Meethirigala One-day Field Visit

by Thejani Kumari Tennakoon

It was a morning filled with heavy skies from the downpour the night before. Nonetheless gay abundant were all in the perspective of the journey that lay ahead and the secret lives to which they were to lay there eyes upon / and the jewels to which they were to lay their eyes upon. Nonetheless everyone was with high hopes at the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

There it began a 2 hour journey to the middle kingdom of Meethrigala. Unlike all human beings we as usuall were bound to an extra set of meals and it was not soon before a pit stop was made to fill our tummies. After eating to more than our stomachs could hold and several wrong turns we reached our destination, a mirk wood, a dense forest, a site of beauty, the ‘Meethirigala Nissarana Aranya Senasanaya”. It was around 9.00 am when we got out armed with our weapons of choice.

Lay infornt were two paths of which we chose to go straight, the path towards the village that we later found out was a great choice despite the fact that the villagers used it as their mini highway with vehicles of all shapes and sizes passing us at lightning speeds honking all the way.

On either side of the road was the forest with trees reaching up to the skies and vanes the thickness of my noodly arms trying to reach above one another to get to the sun that lay beyond. Through this ran a stream of which the trickling sound we could hear faintly.

I was lost in the thoughts and sights and not to mention the anticipation of a leech attack when the reverie was suddenly broken by the appearance of a Brown breasted flycatcher, a winter migrant. Shown with sunlight were its lightyellowish beak and a white eye rim that gave us hope and a good start to the day that lay ahead. A good star it was indeed as we were given front row seats to a bird symphony starring many Brown breasted flycatchers and a large billed leaf warbler who managed to evade us to the days end.

The damp and humid weather kept the birds active while it left the butterflies at bay till the golden beams from the high heavens reached forest floor. The birds though did not disappoint us at all as it was not long before we encountered a mixed feeding flock consisting of Scarlet(Flame) minivets, Tickel’s blue flycatchers, Dark fronted babblers, and Black napped monarchs. The sounds they gave away filled the air and echoed away into the deep forest.

Another howl came in when we laid our eyes upon a golden fronted leaf bird pair of which the identity was confirmed after several back and forth arguments as to the species being it or the Jerdon’s leaf bird. The male and female foraged nearby along with some Tickel’s blue flycathcers and Dark fronted babblers before vanishing away into the thicket. Birds were kind on us and a Bar winged flycatcher shrike also showed itself for a brief moment before parting away silently.

The Clipper was the first of the few butterflies that were brave enough to straighten up the wings that morning and a few more appeared soon after joined by a Common Blue bottle. Several Blue morman and a Tailed jay along with some Lycanides gave us hope of good vibes ahead in the open patch.

Fresh from a workshop on Spider identification the troop were very quick to put their skills to the test by spotting and identifying the ample spider and arachnid fauna that lay hidden as well as right in front of our eyes.

Our initial plan was to reach the open paddy fields that lay at the end of the road at the forest end. But by the time we reached the forest end it was noon and we still had another 1 Km to go towards the patch. Thus it was with great difficulty that we abandoned the thought of observing more butterflies and started our trek back to where the junction lay. The highlight on the way back was the siting of an Ahetulla by a lucky few who went ahead hurriedly so as to do justice to the tummy worms.

The village dogs greeted us with enthusiasm and kept us company till the much anticipated food arrived. Joined us a little later was a troop of macaques who managed to keep us locked in the bus for a good hour or so till we ate inside cramped up and sweating like pigs the highlight being the ample kochchi that was added to everyone’s lunch which I don’t think helped much with the sweating situation.

After almost evading some rabies shots we packed our bags to head into the 2 nd path which lead to the temple itself. It was close to 2 o’clock and signs of rain were looming about. Nevertheless we were not about to leave without our fair share of butterfly sightings. Lucky were we for within the short amount of time the sun was shown, came out a few butterflies, the first of which was a Common banded demon, a Hespariide of which the discussion went on about whether it was indeed a Common banded or Restircted demon. It was then we heard the squeals of joy from another member that by the time we turned had gone deep into a bamboo bush to take a closer look at a Sri Lankan Cingalase Bushbrown. A male Blue Admiral decided to fly by before we started our trek deep in. It’s not long before we encountered another hesperiide that goes by the name Chestnut bob. Blue mormans were plenty and so were Lycanides. But the highlight here was the Blue demon that got us all by surprise as we packed everything and got ready to face the torrentials that were coming our way. It was other worldly, looking like a weighless white kite with dark blue to black and orange dot patterns spanning its wings.

Soon came down the high heavens with its all might to which we all had nothing to do but surrender and come running back with all the valuables tucked in to be protected from the rain. There we said our good byes to the few village dogs that hung around with some tasty morsels in the form of biscuits before begining our homeward journey around 4 pm in the afternoon. Determined not to be held back by the rains we decided to stop by a paddy field which was filled with egrets, herons, Asian open bills and swallows and swifts. It truly was worth it for we were able to lay our eyes on more than 35 Barn Swallows along with a few Sri Lanka Swallows.

Raining though it was the joy it bought was immense, to be running around in the rain with water in between the fingers making weird noises taking us back to the days of our youth. This was with open mouths some villagers looked at thinking whatever is wrong with these kids. All in all it was a good day hanging around with a set of likeminded nature lovers whose jokes revolved around bird calls of corrugatus.