Sinharaja

August 27, 2007

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By Gehan de Silva Wijeyratne

The rain drummed on the roof at Martin’s as I awoke to a Spot-winged Thrush singing sweetly. I had arrived in Sinharaja the previous day for a public relations cum field visit to meet Hugues, a Belgian birder who runs his own company specialising in bird watching tours. Wicky who was taking Hugues and Veronique on a tour had greeted me on arrival with good news. A Ceylon Frogmouth had been found roosting on some ferns just a few feet away from the main road. What good luck. We feasted our eyes on this nocturnal bird with a strange troll-like appearance because of its wide ‘frog mouth’. The bird opened its eyes once to take a look at me and then went back to sleep. I could think of no better proof than this that wildlife is not disturbed by heavy visitation. On the contrary if they are not harassed, they become habituated to people.

 The frogmouth was so close that I had to squeeze into the forest on the farther side of the trail so that my 600mm lens, ably carried by Ratnasiri, could find the minimum focusing distance of 6 meters. The dampness of the forest enveloped me as the lush growth of the sunlit trail edges reached up to my shoulders. The lower branches of young rainforest trees brushed over my face. I photographed the frogmouth, only pausing intermittently to pick off leeches which were climbing on me.

The morning’s plans were dictated by last evening’s discovery of the frogmouth. It was off again to search for the new roost. Perhaps it would be found roosting with a mate. The frogmouth could not be found. Not that it had concealed itself any better. It is so wonderfully camouflaged could be easily overlooked. My attention turned to another rarely seen animal. Fruhstorfer’s Junglewatcher is a small dragonfly so far recorded only from Sinharaja. Perhaps I would find one perched on the vegetation besides the trail. A flash of blue in the canopy distracted the search. A Blue Oakleaf butterfly had settled high up on  a tree trunk. When its wings closed, it was indistinguishable from a dead leaf. A flash of blue would light the forest gloom as it occasionally opened its wings. Then it was gone.

A flock of the endemic Ashy-headed Laughingthrushes broke the stillness with their hysterical cackle. Pale irides (the whites of the eye) set against gray, gave the birds a surprised look. They are usually birds of the undergrowth, but in the absence of a flock of Ceylon Rufous Babblers, took the liberty to parade in the mid canopy. A mixed species feeding flock which I encountered later held one of the star birds of the lowland rainforest. A pair of Red-faced Malkohas. A clapping of wings announced their presence before we saw them. Birds of the high canopy, they are surprisingly difficult to see despite their relatively large size. A pair of Crested Drongos, the sentinels of the flock, uttered their belling calls and led the mixed flock away.

A movement over the heavily corrugated leaves of the Bowitiya caught my eye. A small dragonfly was perched dressed in a conservative greenish black with just a few yellow racing stripes on the thorax to lend a sporting touch. The elusive Junglewatcher was jungle watching. Little is known about it, as is true for so much of the biodiversity of our lowland rainforests. It may stay that way because our state agencies make it so difficult for researchers. But that’s another story.

Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne (gehan@jetwing.lk) is a corporate personality who is also a writer and photographer on a mission to create a million wildlife enthusiasts. E-mail him to subscribe to his quarterly wildlife e-newsletter.

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