The grass and reed beds by the sides of our inland reservoirs is a micro ecosystem by itself. It is teeming with insect life, mainly dragonflies, damselflies, grasshopper and some butterflies. I have been visiting the wetlands around our freshwater reservoirs mainly to photograph the odonatas.
Fong and his brother were photographing what looked like a Saint Andrew’s Cross SpiderArgiope versicolor, wrapping up a motionless Common Scarlet dragonfly that got caught in its web.
All my past sightings of the St. Andrew’s Cross Spiders were by the forest edges and along the jungle trails in our nature reserves. This is the first time I seen it with its web across the long grasses by the water edge. How and why did this spider move out of the forest to a very different habitat was a puzzle to me. Could it be that there is a lack of insects or looking at a change of diet?
I did some checking in Biodiversity of Singapore and found that this is the Yellow-Silver St. Andrew’s Cross Spider, Argiope cantenulata, ( Marcus Ng), also known as a Grass Cross Spider. This orb-weaver spider is found from India to the Philippines and Papua New Guinea.
It preys mainly on dragonflies that hunt and breed in this habitat. Once it flew into its web, the spider quickly immobilizes it by spinning and wrapping the prey with its web. It then injects digestive enzymes into the victim to break down its body tissues. The spider sucks up the pre-digested tissues and repeats the process again. It seems to be locally common with most of the sightings along the edges of reservoirs. Apparently they are quite common in the padi fields in Malaysia.
We photographed 21 butterfly species during our 4 days of birding at the Trus Madi Conservation Area, Gunung Alab Substation and Mahua Waterfalls, all part of the Crocker Range of Sabah, from 14 t0 17 June 2022. One endemic and two sub endemic species.
Here are some of the butterflies that are not found or gone extinct in Singapore. Will appreciate any corrections on the identity and notes.
The Crocker Range has remained my last birding destination in Sabah for some time. When news that the elusive Bulwer’s Pheasant had been seen at the montane hill forests at Trus Madi Forest Reserve, I started to do some serious planning and waited for the borders to open.
I got in touch with David Tseu, a long time nature guide based in Kota Kinabalu, through the recommendation of friends.
A 4 days trip was arranged and together with Wilson Leung and his wife Theresa Ng, a first time birder, we scooted to Kota Kinabalu on the 13 June 2022.
Wilson arranged an overnight stay at the Holiday Inn Express where the ceiling to floor windows look out to a forested hillside. A Blue-throated Bee-eater and flocks of Asian Glossy Starlings were ticked off. A stay at KK will not be complete without a seafood dinner. We chose the Crab House at Sabah Suria and shared two large crabs and grouper soup for RM 230.
David met us the next morning in his spacious 4WD and drove towards Tambunan with a break for breakfast at Gunung Alab Motel, a popular rest stop. The road was winding but thankfully the morning traffic was light.
We reached the Borneo Girl Jungle Camp inside Trus Madi Conservation Area in time for lunch after surviving a 90 mins bone shaking ride on the bumpy gravel logging track for the last part of the journey. Jimmy Chew and his partners have slowly expanded the camp, providing nature lovers with clean, comfortable but basic rooms. The nights are cold as we are at 1,400 meter asl. The big surprise for me was the food here. It was the best Hakka/ Cantonese cooking I ever had in all my jungle birding trips. Sweet and sour kampong chicken for dinner and double boiled Shiitake Mushroom soup for the next evening.
The weather forecast was for thunderstorms for the whole of our stay, but thank god the weatherman was wrong. We had only 2 hours of heavy downpour during our entire stay. Best of all, our birding was not disrupted by the usual morning and evening misty foggy weather.
We did all the birding along the old logging track near the camp. It was easy pleasant birding amidst the cool montane forest. Many of the endemic species that can be seen at Mt. Kinabalu Park are found here. A playful flock of Brown Fulvetta, part of a mini bird wave, greeted us the first morning. The endemic Charlotte’s Bulbul was preening away. It looks exactly like the Peninsular lowland Buff-vented Bulbul as it was a recent split. Theresa alerted us to a pair of Rhinoceros Hornbills flying across the valley. It was quite a sight! The Buah Cherry trees and the hibiscus plants at the camp are frequently visited by the Bornean Leafbirds, Red-throated Barbets, Bornean Bulbuls and Temminck’s Sunbirds. Always a treat to be able to photograph such rare birds without too much hard work.
