Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

Welcome the New Year listening to the ‘Nature’

December 31, 2013

In the soft dawn of a New Year, a sweet sound will steal your heart

For the many preparing to see in 2014 to the booming sound of rock bands and firecrackers the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka has a counter-proposal: welcome the dawn of the New Year to the sweet sound of the dawn chorus. Birds are nature’s wonderful songsters and they sing every morning to welcome the day but their songs mostly go unnoticed due to our busy lifestyle. With all their skills, musicians and composers who have been inspired by the charms of birdsong have not been able to emulate the perfection of Nature’s melody.

The Sunbird. Pix courtesy J.F.R.De Fonseka

Says FOGSL, there’s no better way to see in the New Year than by listening to our birds singing their dawn chorus, but if January 1 is disturbed by the sounds of crackers and you are feeling too sleepy from late-night partying to wake up in time to hear the birds, select any day of the first week of 2014 and listen to nature’s symphony to remind yourself of the need to be closer to nature.

If you listen to the dawn chorus in your area regularly you will notice changes in the melody as some birds intensify their singing during the breeding season. The best example is the well-known songster, the Asian Koel (koha), who starts singing its beautiful song to attract its mate around April.

The Oriental Magpie Robin (polkichcha) is another common songster that enriches the dawn chorus by singing from the highest point in the area. The birds start the day around 4:30-5 a.m. Get up early before sunrise and keep listening!

Oriental Magpie Robin

Oriental Magpie Robin – A common songster in our home gardens

The Spotted Dove

published on SundayTimes on 29.12.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/131229/news/in-the-soft-dawn-of-a-new-year-a-sweet-sound-will-steal-your-heart-78041.html

Our feathered friends from across the seas are back

September 24, 2013

The birds are back and one of the earliest migratory visitors to Sri Lanka away from the harsh winters in the north is the Blue-Tailed Bee-Eater, point out Ornithologists.

Blue-tailed Bee-eater (c) Rajiv Welikala - Copy

These birds leave their breeding grounds mainly in northern India and settle down here in various parts of the country, even in our home gardens. As its name implies the bird’s staple diet consists of flying insects such as bees dragonflies and butterflies. In the absence of trees their favourite perching platforms consists of television antennas and electric wires, making them a common sight even in a busy urban environment.

It has been recorded that some migratory birds arrive in Sri Lanka as early as August, but a majority make their journey from mid-September to October.

While some of these migrants fly into wetlands and forested areas, many of them opt for home gardens in urban areas. The Barn Swallow, Forest Wagtail, Brown Shrike, Brown Flycatcher, Asian Paradise Flycatcher (sudu redi hora) and Indian Pitta (Avichchiya) are a familiar sight in home gardens this time of the year.

The Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) has this year too asked bird enthusiasts and other householders to keep an eye on who comes when and who leaves when, to help build up more data on migrant birds. In 2011 the group launched the programme, Migrant WATCH, to promote the observation of migrants and in turn their safety.

A Slaty-legged Crake rescued from the heart of Colombo a couple of years ago

Sometimes these migrants exhausted by their long-distance flight collide with window panes and get hurt. They can also become easy prey to domestic cats and dogs.

Bird experts say if one finds a migrant bird in distress put it in a cardboard with a few holes for ventilation and place the box in a quiet warm place. It if is too weak to fly it is recommended that small amounts of low concentrated glucose saline with Vitamin C be given. When the bird is able to fly again release it in a proper environment, the experts say.

Join these events 

The Migrant WATCH will be launched on September 29 (Sunday) with a birding session at the Thalangama Tank in Battaramulla at 7 a.m. A lecture on ‘Waders and Other Migrant Birds’ will be delivered the day before, September 28 (Saturday) at 9.30 a.m. at the Zoology Department of the University of Colombo. The FOGSL especially welcomes those who are new to bird watching to take part in these events

Some of the other events organised include a wader workshop at the Bundala National Park (from October 16-20)) and a field visit to Mannar (December 13-16). For more information about these programmes contact FOGSL on 2501332 or 0718440144 or email fogsl@slt.lk

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130922/news/our-feathered-friends-from-across-the-seas-are-back-63367.html 

The elusive New Year messenger

April 14, 2013

Today is Avurudu but have you heard the messenger of the New Year, the koha? �The song of the koha, or the Asian Koel, is a special part of the Avurudu season, like the Western cuckoo is termed the first harbinger of Spring. But do we hear the koha’s melodious song as frequently as in the past or is it fading away like other Avurudu symbols such as erabadu flowers and cadju puhulam? ..or has change of the climate made an impact for timining of this melodious call..? – by Malaka Rodrigo

Pic by Udara Samaraweera

Some readers reported hearing koha’s song less frequently this year. “I haven’t heard the koha in my neigbourhood,”lamented Gayani Karunatilake, who lives in Nugegoda.�Reaction is varied. Responding to a query posted on the Facebook group“Nature”, Kavinda Jayasooriya said he noticed koha calls had increased this year.

Posting on the same group, Jagath Gunawardane, an ardent birdwatcher, said that based on his observations the koha’s call was less frequent now. “The calling reached a peak during the last days of March, and now we are having a reduction in calling. It will be even less during the New Year days,”he predicts.

Sarath Ekanayake, had a different view. “During March-April this year, kohas could not be seen or heard in my surrounding area around Kandy,” he said.

“I saw the koel in February but haven’t heard the calling.”�Mr Ekanayake also shared an interesting observation from a villager of Ambalangoda who said the koha was being found in large numbers in home gardens in the area, sometimes in flocks of five to seven birds.

So what makes these changes..? could the changing climate has made an impact for the timing of Koel’s song..? 

Studies in other countries show that timing of migratory birds are slightly changing. ScienceDaily last year reported that climate change and global warming has started changing the migratory patterns of the birds. (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120223142642.htm). Ornithologists believe that the urge to migrate is triggered by a series of facts such as day length and the new report which was published on PLoS journal points out that the timing of arrival of the migratory birds have now got advanced.

Ornithologists highlight the impact for the birds due to early arrival can be bad. Professor of biology Allen Hurlbert says that “Timing of bird migration is something critical for the overall health of bird species”. “They have to time it right so they can balance arriving on breeding grounds after there’s no longer a risk of severe winter conditions. If they get it wrong, they may die or may not produce as many young. A change in migration could begin to contribute to population decline, putting many species at risk for extinction”

Prof.Sarath Kotagama, the foremost Ornithologist of Sri Lanka says there are no particular scientific data on changing of migratory patterns in birds that comes to Sri Lanka, but stress the importance of collecting data on migratory birds and scientists also says Global Warming can impact the timing of breeding. The koel’s song is its breeding call, and the posibility of any impact could not be ruled out.

But to conclude, scientific data is required. The migratory patterns of the birds in America have been researched using bird observation data feed into internet based eBird forum by amateur Ornithologists. Since 2002, eBird has collected more than 48 million bird observations from roughly 35,000 contributors. This kind of Citizen Science program is proposed for Sri Lanka as well.

Addressing the Annual BirdWatchers’ Conference organised by FOGSL on March 30, Mr. Fernando said everyone could help in the conservation of birds by properly documenting and sharing those casual observations.

“If you observe the birds around you throughout the year, you can easily monitor any changing patterns of different birds” he added. “Different people have different perceptions on whether the Asian koel is found in their gardens as frequently as last year and whether its song is heard.

“If we kept a record last year on days we heard the koha, or the numbers in which they visited our gardens, then we can compare those records and make conclusions as we have a data set to compare.”�These simple observations collectively could be used as scientific data to monitor any decline or change in population.

The Asian koel is omnivorous, and the large numbers of crows solve their housing needs so the bird can adapt to rapid urbanisation. Ornithologists in general do not see a decline of its numbers. “But no one can say that even the koha is perfectly safe as there can be unexpected phenomena affecting even common birds,” says Chandima Fernando of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL).

