Saturday, June 28, 2014

Thailand: Kaeng Krachan

The second day of our weekend at Edwin Wiek's WFFT rescue centre (March 10, 2013) was devoted to the fabled Kaeng Krachan National Park, the largest in the country, only a short drive away.

A one-day visit cannot do more than scratch the surface of this huge place, but even so it gave me enough for three posts.  The next two will be devoted to a sampling of Kaeng Krachan's fabulous butterfly fauna (around 300 species!), so lepidoptera enthusiasts (I know you're out there) will have to wait.  This entry covers everything else (plus, as a sop to the lepidopterists, one moth).

The big animals, of course, stayed out of sight, but we had a sad taste of them at the park interpretative centre: piles of Asian Elephant bones (Elephas maximus)…

…and sets of antlers of Thailand's deer.  In the middle is the saddest exhibit: the antlers of Schomburgk's Deer (Rucervus schomburgki), a species now extinct.

Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus)
Once we got out into the park proper, we did see one sign that elephants had, indeed, passed this way: a pile of dung by the side of the road, here being inspected by Ian Redmond (who is, among other things, a noted elephant conservationist).

Edwin had advertised our outing as a birding trip (a sop to me, I suspect), and here we are dutifully peering through our binoculars.  However, It seemed that the best reason for our vehicles to move on from a given spot, as the day proceeded, was that there was "nothing to see but birds".

Emerald Dove (Chalcophaps indica)
Of course, we did see a few birds all the same. Here is an Emerald Dove (Chalcophaps indica) that crossed the road in front of us late in the afternoon…

Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus)
And here is a Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus), a species that only reaches the north of the Malay Peninsula but is common in western Thailand.

Ochraceous Bulbul (Alophoixus ochraceus)
Ochraceous Bulbul (Alophoixus ochraceus)
Ochraceous Bulbul (Alophoixus ochraceus)
In a palm thicket along the road through the park, I found an Ochraceous Bulbul (Alophoixus ochraceus) attending its nest.

By and large, though, peering into the treetops produced fairly few results (at least as far as birds were concerned).

It did turn up some arboreal plants, though, including this staghorn fern (Platycerium sp.; possibly P. holtumii?).
Pseuderanthemum cf crenulatum
At ground level, I found this exotic-looking shrub - a lavender flower (Pseuderanthemum sp., possibly P. crenulatum; Acanthaceae).

I also found this mushroom (of sorts; hey, I'm even less of a mycologist than I am a botanist).
As we followed the road through the park, we crossed a number of small forest streams - good places to check for damselflies and other insects.

Water Strider (Gerridae)
Large water striders (Gerridae) skated over the surface of quieter stretches. I think this is the same species I have seen commonly in Malaysia, or at least something very much like it.

Heliocypha biforata
Among the damselflies was this brilliant little Heliocypha biforata (Chlorocyphidae). I have seen the same species in West Malaysia where, as here, it sits (usually) on dimly-lit boulders in rippling forest streams.

Euphaea ochracea
Euphaea ochracea is, I think, one of the prettiest of all damselflies. In a recent post I showed an immature, with bright yellow stripes on its thorax. This one, though, appears to be an older male, with the stripes already beginning to darken and fade.

Euphaea masoni
Euphaea masoni
Though widespread in Thailand Euphaea masoni does not reach Malaysia, so this was a new species for me - one of the more sombre members of an often-brilliant group.

Vestalis sp.
Vestalis damselflies usually sit on leaves above a stream or forest trail (well, that's where I usually find them). Identifying them to species usually requires examination in hand, so these must remain "Vestalis sp." only.

Neurothemis fluctuans
Dragonflies along our way included the ubiquitous Neurothemis fluctuans, in this case a female…

Trithemis aurora
...and both of the common species of Trithemis, the glowing pink Trithemis aurora

Trithemis festiva
... and the dark blue, orange-spotted Trithemis festiva, a species that ranges across the whole of Southern Asia to southern Turkey. 

Gomphidia kruegeri
These were all dragonflies that I see commonly in Malaysia. This one wasn't: a large and spectacular member of the family Gomphidae perched over a dark forest stream. As far as I can tell it is Gomphidia kruegeri, an Indochinese species that apparently does not reach Malaysia.

Thailand is knee-deep in cicadas, and I have no idea which one this little pinkish-brown specimen, perched on a colleague's pant leg, actually is.

Here is the moth I promised you - not one if the more spectacular species, I confess, but a very effective dead-leaf mimic.

Notice the broad, flattened plates on this moth's legs. I presume they serve to break up or confuse their outline; after all, rolled-up dead leaves aren't supposed to have legs.

Green Crested Lizard (Bronchocela cristatella)
Seemingly waiting for us on the road, as we pressed on through the park, was this Green Crested Lizard (Bronchocela cristatella).

Spotted Forest Skink (Sphenomorphus maculatus)
Spotted Forest Skink (Sphenomorphus maculatus)
This Spotted Forest Skink (Sphenomorphus maculatus), a member of a widespread southeast Asian species, preferred to watch us from the safety of the leaf litter....

