Morapitiya - Runakanda Field Visit

by Ruwangika Gunawardana

The Butterfly Conservation Society of Sri Lanka set out on a journey to Runakanda rainforest on November 12th, 2016, their last field trip for the year. As per the usual, the journey started from Faculty of Science, University of Colombo; two vans with a team of about 22. After a few hours of travel, we arrived at the Runakanda Conservation Center, which is situated a few miles away from Baduraliya town. Runakanda Conservation Center has been initiated by and is maintained by the society 'Friends of Biodiversity' (FOBD).

After settling down, we were given an introduction about the Runakanda Proposed Forest Reserve by Mr. Udaya Chanaka, the president of FOBD. A lesser known destination for travel enthusiasts, Runakanda is astonishingly rich in biodiversity. May it be mammals, insects, birds, reptiles or amphibians, this place claims for a wide variety of it. The Maguru Ganga river gushing through the village adds beauty to the forest while sustaining an exceptionally rich aquatic life. Runakanda is adjoining Sinharaja rainforest on one side, hence sharing many qualities with it.

After being served a delicious and healthy lunch, we set out again for a stroll around Maguru Ganga. The place was an epitome of unspoiled beauty and tranquility. After some exploring we decided to take a bath in the river, and got caught up in the rain at the same time. Steaming cups of cinnamon tea were awaiting us when we got back to the lodge. Mr. Himesh Jayasinghe conducted an interesting lecture on fish, where the basic anatomy, freshwater fish species of Sri Lanka, and the aquatic population in Runakanda were discussed. After dinner, we made the checklists for the day, and everyone had a good time singing late into the night.

The next day dawned with the chirp of many a bird. The feeding board at the lodge was the perfect spot for birdwatchers. The visitors included:

  • Sri Lanka Junglefowl (Gallus lafayetti)
  • Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros gingalensis)
  • Spotted Dove (Spilopelia chinensis)
  • Emerald Dove (Chalcophaps indica)
  • Yellow-billed Babbler (Turdoides affinis)
  • Orange-billed Babbler (Turdoides rufescens)
  • Oriental Magpie-robin (Copsychus saularis)
  • Indian Pitta (Pitta brachyura)
  • Lesser Flameback (Dinopium psarodes)
  • Slaty-legged Crake (Rallina eurizonoides)

All three kinds of palm-squirrels came along to join the party; Indian Palm Squirrel (Funambulus palmarum), Flame-striped Palm Squirrel (Funambulus layardi) and Dusky-striped Palm Squirrel (Funambulus sublineatus). Flocks of Layard's Parakeet (Psittacula calthrapae), Black-capped Bulbul (Pycnonotus melanicterus), Black Bulbul (Hypsipetes ganeesa), Asian Paradise Flycatcher (Terpsiphone paradisi) were also seen around, while Peafowls' (Pavo cristatus) calls were heard constantly.

The second day's trail was the same as the day before, but we went deeper into the forest along the river. We didn't have much luck with butterflies and dragonflies, owing to the recent downpours which may have washed off most of the eggs and the larvae. The butterfly species we came across include:

  • Sri Lankan Rose (Pachliopta jophon)
  • Red Helen (Papilio helenus)
  • Common Mormon (Papilio polytes)
  • Blue Mormon (Papilio polymnestor)
  • Psyche (Leptosia nina)
  • Three-spot Grass Yellow (Eurema blanda)
  • Sri Lankan Tree Nymph (Idea iasonia)
  • Great Eggfly (Hypolimnas bolina)
  • Common Sailor (Neptis hylas)
  • Clipper (Parthenos sylvia)
  • Medus Brown (Orsotriaena medus)
  • Common Bushbrown (Mycalesis perseus)
  • White Four-ring (Ypthima ceylonica)
  • Nilgiri Tit (Hypolycaena nilgirica)
  • Common Cerulean (Jamides celeno)
  • Metallic Cerulean (Jamides alecto)
  • Angled Pierrot (Caleta decidia)
  • Banana Skipper (Erionota thrax)
  • Chestnut Bob (Iambrix salsala)

The adult form of Nilgiri Tit was a special observation, as it is quite a rare encounter.

