VIL UYANA, A BUDDING WETLAND – GEHAN’S JOURNAL
de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2006). Vil Uyana, a Budding Wetland – Gehan’s Journal. Sunday Times Plus. April 9th.
I visited the construction site of the Vil Uyana hotel mainly to document progress. But it also gave me an opportunity to observe the rapid colonization of the artificial wetland complex by wildlife. On a site of just over twenty acres, nearly half of it is occupied by two man made lakes. Bordering it are small areas of reed beds and marshlands. The Reedbed Conservation Society, introduced to the project by architect Sunela Jayawardene has already begun planting reedbeds with indigenous plants. A few more acres of reed and marsh are to be planted. Bare land is being afforested with native trees. The transformation of what was previously abandoned, arable land is remarkable. The wetland has all the elements of a major hydraulic project, except for water being ducted in underground pipes. It is complete with sluices, turnoffs, spills and a canal feeding a storage reservoir which harvests and feeds water into a show reservoir.
By a remarkable stroke of fortune, a site was chosen which could not have been bettered for constructing an artificial wetland. This conclusion was arrived at by the famous scientists C.R. Panabokke who conducted some of the preliminary analysis. Dr Godaliyadde and his assistant Palu Gaswewa with contractor Nihal Karunaratne had over the last year transformed the idea of a privately constructed wetland into a reality in the harsh dry zone plains of Sigiriya. The wildlife had been quick to colonise the new lakes. Marsh Crocodiles had moved in whilst construction was underway. Otter, always an elusive mammal had been seen. Common Kingfishers and Common Sandpipers had appeared.
I walked around the site with resident naturalist Nadeera Weerasinghe hoping to see one of the four Marsh Crocodiles which are present. They gave us the slip. A Red-wattled Lapwing was anxious for one of its young in the freshly planted paddy fields around the paddy field chalets under construction. A flock of Cattle Egrets were very much more relaxed and did not seem to mind our presence. A pair of Paddyfield pipits were collecting nesting material. At the back, near the research station, a Pied Kingfisher hovered over the Kunu Ala. From the dense vegetation around the stream, I heard the chakking of a migrant Blyth’s Pipit. A Yellow-eyed Babblers’ song wafted over the fields.
The next morning we inspected an area of grassland at the back. I was in search of the beautiful Blue Pansy. A very wary and active butterfly which seldom allows a close approach. I have found the Vil Uyana site to be one of the most reliable locations. I was pursuing one of the many dragonfly and damselfly species when Nadeera called me over. A dark butterfly, almost looking black took and rapidly settled down a few feet away. It spread its wings out showing a beautiful blue upper surface with red rings. Less than a minute later it began to flick its wings and then closed to show a pale under-surface which was marked with wavy lines which served to camouflage it. I also found a Lime Butterfly, still in a torpid state.
I returned to Teak Forest where RSPB Reserve Warden Alan Parker and his wife Jill were staying. Alan was on a one month sabbatical and had been doing a review of how Jetwing Hotels could be further improved for catering to eco-tourists by improving the management of the hotel grounds for wildlife. I had received a tip off from naturalist guide Hetti about a pair of Painted Snipe at a paddy field near the Pelwehera Village Hotel, near the Sigiriya turn off. Stopping off, we found a pair of Painted Snipe. The traditional role of the sexes is reversed in the Painted Snipe. The female is the larger and more brightly coloured of the pair. Other migrant waders present included Pintail Snipe, Golden Plover, Marsh and Wood Sandpipers and Lesser Sand Plover. Alan remarked the freshly ploughed paddy fields were a better ‘wader scrape’ than any they make in the RSPB reserves.
Gehan’s Journal is an ad hoc series of lightly edited extracts from the ‘on the hoof’ notes maintained on his laptop by writer and photographer Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne (firstname.lastname@example.org)