It was led by Prof. Sarath Kotagama, whose book Kurullan Narambamu [කුරුල්ලන් නරඹමු (Let's Watch Birds)] was my first field guide in 1989, after getting hooked on birds in the same year. The good professor turned 60 during this trip; few members organised a surprise cake in celebration—which turned out to be his first b'day cake! And for that reason or another, only a single candle was lit on the cake.
Black-hooded Oriole at the Rajarata University premises where we stayed overnight.
On the birding front, we did well, seeing 110 species of birds. The most interesting bird sighting (for me) was two early Barn Swallows that I spotted on 24 Aug. They were flying over a roadside wetland birding stop between Mihintale and Ritigala. This is the earliest date for this migratory bird for me; my previous best was 25 Aug., 2007 at the Udawalawe National Park.
I also picked a Wood Sandpiper (one on 23 Aug., and several on 25 Aug.). A Common Sandpiper spotted by "Sir" was our third migratory bird for the trip.
On popular request, I did a 10-minute night walk with several keener participants, and pulled out a Jerdon's Nightjar—a lifer for all. I wasn't comfortable in going on for longer; all participants, including I, had no "proper footwear" needed for serious night explorations. (I packed for this trip with an economy that would have put Mr. Bean to shame.)
We had mixed weather with cloudy and sunny conditions. The rain experienced in patches did not get in the way of birding. Instead, it cooled the weather and made the unrelenting August sun—relenting.
My top behavioural observation was to do with a pair of Jacobin Cuckoos in courtship.
Spotting a perched individual of this cuckoo, we noticed it going all jittery—a display that consisted of wing-shivering accompanied by jerky head movements. In no time, it was joined by another Jacobin Cuckoo with a caterpillar in its beak. The latter then mounted on the jittery one, offering the morsel of food it held in its beak. This was followed with mating—when the female appeared to be distracted by food.
Here are the paparazzi captures.
These captures didn't come off the way I liked. The camera being at a wrong setting (with a higher ISO and lower shutter speed), and the scene being a twiggy one were the reasons for that.
Anyway, here's a better take, postcoital.
Studying the photographs post-retuning-home, I saw through a cunning plan of the male.
That was during mating, the male had not let go of the caterpillar completely; instead, it had held on to a part of it in its beak—seemingly to keep the female waiting until it finished mating! I think the male was holding on to the caterpillar like a bargaining tool to seal the deal.
Moving on to matters non-birding and non-voyeuristic, I stumbled this cryptic Spotted Tree Frog Polypedates maculatus during a forest walk close to Kebithigollewa.
I also found a Sri Lanka Painted Frog hiding inside a tiny slit of a tree at the Rajarata University, where we stayed overnight.
This Oriental Scarlet Crocothemis servillia servillia was one of the dragonflies that cooperated. This is a female.
Our top reptilian highlight was an Agamid lizard described in 2005, Otocryptis nigristigma—the dry zone cousin of the Kangaroo Lizard Otocryptis wiegmanni found in the wet zone. It was spotted by a keen naturalist at the Rajarata University.
Butterflies dominated my non-birding highlights. Here are eleven of them—all photographed on this tour.
Banded Peacock Papilio crino.
This is one of those butterflies that make me go weak in the knees.
We had this individual at Mihintale on day 2. It was nectaring on the flowers of Carissa spinarum (Heen Karamba in Sinhala), before perching within a few feet from me.
During a marathon lounging session in my garden, sometime ago, I saw a flash of peacock green luminescence. It at once registered in my head: "Banded Peacok." The fact that I was in my garden, in my laze, came to me little a bit late. And the delayed realisation that followed: "Banded Peacock in My Garden!" was truly an ethereal moment.
Bluebottle Graphium sarpedon teredon.
Uraji Karunaratne, an ardent Royal supporter, spotted this and shared it with me. This year's rugby captain of Royal, Duminda Attygalle, is her nephew, I learnt. (St. Peter's won the two matches played this year with Royal, after two amazing games of rugby: 22-20 in the first, and 29-27 in the second—the latter which was dubbed as the "Injuction Cup Finals," for reasons that I cannot go into detail here.)
Lime Butterfly Papilio demoleus demoleus.
Photographed close to Kebithigollewa.
Blue Tiger Tirumala limniace leopardus.
I got a decent sequence of this.
Blue Wanderer Pareronia ceylanica ceylanica.
Another butterfly that makes me go weak in the knees. I have had a few close encounters in the past, but when it happed, never have I had a camera. So when this male arrived at the Carissa tree that the first one was nectaring on—I was near collapse!
Tamil Bushbrown Mycalesis visala subdita.
Spotted at the same spot as above.
Monkey-puzzle Rahinda amor.
I photographed this on day 3, just before I stumbled the cryptic frog. This uncommon beauty is a sought-after species by butterfly enthusiasts, so I am very pleased about it.
Lime Blue Chilades lajus lajus.
I shot this near the vehicle park at Ritigala. This is a common species also found in my home garden.
Lesser Albatross Appias paulina galene.
Seen soon after the Bluebotte.
Small Salmon Arab Colotis amata modesta.
A common species in dry zone.
Chocolate Soldier Junonia iphita pluviatalis.
A common species also found in my garden. This was photographed at Ritigala.
Moving on to more other stuff, the best meal of the trip was an artery-clogging Sri Lankan breakfast—free!—thanks to the member and participant Asitha Samarawickrama, 17, whose Uncle, Malik Samarawickrama, had a bridal wear factory at Madawachchiya. (I thought Sir played his cards really close to his chests, stopping there on our way to Kebithigollewa on day 3.) Everybody who joined this excursion barring a fasting Muslim girl from the Rajarata University partook this tasty breakfast, which consisted of string hoppers, chicken curry, fish white curry, coconut sambol, bread, spicy dhal curry, milk rice, lunu miris; plus tea and juice to wash 'em down. Asitha's Farther, Lalin Samarawickrama (brother of Malik Samarawickrama), is the Managing Director of Amaya Resorts & Spas. So the Samarawickrama's knew their hospitality too well.
And finally, here is the cast—the heros, villains, jokers, lovers, sinners, and midnight