January 2018 Roundup

This is a roundup of what has happened for Gee’s Nature Tours during January 2018. I will also include 31 December 2017 because that was a very good day but is not included in previous posts.

It’s been a very busy month with over 40 tours for over 140 people, almost entirely with customers from Rainbow Lodge, a few from Koh Andet Eco Resort and one direct booking for a bespoke afternoon boat tour. It has also been a very wet month. January is normally the driest month of the year but this year has seen significant rainfall, more reminiscent of rainy season. We generally don’t let a little bit of rain get in the way of our tours, though it can disrupt the ability to take photos for including in these posts.

On that topic, my biggest mistake for the tours on 31 December was to let Piarom take the Canon SX60 on his tour! We saw a lot of birds in the afternoon and I couldn’t photograph a single one. Another mistake was to not make any notes at the time about what we did see, so now, over a month on, I need to rely on my rather poor memory for the afternoon section. But I best not rush ahead to that. The whole day was booked out to the Shepherd-Barron family, who have a particular interest in birds but wanted to see some other stuff, too. We started the day with a “specialist walk” around the grounds of Rainbow Lodge and the neighbouring land. These walks are fairly short and always done slowly, with the emphasis on seeing as much as possible.

During the morning we saw a new (for me) genus of spider (Gea)

… a beautifully coloured but still undescribed species of planthopper in the Lophopidae family

… a spider that looked like a stick. In fact, this is a Miagrammopes sp., which are known as Twig-like Feather-legged Spiders. The close-up shows two of its eight eyes and the feathery legs.

We also saw an ant with a Cordyceps infestation. Cordyceps are a type of fungus that “prey” on arthropods. Their spores are eaten and then they go to work, even modifying the behaviour of their host, as shown in this video clip.

After a break for lunch, we went out again. This time we went across the river to the rice paddies and then across those to a path the goes up the valley. The main focus of the afternoon was birds. As I said before, I didn’t have my zoom camera, so there are no photos here, but we did take a viewing scope with us and the customers had their own camera. They have kindly allowed me to include some of their photos (see below). We had a very lucky afternoon. After alighting the boat at a local’s property, we turned left as normal, to minimise our intrusion. The owner of the property saw us and called us back to his house because he had trees in fruit that were attracting many birds. We spent about twenty minutes there, seeing many birds, including black-headed and black-crested bulbuls. We eventually dragged ourselves away because we had to stick fairly close to our schedule, as we were to be picked up by boat and taken further up river for early evening birds. The highlights were a pair of wreathed hornbills flying over and a prolonged flying display from one of my favourite birds, Merops leschenaulti (Chestnut-header Bee-eater). Chris was desperate to get some in-flight photos. I think he did pretty well considering how fast they swoop around. I had said that there was a possibility of seeing nightjars in the evening, and we weren’t disappointed. I am fairly sure we saw both Lyncornis macrotis (Great Eared Nightjar) and Caprimulgus macrurus (Large-tailed Nightjar). I have yet to work out how to photograph nightjars. They rest on the floor in the jungle during the day – I have accidentally disturbed them several times – and are (very) active in low light conditions. Like the bee-eaters, they swoop and twist, catching their insect prey in mid-air.

Here are some of the photos, mostly taken by Chris but with some taken by other family members:

We arrived back at Rainbow Lodge at about 18:30 with just enough time for everyone to freshen up before dinner. We then went out for a night walk. For me, the highlight was seeing an Eriovixia sp. of spider that looks very similar to the Sorting Hat Spider (Eriovixia gryffindori), and, yes, that is its real name! Ours has a slightly shorter apex but still pretty close to the other that was only discovered in 2016.

Another highlight was seeing a Net-casting Spider (Deinopidae family). They are not often seen and are always a pleasure. They are amazing spiders that hold their webbing between their legs and throw it over their prey in order to catch it. They have superb eyesight, even at night. There is a short video of one in action, though I have yet to see them actually use their net.

Another treat was seeing the larva of a tortoise beetle, which is likely to be Aspidimorpha sanctaecrucis. The larva are quite bizarre, having a faecal shield. Their anus points up in the air and their faeces harden above them to create a shield that deters predators. They can move the shield completely over themselves.

Other photos from the day are included in the gallery at the end of the post.

OK, this post is taking way too long to write and I will need to be starting a February round-up before I have finished this one. With that in mind, I will be much more brief in the rest of the post (i.e. the bit that actually covers January).

On 2 January I took some Rainbow Lodge customers on the Marsh Walk and Stream Kayak tour. This is by far the most popular tour that I guide for Rainbow Lodge.  We saw an amazing spider, whose abdomen looks like a broken twig. It has been identified as a Cyphalonotus sp.

We also saw a cool orange caterpillar, which I am still trying to identify. It is certainly in the Geometridae family, and possibly a Dysphania sp.. We have seen a lot of adult Dysphania moths flying around in the vicinity but, as yet, have been unable to get any decent photos. Anyway, here are a few photos of the caterpillar:

We also saw a new (to me) species of orchid but it was still in bud and I didn’t see the flowers until 5 January (see below).

