Monday, 30 June 2008

Confessions of a peak dodger*

The sunrise from the summit of Adam's Peak showing the conical shadow of the Adam's Peak cast on the veil of mist on the western side for a brief moment

I joined FOGSL’s annual birding pilgrimage to the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary from 20-22 June. This is the only wilderness area in Sri Lanka with attitudinally-graded rain forests ranging from lowland rain forests-up to 1,000m, sub-montane forests from 1,000-1,500m & montane aka cloud forests above 1,500m. These pristine rainforests covering an area of 224 envelop the Adam’s Peak (2,243m), which is the 4th tallest mountain in Sri Lanka. According to the local Buddhist tradition, a footprint atop this lofty peak is believed to be the foot print of the Buddha. Hindus on the other hand believe it to be their god; Shiva. Other traditions assert that it is the footprint of Adam, left by his first entrance into the world. Net result of all these is this is a pretty important site of pilgrimage in Sri Lanka. It brings together peoples from various faiths in their thousands during the peak pilgrimage season from Dec-April.

FOGSL’s visit to this important bird area (IBA) is done in the off-season to avoid the crowds & chaos. On the previous trip that I took part, we stayed overnight at the ambalama (free lodging shelter) at the Seetha Gangula (colder creek – translation mine) about half way up. This was quite exciting as it made us climb at least half way up towards the Adam’s Peak to earn a warm meal. It is rather cold at night at this camp site. So, we had to lug our sleeping bags & 'stuff'. These ground realities made this annual trip earn a reputation as a tough one out of the calendar of birding trips put together by the FOGSL. And unsurprsingly, the arm-chair birders in us happily eschewed this trip.

Things were different this time. The lodging was arranged at the ambalama at the Palabaddala village, which is a base-camp situated at one of the three main gateways to the summit. We could drive our coach right up to the point where we stayed overnight. This was viewed by many to be a ‘very convenient’ option. We had tasty home cooked meals at a village house nearby with village vegetarian food such as Crape ginger Costus speciosus shoots aka Thebu kola mallung, which we rarely get at home. So there was absolutely no worry of missing out on a warm meal and/or having to do a compulsory survival challenge on day-1. Two new sets of common toilets have been put up for men and women at the site. So, there was absolutely no problem in that department either. There was an ‘almost attached facility’ for ablutions for the lazy types and a dragonfly-infested fast flowing rain forest stream for those prepared to walk for 5 minutes. So, that department was also very much under control. Our mobiles had signals. So, we could stay in touch with the loved ones. There was electricity at the house we ate at. So, we could charge our mobile phones, camera batteries & laptops after sweet-talking the girl in da house. And if we had really pushed, we could have even downloaded our e-mails and checked the feeds of our favourite blogs using their fixed-line telephone. There was also a TV at the house. So, some of us could watch our favourite soaps & have our daily dosage of news. At the end all these spoils coalesced to give this year’s Peak wilderness trip the essence of a full board holiday in a fine nature resort! And it positively exposed the peak dodgers of the group.

The weather during the daytime was a mix of sunny, overcast & rainy - often heavy, with no particular order. Spoiled by the luxuries of our nature resort, swayed by the fickle nature of rain forest weather & tempted by the riches within easy reach, I decided to stick to the verdant lowland forest patches instead of scaling too far up along the well-trodden steps leading to the Adam’s Peak.

Birding highlights:

White-faced Starling Sturnia albofrontata -- After a few 'heard only' records, I was able to scope two individuals of this scarce endemic to give all the participants with excellent views, which proved to be a lifer for some. I observed one individual peeking into cobwebs high up in a tree. The same behaviour was observed by me in Sinharaja in December, 2007. I couldn't see clearly whether it was to drink dew drops off them or to prey on the any occupants. I will keep an eye on this to ascertain this in the future.

A White-faced Starling probing into some cobwebs in Sinharaja 'World Heritage' Rain forest in Dec, 2007Sri Lanka Myna Gracula ptilogenys -- A vocal pair was observed well in an alien-invasive; Deviltree Alstonia macrophylla . This tree is known in Sri Lanka as Havari-nuga meaning 'wig banyan', because of its distinct pendulous casings of its dry fruits, which look like a woman's long wig. I observed one of the individuals flying away with these long 'wigs'. Since it is a tree-hole nester as shown in this picture taken on a previous tour, this may be nesting material to cushion their nest holes; indicating breeding activity.

Sri Lanka Myna in rain - resting on an endemic Bheasa ceylanica in fruit in Sinharaja 'World Heritage' rain forest Sri Lanka Green Pigeon Treron pompadora – Regular sightings especially in a fruiting fig tree.

Sri Lanka Green Pigeon at teh Peak Wilderness Sanctuary Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis -- A common bird found in open & dry patches.

