Sunday, November 13, 2016

189. Amphithemis curvistyla Selys, 1891

Number: 189  
Family: Libellulidae
Genus: Amphithemis
Species: Amphithemis curvistyla 
Common name(s): N/A  
Synonyms: N/A    
Habitat: Upland Forested pond   
Province(s) sighted: Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary (Chaiyaphum) 
Sightings (by me): Rare (1 male) 
In flight (that I have seen): Mid November    
Species easily confused with: -

Well, after a number of years of searching but having little knowledge of the species, I finally clapped eyes on it: Amphithemis curvistyla - a seemingly rare species indeed. I had searched every marshy area, pool and puddle, been ripped to shreds and bitten to death, but didn't find it at Phu Khieo where it had once been reported. Obviously a rare species full stop, but even rarer here. Finally, whilst looking at a more standard deep banked pond where I have spotted a few goodies previously, there he was - almost out of reach battling in the air with many T. aurora and not doing what it says on the tin. Though the pond has a boggy area to one side, it is deep and has seriously deep banking covered in thick, thorny foliage. I would never have thought that I would see it there. But, there he was, bold as brass. Sadly, even armed with a 400 mm lens, I only managed a record shot (heavily cropped) as it was just too far out of reach. I returned to the scene of the crime several times and was torn to shreds searching around the horrible banking, but I didn't see him or any of his friends again. Still, I know it is there now and will return next year (or go to Phu Kradueng where I believe it may be a little more commonly seen). Still, it was worth all the effort - he really is a beautiful thing.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Matter of lifers and near death... at Phu Khieo WS

Location: Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary, Chaiyaphum
Date: Saturday, 12th November, 2016
Habitat: Mid- to upland forested ponds

Well, last week's trip to Phu Phan NP in search of the elusive Amphithemis curvistyla failed me (it had been reported there a week earlier). I was about to give up the ghost on that species for another year, until my weekend plans changed and my wife, Beau, was going out for the day with friends. I knew A. curvistyla had been reported from Phu Khieo WS, but in two years have never seen it. Anyway, I thought I would sign the 'proper' part of the season off with a final flurry at my favourite place. I arrived at about 6.15. a.m. and stopped at the usual pools by the roadside on the way up. However, I soon noticed that there was still a hell of a lot of water around. In fact, there was much more than during the rainy season itself. Places were still flooded, the river was chocolate brown and steaming through and all the permanent pools/ponds were heavily swollen. As a result, there were several species still around that I was surprised to see at this time of year. Other than the usual suspects on the lower reaches, there was nothing to report. I then reached the two large ponds just above the river and thought I would have another look for Paracercion (calamorum) dyeri which I had seen there once before. It seemed as though it wasn't there, but I finally spotted a male warming up in the early morning sun. I was also surprised to see so many Amphiallagma parvum there too. A good year for them I think. I also spotted a male Mortonagrion aborense deep under cover. Pseudagrion australasiae was also abundant throughout the park. Moving on up, everywhere had quietened down, even though the water levels were still extremely high. It had a slightly eerie feeling. Lots of water but little activity. However, even at the quietest of ponds, Lestes concinnus punctuated the silence moving from one dying brown stem to the next. There were hundreds of them everywhere. There were small numbers of Lestes elatus and Lestes praemorsus decipiens breaking up the brown masses of L. concinnus and I managed to spot a solitary Orolestes octomaculata, so they are still around - just. However, I am pretty sure that it is around all year in NE Thailand. I was surprised to clap eyes on a solitary teneral male Platylestes platystylus at the heavily flooded marshland at the top. Indolestes anomalus, too, was present though in lower numbers. The highlights of the day, however, came in the shape of two species: one being the beautiful Agrionoptera insignis insignis - a species I love but rarely see (first time I have seen a male there) - and the second was the species I went there to try and find. After hour upon hour of wading through treacle-like marshy areas, ponds and puddles, ripped to death by bushes that don't want me there, and bitten by everything and anything that wanted lunch... I saw him, a male Amphithemis curvistyla - a rare species that was seemingly happy doing battle with T. aurora at a pond I would never have imagined looking for it. Annoyingly, it was a good distance away and I managed a half-decent record shot of it using a 400 mm lens, heavily cropped. Still, I know it is there now and will search for it again next year (it is right at the end of its flight season now). And after all my ramblings, on to the pictures. Be sure to watch my video at the bottom... I was a little scared to say the least!

Best pictures of the day:

The beautiful Agrionoptera insignis insignis, though the dull, boggy areas he likes aren't ... fortunately, the sun came out for a moment.

