Our current time zone: GMT +8 (We're home in Singapore!)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

There Goes A Butterfly

This entry is dedicated to a little girl who just turned two. Little Miss Kayli Mae loves butterflies and remembers that Auntie Lin showed her some of these pretty yellow winged creatures at the Botanic Gardens earlier this year. Apparently, during the days leading up to the biology lesson, I also imparted my habit of exclaiming "goodness!" at anything worth exclaiming about (butterflies included) before leaving Singapore. Miss K has since paired "goodness!" with the action of placing both hands on her cheeks for more dramatic effect. Goodness indeed!

So I hope she likes this entry - a step-by-step picture guide to these lucky creatures that get to transform from awful creepy crawlies into revered things of beauty. Hopefully, she will be able to teach my kids a thing or two about butterflies next time (hear ye, hear ye, K's Mummy!)

Located 2 hours north of Ecuador in the cloud forest, Mindo is a birdwatcher's paradise. Straddling the Equator and housing a variety of ecological systems and different habitat types (i.e. high-altitude grasslands, cloud forests, tropical rainforests and coastal lowlands), Ecuador is deemed a "megadiversity hot spot" for it's many species of plants and wildlife.

Birds alone number about 1,500 different species - twice the number found in North America, Europe or Australia. Goodness! (I'm not sure how Singapore - also renown for its biodiversity - compares with Ecuador in terms of bird species. Any bird-lovers out there who can help advise?) Many of Ecuador's colourful feathered friends can be spotted in Mindo. For such an amazing hotspot for birdwatching, Mindo received surprisingly little mention in our Lonely Planet South America guide - it was unceremoniously lumped under the generic heading "Western Andean Slopes." If we hadn't met a friendly Canadian couple in Colombia who waxed lyrical about this place, we would have overlooked Mindo altogether. Goodness!

Other than birds, Mindo's other winged residents include butterflies, many of which are farmed in butterfly gardens around the town. When the Canadians first told us about butterfly and orchid gardens, my first thought was "Well, yeah, okay. We have these in Singapore too. Nothing new to us." Then they blurted out the magic carrot - hummingbirds, "hundreds of hummingbirds" (goodness!) and that got us - hook, line and sinker. But more on the birds later. This entry is on butterflies.

We were pleasantly surprised when the owner of a hostel in Bogota said that he had been to Singapore, and that what he remembered and liked about most was the butterfly garden on Sentosa. That was a refreshing change from people telling us that they have only been to Changi Airport (which they loved!!) I briefly remember not ever wanting to visit the butterfly garden as a child but inadvertently being made to go on school excursions. We would swat away flies and pinch our noses to protect ourselves against the offensive rankness of rotting bananas and pineapples stewing in the humid, tropical heat. Well, glad to know that someone actually liked the experience! Goodness!

We set off on a walk on the outskirts of town, hoping to photograph some hummingbirds at Restaurante El Siete (which turned out to be really far to get to by foot.) Along the way, we were greeted by some very friendly Ecuadorian policia (smile and wave!) who turned off the main road and drove down a nearby dirt path leading to one Mindo Lago resort. Signs pointing to the resort advertised Mindo Lago as the place for photographers to stake out insects and the likes at the resort's butterfly garden and frog pond. That was enough to distract us from our hummingbird hunt for an afternoon and lure us to the reception, where we willingly paid US$3 each just to enter the premises. Goodness!

Walking through Mindo's cloud forest

I was showing Dan a flower that I picked and a butterfly came straight for it and landed on my wrist! Goodness!

The frog pond and cabins at Mindo Lago resort

To make your US$3 worth it, the residents in the butterfly garden are neatly displayed in their various stages of development and a staff gives visitors a brief overview of the exhibits. The little creatures graduate through a series of coops upon reaching their key milestones (sounds exactly like corporate life) at each stage of their lives.

The first hatch held a cabbage-ful of very hungry caterpillars, all ravenously chomping away incessantly on fresh leafy greens (yums!) with their tiny mouths. I have no affinity for these soft jelly-like creatures. As a child, I would scour through pot after pot of ferns for the Tan family's Public Enemy Number 1 by following their poop trail and then triumphantly present my findings to my parents. The pair of hardcore botanists would revel in snipping the green/black/hairy buggers cleanly (except for the occasional spillage of green gut juices) in half with their pruning shears, and fling the jelly carcasses far away from their beloved ferns for the birds to eat. Goodness!

