Friday, June 10, 2016

Singapore: Bishan Park

Sacred Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera)
Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park is another of the many parks in Singapore where urban wildlife watching is a particular pleasure. It is not as heavily wooded as Kent Ridge, but its 62 hectares include rather more in the way of water including a small river, the Kallang, running through it (restored from an old drainage canal) and a lotus-filled pond garden. I spend a pleasant few hours there on July 19, 2014.

Sacred Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera)Sacred Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera)
 Sacred Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) is a fascinating plant, and not just because of its religious associations (not to mention it's tasty seeds and roots). It looks like a particularly glamorous water lily (Nymphaeaceae), and for a long time that is what botanists thought it was. Molecular research, however, has revealed that its closest relatives are in fact sycamore or plane trees (Platanaceae) and the members of the fascinating Southern Hemisphere family Proteaceae.

African sharp-toothed walking catfish (Clarias gariepinus)
The restored river is home to a number of fishes, but the ones I saw were not native to Singapore. This African sharp-toothed walking catfish (Clarias gariepinus) earns its name from its ability to slither overland from one body of water to another.

Mayan cichlid (Cichlasoma urophthalmum)
Mayan cichlid (Cichlasoma urophthalmum)
The Mayan cichlid (Cichlasoma urophthalmum), as it's name implies, hails from Central America.  A visitor today might not see so many fish in th park; since my visit there have been massive fish die-offs in the river, for reasons that have yet to be determined (rising water temperatures? Pollution?  No one knows).

Golden Apple Snail eggs (Pomacea canaliculata)
Even the snails are not native. These clumps of  Golden Apple Snail eggs (Pomacea canaliculata) really ought to be decorating a bollard in Florida.

Hoverfly (possibly Graptomyza sp)
Around the lotus ponds I found stands of a flowering arum (Calla palustris?), the pungent aroma of their flowering stalks attracting crowds of  hoverflies (possibly Graptomyza sp).

Pseudagrion microcephalum
Pseudagrion microcephalum
Pseudagrion microcephalum
A park with as much flowing and standing water as Bishan is bound to attract dragonflies and damselflies (my chief reason for going there).  This is the abundant damselfly Pseudagrion microcephalum

Pseudagrion microcephalum
There are two very similar Pseudagrion damselflies in Singapore, microcephalum and the considerably rarer australasiae, the so-called Look-alike Sprite. Both are supposedly at Bishan. The males are extremely difficult to identify, but the females are quite different from each other. Mated pairs, therefore, provide a useful way to identify both sexes. These, unfortunately, are the common microcephalum. Either I never did find australasiae, or the damsels of that species just weren't in the mood that day - so I couldn't be sure of their males' identity.

Ischnura senegalensis
Ischnura senegalensis
Considerably easier to identify was Ischnura senegalensis, a common and wide-ranging member of the forktail group (as its name implies, it is also widespread in Africa).

Neurothemis fluctuans
Neurothemis fluctuans
I found a number of common dragonflies in the park, including the ubiquitous Neurothemis fluctuans...

Orthetrum sabina
... And the equally unavoidable Orthetrum sabina.

Diplacodes trivialisDiplacodes trivialis
Here is an attractively pruinose male Diplacodes trivialis...

Brachydiplax chalybea
...the commonest of the blue dragonflies, Brachydiplax chalybea...

Crocothemis servilia
Crocothemis servilia
...and, for contrast, a brilliant red male Crocothemis servilia.

Crocothemis servilia
The female Crocothemis is considerably subtler than the male.

Trithemis aurora
Trithemis aurora
These females gave me some pause, but they are, it appears, Trithemis aurora, whose males are far more spectacular....

Trithemis aurora
Trithemis aurora
....as this day-glo pink individual amply demonstrates.

Trithemis aurora
Trithemis aurora
This male appeared to have developed a fascination for a clump of apple snail eggs, to which he kept returning. I have no idea what the attraction was, because I don't believe dragonflies, which are active airborne predators, are properly equipped to eat such things.

Scaly-breasted Munia (Lonchura punctulata)
Besides the dragonflies, the pondside vegetation attracted a numbers of estrildid finches on the hunt for grass seeds.  They included a common native species, the Scaly-breasted Munia (Lonchura punctulata).

White-bellied Munia (Lonchura leucogastra)
Javan or White-bellied Munia (Lonchura leucogastroides or L. leucogastra)
More interesting to me were a number of puzzling birds that were either Javan Munias (Lonchura leucogastroides), an introduced species now much less common in Singapore than it was in the last century, or White-bellied Munias (Lonchura leucogastra), a species formerly unknown in Singapore that has apparently colonized the island from further north in Malaysia (with or without the help of escaped cage birds) in recent decades. 

