Thursday, 26 August 2010

Of Courting Cuckoos, Butterflies That Make Me Go Weak in the Knees & Stuff

I joined a bird watching trip of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka from 21–24 Aug., 2010.

It was led by Prof. Sarath Kotagama, whose book Kurullan Narambamu [කුරුල්ලන් නරඹමු (Let's Watch Birds)] was my first field guide in 1989, after getting hooked on birds in the same year. The good professor turned 60 during this trip; few members organised a surprise cake in celebration—which turned out to be his first b'day cake! And for that reason or another, only a single candle was lit on the cake.

Black-hooded Oriole at the Rajarata University premises where we stayed overnight.

On the birding front, we did well, seeing 110 species of birds. The most interesting bird sighting (for me) was two early Barn Swallows that I spotted on 24 Aug. They were flying over a roadside wetland birding stop between Mihintale and Ritigala. This is the earliest date for this migratory bird for me; my previous best was 25 Aug., 2007 at the Udawalawe National Park.

I also picked a Wood Sandpiper (one on 23 Aug., and several on 25 Aug.).  A Common Sandpiper spotted by "Sir" was our third migratory bird for the trip.

On popular request, I did a 10-minute night walk with several keener participants, and pulled out a Jerdon's Nightjar—a lifer for all. I wasn't comfortable in going on for longer; all participants, including I, had no "proper footwear" needed for serious night explorations. (I packed for this trip with an economy that would have put Mr. Bean to shame.)

The 7cm Pale-billed Flowerpecker—the epitome of avian downsizing in Sri Lanka. 

We had mixed weather with cloudy and sunny conditions. The rain experienced in patches did not get in the way of birding. Instead, it cooled the weather and made the unrelenting August sun—relenting.

The endemic Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill (male). This was rather abundant in the Rajarata uni. gardens.

My top behavioural observation was to do with a pair of Jacobin Cuckoos in courtship.
Spotting a perched individual of this cuckoo, we noticed it going all jittery—a display that consisted of wing-shivering accompanied by jerky head movements. In no time, it was joined by another Jacobin Cuckoo with a caterpillar in its beak. The latter then mounted on the jittery one, offering the morsel of food it held in its beak. This was followed with mating—when the female appeared to be distracted by food.

Here are the paparazzi captures.

Jacobin Cuckoos displaying courtship feeding, which led to mating.

These captures didn't come off the way I liked. The camera being at a wrong setting (with a higher ISO and lower shutter speed), and the scene being a twiggy one were the reasons for that.

Anyway, here's a better take, postcoital.

Jacobin Cuckoos after correcting camera settings.

Studying the photographs post-retuning-home, I saw through a cunning plan of the male.

That was during mating, the male had not let go of the caterpillar completely; instead, it had held on to a part of it in its beak—seemingly to keep the female waiting until it finished mating! I think the male was holding on to the caterpillar like a bargaining tool to seal the deal.

The cunning deal.

Moving on to matters non-birding and non-voyeuristic, I stumbled this cryptic Spotted Tree Frog Polypedates maculatus during a forest walk close to Kebithigollewa.

This particular individual was not all that spotted as the vernacular goes, but then, it is not unusual for it to be not spotty. This is one of the Gembas that turn up in toilets in the dry zone.

I also found a Sri Lanka Painted Frog hiding inside a tiny slit of a tree at the Rajarata University, where we stayed overnight.

This Oriental Scarlet Crocothemis servillia servillia was one of the dragonflies that cooperated. This is a female.

Our top reptilian highlight was an Agamid lizard described in 2005, Otocryptis nigristigma—the dry zone cousin of the Kangaroo Lizard Otocryptis wiegmanni found in the wet zone. It was spotted by a keen naturalist at the Rajarata University.

Butterflies dominated my non-birding highlights. Here are eleven of them—all photographed on this tour.

Family: Papilionidae.

Banded Peacock Papilio crino.
This is one of those butterflies that make me go weak in the knees.

