JUNE 2009 – SEPTEMBER 2009
[*] Yala back on the agenda for Leopard Safaris. See Articles.
[*] The longest insect migration revealed by marine biologist. See Reports.
[*] Site guide to Meethrigala Rainforest. See Articles.
[*] Photographic guides to Amphibians and lizards. See Press Releases and Publications.
[*] Dry bags for leopard safaris and whale watching. See Products.
Sri Lanka, The Ultimate Island Safari. A photographic exhibition by Chitral Jayatilake and Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne. Alliance Francaise, 11 Barnes Place, Colombo 07.
From Friday 20th November to Tuesday 15th December 2009.
Monday – Friday 10am – 6pm.
Saturdays 10am – 12 pm.
BIRDING AND WILDLIFE NEWS
Flash: Dr. Mike & Rachel Waldock were on a 06 day wildlife tour in Sri Lanka with Wicky from 08th to 14th November 2009. They have reported a sighting of Isabelline Wheatear in Palatupana grassland on 12th November around 08.30 a.m. Isabelline Wheatear as it is a vagrant bird to Sri Lanka.
The year will see the start of what will only be the second year of full fledged commercial whale watching in Sri Lanka. It is now established that the South of Sri Lanka is the best place in the world for seeing Blue Whales. Detailed information on this and last year’s log of whale watching sightings can be accessed from the table of links on
Libby Owen Edmunds (nee Southwell) writes from a trip to Yala on 27 & 28th September 2009 with Tom Owen Edmunds and Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne. “Believe it or not in my 7 years in Sri Lanka I had not been to Yala. Ude Walawe and Wilpattu YES but not Yala. There is nothing quite like your first time in Yala.
Having travelled all over the world and visited national parks from western and eastern Africa to the chilly mountains of Patagonia, Yala National Park is undoubtedly one of the worlds best parks. It offers such a huge concentration of wildlife in a relatively small area as well as such a diverse range. From seeing a female Barred Button-quail foraging in the dry foliage, Jackals scavenging on a Buffalo carcass, many a Ruddy Mongoose, more Crocodiles than one would ever hope to meet, and of course the majestic Leopard of which we had four sightings. Not only is its wildlife so varied its landscapes are vast – with enormous boulders, dry open plains, the dramatic coastline and the scrub forests. One of my favourite areas within the park would have to be Wal Mal Kema. My breath was taken away – the light was soft and pink and the boulders provided an incredible stage for any wildlife passing by the water hole. It was here that I was reminded at the remarkable ability of nature to create such beauty as a Peacock wandered around before us. Although you see them everywhere in the Park and all over Sri Lanka they are possibly one of the most beautiful birds with their impeccable eye markings and intricate feathers. After just one visit to Yala I am now a huge fan and feel there is so much more to explore and experience.
Too much to write about…the trip was too amazing.……”.
Lalith Ramanayake reports from the Royal Colombo Golf Club in Colombo on 28th September. “During the past few years, I have observed Blue-tailed Bee-eaters as well as Forest Wagtails arriving between the 1st and 10th of October. Yesterday, Sunday 27th September, Blue-tailed Bee-eaters as well as Barn Swallows were quite noticeable over the golf course. I also had my first sighting of a Forest Wagtail in Nugegoda on the same day. Meanwhile an Asian Openbill stork joined three Painted Storks, and two egrets, at a pond on the golf course.
Lalith Ramanayake reports from the Royal Colombo Golf Club in Colombo. “On a fairly regularly basis I have been seeing two to four Painted Storks as well as a similar number of Pelicans catching fish in the ponds of the Golf club. Recently, around the middle of September, we were greeted to a wonderful sight of Eleven Painted Storks having a feast in a pond by the 5th fairway. Two Pelicans joined in for good measure, whilst a medium sized Egret kept an eye on the activities. To enjoy such sightings in the heart of Colombo is really super.
On Sunday the 20th September I was playing the 13th hole when I observed two Yellow Wagtails. They must have only just arrived. The wind direction is yet to change, and bring about the inter monsoon’s afternoon thunder storms”.
Anne and Chris Cody on a two weeks wildlife tour in Sri Lanka with Hetti in August 2009, reported sightings of Red-faced Malkoha and Blue Magpie on 16th August 2009 at Sinharaja Rainforest. They did a total of three safaris at Yala National Park during which they saw a Leopard, Sloth Bear, a Tusker and Ringtail Civet Cat. They also managed to see the Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush near Badulla Road on 21st August 2009. They were thrilled to see more than 100 elephants at Minneriya National Park.
Sue Evans visited Minneriya on 6 & 7th August 2009 and she commented as follows. “We went to the Minneriya National Park for The Gathering. We saw fair number of elephants (up to 250) including the One Tusker who seems to be on musth judging by his behaviour. Lovely sights, but a little marred by the irresponsible behaviour of some jeep drivers who get too close, and stupidly positioned themselves between the elephants and the lake. Some elephants were quite visibly disturbed by the intrusion. And this was apparently non peak time!! I wouldn’t like to be there when there are 100 jeeps crowding the elephants. We also saw two packs of jackals, and some interesting birds including Lesser Adjutant storks, Grey-headed Fish-eagles and Blue-faced Malkoha”.
Sue also sends in a report of a Pangolin. “One early morning in July 2009 one of our staff had a rare sighting of a pangolin near the kadolana (mangrove) on the estuarine banks of the Polwatta Ganga near Mirissa (Southern Province). It was about 30 inches long, and immediately curled into a ball on approach. It is clearly living in the kadolana as there are numerous claw marks on various dumbala trees which attract the red ants. The claw marks are so deep already two of the trees have died as a result. It is possible there are more than one. The dumbala tree has dark green waxy leaves which the red ants love, and the leaf eating monkeys loathe”.
Fredericka Jansz who edits Montage Magazine went on a game drive to Yala on the morning of 27th July 2009. She had 3 leopards and a Sloth Bear in the Patanangala area.
In the early hours of the morning of 23 July, Wicky Wickremesekera who was turtle watching at Rekawa saw a Green Turtle. On their way back they saw a White-spotted Mouse-deer.
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne and Ganganath Weerasinghe joined British High Commissioner Dr Peter Hayes and his wife Kirsty and family at Uda Walawe National Park on Tuesday 21 July. Gehan sendsin the following account from a morning and evening game drive in the park.
“Thimbirimankade Wewa had Large Egret, Grey Heron, Black-winged Stilt, Black-headed Ibis, Spoonbill, etc. Raptors seen at the wewa included Grey-headed Fish-eagle, White-bellied Sea-eagle, Crested Hawk-eagle, Serpent Eagle. A single Black-winged Kite and Oriental Honey-buzzard were seen on the morning and evening game drives respectively.
The usual birds were seen on the two game drives, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Jerdon’s Bush-lark, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Tawny-bellied Babbler, Brown-capped Babbler (heard singing), Coppersmith Barbet, etc.
Around 3.00 pm a single large bull elephant approached the Thimbirimankade Wewa. Behind it was a family of around 10 elephants. The large male came to the water and then crossed over to where we were watching from under a tree. It kept about 200 hundred feet away from us and turned away. Soon after the family came to the water and the male also joined them. They left. Another family of around 10 came next. As they left another similar sized family also came. After bathing, this family dusted themselves and left. Soon another family also came. I estimate that at least 40 elephants in four family clans had come and bathed. It was wonderful to watch how they came in, shielding the young between adults. Around 5 wild pig were also seen at Thimbirimankada Wewa.
On the morning game drive we encountered at least 3 family groups. We parked close to one which had about 11. Three young slept, lying down. Even the adults were sleeping on their feet, gathered under the shade of a tree. They were at times no more than 20 feet away from us and totally relaxed. One looked in poor condition.
