Singapore, Feb 2013

A 13-hour flight might seem a bit like overkill in search of dragonflies but we really wanted a break from our boring English winter. Besides, as well as a whole mass of air miles burning a hole in Carol’s pocket, she had a cousin living in Singapore and an invitation to stay. Originally, we had planned to make such a trip as a stop-over bound for the Antipodes but plans changed and we went to visit Singapore in its own right – together wit a trip to Cambodia for some more genuine SE Asian culture.

_MG_5360-sime-trackSingapore has a reputation for being a good place to hunt Odonata. Being almost bang on the equator, my original suspicions were that Singapore would have an active population of dragonflies year-round but I checked first with a very accommodating called Anthony Quek, who writes a dragonfly and damselfly blog in Singapore. Anthony confirmed my suspicion about the year-round season and even offered to meet us and introduce us to his favourite Singapore location, the Lornie Trail and Sime Track. Sure enough we met and his favourite location was stunning producing 23 species in about three hours. We owe huge thanks to Anthony and are very grateful for his time, effort and assistance. Marvelous!

Heading into a territory inhabited by utterly unfamiliar species, prior to leaving for Singapore we managed to arm ourselves with three books that varied in degrees of usefulness.

  1. Our first purchase was Dragonflies of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore by A. G. Orr. The drawings/paintings are nowhere near as detailed as those of the stunning Mr. Richard Lewington but It was somewhat useful. It is seriously let down, IMHO, by there being nothing in the way of an index. The species covered do not even seem to be in any recognizable sequence within family group (e.g. Libellulidae). Not all species show both male and female, either, which I found awkward. So, a portable, somewhat handy pocket/field guide but not stunning.
  2. Carol’s cousin acquired for us a copy of Dragonflies of our Parks and Gardens by Robin Ngiam, which is published by the National Parks Board of Singapore. This was more about the locations in which to go finding dragonflies than about the dragonflies themselves and, as such, it proved indispensable in coming up with a hit list of parks/gardens and nature reserves. It also comes equipped with an excellent separate reference card showing the 44 most common species of Odosto be found in Singapore. Very useful! A huge thank you to David, Carol’s cousin, for getting us a copy.
  3. Since this was really also a 60th birthday trip, our dear friend Rosemary somehow tracked down and made a present of a copy of the book that I really, desperately wanted: A Photographic Guide to the Dragonflies of Singapore by Tang Hun Bun, Wang Luan Ken and Matti Hämäläinen. This is an excellent publication, despite the slight (debated?) limitations of its being a photographic guide; it proved indispensable and got so well used that it is showing signs of wear already. Wonderful! A huge thank you to Rosemary and her sleuthing abilities. [It isn’t available on Amazon.]

Some people wondered what we’d do for amusement in Singapore for a week and a half. I have to say that we didn’t make it round our hit list of locations but we still notched up 38 species, I think. For a dragonfly hunter, the place is stunning. We may just have to go back though, next time, I’d give more time to the wilder Nature Reserves than to the more manicured parks and gardens, though they are certainly worthy of visits. The Singapore Botanic Gardens I found to be particularly good.

Not all the locations we explored were from our book. David introduced us to one and we decided to visit another likely-looking spot, but here’s a run down of what we found where. The pink markers with counts on the map are sites we explored, the blue markers are spots I’d like to return for. 😉


View Dragonfly Sites, Singapore in a larger map

Singapore Botanic Gardens: 19 & 27-Feb-2013

_MG_4207 Lathrecista asiaticaJ01_1141 Neurothemis fluctuansPossible the best known haunt for dragonfly enthusiasts in Singapore and relatively easy to get to, though it will be easier when its MRT [Mass Rapid Transit) station opens. David also knew it and offered to show us around on our first full day in Singapore so, the Botanic Gardens it was. For this first visit, we concentrated on the so-called “central core”, spending some time investigating Symphony Lake together with the small pond in the Ginger Garden. With every character being unfamiliar and new to us, it was hard for me to contain myself – I was like a pig in s**t and just couldn’t get enough of it. 😀 I was immediately blown away by one of the most colourful, yet apparently commonest dragonflies in Singapore, the Common Parasol (Neurothemis fluctuans). What a delight these creatures are. We also snagged a species which was not logged as being at SBG, the Scarlet Grenadier (Lathrecista asiatica), but I’m confident about my identification – the list of species was published in 2010, after all.

J01_2013 Pseudothemis jorinaLater in our trip, after Cambodia, we made a second visit. Carol was interested in getting into teh Orchid Garden and I was interested to investigate Swan Lake, as well as spinning around the excellent Symphony Lake again. It’s a good job I did because, with a lot of patence and a little luck, I snagged a half-way reasonable flight shot of the photographically elusive Banded Skimmer (Pseudohemis jorina). We’d seen fleeting glimpses of these distinctively marked characters whizzing past but they don’t settle much.

