Finally observed, identified and studied it was finally recognized as a new species in 2004 and named the Serendib Scops Owl (Otus thilohoffmanni). Found in rainforests such as Sinharaja, Kitulgala, Runakanda and Morapitiya this small owl is strictly nocturnal and hunts for insects close to the ground. It begins calling at dusk, its frequency rising again some two hours before dawn.
Unlike the other two species of scops owl in Sri Lanka, Collared Scops and Oriental Scops Owl , it does not have ear tufts and its facial disc is only weakly defined. The general colour of this 16.5 cm long, short-tailed owl is reddish brown with paler underparts, spotted all over with fine black markings. The irides are tawny yellow (more orangish in male) and the feet are a pale fleshy colour. Tarsi are feathered for less than half their length. The claws and bill are a pale ivory colour.
I have been wanting to see this rare and endemic owl for many years, and during this year alone I traveled very frequently to Sinharaja in search of it to no avail.
Finally I got a call one Saturday of a sighting of two chicks. This was phenomenal news, to my knowledge very few or no records have been observed of two chicks of this species. Reaching the location the next day, my trusty guide has done the work for me and located the young owls who were huddled together, perched on a nearby branch. Being at eye level this was perfect for photographers like me. Not wanting to disturb the birds, I ensured to keep a good distance and keep the noise level to minimum. They were the cutest owls I have ever seen, and were unfazed by my presence. Spending a good two hours I went to town clicking away, but the low light didn't help and it was very difficult to get the birds in focus.
Occasionally waking up from their slumber the birds observed me with mild indifference, yawning and stretching from time to time. Some of the villagers passing by were amazed themselves and many told me that despite living their entire lives in the forest they never observed these owls before. This sighting was all thanks to my trusty guide Thilake who went to great lengths braving leeches and other perils in the rainforest to find these elusive birds.
The survival of these endemic owls as well as all other denizens of our rainforests depends on the preservation of their habitats which are shrinking on a daily basis to make way for human settlements and development. Unless a sustainable approach is utilized this ecosystem will be severely affected and which in turn would affect all of us in the long run.