Wednesday, August 30, 2017

All Doom and Gloom at Phu Khieo

Location: Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary, Chaiyaphum
Date: Saturday, 26 August, 2017
Habitat: Forested streams and ponds

Following a few great sessions at Phu Khieo, this one turned out to be a bit of a stinker. Though it hadn't been raining that much throughout the week it decided the weekend was a good time to start. Moreover, the water level of many of the ponds and streams had increased dramatically. Unperturbed, I was determined to hit all of the streams that I had visited sporadically in the past with little success. However, upon arrival at around 9.00 am, it was apparent that it was going to be a tough day. It was seriously dull all day with heavy cloud cover dampening my spirits even before the heavens opened. The first place I stopped was at the larger River Phrom (the main river at the lower section). Here, there were several very common species flitting around. Nothing much to report, except a solitary male Euthygomphus yunnanensis (formerly Merogomphus parvus) was sunning itself on a large frond though it was too far down to get a photo -- saw it through my bins). Moving on up, the heavens opened and I simply had to wait in the car until it subsided. I then hit the first stream and it was pretty dismal. Other than a couple of male Heliocypha biforata flicking from rock to rock in the open areas, there was a depressed-looking Coeliccia didyma didyma shrouded in gloom. Sadly, this seemed to be the theme of the day: gloom. I even switched to a couple of my favourite ponds and they, too, were seriously quiet. Only very common species and a couple of old-looking Lestes dorothea were moving around in the reeds. Before I knew it, I was at the top and even at the ponds there it was seriously quiet. A solitary Indothemis carnatica was perched on the path but even he shot off as I approached. Looking deeper, I managed to spot a fresh female Rhyothemis obsolescens -- something of a rarity around these parts. I have bumped into the male a couple of times, but this is my first female. Though it rained for most of the day, I did manage to enjoy a couple of hours of semi-light. Stopping off at as many places as I could, I managed to spot a female Rhinagrion viridatum for the first time at the place at the stream where I saw Microgomphus thailandica last time out (though all gomphids were either not around anymore or were simply hiding out of sight as it wasn't hot or sunny enough. I also saw a teneral male Agrionoptera insignis insignis starting out life at a pond opposite to where I saw Archibasis viola, though that has all but disappeared now. I was happy to see a solitary male Orolestes selysi still hanging on in there--just like me for the day. However, more interesting than the species I saw, this time it was the behaviour of a male that piqued my interests by doing something very strange. I was happy to spot a copula of Euphaea ochracea. Nothing too strange about that, other than it is pretty rare for me to see a copula of this species. Anyway, the copula split (as I was taking photos of it). However, when the female landed, the male simply landed straight onto her wings facing the opposite direction. I tried to get a photo but they were too high up and I spooked them. Fortunately, they didn't fly too far and the female landed a little further away and lower down. Again, the male simply landed on her wings and in the same way. Again, I tried (and failed) to get photos. Luckily, the next place the female landed was on a large leaf that was enjoying a short spell of sunshine (about 30 seconds). To my amazement, the male landed on her wings for a third time and I managed to get a couple of OK photos! Shortly after, they flew further upstream and the female went straight into the stream at great speed -- something I have seen several times. However, I can only assume that it was a way for the male to guard the female from other males as her body produced/fertilised the eggs. It was a great thing to see. 
By the time I had got down to the bottom, it was pouring it down and, with it, my spirits were well and truly dampened. Still, there's always next time... somewhere else, I think.

Best photos of the day:
Out of the gloom shone this lovely teneral male Agrionoptera insignis insignis

 My first female Rhinagrion viridatum sighting at PK (though I have seen it at other places).
 An opportunity too good to miss... Ceriagrion indochinense, copula

 A few years ago, I was desperate see this species. I am happy that it can be found not too far frommy home. One of my favourites... a fresh female Rhyothemis obsolescens
Seriously common, but all too pretty to pass up when they land next to you -- Heliocypha biforata, male
 Not the commonest of slights at PK... a female Mortonagrion aborense. This one with a ball for breakfast.