Later on the lake bed we saw between 15-20 elephants. Some were alone. Altogether we must have seen between 60-80 elephants.
Around 4.15 pm, as we were driving, we had a cobra slithering away near Gonaviddagala. We could a single Jackal trotting away. Later when we drove to the lake bed, around 5.20 pm we had a group of 3 Jackals. One had an injured leg and limped away a short distance before sitting down.
Several small herds of Spotted Deer were seen. I am struck by how Spotted Deer is now being seen compared to say in 2001, about nine years ago. A single Ruddy Mongoose was also seen contributing to a fair sprinkling of mammals on a single day.”
Wicky Wickremesekera visited Minneriya National Park on 13 July 2009. He reported over 200 elephants at The Gathering.
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne undertook a day trip to Sinharaja on Sunday 5 July 2009 with Ganga Weerasinghe. He sends in an account of the day’s sightings.
“It was bright and sunny throughout most of the day except for a short burst of rain for a few minutes around 4.55pm. Fortunately we did not turn back.
The new visitor center looks complete. The bird table had rice. Foraging on the ground was a habituated Emerald Dove and a pair of Spot-winged Thrushes.
One the way up to the barrier gate we came a cross a small bird wave which had 3 Crested Drongos, a few Orange-billed Babblers. A few Scarlet Minivets and Black-naped Monarchs loosely associated. A pair of Ceylon Scimitar-babblers were present and gave good views.
Another flock was encountered just after the barrier gate at around 4.00pm. 4 Brown-capped Babblers foraged on the ground offering clear views. A single Red-faced Malkoha flew and perched high over us offering a good view. Also present were Crested Drongos, Orange-billed Babblers, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush and Layard’s Parakeets which flew away. A single Layard’s Squirell followed the flock. The first flock we saw also had a Layard’s Squirrel.
After a burst of rain, we came to the water hole (Maguruwala). We had just missed a bird wave which had crossed. We saw a Greater Flambecak crossing last of all.
Just beyond the water hole we followed a pair of Malabar Trogons which flew beside the track. The water hole only had the Striped Rasbora (Rasbora daniconius) showing in the poor light. The Sri Lanka Water Snakes (Xenochrophis asperrimus) could not be seen.
Between the Barrier Gate and the first pond, on our return journey around 5.30 pm we came across 4 Ceylon Wood-pigeon’s. Two were chasing each other. They offered extended views as they flew around and foraged on fruit. This is the usual location where Wood-pigeons are seen.
Around 5.30 pm when there was still light present a Brown Wood-owl called. Chestnut-backed Owlet was heard later.
As we approached the barrier we encountered again another small bird wave and two Scimitar-babblers who showed themselves well. We had comes across 4 Sinharaja Bird Waves today.
Black-capped Bulbul, Crested Drongo, Ceylon Scimitar-babbler, Orange-billed Babbler, Brown-capped Babbler, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush, Layard’s Parakeet, Ceylon Hill-myna, Legge’s Flowerpecker, Spot-winged Thrush, Red-faced Malkoha and Greater Flameback were amongst the endemic birds seen today. With the Chestut-backed Owlet which was heard, that makes it 13 endemic birds.
Over a dozen Kangaroo Lizards (Otocryptis wiegmanni) were seen ranging from very small juveniles to several dispalying adults whose head’s had turned a glossy green and rear legs showing orange on the dorsal surface. One displayed with its gular sac and nuchal crest erected, but I could not photograph it.
The highlight was a Hump-nosed Lizard spotted by our guide Jayarathna near the Wood-pigeon site. This is also where I had seen one previously with Rukhan Jayawardene just over eight years ago on 19 May 2001. It is a surprise that this is only my second record in so many years. Using a closed umbrella Jayarathna coaxed it down about two feet. It responded to the umbrella by expanding its gular sac. The light was very low and most of my photographs were soft. It opened its mouth slightly and I could just make out the red lining of the mouth. It opens the mouth fully when it needs to intimaidate intruders with a sign of aggression.
I approached it slowly to photograph and then slowly moved away. After I had left it, it ran down and clambered up another tree further away and displayed.
We did not see any Green Garden Lizards (Calotes calotes) on this day.
The pond at the Visitor Center is nicely done. Perched asround it were Indigo Dropwing (Trithemis festiva), Crimson Dropwing (Trithemis aurora) and Spine-tufted Skimmer (Orthetrum chrysis). At one of the streams before the barrier gate I photographed a pair of mating Marsh Skimmers (Orthetrum luzonicum). I was photographing the male when the guide Jayarathne pointed out the female close to it. They engaged in tandem and stayed togther for over 5 minutes when we left them. They moved position occassionaly if an ant disturbed them for example. From the similar Asian Skimmer (Orthetrum glaucum) it can be separated by having clear wing bases. Black-tipped Flashwings (Vestalis apicalis) were also present at the stream.
An obliging Plum Judy allowed close photography although it moved around. Clipper and Commander and Grass Yellow Sp, Tree Nymph and several Blue Mormon’s were seen. Around 7.15 pm when we were driving back we saw a Blue Mormon which appeared to be asleep. It was atop a leaf and had its wings fully open.
A few Giant Woodspider webs were seen. One had about 5 males. The False Lanternflies (Pyrops maculata) were on the same Mora tree that they are usually seen on. They are confined to forests and uncommon.
Besides the Layard’s Squirrels which were following the flocks, the only other mammal today was a small, shy troop of Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys, of the western race which is found here”.
On 20 May 2009 Hetti photographed a Blue Pansy at the Sigiriya Water Gardens around 9am. This is a scarce butterfly in Sri Lanka.
LATE BIRDING NEWS
The following birds were observed by Niranjan Dias Bandaranayake on a trip to Yala Village Hotel and Yala National Park from 17-19 April 2009.
Birds observed in Yala Village Hotel premises 17 April evening
Green Bee Eater-very common, Black Robin-very common, Iora- very common, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon-common Green Imperial Pigeon-one sighting, Black-headed Oriole-common, Spotted Dove-common, White Browed Bulbul-common, Blyth’s Reed Warbler-one sighting.
Birds observed in the wewa in front of hotel premises 17 April evening
White Bellied Sea Eagle- one bird, Brahminy Kite-one bird, Pelicans-about 20 in water, Painted Storks-quite a few, Whistling Teal-one bird, Spoonbill-one bird, Egret species, Black-winged Stilt-two birds, Spotted Redshank-two birds in water, Little-Ringed Plover-two birds on wewa bed, Peacock-one male, Indian Darter-one bird on dead tree in water, Great Think Knee-one bird in wewa bed,
Birds in Tissamaharama 18 April morning
Black Headed Ibis-quite a few in padddy fields, Openbill stork-quite a few in paddy fields, Indian Roller-one bird perched on top of entrance arch of old Tissamaharama Chaithya.
Birds in Yala NP evening of 18 April
Yellow-wattled Lapwing-a pair, Blue faced Malkoha-a good sighting by road side thicket, Hawk eagle-one on top of tree, Jungle Robin-one good sighting by road side, Spotted Redshank-one in wewa, Marsh Sandpiper-one in wewa, Whistling Teal-quite a few in wewa, Openbill Stork-a flock of over 30 in wewa, Pelicans-a few in wewa, Painted Stork-a large group in wewa, Lesser Adjutant-one bird in wewa, Red-wattled Lapwing-quite a few, Green Bee eaters- very common, Red-vented Bulbul-common, Black Robin-very common, Yellow-billed Babbler-common, Indian Roller-one bird on top of tree, Barred Button-quail-one on side of jeep track, Junglefowl-two males, Peafowl-common, Indian Darter- two birds, Egret species, Black-winged Stilt-common in water holes, Great Thick-knee-3 birds seen in one water hole, Whiskered Tern- quite a few flying over water holes, Spotted Dove-common, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon-male seen on tree at close quarters, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater-one, Rose-ringed Parakeet-a few seen, Common Kingfisher-one seen perched on dead tree in water hole, Rufous-winged Bushlark-a few, Red-rumped Swallow-a few flying around, Common Woodshrike-one seen, Magpie Robin-one seen near waterhole, Asian Paradise flycatcher-female seen, Black headed Ibis-a few in water holes and Indian Cuckoo-one seen.
