Thursday, 28 October 2010

Sinharaja in October—1

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.

Sri Lanka Small Barbet foraging in a Ficus tsjahela in my garden.

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!

Ashy-headed Laughingthrush—a threatened Sri Lankan endemic.

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.

Yellow-browed Bulbul, another regular in the Sinharaja's flocks, showed up well.

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.

A gentle giant

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.

The graceful female of the Sri Lanka Rose.

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.

I think I will not bother with the Tailed Jay again. OK, may be I will, to get a plainer background.

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 forestmore 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.

I declare the Red-spot Duke, bagged. I will not bother photographing this. Seriously.

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."

One of the special Nymphalids seen by us—Gaudy Baron (male)—just too sexy. Other Nymphalids noted by us were Chestnut-streaked Sailor, Tawny Rajah, and Baron.

Not as Gaudy as the above, or its mate, this female Dawn Dropwing Trithemis aurora was one of the few dragonflies that obliged.

A female Dawn Dropwing. Of other dragons seen by us, the endemic Furhstorfer's Jungle Watcher Hylaeothemis fruhstorferi was special.

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!

Clicking on the images, you can view all images sharper in Flickr.
On other news, this blog celebrated its third birthday a couple of days ago.


rainfield61 said...

Those dragonflies look so familiar; they used to perch on a naked piece of wood.

Chavie said...

I had no idea that there were birds that laughed! :D I had no idea about the colour differences in giant squirrels either. :D

Love the pictures, and the Ahatulla. And Happy Blogoversary Amila, hope for many many years of great posts to come! :D

Anonymous said...

gorgeous pics.

i went in august and saw an ahatulla and a few pala polangas.

we were hoping to see a frogmouth but it rained the whole time and was a bit useless.

what do you do about leeches btw? they flock to me with a passion. last time one actually went inside my bra!

Gallicissa said...

Yes, they like bare branches.

Thanks, mate!

Apparently some birds laugh, according to our imagination!

As for the Giant Squirrel, I think the wet zone forms (found in lowlands and highland) have to be treated as endemic(s).

Thanks! Those are two cool snakes, you've seen. The frogmouth is tough to see in wet weather, unless there is a day-roost somewhere.

To prevent leech bites to legs, which are mostly prone to their bites, I'd wear leech socks; which is an enlarged cloth sock worn above the normal socks, before putting on the shoes. The top of the leech sock is fastened below the knees after the lower parts of the trousers tucked in them.

While wearing leech socks, I'd also make sure to wear a t'shirt or such buttonless top, because with no easy access to blood at the bottom half, leech traffic often gets redirected to the top parts to find "opennings." So, while wearing leech sock, I'd usually keep my t'shirt top tucked in the trousers to prevent bites to the top.

Strong repellents usually keep them off up to an extent; however, I do not use them.

This is because they can be harmful for so many other critters in a delicate ecosystem such a rain forest. Also when those repellents come into contact with optics, they can damage lens coatings of optical gear such as binoculars.

Hope you found that randy leech before it bit you! :)

Sujith Jayasuriya said...

great work !

Kirigalpoththa said...

Thanks for the advice on leach sicks and repellents.

On the same note, what do you wear or apply to attract so many birds and butterflies during your jaunts? :)

Anonymous said...

First of all Happy Birthday and you know you are making a whole lot of people happier and knowledgeable with your postings and photographs. Thanks.

Gallicissa said...


No problem. Haha, let's say they're hard to miss in such a high quality forest!

Thank you! That's very kind of you.

You make me happy too with your great comments. And I like your name; I used to misread it as Magarita. :)

Rajesh said...

Very interesting trip. Beautiful shots of birds and butterflies. Very colorful.

Stu said...

Love the last picture, I'll make sure my glasses are on if I vist the forest in Sri Lanka!!!!!

Phil said...

Another great set of pictures Amila. Like you I struggled to find a favourite and it's unlike me to not favour a bird, but the "eye picker" is pretty special and the gaudy Baron has an apt name. Good stuff.

Me-shak said...

Amila! Great work :D I love the picture of the Giant squirrel. The pictures are absolutely stunning! Keep up the good work. Looking forward for more :) Sorry for not commenting on any of the recent posts. Was really busy :/


Amila Kanchana said...

Congrats on all your first captures! What is conspecific?

shilpa said...

As always, It was a treat to look at your smart work and the incredible knowledge you possess through your writing.
Great work and enchanting pictures. May you be blessed with more opportunities to go to places unheard and unexplored, so, deprived species like us, could get to see more of nature!

Gallicissa said...

Hello All,
Thanks for commenting. Sorry I got late to reply. I shall visit your blogs soon!


Anjana said...

Great shots and thanks for the valuable information that you give in every post.

I visited Sinharaja couple of months back and happened to snap some dragonflies as well. Thanks to you I guess I have found the guy I was looking for … :D

I think I have captured a “Furhstorfer's Jungle Watcher" as well. Here is the link to my post. Appreciate if you can confirm the critter. (sorry about the trouble :)


Gallicissa said...

Thanks for your comment, and inviting me to identify your dragonfly. It is a female Dawn Dropwing aka. Crimson Dropwing Trithemis aurora aurora.

Sorry for the delay in replying.

Anjana said...

Hi Gallicissa,

Thank you so much for spending your valuable time to visiting my blog and more thanks for accepting my request.

I looked all over the internet to get the identity of this dragonfly and I couldn’t find any reliable recourse with some snaps (that’s the only way I know

I guess I totally screwed up when reading your post. I had another look and now I get it :D

Thanks for the enlightenment of this lesser mortal .. :D


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