Monday, 15 December 2008

Birding with a Royalist

Another trip to Sinharaja 'World Heritage' rain forest. My visitors this time were Chandanie Wanigatunge and her son Lahiru. Chandanie is a specialist physician and a senior lecturer in pharmacology at a top university in Sri Lanka. Lahiru, a Royalist, was the birder of the two, having got hooked on birds at the age of 6, following a school project. He had just turned 13—the age at which I myself got hooked on birds following a school project at St Peter’s.

Blue-tailed Bee-eater
I wasted no time in reminding Lahiru the 41-0 thrashing we gave to Royal at the School’s under-20 Rugby in 2007. This was very special for me as it was the first victory that I witnessed over Royal, having tasted many bitter and painful defeats—even in 1995, the year that I passed out, the year in which we were a formidable force in schools' rugby. We lost to Royal that year too! That was also the year Lahiru was born, I learnt.

Moving on to matters that are birding, we made our first wayside birding stop on the way to Sinharaja scoring a Crested Serpent Eagle sentinelled on a wayside lamp post. Several migrant Blue-tailed Bee-eaters and a Brown Shrike brought about more stops, thereafter.

Reaching Sinharaja, we bagged several False Lanternflies glued to a wayside tree near the ticket office. After obtaining our permits, and meeting our local guide, we reached our overnight base, Martin’s Simple Lodge, in time for a power lunch—a Sri Lankan rice and curry. It was a bit gloomy when we got there.

False Lanternfly
This pawpaw tree with splayed leaves smack in front of Martin’s restaurant/lounging/birding balcony was obstructing all decent angles for scoping birds that visit the trees in front. And it was blocking the spectacular view of the primary forest, yet nobody had done anything to get rid of it.

Pawpaw tree the pain
And the frigging tree produced no pawpaws! After careful diplomacy, I got the nod of approval for "selectively logging" this alien angiosperm. And soon, it was delegated to a person in martin's ‘inner circle,’ as it's usually done.

We went for our first walk to the forest, anticipating some soggy play. And as expected we made use of our brollies several times as it rained in an ‘on-off’ fashion. No mixed-species bird flocks. However, by the time we finished, we had a moderate haul of birds, with Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Legge’s Flowerpecker, Sri Lanka Crested Drongo, Crimson-backed Flameback, Bright Green Warbler, Dark-fronted Babbler, Black-capped Bulbul, Indian Swiftlet and Brown-breasted Flycatcher all in our list.

Birding was tough work today due to the rainy weather. We returned to Martin’s a bit early as the skies were looking really ominous. And the Pawpaw tree was still standing to cause more misery. Checklist and dinner and we retired early, as we had a 6 o’clock appointment with a flock of Sri Lanka Blue Magpies the following morning.
Asian Brown Flycatcher
We gathered at the restaurant/lounging area for a cuppa just before six the following morning. Distant raucous calls of the Sri Lanka Blue Magpies announced that they were on schedule. When the calls were closing in, I alerted everybody to get ready. Soon, about three Blue Magpies came to land on the railings, chairs and tables to find easy moth-prey under lights. It was amazing how confiding they were, at times even landing within three feet from us! After five minutes or so they vanished into the jungle but soon returned for a second serving.

Reaching a sun-lit edge after breakfast, we had good birding with Orange Minivets, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrots, Sri Lanka Green Pigeons and more Legge's Flowerpeckers keeping us regularly busy. When Chandanie was busy photographing a wood spider, I took Lahiru to see a nest of a Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler found by our local guide earlier. As we were seeing this nest built on an embankment, I heard faint calls of a few Ashy-headed Laughingthrushes moving in the undergrowth, and soon went for them.

It was then that we realised that we had caught what was actually a tail-end of a mixed species bird flock. The laughingthrush calls that I picked were heard from an otherwise muted mixed species bird flock. Which also looked to be in fast forward mode! Quick footwork to keep up with them gave Lahiru an overdose of lifers. These included Ashy-headed Laughingthrush—which betrayed the presence of the flock, Sri Lanka Crested Drongo—the playmaker of the flock, Red-faced Malkoha—enough said, and Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler. A Malabar Trogon eluded Lahiru, but I made amends by drawing a female after a pitched vocal dual lasting fifteen minutes! Brilliant scope views amply rewarded our perseverance.

Malabar Trogon
Some of the Sri Lanka Junglefowls are also getting quite tame around the main trail, and we had a male and a female posing nicely for us.

Sri Lanka Junglefowl
Few trees were in bloom, and a top highlight among them was this showy endemic Exacum trinervium (Binara in Sinhala).
When we returned to Martin’s before heading back home, the Pawpaw tree was still there, assaulting my senses. A man’s go to do what a man’s got to do and I had to execute this task myself before the "permit" expired. All for the benefit of the birding community!


