Monday, 25 August 2008

Pure Gold!

I bagged three golds during the Olympics.
I mean during the time when Olympics was on. They were

1. Dancing Dropwing Trithemis pallidinervis

Dancing Dropwing 2. Leopard Panthera pardus kotiya

Leopard 3. Serendib Scops Owl Otus thilohoffmanni

Serendib Scops Owl
They were seen on an 18-day photography tour from 2-19 Aug, 2008. That was with Thierry and Maree-Andree Becret and Michelle Gerner from France.

The first gold was bagged at the dragonfly-rich wetlands at Tissamaharama.

The second gold was won in a photo-finish during our very first game drive at Yala National Park—one of the top locations to see this big cat in the world.

We had this male Leopard for nearly 15 minutes with only a partial view of the head visible through the dead brush. It then rewarded our perseverance by coming out of its lounging spot to sit in a more open patch, affording us a brief moment of magic. After a brief show up, it retreated to same spot as earlier. About 10-minutes after, it again stood up, came out to the open, glanced at us and disappeared into the thick cover to the sound of camera clicks.

Being the only big cat, Leopard is the apex predator in Sri Lanka. And thanks to the protection afforded to Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park, especially to its prey species, Leopards are bolder in Yala. Therefore, daytime sightings are quite regular at Yala compared to other parts of Sri Lanka, and outside it, where human-related pressures have pushed them to be nocturnal and ultra-secretive.

Finally, our the third gold was bagged outside Sinharaja ‘world heritage’ rain forest. This one, of course, was very special because it allowed my first proper photograph of this avian jewel taken at nighttime—when it is at its element. Click here to see a picture of it taken by Peter Kaestner in Sep., 2007, which inspired me to buy my Panasonic Lumix FZ-18.

The Serendib Scops Owl was discovered only in Jan, 2001, and formally described in June, 2004.

It was first seen after its discoverer, Deepal Warakagoda, had been looking for it for 6 years since first hearing its call in 1995. The last endemic bird discovered before this was the Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush - 132 years ago in the colonial era of natural history explorations, which made this discovery all the more special.

One of the reasons why it eluded bird watchers for so long is due to its unobtrusive and ventriloquial call, which is so simple in form and so infrequently delivered with a note length of 0.3 seconds repeated after 15-29 seconds. This makes it difficult to determine that it is originating from a bird, especially when it is mixed with the cacophony of calls that dominate the rainforest soundsape at night. Before its discovery, even some of the senior Sri Lankan naturalists had suspected its call to be of an amphibian of an unknown origin.

Big misktake!

This initial confusion over its call is not surprising considering that the island is rich in amphibians with over 100 new species discovered since the mid 90s. In fact a tree hole-dwelling frog species described in May, 2001, just four months after the discovery of the owl, named Nagao’s Ramanella Ramenella nagaoi, has almost identical call note to the Serendib Scops Owl that it has fooled me several times when I have been all ears trying to pick up the monosyllabic call of the Serendib Scops Owl from the other rain forest noises.
Serendib Scops Owl is recorded only in 5 lowland rain forest sites in Sri Lanka and due to its narrow range small numbers—estimated at 200-250 individuals, it is categorized as “endangered” in the IUCN of Red List of Threatened species.

Its vernacular name’s "Serendib" part is derived from a 14th century name of Sri Lanka used by the Arabs named "Serendip" (the "dip" part, is appropriate considering some birders dip out on this!) in place of the local name that existed at that time: Sihaladeepa – the island of the Sinhala people (note: some say that it derived from Swarnadeepa, which means the island of gold/gems).

The word Serendipity was coined by English novelist Horace Walpole (1717-1797) in a letter written in 1754 based on a Persian fairy-tale: The Three Princes of Serendip, the heroes of which "were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of."

The serendipity of its discovery, being endemic to ‘Serendib’ are why the new Owl was appropriately christened Serendib Scops Owl. The species etymology thilohoffmanni is to honour Thilo Hoffman a top conservationist who spearheaded a campaign to stop a government endorsed mechanised logging project carried out with the help from a Canadian logging company from 1971–1977 at Sinharaja rain forest, where the discoverer first laid eyes on this owl. By the way the logging activity was carried out under the euphemism “selective logging."

Serendib Scops Owl is so new that it is not even featured in the first comprehensive modern field guide of the birds of Sri Lanka “A Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka” by John Harrison (1999) - ISBN 0-19-854961-X. 240 pages, 48 colour plates, 2 maps, 200x140 mm. £39.95.

After 9 years of publication, Oxford University Press, UK is now planning to do a second edition of this highly popular field guide to the birds of Sri Lanka. I was approached by OUP, UK for a review for the second edition, which I did to earn my reward of £50 worth of books of OUP in addition to a free copy of the second edition of the Sri Lankan Bird Guide when it is published!. For the immediate reward I picked
“A Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Java, and Bali” by John Mackinnon and Karen Phillipps (1993). ISBN 978-0-19-854034-2. 510 pages, numerous colour plates, maps, line drawings, 200x140 mm. £39.95. Click here for link.


