Friday, October 28, 2011
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
A must watch film for birders. It is about three birders who are competing each other to record most number of birds in a calender year.
The Big Year Trailer
Visit the official web site of the film here.
The film is based on the book named "The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession" by Mark Obmascik.
Monday, September 19, 2011
Have you ever seen a Brahminy Kite feeding on a tortoise? And it drops the tortoise from the sky on a rock to break the shell, as a Bearded Vulture plays with a huge bone?
I never seen or heard such incident, or any report on such behaviour by Brahminy kites. Anyway, I came across an account that describes how Brahminy kites feed on tortoises. It was from an old book written by Sir Edward Robert Sullivan, published in 1854 by Richard Bentley in London. “The Bungalow and Tent or A visit to Ceylon” is an account on his travels in Sri Lanka. Edward Sullivan was not considered as an ornithologist, but a great traveller. Most of his publications were on his travels, especially to American continents.
“There were a great quantity of tortoises or land turtle in the bed, and on the banks of the river where we camped, and the coolies brought them to us in numbers: one species is good to eat, and our respected old friend made some very tolerable soup from them. There were also a great many Brahminy or red kite, a Swamy bird that is worshipped and never destroyed by the natives. This kite is a great enemy of the tortoise; they cannot break the shell of the latter with their beaks, but they carry them up in their claws to a great height, and then dash them on some stone or rock. …..”
It is not certain that he observed this behaviour by himself, or penned it based on an account he heard from someone else. Or did he adopt behaviour of much familiar bird Bearded vulture? Or did he make a mistake when he saw a bird accidentally drop something on the wings, and later fed on a dead tortoise? There was no reference to such feeding behaviour of this bird by any of the later naturalists such as Captain Vincent Legge, who extensively observed avifauna of the island. At least I couldn’t find such account.
It is hard to believe that ancient Sri Lankans worshipped this bird as he described. Hindu devotees in India consider the Brahminy Kite as a sacred bird. They identify it as “Garuda”, the vehicle of God Vishnu. Sullivan admits that majority of natives in Sri Lanka were Buddhists at the period. He describes the Brahminy Kite as a great destroyer of serpents. However, he says that natives believe the bird does not feed on Cobra, as it is a sacred animal that helped Lord Buddha in many occasions.
Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) is a common bird species found in the Indian subcontitent, and also found in South-East Asia and Australia. Its distinctive coloration, White head and Chestnut brown body resulted its name, as it resembles the robes of Brahmins. Brahminy Kite is commonly found around large water bodies, mainly due to its feeding habits. It is considered as a scavenging bird and mostly depends on dead fish and some invertebrates. It is also capable of catching live animals including fish and small mammals.
Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) who feed on bone marrow, break open large carcass bones by lifting them into the air and dropping them into rocks. This video shows how this bird breaks the hard bones.
Download the book “The Bungalow and Tent” here.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
A group of researchers from University of British Columbia (UBC) emphasizes the importance of protecting old trees to save the homes of more than 1,000 different bird and mammal species. Most animals are unable to carve out their own tree holes and therefore rely on holes already formed. The study found that most animals nest in tree holes formed by damage and decay, a process that can take several centuries.
In forests, tree holes are created either quickly by woodpeckers or more slowly as trees age and begin to decay. Birds like owls, songbirds and parrots, and mammals like flying squirrels and opossums, make homes in the holes of trees because they offer safe environments for sleeping, reproduction and raising young. Insects, snakes and amphibians will also make use of tree cavities.
Kathy Martin, a professor in the Faculty of Forestry at UBC and her research team found that on most continents - South America, Europe, Asia and Australia - more than 75 % of the holes used by birds and mammals were created by damage and decay.
"When wildlife depends on decay-formed cavities, they are relying on large living trees. Most trees have to be more than 100 years old before decay cavities begin to form and often several centuries old before large cavities or many cavities develop in one tree."
"Most forest policies help protect younger trees but promote the harvest of older, larger, living trees - the very trees needed by cavity-nesting animals," says Martin.
“The value of these large living trees needs to be recognized and we need to ensure that a supply of these trees is retained especially in tropical forest systems where decay-formed tree holes last for many years and support a lot of wildlife”.
Read the full story at “Science Daily”
Access the research article here
Saturday, August 13, 2011
“Are you a bird watcher, an ornithologist, an ornithophile, an aviphile, a bird lover, bird fancier, bird bander, birder, bird spotter, lister, ticker, twitcher- or what?” asks Roger Tory Peterson.
