Large reptiles plunder whilst kingfishers wonder…

I have been going to Pasir Ris mangroves in Singapore a lot lately, in my spare time. During a recent visit , the dam that holds back catchment water in the Tampines River was again unleashed, with water speedily making its’ way out  to sea. I wrote a blogpost about how a Stork Billed Kingfisher managed to cope with the coloured water after the torrent, by changing his fishing strategies to take fish visible only on the surface of the muddied waterway.

Recently, I witnessed this dam being unleashed again, though this time the state of the tide was very different; once the water had made it’s way towards the sea, the mangroves and surrounding area quickly returned to a state of low tide. VERY low tide. Again the nature photographers that were there as the dam was released decided to leave, as the calm waterway turned into a torrent . I stayed. And I’m so-oooo glad I did 🙂 …

Little egret juggle a fish into position, for easy swallowing.

Birds that are natural fishers had a bounty this time, as the waters quickly receded and laid on a great opportunity to fish. I was able to observe a lot of natural activity in a very short space of time. Egrets gathered and fished to their hearts’ content in the ebbing water flow.

Little Heron ‘stuns’ prey on nearby rock.

Little Herons took their places on rocks made visible by the shrinking waterway.

They were catching fish very regularly – even more regularly than usual.


White Throated Kingfisher taking the opportunity to catch fish sheltering around obstacles now being revealed by ebbing waters.

The waters left for the sea as quickly as they had been racing by, revealing many fish trying to take shelter around the now shallowing underwater obstacles, to the birds that had gathered to feast.

Gotcha! Stork Billed Kingfisher with meal… its’ last easy meal, before the 2nd dam release coloured the waters.

Birds took fast and quick advantage. For a while, at least. But only for a while as the dam was then released again, this time in full force, and now the water became very muddied really quickly. The torrent intensified and waters rose very quickly to again cover those ‘bird friendly’ perches that had previously been exposed.

Nice dive… but no fish this time.

Our friend the Stork Bill (above and left) was struggling to make good on his superior hunting and angling skills after that catch, as the fish could no longer clearly be seen.


Foray after foray into the water left him fishless.

No fish but still looking majestic, exiting the water and taking wing back to the hunting perch.

Time after time the flight back to the perch was with renewed ambition for the next dive for its’ prey.

This went on for around half an hour and eventually the waters receded to levels even beneath what they had recently been. No angling birds were present now and the Stork Billed Kingfisher left in search of better hunting opportunities.

I thought I’d have little chance to photograph much until the tide returned more water to the scene and fish stocks may be replenished anew.

And then it came. And this beast was HUGE. I’m guessing head to toe this specimen would have been 2 metres long and with a considerable weight… certainly over 15Kgs by my estimation. This was the largest Water Monitor Lizard I had seen in Pasir Ris. I imagine for Singaporeans these creatures are somewhat “passé”, as they are relatively common. but to a European, they’re always fascinating – we have no creatures like this in the UK!!!

“Tasting” the surroundings… Water Monitor’s sense much through their forked tongue.

I’d photographed them before, swimming capably, often flicking out that tongue to ‘taste’ (sense) their surroundings.

In search of… prey, nests with eggs, chicks, etc.


Despite their size, they are consummate climbers and do so to pillage birds’ nests, to feast on eggs, or indeed chicks. My devious blog posting “David meets Goliath” narrates how a Stork Billed Kingfisher attacked a Water Monitor Lizard, most likely as an act to protect a nearby nest.



On the day where this dam was again released, and once the waters had subsided, the tide was very low and much of what would typically be submersed was clearly visible. To my surprise, this very large Water Monitor emerged and had interesting strategies for taking full advantage of those rushing waters having ebbed.

The lizard clearly had something in mind and I was surprised to see this beast use its’ head to dislodge rocks, some of which I’d estimate to be in excess of 2 kilos. A flick of the tongue, on towards another group of rocks, and more dislodgment. A repeated pattern. I wondered what it was doing and had no idea that a feast awaited this creature…

It seems that fish, especially tilapia, had decided to take refuge under these rocks, in order to escape the unassailable flow of water that the unleashed dam had created. I can understand this in hindsight, as this flowing water would have been all but impossible for a fish to controllably swim in – it would have been swept clean away, most likely to become battered against rocks or similar during the unplanned journey. The fish were, however, now trapped in pools beneath these rocks, and had no ability to escape into the main waterway as it had totally receded. I could only see rocks and had no visibility of these pools beneath them. The Water Monitor Lizard, however, was using its’ tongue to ‘taste the air’, getting full sensory input as to where prey might be.

A39T9840-impAnd then they’d stop. Taste again. And move large rocks to investigate a potential bounty.

Like kingfishers, the ‘eyelids’, (those protective membranes that shield the eyes), would be called upon often whilst dining. I imagine this is to protect the eyes from the thrashing of it’s prey.

A39T9969-impIt was evident that the lizard was adept at fishing yet at times less than adept at holding it’s prey.

This tilapia was making a ‘break for it’ and had managed to wriggle out of the lizards’ clasp. But not for long.

A39T9974-impThe lizard quickly followed the tilapias’ fall and snapped its’ jaws closed to reclaim the meal, just barely managing to trap the fish in its’ clasp by getting hold of the top fin of the fish.

SO in this instance, there was little chance of escape for this fish, despite its’ valiant dash for freedom.

A39T9839-impThe Water Monitor Lizard dined well this afternoon.

It seems that maybe a shoal of tilapia had sought refuge in these rocks and perhaps normally this would have ben an excellent strategy for mitigating the unnavigable water and channels.

A39T9985-impBut not on this day.

Fish after fish were located, uncovered and unceremoniously devoured with great speed. I wondered just how big this creature’s appetite might be.

A39T9990-impBut the gorging went on… sheer opportunism at its’ natural best.

I’d never seen a Water Monitor Lizard behave like this before.

8D3A1043-impI had seen them fight previously, in Sungei Buloh wetland reserve in Singapore. They get aggressive.  Real Aggressive. And I’d not want to be on the receiving end of their jaws, claws or teeth. But they are very hardy creatures. This portrait shot reflects one that has been in a fight and has not emerged unscathed. Yet it seems unperturbed. Even when red ants are all over its’ wounds.

So what an afternoon I had in Pasir Ris! All manner of birds getting their daily fill of fish, and then some! And that was followed by having the chance to observe quite an awesome Water Monitor Lizard. What a treat! I’m glad i stayed around that day!

Happy Days 🙂


2 thoughts on “Large reptiles plunder whilst kingfishers wonder…”

  1. I saw a monitor lizard climb a tree in the Botanic Gardens before. The mynahs were screeching like hell and trying to scare it off by swooping at it, but none of them dared to lay their beaks or claws on it. In the end they all just gave up and flew away.


    1. Thanks for the comment and report Edwin. They’re very adept climbers, aren’t they? I guess they capture much prey whilst aloft in trees. They sure seem to b pretty fearless! 🙂


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