“The house sparrow was once very common around Sri Lanka. But they are not to be seen any more in many areas. This population decline could have occurred over a period of time but because we haven’t monitored them, we didn’t realise they were in trouble,” he said.

Mr. Fernando also revealed that FOGSL plans to launch another Citizen Science program called “Garden Bird Watch” and welcomes the Sunday Times readers interesting in joining the initiative to send an e-mail to fogslcs@gmail.com or call FOGSL secretariat on 011-2501332.

Perhaps this Aluth Avurudu is the best time to pay some attention to the common birds. Why not start by observing the koha this year? If you can capture any photographs of kohas, send them to the Sunday Times or email to fogslcs@gmail.com.

The bandit bird

The Avurudu song of the koha is the song of the male vying with other cuckoos to impress a mate. The melody signals the start of the breeding season, which usually coincides with the April festive season.�As the koha’s melodious song is seasonal it is commonly believed that the Asian koel is a migratory bird but Prof.Sarath Kotagama says this is a misconception. The Asian koel could be seen in our home gardens throughout the year if we look closely.

The Asian koel, like many other cuckoos, lay eggs in the nests of other species. Different cuckoos target the nests of different birds. Our beloved “Avurudu koha”selects the crows as foster parents for its young.�The male koel deliberately distracts the crows to allow the female koel to lay its egg in the crow’s nest. A single egg is usually laid, and sometimes the female egg even throws out the host’s egg.

Some baby cuckoos eject the host fledgeling but the koha young are not hardwired to that bad habit. Nevertheless they are very active and quick and eat most of the food brought to the nest by the foster-parents, which eventually causes the baby crows to starve. By the time the crow mothers realise something is wrong the koel is strong enough to flee the nest and the angry foster parents. The male Asian koel is blackish with red eyes, while the female is spotted and often mis-identified as a different species.

Published on SundayTimes on 14.04.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130414/news/the-elusive-new-year-messenger-40857.html

Rise for the Sparrow – where has gone our ‘ge kurullas’..?

March 20, 2013

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) is indeed a special bird that was common decades ago. They were considered a good-will bird, so boxes, pots with holes were kept inviting them to nest near our houses. Sparrows were a common scene in most  the public places like markets or railway stations. But this bird once commonly recorded started to disappear without our knowledge. Now Sparrows are gone from many places they were once common or their numbers have reduced. This decline of sparrows has been recorded from different parts of the world puzzling the Ornithologists.

The decline of Sparrow under our radar has also highlighted the importance of keeping an eye even on common species. To highlight these facts and promote sparrow conservation, the 20th March has been declared as World Sparrows Day (WSD) by a group of Environmental Organizations around the world. The theme this year is given as “Rise for the Sparrows” urging the public to have a look at these birds once common in their vicinity.

rise for the sparrows

The World Sparrow’s Day has been initiated by the Nature Forever Society of India in collaboration with the Eco-Sys Action Foundation (France) and numerous other national and international organisations across the world according to Wikipidea. Their website http://www.worldsparrowday.org mentions the theme ‘Rise for the Sparrow’ is aimed at empowering and inspiring citizens, corporate and educational institution to actively get involved in sparrow conservation, monitoring and creating awareness with regard to the conservation of house sparrow and other common birds. They aim to reach out to people across the the world to empower them with simple solutions which will not involve a lot of time and resources but at the same time will have a significant impact on sparrow conservation.

Elephants or Leopard could be more threatened, but we can do very little to protect them. But here is an opportunity to study and help a bird that is being declined in our presence. Following is World Sparrow Day organizers mentioned on ways you can help the Sparrows..

Male House Sparrow (c) Wikipedia

Male House Sparrow (c) Wikipedia

YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE (Extract from http://www.worldsparrowday.org)

Every creature has a significant role to play in the web of life. Just as the little house sparrow is a major indicator of the health of our environment, each of us can help in various ways to protect the house sparrow. We need to come forward to help the bird by raising awareness on the issue. We also need to start house sparrow habitat conservation drives by providing water and food regularly, by switching back to organic gardening, planting more hedges and putting up nest boxes dedicated to house sparrows.

CHIRP FOR THE HOUSE SPARROW!

Do you identify with the problem the house sparrow faces? Share with us ways you came up with to help the bird.

Would you like to help but can’t think of a way to reach out? Look up our ideas. Which group do you identify with? There’s an idea for everyone!

The lonesome one some sparrow :

If you are an individual and would prefer to celebrate World Sparrow Day by yourself or with a small group, you could resolve to set out a sparrow feeder filled with grain and a fresh bowl of water every day beginning March (?) 2011, at the same time and the same place. House sparrows love seeds and kitchen scraps. They feed their young insects with aphids and caterpillars. Most birds need to drink water at least twice a day, throughout the year. Sparrows, which are seed eaters, need more water since the seeds are dry. Put out a shallow dish of clean water in a shady place. Make sure the water is changed regularly, otherwise, the birds can fall ill.

Gather information :

on the problem and address a group of people to raise awareness.

Cosy twosome :

Sparrows are known to be extremely loyal to their partners. Just like you! Celebrate their commitment to each other with your loved one. One reason why there are fewer house sparrows is modern construction. House sparrows love to tuck into crevices but glass and concrete constructions leave little space for them. You can order nest boxes made of recycled wood from us or put up your own.

The happy, chirpy family :

Go for a picnic. Remember to take some grain. Set them out near a thicket, some distance from you, and watch for sparrows and other small birds. Teach children the importance of birds and how we must give them space. Make sure you leave the picnic spot as clean as you found it except for the crumbs and grain you left for your feathered friends.

A school of sparrows :

Are you a member of your school Ecology Club? Celebrate WSD with a presentation on why we need the house sparrow, the dangers it is facing and how each of you can help. Put up feeders and nesting boxes.

Prof Sparrow :

College eco clubs can twitter away. Organise an awareness campaign with posters and audio visual information in a public place that draws the most footfalls and eyeballs, like the entrance lobby of your college. Put up feeders and nesting boxes.

Sparrow community :

There is a lot more you can do in your neighbourhood, office or institution! Request the local municipal authorities to permit you to plant hedges in the park. Don’t allow the hedges to be landscaped, since that is dangerous to birds, small animals and insects. Place grain bowls regularly at one place in the park or on the window sill, but make sure the feeding birds are safe from dogs, cats and human footfalls.

E-savvy sparrow :

Are you adept at social networking? Place our link and all the others that deal with the house sparrow on your account so that all your friends get to know about the threat to the doughty little bird.

Locals target endemic birds as pets & Birds detected at BIA raises Interpol concern

March 11, 2012

Locals Target Endemic Birds as Pets
by Malaka Rodrigo

A bird-import racket was busted by the Customs last week, but another covert and illicit bird trade is being conducted within the country. The operatives catch birds in remote areas, sometimes deep in the jungles, and supply these to pet shops. The law allows only exotic birds to be kept as pets, but these pet shop owners deal in any indigenous birds.

Parrots, munias, the black-headed oriole, grackles and even sparrows are among the birds being traded. The grackle, or Hill Myna, known locally as Salalihiniya, is especially vulnerable. The bird is in big demand because it comes under the business category of “birds that can talk.”

The grackle, or Hill Myna

The racket came to light last year when a Galle resident was caught in the act of delivering grackles caught in the wild to a pet shop in Mount Lavinia. Acting on a tip-off that birds were being transported to Colombo, Madura de Silva and Nadeeka Hapurarachchie of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle, accompanied by members of the Flying Squad of the Department of Wildlife Conservation, lay in wait near the Mt. Lavinia pet shop in question.

