Archive for the ‘Thailand’ Category

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.

As you can see from this very simplistic map attached, all the intersections and trails we visited are along the bird watching trails.map

Here are some environmental photos to show you how popular the place is.

This is a photo taken at the first intersection.first intersection

This is Antonio and Nelson getting acquainted with the butterflies at the second intersection.puddling photographers

The second intersection sees the most visitors.  Look at the numbers of parked cars:plenty popular

These is one of the puddling butterfly groups we encountered at the third intersection.third intersection

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.ian redmond

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. enjoying a nice chat

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.

Forgive the childish photo-combo design.  It looked good on my phone and seemed like a good idea at the time

Forgive the childish photo-combo design. It looked good on my phone and seemed like a good idea at the time

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.

Hoffe, the dog with only three paws, zonking out near the kitchen

Hoffe, the dog with only three paws, zonking out near the kitchen

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:

Lantern Bug

Lantern Bug

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.jumpin spidey2

jumpin spideyWe also encountered a very shiny tiny jumping spider (Salticidae).pompom2

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!pompom

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.strange moth

We had the good fortune of managing to photograph some interaction between butterfly and some of these interesting characters:Face-off

Unfortunately when butterflies are in such numbers, most of such encounters are of the macabre type:macabre

I did see several skinks make off with some of the smaller butterflies.  Ants did the same and some bees were not spared either (as above).Elbow Conference

Tiny butterflies especially were easy pickings but they were in such huge numbers too.cookies

Kaeng Krachan is one of the places you have to visit if you’re a butterfly enthusiast! 🙂  So what are you waiting for?butterflyfields4 (2)

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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.

One more Space

One more Space

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.

Butterfly fields

Butterfly fields

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.

Papilio protenor Cramer (Spangle)

Papilio protenor Cramer (Spangle)

Papilio protenor Cramer (Spangle) underside

Papilio protenor Cramer (Spangle) underside

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.

Papilio polytes romulus

Papilio polytes romulus

Papilio polytes romulus f cyrus

Papilio polytes romulus f cyrus

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.

Papilio paris paris (Paris Peacock)

Papilio paris paris (Paris Peacock)

Papilio nephalus chaon (Black and White Helen)

Papilio nephalus chaon (Black and White Helen)

This location is by no means the butterfly world’s biggest secret.  Lots of people come by these spots on a regular basis.

Papilio nephalus chaon (Black and White Helen)

Papilio nephalus chaon (Black and White Helen)

Birders, entomologists, geologists and even conservationists frequent these roads.

Papilio memnon agenor f distantianus

Papilio memnon agenor f distantianus

And these are literally roads.  Not a secret enclave deep within the forests, or a quiet spot eyed by the sun amongst tall trees.

Atrophaneura adamsoni

Atrophaneura adamsoni

The butterflies gather at the sides of the mud roads which cross several sections of streams through which cars trundle over everyday.

Vindola erota erota

Vindola erota erota

Terinos clarissa falcata

Terinos clarissa falcata

It really is the most unglamorous spot you can imagine.

Pereronia anais anais

Pereronia anais anais

Paratica melaneus

Paratica melaneus

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.

Parantica agleoides agleoides

Parantica agleoides agleoides

Papilio castor mehala (Burmese Raven)

Papilio castor mehala (Burmese Raven)

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.

Graphium aristeus (Striped Swordtail)

Graphium aristeus (Striped Swordtail)

Graphium aristeus (Striped Swordtail)1Graphium aristeus (Striped Swordtail)At this intersection, there are clear paths or trails leading from this intersection into the forest.

Bindahara phocides

Bindahara phocides

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.butterflyfields4

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.

Prothoe franck uniformis

Prothoe franck uniformis

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.

Polyura eudamippus

Polyura eudamippus

Polyura eudamippus (3)

This Great Nawab was so drunk it had fallen face forward into the mud.

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!!!”LC

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.nelson n nawab

Indeed, I was so happy to see it I was beside myself.