Spotted DoveOther birding highlight included Green Imperiel Pigeon, Yellow-fronted Barbet,Sri Lanka Small Barbet, Orange-billed Babbler, Square-tailed Black Bulbul, Black-capped Bulbul, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Orange Minivet, Sri Lanka Crested Drongo, Black Eagle, Southern Hill-Myna, Crested Serpent Eagle, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Black-headed Cuckoo-shrike, Tawny-bellied Babbler & Indian Swiftlet.

Dragonflies & damselflies:

When I labelled the following and sent them to my Slovenian Odonata mentor; Matjaž Bedjanič, he got back to me with a moral boosting line reading “…Your determination skills are very good so I didn't have much to add”.

Asian Skimmer Orthetrum glaucum -- The common name sounds like a racist euphemism that Geoge Carlin would have taken the mickey out of. We encountered this Libelluid a few times along the open trails close to water. The picture below is of a male.

Asian SkimmerIndigo Dropwing Trithemis festiva --This was found actively flying around the fast flowing stream at midday. It often settled on the exposed rocks in the stream to oblige for me.

Indigo Dropwing

Wall's Grappletail Heliogomphus walli --This endemic Clubtail was a lifer for me. It was found in the edge of the forest close to shallow steam that was bordering a tea field.

Wall's Grappletail

Shining Gossamerwing Euphaea splendens -- A truly gorgeous damsel that frequents streams & lures passerbys with flashes of iridescence.

The Shining Gossamerwing doing its thing

Dark-glittering Threadtail Elattoneura centralis -- Found sharing the same riverine habitat with the Black-tipped Flashwings & the above.

Dark-glittering Threadtail

Black-tipped Flashwing Vestalis apicalis nigrescens --This fine looking adult male was associating a few old ladies in a shallow stream.

Black-tipped Flashwing male

Black-tipped Flashwing Vestalis apicalis nigrescens -- Adult females of this pretty damsel is just like the male shown above but without the black tips to the wings. Like many other females, they get obsessed with gold when they grow older and wears gold - going for that rich look.

Black-tipped Flashwing - an old lady wearing gold

More fetching ladies this time of Butterflies:

Cruiser Vindula erota --This is simply an elegant lady. Sightings of her is quite rare. No wonder Bernard D'Abrera wrote this about it in his Sri Lankan butterfly book "Whilst the males are shy and thus not so visible, the sighting of the female in flight always causes my mouth to go dry and my reflexes to become confused". No wonder its species name is erota! This individual frequented a patch of shrubs in the middle of a tea field when we found it. This picture shows it while resting on an alien-invasive; Clidemia hirta plant. The male was photographed by me previously and you can see it here.

Cruiser female

Sri Lanka Birdwing Troides darsius -- The female form captured in the picure below is the largest butterfly in Sri Lanka although some dry season forms of the female Blue Mormons in the dry zone in Sri Lanka can rival its size in the wing area. This enigmatic forest lady descended like an angle to a shrub of Mussanda frondosa in search of nectar, when I was alone in a spot. It was an orgasmic sighting! It didn't linger on for too long in one spot and soon melted away into the greenery making my day.

Sri Lanka Birding - female

So here's a yet another euphemism explained:

Peak dodger 1. A lazy person who doesn't like uphill walks. e.g. My husband is a typical peak dodger and went golfing. So, I went hiking up to the cloud forest with the resort guide. 2*. A smart naturalist who eschews climbing up to forested peaks during awful weather and explores the forested lowlands in search of familiar pleasures. e.g. It was cloudy when were about to start our climb. Luckily our guide was a peak dodger and we did a great alternate walk just before the rains and saw loads of birds in real quick time!! 3. slang An extremely selfish person who suppresses knowledge of birding/ natural history to other people - especially to tour guides/naturalists, paranoid that they will overshadow him/her one day/earn a living out of it. e.g. That lepidopterist in Sri Lanka is a dead-set peak dodger! He thinks the whole world revolves around him!

The above post is my contribution to IATB #80 hosted at The Hawk Owl's Nest

To visit the IATB HQ click on the logo below


Friday, 27 June 2008

Sky Watch Friday

Just before Sunrise from Adam's Peak - 2,247m the 4th tallest mountain in Sri Lanka

This is just before sunrise from the summit of Adam's Peak (2,243m) the 4th tallest mountain in Sri Lanka. This was one of the rewards for starting at 1.00 a.m., climbing up for 4 hours and waiting for nearly 45 minutes in the cold because we had reached the summit a bit too early. This was photographed in 2005 when I guided a couple of young French-speaking Swiss tourists. For the average tourist, it usually takes about 5-6 hours to climb up via the Hatton route that we took. However, those that I had were sort of extraordinary and they just kept on going, going and going! It was a fantastic burn at the end!

