A DAY IN THE RAINFOREST

de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2004). A day in the Rainforest. Serendipity. February 2004. Page 9.

A shrill, chatter pierced the air, rising to an almost hysterical crescendo. A Giant Squirrell, was alarmed, very alarmed, probably in fear of its life. The forest went quiet in anticipation of an imminent attack by a predator. This particular strike, came from the air. We looked up and saw a Hawk Eagle, swooped down swiftly and silently, its wings bow shaped as it gathered speed on the swoop. It weaved between the trees and was lost to sight. The Giant Squirrell screamed again, in pain or fear, we could not be sure. As a momentary quietness floated through the forest, we wondered whether the Hawk Eagle had killed its prey. The death of one, gives life to another. The arithmetic in the web of life is harsh but simple.
A bush rustled. My rears were now attuned to the slightest movement. I turned around to see Amila Salgado emerging from a shrub covered slope. Amila leads Expert Rainforest Tours, but today was enjoying the liberty of having the day to himself. He had stumbled across a Tree Frog. It was perfectly camouflaged and we could barely make it out in the leaf litter. Phil Dearden and I took photographs as it froze, trusting to camouflage rather than flight. A light mist enveloped an epiphyte laden tree. The sunlight looked milky white as it burst upon the forest floor as it rose across a distant forest ridge. An Earless Lizard, stared at us balefully.
We were in Morapitiya Forest Reserve. A precious reserve of forest, as important as Sinharaja, but not so well known. We were on our way to meet Keith Betton of ABTA who was birding in Sinharaja on an invitation from the Sri Lanka Tourist Board. We were doing well on time and Morapitiya had been just too tempting to pass by without a quick look. ‘Quick’ in my case usually means at least three hours.
A rising, shrill crescendo filled the forest and began drawing closer to us. On of the shyest inhabitants of the rainforest was announcing its presence, the Sri Lanka Spufowl. The birds usually move in pairs. Hoping for a glimpse, Hiran Cooray and his son Dimitri stealthily walked towards the edge of a forest clearing. We followed suit. The crescendo of calls grew deafeningly loud, and abruptly fell away. The Spurfowl was living up to its reputation of being a difficult bird to see. A distant whoop whoop drifted over, faint, but distinctly recognizable as the call of another shy, rainforest specialist. The Green-billed Coucal.
We passed a stream and Amila pointed out the different species of fish. Stoneloaches clung to rocks, anchored firmly against the current. Rasboras swirled through the eddies. Paradise Combtails swum through gracefully and purposefully. A glittering emerald coloured patch lifted off from a rock and hovered briefly before settling down on another rock. The emerald patch vanished as if a light had been switched off as the drab undersides camouflaged the splendid damselfly, one of the many species of dragonflies and damselflies inhabiting Sri Lanka. Over half of these are endemic and probably many more remain to be discovered.
We could have stayed all day, but Keith and his Birding Guide Wicky Wickramasekera was waiting for us in another rainforest. We began heading back, but not for long. A gashed tire forced us to halt and change tires. A pair of Black-capped Bulbuls whistled inquisitively and a Tree Nymph, an endemic butterfly sailed past on the warm thermals.
Keith and Wicky were triumphant when we met them. They had cleaned up on the montane ‘endems’ to use birding jargon. Visiting Horton Plains, they had been successful in seeing the threatened Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush and other montane specialties like the Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon. As night fell, we gathered silently, like a funeral coterie, at the visitor center. Our nocturnal quarry was the rarely seen Sri Lanka Frogmouth, a strange troll like bird. One called in the distance to remind us that it lived here. But we had to be contented with listening to the night’s chorus of cicadas and frogs. Fatigue welled up in us and the desire for sleep numbed our senses. Tomorrow, we will start again, fresh, to look for Red-faced Malkohas and Spot-winged Thrushes.
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne is an Executive Director of Jetwing Eco Holidays (gehan@jetwing.lk, www.jetwingeco.com) which specializes in Birding, Rainforest and Wildlife Safari holidays. He is the lead author of A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka (New Holland). To receive his free, wildlife e-newsletter, send him an e-mail with “Subscribe Wildlife News” in the message header.