Thursday 24 January 2013

Endmics Clean-up with Ben and Ron under Five Days

In August, 2012 I guided a five-day abridged version of my Absolute Birding tour. It was with Ron and Ben Barkley, a farther son duo from the U.S.A. Ben is a student at the prestigious Cornell Lab of Ornithology and was keener birder of the two. Our focus was on the endemic birds of Sri Lanka and other resident species that come along the way.

We saw a whopping 152 species of birds, which was great considering the shorter duration of the trip outside the migratory season. Important, we wrapped up all 33 endemic birds in the last daylight hour of day four. That was a personal best for me. Our trip tally also included six of the fifteen resident night birds. 

White-tailed Iora

Before this trip, Ben was based in India working at a nature resort in Thekaddy area in Kerala, using his vacation for studying birds of India and in return helping the resort develop nature-tourism products for its clients. So he was fresh with a lot of field knowledge of dealing with similar birds to Sri Lanka. And his spotting skills backed by Ron’s enthusiasm greatly helped to rake in such a big tally of birds in real quick time.

One of the special non-endemic highlights was the White-tailed Iora (Marshall’s Iora), which was expertly photographed by Ben while birding on foot at a patch at Udawalawe. He sent me the shot above that he took of it. I am yet to get a decent shot of this newly rediscovered resident bird, despite opportunistically trying to do it while “working.”

Our other highlights include smashing views of an overhead Rufous-bellied Hawk Eagle—a species that I have seen in my dreams too!

The bird flocks at Sinharaja were many. The Red-faced Malkoha treated us for great sightings low-down. Layard’s Parakeets were seen gleaning flowers of feeding of the endemic pioneer Schumacheria castaneifolia (Kakiri-wara). This frequency of sightings of Layard’s Parakeets joining the flock increases in the wet season (April to December) according to the flock researchers Prof. Kotagama and Dr. Eben Goodale.

 Ashy-headed Laughingthrush

The Ashy-headed Laughthrush looked to be busy nesting.

  Sri Lanka Frogmouth 

The female Sri Lanka Frogmouth above appeared to know me.

 Udawalwe National Park

Being at the height of the draught Udawalawe National Park was bone dry.

 Malabar Pied Hornbill

But that wasn't enough to stop Ben from spotting this fruiting tree decorated with Malabar Pied Hornbills. There were nearly 50 of them!

Friday 21 December 2012

The Indian Pitta in My Garden

The regular migrant Indian Pitta is back in  my garden.

I maintain a woody patch in my backyard to host it. And it accepts my invitation every year. In addition to the allocated one, it frequents a new patch this season. It is 25-feet from my room in the front yard! This new patch is roughly 400 sq.ft in extent, and the bird spends the first half of the day there.

Now, I get to see it doing all sorts of thing from the comforts of room. And sometimes it moons.

The Indian Pitta is known as Aarumani-kuruwi in Tamil, which translates to "six-O'clock-bird" because of its tendency to call roundabout at 6.00 a.m. and 6.00 p.m. In October and November, still early on in its stay in Sri Lanka, its calling is dead on time.

Although it prefers the shady patches, every now and then, it emerges out to forage in sunnier edges.

During that, it basks to dry up and perhaps to get rid of parasites.

This year, the first sighting of it was on 20th October. Over the years, the earliest I have seen it is on 16th October and the latest that I have seen it is on 16th April.

Most birders who visit South India on birding trips see it at a sewage farm, undergoing trying conditions. The Pitta in this patch infamously came to be known as the pitta-in-the-shitta!

Over here in Sri Lanka, we do spare such torture for our visitors.
Har...har. :)

Saturday 17 November 2012

Guiding Yumi

I guided Yumiko Hatori from Japan in September. It was a two-day natural history tour to Sinharaja.
Not familar with Japanese names, when I went to pick up, I expected a bloke. But, Yumi turned out to be very much a girl. She was on a solo backpacking trip. And this tour was done at the begining of her Sri Lankan adventure. Yumi had a brand new point and shoot camera that she was keen try out on smaller forms of live. To keep matters simple, I left my big lens and went only with my 100mm lens + flash.

We rain into some wet weather.

Luckily, no client has ever complained about rain at Sinharaja. But sometimes it worries me. Would anybody ever ask for a refund after running into wet weather at Sinharaja? What is a suitable disclaimer to include in my itinerary? The rain forest at Sinharaja rain forest can be rainy most of the time?

With the rain as a catalyst, the forest was teeming with all forms of life.
The venture capitalist Yumi got great value for her money.

