Archive for the ‘dragonflies & damselflies’ category

An encounter with Forest Glories

25 January 2011

It was already well past noon when we started trekking across the path near the stream in the Tambdi Surla forest. The jungle appeared to be dry deciduous. Shady trees with well-spaced chest-high jungli Tagar trees. The path was fairly good with few rocks, uneven-ness or thorny branches to stop us proceeding. Alas the forest is being completely encroached by Eupatorium which has correctly been named as “raaNmoDi” in Marathi. (Capitals indicate hard consonants.) As we proceeded we found bushes lining a hundred yard stretch on both sides.

On the leaves of a bush about 4 feet away, a large damselfly three inches or more in length with wings held high at an angle from the body was seated. The body was velvet shining green – it was a male; the female being a duller brown in place of the green.  The damselfly was extremely alert not allowing us to approach closer than six to eight feet but it would flitter away and come back over and over again. On each side we could see eight to ten such damselfies at any one time. I judge that that they held their wings between 40 and 70 degrees – but most were around 60 degrees from the line of the body.

As I lined up to photograph it, it darted away and repositioned it self a few feet away.  It led me a merry-go-round chase while others enticed me in their turn. I know, it sounds strange but the species appeared to my anthropomorphic eyes to have a mischievous personality. It had a very graceful flight – this is reflected in its name – Vestalis gracilis, or, the Clear-winged Forest Glory.

We didn’t quite get very good images but Miss Aboli Kulkarni immediately identified it for me as the Clear-winged Forest Glory. It is termed as clear-winged as it lacks the spots on the wingtips characteristic of the Glories.

There is no doubt – the damselfly is graceful and beautiful and found in the forest. From now on, its also my favourite damselfly.

I’m attaching an image better than mine by Jeevan Jose from Kadavoor in Kerala, who writes:

This damselfly has brilliant metallic shining green colours. The wings look transparent but at particular angle you can see a bluish shade on the wings.

Different from Black-tipped forest glory (Vestalis apicalis).

Most of the species of damselflies are found along the perennial stream inside the swamp. But Clear-Winged Forest glory is found in the undergrowth of interior forest areas. But there are á few in my backyard. (Dont envy me.:)”

The Clear-winged Forest Glory (Vestalis gracilis) (Image: Jeevan Jose)




This encounter took place during a trip to Tambdi Surla arranged for me by Yashodhan Heblekar  during my visit to his Butterfly Conservatory of Goa ( Thanks to Prasad Patil of Mystic Woods who took us to this spot with beautiful damselflies.

Butterflies, beetles and dragonflies declining in Europe!

25 March 2010

The Violet Copper Lycaena helle (Endangered) is a rare and threatened butterfly in Europe. Photo : Chris van Swaay

Habitat loss is having a serious impact on Europe’s butterflies, beetles and dragonflies, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said today. Nine percent of butterflies, 11 percent of saproxylic beetles (beetles that depend on decaying wood) and 14 percent of dragonflies are threatened with extinction within Europe, the Switzerland-based conservation organization said in a news release.

Read more on Vijay Barve’s Biodiversity India blog post here.

Download the section of the IUCN Red List on European butterflies here.

The situation is far worse in India. Even worse our scientific footprint is so weak, we don’t even have comparable data. God preserve my beloved country’s wildlife!

Image credit : IUCN. Displayed under “Fair use”.

A Paris Peacock by the Chel River

11 May 2007

Chel River bridge

The most beautiful approach to Kalimpong is not via the direct route from Siliguri via Sevoke and Teesta, but by a quaint winding hill road from Damdim to the newly emerging hillstation of Labha and the sleepy hamlet of Algarah which overlooks Kalimpong from the ridgetop to the NorthEast. We chose this backdoor access for getting to Kalimpong – our first stop enroute to North Sikkim.

Now one doesnt really need to go to Kalimpong to go to North Sikkim but a night halt is preferable because of the long journey from Binnaguri. Kalimpong is more conveniently placed than Gangtok which would require an extra day or more and require you to head much further East than you need. You get the same kind of atmosphere, much better scenic beauty enroute, a shorter trip, and for those interested in plants, many nurseries growing exotic plants. Gangtok has a charm and appeal of its own and is best visited separately, perhaps in combination with the border pass of Nathu La.

