Monday, August 29

leea and the butterflies

(click on the photos for larger pictures please)

Several years ago while birding in Subic, we came across a shrub with bright red flowers that was crawling with several butterflies.  These butterflies were so intent on sipping the nectar of these little flowers that Tere was able to get a photo of them using the macro mode of her point and shoot!  if you look at the picture below, there are at least 5 species of butterflies: several Eurema sp., an Appias sp, a pair of cruisers (V. dejone), satyrids and even skippers!

Tere's 2007 picture of a then unknown butterfly magnet.

Since then we have learned that when we see this plant in bloom, it's a good opportunity to check out the butterflies getting drunk on it and to take decent butte-pics. And I've seen (and looked for) it all over the country, Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao and Palawan!

Some butterflies I've taken pictures of feeding on Leea flowers in Subic (of course, fave nearby birding site):  Caleta, a skipper, Eurema, and another lycaenid. 

In Bangkong Kahoy, Quezon, this mapwing enjoyed perching on the fruit of Leea.

Recently, I finally found out that this wonderful butterfly nectar plant is of the Leea genus, mali-mali in the local dialect. My first internet searches turned up information that it was from, of all places, Africa!  That led me to thinking that it was an introduced species!  I was literally amazed at how it had seemed to distribute itself throughout the Philippines! During my recent visit to Coron, there was on plant hanging on to the limestone face of the entrance to Barracuda Lake! Of course, even in there in the sea, a bright orange butterfly was intent on feeding.
A Leea at the entrance of Barracuda Lake in Coron.

Hah.  The bane of rushed internet searches.  I finally found out today that it is actually indigenous to several countries across the tropics, the Philippines included! Madulid (A Pictorial Cyclopedia of Philippine Ornamental Plants) says that there are actually 13 leea species  in the Philippines. Yahoo! A true local and not introduced.

I stand corrected.

Today, during the club trip to Palay-palay, Adri & I spotted several leea (what a nice name I must say) in bloom!  (Okay, before I proceed, I have to explain that the weather was horrible for birding, the wind was so strong even the brahminy kites seemed to be tossed around like paper airplanes AND...  well, Palay-palay is just not what it used to be, what with the huge concrete road and a tunnel blasted right through one of the mountainsides and settlers with caged birds hanging outside their houses. But that's another story)

At the first plant, I saw several lycaenids (I'm still not so good at butterfly ID) plus a gorgeous lemon yellow spider.  Which of course I promptly pointed out to Adri, Alex, Mai, Tere and anyone who cared to look (remember, there were no birds!).  If it was terrible weather for birding, it was even more horrible to attempt any form of butterfly photography (yes, the weather ruined even the alternative activity!).  The thin leea branches were waving frantically in the wind.  Looking through my bins, I found out that one of the lycaenids (which was bright orange above or "inside") had gotten on the wrong side of the wind as well... and landed straight in the waiting yellow arms of my (now vicious-looking) yellow spider!

This poor lycaenid found death on the leea... the deadly embrace of a yellow spider, strangely perfectly camouflaged in the red flowers.

The other more fortunate Leea drinkers, a couple more lycaenids, a sailor and wasp,  oblivious to the deadly drama (on the left corner of the picture) - blurry picture, sorry! It was too windy.

Another good find on the leea flowers today were at least 3 club silverline butterflies (Spindula syama)!  I love these little yellow lycaenids with silver streaks outlined in black.  And of course their little fake heads!  Again, too windy to get really good shots, but Adri and I were lucky to pull a couple off.

A better photo of the club silverline at last!

It's wonderful to see how nature is interconnected. So next time you see a leea in bloom while birding, try to check what little jewels are hiding in its petals! No harm in squeezing in a little plant/butte-watching!

