Monday, 21 April 2014

The Pale Grass Blue

I would love to do some serious out-in-the-forest shooting but
my examinations are in a mere two week's time. So, I have done
some outside-the-house shooting instead. The roadside grass 
patches have sprouted with weeds lately in the mood swing 
weather. One of them is the vernonia cinerea (the common 
vernonia). Lots of little blues have been fluttering around the 
cheerful flowers.

The Pale Grass Blue is the largest of our three 'grass blues'; small
butterflies that frequent the roadsides. This species was discovered
in Singapore in 2001 and has since become quite the commoner.
They have a weak and fluttering flight and stay close to the ground.
Being common and not very showy, they, along with the other grass 
blues, are often overlooked. 

I think it was a blessing that I couldn't get out in pursuit of 
more exotic butterflies; it let me appreciate the beauty of the
little creatures I so often ignore. It also brought back some 
happy memories I used to pick bunches of common vernonia for 
my mother back when I was... 5? They'd all be wilted by the time 
they got home though. Later on I would stop on the pavement to 
watch the little grass blues go about their lives. It was nice to 
do it all again. (except this time I left the weed picking out) :)

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Butterfly Colours - Yellow

Following the yellow trend: Bright and sunny yellow butterflies are 
the main characteristic of the family pieridae; so much that they 
are collectively known as 'the whites and yellows'. In Singapore, we 
have six species of 'grass yellow'. As the name suggests, they are 
little dots of yellow that flutter around grass. Very often, they can 
be seen flying at the roadside while cars whizz by. Yellow is the 
lightest colour on the colour wheel and is usually a symbol of 
happiness and optimism. It is a highly visible colour and many 
insects use it as an aposematic, or warning, colour to ward 
predators off. In the same way, yellow was used as a 
representation of betrayal in the Renaissance. 

(Left to Right, Top to Bottom)
Anderson's Grass Yellow, Common Birdwing, Forest Grass Yellow, Bush Hopper, Tree Yellow, Lime Butterfly, Chocolate Grass Yellow, Yellow Grass Dart, Three Spot Grass Yellow

Monday, 31 March 2014

And it was all yellow

The yellow flash is very often literally just a flash of yellow; the 
moment you see it, it's off into the treetops. It almost seems to be 
a rule: when you are rare, you must play hard to get. Most of my 
encounters with it were short lived ones of individuals who must
have seen me coming long before I spotted them. I bumped into a 
colony of them two weeks back and that was when I got lucky.

There were at least five of them in the area. While most of them
perched high up, out of reach and watching as I searched high and
low for them, some would fly down to the lower leaves and grasses.
They are bright yellow but are almost impossible to see amongst the
grass. Whenever one took flight, I would track it but it would always 
land 'somewhere over there'. In other words: it would disappear.

It is the odd one out in the genus rapala (the flashes). No other 
species has the same lemon-yellow colouration with the strange 
black blobs and streaks. It is also the largest flash in Singapore
and Malaysia, with a wingspan of around 30-40mm. It is rare here, 
showing up occasionally here and there in forested areas. 

Both the male and female are plain brown on the upperside and 
are almost impossible to distinguish, apart from the fact that the
outer edge (termen) of the wings are more rounded in the female
and a pale brand on the male's upperside. Since their wings are 
pale on one side and dark on the other, they seem to sparkle as
the fly. Strangely, the yellow comes out whitish when camera
flash is used, but only if the flash didn't already spook it off!

There are many speedy fliers in the butterfly world but the yellow
flash has to be one of the top racers. They zoom around at blinding
speeds and are quick to dart into the treetops at the slightest of
disturbances. Camera flash is another enemy of this butterfly.They 
are not very friendly to photographers! The yellow flash is also 
known to rest under leaves but I didn't see any doing that.

While the yellow flash is seldom seen, it appears seasonally in
in different locations, with several individuals congregating there
and only to vanish without a trace a week later. Yesterday I went
back to the hot-spot, only to find that the place was quiet! I hope
I'll meet this lovely little flash again sometime. 

Sunday, 16 March 2014

In Search of The Grand

The dry spell has been broken! We had thundery showers of blessing
islandwide today. yesterday, there were a few drizzles here and there
but it was hardly anything. In fact, I was out with six others in a less-
visited forest. We were after the Grand ImperialIt was a tiring 
hunt, walking up and down through the thicket for hours. Here are 
some of the species I saw while searching for the grand imperial. 
First up is the forget-me-not.

The large snow flat. This male kept on returning to the same few
perches to bask in the morning sun. Flats usually have the habit of
sunbathing for a few hours in the morning (or afternoon for some)
and then hiding under leaves for the rest of the day.

The Malay tailed judy. I had a hard time tracking it as it hopped
through the undergrowth, turning a few rounds each time it landed
and always keeping its wings half-open.

The yellow flash. This is my first encounter of this rare species.
They fly rapidly and are known to be notoriously sensitive to camera 
flashes. This one was too alert for me and stayed well away, high
up in the treetops. These pictures are heavily cropped.

The great helen - a species usually seen weaving through the forest
canopy with its swooping flight. Lucky for me, this one had landed
low down.

The common hedge blue - a common forest butterfly. It isn't rare to 
see this electric-blue butterfly flying erratically along forest trails,
keeping close to the ground. This male had been puddling and flew
off to a nearby shrub to rest and give me a peek of his upperside.

The elbowed pierrot. This is yet another familiar sight of the forest.
There were quite a few puddling on the damp ground. Their markings
are so bold and obscure - like abstract art on a butterfly's wing.

The Cruiser - another Singapore-forest-staple. These large and 
showy butterflies are almost always seen at damp patches on the
ground. The females, much rarer, are more often seen at flowers.

The tree flitter. I found this lone female enjoying herself at a 
flowering tree at the forest edge. This small and interestingly 
patterned skipper is only occasionally seen. 

Now for the Grand Imperial itself. It was really thrilling for me to 
see it for the first time, in the distance and high up, barely visible in
the dim forest light. Here it is.

Would you look at the length of those tails! There were a few males 
very high up in the canopy. I soon found out that a disturbed grand
imperial will only fly up higher. They were very skittish and difficult 
to find in the dense growth. This is another male hiding under a leaf.

A beautiful and pristine female fluttered by too and made my heart
stop. She flitted about, looking for the host plant to lay eggs on but
flew further in the forest. The weight of their tails makes them fly
in a near upright position. Such regal looking creatures.

While I did not get any good pictures of it, I'm glad to have seen it
with my own eyes. Now that the rains are finally here, the forests
will be able to recover and the browns will bloom back into vibrant
greens. Change is a good thing.