BIRD – A FASCINATING FOUR-LETTER WORD
BY NIRMAL RANASINGHE
I fall within that exclusive category referred to as ‘Wayward Golfers’. My own golfing prowess is usually accoladed by my 4 ball partners, with adjectives derived from that much used four letter words awaiting entry into the Oxford Dictionary. “Bird” is also a four-letter word and I have of recent times found comforting solace in making an enthusiastic study of them. However, I do not profess to be an expert Ornithologist but remain much an amateur bird watcher intrigued with the happenings at our own RCGC.
Ariyadasa’s monotonous crow “Now on the tee” is much a ritualistic start to all golfers teeing off on the 1st but then, the fascinating avifauna of the RCGC is immediately on display. One finds occasionally a Cattle Egret trouping across the tee box of the 1st and your supportive caddie would say “good luck, birdie chance sir!”
The diversity of the birds that are spotted on our golf course is wide and remains a fascinating spectacle. In order for the reader to secure a better perspective of this, I will endeavour to first deal with those of our feathered friends which are omnipresent.
Our motto “As the crow flies” has intrigued and confused many a golfer, particularly taking into cognizance the unpredictable flight path of the crow. However it provides accommodation to the “single handicappers” as well as the “waywards”. The crow then must take pride of place, and irritatingly he takes centre stage, flying to and fro with impunity, crowing more incessantly than Ariyadasa. The Jungle Crow is also an occasional visitor.
The common Mynah and the Yellow-Billed Babler are much the “commoners” on the golf course. The Red Vented Bulbul, the Coucal, Oriental Magpie Robin and Koel are also “regulars” although The Yellow Browed and Black Bulbul are very rare and the sightings claimed by a few “birders” remain unconfirmed.
The abundance of waterways, ponds, marches within the surrounding areas of the Golf Course provides a comfortable habitat for a wide range of Waterbirds. The Indian Pond Heron is omnipresent whilst the Grey Heron, Purple Heron and Night Heron are infrequent. The Egrets range from Cattle Egrets, Little and Intermediate Egrets to Greater Egrets.
The 13th hole in my opinion, offers the best location for all bird watchers. The majestic Spot-Billed Pelican, Bitterns consisting of the Black, Cinnamon and Yellow, Little Cormorant, Water Hen, Whistling Teal, Pheasant Tailed Jacana, Night Heron, Open Billed Stork, Snipe and Purple Swamphen or Purple Coot are the regular visitors and habitants.
The White-Breasted Kingfisher is the mainstay of the species on the golf course. A year ago, there was intriguing debate in respect of a possible sighting of Blue-eared Kingfisher. “Course Marshal” Leonard and our mercurial golfer Nandasena’s daughter Nisansana insist to date, that they spotted this rare bird within 6 ft on the 13th pond. On the other hand, Michael Dias that famed “cricketing golfer” known for his repertoire of strokes, displayed arrogant sceptism of this sighting, stating that this species has not been seen in Sri Lanka during the last 27 years. The debate still continues and Mike remains colour-blind.
The aeronautical skills of the Pied Kingfisher on the (17th) and the 7th pond is a breath-taking spectacle to witness. The Stork-Billed Kingfisher, somewhat scarce on the golf course, could be spotted around the tee on the 15th with its identifiable call.
The Parrots and Parakeet families are noisy and thrives around most wooded areas of the course. They consist of Alexandrine Parakeet, Rose-ringed Parakeet and Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot.
The Spotted Dove is omnipresent whilst Orange Breasted Green Pigeon and the Pampadour Green Pigeon is on an occasional “fly-over” of the course. Red-Backed Woodpecker, somewhat uncommon, thrives on the trees around the 14th and 15th remaining well camouflaged against the barks of trees.
RCGC attracts a few birds of prey. The Brahminy Kite is a common sight whilst Shikra and the Common Kestrel are rarer visitors.
The fairways of the RCGC attract many migrants. These range from Bee Eaters, Pipits, the Yellow Breasted and Forest Wagtails, Rosy Starling, Indian Pitta, etc. A dead Eurasian Thick-Knee that had been mauled by a gang of crows was an exciting but yet a sad sighting.
The migration of birds into Sri Lanka commences around October each year and the Bee Eater, namely, Blue Tailed, Green Bee Eater, etc signals the first of the visitors. The Indian Roller is almost domiciled within the precincts of the RCGC. The Barn Swallow mainly seen around the 2nd but the Brown Shrike somewhat scarce.
The Red Wattled Lagwing is an aggressive bird that hovers around bunkers of the fairways, very protective of the eggs it had laid on the fairway. The White bellied Drongo somewhat uncommon is mostly spotted on the electric wires.
The House Sparrow, one of the commonest feathered friends that enjoyed habitation in the city of Colombo up to 20 years ago is no longer a permanent resident of the RCGC, unfortunately driver away by ever increasing pollution.
The Black headed Oriole is a frequent visitor on the cluster of trees on the 14th tee box. The White Paradise Fly Catcher is somewhat uncommon and the Brown Asian and Indian have been spotted from time to time. Smaller birds comprise of Purple Sunbird, Common Tailorbird, Prinia and Spotted Black Headed and White-rumped Munia.
The nocturnals reported are, Night Heron, Brown Hawk Owl (near the 14th drink hut) Brown Fish Owl and Collard Scops Owl.
“Course Marshal” Leonard remains a studious, knowledgeable and committed Ornithologist. I enjoy having a “natter” with him most mornings of “the happenings” on the golf course. The others who share the same enthusiasm as mine are Michael Dias, Kumar Boralessa, Dr. Narendra Wijemanne, Mahes Rodrigo, Lalith Ramanayake, Chris Candappa, Sanjeev Vairawanathan, Niro Dahanayake, etc.
It was indeed a pleasant surprise when our amiable golfing scribe Tita Nathanielsz invited me to pen a few notes on the subject.
This article I repeat is written not by one who claims to be an ornithologist but by a mere observant Golfer. One who is a lover of our feathered friends and hopes that others who frequent the RCGC too will take up to observant bird watching.
To them all I might commend the words of the poet W.H. Davies “What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare……….?
A BIRD COUNT AT THE RCGC
BY NIRMAL RANASINGHE
The Ceylon Bird Club and other authoritative Ornithologists have conferred that our Island provides habitation to over 230 resident species of avifauna of which 26 are recognized as endemic. The topography of our country and its tropical climate with monsoonal rains attract a further 190 odd species which are recorded as migrants to the Island.
The sprawling fairways, ponds, waterways, the wooded and shrublands on the perimeter of the RCGC provides an idealistic habitat to a range of these resident and migrant birds. The “bird calls” orchestrated by these feathered friends through dawn to dusk each day provide an enthralling and symphonic birding extravaganza. I have been able to carry out an unofficial “bird count” over a period of time with the help of a few selected and enthusiastic birders. These amount to approximately 80 in number and are listed below: