Backyard bird watching

My Sri Lankan readers should probably stop reading right here, unless you want to be amused by a foreigner gushing about some of the most common birds in your lives. But, hey, they are exotic to me! And maybe to my Stateside readers.

(Note: I have added some links to images of the birds I have found on the web. These are not my photos. Frankly, I am in awe of those who can take such clear pictures of birds. They are small, often hiding in the shadows, and when they are moving, they move fast.)

Excerpts from my birdwatching notebook:

“November 12, 2008: Around 2PM, after rain shower, spotted a pair of Oriental Magpie Robins foraging in the grass in our sideyard. Identified from photos in “Birds of Sri Lanka” by Amano Samarpan (Vijitha Yapa Publications, Colombo, 2006) hereinafter referred to as AS. The Oriental Magpie Robins are pictured on page 113. Latin name copsychous saularius. The bird showed an alert posture with tail held high.”

“November 16, 2008 8:35AM: Peaceful sunny day in the garden. Saw a pair of small birds preening themselves in the bushes. Lovely yellow breast, white belly, dark on top. I had the impression that the beak was slightly curved, but could not be sure. The more colorful of the pair had flashes of blue in his tailfeathers. Looking through AS, best guess is purple-rumped sunbird or nectarinia zeylonica (AS pg 139). The sunbird is said to be found in pairs and breed all year round. They construct a pear-shaped, suspended nest.”

“9:40AM Spotted bird with brilliant blue wings sitting on TV aerial of house to north. Best guess from AS is the white-throated kingfisher (AS pg 18) or halycon smyermensis.”

“9:55AM: Still sunny. A large bird alighted on palm tree at creek edge to survey the scene. Beautiful brown wings, bright red eyes (fierce looking), blue feathers on neck. Could not differentiate between Great Coucal (AS pg 24) or Southern Coucal (AS pg 25) but suggested range for bird suggests Southern Coucal (centropus (sinensis) parroti).

“10:24AM Spotted a purple sunbird (nectarina asiatica). Spectral blue/purple with curved beak. Actually it was a pair.. The male was just as in photo on pg 138 of AS in upper left of page and female just as in photo in lower left. These birds may be source of monosyllabic call transcribed as “cheewit” in book. In fact, I followed this sound to spot the female.”

“Nest building continues in tall bush to north. It is kind of amusing to watch. The birds bring long strips of some kind of leaf. I estimate the strips are a foot long or a bit more. The nest itself is concealed in the leaves, but when the birds get to the nest, the strip of leaves [sic] is still quite visible. Then it  slowly gets reeled in as it (presumably) gets incorporated into the nest. So far all I have on the identity of the birds is that they seem to work as a pair and the are generally brown in color, and are pretty small.”

“10:46 Newsflash! About seven birds flew together out of the “nesting bush”. Medium brown on the upper side, light tan on the bellies. Without much confidence, I’m going for a tentative identification as the common tailorbird orthotomus sutorius (AS pg 131).”

“11:29AM 11/29/08 I have not previously reported that a few days ago a small mammal was out on our lawn, calmly scratching itself and surveying the territory. It was a uniform gray color, rather dark. Kris called it gray brown. The animal was about the size of a cat. It had a long furry tail.When it sat, I had the impression of the body type of a guinea pig.

“I was reminded to record this because it reappeared this morning. It was walking along the top of the low wall that seperates [sic] our yard from the creek beyond. I had a chat with a zoologist from Peradeniya on Wednesday (he attended my colloquium talk). After ruling out the bandicoot because of its hairless tail, he said the most likely identification was that it was a mongoose. For the record, I walked through the displays in the zoology building of stuffed animals. I concluded a possible identification was a civet cat. For now, we will go with the zoologists ID.”

“Observed a tailor bird hopping around amidst the flowers in the garden….This one was most definitely a tailor bird. Orange crest, light green wings, light colored breast and belly. Definitely looked like picture on pg 131 or AS.”




  1. Charles Santiapillai said,

    December 10, 2008 at 10:38 am

    Hi Tim,

    Enjoyed your observations on the common birds in your backyard in Kandy. Yes, for the size of the island, Sri Lanka has more than 200 species of resident bird species. For sheer number in bird species, you need to visit the dry zone, especially the water holes known as “tanks” (a strange term coined by the Brits). The small birds that you refer, are sometimes difficult to identify, especially those “brown jobs”. A leaf is defined as an object that comes in between the bird and the birdwatcher. Hope your list of indigenous birds gets longer with more observations. Cheers. Charles Santiapillai, Dept. of Zoology, University of Peradeniya

  2. Tim said,

    December 10, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    Thanks Professor Santiapillai. I love the birder’s definition of a leaf.

    Normally I attempt to maintain the anonymity of people that appear in my postings. However, since Professor Santiapillai has revealed his identity by signing his comment, I can confirm that he is the zoologist that identified the mongoose as the most likely ID of the cat sized mammal surveying our back yard.

    The mongoose came back yesterday. Now I am more confident that it is indeed a mongoose. A source of my hesitation before was that the mongoose pictures I have seen on the web do not seem to have quite the same uniform color pattern that this one has. But now that I have seen more of the mongoose, the body shape and head shape fit the pictures quite well.

    Nice to have a real expert posting here.

  3. December 29, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    […] with the names of the bird species and their Latin equivalents as I ostentatiously did in my “Backyard yard birdwatching” post earlier. My only excuse is that I was not yet a “birder” at the time. […]

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