Neurothemis fulvia, male. Seriously common and always ignored... you can tell it was a quiet day.
Highlight of the day. Once this wheel of Euphaea ochracea had finished copulating...
 ... the male constantly landed on the female's wings in this way. Maybe a way of stopping other males from getting in there??? Any ideas?
A bat and a bird... 
This bat was taken with the moon in the background.... haha. Seriously, it was roosting in the middle of a concrete overflow pipe. It was a large bat too. Looks pretty cool, I think.
A lovely kingfisher that I was happy to get using a macro lens!!!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

193. Lestes dorothea Fraser, 1924

Number: 193  
Family: Lestidae
Genus: Lestes
Species: Lestes dorothea
Common name(s): -  
Synonyms: N/A    
Habitat: Temporary ponds/small permanent forested ponds   
Province(s) sighted: Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary (Chaiyaphum); Nam Nao National Park (Petchabun)
Sightings (by me): Locally abundant 
In flight (that I have seen): June - September  
Species easily confused with: Lestes praemorsus decipiensLestes elatusPlatylestes platystylus

Finally, after searching for it for a long time, I have found it. I think. Lestes dorothea has eluded pretty much everyone (many of the guys on Dragonflies of Thailand on Facebook) including myself but the help of identification through the female has helped for once. 

The major problem is that the males of L. praemorsus and L. dorothea are almost identical in appearance.  I knew that both species had been recorded at Phu Khieo previously and I did notice that the pruinescence at the end of the abdomen on some specimens was significantly reduced when compared to others. Conclusive proof? Of course not. Worse still, the appendages are almost identical (from what I could tell anyway). This was also noted by Tom Kompier on his blog with information that has helped a lot on this. The telltale difference (I am led to believe) is the difference in the female. The female of L. dorothea has the bold markings on the thorax (like a swoosh) followed by another prominent dot. This is the same as the male but is almost always hidden. Again, this was pointed out by Tom on his blog and Noppadon Makbun also explained this to me, though still would like to compare the appendages. Looking back at both males and females, the latter is now easy to separate (see comparison below). However, the male is still a little difficult to separate, but I will have to entrust the expertise of others for now (unless I can find a very young male for easy comparison).

The male:
Though I could be mistaken, from memory it is a slightly larger species than L. praemorsus. However, the key to identifying the male is the reduced pruinescence at the end of the abdomen (see comparison below). 

 L. dorothea, male

 L. praemorsus, male (for comparison)
L. dorothea, copula in the hot afternoon at Nam Nao

 L. dorothea, the same female (not the prominent markings on the thorax)
L. praemorsus, female (for comparison) from Nam Nao. Note the small dots on the thorax.
 Here is a more recent copula from Phu Khieo where the males seem to be abundant (now I can separate them).
Many thanks to Noppadon Makbun for all his help on this confusing genus as well as Tom Kompier for the more than useful information on his blog.

192. Microgomphus thailandica Asahina, 1981

Number: 192  
Family: Gomphidae
Genus: Microgomphus
Species: Microgomphus thailandica
Common name(s): -  
Synonyms: N/A    
Habitat: Small mid-range forested stream   
Province(s) sighted: Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary (Chaiyaphum)
Sightings (by me): Rare (1 male, though more reported from there) 
In flight (that I have seen): August   
Species easily confused with: Microgomphus sp.

So, with a new month comes baking heat again... and a new species. Microgomphus thailandica is a species that I knew resided at Phu Khieo as it had already been recorded there by Andrew Pierce. However, for some reason, it had managed to evade my lens for over two years. Finally, last Saturday, I was trawling along the stream bed of a narrow, dull stream noting a few common species, when my eyes focused on a little gomphid staring at me from the top of a frond. I edged towards it and flew about five metres from where it was and into blinding sunshine. I edged forward again and this time managed to fire off a few photos before it flew high up into the tree canopy. Though I wasn't entirely sure I had a new species for my records in the bag at the time, it only took a few minutes research at home to realise that it was, indeed, another species. I was clicking my heels with excitement, I can tell you! I will be returning soon to continue my search along these murky, relatively under recorded streams and hopefully can find a more cooperative male as well as a female and a host of other species.

