I guided a 2-day natural history trip to Sinharaja "world heritage" rain forest from 13 to 14 October, 2010. It was with Kevin and Annie Ford from Bath, England. Kevin was a keen bird watcher and Annie a nature enthusiast. This was their third visit to Sri Lanka, and they were staying in the Club Palm Bay Hotel in Marawila, which is a beach hotel situated north of the airport.
Our first point of call was my home garden, where a fig tree (Ficus tsjahela) was in fruit. A deciduous giant in a sea of evergreens, it had no leaves, having shed them all. And this made birding as easy as A.B.C.
In a brief vigil near it, we saw close to fifteen Sri Lanka Small Barbets, which seemed to own the tree. Seen with them were a couple each of Brown-headed Barbet, Green Imperial Pigeon, and Black-hooded Oriole—all which waited long enough to provide scope views. A newly arrived migrant Forest Wagtail also showed up at a different spot, and it was photographed by Kevin.
In the days before the trip, I heard from my forest-based sources that it had been quite moist there. Wet weather during this time of the year is caused by inter-monsoonal rains. As we usually do on rain forest visits, we went prepared for wet weather. And what was the weather like during our trip? Not a drop of rain! Instead, we had bright and lush conditions to deal with! And with the 13th and 14th being weekdays, we had the forest virtually to ourselves. With all the rain leading up to our visit, and bright weather that we brought with us, the forest was absolutely teeming with life; we couldn't have timed our visit better!
On the birding front, we had a few mixed species bird flocks, starting with one found in front of our forest accommodation—at 2.30 p.m. on day 1. Of the flock-associated endemics, the Red-faced Malkoha was the toughest to get good views of. I eventually found one in the scope, in a full-blown mixed-species bird flock near the research camp. That was before it melted away into the canopy in the all-too-familiar manner. It was brief sighting, yet enough to note its diagnostic red-face to call it "tick."
Hysterical laughter in the under-storey pointed our attention downwards to a flock of Ashy-headed Laughingthrushes—a threatened endemic and a regular member of the flock. I was able to take my first decent captures of this drab, forest-dweller, which is not too easy to photograph. Finally!
The Indian sub-continent endemic, and a regular member of Sinharaja's bird flocks Yellow-browed Bulbuls were at their usual bubbly selves. One of them obliged to give Kevin and me photo opportunities.
For some of us who preferred furry stuff, this Grizzled Giant Squirrel Ratufa macroura melanochra was a joy. It was found close to the track, unfazed by our close presence. The black and yellow bicoloured form of this squirrel found in the wet zone looks almost a different species to what is found in the dry zone, with which it is currently treated as conspecific.
October being a top month for insects, most notably butterflies and dragonflies, we had an absolute blast in seeing and photographing them. I fail to pick a favourite, as all of them were special due to one or more attributes: rare, endemic, tough to photograph in field conditions, not seen by me before, not photographed by me before, and just too sexy.
Good enough reasons to make one go weak in the knees!
First, it was this Papilionoid butterfly Sri Lanka Rose Pachliopta jophon that landed on a "Weraniya" Hedyotis frutocosa plant in bloom. A quick disclosure why this was special: rare, endemic, and not photographed by me before.
And then there was this common Papilionid, Tailed Jay Graphium agamemnon. Am I the only one who find photographing the Tailed Jay tough? It is like a butterfly on steroids: it has a rapid flight; it hardly stays long on a single feeding stop; each time it pauses for nectaring, it'd go into a fit of rapid wing quivering; and to make matters worse, rarely staying still, it'd constantly change the postures while nectaring; thereby, messing up compositions.
Of the Danaid butterflies in Sri Lanka, four have been named Glassy Tiger, Blue Tiger, Blue Glassy Tiger, and Dark Blue Tiger!
Meet the Blue Glassy Tiger.
According to the Butterflies of Ceylon the Blue Glassy Tigger Ideopsis similis exprompta, "... does not occur inland more than 20 miles from the coast." I don't mean to sound pedantic, but it is a well known fact among butterfly enthusiasts in Lanka that a disjunct population of this occurs at Sinharaja rain forest—more than 3 times the maximum inland distributional range mentioned above.
The sun-loving Nymphalids were in force, relishing the bright conditions. We had two Red-spot Dukes Dophla evelina. One was on the track, and the other beside the track—both waited long enough for photographs; my first of this species. Here's the one we found on the track.
Returning to our base, all sweaty and tired, after a marathon rain forest session lasting over seven hours on the second day, I spotted my first ever Gaudy Baron Euthalia lubentina at 1.00 p.m., sending me to fit of uncontrollable joy. About this, Bernard d'Abrera in his book The Butterflies of Ceylon wrote this: "... both sexes of this butterfly are so magnificent that they must surely rank as the most spectacular butterflies on the island."
Not as Gaudy as the above, or its mate, this female Dawn Dropwing Trithemis aurora was one of the few dragonflies that obliged.
Our top reptilian highlight was this Green Wine Snake Ahaetulla nasuta . The genus of this attractive snake is of Sinhala origin, being the local vernacular for it, which means—"the eye-picker"—owing to its alleged reputation to pick eyes of unwary people. Rrrubbish!
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On other news, this blog celebrated its third birthday a couple of days ago.
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