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 Post subject: Dragonflies of Yala and Tissamaharama
 Post Posted: Fri Aug 12, 2005 7:25 am 
Dragonflies of Yala and Tissamaharama

- Karen Conniff
@ JetWing NewsBoard

The rain brings out the best in Yala. On a recent visit in May, and after a few rain showers, I discovered that the rain kept the dust down, leaves were a brighter green and overnight it seemed that blossoms appeared on the branches of trees and shrubs. The fruits that had formed from a previous rain had brought in a multitude of birds and butterflies. Not quite as obvious as the numbers of birds and butterflies were the appearance of many dragonflies that moved from one rain recharged pond to the next.

I was on a tour of Yala with Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne and several journalists. We all hoped to see a leopard, but while searching for leopards our binoculars were also turned toward other mammals, birds, and crocodiles. I also used mine to discover the variety of dragonflies that were dipping and darting over the surface of the ponds in Yala. Branches and sticks that poke up from the surface of the water are ideal perches for dragonflies. When we stopped by a pond to look at birds or crocodiles I quickly scanned the pond for stumps and broken sticks hoping to see dragonflies. The challenge of spotting and identifying dragonflies is as satisfying as adding to my list of birds.

What types of dragonflies can you see at Yala? The dragonfly that was easiest to find was a noticeable yellow and brown one that kept zooming across the front window screen of the vehicle. This was the Globe Skimmer ( Pantala falavescens ). On those sticks in the ponds I was able to see Orange-winged Groundlings ( Brachythemis contaminata ); they were immediately obvious because of their bright orange wings. A quick list of the sightings I made include Little Blue Darters ( Diplacodes trivialis ), Sombre Skimmers ( Orthetrum sabina ), the bright red Eastern Scarlet Darters (Crocothemis servilia), and faded blue Brown-banded Skimmers ( Orthetrum glaucum ). I saw more but there was not enough time to stop and determine each type.

It was difficult to view dragonflies from the vehicle. Luckily we stopped briefly for a quick bite to eat in the park near a river and a small pond. I took a stroll along the edge of the pond and found a few of the smaller more delicate damselflies (Zygopterans), moving almost imperceptibly amongst the grass. Along the edge of the pond were Ubiquitous Bluetails ( Ischnura sengalensis ) and Orange-headed Sprites ( Pseudagrion rubiceps ceylonicum). On the river in partial shade along the banks we saw the beautiful purplish pink Dawn Dropwing (Trithemis aurora) and a close relative the Indigo Dropwing ( Trithemis festiva ). There are more to discover but it takes more time than just a quick stop. Once the snack was finished our group was ready to continue our drive because everyone was still hoping to spot a leopard.

The guides at Yala Safari Game Lodge were eager to learn more about dragonflies so I was happy to go with them on a special dragonfly mission. We were limited for time, so early one morning we made a quick trip to Tissamaharama just outside Yala where there is a lovely tank called Devera Wewa. Here the birds were as fascinating as the dragonflies and damselflies. Since we purposely went to spot dragonflies we had to ignore the birds and were able to see a dozen species of dragonflies and damselflies in less than an hour. That morning the weather was not ideal for dragonfly watching; cloudy and with a light drizzle, but still there were many to see. The first to be spotted were the bright yellow slow moving Yellow Damselflies ( Ceriagrion coromandelianum ) both males and females were present and many were seen in tandem and copulating. Since the females have a slightly different coloration finding them in tandem is the best way to identify both males and females of the species. Ubiquitous Bluetails ( Ischnura senegalensis ) were present on the lotus stems in sticking up in the tank.

There were many cut lotus stems on the tank; ideal perches and best for spotting dragonflies. A short distance from the edge of the tank a Dancing Dropwing ( Trithemis pallidinervis ) was perched on a lotus stem beside it on another stem was a bright red Eastern Scarlet Darter ( Crocothemis servilia ); both male and female Eastern Scarlet Darters were present in large numbers. Another numerous species was the Asian Pintail ( Acisoma panorpoides ) both the blue males and yellow females were spotted along the edge of the tank. As we quickly walked the tank edge we saw a Sombre Skimmer ( Orthetrum sabina ), Brown-banded Skimmer ( Orthetrum glaucum ), Black Velvet-wings (Neurothemis tulia) males, a juvenile male and females, Variable Gliders ( Rhyothemis variegata ) males and females, Spine-legged Reedling ( Rhodothemis rufa ), Orange-winged Groundling (Brachythemis contaminata), and Little Blue Darters ( Diplacodes trivialis ) males and females. That is quite a list for just one hour of observation and it is definitely not complete since the weather was overcast there are surely many more that can be identified on a sunny morning. The advantages of the tank over the park are that we could get close to the edges to spot damselflies, walk at leisure and take time to identify both dragonflies and damselflies. I recommend taking a day off from the game drives and visiting Debera Wewa – it is definitely worthwhile and a good way to begin to learn about dragonflies.

How do you identify all these dragonflies and damselflies? The best is a pictorial guide called Dragonflies of Sri Lanka published by Jetwing. It is not a complete pictorial guide of all that you might see in Sri Lanka but for places like the tank at Tissmaharama and Yala National Park it is the best you can have for a quick reference. It is easy to carry and the photographs give enough details to identify the dragonflies and damselflies, especially if you are careful to consider every detail from the eyes to the tip of the abdomen. There is another book, for the avid odonotologist (dragonfly specialist), The Dragonflies of Sri Lanka by Terrence de Fonseka available at many bookstores. The pictorial guide is found at Jetwing Hotels and in several bookstores in Colombo. Take the time to zoom in on dragonflies; and discover a new world.

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