Filming Blue Magpie

Place: Sinharaja rainforest reserve, Sri Lanka – a biodiversity hotspot and Unesco World Heritage site. In an attempt to film many species as possible for my documentary, me and the team (Saman Hewage and Dhanusha Bandara) came to the rainforest hoping to film some exotic birds; one bird we had in mind was the colorful, endemic ‘Blue Magpie’.

The endemic, colorful ‘Blue Magpie’ of Sri Lanka

Around four years ago in 2014, we did manage to film the Blue Magpie but wanted more footage so I had more editing options. When we arrived at Sinharaja, our old friend Thilak (one of the best guides at Sinharaja) greeted us and said there was a Blue Magpie nest nearby! We headed out to the nesting site and discovered that the nest was directly above a river. Now this made filming difficult, as we had to set up our cameras on steep hills flanking the river.

The Magpie nest was directly above this river

After setting up our lenses and cameras (we used two DSLR cameras, a Canon Mark IV and Canon 7D because it provided a crop factor which we utilized to get closer to the filming subject), then we observed the nest: there were two chicks inside a cup-shaped nest made of sticks. The nest was similar to a common crow’s nest – after all, the Blue Magpie was part of the crow family. The parents (there were two adult Magpies) visited routinely with food.

The Blue Magpie nest and chicks

Then we made an interesting observation – a behavior we weren’t privy to before: after feeding, the chicks would defecate, emitting a small white substance that was quickly discarded by the adult Magpie. We turned to Thilak and inquired the motivation for this behavior, and he mentioned that the stench of droppings would attract intruders, possibly harming the chicks, so the adults quickly discarded them.

The adult Magpie discarding the droppings

We filmed for two straight days, occasionally taking a break at a lodge nearby owned by the famous ‘Martin’ of Sinharaja (the place is referred to as ‘Martin’s Lodge’). But Martin was now older; when we met him four years ago he had plenty of stories to tell – he was a walking encyclopedia, brimming with knowledge that few possess.

From left to right: Martin, Saman Hewage, myself, Piyasena Jayawickrama, and Thilak

I was thrilled that we filmed this magnificent sequence. But after editing and including it in the documentary (“Wild Sri Lanka – Realm of the Leopard“), we had to omit the nesting scene because the film was primarily about the lowland leopard of Sri Lanka, and having a rainforest segment was an unnecessary detour. Nonetheless, it was quite an experience!