Saturday, May 30, 2009

My Lucky Encounter at AHBT on 23 May

I can't remember when was the last time I visited Alexandra Hospital Butterfly Trail (AHBT). I decided to drop by AHBT before going to the new Hortpark Butterfly Enclosure on 23 May. I reached AHBT around 8 : 30 am. The whole place was rather quiet. I guessed most of the butterflies were still not awake, waiting for the sun to warm them up.

At last , when the first morning rays pierce through the canopy, this Euthalia aconthea gurda (Baron) appeared and gave me some shooting opportunities. It was busy feeding all over the place, on the grass, on the wood and puddling on the ground.
This female Common Mormon (Papilio polytes romulus) was spotted resting under the shade. Common Mormon is quite a big and common butterfly which can be found in both the urban and forested areas. The female has two different forms. This female is of the form polytes which mimics the unpalatable Pachliopta aristolochiae asteris (Common Rose).

Before I left for Hortpark, I saw this Doleschallia bisaltide australis (Autumn Leaf) caterpillar kept moving its front part of its body on its host plant, Common Asystasia. When I approached closer, I realised that it was in the process of moulting. Wow, I was really lucky to see this in the wild. This was my first shot at 9:28:43. Next shot was taken at 9:29:24. The caterpillar appeared to be quite disturbed, moving its body both in the transverse and longitudinal directions.
The movement of the caterpillar was quite profound. In this shot, the front part of its body was bended inwards. The shot was taken at 9:30:20..

However, shortly after this, the body of the caterpillar was observed to move mildly and mainly in the longitudinal direction, pushing the old skin backwards. The following shot was taken at 9:30:49. The new head capsule was white in colour instead of bluish black initially.
This was shot at 9:31:36 . The old skin was almost reaching the rare. I realised that a small wasp was lurking near the caterpillar. Not sure if this tiny wasp would invade and harm the caterpillar. Next shot was taken at 9:32:53. A caterpillar molts a few times before it turns into a pupa. After each molt it becomes bigger. Finally, the caterpillar put on a new skin at 9:37:41 and it remained motionless for a while.
A close-up shot of the the newly moulted head.
Moulting is a part-and-parcel biological process in which the immature insects shedding off their outer body covering (in butterfly and moth, the exoskeleton) so that they can grow further in size.

I left Hortpark around 1 pm. After lunch, a few of us went to AHBT again to hunt for butterfly species. I looked for the same caterpillar and I noticed that the caterpillar's head had turned into the usual dark blue colour.

This was a female Lebadea martha parkeri (The Knight), a butterfly that can be found in some urban parks and forest trails in the nature reserves. On the upperside of the forewing, the female does not have prominent white apical patches and the V-shaped discal white band.
Alexandra Hospital Butterfly Trail (AHBT) is where I started my learning journey of butterfly photography and butterfly appreciation.

I remember it was 19 June 2004, a lovely Saturday morning. After attended a talk given by Mr Khew at the AH Conference Room and the practice session, I was infected with the “Butterfly Flu” and it lasts till today.

I remember there were many “Tigers” then. This was one of the Danaus melanippus hegesippus (Black Veined Tiger) shots taken with the Minolta Z3, my very first digital point-and-shoot camera. I went back to AHBT quite often during my early days of photographing butterflies. I still have fond memories of some of us chasing the Leopard, Common Birdwing and Common Imperial as well as a newly eclosed Common Rose there.

Time flies and many new developments have taken place. Very soon, Alexandra Hospital will be re-located to Yishun. Let's hope that AHBT will remain as it is - a very accessible and popular shooting ground for butterfly and macro photographers.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Along Forest Fringes

It was a fine Sunday morning. Just like any other weekends, this stretch of the forest trail is always streaming with nature-loving or rather nature-deficient city dwellers who came for either a walk or a jog. In order not to disturb them or rather to have a peaceful shooting session, I decided to walk round the forest fringes.

