29 March 2014

Nature Ways in Singapore

Nature Ways in Singapore 
Connecting Areas of Biodiversity

A group shot with NParks staff at Singapore Botanic Gardens

This morning, I had a sharing session with a group of staff from the National Parks Board. Most of the staff were from the Landscaping and Arboriculture and Streetscape East Branches of the Streetscape Division, National Biodiversity Centre Division and Community Parks. It was also an opportunity for me to learn a bit more about NParks' Nature Ways and how these are intended to enhance biodiversity in Singapore.

Sharing about butterflies with the NParks staff at Ridley Hall, Singapore Botanic Gardens

The morning started with a talk about butterflies, covering various aspects about their biology, ecology and habitats, their relationship with plants and designing and landscaping to attract butterflies. It was nice to see a very attentive audience, especially on a Saturday (an off-day for everyone!). The staff asked very valid and relevant questions to enhance their knowledge about butterflies and how they exist in the environment.

I was also pleased to note that many of the NParks staff had backgrounds in architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, botany and arboriculture. I was glad that I had customised my talk to focus more on plants, landscape and how butterflies relate to plants, which was more relevant to my audience's areas of interest.

Receiving a token of appreciation from Director, Streetscape Division, Oh Cheow Sheng

So what exactly are Nature Ways? From NParks' Quarterly Newsletter, My Green Space, "Nature Ways are linear, green corridors along roadsides that have been developed to connect areas of high biodiversity to urban areas. The aim is to attract birdlife and butterflies from nature areas and parks to areas where people can appreciate them, and be more aware of the beautiful natural environment around them."

Source : © My Green Space - a Quarterly NParks Publication

To create Nature Ways, NParks designs these eco-corridors to replicate the natural structures of forests as far as is possible. Trees, shrubs and groundcovers would be planted on available roadside planting strips to re-create habitats similar to those found in the emergent, mid-canopy, understory and undergrowth layers of natural forests.

Relevant species of plants are then selected for the emergent, mid-canopy, understory and undergrowth layers to create conducive environments for birds and butterflies to encourage activities like nesting and feeding.  In the understory and undergrowth layers, nectaring and host plants for butterflies are planted to attract various species like the Plain Tiger, Leopard, Mottled Emigrant and so on.

The group also had a discussion about doing a butterfly biodiversity survey that will help to fine-tune the species to attract to the various nature ways, depending on their locations and proximity to the source nodes of high butterfly diversity (e.g. the nature reserves or larger parks)  This is important, as it would then target the correct species and also helps with species recovery of the rarer species by increasing the host plants relevant to the specific location of the nature way.

Source : © National Parks Board - Tengah Nature Way

Currently, the longest nature way is the Tengah Nature Way. Spanning 13km in length, Tengah Nature Way is the Singapore’s longest Nature Way so far.  It refers to the area of largely residential land between the Bukit Timah and Central Catchment Nature Reserves and the Western Catchment (SAFTI Live-Firing Area). There are already nature ways at Admiralty, Kheam Hock, Tampines and Yishun.

At the end of my talk, the group went on a short walk at the Singapore Botanic Gardens to see if we can spot any butterflies. We moved to the Swan Lake area, where there are more nectaring plants. At the edge of the pond, where a row of Cassia fistula and Caesalpinia pulcherrima were grown, a number of Pierid butterflies - Common Grass Yellow, Lemon Emigrant and Orange Emigrant were up and about.

Watching an Orange Emigrant oviposit

As if on cue, a female Orange Emigrant descended from the treetops and oviposited on a leaf of the Peacock Flower bush. The Lemon Emigrants were also flying actively amongst the foliage of the Cassia fistula trees. Walking further towards the Ginger Garden we spotted a number of Common Palmfly in the shaded area. As the weather was hot and sunny, there were a number of butterflies up and about. Over in the rainforest area, the group spotted species like the Painted Jezebel, a Common Mormon and a Short Banded Sailor.

I was pleased to note that quite a few of the NParks staff were already quite conversant with butterflies and could capably identify the more common urban species. It will only be a matter of time and with more field experience that the staff can be competent butterfly guides in the nature ways and be able to educate visitors and members of the public on the butterfly diversity along the nature ways!

