Today is the sixth World Rainforest Day. Highly biodiversity-rich Sinharaja rainforest is one of our most important Rainforest Forest Reserves in the country, which is also a World Heritage Site. During my visit to the rainforest in February 2022, just before the country was closed down due to Covid 19 pandemic, I captured voices of the animals waking up at dawn there. Below is an excerpt of a long audio track of a recording I made at periphery of the forest where I stayed.
Species in foreground and background of the audio track: Insects, Square-tailed Bulbuls, Purple-faced Langur, Sri Lanka Hill Myna, White-throated Flowerpecker, Black-capped Bulbul, Green Imperial-pigeon and Orange-billed Babbler.
One of the loud and interesting voices in Sinharaja rainforest is of the endemic Sri Lanka Blue Magpie. This fairly large and very beautiful bird utters some of the unforgettable sounds in the forest. Below is an excerpt of the Sri Lanka Blue Magpie in the ‘Birds of the Rainforest’ track in ‘The Bird Sounds of Sri Lanka. Habitat Edition 2017’ digital audio album, that I have recorded at Morning Side in Sinharaja rainforest in June 2002.
Green Warbler vs Greenish Warbler – differences and similarities in vocalization
Green Warbler (Phylloscopus nitidus) is a regular and locally fairly common winter migrant in Sri Lanka, whereas Greenish Warbler (P. trochiloides) is a rare winter migrant to the country. Both these closely related leaf-warblers are similar in their plumage and the similarity is even very close when at their certain plumage stages. Recognizing them apart can be tricky by their appearance but their vocalization often helps in this to some extent. The Green Warbler’s typical call is trisyllabic and it is in the Greenish Warbler disyllabic, and higher in pitch and delivered in shorter duration (faster in utterance of notes in the syllables).
The Green Warbler also utters the trisyllabic call in higher pitch than the usual typical pitch, which is then similar to the pitch of Greenish Warbler’s call. The Green Warbler also has a few high-pitched, more or less drawn out monosyllabic calls (see below). Further it occasionally utters a disyllabic call too which reminiscent of that of the Greenish Warbler and especially when is uttered in higher pitch it is then very similar in sound to the call of Greenish. (However, analysis of notes in these calls reveals the difference between the two.)
Besides the typical trisyllabic call and the other calls, the Green Warbler utters a few warbling songs (see below), and these are in high pitch as its own high-pitched calls (and those of the Greenish Warbler too.)
The Greenish Warbler has a similar variations in diversity of the vocalization as in the Green, and its songs are very similar to of those of the Green too (see below). Further, it sometimes utters trisyllabic-like call that rather reminiscent of the Green Warbler’s higher-pitched call. However, all vocalizations of the Greenish are higher in pitch than the typical trisyllabic call of the Green Warbler and also structure of notes between the similar-sounding calls of the two warblers is different.
Utterance of songs in between the calls by both these warblers in their wintering grounds is obviously for maintaining and defending individual feeding territory for each bird from others of their own kind during their stay in the tropics away from winter.
Green Warbler’s vocalizations
Typical trisyllabic call of the Green Warbler, recorded at Tanamalwila, Sri Lanka, in Jan. 2016.
Typical trisyllabic call of the Green Warbler in higher pitch than the usual, recorded at Horton Plains National Park, Sri Lanka, in Dec. 2011. (Call of Large-billed Leaf Warbler also in the foreground of the recording).
Monosyllabic and disyllabic calls, and songs of the Green Warbler, recorded at Horton Plains National Park, Sri Lanka, in Nov. 2013.
Greenish Warbler’s vocalizations
Typical disyllabic calls of the Greenish Warbler, recorded at Thekkady, South India, in Oct. 2015.
Calls, including trisyllabic-like call, of the Greenish Warbler, recorded at Thekkady, South India, in Oct. 2015.
Calls and songs of the Greenish Warbler, recorded at Thekkady, South India, in Oct. 2015.
