Monday, 28 April 2008

Blues & related forms- Part 1

I have decided to take all Blues and related forms seriously. They are butterflies belonging to the family Lycaenidae, the second largest buttefly family in the world with over 6,000 species—which accounts for nearly 40 % of the known species of butterflies. With 85 species, they represent over 1/3 of the total number of species of butterflies in Sri Lanka. Also referred as lycaenids by the serious types, these butterflies are characterised by their metallic colours: mostly blue in the upper sides, quick flight and sun-loving nature.

Blues can pose serious ID challenges similar to LBJs in birding due to their diminutive nature, and subtle inter species differences—often a few tiny spots marking the difference between similar looking ones. Therefore, when confronted with these tiny flying puzzles, most naturalists resort to a convenient escape route to loosely lump them all as "blues" or "lycaenids," without putting the effort to narrow their idenitifcations down to species level. To be honest, I was one of these until very recently.

For them, I have now started to use the same method that I use to learn dragonflies and damselflies: (macro) photograph them first, look them up in various sources to identify them myself first before getting my results verified by experts. Although the first aspect could be daunting at times, I find this method to be the best one to learn such tough groups of insects properly.

Here I list a few Lycaenids photographed at various locations including at my home garden. I’d like to thank the entomologist Michael van der Poorten, who is working on a book on butterflies of Sri Lanka, for taking the time to confirm my identifications; I got six right and 1 wrong!

Oh! And I also share here my geek score. Isn't this a fitting occation do so ? How about yours?

30% Geek

Tiny Grass Blue Zizula hylax
Tiny Grass Blue - male at my home garden
Tiny Grass Blue Zizula hylax Tiny Grass Blue - mating at my home garden Common Hedge Blue Actyolepis pushpa felderi

Common Hedge Blue at Sinharaja Metallic Cerulean Jamides alecto

Metallic Cerulean Common Cerulean Jamides celeno

Common Cerulean at my home garden Plains Cupid Chilades pandava

Plains Cupid African Babul Blue Azanus jesous

African Babul Blue Lesser Grass Blue Zizina otis

Lesser Grass Blue Yamfly Loxura atymnus
Yamfly at my home garden Common Pierrot Castalius rosimon
Common Pierrot at my home garden

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Birds in my local patch

Large areas of my local wetland patch, where I have birded since childhood, have now been reclaimed for development to meet the growing needs of humanity. However, the remaining pockets still offer good hope. The owner of this private wetland is a friend of mine. Thankfully, he has assured me that the core wetland area rich in birdlife will be spared.

I am sharing here a few photographs taken at this wetland in peril.

Common Kingfisher - male

Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis– One of the four kingfishers in the area and a regular at this site. According to the owner of the wetland there existed a 5th species of kingfisher in the area. He explained: “...a small and reddish-hued bird, which preferred densely wooded inland areas as opposed to open water bodies”. According to him, it has locally gone extinct because of habitat loss.

This almost certainly is Black-backed Dwarf Kingfisher Ceyx erithaca—a real avian gem. A late naturalist friend of mine, Roshan (aka. Rotiya!), claimed this species in this area about 15 years ago, which was considered dodgy by some 'experts'. Although I have not been fortunate to see it in this area, I still maintain some feeble hope that it exists, albeit in small numbers, as certain patches seem just right for it.

Blue-tailed Bee-eater Blue-tailed Bee-eater Merops philippinus– a regular migrant that I am never tired of seeing.

Pied Kingfisher - female
Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis (aka. Lesser P K) – A pair of these visits a few preferred spots at late afternoons, and sits for long giving prolonged views. Quite a photogenic bird.

Purple HeronPurple Heron Ardea purpurea– A nest and roost colony of these comprising easily over 40 individuals is the biggest concentration of this species seen by me anywhere.

Plain Prinia Plain Prinia Prinia inornata– A rather common bird, seen regularly. This one started calling close to me claiming its patch and posed for some photos. This is the endemic sub species insularis, which is "dark, large, heavy-billed & short-tailed"

White-browed BulbulWhite-browed Bulbul Pycnonotus luteolus– A common scrubland bird, which is endemic to Sri Lanka and southern India.
Lesser Whistling-duckLesser Whistling-duck Dendrocygna javanica A rather common wetland species that is found in flocks numbering over 50 at times. Large number of 'whistling' flocks of these flying over my house at dusk used to be a common thing in the past, but sadly, not anymore.

Yellow Bittern Yellow Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis –This as well as the species below have their resident populations augmented by migrant populations from late October –April during which time their sightings are more regular.
Black Bittern -femaleBlack Bittern Dupetor flavicollis –Not as common as the preceding species. Sightings are mostly in late afternoons. It is in its element by dusk, when it shows up well in the open, often affording prolonged views.

