Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Singapore: Botanic Gardens and Butterfly Trail

Bourgainvillea House

As many as 320 butterflies can be (or, at least, have been) seen in Singapore. There is a list here. There is also a fantastic blog on the Butterflies of Singapore. Today's mission was to see as many of them as possible. We decided to walk across the Botanic Gardens and then do part of the Nature Society of Singapore's Butterfly Trail.

The Botanic Garden was founded in 1859 and has the unusual distinction of being a Unesco World Heritage Site. As I was busy looking out for butterflies, I didn't take many pictures of the Gardens, and we didn't really do them justice. They were however clearly delightful.
We set out from the main entrance, right by the Botanic Gardens MRT station, passing the Bourgainvillea House and immediately seeing one or two Plain Tigers (Danaus chrysippus alcippoides). This is a species that can be seen in many places in the world: Asia, Africa and even parts of Europe. The sub-species seen in Singapore and other parts of Asia has white patches on the upper and lower hind wings.

I had read that Common Birdwings may be seen near the so-called Evolution Garden, so we made a point of heading in that direction We didn't actually see any, but the Evolution Garden was sufficiently interesting to make up for it. The inspired idea was a series of plantings along a spiral trail which progressive traced the evolution of plants from mosses and liverworts, ferns, club- and spike-mosses and horsetails, cycads and then flowers. The route is described here.

Here are some architectural petrified trees near the entrance.

And this is the cycad section.

A few butterflies could be glimpsed, but not identified, even less photographed.

We reached the admin offices and café, and, perhaps inevitably, things looked up on the butterfly front. My first capture was this Chocolate Pansy (Junonia hedonia ida).

This was quickly followed by the fritillary-like Common Leopard (Phalanta phalantha phalantha).

I also managed a picture of a common butterfly we had already noticed in hedgerows in the city: the Chocolate Grass Yellow (Eurema sarisodalis).

Also there was this spectacular Dragonfly.

We continued on our way passing a rain forest zone on the left and a large tree-lined valley on the right. As we neared the far exit, we saw this wonderful sight in a grassy area. I thought at first it was a type of ant-eater, but it turns out to be a Malayan Water Monitor (Varanus salvator). This is one of the world's largest lizards - this one was about 1.5m long, but they can apparently reach over 3m.

As we were leaving the garden through an area of woodland I spotted this Malayan Viscount (Tanaecia pelea pelea).

We now followed Napier Road and Tanglin Road to reach the butterfly garden at Nassim Green off Tanglin Road. It was a nice garden with a range of plants - but nowhere to sit - and there was sadly nothing going on at first. However, when the sun came out a few butterflies made themselves known including a Banded Swallowtail (Papilio demolion), which unfortunately did not want to be photographed.

I did however see the unusually named Rustic (Cupha erymanthis lotis) ...

... as well as more Chocolate Pansies and some Common Grass Yellows.

Soon after this, the expected thunderstorm began and kept us trapped in a cafe for an hour and half. Once it had finished I visited another butterfly garden at the other end of Orchard Road, at Stamford Green. I saw a couple of Plain Tigers, but it was still drizzling and nothing else appeared.

Finally, on returning to our hotel I was delighted to spot this Plains Cupid (or Cycad Blue) (Chilades pandava) just outside.

It is extremely impressive that efforts have been made to create butterfly gardens in such an urbanised environment, and we had already noticed that some common butterflies e.g. the Grass Yellows can be seen all over the place, but we felt that there were some signs that the initial enthusiasm might be wearing off.

Conditions: hot, mainly cloudy and humid, giving way a tropical thunderstorm.

Distance: 3 or 4 miles.

Rating: four stars. Very interesting and enjoyable. I was a bit disappointed not to see more butterflies.

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