There are several hides along the trail not far from the camp. We spent both mornings and afternoons in two of them. We were extremely lucky to see and photograph all the species we came to see.
Top of the list was the majestic Bulwer’s Pheasant, a most sought after endemic that had eluded many birdwatchers for a long time. A lone male showed up on the third afternoon. These are most probably the first photos of this pheasant taken in the wild by any group from Singapore. Next for me was the Bornean Banded Pitta and the Dayak’s Jungle Flycatcher. The bonus were a family flock of 14 Crested Partridges and the Temminck’s Babblers. Lifers for all of us.
Besides the birds, there were many interesting mammals to keep a lookout for. David’s acute sense of the jungle got us the endemic Red-leaf Langur, Whitehead’s Squirrels and Masked Palm Civet.
The ever changing views of drifting clouds across the mountain ranges and green valleys are just breathtaking. Sunrise and sunsets were even more spectacular. Unfortunately the nights were overcast and we missed seeing the Milky Way.
The day’s action did not end after dinner. We were not prepared for the hundreds of moths and insects when we went to check out the four insect screens set up on a ridge near the camp. None of us have ever seen so many moths, beetles, cicadas and other weird and wonderful insects in our life. From the tiniest to palm size, the moths came in all shapes and colors. We had a great time perfecting our macro photography on them. We could not get enough of this and spent all three nights hoping to see some rare lunar moths, but none showed up.
We left the camp after breakfast on the last morning and made our way back to the Gunung Alab Substation for the Red-breasted and Crimson-Headed partridges, both endemics. They proved to be more co-operative and came out within the first hour. The damp bamboo forest is their preferred habitat.
A family of Snowy-browed Flycatchers also took up residence here and it was nice to see the different plumages of the juveniles and females.
There was enough time to pay a visit to the Mahua Waterfalls about 20 km from Tambunan to do some last minute butterfly photography Some of the endemic butterflies including the Rajah Brooke and the Green Dragons can be found there. Wilson and Theresa booked an overnight stay at the resort outside the waterfalls and we bade them goodbye as David drove me to the airport for my evening flight home.
It had been a very successful and lucky trip, a memorable one as well, We got all our target birds, thanks to David’s local knowledge and experience. We recorded a total of 58 birds ( 14 endemics), 21 butterflies ( 2 endemics), 8 mammals ( 4 endemics), 1 reptile and hundreds of moths and insect species. We were blessed with good weather for all the four days. A big thank you to the staff at the camp for the delicious food and help.
Checklist Trus Madi Conservation Area, Sabah. 14-17 June 2022
Guide: David Tseu
Participants: Alan OwYong, Wilson and Theresa Leung.
Crested Partridge ( Family group of 14 )
Bulwer’s Pheasant (Male).
Little Cuckoo Dove
Asian Emerald Dove ( on way out)
Black and Yellow Broadbill.
Chestnut-breasted Malkoha ( photographed by Theresa)
Plume-toed Swiftlet ( nesting at Mt. Alab Motel)
Crested Serpent Eagle. ( one perched, another in flight)
Barred Eagle Owl
Rhinoceros Hornbill ( pair flying in the valley)
Golden-naped Barbet ( Heard)
Bornean Banded Pitta. ( Both male and female showing at different times)
Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike
Ashy Drongo (Bornean)
Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher ( Seen by Theresa)
Crested Shrikejay (Seen by David)
Mountain Tailorbird (Heard)
Yellow-bellied Bulbul ( seen by David)
Sunda Bush Warbler
Oriental Magpie (Black)
Dayak Blue Flycatcher (Family)
Grey-chested Jungle Flycatcher
Snowy-browed Flycatcher ( Family group of 4)
Little Pied Flycatcher
Black-sided Flowerpecker ( photographed by Wilson)
Even though it was a birding trip to the Crocker Range of Sabah to look for the Bulwer’s Pheasant at Trus Madi Conservation Area, we were surprised to find so many insects during our few days there. Most were moths that were attracted by the lights at night. But many of the strange and wonderful insects were seen during the daytime when the birds were not active.
