Thursday, 6 October 2011

Sinharaja in August

I am back after guiding several trips.

One of them was a two-day trip to Sinharaja rain forest from 28–29 August. It was with Dr. Jane Rosegrant, who is the outgoing country director of VSO (Voluntary Services Overseas) in Sri Lanka. An American married to a Scot, Jane holds a PhD in Human Ecology from the University of Edinburgh. The work of her organization here is mainly to do with assisting Sri Lankan people involved in the treatment of mentally ill. Jane was a keen birder and the main purpose of her trip with me was to see as many endemic birds as possible. While working towards that goal, she also did not mind seeing a representation of natural history that Sinharaja had in store.

I thought all the good karma that Jane had accrued from her altruistic line of work had a positive effect on our trip: we saw forty-nine species of birds, including twenty endemics, most of which obliged to provide scope views; we encountered four mixed-species bird flocks in full swing, first of which was found just two minutes into our very first walk; we were able to find one of these mixed-species bird flocks engaged in a midday bath, with several of the high-dwelling specials, some of which are found in the forest's canopy thirty-five to forty metres above ground level, obliging to give superb views low down; in between birding, we encountered a superb array of natural history, which included nine individual snakes belonging to four species, over a dozen butterflies species, and several mammal species including two species of monkey.

I am sharing below some of the highlights that cooperated.

Red-faced Malkoha

Red-faced Malkoha
This attractive cuckoo family bird proved to be one of the top endemic lifers for Jane. This particular individual was spotted on day two, while it was basking in beautiful early morning light, close enough to provide frame-filling views through in my Swarovski scope at twenty-five times zoom—orgasmic!

Mountain Hawk Eagle (Legge’s Hawk Eagle)

Mountain Hawk Eagle
This rare forest-dwelling raptor was found close to the Morapitiya rain forest, rather serendipitously, during a leg stretching stop that we did on the way to Sinharaja. It was perched atop a roadside 40-metre canopy giant. My lens didn't have enough reach to capture this well, so this is just a cropped and dirty record shot. This was only the third time in which I had been able to see this bird of prey while perched, so I was very pleased, as was Jane.

Red-spot Duke

Red-spot Duke
The nymphalids were in force, especially at midday and this rare gem was seen twice.

Grizzled Giant Squirrel

Grizzled Giant Squirrel
This chose to ignore us and nibble away at a fruit of the Malabar Tamarind Garcina gummi-gutta (Goraka in Sinhala), which is a resident tree species in Sri Lankan rain forests. Its fruit is a regular curry condiment in cuisine in our part of the world. Which I think makes this squirrel is a curry muncher! Or a real Gorakaya, if you like.

Anyway, this squirrel is one of the favourite prey species of the Mountain Hawk Eagle. Detecting one of these eagles soaring above the canopy, it would make “a blood-curdling” alarm call, which is not a strange to people who frequent rain forests. As a matter of fact, I use that call as a reliable indicator to spot airborne birds of prey.

I have planted a Goraka tree in my garden. It has reached nearly twelve metres, but is yet to bear fruit.

Striped Bronzeback 

Striped Bronzeback
This is one of the nine individual snakes we encountered, thanks largely to the superb snake-spotting skills of our local guide Dee. I have better shots of this snake taken on previous visits, just for the record. 

Sri Lanka Keelback

Sri Lanka Keelback
We found three individuals of this water snake at two sites.


Cruiser, male
Here’s another pretty Nymphalid butterfly that we saw at close quarters. It is christened Vindula erota scientifically, presumably because of its erotic nature.

Blue Glassy Tiger 

Blue Glassy Tiger
Although supposed to be "not found more than 20 miles from the coast" according to "The Butterflies of Ceylon" by Bernard d' Abrera, this butterfly is found at Sinharaja rain forest, which is more than 70 miles inland from coast.

Toque Macaque

Toque Macaque at Sinharaja
The Toque Macaques in Sinharaja are not forthright and confiding as those found in cultural sites, where they accost humans for handouts, and often commit snatch theft on anything that they see as food. The ones in Sinharaja are quite wary of humans, presumably because villagers have/are hunting them (in villages close to the forest) for bush-meat.

The Land Snail Arcavus superbus

The Land Snail Arcavus superbus
Here's a Gondwanaland relic land snail species in an endemic Nelu tree (Strobilanthes sp.) in bloom.

Apart from above specials, I also was able to photograph the Sinhalese Bushbrown—a butterfly lifer for me. And I got a decent sound recording of the Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush. Our birding highlights included Serendib Scops Owl and Sri Lanka Spurfowl, arguably two of the toughest endemic birds to see. And we saw a brooding male Sri Lanka Frogmouth in a nest.

Change of topics, who do you think will win the Rugby World Cup 2011? My money is on Ireland Australia! New Zealand!!


silent moments said...

Great collection !

It may not have been the most challenging of pics to take, but my fav is the portrait of Mr. Snail !

Amila Suwa said...

Thank you, Patali.

I am happy how the snail pic turned out with those lovely pink flowers addition colour. I hope you are keeping fine.

Janith said...

Love the pictures, Amila. But yeah, my favourite is of the snail as well. Very cool colour combo. :)

Also, HI! :D Long time.

Amila Suwa said...

Hi Chavie.
Thanks! Yes, long long time!

Oh, I hope you will remember to photograph Adam's Peak again.

Phil Slade said...

A super selection of birds, bugs, snakes and mammals. I'm a bit of a curry muncher myself.

Amila Suwa said...

Thanks, Phil.
Nice to know you are a curry muncher!
Most Brits that meet these days are like you.

Kirigalpoththa said...

Malkoha is my best pick. Seen a few times but never managed to capture in my lense.

Think both snakes are harmless. am I right?

I was in Mathugama/Agalawatte area recently & saw many birds and thought you would have enjoyed it better. I could not take a single picture of a bird but saw an interesting tree full of 'wadu kurulu' nests. I will update that later.

Amila Suwa said...

K, the Red-faced Malkoha is a difficult bird to photograph. Yes, both the snakes are harmless. I have seen Baya Weaver in that area. That bird species is mainly a dry zone one but that area holds a small population.

anushka said...

i have a videoof giant squirrel in my blog..

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