14 July 2019

Idyllic Ipoh

Idyllic Ipoh
An Outing to Various Locations near Ipoh, Malaysia


A male Rajah Brooke's Birdwing puddling on the hot damp sand at Kuala Woh

After our recent butterfly outing to Mahua Waterfall in Sabah, East Malaysia, in April this year, our butterfly-shooting wanderlust called again. This time, at the suggestion of Cheng Ai, our latest newbie in the group, we headed off to Ipoh, and to visit our favourite shooting locations at Gua Tempurung, Kuala Woh and the area around Gopeng in the Malaysian state of Perak.


And off we go!


Our journey from Singapore started at an unearthly hour of 5:30am in the morning, to take advantage of the cooler hours of the day and to primarily to avoid any jams at the border crossings into Malaysia. After clearing customs and immigration at Tuas Checkpoint, we were happily on our way north. After a short break for a quick bite at one of the highway pitstops, Cheng Ai zoomed all the way northwards, staying within the speed limit (most of the time!).



The iconic landscape of sheer limestone cliffs are an indication that we are near Ipoh

Along the N-S Expressway, the karst landscape that appeared on both sides of the road signalled that we were nearing our destination. The limestone outcrops and sheer vertical hill surfaces on the hills covered with lush vegetation are typical of the natural landscape in the state of Perak in Malaysia. Karst is landscape underlain by limestone which has been eroded by water through dissolution, producing various formations, these include the limestone hills and caves.

Day 1 : Gua Tempurung




The environment around Gua Tempurung

After lunch at Gopeng town, we headed for one of our target locations for shooting around the tourist attraction of Gua Tempurung. This cave is one of the longest cavern networks in Peninsular Malaysia and runs 1.6km in the heart of a large limestone hill. Taking advantage of the forested areas around the cavern network, and the stream that comes out of the caves, the area proved to be quite fruitful for butterfly-shooting on many of our earlier trips to this area. In particular, the White Dragontail (Lamproptera curius curius) makes a regular appearance in this area.


The signature White Dragontail that is often found around Gua Tempurung's stream banks

This time again, the White Dragontail did not disappoint, but only one appeared and posed for us to shoot, complete with opened wings and feeding on the flower of the White Weed. As it was past the annual peak season for butterflies, the Pieridae that we saw on previous outings were glaringly absent. There were fewer butterflies around than our earlier trips here, and the overcast sky didn't help one bit. A favourite spot where we used to encounter many species had been cleared of vegetation, and added to the low butterfly count.



A female Malayan Birdwing feeding on nectar from a Hibiscus flower

Nevertheless, it is an area that is worth visiting again in future, as there will always be something unexpected that may turn up, as many of our earlier visits proved. As it started to drizzle a bit, a large female Malayan Birdwing (Troides amphrysus ruficollis) came down to the Hibiscus bush to feed on the bring red flowers. As the weather looked like more rain, we called it a day and headed to Ipoh town, and after checking into our boutique hotel with its interesting decor, we headed out for dinner. It was an early night for all of us, as it had been a long day of driving and shooting, and we settled in for a much-needed rest.

Day 2 : Gopeng



Butterfly-hunting near Gopeng

The next morning, after a generous breakfast, we met up with Steve Tan, who happens to be the son of a renowned butterfly collector in Malaysia, the late Tan Ah Sah. In my school days, I had always marvelled at the unique tailed form of the Great Mormon female f-tanahsahi, which was named after Steve's father.






A selection of the butterfly species found at the Gopeng forests

Steve brought us to a forested area near Gopeng where we were treated with a number of Hesperiidae that came out to feed at the roadside flowers. Near a streambank, we also encountered several puddling species that were slightly more cooperative and allowed us to approach them.




Cheng Ai hard at work at a streambank puddling ground


As it was durian season, we also managed to help ourselves to a couple of fruits that we bought off the local villagers. All too soon, it was back in Ipoh for dinner and a good rest before our final day of shooting at Kuala Woh.

Day 3 : Kuala Woh Recreational Forest



The large pristine forest around the Kuala Woh Recreational Park. We hardly walked about 1-2 km radius from the main visitor centre

I recall that in the past two visits to Kuala Woh in 2011 and 2014, there were always Rajah Brooke's Birdwings (Trogonoptera brookiana albescens) flying around and puddling in numbers. We weren't disappointed this time around. As we made our way to the banks of Sungei Batang Padang, we were greeted with several cruising Rajah Brooke's Birdwings, fluttering with nonchalance with their black and emerald wings shimmering in the bright sunshine.




It was a Monday morning, and the usual weekend picnickers and crowds were thankfully absent. The environment was quiet with just a few visitors around. Over at the sandbanks across the river, we saw a few clusters of puddling Rajah Brooke's Birdwings in the distance. It was rather quiet with not many butterflies flying around compared to our previous trips, but a male Courtesan came down to puddle for a while.


A congretation of Rajah Brooke's Birdwings.  How many can you count?

We crossed the suspension bridge over the river and went over to check the Rajah Brooke's congregation on the sandy banks across. This time around, there appeared to be different congregations of larger numbers. In one of the larger clusters, we counted at least 50 of these magnificent 'kings' puddling together.




A rare White-Tipped Palmer in the bamboo forest at Kuala Woh

After having our fill of these birdwings, we took a walk around the forested area. Other than the usual forest species, we were happy to encounter a rare White-Tipped Palmer (Lotongus calathus) lurking amongst the bamboo groves. There were some Arhopalas around, but were too skittish to shoot.



