Archive | August, 2012

Visitors without visa

26 Aug

Published on LakbimaNews

Migrant Watch 2011/12 Report

26 Aug

To raise awareness on the migrant birds, FOGSL launched MigrantWatch in October 2011. This has been timed where many exhausted migrants like Indian Pitta were mostly recorded on this period of time on previous years. A special logo has been revealed and through media, the public and membership has been informed about the MigrantWatch.

In addition to birds, the MigrantWatch also aimed at raising awareness on the possible Dragonfly Migration. The evidence of possibility of such a migration was first spotted by FOGSL member Nashath and subsequent search made the time closely resemble with the dates Dragonflies were spotted in Maldives.

MigrantWatch activities were widely publicized through Media and we got lots of response on sighting of migrants. In additions, records of large dragonfly swarms were reported from different parts of the country.

The lives of atleast 10 birds too could be saved as a result of awareness built through MigrantWatch. 4 birds were handed over to FOGSL members and been rescued while instructions were given on how to handled the exhausted migrants and release them.

Following is the list of rescued Migrants…

  • Slaty-legged Crake: Found in Lucky Plaza building in Colpetty. Released at Kollonnawa marsh
  • Slaty-legged Crake: Found near Lakehouse. Released at Kollonnawa marsh
  • Indian Pitta: Found at Mutwel garden.
  • Indian Pitta: Found at Mt.Lavinia. Released at Attidiya
  • Indian Pitta: Found at Matara. Flew on its own after a day of relaxing
  • Indian Pitta: Kurunegala. Reported over phone and instructions were given on how to handle
  • Slaty-legged Crake: Kalubowila. Reported over phone and instructions were given on how to handle

Launch of MigrantWatch program in Sri Lanka..!!

26 Aug

Land use changes from migrants’ bird’s eye view..!!

26 Aug

Feathered migrant friends come back to Bundala

26 Aug

It’s the migratory season, and birds from overseas are arriving to stay out the winter months with us. And some of the visitors are old friends, writes Malaka Rodrigo

Sri Lanka is the destination of choice for a variety of migrant birds, and they usually stop over at the same sites every year.

This was proved by two feathered visitors – a Common Redshank and a Lesser Sand Plover – that were captured recently in the Bundala National Park, on the southern coast.A team of bird lovers working for the National Bird Ringing Programme noted that the two birds had been ringed during earlier visits to the national park: the Common Redshank was ringed in 2009, and the Lesser Sand Plover in 2007.

Exhausted Pitta found in Maradana in 2009
Setting up mist nests in Bundala at dusk

Bird migration is a source of fascination to bird lovers. Year after year, during the visiting season, these overseas callers are drawn to Sri Lanka, because of the island’s geographical position, just below the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent. Sri Lanka represents their final destination in their long journey from their homes in northern climates.

The National Bird Ringing Programme, a scientific study of bird migration patterns, is a joint venture of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka and the Department of Wild Life Conservation. The programme was launched six years ago, in April 2005, at the Bundala National Park.

Migrant birds start arriving in Sri Lanka around the middle of August, ahead of the winter in their native lands. After spending around six months in the island, they return to their breeding grounds towards the end of April the following year. Of the 492 bird species recorded in Sri Lanka, 169 or 36 per cent are migrants. Waders, ducks and coastal birds represent the bulk of the visitors.

The Bundala wetland, about 15 kilometres east of Hambantota, is a paradise for migrants, and has been the base for the ringing programme.

Ringing is a delicate operation, and is generally conducted at dusk. Mist nets (nets with small holes eyes) are strung up around the Bundala lagoon. Birds that get entangled in the nets are taken to the camp and their statistics recorded. A small, individually numbered ring is attached to the birds’ legs.

The ringing exercise takes place four times a year, three during the migratory season and one in July. The three migratory season operations are conducted at the start of the wintering period (September to October); in mid-winter (December to January), and the end of the wintering period (March to April).
Researchers say the ringing programme should be expanded to other locations in the country in order to allow a better understanding of the migrants.

Habitat loss is a serious threat to migrants, says ornithologist, Professor Sarath W. K. Kotagama. The migrants are highly vulnerable to disruption of habitat, such as the cutting down of swathes of forest. These disruptions may threaten the very survival of the bird species, he says.

Watch out for migrants in trouble 

Anyone who cares about birds and wildlife would be interested to know that you do not have to go all the way to the south coast, to places like the Bundala Nature Reserve, to see migrant birds.

