Sunday 27 July 2008

Steve in the fast lane


The sun was still struggling to appear through the thick carpet of grey clouds when we made our first leg stretch. We were on the way to Sinharaja rain forest. My client was Steve Lane—a keen British birder. With memberships in the British dragonfly society and the British butterfly conservation society, Steve was actually a bit of an all-round naturalist. He had arrived the day before and was based in the luxurious Blue Water Hotel in Wadduwa in the west coast when I picked him up.

On the way to Sinharaja we made a series of wayside stops. This was done just in case we run into 'rain forest weather', as the skies were gloomy. In such conditions, birding can prove tough, especially inside the forest. Our strategic roadside stops brought us some good birds namely, Layard’s Parakeet, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, White-browed Bulbul, Small Minivet, Orange Minivet, Crested Treeswift, Indian Swiftlet, Indian Robin, Yellow-billed Babbler, Southern Coucal, Long-billed Sunbird, Purple-rumped Sunbird, Brown-headed Barbet, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Sri Lanka Green Pigeon, Jerdon's Leafbird, Black-hooded Oriole, Green Imperiel Pigeon, Black-rumped Flameback, Crested Serpent Eagle, Crested Hawk Eagle.

All of these ensured that we met our RDA (recommended daily allowance) of birds even before reaching the ticket office of the forest.

Our jeep driver Ranji was awaiting our arrival at the ticket office, and soon after obtaining our permits and meeting our mandatory local guide, Dharshana, we drove up to Martin’s for a quick cuppa. Just as I experienced on the previous trip, the forest was absolutely teeming with life. I think the heavy rains we had in the last several days had helped. Despite the early signs of gloomy conditions, the weather held up when it mattered, and we didn't have to use our brollies even on a single occasion.

On bigger tours we can have luxury of taking this easy as often we have multiple chances to see thing during the course of the trip. However, on day tours, we do not have that freedom, so I try to show things to my clients on the first opportunity itself.  This worked well on this trip too. To give you a classic example, soon after entering the forest, we heard a Sri Lanka Blue Magpie at the back. It was tempting ignore it, hoping that we will encounter it later on during the walk. But, I decided go for it. And it turned out to be a good call as the sighting we had of it proved the only one for the whole trip. It was also Steve's top highlight of the trip, which made the decision to go for it all the more special.

So here's my Donald Trump like big statement:

Never put off things on day tours—there may be no second chance!

We were extremely lucky to encounter three full-blown mixed-species bird flocks, which afforded exceptional views of all our flock-associated targets in quick order. The first of this was had near the very hotspot we encountered the flock in making emma happy part 2. As in that occasion, we ran into minimal pains and the birds observed in this feeding frenzy included Orange-billed Babbler, Sri Lanka Crested Drongo, Malabar Trogon, Red-faced Malkoha, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Dark-fronted Babbler, Square-tailed Black, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Black-capped Bulbul, Common Iora, Legge’s Flowerpecker, Orange Minivet, and Black-naped Monarch.

Soon after the flock activity subsided, a pair of ultra-elusive Green-billed Coucals obliged to give jaw-dropping views in the scope. I was able to quickly capture my best record shot of this scarce endemic. This was my top highlight of the trip.

Our second flock was observed close to the spot we had our flock in MEH Part 1, and it had, among other things, a pair of Sri Lanka Scimitar Babblers. A Brown-capped Babbler was seen briefly by me but eluded Steve. One of the highlights of this flock was a stunning Malabar Trogon male, which waited long enough to offer prolonged views in the scope, and the digiscoped photo on top right.

This juvenile Legge’s Flowerpecker was safely placed in a mesh of branches that would have proved tough for an Accipiter to get at. It was awaiting parental attention.