Purple SwamphenPurple Swamphen Porphyrio poliocephalus– A rather common resident found in fair numbers.

Chestnut-headed Bee-eaterChestnut-headed Bee-eater Merops leschenaulti– A small breeding population is found in the area quite recently. I am quite pleased about it as it is very much an uncommon bird. If I ever get around doing a checklist for the birds in my patch this would clearly grace the front cover.

The above post is my contribution to I and the Bird #76 hosted by Sussanah the Wanderin' Weeta. I and the Bird - Birding Blog Carnival

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Dragons in my garden Part 2

This is a follow up to an earlier post done on dragonflies found in my home garden. Here I list 10 species.

1. Sombre Lieutenant Brachydiplax sobrina

Sombre Lieutenant

2. Marsh Skimmer Orthetrum luzonicum

Marsh Skimmer

3. Paddyfield Parasol Neurothemis intermedia intermedia

Paddyfield Parasol

4. Amber-winged Glider Hydrobasileus croceus

Amber-winged Glider

5. Sri Lanka Forktail Macrogomphus lankanensis (endemic species)

Sri Lanka Forktail

6. Pied Parasol Neurothemis tullia tullia

Pied Parasol

7. Spine-legged Redbolt Rhodothemis rufa

Spine-legged Redbolt

8. Variegated Flutterer Rhyothemis variegata variegate

Variegated Flutterer

9. Green Skimmer Orthetrum sabina Sabina

Green Skimmer

10. Scarlet Basker Urothemis signata signata

Scarlet Basker

This post is my maiden contribution to the Circus of the Spineless # 32 hosted by Deep-sea News

Circus of the Spineless

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Flying Penguins

Watch this truly amazing footage captured by the BBC of Flying Penguins, which sheds new light on the Darwin's theory of evolution. This was shown to the worldwide audiences for the first time a little over a week ago.

Isn't it awesome?
Now, watch the one below to see behind the scenes to see how this ‘rare footage' was actually captured.

I found this first in this post in Laura's Birding Blog.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Sinharaja with FOGSL - 2008

Green Pit Viper in Sinharaja rain forest 23 March, 2008
I accepted a last minute request to lead my second successive trip to Sinharaja rain forest for the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) from 20-24 March, 2008. This was in the absence of Prof. Kotagama, who usually leads this annual birding pilgrimage. (Click here to read the 2007 report). The (current) President of the FOGSL, Rahula Perera, joined from day-2 onwards to provide further fire-power to the cadres on the ground. This year’s Sinharaja trip had been brought forward after a reshuffling of the FOGSL’s tour calendar. Perhaps due to this, only eight participants joined the trip, which in the end, proved quite a manageable number for a good birding trip. Four of them were on their maiden visit to this birding mecca.

Noteworthy hits and misses—birds

Sri Lanka Myna Gracula ptilogenys—I scoped a pair in a tall Alstonia tree from the Kudawa bridge. Our first top bird. As the members rotated to get closer looks at this uncommon endemic, it took my memory back to April, 1990, when I made my first visit to Sinharaja rain forest, as a schoolboy, on a field trip organised by our nature club at St. Peter’s College. Nobody scoped any bird to me because nobody had a scope to scope. None of us even had a pair of binoculars to even share between us! The local guide we had was knowledgeable on flora, but not on birds. I relied totally on my unaided-eyes to spot and enjoy things, and this, over time, made me sharper in the field. So much so, I was able to spot and identify birds at great distances with a remarkable accuracy. These field skills gradually diminished after I started to use binoculars, and later, scopes. Now, I am compelled to to raise my Leicas to such common fare as Red-vented Bulbuls at times, unable to tell it apart from birds of similar shape. Not good!

Times have changed now, and the newbies are getting scope views of the endemic birds in perfect light—with interpretative commentary delivered in the background of the diagnostics to look, and stuff.

Sri Lanka Frogmouth Batrachostomus moniliger—We saw a nest of this with a brooding adult male, and the chick it was brooking. A nest reported earlier was not to be seen, and the local guides suspected that the chick may have been "predated." As certain nest predators may remove the entire nest while predating on the nest contents, and because the chick observed earlier didn’t appear to be grown enough to fledge by the time of our recent trip, I was sort of in favour of accepting this sad verdict. Thandula Jayaratne, a local guide in Sinharaja, wrote a piece to Forktail (20)—"the Journal of Asian Ornithology" of Oriental Bird Club (OBC) in 2004 documenting a Sri Lanka Frogmouth nest observation.

