Wednesday, 23 September 2009

ID challenge-2

Chalcura deprivata Family: Eucharitidae
Name the family of this critter. The winner will receive a printable electronic copy of this.
Still no cure for APOBPS.

Monday, 21 September 2009


Early this month, I did a 2-day trip to the wet lowlands of Kithulgala with Dr. Chandanie Wanigatunge and her son, Lahiru. This was my second trip with this duo, the first one being a 2-day trip to Sinharaja rain forest, sometime back. We ran into a lot of rainy weather, again. Undaunted, using our vehicle and various wayside shelters available to make hasty retreats, we squeezed in some decent birding during brief breaks we had from the elements.

Some of the noteworthy birds for Lahiru the bird watcher included Chestnut-backed Owlet (a vocal pair), Layard’s Parakeet, (approximately 50 noisy individuals—easily the biggest aggregation that I have seen; also observed their courtship behaviours), Gold-fronted Leafbird (in song), Dollarbird (a boring immature), Green-billed Coucal, (jaw-dropping scope views; old record shot below), Black-headed Cuckooshrike (a pair in a mixed-species flock) and a Lesser Yellownape (long views).

The above Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher was the only bird that I digiscoped on this trip.

Moving on to natural history specials, our most exciting find was a butterfly named Autumn Leaf Doleschallia bisaltide (Family: Nymphalidae), which remarkably takes the shape a decayed leaf when perched (recalling a smaller Blue Oakleaf). A butterfly lifer for all of us, it was spotted by yours truly while having lunch at Rafter’s Retreat’s restaurant. Unfortunately, it was perched too high for my photographic reach.

Our next top butterfly highlight was a male Duffer Discophora lepida, which is a scarce resident in Sri Lanka. It paused long enough to afford a photo opportunity for Chandanie.

Despite not looking for them specifically, we encountered two amphibian species, which were special. The first was Sri Lanka Rock Frog Nannophrys ceylonensis (Family: Ranidae). A record shot of it is below.

Nannophrys ceylonensis And the second one was Kelaart’s Dwarf Toed Adenomus kelaarti (Family: Bufonidae).

Adenomus kelaarti
Here are 5 random facts about these two amphibian species.
1. Both were named by Albert Günther (1830-1914) whose name is synonymous with a fair number of Natural History in Sri Lanka.
2. Both genera are endemic to Sri Lanka.
3. Both genera comprise of 3 species each.
4. They both comprise of one species each of which the current conservation status reads as "extinct"
5. One of these extinct species, Kandy Dwarf Toad Adenomus kandianus was described by Günther in 1872.
6. The other extinct species in question, was named in honour of Günther, as Nannophrys guntheri (Gunther’s Rock Frog).
Did you know that Sri Lanka holds the world record for the highest number of global amphibian extinctions?

That’s right, out of 130 cases of amphibian extinctions documented in the world, Sri Lanka accounts for 21 cases, which is not a feat we can be proud of.

The tadpole that I posted for an ID quiz early this month was photographed on this trip. Here's a more revealing shot of it.
Nannophrys ceylonensis tadpole
It was of the Sri Lanka Rock Frog, which lives on moist rock surfaces, often hiding inside crevices during daytime. For this it is quite well adapted, with a shape recalling more of a regular frog squashed by a wooden a dough roller.

This frog lays eggs in the same habitat it lives and so, the tadpoles when hatched have no free swimming life stage as most tadpoles do. Instead have a terrestrial existence on moist rock surfaces before metamorphosing into adult frogs.

Here’s how I had looked when I shot the above tadpole.

And here’s a crop highlighting the subject, which really proves how small it was.

crop of above
My APOBPS treatment has got delayed for reasons beyond my control. Hopefully it could be "administered" in this week.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Description of Acute Paucity of Bird Posts Syndrome (APOBPS), Its Diagnosis, Treatment and Stuff Like That in Relation to a Bird Blog in Sri Lanka

By Amila Salgado
Acute Paucity of Bird Posts Syndrome (APOBPS) is described for the first time. Notes on its diagnosis, complications, implications and possible ramifications are discussed in relation to an affected bird blog in Sri Lanka. Results follow a prospective observational study over one year to formally characterise this condition. A possible treatment is suggested in relation to the Sri Lankan case, based on positive results seen in pre-clinical evaluations and stuff like that.

The Fly
Plate 1 A Positive symptom: This is a Large fly (Order: Diptera) in my home garden 11 Sep, 2009.

