18 April 2015

Chiangmai Expedition 2015 - Part 2

ButterflyCircle's Chiangmai Expedition 2015
Thailand - A Haven for Butterflies : Part 2

Continuing our story about ButterflyCircle's Chiangmai Expedition 2015...

Day 6

When you need to get that "perfect" shot, you need to endure contortionist poses as demonstrated by our lady ButterflyCircle member here

After our usual set breakfast at the Dome, we decided to head out to a small area near the Mae Jo University where we had quite a fruitful time shooting some rarities last March. This area had a stormwater pond surrounded by lush vegetation. Unfortunately, the area around the water bodies had been trimmed and the butterfly attracting plants were gone. There were the usual Arhopalas and some common butterflies around, but nothing that would match the excitement that our group had the past 3 days in Chiang Dao.

Disappointed, we decided to head back to Doi Suthep to see if we could spot some of the uncommon butterflies that were posted by a couple of our Thai friends on FaceBook. Our first stop back at the picnicking spot yielded a much poorer catch than our first day. Most of the species were nowhere to be found by the time we reached the favourite puddling spot around 11am in the morning. After entertaining a small bunch of Archdukes and some common Lycaenids, we hopped back into Antonio's car and headed up to the waterfall area.

Top : Grey Commodore (Bhagadatta austenia austenia)
Middle : Grey Count (Tanaecia lepidea cognata)
Bottom : Nonsuch Palmer (Creteus cyrina cyrina)

There appeared to be some activity, but no sign of the pristine Grand Duchess that was seen the day before. Even so, we encountered a couple of rare skippers and managed to shoot them as they were more cooperative puddling on the sand banks. Some luckier members of our group managed to shoot a Grey Commodore (Bhagadatta austenia austenia) whilst some Lethe spp kept the others busy.

Dinner at Maya Mall, and our three Amigos - one from Singapore, one from Malaysia and one from Thailand, posing with Pisuth's and Kirton's books at the bookstore

It was a rather disappointing outing for butterflies, both at Mae Jo and at Doi Suthep, so we decided to call it a day at around 3:30pm and drove back to Chiang Mai. Dinner was at the upmarket Maya Mall, a short walking distance from the Dome Hotel. The mall featured facilities that would match any Singapore regional malls, with branded goods and modern facilities. The next day would be the last full-day outing for the main group, and our destination would be the tallest mountain in Thailand, Doi Inthanon.

Day 7

The butterfly-hunting dozen, with Inayoshi-san and Les Day joining in the fun at Doi Inthanon

Up and about early on a Friday morning, the group looked forward in anticipation as we headed out to the tallest peak in Thailand. We were expecting at least an hour and a half drive to the area. This time around, we had Les and our Japanese butterfly expert, Inayoshi Yutaka with us. Cramming into the large 4x4 SUVs wasn't much of a problem and the 12 of us hoped to see the elusive Blue Oakleaf, which was supposed to be in season.

The trip up was rather uneventful, as we took in the sights along the winding road uphill. The parched and dry grassy landscape morphed into nice lush greenery as Antonio's GPS showed us breaching the 1,000m altitude level and up the mountain road. The environment cooled somewhat and we thanked our lucky stars for the clear blue skies above.

View of Siribhume Waterfall

Our first stop was the Siribhume Royal Garden. The nicely maintained gardens was impressive, and the group searched for butterflies amongst the lush greenery. We stopped at the Siribhume Waterfall and enjoyed the serene atmosphere in the cool morning air.

Top : Green Commodore (Sumalia daraxa daraxa)
Middle : Hairy Angle (Darpa hanria)
Bottom : Black Forester (Lethe vindhya vindhya)

There were some butterflies that kept the group busy. Of particular mention were the Green Commodore, Black Forester, Hairy Angle, and an uncooperative Brown Gorgon that refused to stop for us.

The attractive French Duke (Euthalia franciae raja)

We headed up to another location and parked our cars along the road verge to search for the Blue Oakleaf, but alas, it was nowhere to be found. Maybe next time. However, there were quite a few other attractive species that kept us busy. We also found a small number of the pretty French Duke, which obliged us by posing to show off its upperside and underside of its wings.

The Variable Sailor - a subspecies named after our Japanese expert, Yutaka Inayoshi

Of special mention was the Variable Sailor (Neptis zaida inayoshii), of which the subspecies found here at Doi Inthanon had the distinction of being named after our Japanese friend, Yutaka Inayoshi. Although skittish, the Variable Sailor appeared to be relatively common and we saw quite a number of individuals puddling along the pathways.

