Friday, December 1, 2017

Sarawak: Dragonflies and Butterflies

Water Lily (Nymphaea sp)
November 2014 found Eileen in Singapore to help out with our grandson Royce, who was continuing his cancer treatment, while I went back to Kuching to do the same for his older brother Ryan. Part of my job was ferrying Ryan back and forth from school.  That left me time, during school hours, for a bit of insect-hunting around town (specifically at Sama Jaya and the MJC Road, home to the Water Lily (Nymphaea sp) in this photo).  Here are some of the results, taken on November 13, 2014.

Anax guttatus
Let's start with dragonflies.  Photographing darners (Aeshnidae) during their daytime hunts can be a challenge (at least for me), because they seldom perch and catching them in mid-flight can be, to put it mildly, tricky.  This is the closest I have come to getting a recognizable photo of the commonest open-country species around Kuching, the Pale-spotted or Lesser Green Emperor (Anax guttatus), though I frequently see it coursing over the flooded lawn near the parking lot at Sama Jaya.

Ictinogomphus decoratus
Like the Aeshnidae, the family Gomphidae has many members in Borneo, but only one is likely to be seen flying around in open country in broad daylight.  That is this one, Ictinogomphus decoratus.  The other Ictinogomphus in Borneo, I. acutus, behaves similarly but is much rarer and more localized; according to Rory Dow, the expert on such matters, it is common at Maludam National Park, the only place I have seen and (rather badly) photographed it.

Nannophya pygmaea
The rest of the dragonflies in this little gallery are members of the largest dragonfly family, the Libellulidae.  We start with the smallest of the lot, the tiny Nannophya pygmaea.  This is a male, defending his little patch of territory.

Brachygonia oculataBrachygonia oculata
Not much larger and almost as brilliant: Brachygonia oculata, a skulker in dark corners (including, in Sama Jaya, around puddles at the base of fallen trees).

Neurothemis cf terminata
I believe this is a female parasol (Neurothemis), probably the abundant Neurothemis terminata, but I admit I have identifying some of these plain brown insects from photographs.

Rhodothemis rufa
The male Rhodothemis rufa, the Common Redbolt, is probably the reddest of Sarawak's dragonflies; even its eyes have a reddish tinge.

Rhyothemis obsolescens
Finally, here is the splendidly bronze-winged Rhyothemis obsolescens.

PS: For readers who share my fascination with dragonflies (and damselflies), I have set up a new blog that collects all of the photos of these insects that have been featured in A Wandering Naturalist (plus a few more besides) and displays them, family by family, with links to the blog entries where they first appear.  It's called Orenstein's Odonata (I'm partial to alliteration), and you can find it here.

Great Mormon (Papilio memnon)
Great Mormon (Papilio memnon)
Moving on to butterflies, here is the large and spectacular Great Mormon (Papilio memnon), a truly startling insect.

Spotted Grass Dart (Taractrocera ardonia)
Much less startling is this little skipper, probably a Spotted Grass Dart (Taractrocera ardonia) - recognizable, apparently, by the lack of the little thread-like projection, or apiculus, at the tip of the antenna, a feature of most other skippers.

Eggfly (Hypolimnas bolina)
The Great Eggfly (Hypolimnas bolina) must have one of the most unappetizing English names in the butterfly world.  It presumably refers to the somewhat egg-shaped white patches on the male's hindwings (the females mimic butterflies of the genus Euploea), but this is a much more attractive insect than its name suggests.  It is an extremely wide-ranging butterfly, found from Madagascar across southern Asia to Australia, New Zealand (where it is called the Blue Moon Butterfly, a much nicer name) and the South Pacific.

Jamides sp
Ceruleans (Jamides spp.), common little butterflies in the blue and hairstreak family (Lycaenidae), are easy to see but difficult to identify.  There are many very similar species, and in the absence of a thorough field guide to Bornean butterflies I do not know which one this is.

Purple Tit (Hypolycaena merguia)
This is another lycaenid, but one I do not recall having seen before: the Purple Tit (Hypolycaena merguia).