Keywords: digiscoping, digiscopy, blogosphere, birding, APOBPS, blog, canon 100-400 f4.5-5.6L Lens.

A bird blog is an online journal of bird and birding related stuff of a birder (Salgado, 2007). Bird blogs that strictly discuss birds and birding related matters are essentially rare these days. This is evident from the fact that even the top bird bloggers leaving room to discuss non-birding matters in their blogs (Bergin et al. 2007).

Therefore, the modern attitude seems to suggest that a certain amount of non-birding content is not too unhealthy for a bird blog after all. This seems reasonable given the diversity of "other things" a birder confronts during birding explorations.

However, an recent obserations have have shown that certain bird blogs seem to constantly deviate from posting bird and birding content, leading to the condition identified here for the first time as Acute Paucity of Bird Posts Syndrome (APOBPS). It is characterised by gradual drop in bird posts in blogs that are portrayed to the outside world primarily as bird blogs.

Symptoms and diagnosis.
You open a bird blog and see a frigging dragonfly first, or such thingamajig that have absolutely nothing to do with birds.

Elusive Adjutant young male
Plate 2: A positively positive symptom: Elusive Adjutant Aethriamanta brevipennis brevipennis young male in my home garden, Kaduwela, Sri Lanka.

Other such deviations include posts dedicated to grasshoppers, garden spiders, beetles, shrub frogs, butterflies, snakes, stick insects, robberflies, Leopards and even Blue Whales, for heaven's sake!

Robberfly feeding on a tiny fly
Plate 3: An advanced symptom: Robber fly (Order: Diptera) feeding on a tiny fly (Order: Diptera) in my home garden, Kaduwela, Sri Lanka.

Basically, any bird blog that has less than 65 % of bird and birding-related posts can be taken as APOBPS positive cases.

At the onset of the APOBPS, bird blogs show a high frequency of recurring theme posts such as Macro Monday (Salgado, 2009b), Wordless Wednesday (Ciccone, 2009b) and Sky Watch Friday (Tabib, 2009) in an obsessive compulsive sort of way, with very little or no birding content. Note: the latter used to be called Tabib's Bird Blog when I discovered it.

In extreme cases affected bird blogs carry dedicated non-bird posts in serial-post style (Salgado, 2009c).
Initial investigations confirm the prevalence of APOBPS symptoms increasingly in bird blogs that are linked with affected blogs (Ciccone, 2009a), raising new fears whether APOBPS could grow into pandemic propotions. Studies are currenly under way to ascertain this.

If untreated, APOBPS results in an affected bird blog to transmogrify into one other than a bird blog., i.e. a natural history blog. Its overall implications and visitor traffic needs to be assessed further.

A prospective observational study (or something like that).
Digiscopy has been my preferred method of photographing birds since time immemorial. That's like since 2004. It basically involves the attachment of a digital camera to the eyepiece of a spotting scope, using a homemade adapter or mount and shooting through the lens of the spotting scope to take cracking photographs (Poh, 1999).

This in my case is currently achieved through a Kowa TSN 823 telescope (with 20-60 x zoom eye-piece) with Nikon Coolpix 5100 camera—both married together with custom-made adapters.

So in other words, if I have a bird to photograph in the wild now, I would reach for my digiscoping gear rather than my point and shoot: Panasonic Lumix FZ-18 camera, although the latter has the capacity for achieving decent results as shown in Plate 4.

Serendib Scops Owl
Plate 4 Serendib Scops Owl Otus thilohoffmani photographed at night time. Aug, 2008.

Over the years, I have taken some decent shots by means of digiscoping (Plate 5 and Plate 6 - using Nikon Coolpix 4500). Some of them have featured in articles authored and co-authored by me (Salgado, 2006 and Goodale et al. 2008) and authored by others (Lord, 2007 and Ritschard and Schweizer, 2007) in journals and magazines, local and overseas.

Red-faced Malkoha
Plate 5. A Red-faced Malkoha Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus with a Giant stick insect Phobaeticus hypharpax prey in the beak at Sinharaja 'World Heritage' rain forest, Sri Lanka. This image was used in an article by me in Forktail - The Journal of Asian Ornithology.
Chestnut-backed OwletPlate 6. Chestnut-backed Owlet Glaucidium castanononum Digiscoped in Jan 2007 at Sinharaja 'World Heritage' Rain forest. This image was used by Ritschard and Schweizer in 2007 for an article in BirdingAsia 7.

