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) Archabasis 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 Archbasis 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... Archbasis 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!

194. Coeliccia nigrescens Laidlaw, 1931

Number: 194  
Family: Platycnemidiae
Genus: Coeliccia
Species: Coeliccia nigrescens 
Common name(s): N/A  
Synonyms: N/A    
Habitat: Upland Forested ditch   
Province(s) sighted: Khao Yao National Park (Nakhon Nayok) 
Sightings (by me): Rare (2-3 males, 1 female) 
In flight (that I have seen): May   
Species easily confused with: Coeliccia didyma didyma; Coeliccia didyma didyma

So, one trip in yielded nothing (Pala-U w/f). The next trip to Khao Yai and into Nakhon Nayok, did produce... thanks to November Rain Rain (Facebook name). Thanks to her kindness, I managed to find the rather elusive Coeliccia nigrescens. It is a species that has already been recorded at Nakhon Nayok and, as far as I am aware, one location in the south. However, I found it where I didn't expect it to be... along the edge of the road under the cover of tree cover and darkness. It seemed to be at home in the overflow bit that runs along side the road, but only in one short section. It was reported to be along a path and was commonly seen, both males and females. Unfortunately, I was greeted by torrential rain and seriously poor conditions. The path -- which I found -- was almost devoid of the species... I got a fleeting glimpse of a solitary male that retreated hastily back into the gloom. Fortunately, there were 2-3 males, plus a solitary female under heavy cover. However, with the horrible rain and gloom, photography was really tough. I managed to get some OK shots of the male and a record shot of the female, which will have to do for now. However, I know where it is now and will return in better weather for sure. It is very much like a Coeliccia sp. and has many of the same traits... the annoying speed at which it can retreat when you finally managed to spot one in the gloom and the way they hand from the tips of leaves. It is also incredibly like C. didyma but can be separated by the white appendages and doesn't have a blue patch on segments 9-10. Also, the markings on the thorax are slightly different. 
So, until I return, these photos will have to do.

The male
Very much like C. didyma but can be separated by the end of the abdomen.

The female
A record shot for now and really tough to separate from other females in the genus... thankfully males were around.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

I'm Back (Sort of)

Location: Khao Yai National Park, Nakhon Nayok
Date: Wednesday, 10th May 2017
Habitat: Mid- to upland forested ponds/seepage

Just when you thought you had finally got rid of me forever, I am back for good... though not really just yet.
Due to work commitments eating up all my time and a million other things going on in my life, I have had zero opportunity to get out there and hunt and we're already slap bang in the middle of the key part of the season. That said, I did manage to get out a couple of times back in May during a two-location trip to Hua Hin and Khao Yai with my wife, Beau, and were completely contrasting places. Pala-U Waterfall was again my destination in Hua Hin and it was - again - a write-off. My car battery died near the bridge at the entrance and I wasted half a day getting it going again (thanks, old man with a beaten up pick-up truck who had jump leads) and then having to buy a new battery. Then it was a day of ridiculously scorching heat and it seemed as though the dragons had retreated deep under cover. I saw glimpses of a few species, but nothing to write home about (or blog about anyway). I may post a blog on it, but not sure if it is worth it. Towards the end of the trip, we ventured north and stopped off at Khai Yai for a few days (Nakhon Ratchasima entrance). I managed to sneak out for a day here too. However, unlike Hua Hin, is was basically pouring down all day. I managed to sneak in a couple of hours here and there... and I forgot how good the place was. That said, I couldn't locate the natural pond I visited last time I went back in 2011 where I saw a number of new species for my records and really wanted to find it again. However, it wasn't to be. In any case, I was put onto a new species for me deeper into the park, just inside Nakhon Nayok. A fellow dragon hunter known as November Rain Rain in the Dragonflies of Thailand group on Facebook was kind enough to let me in on her find. So, half knowing where the place was but still unsure, I set off met by a number of elephants en route. I reached the place where I thought it was (following GPS) and following a sharp incline, I made it. However, when I walked around the trail, it was nowhere to be found... nor was any water for that matter. However, unperturbed, I made my way to another area and realised that I had visited the wrong bit... it was slightly further down the hill (about 50 metres) as she described... duh! However, very little water anywhere and I still could find anything. I found a little bit of scrub where a number of cars parked and eventually I dropped on a tiny blue damsel... I knew exactly what it was as I seem to spot them wherever I go: Indolestes sp. I also knew that November had spotted Indolestes birmanus there too on her trip. And knew it would be that species. However, even though I had seen this rare species a couple of times at Phu Kradeung, I was really happy to see it, especially as this was the first 'blue' one I had spotted. In the area, there were very few other specimens, though I saw another male, a solitary Indothemis carnatica, male, and Ceriagrion azureum, one male, one female. There were also a few other very common species flitting around. However, it was almost devoid of water anywhere. Eventually, I searched the overflow channel that runs along the road, heavily covered by trees. There were a few tiny puddles in the gloom and I could see a Copera sp. in the distance hovering over mud. Then, in the corner of my eye I saw a more familiar shape moving...  I knew it was Coeliccia. But was it the species I came all this way to see? I took a couple of snaps and it was off. However, the shot was good enough for an ID... YES!!! It was indeed Coeliccia nigrescens, a species known from Nakhon Nayok and one location in the south (if memory serves correct). So, thanks to November, my season was up and running. However, getting decent photos was a different story. It took me an age to get anything half decent, made more difficult by the impending storm that God was whisking up right over my head. The rains came and I dashed for the car. Eventually, it abated and I went in search again. Overall, I found 3-4 males and a solitary female (though it was reported to be common only a week or so earlier). Amazing what dull rainy weather can do! Anyway, moving on I went in search of other odes, but there was nothing rare to mention. Just the usual suspects found in the forested areas at Nam Nao and Phu Kheio (for me). I did manage to spot a few OK looking areas and will return for sure (if I can ever get a break from work). This place has loads to go at and there is a lot to still be uncovered I am sure. However, I am most certainly off to Phu Khieo this Saturday and hope to find something exciting to get me going again  like this trip did.