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

West Malaysia: A Fraser's Hill Interlude (Part 3)

For much of our day at Fraser's Hill (October 26, 2014) Bing and I cruised the local roads and trails (including a bit of the well-known Bishop's Trail, where I managed to provide a meal for a fortunate leech) in search of bird waves. Bird waves are noisy, fast-moving affairs. Many of the forest birds on Fraser's Hill spend much of their day coursing rapidly through the trees in foraging parties of several species, turning the otherwise silent woods into a noisy bustle of activity as they pass and sending birders into a frenzy as they try to identify as many as possible before the wave moves on. 

Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush (Ianthocincla mitrata)
Waves often centre on a single species that seems to attract the others. At Fraser's Hill waves often collect around a party of Chestnut-capped Laughingthrushes (Garrulax mitratus or Ianthocincla mitrata), themselves social and noisy birds even without hangers-on. 

Silver-eared Mesia (Leiothrix argentauris)
Silver-eared Mesia (Leiothrix argentauris)
Other species that seem to act as wave organizers include a Laughingthrush relative, the gorgeous Silver-Eared Mesia (Leiothrix argentauris). I have seen flocks of at least fifty mesias streaming through the bush in northern Thailand, but we found far fewer at Fraser's (it is nonetheless a common bird there).

Silver-eared Mesia (Leiothrix argentauris)
Like its cousin the Red-billed Leiothrix (Leiothrix lutea), which I had seen only a few days earlier at the Panda Centre in Sichuan, this is a bird of dense thickets, usually seen at eye-level, and one that is a very gratifying bird for a photographer to encounter. 

Golden Babbler (Stachyridopsis chrysaea)
The Golden Babbler (Stachyridopsis chrysaea) is another common habitué of bird waves (though not as social as the mesias), betraying itself from the undergrowth by its morse-code whistles.

Mountain Fulvetta (Alcippe peracensis)
The Mountain Fulvetta (Alcippe peracensis) is another Fraser's Hill babbler most easily found in a bird wave.

White-thoated Fantail (Rhipidura albicollis)
Not a babbler, but the White-throated Fantail (Rhipidura albicollis), the most montane of Malaysia's three fantails, is another common habitué of bird waves.

Grey-chinned Minivet (Pericrocotus solaris)
Grey-chinned Minivets (Pericrocotus solaris) occupy the upper reaches of bird waves - these are normally birds of the canopy. Bing and I got into a friendly argument as to which gender of Minivet was the lovelier. I went for the brilliantly orange-and-black male...

Grey-chinned Minivet (Pericrocotus solaris)
...while Bing preferred the more subtly-coloured female. Actually, both sexes are pretty gorgeous.

Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus remifer)
Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus remifer)
Drongos frequently accompany bird waves.  At Fraser's Hill the common species is Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus remifer).  I have only ever seen this drongo here.

Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus remifer)
Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus remifer)
Despite its name, the Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo is not a particularly close relative, within the drongo family (Dicruridae), of the widespread and common Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus). Besides being a highland species, its tail rackets - which it apparently evolved independently - are a completely different shape (which, however, varies from subspecies to subspecies). 

Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus remifer)
It also has the most extensive vocal repertoire in a particularly noisy family.   Genetic analysis suggests that the Lesser Racket-tail was the first Asian drongo to branch off from the others, after the separation of the African and Asian drongos some 15 million years ago.

Black-browed Barbet (Psilopogon oorti)
Bird waves can give you better-than-usual looks at the highland barbets, who may descend from the treetops to join the flock. Fraser's has two common species, the Fire-Tufted (Psilopogon pyrolophus) and this one, the Black-Browed (Psilopogon oorti).

Black-browed Barbet (Psilopogon oorti)
Black-browed Barbet (Psilopogon oorti)
Black-browed Barbet (Psilopogon oorti)
Neither of Fraser Hill's Basrbets occur in Borneo, so they are birds I don't get to see very often. This Black-browed Barbet, engrossed in eating fruit, gave me a particularly good look.

Orange-bellied Leafbird (Chloropsis hardwickii)
Sometimes, medium-sized green birds accompanying a wave turn out to be leafbirds instead of barbets.  This is a female Orange-bellied Leafbird (Chloropsis hardwickii), the highland representative of hte group in Peninsular Malaysia.

Common Green Magpie (Cissa chinensis)
Common Green Magpie (Cissa chinensis)
Common Green Magpie (Cissa chinensis)
Not every noisy, social bird at Fraser's Hill is a member of a bird wave. We tracked a particularly vociferous and varied series of yelps to a party of Common Green Magpies (Cissa chinensis) hurrying through the treetops, unaccompanied, as far as I could see, by anything else.   Perhaps the magpies, which are aggressive predators, are too rough for other species to hang around with. 

