30 April 2011

An Eagle's Tale

An Eagle's Tale -
Saving an Injured White Bellied Sea Eagle

A healthy White Bellied Sea Eagle soaring in the skies. This was shot at a Reservoir Park.

Hang on... what's a picture of a White Bellied Sea Eagle doing in ButterflyCircle's Blog? Have our butterflies gone to the birds? No, although this blog article is an unprecedented departure from our usual features about our beloved Flying Jewels, it is a story worth sharing with all our nature-loving readers out there. Here is an Eagle's Tale...

I was taking a good rest at home on this Easter Sunday, after a tiring marathon out in the field shooting butterflies the previous two days, when I received a text message from ButterflyCircle member Chng CK. Whilst out shooting with Loke PF, they had come across an injured eagle that some fishermen had pointed them to.

Another shot of the poor eagle. Note the torn off tail feathers

As we were all inexperienced at handling birds, and particularly one as big as this bird of prey, I advised Chng and Loke to leave it where it was, just in case the bird panicked and injured itself further, or even injured them! After a few quick SMSs to friends and nature enthusiasts, I received a reply from Biswajit Guha, the Director of Zoology at the Singapore Zoo.

Bis had conveyed our SOS to the General Curator of the Jurong Bird Park, Mr Raja Segran. After a few SMS exchanges, Raja headed out to the location where Chng and Loke were waiting with the injured bird. He identified the eagle as a mature White Bellied Sea Eagle that appeared badly injured.

The injured eagle. Note the near-opaque right eye, indicating that the eye may be infected and blind

In the meantime, Loke kept watch over the bird to ensure that it did not fall prey to any predators that may be lurking around the forest. The traumatised bird was in a bad state, with its tail feathers completely torn off. Its right eye appeared opaque and it was obviously blind on that side.

A closeup 'macro' shot of the head and beak of the Eagle

Keeping a safe distance, our ButterflyCircle members took photos of the bird for record, as this was the first them either of them was this close to this magnificent bird of prey to be able to shoot it at macro range!

We had just been shooting the White Bellied Sea Eagle the week before, when a couple of them swooped low enough for decent shots with our Tamron 180mm macro lenses!

The bird succumbed to its hunger and quickly wolfed down the fish that was offered to it

The bird appeared weak and even though it flapped its wings occasionally, it was unable to fly. One of the fishermen gave our members a catfish, and this was thrown to the injured bird. After a few tries, the eagle ate the fish hungrily, finishing the meal in its usual predator style.

Chng with our experienced friends from the Jurong Bird Park carefully picking up the injured eagle

After about an hour, Raja and an assistant arrived at the location and with expert handling, captured the injured eagle and wrapped it in a towel so that it would not further injure itself or the handlers. The bird was too weak to put up much of a fight.

The injured eagle is wrapped snugly in a towel by the experienced experts from the Bird Park

From the condition of the eagle, Raja opined that it was probably kept by some poachers in a cage for some time and dumped in the forest to die, when the owner saw that it was in a condition that it was unlikely to survive for long.

Putting the eagle safely into a kitty box, Raja and his assistant brought it back to the Jurong Bird Park where the injured eagle could be examined and its injuries treated. Hopefully the eagle can recover and soar with the wind beneath its wings once again.

The eagle, safe and sound in a kitty box, and off to the "hospital" for treatment!

An update a week later when Loke contacted Raja at the Bird Park. Raja said that the eagle is still alive and recovering from its injuries, but is blind on one side as the eye was permanently damaged. The Bird Park will continue to do its best to treat the eagle, but given its severe injuries when it was found, it may take a long time for the bird to heal.

Kudos to Loke and Chng for doing a good deed to try to save the injured White Bellied Sea Eagle, and a feather in the cap for ButterflyCircle's members, whose nature conservation efforts extend beyond just butterflies.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Chng CK & Loke PF

  • Thanks to my friends who responded to my SMSs and offered their advice - Ria Tan, R Subaraj, Serene Chng, Ng Bee Choo, Johnny Wee & Robert Teo.

  • Special thanks to Biswajit Guha of Singapore Zoo and Raja Segran from the Jurong Bird Park for the rescue exercise.

