On the way, as usual, we had several wayside birding attractions. The first was this juvenile Crested Hawk Eagle sitting on a post in good light. The picture below was a digiscoped one (using Kowa TSN 823 scope with Nikon Coolpix 4500 camera fitted with custom-made adapters).
A distant blob on a power cable at 30 times zoom realized into another crested type—this time, a male Crested Treeswift. Nearing the ticket office in Sinharaja, our journey came to a stop again when I picked up this False Lantern-fly Pyrops maculata glued vertically to a tree trunk, which was our first real rain forest highlight.
This endemic land snail Oligospira sp.—possibly waltoni, didn’t hold us for too long. And we reached the ticket-office to get our permits. Awaiting our arrival at this point was Ranji, a local jeep driver, to shuttle us 3km up a very bumpy road to our rain forest accommodation that faces the primary forest.
After obtaining our permits and meeting our local guide, Suda, we drove up to Martin’s Simple Lodge, our overnight accommodation. We had to take the old and longer route as the shorter one that we used on my visit in March had become impassable due to heavy rains.
After reaching our accommodation, we enjoyed a cuppa at the lounge area, enjoying views of the lush scenery in front. A male Blue Mormon Papilio polymnestor butterfly breached our personal pace several times, coming within touching distance. A Yellow-fronted Barbet perched atop a tall Shorea megistophylla tree in front, becoming the first endemic bird to be scoped. And then, a noisy flock of Sri Lanka Mynas vied for our attention, evicting the barbet. That was endemic bird no. 2, and the scope needed very little adjustment. A Pale-billed Flowerpecker waited just long enough to reveal all 8cm of itself. A White-faced Starling proved the endemic no. 3.
We detached ourselves reluctantly from such easy pickings to go on our first proper walk. Blue skies greeted us above; we were told that was the first time in 4 days of heavy downpours.
Emma broke to me that she only needed two things to make her happy:
In contrast, Alex having read biology for his degree and having volunteered field work in the South American rain forests, had a more daunting list, which included a mixture of endemic birds and natural history specials.
We had a promising start with dragonflies: Green Skimmer Orthetrum sabina sabina, Asian Pintal Acisoma panorpoides panorpoides, Wall’s Grappletail Heliogomphus walli and a pair of Marsh Skimmers Orthetrum luzonicum reminding us the importance of walking slow in the forest.
Suda at his usual best, dazzled us by spotting this beauty in the form of a Five-bar Swordtail Pathysa antiphates, which was sitting on a Dicranopteris linearis (Old World Forked Fern; Kekilla in Sinhara).
A Tree-climbing crab Ceylonthelphusa scansor was found dead. A Kandian Day Gecko Cnemaspis kandiana and a Green Forest Lizard Calotes calote delayed our 200m march from Martin’s to the barrier gate further.
Soon after we entered the forest officially, Suda was at his element once again spotting this Common Brozeback Tree Snake Dendralaphis tristis resting on a tree fern.
A vocal pair of Square-tailed Black Bulbuls sounded as if they were ready to nest again for this year. This was confirmed by Alex, who saw one with nesting material. A few Black-capped Bulbul and Yellow-browed Bulbuls were seen soon after.
The butterfly action inside the forest was also good as expected after rains. A Clipper Parthenos sylvia descended to the path to tease us before veering off. A Sri Lanka Birdwing Troides darsius female kept to the upper levels, while a courting pair of Tree Nymph Idea iasonia were busy doing a delicate aerial dance. A Red Helan Papilio helenus was on a non-stop flight along the track.
An Indian Skipper Frog Euphlyctis cyanophlyctis spotted by Emma was reining in a puddle on the track that almost never go dry.
A gaudy male of the dragonfly, Spine-tufted Skimmer Orthetrum chrysis was not too far, making regular sorties from a low twig.
After we had almost reached the point, where I was trying to reach on this pre-lunch session, we chanced upon a mixed-species bird flock. A half an hour vigil at this point, yielded our targets in quick order, with Orange-billed Babbler, Legge's Flowerpecker, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush, scope views of two pairs each of Red-faced Malkoha and Malabar Trogon , several Sri Lanka Crested Drongos, a lone Lesser Yellownape, five Orange Minivets, and a few of the bulbuls all making appearances.
A juvenile Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher was also seen here; it didn’t appear to be part of the big flock. By the time we reached Martin’s for lunch, our hunger index— counted in the ascending scale from 0-10—had reached an-all time high of 8.5 for some of us.
Why we went for an extended pre-lunch session was realized 15-minutes into our post lunch walk as the heavens really opened as it is so typical at Sinharaja. It necessitated a hasty retreat to a shelter nearby. This was not before we bagged two more dragonflies to our growing tally in the form of a Shining Gossamerwing Euphaea splendens and this beautiful Amber-winged Glider Hydrobasileus croceus.
Alex picked up a raptor just as we have reached the shelter. A close inspection revealed that it was the Crested Hawk Eagle no. 2 for the day. When the rains eased off after about 30 minutes, a couple of Green Imperiel Pigeons arrived at a dead tree to give decent views. They were soon outnumbered by a flock of 11 Sri Lanka Green Pigeons that came to share the same tree.
We resumed our walk when the rains stopped. A call of a Sri Lanka Blue Magpie filled the air. That helped to locate it, and Emma was happy. A Spot-winged Thrush came to the track to find a last meal. A Sri Lanka Junglefowl male too came on to the track.
It turned overcast again affecting the light and visibility prompting us to make a slow retreat to our base. A troop of Purple-faced Monkeys Trachypithecus vetulus proved our last highlight of the twilight, before we reached our base for a good hot water shower, drinks, day’s log and dinner to end a splendid day-1.
The day 2 will continue soon.
making emma happy - part 2