It was a worthwhile morning for me to share information about butterflies with the NParks staff and also learn more about the development of nature ways as a strategy to habitat de-fragmentation and conserving our precious biodiversity in Singapore. With 'customised' and selective planting relevant to the locations of the nature ways, these eco-corridors will no doubt help in creating a conducive environment for butterflies to move across the island as well as aid in species conservation in Singapore.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Jason Yong and Huang CJ

Further References And Reading :

28 March 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Anderson's Grass Yellow

Butterflies Galore!
Anderson's Grass Yellow (Eurema andersonii andersonii)

The Grass Yellows from the genus Eurema, are difficult to identify when they are in flight. Although they have quite distinctive diagnostic features that distinguish the various species, it is necessary for them to stop for a closer look before they can be identified with a fair level of confidence. In this shot, taken by ButterflyCircle member Huang CJ, the single cell spot can be clearly seen to identify this butterfly as the Anderson's Grass Yellow (Eurema andersonii andersonii)

Many of the Grass Yellows' males puddle at damp roadside paths and banks of forest streams for nutrients. The puddling butterfly presents the best opportunity for a photographer to sneak up on it and take a good shot of the butterfly. When it is flying erratically it is almost futile to chase the butterfly to try to photograph it.

27 March 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Arhopala amphimuta

Butterflies Galore!
Arhopala amphimuta amphimuta

Amongst the many lookalike species of butterflies in Singapore and Malaysia, this genus is probably one of the most challenging to identify. There are over 80 species in Malaysia alone, and more species are still being described from time to time. Although we have recorded only 16 species of Arhopala in Singapore, it is without doubt that there are more that have yet to be confidently identified and recorded.

Amongst the Arhopalas that are found in Singapore, this species, Arhopala amphimuta amphimuta is relatively common and several individuals can often be found in the same location. This species can easily be confused with the very similar looking Arhopala major major. The distinguishing V-shaped spot in A. amphimuta at the post-discal area of the hindwing generally separates the two species. The caterpillars of this species feed on Macaranga bancana and often in the company of ants. This individual was shot by ButterflyCircle member Nona Ooi.

25 March 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Yellow Flash

Butterflies Galore!
The Yellow Flash (Rapala domitia domitia)

The Yellow Flash (Rapala domitia domitia) is one of the rarer species in the genus Rapala of which there are currently seven reliably identified species in Singapore. Though rare, the Yellow Flash appears to be regularly observed in the forested areas of Singapore, and is widespread in distribution. It is skittish and a fast flyer and quite averse to the camera's flash at times.

The underside of the butterfly is a bright lemon yellow and largely unmarked except for a few black bars on the forewings and black marginal areas with blue iridescent scales on the hindwing. The upperside of both sexes is a dull brown. This pristine Yellow Flash was shot last weekend by young ButterflyCircle member Jonathan Soong.

22 March 2014

Life History of the Pale Grass Blue

Life History of the Pale Grass Blue (Zizeeria maha serica)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Zizeeria Chapman, 1910
Species: maha Kollar, 1844
Subspecies: serica C. Felder, 1862
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 20-25mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plant: Oxalis corniculata (Oxalidaceae, common names: Creeping Wood Sorrel, Yellow Wood Sorrel), Oxalis barrelieri (Oxalidaceae, common names: Barrelier's woodsorrel, lavender sorrel).

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
On the upperside, the male is light blue with broad dark blue border on both wings, whilst the female is dark greyish blue. On the underside, both sexes are pale greyish brown. Both wings have a cell-end bar and a spot in the cell, as well as a post-discal band of dark rounded spots. Both wings also have a submarginal series of pronounced spots flanked with v-shaped striae.

Field Observations:
Pale Grass Blue was discovered in Singapore in 2001 and has since become a common species. It was most probably introduced by human agency. The adults can be found in urban parks, grasslands and even in residential compounds and university campuses. The adults have a weak fluttering flight, and are usually spotted in the vicinity of its host plant, Yellow Wood Sorrel, or visiting flowers of various plants for nectar.