Famous American bird artist and photographer Roger Tory Peterson’s article “What are you really?” first published in “Bird watchers digest” in March/April 1984, later included in the book “All things reconsidered" edited by Bill Thompson III, is a very interesting article for all who are curious about birds.
“As for myself, I am primarily a bird artist and a photographer, a visual person obsessed by birds. I watch them, and they undoubtedly watch me, their eyes are better than mine.” It is the way he identified himself. Let’s see how he describes others.
“I favour the term Bird watcher for general use because it is inclusive. It describes almost everyone who looks at birds or studies them - at nearly every level, from the watcher at the window who simply feeds birds all the way to elitists……”
There are many arguments among bird watchers, on “who are real ornithologists and who are not”. Some people like to call themselves as ornithologists. These days we hear many people identify themselves as various types of "–logists", which indicate some sort of professional value. Here are the Peterson’s thoughts.
“It is risky to call yourself an artist if you merely dabble with water colors or oils as a weekend hobby. It is equally presumptuous to call yourself an ornithologist just because you identify birds, take notes, or make lists. Ornithology implies a high level of expertise of a scientific nature. Most professional ornithologists these days have degrees, either a doctorate or at least a master’s. A very few non-professionals who devote their time year after year to some specialised problem of avian research might be included in this rarefied category.”
On birder and bird watcher
“The term birding did not surface in the ornithological literature until 1896, when Florence Merriam, one of the founding mothers of the Audubon movement, wrote a book entitled ‘A birding on a Bronco’….”
“Curiously, the term birding slipped from our vocabulary after Florence Merriam used it in the title of her book. Did she coin it? To my knowledge, the meaning of the word birder as we use it today never surfaced in any standard dictionary until Webster published its ‘New Collegiate dictionary’ in 1977. On page 112 we find: “BIRDER (1) a catcher or hunter of birds, esp. for the market. (2) one that birds.” Referring to the verb BIRD, I find “to observe or identify wild birds in their natural environment.” So far, so good. Then turning to BIRD WATCHER, I read: “birder”. They are interchangeable.”
However, Peterson likes to distinguish bird watchers and birders. He describes bird watchers, as anyone who feeds birds. Many people have bird feeders in their backyards, although they don’t know how to identify birds. Hunting birds is still a widespread game (Sport) in many parts of the world. He writes “they certainly watch birds (through the gunsight rather than the binocular), but their focus is on relatively few species.”
“More recently, Robert Arbib, editor of ‘American birds’ arrived at a far more conservative estimate of the number of birders. His rationale was that one is really not a birder unless he or she occasionally goes out looking for birds beyond the confines of the backyard. The birder owns a binocular, field guide, and scope. Arbib discounts “compassionate” birders, go-alongs who are out there only because they want to be with their spouses or children. ….”
On lister or ticker
“Birders make lists of the birds they see; if they don’t, they should. Thus the conscientious birder might also be called a “lister” or a “ticker”. …
There are all kinds of lists. Dearest to the hearts of most birders is the life list, which includes those birds ticked off anywhere in the world during one’s lifetime. ……”
Peterson describes endless variations of lists from country lists to backyard lists. Here is an interesting story on one of his lists.
“When I was a young man, one of my lists was birds heard on the sound tracks of movies. I had a very special list for the Wren tit, a common bird around studios of Hollywood - a bird with an unmistakable voice. The range of this species is almost entirely within the state of California, but my researches in the movie theaters over the years extended its range to Wyoming, lake champlain and even Austria.”
“A ‘ticker is a shade different from a lister. I have known tickers who merely follow other birders around and scarcely look at the bird when they are spotted but wait for theor leader to call them off. I remember particularly a friend who often followed our group, building up his list without the benefit of a binocular.”
“When I first heard the term twitcher, I assumed it meant the same as ticker, but not so. This was invented by the bird watching fraternity in Britain. ….. I asked my friend John Parslow, about the origin of the word. He replied that as a matter of fact, he was one of the very first twitchers. About twenty years ago he and a friend, who tore about the roads of England on their bikes running up lists, learned of a rare warbler that had been reported on the coast. They dropped everything, jumped on their bikes, and paddled like mad for couple of hours, stopping only to have lunch by the roadside. … Another young chap who joined them commented, “You are a couple of twitchers.” And that, according to Parslow, is how the word entered the birders’ lexicon.
Other birders may dispute this origin, but by definition a twitcher is a birder who races around the country frantically collecting rare birds for his list. To quote Bill Oddie again, ‘what distinguishes the real twitcher is his degree of emotional involvement. … If this kind of birder gets to hear of a bird that has been sighted that would be a tick for him he is so wracked with nervous anticipation (that he night see it) or trepidation (that he might miss it) that he literally twitches with the excitement of it all.’