27 April 2011

Butterfly Portraits - Fluffy Tit

Butterfly Portraits
Fluffy Tit (Zeltus amasa maximinianus)

Canon EOS 7D fill-flashed with Speedlite 480EX : Tamron 180mm f/3.5 : ISO 1000 ; f/6.3 ; 1/200s in AV Mode, Handheld

"Since taking up butterfly photography more than a year ago, a typical weekend morning would begin with a brief exchange of SMSs with fellow butterfly enthusiasts, deciding on the location for butterfly hunting. After a week of hard work in the office, a butterfly outing is always anticipated with great enthusiasm. It is also an opportunity to exercise my body and refresh my mind.

On Good Friday, it was no exception. An SMS soon arrived after my breakfast. It was Chng. After a short round of SMSs, we made a quick check on the NEA’s weather portal, and it was a go! We met up with fellow enthusiasts and headed for an urban park. At the park after hours in the field, the heat soon took its toll on us. Anthony and I decided to take a break.

While resting and shooting the breeze in a shelter, I spotted an orange object drifting into my view. It was flying down from the tree top and it landed on the bush a short distance away. Anthony jokingly commented that it was probably a fallen brown leaf. Unconvinced, I grabbed my camera and sauntered towards the bush. Just then, an orange butterfly fluttered out from the bush. Peering at it closely, I noticed the butterfly had a black spot in space 2 on the underside of its hind wing and it had a long tail. This must be a Fluffy Tit.

While the Fluffy Tit is quite commonly encountered in the field, a pristine one is relatively rare. I alerted the guys and soon, everyone crowded round the bush. There was an intense round of shutter clicking, with everyone fixing their eyes on the beautiful Fluffy Tit.

The Fluffy Tit has a habit of hopping from leaf-to-leaf, foraging for food and it rarely stays still. This makes shooting one a challenge. On that afternoon, it was breezy and the sky was ominous with rain clouds over the horizon. I dialled up the ISO, opened up the aperture a bit more to allow more light to pass through and had a higher shutter speed to counter the breeze. I waited patiently, observing the beauty jumping from vegetation to vegetation. Soon the moment came. It hopped onto a leaf in front of me. The background was unobstructed and green. Seizing the moment, I immediately but slowly lowered my body. In a half kneeling position, I aimed and got parallel to the butterfly.

While looking through the viewfinder, I saw two pairs of long tails dancing in the wind. Ensuring the entire butterfly was in my viewfinder, I snapped a few shots. Soon the Fluffy Tit took off again. I stood up and checked on the preview screen expectantly. Scrolling the captured image from top to bottom and left to right, the butterfly appeared sharp and in focus from wing tip to its eye. Bingo! That afternoon, none of us went home empty-handed – a good outing, a good workout and with some beautiful images of the flying jewels captured in our memory cards."

ButterflyCircle Photographer : Loke PF in his early 40's, working as a Project Manager in the IT industry.

23 April 2011

Butterfly of the Month - April 2011

Butterfly of the Month - April 2011
The Quaker (Neopithecops zalmora zalmora)

A Quaker feeding on a flowering forest shrub

The month of April saw the intermonsoon winds bringing rather thundery showers in the afternoons of quite a number of days for the early part of the month. From the number of times the MCB (that's Mini Circuit Breaker) tripped in my home this month, I'd say that the lightning/thunder that came with the rains appear to be more frequent this month than in the rainy months towards the end of 2010.

Over here in Singapore, Election fever is in the air, with Nomination Day announced to fall on 27 April and Polling Day scheduled for Saturday, 7 May 2011. From the buzz in local forums, social networking sites, blogs and with the cacophony of comments, opinions and debates, our local cyberspace has never been noisier in recent years. Promising to be a "watershed" elections, GE 2011 will be an election to watch. It's even more exciting for me personally, as this will probably be the first time in my life (!) that I will be voting in a Singapore GE, as the constituency where I live in, has always been returned unopposed for as long as I can remember.

The month of April has been traditionally associated with the "woman's best friend", the most sought-after jewel by mankind, the diamond. Well-known for its amazing hardness, the diamond is often viewed as indestructible, and symbolises permanence and eternity.

