Friday, October 26, 2018

Phuket Bound...

Location: Khao Phra Thaeo Wildlife Sanctuary, Phuket
Date: 17 October, 2018
Habitat: Lowland forested streams/waterfalls

Well, I finally got round to visiting another place in the south, though this was a flying visit on a short trip. I had researched Phuket and, in all honesty, it didn't look up to scratch in terms of nature and wildlife... and it duly delivered. The only national park looked as though it had been raped by man and just didn't seem worthwhile. Therefore, the only real place that was "green" enough was Khao Phra Thaeo Wildlife Sanctuary. However, being called a wildlife sanctuary was a very loose term. There were two waterfalls within the "sanctuary". The first one I visited was Ton Sai Waterfall (I got there early... before the attendants and sneaked in without paying). I arrived at 7.00am and, as soon as I arrived, it looked like someone's garden. It was totally manicured and most of the edges of the waterfall/stream were concreted to perfection in order to look nice and provide access -- and a deep pool for the locals to swim in. This may look good but was horrible for a dragon hunter like me or anyone who likes nature for that matter. Still, I was there and thought I may as well have a look. For the first 30 minutes or so, I didn't see any life whatsoever, though I put that down to being early. I was contemplating giving up but the desire to see something new was bubbling at the surface and being in a new location a new species was definitely possible. It seemed like my perseverance paid off. Deep under the trees and in some serious gloom, I saw Copera marginipes. At least it was the first damsel I saw. But, wait! Was it? I crept forward and, like everything else in the world, it just kept moving further and further up the slippery embankment and out of reach of my camera. Eventually, it gave up or got used to me and I closed in... one crappy shot later I knew it was something new! However, getting anything like a decent shot was almost impossible! After a lot of work, I managed to get a few decent shots (considering the conditions) and it turns out to be Drepanosicta species, which, according to Noppadon Makbun could possibly Drepanosicta khaochongensis, a species that seems quite common in the west and the south--though there is more work to be done on the genus! I even managed to get a glimpse of the female, though not for long! Following this, my confidence grew, and I climbed up the waterfall, though I saw hardly anything at all, just a few relatively common species, including Prodasineura laidlawii and Tetrathemis irregularis hyalina. Worse still, back at the bottom kids were now swimming in the pool and throwing stones at me. Great place. It was time to move on. So, good start but then nothing of note. Therefore, I decided to make the short trip to the other waterfall, Bang Pae Waterfall. As soon as I arrived, I felt more at home. There was a large lake at the entrance where I saw numerous common species as well as Pseudagrion williamsonii, which was very common there, though too deep down to get a decent photo. At the based of the stream, there was a lot of scrub and I managed to add a solitary male Echo modesta, which I have only seen for the second time. I also saw 2-3 male Coeliccia albicauda only for the second time but that was about it... though I feel there is more there. Sadly, this is when the heavens opened and put an end to an already disappointing day.

So, not the best, but at least I have one more addition to my list and I managed to pick up a few nice shots along the way. However, would I recommend visiting there? Probably not, unless you have nowhere ese to go! I would be tempted to spend the extra hour and nip over to the mainland... there is a lot more potential around there.

Best photos of the day:

Echo modesta, male... still one of my favourites (though the female annoys me now as I still haven't seen her).
 Prodasineura laidlawii, male... easily the most common species in the sanctuary
Coeliccia albicauda, male... really tough to photograph in the gloom. Pretty much nailed it with this shot, though. 
Tetrathemis irregularis hyalina, female... why do I only see the female!?!
Heliocypha biforata, female... very common everywhere but she just sat up nicely! 
And the beacon in the gloom... Drepanosicta species... Drepanosicta khaochongensis?

Next Up: My trip to Khao Yai (and another interesting species or two!)

Sunday, October 21, 2018

A Return to Nam Nao...

Location: Nam Nao National Park, Petchabun
Date: Wednesday 10th October, 2018
Habitat: Forested ponds