Vickie said...

What an awesome birding day. Am I reading this right, you chopped down the tree? lol This dual with the tree gave me a laugh. What is the first beautiful bird? Did you get a photo of the eagle?

Gallicissa said...

Hi Vickie,
We were lucky to have caught that flock. Oh yes, I had to chop the tree myself. That pawpaw tree was much smaller when I was last there in Aug. Phew, don't they grow very fast?

The first bird was Blue-tailed Bee-eater. The names of images in this blog appears if you hover the mouse over the image....more often than not.

I got a record shot of the Eagle - it was a bit backlit, so I excluded it.

Tabib said...

Wah!, a bag full of exciting catch.

That macro shot of Lanternflies is my pick. Never seen this before.
The Blue-tailed Bee-eater is second, with sharp and matching green background.

spookydragonfly said...

The Malabar Trogon is my favorite! Now you're a lumberjack!! As always, wonderful photos, Amila!!

Doug Taron said...

Great birding, but here's what caught my attention:

Magpies find easy moth-prey under lights.

I want to come find easy moth-prey under the lights. Oh, and nice lantern fly.

Patrick Belardo said...

Interestingly, here in the US, we call your Pawpaw a "Papaya." We actually have another tree native to the US called the Paw-paw. I personally have never tasted the fruit, but it is a local speciality in some states:

flowergirl said...

What a nice day you have had! And the poor papaya tree!

Is that alien looking creature the false lanternfly you write about?! Wow! What is that appendage for - does it light up??

fishing guy said...

Amila: It sounds like you are having a ball on your birding expidition. you not only take great photos you tell a neat story.

Christopher said...

I said it before, and I'll say it again - I love coming to your site and learning about your birds and seeing the great photos.

On another note, I am tagging you for a meme: Info about it is

Chrisss said...

Fantastic photos. You're so lucky to be able to see these beautiful birds. Thanks for sharing them with us.

Gallicissa said...

Thanks a lot for your comments.
I am on tour until 30 Dec. I will reply your comments as soon as there is a faster internet connection.

Sunita said...

Great photos, Amila. I've been seeing a lot of the Bee-eaters here too but while they perch obligingly on a dead tree in a neighbouring plot, I've never been able to get them closer up in my own. So near yet so far!
The photo of that flower is just brilliant!

Mel said...

A great post as usual, you always make me dream of birding trips with your stories!

BTW, off topic comment...
¡¡¡Feliz Navidad!!!
Merry Christmas!!!
Hugs from Peru,

Pseudothemis zonata said...

Good evening.I have encountered a traffic accident in the afternoon of 24th in December. A car clashed with each other beside my bicycle suddenly. I have hurt a neck. All the dragonflies disappeared. I make blog of Dragonflies & Damselflies 2007 newly and begin upload of a photograph of last year. Because physical condition is not desirable, it takes time.

Gallicissa said...

Hi Tabib,
Thanks! It is a pretty neat looking insect. I am sure you have related forms there.

Hi Kim,
Haha...yes, I guess you can say so!
Glad you enjoyed the Malabar Trogon. It is always a pleasing to see them. We had to wait for a while to entice it to clear view but when it did emerge it remained there until we left the site!

Hi Doug,
We have far too many moths hear.
Of the three nights I stayed at Martin’s during my recently concluded tour, the Blue-magpies came only on the first morning.

Hi Patrick,
Yes, we also call it Papaya, which I is the correct name for Carica papaya. Pawpaw is just an alternate name used for it loosely but it is not accurate.

I just like the latter as it is cute...almost sounding like winnie the pooh!

Hi flowergirl,
Yes we had a pretty good trip.
Answer to your query can be found at

Hi fishing guy,
Thanks! Yes, we did well at the end to see some good birds, although lack of flock activity was a bit disappointing. I am glad you enjoyed this one.

Hi Christopher,
Oh-good - another tagging game!
I will come there for sure to learn what it is.

Hi Sunita,
Thanks! That Bee-eater was about 10m away and allowed a frame-filling shot. I find it easier to approach bee-eaters from a vehicle. That flower would have looked prettier with a butterfly on it, but I had no such luck!

Hi Mel,
Thanks as always!
An e-card is on the way to you.
Thanks for the greetings and hugs!

Hi PZ,
I am very sorry to hear about your accident. I hope it is not too bad. I wish you speedy recovery! I will drop by to see how you are.

spookydragonfly said...

Happy Birthday, Amila...and Happy New Year, too!

Gallicissa said...

Thanks Kim!
Happy New Year to you too!
I will drop by in your blog soon.

Dev Wijewardane said...

I've never lost to Peters either :P. My last year for Royal was 2001.

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