Thursday, 13 March 2008

Absolute Birding

Sri Lanka Blue Magpie
My recently concluded 15-day Absolute Birding tour from 31 Jan to 14 Feb., with 4 British birders, was a roaring success. We bagged a whopping 252 species of birds including all thirty-three endemics currently recognised. Additionally, we also bagged forty-two birds endemic to South Asia. And we bagged nine out of the fifteen resident night birds—of which seven were owls. Special birding highlight was seeing a pair of the newly rediscovered breeding resident, Marshall’s Iora at Lunugamwehera. We also had two sightings of Leopard at Yala National Park. Which included a prolonged sighting of a male resting on a rock.

The tour was organised by Peter Nickless from England who was joined by his birding buddies: Roger Dodds, Graham Mant, and Graham Jones. Just before my clients arrived, I visited this garden—just five minutes from the airport—on a scouting mission. During this, I stumbled upon a day roost of two Brown Hawk Owls at a dimly lit thicket. So when picked my four visitors, our first point of call was this day roost. Great start!

Resuming the tour after this great early start, I was determined not to spend too much time over wayside birds, as we would be seeing these often during the course of the tour. Even with such rigorous discipline, our journey to the first accommodation saw us raking in no less than six raptor species, which included Black Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle and the only Rufous-bellied Hawk Eagle (a rare species in SL) of the trip.

Leopard - adult male resting on a rock at Yala National Park, Sri Lanka on the 7 Feb, 2007
Day-1 at the lush lowlands of Kithulgala got off to a flying start with a daily tally of fifty-six including ten of the thirty-three endemics to give a solid opening stand. Our endemic highlights were Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Sri Lanka Green Pigeon, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, Layard’s Parakeet, Chestnut-backed Owlet, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Sri Lanka Swallow, Black-capped Bulbul and Orange-billed Babbler. Our day-2 brought us more goodies in the form of the South Asian endemic and regular migrant, Indian Pitta, the avian gem, Black-backed Dwarf Kingfisher and more endemics: Spot-winged Thrush, Sri Lanka Spurfowl, Sri Lanka Small Barbet, Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler, Brown-capped Babbler and Sri Lanka Crested Drongo.

Our day-3 at the endemic hotspot Sinharaja ‘world heritage’ rain forest produced a truly mouth-watering array of specials including endemics: Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush, Legge’s Flowerpecker, Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, Sri Lanka Myna and the avian jewel; Serendib Scops Owl, which evaded bird watchers until 2001. With 2/3 of the endemics bagged at the end of our day-3, we were sitting at a very comfortable position to make a clean sweep of the endemics on this tour.

Rhino-horned Lizard at Hakgala Botanical Gardens, 10 Feb, 2007
Our day-4 yielded four more ticks to our tally of endemics: Red-faced Malkoha, Green-billed Coucal, Sri Lanka White-eye and White-faced Starling. A noteworthy highlight today was Malabar Trogon—endemic to South India and Sri Lanka. By the time we ended our day-4, we had bagged twenty-seven endemics! Our day-5 was essentially a back up day in Sinharaja to nab any elusive suspects. A pre-dawn raid saw us getting cracking views of the Sri Lanka Frogmouth, low down, before a noisy Chestnut-winged Crested Cuckoo took wing to limit our views to a flight silhouette, which was followed with our 3rd views of the Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush. Happy with our haul of the specials, a message was passed on to me declaring the rest of the day a holiday—starting as early as at 8.30 a.m.! The fact that it was the Sri Lanka’s Independence Day commemorating 60 years of independence from the colonial rule of the British didn’t have any reason whatsoever for this. The luxuries of the public holiday that ensued saw a sharp increase in the extras bill for some. We bagged a new trip bird in the form of a dark-morph Booted Eagle—while chilling at Martin's balcony with a few Lion beers as observational aids.

To read the full report with the systematic list click here.
To download a PDF version of the same with images (warning: 23 pages) click here.
To read the full report at click here
The above is my contribution to I And The Bird#72 Birding Carnival hosted by Ecobirder in Minnesota, USA.


Anonymous said...

That's sounds like a fantastic trip. Especially the raptor species and the leopard.
Is it common to see the big cat in Sri Lanka?

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Markus,
Thanks a lot. Yala National Park's block-1, which is 141 contains close to 40 Leopards individually identified by facial spot patterns by a long running research. This is a very healthy number for a relatively small area and for this reason Yala (block-1) is usually considered to be the area with the highest Leopard density in the world. Due to the presence of a large number of herbivores and the protection afforded to this important National Park daytime sightings of Leopards is common as these big cats are bolder than in other areas of Sri Lanka where hunting pressures (on Leopards and their herbivore prey), increased human activity & other factors have made them become very much nocturnal.

From my experience, if you do several focused game drives (not wasting time on little brown jobs and other such distractions), you have a greater chance of seeing Leopards at Yala.

FYI, we did 2 game drives focusing on birds but still had Leopard on both of them!