Birds on Palatupana Beach on 19 April morning
Yellow-wattled Lapwing- 3 birds seen, Small Pranticole, 6 birds seen (good sighting), Indian Cuckoo – 3 separate sightings on top of trees.
Sunela Jayawardene observed 7 Greater Flamingos flying over Karadipuval, Puttalam on 13th April 2009.
1. The longest migration by insects
Globe Skimmers (Pantala flavescens) are familiar dragonflies in Sri Lanka at certain times of year. They come and go with the rains, but where they come from and where they go to has never been known. Now it appears that these insects are following the rains on an inter-continental scale, and that Globe Skimmers from Sri Lanka and India may be crossing the Indian Ocean all the way to East Africa with the northeast monsoon. This is the only known regular trans-oceanic migration by any insect. But what is more (since there is also a return migration with the southwest monsoon) this appears to be part of the longest regular migratory circuit by any insect. The story has been un-covered by Dr Charles Anderson, who will be familiar to readers of the Sri Lanka Wildlife eNewsletter for his work in Sri Lanka and Maldives on the Blue Whales.
For the story by Matt Walker on the BBC website, see the link below.
2. Exploring the Cloud Forests of Horton Plains
(Monday 17th and Tuesday 18 June 2009)
By Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne
This is a report from a press trip run by Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, Wicky Wickremsekera, Jetwing St Andrews Naturalist Nadeera Weerasinghe with Ifham Nizam (Island) and Faye Ruck-Nightingale (writer and photographer).
Tuesday 18th June 2009.
We left Jetwing St Andrews Hotel at 6.00am. Near Ambewela Farm, a flock of 3 Velvet-fronted Nuthatches passed through and I had a chance of taking some hand held grab shots.
Near the Arrenga pool we heard a bird wave. The core was a flock of Ceylon Rufous Babblers. There were more than ten. Accompanying them was a pair of Ceylon Scimitar-babblers. Their bubbling calls carried through the mist swirling mist. The bird wave passed through a territory of a small flock of Dark-fronted Babblers. Loosely associating with the bird wave were Ceylon Hill-white-eyes and a Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher (heard). A Common Tailorbird and a Ceylon Bush-warbler were also present but perhaps not moving with the flock. Other birds seen or heard included Yellow-eared Bulbul (h), Dull-blue Flycatcher (h). On the grasslands we had Indian Pipit and Zitting Cisticola. Hawking overhead were Indian Swiftlet and Hill Swallow.
We also had our first observation of Black-headed Munias in the park. We saw a pair on the plains.
One Sambar near the dormitory was in velvet. One male on the plains guarded a harem of 7 females and spent some time with its tail raised, looking away. We were not sure if it was responding to a predator or another male. Much later at another location we heard the Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys uttering a brief alarm call.
The others glimpsed a Stripe-necked Mongoose which was beside the road.
The park staff seem to come across leopard sightings every few days. Ruwan who was previously at Bundala had photographed a leopard with his mobile phone on Monday 15 June 2009 and we saw the pictures.
Around 9.30 am it was cold and drizzly and we decided after a cup of tea to take the road towards Anderson Lodge (Ginihiriya). The weather cleared and we noticed a lot of Tawny Costers and Ceylon Treebrowns on the wing. I have never seen so many Ceylon Treebrowns, an endemic butterfly. One pair were photographed mating on the road. Nadeera saw a Banded Peacock. We also had Bluebottle, a possible Painted Lady and what was probably an Albatross.
The pools on the plateau besides the B512 were investigated by us. We saw 2 male Red-veined Darters (Sympetrum fonscolombii). A species confined to the highlands in Sri Lanka but also found in Europe. Near the Ginihiriya Lodge, a large dragonfly hawked in the air. We suspect it was a Fiery Emperor (Anax immaculifrons).
Finally when we left the park it was around 2.30pm.
Monday 17 June 2009
We had arrived at Jetwing St Andrews Hotel close to 3 pm. On arrival at the hotel, we encountered a flock of the endemic Ceylon White-eye with a pair of Great Tits. I photographed them and a male Oriental Magpie-robin. I could hear Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrikes calling. We then drove up to the Horton Plains National Park gate after lunch.
The last tickets are issued at 4.00 pm. Nevertheless we decided to drive up to the ticketed gate so that we could take in the montane wildlife. We left the hotel around 4.15pm. Just before the milk factory which sells yoghurt, we saw 3 Purple-faced Leaf Monkey. Two were mothers with very young. This is a reliable site for the leaf monkeys. Prior to this, by 5pm or so we reached the Ambewela Cattle Farm. We saw 5 Red-wattled Lapwings. They were on some grassy fields which had been freshly dug. I noticed many fields were now brown fields. I suspect they have been dug to re-plant.
Nadeera, Wicky and I have no recollection of seeing Red-wattled Lapwings this high before. I wonder whether this could be part of a gradual range extension altitudinally upwards. There were also 90+ Cattle Egrets on the fields. We took the trouble to count them as it would be useful to monitor if we are seeing a altitudinal range extension of these birds as well. I am still not seeing them on Horton Plains (others have recorded them) which has Sambar and similar conditions to the fields at the Ambewela Cattle Farm.
We stopped at a bend which has a nice view point of the cloud forest below. This is before the 22 km post of the B512 which runs through the park. Around 6.15pm we heard an Arrenga utter its screeching call close to us. Both the male and female were seen at close quarters as they actively moved in and out of the foliage. At one time the female flew up to a line of small trees that were about 8 feet in height and moved through the crown.
(The Arrenga or Ceylon Whistling-thrush is confined to cloud forests in Sri Lanka. Horton Plains National park and other cloud forests around Nuwara Eliya is its main stronghold).
The mist was writhing and swirling and travelling at great speed. Patches of sunlight would open and close in a matter of seconds. I don’t recollect watching mist or low flying clouds scudding along at such speed before. It could be the South-west Monsoon which is carrying the clouds at speed. The endemic Rhododendron seems to be in the peak of flowering.
After sunset we listened for nocturnal animals and heard none. It was windy and cold. We passed a few Black-naped Hares. At the Ambewela Cattle Farm we looked out for Barking Deer (Muntjac). One animal was standing besides the road and we had good views. It was the first sighting for Wicky in this area and the third or so for Nadeera.
3. Nature Observations August-September 2009
(Compiled by Nadeera Weerasinghe, Naturalist – Jetwing St. Andrew’s)
13th & 14th Auguest 2009
Nadeera Weerasinghe and Thilanka Ranatunga had two photography sessions on the Cloud Forest Trail on both days. The target species to photograph was Ceylon Whistling-thrush (Myophonus blighi). From 0530 hrs to 1100 hrs we heard its call several times and on the first day we were able to see three individuals. We saw one adult male, one female and the other one we were not able to see properly. Most probably it was another female.
On the second day we were lucky and took good photographs of the male.
On both days we were noticed all of them start calling from the upper side of the stream and then they start their feeding along the stream, working down. The morning is mostly spent feeding and that time they moving down through the human settlements & farmlands along the stream.
25th August 2009
Nadeera Weerasinghe (Naturalist – Jetwing St. Andrew’s) and Chaminda Indika Jayasekara (Naturalist – Jetwing Vil Uyana) visited Minneriya National Park with a few JVU clients and we able to see about 75 elephants there.
