Tuesday, June 4, 2019

A Trip to Phu Phan National Park

Location: Phu Phan National Park (Kalasin & Sakon Nakhon)
Date: 01 June 2019
Habitat: Forested Streams/Pond

Another trip out last Saturday didn't yield any new species for my records but I did pick up a few interesting species and grab a few decent shots. Phu Phan is a fairly small national park which is based primarily in Sakon Nakhon but also sneaks into Kalasin. It boasts some almost pristine forest but is incredibly difficult to stop anywhere as it is simply one windy and dangerous road that cuts right through it. There are very few places to stop and, in all honesty, most of the drivers on this rather busy road drive like maniacs. Though it is a dangerous place to drive, if you take it slowly, there are a few points of interest. There is a waterfall with an exposed river and a tiny stream (which virtually dries up). There is also a pond that has thrown up a few goodies in the past. However, I am now becoming increasingly interested in the areas on the other side of the national park and much further into Sakon Nakhon (which I will be attempting this weekend). However, it will become a 3-hour trip and so I will have to set off even earlier.
Back onto this trip and it started off fairly quietly and seemed to pick up pace as the day went on. I started at the car park of a waterfall which is just inside Kalasin. I was informed by Yingsak Paweempermsuk that there was a miracle pond and a little overflow area at the car park. Well, he was right... there was! However, I am unsure as to why it is known as a "miracle" pond (though the sign says otherwise). It is basically a small manmade concrete area that holds water from the overflow/stream. That said, the tiny stream itself (though was virtually dry in many areas) looked decent. I walked a few hundred metres along it (at around 8.00am) and it was devoid of life. It did spook a medium-sized dragonfly which I have no idea what it was and that was about it. On the way back along the trail, the sun decided to awaken and I instantly noticed two male Orthetrum chrysis battling it out for the best position on a stick. I then noticed a female Vestalis gracilis gracilis hop from one leaf to another in the gloom. Though both are very common species, my levels of confidence increased. More of the two species began to appear as the sun increased in intensity and a lovely male Tetrathemis platypera also decided to see what was going down at the stream. Attempting (very badly) to get a decent photo of it, I noticed a fairly large damsel hover above a frond before dashing higher up and out of sight. I was pretty sure it was a Coeliccia species but it was too quick to assess. Further along, I spotted another. This time I got to see what it was: Coeliccia nigrescens. I had already seen this species a few kilometres further up the road but in total gloom and photography was incredibly difficult (see here). It was great to see again and now getting a great shot would be easy, right? Wrong. Though I eventually saw 6-7 males (and a copula caught in a web high up), they were incredibly skittish. Shot after shot, I tried but each time the breeze picked up or the damsel moved, often flying straight into the gloom. Eventually, after much work and a million billion mosquito bites, one specimen seemed a little happier to let me snap away (though I was literally sat in the stream, hiding as best I could behind a rock). From there, I managed to get in a few shots of other species and moved on. This time, I decided not to hit the river/waterfall as I wanted to seek new areas. I first visited a pond I had been to before at the Phu Phan Protection Unit. Though it was low in terms of different species, Camacinia gigantea was everywhere. In fact, I would estimate that there were well over 100 specimens almost in constant flight, battling it out with each other for prime position. The pond is fairly small and is currently 95% covered in reeds. However, there were a few small holes where the water's surface was exposed. In awe of the number of specimens on the wing (you usually only see one or two males perched--if you are lucky!), I decided to sit and watch them for a while. Last year, there were 20-30 on the wing, but many of these would also perch, so not many would be in the air. Many seemed to be waiting for the females to arrive. As soon as one did, all hell broke loose over the tiny opening in the pond. I even managed to get some decent photos of the mayhem (see below). It was an amazing spectacle to behold and one I will remember for some time. That said, it is new species that I am after, so I eventually--and somewhat begrudgingly--moved on. But where was I to go? There was a large pond/lake further along but it only had common species the last time I visited. I looked on Google Maps and decided to head further long (just outside the park) to a stream. It could have been amazing... or a waste of time. As I approached, there were roadworks everywhere and I almost gave up the ghost. However, I decided to look anyway as I was almost there. I managed to park the car on the bridge over the stream and looked down using my bins. Nothing. A shallow sandy stream. Probably polluted. Then, a gomphid whizzed from one side to the other and land on a stick over the stream. I took one look at it and knew straight away that it was a Macrogomphus species. Yes! I almost fell over myself getting down. Even then, halfway down to the stream I saw another male. I fired off a few shots and could now give it a positive ID: Macrogomphus matsukii. It is a species that I bumped into once before at my school in Khon Kaen (or, rather, it bumped into my school - see here). However, I had no idea of its habitat. I managed to spot a few more males and even saw a solitary male Paragomphus capricornis soaking up the afternoon sun on the sand. My eyes were then diverted to another specimen bombing it along the edge of the stream and being attacked by everything in sight. Once it settled, I could see straight away that it was Onychothemis testacea testacea, a brutish dragonfly that is very territorial. There were also several common species noted. I decided to walk through the stream and eventually saw a medium-sized Macromiidae species whizzing up and down a section of the stream. No chance of identifying it, so I raced back for my net. When I returned, it had vanished! Arrrgh! Walking a little further along, I then saw it resting. I managed to fire off some shots and it turned out to be Macromia cupricincta AGAIN! I saw this species the previous week at Phu Khieo WS. It seems to be a good year for this species. I searched a little more and only a few other common species were noted. However, this stream is well worth another visit and will return next Saturday. I moved on to another stream. This one, however, had been raped by man... all the banks were destroyed and fishing nets were set up everywhere. Only a few very common species were present, so I decided to give it a miss. Sadly, as I returned to the car, the heavens opened and with it, my day closed.