On 3 January, I guided another Marsh Walk and Stream Kayak tour with Rainbow Lodge customers. We saw two more new (to me) orchid species. Both orchids grow on the mangrove trees in a permanently flood part of the swamp. One was in bud but we found no flowers, despite extended efforts by me and the customers searching thigh deep in water. It also seems to flower for a very short time. It wasn’t until 9 January that I saw an open flower (see below) but the orchid itself and its buds are nice enough to warrant a couple of photos of their own:

The other orchid had partially open flowers, but thankfully enough for it to be identified as Taeniophyllum pusillum, which, apparently, is very rare.

On 4 January, I took some Rainbow Lodge customers on one of their treks, while Piarom took some more of their customers on a shorter trek but he did it twice! I need to buy another camera so Piarom can take photos, too.

Amongst other things, we saw the following two great little beetles. A stunning tortoise beetle, Chiridopsis scalaris, and the always cute leaf rolling beetles from the Attelabidae family.

I got some pretty good shots of a Spilornis cheela (Crested Serpent Eagle) in flight but I have somehow, stupidly, managed to delete them, so now only have the thumbnails in Lightroom.

In the evening I made another frustrating cock-up, particularly as I didn’t notice until 5 days later that I had accidentally switched my Olympus TG-4 camera to VGA mode. So I have no high res photos of any of the small stuff we saw in that time.

I guided another Marsh Walk and Stream Kayak tour on 5 January. One of the highlights was seeing a pair of Psittacula alexandri fasciata (Red-breasted Parakeets) near what is probably their nesting hole. The male is in front (with his red beak) and the female behind (with her black beak).

We also had a very co-operative Merops leschenaulti (Chestnut-headed Bee-eater) that hung a round and modelled for us, in between performing some highly aerobatic flying manoeuvres. I didn’t manage any shots in flight. I have had to resign myself to the fact that my Canon SX60 HS camera has too much delay to capture anything fast moving.

We also saw the same (new to me) species of orchid that we saw on 2 January but this time in flower. It has been identified only to genus level, so far. It is an Eria sp.

On 6 January, Piarom guided a short trek for Rainbow Lodge and managed to get a shot of a Monticola solitarius (Blue Rock Thrush):

We then had a couple of days break from guiding tours before getting right back in there on 9 January with another Marsh Walk and Stream Kayak tour and a night walk, both with Rainbow Lodge customers. We saw Dendrobium acerosum (the orchid I mentioned above) in flower. It was very lucky because it wasn’t in flower where we had previously seen it. We were on the boat and about to have lunch when I looked out the side of the boat and there was this beautiful little orchid flower looking back at me.

The night walk turned up a load of just hatched spiderlings of a Herennia sp. (Ornamental Tree Spider or Coin Spider).

The 10 January had Piarom out again on a short trek from Rainbow Lodge and I had nothing in the day but another night walk. Piarom came back with one photo of Macracantha arcuata (Long-horned Orb Weaver), known in Cambodia as a “Buffalo Spider”, but there are better ones in the gallery at the end of this post.

The highlights of the night walk were two resting lizards, Calotes emma (Forest Crested Lizard) …

…  and a frog, Hylarana mortenseni.

On 11 January we had no tours and, instead, celebrated Piarom’s son’s third Birthday. The next day, I had a “Specialist Walk” in the afternoon and a night walk later, so I took a few bird photos at my place before heading to Rainbow Lodge.

We saw another stunning little tortoise beetle during our “specialist walk”.

… and another poor Cordyceps victim.

We also saw an Odontomantis sp. (Ant-mimicking Mantis). These are amazing little creatures, that spend their early life stages looking like ants but, as adults, are green and look nothing like ants at all.

On the night walk, we saw this strangely beautiful planthopper nymph.

A new (to me) nymph of a giant stink bug (Tessaratomidae).

A moth sucking nectar from a not yet opened flower of Melastoma sanguinium.

We also saw this stunning Boiga dendrophila melanota (mangrove Cat Snake)

13 January brought another Marsh Walk and Stream Kayak tour and another new (to me) orchid species, Acampe ochracea, and what a beauty it is.

Also, a first for a whole family of moths. Moths is the family Phycitinae adopt a strange posture and, as a result, are know as “Twig-mimicking moths”.

ID Credit: Roger Kendrick

On 14 January Piarom took some customers on Rainbow Lodge’s “medium trek”, while I took others on a short trek to Tatai Waterfall. Piarom photographed a small group of puddling butterflies. Three species are evident: Appias lyncida eleonora (Chocolate Albatross), Graphium sarpedon luctatius (Common Bluebottle) and Graphium doson axion (Common Jay).

I saw a new (to me) species of treehopper (Membracidae) being tended by a weaver ant (Oecophylla smaragdina).