Best photos of the day:

The rare (but even rarer) blue Indolestes birmanus, male
 New for my records (though only a record shot) Coeliccia nigrescens, male... yup, it does exist, though looks decidedly like Coeliccia didyma from a (very close) distance.
Hmmm... Yes... new species... but not... or maybe... the "blue" Aciagrion saga continues. Likely to be Aciagrion pallidum, but not sure 100%.... female, then male.

The impending rains (and seriously heavy)... time to close those spreadwings (something I see a lot) when it is cold or a storm is coming... young male Lestes praemorsus decipiens.
 A common species in forested areas but hard to find cooperative specimens... Vestalis gracilis, female
 A stunning welcome to any camera lens... Orolestes octomaculata, male (a bitch to get close to )
At a cafe outside the park during torrential rain... Gynacantha subinterrupta, female... though still a nice spot.
I also saw a few bigger living things... a beautiful Red Muntjac deer, hogging the road early in the morning.

How to control your children... it took less than 10 seconds...

... and the reason why people DON'T greet by shaking hands with their left....

Next trip: Phu Khieo this Saturday (even if it kills me).

Sunday, November 13, 2016

193. Amphithemis curvistyla Selys, 1891

Number: 193  
Family: Libellulidae
Genus: Amphithemis
Species: Amphithemis curvistyla 
Common name(s): N/A  
Synonyms: N/A    
Habitat: Upland Forested pond   
Province(s) sighted: Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary (Chaiyaphum) 
Sightings (by me): Rare (1 male) 
In flight (that I have seen): Mid November    
Species easily confused with: -

Well, after a number of years of searching but having little knowledge of the species, I finally clapped eyes on it: Amphithemis curvistyla - a seemingly rare species indeed. I had searched every marshy area, pool and puddle, been ripped to shreds and bitten to death, but didn't find it at Phu Khieo where it had once been reported. Obviously a rare species full stop, but even rarer here. Finally, whilst looking at a more standard deep banked pond where I have spotted a few goodies previously, there he was - almost out of reach battling in the air with many T. aurora and not doing what it says on the tin. Though the pond has a boggy area to one side, it is deep and has seriously deep banking covered in thick, thorny foliage. I would never have thought that I would see it there. But, there he was, bold as brass. Sadly, even armed with a 400 mm lens, I only managed a record shot (heavily cropped) as it was just too far out of reach. I returned to the scene of the crime several times and was torn to shreds searching around the horrible banking, but I didn't see him or any of his friends again. Still, I know it is there now and will return next year (or go to Phu Kradueng where I believe it may be a little more commonly seen). Still, it was worth all the effort - he really is a beautiful thing.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Matter of lifers and near death... at Phu Khieo WS

Location: Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary, Chaiyaphum
Date: Saturday, 12th November, 2016
Habitat: Mid- to upland forested ponds

