Thursday, 17 February 2011

Birding with Max Berlijn

Early this month, I guided Max Berlijn from the Netherlands.

Max came to me for an eight-day birding tour through Pieter van der Luit of Inezia Tours—one of the winners of a blog quiz done by me.

Of the numerous birders that I have guided over the years, Max was special in that he was my first hardcore Holarctic Lister: a passionate birder who likes to see birds found in the Holarctic region, and proceeds to travel the world for that objective while meticulously maintaining a list of such birds seen.

According to Max, one of the reasons for narrowing down his birding focus to Holarctic region was because the Holarctic birds are more likely to turn up as vagrants in his country, the Netherlands. And to slice the world into a more “manageable chunk” for birding.

Although Sri Lanka does not fall within the Holarctic region, some birds found in this region could be seen in here. Therefore, the purpose of Max's visit to Sri Lanka was to see those Holarctic birds, still missing in his list. These, informed to me before the commencement of the tour, included six species: Slaty-legged Crake, Brown Fish Owl, Small Pratincole, Great Thick-knee, Pied Thrush, and Kashmir Flycatcher.

I showed them all.

The Slaty-legged Crake, as expected, proved tough using up a lot of our time budget at the Sinharaja rain forest, which is where I chose to look for it. After four hours of tracking, Max was rewarded with a preening individual in a thicket for a good five minutes!

Five additional Holarctic species, which were not on Max's original target list was bagged, taking the total Holarctict ticks on this tour to 11. These were Indian Blue Robin, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Black Bittern, Jacobin Cuckoo, Grey-bellied Cuckoo and Besra. All of these obliged without much drama.

With all that Max's total Holarctic Life List now stands at 1741 species of birds. He is currently the No.2 in the Holarctic Life List page as per

I am more used to guiding birders whose main focus is to see 33 or so endemics. This tour was different in that Max did not want to see the endemics; he considered them as “non-migrating rubbish!”

However, in a bid to transform Max into a world birder, I secretly was determined to show him all our 33 endemics! With a Green-billed Coucal shown at Kithulgala on the day 7, I achieved just that. This was done while not compromising on any of Max's Holarctic wants. And he quite liked some of those "non-migrating rubbish," especailly the Serendib Scops Owl, which was showed at Sinharaja and Kithulgala—the latter at a daytime roost. In the end, we managed to rake in 230 species of birds during this 8-day tour, which was a pretty neat tally for such a short tour.

Some of the noteworthy “other” birds included (sites in the order of visited) Legge’s Hawk Eagle, Brown-throated Needletail, and Plum-headed Parakeet at Sinharaja; White Wagtail ( local rarity), Pallid Harrier, and Little Indian Nightjar (at a day roost) at Udawalawe; Chestnut-winged Crested Cuckoo, Sirkeer Malkoha, Eurasian Oystercatcher (a southern SL rarity), and Temminck’s Stint at Bundala National Park; Watercock at Tissa; Marshall’s Iora, Jungle Owlet, Rufous Woodpecker, Indian Pygmy Woodpecker, and Large Cuckooshirke at Tanamalwila; Sykes' Warbler at Nuwara Eliya (An LBJ that got Max really interested!); and Lesser Yellownape at Kithulgala.

Max was a very sharp birder, and very pleasant person to go birding with. So we got on quite well—so much so that I even introduced to him the Modern Family! We watched it on my laptop during our non-birding breaks! His favourite star of the cast was Gloria, allegedly because of her unique accent. :)

Some of our trip pictures are below.

At Bundala, Max spotted this Temminck's Stint, which was chased by a Little Stint.

Here's Max observing some Small Pratincoles at Bundala.

A "non-migrating rubbish" Chestnut-backed Owlet at Kithulgala. We also saw this species at Sinharaja. Asked whether he would see such a pretty owl instead of a drab Holarctic Warbler which he'd not seen , Max at once said he would rather see the latter. Dah!

A Tickell's Blue Flycatcher at Kithulgala.

 A Jacobin Cuckoo at Bundala National Park.

A grumpy looking Sri Lanka Hanging Parotat Sinharaja.

A male Kashmir Flycatcher at Nuwara Eliya.


Kirigalpoththa said...

230 bird types in 8 days! That is Bradmansque!

Excellent photos and Jacobian Cuckoo is pretty new to me, (not that I know much about the other birds you've shown today)

silent moments said...

Hey, wonderful post as always !

you just seem to be a bird magnet (non-migrating-rubbish or otherwise) :D

where exactly in Kitulgala should one go to see so many exotic birds ?

Stuart Price said...

Some wonderful photos there......

'Non migrating rubbish' indeed!

Anonymous said...

It's a really nice job you´re doing! And great Blog!

Amila Suwa said...

Thank you!
Jacobin Cuckoo turns up in the wet zone occasionally; I remember seeing it at the Bellanwila-Attidiya marshes in the 90s.

Thank you!
Haha, to your bird magnet comment.
In Kithulgala, the main site is the rain forest across the river.

Thanks! Indeed!
I hope you will watch the cricket world cup.

Thanks! You too have a superb blog. Thanks for dropping by.

Janith said...

Wooow, 230?! :D That's amazing. Quite like the little "Tickell's Blue Flycatcher" fellow, he's got your College colours also, no? :)

Amila Suwa said...

Gracias, Chavie!
Yes, 230! February is a superb month for birding in SL, with migrants supplementing the resident birds, which are in breeding.

The Tickell's Blue has our College colours? Not really. The bird sporting our college colours is the male Legge's Flowerpecker. But I know why you have got confused. The rugby jersey done in the latter half of the 2010 season had a more orangey colour replacing yellow (which we express as "gold").

silent moments said...

I have some bird queries and thought you can help
posted some pics of birds i could not identify in my blog. can you have a peak and give your expert openion ? :)
(sorry for barging in on your blog but somehow I couldnt get through to your mail add)

Kah-Wai Lin said...

Very nice blog and pictures! I will keep my eye on it from time to time!

Check out my new birding blog:

Amila Suwa said...


@Kah-Wai Lin,
Thanks! I will drop by in yours soon...

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