Friday, December 31, 2010

Good Bye Mandai Orchid Garden

By the time you read this post, the owner of the Mandai Orchid Garden (MOG) has already handed over the plot of land to the authority and marked the end of MOG's 59-year history operating on this 10-acre site at Mandai.

MOG was always an exciting place for nature-lovers, birders and photographers - simply because it has a rich variety of floral and fauna species. Last Thursday (23 Dec) was my final visit to MOG, hoping to capture and record some of the fauna and flora species in photos.

Just like many well-known gardens in the world, water bodies such as pond provides an important habitat for both terrestrial and aquatic life . This attractive aquatic plant with white flowers (Echinodorus palaefolius Family : Alismataceae) could be found there.
The flowers of another aquatic plant Water Canna (Thalia geniculata ) always attracted bees and wasps.
At MOG, the aquatic habitats also provide breeding grounds for quite a few species of dragonflies. Darting or hovering dragonflies were a common sight around the ponds. Of course, beautiful perching dragonflies like this Lathrecista asiatica presented good opportunities for many die-hard photographers chasing their perfect shots.
Another handsome dragonfly with a powdery blue thorax looks like a male Brachydiplax chalybea which tends to rest with its wings stretching out horizontally.
How can you give this attractive all-pink dragonfly Trithemis aurora a miss ? It never failed to entice photographers to take a few shots whenever possible.
An elegant but usually a very skittish dragonfly, Rhyothemis phyllis showed its habit of hovering before perching on the tip of a dry flower head
Besides dragonflies, there were many other fauna varieties. A late instar caterpillar of the Common Evening Brown butterfly (Melanitis leda leda) was found on a grass blade.
The metallic blue uppersides of these two different individuals suggested that they are likely to be The Metallic Caerulean (Jamides alecto ageladas) - MOG is their breeding ground, I hope the fate of this species should be a concern to the relevant authority.
The larval host plant of this particular Jamides species is the Torch Ginger (Nicolaia elator) which was quite abundant there. A detailed write-up of its life history can be found here.
I always had a sense of acheivement whenever I shot a Psyche (Leptosia nina malayana) feeding on nectar. I shot it from a long distance near the MOG entrance.
The bamboo clumps, open grassy area and banana trees at MOG provide many species of skippers their preferred habitats. This is a huge red-eyed Banana Skipper (Erionota thrax thrax) found in a shade created by a few big banana trees growing on both sides of some stairs.
Of course, we could always find orange skippers here - I believe there were a few different species at MOG.
Yes, we would not forget the brown skippers as well.
We could also find quite a few other common butterflies such as Cycad Blue (Chilades pandava pandava).
A very cute and shy red grasshopper nymph hiding behind a grass blade tried peeping at me.
It was a pity that I could not find many other critters during my 3-hour of roaming around at MOG. I felt that the "cross" sign shown by this St. Andrew's Cross Spider did send us a message - lets hope that some existing floral species at MOG can be preserved and incorporated into the future nature-themed development, a big NO to a complete destruction of all the current habitats at MOG.
It was reported that the orchid garden will be re-located to Neo Tew area - but the new place as far as I know will be less open and it will not be the same as the past MOG - so its past charm and the rich biodiversity may be gone forever.

Related readings :

Saturday, December 25, 2010

From UPR to USR

Though it was a long and slow walk to the Upper Peirce Reservoir (UPR) Park on a fine Saturday morning, I didn't have good opportunities to take many winged critters along the way. However, I still enjoyed the outing - one way of exercising and recharging my body and mind.

This dark brown skipper with unmarked underside hindwings and 2 cell spots on the underside forewing looks like a Full Stop Swift (Caltoris cormasa). This skipper did not seem to perch with an open wing whenever it landed.

The forest floor was rather damp and I could see many fungi proliferating on fallen tree branches or dead wood. The prominent red "ring" on this bracket fungus attracted my attention. I think this is a type of jelly-like fungus which looks really soft, growing below a dead tree trunk.
Another type of bracket fungus which was really thriving on a big fallen tree trunk.

This "ugly" critter looks like a 3rd instar Commander (Moduza procris milonia) larva crawling on the midrib of a leaf. If anyone could ensure the caterpillar remain at the same place a few more days, I would have gone back there to find out what the adult butterfly it will be. The larval host plant looks like an Uncaria species. The caterpillar consumed the leaf in a very neat manner leaving the midrib of the leaf intact as shown in the picture.
At last I met another butterfly, a Malayan Bush Brown (Mycalesis fusca fusca) was hopping around and playing hide-and-seek with me.
I believe this is a kind of fly resting on an interesting leaf surface - I could not remember what leaf it was.
I finally reached UPR and I bumped into BJ there - what an coincidence. It was a very quiet day at UPR so we decided to head to USR.

