There was a faint sense of bemused empathy when not a few of the herons and egrets that landed on the edge of the canal leading into Sungei Tampines continued to slide when their feet hit the grey flat. Most regained their dignity in a blink that turned a slip into a stride, but some found themselves running headlong towards the personal space of other fowl and were forced to take flight once more and take a number for the choicest spots.
The tiered waterway offered the birds a broad pavilion on which they could saunter, preen and pick petty fights with each other in between attempts at fishing and keeping half an eye at a levee that held the swollen canal at bay. For automated locks allow the monsoon to drain into the swamp at engineered will and the water would gush with little warning, turning the artificial terraces into a maelstrom of currents that bubbled and died down as swiftly as their surge. The waterfowl who favoured these upper reaches would flee to the banks and ruffle their feathers as they wait for the dyke to stem the tide and reveal fresh bounties in the silent spring.
North of the walkway that bridges the river, a remnant and rescued mangal provides safe harbour for creatures who can tolerate the ruckus of weekend muses and the roar of wild theme parks. A colony of grey herons have found refuge in a narrow strip of trees between the river and a resort. A flash of blue and orange betrayed the foray of a stork-billed kingfisher based on a Bruguiera within cast’s reach. Further downstream, a white-throated kingfisher evicted its wintering cousin from a perch above the water. Collared kingfishers cackled from higher masts, swooping down with alacrity to snatch from the sand small crabs on their last legs. On the muddy fringes lined by a loose fence of pneumatophores and plastic prowled water hens and water monitors, who exercised apt wariness for each other and those who watched their walk.
More permanent markers decorated many of the trees in this park of disregarded warnings. Invisible and intractable, strands of abandoned nylon and dead lead clung to twigs so tall they must have been flung there by anglers in a fit of frustration or tossed in a moment of casual exuberance. By this tangled bank was an unsightly aggregation of rocks that served as miniature territories for striated herons and black-crowned night herons who could not wait for the day to die before their turn to hunt.
One adult, however, appeared a little ungroomed, with its plumage in a state less sleek than the average bird. It stalked close enough to the walkway to reveal that its bill was so enmeshed in a fishing line that the heron appeared unable to properly open its mandibles. The bird had probably pecked at what it saw as a meal, only to find a trap of tender proportions or worse, a hook-tipped thread that wound its way around a far more effective fishing tool. Still, the victim of inferior fishermen stood its ground, its deep red eyes intent on prey in waters as murky, though far less merciful, as its fate.