A three-wheeler drew up in front of the pet shop, and a man stepped out. He was caught in the act of handing over a plastic crate containing grackles to the pet shop owner. The man told the Flying Squad the grackles were caught in the jungles of Gampola. He said he had also supplied other bird species, including the Layard’s Parakeet, a bird endemic to Sri Lanka. It is understood that the illicit bird business has been going on for quite some time. The bird supplier and the pet shop owner were both fined.

Madura de Silva told the Sunday Times that there seems to be a growing demand for endemic local birds. Some of these birds have permanent nesting sites, and repeatedly visit the same tree and tree hole to lay their eggs. This makes them easy prey to bird catchers.

It is quite common for villagers to keep birds, such as the mynah and the rose-ringed parakeet, as pets. Usually, these are birds that have been found abandoned or lost as fledglings, and out of compassion the villagers adopt the birds and take care of them. It is a different situation in the towns and city, where illegal bird trading is a lucrative business.

While these birds may not be threatened species, they could be in danger if they became heavily targeted species, warned Madura de Silva.

All indigenous and migratory birds, except five bird species, are protected under the Fauna and Flora Ordinance of Sri Lanka. The five unprotected species are the Large-billed Crow, the House Crow, the Rose-ringed Parakeet, the Scaly-breasted Munia and the white-backed Munia. The Rose-ringed Parakeet and two species of Munia are often available for sale in pet shops.

It is illegal to keep even unprotected bird species without a licence, says environment lawyer Jagath Gunawardane. He believes there are a few organised groups engaged in the illicit bird trade, but the “situation is not out of control.” He recommended a proper investigation to review the situation.

Birds Detected at BIA Raises Interpol Concerns

  • Exotic species brought into country illegally to be sold at exorbitant amounts
  • Questions over co-ordination of various agencies involved in implementing Animal Diseases ActThe recent detection at the BIA of an attempt to smuggle several exotic varieties of birds into the country has triggered interest of the Interpol that is probing whether this was part of a global live animal trafficking trade.

By Chandani Kirinde

Interpol’s Environmental Crime Committee in a letter to the Criminal investigation Department (CID) has requested any intelligence that the CID may have gathered from investigations into the illicit trafficking of birds, the Sunday Times learns.

Samantha Gunasekera

The recent detection was of a consignment of 121 live birds brought down by a regular importer who had documents to support the import of only ten birds as per the permits issued by the Department of Wild Life Conservation (DWC). These permits are given only after a quarantine report is obtained from the importer as required under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The market value of the birds was around Rs. 13.6 million but the declared value was just US $ 1130 (around Rs. 120,000). The man was fined Rs 450,000 and the birds were handed over to the National Zoological Gardens where they will go on display in about a month’s time. The ten birds for which the man had proper documentation were handed over to him.

While most of the birds were varieties of parrots, what was disturbing was that among them were several small exotic varieties of duck and a pair of swans which are high-risk carries of Avian flu (bird flu).

Customs Bio-Diversity unit Director General Samantha Gunasekera who led the detection having kept tabs on the importer for more than a year and having been tipped off by an informant said this was perhaps one of the few cases that was detected while in other instances live animal and bird cargo are smuggled into the country for ornamental purposes to be sold at exorbitant rates.

Another shocking revelation was the amount people are willing to pay to buy different types of macaw and cockatoos to keep as pets. The blue and gold Macaw, indigenous to South America is sold at around Rs.1. 2 million while prices of other exotic birds range between Rs. 100,000 and Rs. One million. (See graphic for prices of imported birds sold in Sri Lanka). “The bird consignments come from Bangkok but the birds originate from South America, Australia or New Zealand,” Mr.Gunasekera said.

While the Customs Department makes the detections, the quarantine office run by officials of the Department of Animal Production and Health (DAPH) are entrusted with checking live cargo. “The importer has to inform the Department when the consignment is due and our officials check them when they arrive to give clearance.

If there is some suspicion we keep the animals or birds at a quarantine centre outside the airport and release them later,” a spokesman for the Department Dr. Susil Silva said. However, the Sunday Times learns that the DAPH has come under criticism particularly that the live cargo is not examined properly and that regular importers are allowed to leave with the goods without proper scrutiny.

When questioned Dr.Silva said the Department works with the resources available and that so far the Department has ensured that no diseases are brought into the country. “We have to implement the Animal Diseases Act and that is what our officials do,” he said.

The Sunday Times found out that with varying government agencies involved in enforcing laws pertaining to this area, there seemed a lack of co-ordination. For example the Department of Wild Life Conservation (DWC) which issues permits and is entrusted with carrying out raids now functions under the Ministry of Agrarian Services and Wild Life whereas it was earlier under the Ministry of Environment which formulates policy on environment related matters. The co-ordination between the DAPH and the Customs too seemed inadequate.

Environment activist and lawyer Jagath Gunawardena said although the Flora and Fauna Ordinance provides adequate laws to deal with the import and export of live and endangered species of both animal and plant what was lacking was its implementation as well as trained officers.

“The law has been amended to meet present day situations but it has to be better implemented and we need more trained personnel so that we can close the loopholes that exist,” he said. Meanwhile, Samantha Gunasekera of the Customs said that other than the import of live animals, the unchecked import of various types of plants and fish too has proved to be hazardous to local bio diversity.

One of the 121 consignment of birds that were detected at the airport. Pic by Mangala Weerasekera

“I warned many years ago that the import of piranhas and knife fish was detrimental to the survival of fish species. Their import was banned much later but now these fish are found in our waterways,” he said.

He added that similarly other types of animal imports could cause much harm. “The Customs sometime back detected a pair of ferrets that had been imported as pets but these creatures are a highly invasive species and if released into the wild could wreak havoc by killing off many of the smaller animals found here,” he said.

“We need to educate the public as well as have better trained people to ensure that both local bio diversity is protected and there is no trafficking of endangered species,” he added.

Permits before pets

The Department of Animal Production and Health has reiterated that those who want to bring their pets (cats, dogs, birds etc.) into the country need to obtain an import permit from the Department prior to their arrival in Sri Lanka.

An official said despite many public notices to this effect, many airline passengers still continue to bring pets without a valid permit and this has caused inconvenience to the quarantine officers who are forced to send them back to the countries from where they were flown in.

He said, sometimes the pets are not accepted by the respective countries and are sent back to Sri Lanka, causing further inconvenience to officials and the owners.

Published on SundayTimes on 19.02.2012 www.sundaytimes.lk/120219/News/nws_13.html

Feathered migrants come back to Bundala Wetland

October 30, 2011

It’s the migratory season, and birds from overseas are arriving to stay out the winter months with us. And some of the visitors are old friends, writes Malaka Rodrigo

Sri Lanka is the destination of choice for a variety of migrant birds, and they usually stop over at the same sites every year.

This was proved by two feathered visitors – a Common Redshank and a Lesser Sand Plover – that were captured recently in the Bundala National Park, on the southern coast.A team of bird lovers working for the National Bird Ringing Programme noted that the two birds had been ringed during earlier visits to the national park: the Common Redshank was ringed in 2009, and the Lesser Sand Plover in 2007.

Exhausted Pitta found in Maradana in 2009
Setting up mist nests in Bundala at dusk

Bird migration is a source of fascination to bird lovers. Year after year, during the visiting season, these overseas callers are drawn to Sri Lanka, because of the island’s geographical position, just below the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent. Sri Lanka represents their final destination in their long journey from their homes in northern climates.

The National Bird Ringing Programme, a scientific study of bird migration patterns, is a joint venture of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka and the Department of Wild Life Conservation. The programme was launched six years ago, in April 2005, at the Bundala National Park.

Migrant birds start arriving in Sri Lanka around the middle of August, ahead of the winter in their native lands. After spending around six months in the island, they return to their breeding grounds towards the end of April the following year. Of the 492 bird species recorded in Sri Lanka, 169 or 36 per cent are migrants. Waders, ducks and coastal birds represent the bulk of the visitors.

