de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2006). Butterflying in Kandalama. Living in Sri Lanka. November-December 2006. Page 92-93. Volume 02, Issue 2. ISSN 1800-0746
A cultural triangle experience.

It was the first week of August and Lewis Borg-Cardona was back in town to prepare an update of the in-flight program for Sri Lankan Airlines. Lewis had read my story on The Gathering of Elephants and was keen to incorporate it into the next issue of the in-flight radio program. He was also keen on an interview of the behind the scenes story of Vil Uyana, the artificially created private wetland reserve and up-market hotel being constructed in Sigiriya. To help him with the radio stories, I drove up with naturalist guide Wicky Wickremesekera and checked in at the Amaya Lake. The Amaya Lake is one of many properties in the Cultural Triangle which is fabulous for birders and nature enthusiasts. A visitor walking around the grounds of a hotel such as this, the Sigiriya Village, Chaaya Village and Lodge Habarana will feel that they are on the grounds of a private nature reserve. As we had time on our hand before the rendezvous with Lewis, en route to Vil Uyana we decided to first visit the archaeological site of Kaludiya Pokuna. The archeological site has a few ruins including a stupa and looks like something out of a setting in an Indiana Jones film. The approach is very pleasant on a dirt track which passes paddy and vegetable cultivations. It is typically rural Sri Lanka. The cultivation gives way to beautiful stands of tall, dry monsoon forest. In August, the forest which is deciduous had not yet begun to shed it leaves in earnest. As the north-east monsoon was only two to three months away, I found that surprising.

Kaludiya Pokuna is at the base of a long rocky ridge on the northern periphery of the Knuckles range. As a result the forest is more intermediate in character than dry zone. I have seen Black Bulbul here, a bird more typical of wet zone forests. I had also seen Black Eagle soaring over the tree-capped rocky ridges. Ravi Silva, the famous environmentalist from Kandalama Hotel, had told me that he has recorded the montane endemic, Dusky-blue Flycatcher. Clearly it is an exciting place for biologists as it is at the junction of different climatic zones with some species being at an extremity of their range.

We arrived around noon and there were a lot of butterflies active on a warm day. We decided to focus on butterflies because of the time of day and also to further road test the first edition of the Photo Booklet on the Butterflies of Sri Lanka and Southern India. Dozens of Albatrosses ceaselessly patrolled the road. A few engaged in spiraling aerial duels as males fought each other to woo females. Blue Tigers perched on the end of slender twigs with no leaves. Soon another would come and flush a perched butterfly as they jostled for prime position.

A male Dark Wanderer flashed past it wings shining a sky blue. The black edging to the wing was almost invisible as it flew. Later we watched female sipping nectar from flowers. The female looks very different from the male. In fact it looks like a different species altogether. At first I thought it was a Blue Tiger. Fortunately I moved closer to take a picture and realised it was not. A male Cruiser alighted briefly. This is another species where the male and female look very different. The male has orange upperparts and the female has powder blue upperparts.

A species of Line Blue was barely visible to the eye as it flitted around on the dry bed of an ephemeral stream. We poured water onto the stream bed from a nearby well. Before long it had attracted half a dozen Albatrosses and a few Chestnut-streaked Sailors. A Tamil Yeoman danced around the trees, it orange wings flashing like an orange beacon, as the sun shone through it. It drew me into the interior like some spirit luring me into the forest. Suddenly, it vanished into the gloom of the forest.

The forest was fairly quiet except for a steady background of strumming cicadas. A Toque Monkey coughed occasionally. Suddenly a few hysterical screams rent the air as two troops engaged in a border clash. The fight was short lived and peace returned to the forest. In retrospect the coughs of the Toque was probably a threat call by the monkeys of one troop to another.

Chocolate Soldiers and Crimson Roses were other species which added to a lively butterfly safari. Delightful names and delightful creatures which en-livened a forest which had otherwise gone quiet in the heat of the noon day sun. The forest itself is so beautiful and so little dry zone forest remains which have such splendid trees with inter-twined lianas.

If Birders bird, do butterfly watchers butterfly? With more and more popular literature on butterflies becoming available the number of people butterflying is likely to grow.

With frequent media appearances, Gehan is a well known writer, photographer, wildlife populariser and tourism personality. E-mail him at gehan@jetwing.lk to subscribe to his wildlife e-newsletter.