THE BIRDS OF MANNAR

de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2004). The Birds of Mannar. Travelsrilanka.com. September 2004. Pages 46-50.
A photo essay.
INTRO TEXT
With peace, a new place name entered the vocabulary of southern birders, photographers and wildlife enthusiasts. Mannar.
Inaccessible for a long time because of the ethnic conflict, suddenly Mannar with its rich Deccan avifauna was open to wildlife enthusiasts. Beginning in 2002, groups of birders visited the ephemeral wetlands of Mannar in search of specialties confined to the northern half of the island. These transient northern wetlands can be brimming with bird life. At times, thousands of migrant waterfowl, throng the water bodies, formed after the rains. Sometimes, just weeks later, they are reduced to parched dust bowls, with the birds having moved on to the next available waterbody.
Between 2002 and 2003, wildlife populariser and photographer Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne undertook visits to Mannar and Jaffna to film and photograph the birdlife of the north. Here we present a selection of his images.

CAPTIONS FOR PICTURES
Garganey (Anas querquedula) flocks (3 images)
Wildlife photographers Namal Kamalgoda and Ravi Samarasinha had alerted us to the presence of large flocks of waterfowl on Periyar Kalapuwa. Together with Wicky Wickremesekera and others, we drove up along the B420 and parked beside the road. In the distance we could see flocks of Garganey gathering in a large pool fringed with reeds. We began a slow and cautious approach, knowing the ducks would take fright easily. A pack of stray dogs stalked the ducks and suddenly a large mass of whirring wings filled the air and several hundred ducks flew towards us and alighted even closer.
Heuglin’s Gulls (Larus heuglini) (2 images)
Gulls are a very complex group of birds to identify in the field. Some of the smaller species take two years to reach adult plumage and some of the larger species of gulls take up to four years to reach adult plumage. The Talaimannar pier offers a rare opportunity for birdwatchers to observe a few species of gulls in various degrees of age maturity and also in different plumages of breeding versus non breeding. The isolated, windswept beach, can at times have hundreds of gulls lined up waiting for the fishing boats to come ashore. Species such as the Heuglin’s Gull, rarely seen in the southern half of the country, gather in Mannar in flocks approaching a thousand birds.

Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach)
Shrikes are known as Butcher Birds on account of their habit of impaling prey on thorns and creating a larder. On one visit to Mannar, we observed a bird creating a larder with its mate nearby. Previous reports of Long-tailed Shrikes in the south may actually be of the somewhat similar, migrant, Bay-backed Shrike.
Oriental Skylark (Alauda gulgula)
The Skylark is widely distributed in Sri Lanka, especially along the coastal plains. The salt marshes in the northern peninsula and the Mannar area seem to be particularly rich for this bird. We watched often, as singing Skylarks poured out a melody in the sky, ascending higher and higher, until they were reduced to a tiny speck in the sky.

Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus)
Species of Drongo are found throughout the island and even on the outskirts of Colombo. The Black Drongo is a specialty of the northern half of the island. It is reasonably common in open areas bordered by thickets of scrub.
Caspian Tern (Sterna caspia)
The Caspian Tern is found on the seaboard throughout the island. In Mannar, we found several mixing with the large flocks of terns and gulls on the Adam’s Bridge islands and near Talaimannar pier. It is difficult not to enjoy the flypasts of this sturdily built terns with its strikingly red beak.
Sand Lizard (Sita ponticeriana)
Although birds were the main draw of Mannar, we were quite happy to be distracted by this male Sand Lizard, who was displaying aggressively. The blue throat sac is only used to attract females or to fend off rival males with a threat display. The lizard can be seen elsewhere in the island and seems to prefer the arid, sand dune habitats fringing the coastline.

The writer is the CEO of a Wildlife & Luxury Travel Company. To receive his free, monthly wildlife e-Newsletter, e-mail him at gehan@jetwing.lk with “Subscribe Wildlife News” in the message header. www.jetwingeco.com