I might comment that twitchers seldom discover their own rarities; they zero in on reports that have reached them through the grapevine.”
Here is an interesting old report on twitching a bird from UK.
I copied the short biography given in the back cover of the book “All things reconsidered” here.
“Roger Tory Peterson, one of the world’s greatest naturalists, was born on August 28, 1908, In Jamestown, New York. He became passionate about birds as a young boy, went to art school, and at the age of twenty six, published his first book, A field guide to the birds. His visual system of grouping similar species together and using arrows to designate important field marks allowed quick identification of live birds, a departure from the practice of killing birds to study them. That book became the cornerstone of the best-selling Peterson field guide series, which includes more than hundred titles. During his lifetime, Peterson received, every major award for ornithology, natural science, and conservation as well as numerous honorary degrees, medals, and citations, including the presidential Medal of Freedom. Peterson died in his studio on July 28, 1996, while working on revising his field guides.”
In honour of Peterson, The Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural history (RTPI) was established in his hometown. Today it serves as an excellent study center for nature studies and environment awareness programmes, while holding large portion of Peterson’s work, both paintings and photographs.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Affectionately known as "KK", bustling Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah and the hub of tourism in Malaysian Borneo. Visitors from around the world use KK as the center point for visiting variety of attractions Sabah has to offer including biologically rich islands, and national parks. Situated just two kilometers from the main city, the Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre (KKWC) covers 24 hectares of mangrove forest that once existed extensively along the coastal region of Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. The center is used primarily as a model wetland for the purpose of conservation, education, recreation and research. KKWC is managed by a local NGO, “Sabah Wetlands Conservation Society” (SWCS), which advocates environmental conservation and awareness on wetland ecosystems found in Sabah as well as in the other parts of Malaysia.
I got the opportunity to visit KKWC as a participant to the recently held Asian Wetland Symposium. The 45-minute or 1.5 km early morning stroll on the boardwalk was a very pleasant experience where you can enjoy fresh air and tranquility, while spotting multitude of interesting birds including the collared kingfisher, which is not recorded from Sri Lanka. The Centre is an important refuge and feeding ground for many species of resident birds, as well as several migratory bird species. The total of bird species observed at KKWC so far is around 83 species from 31 families. The highest abundance of bird groups recorded are residents such as egrets, herons, storks and bitterns, which are usually easy to be spotted as they fly over the mangroves or while feeding in the exposed mud flats.
The mangroves serve as a green lung for the city and its location is strategic for environmental education, urban recreation and eco tourism. Further, as a natural flood retention area, KKWC plays a major role for the city of Kota Kinabalu, preventing possible downstream flooding, removing toxicants and recycling nutrients. It is also a nursery ground for many ocean fish species. A water quality monitoring program presently being conducted and the information collected allows scientists of “Sabah Wetlands Conservation Society” (SWCS) to strategize with the appropriate mitigation measures to combat water pollution. Because of its close proximity to the city, the wetland is subjected to development pressure. Other processes affecting the quality of water at KKWC include domestic wastewater and seawater intrusion.
Previously known as Likas Mangroves, the area was first designated a bird sanctuary by the Sabah state government in September 1996 in order to foster a better understanding and awareness on the value of wetlands. Under the directive of the then Chief Minister of Sabah, “Likas Wetlands Sanctuary Managing Committee” (LWSMC), an innovative and unique public-private-NGO- community partnership, was established during the same year. The principle purpose of LWSMC was to oversee and coordinate development, planning and management of the Bird Sanctuary. This committee was made up of 16 component members including government agencies, private organizations, community groups and local NGOs, each separately constituted and registered.
With the formation of Sabah Wetlands Conservation Society in August 22, 2005, LWSMC was officially dissolved to make way for SWCS to manage KKCS. This society is governed by a Management Committee and a Board of Trustees as regulated in its constitution. With KKWC as the successful model SWCS plan to embark on restoration of degraded mangrove sites throughout Sabah in collaboration with forward thinking private sector organizations such as HSBC. Further SWCS together with State run Sabah Biodiversity center are currently working towards obtaining Ramsar designation of KKWC as a wetland of International importance.
In Sri Lanka we have few mangrove areas promoting education and restoration activities such as the Kadol Kelle at Negambo lagoon run by NARA and the Mangrove Resource Center run by the Small Fishers’ Federation at Pambala. Recently Forest Department too has taken an interest and has established a center at Pubudugama in the vicinity of Puttalam estuary. Only by joining hands with public and private entities we can take these initiatives forward in a more positive manner.
