Saturday, 21 June 2014

RGBY

Barbets are some of the most colourful forest birds in South East 
Asia, with splashes of red, green, blue and yellow on their heads.
They are distant relatives of the toucans and like them, their diet 
is largely fruit based. Somewhere along the line of Singapore's 
industrialisation, most of our barbets went extinct and now there 
are only three extant species surviving. I have seen two of them 
recently. This is the first, the Coppersmith Barbet.













The coppersmith barbet is by far the commoner species and it lives
in parks and gardens.It is a small bird, about 16cm in length, with a 
disproportionately chunky bill. The word 'barbet' comes from the barb
like bristles at the base of their beaks. It is a dark turquoise-green 
bird with patches of yellow and red on its face. This one was 
observed bringing food to its nest hole on the underside of a branch.













Every ten minutes or so, one of the parents would fly in and deliver
berries. The chicks were rather old already, for younger chicks are
fed with more insects. The nest is in the centre of the picture below.













It was very thrilling to watch the chick's head pop out from the nest
each time the parent came by to feed it. From afar this bird is 
actually difficult to spot due to its predominantly green plumage and 
its habit of sitting still for long periods of time. It is much more 
often heard than seen, its call being a continuous tunk tunk tunk 
that is supposed to resemble the sound of a coppersmith at work.













The next barbet is our sole forest barbet, the Red Crowned Barbet.
It has an even more pronounced Quattron-colour scheme but is
still well camouflaged in the forest canopy. It is a much larger bird,
usually about 27cm in length, mainly apple green with its head 
adorned with bright blue, red and yellow. It has the same bristles
as the coppersmith barbet. I encountered this one along a forest
trail.













I initially thought it was trying to swallow a large unripe berry but
then realised that it was eating an arboreal snail! This barbet has 
been known to take a wide variety of food items. However, it is 
strictly a forest dweller and is restricted to the Central Catchment 
and Bukit Timah nature reserves. Here is a closer view.













This barbet frequents areas with dead trees because they prefer to
nest in soft rotting wood. There are very few nesting records and I 
believe there have only been two in Singapore; one in 1979 and one
in 2006. Like all barbets, they are drawn to fruiting trees, especially  
fruiting figs. I was lucky to see this one just above my eye level; they
are known to be canopy feeders and rarely descend to the middle 
storey of the forest.













The last of Singapore's three barbets, the Lineated barbet, is
not so colourful, being brown and streaky, with green wings and
belly and a patch of bare yellow facial skin. It is a rather new bird
here which spread from Indonesia in the late 1900s. I unfortunately
do not have any pictures of it. So there we have it, the RBGY birds.

References: 
Barbets of Singapore Part 2, by Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research
Barbets of Singapore Part 3, by Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research

Two brilliantly comprehensive studies of the coppersmith and red crowned barbets 
respectively, from which I learnt all I now know about barbets.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The Sky Blue

It was a sad and wet wash-out day until a small but brilliantly blue
piece of the sky fluttered in front of me. It was one of our more
oddly named butterflies, the Sky Blue, Jamides caeruleus.













I find it strange that where there are thousands of butterflies with
'sky blue' uppersides, this one took the title. There's no doubt, 
however, that it deserves the name. When it flies, the bright blue 
upperside almost glows. It didn't open its wings for me but it did 
give me glimpse of the stunning blue when it shuffled its hindwings
up and down.














The sky blue is an uncommon forest butterfly in Singapore but can be 
found around flowering Yellow Saraca trees (saraca cauliflora), their 
larval host plant. The caterpillars feed on the orange-yellow flowers, 
which grow in large clusters around the trunk and the larger branches. 
Here is a beautifully detailed account of the butterfly's life history. 













The sky blue has a fluttering flight and usually does not fly above a
metre, staying close to the ground, unless it is very disturbed. I 
initially thought this one was a Glistening Caerulean (J. elpis), a 
close cousin of the sky blue. The two are superficially similar and
only after close scrutiny and consulting the butterfly expert, Dr  
Seow, did I find out it's real identity. 













Photographing it was another challenge but fortunately it stayed
very still even when there were countless joggers running past it. I 
even managed to coax it onto my finger! Unusually, a lady walking 
by came to see what I was shooting. More often than not, people 
would look over when they see a boy with a huge camera aiming 
at some leaves but walk by when they can't see what about the 
leaves is so interesting. Lucky for the lady, who took lots of pictures 
of it on her phone; you don't often run into a sky blue!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Banded Leaf Monkeys!

