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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Mostly Kingfishers - It’s always a good morning’s birding when there’s a Barn Owl in view and even better when there are two. Better still to follow this up with three or four ...
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