After having our fill of shooting the different species along the road (which was a bit hazardous because of the heavy traffic), we moved to our third location of the day. This time, we headed for another waterfall called Huay Saai Leung Falls. We saw more Variable Sailors here, some Jezebels, and many other species, but it was not easy to shoot them.

The Grand Duchess (Euthalia patala taooana), a Yellow Jezebel (Delias agostina agostina) and ButterflyCircle members queueing up patiently to get a shot of this attractive butterfly

The catch of the day at this location must be the Grand Duchess (Euthalia patala taooana) which was on Antonio's hit list. A cooperative female was puddling and all of us got our fill of shots of this usually skittish species. There were a few other individuals of this species in the area, but they were not too keen on getting photographed.

Buying strawberries and other local produce at a roadside row of stalls

Our day ended some time past 3:30 pm and we made our way downhill back towards Chiangmai. Along the way, we stopped at a fruit market to buy some of the local produce like fresh strawberries, nuts and other munchies.

We decided to have some local Thai cuisine in the evening, although our favourite seafood joint was closed. After cruising around the town, we stumbled on a restaurant that specialised in fish dishes. We had our fill of local gastronomic delights, washed down with Chang beer. The bill for the 10 of us came up to something like S$60 (with two towers of beer thrown in!). It's no wonder that many retirees from all over the world made Chiangmai their home to stretch their retirement dollar to the max!

Day 8

This was the final day of our trip, and our flight was scheduled at 5:30pm in the evening. Not willing to waste the morning, we had a quick breakfast and made a quick foray up to Doi Suthep for one last fling with the Thai butterflies. In light traffic, the journey from our hotel to Doi Suthep can be done in less than half an hour.

We reached the picnic ground next to the stream just after 8:30am, and waited for some action. It was still early and we saw a few of the 'resident' species in the cool morning air. The family of Archdukes, Knights and Barons were already active. A single Stately Nawab (Polyura dolon grandis) puddled cooperatively and posed for us to shoot it.

Top : White Punch (Dodona deodata deodata)
Middle : Tufted Jungle King (Thauria aliris intermedia)
Bottom shots : Four Bar Swordtail (Graphium agetes agetes)

Butterfly activity was much better today than it was, when we were at the same location two days ago. This time around, a Tufted Jungle King (Thauria aliris), a White Punch (Dodona deodata), a Shan Nawab (Polyura nepenthes), a Fourbar Swordtail (Graphium agetes) and a few Skippers turned up to visit the puddling grounds.

The Green Flash (Artipe eryx eryx)

We were pleasantly surprised by two Green Flashes (Artipe eryx) that appeared all of a sudden, and at least stopped long enough for us to take some record shots of them. This species is unique in that it features green undersides, and can camouflage itself very well amongst green foliage. So, on this last day of our expedition, we were rewarded with this elusive species!

A final group shot of the Singapore gang and Les Day at Doi Suthep

Just past noon, our group called it a day and drove back to Dome hotel to check out, grab a quick bite and head to the airport. The other group, led by Antonio, who were extending their stay in Chiangmai, went up to the mid-level waterfall to look for the Grey Commodore that was spotted the day before. After settling our hotel bills and checking out, we had a quick lunch and Antonio was kind enough to cut short his butterfly outing today and returned to the hotel to give us a warm send-off.

Bags all packed and ready to go home!

It was a fruitful trip for most of us, experiencing the high diversity and numbers of butterflies in Chiangmai province, and we were quite convinced that we will be back here again soon! Special thanks to Antonio, LC and Chng who did most of the driving, and to Antonio for making all the arrangements for accommodation, food and selecting the locations for us to visit.

Our gentle giant Italian tour guide par excellence, Antonio Giudici

For those of you butterfly enthusiasts who would like to make a trip to Chiangmai to enjoy its amazing butterfly diversity, please contact Antonio Giudici, our friendly Italian giant tour guide, via his website at www.antoniogiudici.com for his butterfly tours. You can be assured of very exciting and fruitful outings with Antonio, as we have experienced the past week, and he is an accomplished butterfly photographer himself!

Log on to Antonio's website to arrange for Butterfly Tours in Thailand

So, adios Chiangmai, and we will be back soon!

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Chng CK, Antonio Giudici, Goh LC, Federick Ho, Huang CJ, Khew SK, Loke PF and Simon Sng

11 April 2015

Chiangmai Expedition 2015

ButterflyCircle's Chiangmai Expedition 2015
Thailand - A Haven for Butterflies

The gang of ButterflyCircle members, complete with a specially designed T-shirt

Thailand is a country in Southeast Asia that is well-known for its rich floral and faunal biodiversity. Situated on the Indo-China plateau, Thailand has the distinction of being the 51st largest country in the world, covering an area of over 513,000 sqkm (or about 720 times the size of Singapore!). The country shares its borders with four neighbours - Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia.

