Nilgala Field Visit
Butterfly Conservation Society of Sri Lanka conducted its first field excursion for the year 2014 on February 21st - 24th to another butterfly paradise located in Monaragala District called "Nilgala". Nilgala forest reserve is located at the border of the Gal - Oya national park where it has mainly three vegetation types; savannah grassland, forest and scrubland. It was an intermediate zone where we were able to observe several butterfly species during our field visit. There were 15 participants who were enthusiastic to observe the behavior of Lepidoptera in the field. We started our journey from the University of Colombo by around 2100 hrs on 21st of February.
After a long journey through the night we arrived at the Pitakumbura village on the next morning. After the arrival, we had our morning breakfast at Soome uncle's house (a Villager) that helped us a lot during our visit. Our plan for Day one was to follow the footpath from the Pitakumbura village, heading to the Buddhist monastery, which is known as “Maldam Ambe Aranya Senasanaya”, situated at the border of the forest reserve.With the sunrise, the morning mist was disappeared, allowing sunlight to reach the ground through the branches of the trees and it was a fantastic morning. By around 9.30 in the morning, the footpath had enough sunlight to activate the little flying creatures. This time we came across the Sri Lankan Birdwing (Troidesdarsius) the national butterfly of our country basking in the sunlight with open wings on top of a tree. The sight of this giant butterfly gave us a clue that this field visit will be a great one, with lots of butterflies during the trip. By around 1130 hrs we arrived at the Buddhist monastery,which was a marvelous creation of nature. The whole monastery is built on 4 natural rock caves. At the monastery, the Buddhist monk taught us a small meditation lesson which refreshed our minds.
After lunch, in the afternoon we went on searching for butterflies around the monastery. We were able to identify Spotless Grass Yellow (Eurema laeta),Baronet (Symphaedra nais) mud puddling on the foot path, Sri Lankan Jewel Four-ring (Ypthima singala) an endemic species in Sri Lanka, Sri Lankan Tamil Bush Brown (Mycalesis subdita) another endemic to our country, and plenty of Plumbeous Silverlines (Spindasis schistacea) along the foot path, Tawny Rajah (Charaxes psaphon) a fast flying butterfly went above the tree tops and disappeared quickly in the forest and some other commoner butterflies in this afternoon. The first day at Nilgala forest reserve by BCSSL was successfully finished and we returned to the monastery which was our base camp for the 3 days.
In the night Mr. Himesh Jayasinghe who is our leader, briefed us about the next days’ plan and then we prepared the checklist of the butterflies we had observed during the day. It was a record of 69 butterflies for the day. As it was a tiresome day, we had our dinner and went to sleep early. Night at the rock cave was a marvelous one which was a great experience for us.
On day two, our plan was to cover the roadside of the path to Gal - Oya national park and to carry out a butterfly counting program in the area. Butterfly counting was an idea from our butterfly specialist Mr. Himesh Jayasinghe to collect quantitative data about the population of different butterfly species. The main purposes of BCSSL butterfly Count Program;
- Gather data that can be used by researchers, butterfly lovers to learn about butterfly distributions, abundances, etc.
- The Counts promote socialization among butterflies and help to create new butterfly enthusiasts.
- Helping to move us in the direction of more conservation activities involving butterflies.
- Butterfly counting programs provide data not only for the park, but also contribute to long-term, nationwide monitoring of butterfly populations.
After having breakfast, we all moved on to the location. All the participants in the field visit were divided into 4 groups with a team leader for each group. The task for each group was to count and record the butterflies in the families that, they are assigned to.
- Papilionidae, Pieridae - Indika Jayatissa (Leader), Sampath, Kalee, Prathiba, Nimalka
- Nymphalidae - Nayana Wijayathilaka (Leader), Narmada, Kasun Pradeepa, Rukmal
- Lycaenidae, Riodinidae - Malinga Prabhasara (Leader), Sankalpa Fernando, Nuwan Thotawaththa, Amila Nirmal, Malaka Palliyaguruge
- Hesperiidae - Himesh Jayasinghe (Leader)
We started the counting at 0845hrs and finished in 1530hrs in the afternoon. The exact location was Nilgala (Bowella Oya to Beet office including the anicut). The total count of all the butterflies recorded was 728. Other than the butterfly count, Mr. Himesh also recorded the Laval feeding plants of butterflies in the area and it was 139 feeding plants he recorded in the area. It was a good record and we were able to observe a small migration pattern of Albatrosses sp. Some of the special butterfly species that we come through during the observations were Dingy Lineblue (Petrelaea dana), Common Rose (Pachliopta aristolochiae), Blue Mormon (Papilio polymnestor), Tamil Yeoman (Cirrochroa thais), Chestnut Streaked Sailor (Neptis jumbah), Hampson's Hedge Blue (Acytolepis lilacea), and Golden Angle (Caprona ransonnettii) etc.
It was an unforgettable return from the park as we had to walk around 10km in the wild due to an engine failure in the bus. With the fear of wild elephants we came along the forest reserve, and by around 1930hrs we returned to the monastery safely. After a quick dinner, we were done for day two with lots of knowledge, adventure and fun.
24th of February 2014, it was the last day of our field visit. As our bus had an engine trouble, we had to leave from Nilgala earlier than we planned. So we had to limit the time of our morning plan to 1130hrs. Therefore, after having a quick breakfast, we went on a small hike on a mountain near the monastery. The most notable observations at the base of the mountain were Blue Pansy female (Junonia orithya) which we couldn't capture any clear shot and Large Oakblue (Arhopala amantes) settle on a tree top. Though it was a sunny weather at the beginning, we all caught a sudden heavy rain at the top of the mountain making all of us wet. The wet rock made us in a big trouble and we were trapped on the top of the mountain for about 45 minutes. Then finally we reached down safely and it was a terrifying moment.
Among the other wildlife, birds were the most abundant and we observed a Jungle Owlet in the early morning on the day two at the footpath to the monastery. Other than the birds we were able to identify a large gecko - Calodactylodes illingworthorum at the rock cave. As it was too late we start returning to Colombo at around 1430hrs after thanking to the Buddhist monk at the monastery and also the kind villager Soome uncle who helped us a lot throughout the trip. Packing tied in a van, we returned to Colombo via Mahiyanganaya - Kandy road and then Kandy - Colombo road. We reached the Colombo University at about 2230 hrs ending another marvelous successful field visit by BCSSL with a count of more than 75 butterfly species.