To view the other Sky Watch pics click on the logo below to visit the Sky Watch Friday headquarters at Wigger's World. Sky Watch Friday HQ

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Wordless Wednesday

Blue Mormon in my home garden
Pied Kingfisher at my local patch
Common Pierrot in my home garden
False Lanternfly at Sinharaja 'World Heritage' Rain forest
Tree Nymph at Sinharaja 'World Heritage' Rain forest WW HQ

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Wordless Wednesday

Elusive Adjutant - Adult female
Elusive Adjutant - Adult female
Elusive Adjutant - Adult female
Elusive Adjutant - Adult female
Elusive Adjutant - Adult female
Elusive Adjutant - Adult female
Elusive Adjutant - Adult female WW HQ

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Meet the Common Shrub Frog

Common Shrub Frog
Did you know that Sri Lanka is a global amphibian hotspot? The credit for putting Sri Lanka on the global amphibian hotspot map goes to WHT (Wildlife Heritage Trust) founded by the Rolex Award laureate Rohan Pethiyagoda.

Rohan and his research associates including Kelum Manamendra-Arachchi, my mentor, conducted an extensive survey of the island’s amphibian fauna during the 1994-2003. The result of all these years of hard work was the discovery of a whopping 100-plus species of amphibians new to science! Most of them belong to the Oriental shrub frog genus: Philautus. This phenomenal discovery has pushed the total inventory of amphibians into the region of 140 species, which is simply mind-blowing considering that nearly all of them have been found in an area less than 800 of remaining rain forests in the "wet zone," and scattered over 100 forest fragments in what is the most populous biodiversity hotspot in the world—with a population density of 700 persons per!

While the above survey was to mainly discover new species, which they succeeded spectacularly, WHT's research work also necessarily involved the examination of type and other specimens preserved in museums worldwide—most notably in the British Museum of Natural History of collections made during 1850–1940. This extensive field research and museum work lead to the hard realisation that 21 amphibian species have gone extinct from Sri Lanka! The sad irony was some of them were only formally described as recently as 2007 as “new species,” —with their conservation status reading as “extinct.”

 How tragic is that?
Common Shrub FrogFollowing the then available information, the Global Amphibian Assessment (GAA) in 2003 acknowledged that 19 species of Sri Lankan amphibians have gone extinct, which was 56% of the 34 confirmed cases of global amphibian extinctions recorded in the past five centuries—a record we cannot be too proud of.

The alarming extinction of amphibians in Sri Lanka appears to be largely a result of habitat loss with vast areas of island’s moist rain forests being decimated to make way for plantations of coffee, tea, rubber, and cinchona by the British colonials on their way to becoming a world superpower.

Common Shrub FrogDespite the doom of habitat loss and resultant extinctions, Kelum and Rohan still maintain some feeble hope that some of the 21 labelled as extinct could indeed be still alive given that they described five extant species as "new" from a single specimen each, and as some of these are extremely cryptic, and hard to find.

It is rather paradoxical that Sri Lanka is the centre of a very high number of new species discoveries of amphibians while also accounting for the highest number of known amphibian extinctions at the same time. This is a result of extensive recent field explorations by the dynamic team at WHT combined with a re-examination of all historical material, which in turn has been possible only because so many species had been collected before their habitats disappeared altogether, and preserved in natural history museums worldwide in the colonial era of natural history explorations.

Of the spectacular batrachofauna in Sri Lanka, the Oriental shrub frog genus: Philautus shows an amazing radiation with a whopping 62 species described so far, out of which 19 are now labelled as extinct. Members of this genus have an unusual reproductive method, which is characterised by laying their eggs on the moist forest floor or on trees that develop directly into metamorphosed imagos or froglets, thereby bypassing the free-swimming tadpole stage. This is called direct development, or endotrophy, and according to this strange reproductive method, they undergo their ‘tadpole’ stage within the egg.

And with that long preamble, I am pleased to announce that among this celebrated coterie of amphibians, the Common Shrub Frog Philautus popularis is special in that it is the only Philautus found in my home garden! As the name implies, it is indeed a common one, calling virtually from every low shrub as the dusk descends. Formally assigned to the now extinct ‘catch-all’ species: Philautus variabilis, this little tree frog measuring 17.7-24.7mm from snout to vent in adult males is one of the 35 new species of amphibians described new to science in the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology by the indefatigable team at the WHT in 2005(Madhava Meegaskumbura was also part of the team.)

Of the 43 extant species, it is important to note that 15 are known only from a single site each, and 11 from 2 -usually nearby sites each. The team at WHT has found that most of the newly discovered species are restricted to an area less than 5 in extent. Interestingly, they have also found that many species of Philautus have extremely small ranges regardless of the availability of continuous habitat. This is believed to be one of the primary reasons for their amazing diversity in Sri Lanka. It could also explain why there are such high cases of extinctions as habitat loss can easily kick a species into the pit of death.