21 March 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Elbowed Pierrot

Butterflies Galore!
The Elbowed Pierrot (Caleta elna elvira)

The Elbowed Pierrot is a small black-and-white butterfly that flies mainly in the forested nature reserves of Singapore. It flies fast and erratically, usually at low level, searching for food along open footpaths and clearings. It also likes to perch on thin twigs to rest amongst the shrubbery. It is quite a rare sight to see this species open its wings to show the upper side of its wings.

This species is partial to decomposing organic matter on the forest floor, and readily puddles when it finds such a food source. This shot, taken by ButterflyCircle member Chng CK, shows a typical puddling Elbowed Pierrot.

20 March 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Horsfield's Baron

Butterflies Galore!
The Horsfield's Baron (Tanaecia iapis puseda)

The male Horsfield's Baron is territorial, and often displays a behaviour where it perches on a few preferred vantage points and then fly out to "attack" anything that intrudes into its territory. The characteristic dark brown/black wings with a light blue marginal border across both wings up to the termen of the forewing sets it apart from most butterflies in Singapore. Beginners, however, often confuse this species with the male Archduke & Black Tipped Archduke, which are larger and feature a more robust body. The underside of the Horsfield's Baron is pale buff with light brown markings.

Male Horsfield's Barons are seldom encountered puddling or feeding on fallen fruits in the forest. ButterflyCircle member Loke PF's shot is one such instance where this male was so intent on feeding on what appears to be a rotting fruit that it stayed in the same position for a long time.

19 March 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Forget-Me-Not

Butterflies Galore!
The Forget-Me-Not (Catochrysops strabo strabo)

This Hairstreak is typical of the "Blues" in the family Lycaenidae that has many lookalikes that are challenging to identify, especially if the butterfly is flying erratically and does not stop for an observer to look for the distinguishing characteristics of each species.  The Forget-Me-Not often flies in the company of its close cousin, the Silver Forget-Me-Not (Catochrysops panormus exiguus) and separation of the two can be challenging in the field. The Forget-Me-Not is moderately rare, and often encountered singly. It frequents open sunny areas with low vegetation.

The male is lilac-blue above whilst the female has broad black apical borders on the forewings and more heavily shaded markings on submarginal area of the hindwing. The underside is pale buff with the usual streaks. The distinguishing costal spot, which is placed midway between the cell spot and the post-discal fascia on the forewing separates this species from the Silver Forget-Me-Not. This individual, perched on a leaf, was shot by young ButterflyCircle member Jonathan Soong.

15 March 2014

Butterfly of the Month - March 2014

Butterfly of the Month - March 2014
The Common Jay (Graphium doson evemonides)

A Common Jay perched on a branch after getting its fill of nutrients whilst puddling

It has been an interesting start to the first few months of 2014 ever since the cold and wet months of 2013, where Singapore had to struggle with flash floods and an over-abundance of water everywhere. Then suddenly, the North East monsoon winds dried up, starting in mid January, all the way through February and March. The weather swung from too much rain in November and December 2013, to dry and parched days that saw previously green fields and verdant vegetation turn a sickly brown all over Singapore.

The National Environment Agency's website recorded day after day of fair sunny weather and after more than a month with virtually no rain, we've moved from worrying about flash floods to worrying about whether the government would start water rationing. Reservoir levels began to drop alarmingly, as with many ponds and water features all over the island. It was reported that over the past six weeks, a paltry 0.2mm of rain was recorded last month at Changi climate station. This is the least rain that has fallen since 1869!, and is well below the previous record of 6.3mm recorded in February 2010 and the mean February rainfall of 161mm.

Interestingly, although the urban butterfly population suffered quite drastically as a result of the parched vegetation and plants, the forest butterfly population did not seem to be affected much. Strangely, over the past few weekends, ButterflyCircle members have spotted a higher diversity of butterfly species within the forested nature reserves, with some rare ones making their appearance all of a sudden. It would be interesting to have a reason for this strange phenomenon, but we have none to postulate at this present moment.

