14 September 2019

Butterfly Photography at Our Local Parks - Sg Buloh Wetland Reserve

Butterfly Photography at Our Local Parks
Featuring : Sg Buloh Wetland Reserve (Migratory Bird Trail)

A pristine Dark Tit (Hypolycaena thecloides thecloides) perchs on a leaf at SBWR

Recently, I made a visit to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (SBWR) to check out the butterfly scene at this nature park. From my records, I last visited SBWR for a butterfly outing in Feb 2014! SBWR was first opened as a Nature Park in 1993. Subsequently, in 2002, the 130 Ha park was officially gazetted as a Nature Reserve and renamed Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve to reflect its legally protected nature reserve status. The following year in 2003, SBWR became Singapore's first ASEAN Heritage Park.

An updated map of the enlarged SBWR (202 Ha)

An overview of the mangrove tidal ponds at SBWR

A recent expansion amalgamated the Kranji Nature Trail site to SBWR, resulting in a total of 202 Ha for the entire SBWR today. New facilities were added to SBWR in 2014, with a Visitor Centre at the Kranji Way entrance, a Wetlands Centre at the Neo Tiew entrance and boardwalks, bird hides and childrens' play stations. The older parts of SBWR where the tidal ponds are located were spruced up and retained as a more environmentally-sensitive sector of SBWR.

Typical sight that greets birding enthusiasts at SBWR - a pair of Milky Storks (Mycteria cinerea) on a mangrove tree

SBWR is well known for its bird diversity along the seasonal bird migratory route. Its mangrove habitats and mudflats are ideal pitstops for foraging migratory birds and this is where SBWR is an excellent location for birdwatchers during the migratory months of Sep to Mar each year. Its mangrove and intertidal habitat are also ideal for nature walks.

Looking upstream of Sg Buloh Besar (or Greater Bamboo River)

However, SBWR is not one of the best spots in Singapore for butterfly watching, but there are a few key resident species that are regularly observed. I looked back at my photography archives for the past 15 years and the species that are of notable mention taken at SBWR. A number of butterfly species that are regularly spotted at the reserve are closely associated with their caterpillar host plants found here.

A majestic tree at the plaza leading towards the Wetlands Centre

This weekend's blogpost focuses on the original tidal ponds area of SBWR that was first opened in 1993. Called the Migratory Bird Trail under the new SBWR masterplan, the entrance is located at the Neo Tiew carpark side of SBWR. Access to the new Wetlands Centre is via a shaded plaza and along a boardwalk that leads to the old Visitor Centre of SBWR.

The new Wetlands Centre

The original 1993 part of the buildings leading to the tidal ponds at SBWR

The acrid smell of the mangrove environment greeted us as we walked into the Wetlands Centre. It was low tide and the water body that surrounded the buildings at the Wetland Centre was muddy and exposed. A flowering Syzygium zeylanicum attracted a Baron, Grass Yellows and a couple of Common Bluebottles.

The main bridge at SBWR across Sg Buloh Besar

Heading towards the signature Main Bridge, which was constructed back in 1993, we saw a group of bird photographers with their "long guns" aimed up-and-down river, waiting patiently to shoot the birds that flew their way. Crocodiles are often spotted from this bridge as these reptiles patrol up and down Sg Buloh Besar, probably looking for their next meal.

Typical walking trails and views to the tidal ponds at SBWR

We walked along the looped Migratory Bird Trail and memories of the places where I shot certain butterfly species in the past flooded back. The environment had changed somewhat - the dirt footpath has been widened and in some parts gravel added and concrete kerbs constructed. The vegetation on both sides of the path was generally the same as I remembered them.

The original 1993 bird hides are still going strong

The Aerie watch tower in 2019.  In the background, we can see residential towers under construction in nearby Johor

An old 2003 shot of the Aerie.  Note no buildings in the background

The original bird hides and viewing panels were still here, with some refreshed and updated signage to educate visitors. The old outdoor classroom area was now gone and the route was simpler and more direct around the tidal ponds. The Aerie tower was still there and I recalled some fond memories of this tower when we designed and constructed it. Also noted that the access points to the service trails are now gated and trespassers will find it hard to get into these trails now.

A Perak Lascar, one of the 'resident' species at SBWR

Now back to our butterflies... As I mentioned earlier, SBWR was never an excellent place for butterflies in the first place. From my archives, the number of species per outing is considerably lower than many of the other butterfly-shooting locations in Singapore. There were outings where I hardly even pressed the shutter on my camera!

