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Friday, April 22, 2016

Climate Change Agreement rooted in historic signing on Earth Day

Today's Earth Day theme is symbolic for an historic signing, crucial for our future. Photo: Chris Connelly, flickr.com

Think of trees and you may think of fresh air to breathe. You may think of trapping carbon and combating climate change, or of food, a livelihood, or of forest habitat for the wildlife you love. You may think of the inspiration you found whilst climbing in nature as a child, or you might think of a robust trunk and long-lived roots that extend beyond our own lives. However you think of trees, they are a great symbol for Earth Day this year, which marks a special ceremony.

Trees are as vital for the health of our planet as the signing of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

Today, on International Mother Earth Day (to name it in full), the UN Headquarters in New York hosts the largest signing ceremony of its kind in the history of the UN, showing the political momentum behind the global plan to combat climate change.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will be hosting this high-level signing ceremony, where countries will sign the Paris Climate Change Agreement – so crucial to the future of our planet – that was adopted back in December.

“Signing the Paris Climate Change Agreement today is a powerful demonstration of leadership and intent,” said Edward Perry, Global Climate Change Coordinator for BirdLife International. “It is encouraging to see that over 150 countries are registered to sign.”

Signing means committing to implementing measures to address climate change. The ‘Trees for Earth’ theme of this year’s Earth Day is symbolic for the day of signing, because only through considering trees will we be able to achieve the Paris Agreement.

“Protecting and restoring natural forests and other ecosystems will be fundamental to holding temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” says Perry. “It will also help protect vulnerable communities and infrastructure from the impacts of climate change, whilst giving nature a fighting chance.”

BirdLife urges governments to recognise that nature-based solutions are key to successful implementation of the Agreement. BirdLife Partners around the world are finding ecosystem-based adaptations to climate change that are truly working for nature and people.

Like the lifetime of the tallest tree, the impact of decisions made in the coming months will extend beyond our own generation.

No time to lose
Today governments from all over the world are taking their first collective step to tackle the climate change crisis. The next step will be to then take action nationally so that the agreement becomes officially valid and there are expectations that this will happen earlier than planned.

French President Fran├žois Hollande and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will give speeches explaining when the Agreement will get national legal status, how they will raise the ambition of national climate plans, and who they will work with to deliver urgent climate action over the next 4 years.

After the signing, countries will need to take national action to ratify, approve or accept the Paris Agreement. This will come into force thirty days after at least 55 countries covering 55% of global emissions have done this.

“Interestingly, while the Paris Agreement was designed for post-2020, there is written that prevents it from coming into force earlier,” says Perry, “And there is a distinct possibility that this could happen.”

“It is ultimately action - not words on paper - that will address the climate crisis. The Paris Agreement was a critical and historic breakthrough in multilateralism. Now it is time for action.”

It’s time to look up into the canopy for inspiration, and seed action on the ground.

How can I help?
This year, Earth Day Network is calling on you to help achieve a very ambitious goal: planting 7.8 billion trees. For more information, visit the Earth Day website.


Friday, April 8, 2016

A Whale of a time on the Indian Ocean! - Trip Report by Tobin David

Tobin David toured Sri Lanka from 8th - 27th February 2016 with Jetwing Eco Holidays. Naturalist chauffeur Mahinda Jayasinghe was his guide.

Below is a trip report by Tobin of his whale watching experience at Mirissa.



Trip Summary

Travel Destination – Mirissa, Sri Lanka

Travel Date – 24th Feb 2016 – 25th Feb 2016

Animal sightings – Blue Whale, Sperm Whale, Spinner Dolphin



Photography Equipment

Camera – Nikon D810 / Canon Powershot SX60 HS

Lenses – Sigma 50-500mm OS

Blog


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A Whale of a time on the Indian Ocean!
Mirissa

I reached Matara on 23rd afternoon and checked into the hotel located within Matara fort. The evening was spent strolling on the beach and photographing the sunset.

The Whale and Dolphin watching cruises started early in the morning from Mirissa. Mirissa was a 20 minutes drive away from Matara. Therefore, I had an early dinner and retired for the night.

24th February 2016

Next day morning, we set off from Matara at 5:15 am and in the absence of any traffic, reached Mirissa within 20 minutes. My tour was booked with Mirissa Water sports, an agency well-experienced in conducting the whale watching tours. At the agency’s office, the tourists got themselves registered for the tour and were provided with packed breakfast & sea-sickness pills.

