Powder blue from his eyes to the tip of his claspered abdomen, a Luzon skimmer patrols a little patch of scrubland overrun by bracken and unruly belukar. More pristine portions of the park harbour clubtailed cousins too rare and mighty to occupy an accessible perch. But the more common Libellulids seem happy to clutch low twigs and grab a breather from dogfights with flies and furious dashes through the tall grass in pursuit of paramours.
Like the frail feet of swiftlets, the dragonfly's legs are not made for walking, but for static grips and mid-air grapplings. Predators who prowl more enclosed spaces have a greater need for fancy footwork, and the four pairs of limbs that support this iridescent salticid are guided by a turret of eyes that never lose sight of their prey. Stealth not speed fuels the spider's steps and this refusal to rush things and succumb to basic instincts provides ample time to issue mixed signals of ultraviolet from palps of velvet disaffection.
Small airports are rather more interesting than large faceless ones. There are fewer hurdles between the gates and the runway is a mere strip of gray in a field fenced by zinc roofs and swaying palms. Arrive too early and the terminal is a ghost town draped in coastal mist. A metallic din fills the air, which can be traced to grids of waterlogged grass that flank the building. Hoping perhaps for a final fling before the sun bears down on their skinny dips, Bornean frogs sing from puddles that pockmark an unmanicured lawn. They share these holes with African snails that risk a morning crush with ill-advised ventures beyond the green.
Bugs too heavy with dew for lift-off are sitting ducks in the shrubbery. Signs of flashing interest in the fauna of Sandakan's airport are met with bemusement by the security team, who also tolerate a quick survey of glossy swiftlets that have colonised the darker corners of the check-in terminal. Inedible nests of plant fibre bound by avian spit line the underside of low ceilings. The sickle-winged occupants twitter and threaten their neighbours with weak pecks, paying little heed to the stares of passing bipeds. Their guano litters the floor and demands a daily dose of strong solvents. But like their larger kin that throng the eaves of five-foot ways, these unsanctioned flyers appear to enjoy the tolerance of a town that is still learning to thrive by saving space for nature than by sacrificing it.
It's a mighty shame that the last rocky shore on the mainland is for now closed to free-ranging feet. A locked gate now bars the way from the seawall path, leaving the sand below barren and bemoaning the days when this beach and its scleractinian riches were there for the taking.
The jetty above still permits castings of line and sinker and invites roadrunners to race the last light before a red flush of dusk. A chain-smoking sharpshooter frames his newest portfolio against the dying day, while the pillars that support the well-dressed pair harbour in their darker corners the spoils of smaller unions. Now a little more secure against those who would rob the future to fuel their pride, the high shore is now overrun by lesser thieves who plunder empty shells and pick their way through the debris of spring tides.
For rodsmen eager for quick bites, the brown seaweed that cloaks the shallows is a plague that mars clear views of a murky sea. But for the creatures who make Labrador Park their home, the floating thickets are a haven from hooks and harsher traps. Just above the fronds hovers a small squid that upon discovery flashes its chromatophores in fury and curls its arms with rage.
Too stiff to protest its disapproval of our delight, a feathery filefish flounders in a pool to sit out another half-hour of exposure to curious eyes.
A more streamlined cousin likewise flutters in futility, trusting not in the rough strength of its living leather jacket.
The rocky pools below the sand line are classic habitats for frilly tentacled anemones, which pop up with happy regularity. Some individuals, however, appear preternaturally pale and in danger of a life deprived of sun-sucking symbiotes.
No such worries vex the ghost shrimp that brandish orange claws from smooth tunnels. Braving brief forays to gather loose straps of seagrass, these soft-bodied decapods share the rubbly bottom with snapping shrimp and watchful gobies that are finding new room to grow and a brief respite from years of careless whispers and the prying fingers of loose and loathsome minds.
Left again to its own devices, Labrador Park is once more recruiting inmates from nearby shoals. A season of Sargassum drapes the flat, irking anglers who despise the brown seaweed for snaring their lines and seeding the shore with the promise of new life. The macroalgae makes for clumsy wading, but there are just enough bare patches to tread on and risk the wrath of buried spines.
There were no blue-spotted death rays that evening – just a scattering of scorpionfish real and imagined. Perched amid the Padina, these predators keep watch over pools of rubble astir with sessile life and polyps that are working their way up from the deeper slopes to rebuild a half-wrecked reef. And in their wake come copperbanded swimmers who dance over the seagrass by day and float with the fronds each night to dream of parapodial segments and the finely flavoured heads of buried polychaetes.
Spurred by the cheerful flutter of frail wings, my duck took a random detour to the northern edge of Singapore's natural heartlands. After a final chance to leak in private, the road leads past an entourage of underaged clubbers before hitting the cul-de-sac of a carpark built for booty.
A regular barrage of small-arms provides a reminder of the war within. The trail winds through a narrow trap between the brown waters of the reservoir and a tangled bank of Singapore rhododendron. The forest here is still too young for tall buttresses. But the canopy is slowly closing in and the path is under constant siege by lianas that bar the way and issue sudden threats of broad twilight.
A miniature bay of leaf litter provided a savoury feast for a flock of yellow butterflies that sipped their mates' share of mineral wealth. Further away from the reservoir, the net-veined sarsaparilla vines that overpower sunlit columns are attended to by a tailed retinue of yamflies and imperials. The low shrubs that threaten to invade the trail harbour their own assortment of scaled wings – some with bovine colours and others with larvae of predatory habits.
Other beauties, such as this stork-billed halcyon that fished without fear, popped out of the blue to distract my duck from an overdue lunch. And without warning, a sapphire-streaked jungle jewel flitted by to offer a half-open hint of its darker side. The display unleashed an irresistable compulsion to trek down a path of powdered destruction that ended with frightful leaps from low branches and a mad dash through low thickets by invisible bodies armed with animal spirits.