Thursday, 1 January 2009

Christmas Birding

Happy New Year!
Black-backed Dwarf Kingfisher
I am back after a successful Christmas Birding tour with Richard and Ann Bishop—two worldlisters from Britain living in Kenya for last twenty years. They both had over 4,300 species of birds in their individual lists, and were pretty serious birders. We were joined in the last quarter of the trip by Mike Watts, a keen British birder with plenty of 'other' interests.

Indian Cormorants - juvenile at left
As the Bishops had travelled to northern India and southeast Asia several times, priority was given for the Sri Lankan and South Indian specials. This explains why we ended up with a relatively modest tally of 222 species of birds—about 10-20 short of usual numbers recorded on a 15-day bird watching tour during November to early April—the peak birding season in Sri Lanka when migrants supplement resident birds.

Bishops scored 32 of the 33 endemics currently recognized. We missed out on the scarce and “endangered” endemic, Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush. However, it was scored by Mike on our second attempt (out of a total of four)—in rugby terms, that was one blind-sided try by Mike!

Indian Silverbill
Sri Lanka is home to two endangered endemics, and the other one: Serendib Scops Owl, discovered new to science in 2001, did not disappoint us. It gave exceptional views at the Sinharaja ‘world heritage’ rain forest during a profitable owling session, which also yielded Sri Lanka Frogmouth.

Crested Hawk EagleThe sought-after western Himalayan delight, Kashmir Flycatcher, which almost exclusively winters in the highlands of Sri Lanka, afforded  five sightings at three different sites. This was special as it was the highest number of sightings ever of this scarce migrant on a 15-day birding tour for me! Another himalayan special, Pied Thrush showed well on our second attempt at its regular site at Nuwara Eliya. It was the most-wanted bird for Richard, and he was quite elated about it.

Spot-billed PelicanThe ultra-secretive Sri Lanka Spurfowl showed up “unsatisfactorily." It was when a silent female that crossed the track at Sinharaja was followed seconds later by a silent male, about 10 m ahead of us. Heart-melting sighting of this game bird is usually rare. Anyway as far as the Bishops were concerned, this was a case of BVD: better views desired!

Apart from endemics and specials mentioned above, some of our other birding highlights were as follows.

Dollarbird, Black-backed Dwarf Kingfisher (topmost pic), Malabar Trogon, Indian Pitta, Besra, Indian Blue Robin, Common Hawk Cuckoo, Black-throated Munia, Grey-headed Fish Eagle (bottommost pic), Hill Swallow, Malabar Pied Hornbill, White-naped Woodpecker, Jerdon’s Bushlark, Blyth’s Pipit, Forest Wagtail, Citrine Wagtail (local rarity), Indian Silverbill (3rd from top), Spot-billed Pelican (5th from the top), Crested Hawk Eagle (4th from top), Small Pratincole (6th from top), Watercock, Black Bittern, Yellow Bittern, Indian Reed Warbler, and finally, the Blue-faced Malkoha—scored at the "injury time" on the final day!

Small Pratincole
The only lifer for me on this trip came at Tissamaharama in the form a Slaty-breasted Rail—a record shot of which is shown below. Very important, this was also a lifer for my visitors, which made it a good tick for all of us.

Slaty-breasted Rail
As usual, we had plenty of natural history delights on this trip. These included “Zumala” (probable Zumala robusta, thanks to Dr. D.P Wijeysinghe)—a bizarre looking Long-horned Grasshopper. We also had Hump-nosed Lizard, Leaf-nosed Lizard (seen at Knuckles), Sri Lanka Krait (seen at Kithulgala) and butterflies: Blue Admiral and Painted Sawtooth.

An Eurasian Otter seen while trying for Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush at the wet lowlands, a Giant Grey Flying Squirrel seen at the highlands while trying for Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush and an unidentified feline (which Richard and I agreed to disagree on) seen at dusk at the dry lowlands while trying for Indian Nightjar were some of the noteworthy highlights of a nineteen or so mammals seen on this trip.

We also did a few frogging forays whenever it was possible. These and other non-birding highlights seen on this trip will be blogged in a separate posts to come.

Grey-headed Fish Eagle
In other news, yesterday I received my complementary copies of Thayer Birding Software’s Gold Edition DVD Birds of North America with my Brown Hawk Owl image in it plus Thayer Birding Software’s Guide to Birds of North America version 3.9. They both look absolutely fantastic! You North American birders are so darn lucky to have such great birding resources available for you!
Click here to view my New Year Greeting e-card for you.


oldcrow61 said...

Happy New Year and Happy Birthday to you. The pictures are fabulous. I really like the owl.

Tabib said...

Wow!.. impressive year end finding.
Happy New Year 2009.


Chrissy said...

I'm not sure what's the name of the first bird on this post, but he/she is a beauty. What an excellent capture Amila! Thank you for being such a faithful reader of my blog this past year, it has meant a lot to me. I'm inspired by your posts with their amazing pictures. You even got me curious about dragonflies and damselflies. I never looked at them closely until I saw the fantastic photos on your blog, now I see their beauty. Thank you for being an inspiration and thanks for showing us a different view of Sri Lanka one that's vastly diferent from what we're used to seeing on the news. You're a true ambassador. Best wishes for an amazing New Year!

