24 September 2016

Eye In the Sky

Eye In the Sky
Butterfly Gardens : A View from the Top

An aerial view of the Butterfly Garden at Fusionopolis North

Singapore's urban butterfly gardens have been featured on this blog regularly. Our winged jewels thrive in these specially-planted gardens that attract them to visit the flowering plants to feed and their host plants to lay their eggs. With judicious planting of appropriate butterfly nectaring and host plants, these butterfly gardens can attract many species of butterflies.

I have always wondered what these urban gardens would look like from the viewpoint of a butterfly, soaring high in the sky and scanning the landscape below for their favourite flowers. Imagine a Common Birdwing (Troides helena cerberus), flying majestically 20-30 metres or even higher, above the lush greenery, and looking down and searching for its host plants or some of its favourite nectaring plants when it is hungry.

Human eye view of the Butterfly Garden at Fusionopolis North

Thus far, we have been featuring photographs of our butterfly gardens from a human's perspective - walking on the ground and looking around at the butterflies fluttering from flower to flower. Our photos of the butterflies feeding, sunbathing or frolicking around is limited to what we can encounter at our eye-level. Our views of the greenery that surrounds us, is what we can see, with our feet planted firmly on the ground.

Recently, a colleague loaned me his quad-copter drone and I thought that it would be a good opportunity for me to visit some of the butterfly gardens that I had featured before, and how they would look like from the air. These days, there are so many types of flying drones available online and in technology shops locally and abroad. As can be expected, quite a large percentage of these drones are made in China - even the "high end" DJI Phantoms that are very popular amongst drone enthusiasts.

The Blade Chroma quadcopter drone with CGO3 4K camera

So I got my hands on a Yuneec Blade Chroma that comes with a CGO3 4K camera that can shoot 30fps videos or 12 Mp stills. The integrated 3-axis gimbal holds the camera still and video footages appear very stable. After logging a few hours' flight time as a novice drone pilot, I set out to some of our local butterfly gardens to take a look at how they look like "from up there".

Butterfly Sanctuary @ the Meadows, Gardens by the Bay

Butterfly Sanctuary @ the Meadows, Gardens by the Bay

The first butterfly garden was the Butterfly Sanctuary at the Meadows, Gardens by the Bay. Taking the drone up to a cruising height of about 50m, the landscaping at the Butterfly Sanctuary appeared rather thin and arranged along a linear path. The nectaring plants flanked the path, visible from the air, where most of the butterfly activity can be expected. The surrounding greenery and taller trees provided shade and expanded the area where the butterflies flew around.

Hort Park Butterfly Garden

The next butterfly garden that I visited was the one at Hort Park. Originally in an enclosure, the butterfly garden is now an open garden with free-flying butterflies like most of our environmentally-friendly butterfly gardens. The layout of the butterfly garden, complete with host and nectaring plants, is designed on the standard plot sizes at Hort Park, and strung in a linear fashion. Over the years, the tall trees along the trail have grown to a significant height, and provides shade for parts of the butterfly garden.

Butterfly Garden @ Hort Park

From the top, the clusters of host and nectaring plants like the Snakeweeds, Lantanas, Stringbush, Golden Dewdrops and Dutchman's Pipevine appear like a mass of green and the colours of the flowers were indistinguishable from 30-40m up.

Fusionopolis Butterfly Garden

Moving to the next urban garden nearby, I visited the Fusionopolis North Butterfly Garden. This recently-completed butterfly garden was still rather open and unshaded as the larger trees have yet to mature and extend their green canopies. From the air, the network of concrete footpaths was quite distinct as were some of the hardscape features.

Butterfly Garden at Fusionopolis North

Up at 35m above, this butterfly garden appears more squarish in plan, with all the butterfly-attracting plants visible in a patchwork of greenery with the sinuous footpaths winding through the garden. The large trees flanking the butterfly garden provided a boundary and much-needed shade from the hot environment where the newly-landscaped gardens were planted.

Jurong Eco-Gardens Butterfly Garden

Butterfly Garden at Jurong Eco Garden

The last butterfly garden that I visited with the Blade Chroma, was the one at Jurong Eco-Gardens. Located in a more sub-urban environment with slightly more undeveloped greenery (for the moment), the butterfly garden is also laid out along a linear trail, with the butterfly-attracting plants flanking the trail.

A closer butterfly-eye's view of the Butterfly Garden at Jurong Eco Garden

From the air at about 40m up, the large red clumps of the Pagoda Flower (Cleredendron paniculatum) were visible. The wide boardwalk can be clearly seen, and the surrounding waterbody and larger adjacent trees formed a lush boundary to the butterfly garden.

Take a flight around the butterfly garden at Fusionopolis North! (You may have to run the video a couple of times to get a better resolution)

And so you now know how these butterfly gardens look like from a high-flying butterfly's viewpoint. At this point in time, it is unlikely that a drone can successfully take close-up butterfly shots at the treetop canopies. But at the rate technology is advancing these days, someone may just invent a zoom lens that can do just that in the future!

Three Common Tree Nymphs (Idea stolli logani) soaring high in the air

Text and Photos by Khew SK & Loke PF

Special thanks to my colleague and good friend, Vincent, who loaned me his Blade Chroma quadcopter (and is in the process of 'poisoning' me to get the awesome DJI Phantom 4 drone)

For those who are curious, there are currently no permits required to purchase a drone in Singapore. However, there are regulations and limits on flying a drone and you should familiarise yourself with the prevailing regulations under the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS).