Thursday, June 21, 2018

A patch of green with a little potential

Location: Phu Phan National Park (Kalasin)
Date: Saturday, 16 June 2018
Habitat: Lowland forest (waterfall, small pond, dry and dingy riverbed) 

Being a little tired of visiting Phu Khieo WS, Phu Wiang NP and Nam Nao NP, the opportunities for day trippers (pretty much all I can afford right now) leaves me a little limited. Living in Khon Kaen is a real bummer when it comes to visiting great places. There are quite a few places a little further out but they take around 4 hours to get to so would make it an incredibly long day and a night's stay would be much better (I am keeping a lot of them for the future). Anyway, there is one place that I need to do a lot more work at as it seems to have a lot of potential -- if you can get into the forest that is! I am talking about Phu Phan National Park, which is in in Kalasin and Sakhon Nakhon. We decided to tackle the Kalasin end (it is closer). Though it is lowlands, parts of the forest are lush green and very inviting. However, the problem is finding anywhere to search. Anyone who has driven through it will understand. It is just one long windy road where cars go incredibly fast and there are few opportunities to stop (there was a very large truck hanging over the edge to give you an idea). I did, however, notice a sign for a waterfall (which I managed to visit with my brother, Paul). It was a slightly tough downhill and slippery walk to the stream and I think both of us went over at least once. The stream itself looks absolutely perfect. Shallow, rocky and sunny areas with a permanent and shallow stream with lots of puddles everywhere. It was early but I was already dreaming of seeing new and exciting gomphids flitting from rock to rock. I couldn't believe how good it looked! Looks, however, can be deceptive. We searched the area and there were only hundreds of Trithemis aurora and Trithemis festiva everywhere. A little more searching brought one specimen each of Orthetrum pruinosum neglectumOrthetrum chrysis and Prodasineura autumnalis -- the only damsel I saw there! And that was it. Even Paul was bored of seeing the same dragons everywhere. We waited around for a good while but, after getting stung above the knee by a bee -- much to the amusement of my brother -- we decided it was time to move on. I will return very soon and much later in the day.

So, we went to the Phu Phan National Park Protection Unit which is just inside Kalasin. This was a place I ha visited before but late in the year so wanted to see what was around now. The first location was a heavily weeded pond that was swarming with common forest pond dwellers last time (in September a few years back). However, this time, it was a lot shallower and seemingly had completely different species. Oddly, other than the usual suspects you find everywhere, the most common species was Camacinia gigantea. There must have be 25+ individuals ALL constantly battling above the pond and surrounding swampy area. It didn't seem that any would ever land. However, I was happy to see four males suddenly plonk down in the taller grasses about 30 metres away... I crept up on them and... they all shot off straight away. Damn! I then put my brain into gear and decided to move over to some steeper banking with loads of branches and bits sticking out as I expected that to be a favourite place for them to rest. I waited about 10 minutes and amazingly my plan worked! A couple landed very close by and I managed to get my best shots yet of the male (I do have great shots of the female somewhere). Though most other species were common, I saw a few Ceriagrion indochinense, a fleeting glimpse of Indolestes anomalus (1 copula), Tramea transmarina euryale and 2-3 Anax guttatus bombing around (but no chance of a photo). So, I was happy seeing that little bunch. 

But with the sun being incredibly strong, I was starting to wilt and decided it was time to move on again. We searched a few areas that proved fruitless and then settled on a tiny but beautiful stream that I had visited once before. This time, however, it was bone dry. It was clearly just an overflow from the pond I had just visited. So, I should have just gone, yes? Naaa... I was there so thought I would give it a go. Straight away, I could see Vestalis gracilis staring at me everywhere, which perked me up -- though I was too lazy to try and photograph any. I ventured a little deeper and into almost darkness and a Gynacantha sp. dropped from its perch and landed a little further away. Not surprisingly, it turned out to be Gynacantha subinterrupta (it is the most common species in the genus and I had seen several specimens there last visit). However, my brother started shouting me over so I left it and went to find him. He could see a small damsel moving around in the gloom. I got a fix on it and just thought Coeliccia didyma (very stupid of me to assume). I got in a few record shots and it shot off... chased by a second male. It was only when we left and I looked again at the photos that I realised that it was NOT what I thought it was. I am pretty confident that it is Coeliccia nigrescens, only known from two other locations... one being Nakhon Nayok in Khao Yai where I managed to see it so this is a great find indeed. Well spotted, Paul! However, I need to return to get improvement shots as it could possibly be something else (hopefully). Searching the darker areas a little more I noticed another Gynacantha specimen. But this one looked a little different. I edged forward and after a few quick shots I knew what it was: the rare Gynacantha phaeomeria, male. It's a species that I once recorded in Loei a few years back. So I was really happy to see it again and this was a fully mature male! And that was it, really. 

