The sound of Koha ( Asian Koel, Eudynamys scolopaceus) begins to come to our notice somewhere in the period of February to April in every year. It is generally believed that this distinctive sound connects with oncoming Sinhala New Year in April. Hence the author of this sound is popularly known as Avurudu Koha in Sinhala. The familiar sound of the Koha is the song of male bird, which the males sing to attract their females for breeding.
Asian Koel, male
Asian Koel, female
The song of Koha:
The Koha is one of the few birds in our country (amongst a few other cuckoos), which does not build its own nest for laying eggs. Instead, the females lay eggs in nests of crows. Nests of both House Crows (Corvus splendens) and Large-billed Crows (a.k.a. Jungle or Black Crows) (Corvus macrorhynchos) are victimized by the Koels . So, the male Koels begin to sing when the crows start building their nests in an area. The nesting season of the crows is around April and so is the time for male Koels to sing for their mates to inform to get ready for egg laying.
It’s now Sinhala Avurudu season and so we have started to hear the sound of AvuruduKoha from various parts of the country.
On the 3rd of May, the International Dawn Chorus Day, I visited a scrubland about 20 min. from my home. It is a scrubland with a few tall trees. When I visit the habitat it was around 5.30 am and was still dark, and there was a small drizzle. Due to the rain birds were a little slow to start. A pair of Common Iora was the first to start singing. Brown-headed Barbet and Red-vented Bulbuls also started in the background.
When the rain blew away the birds started their usual chorus which led by Common Iora, White-browed Bulbul, Brown-headed Barbet and Red-vented Bulbuls. A Common Palm Squirrel was calling throughout.
Today, International Dawn Chorus Day, I planned to visit a wetland to experience the dawn chorus there, while my daughter and wife agreed listen to the dawn chorus at our home garden. I reached Talangama tank by 5.10 am while it was still dark about 20min before to the dawn of the day. When I arrived there a male Oriental Magpie-Robin had already started to sing its beautiful songs from a tree along the tank bund. Soon an Asian Koel started to call and then a White-bellied Drongo began its repertoire, while shrub frogs vocalizing from plants in the area nearby. Those birds started to sing well before dawn as this is their breeding season.
Before the dawn waterbirds that vocalized was only a pair of White-breasted Waterhen while the magpie-robin was still singing its powerful and melodious song. It was also lightning and thundering that time.
Dawn was around 6.30am when other birds at the wetland began to fill the chorus with their sounds. White-breasted Kingfisher, White-breasted Waterhens and an egret were amongst others in the dawn chorus.
Soon after the dawn the chorus became significantly rich with bird sounds. More individuals of most of the birds mentioned earlier contributed to the dawn chorus. There was also a Purple Heron calling while it was leaving the night roost (heard between 33 sec. and 36 sec. in the sound track below).
At dawn egrets and herons were roosting at their regular night roost began to flying out while Asian Openbills and Black-headed Ibises were still remaining at the roost. Mainly the Black-crowned night Herons were heard while they were leaving the roost.
Common Kingfisher, a pair of Little Grebes and Red-wattled Lapwing heard at other places.
There were other birds, such as Greater Coucals, Green-imperial pigeons, Spotted Doves, White-browed Bulbuls, Red-vented Bulbuls, Common Mynahs, Black-headed Orioles, etc. from trees on bank of the tank or from surrounding home gardens participated in the morning bird chorus. Heavy rain began by 6.30 am following the lightning and thundering that continued from predawn.
As it expects from having an International Dawn Chorus Day it indicates profusely to the listeners the presence of a rich birdlife at wetlands and adjoining habitats in suburban areas, and also it signifies the importance of preserving these habitats.
Deepal Warakagoda, 3rd May 2015
Dawn chorus at home garden
In the end of April my father told me that the International dawn chorus day is on 3rd of May. He told that he is going to Talangama Tank to listen to the dawn chorus there on that day and asked whether my mother and me can do the same at our home garden. So, today my mother and me went in to the garden at 5.20 a.m. equipped with an audio recorder which my father set up for me yesterday. At first there was only insects and shrub frogs calling and it was still dark. Dawn was around 6.30 a.m. and the first one to call was the Asian Koel.
Then the other birds began to call, Red-vented Bulbul and Yellow-billed Babbler joined the koel.
The Oriental White-eye joined the chorus with singing its rather soft, undulating and melodious song. And the Red-vented Bulbul continued to sing with more of its different types of songs.
And there were two Red-vented Bulbuls singing from their own territories while the other birds continue their chorus. The finest songbird in our home gardens the Oriental Magpie-Robin participated only with a single ‘peee..’ note in the background.
As the dawn chorus continues more birds joined in. Such as Common Tailorbird, Purple-rumped Sunbird, Black-headed Oriole, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Greater Coucal, and the Rose-ringed Parakeet flew over.
