Sunday, March 24, 2019

Malabar Pied Hornbill

When we visited Sri Lanka one of the animals that I really wanted to see was the Malabar pied hornbill. Hornbills have become one of my favorite birds and the bill on this species reaches gigantic proportions. It has a huge bony structure on top of its bill known as a casque which is hollow and amplifies the birds' calls.  
Male Malabar pied hornbill in Udawalawe NP. 
Male and female in Udawalawe.
It is found only in portions of India (central and eastern and southwestern) and Sri Lanka. It is mostly black, but has a white belly, throat patch, tail sides and trailing edge to its wings. The bill is yellow with a large casque that is mostly black. Females have a white ring around their eyes which the males lack. 
Female in Yala NP.
Close-up of the head.
They love figs which are 65% of their diet in the non-breeding season (May to February) and 75% of their diet during breeding season. They also eat other fruits, small mammals, birds, small reptiles and insects. 
It is listed as near threatened on the IUCN Red List. 
We had several good sightings. Two were in Udawalawe National Park, one solo male and a couple. We also saw a solo female in Yala National Park. We had a number of other sightings where they were flying or too far away to get good photos. 

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Pied Kingfisher

The pied kingfisher has five subspecies. I have previously seen the subspecies found in Egypt and Sub-Saharan Africa, Ceryle rudis rudis, the nominate subspecies. On our recent trip to Sri Lanka we saw Ceryle rudis leucomelanura, found from eastern Afghanistan through India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Laos. My prior post gives a description. 

We photographed this kingfisher in Bundala National Park on the south coast of Sri Lanka. It was a great distance away and only one of several photos I took with my 500 mm lense was in good focus. 
Pied kingfisher in Sri Lanka. 

Friday, March 22, 2019

White-Breasted Kingfisher

The white-breasted kingfisher, also known as the white-throated kingfisher and tree kingfisher, is found in Asia and has six subspecies. We saw Halcyon smyrnensis fusca, which is found in western India and Sri Lanka. 

It has a bright blue back, wings and tail. Its head, shoulder, flanks and lower belly are chestnut and the throat and breast are white.  The bill and legs are bright red. The subspecies vary in size and in the shade of blue on the mantle. The Sri Lankan suspecies tends to be smaller then the nominate subspecies, bluer, and with a darker brown underside. 
The front-side is very different from the backside. 
They are small, but stand out at great distances because of the bright blue color. 
I photographed this bird in Yala National Park, in southern Sri Lanka, near a small waterhole. Our driver did a nice job of driving around so that we get could photos of both sides of this kingfisher. 
Eating a bee, fly or some other small insect. 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Common Kingfisher

The common kingfisher is also known as the Eurasian kingfisher and river kingfisher. It is very small, about the size of a sparrow, and has seven subspecies. It typically has green/blue upperparts with a pale azure/blue back and rump, a rufus patch by the bill base and a rufus ear-patch. It has a green/blue neck stripe, white neck blaze and throat, rufus underparts and a black bill with some red at the base. The legs and feet are bright red. 
A front-side photo outside Polonnaruwa. 
It was next to a small stream and a mud stream bank. 
It has a short tail, large head and long bill. The subspecies vary by the differing hue of the upperparts and the intensity of the rufus color of the underparts. The subspecies we saw, Alcedo atthis taprobana, is found in Sri Lanka and southern India. It has bright blue upperparts, instead of a green/blue, like other subspecies. The back shines in the sunlight like a polished car finish. The female looks like the male, but the lower mandible is orange/red with a black tip. 
A photo of the side in Bundala National Park. This appears to be a female. 
I got photos of this beautiful kingfisher in Bundala National Park , along the southern coast of Sri Lanka, and outside of Polonnaruwa, in central Sri Lanka. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Sri Lankan Jackal

There are three species of jackal, one of which is the golden jackal, the only species found outside of Africa. The golden jackal has seven subspecies, one of which is the Sri Lankan jackal, also known as the Southern Indian jackal. It is found in all of Sri Lanka and in the southern part of the Indian Peninsula.
In Udawalawe NP.
Its legs are rusty or a rich tan. Its coat is darker on the back and speckled with white. Its underside has more pigment on the chin, chest, hind throat and belly. 
In Uduwalawe NP. Note the rusty legs and ears and darker back. 
It is more closely related to the gray wolf, dog and coyote than the other two species of jackal. In fact, hybridization occurs between golden jackals and wolves and golden jackals and dogs. 

We saw the Sri Lankan jackal on two occasions. The first was in Minneryia National Park. It was one of the only occasions where I actually spotted an animal that our guide Sanjay did not. It was in some long grass and stopped to stare at us several times when Sanjay made some kind of a chirping noise that got its attention.
In Minneryia NP.
The second occasion was in Udawalawe National Park where we saw a group of them, Sanjay said five and I have photos of three of them together. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Indian Flying Fox

We visited the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya, near Kandy, Sri Lanka, and I had one of the most amazing wildlife experiences I've ever had, what we often refer to as a "National Geographic" experience. It was morning and hundreds of birds were flying and making lots of noise. We walked closer to investigate what they were and I realized these were not birds, but bats, with the unmistakable Batman-shaped wings very noticeable in flight. I started taking photos of them in flight and then noticed that they were flying into and out of trees. Then I noticed them hanging from branches, hundreds and hundreds of them, and they were huge! I probably spent 45 minutes watching and taking photos and Judy had to pry me away to look at other things. 
Indian flying foxes. I have lightened the wings in some of my pictures to reflect the arms and veins in them. In reality, many of the flying bats looked all black, while some looked this brownish color, depending on how the sunlight was reflecting on them.  

In September 2002 a study was made of the Indian flying fox colony of bats in Peradeniya Botanical Gardens. The roosting bats were counted on two successive days and numbered about 24,480 bats on 279 trees (not every tree has bats), covering an area of about one-third of the gardens. The number of bats per tree (in trees that held bats) was a low of 10 and a high of 1,200. It was suggested that Peradeniya may contain the largest colony of Indian flying foxes in the world. 
Roosting bats taking flight. 

There are 60 plus species of flying foxes or fruit bats.  The Indian flying fox, also known as the greater Indian fruit bat, is one of the largest bats in the world. It is found in much of South Asia, including Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar, China (Tibet), Bangladesh, Bhutan and the Maldives. It prefers to roost on tall trees in close proximity to water, human residences and farmland. 
They eat fruit and drink nectar from flowers, particularly mango in season, but also flowers, seed pods, bark, cones and twigs. Roosts are continually used for upwards of ten years and the article cited above noted that Peradeniya has been noted as a place for roosting Indian flying foxes since the 1880s. It has a black back, lightly streaked with gray, a yellow/brown mantle, a brown head and dark brownish underparts. It has large eyes, small ears, can weigh up to 3.5 pounds, and can have a wing span just short of five feet. 

Surprisingly to me, they do not echolocate, but rely on sight to navigate. They have binocular vision and eyes that are adapted to seeing in low-light conditions. 
Later on, I believe near Wirawila Lake, we stopped near the entrance which had trees lining it. Our guide Sanjay showed us Indian fruit bats in the trees which were not has high as those in the Botanical Garden. I was able to get a few photos with more detail of the bats. 
Roosting bats wrapped in their cape-like wings. 

Monday, March 18, 2019

Sri Lankan Leopard

The Sri Lankan leopard, also known as the Ceylon leopard, is one of eight subspecies of leopard and is found only in Sri Lanka. It was listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List in 2008. I have previously seen the African leopard, a different subspecies, in Serengeti NP in Tanzania and in the Okavanga Delta of Botswana
Sri Lankan leopard in Yala NP.
We were with Sanjay of Lankatracker in Block 1 of Yala National Park, an area which is 54 square miles, which has the highest concentration of leopards in the world. We saw three of the estimated (as of 2015) 700 to 950 Sri Lankan wild leopard population. 
Because it is an apex predator, without competition from lions or hyenas that the lions in Africa face, it has evolved into one of the largest of the leopard subspecies and it rarely carries its kill into trees to eat it (because it doesn't have to). 
It preys primarily on Axis deer, which we heard called spotted deer in Sri Lanka, but also sambar deer, wild boar, monkeys and other small mammals, birds and reptiles. 
I saw one leopard our first morning in Yala (Judy was not feeling well that morning and skipped the safari). We came across a congregation of about 15 safari vehicles waiting near a meadow full of wild water buffaloes. A guide in another vehicle told Sanjay that another guide had seen a leopard go into the trees on the far end of the meadow. Sanjay surmised that the leopard, which is afraid of water buffalo, was waiting for the water buffalo to leave and we waited patiently as most of the other vehicles abandoned the meadow and drove into the surrounding area looking for it. After a wait of about 20 minutes, Sanjay spotted the leopard and we drove about 75 yards and caught a great view of it as it walked into the open about 30 yards from us. The combination of my excitement, my long zoom lens giving little room for error, and having the lens on the wrong setting (no rapid shot photos), meant that I did not get as many good pictures as I should have. This was one of many instances of Sanjay's amazing spotting skills coming into play. 
Our next leopard spotting was the next morning in Yala. We were driving past an off-shoot road and Sanjay spotted two leopards on top of a large rock about 150 or 200 yards away. It took us a few seconds to see them. It was very early and still quite dark, so our pictures don't show as much of the beautiful color and detail. We watched the leopards go over the top of the rock then come back, before going over for good. We were all alone this time. We then drove to the other side of the rock and around the area several times looking for them. We saw their tracks in the dirt road, but that was it. A little later a mass of safari vehicles drove into the area to find the leopards, as Sanjay had called his buddies in some other vehicles and let out word of the sighting, but we were now going in the opposite direction, trying to avoid the crowding that they would bring. 
One of only a couple of photos of the two leopards together. 

Seeing a Sri Lankan leopard was one of my hopes as we planned our trip and I was thrilled that we the wish was fulfilled.