The nest built by Sri Lanka Frogmouth is quite small and when the chick is ready to fledge, it fills the entire nest—at times bursting out of it. So it is clearly visible under the brooding male parent bird. Thandula's supporting photograph to confirm this, graced the front cover of the aforementioned journal. According to Thandula's observation, the entire nest was removed by the male parent bird after the chick had fledged. Coming back to the current nest observation, no local guide had seen the chick developed into that ready-to-fledge stage. Flight views of a pair of Sri Lanka Frogmouths were had on day 3, before retreating to their roosts.

Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon (aka. "Lady Torrington's Pigeon") Columba torringtonii—I have been keeping an eye on this endemic during the past several months. Therefore, I was quite pleased when one of these was deftly spotted by my colleague Nishantha Ganeshapriya when we paused to look at a mixed species bird flock on the way to our accommodation on our day-1. This was my first Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon at Sinharaja for this year. It didn’t appear to be a participant of the bird flock, but was sitting inside a dimly-lit thicket, as it usually does. Basically, it had distinctly smallish scruffy head, which fitted incongruously onto a pretty bulkier body giving it a rather unusual "jizz." Doesn't it look an ornithological joke!

A Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon immature in Sinharaja rain forest - 20, March, 2008It turned out to be an immature bird as it showed plenty of pin-feathers and naked areas in the head appearing very much like a bird hatched in the present calendar year. This endemic is known to breed above 720m above sea level in the highlands in Sri Lanka, and so far no nest/breeding activity of it had been reported at the lowland reaches of Sinharaja rain forest (the areas regularly visited by bird watchers every year—roughly at an elevation of 450-600m.)Close up of the head showing pin-feathers and naked facial areas of an immature Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon in Sinharaja 20 March, 2008

It is well-known that Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon undertakes altitudinal migrations from its usual range in the central highlands—typically above 1000m down to lowlands of around 300m (rarely lower). As with most endemic birds in Sri Lanka, no focused single-species studies have been done of Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon yet; thus, large gaps exist regarding our knowledge of their behaviour and ecology. Therefore, information such as just when it undertakes migration, what triggers it, and whether immature birds join such inter-migrant flocks is not documented. I presume this would be the first instance of occurance of immature (or first calender year individuals) birds are reported in Sinharaja rain forest with supporting photographic evidence.

In February this year, Java Jones made me turn green with envy mentioning a sighting of a flock of at least fifteen Sri Lanka Wood Pigeons in his hill retreat Flowerbook close to Welimada. Several FOGSL members too confessed getting more than their fair share of sightings of the Sri Lanka Wood Pigeons in a birding trip to Haputale in early February, 2008, including observing courting and mating pairs. In my 15-day Absolute Birding trip—our only observation of this essentially montane endemic was at Surrey Estate at Welimada, when we had a pair at eye-level.

Coming back to the current Sinharaja trip, we had two more sightings of Sri Lanka Wood Pigeons, which included a flight view seen only by me on day-2, and a perched adult bird seen by everybody on day-3.
In late March this year, Java Jones noted a drop in their numbers.

This drop of the numbers in Welimada (and such preferred breeding elevational areas) by late March, and parallel increase in sightings of the Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon sightings in lowland areas such as Sinharaja at the same time may be because of it engaging in internal migration from the highlands to the lowlands this time of the year. So birds such as Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon may require a larger area in the wet zone for its survival than the average sedentary endemics.

Red-faced Malkoha Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus – an animated pair provided eye-ball views low down on day-1. (Those newbies were lucky or what? I had to wait for a good four long years to see my first!)

Green-billed Coucal Centropus chlororhynchos—Quite vocal around the research camp. Observed a pair briefly before seeing it in an all too familiar disappearing act. A few of the members had seen a juvenile too accompanied by parent birds (probably consisting of fledged individuals from the nest that I discovered in January, just 25 m away as a crow coucal flies).

Chestnut-winged Crested Cuckoo Clamator coromandus—flight views at pre-dawn.
Indian Cuckoo Cuculus micropterus—Another bird that livened up our very first walk on day-1, when a perched individual, in a nicely-lit patch in the forest edge after rains, gave soothing views.

Indian Cuckoo in Sinharaja rain forest - 20 March, 2008Sri Lanka Spurfowl Galloperdix bicalcarata—A fleeting glimpse near our accommodation. A pair was seen by a few other members near the entrance.

Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush Zoothera imbricata—Not a breath! Its site was checked at midday hours, but not in late afternoon, where chances for it are higher. This fact together with large number of visitors attracted because of public holidays was probably the reason why we missed this shy terrestrial endemic.

Sri Lanka Blue Magpie
Urocissa ornata—A fledged juvenile being fed by two parents and a helper was a pleasing sight as we entered the forest on day-1 taking advantage of the respite had from heavy rains. Regular sightings were had on all days including many seen behind the kitchen at the research camp, coming to feed on the rice thrown out by the research students. Fledged juveniles were also to be seen over there.

