Friday, 30 May 2008

Sky Watch Friday

A Shorea sp.- a 45-m canopy giant on the way to Sinharaja 'World Heritage' rain forest, Sri Lanka.
Sky Watch Friday Headquarters is at Wigger's World

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Lingo of a Drongo!

Greater Racket-tailed Drongo aka Sri Lanka Crested Drongo in Sinharaja with a pair of White-faced Starlings
An article by Dr. Eben Goodale, Prof. Sarath Kotagama and yours truly is coming up in the July issue of the Natural History magazine of the American Museum of Natural History, US.

It is on the ‘multilingual’ Greater Racket-tailed Drongo aka. Sri Lanka Crested Drongo—the playmaker of the mixed-species bird flocks in the Sinharaja Rain forest in Sri Lanka.  And the copy of the magazine with our article is expected to hit the newsstands from 1 July. So this is an early reminder to reserve your copy!

If you like to subscribe this fantastic magazine, there is a special introductory subscription offer, which is just $22 for people in the USAand $32 for people outside the USA. This includes one year of Natural History (10 issues) and one-time free general admission pass to the American Museum of Natural History among other benefits.

Isn’t that darn good value?
So, click here to subscribe for it now!

Natural History

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Sri Lanka Forktail Up Close & Very Personal

Breaking News: The ‘mystery female’ caught red-handed!

Sri Lanka Forktail in tandem position -24, May, 2008 Bomiriya, Kaduwela. The female is on the bottom holding on to the male
Colombo, Sri Lanka—On what can be described as a ‘momentous day for mankind,’ a mating pair of the rare and endemic Sri Lankan clubtail dragonfly, Sri Lanka Forktail Macrogomphus lankanensis was discovered by Amila Salgado in his own yard on Saturday, 24 May, 2008. “The female form of this rare clubtail had not been described by scientists since this species was described in 1933 by the Odontalogist; F.C. Fraser and because of that, this discovery is a very important one” says the discoverer, who was ecstatic following his paparazzi work.

Enough of the cheesy news reporting, and let’s talk more about dragonfly sex first.

The dragonfly mating looks really curious due the bizarre mating positions they adopt. The main reason for this is the male dragonflies seem to be "wrongly constructed." As in all other insects, the male dragonflies have their genital opening at the bottom of the 9th segment of abdomen. However, the copulation organs are found at the second segment. Due to this the male have to transport its sperm from the end of the abdomen to the beginning of the abdomen while bending the abdomen forwards. This is a very rapid operation. Usually the transferred sperm will be sufficient for several copulations.

Sri Lanka Forktail. See the forktail in the insert, which earns it its name
To mate, the male dragonfly grasps the female's neck with his anal appendages, raises his abdomen and invites the female to bend her abdomen to join her genital opening with his copulating organ. At this stage, the couple is said to be in "tandem position." Another name for the same is "wheel position."

The anal appendages that the male uses to clasp the back of the female's head will only fit into the females of the same species. The duration the male and female would be in tandem position varies from species to species—from a few seconds to several minutes. They may fly in tandem or find a suitable place to settle in the process.

Coming back to the current observation, the Sri Lanka Forktail pair was spotted in tandem position hanging in a coconut frond at my a woody patch in my yard, when I specifically went in search of the elusive female  of this rare clubtail dragonfly! That made this discovery all the more special.

Here's closer look at my private jungle.

Another look at my pitta-patchFor all intents and purposes it was a marathon mating effort lasting for over half an hour and I was able to photograph them in different angles (through digiscoping) as they remained locked in their passionate embrace.

Sri Lanka Forktail in tandem position -24, May, 2008 Bomiriya, KaduwelaSoon after the mating was over, I was able to photograph the male and the female resting low in a slightly open spot. During the real time observations and studying the photographs subsequently of the mating pair, it was obvious to me that the female has a larger body compared to the male and is marked with somewhat bolder yellow spots along the body.

Tracing back to the pictures posted a few days ago, it became clear to me that those indeed were of a female as it appears to have a fatter look to it with more prominent yellow markings although I did not take much notice of these differences at that time.