“Dragonflies through Binoculars A Field Guide to Dragonflies of North America” by Sidney W. Dunkle (2000. ISBN 978-0-19-511268-9. 368 pages, 381 color illus., 216x138 mm. £17.99. Click here for link.
the books
Yes, this was slighly over their budget but the nice people at Oxford University Press made no fuss over it. Both books arrived in fine condition, and I am eagerly consuming them. The bird guide is quite timely as I am planning a private trip to Borneo. The dragonfly book is great—I think every American dragonfly enthusiast ought to have it.


Tabib said...

Hi Amila!

Congratulation on you three gold medals!.
Really stunning pictures, and I like the 3rd gold - Scops Owl the most.

At least you are better than Susanthika Jayasinghe Women's 200m Semifinal in 14th overall.

oldcrow61 said...

The Leopard is glorious! The picture took my breath away. How lucky you are to be able to see them. I just love the big cats, one of my favorite creatures. The Dragon and Owl pictures are beautiful. I had to smile when I saw the book "Dragonflies through Binoculars". A dear friend just sent me that book.

Pat - Arkansas said...

Three golds indeed! The dragonfly is beautiful; the leopard is magnificent; the Scops Owl is Superb! Congratulations on your photo captures of the leopard and the owl. Well done!

GG said...

Lovely pics, the 'kotiya' part of the leopard's scientific name caught my attention, is this the origin of the Sinhalese 'kotiya'?

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Tabib,

Thank you very much!
I am not surprised you like the third gold the most.
It is bit disappointing that Susanthika couldn't bring us a medal this time as she did in the Sydney Olympics. At least I did.

Hi OC,
Thanks a lot! I was quite pleased with the Leopard sighting and the photograph.
It was digi-scoped from a safari jeep with 5 other persons in it, which included the jeep driver and the local guide.

I was going to recommend you the Dragonfly book and I am glad you got one! It looks to be pretty good. But I must be honest that I found it tough to put a name to your Darners due to unavailability in your collection of pictures showing lateral view.

Hi Pat,
Thanks a lot! I am glad you liked them all. Good to hear from you as always.

Hi Sasani,
Thanks! Yes, the endemic sub-species of Leopard that occur in Sri Lanka is given its common Sinhalese name kotiya in teh scientific name.

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

that's a nice shot of the cat and owl gallicissa !

hehehe your will enjoy your trip to borneo :)

Margerie said...

Beautiful, breath-taking photos and wonderful information. It must have been hard not to squeal with glee when you spotted those gems.

I think you should have your own adventure television show! ;)

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Hokuru,
Thanks! Nice to hear from you. I am sure I will have a good time in Borneo as I did in Peninsula Malaysia.

Hi Margerie,
Thanks lot! Yep, it was a great feeling to see those especially the Owl as it is quite a special bird. I am pleased you think that I should have my own adventure show. Until I get sponsors, my adventure show (off) is my blog!

Doug Taron said...

The leopard photo is especially cool. You are the Michael Phelps of nature photography. I really enjoy using Dragonflies Through Binoculars. It's an indispensable reference.

Amila Salgado said...

"Michael Phelps of nature photography" Wow! what an honour, Doug!

The dragonfly guide is really good. It's fun to learn about your dragonflies that I come across in the blogsphere.

Anonymous said...
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Kathie Brown said...

What an exciting story about the discovery of this little owl. I love reading about the oragins of the word serendipity, which is what I first thought of when I read the name. I hope you get that trip to the good old USA. I'd love to show you my little piece of it if you ever get here.

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Kathie,
Glad you liked reading the Owl story and the etymology of the word serendipity. If I ever visit the USA, I would surely visit you at the Sycamore Canyon. I would love to see a family of Gambel's Quails and a few rattlers. And I wouldn't mind a few hummers too.

Mohammed Abidally said...

Great Trio, the Scops Owl is amazing, I would love to see one some day.

There is a Brown Hawk Owl that has decided to make its daytime home in my mango tree under a large overhanging queen palm leaf and in the evenings it has a curious little habbit of perching on a "pera" tree just outside my daughters room window and peers at her while she is studying, from the darkeness outside.

Amila Salgado said...

Hi MA,
Thanks a lot!
The Serendib Scops Owl is a special bird and I am vey happy I was able to get a decent shot after dismal results before.

BHO usually comes out out of its roost at dusk when there is considerable light available. I am sure your daughter loves the distraction of seeing a BHO while studying. I know I can do with such pleasant distractions!

You can read an article about BHO in my home garden at:

Vickie said...

Great article. I felt like I was right there with you. What a special treat to get such a good look and photo of this rare owl. Thanks for an enjoyable visit.

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Vickie,
Thanks a lot! Great to hear from you! I am glad you enjoyed this one.

Even within the forests the Serendib Scops Owl is recorded, it is highly localized, which makes it tough for somebody with no local experiece to find it independently.

Thanks to its novelty and other alluring factors, the Ecology of this Owl is fairly well-known compared to most other Owls in Sri Lanka!

p.s. You've got a great bird and nature blog. I have added it to my blogroll for easy navigation.

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