The Bundala wetland, about 15 kilometres east of Hambantota, is a paradise for migrants, and has been the base for the ringing programme.

Ringing is a delicate operation, and is generally conducted at dusk. Mist nets (nets with small holes eyes) are strung up around the Bundala lagoon. Birds that get entangled in the nets are taken to the camp and their statistics recorded. A small, individually numbered ring is attached to the birds’ legs.

The ringing exercise takes place four times a year, three during the migratory season and one in July. The three migratory season operations are conducted at the start of the wintering period (September to October); in mid-winter (December to January), and the end of the wintering period (March to April).
Researchers say the ringing programme should be expanded to other locations in the country in order to allow a better understanding of the migrants.

Habitat loss is a serious threat to migrants, says ornithologist, Professor Sarath W. K. Kotagama. The migrants are highly vulnerable to disruption of habitat, such as the cutting down of swathes of forest. These disruptions may threaten the very survival of the bird species, he says.

Watch out for migrants in trouble 

Anyone who cares about birds and wildlife would be interested to know that you do not have to go all the way to the south coast, to places like the Bundala Nature Reserve, to see migrant birds.

Some of the more common migrants visit home gardens as their temporary residence, and even hover around populated urban areas, including the city of Colombo. These visitors include the Indian Pitta (Avichchiya); the Asian Paradise Flycatcher (Sudu-Redi Hora); the Blue-tailed Bee-eater; the Brown Flycatcher, the Barn Swallow, and the Forest Wagtail.

The Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka, an affiliate of BirdLife International, organizes “MigrantWATCH”, an opportunity for bird lovers to observe and study migratory birds.

Some of the common migrants need our help in order to survive. The Indian Pitta, for example, arrives in Sri Lanka, usually exhausted after its long journey. Protect the bird if you see it in your garden.

The Sunday Times reported one such Indian Pitta that was rescued in Nugegoda. and another that was rescued in Colombo. Alert residents can help the tired bird by rescuing the troubled Indian Pittas found in their gardens. “This is one of the reasons we started MigrantWATCH,” says a member of the Ornithological Society.

If you spot a troubled migrant bird, or would like to participate in the MigrantWATCH programme, call the Field Ornithology Group (011) 2501332 / 0776248302, or write to fogsl@slt.lk.

Upcoming Migrant WATCH activities:

* Lecture on “Migration and Bundala Birds” by Prof. Sarath Kotagama on Saturday, October 29, at 9.30 am, at the Science Faculty of the University of Colombo (entrance on Thurstan Road)
*  Field visit and workshop to Bundala to study migrants and wader birds: 10 to 13 November

*  Field visit to Mannar : 8 to 11 December
*  Field visits to Thalangama and other wetlands to see migrants

(call (011) 2501332 / 0776248302 for details).

Published on SundayTimes on 30.10.2011  http://www.sundaytimes.lk/111030/News/nws_21.html

From the Himalayas to your doorstep

October 24, 2011

(This is the migration season and during this time of end October, the migrant Indian Pitta has been found several occasions exhausted after their long journey. This is another article done in 2009, where a pitta has been rescued in heart of populated Colombo. Since the same can be repeated this year, the article is repost here, so that you can help if you get an exhausted visitor in your own garden or even at your office..!!)

Sri Lanka, being the southern tip of the Central-Asian flyway, has about 200 migrant birds visiting each year. The Indian Pitta is probably the most beautiful of them all. This bird that breeds in the Himalayan foothills may visit your home garden this season, writes Malaka Rodrigo

Suranga had just finished his morning workload when he heard the raucous cawing of a flock of crows. He looked to see what the commotion was all about. For a moment, he thought a rainbow had fallen from the sky. But it was only a multi-coloured bird which, fluttering weakly, landed near him. Gathering all its remaining strength, it tried to fly but ended up getting stuck in the nearby AC. Suranga with his fellow workers at the Delmege Company rescued the bird, placing it carefully in a cardboard box.

“We never expected to find such a beautiful bird in a congested Colombo neigbourhood like Maradana,” said Chandana Hettiarachchi, Maintenance Manager of Delmege. A bird lover himself, Chandana identified the bird as an Indian Pitta known as Avichchiya in Sinhala and called the Dehiwela Zoological Gardens for advice on how to treat it.

Though the Indian Pitta feeds on insects and worms, this Pitta had happily eaten the fruits and rice offered to him. It was also drinking water showing signs of early recovery, so the rescuers kept the bird in its box in a dark corner without disturbing it. After a few days, its strength regained it flew off to explore its new territory.

This is not the only instance of an exhausted Indian Pitta being rescued in Colombo during the migration season. The Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) too reported two Indian Pittas found in Colombo a few weeks ago. One of them died of exhaustion, but the other recovered and flew away, much to the delight of the rescuers.

“It is not uncommon to find exhausted Indian Pittas at the start of the migration season. They are not sick, but get disoriented after the long journey,” explained veteran Ornithologist Prof. Sarath Kotagama. He advised that the troubled birds be fed with mild sugar syrup and if unable to fly, provided a safe place away from possible predators, until they are fit to fly again.

The Indian Pitta is called Aru-mani-kuruvi in Tamil which means the 6 ’o clock bird and its loud, clear double whistle ‘wheet-tew’, can be heard in the morning and evening around 6 ’o clock. So listen for this unmistakable call – it maybe a visitor from the Himalayas.

If you see a troubled migrant

There may be exhausted late comers who may still land on your doorstep. Dr. Deepani Jayantha offers some tips on helping them.

  • An exhausted or injured bird could be fully conscious, semi-conscious or unconscious. Such a bird should be protected from dogs, cats, rats, crows, shikras etc. Keep them in a dark, quiet and warm place. Handle them gently only if necessary and never force-feed a semi-conscious or unconscious bird.
  • If it is too weak to fly on its own; try giving it small amounts of low concentrated glucose saline with Vitamin C.
  • If the bird is able to fly, release it as soon as possible in a proper environment.
  • If it is necessary to keep the bird for a few days for medical care, provide a proper cage (avoid injurious materials) with a perch protected from predators. Attend to traumatic injuries (broken bones) as necessary – if extensive care is needed, consult a veterinarian
  • Provide clean food and water. 

Published on 2009 on SundayTimes http://sundaytimes.lk/091108/Plus/plus_13.html

Fly, fly, pant, pant.. there’s more to go!

October 24, 2011

What do you do if you come across a dead-beat migratory bird?
By Malaka Rodrigo, Pic by Sasitha Weerasinghe

(This is the migration season and during this time of end October, the migrant Indian Pitta has been found several occasions exhausted after their long journey. This article has been done in 2007, where several such pittas are rescued. Since the same can be repeated this year, the article is repost here, so that you can help if you get an exhausted visitor in your own garden)

“The day has just arrived at my garden in Kalubowila, but the morning sky was gloomy and hinted more rains. ‘Kelie’- my female dog was suspiciously looking at a darker corner in the garage. In the shade, there was a bird. It didn’t move….. It looked at me innocently, through its wide open eyes. ‘Kelie’ was vigilant, but haven’t tried to attack, may be understanding the anguish of the exhausted bird. I have taken it to a veterinary surgeon and later handed over to one of my friend to look after it, as it couldn’t stand on its own. Small worms were fed and the bird showed hints of recovering. However, it was too weak and after three days, on Saturday 10th November, the bird – Slaty-Legged Crake died.

This was the experience of Dulani Dissanayake, a bird watcher who tried to save the life of a migrant bird that would have been exhausted after its long flight.