The male.
The male, seen here basking in the baking heat, looks similar to many other small gomphids but can be separated by its unique appendages (just visible in the second photo where it kind of looks like a mini 'OK'). I will attempt to catch one next time for a close up of the appendages.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Flooded out then wilting like an orchid in the sun @ Phu Khieo

Location 1: Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary, Chaiyaphum
Date: Saturday, 5 August, 2017
Habitat: 280 m.a.s.l. forested streams

Well, two trip to Phu Khieo WS in August yielded totally contrasting results. The first trip with my brother, Paul, was to another section of Phu Khieo WS. It was at the southern part of the park and was at a low elevation of just 280 m.a.s.l. The journey there was the most adventurous part, however. Once we hit the dirt track everything seemed fine and the excitement was building, as too was the pressure of my brother's guts! However, a few tissues lighter and around 1 km outside the entrance, the road seemed to have collapsed slightly due to flooding. And, being in my crappy Toyota Vios, attempting to scale that section seemed like a stupid idea, even though we considered it for a good while. Anyway, experience and common sense prevailed thankfully and we hot footed it -- rather, we dragged our fat carcasses -- along the 1 km section which turned out to be a good idea as it was pleasant under the tree canopy stopping en route to see the odd thing or two. We eventually hit a narrow stream which went right across the path and so the car would have been written off anyway. Here, there was clear indication that some serious flooding had recently abated as the tall grass was all flattened and debris was strewn everywhere. Here, I saw a few common species including a large number of Vestalis gracilis. Photo opportunity for later maybe. Eventually, we found the main stream... and it was belting through. Not a chance to get anywhere near it and was difficult to get anywhere along the edge. Other than a few more common species and V. gracilis seemingly watching our every move, there was nothing to report, other than the river has serious potential when the time is right. I am looking forward to returning there. On the way out, I took a few shots of common species but was a little surprised to spot a solitary male Pseudagrion pruinosum hanging on for dear life in the fast-flowing stream. Though I have seen this species at the top of PK, I was previously unaware that the species resided at such a low altitude. Anyway, that was about it but is definitely a place I will return to one day. 

Photos of the day (though very few): 

Pseudagrion pruinosum, male. A solitary specimen hanging on in there following the floods.

If you have ever seen the film The Birds, you will know what I mean... Vestalis gracilis seemed to be watching our every move from the gloomy backdrop. Here is a female.

 An unfortunate ending for this male Orthetrum chrysis... this spider was in the exact same position several hours later. Must have been really tasty.
 One other point of interest was the sheer numbers of butterflies that resided there though my attentions were firmly on dragons... though maybe a trip there next April. Here is a Banded Swallowtail.

Location 2: Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary, Chaiyaphum
Date: Saturday, 12 August 2017
Habitat: Forested ponds/seepage/streams