A bright orange Malay Rajah came down to puddle at the stream bank

Back at the river banks, a Malay Rajah (Charaxes distanti distanti) came down to puddle. Comparatively rarer than the Tawny Rajahs that we saw on this trip, the distinguishing feature of this species is the costal white streak on the underside of the forewing. A few other 'commoners' also came down to check on us, amongst them a Blue Glassy Tiger, Magpie Crow and a Dark Banded Ace.


It is interesting to note that the Rajah Brooke's Birdwings puddle at the areas where the sand is hot to the touch and the water temperature can sometimes be almost scalding. It is likely to be going after the sulphurous minerals from the hot springs in the area.

Just after 3pm, the skies turned dark and it started pouring. But we were happy that our date with the "king" was successful, and we had our fill of shots (and videos) once again of the impressive Rajah Brooke's Birdwings at Kuala Woh.

Day 4 : Back Home



We set out on the road after breakfast heading off to the N-S Expressway and a 6-hour drive back to Singapore. As we were making good time, we decided to take a detour in to Ayer Keroh near Malacca to visit the Malacca Butterfly and Reptile Sanctuary. This eco-attraction was opened in 1991 and has continued to evolve over the past 28 years.





The environment has aged well, with the vegetation lush and well integrated into the facilities and insects and animals that the Sanctuary showcases. Of particular interest is its butterfly breeding programme, which has successfully achieved a sustained breeding of the Tree Nymph (Idea lynceus) for a long time. The Sanctuary's conservation programme and breeding methodology is the brainchild of its owner, Gerard Wong and his team.


The signature Tree Nymph (Idea lynceus) at the Malacca Butterfly and Reptile Sanctuary

A group shot with Gerard and Elaine at the Malacca Butterfly and Reptile Sanctuary

We also managed to get Gerard and his wife Elaine to show us around the Sanctuary and shared stories about the breeding of various species of butterflies. As we needed to head back home, we promised to return to the Sanctuary for a longer visit the next time around!

It was a good trip up north an enjoyable 4-day break for us, and we finally crossed the Tuas Checkpoint into Singapore just past 6:30pm after heaving a sigh of relief over the drama at the Malaysian side of the link. Note to Cheng Ai (and everyone else) - if you need to hide your passport for safekeeping, please do not hide it so well, that you cannot find it when the immigration officer is waiting for us at the checkpoint! :)

And so ends another butterfly adventure as we look forward to the next longer trip further up north in a few months' time.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Huang CJ, Khew SK and Lim Cheng Ai.

06 July 2019

Butterfly of the Month - July 2019

Butterfly of the Month - July 2019
The Dark Grass Brown (Orsotriaena medus cinerea)


A Dark Grass Brown perched on a blade of dew-covered grass in the early morning hours of the day

We move into the latter half of 2019 and the month of July. Over in the US, Americans celebrated "Independence Day" on the 4th of July. Global politics continue to be centred on the Trade War between the US and China, and it does appear that more countries may be dragged into the fray with possibly more tariffs being slapped on goods imported from these countries into the US.



Closer to home in Asia, the protests over the extradition law in Hong Kong continues to spin out of control. Whilst a lot have been said and done, who really benefits or wins, and who really suffers and loses the most from such public unrest? The world watches as the drama unfolds, as such instability rarely benefits anyone in the country in the long run.


A mating pair of Dark Grass Browns.  The sexes are almost indistinguishable

Our Butterfly of the Month for July 2019 is the Dark Grass Brown (Orsotriaena medus cinerea), a relatively common species that is usually found fluttering skittishly amongst grasses and low shrubbery. Originally christened with the English Common name of Nigger, the species has been renamed, to be politically correct, to avoid any racial sensitivities.




Over in Australia, it is called the Smooth-Eyed Bush Brown, in India it is referred to as the Medus Brown, and in Southeast Asia, it is called the Dark Grass Brown. Whilst easier to refer to, English Common names do not follow any set of scientific rules and can be confusing as all the three names (and probably more) refer to the same species - Orsotriaena medus.




The Dark Grass Brown resembles the many lookalike species of the Mycalesis genus (referred to as "Bush Browns"), and often flies together with these other species in the same habitats. The Dark Grass Brown tends to fly low and can be seen flying in the early hours of the morning and late into the evening.


Another pair of mating Dark Grass Browns

Although a common and usually under-appreciated species that is often overlooked by observers, the Dark Grass Brown is alert and skittish and will require a bit of patience and stealth to approach and take a good photo of. It does not fly far when disturbed, often flitting away in its characteristic hopping flight and then settling on the top of a leaf or a grass blade.


A Dark Grass Brown that is a victim of a Crab Spider.  Note the upperside of the wings

The Dark Grass Brown is dark brown and unmarked on the upperside. It has two large ocelli on the underside of the forewing, and three more on the underside of the hindwing. There is a distinct white discal stripe extending across the underside of both wings. There are two white marginal lines from the apex of the forewing to the tornal area of the hindwing.



A slightly aberrant Dark Grass Brown with an additional ocellus on the forewing.

The caterpillar of the Dark Grass Brown feeds on lalang (Imperata cylindrica), a "weed" that grows very commonly in cleared areas and wastelands. This may explain the widespread distribution of this species across Singapore where its host plant is invasive and often considered as unwanted vegetation that is removed by maintenance workers.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Jerome Chua, Huang CJ, Khew SK, Loke PF and Jonathan Soong