The Green Pit Viper


The Plum Judy

Sri Lanka Cascader

Kangaroo Lizard

Mr. Mantis

Glad-eye Bushbrown

Green Vine Snake or should it be Green Vine-snake?

Shinning Gossammerwing 

Red Skimmer (Sorry, I don't like its other name.)

Mrs. Sri Lanka Frogmouth

On the birding front, other than the usual suspects, my top highlight was a vocal Legge's Hawk Eagle at the Morapitiya rain forest on the way to Sinharaja. It was perched atop a 40 meter canopy giant, and afforded stunning views through my scope.

Wednesday 15 August 2012


Wednesday 27 June 2012

Guiding Kate and John Holland

20 February to 5 March, 2012, saw me guiding a 15-day wildlife tour with John and Kate Holland, from England. Both were keen birders, and this was their first visit to Sri Lanka. Kate sported the latest Swarovski SLC 42 HD binoculars, which were superb in clarity. A birthday gift from John, it was on its first overseas trip.

Our final trip list of birds stood at 236 species and that included all 33 endemic birds and 10 out of the 15 resident night birds. Our top wildlife highlights included a couple of Leopards at Yala and several Blue Whales off Mirissa. The photos below show these highlights and more.

Lesser Adjutant

We saw this lone Lesser Adjutant at the Yala National Park, and it proved to be the only sighting of this rare resident bird for the whole trip. 

Asian Paradise Flycatcher

We had this species at several locations, and this individual obliged outside the Udawalawe National Park. The white coloured males of this species comes all the way from Northern India during the migratory season. I usually get one of these turning up in my home garden, but in the last season I had none.

Asian Brown Flycatcher

Another regular migrant, Asian Brown Flycatcher usually likes tops of trees with ample lighting. When we found this individual, we were on a second floor of a building, and from our position it presented us with nice eye-level views. 

Sri Lanka Blue Magpie

Some of the Sri Lanka Blue Magpies at Sinharaja are quite confiding. This one came to land on my scope, when we were having a break near the research station.

Here's a close up of his head. 

Sri Lanka Frogmouth

This juvenile Sri Lanka Frogmouth was huddled together with its farther at Sinharaja rain forest. It was too close for my lens.

The Blue Whale

We had aout fifteen sightings of Blue Whales, consisting of about eight individuals. This was one of them with a limora fish haning on its tail. The whale watches approaching from behind, scared it off.

The clay girl

At Tissa, this girl is the youngest member of a family that engage in pottery. Her play area borders the Tissa wewa, where we go birding. She used to have a pair of Indian Scops Owls in her garden. But as of recently the owls have vacated the roost.


This female cub gave us prolonged views at Yala. For a good length of the time, we had it all for ourselves, which was nice. I hate the big crowds and traffic jams at Yala.

Asian Groundling

We saw a good array of dragonflies and this Asian Groundling gave an easy photo opportunity. 

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Cuckoos of the World

I got a spanking new copy of the newly published Cuckoos of the World for free!

Authored by Johannes Erritzoe, Clive F Mann, Frederik Brammer and Richard A Fuller, and publised by Christopher Helm, it describes all 144 species of the bird family Cuculidae including cuckoos, malkohas, couas, coucals, roadrunners and other species in exceptional detail. This includes accurate range maps, superb illustrations by four world-renowned artists to show different plumages and sub-species.

And photographs of almost all species, which includes three contributed by me. They are of Sirkeer Malkoha, Red-faced Malkoha and Indian Cuckoo.

A Red-faced Malkoha devouring a Mega Stick Phobaeticus hypharpax (Westwood, 1859) photographed in December 2004, using Nikon Coolpix 4500 point and shoot camera through a Kowa TSN 823 telescope appears in Page 243 in the Cuckoos of the World.

This explains how I got this freebie!

In the bibiliography it also refers to one of my papers on the feeding ecology of Red-faced Malkoha, which was nice. The book represents the definitive and most up-to-date reference on the identification of cuckoos.

The Sirkeer Malkoha in page 238 in the Cuckoos of the World was taken using my point and shoot Nikon Coolpix 5100, while guiding Dave Thrussel and Chris Holtby in March, 2010.

A big thank you to Jim  Martin, Project Editor of this book for seeking my images, and to my clients who were with me when I photographed these birds (Red-faced Malkoha duing the Christmas Bird Tour, Dec 2004 to January 2005;  Dave Thrussel and Chris Holtby, March, 2010).

Hello to all!
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