Mandai Forest Stream

I have heard of the famous Mandai forest stream during my earlier years of photographing dragonflies & damselflies. I read that it was a good place to hunt for uncommon forest species. In particular, it was once thought that the beautiful Libellago lineata can only be sited there. I remember I tried very hard to locate this stream but without success. I gave up searching when I finally photographed L. lineata but at a new location at Lower Peirce Reservior.

In June last year, a Facebook friend, Ronnie Ang, managed to find the Mandai stream. I requested him to bring me along the next time he visits this place again. I was glad to receive his invitation last night. Although I was working today, I did not want to miss this opportunity. I met him and his friend, Albert this morning at 10.00 am and here is the stream that I once worked so hard to find.

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(The upper stretch of Mandai forest stream)

The water level was quite shadow probably due to the recent dry spell. We soon found a lone male Libellago lineata & Common Flashing, a few Yellow Featherlegs, Orange-striped Threadtails, Blue Sprites and Grey Sprites.

While Ronnie stayed at the upper stretch to shoot Libellago lineata, Albert went further up to explore the lower stretch of the stream.

( A pristine forest stream)

(A long stretch of pristine forest stream)

As I had photographed the Grey Sprite only at Panti Forest, Johor, it is my wish to get some decent shots in my own country. Thanks to Albert who spotted a mating pair and kindly shared it with me. It perched fairly high up in a thin branch. With the wind blowing strongly, it was a challenge shooting them. Fortunately, the mating pair stayed very cooperative there for a long period. Here are my humble shots.

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(Mating Grey Sprite)

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(Using full flash, hence the dark background)

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I left at 11.45 am for work while Ronnie and Albert continued their hunt for odonates. I am certain that I would revisit this place soon. I hope to shoot together with Ronnie and Albert again.

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Would Singapore’s most beautiful damselfly species be extinct by the construction of Cross Island Line?

In January 2013, the Land Transport Authority announced the plan of the Cross Island MRT Line (CRL) which would begin from Changi, passing through Pasir Ris, Hougang, Ang Mo Kio, Bukit Timah, Clementi, West Coast, and terminate at Jurong Industrial Estate targets to be completed by around 2030.

Cross Island Line 2

I did not pay attention to this news until last week when a friend shared a link regarding a petition to save Singapore’s Forest Reserves initiated by Teresa Teo Guttensohn. There was also an article on The Straits Times and TodayOnline dated 19 July 2013 where it mentioned that the Nature Society (Singapore) has opposed the future CRL and has proposed an alternative route that cuts southwards via Lornie Road around the reserve.

As a nature lover who enjoys photographing insects and bugs in forested areas, I am concerned after reading the impact of CRL on Singapore’s rich biodiversity as it would cut through the southern portion of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, between Upper and Lower Peirce and MacRitchie Reservoirs. As an ordinary individual, one of the little things that we could do is help to highlight what would potentially be destroyed by the construction of CRL. In this regard, Ivan Kwan has done a superb job in his “The Lazy Lizard’s Tales Blog” where he pointed out that many of our threatened and endangered native mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, insects, etc., live in these forests and any form of large-scale disturbance is likely to have adverse impacts on them. I am glad he included the uncommon Forktail dragonfly taken by me although I would have preferred him to mention Triangled Small Percher instead as it is classified in the Singapore Red Data Book 2008 as a critically endangered species which lives only in Upper Peirce forest. Since no damselflies were mentioned, I would like to take this opportunity to emphasize that there is possibility that Singapore’s most beautiful damselflies that happen to live in the affected areas could be extinct due to the construction of CRL.

CRL final

I am referring to the Libellago which is the most unique damselfly genus in Singapore with its wings distinctly longer than the body. They are rare, attractive and require pristine habitat. I have rated them as the most beautiful damselfly species in Singapore! We used to have 4 Libellago species in Singapore checklist but unfortunately, one of them known as Libellago stigamtizans (Orange-faced Gem), is already extinct here. The following image of a L. stigmatizans in flight was photographed in Malaysia.

(Libellago Stigamtizans taken at Panti Forest, Johor, Malaysia)

(Libellago Stigamtizans taken at Panti Forest, Johor, Malaysia)

The remaining 3 Libellago species can still be found locally. They are Libellago lineata (Golden Gem), Libellago aurantiaca (Fiery Gem) & Libellago Hyalina (Clearwing Gem) and we should protect these Gems to the best of our ability.

Libellago lineata has a relatively higher chance of survival as it can be found at two locations, one at a protected area in Mandai forest not accessible by the general public, and the other one at Lower Peirce Reservior.