Over 200 species of birds migrate to Sri Lanka, during the migratory period that starts usually in late August and extends upto to March/April. The bird visitors travel mainly from Europe and northern parts of India. Circulated on the email network of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) last week, were two more accounts of migrant Indian Pittas found in home gardens. The Indian Pitta found in Udahamulla in the garden of Sasitha Weerasinghe was also exhausted, but recovered after being fed with water.

The Indian Pitta found at Udahamulla.

But the Indian Pitta at Pelawatte in the garden of Dr. Udaya Kumarasinghe was not that lucky. This Pitta had been observed over the past few years in his garden and Dr. Kumarasinghe had even treated the bird two years ago. On that occasion, he had been seated on his verandah when the Pitta just fell off a nearby tree. He nursed it and the bird recovered in an hour or so and flew away but returned to his garden for the rest of the season. The Pitta came back last year as well. Some of the territorial birds show site tenacity which drives them to the same location year after year.

“It is common to find the migrant birds exhausted after a long flight. Those migrants who travel during the night may be attracted to the light. This is why many birds are found in home gardens. Birds that are attracted to light may collide with windows and get hurt. They can also be easy prey to domestic cats and dogs while resting. Otherwise, birds usually recover on their own,” says veteran ornithologist Prof. Sarath Kotagama. Birds may be found even in the heart of Colombo, where the lights of the buildings attract migrants. But such incidents are rarely recorded, he adds.

Emphasizing the importance of collecting data, Prof. Kotagama invites bird watchers to send their records to the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) which is also conducting the National Bird Ringing programme in collaboration with the Department of Wildlife Conservation, primarily to study migrant birds.

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Usually before the migration, birds feed a lot to gain the strength needed for their long flights. Their bodies are streamlined for flight and in addition, migrant birds employ several other mechanisms to minimize the effort of flying. Larger birds like eagles, cranes and storks soar in the sky, using the thermal upwind. They fly to a higher elevation and then manoeuvre with the wind to move forward with minimum effort.

Larger birds usually migrate during the daytime through a route mostly across a land area. Small birds like Flycatchers and Indian Pittas prefer to travel at night. Not having the advantage of soaring, they have to beat their wings continuously to travel.

If you find an exhausted bird, you need to be calm and not panic the bird further. Chase away the cats, dogs, crows and any other potential predator and leave the bird as it is to recover. If the bird seems to be extremely weak, it could be given water.

Bird Flu: is it really safe..?

There are fears about the spread of Bird Flu through migrant birds. But Avian Influenza has not reached the island or any location that is on the migratory route.Still it is always best to take precautions before handling a sick bird. Using a pair of gloves and cleaning up thoroughly after handling such a bird is indeed wise.

The best we can do is protecting the habitats that are used by these migrants. Start the effort in your own home garden. Plant a tree, make a shade for the exhausted migrants to rest and live in peace during their stay.

Published on 18.11.2007 on SundayTimes www.sundaytimes.lk/071118/Plus/plus00016.html

Sinharaja bird wave – On the wings of a wildlife spectacle

October 5, 2011

The Sinharaja rainforest’s ‘Mixed Species Feeding Bird Flocks’ is a unique spectacle that can also be promoted as a tourist attraction, a leading zoologist said recently. Addressing a gathering of wildlife enthusiasts and tourism industry representatives at a lecture titled “Sinharaja Bird Wave” at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce auditorium, Prof. Sarath Kotagama, said that two or more species feeding and moving in the same direction is known as a ‘Mixed Species feeding flock’.

A painting that captures the mixed species flocks in Sinharaja

In Sinharaja, some of the flocks could have as many as 35-50 individual birds from dozens of different species. It is a spectacular sight and the usually silent Sinharaja forest erupts into a cacophony of bird calls for a few minutes, as the flock approaches. On an average, there could be about 12 different species of birds, with some flocks recording as much as 30 – 40 different birds. Some researchers have recorded flocks consisting of over hundred individuals.

The birds do not stay for a long time in one place, as they move forward all the while feeding. In a few minutes, the noise recedes and the forest is once again engulfed in silence. Bird flocks is a phenomenon well documented but least understood, Prof. Kotagama said. Researches have revealed its formation, function and other interesting scenarios.

The nucleus or the centric bird species that take the lead in forming the bird flocks are the Orange-billed Babbler and Crested Drongo. Usually, in the morning, the Crested Drongo that inhabits the forest canopy, starts calling, which is believed to be the wakeup call to other members of the flock. Then the Orange-billed Babblers start steering the flock forward.

The Sinharaja rainforest, as its name implies, receives plenty of rain. This feature hinders birds from locating food and therefore moving in a group helps them to find food. It is believed that this ‘feeding efficiency’ is one of the reasons for these flock formations. Interestingly, various birds travel in the flock at different levels. A rainforest can be divided into different levels, based on height and vegetation, namely ground, under storey, sub canopy, canopy, above canopy and emergent. Different birds specialise at different levels. For example, when the Orange-billed Babblers feed on the under storey, they disturb lots of insects which take flight. These become easy prey for the birds hovering above at canopy level.
Security is the other major advantage these birds enjoy moving as a unit. Many birds mean many eyes. So they are able to detect a predator and warn others, says Prof. Kotagama. An added advantage is that these birds move at different levels, so that dangers at all levels are covered. When a predator like an owl is present, some of the birds flock closely to mob the intruder. Unable to bear the continuous mobbing by the chattering birds the predator usually gives up and departs.

Prof. Sarath Kotagama

Prof. Kotagama said that researchers have also identified vocal signals used by the birds to communicate. Of them, the most important is the ‘alarm call’. The Crested Drongos play the role of sentinels, usually warning of any danger from above. As soon as the Drongos make the alarm call, the whole flock goes silent and ‘freezes’, so as not to reveal their location to the probable predator. Only after the Drongos give the ‘all clear’ call do they come out.

Bird watching is becoming popular around the world and Sri Lanka can easily be promoted as one such destination. However, it was important to highlight and present the unique features within the country, if we are to become an Ultimate Wildlife Safari as Sri Lanka Tourism is trying to promote. Citing ‘The Gathering’ which has been nominated as one of the 10 Best Wildlife Spectacular events of the world by LonelyPlanet, Prof. Kotagama said the mixed-species Bird Flocks can be presented to the Tourism industry as the ‘Sinharaja Bird Wave’.

Public lecture
The ‘Sinharaja Bird Wave’ is one of four lectures organised by the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO), together with the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB). Sri Lanka Tourism has declared September the month of Wildlife, particularly focusing on ‘The Minneriya Elephant Gathering’, recently named as the 6th Best Wildlife Spectacle of the World, by the prestigious travel guide LonelyPlanet.The final lecture of the series will be on Blue Whales, to be delivered by Gehan De Silva Wijeratne on September 28, at 5.30 pm, at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Auditorium, Navam Mawatha, Colombo 2.The Lecture is open to the public free of charge.International conference on bird flocks in Sinharaja
An International Conference on Bird Flocks was held recently in Sinharaja.
Prof. Kotagama and other zoologists started their researches in Sinharaja as far back as 1981. This was a landmark research started soon after logging at Sinharaja was completely stopped in 1978. Since then, the research on Bird Flocks continued with over 500 observations to date, making the feeding flocks of Sinharaja the most studied Bird Flocks in the world.

To share this knowledge with other researchers who conduct flock studies in other parts of the world, the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL), a local affiliate of BirdLife International, organised an International Conference on Mixed-species Bird Flocks recently in Ratnapura and Sinharaja rainforest. The conference was attended by international experts on bird flocks. Another objective of the conference was to afford university students interested in Ornithology, to get international exposure on flock studies and scientific research.