Below is a male photographed by me and shown in a previous post. Its identity and gender was confirmed by the Odontologist Matjaž Bedjanič.

Sri Lanka Forktail -male, Bomiriya, Kaduwela And below is the individual that I photographed and shared by me in this blog previously. I have rotated the image for easier comparison. Now that I have seen a pair in tandem, it looks to be a female due to structural and morphological similarities to the female observed. I will soon break the news to the Odonatoholics including Matjaž who encouraged me to look for females (of this dragonfly).
Sri Lanka Forktail - female 18 May, 2008 Bomiriya, Kaduwela
Related posts:

Sri Lanka Forktail Up close and personal.
Dragons in my garden Part-2.

This post is my contribution to Circus Of The Spineless #33 hosted by Seeds Aside
Circus of the Spineless - Blog carnival devoted to all things spineless

Birding Blog Carnival Quiz - Winner No.1

We have a winner for the first prize of the quiz of the I and the Bird #75 - Birding blog carnival that I hosted. And the winner is...drumroll please...Julie Bourque from Quebec, Canada! Congradulations!
Julie is the first person to send in all the correct answers and gets to pick which one of the three books by Nishantha Gunawardena on offer that he wish to receive as his prize.
There are two more books to be won and I have decided to extend the deadline until 31 May, 2008. So, please visit the IATB #75 and send in your answers to amila AT birdwingnature DOT come soon! I will announce the winners on the 1 June, 2008.
The winner is expected to make a short speech here via a comment.
The above YouTube piece showing the first audition of Paul Potts in the first series of Britain's Got Talent is one of my personal favourites. It is such a powerful television moment that I am never tired of watching. I really like when the underdog wins!
Related posts:
I and the Bird #75
I and the Bird - Birding Blog Carnival

Friday, 23 May 2008

Sri Lanka Forktail Up Close & Personal

Sri Lanka Forktail - head close up photographed with flash, Bomiriya, Kaduwela
Sri Lanka is blessed with 117 species of dragonflies and damselflies, of which a staggering 53 are endemic. Among these, the Sri Lanka Forktail Macrogomphus lankanensis is a very special one as it is the only endemic dragonfly species found in my home garden! It belongs to the family, Gomphidae—derived from "gomphus" meaning bolt, a type of arrow shot from a crossbow. The members of this family are popularly called as "clubtails," as they have expanded anal segments giving a broader look to the ends of their long bodies. Clubtails are also easily identifiable due their widely separated eyes seen well in the photo above. There are 14 species of clubtails found in Sri Lanka out of which 13 are endemics—a landsalide endemism! Sri Lanka Forktail has fork-shaped ending to its body, which earns it its name, but this feature is hard to see in the wild.

Sri Lanka Forktail - lateral view photographed with flash, Bomiriya, Kaduwela
I found this individual when I ventured into a section of my home garden that I "maintain" in a wild state to invite the migrant avian jewel, Indian Pitta. Now that the Pittas have gone back to their breeding grounds in Himalayas (and because I had no internet for 6 days), I accessed this last frontier in my home garden to see what is in store.

My Pitta patch
This above is the patch I am refering. As you can see it is pretty densely vegetated, and is shaded by several large trees hovering above. It has no water body immediately near it. I was quite thrilled when I set my eyes on this dragonfly resting on a low twig in the shade. All my previous three encounters of it had been close to my lawn, but this was the first time, I found it in my woody patch. Sadly, my happiness was short-lived as it took wing as soon as I got into position to fire my first shot. I couldn’t find the direction it went as it was fast.

Dragonflies have compound eyes and have up to 29,000 facets to their eyes, giving them nearly a 360° field of vision. These individual lens systems, or ommatidia, function separately from each other. Each captures its own tiny piece of the overall picture. All these tiny images are processed simultaneously in the eye, which enables insects to have outstanding fast-motion detection.