The tour boat was decent-sized with 2 tiers and could carry approx. 60 passengers. The lower deck had seats while the upper deck required passengers to sit/kneel on mats. I chose a seat on the lower deck at the front of the boat. The tour started at 7 am about half an hour later than scheduled. It was a bright sunny day and I looked forward to an exciting morning.

The coastline (incidentally, the southern-most point of South Asia) receded into the distance as we went further into the Indian ocean. The first hour was rather uneventful, though it passed by quickly, thanks to the anticipation and expectations of the sightings that awaited us.

At the hour mark (about 8 nautical miles off the coast), we heard the words we were longing to hear “Whales ahead!!!” The words triggered a current of excitement through the boat as everybody strained their eyes to catch a glimpse of the whales. We were puzzled as we couldn’t sight anything. Then the crew informed us that the whales were a good fifteen minutes ride away.

The crew helpfully explained how they spot whales. Whales breathe air into their lungs, through nostrils called ‘blow-holes’, located on top of their heads. The whales surface and exhale the used-up air. The act of exhaling, creates a water spout which helps whale-spotters detect their presence from far away. The shape of the water spout helps in identifying the whale species as well.

As we got closer, we could make out the water spouts in the distance. To our thrill, we could see several water spouts which indicated that there was a pod containing several whales. The crew informed us that the whales were Sperm whales.

Sperm Whales are the largest of the toothed-whales. The head of the whale contains a liquid wax called spermaceti, from which the whale derives its name. They are known to grow upto a maximum of 67 feet (20 metres) and weigh upto 65 tons. Though, on an average, male sperm whales grow upto 55 feet (17 metres) in length while females grow upto 38 feet (12 metres) in length. (Source: Wikipedia)

Finally, we got close enough to be able to see the whales as they repeatedly surfaced for air, while swimming at a leisurely pace. The crew estimated the pod size to be about 20 individuals. The younger (read smaller) whales swam in groups of 4, while the adult whales swam alone or in pairs. The presence of several smaller whale groups allowed the boats to follow different groups without overcrowding.

The first emotion that I felt on seeing these giants was that of wonder and awe. These were some of the largest animals to inhabit the planet, several times bigger than elephants, the largest land animal. Yet, they swam so effortlessly and gracefully in the ocean waters. My gaze moved from head to tail and back, again and again, as my mind absorbed the immense size of these giants.

Taking photographs on the boat was tricky, to put it mildly. The boat was moving forward on the waves and at the same time rocking sideways. With both hands holding my heavy camera and lens, it was a challenge just to stand upright. There was risk of falling on the deck as well as the risk of falling overboard.

In spite of the challenge, I clicked away non-stop. The best photo-opportunities arose when the whales dived underneath. As they dived, they arched their backs and their tails were lifted clear out of the water. The tails of the diving whales were my subjects for photography.

After taking my heart’s fill of photographs, I put the camera aside and observed these magnificent animals for a long time, as they surfaced and dived. The whales had enthralled us for slightly more than an hour. We were so fascinated and spell-bound, we did not realize how time had flown by. Soon, it was time to say goodbye to the whales and set off in search of the spinner dolphins. The Spinner Dolphins are found much closer to the coast than the whales. Therefore, we turned back towards the shore.

The spinner dolphins get their common name from their behavior of leaping out of the water and spinning in the air. There are different schools of thought on why these dolphins spin. Some believe this behavior to be a part of courtship display, some consider these spins to be acts of communication while some others believe that dolphins spin to get rid of parasites. Whatever be the reason for the spinning behavior, the spinning dolphins made for a spectacular sight.

After a half-an-hour ride, we got our first glimpse of the dolphins from a distance. The crew used the clock position to indicate the direction of the dolphins. They shouted ‘Three’o clock !!!’ and everybody looked ahead to the right. There were a few dolphins swimming on the surface. Soon the shouts came loud and fast, ‘Eleven’o clock !!!”, ‘Nine’o clock !!!’, ‘Twelve’o clock !!!’, ‘Two’o clock !!!’.

