de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2004). Butterflies of Wasgomuwa. Serendipity. July 2004. Page 8.
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne goes butterfly watching in Wasgamuwa
The road beyond Meda Pitiya to the Sudu Kanda area terminating at Kiri Oya was more thickly wooded than elsewhere in the park. The somewhat hilly terrain and the presence of water made the forest more intermediate zone than dry zone in character. I was driving slowly along the shaded jeep track when I first encountered my quarry. Now, I was following the animal, slowly and cautiously, keeping about fifty meters behind it. I was hoping it would pause somewhere as it patrolled along the road. A pause would allow me a chance to photograph it. I had encountered this animal many times in the dry zone national parks, but had never been able to capture it on film. My quarry suddenly veered away from the road, sailed away over the tops of the trees and flew out of sight. I had been following a Great Orange-tip. A beautiful butterfly, with white wings, with its wings dipped in deep orange. The wingspan is nearly larger than the palm of a man.
I was disappointed that the Great Orange-tip had once again eluded my efforts to photograph it, part of an on-going quest to photograph as many species as possible of Sri Lanka ‘s butterfly fauna. But I could not be too disappointed. I had enjoyed a fantastic butterfly watching session on that road. Although the rest of the park had been fairly poor for butterflies during the second week of June, the Sudu Kanda area had been superb. Banded Peacocks in shimmering blue green had danced across the road. Common Mormons, Common Sailors, various grass yellows and Common Roses were regularly seen on the road. I had a few sightings of the male of the Dark Wanderer, with its beautiful powder blue wings with tracings of black. A male Blue Mormon, one of the two largest butterflies in the country had settled down on a stream bed. It was ‘mud puddling’, an activity in which they extend their proboscis and drink mineral rich solutions from the soil.
My real success was when I passed a Tamil Yeoman fluttering besides the road. It is an Orangish butterfly with delicate filagree in black and the tips of its forewings edged in black. The Tamil Yeoman is a regularly encountered along forested paths and I turned around and came back for a better look. The butterfly had settled on an exposed sandy patch on which I noticed more butterflies mud puddling. The sandy stretch was not damp with running water and I suspected they maybe absorbing minerals passed through the urine of an animal. The Tamil Yeoman was being kept company by at least two species of “Blues”. These belong to a highly diverse family of butterflies in a family known as the Lyceanidae. They are famous for certain associations between butterflies and species of ants, in which the ants tend the young caterpillars in exchange for a sugary excretion. The ‘blues’ are also famous or notorious for being difficult to identify. Suddenly a flash of bright copper caught my eye. A butterfly flashed by with its wings alternating between a fiery copper and the white of its underside. This was an Indian Sunbeam, another member of the Lyceanidae, but larger than the many small blues which was a feature of this butterfly. Luck was on my side and the aptly named Sunbeam settled on a rock allowing me to photograph its whitish underwing view. I waited patiently for it to open its wings and show the brightly colored upperside. Although it failed to do so, the wait was rewarded by the visits of a few more species of butterflies. A Chocolate Soldier flew by and a male Common Baron settled on the ground. Its wings were a dull brown, but occasionally it gleamed a bronzy green as the flicker sunlight gave an iridescent glow. A Chestnut-streaked Sailor also settled down to mud puddle. It can be easily overlooked for the Common Sailor, but subtle differences in the upper and underwing patterns will help an alert observer to tell them apart.
Perched motionless was a Damselfly with a blunt. Blue tips to its abdomen. I could not identify the species, but I photographed it, although the my attention was on the show being put on by the butterflies. I had promised my host Sunela Jayawardene that I will be back by 10.00am to take more photographs of Dunuvila Cottage before the light became too harsh. The butterflies had departed my exit from Wasgamuwa National Park and it now would be closer to 12 noon before I returned. I knew on the drive back, I could leisurely think of a few excuses. The simplest would be to blame my indiscipline on the butterflies of Wasgamuwa.
The writer is the CEO of a Wildlife & Luxury Travel Company. To receive his free, monthly wildlife e-Newsletter, e-mail him at gehan@jetwing.lk with “Subscribe Wildlife News” in the message header.