Two is better than one.
There is a time to wander.
And then there is a time when the wind stops blowing,
we fall to the ground and
began to grow.
Two is better than one.
There is a time to wander.
And then there is a time when the wind stops blowing,
we fall to the ground and
began to grow.
As soon as my spinning wheel of work spat me out sideways, I grabbed my bags and lenses and ran away, by plane to the furthest reaches of the Earth where no mobile phone, marking or email could reach me.
Recently, my love for the butterflies had gone with the hopping Harlequins, hopping and turning up every leaf towards Heaven, perhaps never to be seen again, as the great outdoors turned into yet another building, yet another expressway, yet another carpark for heavy vehicles. Increasingly, all places seem to feel like yet another cubicle, with work waiting to be done.
Thanks to Da Chang and Ah Quan, our newfound friends in Taiwan, we left the never-ending construction behind and fled to the mountains.
Our first destination was Gu Guan, a picturesque mountain with vegetation on either side of the wide mountain road, peppered with little Lycaenidae, with the occasional larger butterfly zooming over our heads down the mountainsides.
I enjoyed the breeze… and the lack of the sound of moving heavy vehicles gone to dig more holes in the ground, no depressing city skylines, and walked down the mountain roads, every corner a possibility for further exploration, whilst our friends posed with Hello Kitties on the ground.
The Taiwanese butterfly shooters place heavy bets when they pick up their gear and go on a butterfly photography road trip. They travel 6 or 7 hours to reach a destination to face the possibility of fog, rain and other weathery impediments. For us, we only face the possibility of facing a sign that says “Do not enter. Construction in progress.” and the entire butterfly site cut out it seems with a giant cake knife leaving nothing but the orange mud flour of its insides gaping at the sky.
The better part of the first day was invested in Gu Guan, after which we began our long journey to La La Shan, Hua Lien.
We were at La La Shan in the hopes of spotting a Lycaenid which looked very similar to the Banded Royal in Singapore, the location of which however, had been replaced by a very important looking expressway.
We woke up early, and made the hour long drive to the gate of the Mountain, which opened at 7 sharp. From 7a.m. we marched up the mountain 4 km to reach near the peak and waited beside a ubiquitous small tree for our winged friends to appear.
And they did appear, putting up a fantastic aerial display, which I think would have been just like that at our National Day, which I never saw in my entire lifetime, as I never did own a Hello Kitty or Despicable Me Minion MacDonald’s toy, because queueing for days was required.
In my diseased, sleep-deprived state, steeped in the cancer of consumerism, I failed to recognise how important that moment was, while munching on a furry peach, watching my husband run around excitedly. I might never see another Banded Royal again. And here I was, not the least bit excited about a butterfly some Taiwanese shooters have never laid eyes on.
I must have left, within me, some small fire, yet to be extinguished, in my frustration and hopelessness, that I put down my peach and suspended myself from thinking about shopping, to pick up my camera and excitedly take a few shots of the pretty butterfly.
Looking back now, I feel like shooting myself. I could have taken even better shots of the butterfly. Now I might never get the chance to. But I’ll always have Orchard Road. How depressing. I would throw myself off a mountain but there isn’t one high enough here.
To add salt to my injury, and everybody else’s that they don’t have a La La Shan in their backyard, La La Shan is more than rare butterflies as well. Trees, the shape of bonsais, grow out of the sides of the mountain, like static ballerinas curving for the sky. On a clear day, La La shan is a picture of how Heaven might have looked like, to a person who’s had nothing but HDB skylines.
A tip for the traveller though, you might want to venture further than just the area with the large trees because the scenery up there is worth it. Really! If the skies are clear and you’re early enough, the air up there is sweet enough to make you sing! (Hence the birds singing giddily!)
After La La Shan (I was a little sorry to leave even though my partner didn’t think I was) and a little chat with a yellow cab driver who mentioned rare sunbears in La La Shan, we made a stop at the butterfly garden where you can see a giant purple Nymphalidae statue.
It was here that we shot most of our Papilios and some Nymphalidaes.
Hui Tou Wan is something out of a Chinese painting. Although I could not grab any photos of the scenery as Ah Quan weaved around and around the precarious sides sprouted over with small signs that have large rocks falling onto a running stick man (Beware landslides and falling rocks!), it was reminiscent of several movies rolled into one road trip. The narrow road James Bond was on when he was racing several baddies in Quantum Solace overlooking cliffs falling away into nothing, the passing of Argonath in Lord of the Rings and vaguely Clash of the titans, as we looked with awe at some of the fallen sides of the mountain, the size of which you would thought was only possible with movie special effects.