Legge's Flowerpecker juvenile
Our other birding highlights included Sri Lanka Junglefowl, White-faced Starling, Sri Lanka Myna, and Emerald Dove. After a late lunch and a cuppa, we returned to the Blue Water Hotel by 7.30 p.m. On the way back, Steve braved to try Pol-roti with improvised-explosive Lunu-miris. Lunu miris is a chillie paste made with (a choice of) chillies and onionons; adding lime in the end. This version was made with Thai pepper. Putting them to his mouth, and after regaining his breath, Steve told me that it was the hottest thing ever tasted!

Non-birding highlights


Purple-faced Leaf Monkey Trachypithecus vetulus—a troop of this endemic folivorous primate afforded good views.

Layard’s Squirrel Funambulus sublineatus—in mixed species bird flocks as they usually do.

Giant Squirrel Ratufa macroura—following birds in the second flock encountered.


Common Imperiel Cheritra freja—not a common species in Sri Lanka as the name suggests. We had brief but good views of this lycaenid butterfly sporting a long tail, which was a first for me at Sinharaja.

Common Imperiel
Blue Admiral Kaniska canace—we had good long looks of an individual settled on a broken concrete bridge. This again was my first sighting of this striking blue butterfly at Sinharaja.

In addition to the above, we had Red Helan, Cruiser (both sexes), Clipper, Sri Lanka Rose, Giant Crow, Tailed Jay, Bluebottle, Blue Glassy Tiger, Common Glassy Tiger, Plum Judy, and Glade-eye Bushbrown.


Newly-discovered Lyriothemis sp.—we had good looks of this rain forest dragonfly, which awaits formal description. Here is the female.

Lyriothemis.sp - female
Fruhstorfer’s Junglewatcher Hylaeothemis fruhstorferi fruhstorferi—we encountered this highly scarce endemic on several occasions including a pair close together.

Fruhstorfer's Junglewatcher
In addition to the above, we had a few of the usual suspects including Shining Gossamerwing, Spine-tufted Skimmer, Black-tipped Flashwing, Marsh Skimmer and Green Skimmer (in tandem), and Blurry Forestdamsel.


Sri Lanka Whistling Lizard Calotes liolepis—we had two encounters of this rare endemic agamid lizard. The one was when it was found on a lichen-covered wall to which it was merged well as shown here.

Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush
Green Forest Lizard Calotes calote—this young male wearing a fresh coat of skin looked to be at the prime of its youth.
Green Forest Lizard young male at itsbest years
Other reptiles seen were Common Skink, Kangaroo Lizard, and Sri Lanka Keelbacked Water Snake.

Wednesday 23 July 2008

Wordless Wednesday

Hanu WW HQ

Monday 21 July 2008

Making Emma Happy - part 2

We heard it from a distance and knew we were approaching another flock. We had walked about 2 hours towards the research camp in the morning. Although, the flock we had the day before contained the usual suspects, in all honestly, it made us work hard. It was found at midday at an open stretch with not much tree cover for shade, and the birds were inside the thick forest for much of the time– doing their thing and giving us only fleeting views—until they rewarded our efforts by showing up at the spot we were waiting in ambush.

Since entering the forest this morning, apart from a few ‘lounging’ pigeons and mynas, we hardly had more than half a dozen chances to raise our binoculars for birds. Okay, we were also looking at other stuff. But, we didn’t have any major birding to speak of, apart from mostly distant views. That soon changed, when we literally walked into this flock at a clearing—at a known hotspot of flock activity.

It positively lived up to my hype about Sinharaja’s flocks—mentioned in my tour commentary on the way to Sinharaja. Emma was quick to remind the catch phrase that I used to describe it— “an explosion of birds.” And it was just that. They were on both sides of the forest; they were everywhere. Raise the binoculars to look at one bird; you miss the big picture. It was a one big feeding frenzy and a crowded scene at that.
It was a rain forest avian buffet, and we were positively spoiled by the spread!

We had a good choice of endemic starters in the form of Orange-billed Babblers numbering over 25 and easily over 6 Sri Lanka Crested Drongos aka. Greater Racket-tailed Drongos. Well, these two species almost always are instrumental in starting flocks, so it isn't wrong to name them the starters.