However, as of recently for multitude of reasons I have not been motivated enough to do digiscoping of birds much. In all honesty, I would have loved to have photographed some of those birds seen. But, I simply have lacked the inner drive, the hunger, the killer instinct to bag a photograph of a bird by means of digiscoping.
This accounts for the drought of bird images and bird posts, which has gradually pushed this blog to a APOBPS postive one.

Let me be honest. Birds were my first love—the very reason why I fell in love with nature. It will always be like that. So I always like to portray myself as a birder although with time I have acquired interests in natural history. Okay, without getting too emo, let’s dig deep to the reasons, which have led to APOBPS in Gallicissa one by one.

1. Realisation that digiscoping and 'point and shoots' cannot achieve crisp images consistently as one can using dSLR photography.

Since converting to dSLR (with the aim of doing macro photography) in Sep, 2008, I have been convinced of the sheer capabilities and merits of dSLR photography. In simple, dSLR photography has raised my standards and expectations as a photographer and has opened my eyes to understanding photography a bit better.

After comparing my bird shots with stunning bird images taken by bird bloggers like Stuart Price at Hakodate Birding, I have increasingly realised that digiscoping cannot achieve the same high standards as through dSLR photography.

Lately, this has discouraged me from spending a lot of time over digiscoping birds.

2. Limitations of digiscoping.
During a shorebird trip to Chilaw last month, we encountered a Brown Noddy, a rare seabird that visits the Sri Lankan coasts in bad weather. It was flying low over the rough seas, quite close to the shore. I would have loved to have got a record shot of this rarity; however, such constantly moving subjects are nearly impossible to capture crisply through digiscoping for noodys like us. This explains why I have got no flight shots of birds on this blog.

But take a look at what Stu has achieved below of a bird in flight.

Plate 7. Eatern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis in flight by Stuart Price.

I seriously doubt any digiscoper can match the sharpness of a bird in flight like that. Or for that matter, stills like this .

3. Enjoying bird watching in its purest sense and not bothering to blog about it.

Since getting my Swarovski ELs (Salgado, 2009a), I think have become more of a watcher than a shooter in my birding habits (which I deem as healthy for me as a birder)
Gallicissa is not a photo blog sensu stricto. However, I do like to associate a photo or two with my posts, which explains why there is hardly any text-only posts in this blog. For some reason, I do not feel like doing text-only blog posts. So, with no new bird images at hand, my bird blogging has suffered a considerable setback over the past year or so. Perhaps my attitude towards doing text-only blog posts may change in the future as I mature as a writer, say as Rhythmic Diaspora who hardly includes images in his posts, but simply uses his spellbinding prose and sheer class to create vivid mental images.

Pre-clinial evaluaions have shown the Canon EF 100-400mm Lens (Plate 8) to be a very effective remedy to curb APOBPS. However, with a price tag of over $1,650 $1,700 this treatment remains quite steep. However, as things stand, it may be the only cure for the affected Sri Lankan blog in question, until future evaluations show otherwise.

Plate 8 Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS USM Telephoto Zoom Lens.

Early diagnosis, timely treatment and rigorous field birding may be the only cure for APOBPS positive bird blogs. With proper care they can bounce back to normalcy, of course leaving room for the odd non-birding post or two. Or three.

I would like to thank Stu for lending his image and for his continuous encouragement to seek treatment. As always I am very thankful for all the readers and commenters. Normal service will resume very soon.

Bergin, M., Moores, C. and Finger, C. (2007) About 10000 Birds. 10,
Ciccione, C. (2009a) Twelve-spotted Skipper. Picus Blog Aug, 2009.
Ciccione, C. (2009b) Wordless Wednesday. Picus Blog Sep, 2009.
Goodale, E., Salgado, A., and Kotagama, S.W. (2008). Birds of a different feather. Natural History 117:24-28.
Lord, M. (2007) Pioneers of Asian Ornithology: Colonel W. Vincent Legge. BirdingASIA 8: 84-89.
Poh, L. (1999) What is Digiscoping? Laurence Poh Digiscoping.
Redzlan, A. R. (2009) Belalang kunyit and sky. Tabib's Bird Blog Sep, 2009.
Ritschard, M and Schweizer, M. (2007) Identification of Asian Glaucidium owlets. BirdingAsia 7:39-47.
Salgado, A. (2006) Some observations on the diet of Red-faced Malkoha Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus in Sri Lanka. Forktail 22:122-123.
Salgado, A. (2007) What is a Bird Blog? Gallicissa. In a comment somewhere, 2007
Salgado, A. (2009a) What is your binocular? Gallicissa Apr, 2009.
Salgado, A. (2009b) Macro Monday Gallicissa July, 2009.
Salgado, A. (2009c) Dragons in my garden Part 3 Gallcissa Aug, 2009