In slow motion and with a bit of guesswork, I reached the corner of the patch in search of it and got lucky when probably the same individual was spotted low-down again. This time, I stayed still to take some record shots first. Thereafter, I slowly advanced closer it to improve my shots. Unfortunately, my stealth mode was again not good enough for it, as it once again played games with me flying off the radar. After about 30 minutes of searching, I was finally able to zero in on it again, and this time it obliged to reward for my persistence.
Sri Lanka Forktail anterior view showing venation clearly, photographed with no flash, Bomiriya, Kaduwela
There are a lot of mosquitoes in my woody patch, which I believe is one of the reasons why it prefers this habitat as dragonflies love to feast on them. The female form of Sri Lanka Forktail has not been found by scientists yet. So, I am on the hunt for their fairer sex.

The above picture taken with no flash, shows its wings in sharp focus revealing their venation extremely well. While I was photographing it, a slightly smaller dragonfly dashed in and disturbed the peace of my focal individual and vanished. I wondered whether it is one of those elusive females that I am hunting for. I will keep searching.

Further reading.

Big Wellington Boots Lankabootis wellingtoneus Var. verylongensis

My Wellies
Monotypic endemic genus. Not threatened but you could be a threatened species if you don't use them in my neck of the woods because of the presence of two deadly poisnous snakes: Spectacled Cobra Naja naja and Russell’s Viper Daboia russelii—which jointly are responsible for large number of human mortalities in Sri Lanka. If any Sri Lankans reading this are keen to buy wellies do not go anywhere but to Malwatte Road opposite the Fort Railway Station. That road should be renamed as Wellington Road. Seriously!

Guess how much I paid for this?

Sky Watch Friday

Sunset at Sinharaja 'World Heritage' rain forest, Sri Lanka. Sky Watch FridaySky Watch Friday Headquarters is at Wigger's World

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

I And The Bird #75

I And The Bird Welcome to I and the Bird #75! - Chestnut-backed Owlet - Kithulgala, Sri Lanka Welcome Message

Welcome to I and the Bird #75!

This is the first time this biweekly showcase celebrating blog writings about wild birds and bird watching comes to Sri Lanka. So I am truly delighted to host it! As usual we have some great contributions from all across the blogsphere. In keeping with the carnival atmosphere, I’ve put together a quiz to give away three lovely books. They are all courtesy of my writer-cousin living in Minnesota USA Nishantha Gunawardena
who has also quite generously promised to bear all postage!

The quiz covers one question per entry and is opened to all. Please send in your answers in the order they have been asked to amila AT birdwingnature DOT com before 29 May. The first person to send in all correct answers will win one of these books for sure and only that person will have the choice of choosing which one, when I announce this first result on 25 May. The winners for the next two books will be decided by a draw and they will be picked by my 3 ½-year old niece, Venara Phillips, and I will break this result on 28 May.

Thank you and enjoy this one!

Amila Salgado

And so it begins...

Birds are perfect natural indicators of the changes in the environment, and Owlman at Owl Box - It's an owl's life! in NJ., U.S notes that Tree Swallows—his official harbingers of spring—were only 5 days late by his unofficial time keeping this year! Living in the only aseasonal ever-wet region in the whole of South Asia, the wet zone of Sri Lanka, I am clueless about such huge seasonal changes, but I agree with him that "departures are tougher than arrivals"—whether it is to keep track of arrival and departures of birds or other things in life.

Unless of course you use your time before departures wisely like Tai Haku at Earth Wind and Water who on a stopover at New York seems to have made the right call to check the urban birding locale Central Park, where he made his first successful twitch in real quick time; bagging among other things the much talked about Western Tanager. He was lucky to bump into some helpful local birders and even luckier that John McClane, the quintessential American hero, wasn’t on a tight deadline!

It wasn’t so much a walk in the park for Kathie and Gus at Sycamore Canyon before they stumbled upon their first Western Tanager for the local patch under the scorching Arizonian sun, as they hiked to the big wash of the Canyon on the World Migratory Bird Day. It sure sounds like a productive trip seeing Gila Woodpecker, Lesser Nighthawk, Gambel’s Quail and a rattler among other things.