Perhaps the only redeeming factor of SBWR is the appearance of certain "regulars" along the trails. This is primarily due to the diversity of caterpillar host plants that are associated with the mangrove and back-mangrove habitats. Plants like the Sea Hibiscus (Talipariti tiliaceum), Sea Almond (Terminalia catappa), Derris trifoliata, Allophylus cobbe, Andira inermis, Red Saga (Adenanthera pavonina) and a number of palms tend to attract specific species of butterflies whose caterpillars feed on these plants.

The Sumatran Sunbeam is often spotted at SBWR

Amongst the key species spotted at SBWR is the Sumatran Sunbeam (Curetis saronis sumatrana). A small and fast flying butterfly, the silvery-white underside of this species is quite evident as the butterfly zips from shrub to shrub along the mangrove trails. Females are more often seen at SBWR, as they come down to lay their eggs on the hostplant Derris trifoliata.

Can you spot the Centaur Oakblue's caterpillar under that crowd of Weaver Ants?

The Centaur Oakblue (Arhopala centaurus) whose caterpillars have a symbiotic relationship with the Weaver Ant (Oecophylla smaragdina) is seasonally spotted at SBWR. Another regular is the Perak Lascar (Pantoporia paraka paraka) whose caterpillars feed on two Dalbergia spp. usually found at back-mangrove areas like SBWR, Pulau Ubin and Pasir Ris Park.

Common at SBWR is the Great Eggfly (Hypolimnas bolina bolina) and its subspecies jacintha. The males often patrol the footpaths and perch on the tops of leaves, surveying their territory and "attacking" any intruders that stray into its domain.

A Plain Nawab caterpillar on its "nest"

The Red Saga tree's leaves are hosts to the Plain Nawab (Polyura hebe plautus) and Blue Nawab (Polyura schreiber tisamenus) and these two species are sometimes seen at SBWR. Their caterpillars are more often spotted on the host plants than the adult butterflies.

The Singapore Fourline Blue, a signature species at SBWR

One of the signature species at SBWR is the Singapore Fourline Blue (Nacaduba pavana singapura) as at least two of its known caterpillar host plants grow wild along the footpaths at SBWR. This small Lycaenid is so named as the subspecies singapura is known from Singapore's mangrove habitats.

The Dark Tit can be found at SBWR due to the abundance of its caterpillar host plant, Flagellaria indica

The occurrence of the orchid-like Flagellaria indica, the host plant of the pretty Lycaenid, the Dark Tit (Hypolycaenia thecloides thecloides) attracts this species to occasionally turn up at SBWR. In quite a number of encounters of this species that I have come across, the adult butterflies are pristine individuals that may have recently eclosed in the vicinity. The related Common Tit (Hypolycaena erylus teatus) has also been spotted along the mangrove trails.

Two of the Danainae that can sometimes be spotted at SBWR feeding on the yellow flowers of the Pig's Grass (Synedrella nodiflora)

And then there are the usual Danainae butterflies like the Blue and Dark Glassy Tigers, Spotted Black Crow and Striped Blue Crow that make their appearance regularly at SBWR as their caterpillar host plants are also found in this type of habitat.

Due to the presence of long grasses like Lallang and Elephant Grass, the Hesperiidae are also often spotted at SBWR. Amongst the regulars are the Common Awl, Plain Banded Awl, the various Darts and Swifts. Also previously recorded at SBWR are the Forest Hopper and Bush Hopper.

The Malay Dartlet was first discovered through a photo on an individual taken at SBWR in 2011

A skipper of note that was documented as a new discovery for Singapore in 2011, is the Malay Dartlet (Oriens paragola). An individual was first spotted at SBWR and recorded as a new find for Singapore. The species is still considered moderately rare, but has now been spotted in many parts of Singapore.

Despite not being an ideal place for butterfly photography, SBWR is still an interesting place to visit for a nature outing. Butterflies come as a bonus if they do appear, and do look out for the signature species at SBWR's mangrove habitats when you visit. The list of butterflies mentioned here are by no means exhaustive, and there are many other common species that have been spotted at SBWR from time to time.

How to get there :

By bus:
Mondays to Saturdays
Board SMRT Bus 925 from Kranji MRT Station. Alight at Kranji Reservoir Carpark B. Walk across the road to the Visitor Centre.

Sundays and Public Holidays
Board SMRT Bus 925 from Kranji MRT Station. The bus stops at the Wetland Centre entrance. Please note that SMRT Bus 925 operates only from Woodlands Interchange on Sundays and Public Holidays.

