27 October 2019

Barons of Singapore

The Barons of Singapore
Featuring the Baron butterflies of Singapore

A male Horsfield's Baron basks in the bright sunshine

In medieval times, Barons are members of a specific rank of nobility, especially the lowest rank in the British Isles. Being part of the European imperial, royal, noble, gentry and chivalric ranks, a baron is ranked just below a Viscount and Count and above the knights and military personnel in the hierarchy.

A female Malay Baron feeding on the ripened fruits of the Singapore Rhododendron

In modern times, barons are often referred to people having great wealth, power, and influence in a specified sphere of activity or industry. Irrespective of which era in history we prefer to be associated with, to be referred to as a baron would be to be given a position that is above the ordinary folk by any measure.

Amongst our butterflies, barons are the common names given to several species of stout-bodied and powerful flyers in the Limetidinae sub-family. As postulated in an earlier blogpost, the British gentry titles appear to be used for many species of butterflies amongst the Nymphalidae. There are five extant "baron" butterflies found in Singapore with four in the genus Euthalia and one in the genus Tanaecia (Cynitia). All five species display varying degrees of sexual dimorphism, of which the males and females are different in size, colours and markings on the wings.

1. The Baron (Euthalia aconthea gurda)

A female Baron puddling on a tarmac road in an urban residential estate

One of the urban species of " barons" in Singapore is the Baron (or sometimes referred to as the Common Baron in some countries). It is widely distributed, and can be found in urban gardens, parks and in the forested reserves. As its preferred caterpillar host plant is the Mango (Mangifera indica), it is sometimes seen in residential areas where the host plant is cultivated as a roadside tree.

The Baron is dark brown above with a broad obscure post-discal band on both wings. On the upperside of the forewings are small white spots at the end of the disc and sub-apical area. The wings have a dark purple tinge when viewed in a side light. The underside is paler, with a series of sub-marginal black spots on the hindwing.

The female is larger of of a lighter brown than the male. It has larger but diffused post-discal spots on its forewings. These spots are variable and in some individuals several spots may be totally absent, which may suggest a different species. In this earlier blogpost on the variability of the Baron, examples of the range of the differences in the presence/absence of the spots are shown.

2. The Malay Baron (Euthalia monina monina)

The Malay Baron is usually associated with the forested nature reserves of Singapore, but can sometimes be spotted in urban parks and gardens. This species is remarkable in that it is a good example of sexual polymorphism, particularly in the males. There are so many variants in the forms of the males as to suggest that further studies and categorisations of the forms should be conducted on this species.

Three different male forms of the Malay Baron

It is probably more often encountered than the preceding species and is considered common in Singapore. It is fast-flying and can be skittish, often taking off at high speeds when disturbed. Both males and females may be observed feeding on overripe fruits on bushes and on the forest floor. The male is smaller in size than the female, and occurs in three described forms, although in recent years, there have been individuals that show characteristics that are hybrids across several forms, or could be even a distinct form. The underside of both sexes are paler than the upperside with zigzig post-marginal markings across both wings.

The female is brown with distinct markings on both wings. It looks similar to the Malay Viscount and the female Horsfield's Baron when in flight and can sometimes be confused with the other two lookalikes. The sub-marginal zigzag markings are distinct and connected across both the fore and hindwings.

3. The Green Baron (Euthalia adonia pinwilli)

A male Green Baron feeding on the ripened fruit of the Singapore Rhododendron

The Green Baron is moderately common and is quite well-distributed across the island. As its caterpillars feed on the parasitic plant, Malayan Mistletoe (Dendropththoe pentandra), it can be found anywhere from our urban parks and gardens to the forested nature reserves. Both sexes are strong flyers and alert to movement.

The male Green Baron is dark green above with a lighter green tornal area on the hindwing. The forewings have white sub-apical and post-discal spots. There are red spots at the apical area of the hindwing. On the underside, the red spotting is more distinct and extensive on both wings. The green tornal area is quite distinct on the underside of the hindwing.

The female Green Baron has a broad white band across both wings, which may cause an observer to mistake it for a Commander when it is flying around. It is much larger than the male but both sexes are often observed to feed on overripe fruits as well as flowering plants.

4. The White-Tipped Baron (Euthalia merta merta)

The rarest of our Barons in Singapore, the White Tipped Baron has been infrequently sighted mainly in the forested nature reserves. Another typical example of sexual dimorphism like its other cousins from the Euthalia genus, the females are larger than the males and both sexes appear quite different from each other.

