Otterman speaks... (2003-2007)
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Otterman speaks...

Cycling, macintosh, natural history and life in Singapore - Archives

List of Categories : travel * museum * cycling * Singapore Naturalist * science * kakis * mangroves * movies * mac and the internet * meow * NUS * life in Singapore * lit * world *

Sat 15 Jan 2005

First ride for 2005 and we rescue an injured nightjar

Category : cycling

I spent most of December fighting of a flu - excessive sniffing, headaches in evenings and difficulty in concentrating during the day should have warned me but I missed the signs as I chased a couple of deadlines ironically during my year-end leave. I might have ridden it out but the cold weather after the tsunami didn't help - on some days, even the cats were all curled up, with hind feet touching their noses! I finally succumbed on New Year's day and spent most of the subsequent week wrapped in blankets and a jersey and sitting under warm lights - in tropical Singapore!


Tiger and Mr Bats, all curled up in the day, 6th January 2005.

So it was with considerable caution that I ventured out on my re-initiation ride, my first ride in more than a month, on the evening of the 15th of January 2005.

Just as well since the bike, back from servicing, needed a lot of tune ups. Tucking away an extra long brake cable, adjusting seat height and fit, getting used to highly responsive brakes, etc. It's now a much noisier ride and the gears probably need a final tune up now that the new cable is stretched.

Still, Cat, Chiku and Ladybug were in high spirits as we set out at Ulu Pandan, but once we cleared the old railway bridge on the Ulu Pandan park connector, Ladybug spotted a bird on the ground, in full view of the bright light cast by the park light. This was a highly unusual place for any bird, even a ground-nesting bird like the large-tailed nightjar, also known as the tok tok bird. At night, this waits to pounce on insects attracted to the light of a lamp post. The nightjar is usually hidden from view, sitting above the bright light, and not illuminated by it on the ground, as this one was. It was about 8.35pm.

They suspected the bird was injured from the way she moved, and I had to confirm that by approaching her (I'll assume the bird was female) cautiously. It could fly a couple of metres before settling down, apparently injured. I wondered if I was witnessing the ploy of a nesting mother, who was drawing a potential predator away from her nest. This is known of some birds, and it seemed a likely defense by a ground nester such as this nightjar. had we stumbled on to a decoy session and scared off the predator?

By now, I had made a couple of calls and was on the phone with Kim, a member of a newly formed informal bird rescue unit made up of naturalists and bird watchers. I did realise if I was going to drag her and Maurice out from Serangoon Central all the way to Jurong East, I'd better be sure the bird was indeed injured. .

We had kept far away from the bird to reduce stress and I approached her again. In these subsequent episodes, she seemed exhausted and could only manage to extend her wings in a futile attempt to appear larger than she really was. I could see her bright eyes in the darkness as she shifted her body to face the threat that I posed an it was heart wrenching.

So I backed off and told Kim I was sure the night jar was injured and to come rescue her. We gave direction to the International Business Park and they set off while we kept an eye on the bird. My three cycling buddies appeared to be doing some awkward orientation dance as they struggled to keep the mosquitoes away. Blessed with either thick hide or hairy legs, I was relatively comfortable, but at one point caught myself jiggling along with them in an apparent resonance.

Cat and Ladybug revealed their Zendog instincts and were very relaxed as we kept an eye on the poor bird from a distance. Knowing us, Chiku began wondering if he'd actually clock 60km that night as it seemed likely our ride to Kranji reservoir was doomed. He started riding in circles, which was probably also a superior mosquito defense.

As we waited I ran the scenario through my head to determine if we were doing the right thing. But it was a comfortable decision in the end for cyclists and runners were speedily dashing past during the hour we spent there, and would have easily stepped on the nightjar, further injuring or killing her.

At 9.33pm, Kim called and Cat and Chiku sped off to fetch the rescue equipment from them, a three minute ride away. They returned with a small shoe box, string and netting and a small dish cloth, a far dry from the towel-sized cloth I was hoping for!

Ladybug used one of our white LED bicycle lights to blind the bird while I crept up to ambush the nightjar with the dish cloth. Rather unfortunately it was flapping in the strong wind in a distracting and somewhat demoralising mannner. The nightjar knew we were serious this time and made a break for it in a last burst of energy, eventually slipping undeneath a bush as she ran out of steam once again. I crept in after her, as Ladybug trained the light on her, while Cat, with the box, alerted me to her position, behind me and to my left. Chiku hovered with net and string, ready to move in.

The nightjar struggled to place me in the bright light and began to emit some very sad distress calls. I drew a breath, pounced and gently wrapped her in the dish cloth. I had to be very careful as most birds are light and quite fragile. In fact, I could hardly feel her amongst the folds of cloth - a good thing that meant I had not crushed her. Cat positioned the box and in seconds, we had her inside, still wrapped in cloth. Chi moved in to slap on the netting and we tied the box up, and adjusted the cloth to ensure she was not suffocating and had a clear airway.

Then we sprinted over to the International Business Park on our bikes where Kim and Maurice were waiting. I nearly fell as I handed over the box because of my very responsive brakes but thankfully manage to recover!

Thanks goodness for the bird rescue team; we were so grateful they came.

It was 10.10pm by now and we went on to clock some mileage with a loop around Pandan Reservoir to maintain some dignity. But not too much, for soon we were drinking teh halia (kurang manis, extra halia) from our favourite stall, Nisha (No 51) at the 503 West Coast Drive Food Centre.

I was grateful my cycling buddies were there with me tonight - they work well and sensitively together, whether it is advanced party duty for William Tan's Ride for Hope, training for Pedal Ubin, helping and submitting collection site feedback during the Tsunami disaster relief efforts, sweat ops during the coastal cleanup or rescuing a bird. Tonight they worked flawlessly once again and it was a heartwarming way to celebrate Cat's birthday.

Posted at 5:56PM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | , .