Thursday, 20 August 2009

Dragons in My Garden Part 3

Troy Mullens from TX., USA posted an ID challenge in his high-octane nature blog, ICU Nature with the following image.
ID challenge by Troy Mullens
The correct answer was commented by only one person, who happened to be yours truly!
The dragonfly in question, Red Saddlebag Tramea onusta does not occur in Sri Lanka. However, we do have two related Tramea species here.

The name “saddlebag” is given for dragonflies belonging to the genus, Tramea considering that they have a dark band at the base of their hindwing, reminiscent of saddlebags on a horse’s saddle. The Sri Lankan representatives have not been given this peculiar name by the authors of our popular dragonfly guide. Instead they are referred as “Gliders”—which is another named used for species belong to the genus Tramea due to their ‘gliding’ flight habits. (Note: Not all Gliders are Tramea species.)

In late April, I was able to observe the emergence of the Sociable Glider Tramea limbata in my dragonfly pond. First, this is how its adult male looks.

Sociable Glider Tramea limbata adult male
Most dragonflies emerge under the cover of darkness in order to escape predation—especially from birds. In my pond, the nymphs come out of water to begin their transformation (into winged dragonflies) typically at around 8.00 p.m. And it can take several hours until the final winged insect appears.

The nymph of Sociable Glider shown below was seen climbing the vertical wall of my pond in its deepest section (4 feet) just pass 9.00 p.m., on 29 April. After coming out of the water, the nymph found it difficult to negotiate the last few inches of the vertical wall. And in trying to push itself, it slipped and fell back into the water. I then collected it and placed it on the outer wall of the pond, which serves as the cradle for most of my dragonflies.
Tramea limbata nymph
The the most crucial episode of this emergence drama unfolded pass midnight in what was a pretty sleepless night for me with a couple of Dawn Dropwings also emerging. Here are some of the shots of this dragon birth.

This was fired at 0004 hours on 30th April.

Tramea limbata emerging
At 0009 hours.

Tramea limbata emerging
At 0022 hours. It has now done an upside down hanging crunch to grab its empty outerskin.

Tramea limbata emerging A side on view at 0032 hours.

Tramea limbata emerging
Call me a dragonfly fanatic, but this newly emerged dragonfly (teneral) was taken at 2.41 a.m. I had some rest in between.
Tramea limbata teneral And finally this at 2.47 a.m. before calling it a day!

Tramea limbata teneral
You can make out the 'saddlebag' in this.

Related posts:
Dragons in my garden Part 1
Dragons in my garden Part 2
The Pond
Dawn of a Dropwing
Scrabble and dragonfly tips

Monday, 17 August 2009

Bird rescue

I heard a distress call of this immature female Black-rumped Flameback. It was there in a flash to see that it was under attack by an Indian Jungle Crow (Large-billed Crow if you do not like this name). The crow was trying to carry it away. But with my sudden appearance at the scene and screaming, it had to abandon its plans. The crow dropped its would-be-prey on the lawn and I was able to collect it. In breeding times, crows do opportunistically take larger prey to meet increasing need of protein the hungry young require. This immature woodpecker almost became an avian prey for it. Its parent birds were calling frantically trying to provide close air support during the commotion.

After rescuing it, I let it calm down a bit before realising it - when the threat level came down from red to sort of bluish.

Black-rumped Flameback - immature female

In return to my favour, I got it to pose for a couple of record shots. When I took these pics, it was quite excited as you can see from its wide open beak and raised crest feathers. It was quite okay after a while.

As some the regular readers of this blog may know, the Black-rumped Flameback is one of the birds in my bathroom birding list.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

You know you are a birding fanatic when you

Mick and Jim by Graham Crick

keep a bathroom bird list complete with scientific names in taxonomic order.

know some of the birds outside your country by their scientific name.

get asked about various birds first by your doctor.

visit a rain forest in a tuktuk spending 4 hours on the road to see a single bird. Twice.

feel it is perfectly okay to ask your friendly public bus driver to drive a bit slowly when going pass your favourite roadside wetland patch.

have no problem whatsoever to sit on the rain forest floor to see a ground bird that is coloured like decaying leaf litter.

always make comfort stops on jungle trails, strategically near fruiting trees.

have been bitten in all vital parts of the body by leeches while birding except in the eyes.

have no issues in standing near a stinking sewage canal with all forms of vicious biting things hovering around you to see a drab bird that doesn’t even sing.

carry your binoculars, checklists and field guides to bars & restaurants at dinner time during bird tours and feel perfectly okay about it.