Citation: Salgado, A. (2009) Description of Acute Paucity of Bird Posts Syndrome (APOBPS), its diagnosis, treatment and stuff like that in relation to a bird blog in Sri Lanka. Gallicissa, September 2009.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Russell's Viper

Russell's Viper
Last Monday, I got a call from a man next door. It was to invite me to inspect a snake he had found. As a matter of fact, he is not a big fan of snakes. Often he kills them first before calling me. And it was no different this time. His finds are beaten up to a bloody pulp like in those gangster movies. However, on this instance, it wasn’t too bad and the specimen was quite intact, by and large.

It turned out to be a deadly venomous Russell’s Viper.
Which is responsible for a very high number of human fatalities in our part of the world.

Although it does not have a pit (situated between the eye and the nostril or loreal region) possessed by ‘pit vipers,’—which is an external opening to a heat detecting sensory organ capable of detecting warm-blooded prey even in complete darkness—this snake species is able to react to thermal cues.

Russell's Viper
This specimen was about 20 inches long. Getting less than a foot from it, I did some macro photography, and the one shown at the very top is one of them. Of course I confirmed for myself that that it was fully dead.

Critters like this is why I am partial to welly Boots when exploring wilderness areas by foot. And that seriously includes my home garden and the immediate vicinity.

Monday, 7 September 2009

ID challenge-1

ID challenge

This is a

A. fish

B. tadpole

C. gecko

D. snake

E: nymph of a dragonfly

The first person to comment the correct answer will receive a MP3 audio recording of the song of the Spot-winged Thrush, which can be used as a ring tone in your mobile phone.

Macro Monday HQ is at Lisa's Chaos

Thursday, 3 September 2009


I am referring to my liking for gum boots, hiking boots and the likes. The picture below shows various species of them in my collection.

Of these, I am partial to gum boots for my wilderness walking.

The main reason for this is to protect myself from snake bites. We have 5 deadly-poisonous inland snakes and several other venomous snakes, which can cause “considerable discomfort”—to put it mildly. In Sri Lanka the annual death rate due to snake bite envenoming is one of the highest in the world with 6 deaths out of a population of 100,000. In 2008 alone, there were 33,000 snake bites in this country. This number comes from reports generated through hospitals, and do not take into account of patients resorting to traditional type of treatment. So the actual figures should be higher.

My secondary reasons for preferring wellies, as gum boots are affectionately called, are to enable me to cross shallow streams without getting my feet wet (and without removing shoes, argh!), and to keep off leeches (note, you have to wear them with leech socks).

Wellies have a bad reputation for being cumbersome and downright uncomfortable. This explains why most people dislike them. This was true for me too. With time, however, I have got used to them. As I use them heavily these days, their wear and tear is high. And I find myself in a difficult position when I have to replace them in this country. As I like to try them before purchasing, ordering them online is not a viable option for me.

Despite being a rubber producing country (and not to mention us topping the list of deaths due to snake envenomation), the types of gum boots made in Sri Lanka (in Arpico and DSI) are not designed for field naturalists like us in my opinion. .

I will explain.

1. Most of them are too short —Apart from increasing exposure to snake strikes, this "shortcoming" make them unsuitable for crossing shallow streams especially in rain forests here. Gum boots got to be at least 15-17 inches tall to make them suitable for people like us.

2. The lower back (back quarter) of most of the boots in the market are too rigid making them less flexible. This part of the boot needs to be flexible to alleviate discomfort during walking.

3. Sole is 'wrong'. This causes leg pain during longer walks. Makers should really do some sole-searching, and take a look at international brands to correct their basic design flaws.

When I want to go gum boot shopping, I have just one choice. That is to visit the Malwatte Road in Colombo Fort. When you enter it from the railway station side, the shops on the left side sell the wrong type of product, explained above. The ones suitable for people like us are available at the more doggy shoe stands on the right. An that is where I rightly go shopping!

These vendors get quality “imported” ones delivered to them in small quantities from various “informal channels” especially with the Colombo Harbour also being not too far away. The prices are generally reasonable here and there is a lot of room for bargaining. Last week, I was quoted Rs. 2,500 for an “Auda” safety gum boot. With fifteen minutes of creative negotiations, I walked away with it, paying just 1,650 bucks.
I hope people at DSI and Arpico will address the shortcomings mentioned here, and improve their existing product range. After all, there is a good target market, if they did their market research right.
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