Libythea narina rohini

Libythea narina rohini

Euthalia recta (Red Spot Marquis)

Euthalia recta (Red Spot Marquis)

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.

Discophora sondaica zal

Discophora sondaica zal

Athyma ranga obsolescens (Black Veined Sergeant) 3

Athyma ranga obsolescens (Black Veined Sergeant) 3

Athyma ranga obsolescens (Black Veined Sergeant)

Athyma ranga obsolescens (Black Veined Sergeant)

Besides the usual pretty butterflies, the second intersection also had a great number of interesting members of the Hesperidae.

Seseria strigata

Seseria strigata

Odontoptilum angulatum angulatum

Odontoptilum angulatum angulatum

Ctenoptilum vasava vasava (Tawny Angle)

Ctenoptilum vasava vasava (Tawny Angle)

Thoressa masoni

Thoressa masoni

It also had a good number of different crows which I did not get all the photographs of.

Euploea modesta (Plain Blue Crow)

Euploea modesta (Plain Blue Crow)

The third intersection did not have as huge masses of butterflies but the butterflies that did visit are no less interesting.

Kalima limborgi

Kalima limborgi

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.

Kalima limborgi

Kalima limborgi

The butterfly’s likeness to the dead leaves on the ground is astounding.

Neorina crishna

Neorina crishna

Neorina chrishnaIt 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.

Charaxes bernadus crepax (Common Tawny Rajah)

Charaxes bernadus crepax (Common Tawny Rajah)

Charaxes bernadus crepax (Common Tawny Rajah) (2)

Charaxes bernadus crepax (Common Tawny Rajah) (2)

We also encountered two very different looking specimens of the Common Tawny Rajah above.

Other notable mentions are:

Jacoona anasuja

Jacoona anasuja

The Great Imperial which was encountered on the bush on the left side of the second intersection.

Neptis miah nolana

Neptis miah nolana

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.

Graphium antiphates

Graphium antiphates

This Five Bar Swordtail puddling at the first intersection.

bouncing off the wallsNext up… the deeper darker denizens of Kaeng Krachang 🙂

Phanom Bencha is not all pretty butterflies, cute fluffy dogs and gorgeous waterfalls.  It has its own side of strange dark things to offer as well.  Like how can you explain the multiple hobbit holes that appear in the trees?  Does Bilbo Baggins live here?  Maybe this is the true village of the Hobbits?

hobbit hole

hobbit hole

And who uses this giant skip rope?  Is it the trolls that come out in the night?  Is that why nights in Phanom Bencha National Park is pitch darkness and does not have path lights around the bungalows?

giant jump rope

giant jump rope

Phanom Bencha is also home to a creature that has a nose as long as Pinocchio.  And almost as Pinocchio was made of wood, this creature looks as much part of the tree as tree bark.

Lantern Bug

Lantern Bug

The creature also stays perfectly still on the bark and does not immediately take to flight when a person walks closely by.  It is for these reasons that they are so hard to spot.

Lantern Bug

Lantern Bug

It may sound odd that the whole purpose of this entire trip was really to look for these little guys.  And exactly how little are they?  See the picture below:

lantern bug size

lantern bug is in the red circle…. can you see it???  Also, do you see the number on the tree?  Don’t be mislead.  There are lot of trees with similar numbers sprayed on them!

Since my darling had his heart set on these little creatures and he had specially set out on his birthday to look for them yet we didn’t see any on the first day, I ditched my butterfly eyes (which to be honest are not as good as they used to be in 2006) for my spot-the-bug-eyes (which are even worse than my butterfly eyes).  Surprisingly, I managed to find the first one above.   I ran down the path screaming like a mad woman with my pet stray hot on my heels, risking getting fined for “Make A Noise Loud Fine 500 Baht”.

Green Lantern Bug

Green Lantern Bug

After the first Lantern Bug which I found for my darling, it was as if a veil on his eyes were lifted and he started seeing Lantern Bugs on various other trees , including this green one right outside our bungalow.  In return, I seemed to have taken over the veil and was unable to find anymore lantern bugs for the rest of the trip.  Mysterious forces of the Phanom Bencha forest!