The male White-Tipped Baron is dark brown above with the usual markings that make it look quite similar to the Baron and Malay Baron. The species displays a slight bluish sheen and in particular the leading edge of the forewing from the apex to mid-costa appears blue in certain lighting conditions. The underside is paler with the usual darker markings across both wings.

The female appears similar to a Malay Viscount at a glance and is similarly coloured. The forewing has large white pointed post-discal spots in spaces 2-6. The dark sub-marginal line on the hindwing is composed of dark arrowhead spots pointing towards the wing margins.

5. The Horsfield's Baron (Tanaecia iapis puseda)

The last of the "barons" that is in a different genus from the four preceding species. The Horsfield's Baron belongs to the genus Tanaecia (which has been reclassified under Cynitia in some recent references) . The species displays an exaggerated sexual dimorphism where the males and females look so different as to suggest that they are two different species.

The upperside of the male Horsfield's Baron is a rich velvety black with a broad and distinct bright blue marginal border across the hindwing that reaches the tornal area of the forewing. The underside is a pale buff with light brown diffused markings.

The female is a pale reddish brown with markings that superficially resembles a Malay Viscount or a female Malay Baron, and indeed, these three species are often confused in the field. The sub-marginal V-shaped markings in the female Horsfield's Baron are more diffused and not as distinct/sharp as the lookalike species.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Bob Cheong, Huang CJ, Khew SK, Koh CH, Jonathan Soong, Horace Tan and Anthony Wong

20 October 2019

Chiangmai 2019

Chiangmai 2019
A Newbies' Outing to Chiangmai

A Paris Peacock feeding on a flower at Chiangdao Wildlife Sanctuary

A year and a half since my last outing to Chiangmai, our favourite butterflying location in northern Thailand, and a cancelled trip some time in late 2018, I decided to organise an outing for some of our newer and younger members of ButterflyCircle in Oct this year. Even though I should have had enough of shooting in Chiangmai, the prospects of meeting Antonio again and savouring his wife's excellent cakes and pastries made it highly tempting to make a visit to Northern Thailand once again.

A RedBreast puddling at Chiangdao Wildlife Sanctuary

The rainy season up in Northern Thailand typically ends some time in late September and the skies will be clear again till the colder months at the end of the year. It was a good time to visit our favourite butterfly-hunting grounds around Chiangmai, and this year, 3 first-timers joined me to visit the 'famous' butterflying spots that we publicised on this blog previously.

The Dome Residences at Chiangmai

Arriving via SilkAir from Singapore in the late evening on our first day, we checked in at the familiar Dome Residences in Chiangmai. Dinner was simple local fare at a nearby food court, before buying some provisions from the supermarket for the next day. We hit the sack early and everyone waited in anticipation for the next day's outing to the famous "car park" in Chiangdao Wildlife Sanctuary.

Day 1 : Chiangdao

A cloud-topped Doi Chiang Dao and clear blue skies greeted us in Northern Thailand

After a quick breakfast at the Dome, we set out for Chiangdao Wildlife Sanctuary just after 8am. The skies were clear and the weather was in our favour. It had rained the previous days and the environment was warm and humid. The roads that were under construction on our trips 3-4 years back were now completed and operational, making the one-hour plus journey a little less bumpy and jammed.

As Antonio turned off the main highway towards the Chiangdao hunting grounds, I saw the familiar tourist attractions in that area, and as we passed the Nest2, memories of a nice stay at the rustic chalets flooded back. We reached the famous checkpoint and car park where we will spend most of the time shooting, and paid for the entrance fee of 200 Baht per person.

Putting on our shooting gear and getting ready in a jiffy, we were out shooting the puddling butterflies in the usual spots around the car park, streams and nearby forested areas. I observed that there were much fewer butterflies around compared to my previous trips in Oct. Antonio said that it may be due to the haze and very dry months this year.

Puddling butterflies at Chiangdao Wildlife Sanctuary

Our first-time visitors, Jonathan, Mei Yee and Cheng Ai wasted no time in getting on with their hunting for butterflies. The usual Nawabs, Rajahs and numerous Lycaenids and Hesperiids kept everyone busy for rest of the morning. The weather was quite ideal - hot and sunny for the rest of the day.

Antonio supervising the photographers at one of the trails

In the early afternoon, Antonio brought us up to a higher elevation along the winding road up Doi Chiangdao to a location where we used to encounter some Satyrinae. We managed to get our fill of "pluses" at this location. I also observed that the flowering Bidens alba/pilosa were back with a vengeance and were useful in attracting many species of butterflies. They were not as widespread on my last trip where the White Weed (Ageratum conyzoides) was the more prevalent roadside wild flower.