Our next couse—the soup if you like to imagine—was a half a dozen Black-capped Bulbuls, and 5 Sri Lanka Blue Magpies (gotta be Bridget Jones type blue soup).

Crimson-backed Flameback aka Greater Flameback male in Sinharaja 'World Heritage' rain forest
We had several mouth-watering endemic main course specials in the form of 3 Red-faced Makohas, a dozen or so Ashy-headed Laughingthrushes, a couple of Legge’s Flowerpeckers, several White-faced Starlings and 3 cracking Crimson-backed Flamebacks (a male shown above). If these weren’t enough to tempt you, we had some South Indian and Sri Lankan specials in 4 tempting Malabar Trogons and about 6 Orange Minivets.

Judging by the calls, there were at least a single endemic Green-billed Coucal and a pair of Sri Lanka Scimitar Babblers somewhere in the spread, but we couldn’t find them. So like in buffets.

For dessert we had endemic frugivorous delights in the form of 8 Layard’s Parakeets a couple of Yellow-fronted Barbets. If you are into Oriental delicacies, we had that too in 3 Lesser Yellownapes and a couple of Black-naped Monarchs.

Finally, for those of us who like a cup of coffee to finish off, we had plenty of South Indian and Sri Lankan brewed Square-tailed Black Bulbuls—to leave us positively bloated!

Birding can be a different ball game if you are new to the tropical rain forests such as Sinharaja. Here, you can walk for hours without much birding to talk about. And then you find ‘flock’ or a ‘bird wave’or to use a more formal name—a mixed-species bird flock. The flock study at Sinharaja was pioneered by Prof. Sarath Kotagama of the University of Colombo in the early 80s. Eben Goodale from the US joined the study in the mid 90s, which eventually earned him many good things in his life including a PhD. Thanks to their pioneering work, Sinharaja’s flock has now become one of the best-studied bird flocks in the world. Standing on the shoulders of these giants, some of their fascinating findings were discussed in this post by me. It will be useful reading if you are completely new to this unique avian phenomenon.

To read an article by Dr. Eben Goodale, Prof. Sarath Kotagama, and me about the playmaker of Sinharaja's mixed-species bird flock, see the July issue of the Natural History magazine published by the American Museum of Natural History. You can visit their site by clicking on the logo below.

The Natural History magazine
Other highlights:

1. Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush Zoothera imbricata —This scarce endemic was seen only by me. Picking up its high pitched call heard over the sound of water, I delivered a rendition of its call. And just seconds after that, a Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush materialized in view holding some mossy nesting materiel indicating nesting activity! We exchanged some verbal duals and were locked in stares in the 30 seconds that ensued, which was great fun!

I didn’t have my scope near me to digi-scope it and I knew that it will fly away if I try to reach it. And it did take wing as I anticipated when I reached to grab it. But soon it responded again and perched nearby to allow this record shot. As it was busy nesting, we decided to leave it alone.

Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush with nesting material - Sinharaja 'World Heritage' rain forest - 9 July, 2008
2. A pair of dragonflies that I photographed in July, 2006 in Sinharaja was confirmed by the Odonatologist, Matjaž Bedjanič to be an entirely new species of the genus Lyriothemis of the skimmer family; Libelluidae! This is the male, which I was fotunate to find on this trip again.

The male of the new Lyriothemis from Sinhraja 'World Heritage' rain forest
I was told that some other expert had taken over the formal description of this species, which is pending. I am happy that we’d have a new species to boost our list of 117 species of Odonata. Here's the female of it.

The female of the new Lyriothemis from Sinharaja 'World Heritage', Sri Lanka
3. Blue Mormon Papilio polymnestor—Emma cleverly spotted this imago emerging from its pupa at Martin’s garden when we went in search of a Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, which we saw as well. It was found below its host plant, which was of the family Rubiaceae.

A Blue Mormon is born 4. Jungle Threadtail Elattoneura caesia—Emma also spotted this endemic damselfly.