She who from April dates her years,
diamonds shall wear,
lest bitter tears
For vain repentance flow.
- Gregorian Birthstone Poems

This month we feature a little butterfly that I've always considered as a "diamond in the rough" - the Quaker (Neopithecops zalmora zalmora). This moderately rare butterfly is small, with a wingspan of only about 20-22mm. In many of my encounters with this species, it is always fluttering restlessly in the shaded understorey of forested areas in Singapore's nature reserves. Its white undersides 'shine' brilliantly in contrast to the shaded habitats that it prefers, as it flies with an erratic and restless flight amongst the low shrubbery.

Usually, individuals are observed and the species is by no means easy to locate as it does not appear to favour any particular localised areas, but is instead quite widespread in the forested areas of the nature reserves. I have never seen it in urban parks and gardens. It appears to prefer to stay within the sanctuary of the nature reserves.

A Quaker feeds on nectar from the flower of the Bandicoot Cherry

Occasionally, it is found feeding at flowers - most often on the flowers of the Bandicoot Cherry (Leea indica) where it often shares the nectaring spoils with several Skipper species. Even when feeding, it has a habit of sliding its hindwings over each other and keeping them in motion. Its small size makes it a challenge to photograph, especially when it is often encountered in habitats with low light.

The upperside of the Quaker is predominantly blackish-brown, usually with a sullied white patch on the forewing, that may be absent in males. The underside is pure white with light greyish submarginal markings. There is a distinctive large black circular spot reminescent of a 'black diamond' on the costa of the white hindwing.

A Quaker puddling on damp sand at a stream bank in the nature reserves

The species has been observed to occasionally puddle at damp spots on the ground where it can feed quietly and almost motionlessly for a period of time. In the late afternoon hours, perhaps after a fill of nectar or other liquid diet, the Quaker can also be found perched on the tips of leaves and twigs where it stays quite still if undisturbed.

Researching into its curious common English name, the Quaker, I found that Quakers are generally associated with the Religious Society of Friends. The Quakers are a group of Christians who use no scripture and believe in great simplicity in daily life and in worship. Their services consist mainly of silent meditation. Quakers have traditionally been committed to pacifism and are against any form of violence or war. Rather interesting, as my own memories of the word Quaker are usually associated with the popular brand of oats!

And so we have this little peace-loving butterfly, fluttering like a little bright diamond in our well-shaded forest habitats almost like trying to call our attention to it as it flies restlessly in search of food.

Text by Khew SK ; Photos by James Chia, Sunny Chir, James Foong, Khew SK, Simon Sng, Horace Tan, Anthony Wong, Mark Wong & Wong Chee Ming

20 April 2011

Butterfly Portraits - Elbowed Pierrot

Butterfly Portraits
Elbowed Pierrot (Caleta elna elvira)

From this month onwards, this blog will feature the works of ButterflyCircle's members in weekly short feature articles. It will basically showcase a portrait of a butterfly taken by one of our photographers, with the photographer sharing his/her behind-the-scenes anecdotal experience in getting that precious shot that made his/her day. Technical photographic data will be included so that readers can have useful information about the equipment used, and how the shot was achieved.

Canon 500D with Speedlite EX420. Tamron 180mm f/3.5 ; ISO800 f6.3 1/100s in AV Mode; Handheld

"Singapore's hot humid weather is not something that a shopper in Orchard Road would hope for. However, it is exactly the kind of weather that I always look forward to during my weekends. A hot and sunny day usually signifies higher butterfly activity.

On this particular Saturday afternoon, I was at my favourite butterfly puddling haunt within the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. I was having a frustrating time chasing the hyper active butterflies without results so I decided to try my luck on an Elbowed Pierrot puddling quietly on the ground. I crept towards it cautiously, and got down on all fours. I closed in slowly and finally got into full proning position when I was within shooting range. A look through my viewfinder showed that neither the background nor the composition were up to expectations. Disappointed, I got up, just as a cloud hid the sun and covered the area in shade.

The butterfly, having had its fill of puddling, flew away to a nearby bush during this change of lighting. Sensing a new opportunity, I approached it again in squatting position this time. A look through my viewfinder this time showed a clean, green background with a relatively nice perch. Not forgetting to increase my ISO for the shady lighting condition, I positioned myself as parallel to the butterfly as possible, rested my elbows on my thigh for more stability and took a series of shots at 1/100s, f/6.3, ISO800 in AV mode.