are inordinately fond of garbage dumps to look for rarities.

keep a list of birds seen in your dreams.

have spent a better part of your life looking like this:

Julie and Keith

...and like this:

Keith and Amila

always prefer to buy clothes that are green, brown, grey and birdie.

have named your blog after a mythical bird that you have made up, which not many people can understand or pronounce properly.

feel like it is your duty to comment in blogs of non-birders who cannot tell a coot from a duck, whenever they post about birds.

wake up at 3.45 a.m., leave the hotel at 4.15 a.m. and reach a cold and dreary spot before crack of dawn to see a dark bird that mostly reveal in silhouette.

go on bird trips using public transport wearing binoculars, gum boots and leech socks. Oh, and a hands-free umbrella.

have nicknames and pet names from school days that are bird-related.

bump into a female bird watcher and check out her pair of binoculars first.

Okay, I may I have stretched things a wee bit here and there. But these remain largely true.

Let’s hear your contributions.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009


I was in the market looking for a decent headlamp to spot night birds and wildlife. After doing some research, I found the perfect one, the Corona LED Headlamp from It is a product of Princeton Tec, the makers of high quaility light products.

Corona LED Headlamp

For spotting nocturnal birds and wildlife, it is important that the source of light that you use for it is held as closer to your head as possible in order to detect their eye-shines. Corona fills your entire field of vision with an even distribution of light simulating daylight conditions and achieves this task spectacularly well. The wide beam of light it produces prevents the need for your eyes to adjust quickly from very bright to dark areas and eliminates eye fatigue. The wider beam also eliminates the need to move your head too much – a real pain in the neck with previous headlamps, which offered narrower field of view.

Corona uses eight permanent high-power 5mm white LEDs (producing white light) and you can selectively light eight, five, three or one of them depending on the scene you want to illuminate. Once the number of LEDs have been turned on like this, you can further dim them or get them to flash continuously. I do not require using the latter feature much, but the dimming function helps a lot to observe animals that are wary of brighter lights.

Proving this point, a few days ago, I spotted a family of Asian Palm Civets in my yard with my Corona. I observed them with all 8 LEDs on in dim mode – just to be on the safer side. The Palm Civets just went on with their normal behaviour, in foraging at distances of 10-15m and they did not appear to be too bothered by my headlighting them. Eventually, I left the scene leaving them where I found them.

The angle of the light source of this headlamp can be altered to get the light coming at a downward angle from the forehead to illuminate the subject just perfectly for binoculars and/or cameras to focus upon simultaneously. With a hand-held torch it was always a difficult task to hold it in one hand and try to focus on the the subject with the binoculars from the other hand. (Yes ladies, we men are hopeless at multi-tasking). I found the eight LEDs in full brightness quite sufficient to identify subjects about 25m or so, which is really enough on most situations on jungle walks.

The Corona LED headlamp requires three AA Alkaline or Lithium batteries. The burn time varies between 70-30 hours depending on the intensity and mode. Corona uses current regulation so the light source chosen will remain at a constant brightness as long as the batteries have sufficient voltage to run them. It has very good power-saving options. The Dim mode is known to produce 40-50% of the maximum light of high mode with as little as 25 % of the battery power as on high mode.

For night birding, I prefer a light source that produces white light as opposed to yellow light. This is because the yellow light casts a tawnier hue on otherwise none-tawny night birds. Take a look at this male Sri Lanka Frogmouth that was digi-scoped at a daytime roost with the available low-light.

Sri Lanka Frogmouth - digiscoped in available daylight

Now look at the same bird photographed with a torch producing yellowy light.

Sri Lanka Frogmouth male digi-scoped with yellowy light

The photogaph below is the same bird photographed by a friend named Riza (not the drummer) using a dSLR camera and in a different angle.

Sri Lanka Frogmouth male - photographed by Riza

You can see that the real ground colour of the bird is grey. In the picture taken with a torch with yellow light, the male appears tawnier and therefore very much like a typical female of this species (well, there's also a colour morph of the male that is more rufous-brown and approaching the colour of the female). Corona LED Headlamp will avoid you falling in such visual pitfalls and you will be able to see the colours of the birds closer to what you will see in daytime. BTW, click here to read detailed article by me about the plumage of this interesting-looking bird.