Two Common Tailorbirds joined in the chorus with their very loud calls. The Brown-headed Barbet came in to the chorus with its fast, loud song while the parakeets flew over and thunder rumbled in the sky.
While I was recording my mother wrote down the birds which called. At about 6.20 a.m. we had to stop our listening session, because the rain started to pour down. The dawn chorus day is meant to listen and enjoy the chorus of birds in the morning, so actually my mother and me enjoyed it very much today. Also it was an opportunity to learn about the bird calls further.
At noon July 8th I heard a very exciting piece of news on the phone from a birding friend Tara Wikramanayake that she found seven Fulvous Whistling-ducks (Dendrocygna bicolor) at Anavilundawa tank that morning and further more a pair had ducklings with them. The news was first unbelievable to me as this whistling-duck has been a rare vagrant to Sri Lanka with just over a handful of records in the country for the last eight decades, was rarely recorded even before that, and never as a breeding resident. It was hard to believe not only that there were that many together now but they were also breeding here! However, she was quite certain about her discovery and her lengthy description of her observation in the morning convinced me to think that it would be worth making a visit to Anavilundawa. I quickly phoned a few of my birding colleagues Palitha Antony, Uditha Hettige and Chinthaka De Silva and planned to make a visit to the site next day morning.
On 9th July at mid morning we reached the tank and soon after our arrival Chinthaka and Uditha spotted a largish whistling-duck flying over us to the adjoining tank (Suruwila Tank) and disappearing behind trees in middle of the tank. Though the distinguishing features were not seen well both of them thought that it could well have been a Fulvous Whistling-duck mainly due to its size. With that sighting we knew that there was something unusual at Anavilundawa. Soon, equipped with our optics and sound recording gear we continued walking on the bund of Anavilundawa. We didn’t have to walk far, we spotted a pair of whistling-ducks which appeared quite rufous, which was standing amongst Water Hyacinth in the water not far from the bund, and they were unmistakably Fulvous Whistling-ducks! Little further up we found the pair with ducklings and also a few more adult birds in the tank. All these sightings amazed us and we were very happy that our visit here paid off so well. Later in the day Uditha managed to count 20 adult birds in the area.
So, Tara was absolutely right, not only that now this whistling-duck is found in several pairs in the country but they are breeding here too.
Breeding pair with ducklings at Anavilundawa. Photo: Palitha Antony
The closest known breeding grounds of this whistling-duck is in North-East India and elsewhere in India it is a rare vagrant as it was in Sri Lanka before. This protected wetland in Sri Lanka becomes the only other known breeding site in the whole of the South Asia region. It is a sanctuary and also a Ramsar Site. It is very unexpected that such a vagrant has suddenly begun to breed here. It is difficult to explain why. Possibly a flock flew down to Sri Lanka during the last migrant season and for some reason stayed back at the end of the migrant season to settle in Anavilundawa with other breeding birds there such as Lesser whistling-ducks, Common Coots, Common Moorhens, Purple Swamphens, Pheasant-tailed Jacans, etc. This tank is surrounded closely by many large trees and is well vegetated, most of its surface being covered with water plants, and has the atmosphere of a jungle tank. The nearby two large tanks, Suruwula and Maiyawa, are more open and very suitable as further feeding grounds.All these factors may have played a role in these whistling-ducks staying on in Sri Lanka as this wetland complex provides a secure and suitable habitat for breeding. Only time will tell us whether they will continue to live and breed here.
Fulvous Whistling-duck at Anavilundawa taking off, showing its distinctive features – large cream streaks on flnks, cream on uppertail and all dark upperwing. Photo: Palitha Antony
We observed that two further pairs engaged in breeding behaviour, one pair engaging in courtship display and the other pair in copulation. Five days later Dr. Senaka Abeyratne and his two sons Varuna and Akila, visited this tank and found another pair with ducklings not more than a few days old.
Second breeding pair with ducklings at Anavilundawa. Photo: Senaka Abeyratne
The Fulvous Whistling-duck has a quite different call to that of the familiar whistling call of the Lesser Whistling-duck. I managed to take some good sound recordings of this call and one is featured below.
The Call of the Lesser Whistling-duck that was made on the same day at the site, is given below for comparison. There is also call of the Fulvous Whistling-duck heard once in this track.
Myself, Chinthaka and Uditha looking at the Fulvous Whistling-ducks at Anavilundawa tank. Photo: Palitha Antony
The Sunday Times of today carries a long article on this: http://www.sundaytimes.lk/150726/plus/a-rare-feast-of-beautiful-vagrants-158224.html
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A Common Hawk Cuckoo of the resident population (H. v. ciceliae) near Kandy in Feb. 2013.