(Libellago lineate, male & female)

(Libellago lineata, male & female)

The behaviour of the Libellago genus is fascinating too. One of my most satisfying damselfly works is a series of images showing the unique and complete behaviours (ie. territory fight, mating,
egg-laying process, male guarding the egg-laying female) of Libellago lineata all taken at the edge of Lower Peirce Reservior.

(Libellago lineata engaged in behaviours such as fighting, mating, egg-laying, etc.)

(Libellago lineata engaged in behaviours such as fighting, mating, egg-laying, etc.)

Libellago aurantiaca has been recorded in Upper Peirce forest and Lower Peirce Reservior but both areas would be affected by the CRL. They are usually found in swift clear streams, typically with a sandy bottom and perch just above water as shown in the image below. I particularly like the male which is striking beautiful dressed in vibrant colour of red and yellow.

(Libellago aurantiaca, Male)

(Libellago aurantiaca, Male)

All the females of Libellago genus are less attractive with duller colours and L. aurantiaca is no exception. When both are displayed side-by-side, it is not difficult to tell which gender is more eye-catching.

(Libellago aurantiaca, male vs female)

(Libellago aurantiaca, male vs female)

Mating of any damselflies is a joy to watch, not to mention this cute and gorgeous gem in a wheel or love shape formation.

(Libellago aurantiaca, mating)

(Libellago aurantiaca, mating)

The most vulnerable of them all has to be the Libellago hyalina simply because their only home is at Upper Peirce forest. This is a precious species as it shows a great deal of colour variations, both in the female & male. The females have 3 different colours form and I like the one with a “tiger-skin” abdomen the best.

(Libellago hyaline, female)

(Libellago hyaline, female)

The other two females have duller colours and therefore slightly less attractive.

(Libellago hyaline, females)

(Libellago hyaline, females)

The males have 3 colours form too with the bluish grey abdomen being the least good looking.

(Libellago hyaline, bluish grey male)

(Libellago hyaline, bluish grey male)

The metallic blue male is more handsome.

(Libellago hyaline, metallic blue male)

(Libellago hyaline, metallic blue male)

But I like the glowing purple abdomen male the best.

(Libellago hyaline, glowing purple male)

(Libellago hyalina, glowing purple male)

With a total of 6 colours, surely it must be the most colours form damselfly species in Singapore! While doing a search of this species over the internet, I have found images of female L. hyalina from other countries that look similar to ours. However, the colours of the males are  different from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia & Cambodia.  In other words, the 3 colours form of the male Libellago hyalina above could be uniquely Singapore that cannot be found anywhere else on Earth!  This makes it all the more valuable and should be protected at all costs!  In the event that  the CRL has to proceed  to meet the infrastructure development needs of Singaporeans, LTA should find ways to guarantee zero disturbance to our nature reserves and ensure the survival of at least the critically endangered species.

(Libellago hyaline, glowing purple male)

(Libellago hyaline, glowing purple male)

Reference : A photographic guide to the Dragonflies of Singapore

Damselflies & Dragonflies @ Bekok Waterfall

Bekok is a town located at the eastern side of the district of Segamat, Johor, Malaysia. Bekok is well-known especially among nature lovers since Bekok is the western entrance to Endau Rompin National Park as well as having a refreshing waterfall known as Sungai Bantang Waterfall.

Bekok-Map

I had visited Bekok waterfall twice, one on a recce mission on 25 May 2013, and the recent one on 29 June 2013 where I joined Nature Photographic Society, Singapore (NPSS) on a marco photography outing.  The meeting point was at the first Esso Petrol kiosk after Tuas 2nd link Customs.   18 of us gathered at 6.35 am, drove to Machap for breakfast and arrived Bekok Waterfall at 9.45 am, approximately 200 km of driving.

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(Group photo at the entrance of Bekok Waterfall)

There is a stream near the entrance and it looks like a place full of damselflies, just like the stream at Gunung Belumut.

(A stream near the entrance)

(A stream near the entrance)

Unfortunately it was not the case, only a few species could be found. One of which was a Protoneuridae interrupta. In Singapore, it is classified as an uncommon forest species.

(Podasineura interrupta)

(Podasineura interrupta)

There were quite a no. of the male Euphaea ochracea, most of them perched just above the fast flowing water. This must be one of the most common forest species in Malaysia.

(Euphaea ochracea, Male)

(Euphaea ochracea, Male)

There were a few Aristocypha fenestrella. This is a sun-loving species and they prefer to perch on rocks under direct sunlight. Photographing them is a little challenging as it is difficult to avoid the harsh sunlight. They were also more sensitive to human than the other damselflies species in Bekok.

