de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2010). Sinharaja beckons. Living. March – April 2010. Pages 28-29. Volume 5, Issue 4. ISSN 1800-0746.
There is always so much to see in the Sinharaja Rainforest.
I froze as I made eye contact with its piercing white eyes. It looked almost stern and disapproving. It is not often one makes eye contact with the high canopy frequenting Ceylon Hanging-parrot. It is a gorgeous bird with a bright scarlet rump and forehead and in the case of the male, blue on the throat. I had not expected to get so close to a Hanging-parrot. I was on my way to Martin’s Simple Lodge with Tom Owen-Edmunds when I pulled over at a pond which is very good for dragonflies. I soon found my quarry. A magnificent species of Emperor dragonfly was hawking over the water. It looked huge in comparison to the other dragonflies. It zipped around, the pond, flying close enough for me to make out the blue on its ‘rump’ with my naked eyes. At times it would put on such a burst of speed that I could not track it with my naked eyes. Two Spine-tufted Skimmers rose up and challenged it. The Emperor continued to patrol unperturbed.
Close to me was a mango tree burdened with a large clump of the parasitic Loranthus which had engulfed a part of the tree. The Ceylon Hanging-parrot flew in and was seen by Tom who was paying more attention to the birds. Before long we had three feeding on the nectar of the flowers and giving us an amazingly long and close view.
With the threat of imminent rain and hunger acting in equal persuasion we continued to Martin’s. We had already had a good start. The male Scarlet Minivets accompanying two females perched against distant forest covered hills. The males in red and black were vivid and almost unreal. A Brown Mongoose, so difficult to photograph had paused behind an elderly village woman to observe her. We in turn carefully watched this shy animal.
The show of tropical colour continued as we entered the reserve. I have been now visiting Sinharaja for 29 years. One of the changes I have observed is how much the birds have become habituated to people. Contrary to what some argue, animals are not necessarily disturbed by people. If no harm is done to them, animals accept people. As we entered the reserve, a magnificent male Ceylon Junglefowl obligingly trotted up. I had expected this. But it got better when a usually shy Emerald Dove walked up to us as well. A photograph can never do justice to the shimmering cloak of bronzy green worn by it. A subdued Sinharaja Bird Wave had at its core the endemic Orange-billed Babblers. A pair of Malabar Trogons perched in view. The females had soft pastelly colours and the tip of its tail dipped in charcoal. The male sported a vivid red breast which glowed in the dim interior. Its shoulders had beautiful black and white vermiculations.
A flock of endemic Ceylon Blue Magpies did their best to liven the gathering gloom. A Crested Drongo called, but decided against summoning a Sinharaja Bird Wave. A flock of Ceylon Hill-mynas crossed a valley piercing the stillness with their strident calls. A relative, the scarce endemic, the White-faced Starling later flew over us with its softer call. Ashy-headed Laughingthrushes were a nice bonus as the drizzle turned to rain. We took shelter in the hut which was used by P.B. Karunaratne the legendary field scientist. It was here that 29 years ago, as a fifteen year old, I came with a group of school boys to be Martin’s first eco-tourism clients. Karu had introduced me to the Sinharaja Bird Wave at a lecture he had given at the University of Colombo for the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) and March for Conservation (MFC). We had then come to see it in the field for ourselves. It is now the longest studied bird wave. It is also the largest in the world and offers the best viewing of bird waves found in the world.
The rain drummed on the tin roof and lulled us to sleep. Swirls of mist danced through the forest. Colour faded. Tom and I had retreated into a world where only a slender thread of consciousness connected us to the world. A voice cut through our dreaming as Gunatilake our guide asked whether we planned to stay very late for owls. It was approaching five in the evening when we began the walk back. No less than ten Spot-winged Thrushes had come out into the logging road to forage. I have noticed they do this early in the morning and late in the evening. What struck us most was how unafraid they are now of people. They seemed like friendly companions, keeping watch on the trail for us as we walked a damp trail turning into a rivulet of water. The rain thundered down, but it was not before, Sinharaja had shown us so much.