I tried the Corona as the light source (for focusing and clicking) for night time macro photography too. However, it is not used as a headlamp but as a hand-held lamp. This is because you cannot wear it on your head and find the subject in the view finder as the big macro flash that I use (Canon MT-24EX) blocks the fore-head area where the light source of the headlamp would be placed. This Common Shrub Frog in my yard was photographed with Corona hand-held together with the camera. I used three LEDs on in dim mode for this.

Common Shrub Frog

The outersports package arrived in air-mail direct to my house and I did not have to waste time at the ‘big post office’ in Colombo and go through custom procedures as in previous such deliveries.

Disclaimer: Directing light sources at the eyes of the nocturnal animals can be harmful for their vision, so please dim the lights/use brightness-reduction methods when viewing them. And never overdo it.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

A dragon by any other name

My monsoon birding tour participant, Phillip Johnson has bagged the outrageously beautiful Wilson's Bird-of-Paradise in West Papua as his 5,000th lifer. I would like to congratulate him on this amazing achievement! He should be feeling very happy to have reached this memorable milestone, seeing such a crippler.

Wouldn’t it be nice to read about his birding adventures in a book one day? I think he should start chipping in, while chasing after the remaining half of the birds of the world. And if he does so, I hope he will not ignore all those NFFs! (catch all category that Phil lumps non birdie subjects in, standing for No #@*!ing Feathers). Phil is a teacher and a terrific storyteller. I am sure such a book filled with his anecdotes will prove interesting reading for many of us.

Last week, I stumbled upon a few NFFs myself on two trips to two rain forests. Special among them were four Hump-nosed Lizards. This is a scarce reptile found in moist rain forests in Sri Lanka, distributed up to altitudes of 1,650m. I don’t know about you, but my heart beats faster whenever I stumble upon one of these amazing reptiles. May be it’s because it reminds me of those ancient reptiles, famously celebrated. Some of those first feathered reptiles evolved to become the earliest birds. May be it is due to that. I wonder what Phil will do if he accidently spots such a feathered reptile now. Surely he cannot ignore it as another NFF?

Coming back to reality, the last of those four individuals that I found was a mature male. It was the most strikingly coloured of the four, the reason why I have promoted it to the very top. The gular pouch which it uses for displays when threatened and courting to pose an apparent increase in size, is well developed in both sexes but is more pronounced in the males. When threatened it also opens the mouth to display its red interiors as shown here, which to me appears like a fiery mouth of a mythical dragon.

Hump-nosed Lizard

There are 18 species of lizards belonging to the family Agamidae (for which reason they are commonly termed as 'Agamid lizards') in Sri Lanka out of which a whopping 15 are endemic. The Hump-nosed Lizard is one of the earliest animals to be described from Sri Lanka, named in 1758 by none other than the farther of modern taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus. Its present scientific name is Lyriocephalus scutatus. This generic name translates to 'Lyre-shaped head/face', which can be seen well in the first image. It earns its most often used vernacular from the globular knob of the snout in the adult, which is absent in the juveniles. Lyriocephalus is a monotypic genus, which means it contains only a single species, which in this case, is endemic to Sri Lanka.

My reptilian brain says that this species should be called as "Lyre-faced Dragon" as opposed to its rather lame sounding popular name used at present. Having said that, my primate brain says that it is best left unchanged as ‘dragon’ is likely to attract too much unwanted attention detrimental to its well-being.

Do you have different parts of your brain talking to you like this?

This immature was found close to the above individual and was the 3rd in the order seen by me. This lizard is capable of changing its colour quite remarkably and when I first found it in the evening before (when I carried no camera to be a better bird watcher) it was coloured similar to the green and yellow adult above.

Hump-nosed Lizard immature

I got the above photograph after returning to its site in the following morning. It was then that the above adult caught the eye.

Hump-nosed Lizard is an iconic species in Sri Lankan herpetology, with the country's leading herp. journal being named after its genus.

Here’s the second individual found – a record shot. It first appeared like a stump coming out of that tree. This one has almost completely shed its old skin, and the bits that remain attached it is lower body gives it a disguise as lichen patches of a tree.

And lastly, here’s the very first Hump-nosed Lizard that I stumbled upon during last week. It was crossing the road at Gilimale. I hurriedly escorted it to the forest before a bus came our way. That was not before I took this record shot, showing how it tries to hide from me, cleverly assuming the tones of the tarred road. Not bad for a reptilian brain, eh?

Hump-nosed Lizard

Hump-nosed Lizard is the only Lizard species that I have seen in a dream. In that, I found it in my home garden.

Related posts:

In search of a Drongo

Israel chasing targets in Sri Lanka

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