Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Fines at Sinharaja

Joan and Martin Fine from Selby, England did a 2-day birding and photography tour to Sinharaja rain forest with me from 11-12 March, 2008. They were on the beach leg of their Sri Lankan holiday (the cosy Club Palm Bay Hotel in Marawila) booked through a British tour operator. Joan's been a pretty active twitcher and claims over 400 species of birds in her British list. She now has moulted into a "go-slow birder,"—a formally active twicther now taking the middle path of birding.

This is marked by general slow approach to things and very importantly not getting too flustered over missing out on special target birds. Martin is a serious photographer and enjoys birds.

Having birded in Goa in South India, and having done a round tour in Sri Lanka a few days before, Joan was fluent with most of the Indian sub-continent bird species, which made things sort of easier for me. Our first special highlight at Sinharaja was a nest of a Sri Lanka Frogmouth with a brooding male parent bird in it. This nest was built on a branch, which stood right above the gently sloping track. Advancing a few steps up, we were able to get an angle at almost eye-level, which was perfect for photography with less backlighting. Martin was able to get some good photos. I too made hey getting my best shots of this sub-continental endemic in the nest. Observing it in the scope, Joan picked up a fledgling sanwiched between the parent bird an the nest, when the latter wriggled out of it to relieve itself. It spurted the waste matter out of the nest, showing good nest sanitation practices. We were able to photograph this reasonably well as documented previously. Soon, we reached our overnight rain forest accommodation, Martin’s Simple Lodge to enjoy a nice rice and curry lunch. This March has turned out to be unusually rainy early on. For much of the wet zone, it had taken the shape of conventional nature (at least in the first two weeks) with clear skies in the first half of the day, which gradually gets cloudy by midday with heavy downpours accompanied by thunder starting from round 3.00/3.30 p.m. lasting until about 4.30/5.00 p.m—conditions usually typical between late March and April. Expecting things to be no different this afternoon too, our birding was limited to the bird rich patches around our rain forest accommodation, which overlooks a ridge enveloped by primary rain forest. This produced a few usual suspects including Black-capped Bulbul, Square-tailed Black Bulbul, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Orange Minivet, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Legge’s Flowerpecker and Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot.White-faced Starling & Yellow-fronted Barbet in SinharajaThe heavens opened at 3.30 p.m. It  turned the verdant forest view we were enjoying into one of gloomy and blurry nature—offering little hope for doing anything else, but play Scrabble. The Fines were looking forward for this having heard enough of my boastful small talk. The rainstorm stopped at around 4.45 p.m. We were nearly done with our "absorbing" game of scrabble too, and I paused it in order to squeeze in a good hour’s birding, thereafter. This brief session was productive with good bird activity and it gave us excellent views of a few specials including White-faced Starling, Sri Lanka Myna, Sri Lanka Green Pigeon, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, Gold-fronted Leafbird, Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Sri Lanka Crested Drongo, Brown-backed Needletail, and Spot-winged Thrush. The streams were gushing making the forest noisier than normal and we discovered that marsh near the entrance had turned into huge lake! We returned to our rain forest accommodation for a hot water shower, daily log and dinner. Getting that unfinished business finished, saw me thrashing the two Brits, 211-148-138, continuing my golden run!

The final reading of our ScrabbleAs expected, we had great weather the following morning. However, the Sri Lanka Blue Magpies didn’t arrive at early morning to lay siege around Martin’s restaurant and viewing area, as they usually do, to feed on the insects found under lamps, which would have given Joan an early tick on her birthday. This is the breeding season for this rain forest corvid. During this time, the two parent birds are assisted by helpers for their nesting/parental chores as discovered by my birding buddy from schooling days Chaminda Ratnayake, who is studying Sri Lanka Blue Magpie for his PhD. The absence of the magpies may be due to them being burdened with young.

After breakfast, we undertook our first walk along the former logging tracts, which provide prime access to this forest. We didn’t walk all the way up to the research camp as usually done but returned after reaching the second hut, a couple of hundred metres short of it. A pair of Sri Lanka Blue Magpies were seen early in our walk with begging young giving Joan her a "birthday bird." We weren’t lucky to get a full-blown mixed species bird flock, which would have produced most of our mouth-watering specials in a matter of a few minutes. However, this didn’t matter for us as we had scope views of two usually flock-associated specials in the form of a male Malabar Trogon and a single Red-faced Malkoha in the canopy foliage about 40 metres up a tree, when we encountered what looked like a disintegrated bird flock.