The following week, it was back to my usual hunting ground, but searching deeper into the forested streams. Initially, it was the usual suspects at the ponds but the noticeable difference from the previous trips was the distinct lack of numbers flitting around. This was due, in part, to the oppressive heat that was causing everything to wilt -- including me and my brother. However, with the heat, came brighter sunshine. The streams were game on (they are usually seriously dark). Other than the main stream, there are around 5 smaller streams that you cross en route to the top. I will be searching these more in depth when the time is right (sometimes it is difficult to navigate them due to too much water flowing through or they are like puddles). Anyway, I spent a short time at each of them to get a flavour of what is there. One of the most noticeable things is the fact that they so quiet. Other than a solitary male Tramea transmarina euryale at a pond and a number of Rhinagrion viridatum punctuating the silence (which I saw here for the first time last season), it was quiet... but not completely. There were several distinctive male Merogomphus pavici, which I saw for the first time at the place. I managed to catch one and was going to take a photo of it when I slipped and dropped it. Never mind. Still, it's a new species for my personal list at the place. Plus, I have good photos of the male and female from Nam Nao anyway. Then I bumped into a very strange little dragon. From a distance, I had no idea what it was, though suspected it was Brachydiplax farinosa, female though it was deep along a stream and was quite red. I did manage to get a photo of it and Noppadon Makbun believes it to be a female Amphithemis curvistyla. Annoying as I should have realised this, though the markings are very similar. I just wish I could have got a better photo (it shot off up into the tree canopy as soon as I fired the first shot, which is not that good). Still, onwards and upwards and I am going to return in a few weeks to try and get better shots of both male and female. I kept searching and kept on bumping into R. viridatum and M. pavici, but not much else. Eventually, at a stream that I have search before but to no avail, I spotted a small Gomphid. I was instantly excited. As soon as I moved, it flew to another leaf right in the sun. I managed to fire off a couple of half-decent shots of it before it, too, flew high into the tree canopy. I wasn't entirely sure whether or not it was a  new species for me, but once I returned home it was obvious that it was a male Microgomphus thailandica, a species that fellow birder/dragon hunter Andrew Pierce had already recorded several males at a stream further down the hill though they were not there when I visited this time around. So, another species for my records both personally and at for the location. Great! After that, however, things started to go downhill. Both my brother and I were wilting in the extreme heat and everywhere was quieter than usual. I did stop off at a couple of my favourite ponds on the return leg and one that was slowly drying out was now buzzing with dragons. There were several female (no male) Lyriothemis sp. dropping down from the canopy, ovipositing and then returning high up without giving me a chance to catch them. Likewise, Lestes dorothea and L. praemorsus decipiens were present, as too were Orolestes selysi and O. octomaculata. I saw a very strange looking (probably) O. selysi male and even stranger female Lestes species ovipositing onto weeds in the pond though the solitary shot I got was facing the sun and it flew away as soon as I approached. Moving slowly around I disturbed two Gynacantha specimens, I followed one and it turned out to be Gynacantha subinterrupta which perched at the very base of a tree. I also managed to spot my first female Archibasis viola though it was incredibly skittish and wading like an elephant and crashing through branches didn't help. Other than an awful record shot it, too, disappearing into the gloom. Next time, you are mine!!! Ceriagrion pallidum seems to have disappeared already, though this could be because of the heat and will return next to time to try and find it again. So, that was about it. The good, the bad and the ugly of dragon hunting. Looking forward to/dreading my next trip (delete as applicable).

My best photos of the day:

Introducing Microgomphus thailandica, male -- a new species for my records.
A welcome start to the day with a somewhat approachable Tramea transmarina euryale, male basking in the oppressive heat
Female Paracercion (calamorum) dyeri -- numerous males at the ponds near the main river, but this is the first female (not part of a copula) I have photographed.
Another nice female...Orolestes octomaculata, ovipositing into a stem overhanging a small pond.
Gynacantha subinterrupta, male resting at the very base of a tree.
The best shot I managed to rustle up of the several Lyriothemis sp. females that kept dropping down from the tree canopy and ovipositing before disappearing again.
... and now for some 'not great' shots. Here is the female Amphithemis curvistyla... my first sighting of the female (and now i know what it looks like). Thanks for the ID, Noppadon Makbun! Sadly, there is too much flare for my liking.
Here is an Orolestes species high up in the tree canopy. O. selysi or O. octomaculata? You decide. It is likely to be a young male O. selysi though the black markings seem to be too short.
 And, as if not to confuse matters, this poor shot (facing right into the sun and didn't get the chance to shoot another) here is a very strange female Lestes ? species. It was the size of a typical Lestes species, but the thoracic markings (or lack of them) don't suggest any of the species that reside at the place. Any suggestions, anyone?
 And just to finish... here is another strange-looking grasshopper. Seems that they have taken over the mantle from the frogs of last year! Any suggestions on ID would be more than welcome.

Monday, July 31, 2017

191. Archibasis viola Lieftinck, 1948

Number: 191  
Family: Coenagrionidae
Genus: Archibasis
Species: Archibasis viola
Common name(s): Violet Sprite  
Synonyms: N/A    
Habitat: Mid-range forested ditch   
Province(s) sighted: Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary (Chaiyaphum)
Sightings (by me): Rare (2-3 males) 
In flight (that I have seen): July   
Species easily confused with: Archibasis oscillans 

