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...?!?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Back at the old place ... Nam Nao NP

Location: Nam Nao National Park, Chaiyaphum
Date: Saturday 13th August, 2016
Habitat: Mid- to upland forested stream and some ponds

Following a few decent trips to Phu Khieo which bagged me a couple of new species for my records, I planned to go again at the weekend. However, terrible weather, too much work and being decidedly skint almost put paid to that idea. However, reading up on Facebook that Andrew Pierce had photographed Microgomphus thailandicus at the stream which crosses the pathway on the way to Som Bun Ranger Station and seeing a great photo from Noppadon Makbun on Facebook, my mind was made up. The stream he visited is actually in Chaiyaphum (which I didn't know at first). Anyway, with Andrew's great finding, I had to go and find it for myself. I didn't even set off until 9 am and arrived a little after 11 am - still plenty of time to do some serious searching for one small Gomphid! The first species I saw, however, was rather surprising as it was one of my favourite Gomphids, Merogomphus pavici. It is easily recognisable with its seemingly permanently arched abdomen. Unfortunately, it was obscured by leaves to get a solid shot of it (I already have a great shot but wanted the money shot). I edged my way around and spent around 10 minutes doing so. However, by the time I had done so, the clouds had appeared and, as if by magic, the dragon disappeared too. And that was it. Nothing appeared for around 30 minutes as it rained. Only a solitary and sad looking Trithemis aurora perched defiantly on his stick. I almost gave up when suddenly the clouds gave way to a small, but significant burst of sunshine. Out came a million Pantala flavescens overhead swooping at every bug. Then, from nowhere, came a beast of a Gomphid I have seen here before in decent numbers too. Gomphidia kruegeri krugeri is not a rare or even that uncommon in NE Thailand, but getting a decent photo is really tough. It flies away at the slightest movement. Fortunately for me, however, once it landed - or rather plonked - onto a large rock, the clouds returned and he seemed somewhat paralysed, unable to move. I was able to get pretty close and fire off some decent shots before the sun returned and he shot off. I was then greeted by a female of the same species which was carrying a cargo of red eggs. Sadly, I had no chance of photographing her as she moved quickly between rocks searching for areas to offload her eggs. Still, this is only the second time I have seen the female so I was happy indeed. Other than that, I was the extremely common Prodasineura autumnalis everywhere, but I also managed to encounter Prodasineura auricolor here for the first time. A new provincial record? Not sure, but it is for me anyway. For the rest of the day, I pretty much sat around the stream or walked as far as I could in search of M. thailandicus, but it never showed. Maybe as the weather too poor for it and it prefers sunshine like many Gomphids. I decided it was time to move back up the path and try and locate any ponds. I found a couple but most of them were man-made, created for wild animals and didn't house that much. A couple of ponds, however, seemed to have potential and I will return for sure. I did manage to spot a couple of male Palpopleura sexmaculata sexmaculata which are always a welcome sight and though Indothemis carnatica males were present in small numbers, the females seemed to be everywhere. I also saw a solitary male Lestes praemorsus decipiens and a male Ceriagrion azureum. Other than that, it was common species and nothing really to report. 

Though I didn't see that much, I really need to investigate this place much more as I think there are one or two species still to be found here. Watch this space.

My best photos of the short trip:

Not common, but fairly easy to find around Nam Nao NP

Fairly common, but not easy to photograph

How can anyone not want to photograph this beauty...

Females, old and young ...

Just for the record, I am not completely all about dragons ... I saw a stunning little frog and also The Blue Kaiser butterfly made an appearance for the first time for me.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

186. Nannophya pygmaea Rambur, 1842

Number: 186  
Family: Libellulidae   
Genus: Nannophya   
Species: Nannophya pygmaea 
Common name(s): The Scarlet Dwarf   
Synonyms: N/A    
Habitat: Forested pond (temporary)   
Province(s) sighted: Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary (Chaiyaphum)  
Sightings (by me): Extremely rare 
In flight (that I have seen): August    
Species easily confused with: N/A

Straight after seeing Ceriagrion pallidum for the first time, around the corner of the same little forested pond, I saw a microscopic, but bright red dragonfly hanging on to reeds for dear life in very blustery conditions. To be honest, I had to look at it for a few seconds before my mind would compute. It was Nannophya pygmaea - a lifer species for me. I had always wanted to see Thailand's smallest species, but feared I would have to travel south in order to do so. However, there it was, much smaller than I could ever dream. I shocked myself into action and managed to get a few shots away before the wind was too much and it shot off never to be seen again. I spent a few hours searching the rest of the pond, but eventually the sun disappeared and with it any chances of finding more. I will return to get improvement shots and I hope that it isn't as rare as I think it is. Maybe I won't see it again. Who knows? I believe it has been recorded once at Phu Kradueng, Loei, but other than that it is mostly seen in the far south, though it is rare there too. 