There are many pygmy grasshoppers that mimic dead leaves, but there only two Oriental Macropterous in Asia. The Oxyphyllum found in India and Pakistan and the Paraphyllum in Borneo. David Tseu our guide knew exactly which rock face to find the P. antennatum on our way to the Trus Madi Camp. They are small and blend in well with the color of the rock surfaces. Their curved brown body looks like a dead leaf. We counted about half a dozen of them all males according to David. The females have an elongated tail.
We would have missed this on the track if not for David’s sharp eyes. The Pill Millipede, Glomeris sp. one of the largest millipede around, but short bodied. It exhibits the Pangolin way of defense by rolling into a ball when threatened. When left alone it will slowly open up, check the surrounding before fully extending to its full length.
This Tacua speciosa Cicada is one of the most colorful and also one of the loudest. Its call is unmistakable and can be heard for long distances. We missed the chance to photograph it close up and had to be contended with this back view shot.
Lantern bugs of the Fulgoridae plant hopper family does not emit light but they are colorful. This is the common Pyrops sultana white body species with an orange snort, which is part of its inflated head. Wilson found this on the track near our camp.
I don’t know how David can spot such a small insect like this weevil resting on a thin blade of grass. This is the Larinus Weevil looking a bit like a shining beetle with a big nose.
The menacing looking Giant Three-horned Rhinoceros Beetle, Chalcosoma moellenkampi, is one of the more common beetles that came to the screens at night. A favourite with beetle collectors, it is found only in Borneo. This is the male as the females do not have horns.
Bee flies are colorful. This species Migya tantalus, was seen taking minerals at the Mahua Waterfalls area
Also on the way to the waterfalls beneath the dark forest canopy, David picked up this tiny jewel of a beetle on a leaf by the path. Borisb identified it as a Aplosonyx sp in iNaturalist. It looks like the A. monticola in another posting on iNaturalist by Gan Cheong Weei taken at the same location on 10 Jan 2019. There is not much information on this species online.
A nice find to end our trip.
With Wilson Leung, Theresa Ng and David Tseu. 14-17 June 2022.
Of Endemic Crab, Night Frog, Unique Spider and Rare Butterflies.
The quiet Upper Seletar Reservoir Park is well known for its forest bird, butterfly and insect life. But being adjacent to the Nee Soon Swamp Forest, there is also a surprising diversed freshwater aquatic life as well.
On one late August morning, I was delighted to find a nocturnal swamp crab in one of the drains here following Art Toh’s FB post. It turned out to be the Reticulated Swamp Crab (Paratherphusa retculata), one of our three endemic crabs found in Singapore. It was only discovered in 1989 inside the Nee Soon Swamp forest as its secretive and nocturnal habits have kept it hidden all these years.
Nearby a Malesian Frog Limnonectes malesianus betrayed its well-hidden nook by jumping away. Luckily for us it stayed motionless at it’s next resting spot. According to Nick Baker all the local Malesian Frogs have this black marking on the external ear drum. Along the same drain, there was a small reddish brown catfish about 10 cm long. I missed getting a shot as It was quick to swim away and hide under the leave litter.
Further up the road, on a tree trunk that I used to go pass umpteen times, a family of SpottedCoinSpidersHerennia multipuncta, were busy bringing up another new generation of these unique spiders. They are small and live on the tree trunks all their life, using camouflage as their survival against predators. Every successful generation is a celebration for this species as the male can only mate once in their lifetime.
Two rare butterflies came out this morning. The small Malay Dartlet that can be confused with the Common Dartlet and the male White-tipped Baron which I though was the more common Common Baron. Both are my lifers.
Besides these, there were some uncommon butterflies like the Full Stop Swift, Hoary Palmer, Palm Bob and the Darky Plushblue, the last staying on the same leaf for hours.