I was quite excited to hear a Common Hawk Cuckoo (Hierococcyx varius) singing early morning today (18th) in the area I live (between Nugegoda and Maharagama). It was singing loudly on a tree a few gardens away from mine. I have never noted a Common hawk Cuckoo before in this area. This is probably the first time a hawk cuckoo was heard singing quite close to Colombo. Initially I couldn’t see the singing bird but managed to get a couple of recordings of its song. It sang for about an hour on and off and finally I saw it when it flew over my garden.
This is primarily a hill country bird. It is also found in the foot hill areas. The resident breeding population belongs to the race H. v. ciceliae. They are well known to parasitice the Yellow-billed Babblers which take care of the young ones of this cuckoo.
I believe the singing male hawk cuckoo occurred in my area should probably be a bird from the resident race. They appears to be slowly expanding their range in the country during the recent time. First occurrence of this cuckoo was noted in Kitulgala at the foothills of central hills, only a few years ago and now they have established in the area. The closest place to Colombo known to me so far where a singing bird has been noted and photographed, from a place near Horana in May 2012. In August this year there was an immature hawk cuckoo seen and photographed in Kotikawatte near Angoda. This imm. bird was not heard vocalizing while it was there for a few days. It appears that the resident birds are exploring new areas possibly to establish for breeding.
Following two sounds I recorded this morning. As the bird was singing from bit far away from where I was the recordings are with lot of background sounds.
The following two recordings of a singing male Common Hawk Cuckoo I made at Katukitula in the mid hills, between Nuwara Eliya and Gampola, in January 2003, featured hear for comparison due to their better quality in sound.The first (‘sound 3’) is the primary song and the second (‘sound 4’) is at times followed by the first in singing, and is also sung by a male hawk cuckoo as a threatening song towards other singing male cuckoos in the area.
A Common Hawk Cuckoo of the resident population (H. v. ciceliae) near Kandy in Feb. 2013.
Male Magpie-robin sings its subsong in a flower tree.
Subsong of Oriental Magpie-Robin
A male Oriental Magpie-Robin is singing its subsong these days in my home garden. It sings from inside of a dense flower tree, fairly well hidden in the foliage, perched about six feet from the ground, and sings mostly in mid morning and afternoon. These singing sessions are long, and also phrases of the subsong are much longer than those of the magpie-robin’s full song.
Male Magpie-Robins start to sing their subsong when their breeding season approaches. Once they are ready to start their breeding activities the males sing their loud, full song from a quite exposed, high positions (i.e. top of tall trees, top of TV antennas) within the territory of each pair. Their subsong is quite soft and hardly heard beyond several metres unlike the full song. Composition of the subsong is also very much different to that of the full song, a phrase of it is quite long and composed of a number of different softly uttered notes.
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Tail of this male magpie-robin is in moult. It’s another sign that it is getting ready for on coming breeding season (they moult their feathers and get ready to breeding with their newly grown fresh plumage). Once it gets its tail feathers fully grown it will soon start to sing its loud phrases of full song from tree tops and the like.
I recorded a couple of sessions of the singing male and parts of these phrases of its subsong are featured below. (A Spotted Dove also sings in the background).
Male Magpie-robin sings its subsong in a flower tree.
I hear two male Red-vented Bulbuls are singing from tree tops in the morning these days in and around my home garden. They utter a sequence of ‘ginger beer’ song on and off during their singing sessions.
The Red-vented Bulbul (pycnonotus cafer) is a familiar garden bird and very common everywhere in the country. Male Red-vented Bulbuls sing quite pleasant songs during the main breeding season of the birds in the country, which is the first half of year, although this bird nests almost throughout the year. Song repertoire of this bulbul is quite varied and consists of many songs with pleasing sounds. Amongst these ‘ginger beer’ is one distinct song uttered in sequence with other songs in the repertoire.
Red-vented Bulbul (pycnonotus cafer), photo by Uditha Hettige.
The ‘ginger beer’ song featured below was recorded by me in May 2008 in my home garden.
G. M. Henry in his classic work on the Sri Lankan birds ‘A Guide to the Birds of Ceylon (1955)’ writes this onomatopoeic name ‘ginger beer’ under the account of Red-vented Bulbul (pages 19-20) to describe this distinctive song type of the bird.
The Asian Koels (Eudynamys scolopaceus) in my home area are still singing. They started singing in February and still continuing it. Males start to sing well before dawn and going on with it almost throughout early part of morning, and then sing on and off during the day time. Then frequency of singing increases again by evening.
They were singing frequently almost throughout the day time during last few months, and in that time they were also singing in some nights. There are about five males are singing and several females are calling within the area which I can hear.
Asian Koel, male. Photo by Uditha Hettige.