In Singapore, the word 'Monkey' often refers to the ever common 
Long Tailed Macaque. They are found in every corner of our forests 
and have now spread to urban areas too. Many of us forget that we
actually have another species of monkey - the critically endangered
Banded Leaf Monkey, which was at one point in time thought to be
extinct in Singapore.













During the mid 1980s, the population of banded leaf monkeys hit
a low of around 10 individuals; a single troop deep in the forests
of the central catchment nature reserve. Their future seemed bleak.
However, four years ago, National University of Singapore student
Andie Ang found that the monkeys were hanging on and that the
population had grown to about forty individuals. There was hope.














The banded leaf monkey is dark grey with with paler lips and a
grey underside. Their tails are often even longer than their body
length. it is an arboreal monkey and unlike the long tailed macaque,
it rarely descends to the ground. Being very shy, they are hardly
seen. I was exceedingly excited when I encountered this small 
group of about four monkeys passing through the forest. I initially
thought they were the usual macaques, but when I looked up into
the canopy, I saw black monkeys! The group seemed to be on the
move in search of food.














It's a relief to know that they are still surviving. However, I 
think that there isn't enough awareness about their story. While 
research is quietly going on in the background to uncover more
about them so as to conserve them, people need to know about
them. The banded leaf monkey is Singapore's reminder that 
nature is fragile and needs to be respected.

References:
http://evolution.science.nus.edu.sg/monkey.html
http://www.ecologyasia.com/verts/mammals/banded-leaf-monkey.htm

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Another Good Day

It looks like the hot weather is here to stay. My recent visit to Dairy 
Farm Nature Park was quite eventful, even though I spent most of
the time hiding in the shade from the merciless sun. A fair bit of 
the activity was actually at the entrance of the park, where the 
human traffic was very high! The first butterfly was a pristine 
Malayan Sunbeam.  














When I accidentally disturbed it, it flew down to the concrete 
pavement to puddle. Every few seconds, someone would walk past
and frighten it, making it difficult to get a picture of. There seems
to have been quite a few sightings of sunbeams recently.














After a while, it got tired of all the people walking by and retreated
to some taller shrubs, way out of my reach. 














There were a number of Malayan Eggflies at the entrance too.
Their caterpillar hostplant, Pipturus Argentus (Australian Mulberry), 
must grow nearby since I always see them flying there. The Malayan 
eggfly occurs in different forms. This one, with a whitened patch 
on the hindwing, is form nivas.














The females of this species are known to guard their eggs, which
they lay by the hundreds, until they perish. Malayan eggflies are
highly territorial insects and constantly fly out to attack intruders to
the "air space", including other individuals of the species. This can
be quite a nuisance for butterfly photographers, for they sometimes
get excited by falling leaves! This is another form, form anomala.














Where the cyclists were washing their shoes, this little Fluffy Tit
came down to puddle. Its long feathery tails were fluttering in the
wind. Unlike the sunbeam, it was not bothered by the presence
of people walking by.




























After spending quite some time lying flat on the ground and shooting
it, I walked up the main dirt road all the way until I hit the flower
patch at the top of the hill. It was disappointingly quiet and besides 
a few monkeys, there was hardly anything to see. I watched this
male Common Mormon chase a female relentlessly for a while.













She eventually grew tired of him and sped off. Later, I found her 
feeding at a cluster of pagoda flowers. She must have been very
tired and hungry from being chased by the male and spent a long
time at the flowers to re-fuel.













Back at the entrance of the park, there were numerous little blues
puddling on the road. They were wary and flew off at the slightest
disturbance. When puddling, they also hardly stood still and were
crawling around a fair bit. This male Pointed Line Blue was one of
the more cooperative models.













Looking back at my pictures from Dairy Farm in 2009, when my 
family and I first visited it, the nature park seems to have always
been a great place for butterflies. I think its very close proximity
to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve allows it to have a great range
of forest plants and trees, which helps to attract butterflies; they
usually stay near their caterpillar host plants. I can't believe that
I've been butterfly-blogging for five years already. Onward!

















(This is near the entrance, in 2009. It still looks the same!)