Unfortunately, for all its great scenery, we did not have much fortune with the butterflies. In spite of walking up and down the bends, all I could find were half-beaks and a straggly dog looking sad and wanting a friend. We were in the path of an approaching Typhoon.
Typhoons were common in Taiwan, sometimes mild, sometimes very destructive. Butterfly activity was low. Ah Quan took out his red jacket which he said the butterflies favoured but those butterflies were nought to be seen that day.
We left disappointedly for our next location closer to Bi Lui Shen Mu. There we were enveloped in fog, and had the company of a Taiwanese couple cooking spaghetti on a portable stove, a lone Purple Sapphire butterfly perching on a yellow flower and a blue bug pretending to be part of the furniture.
We headed up to Guan Yun, a stone hostel with both rooms and dormitories for mountaineers and hikers alike. The environment, reminds me of an old monastery, very simple and decorated with Chinese sayings.
Our next stop was Bi Lui Shen Mu. As this part of our journey was the most exciting, I will leave this for my next post. Valley of the Kings Part 2🙂
Over the weekend, Butterflycircle members were graciously invited by Gardens By The Bay to do a butterfly survey. Unbeknownst to them, many of us had already been prowling the grounds… to little success. Host plants were still few in number and the lack of shelter on the grounds make it difficult for anyone to see clearly enough against the glare of the sun to shoot a Grass Blue.
However, they do seem enthusiastic about increasing the butterfly and hostplant population. Let’s just hope that the trees grow tall enough to provide some shelter by then.
I didn’t get a good shot of a butterfly worth posting all day and I didn’t the last time we visited the area either. I did however promptly get headache and a bad bout of flu which I am still suffering from right now.
The Tulips were… okay… the little flowers, traditional shoes and cacti make for better photographic subjects.
Other than the cacti the little flowers and leaves were intriguing as well.
I could not get many nicer shots of the tulips. There were just way too many people. I saw two ladies tussling to get into one of the gazebos. I anticipated a cat fight but was disappointed. It was so crowded little children were literally climbing up the walls (no kidding. I saw a parent leave two young girls on top of a ledge so that they could have space to crawl around).
After 7 years of roughing it out in the field with my trusty Canon 40D, I’ve upgraded to a spanking new Canon 6D, which has superior ISO capabilities and picture quality. Here are some of my first shots:
I love the background that the C180 produces with the Canon 6D.
As promised, this is the second and third installment of Kaeng Krachang – combined!
Turns out, I did not have as many blog worthy photos of critters to make an entire post on its own, so everything other than butterflies will go in this post.
Here are some environmental photos to show you how popular the place is.
I would say the second intersection is very popular. It was also at the intersection that our own butterfly celebrity Les Day (and the rest of us less popular butterfly enthusiasts) bumped into a shirtless Dr Ian Redmond (below, right), whom I had mistaken for yet another Caucasian male who had decided to take on the Thai forest and its biting inhabitants without a shirt after visiting the beach. As it turned out (Les explained), Dr Ian Redmond is a conservationist who has been in the field for 30 years, is a champion for gorillas and needs no introduction. He has a wikipage here. You can stalk his page on Facebook here.
Unfortunately, out of the group, only Les managed to recognise him. The rest of us spend too much time listening to David Attenborough’s soothing voice on DVD, reading C&P4 and had no access to BBC. However, judging from Les’ reaction, we decided in our herd mentality that he must be famous and proceeded to take group photos with him like fanboys and girls.
Dr Ian Redmond was travelling with a group who for all you know, might have done conservation work and were just as knowledgeable. However, since Les didn’t recognise the others, we decided that we didn’t know better either and continued pursuing the relentless butterflies. We lodged at Samarn Bird Camp while we were shooting at Kaeng Krachan. Click here for more information.
Samarn birdcamp has hot showers, acceptable food and airconditioning. If you didn’t go anywhere you wouldn’t think you were here to rough it out in the Thai National Park. Our hosts were really friendly and accommodating and their dogs were super friendly and ‘adopted’ us with so much as a pat on the head.
Samarn Bird Camp is very popular with birders (of course) and they make trips out daily early in the morning.
On to the non-butterfly critters… the below is one of the creatures on LC’s and Nelson’s agenda:
This Lantern Bug was spotted on the same tree where I found my Blue Begum discreetly perched just behind. The bug maintained a good height throughout the day (the time that we were there) which we thought was odd because some of the ones we had encountered tended to come down lower during the early morning hours. We tried several means to photograph this Lantern Bug, including piling up dead logs to climb up on and once, even sitting on Nelson’s shoulders just to get closer to the critter.