Sunita Mohan said...

Happy New Year, Amila! Hope its filled with elusive birds which appear and pose for you just as you've got your camera set up and the lighting's perfect. In other words, hope you get all those lovely photos you've ever dreamt of.
Have a great year, my friend.

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Amila: Your photos as always are outstanding and you country offers so many great oppertunities. Thanks for sharing this neat trip with these serious birders.
I wish you much sucsess in 2009. Thanks for your ID's on the dragonfkies. That was very kind to share.

spookydragonfly said...

Happy New Year, Amila! It seems you had a successful all of your captures. I always enjoy reading your posts. My fave is the Spot-Billed Pelican! I enjoyed your e-mail card, I could watch that over and over. It was a pleasure meeting you this past year. May your New Year be all that you wish for!

Unknown said...

Hi Amila
Great report and fantastic pix as usual.

Amila Salgado said...

Hi OC,
Happy New Year and thanks!
You are my first commenter this year!

May you get jaw-dropping images this year!

Hi Tabib,
Thanks! Glad you liked the pics.
May you have lots of life birds, which will all land in perfect light this year!

Hi Chrisss,
It’s a Black-backed Dwarf Kingfisher the first bird found on the first day at our first destination! Congrats once again for your 100th post!

Thanks a lot for those very nice words! I am very pleased to know that I have made you curious about dragonflies and damselflies!

All the very best for you too for a smashing 2009!

Hi Sunita,
Happy New Year!
Thanks a lot for those lovely words!

Here’s what you need to do to get dragonflies that visit your garden to sit this year: erect a few dead sticks (2-3ft with not too many terminal branches) in sunlit patches – in lawns/close to ponds. This will surely entice them to come to land on them. This tip by me, worked for OC above too.

Hi fishing guy,
Thanks a lot for your very nice comments. Despite being serious bird watchers, my visitors also appreciated other aspects of natural history and we had a surprising number of non-birding specials on this tour as a result.

I am impressed with you dragonfly shots. Looks like you saved a batch to do one dragonfly post. Smart move!

May you be happy and healthy this 2009!

Hi Kim,
May you have an early spring so that the dragonflies could emerge sooner and may your pond and the surrounding be full of Pennants, Skimmers, Darners, Emeralds, Dashers, Pondhawks, Saddlebags and Meadowhawks and may all of them land ONE BY ONE in good sunlit patches, less around 3 feet from you! Oh! And May you learn your new camera soon!

It is a pleasure to have met you too Spookydragonfly and thanks for being a regular visitor to my blog.

Hi Chandanie,
Thanks a lot! Good to hear from you. I am glad you like the pics. It is pleasure to have travelled with you and Lahiru to Sinharaja. I hope I will meet the young Royalist at our annual Rugby encounter this year.

合田學 (上坂眞信)  said...

A Happy New Year.

Diversity of a beautiful photograph, I got a sincere impression.

Doug Taron said...

Excellent post- even with notochords in all the subjects. I loved the black-backed dwarf kingfisher. I'm looking forward to your post with the other stuff that you saw.

Amila Salgado said...

Hi PZ!
I hope this new year will bring you many close encounters of dragonflies with lots of opportunities to take sharp and frame-filling pictures!

Hi Doug,
Thanks! I am quite sure the next post will be of interest to you.

Stuart Price said...

The Eagle and Kingfisher shots are great!

Where is your new DSLR!?!

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Stu,
Thanks! It is not used for birds but for macro as I haven't got a big lens yet.

Diane AZ said...

Quite an assortment of birds. Your Black-backed Dwarf Kingfisher picture is amazing. Such a large bill for that little bird, looks like it could tip over!

Bob Kaufman said...

Happy new year, Amila! This is he first time I read your blog (thanks to Vickie) and I'm hooked! Great stories and great photographs!

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year (belated) Amila! Another great birding trip for you it seems. You will be my guide when I come to Sri Lanka, that's for sure!

I must say that I love the kingfishers over there and your Black-backed Dwarfed Kingfisher capture is gorgeous! I also really like the Crested Hawk Eagle and want to see one in the flesh.

How is the dragonfly pond coming?

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Diane,
I am very sorry about the delayed response. I have been on tour. Glad you liked our Black-backed Dwarf Kingfisher. It is quite a tiny kingfisher and I enjoy seeing its vivid colours in the dimly lit forest understorey. Despite its small size it can take pretty big prey (mostly terrestrial ones), so that big beak has its uses!

Hi Bob and Cynthia,
Happy New Year!
Thanks a lot for dropping by.
I am quite pleased you found my blog through Vickie's blog and that you are hooked!

It is always very encouraging to hear such comments! I will drop by to check your blog.

Hi Larry,
Thanks a lot for promising to pick me as your guide! I'd be very excited to share the best of my country with you.

I am pleased you liked the Black-backed Dwarf Kingfisher. I have a reliable site for this! Crested Hawk Eagle is a raptor that is recorded on my tours regularly.

I have done a post about my dragonfly pond. I have been away leading tours so I have had little time with it. I will update about it when I have more free time in April.

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