BUTTERFLY SAFARI IN TOWN
de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2008). Butterfly Safari in Town. Living. September-October 2008. Pages 42-43. Volume 4, Issue 1. ISSN 1800-0746.
Gehan finds winged beauty in unexpected quarters of a busy city.
July 2006 closed with a hot sunny day and I started that day with a butterfly safari on the eight perches of land which makes our back garden. Usually, if I am in Colombo on a week-end, the temptation is to head off to Talangama at first light. A late return from a party found me still lingering bleary eyed at home at nine in the morning. Eight perches of garden was being allowed to gradually run its course as a little sanctuary for wildlife. It seemed like a good place to starts the day’s nature watching. Eleven year old Maya, six year old Amali and a friend of theirs followed me on a butterfly safari in the back garden. Over the last year, the non-native shrubs which had been planted to cover the bare soil had been partly replaced with a mix of native plants which are the food plants for the adults or larvae of butterflies.
The beautiful Common Jezebel was flying high as usual. A Grass Yellow flew around too rapidly for me to be sure whether it was the Common or Three-spot Grass Yellow. Tailed Jays quivered around. The adults sipped nectar from a Murunga tree. A Common Mormon flew past without stopping, although at times they stop to feed on nectar on the flowers of the Ixora. The Psyche and the White Four-ring kept low amongst the ground-hugging shrubs. A few Common Palmflies were still spiraling in combat, with their territories centered around a single Cycad tree. A few Plains Cupids were still active and engaging in aerial duels. A Common Crow and a Common Tiger added to a respectable tally of butterflies for a back garden in Colombo. With more attention to butterfly gardening we should be able to attract even more species.
With butterflies and dragonflies in mind I set off to the Kotte Marshes, accessed from the Sri Lanka Nippon Mawatha, near the football training center. I arrived after eleven in the morning, well past the time I would usually arrive on a week-end. If birding was the objective I would have been here at dawn and left around eight in the morning. A nice feature of butterflies and dragonflies is that they become active just as when the activity of birds decline. A juvenile Marsh Dancer damselfly was perched in the shade. A few feet away I found an adult with its body gleaming a metallic blue. In poor light it can look almost black. Lemon Emigrants, Common Jezebel and Grass Yellows were sipping nectar from Balu Nakuta. Tailed Jays were abundant. Their larvae feed on the Divi Kaduru plant. The footpaths of the marshes were lined with Wal Anoda (Annona glabra), some of which were being pruned back by a group of local people engaged in a shramadana.
A Green Skimmer dragonfly flew past with something large dangling from its mouth. It perched and I watched it devour a hapless female Pied Parasol dragonfly. All dragonflies are voracious predators. But each of these hunters are hunted in turn by other hunters. A female Scarlet Basker dragonfly bore little resemblance to the all scarlet male. It reminded me of a tiger with brownish black rings against a yellowish body. It kept adopting the ‘obelisk position’, to minimise the heating effect of the sun. Painted Waxtails and Yellow Waxtail damselfies kept low. A dark butterfly drew my attention. It was a Chocolate Soldier. Soon I noticed a few more. The Common Sailors which had been frequent in my previous visits a few months ago were absent. A site like the Kotte Marshes is never the same on two different days.
The going was good. I wondered whether I would see a species of butterfly I had not yet recorded in the Colombo district. By an amazing co-incidence a Yamfly caught my eye just a few minutes later. Its a distinctive butterfly with orange underparts and a pair of tails on its hind wings. The Yamfly hardly ever opens the upper wings completely open. But when it partially opens its wings, one can see a black tip contrasting with a bright orange upper surface. It is in the family Lycaenidae with the ‘blues’. But unlike the confusingly similar blues, the Yamfly is easily identified. I have previously encountered this butterfly only in the lowland rainforest sites of Sinharaja and Morapitiya, on the exposed logging roads leading to the dense rainforest. At the Kotte Marshes it was in a densely shaded path covered on either side with Wal Anoda.
My list of butterflies recorded from Colombo, mainly at Talangama and Kotte Marshes now stands around 45. This is without trying very hard. I am sure the list for the Colombo District would probably approach seventy five plus species even now, despite the destruction of habitat which has taken place. One need not travel far from even a crowded metropolis to enjoy wildlife, if one can learn to appreciate the smaller animals.