We also came across this very slow moving colourful bug with what looked like Chinese pom-poms on its feelers. Like the horned beetle, this bug took a long time to get ready to take off, gradually opening its wings intermittently and psyching itself to fly away. And when it did, it mustered nothing more than a metre’s distance!
The most intriguing creature we encountered was this clear winged moth. The moth came by on two occasions at the second intersection. It had a habit of perching its front legs on an object and while hovering, wave its hairy back legs rhythmically like it was riding an invisible bicycle.
It has taken me a while to sit down and write about our recent trip to Kaeng Krachang. Firstly there were way too many photos and too much to write about. Secondly, I hardly knew most of the species that I had photographed as I’m not familiar with Thai butterflies. It is with the kind help of Dr Seow and the kind community at Butterflycircle that many of the butterflies could be indentified.
This trip was only possible with the great companionship of Antonio Giudici and Les Day, two butterfly enthusiasts who have currently made Thailand their home.
Due to the photograph intensive nature of this trip, I will be breaking the write up into 3 parts: the butterflies, location and other interesting critters.
First off, I have to say through my 7 years on the pursuit of butterflies, I have never seen so many butterflies. They amassed in such huge numbers that they literally covered an entire bank with their fluttering wingtips.
They were so secure in their numbers that if you were slow and gentle enough, you could gently sweep your hand across their wing tips and they would not move.
This location is by no means the butterfly world’s biggest secret. Lots of people come by these spots on a regular basis.
Birders, entomologists, geologists and even conservationists frequent these roads.
And these are literally roads. Not a secret enclave deep within the forests, or a quiet spot eyed by the sun amongst tall trees.
The butterflies gather at the sides of the mud roads which cross several sections of streams through which cars trundle over everyday.
It really is the most unglamorous spot you can imagine.
There are three stream-road intersections on the trails of Kraeng Krachang which we visited that have these huge masses of butterflies, the first, second and third intersection.
The first intersection is where many of these butterflies below will perch on the leaves open-winged in the morning sun. By noon, they will be puddling in their masses on the ground.
It is on one of these trails (the trail leading uphill next to the intersection) that we encountered a very small Plane. Nearly half the size of the Singapore species, we were stunned to find such a small version of the Plane.
Along the way to the second intersection, which is less than a few hundred metres away from the first intersection, I saw many large butterflies fluttering around the roadside flowers.
The second stream-road intersection is by far the most exciting. It is on the trail leading from the intersection on the right hand side (if you’re coming from the first intersection) that I encountered my second Blue Begum perched facing downwards behind a tree.
I had been looking for Lantern Bugs and was surprised to see this well camouflaged individual quietly sitting behind a large tree. The second stream also gave me my first puddling Great Nawab. Everybody was so excited to be graced by the presence of this especially rare butterfly, that we got to see Les running at top speed when we called out “Great Nawab!!!”
The Great Nawab was such a celebrity butterfly that everybody took turns to have their photos taken with it. Like most of the Polyura butterflies, once they are hooked on whatever they are drinking, these butterflies turn from flitty frightened swift flying rarities into drunken friendly blokes.
Indeed, I was so happy to see it I was beside myself.
The second intersection also saw three different kinds of half-beak butterflies as well as my greatest number of first-time butterflies such as the Red Spot Marquis and the Black Veined Sergeant.
Besides the usual pretty butterflies, the second intersection also had a great number of interesting members of the Hesperidae.
It also had a good number of different crows which I did not get all the photographs of.
The third intersection did not have as huge masses of butterflies but the butterflies that did visit are no less interesting.
The leaf butterfly is well liked in butterfly enclosures and parks but this is the first Leaf Butterfly that I have encountered in the wild and managed to photograph.
The butterfly’s likeness to the dead leaves on the ground is astounding.
It is also here that we encountered the beautiful Neorina crishna. This beautiful large butterfly is really difficult to spot amongst the bamboo and palm vegetation, a distinct feature of the third intersection.
We also encountered two very different looking specimens of the Common Tawny Rajah above.
Other notable mentions are:
The Great Imperial which was encountered on the bush on the left side of the second intersection.
This little lascar, the only lascar I shot the entire trip, feeding on what looked like bird waste on a rock at the first intersection.
This Five Bar Swordtail puddling at the first intersection.