Monday, May 14, 2018

An Awesome Trip to Hala-Bala Wildllife Sanctuary

Location: Hala-Bala Wildlife Sanctuary and surrounding areas (Narathiwat)
Date: 23-28 April 2018
Habitat: Forested streams and tiny ditches

Well, I had promised myself that I would make a trip down south and it recently came to fruition. My brother and I had been planning a trip south for a while and, as soon as word got out, a flock of birders jumped onboard. Eventually, five of us made the trip (3 from Khon Kaen and 2 from Bangkok). The group included Mark Hogarth, Brian Hewitt, Peter Ericsson, my brother, Paul and me. At first, I wasn't used to the alien language (it was all babblers, broadbills, hornbills and feathered things). However, even though my camera decided to pack up on the first day (but sprung back into life 24 hours later) and I missed out on a few species that I really wanted to see, it turned out to be the best photography trip I have ever been on and the guys were a brilliant bunch. I even learnt a thing or two about birds and their habits.

Though it was a little early for me in the dragonfly season, there had a be a few special species knocking around down south and it proved to be so.

The crew after a long day.
(left to right: Peter, me (totally knackered), Brian, Mark, Paul and Sum. Photo by someone)

The target location was Hala-Bala Wildlife Sanctuary, Narathiwat. Many people, especially westerners, simply will not head into the bottom three provinces due to the known problems and the newspaper reports regarding the insurgents. However, we went in head first and were made to feel welcome from the very first moment we arrived until getting back on the plane home. At no point did we ever feel threatened, though the million and one checkpoints became a little tiresome after a while. Everyone wanted to meet and greet us and I loved every minute. My only bone of contention was getting beer... being a Muslim area it was difficult but it is most certainly possible if planned.

The busiest international airport in the world ever!

We were picked up at the airport and it was then around two hours to the sanctuary in a cool van, though we stopped off en route for food.

Mixing it with the locals...  great people and some awesome food to boot!

(Photo by Paul Farrell)

Our guide was called Sum Nara Nara (Facebook name) and he was more than helpful. That said, I couldn't just hang around with the guys all day as I would have only got to see birds when I was on a serious dragon hunt. Whenever we split, I had brilliant help from a ranger called Attanai who was more than happy to hunt with me and we used his bike to get around. He even rustled up lunch for me on one occasion which was delicious. 

The place itself is rather unique as it is one of the only surviving decent-sized areas of lowland forest that hasn't been ruined by man. Though the actual Research Station (which is the place to visit, apparently) was incredibly disappointing, especially as the trail was now totally overgrown and you just got the feeling that they didn't really want people taking photos there, the rest of the place was great. Sirindhorn Waterfall, the main river running through the park, and a number of streams at the lower reaches all threw up some very interesting species. To Mo Community Forest (which was superb forest at only 185 m.a.s.l.) also offered a few crackers. At To Mo, you followed a trail that ran along a shallow stream. Though there weren't hundreds of species, it turned out to be a very interesting place. In fact, after a kilometre or so, there was a junction at the river where you could continue to follow it round or go over a concrete bridge. About 50 metres away, there was a couple of posts on the trail that signified the border with Malaysia and it was unmanned. Asking the rangers/locals they said that they often cross into Malaysia for food or whatever and Malaysians do the same. My only disappointment (though nothing major) was the distinct lack of natural ponds. There were a couple of almost ponds but nothing much. If there were some, I am sure that I would have found a lot more.

That said, during my time there, I managed to clock up 14 new species for my records and reeled off plenty of improvement shots of species I hardly see. After the photos, there is a quick checklist of the place.

The dragon team at the end of the hunt... 
(Photo by Peter Ericsson)

Not a bad view from the bungalow at HQ where we stayed for a couple of nights.

Shots of the trip (in no particular order)...