26th August 2009
Nadeera Weerasinghe, Chaminda Indika Jayasekara and Thilanka Ranatunga had nocturnal animal watching session at Palutawa Tank area and we were able to see two Grey Slender Lorises near the Palutawa Tank.
27th August 2009
Nadeera Weerasinghe, Chaminda Indika Jayasekara visited Kaludiya Pokuna and observed a troop of Purple Faced Leaf Monkeys.
4th September 2009
Nadeera Weerasinghe, accompanied Hiran Cooray, the Chairman of Jetwing Hotels & his team to visit Minneriya National Park and come across two main herds of elephants at two locations. Altogether about 80+ individuals were there.
For Nuwara Eliya visitors…
Climatological Information for a month of October 2009
Mean Temperature : Daily Min – 11.8 c0
Daily Max – 19.8 c0
Mean Total Rainfall : 226.8 mm
Mean number of Rain Days : 18
4. Trip Report: Meethrigala Rainforest
Saturday 18 July 2009 Meethrigala with the Sri Lanka Natural History Society
By Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne
This was my first visit to the Meethrigala Forest Reserve which I had heard so much about. It’s a beautiful site. The reserve comprises of 370 acres of forest under the jurisdiction of the Forest Department. Adjoining it is a hermitage which is popular with people who come here to offer alms. There is also a bhikku training center. A public road runs through a section of the forest and is used by large public buses as well. The advantage of this is that this is probably the most publicly accessible lowland rainforest of good quality in Sri Lanka. The down-side is that a group of birders, photographers and naturalists have to be constantly vigilant of fast moving traffic. For undisturbed photography, Bodhinagala forest reserve may still be a better bet unless one takes the side trail to the glade.
At one end of the forest (towards Avissawella) is a sign board and near it is a trail which goes through what is initially a village garden habitat but within a few hundred meters becomes a trail through good quality forest. After a while the noise of traffic from the road is not heard.
Even from the public road, there are beautiful vistas of lowland rainforest with tree ferns, strangler figs and lianas hanging from trees and fitting the perception of what a rainforest would be. Early in the morning, sunlight filters through trees and is softened further by mist lifting off from the ground.
Familiar plants included Freycenetia walkeri, Kekiriwara (Schumacheria castaneifolia) Paththara (Blechnum orientalis), Kekilla (Dichranopteris linearis). Dwarf Bamboo (Ochlandra stridula), Divi Kaduru (Pagiantha dichotoma), etc.
White-browed (1 nesting), Red-vented, Black, Yellow-browed and Black-capped Bulbuls, a pair of Grey Hornbills, Layard’s Parakeets flew overhead, Ceylon Hanging-parrot, Ceylon Small, Yellow-fronted and Brown-headed Barbets, Black-naped Monarch and Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Dark-fronted and Brown-capped Babbler, several Emerald Doves flew around, Oriental White-eye, Scarlet Minivet, Leafbird sp., Pale-billed Flowerpecker, Purple-rumped Sunbird, 1 Crested Hawk-eagle, etc. 1 Juvenile White-rumped Shama was brown on the upper-parts with pale spots. The white on the outer tail feathers showed in flight. A singing bird was heard and it was probably the juvenile. Tara Wikramanayake saw a Ceylon Wood-shrike.
Several sightings of Clipper, Ceylon Birdwings were visiting the flowers of a tree in flower, 2 sightings of the endemic Ceylon Bushbrown. There was some interesting behaviour with 6 Plum Judies displaying on one small bush less than 5 feet in height beside the road. They were engaging in the typical clockwork movement they have, where they roll along a few cm, then turn in a ratchety, jerky movement. It almost seemed as if there was lekking behaviour. I also noticed that one was sipping nutrients off a bird or other animal dropping. They did not seem fazed by me and Ayanthi Samarajewa approaching within inches to take photographs, at times with flash. Were they engaged in a mating routine or were they intoxicated by the presence of mineral rich animal droppings they had sipped? I am not sure. It seemed more like some type of lekking activity. The flash gun brought out the plum colour on the upper-wings which is not so easily noticed in dull light which is what is usually is in the shaded habitats occupied by this species. I wonder whether these butterflies see in ultra-violet light and whether their wing pattern signals are designed for seeing in ultra-violet light? Other species recorded included Blue Mormon, Rustic, Glad-eye Bushbrown, White Four-ring, Banded Blue Pierrot, etc.
One of the streams had several Black-tipped Flashwings (Vestalis apicalis). Also recorded was a Dark Forestdamsel (Platysticta apicalis), Shining Gossamerwing (Euphaea splendens), Marsh Skimmer (Orthterum luzonicum), Marsh Dancer (Onychargia atrocyana) and several Spine-tufted Skimmers (Orthtetrum chrysis) in the marshy area in the glade, Green Skimmer (Orthetrum sabina), etc.
1. Site Guide: Meethrigala Forest
By Kithsiri Gunawardena
Go along the High Level Road up to Hanwella and turn left to go to Hanwella town. Take a left over the bridge to go to Attanagalle. Then turn to the right past the bridge towards Pugoda- Attanagalle. Once you reach Pugoda town, drive about one KM and you will pass a yellow board “Vedagama” to your right. Do not turn. Keep going for about another one kilometer and ask only from intelligent looking bystanders, the directions to Meethirigala. The turn off is to the right. Look out for a board called “Nissarana Wanaya” as well at the top of this road.
This road takes you straight to the Meethirigala forest. You will be passing well wooded home gardens for about 15 minutes and you will reach an opening with paddy fields (look out for Ashy Swallow-shrikes, Ceylon Swallows, etc here). When you pass the paddy fields and enter the forest, you will see a board “Meetirigala Nissarana Wanaya” on the left. Turn here and proceed along this road in the vehicle until you come to an area with enough space to park the vehicle. Ask the driver to keep watch as there are Toque Monkeys. From this point you can walk along the road and will have the forest on either side. Do not take the road to the right and enter the forest hermitage as the folks there are into more spiritual things than bird watching. Watch out for the vehicles on the main road before you get to the footpath as you may get run over otherwise. Most drivers here think that they own the roads and would not expect alien looking bird watchers in the early hours of the morning.
At the top of the incline along the road, before the forest ends and the rubber plantations begin, (app. 1.5km) there is a footpath to the left.
The footpath will end in an open glade. Look out for the elusive Green-billed Coucal close to the glade. I have seen Malabar Trogon as well as Green-billed Coucal here. The place should be full of Black- capped, Yellow-browed as well as Black Bulbuls, Barbets, Common Hill-mynah, Pompadour Green-pigeon, Green Imperial Pigeon, Emerald Dove, Layard’s Parakeets etc. I have also seen the Indian Three-toed-Kingfisher here.
This is one location where you also can see the Banded Peacock butterfly in the wet zone. The Tree Nymph, Blue Mormon, Ceylon Birdwing and the Clipper also should be seen without much difficulty. Along the footpath also you must look out for the endemic Singhalese’s Bush brown. The glade will have many dragonflies as well.
For anyone who is interested in freshwater fish, a walk along the many streams would be very rewarding. Many species of Rasbora as well as Puntiyas are found in good numbers.
In mid 90’s when I first visited this forest, the road that you see now was only a narrow footpath full of leeches. The villagers showed me what was left of an ancient boundary wall which has been built during the times of the kings. This apparently was the boundary wall between the ‘up country’ and ‘low country’. You can still see this when you reach the forest end on this road where the rubber plantations begin.
Species to look for
Birds: White-rumped Shama, Rufuous-bellied Hawk-eagle, Crested Serpent and Crested Hawk-eagles, Legge’s Flowerpecker, Crested Drongo, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Brown Wood-owl & Ceylon Frogmouth.
