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Author Topic: Streaks of baby pink  (Read 384 times)
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« on: June 30, 2011, 10:06:39 am »

The last time I had seen a really large flock of flamingos was in the mid-seventies at Malala - that large freshwater lagoon just east of the Hambantota town. In June that year, after a lapse of several years, a flock of estimated 2000-3000 birds made their appearance in the shallower section of the lagoon.

A point I could not help noticing as I stood gazing at the flocks on their first arrival was that the majority of them were young birds, with no pink about their bodies or scarlet on the wings. Individuals in full adult plumage represented only about 5 per cent of the flock.

The Common or Greater Flamingos, Phoenicopterus rosous is mainly a migrant species known to visit us from north-west India in October and return to their grounds in April. Yet large flocks, including young birds, have been observed in the Hambantota lagoon country throughout the year.

The problem of juvenile flamingos has been puzzling birdwatchers here for several decades. Many of them believed that there was a breeding place of the birds in some remote corner of the island. Even Vincent Legge, that foremost ornithologist, was not immune to the sentiment. For instance, in his great work A History of the Birds of Ceylon, published in 1880 he says, "It is for the most part, so far as I can ascertain, a migratory species, but it is said by the Moor men in the southeast coast to breed between Yala and Batticaloa. That the flamingo nests in Ceylon is, I think, probable. I have been informed that young birds have been brought to Hambantota from the direction of Batticaloa, and its peculiar mode of nesting was likewise described to me with tolerable correctness."

W.E.Wait, writing on the subject about fifty years later mentions, "There are also traditions which, however, have never been verified, that a breeding place lies in the extreme south of the Eastern Province."

G.M. Henry, in a Guide to the Birds of Ceylon (1955), gives his point of view as follows:- "In Ceylon it is mainly a winter visitor but a good many loiter through the south-west monsoon and it has often been suspected of breeding on remote lagoons in the Eastern Province... and while it may have done so, in times past, when the country was very much wilder, it seems improbable that it could nowadays find a suitable country for the purpose."

Douglas Raffel of In Ruhunu Jungles fame, after closely studying a flock of flamingos in a lagoon off Hambantota suggested, "I have seen flamingos in large numbers during eleven months of the year. And I know of others who have seen them in December, too. So I am quite sure now they are residents."

The late A.E. Buttler of Hambantota (who counted over half century of birdwatching in the south-eastern coastal belt) dismissed the assumption as most improbable that breeding ever took place, except, perhaps a few centuries ago. From his experience he maintained that this was an improbability for the following reasons. First, at the time of year when breeding took place in the Great Rann of Kutch (their breeding place closest to Sri Lanka) with the onset of the south-west monsoon, the rainfall here was dropping off, and with the dryness that followed, the lagoon begins to dry up gradually. Secondly, once dry, in many of the lagoons around Hambantota salt was harvested and has been so for a long period.

On the other hand, as long as the water was shallow a continual procession of people netted fish and prawns in these stretches of water. Hence, if there was any breeding in Sri Lanka (the possibilities are even remoter now) it could only be near the Jaffna peninsula in that uninhabited north-east corner. However, a Mr. Bunker, writing from Jaffna in October 1965 contended, "I doubt the area is large and unvisited enough to make this (breeding) possible. We see flamingos around the peninsula very seldom at any time of the year. It seems unlikely that this would be so if large numbers are breeding here."

To quote Leslie Brown, an authority on flamingos, "They would be likely to breed at a time when the water was slowly receding, leaving exposed large areas of sticky mud in which to build their nests. The breeding grounds were likely to be near the outlets of freshwater streams where conditions for the newly hatched young might not be too harsh."

On the strength of this authoritative evidence, one cannot but presume that these birds do, in fact, breed in Sri Lanka and that, perhaps their extreme shyness at nesting, coupled with the possibility that no one has had the time or the facilities to search for them has preserved their privacy through the ages.

Upon hearing about the sighting of juvenile flamingos in Sri Lanka, John Williams of the Wildlife Advisory and Research Service in Nairobi, has explained matters as follows:- "Judging from my experience on the Lesser Flamingo, P. Minor (so far not recorded in Sri Lanka) I would say that the Greater Flamingo Juveniles are able to fly quite strongly when about four months old. We find in Kenya that quite young birds, certainly not more than six months old, move from lake to lake in the Rift Valley and can probably fly greater distances if they had to. So if the juveniles seen in Sri Lanka had been hatched in say, February they could possibly have made the journey from the Rann of Kutch to have arrived in June in Hambantota."

However, the young flamingos have been observed here in May or even March or April. For instance, out of a flock 2000 strong seen at Bundala in May, 1965, about a third were young birds with grey legs and plumage. The following are some of the significant sightings on records: February-March 1966, (Bundala) flock of 700 and about three-quarters of them juveniles April 1972, (Malala) 2000 including immature birds February 1976, (Kilinochchi) 700 of which about 60% juveniles April 1992, (Bundala) 1000 of which nearly 90% juveniles.

In May 1997, a photograph taken at Bundala of around 635 flamingo nest-mounds and published in a local newspaper aroused much interest among bird enthusiasts. But those who immediately rushed to the locality were disappointed to find that the birds had abandoned the site. It was speculated that this could have been a 'practice exercise' before returning to the birds' customary breeding grounds overseas.

Dr. Salim Ali describes the nest as "a truncated, conical mound of hard, sun-baked mud 6 to 12 inches in height with a slight pan-like depression at top, built in hundreds close to one another in a compact, expansive 'city'

By K.G.H. Munidasa
« Last Edit: June 30, 2011, 10:13:56 am by indunil » Report Spam   Logged

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