We observed a few species of dragonflies:

  • Black-tipped Flashwing (Vestalis apicalis nigrescens)
  • Green's Gem (Libellago greeni)
  • Shining Gossamerwing (Euphaea splendens)
  • Lieftinck's Sprite (Archibasis lieftincki)
  • Two-spotted Threadtail (Elattoneura oculata)
  • Dark-glittering Threadtail (Elattoneura centralis)
  • Stripe-headed Threadtail (Prodasineura sita)
  • Brinck's Shadowdamsel (Drepanosticta brincki)
  • Rivulet Tiger (Gomphidia pearsoni)
  • Asian Pintail (Acisoma panorpoides)
  • Pied Parasol (Neurothemis tullia tullia)
  • Indigo Dropwing (Trithemis festiva)
  • Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens)

There was a myriad of moths, grasshoppers, mantises, and bugs as well.

The area was undeniably rich in fish diversity. We observed quite a few Barbs, Loaches, Catfishes and Gobies. Few reptiles and amphibians were observed as well:

  • Green Vine Snake (Ahaetulla nasuta)
  • Green Garden Lizard (Calotes calotes)
  • Oriental Garden Lizard (Calotes versicolor)
  • Kangaroo Lizard (Otocryptis wiegmanni)
  • Hump-nosed Lizard (Lyriocephalus scutatus)
  • Sharp-snouted Shrub Frog (Pseudophilautus cuspis)
  • Indian Skipper Frog (Euphlyctis cyanophlyctis)
  • Corrugated Water Frog (Lankanectus corrugatus)

Different kinds of snails, scorpions and spiders were seen too.

Some interesting flora were observed as well. Few of the orchid species seen:

  • Pholidota pallida
  • Sarcanthus peninsularis
  • Podochilus saxatilis
  • Thrixspermum pugionifolium
  • Oberonia sp.

We took our lunch at a scenic spot by a stream and didn't forget to take a good bath on the way back. At night Mr. Sarath Sanjeewa gave a lecture on how to do a field observation properly and how to maintain a field notebook and such. After a satisfying dinner, we made the checklists for the day and played games till sleep put us all down.

The third and the final day of the field trip was reserved to roam around the Kalugala monastery in Kaluthara. After bidding farewells to Chanaka and his crew, we left Runakanda and arrived at the Kalugala neigbourhood around 10.00 am. We took the trail leading to the monastery, all the while exploring the forest by the roadside. It was a rain forest with quite a few water bodies, and we could observe many fish, butterflies and dragonflies. Freshwater fish observed include:

  • Ceylonese Comb-tail (Belontia signata)
  • Pearly Rasbora (Rasboroides vaterifloris)
  • Ceylon Killifish (Aplocheilus dayi)
  • Redside Barb (Puntius bimaculatus)
  • Cherry Barb (Puntius titteya)
  • Black-lined Barb (Systomus pleurotaenia)
  • Filamented Barb (Dawkinsia singhala)
  • Banded Mountain Loach (Schistura notostigma)
  • Spotted Loach (Lepidocephalichthys thermalis)
  • Sri Lanka Lipstick Goby (Sicyopus jonklaasi)

The spotting of Sri Lanka Lipstick Gobi was the most remarkable one out of these.

Sri Lankan Lacewing (Cethosia nietneri), Grey Pansy (Junonia atlites), Grass Yellows, Sri Lankan Blue Oakleaf (Kallima philarchus) and Commander (Moduza procris) were among the butterflies.

Among the dragonflies we saw were:

  • Pied Parasol (Neurothemis tullia tullia)
  • Two-spotted Threadtail (Elattoneura oculata)
  • Stripe-headed Threadtail (Prodasineura sita)
  • Rivulet Tiger (Gomphidia pearsoni)
  • Green's Gem (Libellago greeni)
  • Spine-tufted Skimmer (Orthetrum chrysis)
  • Shining Gossamerwing (Euphaea splendens)
  • Dark Glittering Threadtail (Elattoneura centralis)

The close-up view of the rarely seen Rivulet Tiger was rewarding for all the dragonfly lovers. Kangaroo Lizards preying on stone hoppers was a common sight. Many spiders including Giant Wood Spider and Water Spiders were seen. Few amphibian species were observed, including Sri Lankan Golden-backed frog (Indosilvirana serendipi) and Land Monitor (Varanus bengalensis).

After eating the packed lunch, a heavy downpour started, and we set out to get back home. Throughout the journey we have observed a total of about 75 bird species, 25 fish species, 35 butterfly species, 15 dragonfly species, and 4 lizard species. It's safe to say that it was a successful field trip for the BCSSL nature enthusiasts.

Field Gallery