Water Monitor (Varanus salvator)
Water Monitor (Varanus salvator)
...while this young Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) was, apparently, large enough not to care where it was as we passed by. Its bright yellow patterning will darken with age. 

Dusky Langur (Trachypithecus obscurus)
Our "birdwatching" stops (that is, our stops to look up into the trees for anything but birds) centred, mostly, around families of Dusky Langurs (Trachypithecus obscurus).  I can hardly blame Edwin for that; a fellow birder once commented to me that "the best bird of the day is a mammal".  Besides, Dusky Langurs are particularly charming animals.

Dusky Langur (Trachypithecus obscurus)
Dusky Langur (Trachypithecus obscurus)
This mother was carrying a small, bright orange baby clinging to her belly, gazing down at its large, hairless cousins.

Dusky Langur (Trachypithecus obscurus)
Dusky Langur (Trachypithecus obscurus)
Baby langurs have to keep a reflexive grip on their mother's belly hair - a reflex that, apparently, even survives in human babies, though we tend to leap from tree to tree far less often.

Our drive took us, finally, to a viewpoint overlooking Mount Panoenthung, one of the highest points in the park.

Flavescent Bulbul (Pycnonotus flavescens)
Flavescent Bulbul (Pycnonotus flavescens)
Flavescent Bulbul (Pycnonotus flavescens)
At the lookout we were high enough up to find a bird that, though common and easy to see in second-growth an edge situations, isn't  supposed to be found below about 900 metres: a Flavescent Bulbul (Pycnonotus flavescens).

We spent some time here before heading home, both admiring the view

...and filming a 40th anniversary greeting for the International Primate Protection League (IPPL), a splendid organisation I have worked with, through our Species Survival Network and directly, for many years.  It's a particular thank you to its founder, the indomitable Shirley McGreal, a good friend and the founder of IPPL.  I think this was the only time since the first CITES Conference in 1976 that Shirley had missed being there.  As well as lit here.  It's well worth watching.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Thailand: Excursions without Elephants

Kui Buri National Park in southwestern Thailand is supposed to be one of the best places in the country to see large mammals. 

It is home, among other things, to some 320 Asian Elephants (Elephas maximus), as the main park sign proudly proclaims.

Edwin Wiek, our host for our weekend break during the 2013 CITES meeting, wanted to show us wild elephants, not just the penned animals in his rescue centre.  On March 9, therefore, he piled us into vehicles and took us off to the park for what would normally, I gather, have been a sure-fire afternoon of wildlife viewing.

Unfortunately, the elephants (and most of the other large mammals in the park) had other ideas, and stayed resolutely out of sight despite our best efforts to find them.  It happens sometimes.

We certainly went to the right spot: an overlook where we stood, or sat patiently, waiting…

…while a signpost above us warned us not to make noise lest we disturb the (nonexistent) animals.

Sambar (Rusa unicolor)
We did come across one large(ish) animal: a doe Sambar (Rusa unicolor) enjoying a largish pond (Sambar are normally found near water, if not in it).

Sambar (Rusa unicolor)
Sambar (Rusa unicolor)
Sambar (Rusa unicolor)
She was a bit nervous about us, I think, and headed for the shore (but seemingly couldn't make up her mind about what to do once she got there).

Anyway, we finally gave up on the elephants and took a stroll through the park's dry forest instead.

Anderson's Grass Yellow (Eurema andersonii andersonii)
Here I found an Anderson's Grass Yellow (Eurema andersonii andersonii), a common butterfly, attractive enough but a bit smaller than the animals we had hoped to see.

The end of the day brought handsome views of silhouetted trees and gathering clouds…

…as we piled into our vehicles for the drive back to the WFFT rescue centre.
Elongated Tortoise (Indotestudo elongata)
Elongated Tortoise (Indotestudo elongata)
Once we got back, we were introduced to a new arrival at the centre: an Elongated Tortoise (Indotestudo elongata).  Though it ranges from the Hi,alayas to northern Malaysia, this, like so many other turtles in southeast Asia, is an endangered species.  It is far more likely to turn up in a food market than in nature.

Elongated Tortoise (Indotestudo elongata)
This animal's best identifying marks are the black blotches at the centre of the scutes on its carapace (though not all Elongate Tortoises have them).

Asian Slow Loris (Nycticebus bengalensis)
That evening Ian Redmond and I went out for a night stroll - and Ian found me the animal of the day, right on the grounds of the rescue centre: an Asian Slow Loris (Nycticebus bengalensis), the first of its kind I have seen in the wild.

Asian Slow Loris (Nycticebus bengalensis)
Even though it was a wild animal, finding it on the grounds of a wildlife rescue centre seemed, somehow, appropriate.  Lorises, as a group, are another victim of their own cuteness.  A video of one being tickled has gone viral, and created a craze for these animals as pets.  They are, of course, entirely unsuitable for this purpose (as Lady Gaga found out when one bit her recently).  They belong in the wild - but an army of poachers, alas, has no intention of leaving them there.