The tropical island paradise of Sri Lanka
@ Source: Naturetrek Tour Itinerary / UK~
The tropical island paradise of Sri Lanka is astonishingly rich in wildlife and contains a wide variety of habitats ranging from misty highland forests and lush rainforest to arid, scrub-filled plains and an abundance of fresh water lakes. Over a tenth of the land mass is designated as protected areas for wildlife and the principal reserves are among the best in Asia. Although geographically close to India the zoology of the island displays many affinities to Indonesia and there is a marked degree of endemism, particularly in the remaining tracts of lowland forest to the south of the island where many of the birds, plants and insects are unique to Sri Lanka. Over 27 species of endemic birds is a high total for a country only a little more than a quarter the size of the United Kingdom, and the large number of endemic insects, plants, trees and reptiles is further evidence of the island's long isolation from the mainland. 242 species of butterfly have been identified, 42 of these endemic to the island. As with the birds, the moist forests of the hill country and the south are home to some of the most interesting species but butterflies are a welcome sight throughout Sri Lanka.
It is often said of Sri Lanka that anything placed in the ground will grow. If you travel out of the sprawl of Colombo into open country the evidence will be in the amazingly lush roadside vegetation. Palms, papayas, mangoes and all manner of exotic trees flourish in abundance and the overall impression of the countryside is of a tremendous greenness. An abundance of flowers adds colour to the scene and birds are numerous ranging from
Common Mynas and noisy Red-wattled Lapwings at the roadside to tiny jewel-like sunbirds sipping nectar from the blooms.
Adam's Peak, thes towering conical mountain is a place of pilgrimage for several religions
and an impression of a footprint at the summit is regarded as having been left by Buddha, Adam or Mohammed depending on the beliefs of the pilgrim. Peak Wilderness Sanctuary which preserves a chain of forested hills surrounding Adam's Peak become more entomological if you follow the narrow winding road through the hills to Waranagala. The habitat here is evergreen sub-montane forest characterised by twisted and
stunted tree growth and dense undergrowth. This area is botanically very rich and the flora includes many endemic plants. Butterfly species to find here include; the Cruiser (Vindula erota), Chocolate Soldier (Junonia iphita), Great Eggfly (Hypolimnas bolina), Danaid Eggfly (H. misippus), Blue Oakleaf (Kallima philarchus), Red Spot Duke
(Dophia evelina), Rustic (Cupha erymanthis) and Tawny Coster (Acraea violae). Two star species which might be spotted are the delicate and endemic Tree Nymph (Idea iasonia) floating like torn paper over the foliage, and the dramatic Blue Mormon (Papilio polymnestor)f lashing brilliant blue as it flies through shafts of sunlight in the
Troupes of Grey Langur and Toque Macaque monkeys are likely to be encountered almost anywhere on the island and are often very tame in areas where they are regularly fed such as the vicinity of temples. A much rarer relative that could be observed in the hill country is the highland race of the endemic Purple-faced Leaf-Monkey known
colloquially as 'Bear Monkey' because of its long coat. Shy canopy feeders, these monkeys are not always easy to locate but are very likely to be heard as the males utter fearsome sounding roars which carry for a long distance over the forest. Tiny Palm Squirrels provide an almost constant background noise with their agitated chittering and seem to thrive in every town and village. Another mammal we are likely to meet in the forests is the impressive Giant Squirrel. This handsome creature occurs in several distinct colour forms and here in the hill country forests it is the dark race with rich brown fur, that likely to be seen.
Endemic birds such as the delightful little Sri Lankan Hanging Parrot can often be seen in normal house gardens and a number of interesting butterflies feeding among the flowers. The Common Rose (Atrophaneura aristolochiae) and Common Mormon (Papilio polytes) are two of the most striking of the islands more familiar butterflies and the two Tigers (Danaus genutia and D. chrysippus), also attract attention with their tawny colouration.
