BUZZARDS AND ARRENGAS
de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2002). Buzzards and Arrengas. Serendipity. January 2003. Page 8.
Gehan joins a team from the Singapore Nature Society on a nature watch in Horton Plains.
Sam Caseer and Hetti, two Naturalist Chauffeur Guides, quietly ushered everyone out of the two vehicles and shut the doors with a soft click. Our torchlight bounced back from a thicket of mist which had enveloped us. It was still dark at 5.30 am. A light breeze blew through the cloud forest, rustling through the forest canopy. It was a cold morning in December and I noticed one of the ladies shiver slightly.
Suddenly, a single high pitched, screechy note rang out. Amila Salgado gestured for everyone to be quiet and signaled that the Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush was calling. To use birding slang, this was our target species. We were with five members of the Singapore Nature Society who had been persuaded to visit Sri Lanka on a recce by their friends in the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka. Amongst them was Kim Lim Seng, the President of the Asia Bird Life Council and author of An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore. Weighed under an enormous lens was Jimmy Chew, one of the most published nature photographers in Singapore. Anticipating poor light, Jimmy had mounted a Fresnel lens, in front of his flash gun, a special device to focus the flash beam and increase its intensity. A special bird like the Whistling Thrush or Arrenga requires special preparation. The bird is crepuscular, that is to say it is most active at the interval between night and day.
The calling grew louder and closer and we waited in eager anticipation for it to show itself. Alas, a van motored up the hill and around the bend at that very moment, sending the Whistling Thrush back into cover. The sun slowly arose, banishing darkness. A Dull-blue Flycatcher emerged and thrilled the Singaporeans who were delighted to see this highland endemic. An Indian Blue Robin called, but remained hidden. This is a Himalayan migrant, best seen in Sri Lanka, where it spends the winter. Later, in Victoria Park, we had some splendid views.
A pair of Yellow-eared Bulbuls called noisily and flew in. A Gray-headed Flycatcher began to sing and added to the dawn chorus. In half an hour the cloud forest began to quieten down. Sam, Hetti and Amila led the others in search of wintering Buzzards and skulking Sri Lanka Bush Warblers. I prowled the margins of the Arrenga Pool, audio recording the calls of montane tree frogs and leaf warblers. We had missed our target bird, but there still was plenty to entertain us in this precious cap of cloud forest.
The writer is the CEO of a wildlife and adventure travel company. He is the lead author of A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Sri Lanka (OBC) and A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka (New Holland). To subscribe to his free, wildlife e-newsletter, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org with “subscribe wildlife news” in the message header.