A Common Jay puddling at a muddy footpath

Social and mainstream media were abuzz with the news of the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 flight MH 370 en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, with 239 passengers and crew on board. On 8 March, the plane took off from Kuala Lumpur on a standard scheduled flight to Beijing. That it suddenly disappeared without a trace over the sea somewhere between Malaysia and Vietnam is something that continues to stump the experts. A multi-national search effort involving many countries over the past week turned up nothing so far.

A whole range of theories and speculations swamped the media - from pilot suicide to terrorist attack, hijacking and plane malfunction. But no wreckage nor any evidence has been found thus far. Latest news suggest that the plane's transponder and communications has been intentionally switched off, pointing to an "inside job" and someone who is technically conversant with avoiding civilian radar and rendering the plane "invisible" to all but military radars. This alludes to a hijacking of some sort, but until the facts are established, even this theory remains speculatory until someone claims responsibility for it.

A puddling Common Jay shows a glimpse of its upper forewing blue spots

No matter what the reasons are for the disappearance of the plane, we must remind ourselves of the agony and grief of the families all the 239 passengers on board MH 370. Lots of unanswered questions add to the ever-increasing anxiety of these families, who have feared the worst for their loved ones. When will the answers come? How is it that no one can explain why something as huge as a Boeing 777 with 239 people on board, can disappear without a trace, with all the fancy technology and electronic gizmos that our generation is endowed with? Let us hope that we will know soon, and that there is still hope for the unfortunate 239 on flight MH 370.

This month, we feature a butterfly that was recently discovered in Singapore. First seen on Pulau Ubin some time in March 2004, it regularly appears and is resident on Pulau Ubin. On the main island of Singapore, another individual was spotted at an urban hill park some time later in late 2006. After close observation of the species, the early stages of the Common Jay was recorded by Horace Tan and documented in detail here. The caterpillar host plant that an egg-laying female was discovered ovipositing on Pulau Ubin, is Desmos chinensis (Dwarf Ylang Ylang).

A newly eclosed Common Jay clinging onto its pupal case

As the caterpillar host plant is not uncommon in several locations on Pulau Ubin, the Common Jay continues to survive as an extant species on Ubin to this day. The Common Jay is one of several lookalike butterflies of the Graphium genus. Over in Malaysia, there are at least five "Jays" which are basically blue in colour with black margins. We have only two in Singapore - the Blue Jay (Graphium evemon eventus) and the Common Jay (Graphium doson evemonides).

The distinguishing red-centred costal bar which separates the Common Jay from its lookalike cousins

The Common Jay is fast-flying, like the other species in the genus, and is often seen flying erratically along open paths and also at treetops. The wings are black above with a blue macular band across both wings. There are sub-marginal blue spots on both wings. The distinguishing feature of the Common Jay is the dark, red-centred costal bar which is separated from the inner and distal black bars.

Its status in Singapore can be considered endangered, due to the very localised occurrence on Pulau Ubin. Although the species is common in Malaysia, it has not yet become as widespread on the main island of Singapore, where only one reliable sighting has been recorded thus far. This means that its existence is limited to only Pulau Ubin at the moment, and is critically dependent on the availability of its main caterpillar host plant, Desmos chinensis for its continued survival on the island.

The Common Jay was not recorded by the early authors and hence taken as a new discovery for Singapore. Despite being an endangered species, it has regularly been observed on Pulau Ubin and it is hoped that there will be no significant developments in the near future that would wipe the colony out.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Khew SK & Horace Tan

14 March 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Common Hedge Blue

Butterflies Galore!
The Common Hedge Blue (Acytolepis puspa lambi)

The Common Hedge Blue is a widespread Lycaenidae that is moderately common in Singapore. It is often encountered within the nature reserves of Singapore, but is also regularly encountered in urban parks and gardens. It has a strong erratic flight, but often returns to the same perch to sunbathe at certain times of the day. Males are regularly encountered puddling along damp forest paths and sandy streambanks.

The male is shining blue on the upperside with a narrow black marginal border. The female is pale greenish blue with broad black borders on both wings. The underside is a pale grey with a variety of streaks and spots. The markings can be quite variable, as described in an earlier article on this blog. This individual was photographed puddling by ButterflyCircle member Chng CK last weekend.

