Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Sinharaja with Shiromi Lazarus

I guided Shiromi, whose a family friend, on a tour to Sinharaja rain forest from 20-22 Aug, 2007. We paused our journey on the way to explore the Morapitiya Rain forest to catch the early morning activity.
Morapitiya is a good quality rain forest on the way to Sinharaja. The prime birding area in it is usually accessed by means of a 4 WD jeep, but since this was sort of an unscheduled stop, I used a local tuktuk from the turn off. It was great fun!

The tuktuks no matter how adventurous their drivers would be, just cannot ply the last 2km rocky and uphill stretch, which looks like a slopy part of a dried river bed. At Rs. 500 up and down (you need to tell in advance the time to report to be picked up for the journey back!), it does seem a bargain compared to Rs. 5,000-7,000 that you have to pay for jeeps that have to come from all the way from Ratnapura and Sinharaja areas for this purpose. Walking the last stretch up weighed down by all the optical equipment was rather tiring especially due to the lack of overhead tree cover along that stretch, with humidity 90s not helping the cause. As most birders do not enjoy such high-adrenalin adventure while birding. Shiromi was my guinea pig for this experiment of tuktuk and trekking option—its not recommended if you are travelling with lots of equipement.

For all the physical hardships she had to endure, I was able to reward Shiromi with cracking scope views of a rare endemic butterfly Blue Oakleaf, which was spotted by me while trying its best to appear like a decayed leaf in a dimly lit area of the forest. What a fabulous example of protective resemblance!

Noteworthy birds included the Orange-billed Babbler, Crested Goshawk and Lesser Hill Myna.

After this unplanned excursion, we drove on to reach Sinharaja by lunch time.
And our exploration of the forest started post lunch—after recharging our batteries. Since this was the school holidays, there were several bus loads of local visitors numbering to over 500. Despite this, we had superb birding with several mixed species bird flocks. Shiromi had multiple scope views of pretty much all the flock-associated birds such as the Red-faced Malkoha, Malabar Trogon, and Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler, to name a few.

While returning to Martin’s after our birding walk, I noticed a stray dog carrying something big in the mouth. I got by binoculars on it immediately to see a half a chevrotain. The dog which carried it delivered it to a puppy that was around by which time ½ the carcass, from belly down, was missing. The ungrateful puppy started growling at the donor, and started to feed on it in front of us.

Groves and Meijaard who analyzed the skins and skulls of chevrotains from Sri Lanka and India (2005) found considerable differences and based on them they split the species into three, raising this particular wet zone population and Sri Lanka’s dry zone population into two endemic species, with the Indian species being the third. Accordingly this one is now known as Yellow-striped Chevrotain Moschiola kathygre. Also according to this study a further new species is due to be announced from Nuwara Eliya, which gives Sri Lanka three species of endemic Chevrotains.

Although there aren’t too many "strays" are around the regular trails that we go walking, I strongly advise visitors exploring Sinharaja's, and other jungle trails to that matter, to refrain from entertaining dogs that you come across in the village areas, as they are quite likely to follow you all the way into the forest and hunt local wildife.

I presume the dogs may have come with the big crowds that visited the forest today. Another causalty of mass-tourism! In the brief pre-breakfast walk on the 21st, Shiromi was fortunate of see the formation of a mixed-species bird flock close to the man entrance.

As I am particularly fond of studying the feeding ecology of the birds in the mixed-species bird flocks. And I was able to make a top behavioral observation, when the usually-insectivorous Orange-billed Babbler and Ashy-headed Laughingthrush fed on the fruits of the pioneer, Macaranga indica [Boo-kenda in Sinhala (pronounced as Boo-Can-the)].

I guess the insectivores birds would opportunistically feed on fruits when they are available. Back at Martin’s we enjoyed a birding breakfast. Soon it started to rain. Gradually, the rains got heavier; it lasted steadily for a good 2 ½ hours, giving us ample time to play two absorbing games of Scrabble, which I won!

Walking back to our vehicle on the 22nd, having said goodbye to Martin, we encountered a pair of Sri Lanka Myna inspecting a nest hole in a dead Fish-tail Palm (Cayota urens). It afforded us excellent views, and I was able to quickly fire some digi-scoping shots. We also encountered a secondary forest-associated mixed-species bird flock with a slightly different combination of species comprising of White-browed Bulbul, Black-capped Bulbul, Red-vented Bulbul, Yellow-billed Babbler, Common Iora, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Brown-headed Barbet, White-bellied Drongo, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, and Black-rumped Flameback. A potential split (for non-bird watchers: a bird likely to be elevated to a full species from its current sub-specific status of another species), Hill Munia was also see in the scope along the way.

Before heading back, I got the news today from Jaya, a birding colleague, that he had heard the news that a pair of Slaty-legged Crake had raised two young at a home garden of a villager, who had seen the chicks being raised from fluffy black ball-like stage onwards. These chicks have been accompanied by two parent birds. As this species is listed in the Sri Lankan bird list as regular migrant, this would be the first record of it breeding in Sri Lanka. We couldn't stop by to see these.

Another top non-birding highlight was when we observed an endemic Sri Lanka Blossom Krait Balanophis ceylonensis, devouring a toad. Its genus is a monotyptic one, meaning there is only 1 species under it, which in this case, is endemic to Sri Lanka.

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