A bird watcher’s delight

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By Risidra Mendis 2016-07-12

For the first time in the history of Sri Lanka a bird watcher has spotted a nest of a Ceylon Whistling-thrush in an abandoned building in the Horton Plains National park. Even though many bird watchers have spotted the Ceylon Whistling-thrush and made notes of their sightings it is a rare sight to spot the nest of a bird. 


By Risidra Mendis

While on a visit to the Horton Plains National Park bird enthusiast Tharanga Herath heard the sounds of a bird that resembled the Ceylon Whistling-thrush on 15 March early morning. On closer inspection Herath identified the bird to be the Ceylon Whistling thrush. Even though the breeding season of the bird is from January to May not many bird watchers have come across a bird nest because it is a very shy bird.


"I was on the lookout for birds that morning when I heard the whistling sounds of this one. From the sound of the bird I identified it to be the Ceylon Whistling-thrush and on closer inspection discovered the nest of the bird in an abandoned building . The Ceylon Whistling thrush's nest was ten feet from ground level.The nest was ten feet wide and 20 feet long. There were two eggs in the nest. I observed the bird seated on top of the nest and after a while she flew off. I managed to take some photos of the nest and eggs without disturbing the bird. The Ceylon Whistling-thrush is active during the early morning hours and in the evening but is not nocturnal. This is one of the hardest birds to spot," Herath explained.


He added that the Ceylon Whistling-thrush is restricted to the high hills and forest areas and dense forest and can be seen in Horton Plains, the Knuckles range and the Nuwara Eliya forest areas.
The Ceylon Whistling-thrush is also known as the Arrenga and was discovered from Sri Lanka by Samuel Bligh in 1868. "After the first specimen was obtained from a locality below Haputale at about 4,200 feet altitude it is now known only to occur from hills above 3,000 feet and most likely to be seen between 4,000 feet and 7,000 feet. However, Henry originally said it is most likely to be seen between 3,000 feet and 6,000 feet contours between which Horton Plains, which is located well above it, is not included. But at present the species is regularly recorded in and around Horton plains area.

Typical haunts of this strictly mountain species are dense montane forest floor with usually close proximity to streams or other water bodies. The Ceylon Whistling-thrush is an endemic species, which is very shy and elusive," Herath explained.
Whistling note
He added that the significant sibilant whistling note normally, uttered at dawn and dusk, indicates its presence, as it is a species that is heard than seen and that its diet consists of insects as well as other small creatures including geckos, lizards and small frogs that the bird feeds on by hopping on the ground.

"The author has observed an unusually large prey a well grown Mountain Hourglass Tree Frog, in relation to the size of the bird. The colouration of the male appears as a glossy metallic black bird with a blue sheen, while the female is a dark brown overall with slightly lighter under parts. The Ceylon Whistling-thrush looks a little smaller than a Yellow- billed Babbler and between the sizes of Red-vented Bulbul and Common Myna," Herath said.

"All birds listed in schedule 4 under Section 31 sub section 2 of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO) is strictly protected species. Any offence on the species is punishable with a more severe punishment than the average protected birds. Those found guilty of such an offence can be arrested without a warrant. The bird is endemic to the hill country and is listed as endangered in the Red Data List 2012. However, there is no deliberate harm to the birds but due to the loss of habitat their populations have reduced. In Nuwara Eliya the wide use of pesticides has caused harm to the birds. Most nests of the birds are predated. This is the first time and sighting that the bird has made use of a man-made structure to build a nest," Environment Lawyer Jagath Gunewardene said.

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