Sinharaja Forest is the largest and most important lowland rain forest in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately the approach roads are of very poor quality and despite being only thirty
kilometres from Ratnapura, the journey can take several hours. Sinharaja is something of a stronghold for endemic birds and its importance was acknowledged by recognition as a World Heritage Site in 1988. Old logging trails facilitate access into the primary forest and from these it is possible to see such species as Crested Goshawk, Sri Lanka Spurfowl, Layard's Parakeet, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, Red-faced Malkoha, Green-billed Coucal, Malabar Trogon, Frogmouth, Chestnut-backed Owlet, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Black-headed & Yellow-browed Bulbuls, Spot-winged Thrush, Scaly Thrush, Orange-billed Babbler, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush, Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, White-faced Starling, Hill Myna, Sri Lanka Myna, White-throated Flowerpecker and Black-throated Munia.
It is unlikely to see all of these in a single visit but Sinharaja is one of those magical places that can suddenly be alive with birds following periods of relative quiet and even at midday it is possible to encounter one of the mixed species 'bird waves', which usually comprise Orange-billed Babblers in association with Ashy-headed Laughing-Thrushes, Crested Drongos, Malabar Trogons, Red-faced Malkohas, Blue Magpies and a miscellany of
Everything about Sinharaja is special and the flora contains many species found nowhere else. Pretty Bamboo Orchids grow commonly beside the trails and many of the trees are adorned with epiphytes. Although plenty of mammals inhabit Sinharaja, sightings are always a matter of luck but troupes of Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys are likely to reveal their presence by the fearsome roaring calls of the males. Many unique lizards are also found in the forest.
There is a wonderful variety of butterflies inhabiting Sinharaja. Among the most spectacular of the long list of potential species are the black and yellow Common Birdwing (Troides helena) and the equally impressive Red Helen (Papilio helenus) but there are many jewels to look for in this very special forest including; Common Mormon (Papilio polytes), Blue Mormon (P.polymnestor), Bluebottle (Graphium sarpedon), Psyche
(Leptosia nina), Jezebel (Delias eucharis), Tree Nymph (Idea iasonia), Leopard (Phalanta phalantha), Commander (Moduza procris), Clipper (Parthenos sylvia), Ceylon Forester (Lethe dynaste) and Tailed Jay (Graphium agamemnon) Sinharaja is a remarkable forest and provides one of the last remaining chances to glimpse a compact eco-system
that has all but vanished elsewhere. Like all rain forests it is not always easy to find the creatures inhabiting the forests but all discoveries are immensely rewarding and just the experience of standing amid the ocean of trees is worth the discomfort of the long journey from Ratnapura and the tortuous jeep drive over the final five kilometres
of shattered stony track!
A long and very scenic drive to Kandy from Ratnapurawill occupy most of the morning and provide further views of island life as we pass through little market towns where the produce for sale will be displayed in a colourful mixture of roadside stalls. Heaps of tempting looking fruit will be further evidence of the island fecundity and the taste of local grown fruit such as pineapple!
The city of Kandy is steeped in history and was the capital for a succession of Kandyan Kings until captured by the British in 1815. The famous 'Temple of the Tooth' beside Kandy lake is one of the best known Buddhist temples in the country and attracts thousands of visitors every year. Kandy is traditionally a centre of music and dance and
most nights it is possible to witness demonstrations of both art forms at special performances.
'Dumbara' the mist laden mountains, is the Sinhalese name for Corbett's Gap in the Knuckles Mountain Range, which derive their English name from the clenched fist
appearance of the ridges. This is a wild expanse of undulating hills, misty forests, pastures and forests rich in flora and fauna. Two endemic creatures found here are the Tennent's Horned Lizard and Keerthisinghe's Rock Frog plus a tremendous variety of birdlife. Escaping Kandy's notorious traffic congestion may take a while but soon after
leaving the city we enter this different world of endless hills, rolling tea estates and forested valleys, the ideal habitats to find yet more interesting butterflies. Species we particularly hope to see at Corbett's Gap include Common Birdwing (Troides darsius), Banded Peacock (Papilio crino), Red Helen (P. helenus), Common Bluebottle (Graphium
sarpedon), Tree Nymph (Idea iasonia), Ceylon Tiger (Parantica taprobana) and Common Tree Brown (Lethe rohria).
