Sunday 6 December 2009

Singapore Botanic Gardens

In Feb 1942, Singapore fell to the Japanese. If the Allied forces had not eventually turned the tables, I would be falling on my sword about now. This is the rewritten post, replacing the mistake riddled previous effort.
My thanks go to Mr Ian Rocoto from for his guiding hand and experienced eye.
Thanks also to Steve Covey who writes for the common name for Ceriagrion cerinorubellum

Singapore Botanic Gardens have some great habitat for dragonflies and in the limited time between the birding and before the onset of rain, I indulged myself.

There is a post on if you need the logistics, or if you want to check out the birdies.
I found some old favourites as well as some new ones.Identification is still taking time. I am used to field guides for birds which are detailed in the extreme. The guides for odonata simply do not cut the mustard in comparison. Like birds, damselflies and dragonflies have sexual differences and age characteristics with regional variations too, not forgetting the larval stage. Most guides in this field show the male only with sketchy detail for differentiating between similar species. Websites are proving to be my best source of information, but they are limited by mostly being photographic, which cannot compete with detailed drawings that accentuate characteristics. I am currently working with my guide to Hong Kong, but managed to augment that with a small volume from the gardens gift shop.
Just inside the gate on Napier Road is the Marsh Garden. It is a small, shallow, still body of water with some emergent water plants and some weed. Around it are decorative plantings. At 07.00 when the sun began to rise, there were odonata already in position, waiting. The temperature only dropped to 28C last night so they should not take long to warm up.Neurothemis fluctuans, male.

Without an adequate guide, I took the first odes to be Russet Perchers, Neurothemis fulvia. Actually, they were Neurothemis fluctuans. I could not find a common name for them.Neurothemis fluctuans, young male
Neurothemis fluctuans, male
In an area given over to formal brick-built ponds with water lilies, some damselflies were stirring. On an unopened flower bud was a Pseudagrion microcephalum and on some floating lily leaves was an Common Bluetail, Ischnura senegalensis. I planned to return there later in the day to see if any would pose on an open flower.
Crimson Dropwing Trithemis aurora femaleOn Symphony Lake, the most obvious dragonflies were the Crimson Dropwing, Trithemis aurora. An Ictinogomphus decoratus, sat way out over the water on a horse-tail rush.
By the time I returned to the brick ponds, the Crimson Dropwings had arrived. They seemed to prefer the brick edges of the ponds as perches. On the lake, they had been using bank-side vegetation to sit out. As I had hoped, there were some Blue Dashers, Brachydiplex chalybea, perched on the open lilies making a beautiful picture.
I had promised myself a second look at the Marsh Garden before the rain set in. I was distracted on the way there by a male Rhodothemis rufa. I only had a very short time left, but managed a quick look at a medium-sized libellullid. I have named him Orthetrum testaceum, on advice from Ian. If I had known, I would have been looking for a tuft of setae on S2.
The other problem with odonata field guides is that they are usually incomplete. How can I definitively make an identification when I do not have the complete set to make a proper comparison?

I made a second visit to the gardens the next morning and spent most of my time in the Marsh Garden, but also managed to get to the Eco Pond which accounted for the Blue Percher, Diplacodes trivialis and the Green Skimmer, Orthetrum Sabina.
I had not impressed myself with my photography on the first day and wanted to return to see if I could do better. I found that for macro photography like this and when using the big lens at full throttle, locking the mirror up avoids the vibrations that have been plaguing me up ‘til now.
In the Marsh Garden, to my delight, I found a couple of new zygoptera. The first was Ceriagrion cerinorubellum. What a shame that such a beauty does not have a common name. Stop press. A comment comes from Steve Covey of the common name is Orange-tailed Marsh Dart Orange-tailed Midget Agriocnemis femina young male
Superficially similar, but much smaller was the Orange-tailed Midget, Agriocnemis femina Orange-tailed Midget Agriocnemis femina mature male.

A mature male and young male of this species were chasing each other through the bank-side rushes.
I warmed to the task of photographing the myriads of Neurothemis, still under the misapprehension that they were the fulvia sp. Only when I managed to find “A pocket guide Dragonflies of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore” by A.G. Orr, did I notice that there were more Neurothemi than I had realised. By now it was raining and I had to return home that evening, so I am now poring over the photos trying to get good ID. I needed someone better aquainted with Singaporean odonata than I am to confirm their identities. To that end Ian Rocoto kindly perused the post and made suggestions that I am pleased to adopt.

