Happy New Year!
I am back after a successful Christmas Birding tour with Richard and Ann Bishop—two worldlisters from Britain living in Kenya for last twenty years. They both had over 4,300 species of birds in their individual lists, and were pretty serious birders. We were joined in the last quarter of the trip by Mike Watts, a keen British birder with plenty of 'other' interests.
As the Bishops had travelled to northern India and southeast Asia several times, priority was given for the Sri Lankan and South Indian specials. This explains why we ended up with a relatively modest tally of 222 species of birds—about 10-20 short of usual numbers recorded on a 15-day bird watching tour during November to early April—the peak birding season in Sri Lanka when migrants supplement resident birds.
Bishops scored 32 of the 33 endemics currently recognized. We missed out on the scarce and “endangered” endemic, Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush. However, it was scored by Mike on our second attempt (out of a total of four)—in rugby terms, that was one blind-sided try by Mike!
Sri Lanka is home to two endangered endemics, and the other one: Serendib Scops Owl, discovered new to science in 2001, did not disappoint us. It gave exceptional views at the Sinharaja ‘world heritage’ rain forest during a profitable owling session, which also yielded Sri Lanka Frogmouth.
The sought-after western Himalayan delight, Kashmir Flycatcher, which almost exclusively winters in the highlands of Sri Lanka, afforded five sightings at three different sites. This was special as it was the highest number of sightings ever of this scarce migrant on a 15-day birding tour for me! Another himalayan special, Pied Thrush showed well on our second attempt at its regular site at Nuwara Eliya. It was the most-wanted bird for Richard, and he was quite elated about it.
The ultra-secretive Sri Lanka Spurfowl showed up “unsatisfactorily." It was when a silent female that crossed the track at Sinharaja was followed seconds later by a silent male, about 10 m ahead of us. Heart-melting sighting of this game bird is usually rare. Anyway as far as the Bishops were concerned, this was a case of BVD: better views desired!
Apart from endemics and specials mentioned above, some of our other birding highlights were as follows.
Dollarbird, Black-backed Dwarf Kingfisher (topmost pic), Malabar Trogon, Indian Pitta, Besra, Indian Blue Robin, Common Hawk Cuckoo, Black-throated Munia, Grey-headed Fish Eagle (bottommost pic), Hill Swallow, Malabar Pied Hornbill, White-naped Woodpecker, Jerdon’s Bushlark, Blyth’s Pipit, Forest Wagtail, Citrine Wagtail (local rarity), Indian Silverbill (3rd from top), Spot-billed Pelican (5th from the top), Crested Hawk Eagle (4th from top), Small Pratincole (6th from top), Watercock, Black Bittern, Yellow Bittern, Indian Reed Warbler, and finally, the Blue-faced Malkoha—scored at the "injury time" on the final day!
The only lifer for me on this trip came at Tissamaharama in the form a Slaty-breasted Rail—a record shot of which is shown below. Very important, this was also a lifer for my visitors, which made it a good tick for all of us.
As usual, we had plenty of natural history delights on this trip. These included “Zumala” (probable Zumala robusta, thanks to Dr. D.P Wijeysinghe)—a bizarre looking Long-horned Grasshopper. We also had Hump-nosed Lizard, Leaf-nosed Lizard (seen at Knuckles), Sri Lanka Krait (seen at Kithulgala) and butterflies: Blue Admiral and Painted Sawtooth.
An Eurasian Otter seen while trying for Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush at the wet lowlands, a Giant Grey Flying Squirrel seen at the highlands while trying for Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush and an unidentified feline (which Richard and I agreed to disagree on) seen at dusk at the dry lowlands while trying for Indian Nightjar were some of the noteworthy highlights of a nineteen or so mammals seen on this trip.
We also did a few frogging forays whenever it was possible. These and other non-birding highlights seen on this trip will be blogged in a separate posts to come.
In other news, yesterday I received my complementary copies of Thayer Birding Software’s Gold Edition DVD Birds of North America with my Brown Hawk Owl image in it plus Thayer Birding Software’s Guide to Birds of North America version 3.9. They both look absolutely fantastic! You North American birders are so darn lucky to have such great birding resources available for you!
Click here to view my New Year Greeting e-card for you.
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