Colourful agamid

Colourful agamid

Perhaps I had angered the forest with my shrieking.  Or perhaps the forest was touched by his love for its much-overlooked denizens, for it kept serving him up birthday goodies after, including several colourful and beautiful agamids.

Agamid side view

Agamid side view

Different agamid

Different agamid

At Phanom Bencha Mountain Resort, it is worth walking around the grounds.  Unlike Phanom Bencha national park, there are many dark insidious creatures that lurk in the night.  Remember: the following are shot at the Mountain Resort.  There may be nightlife in the dark forests of the National Park.  But I really wouldn’t recommend going in to face a few boa constrictors and other large friendly animals in there with a party of two.  That would make a starter (me) and a main (darling) and no desert.  Not a complete meal. Tsk.

fierce looking spidey

fierce looking spidey

While I was sloshing around in my wet boots and dealing with weaver ants (I also call these curry pok ants because their nest looks like the Malay dough snack filled with hot curry sauce and chicken…which I love… but no these nests are filled with angry big red ants), my darling found spiders all over the place, continuing with his birthday streak leftover from Phanom Bencha National Park.Spidy A

Spidy A1Spidy B1I did however find butterflies of the night or moths, rather and in the stages before they can call themselves Queen of the Night:

large moth pupae

large moth pupa

large woolly cat

large woolly cat

While we were trying to get to sleep within the romantic mosquito net of the mountain resort, we were greeted with a very loud and animated “Hello!” from the bedroom ceiling.  I said immediately and excitedly “it’s a bird! It must be! Grab your camera!” but when we looked and looked, we didn’t find any birds.  Since I was used now to having insects fall into my ears suddenly in my sleep and gigantic cicadas imitating the frantic knock of a person in dire need of help by smacking their faces repeatedly on the porch lights on such trips, I promptly and immediately fell asleep without a second consideration of what was making that sound.

Gecko!

Gecko! – this is the smaller one

Apparently we were visited by two very colourful and large geckos during the night who kept up with their very clear animated “hellos” to which I had answered with deep satisfied snores from the bed while my darling paced and pranced back and forth across the room all night trying to photograph.

"HELLO!!!!"

“HELLO!!!!”

Although the sounds that they made were very loud, clear and distinct, they weren’t able to wake me.  At some point in the night though, I remember waking up briefly to see my darling running in and out of the room with his camera.  Although to be honest, I was so tired from swatting away weaver ants off me all night that I might not have much of a reaction even if I woke up to see an entire choir of multi-coloured geckos doing a chorus from Lionel Richie’s Hello.

Is it the flash?  The irises of the gecko's eyes have suddenly disappeared into tiny slits

Is it the flash? The irises of the gecko’s eyes have suddenly disappeared into tiny slits

This is the larger of the geckos.

This is the larger of the geckos.

But I really did wish I had woken up.  Check out the size of this friendly slithery fellow.  There was a smaller one as well.  According to the photographer who took these shots, these geckos are surprisingly shy for their size and unlike butterflies who are quite deaf, these are not.  If you make too much of a noise, too much movement or flash them too much, they’ll run off to the higher beams.  But if you leave them alone for a while, they’ll quickly forgive you and come back down.Gecko-3And that’s the last of the Phanom Bencha posts.  I would definitely recommend visiting both places to get your fill of both rare and common butterflies around Krabi and as well as to check out some very exotic snakes around these parts.

If you’ve also been to Phanom Bencha before, do share with us what your experience was like! 🙂

We only put up at Phanom Bencha Mountain Resort for a day and a half worth of shooting time.  But the location did not disappoint in terms  of common butterfly species.

View from mountain resort bungalow

View from mountain resort bungalow

One of the best features about the resort is its breathtaking view.  From the bungalow, if you have requested for a bungalow at the top of the steep climb, you can enjoy a view like this from your bedroom window.  However, prepare for a steep climb up a rocky path and try not to bring too heavy a luggage because this would be unwieldly up the slopes.