By car :

Visitor Centre:
60 Kranji Way, #01-00
Singapore 739453

Wetland Centre:
301 Neo Tiew Crescent
Singapore 718925

Parking lots are available near both entrances.

Opening hours:
7 am to 7 pm daily (entering or remaining in the nature reserve after 7pm is not allowed);

Text and Photos by Khew SK

*Note : All the butterfly photos featured here were taken in-situ at various parts of SBWR over the past 15 years

08 September 2019

Butterfly of the Month - September 2019

Butterfly of the Month - September 2019
The Common Duffer (Discophora sondaica despoliata)

A portrait of a butterfly : A freshly eclosed Common Duffer perched on flowers of Lantana camara

We tread into the 9th month of 2019 as the summer heatwave begins to ease off slightly. Already, there have been reports of torrential rains and floods affecting certain countries around the world. As the monsoons bear upon countries like India and parts of Indo-China, the intensity of rainfall and volumes have changed over the decades, making predictions and flood-mitigating measures difficult.

Singapore prepares for climate change, as outlined in Prime Minister Lee's National Day Rally speech last month, by (1) understanding the issue (2) take measures to mitigate it and (3) adapt to it. As a low-lying city state near the equator, Singapore is more vulnerable to sea level rise than most countries.

As it is, various pilot projects have been tested to prevent local infrastructure from being affected by rising sea levels. Platform levels for new infrastructure is being raised, and new developments are required to be built at least 4m above mean sea level. Research on polders and dikes are being carried out on the offshore island of Pulau Tekong and these experiments are likely to be implemented in a large scale on the main island of Singapore in time to come.

A Common Duffer typically lurks in dark shady vegetation 

In the meantime, the Cross Island MRT Line is back in the news. The future Cross Island MRT Line that will stretch from Tuas to Changi can either run under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve or go around it. Generating controversy for the past few years, nature groups continue to be up in arms against the MRT line cutting across the nature reserve. The initial feasibility studies have shown that both options can be made to work. Furthermore, the MRT line that cuts across the CCNR will now be planned to be 70m deep under the nature reserve, instead of 40m as originally intended.

A Common Duffer feeding on some nutrients on a twig

The decision of the alignment of the MRT line will be made some time next year. Both nature groups and the public, particularly the homeowners whose properties may be affected by the option to skirt the MRT line around the nature reserve, say their piece for or against either option. The two options obviously have their respective pros and cons, and the government will make a final decision soon.

We come back to our feature butterfly for the month of September 2019, the elusive Common Duffer (Discophora sondaica despoliata). The species is anything but common, as what its English common name suggests. Adults are rarely seen in Singapore, although it is quite widely distributed across the island. It can be found in the vicinity of its host plant, bamboo (Bambusa spp.)

Two female Common Duffers

The butterfly has been observed, usually singly in heavily shaded forested areas. But it can also be found in areas around bamboo groves, like the Singapore Botanic Gardens and even on Pulau Ubin. The Common Duffer lurks amongst heavily vegetated areas, staying quite still unless disturbed. It is skittish and is hard to approach when disturbed from its hiding places.

The Common Duffer is dark brown with a series of obscure pale blue spots on the apical half of the forewing in the male. The female is also a similar shade of brown on the upperside, but with a series of mauve post-discal spots and sub-marginal spots on the forewing and orange post-discal and sub-marginal spots on the hindwing. The female has a more pronounced protrusion at vein 4 on the hindwing making the hindwing appear slightly more angular.

A female Common Duffer perches on palm leaves

The underside is ochreous brown and heavily striated with the distal half of the wings a lighter shade. There are a few post-discal eyespots on the hindwing. In a sidelight, there is a purplish wash on parts of both wings.

A Common Duffer from Hong Kong feeding on some organic matter

Two Common Duffers from North Thailand

Males of the species have regularly been observed to puddle on decomposing organic matter and along damp footpaths that have been tainted with animal excretion. Females are more often seen feeding on overripe fruits and in particular the fruits of the Singapore Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum)

The hairy caterpillars of the Common Duffer resemble moth caterpillars

Occasionally, its caterpillars can be found in small numbers on its caterpillar host plant, bamboo. The caterpillars are typical of the genus in the sub-family Satyrinae and are hairy and moth-like. Early instar caterpillars are gregarious and often feed in a group.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by May Chan, Antonio Giudici, Federick Ho, Khew SK, Loh MY, Jonathan Soong and Liyana Zolpakar

Special thanks to Foo Jit Leang for discovering several clutches of caterpillars on the bamboo plants near his home to allow us a chance to observe and photograph the Common Duffer more easily