This is the upperside of a female Common Posy (Drupadia theda thesmia) - it has the habit of opening its wings almost instantly whenever it perched on a sunlit spot in the early afternoon at USR.
At one shady spot, we encountered at least two different species of Arhopalas flitting around. I could only get this record shot of a small tailless Arhopala species which I have no idea of what it is at the moment.
As it was quite late and the sound of protest of my hungry stomach was getting louder, we couldn't spend more time at USR. Thanks BJ for giving me a ride back to BSP after lunch at our usual food stall - just before a heavy downpour.

Finally, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a fruitful 2011.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Other Insects @ Panti Forest

Please read my previous post here if you want to know the full story.

The number of butterfly species was not as many as I had expected - so I had time to shoot other insects whenever they came into my sights.

This must be the best camouflaged cricket I have seen - it was as still as a dead insect. I am so proud of myself being able to spot it.
This dragonfly looks like a male Cratilla metallica which was rather abundant around the base-camp. A common species in Singapore as well,
This blue critter looks like a wasp to me or is it a fly ? A very energetic fellow which moved on the foliage constantly resulting in this not well-taken shot.
A very prominent brick-red net-winged beetle was found foraging on a leaf. This is a typical example of how aposematic colour is being used to warn predators that it is unpalatable or even toxic to be consumed.
A pair of long and serrated antennae with a triangular-shaped head and conspicuous colours are some of the distinctive characteristics of a net-winged beetle. It was about to show me how it overcame the gap and went over to another leaf.
This may be a Scolid wasp with a pair of short antennae, getting ready to take a leap from the edge of the leaf.
This rather small female dragonfly was my last shot of the day before the thunder storm at around 4 pm.
I shall end my post with these three very small and cute tortoise beetles scrambling together - what were they doing ?
The loser had to go away !
Once again, I must thank the drivers Sunny, Chng and Cher Hern who were so generously providing us transport for this trip - we owe them a good lunch.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Butterflies @ Panti Forest

Initiated by one of our enthusiastic ButterflyCircle (BC) members, Chng, ten of us in 3 vehicles set off for Panti Forest Reserve in Southern Johor State early morning on 11 Dec. Efficient customs clearance on both sides of the causeway and a smooth ride gave us plenty of time enjoying a fantastic Bak Ku Teh breakfast at a roadside makeshift stall.

About 10:30 am, we reached the carpark where the Panti Forest Reserve Information Centre is.
It has been about five years since my last visit to Bunker's Trail at Panti Forest. The conditions of the track are better now. The moment we stopped our cars at the "base camp" - a camp site area where remnants of charcoals, firewood, left-over food and containers could still be seen, we sprang into actions.

My first shot of the day a few minutes after we alighted from the car was this Banded Yeoman (Cirrochroa orissa orissa). I finally nailed a shot of this skittish and shy bugger after stalking with "tactical movement" .

This Tawny Rajah (Charaxes bernardus crepax ) was our star model for the trip - everyone got a few shots. It was skittish initially, any slight movement would have scared him/her to flee and perch on a leaf above us.
With our relentless patience of waiting, it finally got used to our acquittance and succumbed to the enriched mineral solutions on the ground.
It was rather tame and allowed us to take pictures from different angles.
This dark brown skipper with a very prominent orange apical patch more parallel to the forewing costal margin is Sumatran Bob (Arnetta verones).It was abundant and we can see that its underside wings are sparsely covered with some reddish-brown scales.
This is another similar-looking brown skipper or perhaps the same species as above ?
When it was in-flight, we could see its glittering light-blue upperside. This lycaenid was rather abundant and it looks like a Malaccan Caerulean (Jamides malaccanus malacanus), fluttering non-stop most of the time and getting a shot was a test of perseverance and of course luck playing a part as well.
According to Mr TL Seow, an expert BC member, this is Arhopala inornata. A very skittish bugger which refused to stop long enough for me to take a proper underside shot.
However it presented a rare moment in front of me for this upperside shot.
The weather at Panti was fast-changing - a characteristic of the North-east monsoon season. It was overcast around 2 pm when I spotted this Malay Lacewing (Cethosia hypsea hypesina) very lethargically resting in a bush along the gravel track outside the "base-camp".
This Acacia Blue (Surendra vivarna amisena) also felt the effect of declining temperature causing it to rest longer rather than flitting around.
Another tame Bob appeared on a rather quiet afternoon along the super quite forest track. Palm Bob (Suastus gremius gremius) is a very common skipper in Singapore as well.
I noticed a couple of Sunbeam lycaenids (may be Curetis tagalica according to Mr Seow) were chasing each other around a sunlit spot. The moment they perched they opened their wings giving me no chance at all taking any underside shot.
As the clock ticked away, the number of butterflies dropped significantly and the clouds gather momentum as well, signalling an imminent storm was approaching. While all of us were ready to call it a day, this solitary Rustic (Cupha erymanthis lotis) did not seem to like our partings, kept flitting around a particular shrub. It never stayed still for more than a few seconds, so getting a shot like this was a bonus for me.
Occupying an area of about 10 thousand hectare, Panti Forest has a lot to offer to nature lovers. Apart from its potentially rich diversity of insects, it has been an important bird sanctuary for bird-watchers and ornithologists. I will feature other insects in my next post.