Back to the carpark again the late evening saw a few new 'targets' to shoot, but the weather was getting abit overcast and we could hear thunder in the distance. However, it didn't rain and we finished up for the day at about 4:30pm and set out for the journey back to Chiangmai. Dinner was at our favourite Japanese restaurant which is located just 5 minutes walk from the hotel.

Day 2 : Doi Suthep/Doi Pui

The forested area near the Wean Bua Ban Pha Ngoep waterfall and a group shot of ButterflyCircle members

The next morning, we had a leisurely breakfast as our destination was Doi Suthep, a location that was no more than 20 minutes drive from our hotel (depending on the traffic!). As with my previous trips, we stopped at the Wang Bua Ban Pha Ngoep waterfall area. We scoured the area for butterflies, but sadly the diversity of species was disappointingly low this season, although the usual 'resident' species were still around.

The Doi Pui Viewpoint and the hilltop clearing where we found some butterflies

We headed up to Doi Pui Viewpoint as our 2nd checkpoint for the day. This small "hilltopping" area was quite good for some Lycaenids in the past, and this is a regular waypoint that we checked out in our past visits to Doi Suthep and Doi Pui.

A little further uphill, we stopped at the the San Ku temple ruins. Other than a few skippers and Satyrinae, our target species was a no-show, as the overcast weather did not provide the conducive environment for its appearance. Nevertheless, this area is always a good stopover point.  We moved back to the Doi Pui viewpoint and ended the day after chasing a peskily skittish Ananta Yellow Sailor (Neptis ananta learmondi).

Day 3 : Chiangdao

Back to Chiangdao Wildlife Sanctuary on Day #3

The next morning, it was back to Chiangdao Wildlife Sanctuary again, as we wanted to make the most of our entry ticket which was valid for 3 days per 200 Baht. Back at the puddling ground, most of the same species that we encountered two days ago were still around, with a few new additions that made their appearance on this relatively cloudy day.

More puddling butterflies!

As we were at the location slightly earlier, there were more species flying amongst the Bidens flowers along the roadside, though shooting along the road has its disadvantages as the regular stream of vehicles going up and down the road made it irritatingly challenging to shoot properly at times.

Throughout the day, it was more of trying to get better shots of the species that we had shot before, and looking for some new ones. All in all, the famous Chiangdao car park did not disappoint,despite the lower butterfly count, as there was always something interesting to shoot.

Day 4 : Mae Phaeng, Phrao District

A new location recommended by our favourite butterfly host, Antonio

Our original plan was to go up Doi Inthanon for some montane species, but the weather forecast predicted rains by mid-morning. Rather than take the risk of encountering bad weather, Antonio suggested another location towards the east of Chiangmai. We decided to take his advice and head out to this new location.

The shooting environment that kept us busy for a whole day!

Driving towards Chiangdao, but then veering eastwards after a major junction, we headed towards the Phrao District and went off-road around the Mae Phaeng area. This dirt track led us a few kilometers uphill to just about 800 m ASL and we stopped along the track to look for butterflies.

A sample of the butterflies that we encountered

We spent an entire day in that area, walking up and down the dirt track and looking for puddling butterflies. The appearance of the Dawnas Royal (or what we call Golden Royal in Singapore), gave us some excitement. The subspecies in arooni which is different from the one found in Malaysia and Singapore. But it returned time and again to taunt us before we had our fill of it.

Orange Oakleaf was in season and we saw them everywhere!

We encountered quite a number of similar species as in Chiangdao at this location. The Orange Oakleaf (Kallima inachus siamensis) seemed to be in season in many locations that we visited over the past 4 days, and the variability of the individuals that we encountered was quite amazing. It appeared that each individual was unique in its wing patterns!

Yellows feeding frenzy with a large intruder in the background

Our last dinner for this trip was at at a nearby Italian restaurant recommended by Antonio. We thought that since an Italian suggested this, the food must come highly recommended! And we weren't disappointed. The complimentary caramel vodka that the owner of the restaurant threw in to end the evening sweetened the experience!

A final group shot with our good friend and butterfly guide, Antonio

And so ended a short 4-day shootout and my 6th trip to Chiangmai since 2014. It was always fun to check out the butterflies in north Thailand, and a pleasure to have Antonio as our butterfly guide on all my trips there. For our butterfly enthusiasts out there, do contact Antonio if you are keen to visit Thailand for your butterflying trips. As an avid butterfly photographer himself, he will bring you to the best locations for butterflies in Thailand!

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Antonio Giudici, Khew SK, Lim CA, Loh MY and Jonathan Soong