On the way back from the dry stream, my brother got smashed by about 20 paper wasps that attacked him as he got too near the nest. As he ran and I laughed, I also had to leg it as I was hit right on the chin and about four times on my legs. Seriously painful stuff (especially my chin). Paul felt a little sick afterwards. What a softy haha!

I visited another large lake a little earlier that housed a number of fairly common forest species including: Urothemis signata, Rhyothemis variegata, Rhyothemis triangularis, Rhyothemis plutonia, Rhodothemis rufa and Pseudothemis jorina as well as the seriously common species. 

So, not bad at all and I am going to return next weekend (I can't this weekend as I have to attend a stupid seminar in Bangkok). So, watch this space for part 2!

Best photos of the day:
Gynacantha phaeomeria, male -- a rare and beautiful species... but sadly loves very dark areas. This took me an age to get the right shot. 
 And close up
Camacinia gigantea, male -- I love this big species.
Coeliccia nigrescens, male -- terrible shot, but you can see why I thought it was C. didyma (it was seriously dark)
Gynacantha subinterrupta, male -- gotta love those colours and the dark patches on the synthorax... very strange.
Ceriagrion indochinense, female -- must be a teenager with a spot that big! Haha (it's actually a parasite).
 Trithemis pallidinervis, female -- very common but I haven't taken a photo of one for years!
Brachydiplax farinosa, female -- the males are very common but you don't often see the females out in the open!
Other things I saw... mushrooms don't usually do it for me but these are simply beautiful!
They may be small, but they are seriously beautiful... The Green Dragontail. Quite common and they love warming up in the early morning sun. This shot is uncropped.

Monday, May 28, 2018

208. Philoganga loringae Fraser, 1927

Number: 208
Family: Philogangidae
Genus: Philoganga
Species: Philoganga loringae 
Common name(s): N/A
Synonym(s): N/A 
Habitat: Small forested stream
Province(s) sighted: Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary, (Chaiyaphum)
Sightings (by me): 1 male
In flight (that I have seen): May   
Species easily confused with: Philoganga montana

After years of searching during March and April at PK, I had mentally given up on seeing Philoganga loringae. I know it is on the wing during this time and it had also been recorded at Phu Khieo in March, though I am not sure how many years back we are talking. I never managed to see it and thought that it may not actually be there anymore. However, during a recent trip right at the end of May, I was standing on a bridge looking down at a small, narrow stream with Adrian Plant and my brother, Paul, and pondering whether or not to investigate it. Suddenly, I spotted a large damselfly in the distance at eye level perched on a twig that was high up above the stream. Armed only with my 180mm macro lens getting a photo would have been an impossibility -- well, I actually tried and I am too embarrassed to show the shots. However, with my brother around, he is always set up for birds with his 100-400mm lens. With this setup, it was possible to get in a few shots, though they are only record shots for now. That said, I was clicking my heels all the way home with this sighting. Once I had a record shot in the bag, I searched the stream below but didn't manage to spot a single specimen, which was made worse by the fact that the male was still perched high above my head (maybe I need to learn female damselfly mating sounds if there were ever such a thing haha).

I had actually seen and photographed Philoganga montana a few hundred kilometres north of Kanchanaburi a few years back in March and, though still rare, P. loringae seems to be a little more common but had evaded my lens until now. So, roll on next year when I can spend more time searching for this stunning damselfly... but will go in March/April again now I know where it is and there may be a few others to be seen.

The male
Only record shots, but good enough for an ID. One of the largest damsels in Thailand.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

A Short, Sweet Trip to Phu Khieo

Location: Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary, Chaiyaphum
Date: Saturday, 26 May 2017
Habitat: Forested streams

Well, after such an amazing experience at Hala-Bala WS last month surely nothing could top it, could it? Well, it wasn't quite as good in terms of having to busy myself making millions of mental notes regarding all the species I saw, but it was still a cracking day all the same. This was, in part, due to being introduced to Adrian Plant who was weirder than me in terms of his main interest: Diptera (flies to you and me). Yup, that puts my rather peculiar love of dragonflies to shame and can only be matched by a researcher who I once met at Nam Nao who was into moss, mushrooms and lichen. 