Javan or White-bellied Munia (Lonchura leucogastroides or L. leucogastra)
Javan or White-bellied Munia (Lonchura leucogastroides or L. leucogastra)
The problem is that the guidebooks seem to differ on what the field marks of these two species actually are, and these birds appear to show characteristics of both: the more extensive white belly and plain back (without white shaft-streaks) of the Javan, and the barred or mottled flanks (as opposed to clean white) of the White-bellied.  Is it possible that these two birds, both outside their original ranges in Singapore, are hybridizing there?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Singapore: Kent Ridge Park

Kent Ridge Park is a 47-hectare patch of woodland just over the hill from the National University Hospital in Singapore, where my grandson Royce began treatment for his neuroblastoma. On July 13, 2014, our cousins Chris, Susan and Cynthia read in Robin Ngiam's book Dragonflies of Our Parks and Gardens that Kent Ridge featured two large ponds and was an excellent spot for dragonflies - 33 species of odonate have been recorded there.  They decided to sweep me off from the hospital for a Sunday afternoon restorative among the insects.  Eileen and Fiona, Royce's mother (here with Royce, that afternoon) held the fort at his bedside.

Common Five Ring (Ypthima baldus newboldi)
As with all their efforts to provide me weekend breaks from the combination of tension and drudgery at the hospital, I appreciated their kindness more than I can say and gratefully accepted.  To get to the ponds we walked down a paved pathway through a most attractive patch of urban forestHere I found a few butterflies, including this Common Five Ring (Ypthima baldus newboldi) - and if you are as confused as I trying to tell Singapore's various Ypthima species, here is a handy and most useful guide,

Chocolate Pansy (Junonia hedonia ida)
This is another familar Singapore butterfly, the Brown or Chocolate Pansy (Junonia hedonia ida).  Confusingly, these names are also applied to another local butterfly, Junonia iphita, which should more correctly be called the Chocolate Soldier.  This is the one with eyespots.

Common Tailorbird (Orthotomus sutorius)
A Common Tailorbird ( Orthotomus sutorius) - a common species here, but one I don 't often see, as for some reason it is absent from Borneo - scolded us from the undergrowth as we passed.  This, for Jungle Book fans, is the scolding tailorbird of Kipling's Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.

Laced Woodpecker (Picus vittatus)Laced Woodpecker (Picus vittatus)
Laced Woodpecker (Picus vittatus)
On our way through the park we spotted a pair of highly cooperative Laced Woodpeckers (Picus vittatus), the only "green" woodpecker resident in Singapore.

Laced Woodpecker (Picus vittatus)
When the pair pose together, it is easy to see the difference between the red-crowned male and his more sombre mate.

Plantain Squirrel (Callosciurus notatus)
A Plantain Squirrel (Callosciurus notatus) eyed us as we continued down to the ponds.

Crocothemis servilia
We finally reached the larger of the two ponds, but it took a bit of walking to reach the one part that gave direct access to its edge.   Here, though, I found enough odonate action among the sedges and other water plants to keep me occupied for some time. 

Crocothemis servilia
Crocothemis servilia
Crocothemis servilia
I only found three species of dragonfly, and one of them - the late-afternoon specialist Thylomis tillarga - defeated all my attempts to photograph it. Two individuals repeatedly coursed back and forth along the shore, frequently challenging each other or chasing other dragonflies, but refused to either perch or hover for more than a couple of seconds. I had far better luck with the other two, and in particular with the spectacular Crocothemis servilia, the Scarlet Percher (known as the Scarlet Skimmer in North America, where it has been introduced). Perch it did, and frequently enough to keep any photographic duffer happy.

Crocothemis servilia
This individual is carrying an unwanted passenger - that spiky brown lump on the top of its thorax is apparently a parasite of some sort.

Brachydiplax chalybea
Brachydiplax chalybea
Less startling, but equally photogenic, was the widespread Brachydiplax chalybea. The two seemed to be the only dragonfly species around in any numbers, apart from the two patrolling Tholymis...

Neurothemis sp.
...and the odd Neurothemis fluctuans, surely the most ubiquitous dragonfly in Singapore. 

White-crested Laughingthrush (Garrulax leucolophus)
White-crested Laughingthrush (Garrulax leucolophus)
I was busy trying to photograph dragonflies when Chris excitedly called my attention to a "beautiful bird". I wasn't sure what to expect - but I certainly got a surprise. 

White-crested Laughingthrush (Garrulax leucolophus)
It was, of all things, a White-crested Laughingthrush (Garrulax leucolophus) - a bird that, by rights, should have been no closer to Singapore than northern Myanmar. I had totally forgotten that this popular cage bird, first recorded here around 1995, was now an established exotic.  Singapore has, in fact, rather more than its share of exotics, as might be expected from a heavily populated island state that was once (and to a lesser extent still is) a major hub for the international wildlife trade. 

