Monday, 26 July 2010

Sri Lanka Frogmouth

Here is a pair of Sri Lanka Frogmouths huddled together at a daytime roost. The male is looking at the camera, and the female is the more tawny coloured bird next to it. I photographed them at the Sinharaja 'world heritage' rain forest, when I guided Dave Thrussel and Chris Holtby from the UK, in March, 2010. I reached a personal milestone on this tour in showing twelve out of the fifteen resident night birds found in Sri Lanka—a record I equalled in April, 2010, guiding Gil Ewing from CA, USA. In the latter, I showed the identical mix of species as in March. Before these two tours, my previous best tally of night birds shown in a single tour was ten, and it was recorded in a serious birding tour done in February, 2009, with two British birders.

Friday, 16 July 2010

A Tribute to the Champion Rugby Team of St. Peter's

The YouTube link is here.
The points table stood like this at the end of the league championship in 2010:

Edit: Accolades galore for the unbeaten Peterite rugby team of 2010.

Friday, 9 July 2010


No, this is not about the United Nations Organization, or Ban Ki-moon.
This is a continuation of the previous post, and concerns Uno, the one-tusked male elephant.

It turned out that Uno was in musth.

Musth is a sexually active phase in sexually mature male elephants. I use the phrase, 'sexually mature' instead of just 'mature' because when it comes to elephant ecology, we also talk about social maturity. Although the male Asian Elephants attain sexual maturity at the age of 9-12 years, it is known to take 8-10 more years for them to reach social maturity—an important quality that the females look for in their suitors. So the young bulls subjected to such cruel female choice are known to suffer from SINBAD syndrome: Single Income, No Babe, Absolutely Desperate!

Uno was not a hopeless SINBAD case, for the girls seemed to like him.

One in particular, which I named Gal, was quite flirtatious with him.
She maintained proximity, caressed him, allowed to be caressed, and generally didn't appear difficult.

Here's Uno taking a shower while Gal watches over.

Male elephants in musth can be identified easily by their swollen and moist temporal gland in the headsides. During musth, these glands secrete the excess blood testosterone—the reproductive hormone that drives us, males. This hormone is also secreted with urine, which dribble constantly during the very active phase of musth in elephants. Such sexually active males also possess a strong breath to further advertise their status. These olfactory signals; dominant behaviours such as flapping of ears, to send the scents farther; and auditory signals (some of which are inaudible to us humans); all help in getting the message to the receptive females, and to warn the competition.

I suppose Uno was in either early or late stage of musth. There was no dribbling of urine as it does when madly in love. Uno wasn't aggressive towards the safari jeeps present, at least during our brief observational period. Nor did he appear to be bossy towards other elephants present at the gathering.

Here's a close up of Uno's temporal gland, which looks swollen, and darker. The latter because of those secretions.

The temporal glands need cleaning to regulate flow. This is because the secretions can clog the opening of the glands. In the wild, elephants rub these glands against various objects such as trees. Apart from helping to clear any blockages, such behaviours also help to leave sensory cues within their territories to reach wider audiences.

After that brief shower, it was time for some wallowing.

Mud sticks well on a wet skin, and acts as an agent of sunscreen, insect repellent, and skin conditioner for elephants.

A drink break followed next.

The wallowing stuck some mud to Uno's only tusk, boosting his dominant outlook or his coolness.
And more self mud-slinging went on—a common behaviour among most elephants these days, ahem.

After this, he opted for some snacks in the form of short grass.
First, he uprooted them by kicking the ground with his front legs. Then he rubbed them against one of the forelimbs to get rid of the dirt. He then tolled them into a neat pile before eating. Again, nothing unusual.

However, what followed next was pretty special.
It was a close observation of a tool-using behaviour in a wild Asian Elephant—when Uno used a stick to get a scratch like this.



Pretty smart, eh?
After a while, Gal had a private moment, with her back to Uno and us.
To that, Uno responded like this:

Plenty of eewws followed.
Uno was just checking her out. After all, the female urine contains hormonal cues of its receptivity.
And he seemed to like the cues.

Yeah, baby!

Well, nothing noteworthy followed.
May be she gave a flimsy excuse through her high frequency channels. 
May be they needed us get the hell out.
Hey! May be they needed some Barry White.
No, no—our elephants don't understand English!
May be a mellower Sinhala love song might have worked.

Have a rocking weekend all!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Gathering

The gathering has started.

In the Sri Lankan wildlife circles, it refers to an annual gathering of wild, Asian Elephants in the Minneiriya , and Kaudulla National Parks in the dry zone. The number of elephants in this aggregation varies from about a hundred or so at the start in May, to around four hundred at its peak—typically in August and September.

The main reason why elephants gather like this is because of the availability of vast areas of nutrient rich grasses in the exposed beds of the massive Minneiriya and Kaudulla tanks ('tanks' is how man-made reservoirs, built during the hey days of island's hydraulic civilization, referred in Sri Lankan English). Both these tanks were constructed by the King Mahasen— the ruler of ancient Lanka from 275-301 A.D. This king was posthumously deified by the Sinhalese in honour of his stupendous works.

Known only to a handful of wildlife enthusiasts earlier, the credit for naming this wildlife spectacle as 'the gathering', popularising it to take it to wider audiences, and making it a viable nature-tourism product worth millions of Rupees to the Sri Lankan economy, goes to Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne—the Bill Oddie of Sri Lanka—though Gehan's no match to Bill in billingsgate.

I photographed all pictured shared here on 2 July, 2010, while guiding four Aussies from Brisbane on a culture and wildlife tour. After obtaining the permits, we started our safari to Minneiriya National Park in open-topped jeeps at 4.00 p.m., when it was not too hot. We returned to our cosy retreat Chaaya Village, Habarana at 6.30 p.m., rich in some amazing wildlife memories, and I am going to share some of them in several posts.

First, my favourite: two youngsters dashing to the water accompanied by a probable allomother.

And the scene soon turned to this—like elephants in salt and pepper. Sweet.

We observed a one-tusked tusker, which I named Uno. More about him later.

A big Thank You to Dr. Chandanie Wanigatunge for referring her Aussie friends to me!

This post was edited following a helpful correction made by the Elephant Researcher, Manori Gunawardena—a Cynthia Moss in the making in Sri Lanka.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Macro Monday

Meet the fetching adult female Elusive Adjutant Aethriamanta brevipennis brevipennis (Rambur, 1842), another common dragonfly in my yard. I photographed it yesterday near my dragonfly-pond. This dragonfly species is not so elusive as its name suggests. The stick that it is resting was put up by me to lure it in. And would you believe, it accepted my invitation straightaway. It sat on the perch provided, and posed nicely for me, with the new-growth shrubbery below providing just the right backdrop.

I photographed this using my newest toy—Canon EOS 1D Mark IV—fitted with the Canon 100mm f 2.8 Macro USM lens. I did not use any flash. Nor did I use a tripod.

The Macro Monday HQ is at Lisa's Chaos.
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