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.
Sunday 3rd May is the International Dawn Chorus Day. The birds that utter their sounds in the early morning make the dawn chorus. This day is marked to enjoy this nature’s daily wonder and thereby understand importance of the natural world and its conservation.
On this day people can experience the dawn chorus either in their home garden or at another habitat nearby. Listening in the early morning you can learn what birds mix their sounds in to the dawn chorus this time of the year. Also, you can enjoy melody and pleasant nature of the sounds of these birds. We are in the tropics can experience the birds that breed in the area this time of the year would be the first to come to sing in the chorus. If you wish, you are welcome to share your experience of dawn chorus that you will hear on the day, in this blog by emailing your relevant notes, etc.
Enjoy the dawn chorus in your area on the Sunday 3rd May.
Below is a part of recording of dawn chorus that I made at Nilgala forest a few years ago.
In this chorus the following birds are present (roughly in order of they appear along the sound track): Pale-billed Flowerpecker, Coppersmith Barbet (in background), Marshall’s Iora, Common Iora, Purple-rumped Sunbird, Black-capped Bulbul (in background), Black-headed Oriole, White-rumped Shama (in background), Grey-breasted Prinia, Black-headed Cuckooshrike, Cinereous (Grey/Great) Tit and Brown-headed Barbet (in background).
There is an active heronry at Diyawanna Oya near the Parliament, where Black-headed Ibises, Black-crowned Night Herons, Little Egrets, Intermediate Egrets, Night Herons and Little Cormorants are still continue nesting. Breeding activities of waterbirds at this heronry has been going on for a several months now. Before Sinhala New Year my friend Plaitha, a wildlife photographer, and I paid our second visit to this heronry mainly to photograph some of the birds in their breeding plumage.
Black-headed Ibises, Black-crowned Night Herons, Little Egrets, Intermediate Egrets and Night Herons at the heronry.
While Palitha was photographing the birds I tried to capture sound at this heronry. Though passing traffic was quite loud I managed to get some sound recordings of the nesting site. Track below features some selected parts of the recordings.
Palitha had also captured the sound recordist at work.
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.
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.
The other song of the males featured below was recorded on 12th May 2012 in my home garden. In this recording other koels in the area are also heard, including the call of the females described below.
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.