Visit SWCS web site here
Report and photos: Nishanthi Perera
[Nishanthi is currently doing her PhD at University of Colombo on “Policies on marine and coastal protected areas in Sri Lanka”. She presented a paper titled “Policy decisions and their consequences: The Bundala wetland case study, Sri Lanka” at the Asian Wetland Symposium 2011.]
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
The phenomenon of Mixed Species Bird Flocks (MSBF), in forest systems has been well documented and studied in various parts of the world. These studies have resulted in unraveling the adaptive benefits of MSBF and understanding their composition, dynamics and foraging ecology. MSBF are visible, audible and therefore have potential to be key indicator for forest quality. Yet there are many more areas to explore, especially their role in forest ecosystem and community ecology, and how they should be incorporated into conservation and management plans. As the year 2011 is declared by the United Nations as “the year of forests”, it is most appropriate to bring together scientists throughout the world to one platform in order to plan the future of this exciting field.
The Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) organizes the international conference on “Mixed species bird flocks and forest conservation” from 5th to 10th August 2011. Conference will be held in Ratnapura, Sri Lanka.
The objectives of this important conference are:
- To document the present knowledge on MSBF
- To establish a MSBF study group
- To develop a programme and strategy for the future
- To highlight the importance and significance of MSBF in forest conservation and the 2020 Biodiversity targets.
For more information click here.
Sunday, May 1, 2011
The first weekend of April was a time when the country was griped in cricket fever with the Sri Lankan team qualifying to play the grand final on the 2nd. Yet few of us opted to go “wild” during that weekend and spent two halcyon days roaming in the Wilpattu National Park, which can be literally called as the land of many lakes or villus. The main topographical feature of this park is the presence of large number of flat basin like depressions that are filled with rain water.
Wilpattu is one of the oldest and the largest “modern day” protected area in the country. Its origin can be traced back to 1905, a time when big game animals were being indiscriminately hunted by the “sportsman” of that era. As a mitigation measure, two Game Sanctuaries (Yala in 1900 and Wilpattu five years later) where shooting of wildlife was strictly prohibited were established under the provisions of the Forest Ordinance No.10 of 1885. Steps were also taken to demarcate and reserve “surrounds” to each of these two sanctuaries as “Resident Sportsmen Reserves”.In these areas shooting game animals were permitted under a license during the open season, which lasted for about four months. Government Agents of the area were in charge of protecting these reserves. With the passing of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance in 1937, the Wilpattu Game Reserve became a National Park in 1938.
Our disappointment was compensated somewhat with a sudden encounter with a five member elephant family at a waterhole near to Talawila bungalow, our home for the weekend. They simply vanished into the gloomy jungle as our vehicle approached. Large resident herds of elephants are rare in the park, but smaller herds have been recorded in the borders of rivers and abandoned tank areas. On both days we also came upon a lonely old bull elephant feeding in the same villu at dusk and dawn.
We managed to observe around 83 species of birds that included several migrants such as the Eurasian Golden Plover. The endemic Sri Lanka Jungle fowl was plentiful while White-rumped Shamas were observed in several occasions. The Shama is a highly territorial bird and the voice of this species is rich and melodious with wide-ranging songs and notes. They are known to imitate the calls of other birds. Our guide’s sharp eyes managed to spot a nesting Indian nightjar which was well camouflaged amongst the sandy vegetation. The jeeps engine disturbed the nightjar exposing two vulnerable eggs to the hot sun. There was no specific nest, but the eggs were just laid on the sandy terrain. As soon as we left, the bird returned to its eggs. The multi-coloured Chestnut Bee-eaters were found basking on the hot sand while species such as Eurasian thick knee, and water associated birds such as Pond herons, Egrets, Little Cormorants and Lesser whistling ducks were very common. Raptors including Brahminy kite, Crested Serpent eagle, Changeable-hawk eagle and White-bellied sea eagle were also encountered in the Park.
The park and its surroundings are also associated with much legend and history. The remnants of the early history of the country, starting from King Vijaya who landed in the Kudrimalai point, and the palace that is believed to be of Kuveni the jungle princess is still in existence. Pomparippu is an archaeological site where sealed urns containing human remains that are dated to pre-Vijayan times have been found. Wilpattu is also a place where new legends are made. For example, an unfortunate incident of an unlawful killing of a sambur by a visiting Nepalese king Mahendra , lead to the total ban in game hunting in early 1960s.