Our hope is that there will be no developments at this park to destroy the precious biodiversity. Plans should be put in place to enhance it. There should be no trespasses inside the primary forests so as not to disturb the wildlife there.
I like to thank so many of my friends who helped to find and showed me these creatures, without which I would not have been able to photograph and post them here.
Ng PKL (1997). The conservation status of freshwater prawns and crabs in Singapore with emphasis on the nature reserves. Gardens’ Bulletin Singapore, 49: 267–272.
Nick Baker & Kevin Lim 2008. Wild Animals of Singapore.
The Upper Seletar Reservoir Park is a gem of a place for insect and macro photographers. Rare forest butterflies, damselflies, spiders, flies and other critters can be found along the forest edges if you spent time looking for them. The rows of Syzygium zeylanicum when in bloom are a magnet for a host of butterflies and moths that are rarely seen outside the forest. Landscape planting of the Leea indica, Leea rubra and Ixoras provided added food sources for them.
Spending a morning combing the forest edges early this week with Richard White, Laurence Leong and Lee Yue Teng opened a whole new world to the insect and understorey life for me. Star finds include a Scorpion, two Agamid lizards, cockroach, spider, a fly and some butts but surprisingly no damselflies.
Nick Baker and Kelvin Lim. Wild Animals of Singapore. NSS.
Joined my friends for a walk at Dairy Farm NP this Sunday morning after hearing of a sighting of the Black-crested Bulbul there by Geri Lim. But it did not show. A few of us had brief glimpses of the Greater Green Leafbird feeding on the White Mulberry. Other than that it was rather quiet. So we ended up looking for the other creatures at the Park.
Thanks to Meilin Khoo for showing us this Stink Horn Fungi growing by the roadside. Unfortunately the sweepers unwittingly broke half of the “skirt”, but it was still a good find. The smell of rotting flesh of the spore head attracts flies and other insects, and they in turn help to disperse the spores.
The Nephilengys malabareniswas first found at the Malabar Coast of South India. This particular specimen was spotted by Art Toh hanging under the pile of Tembusu logs at the hilltop at its web. It quickly moved away just as we were trying to get some shots.
Assassin Bug lived up to its name. This one found a male Golden Orb Spider. It will inject vernon to kill the prey and then suck out its dissolved remains.
A pair of Oriental Whip Snakes by the Wallace Center provided us with some distraction. This one was moving its head up and I managed to catch a view of its underside. Mildly venomous, it can take small birds like the Pygmy Sunda Woodpecker.
St. Andrew’s Cross Spider rest with each pair of legs stretched out forming a cross. They also spin zig-zag whistish webs in the form of an X just where the legs rest like in this photo. Females are larger than the males.
A Malay Viscount, a common butterfly at the park looks very similiar to the Horsfield Baron.
I seldom leave empty handed from visits to the Upper Seletar Reservoir Park. It is also one of the more accessible forest parks in Singapore. You can step right into the forest straight from the carpark. Even during midday, it can be rewarding if you venture into the nooks and crannies, away from the open areas.
The bird activity around this time was poor. Most were resting in the cooler shade inside the forest. But the butterflies loved the sunny day. One of the workers there was photographing this female Great Mormon and was kind enough to alert me. He seems to know his butterflies. Later he showed me hundreds of photos of butterflies and insects taken with his hand phone at the park. He even had a photo of the rare Plane. I was impressed!
The male Great Mormon had to be the luckiest butterfly around. It had so many forms of females to choose from. This beautiful female is of the esperi form.
The find of the day had to be this 20 cm uncommon Variable Reed Snake. Serin Subaraj told me that reed snakes are like warblers, all of them are very similiar. He identified this by the black bands at the underside near its head, which is absent on the Pink-headed Reed Snake.
The young Variable Reed Snake has a orangy red head which makes it looks like a Blue Coral Snake. According to Ecology Asia it lives in mature forests and is confined to the Central Catchment. It is nocturnal and not known to be venomous.
A treehugger hugging a wall, thanks to Lena Chow for the ID. Looks like the Sapphire Flutterer except that it does not have the bright blue on the base of the hind wings.