Jungle Threadtail
5. Green Forest Lizard aka G.Garden L Calotes calote —This lizard was found in some invasive pioneer Koster's Curse Clidemia hirta to which it was perfectly merged to.

Green Forest Lizard
I conclude this post by saying that Emma had more than her fair share of sightings of Sri Lanka Blue Magpies and was not bitten by a leech. Therefore, she was very happy at the end. Nor was Alex a victim of leeches. And they both lived happily thereafter.

Related posts:
making emma happy - part 1

Friday 18 July 2008

making emma happy - part 1

Emma and Alex were on the beach-leg of their Sri Lankan holiday when I picked them up from the Bentota Beach Hotel (on 8 July) for a 2-day trip to the Sinharaja rain forest.

On the way, as usual, we had several wayside birding attractions. The first was this juvenile Crested Hawk Eagle sitting on a post in good light. The picture below was a digiscoped one (using Kowa TSN 823 scope with Nikon Coolpix 4500 camera fitted with custom-made adapters).

Crested Hawk Eagle juvenile
A distant blob on a power cable at 30 times zoom realized into another crested type—this time, a male Crested Treeswift. Nearing the ticket office in Sinharaja, our journey came to a stop again when I picked up this False Lantern-fly Pyrops maculata glued vertically to a tree trunk, which was our first real rain forest highlight.
False Lantern-fly This endemic land snail Oligospira sp.—possibly waltoni, didn’t hold us for too long. And we reached the ticket-office to get our permits. Awaiting our arrival at this point was Ranji, a local jeep driver, to shuttle us 3km up a very bumpy road to our rain forest accommodation that faces the primary forest.

Oligospyra - land snailAfter obtaining our permits and meeting our local guide, Suda, we drove up to Martin’s Simple Lodge, our overnight accommodation. We had to take the old and longer route as the shorter one that we used on my visit in March had become impassable due to heavy rains.

After reaching our accommodation, we enjoyed a cuppa at the lounge area, enjoying views of the lush scenery in front. A male Blue Mormon Papilio polymnestor butterfly breached our personal pace several times, coming within touching distance. A Yellow-fronted Barbet perched atop a tall Shorea megistophylla tree in front, becoming the first endemic bird to be scoped. And then, a noisy flock of Sri Lanka Mynas vied for our attention, evicting the barbet. That was endemic bird no. 2, and the scope needed very little adjustment. A Pale-billed Flowerpecker waited just long enough to reveal all 8cm of itself. A White-faced Starling proved the endemic no. 3.

We detached ourselves reluctantly from such easy pickings to go on our first proper walk. Blue skies greeted us above; we were told that was the first time in 4 days of heavy downpours.

Emma broke to me that she only needed two things to make her happy:

1. Seeing a Sri Lanka Blue Magpie
2. Not getting bitten by a leech.

In contrast, Alex having read biology for his degree and having volunteered field work in the South American rain forests, had a more daunting list, which included a mixture of endemic birds and natural history specials.

We had a promising start with dragonflies: Green Skimmer Orthetrum sabina sabina, Asian Pintal Acisoma panorpoides panorpoides, Wall’s Grappletail Heliogomphus walli and a pair of Marsh Skimmers Orthetrum luzonicum reminding us the importance of walking slow in the forest.

Suda at his usual best, dazzled us by spotting this beauty in the form of a Five-bar Swordtail Pathysa antiphates, which was sitting on a Dicranopteris linearis (Old World Forked Fern; Kekilla in Sinhara).

Five-bar Swordtail
A Tree-climbing crab Ceylonthelphusa scansor was found dead. A Kandian Day Gecko Cnemaspis kandiana and a Green Forest Lizard Calotes calote delayed our 200m march from Martin’s to the barrier gate further.

Soon after we entered the forest officially, Suda was at his element once again spotting this Common Brozeback Tree Snake Dendralaphis tristis resting on a tree fern.