Skylark on the ground (Photo by Varuna Abeyratne).
In early January I joined in a trip to Mannar arranged by a family of my friend birders. During our birding sessions there I came across several pairs of Oriental Skylarks (Alauda gulgula) occupying a fairly large grass flat together with other garland birds, i.e. Bushlarks, pipits. Male skylarks are singing one at a time quite often there indicated they are getting ready to breed soon. The skylark sings in flight very high up over the ground, hence the name ‘skylark’, and it is a prolong song delivered while the bird is still in flight. It’s a fascinating singing behaviour to watch. Male starts singing as it begins to fly off from the ground vertically and continues to sing till it reaches quite high up when it’s seen as a speck in the sky. Once it reaches the required height it stops and keeps hovering and singing from one place for a while, and then slowly moves around with stops over its occupied territory on the ground. The continuous singing would usually last between one and two minutes and it then descends to the ground quite rapidly with stopping the singing just before it touches the ground. Sometime later a male of another pair in the vicinity performs this singing behaviour, and it is followed by other males in turns. It was a very interesting to watch all these skylarks popping up over the ground one after the other singing their long songs.
Male singing in flight (Photo by Varuna Abeyratne).
In fact it is the longest continuous single song delivered non-stop in one singing session that I have experienced amongst our songbirds here, and I believe it is true for all the skylark species worldwide amongst the world songbirds. In the grass flat the males some times sang over two minutes in the sky and one male astonished me with singing for nearly six and half minutes continuously in the sky. There I was overwhelmed by these skylarks with their singing performance. I selected a couple of spots in the grass flat to record these singing skylarks.
At times males sing while on the ground but, song is not long as they sing in flight.
Male singing on the ground (Photo by Varuna Abeyratne)
While walking to a suitable recording spot (Photo by Varuna Abeyratne).
Soon after months of prolonged rains ceased, last couple of months in the last year Oriental Magpie-Robins (Copsychus saularis) in the area began to sing getting ready to commence their breeding season. The Magpie-Robin is a prolific songbird and is the familiar garden songster amongst our garden birds. It has a large variable song repertoire, and the songs are musical.
The male of the pair that occupies our garden too within its territory, was singing from a couple of gardens away from ours and was in full. Below is a part of its songs captured with a parabolic reflector microphone setup.
Below is a recording made when the male was singing from a close by tree.
The singing male.
Male of the pair of an adjoining territory was too singing a few gardens away in a different direction. Captured a part of its song in the parabolic reflector microphone setup while its singing about 100 meters away.
Chirping Red-vented Bulbuls (pycnonotus cafer ) in my vicinity
I couldn’t to attend to record much of bird sounds in my garden during last few years. Noise in the environment, particularly man-made, has improved a lot and it makes great difficulty now taking a clean recording over even a minute! I have been listening to the chirping of Red-vented Bulbuls (pycnonotus cafer) in early morning last several days and thought to capture their early morning rather soft chattering sounds soon they have flew out their night roosts. A small gathering of them on tree at a boarder of my garden provided the recording below. Soon most of them fly away to their usual feeding areas leaving the few pairs staying in my area.
Calling of the bulbuls captured next day at the tree they gather.
A bird of the resident pair in my garden on the ‘gathering tree’. (Photos by DW)
A couple of pairs retaining in the area keep calling from tree tops in vicinity, before they descend for their breakfast for the day.
Bar-headed Goose – my 400 bird species in the country!
On 30th December morning I managed to see this beautiful goose at Korakulam wetland in Mannar. Following the directions given by my friend birder Sudheera who saw it in the previous days, I found the bird by the small water hole at the location. I enjoyed my 400 ‘life bird’ with prolong scope views while it was feeding and resting by the water there. This goose was first found and photographed by Ravi Darshana (a member of Ceylon Bird Club) on 19th Dec. at this site and the sighting became the first confirmed record of the Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus) in Sri Lanka. Thanks to Sudheera for providing the photo featured here. Bar-headed Goose at Korakulam. Photo by Sudheera Bandara.