A nice, but all too uncommon, species... Paracercion (calamorum) dyeri
Another tiny species. Used to be uncommon for me to see it, but abundant this year... Amphiallagma parvum, male doing his morning stretches
A species that certainly isn't abundant at PK... Mortonagrion aborense
Certainly common, but not easy to approach... the old-first-thing-in-the-morning trick worked this time - Pseudagrion australasiae, male

The sun was just warming the place up, but some of us were still fast asleep. Lestes elatus, male

A surprise sighting at this time of year. I wonder if it is around all year? Platylestes platystylus, a very uncommon species.
Incredibly abundant this year - every open area there were lots of specimens... Lestes concinnus 

Another rare sighting is this female (only my second, but males are always observed flitting around over ponds) and managed to carefully catch her ... Tramea transmarina euryale

 Now resting upon release (she flew high into the treetops soon after)
... and the worst photo of all, but one that made me the happiest... the elusive, the beautiful, the dashing, and the equally annoying Amphithemis curvistyla... only a record shot for now, but you WILL be mine next year.

Even non dragon things of interest popped up yesterday. 
The endangered Elongated tortoise, beautiful in every way ... though I had to stop cars in order to help him cross the road safely.
 ... being annoyed by pesky mosquitoes
Probably my favoute photo I have taken in a long time... no idea why, just everything seems right. I love the way he is clinging on to the top of the stem under his chin. I wonder what he is thinking as he looks up to the burst of light?
... and right at the death, it almost was death... for me. I stopped the car with the windows down to get a sandwich and quickly looked my right as I heard something massive crashing towards me at breakneck speed. I winced as it was about to hit the car... or did it? Watch the vid. I was scared to death...

Thursday, November 10, 2016

188. Tramea virginia (Rambur, 1842)

Number: 188  
Family: Libellulidae
Genus: Tramea   
Species: Tramea virginia 
Common name(s): Saddlebag Glider  
Synonyms: N/A    
Habitat: Lowland Forested pond   
Province(s) sighted: Phu Wiang National Park, (Khon Kaen) 
Sightings (by me): Rare (1 male) 
In flight (that I have seen): September    
Species easily confused with: Tramea transmarina euryale

Well, I am desperate to get to that magical 200 species barrier (though I may need a few more due to some of them not identified yet - I really want 200 identified species photographed). And, though it is rare nowadays, I will never give up until I get there. I am now in the process of wading through about 10 million backed up photos  (sorting out other bugs and animals too). Suddenly, from a set of photos from Phu Wiang last year, I noticed a few record shots of a Tramea transmarina euryale male that, well, didn't sit right. The problem was that there were several males flitting about on that  day and all seemed to want to land on the same stick. I took a few photos and left it at that (a record shot for Khon Kaen). In any case, I was preoccupied with hundreds of Amphiallagma parvum at the same small pond (I had only ever seen them in tiny numbers before). But, looking carefully again last night, one of the specimens was clearly not T. transmarina euryale. The colour patches on the wing bases were far too big and I also noticed that it had a whitish face instead of having a metallic blueish patch. Doing a little research I saw Tom Kompier's brilliant examples from Vietnam and started to get excited. I then sent my photo to Noppadon Makbun, who did a little research himself and came up with it probably being Tramea virginia the same species I thought it was. I couldn't be happier. And though it's only a record shot (and the sun was right in my face), I now know where it is... and I will find it again.

According to the IUCN Red List: "There is a single old record from Thailand". So, not a bad find really!

You can see the large patch on the base of the wings and he has a whitish face.

I will return and find you again for better shots!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

187. Aciagrion sp.

Number: 187  
Family: Coenagrionidae 
Genus: Aciagrion   
Species: Aciagrion sp. (possibly A. occidentale)
Common name(s): N/A  
Synonyms: N/A    
Habitat: Forested pond   
Province(s) sighted: Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary (Chaiyaphum)  
Sightings (by me): 3-4 males spotted at one natural pond 
In flight (that I have seen): October    
Species easily confused with: All Aciagrion species