Adrian's deep knowledge and sheer enthusiasm could only rub off on you and leave you champing at the bit to get going! It was great walking and talking with him and my brother about anything and everything and we meandered slowly up the road towards the top, stopping off at all the small streams (my real target for the season).

On the dragonfly front, it was still a little early and snip on the quiet side. However, it seems as though things were bubbling away under the surface and would soon emerge... roll on next month. 

That said, it wasn't all bad. Standing on one of the bridges that go over the small streams, I managed to spot a large damsel high above the trees and a good distance away. I knew what it was straight away even without my bins but had no chance armed only with my 180mm macro lens... why do I keep forgetting to take my long lens? However, armed with a brother who was set up for birds, I got him to fire off a few shots and it was another species in the bag, be it a record shot for now as it was so far away. I am talking about Philoganga loringae, a species I have always wanted to see. I knew it had been recorded from the sanctuary but had never seen it before and I can only assume it was recorded quite some time ago. It was a male and must have been old as it is usually only in flight during March and April. Still, that is 15 new species clocked for my personal records this year and it only May! I also spotted female Microgomphus svihleri (formerly M. thailandicus) for the first time. I spotted a male there last year, but hadn't seen a female until now. I managed to spot a mature female full of eggs and a couple of teneral specimens. Other than the usual Gomphidia kruegeri krugeri and Gomphidictinus perakensis, the other gomphid of interest was Merogomphus pavici, a super cool species I have bumped into several times but the first time in May. Talking of May, this is the first time that I have seen Archibasis viola in this month so that extends its flight season there -- though I only got a terrible record shot (it was in the middle of a deep muddy pond as it was starting to rain and I already have very good shots of the male so gave up... the female is another story, however). I also saw 3-4 species that could have been new whizzing past me and they were impossible to net, let alone ID so there is hope for a few more additions yet... and the reason why I keep going.

That said, I did record a few more species for the sanctuary, including Zyxomma petiolatum (there were 3-4 males bombing it around a small pond after it had rained and I managed to net one for ID purposes) and Coeliccia poungyi. There were several males, females and even copula of the latter species at a dead end of a stream (it was blocked by serious amounts of debris and impassable). Though it is common at Nam Nao, I hadn't seen it there until now so another three species to add to the ever-growing list (including P. loringae). All the other species I recorded that day were fairly common for the place and not worth noting as such.


So, not the world's best trip in terms of species, but a great one all the same with my brother and Adrian to boot... or should that be 'boots' to tie in with his big wellies? Haha...


My best photos of the day:


Microgomphus svihleri, female (ID by Noppadon Makbun)... my first sighting of a female... and check out those eggs. Maybe she has been stealing salmon eggs!



... and of a teneral female (I saw 2-3 females)

Merogomphus pavici, male. I see this species quite often and it is one of my favourites... now in flight in May! 

Zyxomma petiolatum, male (in hand)... I had to net it for a positive ID before releasing it (it was so dark I could only see dark shapes moving around rapidly). Another new species for the place as was Coeliccia poungyi - though I didn't photograph it.
Ouch... a sad ending for this little fellow but at least it gave me a chance to see the wings properly rather than folded away. Euphaea masoni, male. First time I have ever seen a 'blue tint' on the wings... interesting.
 Always around but I can rarely resist when they land right in front of you... Heliocypha biforata, male.
What species am I? Answers on the back of a postcard, please...
The highlight of the day... Philoganga loringae, male. Not the best shot in the world as it was from so far away, but a cracking species and one that I WILL find again now I know where it resides.
And my interesting non-dragonfly things... any takers on species?

Coolest robber fly ever? Check out those silver go-faster stripes on the abdomen!
The ubiquitous frog... this time a tiny almost invisible frog with a lovely orange stripe along its entire body.

Next trip: Not sure but hopefully somewhere new!





