Sunday, July 3, 2016

A great day at Phu Khieo WS

Location: Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary, Chaiyaphum
Date: Saturday 2nd July, 2016
Habitat: Mid- to upland forested ponds (many temporary)

The saying goes, it never rains but it pours. If you had visited Phu Khieo WS on Saturday, I think you would have really understood what that meant - on two levels. The first level was literally the weather. It had been pouring down every day during the week; so heavily floods abound throughout Thailand which cast doubt over my trip. However, with a little persuasion from my brother (not that I needed much), it was game on. At the sanctuary, though it had been clearly ravaged by the rains, it only rained slightly all day. The second level were the dragons themselves. Though in small numbers, I still managed to find two new species for my records (along with a possible third). Something I haven't managed to do in NE Thailand for a long time. So, why am I spotting additional species now that I didn't spot last year? Simply, it's all about location. Previous trips took me to some of the more obvious locations: enormous marshy areas, rivers and streams and other easy to spot ponds. This trip, however, was all about hunting for new areas as much as it was spotting any dragons themselves. My brother even led me to a great-looking stream which runs deep under canopy cover which he told me has a decent and exposed waterfall along it. I will be visiting there the next time the weather picks up and isn't so dull. Other than that, it was stopping en route to the top every few hundred meters whenever I saw a pond or ditch (no matter how small) or even if I could make out tall grassy reeds further back I would investigate. Did it pay off? You bet it did, though I tore my body and clothes to shreds and was bitten heavily by mosquitoes and horseflies. I missed the first few ponds at the bottom  (there are so many all the way up) and decided to start about half way. It was still early and the initial ponds were quiet, especially as there was light drizzle. As the weather picked up, so did the sightings of the regular species, though numbers were very small. About 3/4 of the way up, I noticed a temporary pond that looked devoid of life and was about to drive on when in the corner of my eye I spotted something with black wings. I knew what is was straight away: Orolestes selysi, a simply stunning species I had been told had been seen at the sanctuary, but after many trips I thought it was a mythical creature (in Thailand anyway). It is known from several countries, which now includes Thailand. I am not the first person to see it here, but had to see it to believe it was here, if you get what I mean. Amazingly as I photographed the first specimen, I noticed a second. I investigated the rest of the pond searching for the female, but only managed to spot a third male and a young female Gynacantha subinterrupta for the first time at the sanctuary, boosting the species list even more. I moved on, clicking my heels as I went. As I reached the road, I caught up with my brother who was having a very quiet day on the bird front. He photographed O. selsyi specimen too just for good measure. Moving on, I hit many more ponds without seeing much. Then, at one pond, I was following a Lestes copula, I must have disturbed a large Aeshnid, which flew out from where it was resting and flew up into a tree. It was large and I knew straight away it was one of the two Gynacantha species there that had eluded me after all this time. It turned out to be Gynacantha basiguttata and I was extremely happy (the other species is G. bayadera). Moving on, I visited many more ponds without success and eventually reached to top. Instead of searching the top, I simply turned around and worked my way back down doing the same thing. I didn't manage to see any more new species - or did I? One species I have been looking for since the day I first came here was Ceriagrion pallidum, a rare species known from PK and a location in Laos. Until now it has avoided me. That said, I saw a small dirty yellowish specimen that was too small to be C. indochinense (I have seen hundreds of specimens though it could be that species). Could it be the elusive C. pallidum? Probably not, as the abdomen should be olivaceous, but I can dream. Hopefully it is a completely different species. Even then, to finish the day, I found another Gynacantha species, which is new for me at the sanctuary: Gynacantha saltatrix - a species I see on occasion in Khon Kaen I now wonder whether this species was mistaken for G. bayadera as it is a very similar-looking species. I hope not. Anyway, the sanctuary is really hitting top form and I am getting out there again next week ... hopefully I will see even more species and get a better shot of G. basiguttata.

My best shots of the day:

There are so many males this year, but the females are thin on the ground. I was happy to see this one first thing in the morning
Phu Khieo's mythical damselfly that is not so anymore, Orolestes selsyi
 Another new encounter for me - and a beast of one too, Gynacantha basiguttata
 Not rare in Khon Kaen, but the first time I have seen it at PKWS, Gynacantha saltatrix
 The day's conundrum. Is it? Isn't it? It could be a freakishly small Ceriagrion indochinense, but it could be C. pallidum or even a new species entirely.  I must find more of them to prove it.

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