Tiny, blue and all look the same! Talk to any dragonfly lover about Aciagrion and they instantly wince. It is an incredibly difficult and confusing genus that needs to be resolved - though anyone who dares to do it is a brave individual indeed. There are several known species in Thailand, though one or two of them could have been misidentified (possibly even by the original authors). That said, it seems that there are possibly several more out there that are yet to be described. One of which, I may have spotted last week. It is an Aciagrion species that seems to fall between A. hisopa and A. borneense with a sprinkling of A. pallidum thrown in for good measure. Superficially, it looks like A. borneense. However, the striking difference is the solid blue patch on the abdomen (save a tiny "v" nick) and the appendages are white. The colouration of the rest of the male seems to match that of A. borneense. If it was the only specimen, then I would possibly put it down to being a slightly different population of A. borneense. However, through Dragonflies of Thailand (on Facebook), it appears that this species (with exacting markings) has been spotted at several locations throughout Thailand, though is scarce or overlooked. Also, looking back through my records (old photos) it appears that I did spot a young male (very pale but with a solid patch) at Nam Nao a couple of winters ago. Unfortunately, I was unable to catch one (I saw 3-4 males at one location) as I had forgotten my net. I will return to try and collect a specimen. For now, however, it can only be known at Aciagrion species - until someone far braver than me takes up the horrible and extremely confusing Aciagrion gauntlet and goes back to the drawing board with this genus. Probably not in my lifetime though haha.

The 'new' Aciagrion species (to add even more confusion to the boiling Aciagrion pot):

For comparison, here are photos similar species (where - though subtle - you can make out differences):

1. This one taken at Nam Nao a few years back I first though was A. borneense, but you can just make out the markings (which are similar to that of the specimen above), though this could even be A. occidenale aaarrrggghh!!!)

2. A pallidum, a common winter species (here, this male has whitish appendages...
... though many have a more reddish/orangy colour (often more than this)...
...or an even more confusing blue colour (though this could be another species!!!)
3. A. borneense - here you can clearly see the typical markings which make ID possible - very different than the new species. Easily the most common species.
4. A. hisopa - similar to the 'new' species but completely blue (no green) and the ocelli (eye spots) are large. Also, from memory, it is slightly larger too.
5. Just for good measure, here is A. approximans, another fairly common uplands species to add to the mix (though fairly easy to separate with its purplish hues).

So, there you have it. Aciagrion is as clear as mud! Over to the experts.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Back to Baking Heat at Phu Khieo WS

Location: Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary, Chaiyaphum
Date: Thursday, 13th October, 2016
Habitat: Mid- to upland forested ponds

Well, I returned to Phu Khieo in order to find another elusive species (most of which still are and the search goes on). I knew it was Amphithemis curvistyla time. The species has apparently been recorded there and is only out for around 6 weeks and it was right slap bang in the middle of their flight time. Not surprisingly, though, I didn't get to see any. I just wonder if it is just a little too early this year due to the messed up weather and the fact that everywhere was still swamped. I will return in a week or two. Other than the usual suspects still showing in baking heat, everything is starting to quieten down now, as expected. However, even now, there was a surprise or two to be had. I managed to spot Amphiallagma parvum for the first time and they were in decent numbers, especially at the flood pond (near the marshy area where A. hisopa (or very similar) was abundant last November). The only other thing of note was a rather peculiar Aciagrion species. Could be A. borneense, but I don't think so. To add to the confusion, I saw a number of A. borneense at a slightly lower altitude (see copula below). I am at a loss as to what it is. I saw 3-4 males the one natural, uplands pond (where I once stood on a massive python, which didn't even react). Sadly, I had forgotten my net and was unable to capture any. I will return very soon and try again. 

My best photos of the day:

The conundrum of the day: Aciagrion.... what?

Aciagrion borneense, copula (at slightly lower altitude). Here you can just make out the wide black markings on the abdomen - which makes it easier to separate, whereas the specimen above is almost solid blue.
Welcome to Phu Khieo... my first sighting of the tiny, but stunning Amphiallagma parvum, male...
 ... and the female
The usual equally beautiful Ceriagrion azureum (though in much smaller numbers now)
Aciagrion pallidum, male - with white appendages (some have an orangy colour).
Orthetrum pruinosum neglectum, male. Very common right now.
 Diplacodes nebulosa, copula. These were everywhere - but my first decent shot of a copula.
The super-common Ischnura senegalensis, copula. Still nice, though
 Lestes concinnus, replaced most of the other Lestes species now and was incredibly abundant.
Gynacantha subinterrupta, teneral male - usually abundant everywhere, but rather scarce here.
Ischnura aurora aurora, male - a few made an appearance
Lestes elatus, female. Seemingly more abundant later in the year.
Very scarce here, for some reason... Orthetrum luzonicum, teneral female

Ooops ... poor damsels.