We had this individual at Mihintale on day 2. It was nectaring on the flowers of Carissa spinarum (Heen Karamba in Sinhala), before perching within a few feet from me.

During a marathon lounging session in my garden, sometime ago, I saw a flash of peacock green luminescence. It at once registered in my head: "Banded Peacok." The fact that I was in my garden, in my laze, came to me little a bit late. And the delayed realisation that followed: "Banded Peacock in My Garden!" was truly an ethereal moment.

Bluebottle Graphium sarpedon teredon.
Uraji Karunaratne, an ardent Royal supporter, spotted this and shared it with me. This year's rugby captain of Royal, Duminda Attygalle, is her nephew, I learnt. (St. Peter's won the two matches played this year with Royal, after two amazing games of rugby: 22-20 in the first, and 29-27 in the second—the latter which was dubbed as the "Injuction Cup Finals," for reasons that I cannot go into detail here.)

Lime Butterfly Papilio demoleus demoleus.
Photographed close to Kebithigollewa.

Family: Danaidae.

Blue Tiger Tirumala limniace leopardus.
I got a decent sequence of this.

Family: Pieridae.

Blue Wanderer Pareronia ceylanica ceylanica.
Another butterfly that makes me go weak in the knees. I have had a few close encounters in the past, but when it happed, never have I had a camera. So when this male arrived at the Carissa tree that the first one was nectaring on—I was near collapse!

Family: Satyridae.

Tamil Bushbrown Mycalesis visala subdita.
Spotted at the same spot as above.

Family: Lycaenidae.

Monkey-puzzle Rahinda amor.
I photographed this on day 3, just before I stumbled the cryptic frog. This uncommon beauty is a sought-after species by butterfly enthusiasts, so I am very pleased about it.

Lime Blue Chilades lajus lajus.
I shot this near the vehicle park at Ritigala. This is a common species also found in my home garden.

Family: Pieridae.

Lesser Albatross Appias paulina galene.
Seen soon after the Bluebotte.

Small Salmon Arab Colotis amata modesta.
A common species in dry zone.

Family: Nymphalidae.

Chocolate Soldier Junonia iphita pluviatalis.
A common species also found in my garden. This was photographed at Ritigala.

Moving on to more other stuff, the best meal of the trip was an artery-clogging Sri Lankan breakfast—free!—thanks to the member and participant Asitha Samarawickrama, 17, whose Uncle, Malik Samarawickrama, had a bridal wear factory at Madawachchiya. (I thought Sir played his cards really close to his chests, stopping there on our way to Kebithigollewa on day 3.) Everybody who joined this excursion barring a fasting Muslim girl from the Rajarata University partook this tasty breakfast, which consisted of string hoppers, chicken curry, fish white curry, coconut sambol, bread, spicy dhal curry, milk rice, lunu miris; plus tea and juice to wash 'em down. Asitha's Farther, Lalin Samarawickrama (brother of Malik Samarawickrama), is the Managing Director of Amaya Resorts & Spas. So the Samarawickrama's knew their hospitality too well.

And finally, here is the cast—the heros, villains, jokers, lovers, sinners, and midnight toker talkers—that made this production possible. One actress is missing though. Any guesses who that is, FOGSL people?

Click on images to view them sharper.


magerata said...

What a fine collection of birds, my heart kept on missing beats with every photo! :) Love them.
I like butterflies too but not as much as the birds. Frogs, I keep my distance :)
Thanks a lot.

Dee said...

Wow what beautiful pictures A !! How does one join one of these expeditions? :)

Kirigalpoththa said...

The male birds are very advanced when it comes to courtship. Aren't they?

How do you remmeber all these butterfly names??

A great post yet again Amila :)

dev wijewardane said...

Great shots Amila. Were the butterflies captured with the 100-400 or the 100 macro?

Amila Salgado said...

Thank you!
Great to hear those compliments.