Yellow-throated marten (Martes flavigula)
Yellow-throated marten (Martes flavigula)
While I was busy pursuing the magpies, Bing made the mammal sighting of the day - a pair of Yellow-throated Martens (Martes flavigula) that crossed the road in front of her car.   By the time I arrived they had disappeared into the bush, and I figured, oh well, that was that. To my utter surprise, though, a rustling movement on a sloping tree trunk on the hillside below us revealed the martens, scampering into the canopy in full view. 

Yellow-throated marten (Martes flavigula)
Yellow-throated marten (Martes flavigula)
For several minutes we watched them leaping about from tree to tree, apparently inspecting clumps of Birds-nest Fern (Asplenium nidus) for whatever goodies - frogs or lizards, perhaps - that they might contain.

As I hope the last three posts have shown, we had quite a day at Fraser's Hill - worth celebrating in old-fashioned style with a cup of tea on the terrace of Ye Olde Smokehouse, a local landmark.

West Malaysia: A Fraser's Hill Interlude (Part 2)

I will need three postings to cover my day trip to Fraser's Hill on October 26, 2014 - Fraser's Hill is that kind of place.  This installment takes a pause from bird- (and other animal-) watching to have a look at some of the area's abundant and varied plant life...

...most of which, I admit in advance, I cannot identify.

Let' start, as a systematic botanist might do, with the ferns - plants hard to overlook in the forest understorey.

Tree fern (Cyathaceae)
Tree ferns (Cyathaceae), the most graceful of plants, can dominate the lower forest levels.

Many of the smaller ferns are epiphytes, clinging to fallen logs or to the trunks of living trees.

I confess I do not know if this is an odd-looking fern, some sort of seedling palm, or something else.

These fruits certainly (well, I think so) belong to some sort of palm.  The fruits look very much (to my uneducated eye) like the fruits of a species of Iguanura, a palm of the forest understorey; Iguanura geonomiformis is known from Fraser's Hill, so that may be what this is.  The odd name Iguanura mean's "iguana's tail".  The fruiting stem, once bare of fruit, looks something like a lizard's tail, and that may be the source of the name.

These straggly growths, a common sight on open road edges, are not an unruly sort of grass but the fronds of Bamboo Orchids (Arundina graminifolia).

Bamboo Orchid (Arundina graminifolia)
Here are the flowers.

ginger sp
Though (as I have often admitted here) I am no botanist, I can place the odd plant at least to family.  This, for example, is a ginger of some sort.

This is also a ginger, a species in the common genus Globba. The plants in this genus at Fraser's Hill belong to two species, Globba cernua and G. patens, that hybridize in other parts of the country but not, apparently, here; if photographs on the internet are any guide, this appears to be Globba patens.

These are surely begonias, of which there are a number of species in the Malaysian highlands.

So, I believe, is this plant.  Malaysia is, in fact, loaded to the teeth with begonias of various sorts, many still awaiting scientific description;  in Sarawak, there may be as many as 100 undescribed species.

I'm on a lot shakier ground here, but I suspect this is a member of the Gesneriaceae; could it be a species of lipstick vine (Aeschynanthus)? 

This may also be a sort of gesneriad... is, probably, this one.  There are many species of this family in Malaysia.

This daisy-like flower certainly belongs to a composite of some sort.

Here's a lovely flower that I managed to tie down only after considerable searching on the internet.  It  belongs to the genus Sonerila, a member (as its lilac petals might have suggested to me) of the Melastomataceae.  At least eight species of Sonerila have been recorded at Fraser's Hill, at least one of which is found nowhere else.

I have no idea what these are!

Flowers are beautiful enough, but one of the singular pleasures of being in a tropical forest is the display of young leaves on many of its plants.  Their red colour, so pleasing to our eye, is probably a warning to leaf-eaters.  Tender young leaves are vulnerable to a host of herbivores, so as a defense leaves like these may be loaded with toxins.

Their toxins don't matter to a human naturalist, but their beauty certainly does.

I'll finish with an image of a fallen flower - a flash of colour, soon to fade away, in the gloom of the forest floor.