Well, last week's trip to Phu Phan NP in search of the elusive Amphithemis curvistyla failed me (it had been reported there a week earlier). I was about to give up the ghost on that species for another year, until my weekend plans changed and my wife, Beau, was going out for the day with friends. I knew A. curvistyla had been reported from Phu Khieo WS, but in two years have never seen it. Anyway, I thought I would sign the 'proper' part of the season off with a final flurry at my favourite place. I arrived at about 6.15. a.m. and stopped at the usual pools by the roadside on the way up. However, I soon noticed that there was still a hell of a lot of water around. In fact, there was much more than during the rainy season itself. Places were still flooded, the river was chocolate brown and steaming through and all the permanent pools/ponds were heavily swollen. As a result, there were several species still around that I was surprised to see at this time of year. Other than the usual suspects on the lower reaches, there was nothing to report. I then reached the two large ponds just above the river and thought I would have another look for Paracercion (calamorum) dyeri which I had seen there once before. It seemed as though it wasn't there, but I finally spotted a male warming up in the early morning sun. I was also surprised to see so many Amphiallagma parvum there too. A good year for them I think. I also spotted a male Mortonagrion aborense deep under cover. Pseudagrion australasiae was also abundant throughout the park. Moving on up, everywhere had quietened down, even though the water levels were still extremely high. It had a slightly eerie feeling. Lots of water but little activity. However, even at the quietest of ponds, Lestes concinnus punctuated the silence moving from one dying brown stem to the next. There were hundreds of them everywhere. There were small numbers of Lestes elatus and Lestes praemorsus decipiens breaking up the brown masses of L. concinnus and I managed to spot a solitary Orolestes octomaculata, so they are still around - just. However, I am pretty sure that it is around all year in NE Thailand. I was surprised to clap eyes on a solitary teneral male Platylestes platystylus at the heavily flooded marshland at the top. Indolestes anomalus, too, was present though in lower numbers. The highlights of the day, however, came in the shape of two species: one being the beautiful Agrionoptera insignis insignis - a species I love but rarely see (first time I have seen a male there) - and the second was the species I went there to try and find. After hour upon hour of wading through treacle-like marshy areas, ponds and puddles, ripped to death by bushes that don't want me there, and bitten by everything and anything that wanted lunch... I saw him, a male Amphithemis curvistyla - a rare species that was seemingly happy doing battle with T. aurora at a pond I would never have imagined looking for it. Annoyingly, it was a good distance away and I managed a half-decent record shot of it using a 400 mm lens, heavily cropped. Still, I know it is there now and will search for it again next year (it is right at the end of its flight season now). And after all my ramblings, on to the pictures. Be sure to watch my video at the bottom... I was a little scared to say the least!

Best pictures of the day:

The beautiful Agrionoptera insignis insignis, though the dull, boggy areas he likes aren't ... fortunately, the sun came out for a moment.

A nice, but all too uncommon, species... Paracercion (calamorum) dyeri
Another tiny species. Used to be uncommon for me to see it, but abundant this year... Amphiallagma parvum, male doing his morning stretches
A species that certainly isn't abundant at PK... Mortonagrion aborense
Certainly common, but not easy to approach... the old-first-thing-in-the-morning trick worked this time - Pseudagrion australasiae, male

The sun was just warming the place up, but some of us were still fast asleep. Lestes elatus, male

A surprise sighting at this time of year. I wonder if it is around all year? Platylestes platystylus, a very uncommon species.
Incredibly abundant this year - every open area there were lots of specimens... Lestes concinnus 

Another rare sighting is this female (only my second, but males are always observed flitting around over ponds) and managed to carefully catch her ... Tramea transmarina euryale

 Now resting upon release (she flew high into the treetops soon after)
... and the worst photo of all, but one that made me the happiest... the elusive, the beautiful, the dashing, and the equally annoying Amphithemis curvistyla... only a record shot for now, but you WILL be mine next year.

Even non dragon things of interest popped up yesterday. 
The endangered Elongated tortoise, beautiful in every way ... though I had to stop cars in order to help him cross the road safely.
 ... being annoyed by pesky mosquitoes
Probably my favoute photo I have taken in a long time... no idea why, just everything seems right. I love the way he is clinging on to the top of the stem under his chin. I wonder what he is thinking as he looks up to the burst of light?
... and right at the death, it almost was death... for me. I stopped the car with the windows down to get a sandwich and quickly looked my right as I heard something massive crashing towards me at breakneck speed. I winced as it was about to hit the car... or did it? Watch the vid. I was scared to death...