To the Sound of Cicadas

MacRitchie Nature Trail, Singapore
A puff of mist rose from the jungle as I approached the wet boardwalk. A siren began to wail, calling the stray kayaks back to the shore as a rumble echoed across the water. I hesitated. Another loud wave crashed into the sky and rippled above me. As I counted the beats between light and sound, a striped terrapin emerged from the murky depths.

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I followed the yellow boards that circled the water. A buzz followed by a click announced a squirrel that bounded before me, agitated by the impending storm. It stopped suddenly, and my breath hung as heavy as the air as we studied each other.

The trail was empty. A shuffle in the undergrowth. I craned my neck towards the sound and gazed into the leaf pile. My eyes adjusted to the dull browns before I spotted a metallic blur of a skink, trying to find sunlight to warm itself. Unripe berries dripped with colour.

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A deafening crack jolted my eyes up. Instead of a falling branch, the sky was lit up with roots of electric blue. I gave into my fear and began sprinting back, but soon stumbled across two South African men wearing yellow anoraks. I sheepishly hung back before following them. The thunder continued but the sky was brightening up, and I wanted to experience the jungle waking up. The cicadas had missed the morning chorus.

Light began to fall in melted, smoky gold lines. The undergrowth was transformed. Shadows of fern and fronds decorated the wooden buttress roots of the Jelawi tree. Leaves became sumptuous velvety red, pearlescent blue, and were coated in fine caviar. The exposed orange bark danced under the play of sunlight. The shrill harmony of cicadas switched on.

 

The macaques were not playing by the huts. They were not found diving in the shallows. None played on the stumps of the freshly cut trees, or by the towering fig tree that held clusters of green fruit that cascaded down its trunk. Instead, I heard a low bellowing. I thought I was finally going to see the wild boar that has been spotted in these parts. As I came closer to the source, I realised it was a drumming sound. I looked for the mohawked Banded Woodpecker that I’ve only seen once before, but it evaded me.

 

I heard the distinct dipping calls and squawks of the Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo bird. Sitting on a bough up ahead, it was performing its whole repertoire of mimicry. The black pronged forks of its two tail feathers hung below it, quivering as it shifted its weight. I crept up to it and waited for it to reveal its profile. Its wings shone blue black. It paused then rotated its head towards me, fixing me with its red eye before swooping into the canopy.

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After passing the Ranger’s Station, I climbed the hill to the Treetop Walk. At the entrance, I was greeted by a long-tailed macaque who casually ambled towards me. The monkeys are the keepers of the bridge. They freely unzip and rustle through bags before taking anything exciting or launching it into the abyss. I was once treated to a head massage by one that wanted my headband. Today, they were calmer and only flicked their tails as I passed. I looked out for the large monitor lizard that sunbathes on an exposed branch but he was elsewhere. Swallows soared above and led my eye to the horizon.

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On the other side, wooden steps were sprinkled with confetti and sugared almonds that burst underfoot. I watched out for snakes. I once found a thin red Paradise Tree Snake on these boards. It was hanging down between the slats and its head was hidden. It was completely still. I knelt down to take a closer look at its patterned scales. It was only when I got home I found out it may have been playing dead.

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I began the descent. A cobweb stuck to my cheek and I swiped it away, worried that it may belong to a fearsome (yet harmless) Golden Orb-Weaving spider. Flanking me were paper thin petals and red spiky bomb berry shells. As I crossed the small wooden bridge and stared into the milky water below, a trilling call came from the debris and was answered further back. This bleating sound, like the cry of an abandoned chick, is the only one I’ve not been able to identify so it makes it all the more intriguing.

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Passing the butterfly walk, I hit the steaming tarmac of the main road before retracing my steps back through the jungle towards the main entrance. Past the slippery clay hill, beyond the bamboo patch, along the muddy track and back on to the boardwalk. Sprinkles of water showered down as another ninja squirrel leapt overhead.

Just as I was resigned to leave, I heard the leaves shake. The first monkey of the troop is always the hardest to spot, but then twenty more emerge, clambering down vines or brushing aside branches to forage. Ol’ Snaggle Tooth, a male with a protruding lower canine, sat bow-legged on the edge of the boardwalk, while the juvenile scouts explored the periphery. Mothers with wrinkled babies clutching their bellies walked slowly past me. The youngsters attempted to climb the fresh roots and were propped up by guiding hands or scooped up when they were too daring. They were inquisitive, diving over one another and shoving their hands into their mouths as if they were laughing. Each trek is an adventure and sightings are not guaranteed, which makes them all the more special.

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If you enjoyed this post, check out my YouTube channel for jungle videos here.

Note: The Treetop walk is closed on Mondays, except Bank Holidays. It is also closed during adverse weather conditions (lightning and heavy rain).

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