Monday, May 14, 2018

An Awesome Trip to Hala-Bala Wildllife Sanctuary

Location: Hala-Bala Wildlife Sanctuary and surrounding areas (Narathiwat)
Date: 23-28 April 2018
Habitat: Forested streams and tiny ditches

Well, I had promised myself that I would make a trip down south and it recently came to fruition. My brother and I had been planning a trip south for a while and, as soon as word got out, a flock of birders jumped onboard. Eventually, five of us made the trip (3 from Khon Kaen and 2 from Bangkok). The group included Mark Hogarth, Brian Blewitt, Peter Ericsson, my brother, Paul and me. At first, I wasn't used to the alien language (it was all babblers, broadbills, hornbills and feathered things). However, even though my camera decided to pack up on the first day (but sprung back into life 24 hours later) and I missed out on a few species that I really wanted to see, it turned out to be the best photography trip I have ever been on and the guys were a brilliant bunch. I even learnt a thing or two about birds and their habits.

Though it was a little early for me in the dragonfly season, there had a be a few special species knocking around down south and it proved to be so.

The crew after a long day.
(left to right: Peter, me (totally knackered), Brian, Mark, Paul and Sum. Photo by someone)

The target location was Hala-Bala Wildlife Sanctuary, Narathiwat. Many people, especially westerners, simply will not head into the bottom three provinces due to the known problems and the newspaper reports regarding the insurgents. However, we went in head first and were made to feel welcome from the very first moment we arrived until getting back on the plane home. At no point did we ever feel threatened, though the million and one checkpoints became a little tiresome after a while. Everyone wanted to meet and greet us and I loved every minute. My only bone of contention was getting beer... being a Muslim area it was difficult but it is most certainly possible if planned.

The busiest international airport in the world ever!



We were picked up at the airport and it was then around two hours to the sanctuary in a cool van, though we stopped off en route for food.


Mixing it with the locals...  great people and some awesome food to boot!

(Photo by Paul Farrell)

Our guide was called Sum Nara Nara (Facebook name) and he was more than helpful. That said, I couldn't just hang around with the guys all day as I would have only got to see birds when I was on a serious dragon hunt. Whenever we split, I had brilliant help from a ranger called Attanai who was more than happy to hunt with me and we used his bike to get around. He even rustled up lunch for me on one occasion which was delicious. 


The place itself is rather unique as it is one of the only surviving decent-sized areas of lowland forest that hasn't been ruined by man. Though the actual Research Station (which is the place to visit, apparently) was incredibly disappointing, especially as the trail was now totally overgrown and you just got the feeling that they didn't really want people taking photos there, the rest of the place was great. Sirindhorn Waterfall, the main river running through the park, and a number of streams at the lower reaches all threw up some very interesting species. To Mo Community Forest (which was superb forest at only 185 m.a.s.l.) also offered a few crackers. At To Mo, you followed a trail that ran along a shallow stream. Though there weren't hundreds of species, it turned out to be a very interesting place. In fact, after a kilometre or so, there was a junction at the river where you could continue to follow it round or go over a concrete bridge. About 50 metres away, there was a couple of posts on the trail that signified the border with Malaysia and it was unmanned. Asking the rangers/locals they said that they often cross into Malaysia for food or whatever and Malaysians do the same. My only disappointment (though nothing major) was the distinct lack of natural ponds. There were a couple of almost ponds but nothing much. If there were some, I am sure that I would have found a lot more.

That said, during my time there, I managed to clock up 14 new species for my records and reeled off plenty of improvement shots of species I hardly see. After the photos, there is a quick checklist of the place.

The dragon team at the end of the hunt... 
(Photo by Peter Ericsson)

Not a bad view from the bungalow at HQ where we stayed for a couple of nights.

Shots of the trip (in no particular order)...

Orthetrum testacea testacea, male. Fairly common at ponds (when I could find one). I had only seen one male once before in Kanchanaburi.
Gomphidia abbotti abbotti, male. Usually very difficult to approach
Indocnemis orang, male. I often see this species but rarely does it move away from foliage so you can get such a creamy background!
Onychothemis culminicola, female. Though I have stumbled upon the male once or twice, the female is seldom seem -- well, the first time for me, anyway.
Aristocypha fenestrella, male. Easily the most common species at the main river.
Orthetrum luzonicum, female. The males were common in certain areas, unlike the females.
Paragomphus capricornis, male. Common at one shallow sandy stream where I also saw Macrogomphus parallelogramma albardae and Megalogomphus sumatranus
A very old Argiocnemis rubescens rubeola, male.
Rhinagrion viridatum, male. I still love this species... this one was basking in glorious sunshine.
Neurothemis fluctuans, female. The males were very common. The females not so.
Lyriothemis cleis, male. When I spotted this little rarity, my camera packed up and I had to borrow my brother's.
I then saw a second Lyriothemis species... a solitary male was spotted right at the time when I didn't have a camera. Lyriothemis biappendiculata, male. 
Mr. and Mrs. Vestalis amoena... locally common...