There is this not so tall but rather bushy Ardisia elliptica (Family : Myrsinaceae ) at the entrance of the trail, about to be in full blooms, caught my attention. The scene around this tree was vibrant with many insect activities, mainly wasps, bees and others. This is an evergreen small tree that can grow up to a few metres high. The elliptical shape of the leaves are alternate and the new foliage often reddish. The colour of the star-shaped petals is so unique, a kind of pinkish purple or purplish pink or even mauve. I really can’t describe the colour appropriately. I was very fortunate to be able to snap a quick shot on this hover wasp when it was about to land on a leaf .Here was a shot of the moment when it just landed. The abdomen was pointing downwards and making a 90 degrees with the body. Without a picture I would never be able to see this with my naked eyes. According to John, our wasp and bee expert who is based in Hong Kong at the moment, identified this as a kind of solitary bee, probably belonging to Halictidae or Andrenidae family. It was found sunbathing and very alert to my presence. Unfortunately a photo like this is not good enough to identify the species. According to John again, this is a tumbling flower beetle because it tends to fall onto the ground when disturbed and there are quite a few species in Singapore. He mentioned that once he picked up one in Pasir Ris, it could actually "sting" , causing a stabbing pain on his fingers which turned itchy and swollen later. He asked a few people who know a lot about insects but none of them could explain. This assasin bug was found trying to cross the gap between two palm leaves. I managed only one shot as I was not fast enough to capture its subsequent actions. After photographing all these insects, I walked along the fringe of the forest. Yes, I made the right choice as no one would shout ‘excuse me “ when I stood in the middle of the trail to shoot . In fact I was all alone throughout .

Two individual male Common Posy (Drupadia ravindra moorei) were found on a solitary Turn-in-the-wind (Mallotus paniculatus, Euphorbiaceae) shrub. Common Posy is a beautiful forest denizen. It has a hopping flight pattern and tends to perch in the shade. I usually found it basking in the sun in the late afternoon. I was fortunate to have this tame male specimen (upperside blue) that stayed quite still in the early morning. Here is another shot of the same specimen. Look at the palpi, the expression is cute as if telling the ant that I am feeding, go away, don’t disturb me. A close-up shot shows that it was sucking something from the base of the leaf where the petiole is. Once again, I met this Eooxylides tharis distanti (Branded Imperial) on the same tree. Suastus gremius gremius (Palm Bob) is a brown skipper, rather common in our parks and forest edges. Just like other skippers, it flies with high speed, darting from perch to perch. The black spots on the hindwing below are distinctive enough for us to identify this species. The genus Arhopala consists of many look-alikes and thus confusing species. However, this Arhopala centaurus nakula (Centaur Oakblue) is one of the largest Arhopala species that we have in Singapore. Centarur Oakblue can be found in both nature reserves and public parks. The distinguishing feature of this species is the silvery greenish streaks below the forewing cell. When in flight, the blue upperside of this specimen is simply magnificent and eye-catching.

Ypthima baldus newboldi (Common Five Ring) and other common Ypthima species are always found along grassy areas. It has the feature that the two occelus in space 1b on the hindwing beneath are not quite inlined with the two occelus in space 2 and 3. This mating pair was very alert. I had to chase and stalk carefully before shoting them.

I looped back along the main forest trail. This was another specimen of Branded Imperial found along the main trail. This one was roaming to and fro on a palm leaf , quite an interesting behaviour that I cannot understand.

Reference :

The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, Malayan Nature Society.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Butterflies@Wild Wild West 9 May (Part 2)

Butterflies are usually my main macro subjects for photographing during my outings. This was no exception on 9 May even though many other insects were found foraging on Bidens pilosa flowers which were blooming.