Wilpattu was out of bounds for tourist for more than two decades due to civil war and several unfortunate incidents including the killing of park officials occurred as a result. The park was officially opened to public in late 2009. Few years back, the major threats to the survival of the Park were poaching and droughts that lasted for months and killed many animals. Yet presently haphazard development initiatives have bypassed the previous threats. Two roads are being developed dissecting the protected area and restricting the home ranges of the wildlife, while the incidences of road kills is now mounting up. Even a helipad has been built, but not to rescue the injured wildlife. Sand mining is recorded from the rivers, which in turn will affect the mangrove development and fishery of the Puttalam estuary in the near future. Further land grabbing by affluent people is also being reported. Concerned Environmental activists have filed a case against these illegal activities and are waiting in anticipation for a justifiable court ruling.
In conclusion, it could be said that the Wilpattu National Park should be protected not only because of its multitude of ecosystems that renders services to the survival of humans and animals, or not because of its rich biological and archeological heritage which will provide us with revenue in the form of tourism, but also because our great grand- children need to see the leopard and the elephant which were born to roam free!
Many thanks to Ayanthi , and other team members Madu, Cheryl, Carl, Thushara and our Guide Bandula.
Report and Photos: Nishanthi Perera
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Yes, they are smart enough to beat birds. Caterpillars that masquerade as twigs to avoid becoming a bird's dinner are actually using clever behavioural strategies to outwit their predators, a new study reveals.
Dr. John Skelhorn, a lecturer in animal behaviour at the University of Exeter, said: "The caterpillars are not just blindly mimicking inedible objects in the environment and hoping for the best, they are actually using complex habitat-selection strategies which exploit predators' hunting behaviour. According to the study, twig mimicking ‘Early Thorn moth’ caterpillars (Selenia dentaria) choose their location to maximise their chances of fooling their predators into thinking they are twigs.
Using domestic chicks (gallus gallus domesticus) as predators of the caterpillars, research showed that caterpillars are more likely to fool birds when twigs are common. In order to exploit birds' behaviour, caterpillars position themselves in locations where twigs are in abundance during the day -- even if they're not good locations for feeding. At night, when the predators cannot hunt by sight, the caterpillars go to rich feeding grounds -- regardless of twig abundance.
Study reveals that chicks are less likely to search for masquerading prey when the object they mimic, in this case twigs, is in abundance.
"The caterpillars make the most of this by selecting habitats where twigs are common during the day, but then abandon them at night, when there are no visually-hunting predators around, in order to go in search of the best feeding grounds."
When the caterpillars were given two options; one with few twigs but plenty of food, and another with more twigs but no food, Caterpillars showed a strong preference for the branch with lots of twigs, offering the best protection from their predators, during the daylight. At night, they opted for the food-rich branch.
John Skelhorn, Hannah M. Rowland, Jon Delf, Michael P. Speed, Graeme D. Ruxton. Density-dependent predation influences the evolution and behavior of masquerading prey. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1014629108
Saturday, March 12, 2011
The Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) organized a field tour to Jaffna Peninsula and surrounding islands from 16-20th February 2011, with the participation of 29 of its members. Scheduled for the day three of this trip was a birding tour to Delft Island, locally known as Neduntheevu. It is the largest island (45 km2) in the Palk Strait, located about 40 km off Jaffna peninsula. The only other land mass beyond this is the Kachchativu, which is a barren island positioned at the border of the maritime boundary of Sri Lanka. Delft was named after a city in Holland during the Dutch colonial rule of the country. Unspoilt and untouched by modernity, mainly due to civil unrest during the last 30 odd years, Delft island offers a wide experience to the traveler in the form of birds, wild ponies, old forts, Baobab trees and beautiful beaches.
We boarded the ferry from Kurikadduwan jetty in Punkudutiv island around 8.30 in the morning and reached Delft after more than one hour of sea journey. Several of us opted to sit on the roof of the ferry as the sea was calm as a lake and watched sea gulls and Brahminy kites freely roaming above us. Striated heron was the first bird to be spotted on the nearby shore of the island. It was interesting to watch the antiques of this bird as it got ready to pounce on its prey. These birds are known to place baits such as feathers or leaves on the water surface and pick fish that come to investigate
After having a quick breakfast of ‘sinisambal’ and bread, we found two ‘land masters’ with the assistance of the Navy officials. These small tractors are the main transportation method in Delft and there is single CTB bus operating on scheduled time periods. Thankfully the land is flat, but you have to endure a bumpy ride in the rough terrain under a very hot sun with only Palmyra palms and few dry shrubs for shade. A lonely Indian roller was encountered in an old Dutch church yard near to the navy camp. The beauty of this bird can be only seen during its flight when striking shades of blue mixed with brown can be witnessed. Next bird to be spotted was a Red collared dove, which is related to more commonly seen spotted dove.