Workshop on location
FOGSL will also conduct a special four-day workshop on Sinharaja Bird Flocks for bird lovers, in Sinharaja, starting October 8. The team will leave the University of Colombo on October 8, and stay in the rainforest. FOGSL has also opened their trips to non-members and those interested in obtaining an ornithological background knowledge to ‘Sinharaja Bird Wave’. Further details of the programme could be obtained from Prof. Kotagama’s office on fogsl@slt.lk or call 2 501 332.

Published on SundayTimes on 25.09.2011 http://sundaytimes.lk/110925/News/nws_27.html

Spotting a Blonde in the garden

July 6, 2011

The Rose-ringed Parakeet or Mala Girawa is no stranger to us. But the bird spotted in Attidiya was no ordinary parakeet, says Malaka Rodrigo

“This yellow, Rose-ringed Parakeet is coming to the bird feeder in our garden with other birds. What is this bird?” asked Dr. D. Rodrigo, a puzzled birder circulating a series of photos to the Field Ornithology Group’s (FOGSL) email group on May 2. The photos showed a beautiful bird very similar to a normal Rose-ringed Parakeet or Mala Girawa, but unlike the other Rose-ringed Parakeets which are green, this one was yellow.

The proud yellow parakeet with tilted head

Dr. Rodrigo lives in Attidiya and maintains a food table which is visited by a flock of Rose-ringed Parakeets.

“This Yellow Parakeet was first spotted about three months ago,” Dr. Rodrigo commented. Though different in colour, the bird blended in with the other parakeets, resting, preening and sharing food from the same table. Dr. Rodrigo said that the bird was quite normal in its behaviour and others in the flock too treated it as a family member.

Being an ardent birdwatcher, Dr. Rodrigo recognized it could be a Rose-ringed Parakeet. But was this an Albino or an uncommon mutation, he wanted to know.

“Yellow parakeets are known as “lutinos” and such birds are occasionally seen. Partial lutinos are encountered more often. The colour variation is probably caused by a genetic mutation, something like the black leopard,” Rex I. De Silva, an expert birder and part of the egroup replied solving the mystery. Like the case of an albino, a lutino is a mutation where the mutated gene functions to stop or slow down the production of melanin which defines the skin or the colours of the feathers.

Leucism is a condition characterized by reduced pigmentations that add colour to animal cells and tissues. Leucism is said to reduce all types of skin pigment, not just melanin as in the case of albinoism. The Lutino mutation removes most of the melanin in the plumage, soft tissues, and the eyes. And when combined with green, the mutation brings up a yellow plumage.

Explaining the lutino phenomena, veteran ornithologist Prof. Sarath Kotagama said lutino birds are reported occasionally. He said there is a possibility that in a certain area, there can be more Lutinos as the birds with the mutated gene can cross-breed and their offspring are more prone to inherit the mutation.

The Rose-ringed Parakeet is among the most popular birds in Sri Lanka, a bird virtually everybody can recognize. Prof. Kotagama did his PhD. research based at Polonnaruwa on these birds. Ornithologists call the Rose-ringed Parakeet a bird that can adapt to its environmental conditions and withstand the onslaught of urbanisation and deforestation. It is believed their numbers are increasing and they can be found even in crowded cities like Colombo. Rose-ringed Parakeets’ adaptability is clearly shown in the fact that they are even naturalized in many foreign countries. London, for example, now has a feral population of Rose-ringed Parakeets – initially escaped from the pet trade.

While Lutino Parakeets are noticeable straightway, there could be other different birds or special behaviour even among very common birds that visit our gardens. Prof. Kotagama urges the bird loving public to watch the visitors to their gardens, whether common or rare.

The Endemic Lutino in Knuckles

While Dr. Rodrigo observed his lutino Parakeet leisurely from his porch, a well-known field naturalist – Mendis Wickremasinghe, while hiking through difficult terrain in the Loolecondera estate in the foothills of Knuckles recorded another lutino. This time, it was an Endemic Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot – a little bird that usually flies over canopy level.

“We were first alerted about a small yellow bird flying over canopy level from the planter of Loolecondera and were curious to observe it. After observing the terrain, one day we spotted this beautiful Yellow Hanging Parrot when it came to feed,” said Mendis, who is a reptile expert.

Mendis and the team continued to observe this bird and came to the conclusion that this was a Lutino Hanging Parrot.

published on SundayTimes on 22.05.2011 http://sundaytimes.lk/110522/Plus/plus_17.html 

Unravelling the mystery of feathered dead passage migrants to Sri Lanka

June 27, 2011
The discovery of dead Sooty Terns around the country triggered fears of Bird flu. Malaka Rodrigo speaks to ornithologists to find the missing pieces of the puzzle
“Birds are dying in many parts of Sri Lanka”, “Sri Lanka’s bird deaths likely to spread to Wildlife Parks”, “Could it be Bird Flu..?” these are headlines we have seen in recent weeks. The dead birds were reported from many parts of the island and the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) put its regional offices on alert. A media alert too was issued, and many dead birds were reported to the DWC. They all belonged to a bird species called Sooty Terns.“These dead birds were mainly reported between May 11 and 26. Some of the birds had been dead a few days at the time of the recovery while others were fresh carcasses. About 40 dead birds were found around the country,” a Department of Wildlife Conservation official said. The DWC had handed over samples of these bird carcasses to the Medical Research Institute (MRI) for testing, but the reports had not showed any sign of an illness that could have caused the deaths. However, ornithologists had an answer for the puzzle.

A dead Sooty Tern

“The Sooty Tern is a pelagic seabird that flies across the oceans and comes to land only to breed. The strong winds occasionally bring them to the land,” said Prof. Sarath Kotagama, veteran ornithologist of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) based at the University of Colombo. “The birds can die due to exhaustion trying to fly against the wind and it is not a rare phenomenon during this time of the year,” revealed Prof. Kotagama.

The veteran ornithologist also said these Sooty Terns are migratory and on their way back North after breeding. This migration happens between end of May and can go on until July, but evades our eyes unlike the other migrants, as these birds take a seabound route. Sooty Terns only pass through our country, so they are known as Passage Migrants.

Sea birds usually nest as large colonies and many tropical islands have been their breeding grounds for centuries. Most of the dead birds found in Sri Lanka are also said to be young birds that could have been making their first journey from their breeding grounds. But there were three special birds among the dead Sooty Terns- marked with a ring. Ornithologists ring birds to mark their presence in a location. The small metal or plastic ring around one of the bird’s legs contains basic information indicating the ringing location, so the information can be used to track the origin of the bird.

Quite amazingly, two of these ringed Sooty Terns were traced back to the African region. The Sooty Tern found in Battaramulla was wearing a ring placed in the African island of Madagascar from a ringing programme conducted by UK ornithologists and the other bird found in Chilaw was ringed in Seychelles by a group of French ornithologists. The third ring on a bird found in Jaffna has yet to be traced back, but the DWC is checking to find its origin.

Story of the recovered Sooty Tern

A small cage placed in a corner of the garden of Kithsiri Gunawardane in Borella held a Sooty Tern, which spread its wings in anticipation of the dinner which Kithsiri was bringing – some fresh halmassas (Sprats). The bird gulped the sprats and wanted more.

The Sooty Tern waits for Kithsiri to bring its dinner

“These sprats are soaked in salt water. Sooty Terns catch fish directly from the sea and gulp them whole. So together with their meal and drinks, they consume more salt and it is important to keep this salt balance while in captivity,” Kithsiri said. The Joint Secretary of the Ceylon Bird Club, he takes the bird out every evening and allows it to stretch its wings to give exercise to its shoulder muscles to get it ready for freedom again.

Though now fully recovered, the bird’s condition was pretty bad at the time it was found in a garden in Panadura on May 26. Manoja, daughter of the house owners had alerted Kithsiri who had rushed there.
The Sooty Tern was so exhausted that Kithsiri worried about its chances of recovery. The bird had to be initially hand-fed. Like many other birds in trouble, the Sooty Tern too had diarrhoea. Kithsiri had a little remedy for this and had given it a few drops of Cytexin – and added a little glucose to the bird’s diet to help it regain its strength.