I still did not notice the Jungle or Large-billed Crows (Corvus macrorhynchos) are attempting to nest in this area. But, about just quarter of a kilometre away along the Highlevel road there are few pairs of House Crows (Corvus splendens) started to build nests on electric and telephone posts. However, I wonder whether the females in my home area will ever get a chance to lay eggs in these House Crow nests as there are already other koels are singing in the vicinity of these nests.
Besides the males’ very distinct and familiar song they also sing another type of song time to time, of which the purpose appears to be also for advertising their presence to the females.
The familiar song of the males featured below was recorded on 03rd May 2012 in my home garden. It is the sound which connects the koha (the Koel) with the Sinhala Awrudu (the Sinhala New Year) in April.
Females have a very different vocalization in contrast to the songs of the males. Males also utter the same call on and off, and it is the only vocalization heard from both sexes during non-breeding season when the males do not sing.
Asian Koel, female. Photo by Uditha Hettige.
Call of female featured below was recorded on 03rd May 2012 in my home garden.
Red-vented Bulbul (pycnonotus cafer ), photo by Uditha Hettige.
At times in the morning I now hear up to four male Red-vented Bulbuls singing from their regular ‘song posts’ within vicinity of my home garden. Two of them sing from their regular tree tops (i.e. ‘song posts’) of two immediate neighbouring gardens and the other two from their ‘song posts’ in the gardens further up. I recorded few song repertoires of one of the males in close vicinity and parts of three repertoires are featured below showing some of the different songs that these bulbuls sing during their breeding season.
Sound track below features a part of repertoire with about four different types of songs. Singing of one of the distant bulbuls can also hear in background of this track.
Sound track below features a part of repertoire with about three different types of songs including the ‘ginger beer’ song at the end (the last two songs), which I described in my last posting in the blog.
Sound track below features a part of repertoire with about six different types of songs including a song sounds ‘sweet potatoes’ at the end (the last two songs), as G. M. Henry names this song type under description of vocalization of the Red-vented Bulbul in his classic book on Sri Lankan birds ‘A guide to the Birds of Ceylon’ (1955).
On the vocalizations of Yellow-rumped Flycatcher at Tanamalvila
On 18 January I visited the site in Tanamalvila where a male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher (Ficedula zathogygia) was found on 3 Jan. 2012 by Amila Salgado. I was there in the mid morning and spent looking for the bird while listening for any unfamiliar bird sound, and about half an hour had gone without any luck. Then I suddenly heard an unfamiliar subsong of a bird and soon realized that it has to be the flycatcher I’m looking for. I quickly started recording the subsong before I tried to see the bird. I was quite eager to see the bird but I kept the recorder going on for few more minutes before I finally tracked down the singer.
Male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher (Ficedula zathogygia), a photo taken by Uditha Hettige at the same location some days ago I saw it.
It was my second sighting of this beautiful flycatcher in Sri Lanka, I had found the same species for the first time in Sri Lanka on 7 March 1999. It was on Sellakataragam-Buttala road in Yala Block III. While birdwatching there along the road I heard an unfamiliar melodious song, a somewhat loud song comprising of rather short phrases which reminiscent of parts of the songs of Oriental Magpie-Robin. Looking for the singer I found a beautiful flycatcher singing up on a tree, which was then little later identified as a male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher. I was very excited to see this very beautiful flycatcher then as it was new for me as well as for the country!
This time in January the flycatcher in Tanamalvila was only singing its subsong, quite long phrases comprising of high-pitched warbling and squeaking notes, which is sung quite softly (as usual with singing subsongs by the song birds). Probably this male will sing its crystallized or full song in March before it leaves Sri Lanka.
I visited the site again on 21 Jan. morning and I had to spent more time than it was on the previous occasion till I heard the flycatcher. This time I first heard its calls, a whistled ‘pweep’ sometimes followed by a rattle ‘trirrri’ (reminiscent of the call of Kashmir Flycatcher). Later it sang the subsong for a while too.
The following track features a recording of subsong made on the 21st. It has been edited slightly with reduction of unwanted background sounds to some extent. Subsong is the soft, high-pitched notes heard in a continuous uttering, and sounds of some other birds are also evident in background of the track (i.e. Brown-headed Barbet, Indian Peafowl and Pale-billed Flowerpecker ).
The following track features a recording of the calls made on the 21st. It has been edited slightly with reduction of unwanted background sounds to some extent. The calls heard are the whistled ‘pweep’ sound and the rattle ‘trirrri’, and sounds of some other birds are also evident in background of the track (i.e. Coppersmith Barbet, Black-headed Oriole, Forest Wagtail, Indian Peafowl and Brown-headed Barbet ).
I have kept the best recordings of subsong and calls of this flycatcher I made on 18th and 21st Jan. to be featured in the forthcoming Vol. 2 of Bird Sounds and Images of Sri Lanka (a CD-ROM compilation of which Vol.1 published in 2008).