Common Bronzeback Tree Snake
A vocal pair of Square-tailed Black Bulbuls sounded as if they were ready to nest again for this year. This was confirmed by Alex, who saw one with nesting material. A few Black-capped Bulbul and Yellow-browed Bulbuls were seen soon after.

Square-tailed Black Bulbul with nesting material
The butterfly action inside the forest was also good as expected after rains. A Clipper Parthenos sylvia descended to the path to tease us before veering off. A Sri Lanka Birdwing Troides darsius female kept to the upper levels, while a courting pair of Tree Nymph Idea iasonia were busy doing a delicate aerial dance. A Red Helan Papilio helenus was on a non-stop flight along the track.

An Indian Skipper Frog Euphlyctis cyanophlyctis spotted by Emma was reining in a puddle on the track that almost never go dry.

Indian Skipper (Dhoni)Frog
A gaudy male of the dragonfly, Spine-tufted Skimmer Orthetrum chrysis was not too far, making regular sorties from a low twig.

After we had almost reached the point, where I was trying to reach on this pre-lunch session, we chanced upon a mixed-species bird flock. A half an hour vigil at this point, yielded our targets in quick order, with Orange-billed Babbler, Legge's Flowerpecker, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush, scope views of two pairs each of Red-faced Malkoha and Malabar Trogon , several Sri Lanka Crested Drongos, a lone Lesser Yellownape, five Orange Minivets, and a few of the bulbuls all making appearances.

A juvenile Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher was also seen here; it didn’t appear to be part of the big flock. By the time we reached Martin’s for lunch, our hunger index— counted in the ascending scale from 0-10—had reached an-all time high of 8.5 for some of us.

Why we went for an extended pre-lunch session was realized 15-minutes into our post lunch walk as the heavens really opened as it is so typical at Sinharaja. It necessitated a hasty retreat to a shelter nearby. This was not before we bagged two more dragonflies to our growing tally in the form of a Shining Gossamerwing Euphaea splendens and this beautiful Amber-winged Glider Hydrobasileus croceus.
Amber-winged Glider
Alex picked up a raptor just as we have reached the shelter. A close inspection revealed that it was the Crested Hawk Eagle no. 2 for the day. When the rains eased off after about 30 minutes, a couple of Green Imperiel Pigeons arrived at a dead tree to give decent views. They were soon outnumbered by a flock of 11 Sri Lanka Green Pigeons that came to share the same tree.

We resumed our walk when the rains stopped. A call of a Sri Lanka Blue Magpie filled the air. That helped to locate it, and Emma was happy. A Spot-winged Thrush came to the track to find a last meal. A Sri Lanka Junglefowl male too came on to the track.

It turned overcast again affecting the light and visibility prompting us to make a slow retreat to our base. A troop of Purple-faced Monkeys Trachypithecus vetulus proved our last highlight of the twilight, before we reached our base for a good hot water shower, drinks, day’s log and dinner to end a splendid day-1.

The day 2 will continue soon.

Related posts:
making emma happy - part 2

Monday 14 July 2008

Three gems in my garden

Adam's Gem Libellago adami
Adam's Gem in my home garden - 28th June, 2008
Three females of this endemic Gem were recorded on 28th June in my home garden. This damselfly species proved to be a lifer, a garden tick and endemic no. 2 in my garden. I stumbled upon them when they were sitting pretty at midday on three leaves of a lone Pine Apple plant Ananas comosus. They were seen there for the next two days, and disappeared from radar afterwards.

This beautiful damselfly belongs to the family: Chlorocyphidae of which the members are commonly known as Jewels. They are unusual in having the body clearly shorter than the wings. There are four species of Jewels in Sri Lanka all of which are named as Gems!

Three of these are endemic. The only other Gem that I had photographed previously was the endemic Green's Gem Libellago greeni, which was photographed three years ago in a riverine forest at Nilagala on 20th June, 2005, during a FOGSL field trip. Here it is.

Green's Gem - male at Nilgala -20th June, 2005

Friday 11 July 2008

Sex on the move – a blunt approach.