13 March 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Suffused Flash

Butterflies Galore!
The Suffused Flash (Rapala suffusa barthema)

This fast-flying "Flash" is one of six species of the genus Rapala that is currently extant in Singapore. The Suffused Flash has a wide distribution, and can be found in urban parks, forested areas and back-mangrove habitats in Singapore. The male is orange-red above with broad black borders, whilst the female is a drab brown and unmarked. The underside is ochreous to pale buff brown, but can be distinctly yellow in some females.

The species is moderately common and in its preferred habitats, several individuals have been observed together e.g. Sg Buloh Wetland Reserve. Amongst the host plants that its caterpillars feed on are Talipariti tiliaceum (Sea Hibiscus) and Falcataria moluccana (Albizia). Its early stages have been recorded here. This female Suffused Flash was shot by ButterflyCircle member Sunny Chir.

12 March 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Studded Sergeant

Butterflies Galore!
The Studded Sergeant (Athyma asura idita)

Amongst the five extant "Sergeants" in Singapore, the Studded Sergeant is the largest member of the genus. A typically forest-dependent species, the Studded Sergeant is usually observed singly. Like its other cousins, it is usually observed gliding around a few favourite perches, stopping with its wings folded upright, or opened flat when sunbathing. Males are sometimes encountered puddling at damp forest paths and sandy streambanks.

It is the only species that has "studs" or black spots within the series of post-discal white band on the hindwings. The early stages of the Studded Sergeant has been recorded on Ilex cymosa and documented in detail here. This individual, showing its ochreous brown undersides, was shot by ButterflyCircle member Nelson Ong.

11 March 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Grand Imperial

Butterflies Galore!
The Grand Imperial (Neocheritra amrita amrita)

This long-tailed Lycaenid is considered a rare butterfly in Singapore and is not regularly encountered. It is one of the largest Lycaenid butterflies in Singapore and sports the longest tails amongst all the "Imperials" found here. Interestingly, this species is quite common on the offshore military island of Pulau Tekong where several individuals can be observed at their favourite locations on the island. It is a forest-dependent species and is usually encountered in the shaded forests within the nature reserves.

The male Grand Imperial is a royal blue on the upperside with black apical borders. The female is dark brown above with a prominent white tornal area on the hindwing. The underside of the forewing and the costal half of the hindwing are brownish-orange and the rest of the hindwing is pure white.

08 March 2014

Life History of the Starry Bob

Life History of the Starry Bob (Iambrix stellifer)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Iambrix Watson, 1893
Species: stellifer Butler, 1879
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 18-22mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Centotheca lappacea (Poaceae, common name: Sefa), Lophatherum gracile (Poaceae).

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
The adults are small and the 3rd segment of the palpi is long and thin. On the upperside, both sexes are dark brown. The male is unmarked but the female has several white post-discal spots on the forewing. On the underside, the wings are brown to dark brown overlaid with ochreous scales. The apical area of the forewing is yellowish to yellowish brown. There are variable number of silvery spots on both wings. In fully-spotted specimens, the forewing features post-discal spots in spaces 2-5 and one spot near cell-end, and the hindwing features post-discal spots in spaces 1b, 2, 5 and 7, and one spot near cell-end. Noteworthy is that the spot in space 5 on the hindwing lies further out and about half way between cell-end and the wing margin. In the look alike species Iambrix salsala (Starry Bob), this spot lies just beyond the cell.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
Starry Bob is moderately rare in Singapore and is typically found in forested ares in the nature reserves and western wastelands. Within the nature reserve, the adults are usually sighted when they are feeding on flowers of Leea indica in the company of other skippers such as the Yellow Vein Lancer. The adults tend to perch in shady foliage and are rarely sighted puddling on wet ground or organic waste matter.

06 March 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Blue Jay

Butterflies Galore! 
The Blue Jay (Graphium evemon eventus)

This fast-flying Papilionidae butterfly is common in Singapore. However, it is a forest-dependent species and rarely found in urban parks and gardens. It often puddles in the company of other species in the family, like the Common Bluebottle, Five Bar Swordtail and Tailed Jay. It is fast flying, skittish but males can often be found puddling at damp streambanks or forest paths. This puddling Blue Jay was shot by ButterflyCircle member Huang CJ in the nature reserves.

