The Mannar Island, in the North West Sri Lanka, is an unsung birding paradise. According to the FOGSL (Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka), this region falls within the 'Deccan avi-faunal zone,' which covers northwestern and northern Sri Lanka (roughly, above Puttlam). It is characterised by an avifauna that is shared with the Indian subcontinent that is either not, or rarely represented in the rest of Sri Lanka. These comprise of several resident and migratory species. I have been fortunate to make 4 birding trips to Mannar during 2003-2005, which included a single visit to one of the sand islands of the Adam’s bridge situated between Talaimannar and South India.
The first trip, done in 2003, sort of felt like a birding trip to a foreign country—as it yielded a bagfull of lifers for me.
In February, 2004, I led a birding day excursion to Mannar with group of English birders headed by John van der Dol, who were here on a 15 day birding trip. That visit boosted our trip list by no small measure, and it eventually helped us rake in a whopping 272 species of birds—a record for a 15-day birding tour in Sri Lanka by a long margin!
Click here to read the report.
The above picture shows one of such Mannar specialties: the Long-tailed Shrike. The ‘grey-crowned’ population of this Shrike, ranging from Afghanistan, North West India to North West/North Sri Lanka is treated as ‘Rufous-backed’ Long-tailed Shrike ‘Lanius schach erythronotus group’ by Dr. Pamela Rasmussen in her book; Birds of South Asia published in 2005.
Shrikes are open country predatory passerine birds with hooked bills recalling raptors. Their dark facial masks like that of a highwayman remind us of the cruel nature; shrikes are notorious for impaling their prey on thorns or barbed wire for later retrieval. This has earned them the colloquial name: 'butcher birds' in some countries. This behaviour common to most shrikes the world over is especially used to good effect in temperate climates to store food in larders to be consumed later when the food becomes scarce. I was able to observe this interesting behaviour on one of my trips to Mannar when a ‘Rufous-backed’ Long-tailed Shrike was seen catching a large beetle. It impaled the catch on a barbed wire before commencing to take bite-sized pieces of it, demonstrating the finest of shrikian etiquettes.
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