Thursday, January 15, 2015

Malaysia dragonfly tour - a look back to 2013

 Many of the tour participants were very talented photographers and would endure any amount of discomfort to get the right shooting angle on their subjects.

I wrote this for Svarovski when they lent me some gear in 2013 but they never used it to my knowledge - so here it is!

"My first experiences as an embryonic naturalist revolved around a dip net and a microscope. As a 9-year old I was fascinated by the life aquatic and would happily draw ostracods and Daphnia for hours in my notebooks, identifying many of them with the aid of the simple reference books available to me. The gift of my first pair of binoculars though saw me going down a path familiar (no doubt) to many readers of this blog. I became a committed birder and spent the greater part of my young adulthood joyfully chasing birds around the globe. Exposure to the rich species diversity of the tropics though ensured that my interest in aquatic fauna and especially Odonata was slowly rekindled. The problem way back then though was how to identify the stuff you found!

It is hard nowadays to remember life before the internet but its advent suddenly created an online world where communities of naturalists could come together, the identification of previously difficult groups of organisms, like tropical dragonflies, suddenly became possible through shared effort and collaboration. Likewise digital cameras and modern binoculars suddenly put the world of invertebrates into close focus. Against this backdrop of technological progress, I found myself working as a freelance naturalist, leading general natural history tours. Inevitably birding often took second place on such tours and I found myself returning to many of the haunts of my youth, but now with a mandate to look at other taxa; taxa ignored or simply unnoticed during previous bird-oriented visits. Now I could search out dragonflies and with the help of the internet and communication with benevolent experts have a chance of putting names to things. My interest in Odonata grew and so did my list!

The advent of dragonfly tourism was inevitable but is still very much in it’s infancy, pioneered by the likes of Dave Smallshire (UK) and Dennis Paulson (USA). Both are authors of acclaimed Odonata fieldguides for their respective regions and it was a meeting with Dave at the UK BirdFair that set the wheels in motion for an incredible tour of Peninsula Malaysia together with a group of ten of his ‘regulars’. Our two-week tour, along with one of Malaysia’s finest field naturalists (Dennis Yong), took in the wild, ancient rainforest of Taman Negara, the genteel but well-forested hill station of Fraser’s Hill and the mangroves and coastline around Kuala Selangor. A fairly typical nature-oriented itinerary therefore but for dragonflies we also had to factor in a day in some peat swamp-forest, an important habitat for a specialised and very desirable suite of species.

How did we do? Well in many ways it exceeded our expectations; of the c. 250 species of Odonata currently recorded for Peninsula Malaysia we managed to see and photograph an incredible 120! Added to this we saw a wealth of other wildlife, enjoying the mammals and birds especially, and when we could summon up the energy many of us went for night-walks after dinner in search of amphibians and other fauna. A great experience and one I would love to repeat some time soon." 
Chlorocyphids or jewels were an incredibly attractive feature of the Malayan odo-fauna, at our first site on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur Heliocypha perforata appears for the first time.

Another chlorocyphid and one we all hoped to see was the peat swamp-forest specialist Libellago hyalina.

A small pond on the edge of the vast but largely inaccessible Krau Game Reserve quickly became the favourite site on the tour largely for the sheer diversity of species present and it was quickly dubbed the ‘Super Pond’. Here two new Rhyothemis species perch together in the sun.

Another chlorocyphid, this one (Libellago semiopaca) found by paddling in the Sg. Tahan at Taman Negara.

Mid-altitude forest in the Gombak Valley produced our first Ceriagrion fallax.

Night-walks at Taman Negara produced some great invertebrates including several encounters with the huge tarantula Cyriopagopus schiodtei.

Large forested rivers supported good numbers of the attractive damselfly Dysphaea dimidiata.

 Chance encounters with reptiles like the Malayan vine snake (Ahaetulla mycterizans) were much appreciated.

 Night-walks also produced the occasional mammal sighting, here a diademed leaf-nosed bat (Hipposideros diadema) checks us out.

On our last day at Taman Negara it rained heavily bringing out the frogs during the night, we were pleased to find a Wallace’s flying frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus) taking up a territory near the HQ buildings.

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