The upperside features a blue macular band with broad black borders on both wings. There is a series of blue submarginal spots on both wings. The underside is silvery blue and there is a series of red tornal spots on the hindwing. The black costal bar on the underside of the hindwing, is conjoined with the black basal bar, and this distinguishes the Blue Jay from the several other lookalikes in the genus.

05 March 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Formosan Swift

Butterflies Galore!
The Formosan Swift (Borbo cinnara)

This predominantly brown and rather drab skipper is one of many lookalikes amongst the Hesperiidae family that is frustrating to identify in the field. Skippers are often mistaken to be moths by the general public, and understandably so, due to these butterflies' large eyes, fat bodies and usually unattractive colours. In Singapore, there are likely to be more species that will be added to the checklist as research continues into their early stages and other aspects of distinguishing the many similar-looking butterflies.

This Formosan Swift was shot in the early morning hours whilst it was busy feeding on the flowers of Bidens pilosa, a wild-growing weed in wastelands. The typical colouration of this skipper, light brown with a slight greenish scaling, and the absence of a cell spot on the hindwing below, sets it apart from its close cousins in the Pelopidas and Polytremis genera. The butterfly is relatively common in urban areas, but can also be found in the forested fringes of our nature reserves.

04 March 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Great Helen

Butterflies Galore!
The Great Helen (Papilio iswara iswara)

The Great Helen has a wingspan of 130-140mm that matches and often exceeds that of the Great Mormon and Common Birdwing - two of the other large Papilionidae that occur in Singapore. A forest-dependent butterfly, the Great Helen is often seen flying erratically at tree top level in the nature reserves of Singapore. Its caterpillar host plant, Maclurodendron porteri, is probably a forest plant that is not found outside the nature reserves. The full life history of the Great Helen is recorded here.

After a period of active flying, the Great Helen is often observed to rest with its wings opened flat as is shown in the photo above. This species exhibits an example of "startle display" strategy. At rest with its wings opened flat, the butterfly's forewings conceal the white patches on the hindwings, making it appear totally black. But when startled, it flashes the white patch to 'dazzle' a would-be predator momentarily, giving it a precious moment to make good its escape.

01 March 2014

Book Review - Butterflies Up Close

Book Review - Butterflies Up Close
A Guide to Butterfly Photography
by Roger Rittmaster, M.D.

With the rapid evolution and development of digital technology in photography in the early 2000's, digital cameras have become more and more accessible to the masses. Digital photography, once scoffed by conservative film buffs to be 'never able to duplicate the quality of silver bromide prints', has taken the world by storm. With the introduction of smart phones, practically everyone now has a camera in his pocket or handbag.

The availability of competitively-priced digital cameras has also changed the landscape in nature photography. Today, there are probably hundreds of millions of nature photographs being featured on the internet, social media and all other forms of digital and print technology. Even within nature photography, there are numerous genres, focusing on a whole spectrum of subjects from landscape and animal to bird and macro photography. Each specialised genre requires dedicated equipment like the camera body, lenses, flash and all sorts of ancillary accessories that come with the nature subject of choice.

Besides the ever-popular bird photography, macro and insect photography has a steadily increasing following all over the world. Butterfly photography has also caught on, and there are many groups of photographers who dedicate their free time and weekends to shooting just butterflies as their primary nature subject of choice.

Shooting butterflies can be an extremely challenging but rewarding past time for photographers. Some basic understanding of photographic equipment and about butterflies would be needed as a primer to starting butterfly photography. Other than learning from scratch and bringing your camera out in the field, one can also turn to books to teach them some basic skills and techniques in butterfly photography.

A good example of such a book is the recently launched "Butterflies Up Close : A Guide to Butterfly Photography" by Dr Roger Rittmaster. I had the good fortune of meeting Roger when he was in Singapore some years back, and we went on a butterfly photography outing in Singapore. It was a great day out together, as we compared notes and shared techniques on butterfly photography.