Monday, August 22

good deed for the day

last saturday, adri & i were with a small group of my students and a co-teacher who were sampling at the pagbilao experimental mangrove forest.  the objective was to isolate microalgae and magnetic bacteria possibly present from the silt and water.

while the students were winding down with their sample collection, i headed towards an area where mangrove seedlings were being gathered to take some pictures that i thought might be useful for some of my science & society classes. while i was taking photos, a slight movement in the old fishing nets which enclosed the area caught my attention.

all tangled up in a fish-net fence!

upon closer inspection, i saw that it was a collared kingfisher who had unfortunately got himself tangled in the nets!  the poor thing was struggling hard, causing the nylon threads to tighten even further around him!  i looked at this little bird with a big beak and i realised i needed help to help this guy.  i called adri who called the old caretaker of the park.  with no scissors in hand, the caretaker used a HUGE bolo to very,very, VERY carefully cut the thin strings. i was amazed at the gentleness of the old man and not a single feather on the kingfisher was harmed as he cut him from the net with an instrument that could very well turn it to minced meat. (adri later told me he actually feared for his fingers holding the bird while the old man was handling the bolo) thankfully the kingfisher stopped struggling and it made the task easier.  after he was cut loose, we saw that that nylon strings had  wrapped tightly around his body and there was no way we could use the bolo without harming him.  adri got out his pocketknife, and we used the much smaller blade to carefully cut off the strings.  it seemed pretty painful to do this, but the bird couldn't survive tangled with strings.  finally we had cut all the strings out, and we thought, success!

notice the HUGE bolo being handled with extreme precision & gentle-ness

its struggling got the poor thing even more entangled, it was so difficult to cut it out of the knotted fish-net which covered its body

but sadly, the bird had gone completely limp in my hands!  it couldn't hold its head up or stand on its feet. i gave it a few drops of water to drink but it still couldn't stand up by itself.  it was so sad!  adri and ronald (of the team energy foundation) thought it needed time to recover in the shade so we brought it the terrace of one of the pavillions. i tried setting it on the table but it still was limp on its side.  it wasn't said out loud, but i think we were all thinking that we were too late to save it... but suddenly, with a sudden burst of strength, the kingfisher attempted to fly off the table.  it struggled and landed on the floor but just as i was about to pick it up again, it flew solidly towards the mangroves and landed on one of the low branches looking quite ruffled but otherwise recovered. i guess no more fishnets for this fisher-king! (and i wish the same for all other feathered, furry or scaly creatures)

it's wonderful how nature can recover if we give it a chance!

IMPORTANT NOTE:  If you have the option, it is important that you contact people trained or authorized to handle any sick or injured wild animal before you attempt to do so yourself.

(super thanks to ricky, aine, leni and ronald of team energy foundation, inc. for sponsoring and assisting us on this trip!)

Saturday, August 20

metamorphosis complete!

and on the seventh day... the butterflies emerged!

it was truly amazing to watch.  when i woke up on sunday morning, the chrysalides had turned completely transparent and i knew it was time!  i hurried my mom and sisters through sunday morning market (hurry! my butterflies are coming out! i need to be home).

 a sleeping tiger

remember there were originally four cats we found on thursday?  well, one disappeared on monday (much to my mom's consternation: "you mean there's a caterpillar walking around the house?!?!") only to be found as a butterfly flying around the house on friday (mom thru text: we found the caterpillar, it's a butterfly")!  then of the three left, i missed the first eclosion (was still at the market).  adri was there to witness the second eclosion (which i wasn't able to film correctly - the actual emerging from the pupal case is faster than you would think) and finally the third eclosion... well i have this video to share with everyone.

i hope you enjoy watching this wonderful miracle of life.

later, we released all 3 butterflies into the garden. the male and one female hung around for several hours.  hopefully we (or our neighbors) will get hungry little plain tiger cats in their gardens soon!

drying their wings in the sunshine, female at the back, male in the foreground

get a whiff of  those male pheromones!

Thursday, August 4

sun! glorious sun!

sunshine after weeks of rain:

good for laundry AND for labradors. 

tiger cats!

as carmela said in my previous post "if you plant it, they will come..."

finally, after 3 long years since i received my birthday cats from lydia, we got Danaus chrysippus caterpillars on our ivory plants!

last night when my brother came to pick up my nieces he said, "you've got caterpillars on your ivory plant. better get them before mom does." i was so excited that i checked it out first thing this morning when i woke up.


four little caterpillars were happily munching away! a big one, 2 medium sized ones and an itsy bitsy one!  they were threatening to munch away my mom's tiny ivory plant (we had to plant new ones, all the old one died after the floods).

i quickly sent ramil to the neighbors to ask for branches of the food plant (they had much larger ones) and we transferred the cats indoors.

keeping my fingers crossed that we'll have beautiful orange tiger butterflies emerging in the next couple of weeks!