The male

185. Ceriagrion pallidum Fraser, 1933

Number: 185    
Family: Coenagrionidae    
Genus: Ceriagrion   
Species: Ceriagrion pallidum 
Common name(s): N/A   
Synonyms: N/A    
Habitat: Forested pond (temporary)   
Province(s) sighted: Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary (Chaiyaphum)  
Sightings (by me): Rare 
In flight (that I have seen): Early July - Mid-August    
Species easily confused with: Ceriagrion fallaxCeriagrion indochinense

A species I had been looking for at Phu Khieo WS for two years, has at last made an appearance. However, maybe I have seen it before, but simply overlooked it. At first glance it looks a lot like a young male C. indochinense or a young C. fallax (though I haven't yet seen this species at this location). However, luckily for me, it was actually the former species that helped me to ID it. Thanks to help and information from Noppadon Makbun, I knew it was similar to C. fallax but much paler. Then, yesterday, two male C. indochinense harried a slimmer much paler specimen into the reeds and it just looked different. I wasn't sure but following closer inspection and a few photos, it was in the bag: Ceriagrion pallidum was mine. It is exactly as the description and alongside C. indochinense, it is fairly easy to separate. Fortunately, I even managed to spot other males at different ponds and several females even made an appearance. Better still, this species is fairly easy to approach and not skittish like similar species in the genus. Now I just need to find C. nigroflavum (if it is actually now present in Thailand) to complete the "set" of known Ceriagrion species in Thailand, though there are more I am sure.

I would just like to add that I believe this to be more common and should be at different locations, though it is most definitely easy to overlook. Next time you see a pale specimen, don't simply pass it off as an immature C. indochinense or C. fallax. Take a closer look and you never know. 

The male

Here is a freshly emerged male, which I actually saw at the start of July, though I couldn't confirm it was correct until I found mature males. That said, it isn't really that different from the mature males, just even paler.

The female

Another, slightly paler still female

The species keep on coming .... at Phu Khieo WS

Location: Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary, Chaiyaphum
Date: Saturday 6th August, 2016
Habitat: Mid- to upland forested ponds (many temporary)

First of all, I haven't been able to get out as much as I would like recently and it can be frustrating. However, needs must and I can't turn down work. Unfortunately, this work is eating right into the best part of the season. Worse still, it seems as though another species turns up during every trip. If I could get out there even more, I would be approaching that magical 200 sooner, I think. Anyway, rant over and on with yesterday. It had been pouring down with rain all week, sometimes it was torrential, and I was in two minds whether to even go or not. August is a particularly bad month for rain and I never seen to get to go out. Therefore, at the last hour I set out regardless, totally unperturbed. I even set out later than usual, at around 5.30am (instead of 4.00am) with the idea that by the time I arrived, the dragons would have too. Unfortunately, it was raining upon arrival and making my way to the summit was slower than usual. I checked out a few ponds at the lower reaches and only saw a couple of common species, though I did see a freshly emerged Gynacantha subinterrupta which, by the time I had assembled my camera gear and crept back down the banking and into the water, had gained enough energy to flutter up into the canopy. Note to self: set up before you enter the park!!!

The other small ponds on the stretch between the entrance and the River Phrom housed the usual suspects and nothing really to report. One of my aims was to scour the river as it was the perfect time. However, upon reaching the river at the bridge, I glanced and quickly moved on. It was heavily swollen and bombing through. There was no chance of seeing anything and it looked rather dangerous. So, a pond day it was. This became the turning point of the day as I am getting familiar with many of the small ponds on the way up. There is one that is set back and I only know it is there from memory. It is hard to find in all honesty and I fell upon it by chance. After following a couple of spreadwings species hoping that one of them was the elusive L. dorothea (which none of them were), I saw two male Ceriagrion indochinense harry a slightly smaller, slimmer and much paler specimen into the reeds. Was it? Could it ... naaa? I checked anyway. And there it was: Ceriagrion pallidum, a species I had been looking for now for two years. It was recorded from the park once previously and is the only known place in Thailand. I was over the moon to say the least. Better still, I saw a second male and then a female. Both of which were happy to pose and were not skittish like most from the genus. Clicking my heels, I searched around the rest of the little pond and I was instantly shocked again. Right before my eyes was the tiniest red dragonfly I had ever seen. Much smaller than I ever imagined, but there it was: Nannophya pygmaea. A real lifer for me. It didn't hang around long so I searched the place for another male or even the female for a couple of hours, but to no avail. So I moved on. Two new species for my records under my belt and I was really happy. I continued up to the top searching for Gynacantha species and any other species I could find. Other than spotting numerous Orolestes octomaculata, a few O. selysi and got decent shots of a Tramea transmarina euryale copula, it was just the usual species. However, I did manage to spot C. pallidum at several other ponds, but were in small numbers, so there seems to be a healthy population. As for N. pygmaea, it is a rare species at the best of times. In NE Thailand it may be even rarer. In terms of seeing it again and its female counterpart, only time will tell.

My best shots of the day:

Tramea transmarina euryale, the female had been invaded by parasites, though it didn't seem to affect performance.

Introducing Mr. and Mrs. Ceriagrion pallidum. Not sure if natural photos have ever been taken of this species in the wild, but here they are now anyway. At first glance, it could look like one of several species.

A lifer for me, gone in a flash. Nannophya pygmaea. Now I know it's here, I WILL find it again and the female.

A few other usual suspects