Friday, 17 December 2010

Absolute Birding—November, 2010

Two days after hatching, the chicks of the Blue-throated Bee-eater, several feet down in their dingy nest burrows, begin to develop a hook in the tip of the upper mandible. It turns needle-sharp by day four, before disappearing altogether by around day thirteen. During this time, the sharpness of this hook is such that if you unearth a chick from its subterranean confines, and rub the beak on human skin, it could actually tear it.

So, why such a hook?

Well, it is a weapon that the older chicks have got it to stab younger siblings to death; thus, ensuring it gets all the food delivered by the parents. Fatally stabbed, the younger siblings are unceremoniously cornered few inches away from their cradle, never to see the light of the day.

This developmentally temporary siblicidal weapon of the chicks of the Blue-throated Bee-eater, and their macabre siblicidal behaviour were discovered and documented to science by a British Ornithologist named David M. Bryant and a colleague of his, following a study carried out in Malaysia.

I was extremely glad to have guided David M. Bryant and his ecologist wife Vicki Bryant on a 14-day Absolute Birding tour from 20 Nov. to 3 Dec., 2010. This turned out to be the first guided birding tour he’d undertaken lasting multiple days. Except for an a couple of day-trips; in all his other world birding trips, he’d not sought services of a local guide, preferring to find birds under his own steam.

A professor in ornithology, David had been the supervisor for more than 50 Ph.D students. Listening to his scientific research work, and birding anecdotes was an amazingly enlightening experience. David was a very sharp birder; I could see why he’d not wanted guides all this time!

We were able to rake in a whopping 252 species of birds. We found all 33 endemic birds currently recognised. Our tally included 10 out of the 15 resident night birds. The Black-capped Kingfisher and the Whimbrel found pre-tour by David at Waikkal were not reported on the main birding tour he did with me. David has done a brief trip report and posted it at the Please have a look to see his views and our complete bird list.

Coming back to birding specifics, my top 10 birds of the trip were Serendib Scops Owl, Slaty-breasted Rail, Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Greater Sand Plover, Great Knot, Cinnamon Bittern, Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, Rufous-bellied Hawk Eagle, Plum-headed Parakeet, and Sri Lanka Spurfowl.

I am sharing a few specials that cooperated.

Orange-billed Babbler Turdoides rufescens
The mixed-species bird flocks of low to mid-elevation rain forests of the wet south-west Sri Lanka are centred around this gregarious species. According to a research carried out by the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka in the 80s and 90s in the Sinharaja "world heritage" rain forest, Orange-billed Babbler is present in c.90% of the flocks.  These flocks average 41 individual birds (comrpised of several bird species), and in them, this babbler averages little more than 16 individuals per flock. Therefore, it is regarded as one of the "nuclear species" of the flock.

Sri Lanka Spurfowl Galloperdix bicalcarata
This is easily my best shot of this ultra-secretive forest dweller. It was captured at the Sinharaja rain forest. Not living upto its reputation as an elusive ground bird, this vocal, male Sri Lanka Spurfowl gave us exceptional views for nearly a half a minute. I photographed it with manual focussing, as the scene was too leafty and twiggy. A friend of mine finds it difficult to pronounce the English name of this birds, saying, Sri Lanka Superfowl!! Well, it's a super bird; I'll give him that!

Sri Lanka Bush Warbler Elaphrornis palliseri
This scarce montane endemic is very difficult to photograph because of its skulky habits at times. I am very happy about this. It is a treatened species because of habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, high pesticide use  and pollution. Like most endemics, its ecology is poorly known.

Moving on to non-birding subjects, we also saw over 40 species of butterflies, which the Bryants appreciated. This Centaur Oakblue Arhopala pseudocentaurus that we found at Kithulgala was my top highlight, as it was a lifer for me. It had an amazingly beautiful blue on the upperside.

Red Helan Papilio helenus This large swallowtail was spotted by Vicki, who had an eye for prettier things. (No, she certainly didn't do pipits and other LBJs.)

Common Jazebel Delias eucharis
Another butterfly that Vicki liked. The flower that is nectaring on goes as Wal idda in Sinhala. Its botanical name curiously is Walidda antidysenterica.

p.s. On a recent visit to Sinharaja, I discovered that the Forest Department had done postcards using two of my bird images without seeking my permission! And they were selling them! I protested, and they stopped selling them. Because of such severe copyright violations, I am reluctantly forced to include a watermark touching the subjects.


Janith said...

Wow, guess Blue-throated Bee-eater siblings aren't very different from their human counterparts. :D

Love the pictures, and wonder what the Wal idda has to do with Dysentery. ;) ahaha

Sorry to hear about the use of your images without permission. Sadly copyrights are never respected here. :(

Amila Suwa said...

Thanks, Chavie.
Wal idda is also reflected in some surnames, Iddamalgoda for one! :)

Image theft in this country is shocking! It's very frustating.

Me-shak said...

Super duper pictures Amila. Love em. The Jazebel picture is superb! no really! Ha ha ha, Superfowl XD

What? they did that. Most of the time you use a water mark noh? Bad scene. You go through a hard time getting these pictures. These must be protected! Glad they stopped.

Awesome post, very informative. Looking forward for more.


Kirigalpoththa said...

The Red Helan is surely a pretty thing!

How come that brownish butterfly named as Oakblue?

silent moments said...

Great collection !

About the Jazebel, is it also called the "painted saw tooth" ?
I saw that name in a butterfly guide. I see them a lot in my short suburban hikes but they are difficult to capture than many other butterfly sp.

Is the oakblue the same as blue oakleaf?
sorry about the interrogation ;)

Bytheway, its very saddening to hear that an established institution commiting to theft and making money out of it !

Amila Kanchana said...

The first bit of the post reminded me of how nature puts on cruel face some times. Brilliant photos Amila! You did the right thing watermarking the photos. For you to put such enormous effort to take them and for them to just make money with them as if they are their own,the nerve!

Amila Suwa said...

Thanks, mate!
They did, and they'd cropped the pics to remove the watermark, which is usually displayed at the bottom of images.

It's blue on its upperparts.

Thank you!

The Jazebel and the Painted Saw-tooth are two different species that look and behave alike. What you see regularly around CMB is the former. The marginal band of the underside of the hindwing in is intense orange in the Jazebel; it is dull orange in the Painted Saw-tooth.

The Jazebel is not the easiest butterfly to photograph, I agree!

Oakblue and Oakleaf are different species belong to two different families.

Image theft: sad and sick!

Thank you!

And some Sri Lankan "journalists" too have been caught stealing my images.

Unknown said...

Superfowl it is! Have a fabulous new year, Amila. Look forward to plenty of armchair travel to your beautiful land, and if luck and money permit, maybe a real trip too.


Amila Suwa said...

Happy New Year, Beej!
Thanks a lot. Great to hear from you this new year. It will be fantastic to meet you one day! If the ferry services commence between our countries, travel costs will get a lot cheaper. I too am keen to explore India again.

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