Thailand is a long country, covering a distance of about 2,000km from Yala, the southernmost province, to the Chiang Rai province in the north. Butterfly diversity is amazing, with Pisuth Ek-Amnuay, the author of Butterflies of Thailand 2nd Edition 2012 recording a total of 1,287 distinct species found in Thailand. If all the subspecies are taken into consideration, then the number rises to a total of 1,604.

Two beauties from our previous trip to Chiangmai province.
Top - Blue Admiral ; Bottom - Kaiser I-Hind

After two prior trips to the Chiangmai area in Apr and Oct 2014, ButterflyCircle members decided to organise another "expedition" in 2015, to capture the beauty of the northern butterfly species. With a group of 12 enthusiasts from England, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, we visited a series of our favourite butterfly-hunting grounds within the Chiangmai Province.

Antonio's Butterfly Expedition patch and car decal.  He organises tours for butterfly enthusiasts and this season, he hosted several groups from Hong Kong as well

This butterfly "expedition" ably organised and put together by team leader and "butterfly tour guide" Antonio Giudici for ButterflyCircle members spanned a total of 8 days and 7 nights for the group. Interestingly, the weather for the entire week was hot and dry, with absolutely no rain at all whilst we were there.

The journey begins!  Boarding time!

Members of the group arrived in Chiangmai on various dates, with the main group of 6 from Singapore arriving in the late evening on 14 Mar. All of us stayed at our favourite Dome Hotel, a very decently-priced and comfortable hotel in town where we had previously stayed. This hotel offered the simple comforts of modern living, complete with free wifi!

Our regular "home" in Chiangmai - Dome Hotel

The hotel is located about 20 mins drive from the Chiangmai International Airport (minus the traffic jam), and within walking distance from F&B outlets and a nice modern shopping mall. For those who get cold turkey without their smartphones' 3G data plan, buying a SIM card in Thailand is cheap and convenient. A full 7-day data plan (enough for surfing FaceBook and doing your fill of Whatsapping) costs only 129 Baht. (That's about SGD5.50!)

Dinner at a local food court

After a sumptuous dinner of local delicacies at a very competitively priced food court (with a few beers thrown in), the group started planning the itinerary for the coming week. It was a gathering of old friends and some new ones. Everyone was looking forward to a butterfly-ful week ahead.

Day 2

Arriving in Chiangmai on the late evening flight the day before meant Day 1 of the expedition was just lazing around in Chiangmai and catching up with the latest news and butterfly sightings by other butterfly photographers over the past few days. We started the day off with a hearty breakfast at the Dome, and our two 4WD zoomed off to nearby Doi Suthep for our first outing of the expedition.

Top : Doi Suthep Ace, a skipper that is apparently endemic to Doi Suthep
Middle : The Grey Count
Bottom : An undescribed female aberration of the Archduke?

Our first stop was at along a river which is a popular spot for the local picnickers. As it was still early, we had the place to ourselves for some time as we searched for puddling butterflies. Amongst the notable species were the Grey Count, Doi Suthep Ace, several Polyura spp. Barons, Archdukes, Knights and so on.

A quick check on our little waterfall halfway up yielding species like the Blue Imperial, a couple of Lethe spp., the usual Logania that we saw on previous trips, and several others. Driving further up to the spot where the strange-looking Truncate Imperial was recently spotted, the group spent some time chasing this rarity and were rewarded with some shots of it.

The day's catch left everyone happy, as we made our way back to Chiangmai International Airport to pick up one more member - the rose amongst the thorns, who came one day later than the main group. Dinner was in Chiangmai as we compared notes on our day's "lifers".

Day 3

The famous Chiang Dao checkpoint and carpark which is a butterfly heaven according to some!

Early next day, the group was up and about, and we checked out of the Dome Hotel, and headed to Chiang Dao, a reputable 'hot-bed' of butterfly activity. The intention was also to stay at a "local" hotel in the vicinity of the famous Chiang Dao carpark, and then save on the typical hour's travelling time between Chiangmai and Chiang Dao.

The excitement rose as we neared the spot which many of us shot so many butterfly species on previous trips. There was also a slight apprehension as we noted the newly-tarmac'ed road leading to the checkpoint. If the authorities had, in their well-meaning intention of improving the roads and facilities, also "upgraded" the carpark at the checkpoint, then it will be the end of our favourite butterfly-shooting location!  Fortunately, it wasn't the case.