The dolphins were coming in from all directions, left, right, front and back. Everywhere we looked, there were dolphins. The dolphins numbered in the hundreds as they surfed the small waves. Watching their synchronized swimming over the waves was a stunning spectacle. The dolphins were playful and were not shy of the boats in the area. Some swam alongside the boat while others swam under the boat.

However, we were yet to see the spinning behavior of the dolphins. And very soon, one of the dolphins obliged, as it leapt out of the water, spun several times in the air, before falling back into the water. The acrobatic display of the dolphin sent a thrill down my spine. It was a sight to behold.

Soon other members of the pod also started spinning, though not all at the same time. They repeated their spinning behavior again and again. Photographing the dolphins was not an easy experience due to several reasons, including the rocking boat, fast movement of the dolphins and not knowing from where the dolphins would surface. Nevertheless it was an enjoyable experience photographing these beautiful and athletic animals. After an amazing display lasting over 45 minutes, the dolphins finally swam away.

As we made our way back to the shore, there was a mood of happiness and contentment in the boat. Not only did the trip meet our expectations, it far exceeded it. The mighty Whales inspired awe and amazement, while the playful Dolphins stole our hearts.

I had a whale watching tour planned for the next day as well. I wondered whether I would be able to see the Blue Whale.

25th February 2016

After the registration formalities, the tour started at 7 am in the morning. It was cloudy and windy day. Because of the winds, the ocean was a lot choppier than the previous day. And sure enough, a couple of passengers became sea-sick. It was sheer misery for them as there was nothing they could do, but vomit repeatedly.

As far as the whale-watching was concerned, there were no whales in sight even after an hour’s ride. In such circumstances, the crew venture out further into the ocean, until they sight the whales.

As we went further into the ocean, the waves got higher. The boat rocked to and fro as it navigated over the choppy waters. Every now and then, we got soaked by a high wave. Some of the passengers moved to the back to avoid getting wet. I stayed put, as it was a unique experience to be soaked in such a manner. Though, I ensured that my camera and lenses were safe from the salt water, in a water-proof cover.

There were no whales in sight even after the two hour mark. On enquiring I was informed that we had travelled 16 nautical miles out into the ocean, twice the distance travelled yesterday. But within half-an-hour, we heard what we were craving to hear for the last two and a half hours, ‘Blue Whale ahead!’. The words were a huge relief to the ears.

Soon, we were riding alongside an adult Blue Whale. The first adjective that comes to mind when looking at the Blue Whale is ‘Gigantic’

Blue whales can grow upto a maximum 30 metres (98 feet) and weigh as much as 170 tonnes. These whales are bluish-grey in colour with a lighter shade underneath. Blue whales are the largest and heaviest animals on the planet. (Source: Wikipedia)

The Sperm Whales had inspired awe whereas watching the Blue Whale was a humbling experience. Looking at it’s sheer size, the Blue Whale made me realize how tiny humans really were.

Unlike the Sperm Whales that swam on the surface for a long time, the Blue Whale dived after spending a minute or so, on the surface. Each dive lasted for approximately 17 minutes. Therefore it was a waiting game followed by a couple of minutes of hectic activity,

Photographing the Blue Whale was proving to be a herculean task. Due to the choppy waters, the boat was rocking from side to side. So much so, when I aimed at the water, I ended up photographing the sky several times! I managed to grab a few images of the Blue Whale. After 3 or 4 sightings in 45 minutes, we turned back in search of Spinner Dolphins.

After an hour’s ride, we spotted a group of 15-20 dolphins as they rode the waves. But within no time, they disappeared out of sight. There were no more dolphins to be seen anywhere. That sadly signalled the end of the dolphin watching session. It was a big disappointment when compared to the previous day’s sighting. I felt sorry for the other tourists who had missed the dolphin show.

The difference in the tour experience across the two days, clearly illustrated how unpredictable nature and wildlife sightings can be. The saving grace, as far as I was concerned, was the Blue Whale sighting. It was my first ever sighting of a Blue Whale and that made it memorable.  The memories would remain with me for a very long time.

The entire Mirissa experience was a dream come true, thanks to the Blue Whale, Sperm Whale and Spinner Dolphin sightings. It was definitely worth a visit. And I had already started planning for my next visit!