During a “Specialist Walk” on 15 January, we saw a Leptocoma brasiliana (Van Hasselt’s Sunbird), which was not silhouetted as normal but still failed to get a good shot, and an unidentified warbler.

On 17 January, we had a party for the eighth Birthday of our cousin/”adopted” daughter. It was gatecrashed by the largest moth in the region, .

On 18 January I guided a “Nature Ramble”, which is basically the same as a “Specialist Walk” but on a prescribed route on the flatter and more open land across the river from Rainbow Lodge. We saw a new (to me) and still unidentified Utricularia sp. (Bladderwort), which are carnivorous plants that have sophisticated bladder-like traps attached to their roots for catching their prey.

We also saw a mating pair of the stunning moth, Euchromia elegantissima.

I also managed my best shot ever of a Ardeola bacchus (Chinese Pond Heron) and a not so good shot of a bird of prey that was, to be fair, right across the other side of the rice fields.

19 January brought another combination of an afternoon “Specialist Walk” and night walk, but the highlight of the day for me was seeing a new (to me) species of bird, Hydrornis phayrei (Eared Pitta). I was sat working at my desk in the house Rainbow Lodge still allows me to use when I heard rustling in the leaf litter. I grabbed my camera and went out on the balcony to have a look. It wouldn’t keep still but I managed one shot that was good enough to confirm the ID.

The specialist walk took a similar (but shorter) route to the nature ramble.

On the night walk, we saw a “mirror ball spider” (Thwaitesia sp.)

We saw an amazing construction of a spider’s nesting site, with one leaf rolled up and attached under another. We couldn’t get to see the spider but I saw it and its newly hatched spiderlings during a night walk on 25 January (see below).

Nesting spider

We also saw a newly emerged sub-adult katydid.

On 20 January, I took Martyn and Susie, who had been staying at Rainbow Lodge but had moved to Koh Andet Eco Resort (KAER), on a private boat tour on the main river and a couple of the stream that feed into it. It was a lovely tour, and one I will be building into our portfolio. We stopped and got out on the land in a few places. The aim was to climb a hill to see the sunset before returning in the dark to KAER.

Along the way we saw Calotes versicolor (Oriental Garden Lizard)

We then saw a hummingbird hawk moth flying around and stopping to lay eggs. I didn’t manage to photograph the moth but here is one of its eggs:

We spent so long up the beautiful streams that we had to make a mad dash to try to get up the hill for the sunset. We could see the sun setting as we neared the land, not leaving us time to climb the hill but watching the sky turn red from the base. We also had the highlight of the trip, seeing a Peregrine Falcon fly in and land on on the telephone masts on top of the hill. It was an extremely long way and, with fading light, a very tall order for the camera but this photo was enough to confirm the ID.

On 22 January, I guided another Nature Ramble. The highlight of this was seeing three different species of egret in a 15 minute period. Two of the species I had not previously had confirmed as being here, though they were expected.

On 23 January, I took two KAER customers on our Full Day Nature Tour. We always see Nepenthes kampotiana pitcher plants and Dischidia rafflesiana ant plants in the meadow but I failed to photograph them. We did see a rather flamboyant green lacewing (Chrysopidae) larva, which attach debris to themselves as a kind of disguise.

… and a beautiful Argiope sp. (St Andrew’s Cross Spider)

We then saw a whole bunch of Irena puella (Asian Fairy Bluebirds), when previously I have only seen one or two at a time. Unfortunately, they did a pretty good job of staying quite some distance ahead and pretty well hidden. I did manage to get a shot of both a male and a female.

There was just a night walk on 25 January. We saw a pretty cool assassin bug (Reduviidae)

We watched a spider moulting.

We also saw the owner of the spider’s nest we had seen on 19 January, along with some of her newly hatched offspring. She turned out to be a huntsman spider (Sparassidae).

On 26 January, Piarom guided a short trek and saw this beautiful Dendrelaphis pictus (Painted Bronzeback):

I guided another Nature Ramble on 29 January and we saw Draco maculatus (Spotted Gliding Lizard). This little creatures never cease to amaze me. One glided right past me and landed on a nearby tree. It showed its large, yellow dewlap, from which I made the ID but I didn’t manage to snap a photo of it.

We also saw a colourful phasmid (stick insect).

I also managed, for the first time, to snap a clear enough photo of Anthus rufulus (Paddyfield Pipit) to get its identity confirmed.

On 30 of January, the Marsh Walk and Stream Kayak tour, provided another new (to me) species of orchid, and what a little beauty! It is not yet identified to species level but belongs to the genus Acriopsis.

The night walk brought us a resting bird that looks like Muscicapa dauurica (Asian Brown Flycatcher).

We also saw two different instars of the same species of caterpillar, though it’s hard to believe by looking at them. It is probably Papilio polytes romolus (Common Mormon), which I have reared before.

In the interests of getting this post published, I am going to do so now and later add a gallery of some of the other things we saw during the month (and 1 day). February is marching on and not a single post from this month yet.

Gerard Chartier
Author: Gerard Chartier

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