Anonymous said...

Is that a picture of a Cophotis? Hard to find these days. I remember breeding them - in Los Angeles, of all places

Amila Salgado said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amila Salgado said...

Hi Java,
I haven't been lucky enough to find a Cophotis in this lifetime. There is a much debated second species of Cophotis discovered from Knuckles. Did you know that? And nice to know that you have bred them - in L.A!

This is a Ceratophora stoddartii; one of the 5 species of this prestigious endemic genus.

Stuart Price said...

Sounds like a great trip. Wish I was a birding guide sometimes.........someone asked me last month to guide them around Hokkaido (!) but I had to tuen them down at such short notice.

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Stu,
Yes we had a great time. Too bad you missed out on that little guiding job. With all your local expertise, I am sure you would have done a great job. This isn't a bad job - you get paid for what you like to do.

Anonymous said...

I did think it looked too green for a Cophotis and also it lacked the ridges on the back - although they do retract them somewhat when trying to conceal themselves. The horn on the nose is what got me.

Yes, I did hear of 'Copes' in areas other than Nuwara Eliya and them parts.

I have also introduced some Ceratophora (from up there) in a garden in Nuwara Eliya to encourage breeding and spreading the species.

Amila Salgado said...

Java, Nice to know that you'd been involved in conservation of these montane lizards. I often encounter the Ceratophota on my birding visits to highlands, which always is a pleasant distraction.

Jason Bugay Reyes a.k.a horukuru said...

wah what a nice trip u had with all the endemics !

im planning to bird at sri langka this year so wait for my email hehehe :)

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Horukuru,
Nice to hear from you. Yes I did have a great trip; cleaning the endemics, which owes largely to good teamwork. It will be great to go birding with you and I look forward to hear from you.

ST said...

now that's a cat

Amila Salgado said...

Hi ST,
Yep, very much so!
Good to hear from you.

To All,

With the Lion and the Tiger that existed in Sri Lanka going extinct 'sometime ago', Leopard has become the sole Big Cat by default and therefore enjoys the status as the 'apex predator' here; a crucial reason why it is bolder here than in other areas of its range where it has to compete with other big cats thus forcing it to be more secretive. I should have mentioned the above ecological fact earlier in my comments justifying its boldness.

This unique ecological status together with good protection afforded to Yala Nationa Park (for its Leopards and its prey) has contributed to Leopards being bolder and explains its high requency of daytime sightings at Yala National Park in Sri Lanka.

Big cat and Palaeontology enthusiasts: if you wish to read more about the two extinct big cats of Sri Lanka click here.

Nora said...

I want pictures of the Black eagle and the Crested eagle please...did I miss that part, I looked in the download, no eagle make us all jealous at the amount of birds and wildlife you see...

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Ocean,

Since this was a pretty serious birding tour, I didn't do much personal photography and therefore bird photos of the actual tour are almost nonexistent. Thus all, saving the Brown Fish Owl pic used in the PDF version are 'library pics'.

However, since you have been so nice to me over the past several weeks, I have uploaded a Crested Serpent Eagle pic especially for you, which by the way, gave me a thundering reminder that I need to get a decent shot of this relatively abundant raptor!
And I have also included an internal link to a record Black Eagle pic.

Reading between lines, I also took immediate steps to add internal links to some of the other birds, which were linkless previously.

" make us all jealous at the amount of birds and wildlife you see..."

Thanks Ocean, I will take it as a compliment!

Anonymous said...

Hi! Your blog is really nice, I particularly like the picture of the leopard.

Anyway, do you want to swap links, I have a bird blog too. My blog is

Ecobirder said...

Hey Gallicissa you have been tagged. I bet that you are wondering what I am talking about. Well check out this post to find out.

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Ecobirder,
Apparently I have been tagged by Katie too. See comments of my earlier post; Huuhkaja. So I am in real trouble! Doing 1001 things last minute before a 4 day trip tomorrow. Let's see how far I get with this!

Amila Salgado said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amila Salgado said...

Hi JH,

Good to hear from you.
Glad you like my blog and the Leopard shots, thanks!
I have already linked to you.

Nora said...

Thanks for putting in the links on the eagles and others, I hope to have more time to wander through your archives a bit more. You really have an exceptional site here and put in so much work on it. I hope you are having a good birding trip.

Bennet said...

Let's keep this meme rolling, Amila.
You have been tagged by a fellow blogger. For details see my March 22 post at: . Good luck, you've got a lot of them to answer now!

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Ocean,
Just back from a superb birding trip to Sinharaja. Lot's of photos but no luck with any raptors. Great to hear your lovely compliments on my blog as always. I too enjoy reading your superb blog and seeing those cracking photos - especially of your raptors.

Hi Bennet,
Nice to hear from you! Yes, I shall keep it rolling at the fullness of time...when the moment is the approprite juncture (to use Sir. Humphrey Appleby's famous phrases)

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