puddling Lycaenids along the Rail Corridor during the BioBlitz survey

A BioBlitz is a field biodiversity survey to record all the living species within a designated area, usually over a short period of time. Groups of trained scientists, naturalists, volunteers and members of the public conduct an intensive field study over a continuous time period - ranging from 24 hours to a week. The public component to many BioBlitzes is to encourage the 'unconverted' to participate in these biodiversity surveys and to cultivate an appreciation and respect for nature.

Boyi, our knowledgeable NParks facilitator for the BioBlitz survey, showing participants a butterfly caterpillar

The term “BioBlitz” was coined by Susan Rudy, a naturalist with the US National Park service, in 1996. A BioBlitz refers to a concerted effort by scientists and the community to record as many species of flora and fauna as possible within a specific location and timeframe. The initiative caught on, and today, BioBlitzes have been conducted around the world, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. Many BioBlitzes are conducted in urban and easily accessible areas to encourage the public to spot and identify the local biodiversity around them, literally in their "own backyards".

In Singapore, the NParks-Community In Nature BioBlitz surveys provide a unique opportunity for the community to learn from taxonomic experts, with the hope that such programmes will encourage stewardship of biodiversity amongst Singaporeans. The first BioBlitz surveys were started in 2016 at Pasir Ris Park and Pulau Ubin and in 2017 at Kent Ridge Park. NParks conducted its first nationwide BioBlitz programme over the course of seven days as part of the annual Biodiversity Week (20 to 28 May 2017). The Nationwide BioBlitz, the first of its kind on such a scale in Singapore, took place across around 90 sites in schools, parks, and gardens from 20 to 26 May 2017.

In 2018, NParks organised a suite of events and activities during Biodiversity Week (18 May to 3 June) to encourage the community to explore and encounter nature in Singapore. These programmes took place in schools, urban parks, gardens and nature areas, and involve partners from schools, research institutions, and nature-interest groups. The Nationwide BioBlitz surveys involved over 3300 citizen scientists surveyed around 80 sites across Singapore, including parks, gardens, nature areas and schools, and also for the first time, covered both terrestrial and marine sites.

Participants of the BioBlitz survey walking along the Rail Corridor

As part of the Nationwide BioBlitz week, which covered biodiversity surveys over no fewer that 33 parks and gardens in Singapore, ButterflyCircle members led a survey over a short stretch of the Rail Corridor starting at the Rail Mall. Concurrently, there were surveys on birds and dragonflies over the same stretch. Our butterfly survey took slightly over 3 hours and we recorded a total of 28 species of butterflies over that short stretch of the Rail Corridor.

Participants of the BioBlitz @ Rail Corridor, waiting for the butterfly and dragonfly surveys to start

After a quick briefing, the group was all set to start the survey!

The BioBlitz survey started at around 8:20am when the group of participants were assembled and all ready to go. Our group of 16, inclusive of 3 BC members and Boyi from NParks, started on the transect in rather cloudy weather and commenced counting all the butterflies that we were able to spot.

Map of our survey trail along the Rail Corridor

The stretch of the Rail Corridor can be considered quite 'green' and rich with biodiversity. The survey trail is immediately adjacent to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, which is a good catchment for butterflies and other animals. The trail is flanked on the western boundary by Upper Bukit Timah Road.

A group of participants from the dragonfly survey taking photos of dragonflies along the stream

A small stream alongside the trail provided the humidity and water habitat for other organisms like dragonflies, fishes and frogs. Along the main trail, the botanical diversity in terms of low bushes, wildflowers and host plants provided enough habitats for butterflies to flutter around in search of food.

Some puddling butterflies spotted at the BioBlitz survey

Parts of the footpath were open sandy and damp areas for some butterflies to puddle in search of various chemicals for nutrition and specific physiological and biological functions that they need these active ingredients for. Indeed, the group encountered several species of Lycaenids puddling at certain sandy spots. Several of these species were cooperative enough to even allow handphone shots of them.

A male Chocolate Albatross (this one's shot in Malaysia, where it is common) was spotted during our survey at the Rail Corridor

An interesting sighting was the Chocolate Albatross (Appias lyncida vasava) a seasonal migrant that usually appears during the months of March to May when the species is abundant up north in Malaysia. A male was spotted flying along the survey trail.

Participants looking at the butterfly ID sheets and scorecards

A Gram Blue that was spotted just before the survey started

It was an enjoyable outing, keeping a sharp eye out for butterflies and sharing useful information about butterflies' behaviour, the way they fly, and tips on how to ID them. Members of the public, including young children were enthusiastic and learned fast. Boyi created some visual checklists to help the volunteers ID the common species that can be found in urban parks and gardens.

A dedicated Butterfly Watch programme is also available for those who prefer to just record butterfly sightings in various nature areas in Singapore. The Butterfly Watch is a citizen science initiative, organised by NParks in collaboration with ButterflyCircle, to get Singaporeans involved in collecting valuable information about the butterflies in our parks and gardens.