Snakes: Hump-nosed Viper (Hypnale hypnale), Cobra (Naja naja), Green Vine Snake (Ahetulla nasuta), Russels Viper (Daboia russelii) and Sheba’s Bronze back (Dendrelaphis tristis)
Agamid Lizards: Common Garden Lizard (Calotes versicolor), Green Garden Lizard (Calotes calotes), Whistling Lizard (Calotes liolepis) Hump-nosed Lizard (Lyriocephalus scutatus).
Mammals: Porcupine, Brown & Ruddy Mongoose, Mouse-deer, Purple-faced Leaf Monkey Dusky-striped Squirrel, Toque Monkey, Indian Palm and Giant Squirrels.
Butterflies: Blue Oak-leaf, Lacewing, Common Hedge Blue, Common Pierrot, Cruiser, Plum Judy, Common Evening brown, Tamil Yeoman and Bluebottle. Considering the amount of the bamboo that is found, even though I am yet to see it here, this should be a good location for the Southern Duffer as well.
Amphibians: I have also observed many species of amphibians, mostly belonging to the genus Philautus as well as Rana, mainly during wet weather.
2. Encounter with leopards: Like watching a wildlife film.
by Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne
This article was first published in The Sunday Times Plus. Sunday October 11, 2009. Features. Page 3.
In July the British High Commission relaxed the travel advisory to Yala. This marked an important turning point for wildlife travel tour operators such as Jetwing Eco Holidays for whom Yala is one of the most important sites for their business. During the third week of July I was in Yala with the British High Commissioner Dr Peter Hayes and his wife Kirsty and their children. During the last week end of September I returned with Tom Owen-Edmunds and Libby Southwell.
It was Libby’s first ever visit to Yala and the Saturday turned out to be such a fantastic day. Our first half an hour into the park and the last half an hour into the park produced two amazing and memorable leopard sightings. Both leopards sightings were close, and provided great viewing under atmospheric conditions. I suspect both were the Kohombagaswala cubs.
The first sighting was on the Uraniya Road, just before Palugaswala No 1. We had left the Yala Village hotel and proceeded leisurely having first looked at some birds and Jackals. In our first half an hour we came across a cluster of jeeps that were looking at a young male seated on a low rock. We pulled and had had great views but through a thicket of Weera trees. Some vehicles had a totally clear view from 20 meters away. We thought our view was quite atmospheric. After five minutes or so the leopard stretched and moved away. We then staked out a buffalo carcass at Palugaswala No 2 which had been visited by a leopard last morning and evening. A cluster of jeeps stayed close to the carcass. We parked about 20m away where we had a line of sight to the carcass, but could chat in low voices without disturbing anyone. We bird watched and chatted, for an hour and then drove off, pausing on and off to look at birds and other mammals which included a very small tusker which was on its own.
We stopped at the Tsunami memorial at Patanangala where a male House Sparrow attacked its reflection in the mirror. Tom who is fairly keen birdwatcher ticked off the birds he was seeing in a copy of John Harrrison’s Field Guide to the Birds of Sri lanka. We examined House Swifts, Crested Tree-swifts, Barn Swallows and Ceylon Swallows which hawked overhead. Near the round wala on the Meda Para we came across a female Barred Button-quail which was foraging in the dry leaf litter. Its technique was to rotate in the leaves as if was trying to make a circular depression to create nest. We watched it for at least fifteen minutes. The role of the sexes are reversed in this bird and the female was strongly marked.
We exited the park around 12 noon and headed to the Palatupana Salt Pans. There was a good mix of waders including a single Ruff. Species present included Golden, Grey and Lesser Sand Plover, Common, Green, Marsh and Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Redshank, Black-winged Stilt, Great Thick-knee, etc.
The lake in front of the Yalla Village hotel produced a single Greenshank as well as Spoonbill, Painted Stork, Little Egret, Gull-billed Tern, Little Stint, Common Sandpiper, Lesser Sand Plover, etc.
The evening game drive got off to a tremendous start when five Jackals visited the lake near the ticket office. We photographed them here and then in the park had a single Ruddy Mongoose. Mammals seen so far included Hanuman Langur, Spotted Deer, Elephant, Black-naped Hare, Common Palm-civet, Palm Squirrell, Jackal, Wild Pig and Leopard.
At Buttuwa Wewa crocodiles were concentrated into a small area. We could see at least 50 crocodiles. Some were enormous. There were a dozen large crocodiles basking next to a Buffalo in the mud. Two endangered Lesser Adjutant were in the distance. 2 Black-crowned Night-herons were also out in the open. This is unusual for a bird which is nocturnal.
We took the road running past Pimburagala which comes from the far side of Walmal Kema. This is a very graphic landscape which sheets of rock bordered by gaunt, leafless thorn scrub. The park was very dry and almost all of the water bodies were totally dry. The evening light was wonderful. At Wal Mal Kema, the effect of the evening light on the pink hued rock was breathtaking. It was quiet and we were the only jeep and we settled into take it all in. Into this wonderful light walked a Peacock, which shimmered and dazzled in the warm but soft light.
Lal the driver and Ruwan the tracker felt that Kohombogaswala may attract one of leopards from the two cubs and the mother which frequent the area. These are the leopards I had seen in July when I had visited with the British High Commissioner and his family. Driving into the park I had explained to Tom and Libby, that every year, Yala has one or two sets of cubs which perform for the cameras. This summer, it was the turn of the Kohombogaswala cubs. In the afternoon, we had watched a Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWLC) water bowser fill the water hole with water. Many of the water holes have small cemented ponds to help the animals get through the drought. It is very nice to see the DWLC continuing with interventionist conservation management. The animal populations would otherwise crash.
Just as we arrived, one of the eight vehicles parked there beckoned us. We joined them just as the female cub walked in for a drink. I started to shoot and the leopard walked to the right and began to drink water. It then walked into the golden light and out of view. We drove to Palugaswala No 2 where Namal Kamalgoda and Gehan Rajapkase were staking out a buffalo carcass. We heard alarms calls which suggested an approaching leopard. We drove off towards Karawgaswala and heard that the male cub had approached No 2 soon after we left.
At the first waterhole on Meda Para I noticed what looked like a Sociable Glider (Tramea limbata). But I cannot be sure. On both days we saw several Globe Skimmers (Pantala flavescens) which are now believed to undertake the longest migration by an insect. This comes of the work of Dr Charles Anderson who also led me to the Blue Whale story in Sri Lanka.
After dinner we drove off towards Kirinda. We had several Black-naped Hare and nothing else. An Indian Nightjar was on the lake embankment near the hotel. The bull elephant was once again foraging outside my room, no 111, as I went in around 10.00 pm.
We took drinks on the top deck of the Yala Village Hotel and indulged in a spot of astronomy. We looked at the Mikly Way and at Jupiter. The latter’s planetary disc was clear through binoculars.
The Saturday had been a phenomenal day with beautiful birds, many mammals, lovely landscapes and two fantastic sightings of leopard. The Sunday, was another incredible day in the park which left Libby and Tom commenting that it was on par with an African safari. In fact the whole morning felt like we were on live in a program being aired on Nat Geo or Animal Planet. We drove past Palugaswala No 1 to Palugaswala No 2. Predictably the serious photographers were already there. Namal Kamalgoda and Gehan Rajapakse were already in the best position with five other safari vehicles taking slots behind them. We pulled over parallel to Gehan and Namal and I extended my tripod head to mount the 600mm f4 lens to shoot over the front of their vehicle. A pack of six jackals were tearing at the carcass. They were nervous and fed quickly. At any given time one would bite off a piece and rip it out. Others were clambering atop the carcass. Others just fed in a hurried manner.