Can you guess the species?
 Orolestes octomaculata, teneral female
... and this one?
 Cratilla lineata calverti, teneral male

What, no frog?!?
Not all dragons fly. This stunning, but lazy Monitor Lizard was plonked right in the middle of the road.
 No idea what species, but there were several along the road early in the morning. This one was a decent size.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Rain, rain go away ... Phu Khieo WS

Location: Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary, Chaiyaphum
Date: Saturday 27th August, 2016
Habitat: Mid- to upland forested ponds and a small stream

Well, it had been raining all week and I was desperate for it to stop. Upon waking up on Saturday morning at 3.30am, I was greeted with that all too familiar sound of rain thudding against the roof. Unperturbed, I decided to go anyway. I set off and it rained all the way to Chaiyaphum around 90 kms away. There, it had stopped. Or it hadn't even started - one or the other anyway. The rest of the journey there was dry. Brilliant. Once I had entered, things seemed a little strange. It was duller than usual and I could already hear the rumble of thunder in the distance. I knew it was going to be a short day. I worked my way up the the top, stopping off at any water source I could find (which was a lot). Every puddle was occupied by one species or another, though most were common. As the day progressed, it was becoming apparent that a couple of the rarer species that reside there had now disappeared until next year. Notably, Ceriagrion pallidum, which emerged at the start of July (I saw a solitary teneral male) and has vanished already, giving it a really short flight season of around 6-7 weeks and probably the reason it is so rare or so rarely seen at least. Another was Orolestes selysi. This appears to be around for about two months also. The Lyriothemis species I have seen on a few occasions, has also long gone, though I have only ever seen that in June and July. As for Nannophya pygmaea, I searched in vain for another specimen, though I believe this just to be an incredibly rare species in these parts, rather than it not being in flight at this time of year. As for the other rare species that reside here and I am yet to find, the search goes on. On with the search and the main river was belting through and chocolate brown so that put paid to a number of the species I was looking for. Therefore, my attentions kind of turned to improvement shots of the more commonly seen residents. I also continued to search for Gynacantha species, but they eluded me once more. I will target those species in October onwards when they should hopefully be slightly more abundant. As for new records of any kind, my only addition was Rhinagrion viridatum, one of my favourite little damsels. I saw it from a bridge over a small but really muddy stream. I worked my way down to it and managed to get a pretty decent shot of it, adding to my growing list of species at PK. I searched the rest of the stream and it only threw up common species, though searching was near impossible due to the depth of the mud and the overgrown surroundings. I will target this stream after the rainy season and in April as I have an idea that this is where a few of those rare species may reside, though only time will tell. As I turned away from bridge, I came face to face with a massive monitor lizard. It stared at me frozen and, as I slowly raised my camera to get in a shot, it shot off instead crashing through the bushes at great speed. It must have been over 6 feet long and really fat - though I am sure the lizard thought the same of me! As for that rain, it had been developing overhead for several hours getting darker and darker and the thunder was increasing in frequency and volume. Before I knew it, I was caught in the middle of a heavy storm and dashed for the car. By 2 pm the day was over in terms of odes. As for the drive home it was a nightmare. The rain was so heavy that you can see better in thick fog. I was worried about flooding and getting trapped but made it home to tell the tale. In the end, I didn't manage to see any new species for my records, leaving me still 10 shy of that magical 200 barrier. I did, however, manage to take loads of photos, some of which I am very happy with indeed. I probably won't return to PK until the end of the rainy season where, I am hoping, that a few new species will appear and have me jumping for joy once more. Until then, I will have to find somewhere new I think. Watch this space ...

My best photos of the day.

Welcome to Phu Khieo ... Rhinagrion viridatum, new for my records at the place

 This shot I am incredibly happy with. At this stage, it must be the most skittish species on earth flying high into the trees with the slightest movement.
An early rise makes it worth it sometimes ... 

Love was certainly in the air. Copula seemed to abound, though I missed many of them as they are hard to approach

Probably the rarest female of the common species. Only my second sighting in 8 years and she simply plonked down next to me as I rested after trawling through mud. One shot, gone ... see you in another 8 years.
Blue was the order of the day...

Another rarely seen specimen and again incredibly skittish always flying straight up into the tree canopy. A hyaline male
Females of many species were very much present...

As were males ...

... and other things made an appearance.

A stunning owlfly (not to be confused with a dragonfly as I did when I first saw one years back). This one benefited from perfect lighting first thing in the morning.
and the ubiquitous frog ...another tiny one. Any ideas on species?
Next trip: No idea. No where's my Google Maps...?!?