One of the begging juvenile Sri Lanka Blue Magpies attended by two caring parents and a helper in Sinharaja rain forest - 20 March, 2008White-faced Starling Sturnia albofrontata—Easily over twenty birds were seen close to our accommodation almost every morning. Also observed feeding on Bombu fruits Symplocos cochinchinensis.

White-faced Starling in Sinharaja rain forest on a Bombu tree - 23 March, 2008Spot-winged Thrush Zoothera spiloptera—I observed one feeding on Bombu fruits.

Noteworthy hits– Natural History

Green Pit Viper Trimeresurus trigonocephalus—The top non-birding star of the trip seen on day-3. This was, by far, the biggest individual I have ever seen. We saw it thanks to some "real time ground intelligence" by Ranjaka—the local guide who was with me while chasing targets with Israel Leinbach. I predicted that it would be seen on the following day at the same site given the site-fidelity shown by it to a selected daytime resting place, and rightly so, found it on day-4 giving us more photo opportunities.

Common Bronzeback Tree Snake Dendrelaphis tristis – First reptile of the trip observed on day-1.

Green Pit Viper in Sinharaja rain forest - 24 March, 2008

Tawny Rajah Charaxes psaphon - a male of this beautiful butterfly was observed at the point identified commonly as Maguru-wala, near the first rest hut after entering through the main entrance (known as the barrier gate). My first of this rare butterfly was seen and photographed at the exact location in November ‘07 while guiding Alan and Lucy Smith as reported. Fresh from my memories from that encounter, I calmed a few anxious photographers in the group when one of these were seen in active flight that it will eventually settle down for us. As predicted, it did, first on a mud puddle, and second, on a bird dropping on a fern.

Tawny Rajah in Sinharaja rain forest - 22 March, 2008Five-bar Swordtail Pathysa antiphates—Of this, Bernard d’Abrera’s Butterflies of Ceylon says: “...In the glorious days of the study of butterflies at the turn of the century (and between the wars), so punctual was it, that it used to be known as the “12 O’clock Fly.” As this good book says, we encountered it at midday, soon after a downpour when it came down to settle on the damp ground near the research camp.

Five-bar Swordtail - A rare Swallowtail butterfly in Sinharaja rain forest -23 March, 2008Binara Exacum sp.—The picture showing showy little flowers in bloom of this was posted in the previous post. Quite pretty.

Blue Glassy Tiger Ideopsis similis—Rather common butterfly at Sinharaja.

Blue Glassy Tiger in Sinharaja rain forest - 22 March, 2008
The above article is my contribution to I And The Bird#73 hosted by A Snail's Eye View

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Two Blogging awards

Binara in bloom in Sinharaja Rain forest - 23, March, 2008 Report coming up...
Gallicissa has won two Blogging Awards in 2008!
In January, it has been picked as the ‘Best Newcomer’ in 2007 Blogging Awards by Rhythmic Diaspora of London, Lanka and Drums, the top lifestyle blog that rocks the Sri Lankan blogsphere and beyond.
I was out on a tour when the ‘Award ceremony’ had apparently taken place and discovered this accidentally. Introducing the nominees Rhythmic Diaspora says:

“Gallicissa is a blog by a chap called Amila Salgado, a bird watching scrabble player. I use his name because he uses it, so hope he doesn't mind. It's a haven of stories and stunning pictures of Sri Lankan birds, snakes and other creepy crawly things that can be seen in any one of Colombo's 5 star hotel restaurants. I'm no bird watcher but this blog has grabbed my attention by the gonads and I read it with interest and intrigue”.

Unsurprisingly, the Best Written Blog for 2007 has been won by Ephemeral Ruminations of Java Jones; a potential opponent who could halt my golden run of Scrabble one of these days!
My short speech:

“(wiping tears) I’d like to thank Rhythmic Diaspora for this rare moment of glory that a Sri Lankan Blog can enjoy only once in its lifetime.”

In February, Gallicissa was awarded a Golden Eagle Blog Award by Island Rambles in Vancouver, Canada. This fabulous Bird and Nature blog is done by a very nice lady named Ocean and she has this to say…

“Gallicissa is Amila in Sri Lanka and he has the best birding photos and some of his photos are so extraordinary you cannot believe the birds he gets...he got the secretive Bay Owl and was the first birder to visit the Sinharaja rain forest.... check him out for some wild bird pics. Don't we all want to go there? He is a super photographer”

My short acceptence speech:

"This, clearly, is a momentous day for mankind! I’d like to say a big thank you to Ocean! This is a great honour. I am pleased to be recognised from people as far away as British Columbia. I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank that gaaad, my family, my manager... hold on, I don't have one...Anyway, thank you all. It's been business doing pleasure wih ya'll. Mother Nature, this one's for you!”
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