Well, it has been a while, but my brother and I decided to return to one of our old haunts in the shape of Nam Nao National Park. Paul was searching for birds and me dragons, though neither of us expected much in terms of finding something new. Still, armed with my new 100mm L macro lens (thanks, our Paul!), I was champing at the bit to get out there and give it a whirl. We set off at 4 am and decided to tackle the HQ first, followed by the 4 kms trail and finally the 14 kms trail. At the HQ, it was seriously quiet on my part, though not surprising as it was so early. However, there were a number of moths, cicadas and other bits trying thaw out in the early morning light. Following the HQ that doesn't seem the same nowadays since the rangers have "cleaned it up" for tourists. Still, we moved on to the 4 kms trail and were even given the key to open the gate so we could drive down which was cool and reduced the worry of massive elephants getting us. We stopped off all the way down stopping at little ponds and marshy areas. However, it was seriously quiet with only a few common species dotted around. We hit the pond at the bottom and it was soooo quiet. I managed to spot a few teneral Indolestes anomalus flitting from leaf to leaf. However, the most impressive sighting was spotting a solitary male Vestalaria smaragdina smaragdina part way back up the trail. It seemed to be lost as I am unaware of any stream close by and the altitude is around 900 a.s.l. so I was very surprised to see it there. More searching is needed there, me thinks! After a quick search we headed to the main trail that goes deep into the forest and actually into Chaiyphum to Phu Khieo on the other side (though it gets a little tricky beyond the standard 14 kms trail. I stopped at the hidden pond/trickle that is mostly hidden away by tree cover and decided to take a look. I had spotted a few good species there before but thought it was too late in the year to see anything. I saw a male Coeliccia didyma straight away. Then, after a little more searching, I saw two male Prodasineura auricolor, which I hadn't seen for a while, but that was it so we moved on. I tried to stop at as many different ponds as I could, many of which I hadn't spotted before (I sat on top of the ice box in the back and kept my eyes peeled. Sadly, most of the ponds only threw up species I see regularly. Lestes elatus, Agriocnemis approximans, and Ceriagrion azureum, to name a few. Then, I saw a small pond a bit deeper and banged on the side of the truck for my brother to stop.I worked my way over and could see that it was just a standard pond. There was a solitary Pantala flavescens patrolling the pond and a few common species hanging around. The opposite side of the pond was in the shade and looked devoid of life. However, just as I was about to leave a large dragonfly flew out of the shade and was instantly attacked by ALL the males. It quickly retreated to the same place and was able to approach it and get in a few decent photos though was hampered by the sun blasting through the bush where it was perched. It turned out to be the rather rare (for Thailand, at least) Polycanthagyna ornithocephala -- and number 24 for my personal records this season! So, a great day after all, which was improved right at the death while waiting for my brother, Paul. As I sat there, two tiny mouse deer tip-toed out from the gloom and made their way across the path... I have never seen them before and they were simply stunning! I only managed to get a terribly blurred shot so won't add one.. but hope to see them again in the future!

My best photos of the day (in no particular order):

Prodasineura auricolor, male close-up...
...and full shot.
Another close-up of another cool species in the shape of a male Ceriagrion azureum.
All that glistens isn't gold... Agriocnemis approximans, male still fast asleep early morning. 
 A young Lestes elatus, female
A solitary male Coeliccia didyma was spotted.
Introducing Vestalaria smaragdina smaragdina to Nam Nao and the entire range for that matter... including Phu Khieo on the other side!
But the highlight of my day coming the shape of Polycanthagyna ornithocephala.
I took lots of photos of other bugs early on before the dragons got going so will add just a few (and don't really know what species they are yet... any takers on ID?)

I visited Phuket recently and managed to get out for the day so will add that ASAP, but off to Khao Yai first! Watch this space!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

217. Polycanthagyna ornithocephala (McLachlan, 1896)

Number: 217
Family: Aeschnidae
Species: Polycanthagyna ornithocephala
Common name: Beak-tailed Hawker
Synonyms: Aeshna ornithocephala McLachlan, 1896
Habitat: Forested pond
Provinces sighted: Nam Nao NP (Petchabun)
Sightings: Rare (solitary male)
In flight (that I have seen): October
Species easily confused with: Polycanthagyna erythromelas

I recently visited Nam Nao NP in Petchabun for the first time in over two years. However, I have kind of done the main bits to death, as too has my brother Paul (for birds). Therefore, we decided to search a little deeper and try to find a few more areas. Though limited on where to visit at the park, there were numerous ponds and ditches along the 14 kms trail to the ranger station I hadn't visited before (I used to just drive quickly along the trail as it seemed to by dry and devoid of life all the way). Anyway, at one small pond that was part exposed to baking heat and the other part in shade, it looked like a typical pond and didn't seem to offer much. However, I suddenly noticed a large dragonfly fly out from the shaded area and into the bright sunshine where it was instantly attacked by several smaller dragonflies. Amazingly, it returned to the same shaded area and I was able to creep across the pond and get in some shots pretty easily, though I was hampered by the sun blasting through the trees making photograhpy difficult. Once I had got enough shots, I wasn't sure if it was a new species or not. It was likely to be Polycanthgyna erythromelas as I had once seen it at Phu Khieo, which is not too far away. Anyway, upon processing the photos I noticed that it had a blue head instead of green and some of the markings were slightly different, though I just put it all down to variation. Anyway, upon posting it on the Facebook dragonfly group, Noppadon Makbun thought it was actually a different species, Polycanthagyna ornithocephala, a species that had only been recorded from one location in Kanchanaburi back in 2000. Noppadon's suspicion was confirmed by Wen-Chi Yeh. So, amazingly, it turns out to be a rather rare and special species indeed! I hope to return soon and search for the female as it looks so cool!

The male
They don't come much more stunning than this. 

 Slightly nicer shot from a different angle as I could eliminate the annoying sun.

The appendages
Rather interesting appendages, I think.
Many thanks to Noppadon Makbun for correcting my initial ID and Wen-Chi Yeh for the confirmation.