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Butterfly world

The author goes on an early morning butterfly trail through the Asola Bhatti Sanctuary in Delhi

Shakya Mitra 

The cool breeze of an August Sunday morning welcomes us to the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary. Located a few hundred metres from the Karni Singh Shooting Range, and on the road leading up to Surajkund, the gates of the sanctuary can be easily missed if one is not consciously looking for them. A short walk from the entrance is a metallic butterfly sculpture, a marker that tells you that this is the point from where you start out on your mission: butterfly spotting. We are here for the "Butterfly Walk", an event that is organised twice a month by the Bombay Natural History Society. Scheduled to begin at 7 am, it isn't until 7:30 that things get under way. By now the sun is shining brightly and the crowd slowly starts to gathering. There are about 25 people who are part of this walk, from five-year-olds to those who are well into their 50s, including a couple from the UK. Enthusiasm runs high. Most have come armed with binoculars, while some have brought their cameras along. Established in 1986 and located on the northern terminal of the Aravalli range, the sanctuary is spread across 21 km and is home to 300 plant, 235 bird and 93 butterfly species. You can also stumble upon black bucks, mongoose and porcupines. The butterfly walk takes place on a designated 2.5 km stretch. The two-hour trek in search of the winged beauties involves some steep uphill climbs. "It is best to start the walk when the sun rises, because that's when butterflies are likely to become active," Ishtiyak Ahmad, the education officer at Conservative Education Centre and our guide, tells us.

Ahmad has been conducting walks in the sanctuary for the last five years and is well versed with the ways of the butterfly. "Their proper breeding depends on the right vegetation - the lantena plant is good for butterflies to lay eggs on and so is the nectar of the plant. Lime and citrus also attract butterflies," he explains. Strangely, despite the thicket there is no sign of mosquitoes here. It's the dengue and chikungunya season in Delhi, so that's a relief. Ahmad explains it's because of the dragonflies, natural hunting machines, which feed on mosquito larvae. The area is also free of insecticides. BLUE PANSY Junonia orithya Found mainly in drier areas adjoining forests during sunny spells COMMON GRASS YELLOW Eurema hecabe Seen in many gardens and parks of Delhi PEACOCK PANSY Junonia almana Known for its highly varied appearances in the dry and wet seasons COMMON LEOPARD Phalanta phalantha Found in forest edges and gardens COMMON MORMON Papilio polytes Larvae feed mostly on lime and curry leaf plants YELLOW PANSY Junonia hierta Found flying low in wooded areas and undulating open spaces By the end of the walk, we have managed to spot only 15 of the 93 butterfly varieties. The vast expanse of the sanctuary gives the butterflies enough room to escape prying eyes. And that is what makes each spotting special. Among the varieties we see are the Common Mormon, Blue Pansy, the Common Emigrant, the Common Leopard and the all-too familiar Plain Tiger. Most are local breeds, though some, such as the Common Emigrant, has flown down from the Himalayas. None of these is the rare species that most of the walkers had come looking for. It's a painstaking quest, requiring one to be quick on one's feet and willing to walk through shrubs, but the butterflies make it well worth the effort. For information on the walks, visit www.cecdelhi.org

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First Published: Sat, September 03 2016. 00:27 IST
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