Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sarawak: A Trail Near the Border

April 9, 2013, was the last full day of our post-CITES sojourn in Sarawak.  I spent most of it exploring a trail leading into the bush from a kampong near the Indonesian border south of Kuching, in the company of Hans Breuer and two visiting friends.  

Hans, of course, is a snake man, but the highlights on the trail (other than some magnificent trees and a fine stand of bamboo) proved to be not reptiles, but insects.

The plant life, of course, was interesting too, even if I couldn't identify much of it.  The cauliflorous (stem-growing) fruits are presumably some sort of fig.

Grey Pansy (Junonia atlites)
The trail proved particularly good for butterflies.  There were, of course, some everyday species, like the Grey Pansy  (Junonia atlites)…

Eliot's Bush Brown (Mycalesis patiana)
…or species I had seen before, including this little Mycalesis, which I believe to be Eliot's Bush Brown (Mycalesis patiana), though with this confusing genus I could easily be wrong.

Eliot's Bush Brown (Mycalesis patiana)
Eliot's Bush Brown (Mycalesis patiana)
Its underside is considerably more attractive than its upperside!

Red Harlequin (Paralaxita telesia)
A number of the butterflies were, nevertheless, novelties, at least to me.  One of them was this bright little creature, a Red Harlequin (Paralaxita telesia) - one of the comparatively few members of the largely neotropical metalmark family (Riodinidae) in Southeast Asia.

Dark Jungle Glory (Thaumantis noureddin)
Dark Jungle Glory (Thaumantis noureddin)
It took me a very long time to work out the identity of this striking butterfly.  It is, I now believe, a Dark Jungle Glory (Thaumantis noureddin). According to IUCN this butterfly is common in secondary forest, particularly near bamboo, so it should be no surprise that I found it here. It is a Sundaland specialty, restricted to Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, Sumatra and Borneo.

Sometimes the butterflies came looking for us. A sweat-impregnated backpack, presumably loaded with mineral salts, became an irresistible draw for these two. 

Cruiser (Vindula dejone)
One of our visitors was a Malay Cruiser (Vindula dejone), a common butterfly I have seen many times before. 

Wavy Maplet ( Chersonesia rahira)
Wavy Maplet ( Chersonesia rahira)
I was much less familiar with the other, a Wavy Maplet ( Chersonesia rahira). 

Malayan Oakleaf (Kallima limborgii)
I was bringing up the rear as we headed down the trail, and was the only one to see this Malayan Oakleaf (Kallima limborgii) flutter across the trail, land on the trunk in its usual head-down posture and immediately transform itself into a nearly perfect copy if a dead, decaying leaf. I called my companions back for a look, and they were duly impressed with my spotting ability!  In truth these butterflies, probably the most perfect dead-leaf mimics in the world, are almost impossible to find unless you see them fly. 

Argiope amoena
This fine orb-weaver, presumably Argiope amoena, can serve as a nice intermission piece as we segue from butterflies to dragonflies. 

Unfortunately, I can't tell you what this dragonfly is. I suspect that it is an older female Orthetrumprobably Orthetrum glaucum as it seems to be acquiring a bit of blue pruinosity on the thorax, but this is where I have to yield the floor to the real dragonfly experts (should any of them be reading this). It's frayed and battered wings would seem to suggest that it is near the end of its life. 

Tyriobapta torrida
Tyriobapta torrida
I'm on much firmer ground here. You can't mistake the distinctive male of Tyriobapta torrida, the "Treehugger", for much. 

Heliocypha biseriata
Heliocypha biseriata
At the bottom of the trail we reached a shallow stream, complete with a few damselflies. This one is Heliocypha biseriata (barring any taxonomic revisions, long overdue according to Rory Dow, of Heliocypha damselflies from Sarawak). 

Heliocypha biseriata
Heliocypha and its relatives are known as "jewels", and it's not difficult to see why. 

Podolestes orientalis
I first took this damselfly for one of the Lestidae, or spreadwings (based on its open-winged posture as much as anything else), and got rather excited about it because his family is very little-known in Sarawak. However, when I sent the photo to Rory Dow, he identified it as Podolestes orientalis.  

Podolestes orientalis
This damselfly was once included (with a good many others) as a member of a different but related family, the Megapodagrionidae or flatwings, but a recent molecular study has shown that the Megapodagrionidae consists of several groups that are not, in fact, closely related to each other. Podolestes is now included in a large new family, the Argiolestidae, some distance removed from the "true" flatwings (now containing only three genera from South America) and, indeed, the spreadwings.  P. orientalis is known to favour muddy forest streams (a pretty good description of where I found this one), and is another Sundaland endemic confined to Sumatra, Borneo, the Malay Peninsula and, locally, Singapore. 

Our walk, pleasant as it was, had an unforeseen consequence.  As we worked our way back uphill along the trail to the car, I found myself overcome by the heat and had to lie down for a few minutes.  Unfortunately, I picked the wrong spot - something I didn't learn until I had suffered over three months of truly miserable gastrointestinal problems.  It seems that I had chosen a patch of soil inhabited by a colony of larval hookworms, and the wretched little things decided I was just the host I had been waiting for.  Moral: don't do what I did.

Fortunately, I didn't know what I was in for, and proceeded to enjoy the rest of the day - including a stop at a popular rock-climbing cliff near Bau on our way back to Kuching.