I had been looking for a Blue-throated Flycatcher in Sri Lanka for a very long time as it had been known as an extremely rare migrant here. Due to the close resemblance of the male Blue-throated in the general appearance of plumage to the resident Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher (Cyornis tickelliae) a male can easily be overlooked by being mistaken for the latter in the field. Thus, a rare occurrence of a Blue-throated in the country can possibly go unrecognized and unrecorded. This may have been the reason why this migrant flycatcher did not come to our attention in the past many years.
Early last year there was a pair of Blue-throated Flycatchers photographed in Wilpattu National Park. But I had no chance to visit the site. Then in October of the same year I very closely missed one in South India, which was moving in a small ‘bird wave’ seen by my colleague Uditha while photographing birds at a site where I was too busy recording bird sounds. On our subsequent search for the bird there we failed to find it again.
Thereafter, on 12th January this year on a visit to a forest patch in Tanamalwila I noticed a small flycatcher capturing insects near the ground. Close observation of this bird revealed that it was a male Blue-throated Flycatcher! I was thrilled. Finally I had managed to find one by myself. I managed to get a few photographs and make some recordings of its songs on the second visit to the site on 14th.
The two photos above feature the male I came across on the first occasion.
Its songs are reminiscent of the song of Tickell’s Blue but richer and more “musical”, and varied too. The sound clip below features a couple of songs of the Blue-throated, that from the recordings I made.
Although I spotted the flycatcher closely at two sites and managed to get a few photos on both occasions, on my second visit I did not realise that actually two males were involved in the sightings. My fellow birders (and bird photographers) Dulan Ranga, Gehan Rajeev and Uditha Hettige who visited the site later found that there were two males. It was confirmed by the difference in their markings seen in the very good photographs they took.
On my third visit to the site on 25th January, together with Palitha Antony and Gehan Rajapaksa and my family, I managed to make out the two birds by the small differences in their plumage. Below is a (poor) photo I was able to take of the second male.
I missed participating in the International Dawn Chorus Day this year, which was on Sunday 1st May (http://idcd.info/idcd/). While participating in the 2nd Global Big Day (http://ebird.org/ebird/globalbigday) on 14th May at the Talangama wetlands, together with a fellow birder Dr. Senaka Abeyratne, I thought experience the dawn chorus there as it was the place where I was on the IDCD last year. We reached the wetland just before dawn and began to count the bird species for the Global Big Day event. At the same time, while the dawn was disappearing I recorded calling of birds at the location. Sound track below features a part of the recording I made.
In the bird chorus above calls of the following birds can be heard in order of their appearance on the sound track: Red-vented Bulbul, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, White-browed Bulbul, Common Myna, Asian Koel, White-breasted Waterhen, Lesser Whistling Duck and Common Moorhean.
This March I spent several days bird watching on two occasions at Sinharaja rainforest. Every day early morning I heard Spot-winged Thrushes (Zoothera spiloptera) start singing their melodious songs as they were breeding at the time. Some already had young ones either still in the nest or fledged and hoping on the ground behind mother, calling a soft trill requesting to be fed. Males of the pairs mostly spent time singing of their beautiful songs while their females incubating on the nest or feeding young.
One evening while it was raining, not heavily though, I came across a male thrush singing on top of a small tree nearby a stream. It carried on singing despite the rain continues till late evening. I captured its sessions of singing on my new sound recorder I have been putting on test during my field visits.
At one time there was a ‘mixed-species feeding flock’ moving in the canopy above the tree where the thrush was singing, trying to find last bit of food for the day before dark. A part of the recordings of its songs is produced below. Calls of Orange-billed Babblers and a few other birds in the flock heard in the background of the sound clip below.
[Photo by Uditha Hettige]
New Zoom H6 digital recorder that I’m trying on recording nature sounds.