... and the almost identical Vestalis amethystina, male which was scarce
A bit of a lifer for me as I have always wanted to see it...Cratilla metallica, male. I saw just two males.
Coeliccia albicauda, male. I saw 7-8 males during the trip.
Prodasineura sp. poss Prodasineura humeralis????, male. Fairly common at sandy-bottomed streams
Zygonyx ida... I only saw this one male but it's a cracker of a species!
Mr. and Mrs. Devadatta argyoides. A very difficult-to-spot species. This pair preferred a trickle to a stream.


 The super majestic Dysphaea dimidiata dimidiata, male. In small numbers but I was so happy to see him!
 The first 'new' species I saw on the trip, Tyriobapta torrida -- a great little male. I saw two males.

The stunning Megalogomphus sumatranus, male. One record shot, gone. Super skittish and flew miles away.
 Mr. and Mrs. Prodasineura collaris. I have now seen all the known Thai species from the genus.


 The very long-named Macrogomphus parallelogramma albardae, male. I managed to spot 3-4 males and most were fairly easy to approach.

Some other things... 
No idea what species, but they were seriously loud!
The Bushy-crested Hornbill eating a bug. This was tame at the research centre. ID by Paul Farrell.
The Rhinoceros Hornbill... an amazing spectacle. ID by Paul Farrell.
 This massive moth is either the Thai Tasar Silkworm Moth Antheraea frithi pedunculata or Antheraea roylei. Many thanks to Pisuth Ek-Amnuay for the ID.
Papilio nephelus sunatus, the southern form. ID by Antonio Guidici.
 Biggest millipede in the world ever? This one was at least 12 inches (I have big chunky hands that span 7 inches (longest fingertip to the base of the palm).
Am awesome leaf insect next to my bed. Any ideas?


Quick Checklist of the Hala-Bala WS (inc. several streams and To Mo Community Forest):

The new species for my records included are highlighted in blue


Amphipterygidae
Devadatta argyoides

Calopterygidae
Neurobasis chinensis
Vestalis amethystina
Vestalis amoena

Coenagrionidae
Aciagrion pallidum
Agriocnemis pygmaea
Argiocnemis rubescens rubeola
Ischnura senegalensis
Pseudagrion australasiae

Chlorocyphidae
Aristocypha fenestrella
Heliocypha biforata
Heliocypha perforata limbata
Libellago lineata

Euphaeidae
Dysphaea dimidiata dimidiata
Euphaea ochracea

Megapodagrionidae
Rhinagrion viridatum

Platycnemididae
Coeliccia albicauda
Copera marginipes
Copera vittata
Indocnemis orang

Protoneuridae
Prodasineura collaris
Prodasineura sp. [Prodasineura humeralis??]

Gomphidae
Gomphidia abbotti abbotti
Ictinogomphus decoratus melaenops
Macrogomphus parallelogramma albardae
Megalogomphus sumatranus
Paragomphus capricornis

Libellulidae
Acisoma panorpoides
Aethriamanta gracilis
Brachydiplax chalybea chalybea 
Brachydiplax farinosa
Brachythemis contaminata
Cratilla lineata calverti
Cratilla metallica
Crocothemis servilia servilia
Diplacodes trivialis 
Lathrecista asiatica asiatica
Lyriothemis biappendiculata
Lyriothemis cleis 
Neurothemis fluctuans
Onychothemis culminicola
Onychothemis testacea testacea
Orthetrum chrysis
Orthetrum glaucum
Orthetrum luzonicum
Orthetrum sabina sabina
Orthetrum testacea testacea
Pantala flavescens
Rhyothemis triangularis
Rhyothemis variegata variegata
Tetrathemis platyptera
Tholymis tillarga
Trithemis aurora
Trithemis festiva
Tyriobapta torrida
Zygonyx ida
Zygonyx iris malayana


57 species were recorded, which isn't bad considering I was doing this alone and it is April... I expect there to be many, many more goodies to be found. Watch this space!