Monday, 26 October 2009

Sanderling Watching

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.


Anonymous said...

Congrats on your 2nd Anniversary Amila. These pictures are incredible...and when i say incredible it is an absolute under statement for work this profound. Way to go !!!

rainfield61 said...

Birds inflight is an action-packed beauty, capture them in pictures is another level of happiness.

Happy second blogoversary.

Tabib said...

Clap, clap..Happy 2nd birthday!
That shunning photos to mark the blogoversary.

Sasani said...

Congrats on the blogoversary!! And here's wishing you a very long and happy bloglife!!!
Hey, isn't Sept-Oct the migratory season? I've noticed a heavy influx of birds during those months, so maybe it is auspicious for you

Kirigalpoththa said...

Happy blogoversary!!..Thanks for your marvelous work in SL blogosphere..Your site is one of my favourite and i've learnt a lot about birding and many other things from your very eloquent reports..

Thanks for the elaborate account on Chilaw sandpits..must go there oneday as I do frequent travels to my sister's place close to Negambo..

BTW i still can't figure out those two birds..all look the same :)

Dee said...

yay congrats! :)

Chavie said...

Congrats on the blogoversary Amila! Hope to see many more awesome posts and pictures from you! :D

santhoshi said...

Congrats and happy blogoversary. I too noticed a huge number of birds flying in colombo... So its a lucky month indeed for you.

happy bird watching!

Gallicissa said...

Hi Nat,
Thank you!
I am pleased to hear that.

Hi Rainfield,
Thank you!
Have a great week!

Hi Tabib,
Thank you!
I do not recall seeing Sanderlig in your blog.

Hi Sasani,
Thank you!

Some of these water birds begin to arrive as early as July, but the numbers increase by Sep-Nov, with the rains.

Hi K,
Thank you!
Pleased to hear that! Make sure you visit there early.

Yes, those wading bird species can look alike.

Hi Dee,
Thank you!
Have a great week!

Hi Chavie,
Thank you!
Good to hear from you.

Hi Santhoshi,
Thanks! Yes, those birds bring me a lot of luck for sure.

Sunita said...

So now you're officially a blog-brat... congratulations!
Great photos, Amila. I loved that cropped one of them flying. And no, even after you pointed them out I couldnt make out the impostors. I know, I'm blind! I just kept going "where? which?" Maybe you should draw a red circle next time for dumbkofs like me.

Velva said...

Happy 2nd blogoversary! I don't know anything about birds and I found your blog post very interesting and informative. I suspect living in Florida we have many breeds of sea gulls and perhaps the sanderling is one of them.
Beautiful photos!

S.C.E. said...

Some very nice wader shots there...............

Now if you'd had a 7D you could have gotten some killer Tern BIF shots........

Riyazi and Michelle said...


There is only one reason why a Sri Lankan bachelor would get his horoscope checked.... :D

Happy blogoversary. You are making that new lens work like crazy - excellent shots as usual.

Gallicissa said...

Hi Sunita,
Thank you!
Between the time you left your comment and this reply, I have done some blog housekeeping, which includes changing the layout, in order to display larger images. Hopefully now, you should see things a little bit better.

Hi Velva,
Thank you!
It's very nice to hear from another foodie. Pardon my delayed response. I visited your blog when I was a bit hungry, and regretted it.

You should get the Sanderling there.

Hi Stu,
I did get some decent Tern BIFs at Chilaw, which I will share in due course. Your 7D results look very good....Hmmmm.

Hi Riyazi,
Thank you!
I do things like that once in a while, and that is not necessarily influenced by that 'one reason'!

spookydragonfly said...

Out of hiding to offer you Congratulations on your, love, love these images! So happy to see in your new layout that you're acknowledging ALL of your magnificant captures as seen through your eyes, Amila...wishing you continued success!

Gallicissa said...

Hi Kim,
Thanks a lot!
With my previous layout, I was sort of restricted in my expression. Hopefully, this new facelift will remedy zat.

Glennis said...

I am a birding type person and I had trouble picking out the different species in the flock, thanks for pointing them all out.
Very nice photos of the shore birds.

Gallicissa said...

Hi Glennis,
Thanks! Yeah, those shorebirds can be tricky. I'd really love to see a wrybill!

oldcrow61 said...

Wonderful shots. Happy 2nd. A bit late but I'm trying to catch up on blogs.

Gallicissa said...

Hi OC,
Thank you!
No worries about delays.

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