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!

Thursday, 4 December 2008


A masala post, bluuurp. Excuse me!

These days, there are regular sightings of Yellow Bitterns, and Black Bitterns at my local wetland patch . Their resident populations seem to have got boosted by migrant populations as it usually happens.
A new bird got added to my bathroom birding list. And it is is this lovely Black-rumped Flameback.

Black-rumped Flameback
The bathroom birding list comprise of birds seen from the bathroom windows (and occasionally doors), when occupied variously in it. My bathroom takes the form of a decent bird watching hide because of its strategic position. Other birds to have made to this pretty exclusive list include Brown Hawk Owl (aka. Brown Boobook) and Orange-headed Thrush! (One bird photographer even called over to photograph the latter using my bathroom as a hide!).

Brown Hawk Owl
Brown Hawk Owl vocalisations are a regular feature at the dusk soundsape these days. I observed a pair calling and chasing each other in what appeared to be a courtship ritual yesterday. I did not use a flash light, as it would disturb them. It’s the beginning of the breeding season for a lot of birds including this one.

BTW, the above picture of Brown Hawk Owl, shot at my yard, will appear in the Thayer Birding Software’s Gold Edition DVD – Birds of North America to be released on 12 December, 2008.

For your information, a Brown Hawk Owl was recorded by a tour guide named Jake Mohlmann at the rarity Mecca, St Paul’s Island off the coast of Alaska in North America in August, 2007. It stayed on untill September.

So, it’s officially now made its way to the ABA checklist.

Click here to see the pictures of the errant bird and to read the very interesting account written by Jake on this mega sighting. Also read this post by N8’s account at The Drinking Bird on the same.

The aforementioned DVD lists 2,850 photos, 708 songs, 551 videos ( including 493 new action videos), 837 abundance maps, thousands of variations of over 700 quizzes, 957 range maps ( including 695 new detailed maps), 957 birds seen in the U.S. or Canada (including accidental and extinct species), November 2008 additions to the ABA checklist; plus all features found in version 3.9.6. Click here to order this DVD.

Sorry to if I had given you more Christmas shopping!

I am expecting the construction work of my dragonfly pond to be completed before the end of this weekend. It’s taken longer than I expected. A female Asian Skimmer that dropped by for ovipositing at an inch-deep puddle of rain water in it as it was being built became the first dragonfly to officially lay claim to it first!

This was interesting as it was also a ‘first’ to my yard’s burgeoning dragonfly list. She appeared to be at a desperate breeding rush and had no decency whatsoever to wait until I declare the pond open.

I will be leading 15-day Christmas Birding tour in the last two weeks of this month. I’d like to break the radio-silence from time to time. Can anybody tell me how to do a ‘scheduled-post’ in blogger please? I searched blogger help but couldn’t find it.

My 32nd birthday is coming up on the 1 Jan, people. I accept greeting cards and gifts at 146 A, Pahala Bomiriya, Kaduwela, Sri Lanka from now onwards. As for gift items, birding and natural history related books, CDs and DVDs are appreciated, thank you.

I received a couple blogging awards recently. First of these were this beautiful award from the flowergirl at Madras Ramblings from India.
Arte-y-pico award And the second was this award from the fishing guy from OH, US.

Hot Blog Award
I'd like to thank both of you for these wonderful awards! It’s been a while since I received a blog award. So it is a good feeling to be recognized this way. I hope I will be forgiven for not complying with your full set of rules!

I got my first decent shot of a dragonfly in flight at the rain water pool that I blogged about in my last post.

Wandering Glider
It was this world famous Wandering Glider aka. Globe Skimmer Pantala flavascens, which is a globe trotting species considered as the most widely distributed dragonfly in the world. It is a known temporary pool breeder and is almost always found flying—which was what pressed me to attempt the above shot.

My Canon 40 D and Canon 100 mm f2.8 Macro Lens stopped auto-focussing last week when I was shooting dragons at the aforementioned puddle. I took them to the repair centre of the local Canon dealer. It turned out that it wasn’t the lens. So they kept the camera body for further checking. After a week or so they called me to say that it is working okay. Apparently the auto-focussing problem has happened due to humidity. All what they had done was to clean to contacts of the camera body with a soft cloth. The bloke there told me to repeat it if it happens again, but before doing that, to make sure that I remove the battery to prevent short-circuiting.

I guided and facilitated a photo shoot of leaves in my garden, to be used for a desktop calendar for a local corporate. They were after leaves of 14 species of native/endemic flora to select from them, 12 to go with each month. I found them about 16 with various hues and textures to surpass their requirements. The two ladies who came got a few leeches too. Which was more than what they bargained for!

Now, I know I have admitted that I do not have leeches in my yard in a comment somewhere in this blog. Things have changed, folks. A small leech population has established probably after an accidental introduction caused by yours truly, when leech socks and boots were brought home straight from the rain forests without de-leeching them at the forest!

And let me tell you that some people that I know of are not too amused by this. So it is official that my home garden is a safe heaven for home-grown-terror. The first person to get a bleeding bite was my mom.

My friend Java Jones has tagged me for a blogging game called "I never".

Okay here goes my reply Mr. Jones. I’ve never.

1. thought that I would switch from Lion to Carlsberg in this lifetime. Seriously.

2. eaten a better tasting Chinese chop suay rice (mixed meat/sea food) than at the ‘late’ Garden restaurant that used to be near the Liberty Roundabout at Colpetty. Does anybody know whether it’s been relocated, please?

3. ad better arm-chair birding in Sri Lanka than from the balcony at Martin’s Simple Lodge, Sinharaja.

4. expected that a full body massage at La Passion, Battaramulla 90210., would be so awesome after a good day’s manual labour (at the pond).

5. think that anybody in this country could give a better earth-shattering head and shoulder massage as Ananda at Vajira Salon, Bamba.

6. thought that St Peter’s would thrash Royal 41-nil at Rugby as it happened magically in 2007 in our own den.

I end this masala post with this beauty that I photograged at my local wetland patch.

It is an Oriental Scarlet aka Scarlet Skimmer Crocothemis servilia servilia. Apparently this is also found in outside the Orient despite the local common name; "Oriental Scarlet" suggested in the Sri Lankan dragonfly guide, which in my opinion ought to be revised. According to the “Dragonflies through Binoculars – A Field Guide to Dragonflies of North America”, it was “discovered in Miami in 1975, I has spread to Orlando by 1986….It now occurs in the FL Keys, Cuba, and Hawaii and in the Old World ranges from the Middle East to Japan and Australia.”
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