Best Photos of the Day:

The beautiful Macrogomphus matsukii, male -- an awesome species.
Coeliccia nigrescens, male -- very difficult to photograph well.
Macromia cupricincta, male -- seems fairly common this year.
Vestalis gracilis gracilis, male -- common but very camera shy
Lathrecista asiatica asiatica, male -- very common, but who could resist taking that photo?
Onychothemis testacea testacea, male -- ruler of the stream edges
Paragomphus capricornis, male -- supposed to be very common, but I rarely see it.

Let Battle Commence...

Here are a few shots of Camacinia gigantea on the wing.
...and in battle (over a tiny area of pond).
 ...female arrives and mayhem (you can see her just above the water)...
 ...the battle continued...
 ...and continued...
...until one male grabbed her and off they went...
Next Trip: Phu Phan National Park again!

Monday, June 3, 2019

Phu Khieo Still Sleeping...

Location: Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary, Chaiyaphum
Date: Saturday, 25 May, 2019
Habitat: Forested streams/Ponds

Though it looks like this is my first trip of the dragonfly season, it isn't. It's actually my third. However, following a ridiculous heatwave that seemed to go on for months (I think it actually did), there was very little showing. No surprise really. On the previous two occasions (one at PK and another at a fairly decent location in Khon Kaen), I didn't even get my camera out. I just walked and looked... and slowly cooked. It was just too hot. Anyway, there had been a little rain before and I was itching to try and get improvement shots of Philoganga loringae but, as always, it never showed. The main river was belting through at an almighty pace and so was avoided, as too were pretty much all the decent ponds (they were all bone dry). Therefore, my only option was to tackle the streams that had any water in them. At the first stream bridge, I noticed that there was a little water and so decided to take a look. Once at stream level, I instantly noticed a rapidly moving Macromiidae moving almost robotically over a certain area, repeating the same pattern over and over. Obviously, it was almost impossible to tell which species it was, especially as it was almost dark. Therefore, I set up my net (secretly) and managed to grab him on my first swipe. A quick look and I knew what it was: Macromia cupricincta, male--a species I saw for the first time last year in Chantaburi. Though it has actually been recorded at the park previously, it is the first time that I have encountered it at the park. So, not a new species, but one I was happy to see all the same. A few photos later, I released him and he instantly few back into the gloom. I also managed to spot two new species for the park, in the shape of Prodasineura auricolor and Prodasineura sp. [nec. verticalis]. They are only record shots (as I already have decent photos) but it goes to show that there is still plenty to be found. I am not surprised to find P. auricolor as it is commonly found on the other side of the mountain at Nam Nao. However, it is the first time that I have found P. sp. [nec. verticalis] in this range. However, that was the end of my success for the day. Other than spotting numerous Rhinagrion viridatum along all the streams and grabbing some decent photos of the not-often-seen female Rhyothemis plutonia, the place was seriously quiet. Therefore, I spent a bit of time getting in a few improvement shots of common species that I have neglected over the years. As it neared 2pm, the heavens opened and it became seriously heavy. To the point, I gave up the ghost and returned home, hoping that this rain will bring out the goodies next time... 

Photos of the Day
Rhyothemis plutonia, female. Unlike the male, females are seldom seen.
Macromia cupricincta, male. My second ever sighting, and a first for me at the park.
Rhinagrion viridatum, male. A very handsome species that is very common along the shaded streams this year.

Only record shots (I have good ones already) but two new additions for the park
Prodasineura auricolor, male. I saw two males for the first time here. 
Prodasineura sp. [nec. verticalis], male. A solitary male was also spotted at the same stream as the species above. 

Common Species (attempts at improvement shots)
Pseudocopera ciliata, male. The best legs in the business.
Copera marginipes, male. Always skulking around in the shade.
Trithemis aurora, male. A very camera-happy species.
Orthetrum chrysis, male. A seriously skittish species. Getting good photos is tough.

Some Other Interesting Things...
I shall NOT be moved. A large Bengal Monitor lizard soaking up the early morning sun and would not budge off the road. I had to almost pick him up (I placed my hands around the back of his front legs and then he--very slowly--moved off). Awesome creature.
The Red Spot Marquis (Euthalia recta monilis). Like the lizard, it too was soaking up the early morning rays. 
A cool snail... there were many like this.
 This amazed me... one small tree stump covered in slime mold.
Close up... tiny but awesome.

Next Trip: Phu Phan National Park
(Plus, a write up on a trip to Khao Yai late last year--had no time to do it until now).