Sunday, 7 August 2016

Pokémon Go! Real-Life Edition; Endau Rompin National Park, Malaysia



16 weeks of careful planning finally came into fruition, 2 weeks ago. It was a trip that I was very much looking forward to, considering that I have never been to Endau Rompin National Park despite having lived and worked just a few hours away, more than 8 years ago. You see, I used to run a small company that manages 2 outdoor campsites in Sedili Kecil, a small coastal town in Johor. While I was there, I spent a considerable amount of time in Gunung Panti (one of Johor's most climbed peaks) and in between guiding Singaporean students up the mountain, I naturally did what every bug-crazy person would do; Keep a lookout for the local biodiversity, spiders in particular. Unfortunately, I did not have a camera back then and so I was not really able to properly document my observations, with the exception of some rather uneventful scribblings on my notebook. And somewhere on the pages of this notebook, lies a crude drawing of a large arboreal tarantula that I had seen previously near the Mountain' peak. A quick research online suggests that it could possibly be Cyriopagopus schioedtei. 


Cyriopagopus schiodtei; 8 inches of awesomeness. Shot earlier this year in West Malaysia.

Fast forward a few years later, I find myself in a room filled with like-minded friends, deciding on where to go for our next macro adventure. We shortlisted a few locations, and amongst those were Gunung Panti and of course, Endau Rompin National Park. While I was hoping to go back to Gunung Panti so I can make up for lost opportunities, we settled on Endau Rompin instead since most of us had never been there. Another crucial factor that influenced our decision was that Brandon had some direct contact with the National Park so the added convenience was definitely a plus. And since Endau Rompin is only a few kilometres away from where I first found the supposed Cyriopagopus schiodtei, I figured that it could still be well within the distribution range. There were also recorded sightings of another large blue-colored arboreal tarantula in Johor, so who knows what i might just find!


On the morning of July 29th, we set off at exactly 6am hoping to beat the morning jam at the Tuas Checkpoint. After clearing both customs, we made a quick pit-stop for some food before continuing on a 4-hour drive. We arrived at the National Park's main office at 11 am sharp, where we then switched our pretty little cars for some 4WD All-Terrain vehicles. We were also introduced to our friendly Park Guides, Mr. Saiful and Mr. Kadir whose main role is to in keep us safe and to ensure that we don't break any of the Park rules. They had it easy for the second part though - We are Singaporeans, we were born to follow Rules! Okay, just kidding. ;)

Over the period of 2 days, we ventured deep into the heart of the National Park 4 times and for the most part we had to do quite a bit of technical climbing in pretty treacherous conditions. Things got so dangerous at some point that we decided that it would be a lot safer for us to pack up our cameras because there was no way we could manoeuvre the natural obstacles with a brick strapped around our neck. Those decisions, however, presented us with a few missed opportunities - case in point - a sole Lantern Bug (never to be seen again) that was on a tree right next to a granite cliff that we were climbing. I also happened to spot a scorpion (Heterometrus sp.) happily crawling right under my feet as I struggled to ascend a steep bank en route to a waterfall. There was absolutely nothing that I could do besides yelling out in frustration to Brandon and James, "Guys, rare forest scorpion right under my feet now but there is no way I am letting go of this rope to grab my camera!" Well, I actually tried reaching for my camera but the idea of me plunging to my death for a scorpion was enough for me to second-guess myself. 

When all is said and done,  I just wished that I had taken more photographs. There were plenty of subjects, don't get me wrong, but most of them were not what I came to Endau Rompin for - Spiders. While we were able to find some really cool spiders, not one Tarantula was in sight, not even the widely-distributed Phlongiellus sp. On the other hand, Manoj (our resident moth-man), could not stop raving about the diversity of Moths in Endau. And he wasn't overreacting either - there were Moths literally everywhere. From the toilet to the dining hall, heck, I even had a tiny one flew into my mouth while yawning! I am not even surprised if it turned out to be an undescribed species. I will call it Unfornateus mothusa, until a scientist comes along and gives it a proper name.


Manoj setting up the light trap.

What do i actually think about this trip?  Overall the experience was good but the company made it a whole lot better. I absolutely enjoyed myself and I would gladly do it again. Having said that, we would probably go for the easier routes and saved ourselves some muscle cramps, the next time. If you are curious to know more about Endau Rompin and what really went on during this trip, please watch the videos below. I totally wrecked my drone in the process but it as worth it. Enjoy! *Click on the 1080p option for best viewing experience.



Part 1: Drone Footage of the Base camp and surrounding forest canopy.



Part 2: Behind-the-scenes footage.

Here are some of my favourite finds of the trip:


1. This tiny jumper landed on my arm while we were crossing a stream.


2. It has a legspan of about 2-3mm. It appears to be black when seen with the naked eye.


3. It was only after taking a few shots that I realised just how colourful it really is!


4. It looks very close to Simaetha sp., possibly yet to be described.


5. A beautiful Ctenidae, found amongst the forest floor. Possibly undescribed.



6. What struck me the most was the vibrant blue coloration.

7. Another thing that caught my eye was the white banding on leg 1. 



8. A crab spider that shares the same morphology as Camaricus maugei. The only difference is that it is predominantly green in colour instead of red!


9. It is smaller in size too, measuring in at less than 5mm.


10. Another wandering spider (Ctenidae) found resting on a decaying log.


11. Who knew it would look this attractive, up-close!


12. Cyclosa sp., with its nicely decorated web.


13. The stabilimentum is made up of prey remains and other debris, which probably serve to camouflage the spider. It has a legspan of just 3mm!


