de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2009). Back-garden birdwatching. Living. January-February 200. Pages 38-39. Volume 4, Issue 3. ISSN 1800-0746
Colombo has a surprising wealth of bird life.
Borella seems an unlikely place to be a birding hotspot. But one morning in late October I found myself absorbed with the bird life in my back garden. October is a good month for city dwellers with an interest in birds because the species tally of resident birds is swelled by new arrivals. By mid October the air was becoming filled with the chatter of migrant Blue-tailed Bee-eaters. Forest Wagtails were regularly ‘plinking’ overhead as their arrived at their winter quarters.
I woke up one morning to the strong vocalizations of Brown Flycatcher. A nondescript little bird, it keeps to the canopy of trees from where it sallies forth to ‘flycatch’. It would escape attention were it not for its insect like call which betrays its presence. By the time I went down to the kitchen to prepare my morning caffeine fix, the Brown Flycatcher had fallen silent.
Instead I was treated to a flash of brick red as a Asian Paradise-flycatcher flitted about hawking for insects. It was handsome bird with a jaunty black crest and a bluish eye-ring and lores. The Asian Paradise-flycatcher is found in two forms in Sri Lanka. A resident race where the males are red with long tails and a migrant form where the males are white (with black heads). Both races have the female with red wings and tail. However almost certainly the females which arrive in the wet zone during the migrant season are bound to be migrants. I called my youngest daughter Amali to come down and look at the Paradise Flycatcher. We were distracted by a gorgeous Black-headed Oriole which perched on broken stem in full view. It battered a caterpillar and then swallowed it. To its left on an exotic conifer I noticed a highwayman. A brown bird with a black mask across its face. This was a Brown Shrike, another migrant bird. Shrikes are also known as ‘butcher birds’. They have a habit of setting up a larder. They catch lizards and other small animals and leave them impaled on thorns to feed at leisure.
A master in the art of bribery was attracting a retinue of birds. Calling it bribery is too harsh. Fair pay for services rendered is more like it. A cycad bush was in fruit. Its edible seeds are coated in a thick fibrous coat. House Crows, Black Crows, Common Mynas and Palm Squirrels were taking it in turn to wrest the seeds out of their receptacles. The seeds are near the base of the tree, which leaves animals feeding on them vulnerable to an aerial attach. Perhaps a woodland hunter like a Shirka may seize its chance. Therefore each bird and the squirrels would fly away or run away with a large seed to a more secure position to prise open the seed coat. This is a clever strategy by the Cycad which ensures that the seeds are dispersed well away from the mother tree.
A feeding animal may be disturbed and drop it seed before it can feed on it. Enough of these dropped seeds will allow new plants to grow. Plant and animal are interconnected in each other’s survival. A delicate and complex web of life.
A pair of Oriental Magpie-robins perched on the wall which was turning green with mosses which were flourishing in this October’s heavy inter-monsoonal rains. Side by side, the differences between the sexes were clear. The male a flossy black, the female having the gloss black replaced with a dull black. In the front garden I could hear a flock of Yellow-billed Babblers chattering. They are social nesters with perhaps seven different adults helping to incubate the young and raise them. They have nested a record thirteen times in our garden. It is such a shame that Sri Lanka does not have a scheme to train and license hundreds or thousands of people to ‘ring’ birds as they do in Europe. If we did, we could colour ring resident birds and unravel their social histories. So much of insightful scientific research could be carried out in peoples home gardens. We could ring the migrants and see if it is the same Paradise Flycatcher or Brown Flycatcher or Indian Pitta which visits the same home garden year after year.
My back garden is a mere eight perches. It was bare land when we moved in here but within a few years plants had taken root and a diversity of animals had made it their home. I could spend an entire day watching the myriad of wildlife which makes its home in a back garden in an Asian metropolis.