Keeping a mother and a farther Gambel Quails busy at Tucson in the South West U.S are 9 chicks as reported by Pam at Tortoise Trail. Pam is impressed by the strength of the chicks flying up to 7 feet up to land gracefully on top of the wall to join their mother, which is captured nicely in her photographs.

Ed making peer-reviewed research palatable to wider audiences in Not Exactly Rocket Science, describes a study of Cuckoos—nature's most familiar conmen—who shun their own parental responsibilities by deceiving other birds into caring for their chicks. According to this research, Cuckoos also use visual form of mimicry to disguise themselves as hawks to fool small birds. In Sri Lanka we have "hawk cuckoos" in our part of the world, of which the similarity to hawks is duly acknowledged in their common names.

Not all conmen in avian world are adept in fooling other birds to rear their young. Our next IATB host Sussanah at Wanderin’ Weeta from British Columbia, Canada reveals that in cowbirds, which "employ" foster parents, only 3 % of the eggs actually hatch. This is because, most cowbird eggs were recognized by the host species, dumped from the nest, broken or abandoned. And sometimes, the chosen foster parents just build another nest on top of the old one containing the cowbird egg.

Another bird and nature blogger from Canada, this time from Newfoundland—Old Crow at Wytchwood Ramblings—attracts lovely visitors at her feeders and she presents a short video captured of an animated Downy Woodpecker that came by.

Bruce at Bruce-sc-pix from South Carolina, U.S too often gets welcome visitors at her bird feeders. They come in all sorts of hues and these gorgeous groupies include Blue Grosbeak, Carolina Wren, stunningly beautiful Painted Buntings and of course those less celebrated cowbirds.

This was bearly barely the case at Nancy’s bird feeders at The Zen Birdfeeder when she had a surprise night time vandal visitor at the feeders. Any guesses?

It is seriously springtime in Connecticut, U.S and if you don’t believe me you should just visit Lin’s fabulous blog Sandpiper as she takes us on awesome early morning walk at her local patch, seeing and photographing a few goodies including a lifer in the form of a pretty-little Chestnut-sided Warbler. Don’t they all seem to be rejoicing that the winter is finally over?

It is a different scene in Down Under where it is now getting into the winter, but that doesn’t appear to be much of a concern for the Superb Fairy-wrens males yet, which still retain their gaudy breeding colours as observed by Duncan at Bencruachan Blog. He also reports a welcome winter visitor in the form of a Scarlet Robin, a charming Fence Sitter, at his yard.

Mel at Teach me about bird watching from Peru reports some nice birds including a yet another flashy avian delight Vermillion Flycatcher from her local patch, and a hummer at her grandma’s when she blogs about birds and flowers.

Madhu at Reconciliation Ecology shares a story of some Cliff Swallows living on the edge at California State University, Fresno, and asks a pertinent question: why can't we let Cliff Swallows nest on campus buildings?

Nick at Biological Ramblings blogs about Migration and weather and reveals how migration is affected by weather with evidence that is hard to reject!

Sarala at blogaway reports White-crowned Sparrows migrating through her backyard as she celebrates them in song: little bird, little bird. Well, as little as it may be, this one has a proven track record to cause big twitching scenes in the UK where it turns up as a vagrant. The most recent one was reported in last January in Norfolk, which attracted twitchers in their thousands keen to bag this mega tick in the UK. Don’t believe me? Click here, here and with parental advice, here.

It’s vagrancy time in the U.S too and this time Drew at Nemesis Bird went chasing an errant Wood Sandpiper at Delaware. After a brief initial scare, he succeeded in his mission and also managed to photograph it well.

Lack of migrants notwithstanding, Patrick at The Hawk Owl’s Nest acting as the co-leader on the Sandy Hook Century Run at the 25th World Series of Birding successfully raked in over 100 bird species. His highlights included a Cape May Warbler, two Surf Scoters, a Least Bittern, and blurrrrp, tasting gluten-free beer for the first time!