Romantic room in mountain resort

Romantic room in mountain resort

Another nice touch to the room is the availability of mosquito nets.  If you are up late and leave your light on, you can spend a good few hours poking at the denizens of the night who have decided to get stuck on the mosquito net. Another amazing feature of this place is the availability of HOT SHOWERS.  YES!  HOT SHOWERS! I just can’t caps that enough.

mountain resort path

Typical mountain resort trail

Because the garden and surroundings of the bungalows are not treated with insecticide and chemicals, you can find a whole lot of critters in the night.  But we’ll leave that for part 3.  To find out more about this popular resort, click here.

field outside mountain resort

field outside mountain resort

There are some trails and plenty of puddling grounds around the Mountain Resort.  If you follow the path along the resort to the back where Mr Son (the owner of the resort) lives in a house watched over by a red cheeked bulbul (Mr Son is an avid breeder of singing birds), you’ll come to the field above.

Psolos fuligo

Psolos fuligo

Halpe porus

Halpe porus

If you walk in the other direction, however, all you get are rubber plantations.  However, Mr Son says these paths and the waterbodies around the resort are home to King Cobras and other snakes for those interested in snakes and other amphibians.

Zographetus satwa (The Purple and Gold Flitter)

Zographetus satwa (The Purple and Gold Flitter)

It was along the trail past the fields above where we came across the skippers.  Unlike the fuligo which was large enough to be spotted sunning its brown wings, the other two were zipping around in a frenzy across the trail.

Tagiades japetus atticus (Common Snow Flat)

Tagiades japetus atticus (Common Snow Flat)

Thankfully the sun is behind you when you walk this trail in the morning.  Note however, that the sun disappears behind the mountain after noon, which means not much sun on this trail past lunch.  If you want lots of activity, be sure to go early!

Rapala pheretima sequeira

Rapala pheretima sequeira

Besides the large number of skippers and flats, there are also a huge number of different Lycaenidae flying around and driving the photographer with poor tracing skills mad.  One would like to think they were all common Caeruleans.  But how can one be sure of that?

Rapala iarbus iarbus (Common Red Flash)

Rapala iarbus iarbus (Common Red Flash)

Having to wait and photograph each frenzily flying tiny butterfly with more or less the same topside colour and same flying pattern will probably ensure that you will still be standing there 3 hours later and past prime butterfly shooting window.

Polyura athamas athamas (Common Nawab)

Polyura athamas athamas (Common Nawab)

We had been hoping to catch a glimpse (and hopefully photograph) the Chestnut Rajah (a very rare and beautiful large butterfly) and the Blue Yam (a very tiny rare butterfly that looks very much like a common Blue where far away).

Pathysa-antiphates-itamputi-(Five-Bar-Swordtail)

Pathysa-antiphates-itamputi-(Five-Bar-Swordtail)

However, we had no such fortune.  But this did make us attempt to investigate every tiny butterfly.  Something we don’t usually bother to do.

Parantica aglea melanoides (Glassy Tiger)

Parantica aglea melanoides (Glassy Tiger)

On this trail, be prepared to cross two streams which will be too deep and stepping stones too far for the average photographer to leap across.  Taller, more athletic photographers can probably leap his way across.  Shorter, less inclined to play basketball photographers will have to wade across the waters while keeping the camera high.  This I did, much to the unhappiness of my already peeling toes.

Parantica aglea melanoides (Glassy Tiger) (2)

Parantica aglea melanoides (Glassy Tiger) (2)

There are opportunities to shoot puddlers at the banks of each of these streams.

Jamides virgulatus nisanca (Dusky Cerulean)

Jamides virgulatus nisanca (Dusky Cerulean)

Be sure to check each tiny butterfly sipping away happily because they may turn out to be something you’ve never seen before.

Everes lacturnus lacturnus (Indian Cupid) - If you're not careful, you might miss the Indian Cupid, a butterfly we don't get to see very often in Singapore

Everes lacturnus lacturnus (Indian Cupid) – If you’re not careful, you might miss the Indian Cupid, a butterfly we don’t get to see very often in Singapore

The above two butterflies look the same from far but are actually very different.