His efforts to help the bird have succeeded and Kithsiri is now planning to release the bird in the next few days. The Sooty Tern is also tagged with a ring given by the DWC with “Info Sri Lanka – DWLC 001” on it- so if found in any parts of the world, it will be known that it was in Sri Lanka.

Published on SundayTimes on 19.06.2011 http://sundaytimes.lk/110619/Plus/plus_05.html

Heralding the Avurudu with a call for a mate

March 27, 2011
April is around the corner and Cuckoos has started their songs spreading the message about dawn of the Avurudu Season. Why do they actually singing during Avurudu seaon..? Are they migratory as many believes..?
The koha, or Asian Koel, is widely considered the harbinger of the Avurudu season. Many Sri Lankans believe the koha is a migrant bird that visits our gardens expressly to convey the Avurudu message. But this is not so. The Asian Koel is around all year.

What happens around Avurudu time is that the male cuckoo starts calling and competing for a mate. The male Koel’s melodious song signals the start of the breeding season, which coincides with the April festive season.

The blackish, red-eyed Koel is often associated with a spotted bird, the thith koha (spotted koel), which is thought to be another cuckoo species. But the bird is in fact the female Asian Koel. The male and female are totally different in appearance, as these photographs show.

The Asian Koel demonstrates an interesting behaviour pattern known as brood parasitism: instead of building its own nest, it lays its single egg in the nests of other birds, usually those of the crow. It is believed that the male Koel distracts the crows from their nests so that the female can seize the opportunity to lay her egg.

The Koel fledglings usually hatch before the baby crows, and eat most of the food brought by the unsuspecting crow parent. However, when the crows detect the intruder, they eject it from the nest.

Published on SundayTimes on 13.04.2008  http://sundaytimes.lk/080413/Plus/plus00002.html

Off to Jaffna to see the birds

March 24, 2011

“Look.. that is a Black Kite.. It is a bird unique to this Northern Peninsula, so you have to visit the North to see it,” said Prof. Sarath Kotagama pointing out the bird soaring in the sky to 14-year-old Namesha, the youngest member of the birdwatching group. It was Namesha’s first visit to the Jaffna Peninsula as it was for the majority of the 29 birdwatchers of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL)’s maiden field excursion to Jaffna last month.

Flying high in the Jaffna skies
Gliding in unison: Pintail duo
Looking for a bite: Striated heron. Pix by Vimukthi Weeratunga
Grey Partridge male and female take a sand bath in Mandathivu Islet, Jaffna. Pic by Chaminda Jayaratne

“The northern part of the country can be considered a special avi-faunal zone with several birds like the Black Kite found only there. The Black Drongo, Grey Partridge, Long-tailed Shrike, Golden-backed Woodpecker, Indian Courser are few other unique representatives of the region,” Prof. Kotagama, a veteran ornithologist and founder member of FOGSL said.

During their recent Jaffna trip, the group mainly focused on Jaffna’s coastal areas dotted with wetlands which are magnets for waders, both migrant and resident. The team also visited Delft Island, Mandathivu, Kayts and other wetlands rich in birdlife. To reach Delft they had to take the one-hour ferry ride, which helped them to enjoy the sea birds of the area.

“The Striated heron was the first bird we spotted on the shores of the island. It was interesting to watch its antics as it got ready to pounce on its prey as it’s known to place bait such as feathers or leaves on the water surface and pick fish that come to investigate,” said Nishanthi Perera. During the few hours spent in the island, the birders observed 64 bird species.

At Mandathivu, they had seen a Grey Partridge pair, basking in the sun. Migratory ducks were plentiful in the area, but they missed the star migrant Flamingos during this tour.

Chunndikulam, Thirukkovil, Konda manaru and Sarasalei are some of the best birding sites in the north. The area is also the entry point for many migrants who travel through the Indian sub-continent landmass. The observers say it was fascinating to witness large numbers landing on these special sites – the scene looking like a busy airport. Some 262 species migrate to Sri Lanka during the migratory season that starts from late August and continues upto March/April, so this would be the best period to schedule your birdwatching trip to Jaffna region.

However, the facilities are still not star-class. It is possible to book a house for accommodation and travel to the more remote areas. During their visit to the Delft Island, the FOGSL team used the normal mode of transportation on the island -small tractors. Some of the remote areas are still not cleared of land mines, so one needs to be wary of the dangers and always take precautions not to step out of the cleared areas. But the birding rewards may compensate for any such drawbacks

Dr. Devaka Weerakoon, president of FOGSL also invites those who have an interest to join similar birding field trips to join the society which is also the local affiliate of BirdLife International that celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. “Jaffna is only the first trip FOGSL organized for 2011.

The society has planned its trip calendar for this year and anybody interested in birdwatching can take part in them by enrolling as a member of the society based at University of Colombo,” says Dr. Weerakoon. Prospective members need not be experts on birding he adds.

Published on SundayTimes on 20.03.2011 http://sundaytimes.lk/110320/Plus/plus_12.html

Edible-nest collectors nabbed with nests

May 2, 2010

Three persons who attempted to sell edible-nest swiflets were taken into custody by the Cinnamon Gardens Police last week along with 25 swiftlet nests in their possession believed to be worth around Rs.60,000.

Consignment of nests detected on a previous occasion (File photo)

The suspects were waiting near the Vihara Maha Devi Park for their buyer at the time of the arrest. They confessed the nests were collected from under a bridge in Bandaragama according to Sergeant Sumanasiri who led the raid.

It is reported the swiftlets prefer to make their nests in colonies in dark places like caves and tunnels. They built their nests using small twigs and moss mixing with their saliva.

These nests are a delicacy in East Asian countries and are being illegally exported due to the high demand for them. These nests are used to make a soup by soaking and steaming them and is said to be an aphrodisiac and to have various medicinal qualities.

Environment lawyer Jagath Gunawardena pointed out that destroying these nests, possessing them or attempting to sell them are illegal under the Flora and Fauna Ordinance. Bird experts already warn the collection of these nests can badly affect the bird population in the long run.

Mr.Gunawardena said that only four species of swifts make nests that are edible and nests made by two of these species, including the birds resident in Sri Lanka, are considered to be of high quality. The number of birds who make the best-quality nests inhabiting Malaysia and Thailand are already depleted, creating a higher demand for Sri Lankan birds nests in the market.

On previous occasions, several other consignments of swift nests were seized by the Customs biodiversity protection unit. A recent detection made in August 2009 by Customs officials was of nests weighing as much as 35.5kg. On another occasion, 7,000 processed swift nests were nabbed. In the recent detection one suspect was a motor mechanics while the other two were drivers.

The suspects were produced in courts and released on bail. Cinnamon Gardens police continue investigations.

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/100502/News/nws_16.html published on SundayTimes 02.05.2010

Prof.Kotagama launches latest bird guide

April 4, 2010

Eminent ornithologist Prof. Sarath Kotagama will launch his latest guide to the birds of Sri Lanka with illustrations by world renowned wildlife artist Gamini Ratnaweera.

The new book “An Illustrated Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka” is a comprehensive handbook describing all the birds one can observe in this country. It has 382 pages with ‘all-inclusive’ details. The guide goes beyond identification tips of the birds and includes 26 snippets of information such as the habitat the bird lives in, its behaviour, breeding, threatened status etc. Each bird’s distribution is clearly marked on a coloured map including the global distribution of those migrating to Sri Lanka.

With 382 pages, 52 colour plates and 492 species description, the book is truly a condensed summary of all the birds found in Sri Lanka.