A couple of Lesser Yellownapes were also bagged here, which weren’t new to Joan. Soon, the scarce endemic, Green-billed Coucal flew towards us responding to my renditions of its sonorous call giving nice views, overheads. It was joined by another bird and soon I was able to scope one of these inside a thicket to offer excellent views for us. At this point we came across some visiting birders  which included a Polish ornithologist with a PhD on bird nest architecture! We shared our scope view of the coucal with them. Other noteworthy new birds found in the walk were Sri Lanka White-eye, Brown-capped Babbler, Dark-fronted Babbler, Black-naped Monarch, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Black Eagle, Asian Paradise Flycatcher and Large-billed Leaf Warbler.
Spine-tufted Skimmer in SinharajaLack of a proper mixed species bird flock meant that we missed out on one of the two nuclear species of Sinharaja’s mixed species bird flock—Orange-billed Babbler—which shows a 92 % presence according to a long running study done since 1981. This doesn’t happen too often as this gregarious bird is also the most numerically present member of the flock—with an average of 16 individual birds in Sinharaja’s bird flocks.

We also missed out on another flock-associated gregarious species, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush. In her enlightened state of middle-path birding, these misses didn’t matter much to Joan. Then again, this is exactly why it is recommended to visit this forest over three days to do some justice to this site!

The two guides also found plenty of natural  history highlights, which kept Martin engaged, and these included Giant Squirrel, Layard’s Squirrel, Dusky-striped Squirrel, Purple-faced Leaf Monkey, Toque Macaque, Green Forest Lizard, Kangaroo Lizard and butterflies: Great Eggfly, Blue Glassy Tiger, Tailed Jay, Plum Judy, Three-spot Grass Yellow, Tree Nymph and Great Crow. The striking red dragonfly; Spine-tufted Skimmer (aka. Red S.) obliged for good close ups, as did Pied Parasol (aka. Black Velvet-wing).Great Eggfly at Sinharaja 12 Mar, 2008Returning to the beach hotel after lunch, I bailed out at my home range half way through and our driver, Sameera, drove Joan and Martin to Marawila to finish the tour. We would meet them again in a few days for a water birds day tour.

The above article is my contribution to I And The Bird #74 hosted by Consworld


Anonymous said...

Sounds like another good trip. Hey, no wonder you're hard to beat at Scrabble - what with words like YA, WO, ZO, JIZ, DI, TA, NEB, etc.?!! Must have some special Scrabble word-book around!

Amila Suwa said...

Thanks Java. You’re right; most of those ‘allowed words’ are pretty unheard of.
That is exactly why I consider the “Collins Scrabble Tournaments & Club Word List” –a life saver and a perfect remedy to curb sound pollution when played at pristine environments! As the name implies, it contains only a list of words that are ‘allowed’ and gives no meanings. It is however, the most comprehensive Scrabble word list ever, including World English from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, UK and USA brought together in a single list. FYI, I bought it from Vijitha Yapa Book shop at Unity Plaza @ Rs. 1,790 (£8.30)

There is a newer one (that I’d love to receive as a gift) titled “COLLINS OFFICIAL SCRABBLE DICTIONARY” [Second edition - £25!] With succinct and practical definitions for every word of between two and nine letters. I highly recommend one of these for you too to have it at the Flowerbook.

BTW, ‘Neb’ was done by Martin; meaning nose or beak, used in his part of England apparently. ‘Jiz’ wasn’t mine either.

Anonymous said...

How about 'jizzum'??

But when we play we will have to stick to 'conventional' words, okay? Anyway, I haven't played for years, so it would be a 'no contest' either way!

Amila Suwa said...

Nope - not allowed yet!!
I am sure it will become an allowed word in the fullness of time.

BTW, in birding parlance, we talk about the "jizz" of a bird to mean the shape and movements of it or its 'personality'. This is popularly believed to be derived from a Word War-2 military parlance; GISS meaning General Impression of Size and Shape (used for differentiating friendly and enemy planes). However, I have read alternate interpretations to say that Ornithological usage of ‘jizz’ predates the military one.

So long as we stick to playing conventional scrabble you and I will not have any problem, okay??

If at all you should blame the English language for assimilating all sorts of outlandish words into it! I am simply playing by the rules!

I will be honest with you; I am a great admirer of your style of writing and language skills. And I am confident you will be a formidable opponent. At no point will I be complacent only to regret later!!

DON said...

hey nice blog how many days did it take to do all this work ? ;)

Amila Suwa said...

Hi Don,
Thanks for dropping by. I started blogging in Oct, '07. However, this blog covers my sightings and reports since Jan '07 so at the start I was kind of busy clearing the 'backlog', which I managed to do by Dec,'07. Since then it has been smooth sailing and I chip in with things in between tours. Cheers!

Mel said...

I like reading your reports and beautiful pictures, it feels like being there!

Amila Suwa said...

Hi Mel,
Thanks a lot for your comments.
I am glad you like reading my reports. You sound a pretty (well, you look too!) honest person, especially judging by the title of your birdie blog. I've just added a link to it.

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