SBG turned out to be our second most productive spot with 16 species:

  • Agricnemis femina (Variable Wisp)
  • Ceriagrion cerinorubellum (Ornate Coraltail)
  • Pseudagrion microcephalum (Blue Sprite)
  • Ictinogomphus decoratus (Common Flangetail)
  • Agrionoptera insignis (Grenadier)
  • Brachydiplax chalybea (Blue Dasher)
  • Crocothemis servilia (Common Scarlet/Oriental Scarlet)
  • Lathrecista asiatica (Scarlet Grenadier)
  • Neurothemis fluctuans (Common Parasol)
  • Orthetrum chrysis (Spine-tufted Skimmer)
  • Orthetrum sabina (Variegated Green Skimmer/Slender Skimmer)
  • Orthetrum testaceum (Scarlet Skimmer)
  • Pseudothemis jorina (Banded Skimmer)
  • Rhodothemis rufa (Common Redbolt)
  • Rhyothemis phyllis (Yellow-barred Flutterer)
  • Trithemis aurora (Crimson Dropwing)

Kent Ridge Park: 20-Feb-2013

_MG_5311 Rhyothemis phyllisThe National Parks publication lists three places in some detail where 30+ have been recorded. One of these is the Singapore Botanic Gardens (SBG – above) and another is Kent Ridge Park (KRP), which is where we headed next. While SBG is quite formally planed and manicured, KRP sports a couple of water bodies, one larger and one quite small, that are more natural, wilder and rougher, in appearance. It was also very quiet, unlike SBG – we saw but three or four other people while we were there. It was most notable for two sightings: Carol managed to spot the absolutely diminutive damselfly, the Variable Wisp (Agriocnmemis femina), for the first time and we got our first sighting of some Yellow-barred Flutterers (Rhyothemis phyllis) which posed, albeit not very favourably.

Nowhere near the claimed 30+ species, this is what we saw:

  • Agricnemis femina (Variable Wisp)
  • Pseudagrion microcephalum (Blue Sprite)
  • Agrionoptera insignis (Grenadier)
  • Brachydiplax chalybea (Blue Dasher)
  • Crocothemis servilia (Common Scarlet/Oriental Scarlet)
  • Lathrecista asiatica (Scarlet Grenadier)
  • Neurothemis fluctuans (Common Parasol)
  • Pseudothemis jorina (Banded Skimmer)
  • Rhodothemis rufa (Common Redbolt)
  • Rhyothemis phyllis (Yellow-barred Flutterer)

Bishan Park: 25-Feb-2013

Bishan Park is a sizeable green space in the middle of a very built up area. Its most notable feature is a drainage canal, acting as a flood defence, which has been magically transformed from a sterile, straight concrete canal into a meandering river-like waterway with grassy banks and emergent vegetation. The transformation is very recent (~1 year ago) but it’s working: we found Crimson Dropwings (Trithemis aurora) along its banks. In addition to this newer habitat, there are a couple of lakes, one of which, the lotus pond, has quite a reputation for supporting Odos.

J01_1887 Trithemis auroraGiven its apparent reputation, I have to say that Bishan Park was something of a disappointment to me. The National Parks publication features it as one of those places with 30+ species but we began by having trouble finding very much moving at all. Even the benches were occupied by snoozing representatives of the Indian subcontinent. At the reasonably highly rated lotus pond, we saw very little. Things improved slightly as we made our way back towards the local MRT station, though, and we snagged our first Singaporean Common Bluetail (Ischnura senegalensis). There was also a very nice maturing male Crimson Dropwing (Trithemis aurora) with it’s adult colour beginning to develop.

Our total of eight species here didn’t seem very impressive given the site’s published  reputation.

  • Agricnemis femina (Variable Wisp)
  • Ischnura senegalensis (Common Bluetail)
  • Pseudagrion microcephalum (Blue Sprite)
  • Brachydiplax chalybea (Blue Dasher)
  • Diplacodes trivialis (Blue Percher)
  • Neurothemis fluctuans (Common Parasol)
  • Rhodothemis rufa (Common Redbolt)
  • Trithemis aurora (Crimson Dropwing)

Johore Battery, Changi (Monster Gun): 26-Feb-2013

This was an intriguing, different habitat that our host David introduced us to. During the Second World War, there were some large guns, tagged Monster Guns, facing seaward to defend against Japanese invasion. They proved a little ineffective since the sneaky Japanese attacked from behind down the Malaysian peninsular. The guns were fed with ammunition from an underground bunker. At the Johore battery, the bunker’s system of corridors is now mapped out on the surface by a series of matching concrete channels. During Singapore’s reasonably frequent tropical downpours, these channels trap water and this is the habitat that seems to be supporting populations of at least six species of dragonfly.

