Sunday 28 February 2010

Pied Kingfisher

This Pied Kingfisher (aka. Lesser Pied Kingfisher) Ceryle rudis was photographed during the Kudu 2010 Sri Lanka tour at the Dutch canal at Waikkal. It tolerated our close presence in a boat, and afforded nice photo opportunities, albeit in somewhat shaky circumstances. The male shown here is easy to tell apart from the female as it has a couple of black bands across the breast.

Lesser Pied KIngfisher
Pied Kingfisher male at the Dutch canal at Waikkal - 10 Jan, 2010

In contrast, the female has just one 'breast-band', which is broken in the middle.

The Pied Kingfisher has an interesting foraging technique, whereby they catch fish by hovering over water, often quite high up; and diving after a target is acquired. In doing so, they'd also descend in stages and hover in order to precisely locate the target before the final plunge.

In addition to this peculiar foraging technique, this species would also use a perch, like the above individual, to hunt prey in a more orthodox fashion.

Interestingly, the Pied Kingfisher is capable of devouring their prey in flight without necessarily returning to a perch for fine dining. Its hover and dive foraging technique, and the aforementioned attribute enable it to hunt in large expanses of water, lacking suitable sticks/rocks to perch.

Well, here's how it forages by means of hover and dive method.

On occasions when it has the luxury of using a perch to hunt, Pied Kingfisher would return to it after catching the prey. It then often beats its prey on the perch to first kill it, and to 'tenderise' it, before devouring it. I picked up the latter culinary technicality in Vickie Henderson's blog post about Belted Kingfisher, which is a North American cousin of this species.

Saturday 27 February 2010

The Curtain Raiser

Did you know that at Lords’, the northwest side of the playing surface is some eight feet higher than the southeast side?

I didn’t, until I met Adrian Morgan, the assistant Head Groundsman of Lords'—the home of cricket. This was during a 3-day trip to Sinharaja ‘World Heritage’ rain forest last November. He was here with his partner Rose—a conservationistinvolved with London Peregrine Partnership. Both of them were very keen bird watchers, and were on their maiden visit to Sri Lanka. With for over thirty years of work experience at Lords', Adrian knew about cricket and cricketers like Jayalalithaa about acting and politics.

Dull-blue Flycatcher
The Sri Lankan endemic, Dull-blue Flycatcher perched on an English Oak at Hakgala Botanical Gardens, 29 Nov, 2009.

Yes, I gleaned plenty of inside stories about various cricketers!
FYI, Adrian has high regard for our skipper, Kumar Sangakkara.

Sri Lanka White-eye
The diminutive endemic, Sri Lanka White-eye at Hatton, at a police check-point.

This tour marked the curtain raiser of my winter 2009/2010 birding and wildlife tour season; and I did it from 25–27 November, 2009. Dazzled by the beauty of Sri Lankan birds, Adrian and Rose followed this with an unscheduled trip to Nuwara Eliya. This was in pursuit of highland endemics and specials. As I was scheduled to commence a 14-day ‘Absolute Birding’ trip with 3 British birders from 30 November, this was squeezed into the tight gap from 28–29 November, 2009. In this combined 4-day "special operation", we bagged twenty-six out of the thirty-three species of birds currently recognised as endemic to Sri Lanka (according to the Birds of South Asia by Pamela Rasmussen).

Coming to birding specifics, our top bird highlight at Sinharaja was seeing a Serendib Scops Owl in a daytime roost. Our highland species included Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, Dull-blue Flycatcher, Sri Lanka White-eye, Yellow-eared Bulbul, and Sri Lanka Bush Warbler. We missed the montane endemic, Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon. My top site of it is Surrey Estate at Welimada, and we couldn't visit on this tour due to time constraints. However, we were lucky enough to get great views of the sought after western Himalayan delights: Kashmir Flycatcher and Pied Thrush at the Hakgala Botanical Gardens.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

The Stilty Style

I shot this paparazzi sequence at Yala National Park last month. I was guiding 11 British visitors from Kudu Travels, UK whose ground agent is RedDot Tours. This was my second tour with Kudu, the first being in 2006. They couldn't operate this tour during the last three years because of the war that existed in this country and the resultant travel advisories imposed by the British FCO, which got in the way of travel insurance. With the war coming to an end in May 2009, things are looking brighter in Sri Lanka again, and Kudu resumed their tour to Sri Lanka in 2010.

According to industry sources, existing Tour Operators with allotments have 'performed' upto 90% in some cases during the 2009/2010 season. This explains why you cannot get a decent hotel room booked these days in Sri Lanka. And why the vehicle parks at the main airport, Sigiriya and many other such tourist sites are chocker-blocked, most of the time. It explains why some tour companies had to make do with intercity buses to do some of their tours. And why some bloggers have fallen silent lately.

Black-winged Stilt mating sequence-1

All right, the bird species in question here is Black-winged Stilt, known by a peculiar sounding scientific name, Himantopus himantopus (Linnaeus, 1758). The male was making its intentions amply clear by performing its not-so-subtle courtship dance—a lot of graceful head bobbing, and circling around the female.

Black-winged Stilt mating sequence-2
The female then went into a posture of submission. She did this by assuming what looked to me like a stiff neck posture - by extending her head fully and holding it in a lowered angle. After seeing this, I alerted all around me of what will follow next, and to get their cameras ready. The sequence shared here are a few that I was able to capture moments later. They were achieved from our safari jeep, with moving souls in it.

Black-winged Stilt mating sequence-3

With legs forming 60% of the total height, Black-winged Stilt is the bird with the longest pair of legs in relation to the body size in the world. The posture assumed by the female seems to aid her partner to mount on her easily and get a foothold—even with those lanky legs of his. And it sure must help the female to balance herself with the extra weight on her.

Black-winged Stilt mating sequence-4
Almost done.

Black-winged Stilt mating sequence-5
It was all over in a flash. The one below shows the male bracing himself in order to achieve a safe landing in the end. This was because the female reverted to her usual posture soon after copulation, while the male was still mounted on top of her. I think she did this intentionally to eject her partner from her back! It looked like she did not want him on her any longer than it was absolutely required!

Black-winged Stilt mating sequence-6
Awkward, but mission accomplished.

Black-winged Stilt mating sequence-7
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