All sorts of "biodiversity"during the surveys are game for a snapshot

With the data collected from many survey transects from the various parks around Singapore, the information will contribute towards better park management and conservation measures. So if you're passionate about nature and butterfly watching, do look out for the announcements on the NParks' Community In Nature initiatives like BioBlitz and Butterfly Watch and contribute to the conservation and protection of our natural heritage in Singapore!

Group shots of the Bird, Butterfly and Dragonfly BioBlitz teams at the Rail Corridor

Text by Khew SK and Zhou Boyi ; Photos by Huang CJ, Khew SK and Zhou Boyi.

09 June 2018

Butterfly Photography Series - Part 4

Butterfly Photography Series
Digital Post-Processing - Part 4 : Photo Retouching - Layer Mask

In her fourth and final part on digital post-processing tips and tricks, ButterflyCircle member Loh Mei Yee shares the use of layer mask in photo retouching to remove unwanted elements and distracting backgrounds in your shot.

In the previous article, you’ve learnt how to use the Clone Stamp Tool to remove distracting elements. In this final part of this series, we continue with the topic on photo retouching. I will cover what Layer Mask is, how it works and how to use it to make your photo retouching work an easier and enjoyable one.

How does Layer Mask work?
I’ve been asked “how do I protect areas that I don’t want to be affected during cloning?” Layer Mask is exactly what you need when it comes to removing unwanted elements that are touching or very close to the areas that you don’t want to photoshopped. Photo retouching will be a breeze after you’ve understood how Layer Mask works and you’ll be a Photoshop master in no time!

To let you have an easier understanding of what Layer Mask is, I’ll put it in a simple way. When you add a layer mask to a layer, it is shown as white. A layer mask that is white has no effect. When you fill the layer mask black, the layer becomes transparent, revealing the layer below it. Layer mask allows you to edit or delete images, with no permanent harm to the image.

Below is a short simple tutorial to show you how Layer Mask works. I will also cover how the Magic Wand works.

At the Toolbox, choose the magic wand or press ‘W’ on the keyboard. The Magic Wand selects pixels based on tone and colour.

By changing the number in Tolerance, you can determine the range of colour that the Magic Wand Tool selects.

Click on the area that you want to select. The lower the number, the lesser pixels of a similar colour will be selected.

Change the Tolerance to 30 and see what happens.

Click on the area same area that you have selected earlier, you can see that a bigger area is selected. It is because the higher the number, the more pixels of a similar colour will be selected.

While holding down ‘shift’ key, continue clicking until the whole background is selected.

Duplicate the ‘Background’ layer.

Add Layer Mask.

Hold ‘Alt’ (for PC) or ‘Opt ’ (for mac) and click on the Layer Mask. In the Layer Mask, the background is white and the butterfly and leaf is black, which means it is revealing the layer below it.

To go back to the layer, hold ‘Alt’ (for PC) or ‘Opt ’ (for mac) and click on the Layer Mask or click on the layer.

Now let’s start cleaning up the background. Set a sampling point and clone stamp until you get your desired look for the background.

To reveal the entire image, disable the Layer Mask by pressing shift + click on the Layer Mask.

To enable the Mask, press shift + click on the Mask or click on the layer. The black area on the Layer Mask reveals the layer below it, which shows the un-photoshopped areas.

I have made a video tutorial which included all that you’ve learned in this series on Digital Post-Processing. Please be reminded that this is the way I usually do my post-processing, you can use it as a reference and come up with your own method. I hope through practice you will find what works best for you!

Original photo

Post-processed photo

Here are 3 examples of what can be achieved with photo retouching in Photoshop, with the use of Layer Mask.

We have come to the end of the Digital Post Processing series. I hope that I have covered the basics of what you need to know for post-processing. By sharing the information, I hope that you can sharpen your skills and let go of the fear of using Photoshop and inspired you to start their post-processing journeys “Knowledge has a beginning but no end.” Till we meet again!

Text and Photos by Loh Mei Yee

03 June 2018

Festival of Biodiversity 2018!

Festival of Biodiversity 2018!
Tampines Mall : 2-3 June 2018

It's that time of the year again! Now in its 7th instalment, the Festival of Biodiversity, which started in 2012 at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, proved to be even bigger and better with more and more new nature groups coming on board. For a start, the venue at the open field next to Tampines Mall on the eastern side of Singapore was much more spacious compared to 2017's FOB.

The pre-dawn thunderstorms cleared just before the start of FOB 2018 and did not dampen the mood of the volunteers and visitors

A good change from previous cramped FOBs, this year's event had more generous and wider spaces for all 

An annual event organised by the National Parks Board (NParks) Singapore, in collaboration with the Biodiversity Roundtable, the Festival aims to create awareness and foster a sense of appreciation for Singapore's natural heritage. The festival showcases Singapore’s impressive and unique array of island biodiversity. This event celebrates Singapore’s natural heritage and in doing so, hopes to bring about greater awareness of the rich biodiversity that Singapore has.