Caleta roxus pothus (Straight Pierrot)

Caleta roxus pothus (Straight Pierrot)

Caleta roxus aberrant

Caleta roxus aberrant – look carefully for the difference

Or they may actually be the same but look different (as with the Caleta roxus above).  Ah! The confusing and amazing world of butterflies!!

Hypolimnas bolina jacintha

Hypolimnas bolina jacintha

Hypolimnas bolina jacintha (Great Eggfly)

Hypolimnas bolina jacintha (Great Eggfly)

If you go past the second stream, there is an immediate path to your left.  If you take this instead of the one leading up the hill, you may come across the Great Eggfly above.  Of all the eggflies I have had the priviledge of sighting and photographing, this would be the largest I have ever seen.

Elymnias hypermnestra tinctoria (Common Palmfly)

Elymnias hypermnestra tinctoria (Common Palmfly)

Elymnias hypermnestra tinctoria (Common Palmfly) topside

Elymnias hypermnestra tinctoria (Common Palmfly) topside

Along this path you will come across a small dam.  Within the dam amazingly, is a great puddling patch for butterflies.

puddling grounds

puddling grounds

It looks shallow from the picture.  But in order to get to the shallow parts, you do need to plunge down knee deep into snake infested waters at the edge (yes we beat away two snakes at least in trying to get into the water).

view from the puddling grounds

view from the puddling grounds

The puddling ground has got some interesting nooks and crannies to investigate and some pretty scenery to boot.

Cigaritis syama terana

Cigaritis syama terana

Charaxes bernadus crepax (Tawny Rajah)

Charaxes bernadus crepax (Tawny Rajah)

Past the dam and the puddling grounds, you will start seeing larger and larger rocks.

Arhopala aedias

Arhopala aedias – There are a good number of these flying around

We encountered a large group of cavers heading to Tiger Cave which is in the vicinity, but after walking along the trail and even passing a hut which looks like a ranger station, we didn’t see the opening to the cave.

hut outside trail around tiger cave

hut outside trail around tiger cave

We encountered the Commodore here and a few other flitting butterflies we didn’t manage to identify or photograph.  If you have more time, this would be a place you would want to spend more time exploring.

Castalius rosimon rosimon (Common Pierrot)

Castalius rosimon rosimon (Common Pierrot)

If you do decide to climb the hill leading along from the path past the second stream, expect to find a whole plantation of rubber trees waiting to welcome you.  Don’t say you’ve not been warned!

up the hill slopes past the second stream

up the hill slopes past the second stream

rubber treees

rubber treees was all I found after the steep climb

Next up: What creature has the legendary nose of Pinocchio, is more colourful than some butterflies and likes to sit on a tree trunk with its nose pointing to the sky?  And what slithery creature comes into your house at night, is as large as the width of your roof beam and says hello in the most animated voice ever?

We made a short trip to Krabi, one of the popular tourist destinations in Thailand.  Instead of scuba diving, we spent 3 nights at Phanom Bencha National Park in search of Thai butterflies and one night at Phanom Bencha mountain resort to get ourselves nearer to butterflies on the fringes of the national park.  Again, since there is plenty of online publications about Phanom Bencha, you can look up the map and other general information here.

Destroy all signs.  If you destroy one sign, it's probably not a big deal.  However, if you destroy ALL signs, you're in big trouble.  Not easy to find and destroy all the signs all over the park though.

Destroy all signs. If you destroy one sign, it’s probably not a big deal. However, if you destroy ALL signs, you’re in big trouble. Not easy to find and destroy all the signs all over the park though.

I will however include the park rules here… because they are so interesting.

Cepora iudith (Orange Gull)

Cepora iudith (Orange Gull) – the first butterfly to greet us just outside the bungalow.

As with most butterfly trips, this trip has too many photos to post in one post so you’re going to see this trip in parts.  For this part, we will cover the trails around Phanom Bencha National Park.