_MG_5132 Acisoma panorpoidesThis is where we snagged our best shots of the delightfully named and shaped Trumpet Tail (Acisoma panorpoides).

  • Acisoma panorpoides (Trumpet Tail)
  • Crocothemis servilia (Common Scarlet/Oriental Scarlet)
  • Diplacodes trivialis (Blue Percher)
  • Neurothemis fluctuans (Common Parasol)
  • Orthetrum sabina (Variegated Green Skimmer/Slender Skimmer)
  • Trithemis aurora (Crimson Dropwing)

(Frankly, I found six species on this pocket-handkerchief sized piece of rough ground considerably more impressive than  the eight we managed at Bishan Park. Of course, that could have been our fault.)

Lornie Trail/Sime Track: 28-Feb-2013

This was the jewel in our SE Asian crown, though we did have a lot of local help in the form of the very accommodating Anthony Quek. Lornie Trail is on the southern side of the MacRitchie Reservoir in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. It features in the National Parks book and it was on my hit list. However, left to my own devices I would almost certainly have stuck to the board walk along the southern edge of the reservoir and seen relatively little. Anthony led us along a rough track, skirted a fancy golf course on our left with a good water body to our right, then into a forest area called Sime Track. It was in the forested area of Sime Track that we encountered several very different forest species of Odonata, the kind of species we just don’t support in Europe (to my knowledge, that is).

_MG_5324 Indothemis limbataEven the open area we examined beside the golf course was producing some very new species for us and we ended up netting 23 in just a few hours. The star catch was probably this critically endangered Restless Demon (Indothemis limbata).

  • Agriocnemis femina (Variable Wisp)
  • Archibasis melanocyana (Blue-nosed Sprite)
  • Ceriagrion cerinorubellum (Ornate Coraltail)
  • Lestes praemorsus decipiens (Crenulated Spreadwing)
  • Podolestes orientalis (Blue-spotted Flatwing)
  • Pseudagrion australasiae (Look-alike Sprite))
  • Pseudagrion microcephalum (Blue Sprite)
  • Vestalis amethystina (Common Flashwing)
  • Acisoma panorpoides (Trumpet Tail)
  • Aethriamanta  gracilis (Pond Adjutant)
  • Crocothemis servilia (Common Scarlet/Oriental Scarlet)
  • Diplacodes nebulosa (Black-tipped Percher)
  • Indothemis limbata (Restless Demon)
  • Nesoxenia lineata (Striped Grenadier)
  • Neurothemis fluctuans (Common Parasol)
  • Orchithemis pulcherrima (Variable Sentinel)
  • Orthetrum chrysis (Spine-tufted Skimmer)
  • Orthetrum sabina (Variegated Green Skimmer/Slender Skimmer)
  • Rhyothemis phyllis (Yellow-barred Flutterer)
  • Rhyothemis triangularis (Sapphire Flutterer)
  • Trithemis aurora (Crimson Dropwing)
  • Trithemis pallidinervis(Dancing Dropwing)
  • Tyriobapta torrida (Treehugger)

Exploring a small part of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve was great compared to the smaller and more manicured parks and gardens. On a return trip to Singapore, should one occur, this sort of wilder environment is certainly where I’d concentrate my efforts. There are several to choose from on Singapore island.

Gardens by the Bay: 2-Mar-2013

J01_2169 Tholymis tillargaOn our last full day in Singapore, we wanted to do the classic touristy thing and go to Raffles Long Bar for a Singapore Sling. Just below the city and within easy reach, is another new development called the Gardens by the Bay at Marina Bay. This has some fresh water and a bridge over to it, optimistically called Dragonfly Bridge. We thought we’d go and investigate before hitting Raffles. As a useful way to occupy a part of a day, it was worth doing, though not stunning. We nabbed seven species, one of which was a difficult to identify oddity called the White-barred Duskhawk (Tholymis tillarga) which seems to hide up during the main daylight hours – one had invaded the house at which we stayed on our first evening. A second, which we couldn’t get on pixels ‘cos it never stopped flying but we fairly confident of, was the Saddlebag Glider (Tramea transmarina euryale).

  • Ischnura senegalensis (Common Bluetail)
  • Pseudagrion microcephalum (Blue Sprite)
  • Crocothemis servilia (Common Scarlet/Oriental Scarlet)
  • Diplacodes nebulosa (Black-tipped Percher)
  • Diplacodes trivialis (Blue Percher)
  • Neurothemis fluctuans (Common Parasol)
  • Orthetrum sabina (Variegated Green Skimmer/Slender Skimmer)
  • Tholymis tillarga (White-barred Duskhawk)
  • Tramea transmarina euryale (Saddlebag Glider)

So, the gardens at Marina Bay turned out to be as productive as Bishan Park, for us.

Below is a spreadsheet of the species we spotted by location.

Posted in 2013, Singapore, Trip reports

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