As in most birds, the males in dragonflies appear more colourful and are dressed to impress. On the other hand, their females are differently-coloured. Take for example the Scarlet Basker Urothemis signata signata that I photographed at my local wetland. This is the male, which is rather gaudy.

The female, shown below, is less showy, but has a better 'dress sense' in my opinion. As their name implies, Scarlet Baskers love to bask in the hot sun. When they do it, during the warmest times of the day, they are often quite approachable for photography (you need a bit of technique, of course).

Scientists assume that wing patterns, body size and colour all help the male dragonflies to recognize the females of their own species. Females of some species may closely resemble females of another species, and if the two species share the same habitat, males may grab any female they can. At times males will even grab other males only to realize their mistake later on. Just like this male found out.

This is hardly surprising as some dragonfly males are almost identical to the females in their looks. Take a look at this post to see how similar the two sexes of the Sri Lanka Forktail are.

As I explained here, to initiate sex, a male dragonfly grabs a female by the head—often in mid-air, using special appendages at the end of their abdomen. This vital part of male anatomy will only fit to perfection with females of the same species. If the fit isn’t quite right, the female will not be impressed and will not cooperate in connecting her genital openings with the male’s copulatory organ, which is at the second segment in case of the dragonflies. When that happens, the male will soon let go to hook up with another—in all good sense of the phrase.

A Marsh Skimmer in tandem at Sinharaja 'World Heritage' rain forest - 8 July, 2008
So, although dragonfly sex appears forceful especially with their submissive aerial manoeuvres, the female dragonfly has the final say in “choosing” her mate by this act of non-cooperation.
Most dragonfly males remain focused on mate-guarding at pre-copulatory, and post-copulatory stages, and will chase away any intruders.

You may ask why mate-guard at post-copulatory stages? That is because girls can misbehave. And due to sperm competition. That is intruding males can ‘remove’ sperm packets delivered by the males that have mated previously, which in the case of the intruding male is a way of ensuring that his genes are passed on to the progeny. For this end, dragonfly males are endowed with multi-purpose intromittent penises fashioned with brushes, and hooks that function to physically remove rival sperm from the female reproductive tract.

A Marsh Skimmer female at Sinharaja 'World Heritage' rain forest - 8 July, 2008
In some dragonflies, their multi-purpose penises also can provide sensory stimulation during copulation for the females to induce ejection of any previous sperm received before delivering his load. Furthermore, they can also ‘reposition’ the rival sperm to an area in the reproductive tract of the female that is less likely to cause fertilization. Another method is 'sperm flushing' by displacing any previously stored sperm in the female reproductive tract by the new deliveries.

A Marsh Skimmer male at Sinharaja 'World Heritage' rain forest - 8 July, 2008 So, doesn’t the female have any choice of “choosing” the sperm she wants just as any self-respecting female would do? The answer is, yes. Just as males have evolved sperm-displacement mechanisms using their fancy gear, females too have presumably evolved means to avoid sperm displacement. For this end, females have sperm storage spaces that allow them to manipulate the sperm they've received—to avoid sperm displacement, re-distributing sperm masses, favouring sperm located in certain sites and ejecting sperm after copulation.
So, as it is the case with most animals, in dragonflies mating first will not ensure that you will farther a child. This explains why some male dragonflies appear to be paranoid with mate-guarding at post-copulatory level, by holding up to the back of the female’s head, and remaining in tandem until the female deposits her eggs.

Monday 7 July 2008

Why am I still bird blogging?

A female Red-faced Malkoha with holiding a giant stick insect at Sinharaja 'World Heritage' rain forest -  click on the image to see a PDF of an article that I did before I became a bird blogger
The above is theme for the Third Anniversary edition I and the Bird - the popular birding blog carnival to be hosted at the IATB headquarters; 10,000 birds.
My first love of nature started with birds 18 19 years ago. As with many birders, my interests in other forms of natural history followed naturally, thereafter. This blog was started just nine months ago as an outlet of my vanity a micro-publishing platform to share my passion in birds and natural history. So my life as a bird blogger is still in its infancy when compared with my life as a birder—which is at its restless teens.

