Last Saturday I got a detailed reading of my horoscope through a local astrologer. For the record, it was done on my own initiative. One of the interesting things I learnt from that was that I have two lucky months: September and October, the latter being the luckiest! I was told that these months, therefore, are auspicious ones for me to begin new things. Liking buying new cameras and lenses. OK, this latter fact was revealed after I posed a specific question. Now, I must be honest here, that I had absolutely no knowledge of this when I got my first dSLR in Sep., last year, or when I got my Canon 100-400mm lens last month, or when I started this blog 2 years ago on a day like this. Wish me luck, ladies and gentlemen, today is my second blogoversary.
To mark this momentous day, I wish to share some pictures of a bird that I like very much, the Sanderling, a High Arctic breeding, long-distant migrant that winters in sandy beaches, pretty much around the world.
It is an uncommon visitor to Sri Lanka and the sandspit near the fishing village at Chilaw is arguably one of the best places in Sri Lanka to see it.
Sanderling is a gregarious bird in winter. However, when there are not enough numbers at a wintering site, they can join flocks of other shorebirds, probably to seek safety in numbers. When they do that, they can be often seen in locations, well away from their typical sandy-shore habitats. Here's a case in point.
In the above, two Sanderlings (largely white & grey birds, in the left and middle) can be seen mixed with the migrant Lesser Sand Plovers, at the Bundala National Park. When found in habitats like this, Sanderlings are not at their usual bubbly selves.
See this wader flock in flight photographed at Bundala.
And here' a close crop of the area that I want you to see. You should be able to identify two strangers in it.
The one that I want to point out is a Sanderling—the larger bird in lower middle. The other obvious stranger in this flock of Little Stints, is a Curlew Sandpiper, which is the one with a decurved beak, at the top left.
In Chilaw sandspits, there are enough Sanderlings to form flocks of their own during the migratory period. I saw my first Sanderlings for this season while birding alone at this site, on 1 Sep. In that, I saw four birds; they appeared to me as if they had just touched down in the balmy Sri Lankan shores.
Sanderlings, when they are found in their typical shoreline habitats, are absolutely pleasing birds to observe. This is mainly to do with their peculiar feeding actions. It is characterised by dashing runs towards the shoreline with each ebb, to frantically feed on any organisms exposed. Like this.
And soon turning back to run ahead of the breaking waves. Like mad.
Sometimes, those waves are too brisk for their comfort, and they are forced to take wing to take evasive action.
You really don't have to be a bird watcher to enjoy these avian tourists in their element. If you happen to pass Chilaw between now and late April, just pay a visit to the Chilaw sandspits to see what I mean.
Note: locals may not readily understand if you ask directions for "Chilaw sandspits" from them, for it is very much a term used by the small coterie of bird watchers to refer to this particular site.
This is how to get there: When you drive along the road that leads to the beach, turning right near the Chilaw Resthouse (which you should be able to find easily, with its directions clearly marked), turn left when you come across a colourful Catholic church, and then turn right again when you meet a small Catholic shrine—both within sight of each other. At this point the sea will come into view. The road gets narrower from this point onwards with houses of the fisher folk hugging it from either sides. From here, you will have to drive very slowly, as there are a lot of people around. I usually advise my drivers not to toot the horn while passing this stretch, as the locals may find it disturbing.
Generally speaking, the proletariat folk there are peaceful types. I have taken a fair number of western bird watchers to this site. No drama so far.
Anyways, once you pass the narrow stretch, you come to an open area, with a graveyard on the right (the dead centre of Chilaw sandspits). Having arrived there, drive another 100m or so and stop when you meet another Catholic shrine and walk towards the beach at that point. Scattered flocks of Sanderlings are usually found along this stretch. 6.00–9.00 a.m. is my preferred time belt to visit this site. Afternoons at times attract local visitors, who may not share the same level of passion in birds as you.
Once you are there, also look out for such goodies as Terek Sandpiper, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Western Reed Egret, and if you arrive on stormy weather, scarce seabird visitors such as Brown Noddy. This site is also great to observe a good array of tern species. These may include Whiskered, White-winged, Little, Caspian, Gull-billed, Large Crested, Lesser Crested, Common, and Bridled Terns. If you visit this site after reading this post, please drop a comment here to let me know how you fared.
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