Wednesday, 29 February 2012

One good tern

Early this morning I stroll through the sweaty streets of Negombo, a house crow on every rooftop and three-striped palm-squirrels scurrying along power lines. These are visually all but indistinguishable from their five-striped cousins which I saw in Kolkata, but have a quite different call. Whereas five-striped bicker and scold, three-striped sound precisely like barcode readers in Tesco. Where this growing list of vertebrates is concerned, every little helps.

Brown-headed barbets look and sound very similar to the many lineated barbets I’ve been seeing in Assam but their song is slightly kinder, perhaps less harsh. One hops from the top of a Terminalia tree, chased off by a crow. Along the beach and over the sea are whiskered terns (now splodgy-bellied and pearl-winged as they come into breeding plumage). Far offshore are a brown-headed gull and two much larger terns, no doubt great crested but it’s impossible to be sure. I’ll see one soon enough. Common jezebel butterflies flutter by over the sand and street dogs flop into dejected piles to doze away the day.

Dozing is commonplace here. Sri Lanka seems tropical in the same lazy, big-hearted way as the core of Amazonia, relentlessly green and steamily nocturnal; in this it is quite distinct from the dusty, strait-laced seasonality of north India.

Reaching my guest house I hear the same Asian koel singing as when I left in the relative cool of early morning. The same coucal is here too (some would split this as southern coucal but I’m keeping it as greater) and across the grass hops a family of yellow-billed babblers. Rose-ringed parakeets shout across the town as I write.

Sri Lanka’s first contribution


three-striped palm-squirrel
Funambulus palmarum


brown-headed barbet
Megalaima zeylanica
yellow-billed babbler
Turdoides affinis

2012 Totals
Mammals: 33
Birds: 339
Reptiles: 5
Amphibians: 3
Fish: 1

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