26 July 2020

Butterfly Photography at Our Local Parks - Kent Ridge Park

Butterfly Photography at Our Local Parks
Featuring : Kent Ridge Park

The Canopy Walk at Kent Ridge Park, surrounded by lush greenery at tree canopy level

On our rambles around Singapore's parks and gardens in search of butterflies, we explore the series of parks that make up the Southern Ridges. Starting from west and moving towards east, the Southern Ridges comprises Kent Ridge Park, Hort Park, Telok Blangah Hill Park and Mount Faber Park. All the four parks are connected via walkways and overhead bridges. In this blogpost, we visit the western-most entrance of the Southern Ridges, Kent Ridge Park.

A map of the Southern Ridges parks, comprising Kent Ridge Park, Hort Park, Telok Blangah Hill Park and Mount Faber Park.

A larger map of the 47 Ha Kent Ridge Park, stretching from Science Park to Pasir Panjang Road to the southwest boundary of the park

Kent Ridge Park is a wartime historical park, where one of the last battles for Singapore was fought during the Japanese Occupation. A war memorial plaque stands in Kent Ridge Park, erected to honour Lt Adnan Saidi, a lieutenant of the Malay Regiment's 1st Battalion, who died fighting the Japanese in one of the fiercest battles in Singapore in World War II. He led his men in the Battle of Opium Hill (Bukit Chandu), off Pasir Panjang, frustrating the Japanese efforts to take the ridge. He motivated his troops to try and fend off the Japanese, even though they were grossly outnumbered and undersupplied.

The main access road, Vigilante Drive, that leads up to Kent Ridge Park

The main carpark at Kent Ridge Park. Public amenities like rest rooms and drinking fountains are also located at this main area

A large shelter at Kent Ridge Park

Lush vegetation and towering trees are typical at Kent Ridge Park

Access to Kent Ridge Park on the eastern boundary, is via the winding South Buona Vista Road, turning left onto Vigilante Drive, up a steep incline to the ridge. There is a fairly large main carpark of about 40 lots and a smaller one near the entrance along Vigilante Drive. Parking is free. Covering a total area of 47 Ha, Kent Ridge Park features lush natural vegetation, tall mature trees and is rich in biodiversity.

Butterfly Row - a delightful row of butterfly-attracting nectaring plants to watch butterflies!

There are many trails starting from this point, leading in all directions around the ridge and enough biodiversity to satisfy the nature buff and those out for some fresh air and exercise. Just beyond the main carpark and a short walk along the ridge, is a row of butterfly-attracting nectaring plants like Shanghai Beauty (Jatropha integerrima), Snakeweed (Stachytarpheta indica), Red Tree Bush (Leea rubra) and many others.

Pansies and Skippers can be found feeding on the flowers

This "Butterfly Row" is a good place to visit to find butterflies fluttering around and feeding on the nectar from these flowering plants. In the morning hours, one can expect to find several species of skippers flitting from flower to flower, the sun-loving pansies, Chocolate Albatross, Lemon Emigrant and a variety of hill-topping Lycaenidae, if one is lucky.

A Bush Hopper that can be found amongst the grasses at the verge of the pond

A view of the pond at the eastern boundary of Kent Ridge Park

On the eastern side of Kent Ridge Park is a large pond abutting the boundary of Science Park. Starting from the low-point at this pond, there are many meandering footpaths that weave through the vegetation and rising in elevation towards the highest lookout points in the park. There are many dragonflies and damselflies around the pond, and amongst the grasses, species like the Bush Hopper and other skippers flit around.

Wide paths and lush greenery on both sides to cheer the nature lover and fitness enthusiast.  Compare the scale of the joggers with the heights of the trees flanking the path

Expect some steep climbs and lots of staircases! 

But don't worry if you run out of breath!  There are sturdy shelters and stone seats for you to take a break.

Expect lots of staircases and steep climbs as the paths lead from the pond upwards towards the ridge. The paths are either of tarmac or concrete, and are flanked by lush greenery and a variety of plants. Look out for the bird and insect life - there is always something to interest you.

The Scarce Silverstreak is sometimes seen ovipositing at the roadside hedge

The Transparent Sixline Blue can be encountered in the late afternoon, basking in the sun

The Ambon Onyx is occasionally encountered at Kent Ridge Park.  This individual was shot at the vegetation along the ridge

Back up at the main carpark, is a long hedge of Ficus microcarpa. This is the caterpillar host plant of the Scarce Silverstreak (Iraota rochana boswelliana), and if you are at the right place at the right time, you will be able to see the females of this species coming down to lay their eggs on this plant. Do keep a lookout for other Lycaenidae like the Transparent Sixline Blue (Nacaduba kurava nemana) and the occasional Ambon Onyx (Horaga syrinx maenala) amongst the vegetation in this area.

Views of the Pasir Panjang Container Port through the tall vegetation at Kent Ridge Park

Do take in the views of the southern waterfront from the Lookout Points along the ridge. At this point in time, the Pasir Panjang Container Port is still in operation the the views may be marred by these unsightly industrial equipment. In the near future, there are plans to transform this industrial area into the Greater Southern Waterfront with housing, parks, entertainment and commercial areas!

Forest bathing anyone?

Continue your walk westwards towards the Canopy Walk. Along the way, marvel at the towering Tembusu and Casuarina trees flanking the path. It is a tranquil walk and one can truly experience the therapeutic effects of "forest bathing" along this route. Do look out for the Miletinae amongst the shrubbery. Species like the Apefly (Spalgis epius epius) and Pale Mottle (Logania marmorata damis) are sometimes encountered here.

A mating pair of Pale Mottle

At the western end of Kent Ridge Park is the 280m long Canopy Walk - an elevated walkway that was designed to avoid felling any of the mature trees in the area, weaving amongst the tree canopies. The Canopy Walk ends at the wartime museum, Reflections At Bukit Chandu. This area before reaching the Canopy Walk is lined with tall Tembusu trees, offering shade from the hot sun and shelter for birds, butterflies, and a myriad of Mother Nature's creations.

The elevated Canopy Walk, which is one of the key attractions of Kent Ridge Park

The shelter at the mid-point of the Canopy Walk

A view from the Canopy Walk towards the Pasir Panjang Nursery and the city skyline beyond

Looking down at the tree canopies below

Along the Canopy Walk, the visitor can take in breath-taking views of NParks' Pasir Panjang Nursery and the city skyline beyond. From this elevated vantage point, one can look down at the tree canopies below, and also be at eye-level with the treetops of some of the tallest trees in the area. There is also a small shelter mid-way along this elevated walkway to take cover from the hot afternoon sun to enjoy the scenic view.

Some butterfly species that can be found at Kent Ridge Park - Malayan Plum Judy, Dark Brand Bush Brown and Plain Nawab.  

Down below the Canopy Walk, there is also a shaded forested path, where sometimes the Malayan Plum Judy (Abisara saturata kausambioides) can be spotted amongst the low shrubbery. This Riodinidae species usually displays its twist-and-turn behaviour and stops on the uppersurfaces of the vegetation with half-opened wings. Other species like the Dark Brand Bush Brown (Mycalesis mineus macromalayana) and the Plain Nawab (Polyura hebe plautus) may also be spotted here (the last named so, because its caterpillar host plant, the Red Saga, is common at Kent Ridge Park)

How to Get There :

By bus: 92, 92A along Science Park Drive
Alight opposite the Rutherford (Bus Stop ID : 18289) and access Kent Ridge Park via the pond area

Or 200
Alight outside National Leadership Institute, (Bus stop ID: 15099) walk northwards along South Buona Vista Road until Vigilante Drive)

By Car : From South Buona Vista Road. Turn into Vigilante Drive and up the slope to Kent Ridge Park. Parking is free.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Khew SK, Lim CA and Loh MY

19 July 2020

Butterfly of the Month - July 2020

Butterfly of the Month - July 2020
The Chocolate Sailor (Neptis harita harita)

A Chocolate Sailor sunbathes with open wings on top of a leaf

We move apprehensively into the second half of the year 2020, a year that will most likely go into history as a significant year where an "invisible" enemy brought the world to its knees. COVID-19, a coronavirus that purportedly originated from the Chinese city of Wuhan, spread across the globe with such an exponential speed that had many governments scrambling to contain the pandemic, resulting in the current global infection rate of over 14 million people with more than 600,000 deaths and counting!

Coupled with nation-wide lockdowns and travel bans, the world reeled in the face of severe economic crisis as businesses fold, employees are retrenched and governments dig deep into their reserves or incur significant debts to save businesses and jobs. The race to find a vaccine continues, as nations that are relaxing their lockdowns are beginning to experience 2nd and even 3rd waves of infections amongst their populations.

The underside of the Chocolate Sailor is somewhat similar to the upperside, but much paler in colour

Back in Singapore, as we were just getting the hang of the phased opening of the lockdowns, the government decided to call the General Elections. With various measures that continued to be in place to prevent another surge in infections, GE2020 was unprecedented in that all campaigning was done digitally via mainstream and social media. For the first time since independence (and even before) there were no mass rallies and crowds listening to the candidates campaign.

Various upperside and underside poses of the Chocolate Sailor

The result of the elections, as far as who would continue to govern Singapore, was not unexpected. The PAP secured 83 out of a total of 93 parliamentary seats. What was perhaps surprising, was the increased vote share of the opposition parties to almost 40% of popular vote, and the loss of two Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) to the Workers' Party. This would mean that for the first time since 1965, there will be 10 elected Members of Parliament representing the opposition.

A Chocolate Sailor sunbathes on the tip of a Singapore Rhododendron leaf

Our Butterfly of the Month for July 2020 is the Chocolate Sailor (Neptis harita harita) (or called Dingiest Sailer in other regional references). When it was first discovered in the Mandai precinct in the early 1990's it was a new record for Singapore, as it was not in the checklists of the early authors. It is one of three Neptis or "Sailors" species that are now extant in Singapore, but is the only all-brown species, compared to the other two black-and-white Sailors found in Singapore.

A Chocolate Sailor pudding at a muddy footpath

A Chocolate Sailor feeding on the ripe fruit of the Singapore Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum)

The Chocolate Sailor is a forest-dependent species and can usually be spotted within and along the fringes of Singapore's nature reserves. The species flies in the usual sailing fashion like its related cousins in the Neptis genus. It is usually observed singly, feeding on flowering plants, ripened fruits of the Singapore Rhododendron or just gliding amongst the forest vegetation. It is also known to puddle along damp forest paths and on decomposing animal matter.

A Chocolate Sailor perches on a leaf with its wings folded upright

Whilst feeding on the ripened fruit of the Singapore Rhodendron, the Chocolate Sailor opens its wings

The Chocolate Sailor is dark brown on the upperside, and striped in the usual Neptis pattern. There is a distinctive crescent-shaped post-discal spot in space 2 of the forewing. The underside is a lighter shade of brown with markings similar to the upperside. In a sidelight, there is a slight hint of a violet shading on the lighter bands.

The caterpillar host plant that this "non-native" butterfly has been bred on successfully in Singapore is Poikilospermum suaveolens (Urticaceae). The plant is relatively rare and largely found in forested areas within the nature reserves. The complete life history of the Chocolate Sailor is recorded here.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by David Ho, Khew SK, Horace Tan, Mark Wong and Benjamin Yam

11 July 2020

Singapore's Line Blues - Part 2

Singapore's Line Blues - Part 2
Featuring the Line Blue Butterflies of Singapore

A Two Spotted Line Blue perches for a rest

In this 2nd part of our blogpost featuring the butterfly species with the name "Line Blue" in their names, we take a look at the remaining 4 species that have been recorded as new discoveries to Singapore. Under the IUCN definitions, these species are therefore "non-native" or "exotic" to Singapore. These Line Blue butterflies species are typically small in size, skittish and erratic flyers.

A Banded Line Blue feeding on some moisture from a fern frond

Other than the Two Spotted Line Blue, which is common in Australia, the other "non-native" Line Blues can be found in neighbouring Malaysia. Although they were not recorded in the checklists of the early authors, there is always a likelihood that they may have been missed earlier and were extant in Singapore all this time. However, there is no way that this can be ascertained nor validated with certainty at this point in time, and these species are therefore treated as "exotics" unless other evidence surfaces to prove otherwise.

A Barred Line Blue (top) and a Dingy Line Blue (bottom) pudding at damp muddy footpaths

Of the species featured here, two are from the genus Prosotas which complement the two native species already found in Singapore. The other is a sole representative of the genus Petralaea that can be found in the region. Whilst these 3 species may be able to fly over from nearby Malaysia, the aforementioned Australian species, the Two Spotted Line Blue probably came over to Singapore as a stowaway on plants that have been imported as part of landscaping material.

4. The Dingy Line Blue (Petralaea dana)

A Dingy Line Blue puddling.  Note the characteristic tornal spots without any orange crown/ring and absence of tails on the hindwing

The Dingy Line Blue was first discovered in 2004 on the offshore island of Pulau Ubin. It was recorded as a new discovery for Singapore. Since then, the species has been observed on the main island of Singapore and is relatively widespread in distribution. It has been recorded from the mangrove areas on Pulau Ubin, to the urban hill park at Telok Blangah, and also in the heart of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

A Dingy Line Blue puddling on a brick footpath at an urban park

It is a skittish butterfly and flies erratically. It is more often observed when puddling at muddy footpaths and streambanks. With an average wingspan of 24-26mm, it is difficult to identify this species in flight, unless it stops to feed or rest.