Common Shrub FrogThe boys of this endemic Common Shrub Frog are often found calling their lungs throats out to the girls at the neighbourhood, and I was able to take some photos recording this, after a few failed initial attempts.

I now know how to approach them.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Spineless Sunday Part-1

I spent a fabulous Spineless Sunday on 18 May chasing invertebrates in my home garden. A top highlight reported on this day took the centre stage on this blog soon after and this post got delayed due to that. So, this is the continuation of that Spineless Sunday.

Elusive Adjutant Aethriamanta brevipennis brevipennis

Elusive Adjutant - juvenile maleThis is a special dragonfly species found in my garden and I blogged about it previously here. It showed an adult male & a female and a juvenile. As those pictures show, in most dragonflies, the adult males and females often look remarkably different in colouration. The males are often brightly coloured and therefore are more showy. This is different in newly emerged juvenile males, which often look like females in their outlook. The individual in the above picture is an ‘adolescent’ male that is beginning to acquire adult colouration in its body as you can clearly see patches of red emerging. This individual was photographed at midday when it held its body in a vertical posture to reduce the impact of direct sunlight on it.

Elusive Adjutant Aethriamanta brevipennis brevipennis

Elusive Adjutant - juvenile maleThis is the same individual as above. Another common name for this one is Black-headed Basker and as that name implies, it loves to bask in the sunlight. I have noticed that this dragonfly tolerates close approaching, which makes it quite photogenic.

Variegated Flutterer Rhyothemis variegata variegata

Variegated Flutterer - femaleThis is a female with clear ends to the forewings. As you can see the alignment of the body and the wings is unusual in this picture. That is because as soon as it landed on the grass leaf closer to me, it started writhing its wings sensuously while keeping the body straight as if it is dancing to an irresistible R n B beat. It is a common dragonfly species and occurs in large numbers around my house. It has a slow butterfly-like flight and quite a few visitors have mistaken it as a butterfly due to that.

White Four-ring Ypthima ceylonica

White Four-ring This butterfly uses grasses as food plants and is quite common. It is highly variable in the size and number of ocelli (eye-like spots), adapted to fool predators disguising itself as a larger and a dangerous-looking creature.

White Four-ring Ypthima ceylonica

White Four-ring This is the upper side (recto surface) of it.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Of the female that crashed into my room, Friday night

Sri Lanka Forktail - female on the DVDs of the epic adventures of the tireless women in the Visteria Lane
The night was young. The monsoon rain that we had in the daytime was continuing into the night. I was chilling in my room enjoying the first IPL cricket semis on the TV. Suddenly, a dragonfly came into my view above my TV! Surely this must be an Indian Duskhawker (below), I thought. This particular dragonfly, which is a scarce resident in my yard, crashes occassionally into my house at night. So I closed in to take a look.

An Indian Duskhawker in my room
It did’t look like any duskhawker that I know of. Instead, it turned out to be a female Sri Lanka Forktail.

Sri Lanka Forktail female in a less embarrassing angle. Note the insert showing anal segments

After photographing it, I caught it and kept it safe from my pets to be released the following morning. I did this because it could get disoriented by the light.

Complete embarrassment
The above post is my submission for Circus of the Spineless# 34 hosted by Doug Taron at Gossamer Tapestry.

Click on the badge below to visit the headquarters of the Circus of the Spineless.


Birding Blog Carnival Quiz – Winners No. 2 & 3.

We have two lucky winners for the second and third prizes of the quiz that I had on the I and the Bird #75 - Birding blog carnival that I hosted.

The first prize was won by Julie Bourque from Canada who chose Traces of Eden by Nishantha Gunawardena, a fantastic coffee table book with exeptional wilderness photographs & travel notes of an adventure across all 50 states in the US!

The second and the third prizes were picked by my 3 ½ year old niece Venara Phillips in a draw.

And the 2nd prize winner is...drumroll please...Pieter van der Luit from the Netherlands. Pierter runs a birding tour company over there named Birding Holland and he wins The Color of Serendipity by Nishantha Gunawardena, which was picked as one of the Top Photography Books for 2007 by the Shutterbug magazine.

And finally, our 3rd lucky winner is…drumroll please…Ravi Corea from New Jersey, US. Ravi is the Founder/President of the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society and he walks away with The Lost Dynasty, which I am sure he will enjoy immensely.

Congradulations to both winners!

The winner are expected to make short speeches here via comments to claim their prizes.

That concludes this award ceremony. Thank you for visiting it.

And now…back to regular programming.

Related posts:

I and the Bird #75

Birding Blog Carnival Quiz - Winner No.1

Related Posts with Thumbnails