de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2009). Amongst the dragonflies in Kitulgala. Living. January – February 2010. Pages 28-29. Volume 5, Issue 3. ISSN 1800-0746.
Searching for dragonflies and other wildlife at Kitulgala with dragonfly expert Karen Conniff.

“We have a Common Nawab” called out naturalist Wicky Wickremesekera. The Common Nawab is a strikingly patterned butterfly which I had seen only once before in Sri Lanka. I had photographed it in the Thattekad Reserve in South India and had used the image in a photographic poster which had depicted 132 species of butterflies. I could do with an image taken in Sri Lanka. But I was in a dilemma. I was at work with a Jungle Threadtail, one of a family of damselflies which has seven species in Sri Lanka. All seven of the Sri Lankan species are endemic. The jungle Threadtail is not particularly rare if you are in the right forested stream habitat. But I was loathe to leave the individual I had.

I was at the Royal River Resort in Kithulgala. A bold experiment in building a small hotel, perched precariously besides the bank of a stream which plunged precipitously down a steep slope on the northern bank of the Kelaniya River, across from the Kelani Valley Reserve better known simply as Kithulgala. The walkway leading to the restaurant allowed light to penetrate which made it easier to photograph species such as the Jungle Threadtail which is often seen close to the dimly lit forest floor. I was sprawled across the edge of an artificial pond, well balanced, to steady my camera. I was under ideal conditions to photograph. I was in a dilemma. Jungle Threadtail or Common Nawab?

A damselfly in the hand is worth two butterflies flitting in the bush and I stayed with my shot. Not for long before running over to where the Common Nawab was. Well, to be more precise where it was last seen. Oh well, there was a Sri Lanka Cascader, dangling down from a leaf on the balcony of Dan Powell’s room. So I turned my attention to it. “It’s a female” pointed out Karen Conniff, our guest expert on the British Dragonfly Society’s tour. I had not photographed the female of this dragonfly before. So that was nice plus.

Sometimes you get lucky. The Common Nawab returned to the same pile of animal faeces it had been sipping minerals from. Well it could have been another individual, but I assumed it was the same individual after more Phosphorous. Adult butterflies normally feed on energy rich nectar. They can occasionally be seen ‘mud sipping’ which allows them to obtain scarce minerals such as Phosphorous. They are also more settled and offer a better opportunity to photograph when they are thus occupied. This is especially true of the Common Nawab which usually frequents the high canopy. The group had its fill of an obliging butterfly which permitted a lot of photography. A Blurry Forestdamsel also posed obligingly. It was a male with a dab of blue at then end of its abdomen. In the dim light it shone like a beacon.

There had been rain recently and the rocky stream thundered as it flowed down the gravity gradient. Somewhere on its way to join the Kelani River, its energy was harnessed in a mini-hydro to provide electricity for the resort. We had to adopt a mix of raising our voices and partly miming to make ourselves heard and understood.  An experience I am more familiar with in London’s night clubs.

The background roar of water rushing to meet the sea did little to detract from the cuisine. A delicious lunch of Sri Lankan cuisine was richly deserved followed by some of the best Carrot Cake I have eaten. The more indulgent had a rich chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. Just as well a long walk followed, through the rubber plantation which led up to the resort. We were surprised at the richness of species that still could be seen amongst the seeps, that flowed down the hill side. More dragonflies, frogs, and a large black spider with red spots came to the attention of the photographers. Andy, an amateur herpetologist over-turned rocks and logs and uncovered a pair of Scorpions and a Three-toed Skink. The latter is a species of fossorial skink that has nearly lost its limbs. The scorpions were black and held their tails arched over their back. At the end of the tail was a stinger. We took care to stay out of reach of the stinger as the poison could be extremely painful.

I was glad I had come up with my team to meet this group of Britons. We had seen more as a result. It always helps to see the world though fresh eyes.