The early 'bird' visitors to the booths

FOB 2018 was held at an urban mall again, with the objective of showcasing Singapore's nature to the heartlanders and mall visitors who may not have had a chance to enjoy Singapore's natural heritage. Held this year at a shopping mall in the eastern part of Singapore, this annual exhibition has travelled from a southern mall (VivoCity Mall) to a central mall (NEX Mall). Perhaps FOB 2019 should move to a western mall?

ButterflyCircle decided to take a hiatus from this year's FOB, after participating in 6 consecutive FOBs since its inauguration in 2012 until 2017. We felt that it was time to take a break and visit the exhibition this year as a visitor. Indeed, it was more fun when we didn't have the stress and burden of manning a booth at the exhibition. Perhaps next year, if FOB moves to the west...

FOB 2018 was hosted by Minister Desmond Lee, with Speaker of Parliament, Tan Chuan Jin as the guest of honour

FOB18 was hosted by Minister for Social and Family Development, Desmond Lee as with many previous FOBs. Minister Desmond is often seen as a champion of biodiversity and environmental conservation in Singapore. Indeed, he has won the respect and support of the green groups in Singapore for his tireless endeavours to conserve and protect the environment in his signature style of sincere and meaningful dialogue and balanced views. FOB 2018's Guest of Honour was our Speaker of Parliament, Tan Chuan Jin, who is another stalwart of nature conservation and an active supporter of the green community.

Speaker Tan Chuan Jin, a long-time supporter of nature conservation, giving some words of wisdom to the audience at the opening ceremony

In his speech, Speaker Tan had this to say "We must not miss the woods for the trees. In land scarce Singapore, there are real pressures and challenges but there has been amazing work done. Our biodiversity, our deepening understanding of our natural heritage is a testimony of the work done by all involved. There will be issues that we will disagree on and there will be encroachment issues but it should not negate the forward momentum of the work done."

A total of 602 species from various taxonomic groups were spotted during BioBlitz 2018 citizen science surveys organised by the National Parks Board

The VIPs then officially launched FOB 2018 with the announcement of the results from NParks' nation-wide BioBlitz 2018 citizen science surveys. The surveys netted some 602 species of terrestrial and marine fauna. Interestingly, as my good friend and veteran nature guide Subaraj quipped, "for the first time, I see more butterfly species recorded than bird species!"

Our VIPs visiting the booths and activity stations at FOB 2018

The rest of the morning and early part of the afternoon was spent catching up with old friends and networking with the nature community. It was heartwarming to see Minister Desmond Lee visiting every booth and interacting with the young and young-at-heart who were keen to share their expertise about their specific area of interest. Minister and the entourage spent a good part of more than 2 hours talking and interacting with the nature groups.

ButterflyCircle's contribution to FOB 2018 on the "Butterflies of Singapore" panel

The Harlequin, a critically endangered species in Singapore due to the very localised distribution of the species at a site that is slated for development

Of course, what's FOB without butterflies? ButterflyCircle contributed to the educational bit on  the importance of butterflies in the pollination of flowers. Our efforts on the Harlequin species recovery project and studies to help with the translocation of the species from the site where the butterfly is found, was mentioned on the educational panel. The site at the western part of Singapore is under threat from future development, and we are working against time to try to ensure that this species continues to survive in Singapore.

Some of the new groups participating at the FOB

This FOB saw the emergence of several new and interesting groups - each with its specific area of interest. It was also encouraging to see many young talent taking on the challenge of nature conservation and the amount of energy and passion that they put into studying their subjects of interest. New groups like the Macaque Working Group, Freshwater Crabs Working Group, Raffles Banded Langur Working Group, Biodiversity Friends Forum and Otter Working Group joined the FOB this year.

A T-Rex lurked around the booths, ready to get everyone to love nature!

The more established groups like the Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore), ACRES, Herpetological Society Singapore, Wildlife Reserves Singapore and many other regulars made up the rest of the interested exhibits. There was even a T-Rex prowling around the exhibitions, ready to snap up anyone who didn't care for nature!

Dr Vilma Rozario holding the attention of the young ones

As with previous FOBs, the kids' activity booths featuring nature handicraft and storytelling, were popular with the young ones. There were skits put up by school children on the main stage throughout the day. It was a great day for family outings and parents who brought their children to FOB 2018 had an educational and entertaining tour of Singapore's biodiversity.

A number of NParks' Community engagement booths at the FOB 2018

Jo Teo and her volunteer students from Chung Cheng High School at the FOB

The annual FOBs should continue to create awareness and appreciation for Singapore's natural heritage, and to continue the neverending effort to educate and inform the young and old about our awesome biodiversity in Singapore. It is with this hope, that we can build and nurture our Biophilic City where humans and nature can co-exist in harmony.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Huang CJ