The Bush Hopper (Ampittia dioscorides camertes) is quite a small and relatively uncommon skipper in Singapore. I usually found it singly on grasslands. A series of parallel submarginal black markings on the underside hindwing , the prominent bright orange patches in both the forewing cell and the post-discal region are some of the distinguishing characteristics. Here is another shot. On both occasions, I wish I could get myself more parallel to the butterfly.
Danaus chrysippus chrysippus (Plain Tiger) is rather common in Singapore. It has a characteristic of a slow meandering flight and moves forward with a few wing beats followed by a short spell of gliding. This is an unpalatable poisonous species that some birds and lizards would avoid. The chemical substances that deter the predators are mostly assimilated by the caterpillar in the larval stage and then passed on to the adult through the pupa.
Here is another shot of the Danaus melanippus hegesippus (Black Veined Tiger). There were three individuals sighted. This male Black Veined Tiger decided to take a few seconds of afternoon nap, allowing me to get a distant shot. In Singapore the genus Spindasis has two species S. lohita senam (Long Banded Silverline ) and this one S. syama terana (Club Silverline). The silvery lines on the black bordered streaks on the underside wings make this species unique and attractive. Some of us spent quite some time photographing this beauty. Generally, it is not too difficult to photograph this species as it usually remains quite docile on its perch. However, when it took off, it flew so fast that we had difficulties following its course. Fortunately, it has a tendency to perch again nearby. This is another shot of the same specimen which has lost one of the tails. What a pity ! On first look, this specimen looks like a S. lohita senam (Long Banded Silverline). In fact this is another specimen of S. syama terana (Club Silverline) because there are 3 disjoint spots on the underside forewing in space 1b and the forewing basal reddish black streak runs almost parallel to the costal margin as compared to the L-shaped streak on S. lohita senam.
Muntingia calabura (Cherry Tree) (Family : Elaeocarpaceae ) is a fast-growing and common evergreen wasteland shrub which can grow on poor soils. The leaf arrangement is simple and alternate and the margin of the hairy leaves are toothed. The bisexual flowers are quite small and white in colour, bearing round and flashy fruits.
This is a Katydid I suppose. It was so well-camouflaged that I almost missed it. I didn't really pay attention to dragonfly during this outing. However, I could not resist taking a shot on this cooperative female Neurothemis fluctuans.

A very small wasp-like critter appeared in front of me from nowhere. The awkward angle that it landed on the dry flowers giving me no chance of getting a satisfactory frontal shot.

This was my third or fourth visit to this remote site (for me) in the western part of Singapore. I believe there is a good potential of discovering rare critters here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Bidens pilosa @Wild Wild West 9 May (Part 1)

To promote ButterflyCircle (BC) and butterfly photography, Mark, a young and enthusiastic member of BC organized an outing at the Butterfly Lodge on 9 May. Some of us also helped out in clarifying doubts raised by the participants. A group picture can be found here and here.

Around 1 pm, our prolific butterfly discoverer and photographer Sunny packed four of us (me, JZs, Mark and Bobby) in his car, travelling to Bukit Batok for a quick and simple lunch. At about 2 pm we reached this grassland where some of us did a biodiversity survey about two years back.

This place is full of Bidens pilosa (Family : Asteraceae). Like other members of this family, the capitulum of Bidens pilosa consists of two types of flowers : the white petal-like ray florets and the small tube-like orange florets that are clustered together making a disc shape in the middle.

The shape of each achene is like a harpoon with two awns at the top.

The seeds are so light that they can be dispersed and spread very fast and far by the wind. This explains why we saw so many Bidens pilosa.

I wonder if this bee, an Apis species would give a good fight with the white lurking spider if it was looking in the right direction. Photographing bees feeding on flowers proved to be as challenging as shooting butterflies. They usually don’t keep still while feeding. I noticed this small brown beetle (?) landing on a white ray floret and it moved forward to the dense cluster of orange florets.This looks like a juvenile cricket. It stayed quite still on the flowers, giving me ample time to overcome the breeze for this shot. It was my first encounter with this black and orange hoverfly species. Though it was busy visiting the Bidens flowers and feeding on the nectar voraciously, it remained very alert. Based on my field observations, Danaus melanippus hegesippus (Black Veined Tiger) is less common than the Danaus chrysippus chrysippus (Plain Tiger) in Singapore. The white discal streaks and the white cell on the underside hindwing distinguish this species from another lookalike species Danaus genutia genutia (Common Tiger) . This particular shot is a male as the sex brand can be seen along vein 3 below the cell. This unknown Swift skipper (Family : Hesperiidae ) also came down to show off its long proboscis. I will post a few more butterfly shots in part 2 of this blog.
Before we left this grassland, another bee, bigger then the previous one was demonstrating its various acrobatic stunts on the flower head, giving me no chance of a better shot.

Why did so many different insects love to visit these flowers ?

So, if you want some insect activities to liven up your gardens, you should know what plant to grow.