The splendor of the dashing wild ponies mesmerized all of us for quite a while. These animals are not native to Sri Lanka, but are a legacy left behind by the colonial rulers including the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British, who bred the animals for transport and work. Some of the animals are branded indicating that their “wild status” is no longer valid. The literature says that during droughts these ponies have a hard time finding enough water to survive and that due to increase in the number of domesticated cattle, there is a competition for food . The remoteness and inaccessibility of the island has provided protection to the wild ponies to live and breed freely up to now, yet in future with the influx of more people, conservation measures will be needed to ensure their survival. Our next stop was a large water hole where an aggregation of waders including Black winged stilts and ducks such as Garganey and Northern Pintail were observed. In the background several wild ponies were quenching their thirst while a young colt was happily playing about.
The giant Baobab tree is another land mark not to be missed. We spent more than fifteen minutes under the shade of the tree, which was a welcoming relief from the very hot sun. Like the Mannar Baobab, this tree was most probably introduced by the Arabian traders. For lunch we purchased biscuits and soft drinks from the small village boutique located near the Kytes tourist court house. Around 5,000 people inhabit the island and they live in small compounds separated from each other by walls built up of dead coral. One has to walk through the small Government Hospitals corridor to have a look at the ruins of the Dutch Fort. Beyond this fort is a cemetery where you will find tomb stones belonging to all religions. During the colonial rule, carrier pigeons were used as the medium of communication between the islands and there still evidence for this in the form of stone cote.
During the few hours we spend at the Delft island, we observed 64 bird species. A multitude of butterfly species are also found in the island and several of us got busy photographing them. Spending five hours was grossly inadequate to fully appreciate the wonders of this delightful small island and its friendly people. Yet due to time constrains, we had to leave it behind with the hope of visiting again, someday soon.
The Department of Wildlife Conservation has identified part of the Delft to be declared as a National Park under the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance, mainly to protect to wild ponies. This came as a recommendation under the project titled Integrated Strategic Environment Assessment for the Northern Province. Although good in intention, the technical and financial feasibility of this action is doubtful and a more appropriate action would be to declare the whole island as an Environmental Sensitive Area under the National Environment Act and thereafter develop guidelines to promote sustainable development initiatives within the island. It is also highly relevant to carry out a species and habitat assessment of the island before any such regulations are established.
Common Ringed Plover
Little Ringed Plover
Little Green Bee-eater
Report and Photographs: Nishanthi Perera
Sunday, February 6, 2011
Located 90 minutes drive from the city of Melbourne, the not-for-profit ‘Phillip Island Nature Parks’ is the renowned home of Australia’s most popular natural wildlife attraction, the iconic Penguin Parade, where during every sunset hundreds to over a thousand wild Little Penguins (Eudyptula minor) emerge from the sea and march across the beach to their sand dune burrows. It is the best place in the world to experience this completely natural phenomenon and I have been fortunate enough to witness it twice during my visits to Australia.
The Little Penguin is the smallest of 17 species of penguins recorded; growing to only 35 cm or 13 inches and the adult weighs just over one kilogram. In comparison the Emperor Penguin, this is the largest penguin in the world, stands over 110 cm and can weigh 30 kg. The Little Penguin is the only Penguin to breed in Australia. Its dark feathers are not black like other penguins. They are a deep rich blue. Their colour camouflages them from above and below the surface of the ocean. Only males undertake burrow construction. Courtship follows, with the male seeking to impress the female with the prepared burrow. The female chooses the burrow she likes best and that male will be her mate for the year. Nest building begins around April with the first chicks emerging in June. The adults attend to the chicks until they fledge which usually begins in August. It is not uncommon for adults to raise two sets of chicks so there are chicks in the colony until January. Following nesting the adults go out to sea to feed prior to the moulting season, which occurs between December and February. Moulting is followed by another feeding period prior to commencing breeding again. Summerlands Peninsula on the south-western coast of Phillip Island is home to over 28,000 breeding Little Penguins making it one of the largest colonies of that species in the world.
The Phillip Island Nature Parks is part of the UNESCO Mornington Peninsula and Western Port Biosphere Reserve and encompasses wildlife sanctuaries, wetlands, woodlands and breathtaking coastlines which are protected and managed by quality environmental and research programs. Other than being a home to a significant population of Little Penguins it also hosts Hooded Plovers, Short-tailed Shearwaters, and other migratory bird species and mammals such as koalas, possums, wallabies, Australian Fur Seals and bats. The Parks also protects a range of plant communities which includes over 330 native species. Sections of the Nature Parks also fall within or are adjacent to wetlands protected under the intergovernmental Ramsar Convention as wetlands of international importance.
