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!

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