Thursday, March 31, 2016

Daily Sightings for Whales & Dolphin Watching (09/02 - 19/03)

Date
Type of Whale
#
Dolphin
#
2016.02.09
Blue Whale
1
Spinner Dolphins
150
2016.02.10
Blue Whale
1
Spinner Dolphins
100
2016.02.11
Blue Whale
2
Spinner Dolphins
150
2016.02.12
Blue Whale
1
Spinner Dolphins
70
2016.02.12
Killer Whale
2
-
2016.02.12
Bryde Whale
1
-
2016.02.15
Blue Whale
1
Spinner Dolphins
100
2016.02.16
Blue Whale
1
Spinner Dolphins
75
2016.02.17
Blue Whale
1
Spinner Dolphins
50
2016.02.17
-
-
Rissos Dolphins
20
2016.02.18
Blue Whale
1
-
2016.02.19
Bryde Whale
1
Rissos Dolphins
5
2016.02.19
Blue Whale
2
-
2016.02.20
Blue Whale
2
Spinner Dolphins
100
2016.02.21
Blue Whale
1
Spinner Dolphins
100
2016.02.22
Blue Whale
1
Spinner Dolphins
25
2016.02.23
Blue Whale
4
Rissos Dolphins
7
2016.02.24
Sperm Whale
10
Spinner Dolphins
200
2016.02.25
Blue Whale
1
Spinner Dolphins
50
2016.02.26
Blue Whale
1
Bottlenose Dolphins
25
2016.02.26
Pilot Whale
10
-
2016.02.27
Blue Whale
1
Spotted Dolphins
50
2016.02.28
Blue Whale
1
Spinner Dolphins
75
2016.02.29
Blue Whale
1
Spinner Dolphins
100
2016.03.01
Blue Whale
1
Spotted Dolphins
50
2016.03.02
Blue Whale
2
-
2016.03.03
Blue Whale
2
Spinner Dolphins
30
2016.03.04
Blue Whale
3
-
2016.03.05
Blue Whale
1
-
2016.03.05
Bryde Whale
2
Spinner Dolphins
30
2016.03.06
Blue Whale
6
Spinner Dolphins
20
2016.03.07
Blue Whale
1
Spinner Dolphins
200
2016.03.08
Blue Whale
2
Spinner Dolphins
100
2016.03.09
Blue Whale
2
2016.03.10
Blue Whale
1
2016.03.10
Sperm Whale
10
Spinner Dolphins
50
2016.03.11
Bryde Whale
1
Spinner Dolphins
100
2016.03.12
Blue Whale
1
Spinner Dolphins
300
2016.03.13
-
-
Spotted Dolphins
200
2016.03.14
Bryde Whale
1
Spinner Dolphins
100
2016.03.15
Blue Whale
1
2016.03.16
Blue Whale
2
Spinner Dolphins
50
2016.03.17
-
-
Spinner Dolphins
100
2016.03.18
Bryde's Whale
1
Spinner Dolphins
100
2016.03.18
Sperm Whale
3
Spinner Dolphins
25
2016.03.19
Bryde's Whale
1
Spinner Dolphins 
25 


Data courtesy of Mirissa Water Sports (PVT) Ltd.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Strange animal species found in Sinharaja

A new animal species was discovered in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve this evening by Wildlife officials, the Sustainable Development and Wildlife Ministry said. The officials had rushed to scene following information received around 4 pm about a strange kind of animal in the forest. The animal was found after an extensive search in the Panapola Kosgulana area between Weddagala and Pothupitiya in the Sinharaja forest reservation. Wildlife officials informed the department that the animal could not be identified and it appeared to look like a golden mongoose or polecat. But it was different from other polecat species, because it had no tail and its fur was yellow and brown. The forest department is seeking assistance from the villagers or individuals who have seen this animal. This animal weighing around 3.3 kgs is 60 centimeters long. The officials suspect that the animal may not have a tail as it was lost at a younger age. the height of the animal, including its arms span, is about 39.1 centimeters. The department said necessary genetic experiments were to be carried out to identify this animal. 




Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Sri Lankan wildlife - Ray Brown currently on tour with Jetwing Eco Holidays

Ray Brown with Jetwing Eco Holidays naturalist chauffeur guide Niran

I’m in Sri Lanka at present, sitting by a pool, relaxing after climbing the 5th century Sigiriya Rock fortress, which was ok because it was raining and all the birds were hiding.  We spent the last two days at Wilpattu national park where the roads are so bad you have difficulty staying in the truck seat.  Nevertheless, we got some good wildlife and were looked after royally by Indi and his crew at Leopard Trails camp site.  Plenty of fresh leopard tracks but no fresh leopards…and the backside of a sloth bear.  Wilpattu is quite enclosed by jungle so viewing is somewhat limited but there are more good days ahead for birds and mammals, and this country is rich in both.

Sigiriya and our next stop, Hunas Falls had some interesting bird life and a chance to see the magnificent white bellied sea eagle for the second time this trip.  Hunas also gave me some interesting common kingfisher shots.  The same kingfisher as we find in the UK, this one landed on a railing right in front of me and waited just long enough for me to grab a shot.  Thinking he wouldn’t return, I was really pleased when a couple of minutes later he flew in, gave me his left, right and front profiles and then went fishing further up the lake.  Then he brought his fish for me to see…a very friendly kingfisher.

We’re now in the mountains at Nuwara Eliya and it’s comparatively freezing!  A 6.30 start tomorrow and a 9k walk.  Let’s see what it brings.

Well, it brought a beautiful day and our walk through HortonPlains NP to World’s End gave us a few Sri Lankan endemic birds – yellow eared bulbul, Sri Lankan white eye, dull blue flycatcher and bush warbler.  The bush warbler proved particularly problematic and I have yet to get a pic.  Bird watchers can mark it up as it is fairly easily seen but trying to get a photo is like platting fog as it is always in the bush and doesn’t stand still for a second. Terribly frustrating!
Here, a plug for our driver/wildlife guide, Niran.  It’s fairly normal when touring Sri Lanka to have a driver but Niran is a licensed wildlife guide with excellent local knowledge and great spotting skills.  And here he is…




Niran Coonghe in Yala NP





Off to Yala NP tomorrow and another chance for a fresh leopard.
Well, the fresh leopard did not materialise but a very sleepy one did. The photograph is uninspiring and won’t make it to these pages as he was lying asleep under a bush and you can just make out his spots.  However, there were loads of great birds to see, including the crested or changeable hawk eagle, the paradise flycatcher, one of my favourite waders, the thicknee, and a few mammals, such as the ruddy mongoose, black backed jackal, a sloth bear and an elephant who was so shy he hid behind a tree!  The best photo of the day might just go to a caterpillar, a common Indian crow butterfly and a plain tiger butterfly, all gathering on the same small plant.
The next visit was to Bundala NP which is a little visited small park but, nevertheless, gave some pretty good sightings, including black winged kite, 4 yellow bitterns, black bittern, grey-headed fish eagle and Jacobin cuckoo.
Today, in Udawawale, there were quite a few crested hawk eagles and the nest of a white bellied fish eagle.  On our second trip into the park we found a hawk eagle with a kill and its mate trying unsuccessfully to muscle in on it.  Niran found us a collared Scops owl and an elephant being fed by locals at the road side, next to a sign saying, ‘DO NOT FEED THIS ELEPHANT’.
Just a word about the wildlife photography on this trip.  A few of my images were taken on foot but most were taken from a jeep.  I cannot emphasise enough the difficulty and, often, frustration this brings because there are so many obstacles in the way of a good shot, particularly on a moving target.  Couple that with a grey sky, shooting into the sun, getting the jeep driver to stop where you have at least half a chance of seeing the subject, and the downright awkwardness of some wildlife, and you can see why I’m over the moon if I get a nice sharp image and very frustrated the rest of the time.  Sorry, Mrs Brown…
Then, on to the rainforest at Sinharaja where photography was difficult because of the light and birds in the dense forest, but the odd butterfly, damselfly and green garden lizard were worth the trip.  So far, I’ve managed to photograph a third of the 33 endemic birds if Sri Lanka, but we’ve seen all but three.
We’re now near Mirissa in the Imagine Villa hotel which is nothing short of excellent but where the blue whales we expected to see did not materialise.  Others have had better fortune but since we have pretty good photos of blue whales already, (search for ‘blue whales’ on the site), we’re going to put up our feet on a lounger and drop into the pool from time to time.
One more day before we jet back to the UK.  Let’s see what Niran finds us…

Check out the site in around 2 weeks for the pics.