“An Illustrated Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka” will be launched on April 5 at the New Biology Lecture Theatre, University of Colombo at 5 p.m with a lecture on Birds of Sri Lanka by the author. The book is priced Rs.2000 but will also be available at a concessionary rate at the event. Admission is free.

Prof. Kotagama’s previous guide books are all out of print. His English guide published in 1994 sold out 5000 copies and his first comprehensive Sinhala field guide ‘Sirilaka Kurullo’ sold 20,000 copies helping to popularise birdwatching among a new and diverse set of Lankans.

Besides this increased bird interest in the country, in the 16 years that have passed since Kotagama & Fernando’s work, much has changed in Sri Lankan ornithology. New research has shown that the number of endemic species is in fact much higher than previously thought, and the increasing affordability of digital photography has served to make new sightings more easily verifiable. This new knowledge is, up to end 2009, reflected in this new book.

Celebrated bird artist Gamini Ratnavira has focused recently almost exclusively on the birds of the New World (he lives and works in California), but the series of plates he produced for this book are intended to depict especially those characteristics a birdwatcher would need to identify a bird and differentiate it from similar species. The guide also gives the Sinhala and Tamil names for all birds.

The author is planning to have a more condensed version of the guide that will be easier to use in the field. The Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) also plans to publish Sinhala and Tamil translations of the guidebook as their contribution to making available bird information to everyone in the country.

Posted on the online version of SundayTimes on 03.04.2010 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/featurenews/articleXYZ100000010.php?id=79

Unusual Bird Found in Bambalapitiya

December 5, 2009

A Slaty-legged Crake – a migrant bird with long toes and distinctive chestnut head that is not very common in Colombo was rescued near the Bambalapitiya flats on November 28. Those who spotted the unusual bird alerted Tariq Abideen, a member of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) – the birdwatching society that works on studying and conserving birds. The bird was provided some water and sheltered from possible predators. It was later handed over to FOGSL.

Sri Lanka is visited by nearly 200 migratory bird species and this is the height of 2009 bird migration season. After their long migratory flight, exhausted Slaty-legged Crakes are sometimes found in Colombo suburbs. Several Indian Pittas too have been found in Colombo neighbourhoods in previous weeks.

Posted on 05.12.2009 on SundayTimes’ Pictorial section http://www.sundaytimes.lk/image_story3.htm

Climate change: Heed the birds

December 5, 2009

With the Copenhagen summit beginning this week, the world will focus on climate change. Experts predict that 1/3 of the world’s bird species are vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Birds in Sri Lanka too could be affected, but we lack sufficient data to analyse the adverse effects triggered by climate change and other environmental issues.

“Birds are sensitive to changes in their environment. Hence they can be among the first group of animals warning us about a changing climate,” says ornithologist Prof. Sarath Kotagama. Birds have long been used as indicators of the state of the world’s ecosystems, providing insights into habitat loss, deterioration and pollution. Climate change has been the latest addition to that list.

Increased temperature, altered rainfall patterns, more extreme weather events which are the effects of climate change will have a direct impact on birds. Climate change will also affect populations of birds indirectly by altering their habitats via sea level rise, changes in fire regimes, and changes in vegetation or land use etc. For example, the sea level rising by a fraction of a millimetre will bring in salt water to important bird habitats like the Bundala lagoon in Sri Lanka. This will change the lagoon’s salinity and cause an imbalance in the whole ecosystem putting thousands of birds at risk. Bundala has already lost its star attraction, the Lesser Flamingo due to a change in water salinity.

“In Sri Lanka, the data deficiency is one of the major drawbacks in identifying changes to bird populations, says Prof. Kotagama . People can play a role in collecting data, he says stressing that Sri Lanka needs a baseline set of data to analyse the trends of bird population changes.

The Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) which is also the BirdLife International’s local affiliate declared December as the Bird Counting Month and Prof.Kotagama invites the public to participate in bird counting and be citizen scientists.

Start counting

The Bird counting month is an opportunity to pay attention to the birds around you, count them and record them. Here’s how it’s done.

  • Observe birds in as many places as you can. This need not necessarily be a wilderness – your home garden, school premises, workplace too are good starting points.
  • Keep a note of the birds you see. The list should include the date, time, location, weather at the time, the habitat that the bird observation is carried out, and the name and contact details of the observer.
  • You can also include the number of each species seen at the location, so that this number can be used roughly to compare the population next year.
  • If you have participated in last year’s bird month, compare the results with this year. Valuable data can be highlighted through this exercise.
  • Feed the data directly to the Sri Lankan section of World Bird Database www.worldbird.com email to fogsl@slt.lk or post your records to FOGSL, Department of Zoology, University of Colombo, Colombo 3. Contact FOGSL Secretariat on 5342609 or 0773589392 for any clarifications.  

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/091206/Plus/plus_15.html

From the Himalayas to your doorstep

November 7, 2009

Sri Lanka, being the southern tip of the Central-Asian flyway, has about 200 migrant birds visiting each year. The Indian Pitta is probably the most beautiful of them all. This bird that breeds in the Himalayan foothills may visit your home garden this season, writes Malaka Rodrigo
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Indian-Pitta

The Indian Pitta found at Maradana

Suranga had just finished his morning workload when he heard the raucous cawing of a flock of crows. He looked to see what the commotion was all about. For a moment, he thought a rainbow had fallen from the sky. But it was only a multi-coloured bird which, fluttering weakly, landed near him. Gathering all its remaining strength, it tried to fly but ended up getting stuck in the nearby AC. Suranga with his fellow workers at the Delmege Company rescued the bird, placing it carefully in a cardboard box.

“We never expected to find such a beautiful bird in a congested Colombo neigbourhood like Maradana,” said Chandana Hettiarachchi, Maintenance Manager of Delmege. A bird lover himself, Chandana identified the bird as an Indian Pitta known as Avichchiya in Sinhala and called the Dehiwela Zoological Gardens for advice on how to treat it.

Though the Indian Pitta feeds on insects and worms, this Pitta had happily eaten the fruits and rice offered to him. It was also drinking water showing signs of early recovery, so the rescuers kept the bird in its box in a dark corner without disturbing it. After a few days, its strength regained it flew off to explore its new territory.

This is not the only instance of an exhausted Indian Pitta being rescued in Colombo during the migration season. The Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) too reported two Indian Pittas found in Colombo a few weeks ago. One of them died of exhaustion, but the other recovered and flew away, much to the delight of the rescuers.

“It is not uncommon to find exhausted Indian Pittas at the start of the migration season. They are not sick, but get disoriented after the long journey,” explained veteran Ornithologist Prof. Sarath Kotagama. He advised that the troubled birds be fed with mild sugar syrup and if unable to fly, provided a safe place away from possible predators, until they are fit to fly again. The Indian Pitta is called Aru-mani-kuruvi in Tamil which means the 6 ’o clock bird and its loud, clear double whistle ‘wheet-tew’, can be heard in the morning and evening around 6 ’o clock. So listen for this unmistakable call – it maybe a visitor from the Himalayas.

If you see a troubled migrant There may be exhausted late comers who may still land on your doorstep. ..

Dr. Deepani Jayantha offers some tips on helping them.

  • An exhausted or injured bird could be fully conscious, semi-conscious or unconscious. Such a bird should be protected from dogs, cats, rats, crows, shikras etc. Keep them in a dark, quiet and warm place. Handle them gently only if necessary and never force-feed a semi-conscious or unconscious bird.
  • If it is too weak to fly on its own; try giving it small amounts of low concentrated glucose saline with Vitamin C.
  • If the bird is able to fly, release it as soon as possible in a proper environment.
  • If it is necessary to keep the bird for a few days for medical care, provide a proper cage (avoid injurious materials) with a perch protected from predators. Attend to traumatic injuries (broken bones) as necessary – if extensive care is needed, consult a veterinarian
  • Provide clean food and water.