Since entering the forest this morning, apart from a few ‘lounging’ pigeons and mynas, we hardly had more than half a dozen chances to raise our binoculars for birds. Okay, we were also looking at other stuff. But, we didn’t have any major birding to speak of, apart from mostly distant views. That soon changed, when we literally walked into this flock at a clearing—at a known hotspot of flock activity.
It positively lived up to my hype about Sinharaja’s flocks—mentioned in my tour commentary on the way to Sinharaja. Emma was quick to remind the catch phrase that I used to describe it— “an explosion of birds.” And it was just that. They were on both sides of the forest; they were everywhere. Raise the binoculars to look at one bird; you miss the big picture. It was a one big feeding frenzy and a crowded scene at that.
It was a rain forest avian buffet, and we were positively spoiled by the spread!
We had a good choice of endemic starters in the form of Orange-billed Babblers numbering over 25 and easily over 6 Sri Lanka Crested Drongos aka. Greater Racket-tailed Drongos. Well, these two species almost always are instrumental in starting flocks, so it isn't wrong to name them the starters.
Our next couse—the soup if you like to imagine—was a half a dozen Black-capped Bulbuls, and 5 Sri Lanka Blue Magpies (gotta be Bridget Jones type blue soup).
We had several mouth-watering endemic main course specials in the form of 3 Red-faced Makohas, a dozen or so Ashy-headed Laughingthrushes, a couple of Legge’s Flowerpeckers, several White-faced Starlings and 3 cracking Crimson-backed Flamebacks (a male shown above). If these weren’t enough to tempt you, we had some South Indian and Sri Lankan specials in 4 tempting Malabar Trogons and about 6 Orange Minivets.
Judging by the calls, there were at least a single endemic Green-billed Coucal and a pair of Sri Lanka Scimitar Babblers somewhere in the spread, but we couldn’t find them. So like in buffets.
For dessert we had endemic frugivorous delights in the form of 8 Layard’s Parakeets a couple of Yellow-fronted Barbets. If you are into Oriental delicacies, we had that too in 3 Lesser Yellownapes and a couple of Black-naped Monarchs.
Finally, for those of us who like a cup of coffee to finish off, we had plenty of South Indian and Sri Lankan brewed Square-tailed Black Bulbuls—to leave us positively bloated!
Birding can be a different ball game if you are new to the tropical rain forests such as Sinharaja. Here, you can walk for hours without much birding to talk about. And then you find ‘flock’ or a ‘bird wave’or to use a more formal name—a mixed-species bird flock. The flock study at Sinharaja was pioneered by Prof. Sarath Kotagama of the University of Colombo in the early 80s. Eben Goodale from the US joined the study in the mid 90s, which eventually earned him many good things in his life including a PhD. Thanks to their pioneering work, Sinharaja’s flock has now become one of the best-studied bird flocks in the world. Standing on the shoulders of these giants, some of their fascinating findings were discussed in this post by me. It will be useful reading if you are completely new to this unique avian phenomenon.
To read an article by Dr. Eben Goodale, Prof. Sarath Kotagama, and me about the playmaker of Sinharaja's mixed-species bird flock, see the July issue of the Natural History magazine published by the American Museum of Natural History. You can visit their site by clicking on the logo below.
1. Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush Zoothera imbricata —This scarce endemic was seen only by me. Picking up its high pitched call heard over the sound of water, I delivered a rendition of its call. And just seconds after that, a Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush materialized in view holding some mossy nesting materiel indicating nesting activity! We exchanged some verbal duals and were locked in stares in the 30 seconds that ensued, which was great fun!
I didn’t have my scope near me to digi-scope it and I knew that it will fly away if I try to reach it. And it did take wing as I anticipated when I reached to grab it. But soon it responded again and perched nearby to allow this record shot. As it was busy nesting, we decided to leave it alone.
2. A pair of dragonflies that I photographed in July, 2006 in Sinharaja was confirmed by the Odonatologist, Matjaž Bedjanič to be an entirely new species of the genus Lyriothemis of the skimmer family; Libelluidae! This is the male, which I was fotunate to find on this trip again.
I was told that some other expert had taken over the formal description of this species, which is pending. I am happy that we’d have a new species to boost our list of 117 species of Odonata. Here's the female of it.
3. Blue Mormon Papilio polymnestor—Emma cleverly spotted this imago emerging from its pupa at Martin’s garden when we went in search of a Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, which we saw as well. It was found below its host plant, which was of the family Rubiaceae.
4. Jungle Threadtail Elattoneura caesia—Emma also spotted this endemic damselfly.
5. Green Forest Lizard aka G.Garden L Calotes calote —This lizard was found in some invasive pioneer Koster's Curse Clidemia hirta to which it was perfectly merged to.
I conclude this post by saying that Emma had more than her fair share of sightings of Sri Lanka Blue Magpies and was not bitten by a leech. Therefore, she was very happy at the end. Nor was Alex a victim of leeches. And they both lived happily thereafter.
making emma happy - part 1