Saturday, 31 January 2009

On tour

I had this Leopard at the Yala National Park yesterday. We had it for a good 5 minutes before it disappeared into the jungle at Meda-para.

Leopard at Yala National Park

Monday, 19 January 2009

The pond

Dawm Dropwing male
I have built a backyard pond to attract dragonflies. Well, my ulterior motive is to photograph those winged beauties that come in search of food and love. This pond is basically a boring rectangular tank like a large communal well. Its dimensions roughly are 17 x 7.5ft with the depth varying from 9 inches to 4ft. It is a concrete structure, and I used over 1000kg of cement for it. And the whole project costed little over US$ 400.

I have added roughly 6 inches of soil to the bottom to provide the habitat necessary for most dragonfly larvae to thrive. In certain sections, I have added pebbles to the bottom for further enrich suitable habitats for nymphs. I have added some aquatic plants in keeping with the spirit of a dragonfly pond. I have erected sticks at various spots, in and out of the pond, for dragonflies to perch. Between you and me, most of these have a strategic importance for my photography!

The pictures above and below are of a male Dawn Dropwing Trithemis aurora that visited my pond last Saturday. It was shot at midday while obelisking.

Dawn Dropwing maleBy the way, did you notice a tiny parasite on the veins of the left hindwing of the above dragon? Here's a closer look. What's your guess, a midge? a wasp?

a parasite I have jammed several images into the 'contact-sheet' below showing the process and progress. Click on it for larger view.
As you can see it is not the most aesthetically pleasing pond in the world! What matters for me is its functionality to suit my style of dragonfly photography. The elevated rim of the pond was made to prevent siltation because of the high rainfall in the 'wet zone' of Sri Lanka that I live in, and to support myself while shooting dragons. Once this outer wall has darkened with time, I hope it will draw this amazingly camouflaged Indian Rockdwellers Bradinopyga geminata that are found 70 metres as a dragonfly flies.

Indian Rockdweller I have introduced some vegetation around the pond for dragonflies as well as butterflies. In most sections around the pond, I have let the nature take its course.

Here's a Red Water Lilly Nymphaea pubescens in bloom.

Before I built this pond, my yard had a tally of 22 species of dragonflies and damselflies. That was with a small pond teeming with fish, built, and managed by my farther. After I did mine, our dragon tally has gone up to 24. There are 4 species that are recorded in an abandoned quarry with natural rock pools just 70 m as a crow dragonfly flies from my yard, which are not represented in my yard’s dragon list yet. This figure used to be 5, but after I declared the pond open, this male Blue Pursuer Potamarcha congener became the first to defect to my side from this neighbouring patch, where the pools are seasonal.

Blue Pursuer - male I hope the word gets around and I will see those other four turning up in my yard soon! Anyway, looking at my local area numbers, which are higher than my yard and neighbouring rock pool tallies combined, I am confident that my yard list will imporve in the fullness of time.

Here's a close crop of the same. Note, another parasite on the wing.
Blue Pursuer Here's a better view of it. Any idea what it could be?

This Pink Skimmer Orthetrum pruinosum neglectum male was one of the first dragonflies to lay claim to the pond.

I have added a few smaller resident fresh water fish to keep mosquitoes at bay, which is an important consideration here in the tropics. These include four Cyprinids: Horadandiya Horadandiya atukorali – a reputed mosquito larvivore, Slender Rasbora Rasbora daniconius, Scarlet Banded Barb Puntius amphibius and Malabar Danio Devario malabaricus. In their company are shoals of Dwarf Panchax Aplocheilus parvus (Aplocheilidae) -another good mosquito larvivore and Common Spiny Loach Lepidocephalichthys thermalis (Cobitidae). I doubt any of these fish will pose a serious threat to dragonfly larvae. On the positive side, the larvae of these fish will also serve as food for dragonfly larvae to set the food chain in motion. I think the pond will have plenty of hiding spots for the dragonfly larvae to protect themselves from fish. Those nyiads are known to be pretty smart operators, anyway.

After a brief absence, Elusive Adjutants Aethriamanta brevipennis brevipennis have started to show up now. Here's a female of that.

Elusive Adjutant
In addition to dragonflies, my pond is attracting a fair number of non-odonate visitors to bathe, drink and find food. Most annoying of all the non-dragonfly visitors other than mosquitoes (which aren't too much of a probelm yet) is White-bellied Drongo, which seems to be profiting from the open and well lit area to target and dive bomb at my dragonflies! One of them attempted to catch a dragonfly that I was photographing, inches away from me! Thanks to its amazing vision that focal individual got away.