This must be the origin of why we are called ButterflyCircle?

From the word "go", the place was teeming with butterflies and there were hundreds of them puddling and flying around. The park rangers who manned the checkpoint must be quite used to crazy butterfly photographers at this location, but were still nevertheless amused at our group. One of them obliged by spraying water on the ground to attract the butterflies to puddle. This area is quite a butterfly gathering place, and to attract butterflies, "just add water" and they will flock to feed on the salts from the ground.

We spent a whole day shooting butterflies of all shapes and sizes, and the group, though many of us, walked around to several favoured spots so that we generally avoided getting into each others' way. Until when someone shouts in excitement at spotting a rarity, then the group will rush to see what caused the ruckus. When a rarity does show up, the more experienced members of the group generally practise photography etiquette so that as many members as possible are able to shoot the subject.

Dinner at the Nest2

When we were done for the day, the tired but happy gang of photographers headed to the nearby Nest 2 resort and checked in. We were pleasantly surprised at the nice accommodation and even more pleasantly surprised at the nice food available at the resort so that we didn't have to leave the premises to look for our dinner. Accommodation was in nice chalets and the environment was clean with all the luxuries that we would expect in the city.

Day 4

A typical chalet at the Nest2 with the scenic mountain view behind

The next morning, five of the group headed off north to the town of Fang, and to Doi Pha Hom Pok with the mission of nailing the elusive Kaiser I-Hind (Teinopalpus imperialis). The remaining group of five headed back to the carpark to continue our Chiang Dao butterfly-shooting adventure. It is always exciting to find that each day brings different species to the same location.

It was another hot and scorching day, and the butterflies were out in numbers as soon as the sun warmed up our shooting grounds. Due to the exceptionally large numbers of the Zebra Blue, it was always a challenge to look for small and rarer species - literally searching for needles in the haystack. But ever so often, a solitary rarity will appear out of nowhere to taunt us, and then magically disappear before we could get close for a good shot.

Highlights of the day were several Grey and Yellow Tinsels, a friendly Indian Red Admiral, a White Commodore, Indian Fritillary, several Skippers and many more. The group that went up north had a relatively quiet day, but managed to spot and shoot the rare Blue Peacock (Papilio arcturus) and Orange Freak up on the mountain.

Dinner was back at the Nest 2, and the usual after-dinner chats and sharing of the day's catch at one of the relaxing outdoor cabanas in the resort grounds. We packed our bags and got ready to check out the next day, but not before heading back to the Chiang Dao carpark for more shooting before taking the hour plus drive back to Chiangmai.

Day 5

The outdoor cabana at the Nest2 in the early morning hours

After breakfast, we checked out and bade farewell to the nice people at Nest 2, and dumped all our luggage into the cars. A quick 5-minute drive to the shooting location, did our usual setting up activities and it was back to our "back-breaking work" of shooting butterflies. I noticed that my camera body and lens were coated with dust after a few days of "puddling" with the butterflies in the dirt. This time around, our investment in getting knee and elbow guards helped minimise the abrasions and injuries when getting down to shoot puddling butterflies.

There were also a lot of bees and other biting insects amongst the butterflies, and always a source of irritation to us butterfly shooters. A few of us even got stung more than once, but fortunately, none of us were allegic to bee stings (perhaps with the exception of our English friend, Les, who somehow managed to get away unscathed).

A strange female form of the Courtesan

The rare Saffron that made Antonio's day!

It was another day of heavy shooting and we encountered several more new species that we did not see on the previous two days of shooting at Chiang Dao. Antonio had his "special" when he was able to shoot a species on his "hit list", the Saffron (Mota massyla). The rest of us continued to search for a more species, or to take a better shot of one that had been previously shot. Most of us managed to shoot a strange female form of the Courtesan (Euripus nyctelius) that appeared to be a hybrid of two other forms.

As we were about to leave, our sharp-eyed member spotted a Green Flash amongst the low shrubs and everyone scrambled to chase it down. But alas, this individual wasn't cooperative and after a few zips here and there amongst the green weeds, its undersides blended in well and camouflaged it from the group of frustrated photographers.

So off we headed onto the highway back to Chiangmai, checked in to the Dome again, and after a much needed shower and wash-up, we headed out for dinner. It was a relatively fruitful 3-day shooting outing in Chiang Dao, though some of the "locals" would say that it could be better!

To be continued...

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Chng CK, Les Day, Goh LC, Antonio Giudici, Huang CJ, Khew SK, Loke PF and Simon Sng.