(Aristocypha fenestrella, male & female)

(Aristocypha fenestrella, male & female)

It has a very nice common name known as Peacock Jewel, most likely due to its beautiful metallic colouration on its wing!. One of the most interesting behaviours of A. frnestrella is when two males are involved in aerial territorial fight.  Getting both males sharp while they are fighting in mid-air are extremely difficult.  I did not manage to get any decent fighting shot of A. frnestrella but was happy to photograph a male Heliocypha perforate chasing another losing male during a fight!

(Heliocypha perforate - Territorial fight )

(Heliocypha perforate – Territorial fight )

There were some common dragonflies and damselflies such as Spine-tufted Skimmer, Yellow Featherlegs, Blue-sided Satinwing, Common Flashwing, etc which I did not capture them as they are quite easily found in Singapore. One common dragonfly however caught our attention and that was a male Tree-hugger. It is special because its left wing did not have the metallic bluish-black at the base of the hingwing.

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(Tree-hugger, male)

While I was disappointed not to find more damselfly species here, it was compensated with the sighting of a few lantern bugs (Laternaria ruhli) on a tree nearby.  Lantern bugs are very rare in Singapore, the last official sighting was in October 2009 (See “Records of Lantern Bug … ” by NUS).  As none of us have seen lantern bugs in Singapore, we would not want to miss this great opportunity to add this into our collection.

(Shooting lantern bugs overlooking the stream)

(Shooting lantern bugs overlooking the main stream)

I have seen images of lantern bugs taken by friends in Malaysia before but I didn’t expect it to be that big. I think it is about 20% bigger than the common cicada that we see in Singapore.

(Lantern bugs)

(Lantern bugs)

Another highlight of the trip was we found many butterflies, 6 species to be exact, feeding on sandy ground near the edge of the stream. I was not sure what were they feeding on but it must be very tasty as they kept coming back to the same spot.

(6 butterfly species feeding on sandy ground)

(6 butterfly species feeding on sandy ground)

Among all the butterfly shots, the image below is my favourite as it shows the size difference between the tiny Common Pierrot vs the much larger Common Jay (please correct me if I identified them incorrectly).

(Common Pierrot vs Common Jay)

(Common Pierrot vs Common Jay)

After lunch, we walked through the forested path and soon reached the upper stream where there is a nice refreshing waterfall. This should be the Bekok waterfall that people are taking about.

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(Bekok Waterfall)

If Gunung Belumut is a heaven for damselflies, Bekok should be a paradise for frogs and toads as we spotted so many of them both from the lower and upper streams.

(Toad & Frogs)

(Toad & Frogs)

Frogs in particular are photogenic subjects to shoot and it was no surprise to see my friends trying to get the best angles.

(Shooting the "prince charming"!)

(Shooting the “prince charming”!)

I personally find the Black-spotted Rock frogs most charming and therefore I had shot them with various angles.

(Black-spotted Rock frogs)

(Black-spotted Rock frogs)

When the black-spotted rock frogs were in abundant, it was not difficult to spot at least 2 of them together. Some of my friends saw 3 to 5 of them in a single spot, I could only shoot 2 in a frame.

(A pair of Black-spotted Rock frogs)

Thanks to my friend, Allan, who found a black-spotting rock frog having a male Euphaea ochracea damselfly as lunch near the waterfall. This is my first time seeing a frog eating and this has to be my catch of the day!

(Black-spotted rock frog having damselfly as lunch!)

(Black-spotted rock frog having damselfly as lunch!)

Happy with what I had already shot, I put aside my camera gear to join Yan Leong, Allan & Chiat Pin for a cool dip in the stream. OMG! It was cold in there!

(Photo credit : Hazel Han)

(Photo credit : Hazel Han)

After a tired but rewarding day, we deserved a good dinner at Cathay Restaurant in Kulai.

(Photo credit : Tony Png)

(Photo credit : Tony Png)

Reference : Wikipedia

Damselflies in dews!

During my early year of learning macro photography, I was often frustrated as I could not get sharp images.  Most of my pictures were motion blur due mainly to windy conditions.  I soon realized that from the first light of the day (ie. 6.45 am to 7.00 am) to 9.00 am is the best period for newbie like me to practise shooting as there are little or no winds and insects are less active.  I began to improve and soon mastered the basic skills of macro photography.  Shooting very early in the morning has its advantage.  You would see lots of dews around the greenery.

(Female Common Bluetail, Holland Woods - 11 Oct 2008)

(Female Common Bluetail, Holland Woods – 11 Oct 2008)

Morning dews not only complement but very effective in making an ordinary subject looks amazingly different.   I personally find damselflies covered or surrounded in the morning dews most beautiful and eye-catching such as the above image which is one of my favourites.

