Friday, 16 April 2010

Is This the Katrina Kaif of Handmaiden Moths?

Handmaiden Moth Euchromia polymena (Linnaeus, 1758) (synonym : Euchromia elegantissima Wallengren, 1861) EUCHROMIINI , CTENUCHINAE , ARCTIIDAE. Photographed in my local wetland patch ('Ketha'), Bomiriya, Sri Lanka. This was photographed using Canon EOS 40D with Canon 100mm f2.8 Macro lens. Handheld and no flash. ISO160, 1/100, f5.6.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Birding in Style

I guided a 15-day Birding in Style tour last December. It was with Stephen Lowe—a serious birder from the UK, and his non-birding family: his wife, Andrea (from the US); and two daughters, Ali and Christy, who are studying in Edinburgh, and Cambridge Universities, respectively.

The endemic Layard's Parakeet photographed using Canon EOS 40D  fitted with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens

Being a family birding trip with an influential lobby of non-birders, our birding was limited to walks in and around the bird-rich hotel gardens, and few visits to several key birding sites. Most of these were done while the girls enjoyed the beaches, infinity pools, spas and dining experiences at specialty restaurants. Therefore, this was very different to my Absolute Birding tour—in which we would spend most daylight hours birding as a group to see as many target birds as possible.

Infinity pool at Heritance Kandalama

In serving the wider interest of the family, we excluded a couple of key birding sites, namely, Kithulgala and Udawalawe National Park; instead included four nights at the beach to start proceedings. While the girls enjoyed the beach, Steve and I squeezed in a visit to the endemic hotspot, Sinharaja rain forest spending there two nights. Leading several a hardcore birding trips to this forest earlier in the season, I was fresh from field experience, and was in top form like a batsman with good match practice. That really helped in making quick work of the target birds.

The endemic Dull-blue Flycatcher photographed using Canon EOS 40D  fitted with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens

In the end, we managed to see a tally of 224 species of birds, and to Steve's surprise, all thirty-three endemic species of birds currently recognised! It was quite an achievement, considering that we did not visit the endemic hotspot Kithulgala—a site regularly visited on most organised bird watching tours. On serious birding trips we'd normally spend two nights at Kithulgala and three nights at Sinharaja—as longer time improves our chances of raking our target species in these lowland rain forest areas (situated in the only aseasonal ever-wet region of the whole of South Asia), where regular rainy weather can reduce birding time.

Although all endemics found in Kithulgala are also at Sinharaja rain forest, bird tours to Sri Lanka usually include Kithulgala, as certain endemics such as Chestnut-backed Owlet and Green-billed Coucal; and sought-after specials such as Black-backed Dwarf Kingfisher, are much easier to see at there compared to at Sinharaja. In Kithulgala, the aforementioned bird species turn up in well-wooded home gardens bordering the rain forest; therefore are more tolerant of bipeds. This make them far easier to see and photograph at Kithulgala compared to Sinharaja, in my opinion. In fact most of my sightings of the Owlet at Sinharaja have been in towering canopy giants standing 35m high—not too easy on the neck, no.

A pair of Indian Scops Owls in a dayroost at Tissa, digiscoped using a Swarovski ATM-80 HD Spotting Scope with 25-50 x eyepiece and Nikon Coolpix P5100 Digital Camera coupled together with a Swarovski Universal Digiscoping Adapter (UDA).

Apart from the obvious highlights that are endemics, all of which were seen extremely well, some of our other birding highlights included Kashmir Flycatcher, Pied Thrush, Indian Blue Robin, Black-throated Munia, Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Jerdon's Nightjar, Greater Painted Snipe, Slaty-legged Crake, Watercock, Common Hawk Cuckoo, Malabar Trogon, Sand Martin (a rare migrant to SL), Indian Scops Owl (a roosting pair) and Marshall's Iora (a newly rediscovered breeding resident).

A male Kashmir Flycatcher photographed using Canon EOS 40D fitted with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens

Our top mammalian highlight of the trip was this Leopard resting in a tree at Yala National Park, amidst pouring rain. The credit for this should go to Ali who nagged just enough to win an unscheduled third game drive to Yala to see a Leopard, on the morning we were to head to the hills. Our two visits done to Yala NP previously went Leopard-less.

A Leopard in pouring rain at Yala National Park - a record shot.

That soggy cat aside, Yellow-striped Chevrotain, Barking Deer, Ring-tailed Civet and Jungle Cat made up a tally of twenty-four or so species of mammals on this trip. Our butterfly list stood at forty species, and the specials included Indian Sunbeam (ovipositing in Pongamia pinnata near the lobby at Heritance Kandalama), Forget-me-not, Blue Oakleaf, Blue Admiral, and the national butterfly, Sri Lanka Birdwing.

Steve has written a wonderful trip report of his family trip.
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