Created by the State Government in 1996, the Phillip Island Nature Parks is the only ‘Nature Park’ in Victoria. The term means that all conservation areas (1, 805 ha or 25% of the island) are managed under the Crown Land (Reserves) Act 1978 and is managed by a Board of Management that is appointed by the Minister responsible for the Crown Land (Reserves) Act 1978. The Nature Parks’ vision is to be a world leader in environmental, economic and socially sustainable nature based and ecotourism experiences. The Nature Parks does not receive ongoing funding from the state or federal government and is self-funded by revenue generated from four main attractions (Penguin Parade, Koala Conservation Centre, Churchill Island Heritage Farm and Nobbies Centre) the Parks was visited by around 1 million people in 2009/10. These visitors came from both around Australia (48%) and internationally (52%). According to an independent economic impact study, the Nature Parks contributes AUD $107 million dollars per annum in direct expenditure to the Victorian economy and AUD $56 million per annum in indirect expenditure. Since the formation of the Nature Parks, funds raised through its commercial operations has been used to protect Phillip Island’s wildlife and their habitat. Conservation projects the Nature Parks undertakes include re-vegetation, habitat restoration, eradication of feral animals and wildlife rehabilitation. In 2009/10, over 60,000 trees were planted on Phillip Island through Nature Parks’ programs. It has an exciting volunteer program which is open to the public, in which the volunteers can assist the Nature Parks with conservation, environment and education projects. Further the Penguin Foundation provides dedicated source of funding for penguin research, rehabilitation, and protection and rescue projects to ensure the ongoing survival of the Little Penguin colony on Phillip Island. By Adopting a Penguin, becoming a Foundation member or making a donation, people have the opportunity to follow the life of a Little Penguin and to play an important role in the conservation of these unique creatures.
Acknowledgment: Ms Sue Davies, Communications Executive of the Phillip Island Nature Parks for providing inputs and photographs of penguins, as photography is prohibited outside the visitor center at the Penguin Parade. More information can be obtained from http://www.penguins.org.au/.
Reported by Nishanthi Perera
Thursday, January 6, 2011
The annual wetland and wader field workshop of FOGSL was held at Bundala National Park and its surroundings between 17th and 20th of December 2010. The workshop was conducted by Professor Sarath Kotagama with the participation of 18 members.
The Bundala National Park covers an area of 3,698 hectares and is located in the South-eastern Arid Zone of Sri Lanka. The park consists of thorny scrub jungle and three lagoons; Malala, Embilikala and Bundala, which form a wetland complex providing habitats for around 200 species of birds, including 50 % of Sri Lanka’s migrants. The wetlands are situated in the southern-most end point of the central Asian migratory bird flyway. This led to the declaration of Bundala as Sri Lanka’s first Ramsar wetland of international importance in 1990. Further, these wetlands are also identified as an Important Bird area as well as a UNESCO Man and Biosphere site, indicating its importance for maintaining globally significant biological diversity!
The FOGSL group left the Colombo University about thee in the afternoon and reached the Heritage Centre, Bundala around nine at night. We set up our camp and had a quick introductory session to discuss the schedule for the next three days. Our nights sleep was disturbed during the wee hours of the morning as some of us got drenched from the heavy rains that pounded on the leaky roof!! After tying a tarpaulin over the mosquito nets we went back to sleep to be awaken by the calls of Indian Peafowls around 5 am!
After a quick cup of tea we went out to do an early morning birding walk around the camp. A rainbow could be seen in the still cloudy sky indicating that the sun will quickly follow. Our first stop was at a small lake and in there we encountered birds such as Black-winged Stilt, Gull-billed Tern and Eurasian Thick-knee. The scrub forest was filled with Pied Cuckoos, Plaintive Cuckoos, Blue tailed Bee-eaters and many species of Prinias.
After breakfast it was time for lectures about wetlands, identification of waders and how to conduct a wader survey. These lectures were very interesting and we found out why Bundala had lost its migratory flocks of Flamingos which numbered up to nearly 3,000 individuals in the 1990s. The development of many irrigation schemes in the upland areas had caused the brackish water of the lagoons to turn into freshwater. Since Flamingos feed in only brackish water Bundala wetlands is now deprived of the magnificent sight of thousands of Flamingos wading through the lagoons in search of prey.