For that, one goes halfway towards Tiger bridge till Damdim,  and then you turn right or Northwards. You now leave behind the tea garden, betel-nut, fish-pond and jute type of atmosphere prevalent in the lowlands of the Siliguri corridor. Almost immediately, you pass through Gorubatthan and come to the scenic hamlet of Paparkheti. Paparkheti gives you that old world feeling one associates with sleepy forgotten hill stations. Now, the villages are of Gurkha and Lepcha people living in quaint bamboo houses on stilts. These houses are embellished by masses of wild and cultivated flowers in pots, small strips of garden and in their verandahs. You feel really good, and often the sweet smell of a honeysuckle is encountered as you slow down on a turn. The ubiquitous Tea gardens still co-exists but here they cling to dizzying slopes which have stands of cardamom that give them an exotic look. Far below, a river flows with old-fashioned Bailey bridges to take people to the other side. Wooden log huts now can be seen amidst colourful patches of garden. You cross the Chel river, (actually a fast-flowing rocky stream) by an RCC bridge next to a huge boulder used locally for rappelling. And now you are in fabulous butterfly country.

Spot PuffinJust 500 metres ahead of the Chel river is a small grocery-cum-tea stall-cum-hardware store of the kind found in the hills. A year ago, I had stopped here for a cup of tea enroute to Rhenok.  It borders another mountain stream which is crossed by a small RCC bridge just adjacent to the store. The trees on both sides are very high here, the sun alighting the uppermost branches – high above butterflies can be seen flying about – I wonder what they are? A white which is leisurely opening and closing its wings in the shade turns out to be a Spot Puffin. On the roadside, Common Sailers pose still as statues with wings placed flat.

As I waited for the tea to be prepared, my eyes were suddenly dazzled by a blue and black butterfly flying high in the trees opposite. It was a Peacock, and my first thought was ‘Is this butterfly beautiful, or what?’.  Strong swift wingstrokes across the hillside brought it next to the stream flowing across the road, where it hovered with a rhythmic slow wingbeat and dipped  its large black proboscis into the water. For a few minutes, it kept weaving between the same puddles back and forth, permitting some photography.

Paris Peacock 1
Paris Peacock2The four Himalayan species of Papilio Peacocks are amongst the most colourful butterflies in India. The butterfly hypnotises you into just admiring its bues, greens and maroon-purple peacock-eyes. The mind struggles to understand the pattern of these shimmering colours which keep changing location as the butterfly moves. This is why I find it so difficult to recognise the exact species of Peacock butterfly on the wings. From the photographs I later identified it as a Paris Peacock.

Paris peacock 3On the wing, the butterfly gives different visual treat than it does as a specimen, in the hand or as a photograph. The forewings slide easily over the bright blue patch on its hindwings. The butterfly is instantly transformed into something relatively nondescript and you need to refocus to discern the creature once more. Should the butterfly halt a little longer, more details emerge for appreciation….the beautiful spatulate tails, the green glitter spangle on its wings, a thin green band on the upper forewing which tapers towards the apex. The tragedy with having such beautiful butterflies is, that you can never get enough of them – you see them too infrequently, and you dont get enough time with them when you do.

This place has other dainties too. I wander further away from the roadside towards an abandoned bridge site. A delicate blue damselfly perched on a nettle allows me to approach quite close to admire its beauty.

Damsel fly

The rippling brook invites you by its musical babbling. Suddenly I saw a small white bird bobbing on one of the stones in midstream – it was a Forktail. Tantalisingly, it would allow me to approach close but fly off out of sight a few meters away further upstream. I could glimpse it through the fronds of fern, but by the time I laboured to get in view, it was off again.

Yellow MothA beautiful fat yellow moth is in front of me on an Ageratum bush. It allows me to pick it up and gently examine it. It has a beautiful red upper abdomen which is completely hidden by the wings. Its forelegs are partly red and partly black. It exudes a few yellow drops on my fingers as I place it back unharmed on the leaves. Later, I learn that the moth belongs to the Spilosoma genus of Arctiidae, the Tiger Moth family.

All good things must come to an end – its time to be off again with a memory of Peacocks – on to Labha, Algarah and Kalimpong.
Yellow Moth 2