A few weeks back, a birder called Andrew Pierce I knew, decided to take a trip to Phu Khieo on a dragon trip. He saw several of the rare gems that haunt PK but was light on one or two. However, he also saw another species that he couldn't work out what it was and posted on Facebook (Dragonflies of Thailand). The majority of feedback suggested it was Archibasis sp. but the lighting and angle of the shot made it difficult to be sure which species. When I saw the photo I was amazed and, in all honesty, it kick-started my dragonfly season. Not that I hadn't wanted to get out there, but I have been so busy working and the weather has been awful so it has been all too easy to kind of turn a blind eye to the hunt. Anyway, he asked if I wanted to return and so we did the following Saturday, along with my brother, Paul. I have been to almost every ditch, pond, stream and lake there... but I had never come across Archibasis. We eventually landed on the small heavily tree-lined and dull-looking pond that was situated very close to a stream. Amazingly, it was already there. There were 2-3 males but were extremely skittish at first. As they settled, I managed to get in a few decent shots and Andy also improved on his own shots. It was clear that it was Archibasis viola, though it did take a little more research later on in order to be 100% confident as it is primarily known as a southern species in Thailand stretching only as far north as Chantaburi. The pond itself looked almost like any other pond I had visited, though this one wasn't on my radar as it looked devoid of life... not anymore!

What is also interesting is the fact that this is the rarer of the two species likely to be found in Thailand away from the south and A. oscillans (being the other) has been reported from Nakhon Nayok, but seems to prefer streams to marshy pools so there is every chance I may find this species too at Phu Khieo. Anyway, I need to return to find the female... watch this space. 


For the record, I would just like to thank Andy Pierce for guiding me to this species as it would probably have taken me many more trips before I fell upon it (if ever). Thanks, matey!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A great meeting at Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary

Location: Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary, Chaiyaphum
Date: Saturday, 22nd July 2017
Habitat: Forested ponds/seepage, streams

I told you I was back and now I am for sure. Work can wait. The season can't. I was champing at the bit to get out there and, seeing Andrew Pierce's photos of the (then) Archibasis sp. from Phu Kheio, it really piqued my interest to the point I had to go. How have I not seen this species in over 20 visits? Well, Saturday came and with it, the chance to finally meet Andy and, along with my brother, Paul, we set out -- after a proper dusting down of my camera. So, was it going to be a productive day? Well, let the dragon games begin... we picked up Andy from Khon Kaen Uni at about 5 am (after getting lost using GPS... how do I manage to find anywhere?) After the usual greetings, we set off on the short hop across the boring gap from KK to Chumpae and then straight into the large 7/11 for grub and water. By now, I was getting excited, but that was dashed by a million kids wearing yellow shirts turning up and flooding the place and my instant thought was, "Are they going to PK?" For the record, they didn't. So, we arrived. I don't mean that we had reached the peak of our professional skills; I simply mean we had arrived at the entrance with the wonderful sign that reads, "Roll clown the window" and "20 baht for children, monks and the elderly". We failed on the elderly front but managed to get in for 90 baht in total due to Andy's special card. Now, where can I get one of those cards? 
So, what did we see? Well, the first thing that I saw personally was just how quiet the place was. Though it was still early (about 7.30 am), the place should be teeming with activity. It wasn't. All of those rarities I had promised Andrew didn't seem to be there. The first highlight was Andrew's keen eye spotting a little snake overhanging a ditch. After a few photos, I decided to do my usual thing and creep up on it for better photos... I got a few, but as I got too close, it simply dropped into the water and disappeared... a great defence mechanism, I thought -- until my brother said it was going to bite me underwater. I got out of the water rather quickly. We moved on up the hill stopping at different ponds but nothing of note was spotted. Eventually, we reached the bridge where the main river runs through... and it was flowing normally. From the bridge, we could see a gomphid but it was too low down for a positive ID. We then looked briefly at the two ponds near the stream. I pointed out one of several Amphiallagma parvum to Andrew, who snapped away happily at it. Other than that, it was quiet, save the usual suspects. So, up we went. Eventually, we dropped on a few of the better ponds where I had spotted a few rarities. I spotted a male Orolestes octomaculata. Nothing rare about that and there were many of them hanging in the gloom. However, this was a hyaline male and it was more cooperative than the others I have seen... I was so happy about that! Eventually, my eyes managed to focus on one of PK's true goodies: Ceriagrion pallidum. A rare species but is found here (and at Phu Wiang in Kho Kaen, where I saw it a few years back but didn't know until recently). Another new one for Andy, which made me happy. This is where I saw a solitary male Nannophya pygmaea last year, but it wasn't to be this time round. So, up we went. More ponds, more common species but nothing much to report. We stopped at a stream where Andy had seen several Microgomphus thailandica. However, other than an enormous Cordulid (probably a Macromia sp.) whizzing around at great speed, being so gloomy, nothing showed. Eventually, a little lower down than I had seen it before, I spotted a solitary male Orolestes seylsi. We were both very happy to snap away at this one. As we moved up, the day warmed up and more and more species were appearing. Indolestes anomalusLestes praemorsus decipiens, and Ceriagrion azureum... to name but a few. However, one of the shots I took of L. praemorsus decipiens is most likely to be Lestes dorothea, based on the markings on the female. To the point, I am going to say that it is that species, especially as it has been recorded from the place before. We hit a few more ponds but the yielded the same common species so we pushed on to the place where Andy saw that Archbasis sp. It was close to a stream and was under heavy tree cover. There were two ponds there... one to the left and another to the right.... I chose the one to the left. There was literally nothing there. And I mean nothing. Suddenly,  heard a call from Andy... I made it over quicker than Bolt could make it... and there it was. The species he had photographed a while back. There were 2 or 3 males there but they were so skittish. Eventually, they settled down and we both snapped away. At a cafe afterwards, we looked at the photos and the Internet and it was clearly Archibasis viola, a species only known from Chantaburi down... now PK down. There were a few other species here too, but all common. Weird how they were all at the pond and none at the next identical pond. After that, it was the usual suspects all the way until we returned to the main river at the bottom. The two ponds were now alive with dragon activity and I was personally really happy to get a decent shot of Paracercion (calamorum) dyeri, copula. Though I have seen the male here several times, it is my first sighting of the female. We also saw an Anax sp. patrolling the edges. It was most likely Anax indicus as I saw several doing the same there last year. We had a quick look at the river, but there was nothing really to report. So, that was it. We set off home and the second we exited the place the heavens opened. So, good timing! A great day, made even better by meeting Andrew Pierce, a lovely guy who I hope to meet many more times in the near future. The dragon bug is back inside me and I am going to get out there a lot more. Watch this space!