Some of the more common migrants visit home gardens as their temporary residence, and even hover around populated urban areas, including the city of Colombo. These visitors include the Indian Pitta (Avichchiya); the Asian Paradise Flycatcher (Sudu-Redi Hora); the Blue-tailed Bee-eater; the Brown Flycatcher, the Barn Swallow, and the Forest Wagtail.

The Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka, an affiliate of BirdLife International, organizes “MigrantWATCH”, an opportunity for bird lovers to observe and study migratory birds.

Some of the common migrants need our help in order to survive. The Indian Pitta, for example, arrives in Sri Lanka, usually exhausted after its long journey. Protect the bird if you see it in your garden.

The Sunday Times reported one such Indian Pitta that was rescued in Nugegoda. and another that was rescued in Colombo. Alert residents can help the tired bird by rescuing the troubled Indian Pittas found in their gardens. “This is one of the reasons we started MigrantWATCH,” says a member of the Ornithological Society.

If you spot a troubled migrant bird, or would like to participate in the MigrantWATCH programme, call the Field Ornithology Group (011) 2501332 / 0776248302, or write to

Upcoming Migrant WATCH activities:

* Lecture on “Migration and Bundala Birds” by Prof. Sarath Kotagama on Saturday, October 29, at 9.30 am, at the Science Faculty of the University of Colombo (entrance on Thurstan Road)
*  Field visit and workshop to Bundala to study migrants and wader birds: 10 to 13 November
*  Field visit to Mannar : 8 to 11 December
*  Field visits to Thalangama and other wetlands to see migrants

(call (011) 2501332 / 0776248302 for details).

Published on SundayTimes on 30.10.2011

Save migratory birds in crisis..!!

26 Aug

Wasarak pasa obe gewatta ta ena sancharakayo

26 Aug

published on Lankadeepa 13.11.2011

World’s longest dragonfly migration via Sri Lanka?

26 Aug

By Malaka Rodrigo Last week, a large cloud of dragonflies was observed along the west coast near Colombo. Subsequently, an increase of dragonflies was sighted in many areas islandwide. This sudden appearance of dragonflies in large numbers raised the curiosity of the public.This wave of dragonflies was first reported moving southwards in large numbers on October 20 morning. One of the witnesses, Nashath Haffi of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) says while travelling by train he observed this wave around 7 a.m., parallel to the coast, continuously from Moratuwa to Kollupitiya. It is not clear whether the swarm continued further southward.With the aim of investigating the phenomena, the Sunday Times visited the Dehiwala beach, which was in the middle of the recorded route of the dragonflies last Sunday. The residents, mostly fisher folk, when interviewed, confirmed sighting on October 20 a wave of dragonflies flying southwards at a height of about 10 feet. Some of them said it was the first time they had observed such a phenomenon, while others said it was an annual event.

The Dehiwala residents also assisted in catching a few dragonflies still hovering in the vicinity. This dragonfly is about 4.5 cm long, with a wingspan of about 5 cm. The body is a golden colour (dark yellow) with a dark line. The wings are clear and very broad at the base, with a tip near the end. The photos were shared with dragonfly experts and the species identified as Globe Skimmer, or Wandering Glider, scientifically categorised as Pantala flavescens.

Investigations also revealed an interesting fact that this dragonfly is migratory like birds. A Dragonfly migration is believed to be happening annually from India to Africa via the Maldives. Dr. Charles Anderson, who had researched this migration, confirms that, the dragonflies caught in Dehiwala, are the same species involved in the India-Africa migration. Living in the Maldives since 1983, Dr. Anderson continues to observe a sudden influx of dragonflies which raised his initial curiosity. Dragonflies need freshwater to raise their young, as their larvae stage is spent in freshwater.

However, the Maldives is a group of oceanic islands with sand that absorbs all the rainwater it gets. Hence, no freshwater pools are formed even after rain falls. So, apparently, the dragonflies recorded in the Maldives are from elsewhere.

Dr. Anderson started noting down dates of dragonflies seen for the first time in the Maldives, and then compared the data of dragonflies appearing in South India. He found a clear sequence of arrival dates from north to south. According to this data, dragonflies first arrive in Southern India and then in the Maldives. According to his research, each year, dragonflies first appear in the Maldive’s capital, Male, between October 4 and 23, with a mean arrival date of October 21. Quite interestingly, the sighting of the dragonfly wave along the west coast was reported on October 20, which is quite close to the dates they arrive in the Maldives. So, dragonflies seen in Sri Lanka, must also be those involved in this migration.

Dragonflies, though hardy, are small insects – so how can they fly such long distances? Dr. Anderson also attributes that wind patterns help them in this journey. In October, and continuing into November and December, a weather system called the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) moves southwards over the Maldives. Dr. Anderson suggests these dragonflies must be flying on these winds at altitudes above 1,000 metres.