Here's a mug shot of this avian culprit. Don't be fooled, he is not as innocent as he looks!

I'll take your questions.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Think Orange!

Dawn Dropwing Trithemis aurora male photographed at my dragonfly pond today. A post about this pond will be done in a few days time.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Fulgoroid Friday

This planthopper was photographed during a frogging session at Sinharaja 'World Heritage' rain forest during my Christmas birding tour. It was barely 3 cm in length. For you inquiring minds, its classification is as follows.

Kingdom: Animalia, Phylum: Arthropoda, Class: Insecta, Order: Hemiptera, Suborder: Auchenorrhyncha, Infraorder: Fulgoromorpha, Superfamily: Fulgoroidea, Family: Dictyopharidae.

The Biologist Dr. Priyantha Wijesinghe whom I consulted for this had crosschecked its identification with an expert on a related family, and fowarded me his reply. It said, "...I reach the same conclusion as you: probably close to Centromeria viridistigma (or maybe it is that species) but as I am not a Dictyo specialist, I really cannot tell you more..."

?Centromeria viridistigma

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Top 10 Natural History highlights - 2008

Following are the top 10 Natual History highlights that made me tick in the year 2008. I'd like to thank Duncan Fraser at Ben Cruachan - Natural History for his invitation to do this post.

1. Elusive Adjutant Aethriamanta brevipennis brevipennis-- adult female in my home garden. Winner of Best Dragonfly Moments Macro Capture of 2008. Click here to see all the entries and the voting process and here to see the winning shot of mine announced.

Elusive Adjutant adult female in my home garden at Bomiriya, Kaduwela2. Serendib Scops Owl Otus thilohoffmanni -- Photographed on tour with Thiery Becret, Marie-Andrée Becret and Michelle Gerner from France at Sinharaja 'World Heritage' Rain forest in Aug, 2008. This bird was discovered new to science in 2001. Click here to read more details about it. It is one of the 2 "Endangered" endemics in Sri Lanka and the reason why I bought my Panasonic Lumix FZ-18, after seeing amazing results of a Panasonic Lumix used by Peter Kaestner, who shot this photograph of this rare forest owl on tour with me in September, 2007. Peter is currently placed 6th in the 'world rankings of birders with 8,197 bird species seen out of 10,000 or so species in world.

Serendib Scops Owl

3. Leopard Panthera pardus kotiya. Another one of the many highlights of the aforementioned tour in Aug, 2008. As blogged here, it amply rewarded our persistence. Leopard is the apex predaor in Sri Lanka and day time sightings are regular at Yala National Park's block 1 (141 where there is a healthy population of around 40 individuals.

Leopard at Yala National Park

4. White Four-ring Ypthima ceylonica -- a garden delight. I was flat on the ground commando style when I shot this. This is quite a common species but photographing them is really a pain in the neck as they always quite low down.

White Four-ring

5. Elusive Adjutant Aethriamanta brevipennis brevipennis -- Duncan never told me that you cannot repeat a species. This juvenile male was shot in natural light hand-holiding the camera as I usually do. This dragonfly species is very much my 'test' dragonfly that I use to learn close up photography.

Elusive Adjutant - juv

6. Long-horned Grasshopper "Robust Zumala" Zumala robusta -- Photographed on tour with the three French photographers mentioned above. This was my top non-birding highlight of that tour. It was identified by Biologist, Dr. Priyantha Wijesinghe- - one time Entomologist in the National Museum of Sri Lanka. He wrote "...your photographs are excellent and I was very glad to see them, not having come across a live specimen of Zumala myself". I blogged about this here.

Zumala robusta

7. Black-backed Dwarf Kingfisher Ceyx erithaca -- As blogged the previous post, this was bagged during my Chirstmas Birding trip with Richard and Anne Bishop from Kenya in Dec, 2008. This was scored at Kithulgala and was the first bird we raised our binoculars to watch on this tour!

Black-backed Dwarf Kingfisher

8. Purinosed Bloodtail Lathrecista asiatica asiatica -- young female photographed in my yard. I bagged her just three days after getting my first dSLR and she put a smile in my face for that reason. And I put a smile back in her face in celebration of my first blogoversary.

Lathrecista asiatica asiatica young female

9. "Ornate Rakwana Grasshopper" Rakwana ornata.-- Another one of the top highlights seen on tour with the French photographers in Aug, 2008. Read comments on this post for details. This was shot using my old Panasonic Lumix-FZ-18 and ultra stealth mode. Dr. Wijesinghe who identified this for me was very happy to see its image too. He wrote to me "Although this species lacks wings and is flightless it has extremely good jumping powers and very acute vision (note the very large and prominent eyes), so it is very hard to approach both for capture and photography."