Orthetrum testacea testacea, male. Fairly common at ponds (when I could find one). I had only seen one male once before in Kanchanaburi.
Gomphidia abbotti abbotti, male. Usually very difficult to approach
Indocnemis orang, male. I often see this species but rarely does it move away from foliage so you can get such a creamy background!
Onychothemis culminicola, female. Though I have stumbled upon the male once or twice, the female is seldom seem -- well, the first time for me, anyway.
Aristocypha fenestrella, male. Easily the most common species at the main river.
Orthetrum luzonicum, female. The males were common in certain areas, unlike the females.
Paragomphus capricornis, male. Common at one shallow sandy stream where I also saw Macrogomphus parallelogramma albardae and Megalogomphus sumatranus
A very old Argiocnemis rubescens rubeola, male.
Rhinagrion viridatum, male. I still love this species... this one was basking in glorious sunshine.
Neurothemis fluctuans, female. The males were very common. The females not so.
Lyriothemis cleis, male. When I spotted this little rarity, my camera packed up and I had to borrow my brother's.
I then saw a second Lyriothemis species... a solitary male was spotted right at the time when I didn't have a camera. Lyriothemis biappendiculata, male. 
Mr. and Mrs. Vestalis amoena... locally common...

... and the almost identical Vestalis amethystina, male which was scarce
A bit of a lifer for me as I have always wanted to see it...Cratilla metallica, male. I saw just two males.
Coeliccia albicauda, male. I saw 7-8 males during the trip.
Prodasineura sp. poss Prodasineura humeralis????, male. Fairly common at sandy-bottomed streams
Zygonyx ida... I only saw this one male but it's a cracker of a species!
Mr. and Mrs. Devadatta argyoides. A very difficult-to-spot species. This pair preferred a trickle to a stream.

 The super majestic Dysphaea dimidiata dimidiata, male. In small numbers but I was so happy to see him!
 The first 'new' species I saw on the trip, Tyriobapta torrida -- a great little male. I saw two males.

The stunning Megalogomphus sumatranus, male. One record shot, gone. Super skittish and flew miles away.
 Mr. and Mrs. Prodasineura collaris. I have now seen all the known Thai species from the genus.

 The very long-named Macrogomphus parallelogramma albardae, male. I managed to spot 3-4 males and most were fairly easy to approach.

Some other things... 
No idea what species, but they were seriously loud!
The Bushy-crested Hornbill eating a bug. This was tame at the research centre. ID by Paul Farrell.
The Rhinoceros Hornbill... an amazing spectacle. ID by Paul Farrell.
 This massive moth is either the Thai Tasar Silkworm Moth Antheraea frithi pedunculata or Antheraea roylei. Many thanks to Pisuth Ek-Amnuay for the ID.
Papilio nephelus sunatus, the southern form. ID by Antonio Guidici.
 Biggest millipede in the world ever? This one was at least 12 inches (I have big chunky hands that span 7 inches (longest fingertip to the base of the palm).
Am awesome leaf insect next to my bed. Any ideas?

Quick Checklist of the Hala-Bala WS (inc. several streams and To Mo Community Forest):

The new species for my records included are highlighted in blue

Devadatta argyoides

Neurobasis chinensis
Vestalis amethystina
Vestalis amoena

Aciagrion pallidum
Agriocnemis pygmaea
Argiocnemis rubescens rubeola
Ischnura senegalensis
Pseudagrion australasiae

Aristocypha fenestrella
Heliocypha biforata
Heliocypha perforata limbata
Libellago lineata

Dysphaea dimidiata dimidiata
Euphaea ochracea

Rhinagrion viridatum

Coeliccia albicauda
Copera marginipes
Copera vittata
Indocnemis orang

Prodasineura collaris
Prodasineura sp. [Prodasineura humeralis??]

Gomphidia abbotti abbotti
Ictinogomphus decoratus melaenops
Macrogomphus parallelogramma albardae
Megalogomphus sumatranus
Paragomphus capricornis

Acisoma panorpoides
Aethriamanta gracilis
Brachydiplax chalybea chalybea 
Brachydiplax farinosa
Brachythemis contaminata
Cratilla lineata calverti
Cratilla metallica
Crocothemis servilia servilia
Diplacodes trivialis 
Lathrecista asiatica asiatica
Lyriothemis biappendiculata
Lyriothemis cleis 
Neurothemis fluctuans
Onychothemis culminicola
Onychothemis testacea testacea
Orthetrum chrysis
Orthetrum glaucum
Orthetrum luzonicum
Orthetrum sabina sabina
Orthetrum testacea testacea
Pantala flavescens
Rhyothemis triangularis
Rhyothemis variegata variegata
Tetrathemis platyptera
Tholymis tillarga
Trithemis aurora
Trithemis festiva
Tyriobapta torrida
Zygonyx ida
Zygonyx iris malayana

57 species were recorded, which isn't bad considering I was doing this alone and it is April... I expect there to be many, many more goodies to be found. Watch this space!

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