Singapore during the time of Raffles was a great place to collect beetles. It is not so easy to find them now unless you know where to look. I don’t and was happy to see this Bess Beetle out in the open. Their pair of antennae has many more smaller antennae. They lives in groups inside rotting logs and stumps.
Not the most spectacular butterfly this Brown Awl is still a good find as they stay still in the undergrowth.
Ended the day with a lazy Clouded Monitor Lizard out sauntering and sniffing around with its long tongue. These are forest lizards can be separated from the water monitor lizards by the snort position.
So the next time you visit a forest park in Singapore, take your time to look around. You will never know what is lurking around the corner.
Went down to Rifle Range Link this morning trying to get some photos of the Chestnut-winged Babbler, one of the more elusive forest babblers. It was calling and came close but moved too fast for any shots. Well just have to try again some other mornings.
Don’t know why the False Tapioca plants and the Leea indicas that used to cover the stretch of the Rifle Range Link were cleared. This spot was the most reliable place to find the Van Hasselts Sunbirds and Lancers and Skippers.
Walking down this trail is never a waste of time if you keep your eye peeled for the slightest movements. This was how I came across this Black Scorpion out foraging by the track. It belongs to the genus heterometres, spending much of its time hiding under dead logs and crevices. We have two very similiar species in our forest, the Malaysian Black Scorpion and the Asian Wood Scorpion, the largest of scorpions found here.
This Black Scorpion was about 10 cm long. Not usual for it to be out in the open like this.
Further down the trail, an Emerald Moth was resting quietly on a green leaf, which makes difficult to find. This is part of their survival strategy to bend in to the habitat. This is another first green moth for me.
But the female Arch Duke is more conspicuous with its speckled brown wings. It used its fast flight to evade its predators. Most of my photos of this butterfly is from the top as they are normally seen feeding on the ground. Happy to get a shot of the underside.
The recent hot weather also affected the Bat Lilies in the forest. Just about every plant is blooming. The flowers are unique in their shape and color, with two petals pointing up and long whiskers flowing down. The flowers are in between. This one even has a double flower, which is rather unusual as they do not bloom so easily. Do go down in the next few days to witness this mass blooming.
Among the leaf litter on the ground, this purple fungi stands out. It is quite large for a mushroom but the head is not the usual dome shaped.
The little of what is left of our mangroves is vital for the survival of many of our mangrove dependent birds, reptiles, butterflies and dragonflies. Without the mangroves they will simply disappear and we will be the poorer for it. On a short morning walk at Sungei Buloh yesterday, we came across some of these survivors there. Let’s hope that this protected wetland will be their home for many years to come.
Out door nature workshops for the students during the school holidays. All lined up on the bridge waiting for the crocodiles to appear.
Scarce Silverstreak at KM
Conjoined Swift at KM
From top left, the Colonel is locally common at the Kranji Marshes. Kim Keang’s sharp eyes picked up the smaller and less colorful Scarce Silverstreak at a distance. My lifer the Full Stop Swift( bottom) was spotted by Richard White.
First time I came across this beautiful Mangrove Shield Bug, seen along the boardwalk. Lena Chow posted a link from WildSingapore with the ID. Not only are they mangrove dependent, the larvae can only be found on the Buta buta trees where they will feed on the new fruits. The adults were often seen clustered together under the leaves.
The Mangrove Dwarf as the name suggested is a smallish dragonfly that is found only in the mangroves. This uncommon dragonfly lives and breeds in the saline waters of the mangrove.
The Copper-throated Sunbirds, another mangrove specialist, are busy bringing up another brood to grace our wetlands. I had the wrong setting for this and had to brighten it.
The Ashy Tailorbird is also confined to the Mangroves. They are often jumpy or hiding behind the vegetation. Good to have this one out in the open posing for a shot.
It is never easy to spot a small motionless snake that has the same color as the surface it is resting on. But Marcel Finlay managed to see this Mangrove Pit Viper along Route I. Small ( about 40 cm) but venomous, it likes to stay near water edges and wait for its prey. The rest of us were happily shooting away for another great encounter of the herpy kind.