White-crested Laughingthrush (Garrulax leucolophus)
We soon found a family group of laughingthrushes, hopping around with excited cries practically at our feet.  They had found something far more worthy if their attention than mere humans - a substantial and ferocious-looking centipede, obviously a delicacy to be pursued with some care. The troupe seemed to treat it as the laughingthrush equivalent of a hot potato. 

White-crested Laughingthrush (Garrulax leucolophus)
One of the birds repeatedly tried to attack it, noisily encouraged by his troupe-mates. 

White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus)
White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus)
The fuss over the centipede attracted a White-breasted Waterhen  (Amaurornis phoenicurus), obviously intrigued by the racket...

Plantain Squirrel (Callosciurus notatus)
...and an equally-interested Plantain Squirrel. 

White-crested Laughingthrush (Garrulax leucolophus)
After repeatedly picking it up, dropping it and tossing it about, one of the laughingthrushes finally flew off into the undergrowth with the centipede clutched in its bill, rapidly pursued by the others. The show over, it was time to get back to the pond. 

Pseudagrion microcephalum
Here we turned our attention from dragonflies to damselflies. I had already noticed males and females of a common species, Pseudagrion microcephalum, perching on sedges at the water's edge...

Pseudagrion microcephalum
...or cruising over the open surface of the pond. 

Pseudagrion microcephalum
Pairs were busy mating, males using their wings to keep balance as they clung by their claspers to a chosen female. 

Pseudagrion microcephalum
Pseudagrion microcephalum
Pseudagrion microcephalum
I watched one pair laying eggs, a process that involved the male apparently forcing the female almost completely beneath the water's surface (or was she submerging of her own accord, dragging the male down with her?). 

Agriocnemis femina (Variable Wisp)
Chris, Susan and Cynthia joined in the damselfly hunt. They soon proved that they had much sharper eyes than I did. They saw - but I had completely missed - that the grasses just back from the water's edge were full of tiny damselflies, far smaller than the almost robust Pseudagrions I had been watching. There seemed to be three types: an almost black dragonfly dusted with pruinose white on the thorax...

Agriocnemis femina (Variable Wisp)
Agriocnemis femina (Variable Wisp)
...a mostly red form...

Agriocnemis femina (Variable Wisp)
...and one with blue stripes and markings on the head and thorax and orange at the tip of the abdomen. They were, however, all members of the same species: Agriocnemis femina, known (not unreasonably) in Singapore as the Variable Wisp - the adult male, adult female and immature male, respectively.

Agriocnemis femina (Variable Wisp)
Agriocnemis femina (Variable Wisp)
The adult male, like the Crocothemis we saw earlier, carried an unwanted passenger: a tiny fly or wasp perched on its thorax.

Ceriagrion cerinorubellum
Ceriagrion cerinorubellum
This damselfly puzzled me a little, but it is almost certainly a female or young male Ceriagrion cerinorubellum - duller than the adult male, and without the brilliant turquoise head and thorax, but handsome all the same.  Given its propensity for voraciously devouring other damselflies, I was surprised to find that it was not the only species left in the area.

Other insects that I was able to photograph included this grasshopper nymph...

...this peculiar insect, which is either some sort of very odd wasp or (perhaps more likely) some other sort of insect imitating a wasp...

Tachinid fly
...and this tachinid fly (Tachinidae), sporting what appears to be a punk hairdo but which is probably another parasite.

Red-eared Slider (Pseudemys scripta elegans)
Red-eared Slider (Pseudemys scripta elegans)
In addition to dragonflies and damselflies, both ponds held seemingly large populations of turtles - but every one I saw was a Red-eared Slider (Pseudemys scripta elegans), the North American exotic that is now almost the only turtle one sees here.

Trithemis aurora
Trithemis aurora
I went back to Kent Ridge a week later. On my walk down to the park from the National University Hospital, I came across a dragonfly that I failed to identify at the time but which appears to be a female Trithemis aurora, well away from the waters' edge habitat where I usually find males.

Tholymis tillarga
Tholymis tillarga
Tholymis tillarga
Once I reached the ponds, I  finally managed to get a few recognizable (if not actually wonderful) photos of Tholymis tillarga, still resolutely patrolling the same patch of shoreline shortly before dusk. 

Cuora amboinensis
Cuora amboinensis
I also found this Southeast Asian Box Turtle (Cuora amboinensis) huddling in a drainage canal by the small pond. An actual native species - what a relief to find a turtle here that was not a Red-eared Slider!