Holland Woods, a greenery opposite Ngee Ann Polytechnic, is an excellent place to photograph damselflies in heavy dews!

(Female Common Bluetail - Holland Woods - 7 June 208)

(Female Common Bluetail, Holland Woods – 7 Jun 2008)

It is a location where the Common Bluetail damselflies are in abundant. Although this species is very common and widespread throughout in Singapore, it is quite unique as the female has three different colour forms ie Golden orange, Olive green & Bluish green.

(Female Common Bluetail, Holland Woods - 24 May 2008)

(Female Common Bluetail, Holland Woods – 24 May 2008)

Wild Wild West, a location at the end of Corporation Road, is the next best place to shoot damselflies in dews. Unfortunately, it is now under construction for roads and drains and I heard recently that it will be used for industrial purposes.

(Female Commontail, Wild Wild West - 3 May 2010)

(Female Commontail, Wild Wild West – 3 May 2010)

Shooting damselfly in dews with dark background is equally appealing to me.

(Variable Wisp, Wild Wild West - 7 Nov 2009)

(Variable Wisp, Wild Wild West – 7 Nov 2009)

How about one with a backlighting as shown below?

(Female Commontail, Wild Wild West - 3 May 2010)

(Female Commontail, Wild Wild West – 3 May 2010)

If you like these images, wake up and shoot very early like me!

Can dragonflies and damselflies be good neighbours?

From my observation, many male damselflies species show very strong territory behaviour. They will find a good breeding ground which then becomes his territory. The size of the territorial area varies with different species. For eg. the Libellago family usually establish their territories ranging from 1.5 to 3 metres. The males would perch on their favorite spot and overlook their territory. If another male of the same species attempts to take his territory he will then try to chase him away. If any mature receptive female enters his space, he will attempt to mate with her. It is unlikely to see two males of the same species become good neighbours. However, the territory holder is more tolerant to other males or females of different species as demonstrated by the 2 images below:

(A male Libellago Hyalina sharing the same territory with a female Prodasineura collaris)

(A male Libellago lineata sharing the same territory with a male Pseudagrion microcephalum)

Male dragonflies are equally territorial as well. However, when the areas are small with very few nice spots to perch, they have no choice but to become temporary good neighbours as seen below:

(Three male dragonflies: Ictinogomphus decoratus, Crocothemis servilla, Orthetrum chrysis)

So, can dragonflies and damselflies be good neighbours?
Of course, they can 🙂

A male damselfly (Ceriagrion cerinorubellum) with a male dragonfly (Diplacodes nebulosa)

Unknown Damselfly – Amphicnemis gracilis or Amphicnemis bebar?

During my recent trip to Nee Soon Swamp Forest, a damselfly that I have never seen before was spotted near a small stream. My initial thought was that it could be a new species and this got me excited. It disappeared for a while but after some thorough search, I managed to get some record shots.

(Female - Nee Soon Swamp Forest, 20 Oct 2012)

(Female – Nee Soon Swamp Forest, 20 Oct 2012)

(Female – Nee Soon Swamp Forest, 20 Oct 2012)

After careful examination, it looks a little like the red form immature female Amphicnemis gracilis. As a male Amphicnemis gracilis was found nearby (about 2 metres away), I concluded that it could be another different colour form female A. graclis.

Male Amphicnemis gracilis – Nee Soon Swamp Forest, 20 Oct 2012)

I emailed to Mr Tang Hung Bun to seek his advise that his reply was “Since the location is Nee Soon, it can either be A. bebarn or A. gracilis. Females of these two species are difficult to separate.”.

According to the Publication dated 22 Dec 2011 by NUS, Amphicnemis species are very similar to each other in appearance and thus cannot be identified with certainty based solely on colour markings.

Amphicnemis bebar was last collected in 1994, and has not been seen in Singapore since.

Euphaea ochracea (Malaysia Species)

In Singapore, there are 2 damselfly species under the family of Euphaeidae (Satinwings) namely Dysphaea dimidiata and Euphaea impar.  In Peninsular Malaysia, there is another species known as the Euphaea ochracea.

My first sighting was a single male at a small clear flowing stream in Endau Rompin State Park.  It was very skittish that I didn’t get any shot of it.  I saw another male a few months later at a relatively big stream near Mt Ophir.    This time, I managed some record shots.

It was only in Gunung Belumut last year where we saw quite a no. of this species.  The males prefer to perch on rocks or logs just above clear flowing water.