After lunch, we rested for about two hours, which made up for the sleep we lost during the previous night. With a nice cup of tea to refresh us, we made our way to the Weligatta Junction with the intension of counting waders. A large gathering of Black-talied Godwits and Openbills as well as multitude of other waders was enjoying their supper at this corner of the Embilikala lagoon. But a sudden downpour had us back in the bus for about half an hour and then very carefully we made our way back to the wader gathering to get a closer look. On the way back to camp we were treated by a sighting of a majestic Elephant which had a satellite collar attached to its neck. During the night, we took our bird count of the day and discussed many threats faced by the Bundala wetlands including the rapid spread of invasive plant species such as Opuntia (Cactus) and Prosopis juliflora (Mesquite or Kalapu Andara in Sinhala), which in turn have reduced the open feeding areas of the waders.
We awoke to quite a chilly morning on the 19th, but after a hot cup of coffee, the group took the same birding route as the previous morning. Few of us managed to wade through the muddy waters to find new birding spots. This proved to be rewarding as we reached a small lake which was full of waders such as Greenshanks, Redshanks, Black winged Stilts and many Plovers.
The most exciting part of that day was the visit to the Bundala saltern. It turned out to be a wader paradise and we were able to observe Grey, Little- Ringed, Pacific Golden and Lesser Sand Plovers and also Marsh, Common and Curlew Sandpipers and Turnstones as well nine Eurasian Curlews. A group of Pratincoles were also recorded from the banks. The use of a spotting –scope is highly vital for identifying these “little brown jobs”.
After lunch we listen to a lecture on wetland conservation and afterwards we were off to Debora Wewa located few kilometres away from our camp. This was a beautiful location as there was a stretch of paddyfields on one side of the path and the wewa on the other. A few of us were very fortunate to spot a Cinnamon Bittern which flew into a paddy field and quickly hid itself among the paddy. The Tank was home to waterfowl such as the Purple Swamphen, Common Moorhen, Lesser Whistling Duck, Pelicans and Egrets. We were also treated to a very beautiful sunset and we watched in awe as the sun bid good bye for the day.
The next morning the members divided into two groups and went in opposite directions behind the camp in order to spot some new birds. Our group took an adventurous route which nearly agitated a herd of buffaloes, which were wallowing peacefully in a small pool enjoying the early morning sun on their backs. Thankfully they did not attack us although they remained in a defence posture until we disappeared from their sight. At a small water hole we watched the antics of a Pied Kingfisher who was successful in catching several fish. But at one point a Gull-billed Tern tried to steal the fish from it, and this resulted in both birds loosing the tasty meal. We were extremely lucky to observe 26 Great Thick-knees at a close range and a Yellow-wattled Lapwing as well as a large gathering of Barn swallows. The colourful Common Kingfishers were also a common sight in this area.
After a good breakfast of kiribath we packed up our belongings in order to return to Colombo and left behind Prof. Kotagama and Indika who stayed back for another wetland workshop organized for a group of university students. On our way we made a quick stop at the new port being built in Hambantota. It was disturbing to learn that the Karagan Lewaya had been converted into the construction site limiting the wader habitats as well as the nesting sites of marine turtles! One wonders if this can be called “sustainable development” as the lives of many species are being sacrificed to satisfy the development of one species; humans!!. This left us with a thought to ponder about on our way back to Colombo after what had been a very interesting trip. Our hope and wish is that the concerned authorities will take relevant measures to mitigate the threats that could harm the survival of the internationally important Bundala wetlands!
Participants: Mr. R.K. Jayarajah, Mr. Asitha Samarawickrama, Miss. Uraji Karunaratne, Mr. Saman Abesinha, Mr. B.J. Subasinhe, Miss. Kalya Subasinhe, Mr. Sivakumar Selvaraj, Ms. Sujatha Mayadunnage, Mr. Galinga Herath, Mr. M.M. Casseer, Mrs. Sriyani Perera, Ms. Nishanthi Perera, Mrs. Shamila Perera, Mr. Rohan Kaththiriarachchi, Mr. Praveea, Ms. Namalee Kotagama, Mr. Odatha Kotagama, Mr. Indrika Pradeepa, Prof. S.W. Kotagama
Reported by Asitha Samarawickrama and Nishanthi Perera
Photos: Nishanthi Perera
(Group photo by Indrika Pradeepa)
Birds List (Bundala and Debora Wewa)
Sri Lanka Junglefowl
Pacific Golden Plover
Common Ringed Plover
Little Ringed Plover
Lesser Sand Plover
Little Green Bee-eater
Sri Lanka Brown-capped Babbler