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.


Tabib said...

Handsome Malabar Trogon!

Chrissy said...

Wow, what a trip! Wish I could have taken a tour with you. I love the dragon fly photos. Thanks for sharing your fantastic stories and photos.

Amila Salgado said...

Thanks Tabib!
It is quite handsome as far as the male Trogons go. You are very lucky to have so many Trogons over there!

Hi Chrisss,
Thanks as always! It'd be great to guide you around my hunting grounds. we had loads of dragonflies on this tour but I have only shown a few here to keep the report from becoming a short story!

Margerie said...

What gorgeous photography!!!! Do you sell your photos commercially?? Submit to contests and the like? You really have an incredible gift.....

Fabulous critters and stories as usual. Flowerpecker- love that name and what a good baby waiting for mum.

Amila Salgado said...

Thanks a lot Margerie as always!
I am glad you liked this post.

I haven't looked at selling my pics commercially or submitting them to contests yet. But may be in the future when I have a good enough collection!

Jordan Sitorus said...

Great pics esp the Trogons! They're currently top in my wish list. Sighted them twice, but as the like to"hang" around the lower & middle storey...not an easy target to take pic of. You did great, Congates!

Amila Salgado said...

Thanks Jordon,
You hit the nail on the head about the difficulty of capturing Trogons!

Digi-scoping them is even tougher as I have to find them in the scope, get the focus right, connect my camera to it, get the settings right, compose, at times refocus and click.

Malabar Trogon doesn't give a damn about these steps and often decides to fly away just as I am ready to press the shutter!

oldcrow61 said...

What beautiful creatures you get to see. It sounds like it was a wonderful trip. Fabulous pictures as always.

Sandpiper (Lin) said...

You have the most wonderful wildlife there! I love that bird in the first picture. Some gorgeous ones in your previous posts, too!

Amila Salgado said...

Thanks OC,
We couldn't have timed our trip better - avoiding the rains. It was a high yielding day trip. Glad you liked the pics.

Hi Lin,
Thanks as always! I was extremely lucky to have bagged that first bird. Considering the number of shots I had to delete before taking this one, I treat it as a big catch.

Duncan said...

Yeah, that Malabar Trogon is a bird and a half Amila, great reading and pictures as always.

Amila Salgado said...

Thanks Duncan!
'bird and a half' - hehe..lovely Aussie expression!

Glad you liked it and others.
For some reason, I have been very unlucky photographing the male Trogon. So, I am quite pleased when this one shot came off well.

Anonymous said...

Amila you have outdone yourself!

Super pics and it sure sounds like you scored big time on this trip. I whole heartedly agree with you on not passing up a species thinking you are going to see it later. Yeah right.

I love seeing the other critters too. You know we don't get to see these guys in the good old USA. Isn't it funny how we become accustomed to our "common" birds and animals that sometimes we don't give them the credit they deserve?

You are truly a gifted blogger and I always enjoy reading your posts. Cheers!

lareine said...

those birds are beautiful...especially the first one... i would have loved to be on that trip... and that green forest lizard, i think it would be the highlight of the excursion (well, at least for me)... but i might either miss it or get a shock upon seeing it because of its color (it blends well with those ferns:))...

Doug Taron said...

As always, a great post and photos. That's an amazing hairstreak. I've seen a few pictures of hiarstreaks with extravagantly long tails before. Usually they are curly. I like how these were straight and swordlike.

Modesto Viegas said...

as usual, great photos and excellent description!!!
great regards,

bobbie said...

Your pictures are so wonderful. That whistling lizard is my favorite. And the dragonflies - I do love them.

Amila Salgado said...

Dear All,
Thanks a lot for your comments!

I am still on tour and am attending to my blog matters after 10 days. So, apologies for the long delay in publishing some of your comments.

The keyboard here is terrible. So I wish to keep this brief. I will reply you individually ASAP.

I have some good photos to share
including Serendib Scops Owl, Leopard and many colourful dragonflies from this tour.

So, stay tuned!

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Larry,
Thanks a lot!

Yes, it was a really good trip.
I am glad that you too share my concerns about on not passing up a species when you have an opportunity to see it first time.

Most of the birds and critters in your part of the world too are utterly new to me and I enjoy learning about them through the blogs that I visit regularly. Larry, you have raised an interesting point about us taking commoner forms of life for granted. Believe me, I have experiences to share!

Thanks for your very encouraging words at the end of your comment. It made me blush!

Thanks Lareine!
Green Forest Lizard is in the wants list of most visitors and understandably ends up being one of the top highlights after they see it. Yes, it blends well with its greener surroundings and is easy to miss it. I have some good shots of it from my recent trip of a super male in full breeding regalia and I will share those when I am ready.

Hi Doug,
Thanks! I am glad you liked the Hairstreak. It sports a very long tail, which gives it a bizarre look especially in flight. This was my third sighting of it ever and I am quite pleased about it.

Thanks Modesto!
I am pleased to hear your comments as always.
I have a lot of catching up to since the period I went off air.
I hope you’ve got some stunners awaiting.

Hi Bobbie,
Thanks! Glad you liked my Whistling Lizard and dragons. Although I didn’t meet the former in my recently concluded trip, I had loads of dragonflies, which I will share after finishing all the post processing. I now photograph almost fully in the RAW mode.
There are some good ones that I am proud of!

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