Elsewhere in the Knuckles Range, in Pitawala Patana, where steep grasslands bordering forest edges offer excellent habitats for more hill country butterflies. In addition to species already mentioned, insects in this area could include: Jezebel (Delias eucharis), Common Albatross (Appias albina), Indian Fritillary (Argynnis hyperbius), Great
Eggfly (Hypolimnas bolina), Ceylon Forester (Lethe dynaste) and Red Pierrot (Talicada nyseus).
A day spent travelling to and exploring Wasgamuwa National Park marks a transition from the hill country into the 'Dry Zone' with corresponding changes in the flora and fauna. The Dry Zone, which encompasses most of the north and east of the island, is very different in character to the moist, humid forests of the hills, and whilst some birds and animals successfully thrive in both habitats, others such as Malabar Pied Hornbill,Indian Roller, Little Green Bee-eater and Hoopoe are much more plentiful in the Dry Zone. These differences are also reflected in the butterfly inhabitants and species to anticipate at Wasgamuwa include; Pioneer (Belenois aurota),Common Gull (Capora nerissa),White Orange-Tip (Ixias marianne), Little Orange-Tip (Colotis etrida), Lemon Pansy (Junonia lemonias), Blue Pansy (J. orithya), Yellow Pansy (J. hierta), Grey Pansy(J. atlites), Peacock Pansy (J. almana), Autumn Leaf (Doleschallia bisaltide) and Tawny Rajah (Charaxes psaphon). Wasgamuwa supports an excellent range of mammals including herds of Asian Elephants, Water Buffalo, Spotted Deer, Sambur, Golden Jackal and the lowland race of Giant Squirrel. The endemic Purple-faced Leaf-Monkey may
also be observed in the forested areas alongside the commoner Toque Macaques and Grey Langurs. This is also a fine reserve for birds with possibilities here including; Painted and White-necked Storks, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, White-bellied Sea and Grey-headed Fishing Eagles and Crested Serpent Eagle.
King Kasyapa was responsible for the building of a city fortress on Sigiriya rock in 477 AD. Standing at the foot of the rock today it seems a staggering achievement but a palace and complex of gardens were constructed on the three acre summit and for eighteen years served as a royal citadel. Visitors can reach the site by ascending flights of steps
hewn in the rock but it is a stiff climb and not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights. A few frescoes are all that remain of some 500 paintings that formerly graced the rock walls and these can be viewed during the ascent. Shahin Falcons nest on the rock and the surrounding primary forest is superb for birds. A few Wild Elephants also
inhabit these forests and three other more conspicuous mammal residents include wandering troupes of Grey Langurs and Toque Macaque, and the ubiquitous little Palm Squirrels.
Ritigala Natural Reserve, a rocky outcrop, emerging like Sigiriya from the dry lowlands, exhibits several distinct types of forest vegetation becoming progressively more moist with increases in elevation until the forest around the summit resembles that of the hill country. There is a very ancient archaeological site within the forest. A splendid variety of butterflies includes such as the Tree Nymph, Blue Mormon and Chocolate Soldier; Spot Swordtail (Pathysa nomius), Great Orange-Tip (Hebomoia glaucippe), Lace Wing (Cethosia nietneri) and the Nawab (Polyura athamas).
Kahalla-Pallekele Forest Reserve which is situated close to the border of the North Central
Province is also a rock outcrop like Ritigala but is not so high and the low country Dry Zone surroundings ensure another range of butterfly possibilities. Among the species recorded from here are; Lime Butterfly (Papilio demoleus), Mime (Chilasi clytia), Common Jay (Graphium doson), Dark Wanderer (Pareronia ceylanica), Tawny Rajah (Charaxes psaphon), Psyche (Leptosia nina), Glassy Tiger (Danaus aglea), Common Crow (Euploea core), Common Sailor (Neptis hylas), Gladeye Bushbrown (Nissanga patnia), White Four-ring (Ypthima ceylonica) and Common Palmfly (Elymnias hypermnestra).
Sigiriya area is excellent for wildlife and the small freshwater tank at the edge of the village contains crocodiles and Water Monitors plus a varied selection of waterbirds.