Odonata species; 11

Common Bluetail Ischnura sengalensis 1, Pseudagrion microcephalum 1, Orange-tailed Marsh Dart Ceriagrion cerinorubellum 2, Orange-tailed Midget Agriocnemis femina 2.

Ictinogomphus decoratus 3, Blue Percher, Diplacodes trivialis 1, Green Skimmer, Orthetrum Sabina 2, Crimson Dropwing Trithemis aurora 30, Rhodothemis rufa 8, Orthetrum testaceum 2, Neurothemis fluctuans 20

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Dade County, Miami, Fla.

Temperatures reached an unseasonal 85+ today during a trip to Miami. Calm air and easy access to Snapper Creek made choice of activities a formality.
I had visited Snapper Creek a few weeks ago and bought a new camera at the Best Buy, adjacent to the river and taken a memorable piture of a Halloween Pennant. Today with yet another new camera, the Canon 50D, I was hoping to recreate that success.
As I approached the river, I noticed a Great Egret and 2 White Ibis close to the water's edge. A pair of large iguanas were moving towards the sunlit grass.
Snapper Creek is approx 8 meters wide at this point and has 2 or 3 meters of grass on both banks. The margins have grass and a few other emergent plants. In some spots, mats of weed cling close to the banks. The water is very clear and has a good flow. There are many fish, some quite sizeable.
The first ode was seen from the Northern bank right beside the bridge at Dadelands North Metrorail station. It was a Scarlet Skimmer, Crocothemis servilia. This dragonfly has appeared in the blog before and today takes the crown for the most widespread ode that this blogger has seen. First seen in Singapore, it has subsequently been found in Hong Kong, where it goes by the name of Crimson Darter, and in India during October.
The website Odonata Central has very little to say about this species, which I found surprising for such an apparently abundant and dramatic-looking creature. This leads me to wonder if it has been introduced or escaped along with the iguanas and the parrots. Despite it's uncertain provenance, it is quite approachable and sits well for pictures. Without any evidence to the contrary, I am assuming this to be the female.
Next was the tiny, Spot-tailed Dasher. Another seemingly abundant species, which also fails to make it into the "Beginner's Guide to Dragonflies", which I am currently using as my reference field-guide.
The little dasher was then displaced by the much larger, Blue Dasher. The Blue Dasher was the original holder of the distribution title having been seen from Toronto, Canada to Califonia.
Then came the dragonfly which had been at the back of my mind when I had chosen to come to Snapper Creek. I had taken a picture of it for the previous Miami post, but it had not been sufficiently detailed to allow me to properly identify it. I can now reveal that it is a Tawny Pennant, Brachymesia herbula. I was beginning to suspect that the Stokes's had forgotten to visit Florida while researching their book as 3 out of 4 odes seen so far had been omitted. Despite that, the guide will probably please most people who don't get anal about identifying down to the sub-special levels.
I doff my hat to Warwick and Michele Tarboten for this next photo. I would not have even considered taking a shot, were it not for the photo on the back cover of their "A Fieldguide to the Damselflies of South Africa". Now, if ever you are considering writing an Odonata fieldguide, may I suggest this as a standard to which you should aspire. I believe it to be a Rambur's Forktail. This species is mentioned by the beginner's guide, but when you do not have the full set for comparison, how can a definitive identification be made?
And so to the one that got away. This was my best pictuere of the day which makes it frustrating not to get a positive ID. My suspicions lead me towards a female Eastern Amberwing. It was about the right size and the abdomen is suggestive of amberwing. The eyes and the yellow marks on the thorax fit the descriptions of the amberwing. The wings however made me doubt the accuracy of my assumptions. The creature left it's wings to flutter in the light breeze in the same way that I had seen the Halloween Pennant doing on my previous visit. The wings were also much more heavily marked than I have seen in any photos or illustrations. There were both Eastern Amberwings and Halloween Pennants in the vicinity to compare size and flutteriness with. I see that the amberwings sometimes imitate wasps, but the fluttering did not seem reminiscent of any wasp that I had seen before. So I find myself unsatisfied with Eastern Amberwing. Perhaps there is a tiny pennant that I have not found in my research yet. All thoughts are welcome.
Odonata species; 8
Rambur's Forktail 12, Eastern Meadowhawk 4, Eastern Amberwing 6, Scarlet Skimmer 8, Spot-tailed Dasher 8, Blue Dasher 2, Tawny Pennant 12, Halloween Pennant 1,