Amy at WildBird on the Fly too was at the 25th World Series of Birding with a couple of friends, and she has posed a mini challenge to identify various birding spots visited during their time spent in the field.

Mike at 10,000 Birds, however, eschewed the above event and another one in search of familiar pleasures of Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. He had good company, and birding too matched at the end with an unexpected Bobolink, and an errant Redneck in New York City coming in as bonuses. Although this "redneck" also visits Sri Lanka, we never get to see its red neck as it keeps a low profile in its uninspiring winter plumage over here.

Still staying closer to the shore, Troy and Martha—the Texas Travellers in Ramblings around Texas —hares the proud and haughty walk of the American Oystercatcher and a few other tid-bits of information of this delightful U.S coast guard. Did you know that their nest will typically be left uncovered during the day to allow the sun and warm sand to provide incubation?

More Oystercatchers, this time the Eurasian types, a white-morph Western Reef Egret, Great Thick-knees and a distant Terek Sandpiper were some of the specials recorded in a half a day Water Birds trip in Sri Lanka guided by yours truly at Gallicissa.

Terrell from Alone on a Limb shares some bird photos he managed to take on his recent trip to Yucatan in Mexico, which includes Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird, Social Flycatcher and the well-endowed Tourquoise-browed Motmot.

Rob The Birdchaser from Pennsylvania, U.S again gives some sagely advice when he blogs Top 10 ways to be a better birder. He starts off with no: 10: “Stop work to go birding, Unless your job is to find and identify birds, it isn't helping your birding as much as going outside to look for birds.”

Meanwhile Bennet at Pish had some words of encouragement from an anonymous commenter before he shared his photos from a trip to Florida confessing that A Promise is a promise.

We are almost nearing the end of this birding blog carnival. and the fabulous Bird Ecology Study Group (BESG) reveals a cracking set of pictures of an interesting foraging observation of Black-capped Kingfisher at the famous Mai Po marshes in Hong Kong. This good-looking Kingfisher also winters in Sri Lanka in small numbers and is a much sought-after specialty over here.

Guess who sent the last enry? It was none other than Snail at A Snail’s Eye View who just made the finish line, reporting a yet another foraging observation, this time of a pretty looking female Leaden Flycatcher from Australia tackling an odonate!

The Quiz

1. According to Not Exactly Rocket Science, which (plumage) feature Davies and Welbergen found in their study to be a critical element in Cuckoo’s disguise?
2. Name two Woodpecker species that Tai Haku observed at Central Park in New York
3. According to the BESG, what is the breeding range of the Black-capped Kingfisher?
4. What did the Texas Travellers do before photographing the American Oystercatcher?
5. What are the diagnostics observed of the Terek Sandpiper picked up at infinity at Gallicissa?
6. According to Pam, what plumage features are the Gambel’s Quail chicks starting to acquire?
7. What is the name of the Flycatcher reported by Mel? (This should be very easy if you know Mel!)
8. Why does Duncan think the male Superb Fairy-wren is still in nice colour?
9. How many Western Tanagers were seen by Kathie and Gus on their walk?
10. In the Downy Woodpecker video of Old Crow what sort of a sound can you mostly hear?
11. Who was the surprise night time visitor to Nancy’s bird feeders?
12. Apart from the obvious human-caused threats facing the nesting Cliff Swallows, name two other treats they may be worried about, according to Madhu?
13. Which bird peeked over the leaves, and seemed to be watching Lin during her walk?
14. How many species of birds did Patrick report at the 25th World Series of Birding?
15. What is the variation that Sarala observed in her White-crowned Sparrows?
16. According to records kept by Owlman so far, what is the average date of arrival of Tree Swallows?
17. How many fledglings were following the Carolina Wren according to Bruce?
18. What did Amy and her friends find when they arrived at the first of many destinations at the World Series Birding?
19. According to Sussanah how did the nasty trait of letting other birds raise their young start in Cowbirds?
20. Where exactly did Terrell find the Social Flycatcher in his trip to Yucatan?
21. According to Nick, what does the wind map on 12 May explain?
22. What is the Grebe species that Bennet tries to convince us that he saw?
23. How many bird species do you have to see to meet the minimum Bird RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) according to Rob?
24. What is the Redneck that Mike talks about?
25. According to Drew, the Wood Sandpiper seems to be a mix of which two birds?
26. Which location did Snail observe the Flycatcher at?

