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Himalayan visitor in my garden - Sunday Observer Cutting


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Author Topic: Himalayan visitor in my garden - Sunday Observer Cutting  (Read 389 times)
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« on: June 30, 2011, 08:23:17 am »

For the sixth successive year last October 31, a Himalayan Brown Flycatcher arrived to spend its winter recess in my garden. About five o'clock in the evening that day, on hearing the "Sweety-Di," note of a Green Tree-Warbler, another regular migrant, I was trying to trace it in the thick foliage of a Rambutan tree at the edge of the garden, when my attention was drawn to the Chik, Chik r r r note of a Brown Flycatcher in the underbrush.

I promptly trained my binoculars in that direction, but, however much I tried, I could find only a similar-sized Tailor Bird there, creeping about the herbage and a pair of the Ceylon Common Babblers, foraging in the carpet of dead leaves below.

If I would go back by the past records in my note book, it was always by this call that I had first noted this flycatcher on its arrival in October or November, before I recorded a positive identification in my reports to the Ceylon Bird Club. I was well aware that the other club members, who resided in different parts of the country too, followed a similar procedure

The Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa latirostris Raffels is a bird much smaller than a sparrow and pale brownish-grey in colour with large, dark eyes surrounded by a whitish ring.

The only other species which it is likely to be confused with may be the Layard's Flycatcher Muscicapa muttui muttui, an East Himalayan bird of the same sub-family MUSCICAPINAE, but a triple larger and richly coloured than the former. Its eyes are similarly large and black, but with a whitish half-ring behind and below them. The two species do not seem to be found in the same locality together.

Among the handful of flycatchers migratory to Sri Lanka during Winter (North-East monsoon) the Brown Flycatcher is certainly the most familiar to the local birdwatchers, in the lowlands as well as the hills to 4,000 feet, "though it is not common above 3,000 feet" - Henry, Nevertheless, according to CBC it has been recorded in the Uva Hills at 4,000 feet elevations a number of years, and also at Bogawantalawa (4,290 to 5,600 feet).

Subdued singing
To my knowledge no birdwatcher local or otherwise, or for that matter any competent ornithologist, has ever observed the Brown Flycatcher singing or uttering a subdued song, in the least. On the other-hand no bird literature mentions about such singing by this bird, except stressing about its normal note. Wait (1931) and Henry (1955) mention this flycatcher as mostly quiet, while Ben King and Dickinson (1975) stress its voice as a "soft, vibrant churr."

In this respect, I consider myself the luckiest of all, having been able to listen to a sub-song of the Brown Flycatcher at an off the-beaten-track village in the Kelani Valley in 1964.

It was a misty morning and the time was a few minutes past 8 o'clock. I heard a slow, melodious note, and looking around spotted the author of the song, sitting on the thin twig of a dead branch, less than twenty feet away. With no visual aid, I managed to identify it as a Brown Flycatcher. I listened on enthraled for twenty minutes to the tuneful voice that was very soothing to the ears, when a rubber-taper carrying a bucketful of latex appeared below, disturbing away the songster. Earlier in 1963 I had observed one singing in similar strain at Muwangala, in the Gal Oya Valley.

Presently, let me get back to the story of the new visitor! On the morning of the second day I had got the clue of its arrival, I was in the backyard, brushing my teeth. The pair of Orange-breasted Blue-Flycatchers, which had a special claim to the garden, was in an Avocado tree singing and preening their wings as usual, before starting their day's hunting.

A smallish pale-brown bird flew up and perched in a Lime tree, just five feet from me. It was the Brown-Flycatcher, I had spent hours on-end the previous evening to get a glimpse of. From there it flew and settled on a lower branch of the Avocado, much to the annoyance of the male Blue Flycatcher, which set upon the intruder and chased it away to the hedgerow beyond. In the afternoon the newcomer was missing, although I looked for it in all the possible places.

Whole of the following week, there wasn't any sign of it, despite all my efforts to find it all morning and afternoon, with my binoculars in the ready. Many a time I imagined that I heard its call in the trees around my home.

Then, one morning, sharp at 7.15 I found it seated contentedly in a leafless branch of the aforesaid Lime tree, behind the kitchen. A nice fellow, obviously in its prime, it stayed there long enough to enable me rush inside, fetch my camera and click a picture of the feathered visitor. The moment the camera flashed, it fled to the top of a stack of firewood in an open-shed, nearby, and then to a water tap, where cooking utensils are washed and cleaned. From the water tap it sallied out a couple of times after flying insects and finally moved to a branch of the Avocado to continue its vigil.

A few days later as I was walking around looking for the visiting flycatcher I noticed a stray cat in the firewood shed.

After driving out the cat, I returned to the back verandah and stayed there in pensive mood, expecting that my flycatcher would turn up any moment. I haven't had to wait much longer when it flew in from an unexpected direction and settled in the same branch of the Lime tree, as before.

One afternoon, no sooner than the Blue Flycatchers left, the Brown Flycatcher appropriated the water vessel for its use. Perched on the edge of the vessel it first gulfed a few beakful of water before immersing the beak and forehead and splashing the water from side to side.

One morning while watching a White-breasted Kingfisher excavating a nest hole, I casually turned my eyes towards the Lime tree. And, lo and behold, my flycatcher pal was there on the identical branch, leisurely preening its feathers. A couple of days later, round about dusk, I espied it enjoying a dip or just picking insects at the outlet of bathing water near our well.

Two days elapsed since I had seen the flycatcher at the water outlet, and then on there wasn't any signs of it. On the third or fourth day, some time after dusk, I was having my customary body-wash at the well, and upon casually gazing above the Croton bushes on my right, I saw the flycatcher on a stack of dry sticks, near the hedgerow. It fitted after flies from one stick or another, changing the perch alternately, until it was too gloomy to enable me to see the bird, any longer. The following day I observed it in the same spot about the same hour, and hunting in a similar fashion. That was March 6, and on March 8 at 7.30 in the morning I found it on its perch in the Lime tree, it was accustomed to occupy since October when it first arrived in my garden. That was the last date I recorded the Brown Flycatcher for the current migratory season.

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