Some of the jackals looked like they were young from the last litter to be raised. Once or twice a Spotted Deer alarm call rang out. A more strident call rang out later followed by a distant Sambar bellowing. A leopard was clearly on its way. The nervous jackals dispersed. We waited and waited, but no leopard arrived. A mobile phone call came that the leopard was at Palugaswala No 1 and the rest of the vehicles sped away. We decided to wait in case the other of the Kohombgaswala pair came over. The pack of jackals came trotting by again and ran past the carcass and hurried across the road. Reluctantly we decided to join the pursuit for the leopard at No 1 and drove the long loop on the one way circuit to Palugaswala No 1. One of the cubs (nearly sub-adult now) had arrived and had apparently stalking the nearly dead buffalo which was at the hole. I suspect it was more the case it was hoping to feed off the dead buffalo but was being very wary of the one that was alive.
The cub had retired to a spot of shade on the embankment and Libby spotted it for us. We decided to wait and take it all in. It was like watching a wildlife film. A pair of Large-billed Crows (Jungle Crows) began to peck at the carcass. One repeatedly stabbed the eye and pulled out bits of eye and meat. The resident pair of Indian Thick-knees were clearly guarding a feeding territory and showed occasional aggression to the other birds. A Ruddy Mongoose which strayed too close to them elicited a wing stretch display. The Ruddy Mongoose backed off. Surprisingly the one or more Ruddy Mongooses which visited did not scavenge on the buffalo. One Indian Thick-knee pulled out a piece of meat and I photographed this. This surprised me as up to then I had only seen them feeding on insects near the carcass. A sounder of wild pig came in and began to rip out flesh. There were five of them. The largest was a female. I suspect they all were females.
At least two hundred Spotted Deer came in groups of around 40 each. The first group was very nervous and initially drank from muddy edges at the back. The second group drank from the green water which had at least six medium sized crocodiles in it. The herds of deer had several males. The last group we saw had a few very large males. Some of the deer were in velvet. I suppose it makes sense for the deer to grow their antlers and build a harem now. The arrival of young will then be after the North-east Monsoon rains which will result in lush grasslands and ample water. Two deer clashed and one fled. To my amazement the deer which ran away had full antlers whilst the victor had none. They stood up on their hind legs when fighting.
Hanuman Langurs were standing sentinel and one barked in alarm when the leopard changed position. The Spotted Deer also responded. I was able to photograph the Spotted Deer close to the Hanuman langurs. I had wanted to take this image for some time to show the association between Hanman Langurs and the Spotted Deer. Over an hour elapsed before the Hanuman Langurs approached the water to drink. By then it was almost 10.30 am and we had spent most of the time since 7.30 am at this water hole.
A beautiful male Ring-necked Parakeet on a lichen encrusted dead tree was compositionally outstanding. We had Brahminy Kite, White-bellied Sea-eagle, Grey Heron, Painted Stork, Black-winged Stilt, etc offering close or extended views which made for some pleasant bird watching as well. House Swifts and Crested Tree-swifts and Barn Swallows skimmed the water as they hunted. A Black-headed Ibis foraged a foot away from the crocodiles.
The leopard had moved to another location and we had one more look before driving out. I did not have a leopard photography session this morning but I had taken a very interesting repertoire of images ranging from Large-billed Crows, Wild Pigs and Jackals feeding on carcasses to Hanuman Langurs and Spotted Deer lined up to drink water. I had also taken some images of birds and crocodiles. It is amazing what a morning at a waterhole in Yala during the peak of the dry season can yield.
3. Leopard Safari in Yala.
by Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne
This article was first published in the Sunday Leader. Sunday 2 August 2009. Page 8.
July 2009 was going to be a very busy month for the Jetwing Eco Holidays team. In August, we will be attending the British Bird Fair for the 9th consecutive year. We would need to re-visit some of the key wildlife tourism sites prior to the Bird Fair with the office based operations team to ground truth the current situation. Both the sites themselves as well as the facilities in terms of access, safari jeeps and boats, quality of accommodation can change significantly within the course of a year. A Tour Operator needs also to be like a travel guide writer and make regular field visits to stay in touch. This is especially true of wildlife tourism where site factors can be complex and vary from the state of a footpath to a dragonfly watching pond to keeping pace with the shifting territories of leopards in Yala. An experienced tourism operations executive team, Ganga Weerasinghe, had joined us. But as he was new to wildlife tourism he had to be brought up to speed rapidly. Talangama Wetland, Sinharaja, Kithulgala, Horton Plains, Uda Walawe, Yala and Bundala were on the list of essential sites to be covered in a span of a few weeks in July and August.
On 3rd July 2009, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) relaxed the travel advisory which had previously advised against travel to Block 1 of Yala (Ruhunu National Park). This meant that once again travel insurance covered British travellers to Yala. Other European countries would hopefully follow suit and relax their travel advisories in a similar way. Yala National Park could then once again become a site of core business to in-bound tour operators such as Jetwing Eco Holidays as well as almost every tour operator in Sri Lanka who included a game drive in Yala as part of a round trip itinerary. Our guides visit Yala almost every few weeks. However, it had been a few months since I had last been to Yala with my operations team. This was with Shyamalee Tudawe the Editor of Hi Magazine, when we went on leopard safari in March 2009. The removal of the FCO advisory, a new member of staff and the forthcoming Bird Fair meant there was a new urgency to visit Yala and to be familiar first hand with the new arrangements.
The British High Commissioner Dr Peter Hayes and his wife Kirsty had planned a private family holiday with their two children with two nights at Thimbrimankada Bungalow inside Uda Walawe National Park and two nights at the Yala Village Hotel close to the Yala National Park. They had very kindly invited me to join them. This fitted in perfectly with my plans to take new boy Ganga on a rapid ground recce and we joined them for a memorable day at Uda Walawe. We must have encountered over 70-80 elephants, most of them in small family groups throughout the day. The most memorable was when a family group arrived at the lake in front of the bungalow preceded by a single, large bull. The bull entered the water first, walked towards us, faced us squarely and returned to the family where I presume it was consorting with a receptive female. The family arrived and drank and covered themselves in cooling mud. Other family groups began to arrive in the noon day heat with one family’s departure at the lake overlapping with the arrival of another. Forty or more elephants cooled off and accepted our presence under the shade of a Bahunia tree.
The South-west Monsoon winds gusted and buffeted the exposed bungalow and the Hayes decided to cut one night short at Uda Walawe and we set out for an extra night in Yala. The Elephant Reach Hotel and the Yala Village Hotel supported the visit by my team. At the Yala Village Hotel, Chitral Jayatilake the wildlife photographer staged an illustrated talk followed by an atmospheric dinner held outdoors.
I engaged in five game drives, four of which were with Dr Peter Hayes. This gave us a very good grasp of the ground situation. There were a few key changes which have now come about. Visitors are once again allowed to travel to all areas of Block 1. I also found the local jeep drivers and guides are totally relaxed in traversing all areas of Block 1. Secondly there is a far more sensible arrangement in terms of the entry and exit times for visitors. Tickets are issued from 5.30 am which means that even outside visitors (as opposed to those staying inside park bungalows) are also able have a chance of encountering adult leopards in the morning who may be scent marking their territories before closing off a night of activity. This is especially important because of the work done to brand Yala for its leopards. This work was begun by Jetwing Hotels and Jetwing Eco Holidays and subsequently continued by John Keels Hotels. Yala has now become one of the premier destinations, if not the leading destination in the world for dedicated leopard safaris. More details on how this was developed are in the March 2009 issue (Series 7, Volume 1) of Hi Magazine which can be accessed in the section on articles on www.jetwingeco.com.
The safari vehicles are also allowed to leave the park at 6.30 pm at dusk. This time may be revised to fit in with the length of day. But at the time of our visit, it meant that we could stay on late enough to watch a mature male atop Kotigala come down and start patrolling its territory in the evening. A more rigid departure time of 6pm would have meant certain aspects of leopard behaviour would not be available for viewing by those not staying inside the park bungalows. The park bungalows were not available for bookings at the time of our visit and it may be several months before they are vacated by the army and refurbished for visitors.