Cheritra freja freja  (Common Imperial)

Cheritra freja freja (Common Imperial) – hanging out on a tree behind the bungalow

As with most parts of Thailand, the locals are always friendly and offer top notch service. But it was with much surprise that unlike the diving spots, not many Thai in the mountains understand English. Nonetheless, it did not stop them from doing their best to understand what we were trying to say.

Burara oedipodea (Branded Orange Awlet)

Burara oedipodea (Branded Orange Awlet)

A lot of the road signs and even park instructions were also in Thai. However, via iPad pictures and lots of charade skills, we managed to find our way around.

A malayana looking knight flying across the rocks

A malayana looking knight flying across the rocks

Thanks to Antonio Giudici, a naturalized Italian living in Koh Phangan with his lovely family, we managed to get a lodge within Phanom Bencha national park for 3 nights at only 600 baht a night.

Polyura delphis (Jewel Nawab) - A very beautiful butterfly puddling on the grounds leading up to the waterfall

Polyura delphis (Jewel Nawab) – A very beautiful butterfly puddling on the grounds leading up to the waterfall

The park is run by a Director and Deputy Director and at first glance, the park looks more like Singapore Botanical Gardens with its carefully manicured lawns and dog-tagged trees.  The park is staffed by friendly locals who mostly live within or in the village just outside the park.  Each day, the staff will don a different colorful shirt to work.  On Mondays, they wear a bright yellow. On Tuesdays, a pretty pink.  On Saturdays, they wear white.  On Sundays, green.  They also unanimously wear blue and brown on other days.

Phalanta alcippe alcippoides (Leopard)

Phalanta alcippe alcippoides (Leopard)

They are also very meticulous about leaves.  On Sunday, we witnessed a large scale effort to sweep and pick up just about every fallen leaf within the park grounds.  This took naturally, from as early as 8 in the morning to as late as 4 in the afternoon without actually succeeding in doing so.

immaculate lawns around the bungalow

immaculate lawns around the bungalow

We believe they have their reasons.  We noticed a good number of deadly snakes during our stay, including a Cobra that lived outside our bungalow in a dead tree stump and at least 3 water snakes.  The guide also informed us not to stray into the lower waterfall areas at night as it is known that a boa constrictor frequents the area looking for fish.  This in spite of the meticulousness in keeping the park clean of leaf litter communities.

Parantica aspasia aspasia (Yellow glassy tiger)

Parantica aspasia aspasia (Yellow glassy tiger)

Because of this, however, night activity was devoid of scorpions, centipedes, spiders and other interesting creepy crawlies.  We found, however, a whole load of cicadas stuck on park trees in various stages of undress (moulting into full grown adults).  As a result of this, and also because the canteen closes at 4.30pm, we were banished to the room by 5 (butterfly activity also ceased by around then), where we would have only each other’s company, a few Choco pies and the park stray for entertainment.

The Peacock butterfly

Papilio palinurus (The Peacock butterfly)

That said, there are a huge number of Pallid Fawns in the National Park.  And a huge number of Batik Spiders.  Both of which are almost always seen at most hours of the waking day.

Pallid fawn getting eaten by a batik spider

Pallid fawn getting eaten by a batik spider

Melanocyma faunula faunula (Palid Faun) - Getting it on and creating more Pallid Fawns

Melanocyma faunula faunula (Palid Faun) – Getting it on and creating more Pallid Fawns

The park stray, whom I call Xiao Huang (small yellow), for her fluffy yellow coat and sweet demeanor and brown eyes, comes from a pack of 3 uber-friendly strays that have a penchant for following visitors on their treks with so much as a friendly pat on the head.

Losaria coon doubledayi (Common Clubtail)

Losaria coon doubledayi (Common Clubtail)

Losaria coon doubledayi (Common Clubtail) topside

Losaria coon doubledayi (Common Clubtail) topside

Xiao Huang, for reasons I could not fathom, for i didn’t have so much as a salt lick on me, followed me up a steep rock face on the 8th tier of the Huai To waterfall and while I was embarrassingly clinging on to the rock face unable to proceed any further and unwilling to give up, sweetly lopped down to a small foothold and encouraged me to make a decision.