Friday 16 October 2009

Sultanpur, New Delhi, India

The logistics of getting to and a description of Sultanpur Lake are given in the respective post on
I have brought a new camera with me today. The Canon 50D arrived just an hour before I left for the airport, giving me just enough time to get some steam into the battery.
With 15.1 million pixels, I was looking forward to some superfine detail and got my first chance to try it out as soon as I walked through the gate.

A dragonfly was perched on an aloe-type plant. I suspect it was a female or juvenile of the darker, redder ode below. They both exhibit similar blotches at the bases of the wings.This particular species was very common in this locale with hundreds of them in the meadows and the wet margins of the lake. It is very reminiscent of a Crimson Darter, Cocothemis servilia, but I have nothing else to compare it to. It is duller than previous encounters with C.s. I had ordered a book that I hoped would enable me to identify some of the common odonata of India. It arrived while I was away, but on opening it on my return, I found it to be quite useless. The illustrations were childlike and photos were poorly printed. So I find myself throwing the identifications open to anyone who can help.
The second dragonfly was seen in long dry grass away from the lake and was seen only once.In terms of quantity it was dramatically outnumbered by all the others today.
At the lakeside, I saw a familiar face. It was the Green Skimmer which has previously featured in Redgannet’s bird blog (before the schism) in posts from Singapore and Hong Kong. It is a very widespread dragonfly that is distributed from Europe to Australia and all points between, taking in Russia and North Africa on the way.The skimmer was very approachable and allowed me to get close to him with the 50mm macro lens.
Seen away from the water as well as in the margins of the lake was a Pied Percher. This is another ode that is crossing the divide from the bird blog after first appearing in the Hong Kong Post. The photos were taken in deep shadow and the white markings between the black markings and the wingtips did not show up well. A similar-looking dark dragonfly could be related. It’s general appearance seems very close to the percher’s, but we all know how similar some other forms of odonata are, so I am not taking anything for granted. Both of them seemed to be weak fliers, resting after short forays.

High excitement about the camera inevitably led to disappointment. It is still me behind the lens after all and I continue to make the same mistakes and get too greedy with zoom versus exposure. I do like the 50D however.
The 15.1 megapixels are a big step up from the 6mps of the 350D. The 6.3 frames per sec. worried me slightly and I predicted endless amounts of deleting pictures that I didn’t like. Will it make me more choosy about the pictures I take or will I continue working on the principle that if I take hundreds of shots, one of them must surely be OK? I wonder.

The memory fills up quickly. Using the superfine quality with RAW too, burns 20mbs for each shot. A 2 second burst would be quarter of a gigabyte. There is a low speed autowind at about 3 frames per sec which will save on memory and deleting.
The processing time once downloaded onto the computer is a drag too. But the choice has been made between high optical zoom and better cropping ability and the price is memory and processing time as opposed to bulky lenses and shaky shots.
The camera itself is big in the hand, but easy to use. Best of all the settings are easily accessible and obvious in format.
The battery lasted reasonably well. It took 400 pictures and allowed me to view them all a couple of times afterwards.
I made a couple of foolish errors during the day. In Servo AF, it is able to find focus and predict movement of moving objects. Focus locking and recomposing in this mode does not work and I found myself with a lot of blurry shots.
The Auto White Balance mode did not pick up the changing conditions from bright sun to shade very well, nor from outdoors to indoors. I may have to set WB manually in future.

