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.