KANDY HOSTS BIRD WATCHING CONFERENCE
de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2000). Kandy Hosts Bird Watching Conference. Island Newspaper. ?? October 2000. Page 11.
An account of the Pan Asian Ornithological Conference held in Sri Lanka.
The clinking of coffee cups broke the stillness of the pre-dawn. Tripods were extended, telescopes attached, and an ever increasing number of people began to mill around a swimming pool. The people gathering in the dark were birdwatchers, scientists and eco-professionals with a common interest in birds and their conservation. The somewhat earlier than usual start for conference delegates at 05.50 am was to become a usual feature of the conference as most delegates participated in the morning birdwatching session. Situated up a hill with commanding views of the Kandyan countryside, the Le Kandyan hotel was hosting the second Pan Asian Ornithological Conference (PASOC 2000) from October 26th to the 29th.
The group fanned out over the hill along the Bird Trails that the hotel had constructed with assistance from the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL). I found myself in distinguished company with many heavy weights in the birding world attending the conference. Amongst them was Richard Grimmett, the lead author of the landmark publication Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. As the group birdwatched their way around the trail above the hotel, small groups continuously formed and splintered allowing the delegates to mix. Pleasant company, a super location and good birding made for a good start on a Friday morning.
We had not walked long before a flock of endemic Layards Parakeets screeched into view and settled on some trees offering excellent views through a telescope. The hill side was a mixture of degraded forest, patana and tea. The mix of habitats and open landscape made it possible to see a wide mix of the common forest and grassland birds. The highlights for the foreign birdwatchers were the endemics. Sri Lanka White-eyes moving in flocks, Yellow-fronted Barbets with their calls resounding across the valley, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrots screaming their way across the sky added to an easy tally of endemics.
Beside a Ficus tree we gathered around to watch a mix of White-eyes, Velvet-fronted Nuthatches, Grey Tits, Pygmy Woodpeckers, Yellow-fronted and Ceylon Small Barbets, Pale-billed Flowerpeckers, Purple-rumped Sunbirds, Brown Flycatchers, Scarlet and Little Minivets and many other common birds. The nuthatches were stunning in purplish blue plumage with red bills. Another favorite were the Scarlet Minivets, with a striking combination of black and scarlet in the males.
Over a span of two hours we saw around forty species of birds including 4 endemics and proposed endemics. Undoubtedly there are other locations where a greater tally of species may be obtained. But what gives Kandy an edge is that good forest sites are accessible from hotels of quality and elegance. Sri Lanka has tremendous potential as a eco-tourism destination for its combination of infrastructure, scenery and wildlife. It is of little surprise that hotels are now seeking specialist advice to exploit eco-tourism opportunities. ‘Hosting PASOC 2000 gave us an opportunity to meet some of the leading international birdwatchers and an opportunity to road test our Bird Trails at our bird friendly resort hotels, Le Kandyan and Culture Club” says Chandra Wickremasinghe, Chairman of the Connaissance de Ceylan.
Kandy is a city blessed with riches. Its cultural riches are well known, but its ecological riches perhaps less so. Close to the heart of the city is Udawattakale, a forest reserve on the agenda of many a visiting birder. Less well known, a few kilometers away is the University Forest Solitude, which can approached en route to the Le Kandyan, a few hundred meters from the hotel. On Saturday we birdwatched here to look for birds that prefer undisturbed tall forest. To reach it, we walked past the bungalow formerly occupied by Lord Mountbatten and added Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill and Brown-capped Babbler to the tally of endemics. Ably led by Rahula Perera of FOGSL, we soon found another endemic, the Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon. The forest held migrant Thick-billed and Greenish Tree Warblers who sang or called as they foraged on the trees. Southern Hill Mynas, Alexandrine and Layards Parakeets kept to the upper canopy. A gem of a bird was a migrant Indian Blue Robin that sang lustily in open view.
The number of Sri Lankans who presented papers at the PASOC conference and who joined the field excursions was an encouraging sign. It is vital that Sri Lankans in particular appreciate the country’s bio-diversity and support its conservation. Two societies worth of mention for those interested are the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL), Department of Zoology, University of Colombo, Colombo 3. Fax 337644. E-mail email@example.com and the Ceylon Bird Club, No. 39, Chatham Street, Colombo 1, Sri Lanka. Tel 328627. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
The author (email@example.com) is the lead author of A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Sri Lanka (available from Lakehouse & Barefoot) and A Pocket Photographic Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka recently published by New Holland ISBN 1-85974511-1, available soon from leading bookshops. He attended PASOC 2000 as a guest of the Connaissance de Ceylan.