People always wish for an escapade to some foreign country to see the scenery and take in something different but often fail to realize just how amazing and unique their own country can be.
Besides the toiling schedules, I got a chance to escape from the city limits and stay for a memorable experience that would cherish for a lifetime. Yet again it was another flutter to the wild outdoors with a group of young animal enthusiasts. We were a group of nine led by Hasitha Ayya and Sanoj heading to Hirikatu Oya.
Hirikatu Oya is a lesser known destination for travel enthusiasts, although it is astonishingly rich in biodiversity. It is a camping site situated in the valley of Belihuloya right down renowned “World’s End” in Hortan plains. This nature’s gift is a home to various varieties of flora and fauna with overlooking pristine valleys and is considered ideal for bird watching and butterfly observation.
Our journey started from Pettah around 3.30 am in the morning and by around 9.30 am we were able to reach Hirikatu Oya. It was a scene of such overwhelming splendor that I found myself dumbstruck as I got down from the bus at the Eco site. It’s ambiance calmed and rejuvenated all of us.
The breathtaking views of the surrounding hills hidden amidst the clouds, carpets of tea plantations and the Hirikatu Oya gushing through the site add more value and beauty to the forest while maintaing an exceptionally rich floral and faunal biota.
It was a facinating morning and the footpaths had enough and more sunlight to activate the little flying creatures. As most of us were butterfly enthusiasts, the sight of beautiful Albertrosses who welcomed us to their fluttering and dancing show, gave us a hint that this field excursion would be a great one, with lots of butterflies.
Our enthusiasm was really high from the beginning and we looked forward for so much of adventure and new experiences. Our morning trail was very much eventful as we indentified and recorded many butterfly and dragonfly species along the footpath.
The close-up view of the beautiful Sri Lanka Shinning Glossamerwing (Euphaea splendens) was rewarding for all the dragonfly lovers including myself. Asian Skimmer (Orthetrum glaucum) and Sri Lanka Red-striped Treadtail (Elattoneura tenax) were also among the few dragonfly species we saw.
Hirikatu Oya is a beautiful area due to its mini-waterfalls and natural pools where we could swim, snorkel and play. It was a sudden decision to have a bath in the Oya while observing fish. During the bath some of us snorkeled to enjoy the aquatic diversity of the stream. We observed quite a few Stone Suckers (Garra ceylonensis) and Banded Mountain Loaches (Schistura notostigma) in Hirikatu Oya.
Our afternoon was welcomed by a drizze and it continued for some time. Thus, we came back to the Eco site from oya. We were feeling so fresh and steaming cups of tea and marmite were awaiting us as we got back to the site.
The night trail after the rain wasn’t so bad as we thought earlier. The night hike was conducted along the same trail we used in the morning.
The troop was so optimistic that each member had very high spirits of recording nocturnal creatures many as possible. We could observe plenty of little creatures in the woods. Beetles, moths, spiders, lizards, small mammals, snails and amphibians were there to peep out from their homes for a quick “Hello” for us and then bid farewell for their “good nights” sleep.
Travelling with Sanoj is more like an “Amphibian” scrutiny and it was my very first time encountering with frogs and toads. Different species of Amphibians were recorded in our checklists including Kandy Dwarf toad (Adenomus kandianus), Asian Common toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus), Bronzed frog or Günther’s golden-backed frog (Indosylvirana temporalis), Grey-brown pug-snouted frog (Uperodon obscurus) and Pseudophilautus hallidayi / Pseudophilautus fergusonianus who are endemic to Sri Lanka.
Everything on that day was carried out smoothly with dinner, chit-chats and a good sleep; thankfully with NO groans and sleep talks from the surroundings. (Ha haa haaa)
The next day dawned with the chirping of many birds. The “pretty dear” call of Brown Capped Babbler was my sudden reflex to jump out of the bed. The foot path to the eco site was a perfect spot for the birdwatchers in our crew. Bird calls were constantly heard and we followed most of them. We were able to spot a few species of birds including Brown Capped Babbler, Skimmiter Babbler, Pale-billed Flowerpecker, Brown Headed Barbet, Scarlet Minivet and ever facinating Malabar Trogon during our watch.
The second day’s trail was the same as the day before, but we went deeper into the forest along the river. We weren’t lucky enough to record much of the butterflies and dragonflies we obsevered the day before, owing to the day before’s downpours which may have washed off most of the eggs and the larvae.
The butterfly species we came across in our whole journey included : Red Helen (Papilio helenus), Yamfly (Loxura atymnus), Blue Mormon (Papilio polymnestor), Three-spot Grass Yellow (Eurema blanda), Sri Lankan Tree Nymph (Idea iasonia), Commander (Moduza procris), Great Eggfly (Hypolimnas bolina), Common Sailor (Neptis hylas), Common Bushbrown (Mycalesis perseus), Blue Admiral (Kaniska canace), White Four-ring (Ypthima ceylonica), Common Cerulean (Jamides celeno), Indigo Flash (Rapala varuna) and many more mesmerizing butterflies with a total count of more than 30 species.
Best part of the field trip was the new innovation of a sweetmeat by few of our members.(names withheld) It was Pol sambol (Coconut sambol) and Samaposha eventually turned to become “Sambola-posha”. Yet it was delicious and edible.We laughed so much for preparing a confectionary using accidently prepared Coconut sambol.
As it is the last day in this paradigm of unspoiled serenity, we prepared our mindset to have a bath again in Hirikatu Oya. It was more like a toddler’s swimming session for me as two of my friends were trying to make me swim.
Everything was not perfect at all times. There were moments of fear of stillness, slithering offs or being terrorised by leeches. Yet those led to lessons of trust and dependability. I am forever thankful to those people who were in my crew ! (credits goes to Hasitha Ayya, Ashen & Himidu akki )
The day little by little reached to the end with a hint of sadness as the gang got ready to leave this inclusive wilderness. We headed back to the busy suburbs of Colombo in a Badulla-Colombo bus not to have a rest but to unpack our backpacks, wash our clothes, refer our guides more to get ready for our next travel excursion.
All in all it was well spent two days adding so much of colour and memories to my field life. This field visit was not only about learning; it was also about 9 individuals coming together and working as team and realizing how much potential they carry within them.
Let Iranga’s capturings speak of the challenging, yet blissful times; the times we relish in nature’s bounty that filled our heads with knowledge and strengthened our bonds of friendship.
Capture credits : Iranga Thejana.