Monday, 31 March 2014

And it was all yellow

The yellow flash is very often literally just a flash of yellow; the 
moment you see it, it's off into the treetops. It almost seems to be 
a rule: when you are rare, you must play hard to get. Most of my 
encounters with it were short lived ones of individuals who must
have seen me coming long before I spotted them. I bumped into a 
colony of them two weeks back and that was when I got lucky.

There were at least five of them in the area. While most of them
perched high up, out of reach and watching as I searched high and
low for them, some would fly down to the lower leaves and grasses.
They are bright yellow but are almost impossible to see amongst the
grass. Whenever one took flight, I would track it but it would always 
land 'somewhere over there'. In other words: it would disappear.

It is the odd one out in the genus rapala (the flashes). No other 
species has the same lemon-yellow colouration with the strange 
black blobs and streaks. It is also the largest flash in Singapore
and Malaysia, with a wingspan of around 30-40mm. It is rare here, 
showing up occasionally here and there in forested areas. 

Both the male and female are plain brown on the upperside and 
are almost impossible to distinguish, apart from the fact that the
outer edge (termen) of the wings are more rounded in the female
and a pale brand on the male's upperside. Since their wings are 
pale on one side and dark on the other, they seem to sparkle as
the fly. Strangely, the yellow comes out whitish when camera
flash is used, but only if the flash didn't already spook it off!

There are many speedy fliers in the butterfly world but the yellow
flash has to be one of the top racers. They zoom around at blinding
speeds and are quick to dart into the treetops at the slightest of
disturbances. Camera flash is another enemy of this butterfly.They 
are not very friendly to photographers! The yellow flash is also 
known to rest under leaves but I didn't see any doing that.

While the yellow flash is seldom seen, it appears seasonally in
in different locations, with several individuals congregating there
and only to vanish without a trace a week later. Yesterday I went
back to the hot-spot, only to find that the place was quiet! I hope
I'll meet this lovely little flash again sometime. 

Sunday, 16 March 2014

In Search of The Grand

The dry spell has been broken! We had thundery showers of blessing
islandwide today. yesterday, there were a few drizzles here and there
but it was hardly anything. In fact, I was out with six others in a less-
visited forest. We were after the Grand ImperialIt was a tiring 
hunt, walking up and down through the thicket for hours. Here are 
some of the species I saw while searching for the grand imperial. 
First up is the forget-me-not.

The large snow flat. This male kept on returning to the same few
perches to bask in the morning sun. Flats usually have the habit of
sunbathing for a few hours in the morning (or afternoon for some)
and then hiding under leaves for the rest of the day.

The Malay tailed judy. I had a hard time tracking it as it hopped
through the undergrowth, turning a few rounds each time it landed
and always keeping its wings half-open.

The yellow flash. This is my first encounter of this rare species.
They fly rapidly and are known to be notoriously sensitive to camera 
flashes. This one was too alert for me and stayed well away, high
up in the treetops. These pictures are heavily cropped.

The great helen - a species usually seen weaving through the forest
canopy with its swooping flight. Lucky for me, this one had landed
low down.

The common hedge blue - a common forest butterfly. It isn't rare to 
see this electric-blue butterfly flying erratically along forest trails,
keeping close to the ground. This male had been puddling and flew
off to a nearby shrub to rest and give me a peek of his upperside.

The elbowed pierrot. This is yet another familiar sight of the forest.
There were quite a few puddling on the damp ground. Their markings
are so bold and obscure - like abstract art on a butterfly's wing.

The Cruiser - another Singapore-forest-staple. These large and 
showy butterflies are almost always seen at damp patches on the
ground. The females, much rarer, are more often seen at flowers.

The tree flitter. I found this lone female enjoying herself at a 
flowering tree at the forest edge. This small and interestingly 
patterned skipper is only occasionally seen. 

Now for the Grand Imperial itself. It was really thrilling for me to 
see it for the first time, in the distance and high up, barely visible in
the dim forest light. Here it is.

Would you look at the length of those tails! There were a few males 
very high up in the canopy. I soon found out that a disturbed grand
imperial will only fly up higher. They were very skittish and difficult 
to find in the dense growth. This is another male hiding under a leaf.