Birds were my first love before I became interested in other forms of life. No worries if you want to keep away from frogs. :)


To join such expeditions one has to visit Prof. Kotagama's office at the University of Colombo, and register for the (immediate) trip to follow (subjected to availability) by paying a non-refundable deposit of Rs. 1,500 from one's hard earned money. ;)

Nice thing about FOGSL is one does not have to become a member before one joins the first trip.

General membership is Rs. 100 per year, and the life membership is Rs. 1,500, just in case one likes to become a member anyway.

And if one requires more details one can phone Indrika or Anoma on 011 5342609.

The next trip is to Sinharaja from 10-12 Sep.

Thank you!
Birds have very interesting private lives.

How do I remember those butterfly names? Just like you remember all those hiking hotspots in Sri Lanka. :D. But I hear you, they are different.

I used the 100-400mm; I had no room for 100mm as I carried all my stuff including camera gear in a small (camera) backpack. Thanks!

silent moments said...

wonderful post! thanks for sharing those pics.
I've got the profs book on birds of Sri Lanka and its very useful in identifying birds.

Stuart Price said...

Those butterfly shots are fantastic........

Me-shak said...

Lovely pictures Amila. I love all of them. I totally get when you say "My knees go week". Aren't they gorgeous?
Looking forward for more. I learnt a lot. Thanks for sharing.


Amila Kanchana said...

Great photos,a good variety of critters,one of the best posts of yours Amila!

Amila Salgado said...

Thank you! Nice to know that.
Hope you have got his new book: "An Illustrated Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka"


Thank you. I am happy you liked them. Butterflies are as interesting as birds!

Thank you.
I tried to deliver a nature masala. :)

Chandanie said...

Fantastic post and excellent photos as always. As to males of any species......................

Amila Salgado said...

Thank you!

Janith said...

My first time here after a long time, and I'm rewarded with this! :D Love all of it Amila, but especially the "Blue Wanderer"! WOW! :O :D

Amila Salgado said...

Good to have you back! Bernad d'Abrera, the Author of The Butterlfies of Ceylon, wax lyrical about the Blue Wanderer. He writes, "...In the four years I spent collecting butterflies in Ceylon, I was only ever to have taken one specimen, a male, and the exaltation I felt was not of the heart-pumping kind, but rather the kind of joy one feels when one chances upon an utterly enchanting melody or delicately wrought brooch set with laps lazuli and Wedgewood japerware, and yet those similies are entirely inadequate to describe the rare beauty of this butterfly."

Friend of HK said...

Love your wildlife photos, especially the birds and butterflies, so beautiful! Thanks for sharing.

Amila Salgado said...

@Friend of HK,
Thanks! Nice to hear from Hong Kong!

flowergirl said...

You call that breakfast?!! That's all three meals in a day combined!@ LOL!

Amila Salgado said...

Haha, yeah, that was some feast!
Anyway, we did two good walks before noon to burn it off; I was starving by 11.30 a.m.! :D

Phil Slade said...

I can't add much to what has been said here before me but what a superb shot of that 7cm bird. I know what 7cm is and it's not a lot. Love the butterfly shots.

Amila Salgado said...

Thanks! It is a tough bird to photograph because if its tiny size and figgity demeanour. But then, I have my charm.

Unknown said...

This is a stunning series! And a lovely catalogue of butterflies.

Sunita Mohan said...

Superb post, Amila. I don't know how I missed it. Anyway I have to confess that all those butterflies had me weak in the knees too. The Common Wanderer and Blue Tiger are regular visitors to my garden too. Here's a tip : if you want the Blue Wanderer to pose for your camera, plant some common Vinca plants (not the hybrid varieties). They love those. In fact most butterflies seem to love them.

Amila Salgado said...

Thank you!
This is a good time for butterflies over here.

Thank you!
I am very jealous that you have those two species in your garden. Nice of you to share that tip. I shall try it. :)

p.s. I am cheering for Mumbai Indians.

Bearer said...

Hey ! Lovely Pics ! Excellent eye for the camera.. Do u live in Mt. by any chance - So do I and love photography myself.. Please visit my blog if you have a bit of spare time.

Would love to get some advice from you as I am only a beginner in photography !

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