The giveaways

1. Traces of Eden - The last of the American Wilderness by Nishantha Gunawardena Hardcover: 160 pages. ISBN 0-9769972-0-7 Dimensions: 11.1 x 8.7 x 0.7 inches. Price US$ 34.95. Published by Traces of Eden Foundation (2005).
Traces of Eden - The Last of the American Wilderness by Nishantha Gunawardena"The vastness of the United States seems endless and the variety of ecosystems incredible. Deserts, rain forests, grasslands, wetlands, coasts, glacier-clad mountains, and temperate woodlands each brim with its own distinctive character. The spirit of the land caresses and engulfs the one seeking solitude in it. It is possible to hear the essence of the terrain resounding and relating its story in tranquility."– Nishantha Gunawardena, 2005.

2. The Color of Serendipity – A Journey through Sri Lanka by Nishantha Gunawardena. Hardcover: 120 pages. ISBN-13: 978 -0-9769972-2-1. ISBN-10: 0-9769972-2-3. Dimensions: 11.5 x 8.5 x 0.5 inches. Price: US$27.95. Published by Traces of Eden Foundation (2007).
The Color of Serendipity - A Journey Through Sri Lanka by Nishantha Gunawardena“The island of Sri Lanka is a small universe; it contains as many variations of culture, scenery and climate as some countries a dozen times its size….If you are interested in people, history, nature and art—the things that really matter—you may find, as I have, that a lifetime is not enough.”– Sir Arthur C. Clarke In the Forward to The Colour of Serendipity, 2007.

3. The Lost Dynasty—Uncovering Sri Lanka’s Secret Past by Nishantha Gunawardena. Hardcover: 252 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0-9769972-1-4 & ISBN-10: 0-9769972-1-5 Dimensions: 11.7 x 8.5 x 0.9 inches. Price: US$ 27.95. Published by Traces of Eden Foundation (2007).

The Lost Dynasty - Uncovering Sri Lanka's secret past by Nishantha Gunawardena “It is an unforgettable journey through the past of a fascinating island. Gunawardena brings the theatrics to the stage of history like a literary dramatist.”– Warren Bass, Washington Post, 2007.

The finishing speech

All this time I was a bit reluctant to come forward to host an IATB birding blog carnival due to work-related handicaps faced as a tour guide. Nature of my work is such that I could get busy at short notice, which at times results in my staying away from computers for several days. In April, the indefatigable Mike Bergin got in touch with me to ask whether I can host one in July. But then I carefully explained to him how May would be ideal for me due to various reasons. In no time, he freed up 15 May for me, evicting one Hawk Owl from its nest in the process. This IATB is the result of that. So a big thank you to Mike for his kind invitation to host this IATB and for his creative manoeuverability in squeezing me in! I hope the Hawk Owl will return once again!

I owe a big thank you to all the contributors, new and old, who sent their entries to lend colour and beauty to this blog carnival. I am especially thankful to bird and nature bloggers: Bruce, Kathie, Mel, Old Crow, and Sandpiper for readily accepting my invitations to join this blog carnival for the first time and for their lovely debut entries. I’d like to thank Ridger at The Greenbelt for sending in that very interesting post on the mimicry of Cuckoos on behalf of Ed—I really enjoyed that! Last but not least I’d like to thank my cousin, Nishantha, for coming forward to sponsor the giveaways including postage to make this carnival a truly rewarding experience for the readership!

The next I and the Bird (#76) is hosted by Susannah at Wanderin’ Weeta on 29 May. Please send your contributions to susannah AT dccnet DOT com before 27 May, 2008.

Au revoir!
Amila Salgado.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

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