Spot-winged Thrush at Kithulgala - click on the image to see a PDF of an article that I did before I became a bird blogger
Blogging is an engaging pursuit. It is also a time consuming one at that. This is particularly true when you also share photographers with the posts. And English is not my first language. Which is why I am a keen student of it. I have made learning English an unending pursuit, trying improve my language skills, and blogging has really helped me in that regard.

The biggest 'setback' for a lack of a better word, caused by bird blogging to me is that it has caused my writings to ornithological publications come to a screeching halt. During my pre-blogging era, I used to be 'normal' and did articles like this, this, this, this and this.

After I started blogging, that aspect has collapsed spectacularly. To be honest, bad time management is the reason for this.

Brown Hawk Owl at my home garden - click on the image to see a PDF of an article that I did before I became a bird blogger
My blog is not my online fieldnote book. So I do not blog about all the bird and natural history observations that I make on a regular basis. I pick what is ‘blogworthy’ and then blog about them. Often the availability of images is important factor that makes me blog about a subject. I in my infancy as a blogger have came to the realization that the happiness at blogging as with other things in life lies in taking the middle path. So, in other words, I endeavour to be a middle-path blogger.

So why am I still bird blogging?

I just love it.

Sunday 6 July 2008

Birds at Mannar Part-1

The Mannar Island, in the North West Sri Lanka, is an unsung birding paradise. According to the FOGSL (Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka), this region falls within the 'Deccan avi-faunal zone,' which covers northwestern and northern Sri Lanka (roughly, above Puttlam). It is characterised by an avifauna that is shared with the Indian subcontinent that is either not, or rarely represented in the rest of Sri Lanka. These comprise of several resident and migratory species. I have been fortunate to make 4 birding trips to Mannar during 2003-2005, which included a single visit to one of the sand islands of the Adam’s bridge situated between Talaimannar and South India.

The first trip, done in 2003, sort of felt like a birding trip to a foreign country—as it yielded a bagfull of lifers for me.

In February, 2004, I led a birding day excursion to Mannar with group of English birders headed by John van der Dol, who were here on a 15 day birding trip. That visit boosted our trip list by no small measure, and it eventually helped us rake in a whopping 272 species of birds—a record for a 15-day birding tour in Sri Lanka by a long margin!
Click here to read the report.

'Rufous-backed' Long-tailed Shrike on a Crown flower plant - Calotropis gigantea at Mannar
The above picture shows one of such Mannar specialties: the Long-tailed Shrike. The ‘grey-crowned’ population of this Shrike, ranging from Afghanistan, North West India to North West/North Sri Lanka is treated as ‘Rufous-backed’ Long-tailed Shrike ‘Lanius schach erythronotus group’ by Dr. Pamela Rasmussen in her book; Birds of South Asia published in 2005.

Shrikes are open country predatory passerine birds with hooked bills recalling raptors. Their dark facial masks like that of a highwayman remind us of the cruel nature; shrikes are notorious for impaling their prey on thorns or barbed wire for later retrieval. This has earned them the colloquial name: 'butcher birds' in some countries. This behaviour common to most shrikes the world over is especially used to good effect in temperate climates to store food in larders to be consumed later when the food becomes scarce. I was able to observe this interesting behaviour on one of my trips to Mannar when a ‘Rufous-backed’ Long-tailed Shrike was seen catching a large beetle. It impaled the catch on a barbed wire before commencing to take bite-sized pieces of it, demonstrating the finest of shrikian etiquettes.

Friday 4 July 2008

Sky Watch Friday

The sunrise from the summit of Adam's Peak (2,243m) - the 4th tallest mountain in Sri Lanka.

To view other Skywatch posts click on the logo below to visit the Sky Watch Friday Headquarters at Wiggers World Skywatch Friday Headquarters

Wednesday 2 July 2008

Wordless Wednesday - as strong as you were...

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