Best photos of the day:

Aciagrion pallidum, male -- a true gem at PK.

Orolestes octomaculata -- hyaline male. Awesome damsel.

 Indolestes anomalus, copula. Probably the most common species in the genus and they tend to copulate en masse. 

Orolestes seylsi, male -- another incredible gem found only at PK in Thailand. 

 Rhyothemis obsolescens, male -- and uncommon species but can be found at PK (though not often)
Neurothemis intermedia atalanta, male -- a seriously common species, though this 'orange' stage is rarely seen.
Brachydiplax farinosa, male -- my first photo of the trip.
 Mortonagrion aborense, copula with female ovipositing. Certainly seems more abundant this year.
Mortonagrion aborense, young male.Certainly a stage I see rarely... and check out those parasites. Why are they small on small species and large on large species? Wouldn't they all grow to the same size or do they expand to the capacity of the host? Hmmm...
Aethriamanta gracilis, male -- a species that is common at just one lake here.  
 Paracercion (calamorum) dyeri, copula -- my first sighting of the female. Really happy about that.
Common, but super cool... Aethriamanta brevipennis, male (red form)
Cratilla lineata calverti, female... one of the most common dragons in the forest. However, young females are hard to approach.
And now the reason for my big smile... Archibasis viola, male. 2-3 males at one small and gloomy pond. There is nothing better.
 Now, I am going to do something I don't normally do. I am going to say that this is Lestes dorothea (without seeing the appendages). The markings on the female match perfectly.
What a tough beast! This web must best incredibly strong in order to see off a robust Ictinogomphus decoratus melaenops, male and a Brachydiplax farinosa (being feasted upon). 

A ssssnake... well spotted by Andy. Any ideas what species?

... and let's finish on an unpopular bug... grasshoppers. Why are they not popular? How cool is this little fellow?

Next trip: Dunno but very soon!