We did not see army foot patrols within the park as on my previous visit. The patrolling goes on, in the early and late hours, discretely to avoid giving negative signals to visitors. Security at the entrance remains tight with the group leader needing to fill in a form with his identification and summary details on the demographics of his group. Blank forms can be taken away and filled before hand. However, when the Yala rush happens as is inevitable, I can imagine delays unless multiple counters are set up for screening. The security was reassuringly thorough. They asked me to open my lens trunk for a 600mm lens and a hard case for a video, just to check on what is being taken into the park.
The park was very dry at the time of our visit as the previous monsoons had failed. The Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWLC) has over the last few years adopted an active or interventionist approach to conservation and maintained water at key water holes by regularly topping up with water a series of concrete lined ‘bowls’ within the water holes.
Leopard sightings had been phenomenal since July and fortunately there was no change during our three days in the park. Much of the action centered around a mother and her male and female cubs, which I estimate to be just over a year. The two cubs are seen mainly at three water holes, Kohomombagaswala, Siyambalagaswala and Palugaswala No 1. A line drawn from Walmalkema to Palugaswala No 1 will form a line from North-west to South-east connecting four water holes which are within a 3 km line. On this line we had the two cubs, male and female and a mature male atop a rock at Walmal Kema. Others have had sighting of the mother and two cubs making it four individual leopards in a remarkably concentrated area.
On our first evening we were treated to a one hour viewing of the male cub which approached the water hole and rolled about in the sand. It was intrigued by the arrival of a Ruddy Mongoose, but clearly had not yet learnt to hunt. The mongoose took refuge under a fallen log whilst the cub attempted to sniff it out. A lapse of concentration by the leopard saw the mongoose bolting for cover. Soon after, the male cub climbed atop a fallen log. A large male wild pig appeared and seemingly oblivious to the leopard twenty meters away wallowed in the mud and left. The cub was clearly intimidated by the wild boar. It then approached the water to drink and snarled repeatedly at the submerged, patrolling crocodiles. There were large crocodiles in the water which were large enough to drag in an elephant.
The next morning we had a fleeting glimpse of a leopard crossing the road where the main road branches off to Uraniya. In the evening we headed to Kotigala as there had been reports of a leopard climbing the rock. We arrived to find a leopard being admired by several safari vehicles. Leopards have becomes used to the attention of safari vehicles and many tolerate them. It has become easier and easier to take good photographs of them. Photographers are now even finding that leopards are consuming their kills besides the road without dragging them away. This only helps to reinforce Sri Lanka as the Leopard’s Island.
The mature male atop Kotigala must have stayed over half an hour to an adoring audience before it yawned, stretched and ambled off the summit to merge a hundred meters away and crossed the road. The British High Commissioner had three individual leopards on three out of four game drives. My score card read four individual leopards on four out of five game drives between the 24th July. Inspired by my text updates, Frederica Jansz visited Yala on 25th July and saw three leopards and a Sloth Bear in the Patanangala area on one morning game drive.
It is not always this easy. I always advise people that there is a ninety per cent chance of seeing leopards if you undertake five game drives. This is a safe statistic although there are periods when one or more sets of cubs are performing and leopards seem so easy to see.
The Hayes family and the Jetwing Eco Holidays team had wonderful experiences in Yala. One morning we staked out Rakinawala, one of the larger water holes. From 6.45am to 8.30 am we watched as a procession of mammals and birds came into to the water to drink. A few hundred Spotted Deer must have drunk demonstrating the density of the prey, which enables such a high concentration of leopards to be found. I often cite the statistic given to me by the late Ravi Samarasinha that in this area of the park there can be on average one leopard per square kilometer. This statistic certainly ties in with what keen leopard photographers have observed empirically. It is of course not true of the entire protected area complex which spans 1,200 square kilometers.
On one of our evening game drives, on Welmalkema Road I heard Hauman Langurs barking and I asked Lal to switch off the engine. Over twenty Hanuman Langurs were barking animatedly and looking down. This is the first time I have observed an entire troop acting so animatedly. Previously I have noticed one or more individuals acting as sentinels. It could only be a leopard. I wondered whether this was the mature male we had seen atop a rock last evening which had attempted to hunt a langur or was it one of the two cubs at Kohombagaswala which was innocently straying very close to the troop?
One Hanuman Langur came bounding through the forest and along the road. For a few seconds I wondered whether it was a clash between two troops and expected more individuals from a retreating troop to follow. But none did. A large Hanuman Langur came bounding back along the road and turned into the scrub and clambered up again. I presume it was the same individual. What it was doing was aggressive and risky. Perhaps they knew it was only a leopard cub and this was an act of intimidation by the langurs.
With leopards taking center stage, the other wildlife did suffer some neglect. Sightings of the scarce Southern Sirkeer and elephants mud bathing were some of the other highlights. It is easy to spend an entire day in the park and be always busy with something to see. I could easily do this for weeks at a stretch. But, we also have a business to run. On the Friday morning, after a sighting of the two Kohombagaswala cubs, Ganga and I left the park by 8 am. We had emails to catch up and an early morning departure for a day trip to Sinharaja the following morning to meet clients. Wildlife Tourism is not for those who need regular hours of sleep.
1. Internships with Jetwing Eco Holidays
Internships are available with Jetwing Eco Holidays for periods varying from one month to a year. Candidates should have excellent written English. A creative eye is also very helpful. Interns are exposed to a wide variety of office skills as well as occasional field visits.
If you are interested in an internship, please email Paramie Perera on email@example.com with the header titled ‘Internships with Eco Holidays’.
2. Book on the Lizards of Sri Lanka
Somaweera, Ruchira & Somaweera, Nilusha (2009). Lizards of Sri Lanka: A colour guide with field keys. Chimaira Buchhandelsgesellschaft mbH, Germany. 304 pages with over 600 colour illustrations. ISSN 1613-2327. ISBN 978-3-89973-478-2
This latest book on Sri Lankan reptiles covers all known lizards (agamids, chameleons, geckos, skinks, snake-eye lizards and varanids) and has colour illustrations for all species, including the doubtful species. It gives comprehensive information (current taxonomy including all know synonyms and chresonyms, details about the type specimens, vernacular name, range, distribution in Sri Lanka, diagnosis, size, natural history and conservation status) for all Sri Lankan species over eight chapters, and colour illustrations depict most of the colour variations known for each species. The book also features a set of field keys with thumbnails for each lizard family.
Professor Indraneil Das, the eminent Asian herpetologist, has done the foreword for the book and a part of the foreword reads as fiollows. “A modern checklist of species is included, as is an illustrated key (a first for the region), showing thumbnail images for the benefit of non-technical users of the guide. Thereafter is the heart of the volume, comprising species accounts, that include multiple images of each taxa (museum specimens, in case of rare species), showing different ontogenetic stages, sexes and colour morphs. Following this is a short listing of species erroneously or dubiously recorded from Sri Lanka. At the end of the book are the glossary, gazetteer of localities, references and scientific names index.
The Somaweeras have now set a high standard for field guides to an important component of the herpetofauna, and one hopes this example will be emulated regionally and globally”.
This hard cover book is currently available through University of Peradeniya (contact Suranjan Fernando (firstname.lastname@example.org). SLRs 3,400 excluding postage. Its also available online through most online dealers including the following.
3. Books for sale.
Please contact Lahiru Ariyananda at email@example.com. He may also be able to help if you looking for a particular rare book on Ceylon/Sri Lanka Natural History.
1) Butterfly Fauna of Ceylon by Woodhouse LGO. 2nd Complete Edition. 1949.