With my caterpillar hunting skills deep in recession ever since I outgrew Sunday afternoon gardening sessions with my parents, my skin immediately crawled at the sight of Their Royal Creepiness but I stuck my camera into their little faces to get some shots. With my Sony Cybershot on super-macro mode, mind you (i.e. no zoom function) and not from afar with a telephoto lens. Goodness!

Eggs in a tin

Encounters of the spiky kind

Hey buddy, you're suppose to eat leaves, not blue string!

The second hatch housed rows and rows of chrysalis - silent, still and so very delicate.

Starting to look better as a chrysalis

The final cage - the entire garden encased in netting - was where the creatures lived out the final stages of their lives as butterflies.

The secret ingredient to a great butterfly collection - ixora!

The One That Did Not Move (I think it was too super old) made a great model

Big bulging eyes - all the better to see you with


Ooooh, shiny! I like!

My Sony Cybershot churns out kick-ass macro and super-macro photos. But first, you have to get really close to the subject.

A couple of other inhabitants took a liking to the sunny garden, with it's fragrant flowers and sloshing miniature ponds, and got down to making it their home too.

Crab spider with a pretty bejeweled bodice

This fierce little guy was all ready to jump onto the lens at further provocation

Photographing butterflies is very hard work. Our faces were flooded in perspiration and our limbs itching with mozzie bites (you can't slap mozzies without sending the butterflies into a fluttery panic.) So we headed for the pond... to photograph dragonflies and damselflies! As if those were any easier to snap!

Dannie was quite enchanted by the needle-thin damselflies with their bright blue butts. Long, skinny creatures (like giraffes, pipe/flute/trumpet fish, etc) are the hardest to photograph cos you have to zoom out to fit the entire animal in the frame, leaving you with lots of empty background space, which tends to make the subject smaller and less impressive.

The waif look is back in fashion

Even strange UFOs get featured in our blog - doesn't matter if we don't know what you are!

And this, I realise, has been a very long entry with lots of talk and almost 20 photos!

Now, let's all say it together, "Goodness!"


Stephanie said...


liming said...

How did you manage to take such close shots of the butterflies?

See Khiang said...

Goodness! You're talking about imaginary kids awfully often, aren't you? :)

Anyway, seeing that you're not going to be back any time before Nov, I should probably tell you that I will be a dad (to a real boy) by the time you do! :))

Yi Lin said...

Steph: Yeah! This was just a small garden though, so not a huge variety of species. I think there was a bigger butterfly garden outside of town - saw a pic of a GIANT butterfly resting on a kid's hand.

Liming: It's amazingly tiring lor. You either have to sneak up on them or stand super still (near the ixoras) and just wait for them to land near you. Zoom in to the max and try not to shake. My face was pouring with sweat from the concentration (which in return, makes it even harder to concentrate!) I had to crop some of the pix to make the subject larger - so it helps to take photos at the highest res poss. The closest one I got to was the brown one, which really.didn't.move. Ever.

SK: Congrats!! Can't wait to meet your real boy (not Pinocchio, I see) when we get back. Post pix of him once he arrives please? And yeah, I was talking about this trip years before I actually did it. So it's the same with the Kids Plan! Talk first. The time for carrying out the plan follows later!

Lint said...

HAHAH!!! I remember this:
"triumphantly present my findings to my parents."

.....The only way to make them proud.

Yi Lin said...

Yeah, other than naming every plant you see while cruising down the ECP. And the difference between burnt soil and top soil and fertilizers. Things got less gory when we got the pond and the creepy criminals just got tossed full-bodied (as opposed to disembodied) in as live feed for the fish.

What on earth are you doing up at 5am?! Staying up just to read our blog? Nice sister! :)

Lint said...

Struggling with Wordpress lah....can't decipher it for shit.
Dulce jada and I coming up with our line. So trying to figure out how to work it.

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