Globe Skimmer (Pantala flavescens) caught from Dehiwala

“Ahead of the ITCZ, the wind blows towards India, but above and behind it, the winds blow from India. So, it seems that, the dragonflies are able to reach the Maldives by flying on these winds at altitudes above 1,000 metres” he said.

This could probably be assisting them to visit Sri Lanka too. Since last week, we are experiencing much rain, which could be a result of this weather pattern. Raising the importance of following traditional knowledge, many of the Dehiwala fishing community say these dragonfly waves appear with the change of wind, or ‘goda sulan’, which they are quite accustomed to identifying.

The researcher also found data of sudden appearances of dragonflies in Africa, and when collated, the analysis matches, indicating this migration continues all the way to Africa, more than 14,000 km away.

Migrant Watch – You too can support science

There is a need for extensive research to solve the mysteries of this migration. But the first step would be to monitor where the dragonflies have been sighted in large numbers, which will at least give the coordinates of a possible map. The FOGSL has initiated a programme called MIGRANT WATCH, and invites the general public to forward information on these dragonfly movements. If you have seen swarms of dragonflies recently, please forward location and related dates.

Migrant Watch mainly aims at observing Migrant Birds as a Citizen Science project. Prof. Sarath Kotagama also highlights the importance of observation even by non-experts, as being immensely helpful, as that of the dragonfly migration, which was triggered by Nashath sharing his sighting on October 20. So, he invites all to participate in MIGRANT WATCH, and email the data to or, post it to FOGSL, Dept. of Zoology, University of Colombo, Colombo 3. Further details can be obtained from 2 501 332 / 0712 543 634 / 0712 543 634.

published on sundayTimes on 06/11/2011

Unravelling the mystery of feathered dead passage migrants to Sri Lanka

26 Aug

The discovery of dead Sooty Terns around the country triggered fears of Bird flu. Malaka Rodrigo speaks to ornithologists to find the missing pieces of the puzzle

“Birds are dying in many parts of Sri Lanka”, “Sri Lanka’s bird deaths likely to spread to Wildlife Parks”, “Could it be Bird Flu..?” these are headlines we have seen in recent weeks. The dead birds were reported from many parts of the island and the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) put its regional offices on alert. A media alert too was issued, and many dead birds were reported to the DWC. They all belonged to a bird species called Sooty Terns.

“These dead birds were mainly reported between May 11 and 26. Some of the birds had been dead a few days at the time of the recovery while others were fresh carcasses. About 40 dead birds were found around the country,” a Department of Wildlife Conservation official said. The DWC had handed over samples of these bird carcasses to the Medical Research Institute (MRI) for testing, but the reports had not showed any sign of an illness that could have caused the deaths. However, ornithologists had an answer for the puzzle.

“The Sooty Tern is a pelagic seabird that flies across the oceans and comes to land only to breed. The strong winds occasionally bring them to the land,” said Prof. Sarath Kotagama, veteran ornithologist of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) based at the University of Colombo. “The birds can die due to exhaustion trying to fly against the wind and it is not a rare phenomenon during this time of the year,” revealed Prof. Kotagama.

The veteran ornithologist also said these Sooty Terns are migratory and on their way back North after breeding. This migration happens between end of May and can go on until July, but evades our eyes unlike the other migrants, as these birds take a seabound route. Sooty Terns only pass through our country, so they are known as Passage Migrants.

Sea birds usually nest as large colonies and many tropical islands have been their breeding grounds for centuries. Most of the dead birds found in Sri Lanka are also said to be young birds that could have been making their first journey from their breeding grounds. But there were three special birds among the dead Sooty Terns- marked with a ring. Ornithologists ring birds to mark their presence in a location. The small metal or plastic ring around one of the bird’s legs contains basic information indicating the ringing location, so the information can be used to track the origin of the bird.

Quite amazingly, two of these ringed Sooty Terns were traced back to the African region. The Sooty Tern found in Battaramulla was wearing a ring placed in the African island of Madagascar from a ringing programme conducted by UK ornithologists and the other bird found in Chilaw was ringed in Seychelles by a group of French ornithologists. The third ring on a bird found in Jaffna has yet to be traced back, but the DWC is checking to find its origin.

Story of the recovered Sooty Tern

A small cage placed in a corner of the garden of Kithsiri Gunawardane in Borella held a Sooty Tern, which spread its wings in anticipation of the dinner which Kithsiri was bringing – some fresh halmassas (Sprats). The bird gulped the sprats and wanted more.