(A male perching on a rock surrounded by fast flowing water)

When they perch in such a manner, it is harder to photograph as one would need to go very low to get a eye-level shot. Also, the face of the damselfly would often look downward in the frame which is not nice to view. Hence, I would search for one that perch on a twig or falling branches as shown below.

(Euphaea ochracea, male)

The male has a distinctive golden brown/red body and wings making it very easy to recognise. I was lucky to spot a younger male where it has yellow markings on its thorax similar to that of the female. The wings are less golden than the mature male.

(Euphaea ochracea, younger male)

The female is less common than the male. I have only seen them in Gunung Belumut so far. Unlike the male, the female doesn’t perch so low and hardly on rock. They are often seen perching at least knee-level high on twigs or falling branches. Photographing the female is relatively easier than the male.

(Euphaea ochracea, female)

We have seen the younger male earlier, let us take a look at an aged female which has paler colour.

(Euphaea ochracea, aged female)

Since the female are less commonly found, I can’t resist to take a portrait of it.

(A smiling Portrait of a female, Euphaea ochracea)

The next time I see this beautiful damselfly again, I plan to take a portrait shot of the male. My wish is to photograph a mating pair!

Damselflies at Belumut – Mating

One of the interesting behaviors to watch in Damselflies is mating! What time do they usually mate? For how long? Any foreplay? What do they do after mating? etc.

I was fortunate to observe 7 pairs of mating damselflies at Gunung Belumut Recreation Forest during our recent recce trips. I have seen damselfly species mated for hours but those that I saw at Belumut were much shortly. Here are some interesting mating facts of 3 uncommon species that I was lucky to capture within the same day:

Libellago aurantiaca & Heliocypha biforata : mating time 11 am to 3 pm, female suddenly appears from no where and starts mating (in wheel position or love shape formation), mating lasts approximately 90 sec, after separation, female immediately lays eggs at nearby log while male stands guard. With such a short mating time, it is not easy to capture them in pixels not to mention refining your shots. I was lucky to be at the right place and right time.

(Libellago aurantiaca)

(Heliocypha biforata)

Neurobasis chinensis : mating time 4 to 6 pm; male and female would attach together in tandem first usually about 1 to 2 mins, very skittish when they are in this tandem position. No point moving closer as they would not allow you to do so. It is best to let them settle down to form a mating wheel position; mating lasts more than 4 minutes; after separation, male & female go separate way, not sure whether female lay eggs immediately.

(This is a Neurobasis longipes instead of Neurobasis chinensis)

Damselfly (16b) – Amphicenis gracilis, Male

I am happy to have finally photographed a male, Amphicenis gracilis. Typically of this species, it perched near a small pool of smelly muddy water under very dim surrounding.  It was pretty tough shooting in such poor lighting condition especially this damselfly is highly sensitive to the use of flash.  As such, most of my images are captured without flash such as this one:

(Lornie Trail - 21 May 2011)

The following image is the only acceptable shot with flash:

(Shot with fill flash)


I will certainly revisit this place to get improvement shots as well as close-up.
See related posts:

Damselfly (31) – Libellago Stigmatizans

Family : Chlorocyphidae
Common Name : Orange-faced Gem
Status : Extinct in Singapore
Location : Panti Forest, Johor

Libellago Stigmatizans is one of the 4 Libellago species in Singapore.  While the other 3 species can still be found locally, L. Stigmatizans is classified as “probably extinct” in Singapore.  The male has turquoise-blue and black markings on its thorax with interesting bright orange coloration between its eyes.  The female has similar colours of the other 3 Libellago species which is greyish black in colour.

(Male – Panti Forest, 15 May 2010)

Two males were spotted in a stream about 2 to 3 metres wide, at Panti Forest (Johor, Malaysia) where the water was swift moving but quite muddy. They were flying non-stop and engaged in territorial fights. Occasionally, one would perch near the water surface but the next moment, you would see the 2nd one attacking it and they started fighting in mid-air again. Under such situation, shooting them with a tripod proved to be near impossible. So, I released my camera from the tripod, set to full flash mode and my target was to get both males fighting in the air in a single frame.
As the stream water was almost at knee-level high, I could not squat down as it would wet my backside. Standing would not be able to get close enough to the damselflies, so I had to blend down quite a little like an old man. It was tiring shooting in this position as I had to move where the damsels moved. I had to take a break every 5 minutes or so. This went on for the next half an hour and despite my hard work I failed to get the shots I wanted. I could only manage some flight shots of individual males as a consolation.
Initially, I tried using manual focus but my hands were not fast enough. Autofocus works better for me in this condition.  I am likely to visit Panti Forest in the near future and I hope to meet the female in my next visit there.