Thursday 10 September 2009

High Park, Toronto

High Park in Toronto is described in the respective post on
Grenadier Lake forms the western boundary of the park and is fed from a stream and storm water from the city of Toronto. It’s banks are thinly covered with reeds and rushes with a small reeded marsh at the top end. Other small ponds are formed from dams on a storm water stream running through the eastern part of the park.
I saw the first flight at 08.30. A pair of ponds in the northeast sector of the park should have been very productive at the right time of day, but I passed through too early. They would be worth a look when the sun is higher on my next visit. Grenadier Lake was teeming with Blue Dashers, which are fast becoming the most widespread odonata for this observer so far. On this occasion, I saw that the wings were more shaded than I had previously noted. The specimens that I had observed in LAX, MIA and PHX had been much cleaner of wing.
This caused me to look more carefully and I saw amongst the shaded wings, some clearer ones. These belonged to the Eastern Meadowhawk.
Away from the lake are some streams and damp meadows. Here I met the female Eastern Meadowhawk. Thinking I had a new species, I was determined to get a good photo and she proved to be very obliging. She had caught and was eating a small, blue fly It was at this point that I checked my “remaining frames” counter and saw that it had hardly changed. I had set the definition very low last week and had not changed it back. All of the pictures taken this week have been at 1mb or less. Changing the resolution back to high, the pictures were over 4mb.The definition is compromised when put onto the blog, so the difference would only be obvious when the subject is heavily cropped, but it is very noticeable on the monitor with the full size picture. A Green Darner settled into the grass for a close-up. A saddlebags flew over in silhouette but I am not yet proficient enough to tell which.
At the southern end of the park, a storm water pond overflows a weir and ends up in lake Ontario. Here, were hundreds of odonata. 12-spotted Skimmers, Green darners, Eastern Meadowhawks and Blue Dashers. The zygoptera were too far away on the whole to get a good look at. This one could be a Familiar Bluet, but I am going to need more practice identifying before I claim him in red.

ps. when in Toronto, visit the Open Air Book and Map Shop. It is a basement shop down some stairs at the corner of Toronto and Adelaide. It is exactly what it claims to be and even with agoraphilia like mine, I find it a pleasure to spend hours inside. Bird books and mammal encyclopaedia, insects, travel. There are no books about cooking or teen idols, no magazines about overexposed celebrities, just outdoor books and maps.

Newark, Woodbridge

A warm, clear day turned my birdwatching morning into a dragonfly frenzy in Newark this week. A small slow stream runs through Merrill Park South and a wide, muddy bend proved very productive. For details of how to get to Merrill Park South, consult the birdy blog
First was a dragonfly with large blotches on its wings which flushed from the grass above the bank, then settled on a rock to have its picture taken. It was identified as a Common Whitetail female The rocks created a semi-dam across part of the stream and allowed me to get out into the middle of the river and look back towards the bank. Two forms of what I assumed must be pennants of some sort were dog-fighting with each other over the shallow bend in the stream. One was the male of the Common Whitetail. They would settle from time to time, but at a distance, so I had to get my feet wet and muddy again to get close enough for a picture.This one is a 12-spotted Skimmer The dog-fights continued with, at one point, as many as eight odonata of 4 different species (the pennants, Blue Dasher and a Green Darner) chasing each other up and down the stream. A video would have been more use than a stills camera.
For reasons of incompetence, the pictures may seem low resolution this week. Simpletons in the settings department are to blame. On some floating mats of weed, were a couple of different zygoptera. They were very common in the muddy bay, laying eggs among the weeds. I now know that one of the damselflies was an Eastern Forktail and I am assuming that the layers were females. Another was very distinctive with a violet abdomen and a blue tip.It proved to be a Variable Dancer.
Evergreen Meadows is a private estate in neighbouring Edison. Beside the approach road is a boggy patch that provided more rich pickings. The pennants showed again and a red meadowhawk sat well for me. There is a lot of controversy and confusion about red meadowhawks. A number of species are very similar and cannot safely be separated in the field. So unless anyone can tell from this photo, it will remain a mystery.
Next, I cycled on to Menlo Park which has a lake with formal edges and no bankside vegetation for the most part. The island end provides a small proportion of bankside that is better suited to dragonflies and they love the stakes around the island, but sadly, so do Green Herons. Eastern Amberwings and Blue Dashers were very common. Soft floating weed provided ovipositing opportunities and even a feather sufficed as a perch in the absence of anything else at the formal end of the lake. There is a confusing set of bluets that ought to be examined in the hand for definitive identification. I think that this is possibly a Familiar Bluet, but since it has such close look-alikes, this may prove a hasty assumption.
If I can put a name to all the odes that I saw today, I could end up with my biggest ever list of 14 species.

Odonata species 8

Variable Dancer, Familiar Bluet, Eastern Forktail, Fragile Forktail, Green Darner, 12-spotted Skimmer, Common Whitetail, Blue Dasher, Meadowhawk sp, Eastern Amberwing,