A mating pair of Dingy Line Blue

The upperside of the male is a pale violet blue with narrow black margins, whilst the female is brown with a whitish patch on the forewing and metallic blue scaling at the wing bases of both wings. The underside is greyish brown and has pale white striations. There are two black spots on the underside of the tornal area of the hindwings. The species can be easily separated from its related lookalikes in that the tornal spots are not orange-crowned.

5. The Two Spotted Line Blue (Nacaduba biocellata)

A Two Spotted Line Blue feeding at a flower

The Two Spotted Line Blue was another new discovery for Singapore when the species was formally recorded in the Singapore Checklist in 2008. There were a few unconfirmed sightings of this species earlier, but could not be validated. It is widely distributed and can be found on the main island of Singapore, as well the offshore islands of Pulau Ubin and Pulau Semakau. The species is usually found in urban parks and gardens and is seasonal. When it occurs, many individuals are encountered, to the extent of being temporarily abundant. They then disappear as mysteriously as they appeared, until the next seasonal outbreak.

Two Spotted Line Blue perched whilst resting between long active flights

The species occurs in the South Pacific, and is common throughout Australia where it is a native species. Being a small butterfly with an average wingspan of 22-26mm, it is highly unlikely that it managed to migrate to Singapore on its own steam. Its caterpillar host plant is the invasive Australian Wattle (Acacia auriculiformis) and its life history has been recorded here.

A male Two Spotted Line Blue sunbathing with open wings

The males are blue on top, with diffused black margins on both wings. The females are a drab brown and unmarked. The underside is a pale brown with dark wavy striations across both wings. Both sexes have a pair of orange-ringed black eyespots at the tornal area, with light greenish iridescent scales within each eyespot.  These two eyespots are probably unique enough to give the species its English common name.

6. The Banded Line Blue (Prosotas lutea sivoka)

A Banded Line Blue perched to rest amongst some dead twigs

The Banded Line Blue was added to the Singapore Butterfly checklist in 2012 as a new discovery. A small colony was observed at the Bukit Brown Cemetery during a survey of the biodiversity in the area. The cemetery was slated for the development of a major arterial highway and parts of the land would be cleared for the road expansion. Interestingly, this small butterfly with an average wingspan of 22-24mm has eluded observation until recently. Also as interesting is that its caterpillar host plant, Acacia concinna is considered critically endangered, although several plants were found at the locality where the butterfly was observed.

A Banded Line Blue ovipositing on its caterpillar host plant, Soap Pod Tree (Acacia concinna)

The species flies erratically, almost reminiscent of the flight characteristics of its native cousins, the Tailless Line Blue and the Common Line Blue. It can fly restlessly for long periods of time, unless stopping to feed on flowers or to rest. It has also been observed to puddle at damp muddy footpaths.

A Banded Line Blue puddling along a muddy footpath

The upperside of the Banded Line Blue is brown and unmarked. The underside is a distinctively pale yellowish-brown with diffused darker striations across both wings.  There is a prominent marginal black spot at space 6 at the apical area of the hindwing. The tornal area has two small black spots and a larger sub-marginal one at space 2 of the hindwing. The species has no tails. The complete life history of the species has been recorded in Singapore and can be found on this blog here.

7. The Barred Line Blue (Prosotas aluta nanda)

A Barred Line Blue puddling at a sandy streambank in the nature reserves

The Barred Line Blue has many lookalikes in related genera like the Nacaduba, Ionolyce and Jamides. It may be why this species has eluded observers and the early authors. Only after close observations and validation that this species was added to the Singapore Butterfly checklist in 2014. However, upon scrutiny of earlier photographic records, it was already photographed, but incorrectly identified, from as early as 2008.

Where it has been observed, it has most often been encountered whilst puddling at sandy streambanks within the forested nature reserves. It is unlikely that this species can be found in urban parks and gardens, and is a forest-dependent species in Singapore. It is skittish in flight, not unlike the Nacaduba species, but can easily be approached when it is puddling.

A Barred Line Blue perched on a blade of grass

The male is blue on the upperside, whilst the female is brown with a bluish-green patch on the forewing. The key diagnostic feature of the Barred Line Blue is the post-discal striation in space 3 on the underside of the forewing. This striae is shifted slightly towards the base of the forewing as compared to the adjacent striae in space 4. The hindwing has a white-tipped black filamentous tail at vein 2 and there is a large orange-crowned black eyespot at the tornal area of the hindwing. The early stages of this species is currently unknown.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by James Chia, Huang CJ, Khew SK, Koh CH, Loh MY, Loke PF, Michael Soh and Jonathan Soong

Further reading