Here, unaware of my unwelcome guests, I enjoyed the sight of pitcher plants scrambling over the rocks above us. They were, I think, Nepenthes gracilis and not the rare N. northiana, which is endemic to the limestone cliffs here but has much larger and more spectacular pitchers.  

I had no suspicion of anything until the next day, when I developed an uncomfortable rash on my back (as I know now, that was the larvae burrowing into my skin and heading for my gut).  The real force of their presence didn't hit me until I got back to Canada a couple of weeks later - leaving me, fortunately, free to enjoy our vacation stop on the way home: ten days on the island of Taiwan, a place Eileen and I had never visited.  I'll tell you all about it in my next posts.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Sarawak: Sama Jaya, Etcetera

My return to Sarawak after the Bangkok CITES meeting in March 2013 was, unfortunately, a rather brief one. It gave me little chance to get out into the field, though I did manage a few brief trips.  This entry, therefore, is a bit of a miscellany - but one mostly devoted to one of my favorite activities: taking my grandson Ryan for a nature walk in the Sama Jaya Park in Kuching.

Exploring nature with Ryan is fun for both of us - I often say to people that the reason Ryan and I get on so well is because we are the same age.  And I can't think of a better way to bond with a child.

As I have said (in earlier posts on similar subjects), though all children love nature, the things that catch the eye of a small boy are not necessarily the ones that would excite every adult.  It takes a small boy (or someone like me, I suppose) to pause to admire a skink (though it would take an experienced herpetologist to identify this one - probably a Mabuya of some sort).

Green Paddy Frog (Hylarana erythraea)
Green Paddy Frog (Hylarana erythraea)
Green Paddy Frog (Hylarana erythraea)
Frogs are also pretty sure-fire points of interest for small boys, even if they are members of a very common species like this Green Paddy Frog (Hylarana erythraea).

Long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis)
Long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis)
Ryan always enjoys running into Sama Jaya's resident troupe of Long-tailed Macaques (Macaca fascicularis) and their babies.

Anything in the creepy-crawly category (a term I abhor, mind you, but here I am using it) is also worthy of attention.  These bright yellow assassin bugs (Cosmolestes sp.) are a common sight.

This is the sort of caterpillar it is wise to admire, but not to touch (as I can confirm from painful personal experience).

Banded Swallowtail (Papilio demoleon)
Butterflies are less fascinating for small boys, but I like them.  Notice the ballerina-like stance of this Banded Swallowtail (Papilio demolion).

Banded Swallowtail (Papilio demoleon)
Obviously this butterfly can not only pose like a ballerina, it can leap like one.  Oh, well, at least you get to see (most of) its underside this way.

Brown Pansy (Junonia hedonia)
More Sama Jaya butterflies: a Brown Pansy (Junonia hedonia)...

Malay Lacewing (Cethosia hypsea)
…a Malay Lacewing (Cethosia hypsea)...

Branded Imperial (Eooxylides tharis
Branded Imperial (Eooxylides tharis
...and a Branded Imperial (Eooxylides tharis), a species that I always find exciting to see even though it is much commoner than any butterfly as exotic as this has any right to be.  Notice that this one is missing one of its tails.

Agrionoptera insignis
Agrionoptera insignis
Agrionoptera insignis
Ryan has learned to be particularly tolerant of my fascination with dragonflies.  This was the first time I had found Agrionoptera insignis, a particularly handsome species, in Malaysia, despite repeated trips to Sama Jaya (I had come across the species before in Australia, where it is known as the Red Swampdragon; Singaporeans call it the Grenadier).

Agrionoptera insignis
There  were, in fact, quite a few of them about.  This is a female, with a thicker, duller abdomen and more pronounced yellow striping on the thorax.

Sama Jaya, in fact, has all sorts of small-scale delights, whether they are of interest to small boys or not. Take this exquisite little epiphyte, for example.  I haven't the faintest idea what it is, mind you: can anyone help?

Asian Fairy Bluebird (Irena puella)
Aside from our stroll through Sama Jaya, I did have a few other chances to get out in the field during our brief stay.  A morning walk behind the Permai Resort, led by Hans Breuer, turned up a male Asian Fairy Bluebird (Irena puella)...

Prevost's Squirrel (Callosciurus prevostii)
…and, to accompany such a colourful bird, the most colourful of Sarawak's mammals: a Prevost's Squirrel (Callosciurus prevostii).

Neurothemis terminata
A visit to Chupak with Vincent Wong turned up a number of common dragonflies, including this female Neurothemis terminata…

Orthetrum testaceum
… a bright red male Orthetrum testaceum...


Orthetrum sabina
Orthetrum sabina
…and any number of Orthetrum sabina.

Orthetrum sabina
Here's a pair of Orthetrum sabina "in wheel".

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
Of course, on a birding trip one sees birds: in this case, a Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)...

Oriental Pratincole (Glareola maldivarum)
Oriental Pratincole (Glareola maldivarum)
Oriental Pratincole (Glareola maldivarum)
.. and an Oriental Pratincole (Glareola maldivarum) that appears to have a parasite of some sort - a tick, perhaps? - attached to its throat.

Zyxomma obtusum
Zyxomma obtusum
Finally, just to show that in Sarawak you don't have to travel far to encounter nature, here is a dragonfly that wandered into our apartment one evening.  It took me quite a while to figure out what it was, but it turns out to be (I think!) a female of the usually-nocturnal Zyxomma obtusum.  The males of this species are highly distinctive, but the very different female (as is often the case) can be a puzzler - at least for me!