The rock face I was attempting to climb with full gear and a dog

The rock face I was attempting to climb with full gear and a dog

"Please just climb down.  I promise not to laugh at you."

“Here.  Just put down your big camera, get down on all fours and follow me!”

At night, Xiao Huang would sleep on the bungalow porch and even on our last morning at the park, followed us to fetch the luggage and see us off.

Graphium eurypylus (Great Jay)

Graphium eurypylus (Great Jay)

Graphium doson (Common Jay)

Graphium doson (Common Jay)

Graphium arycles (Green Jay)3

Graphium arycles (Green Jay)3

There are several trails around Huai To waterfall.  On the trail leading to the waterfall, there is a patch where many different Jays hang out (as you can see above).  There is one strangely named Dog Slide Hill, which is a very steep climb.  Perhaps this is where the limits of the agile park strays was severely tested and they slid down the hill.  The map of the trails are as below:

dog slide nature trail map

dog slide nature trail map

Besides these trails, there are two others that we explored.  One, a rocky traipse to a small Sa Khe waterfall, winding through a maze of huge trees with buttresses the size of Singapore flats and boulders the size of houses.nelson for size

This was where we photographed a Blue Begum feeding on a penile shaped fungus.  And another, a very steep 750m climb up to The Viewpoint also weaving through huge trees.  The start to these two trails start from behind the canteen area.

Prothoe franck vilma (Blue Begum)

Prothoe franck vilma (Blue Begum)

The area yielded different butterflies on different days.  So be prepared to start thinking on the first day of little more than Pallid fawns that maybe you might have made a mistake in thinking that this was prime butterfly grounds.

Neorina lowii neophyta (Malayan Owl)

Neorina lowii neophyta (Malayan Owl)

On the first day we saw very little, the Yellow Gull and plenty of Malay Yeomans.

Euthalia monina monina (Malay Baron)

Euthalia monina monina (Malay Baron)

Euthalia monina monina (Malay Baron)

Euthalia monina monina (Malay Baron)

On the second day we still didn’t see much and so we went on the Sa Khe trail and shot the Blue Begum there.

Euploea camaralzeman

Euploea camaralzeman

We had the most activity on the third day.  And the sky was a cloudless blue.

Polyura hebe chersonesus

Polyura hebe chersonesus

Taxila haquinus berthae (The Larger Harlequin) -  shot on Sa Khe waterfall trail

Taxila haquinus berthae (The Larger Harlequin) – shot on Sa Khe waterfall trail

Drupadia ravindra boisduvalii

Drupadia ravindra boisduvalii

Drupadia ravindra boisduvalii (2)

Drupadia ravindra boisduvalii (2)

Chersonesia risa risa (Common Maplet)

Chersonesia risa risa (Common Maplet)

Charaxes bernadus crepax (Tawny Rajah)

Charaxes bernadus crepax (Tawny Rajah)

Of significant note was the trail just to the right of the waterfall trail where we came across the Tinsel butterfly.

This trail is marked by this bridge

This trail is marked by this bridge

Catapaecilma major emas

Catapaecilma major emas

Besides photography, it’s absolutely essential to go stand in one of the waterfalls under the blast of the water or sit in the pools and allow your mind to wander.

Amblypodia narada taooana (Blue Leaf Blue)

Amblypodia narada taooana (Blue Leaf Blue)

Here are more shots of the beautiful scenery around the Huai To waterfall:

the larger tiers of Huai To waterfall

the larger tiers of Huai To waterfall

Guess what is on the tree?  Stay tuned to Part 3 to find out.

Guess what is on the tree? Stay tuned to Part 3 to find out.

Xiao Huang on the rocks

Xiao Huang on the rocks

Xiao Huang waiting for me

Xiao Huang waiting for me

waterfall sprayNext up: Phanom Bencha Mountain Resort.  Stay tuned!