A beautiful and pristine female fluttered by too and made my heart
stop. She flitted about, looking for the host plant to lay eggs on but
flew further in the forest. The weight of their tails makes them fly
in a near upright position. Such regal looking creatures.

While I did not get any good pictures of it, I'm glad to have seen it
with my own eyes. Now that the rains are finally here, the forests
will be able to recover and the browns will bloom back into vibrant
greens. Change is a good thing.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Two Surprises from Today

The haze is upon us and the drought isn't getting any better. Today I 
took a walk in upper seletar reservoir only to find a hopelessly dry 
and sparse forest. The health of our forests has been deteriorating 
over the past few years for one reason or the other but it is sad to 
see the extent of the damage. The first surprise was a new species 
for me; the lesser harlequin. 

The lesser harlequin is a small little butterfly from the Riodinidae
family; the metalmarks. This family is very well represented in
Central and South America, where they have a huge diversity of
fantastical metalmarks. The five species we have in Singapore 
are no less beautiful. The lesser harlequin is brick red underneath,
adorned with black and metallic blue spots. This is a female. 
Males are all black on top.

It stayed close to the ground and had a weak hopping flight. Each 
time it landed, it would pivot around a few times before hopping on
to the next leaf. I followed it in the undergrowth for a good half an
hour to get these pictures. I was not expecting to see it in such a
degraded part of the forest as it is supposed to live in much denser

I walked by the second surprise many times so I was shocked to 
find out it was actually there. Singapore does not have many
native mammals roaming our forests. One of them is the ever 
common wild boar and another is the Colugo. The Flying Lemur.

I only noticed the colugo hanging on to the tree on the umpteenth
time I walked past it. It was very well camouflaged in the dappled
vegetation. Colugos grow to about 40cm in length. They are the 
most capable mammal gliders on the planet and their membrane of
skin that joins the tip of the fingers to the tip of the toes allows
them to glide for great distances (up to 70m) between trees. They
are herbivores and eat largly leaves. This is my second time seeing 
one wild. Despite the depressed forest, today wasn't all that bad.

Sunday, 2 March 2014


It is a weed. It grows in open areas and it grows menacingly fast.
It also happens to be a favourite amongst butterflies. Recently, white
fluffy flowers blanketed the forests as the weed flowered. I recently
visited a sprawling patch in the central catchment forest. Here are 
some of the species I sighted.

This is a colour sergeant; female form neftina. The male is mostly 
black and white like its cousins, but with hints of orange and 
blue.There were a bounty of them rapidly flying around the flowers. 
When feeding, they had a habit of opening and closing their wings a 
few times each time they landed on a new bunch of flowers.

While the colour sergeant was the most numerous species, there 
were a couple of dot-dash sergeants patrolling the area too. Most of 
them stayed high up in the canopy and teased me, refusing to 
venture lower. This one eventually came down briefly.

Besides the sergeants, there were plenty of commanders flying 
around but mostly too high up and out of my reach. 

The highlight had to the small and spectacular cornelian. The 
cornelian is a forest dwelling insect but it has been known to stray 
into parks and gardens. Prior to this, I had only seen a tattered 
individual at the Zoo; a place I least expected to see it. I did get a 
picture but it was a horrible one. At the mile-a-minute patch I had 
the chance to get a better portrait of the lovely lycaenid.

The cornelian may have been named after Carnelian, the vermillion
variety of chalcedony (that's noncrystaline quartz); it's upperside
is bright carnelian! I was able to see a less pristine one bask fully
in the distance.

Another rare sighting was of the Striped Black Crow, which I had
not seen before. This crow is confined to forested areas and usually
observed singly. It stayed very high up and this record shot was all
I managed to get as proof that I had seen it.

Butterflies are real opportunists. It seems like every time there is a  
lowering bush in the middle of the forest, all the butterflies in the 
vicinity rush over to get their fill; or I'm just seldom in the right 
place and at the right time! On a side note, I'm sorry for the three
week wait before this post. I was kept busy with my common tests! 
This year I will not be posting during my test and exam weeks. Also,
Singapore has fallen under a terrible dry spell and everything is 
shrivelling up. Hopefully the rain will be back soon.