Saturday, 18 July 2009

Sewage birding

Early this year, news reached me through a Ceylon Bird Club source about a Ruddy-breasted Crake near the Lunawa Lagoon at Ratmalana. Crakes are secretive birds that are usually difficult to see either due to their rarity or because of their skulky nature. So the bird watchers have a special liking for them because of the challenge they present.

I visited this site one balmy afternoon with my trusty tuktuk companion Sarath. Directions were provided over the phone by my friend Namal Kamalgoda, who had been there earlier to check the site but not seen the bird. After reaching the site I was further guided by the owner of the house in front as to where I should stand exactly if I want to see the bird!

And, after heeding his advice, this, was what greeted my eyes—a sewage canal.
Not a pleasant sight! But crakes are indifferent to such insalubrious sites. So, here, I waited.

the site
The man was dead right; I hardly had to wait for 2 minutes before I set my eyes on a Ruddy-breasted Crake wading in the sewage water. It was easily my best view of this scarce bird.

Ruddy-breasted Crake
The resident populations of Ruddy-breasted Crake are boosted by migrants during the winter; therefore, its status ought to be described as “scarce resident and migrant”.

I had my second Ruddy-breasted Crake for the 2008/2009 bird watching season, from a safari jeep, while guiding Andreas Prevodnik (in February 2009) at Bundala National Park.


Java Jones said...

Hi Amila - I'm a bit confused (so what else is new?!!).Harrison's field guide has the Ruddy-breasted Crake as Porzana fusca and Henry has it as Amaurornis fuscus fuscus. Both of them indicate that it is a Winter visitor, with Harrison saying that it is also a "scarce resident" and Henry saying that "a few pairs occasionally remaining to breed". Any further information on these aspects???

By the way, I haven't seen the Banded Crake that visited Flowerbook for a few years for the last two years. I sure miss the pretty little thing.

Tabib said...

One hardy bird that can survive in those environment.

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Java,

1. About its scientific name: Henry's 2nd edition (1971) has it as Amaurornis fuscus fuscus, but his 3rd edition (1998) has it as Porzana fusca.

2. About its status:
Henry's third edition (1998) lists it as "an uncommon resident; probably numbers are increased in winter by migrant arrivals"

Harrison's guide (1999)has its status as "Scarce resident and winter visitor"

According to Henry's 3rd edition, a nest was found in April, 1989 at Belihul Oya with 6 eggs. So, there is no question that it can be named as a resident bird on account of its breeding on our soil. Its secondary status as a (scarce) migrant comes from the fact that there is a visible increase in sightings of it during migrant season. No scientific study has proved its status as a migrant to SL for sure yet.

The latest work that happen to deal with South Asian birds, Rasmussen's guide (2005) says in SL "residents augmented in winter by migrants"

So, I am happy to go with that!

p.s. Slaty-legged Crake (Banded Crake) is according to Henry's 3rd ed a "regular winter visitor" and according to Rasmussen's it "..winters to SL"

I have found evidence of its breeding in SL(parents and dark fluffy chicks) close to Sinharaja rain forest.

The last time I heard it at that site was in June, 2009 guiding the Monsoon birding trip. So, its status too ought to be revised as "regular migrant and scarce resident" in my opinion.

The best way for you to monitor its presence at the flowerbook is through its calls.

Hi Tabib,
Indeed. Its a good example for extreme urban living!

Kirigalpoththa said...

Never seen or heard about this bird. any local name?

Hardy bird indeed!

Amila Salgado said...

Hi K,
This is a type of Korawakka and quite honestly there is no popularly used local name for it.

However, "A field guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka" (1994) by Prof. Kotagama and Dr. P.Fernando has given it as "Ratu Wil-keralia"

rainfield61 said...

I am not a bird watcher, but is fun to read about your experience and knowledge.

Amila Salgado said...

Hi rainfield,
Thank you! Birding sometimes requires us to leave our comfort zones and this is one example of it.

Shady Character said...

The settling ponds of the sewage treatment plant in my community are a decent place to view migrating shorebirds and the like. It actually helps me stay mindful of what I put down the drain!

Shady Character said...

Oh, and meant to add: It's a pretty little bird, too. Thanks for sharing!

Kirigalpoththa said...

Tks for the info.

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Shady-character,
Thanks for your comments.
Good to know that you too enjoy Sewage birding! Perhaps we should form an special interest group for Sewage birding. May be not.

I had a laugh reading the last part of your first comment!

You are welcome, K!

flowergirl said...

Hi Amila! i've also had a kind of similar experience at Pallikaranai marsh in Madras.

While not quite a sewage canal, the dumping of effluents had turned it into a rather obnoxious place - (its improving slowly now, thanks to efforts of the "greenies") - but anyway, it seems a great place for these rails and crakes - swamp hens and moor hens love it!

I've only seen the ruddy-breasted crake in pictures.

Amila Salgado said...

Hi flowergirl,
You are right, such sites are amazingly good for them. For this bird, try at late afternoons at canals/mudlfats edged with thick vegetaion - prefereably in a spots where you can scan the dark interiors of the vegetaion. Don't forget to take a good mosquito repellent with you!

Harshi said...

Geez.. what a 'nice' place to spot a rare birdie! hehe.. Birding sure is a tough job. =D

oh and just spot the name 'korawakka'.. so this is what it looks like. We do hear it more often but never seen a one before. Thanks for the info and the pics.

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Harumi,
We do not check such sites often, but they can be good for birding, belive me. That is why I have a special liking for such canals and garbage dumps!

Korawakka (White-breasted Waterhen) and Ruddy-breasted Crake are in the same family.

Harshi said...

hehe.. those are the very places we readily ignore. Gotta observe them more, to see if they offer any pleasant surprises like that birdie. =D

Really? I just Googled their pics.. and the first one looks quite familiar, though not the 2nd. Thanks for their names.

Amila Salgado said...

No worries, Harumi!

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