Mumbai's winged beauties

Published: 03 November, 2013 10:33 IST | Moeena Halim |

Last week, the city's butterflies had enthusiasts in a flutter at BNHS conservation centre in Goregaon. Voting for one of five nominations, the butterfly buffs chose their favourite, the Common Mormon as the Butterfly of Mumbai. ISAAC KEHIMKAR, often referred to as the Butterfly Man of India, introduces MOEENA HALIM to the nominees and some of the rarer, more beautiful winged beauties

Did you know that of the 1,500 different species of butterflies found in India, 150 can be spotted right here in Mumbai and that this is one of the best times of the year to catch a glimpse of them? “The main population peak of butterflies is seen mainly during and immediately after rains before the winter sets in.

The Great Orange Tip is a forest-dweller confined to forests of the SGNP. The largest among the Whites and Yellow group, it has a strong swooping flight. PICS/ Isaac Kehimkar

The Striped Tiger is one of those Milkweed butterflies which the birds learn to avoid. This is a look-alike of the famous American Monarch butterfly which is also a Milkweed butterfly

Although butterflies breed throughout the year, post monsoon months from until November are considered to be the best months as food plants for caterpillars and nectar plants for adults are plentiful. That’s the period when one can see lots of caterpillars and pupae,” reveals Isaac Kehimkar, General Manager, Programmes, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).

The Spot Swordtail is a truly elegant swallowtail found in the deciduous forests. Almost absent during the rains, it flies in the drier months

The Common Jezebel is a familiar sight even in the bustle of a busy city road. In city gardens it occasionally descends to feed on flowers or hovers around a mango tree searching for the parasite plant, Mistletoe, on which it lays its eggs

The BNHS, which regularly hosts the Breakfast with Butterflies programmes, initiated the Butterfly of Mumbai competition earlier the month. “The idea was to create awareness about butterflies and promote butterfly-friendly practices among Mumbaikars. The five nominations were chosen on the basis of being most common and charismatic. They were all large and colourful and yet common in Mumbai as they breed on common city plants,” says the naturalist. He loves the Common Jezebel, “because of its colours, which are meant to warn predators.”

The Common Mormon has wingspan of around 100 mm and is found in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Pakistan

The Tailed Jay is a common butterfly that flies in Mumbai all the year round, its black wings spotted and streaked with green are unmistakable. A restless flier, like a typical Mumbaikar always on the move

Although flowers attract most butterflies, some among them prefer interesting food sources. “Overripe, rotting fruits, bird droppings, animal dung and urine, oozing tree sap or even a dead crab could act as bait to attract butterflies for a closer look,” exclaims the butterfly buff, adding that the best time to spot a butterfly basking in the sun is usually an hour after sunrise. “They sun themselves to raise their body temperature, which would have fallen through the night. Approaching butterflies reasonably close on cool mornings is therefore much easier,” adds Kehimkar.

The Common Emigrant is a lemon yellow butterfly and a familiar visitor of city gardens and backyards, but is known to migrate at times when there is a scarcity of plants to lay eggs on. It flies rapidly with often erratic up-and-down swoops

Apart from native butterflies, Mumbai sees quite a few migrant visitors. “During the rains, the handsome Blue Mormon migrates to the city from the adjoining hills like Matheran and after the rains the fourth generation returns back to the hills. The Painted Lady, the globe-trotting migrant found on every continent, also visits Mumbai during the rains,” divulges Kehimkar, who enjoys watching and photographing butterflies at Sanjay Gandhi National Park as well as BNHS’ CEC Nature Reserve in Goregoan East. “Thane’s Ovalekar Butterfly Park on the Ghodbunder road in Ovala village is a great place to see butterflies too,” he adds.

Few tips for butterfly Photography
1. Compose the frame carefully, filling it with what is essential and eliminating distractions. Include the background only if it enhances the composition. Before clicking, check the edges and corners of the frame to ensure everything you want is in the frame.

2. Try different angles and check for battered or bird-pecked wings before photographing, for they do not make commercially pretty pictures. (On the other hand, you may just be looking out for such survivors.)

3. Always duplicate promising shots with slight under-exposure and then slight overexposure. Under-exposure deepens colours and darkens the background, while over-exposure produces a pastel effect.

4. In the case of close-ups, everything cannot be sharp, therefore focus carefully with purpose and be sure that essential regions like the head are perfectly sharp and wing surface is parallel to the lens surface. Use the higher f-stops (f 11 to f 8) possible and add light with a built-in flash.

5. To reduce shaking hands, hold the camera with arms close to the body, leaning on whatever available support nearby to stabilise yourself. While framing a butterfly at lower level, kneel down on one leg and half bend the other, rest your elbow on your half bent thigh and click. Of course, a higher ISO setting (film speed) will also help.

6. Do not rush to shoot the butterfly. Let it settle down for a few seconds. Develop patience to cope with change of light and your subject’s willingness to ‘pose’. Be prepared to stalk the butterfly over a long distance until it finally settles. Get down on the ground, wade into water or crawl through bushes, but learn to remain motionless when the situation demands it.

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