I checked my camera eagerly to see if I was shooting blanks and to my great satisfaction, I got two direct hits! After that, it was pure bliss for the rest of the day."

ButterflyCircle Photographer : Benjamin Yam, a Senior Executive in his early 30's, working in the book retail industry

16 April 2011

Life History of the Horsfield's Baron

Life History of the Horsfield's Baron (Tanaecia iapis puseda)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Tanaecia Butler, 1869
Species: iapis
Godart, 1824
Subspecies: puseda Moore, 1858
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 65mm
Caterpillar Host Plants:
Melastoma malabathricum (Melastomataceae).

A female Horsfield's Baron giving us a view of its upperside.

A male Horsfield's Baron displaying its wing upperside.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:

T. iapis puseda exhibits sexual dimorphism. Above, the male is dark velvety black with its hindwing hosting a broad greenish-blue distal border which is continued narrowly along the termen of the forewing. The larger female is pale ochreous brown, and has a post-discal series of helmet-shaped white spots and a less distinct marginal series of spotts on both fore- and hindwings. Underneath, the male is pale ochreous brown with a series of dark striae in the forewing cell, but without any white spots. The female has additional marginal and post-discal series of whitish spots on both fore- and hindwings.

A puddling male Horsfield's Baron.

A male Horsfield's Baron perching with a closed-wing posture.
Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
The Horsfield's Baron is relatively common in Singapore. They are mainly found in the nature reserves, but at times adults can be seen flying in public parks and wastelands where the host plants are growing in abundance. Both sexes have the habit of resting on perches with wings open. The male exhibits territorial behaviour of chasing intruders in the vicinity of its perch. On rare occasions, the male have been observed to puddle on damp ground. Refer to this earlier butterfly-of-the-month article for a more detailed write-up on this species.

Early Stages:
The host plant, Melastoma malabathricum, is a widespread weed in Singapore. An earlier blog article has a detailed write-up of its characteristics and its relationship with other local butterfly species. Caterpillars of Horsfield's Baron feed on the middle-aged to mature leaves of this amazing plant.

Host plant : Melastoma malabathricum. Leaves, flower buds and flowers are shown.

A mating pair of the Horsfield's Baron.

A mother Horsfield's Baron laying an egg at a leaf tip of the host plant.

The eggs are laid singly at the leaf tip of the host plant. Each egg has a tall dome shape with a base diameter of about 1.8mm. The surface is covered with large hexagonal depressions with hair-like protuberances emerging from adjoining corners. When freshly laid, the surface is moist and in pale green. Within hours, the moisture evaporates and the color turns to a darker shade of green.

Two views of an egg of the Horsfield's Baron.

Two views of a near-mature egg of the Horsfield's Baron, one day prior to hatching.

After about 4.5-5 days, the 1st instar caterpillar emerges and proceeds to eat the eggshell as its first meal. The caterpillar is yellowish green in body colour and has a pale yellowish brown head capsule adorned with two brownish lateral stripes. Its body sports ten pairs of long and "fleshy" dorso-lateral protuberances. Black setae emanate from the body below these long protuberances and from a series of short dorsal protuberances. Frass pellets are usually seen attached to the tip of these setae in this instar. The caterpillar grows from an initial length of about 4mm to 6mm in 1.5-2 days. The subsequent moult takes it to the 2nd instar.

Two views of a newly hatched 1st instar caterpillar. Top: taking a pause after emergence; Bottom: nearly done with eating its own egg shell.
Two views of a 1st instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length: 4mm.

1st instar caterpillar, late in this stage, dormant prior to the moult, length: 5.5mm

The body of the 2nd instar caterpillar is predominantly yellowish green. All ten pairs of short protuberances seen in the 1st instar have lengthened considerably. Each is projected horizontally with numerous branched spines and is almost always pressed to the leaf surface. The protuberance is mainly pale yellowish in color with some spines colored black in the middle and the tip portion. On the dorsum, pairs of white patches appear between the 3rd to the 10th protuberances. As growth progresses in this instar, each pair of white patches become conjoined to appear as an eye-shaped patch. The 2nd instar lasts for 3-4 days with the body length reaching about 9.5-10mm before the moult to the 3rd instar. Note that the length given here and for later instars is measured between the head and the posterior end of the last body segment, excluding the length of protuberances projected head and behind the body segments.

