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


Pat - Arkansas said...

Wonderful! I even spotted the green lizard hiding in that lush vegetation!

Enjoyed your post very much. I'm glad Emma is happy!

GG said...

Is that Crimson-backed Flameback the common woodpecker in SL?

I used to hear them pecking away at some tree trunk or the other all the time when I was back home.
And I've often seen them on banana trees, so I've kept an eye on them to see if they would peck in to the banana tree trunk, as far as the old Sri Lankan saying goes, they never seem to do that :) lol

Amila Salgado said...

Thanks Pat!
I am happy that I went for that composition of lizard as I am often tempted to fill up the entire frame with the subject!

I am glad you enjoyed this post. Yes, Emma was a happy lady!
Have a great day!

Hi Sasai,
That one is Black-rumped Flameback aka Red-backed Woodpecker -which is the commoner one.

C-b F differs from B-r F by whitish iris vs dark, longer and ivory-colourerd bill vs shorter & dark bill, white nape vs black nape, lacking white eye-brow vs clear white eye-brow, split-moustache streak forming a white island vs not so, lots of white in the throat vs lots black with small white spots in the throat, larger size vs smaller size, & finally, horrible call vs 'okay' call as far as Flameback calls go!

Yes, they never seem to get into trouble as far as the good old SL saying goes!

Amila Salgado said...

Sasani, sorry I got your name wrong!

Tabib said...


I like those pics of Crimson-backed Flamebacks and what a mouth-full of grass at those Scaly Thrush beak.
Great timing!

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Tabib,
I had jaw-dropping views of your Greater Flameback at Kuala Selangor Nature Reserve!

I was very lucky that ST still had a mouthful when it showed up responding to my call the second time. So, I didn’t have to kick myself for not having the scope near me!

Anonymous said...

Your images reminded me of a time in Yosemite where every reed was covered with dragonflies. It was one of the most incredible moments of my life.

bamboo and organic clothing

Amila Salgado said...

Thanks Dadny!
That sounds like a great spot to be with a camera. You have a cool site.

Margerie said...

Boy, all these critters are as busy as you! I am especially fond of woodpeckers- what a pretty boy you found.

I can not wait to get my new camera!

Am I the only one that is curious about what the leeches look like? If you post one, I will take a photo of the tarantulas we will have walking around here soon....

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

Thanks Margerie!
Yes, that Woodpecker is a striking bird. I hope you will ge your camera soon.

To be honest as I am never motivated enough to photograph those nasty critters! This explains why I do not have a decent shot of them yet!

But on your special request, I have linked an image of a semi-bloated leech to the last text that says leech - below the lizard pic. Now its your turn!

Margerie said...

Awww.. come on. What's not to love there? LOL You are right- leeches are not pretty site to say the least!

The tarantulas usually make their first appearance in mid-August. So stay tuned....

Anonymous said...

Thank you for completing the post! I have been waiting for it. I think Emma was completely happy!

Amila Salgado said...

hehe Margerie..! now you know why I do not have many pictures of them!

Only 1/8 of my clients gets a 'bleeding leech bite' and they are almost always serious birders who remain in one spot for long locked in consideration for a bird to arrive/go to the thick jungle away from the main tracks/trails way too often in search of elusive birds/do not take to my pretour instructions seriously.

Look forward to seeing your arantulas. I think they are cool.
I will stay tuned!

Thanks Kalu!
Yep, Emma was a completely happy lady! Glad you waited for this part.

Be sure to visit the IATB carnival tomorrow. It should be good.

Hi All,
There's a rainstorm here today and so there may be power interruptions.

Texas Travelers said...

I really loved this post and great photos.

My cup of tea.

Great job.

Thanks for the visit,

oldcrow61 said...

What a wealth of creatures you see. Fantastic photos as always.

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Troy,
Thanks! I am glad you enjoyed it!
Pleased to hear from you.

Thanks OC!
Yes we had a great trip.
I am happy you liked the photos.

Kathie Brown said...

Amilla, your post and your analogy to serving up a feast inspired me to go searching for a suitable image of feasting. Come see Edtion 82 of I and the bird to see what I did with this post. Love the red woodpecker. It reminds me of a Catholic Cardinal in his robes!

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Kathie,
Interesting image you have sourced for it - goes well with your theme. Thanks for inviting me to visit your superb IATB. You are a great host! Glad you liked the woodpecker.

Anonymous said...

Great post Amila! Super photos too (as usual). The Crimson-backed Flameback is indeed an eye opener and I love the lizard. Thanks for introducing me to the "flocking" phenomena.
Birding is a constant learning experience. Maybe that's why we love it so much.

Amila Salgado said...

Thanks Larry!
That Flameback is quite a striking bird. Happy to have introduced the flocking phenomena to you. It is a special form of social organization among birds quite prominent in our part of the world. I never tire observing flocks. And everyday there's something new to learn from the flocks - just as you have noted.

dev wijewardane said...

Is the shot of the Flameback a crop? the EXIF on flickr says 23mm!

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