14. No idea what moth this is but I like it very much. Probably Ambulyx cf. obliterata as suggested by Manoj. Reminds me of a scene from Games of Thrones. "Winter is coming!!!"


15. A huge Atlas moth (Attacus atlas)



16. I do not usually get excited when I see moths but there are exceptions. This moth is absolutely beautiful!


17. It has a rather strange morphology for a moth, unlike what we are used to seeing. This is a bagworm moth from the genus Amatissa.


18. At the business end of the moth lies a rather strange appendage. Any idea what it does?


19. A large Sparassidae just a made kill..


20. And not just any kill..You know the bluish Ctenidae that we found earlier? Unfortunately, it was ambushed and killed by this Heteropoda sp. right after i took my final shot. Just another day in Endau Rompin National Park - Eat or be eaten!


21. Another Sparassidae found on a tree branch at eye-level. It is probably larger than my palm.


22. Mandatory close-up photo. I had to get into an awkward yoga-pose to frame this shot.


23. Another of my favourite - Heteropoda cf. davidbowie.


24. This stunning spider named was after one of my favourite pop artists of all time - the Late Mr. David Bowie. It was described and named by another legend - in the field of Arachnology -
Dr. Peter Jaeger.


25. Lizards are plentiful in Endau Rompin, but this has got to be my favourite.


26. The highly elusive Gonocephalus liogaster. Thanks to Kurt Orion for the ID suggestion.


27. A tiny Salticidae found on the forest floor. This looks pretty close to a female Parabathippus sp., due to its distinctively-shaped Chelicerae. Probably still a juvenile due its size.


28. Dorsal shot with the Raynox msn 202 attached.


29. Another juvenile specimen. Probably a young female Menemerus bivittatus. 


30. Not really into Mantises but this one caught my eye.


 31. Probably a Giant Malaysian Shield Mantis (Rhombodera basalts)


32. Another Sparassidae found on the forest floor. Probably Olios sp.



33. Dorsal shot of the same spider, in a classic Hunstman resting stance.


34. A beautiful Oxyopidae found next to a stream.


35. It was quite "cooperative" so might as well take the all-important dorsal shot!


36. I have seen quite a lot of these but never this huge. Pancorius cf. magnus with a desperate need of a shave.


37.  I spent about 30 minutes observing this Salticidae doing something rather strange - It kept circling and inspecting the cocoon but never really attempt to breach the "cage" that was covering the larvae inside. Was there something that was repelling the spider?


38. See anything?


39. Can you see it now? Lichen Huntsman (Pandercetes sp.)


40. Another jumper that I have not seen for a long time - Phintella cf. vitatta. Very tiny, with a legspan of around 3-5mm.


41. These spiders use UV-B rays to communicate and find a mate!


42. Female Phintella cf. versicolor, Up-close. It has a legspan of around 5mm. In my opinion, one of the harder spiders to photograph on this trip due to its size and colour - Very easy to overexpose, especially the setae on the clypeus!


43. Very pretty 'marbling' on her back.


44. A token Robberfly from the trip!


45. I have never seen a Sparassidae this tiny! Probably still a spiderling.


46. A Sparassidae cradling her precious egg sac. Probably Heteropoda sp.



47. Dorsal shot of mummy.


48. There were plenty of Trilobites in Endau Rompin. Feel free to browse through Manoj's blog at naturesamore.blogspot.com to see other cool invertebrates from this trip.


49. Now back to my favourite animal - Spiders.


50. Not sure what this is. Looks close to Burmattus sp., as suggested by Claveria. We found him at quite high elevation.


51. Another look at him looking back at you.


52. We spotted this unidentified Jumper during one of our more dangerous treks. It had fancy white "shoes" on and i just had to take a photo so i did what every crazy dedicated wildlife photographer would do - Snap some quick shots with one hand while holding a safety-rope in another!


53. I hate to say this but I do not think I would be able to pull this off with a regular DSLR in such a situation. The 5-axis stabilisation and focus-peaking on my OM-D EM1 was worth every dollar I spent on this camera!


54. Another jumper found resting on its makeshift hammock. It is a pretty rare sight considering that most jumpers prefer to hide instead of being out in the open when resting.


55. Epeus sp.? Another spider that is extremely hard to photograph - You either get them correctly exposed, or you don't!


56. Dorsal shot of the spider. It has a legspan of less than 10mm.


 57. Hot Herp, anyone? A gorgeousssSSs female Wagler's Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus cf. wager)


58. A freshly moulted Psechridae with a legspan of around 10mm.


59. It was exactly 4am when James noticed this Dung Beetle land on our front porch railing. Since Manoj and I were the only other human beings still awake that night, we unceremoniously decided that it would be a good idea to unpack our gears (which were neatly packed away an hour before) while taking turns to keep watch on the beetle. What goes on behind the scene was a sight to remember; 3 guys each armed with a reflector, an off-camera flash, and a camera, working together as if it was a beach wear photoshoot in Milan!

60. A well-deserved group photo after walking (mostly uphill) for more than 4 hours non-stop. Unfortunately, Calvin and Manoj had to wait for us at the base camp as they were unable to continue with the climb due to leg injuries. And of course, Special Thanks to Brandon for doing most of the-direct liaising with the National Park. 

That pretty much sums up our trip. There were many other interesting bugs that were spotted (and photographed) like moths, mantises, etc, but I think I would leave it to Manoj to fill you in on the rest. Feel free to ask me questions should you have any and I would gladly answer them. Thanks for reading and until next time!