Two views of 2nd instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length: 8mm

A 2nd instar caterpillar, length: 8.5mm

A 2nd instar caterpillar, late in this stage, dormant prior to its moult, length: 8mm.

The 3rd instar caterpillar is still greenish in body color. There are a few small spots on the body. The protuberances have all become much longer in proportion. The branched spines appear almost like a bird's feather, with the secondary spines arranged neatly around the main spine. Dorsally the series of eight white-oultined patches become more prominent, and toward the later part of this instar, the central portion of each patch becomes darkened. The 3rd instar lasts for 3.5-4 days and reaches a length of about 15-16mm before the next moult. Towards the end of this instar, the body color gradually changes to jade green.

A newly moulted 3rd instar caterpillar. Note the exuvia lying nearby.

Two views of a 3rd instar caterpillar, length: 11mm.

3rd instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 15mm

The 4th instar caterpillar has similar appearance as in the 3rd instar but with a pale yellowish green body color. Horizontal spines on each long protuberance are mostly pale green while shorter vertical spines are black in color. The distal portion of the protuberance is mostly colored white. The dorsal marks becomes more shield-like in appearance with the central portion taken up by a large purplish/pinkish patch encircling a small dark bluish spot. After 5-6 days in this instar, with its length reaching 22-24mm, the caterpillar moults to the 5th and final instar.

A 4th instar caterpillar which has just shed its old skin.

Dorsal view of a 4th instar caterpillar, length: 22mm.

Another view of the 4th instar caterpillar.

Essentially similar to the 4th instar caterpillar, the 5th instar features a darker shade of jade green. The number of small white spots on the body has increased. The dorsal shield-like spots are also larger and more prominent visually.

5th instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length: 25mm.

5th instar caterpillar, first 2 dorsal spots.
5th instar caterpillar, last 3 dorsal markings.
5th instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 35mm.
This final instar lasts for 7-9 days with the caterpillar reaching a mature length of about 35-38mm. On the last day, the caterpillar ceases its feeding activity and its body becomes shortened. It then seeks out a spot on the underside of a mature leaf and stays put. There it laboriously spins large quantity of silk threads to make a silk mound, to which its posterior claspers are then attached to. Now the pre-pupa hangs from this anchor point in a head-down posture. By this time, each dorsal shield-like markings has decolorized to become just a ring of white surrounding a central green to dark blue patch. A short transverse white band appears on the dorsum about mid-body. Nearing the end of the pre-pupal phase, all traces of dorsal markings are nearly gone except for the very first one which becomes a yellow spot. The short transverse band turns yellow by this time too.

Two views of a pre-pupa of the Horsfield's Baron. Left: early pre-pupa; Right: late pre-pupa.

After 0.75-1 day of the pre-pupal stage, pupation takes place. The pupa is suspended with its cremaster firmly attached to the silk mound. It has a smooth body which tapers steeply towards each end from a high transverse dorsal ridge which is lined with an interrupted golden transverse band. The green pupa has a series of golden-colored spots symmetrically arranged. Two short golden-colored cephalic horns are also featured. Length of pupae: 18-20mm.

The pupation event of a Horsfield's Baron caterpillar.

Two views of a newly formed pupa of the Horsfield's Baron.

Two views of a pupa of the Horsfield's Baron.

Nine days later, the pupa becomes considerably darkened, especially in the wing case area, signaling the end of the development of the adult still encased within. The next day, the adult butterfly ecloses and stays near the empty pupal case for an hour or two before taking its first flight.

Two views of a mature pupa of the Horsfield's Baron.

A newly eclosed male Horsfield's Baron clinging on its empty pupal case.

A newly eclosed male Horsfield's Baron.

  • [C&P4] The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, Malayan Nature Society.
  • Butterflies of Thailand, Pisuth Ek-Amnuay, 1st Edition, 2006
Text by Horace Tan, Photos by James Chia, Ellen Tan, Sunny Chir, Khew SK and Horace Tan