Rakwana ornata10. Common Hourglass Frog Polypedates cruciger -- This female was shot at night in my home garden.

Common Hourglass FrogSo, what is your pick?

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Masala – 2

It’s time for another masala post.
As promised, I am sharing some of the non-birding highlights recorded on the Christmas Birding tour that I led last month. Let's start off with amphibians. We did several frogging walks at the Sinharaja rain forest. It produced a few goodies.
One of the top findings was this strikingly coloured endemic shrub frog described in 2005 as Labugama Shrub Frog Philautus abundus.
Labugama Shrub Frog
Its discovery was published in this paper in the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology 2005 Supplement No.12 that announced 27 new species of shrub frogs of the genus Philautus. This paper was authored by the indefatigable Biologist duo, Kelum Manamendra-Arachchi and Rolex Award laureate, Rohan Pethiyagoda, who have put Sri Lanka on the global map of the amphbian hotspots with the discovery of 100 species new to science!
I presume this is an Orange-canthal Shrub Frog Philautus stictomerus. We didn't handle any of these but merely tried to put names looking at their externally diagnosable features without disturbing them. Some of them are difficult to tell without handling as their diagnstics are not all visible in casual view.
probable Orange-canthal Shrub FrogHere’s a Common Paddy field Frog aka. Cricket Frog Fejervarya limnocharis . This colour morph with a bright orange mid-dorsal stripe is more attractive than its other drab-coloured morphs.
Common Paddy field Frog I found this endemic Bronzed Frog Rana temporalis on a shrub.
Bronzed Frog
To change the topics completely, have you heard any rumours about the new Nikon D3x? It looks like a pretty awesome camera to me. You need to have pretty deep pockets to get one of those though. Sadly it is out of reach for me and a few people I know including this bloke, Hitler. Check this out.

Moving on to invertebrates, this endemic Long-horned Grasshopper, was my top non-birding highlight of the trip. It was identified by Dr. Priyantha Wijesinghe to be Temnophylloides astridula . It was found by yours truly at Sinharaja in an afternoon walk. According to Priyantha, this was described by G.M Henry in 1939 in the following paper:
Henry, G. M. 1939. A new tettigoniid genus and species from Ceylon. Spolia Zeylanica [=Ceylon Journal of Science Section B Zoology and Geology] 21(3): 229-232, pl. XX.
The genus; Temnophylloides is a monotypic one meaning that there is only a single species representing it, which in this case is endemic to Sri Lanka. We encountered it on the way back too, frozen in the same posture, at the same spot. It started to drizzle a bit then when I attempted this picture. I presume it is a nocturnal insect as when we passed this spot during the frogging walk at night it was gone.
Click here to read report of a similar looking Zumala robusta photographed in Aug, 2008. Temnophylloides astridula
No masala post is complete without a tagging game. And Christopher at Picus Blog has tagged me for a yet another tagging game named Six Random Things. Here are 6 random things...
1. My favourite daytime drink is Fresh Lime Soda.
2. My cultural book collection is bigger than my bird and natural history one.
3. I am a pretty amazing bathroom singer.
4. I had 2 US birders from NJ cancelling their 16-day Sri Lankan bird & culture tour schuled for Aug, 2009 soon after the Mumbai Attacks. They booked it in Aug, 2008.
5. I hope to get a new lens and some other camera accessories soon.
6. I consider “Step Brothers” as the funniest comedy movie of 2008. What? You don’t like it? Okay tell me a good one then!
I saved the best for last. Yesterday, my blog was picked as the “Best Photoblog of 2008” in the 2008 Blogging Awards by the irresistible London Lanka and Drums, the popular life-style blog that rocks the Sri Lanka blogsphere and beyond. Click here to see the amazing nominees and here to see the continuation of the very encouraging speech done by the Guest Judge –- photographer extraordinaire, Dominic Sansoni, who is one of the Three Blind Men in Sri Lanka. I’d like to say a big thank you to both RD and Dom for this very special honour! It feels very special to be recognized this way.
In the 2007 Blogging Awards, Gallicissa was picked as the “Best New comer” See the star-studded award ceremony here.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Christmas Birding

Happy New Year!
Black-backed Dwarf Kingfisher
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.

Indian Cormorants - juvenile at left
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!

Indian Silverbill
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.

Crested Hawk EagleThe 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.

Spot-billed PelicanThe 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!

Small Pratincole
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.

Slaty-breasted Rail
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.

Grey-headed Fish Eagle
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.
Related Posts with Thumbnails