Now in 2014, Roger has launched his book on butterfly photography. Featuring butterflies from North America, his book is a breeze to read, and is organised into three very clear sections that provide a concise and easy-to-understand writing style for all budding butterfly photographers.

The first section deals with butterflies as subjects and Roger shares his knowledge and resources about butterflies in general, habitats where they can be found (again, mainly for the US context), identification, natural history, how to attract them to your own backyard and so on. I particularly liked Roger's advice on butterfly photography etiquette! Butterflies, being rather small and skittish subjects, require a lot of patience and stalking before one can get a good opportunity to photograph them. Often when in a group, overzealous newbies may get in the way of others and frustrating the efforts of their friends who are trying to stalk a skittish subject. So it is a timely reminder to exercise restraint, respect and due consideration for others when out photographing butterflies in a group.

This entire section discusses how, through butterfly photography, one will begin to appreciate butterflies, their amazing diversity of colours, shapes, behaviour, life history, survival in the wild and so on, and in the process, learn a lot more about butterflies than merely reading a science book about them. Roger also shares some web resources in the US where readers can look to, for butterfly identification and specialist groups where interested readers can go to learn more about butterflies.

In Section 2, Roger shares his experience on the photographic equipment that he has personally used in his years of photographing butterflies, and the pros and cons of various systems (like how deep your pockets should be, when picking up this hobby!). There are advantages of using a simple Point-and-Shoot (P&S) camera system, from the swivel LCD screen that can be used for shooting butterflies perched in awkward positions, to the large depth of field of the smaller sensors that will almost ensure tack sharp shots of the butterflies and everything else in the frame!

The rest of the section deals with camera systems, lenses, flashes, focusing, image stabilisation and other basic information that a newcomer to butterfly photography may want to consider, before investing his hard-earned salary on his preferred photographic equipment.

The final section of the book deals with going out in the field and taking the photo. In Section 3, aptly sub-titled "Taking the Photograph", Roger summarises the information in the two preceding sections and takes the reader right out into the field and to start practising the techniques of photographing butterflies. I'm glad that Roger shares the opinion that the majority of ButterflyCircle members also agree with - that the Tamron 180mm f/3.5 SP macro lens is one of the best butterfly-shooting lenses there is out there today. Despite the lens' shortcomings of having a slow AF and no image stabilisation, some of ButterflyCircle's best works (and from the book, I can also see that Roger's own best works too) are taken with this lens.

The discussion on the technical aspects of camera settings - like AF, Rear Synch Flash, Metering and so on, are useful tips that Roger shares in this section. As would most regular butterfly photographers would already be aware of, Roger also shares the opinion that carrying a tripod for butterfly photography is more of a hindrance than an advantage. It would be more effective to select an appropriate ISO for the lighting conditions and then practising one's handholding and breathing techniques to minimise motion blur when shooting at low shutter speeds.

The basic rules of composition are also discussed, and the fundamental guide of using the classic "rule of thirds" makes composing the subject much easier to understand. Roger also shares his tips on stalking a butterfly subject, understanding how the butterfly behaves in various situations, before approaching stealthily for a shot without spooking the butterfly off.

This section also deals with how the background of a shot can be managed using the correct aperture so that the subject stands out without a messy background. Some basic post-processing techniques, which are almost as important as taking the photograph itself, are elaborated. In digital photography, a photographer will also very quickly learn that spending time in front of a computer will pay good dividends in getting a perfect photograph at times. Manipulating a shot on the computer can sometimes save an underexposed or overexposed shot which may yield an acceptable output that would have otherwise been destined for the trash folder.

All in all, Roger did a great piece of work in this book, and it would be a great help to those who are just starting out to appreciate butterflies and venturing into the realm of butterfly photography. I would also like to thank Roger for acknowledging ButterflyCircle in his book and for generously sending a copy of his book to me when it was launched.

For readers who would like to get a copy of this book, you may order online from the following two sources :

Text by Khew SK : Scans of "Butterflies Up Close", courtesy of Dr Roger Rittmaster.