The Sooty Tern waits for Kithsiri to bring its dinner

“These sprats are soaked in salt water. Sooty Terns catch fish directly from the sea and gulp them whole. So together with their meal and drinks, they consume more salt and it is important to keep this salt balance while in captivity,” Kithsiri said. The Joint Secretary of the Ceylon Bird Club, he takes the bird out every evening and allows it to stretch its wings to give exercise to its shoulder muscles to get it ready for freedom again.

Though now fully recovered, the bird’s condition was pretty bad at the time it was found in a garden in Panadura on May 26. Manoja, daughter of the house owners had alerted Kithsiri who had rushed there.
The Sooty Tern was so exhausted that Kithsiri worried about its chances of recovery. The bird had to be initially hand-fed. Like many other birds in trouble, the Sooty Tern too had diarrhoea. Kithsiri had a little remedy for this and had given it a few drops of Cytexin – and added a little glucose to the bird’s diet to help it regain its strength.

His efforts to help the bird have succeeded and Kithsiri is now planning to release the bird in the next few days. The Sooty Tern is also tagged with a ring given by the DWC with “Info Sri Lanka – DWLC 001” on it- so if found in any parts of the world, it will be known that it was in Sri Lanka.

published on SundayTimes on 19.06.2011

From the Himalayas to your doorstep

26 Aug

(During the season, the migrant Indian Pitta has been found several occasions exhausted after their long journey. This is another article done in 2009, where a pitta has been rescued in heart of populated Colombo. Since the same can be repeated this year, the article is repost here, so that you can help if you get an exhausted visitor in your own garden or even at your office..!!)

Sri Lanka, being the southern tip of the Central-Asian flyway, has about 200 migrant birds visiting each year. The Indian Pitta is probably the most beautiful of them all. This bird that breeds in the Himalayan foothills may visit your home garden this season, writes Malaka Rodrigo

Suranga had just finished his morning workload when he heard the raucous cawing of a flock of crows. He looked to see what the commotion was all about. For a moment, he thought a rainbow had fallen from the sky. But it was only a multi-coloured bird which, fluttering weakly, landed near him. Gathering all its remaining strength, it tried to fly but ended up getting stuck in the nearby AC. Suranga with his fellow workers at the Delmege Company rescued the bird, placing it carefully in a cardboard box.

“We never expected to find such a beautiful bird in a congested Colombo neigbourhood like Maradana,” said Chandana Hettiarachchi, Maintenance Manager of Delmege. A bird lover himself, Chandana identified the bird as an Indian Pitta known as Avichchiya in Sinhala and called the Dehiwela Zoological Gardens for advice on how to treat it.

Though the Indian Pitta feeds on insects and worms, this Pitta had happily eaten the fruits and rice offered to him. It was also drinking water showing signs of early recovery, so the rescuers kept the bird in its box in a dark corner without disturbing it. After a few days, its strength regained it flew off to explore its new territory.

This is not the only instance of an exhausted Indian Pitta being rescued in Colombo during the migration season. The Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) too reported two Indian Pittas found in Colombo a few weeks ago. One of them died of exhaustion, but the other recovered and flew away, much to the delight of the rescuers.

“It is not uncommon to find exhausted Indian Pittas at the start of the migration season. They are not sick, but get disoriented after the long journey,” explained veteran Ornithologist Prof. Sarath Kotagama. He advised that the troubled birds be fed with mild sugar syrup and if unable to fly, provided a safe place away from possible predators, until they are fit to fly again.

The Indian Pitta is called Aru-mani-kuruvi in Tamil which means the 6 ’o clock bird and its loud, clear double whistle ‘wheet-tew’, can be heard in the morning and evening around 6 ’o clock. So listen for this unmistakable call – it maybe a visitor from the Himalayas.

If you see a troubled migrant

There may be exhausted late comers who may still land on your doorstep. Dr. Deepani Jayantha offers some tips on helping them.

  • An exhausted or injured bird could be fully conscious, semi-conscious or unconscious. Such a bird should be protected from dogs, cats, rats, crows, shikras etc. Keep them in a dark, quiet and warm place. Handle them gently only if necessary and never force-feed a semi-conscious or unconscious bird.
  • If it is too weak to fly on its own; try giving it small amounts of low concentrated glucose saline with Vitamin C.
  • If the bird is able to fly, release it as soon as possible in a proper environment.
  • If it is necessary to keep the bird for a few days for medical care, provide a proper cage (avoid injurious materials) with a perch protected from predators. Attend to traumatic injuries (broken bones) as necessary – if extensive care is needed, consult a veterinarian
  • Provide clean food and water.

Published on 2009 on SundayTimes