Updated and much expanded from the 1st edition and contains additional information on the “immature stages of 41 species not previously known” and seven additional plates. Also includes info on Larvae Pupae, Eggs and Genitalia and a map of Ceylon. 231 pages, 55 Plates. Rare and Collectible.
2) Butterfly Fauna of Ceylon, Abridged edition. 1950. 48 Plates, 133 pages. Out of print.
3) Wild Flowers of Ceylon by Dorothy Fernando. 1954 1st edition. Mitcham West Brothers,England. 86 pages and 20 full-page vibrant colour tipped-in Plates. With a foreword by Lord Soulbury.
4) Ceylon: An Account of the Island’s Physical, Historical, and Topographical with Notices of its Natural History Antiquities and Productions by Emerson Tennent. 2 Vol Set. Complete. 1859 edition , England. Vol 1 : 643 pages. Vol 2 : 663 pages. 9 maps (2 Large folding maps – 1 coloured. Big Ceylon folded map by Arrowsmith). 2 wood-engraved frontispieces. 86 Wood cut illustration in total. 17 charts. Monumental and Rare work.
5) Ceylon Yesterday Sri Lanka Today, 1976 1st edition which was adorned by Mr Fernando’s Photography. Much wildlife.
6) Natural History of the Mammalia of India & Ceylon by Sterndale. 1884 1st Edition. Published by Thacker, Spink and Co. 551 pages. Very well illustrated with over 170 woodcut illustrations. 1st edition. Rare.
7) Jungle Journeys in Ceylon by Iris Darnton. Genuine 1st edition, UK (not recent reprint). 272pages. Illustrated with many b/w photos (people, birds, butterflies, wildlife, buried cities etc.) with drawings by the author. Account of the authors travels around Ceylon during 1947.
8) Birds of Sri Lanka by T.S.U. De Zylva. 1st edition, 1984. 133pp with Illustrations. Out of Print now.
9) Indian Hill Birds by Salim Ali & Illustrated by GM Henry. 1949.Oxford University Press. 200 Pages. Nearly 300 species are covered. 64 truly remarkable colour plates and more monochrome ones by GM Henry.
Description are included in great detail of the appearance, habitat, distribution, nesting and characteristics of a wide range of birds from the hills of India. Some information on Ceylon is included. There is a table also showing the distribution of each throughout the Himalayas, Mysore, Kashmir, Ceylon and Assam.
10) Marine and Fresh Water Fishes of Ceylon by Munro, I.S.R. 1955 1st edition, Canberra. 352 pages with 56 full-page plates with black/white illustrations and text illustrations.
11) Birds of Ceylon by G.M. Henry. 1971, 1978 second editions. Much more vibrant and clear plates compared with later print. With 30 illustrated plates many in colour featuring several birds on each plate and black & white illustrations of various types of birds and nests throughout text, also a map of Ceylon.
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne comments. “The adventure shop of Borderlands has dry bags. These originally evolved to meet the needs of divers and others working in wet environments. On leopard safaris I have tried all sorts of means to keep dust off my camera equipment. On whale watching trips the objective has been to protect the camera equipment form corrosive salt spray. None of the methods I have been using have been very effective because you also need to be able to keep the gear covered but also have easy access. The dry bags I have seen at Borderlands seem a good solution. Details they have provided me are copied below”.
10L FeelFree Dry bag Rs. 2,500.
20L FeelFree Dry bag Rs. 3,500.
25 L FeelFree Dry bag Rs. 4,600.
Borderlands, No.46, Stratford Avenue, Colombo – 06, Sri Lanka.
Tel : +94 11 4410110 / 11 2504602
e-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
Bedjanic, M., de Silva Wijeyeratne, G., and Conniff, K. (2007). Dragonflies of Sri Lanka. Gehan’s Photo Guide Series. Jetwing Eco Holidays: Colombo. 248 pages (A5). ISBN 978-955-1079-15-4. Rs 1,750.
The first photographic field guide to the dragonflies of Sri Lanka covering 91 of the 118 species found in Sri Lanka. It includes 35 of the 52 endemic species. A landmark publication and the first modern photographic field guide to the Odonata of South Asia. A pdf of the book can be downloaded (free of charge) from www.jetwingeco.com.
BirdGuides Ltd. (2007). British Birds interactive. DVD-ROM. £99. www.birdguides.com
A comprehensive resource of 100 years of amazing articles published in British Birds including photographs, illustrations and more than 40,000 pages of text. Users have access to text and image search filters, photographs, illustrations, thousands of articles and can locate articles using species, author, photographer or descriptive terms.
BirdGuides Ltd (2006). Birds of the Western Palearctic interactive (BWPi 2.0). DVD-ROM. £139. www.birdguides.com
The entire text of The Handbook of the Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East (the complete 9-volume set, known as BWP). All the text, maps and artwork (including all the new species illustrations) from the Concise Birds of the Western Palearctic (the 2-volume set, known as Concise BWP). 75 comprehensively revised species accounts from the journal BWP Update. Over 2000 high quality video clips (more than 10 hours running time) from the extensive BirdGuides archive. BWPi contains 6 million words published in BWP and Concise BWP including 75 extensively revised species accounts from the authoritative journal BWP Update. Over 5600 illustrations of over 900 species, showing birds at rest and in flight and in various plumages, accurately painted by some of the world’s best artists including Ian Lewington, Chris Rose and Alan Harris.
Bright, M. (2008). Whale Odyssey. A Humpback Whale’s first perilous year. JR Books, London. 216 pages. ISBN 978-1-906217-4.
de Silva, A. (2009). Amphibians of Sri Lanka: A photographic guide to common frogs, toads and caecilians. Published by the author. 167 text pages and 291 colour images. ISBN 978-955-52061-0-5.
Colour illustrations of 68 (88%) species. Soft cover (250 gms). This is the only illustrated Photographic guide to Sri Lanka’s amphibians in English. Chapters on Amphibians in archeology, history and medicine, Folklore, threats and conservation. Rs 1,350.00 inclusive of registered postage.
de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2009). Birds of Sri Lanka. National Trust – Sri Lanka: Colombo. 215 mm x 275mm. 218 pages.
This is the first title to be published in the Heritage Publications series of the National Trust – Sri Lanka. The book covers 100 species of birds in 208 pages. 215 mm x 275mm (slightly shorter and fatter than A4). The book is lavishly illustrated with photographs and the text written in a style to foster an interest in birds amongst the public.
de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2008). A Photographic Guide to Mammals of Sri Lanka. New Holland, London. 128 pages. ISBN 978 1 84773 142 5.
The first photographic guide to the mammals of Sri Lanka, richly illustrated with photographs and packed with information. 40 species are described covering all the terrestrial mammal families. The text is based on the many years of field work by the author but also brings in what has been published in the latest scientific literature. Many intriguing aspects of mammalian behavior are written in a style intelligible to the lay reader.
de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2007). Sri Lankan Wildlife. Bradt Travel Guides, UK. 144 pages. 13.5 cm x 21.5 cm. ISBN-10 1 841621 74 9, ISBN-13 978 1 841621 74 6.
An overview of Sri Lanka’s wildlife and wilderness areas, illustrated with over 120 photographs. Probably the best overall introduction to Sri Lankan wildlife. Text and principal photography by Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne. GBP 15.99.
de Vlas – de Jong, J., and Dr. de Vlas, J. (2008). Illustrated Field Guide to the Flowers of Sri Lanka. 269 pages. Mark Booksellers and Distributors (Pvt) Ltd: Sri Lanka. ISBN: 978-955-1917-00-5.
Descriptions of approximately 1000 plant species, which are illustrated with more than 2000 colour photographs of flowering plants in Sri Lanka. The information presented is written in simple English and is divided into various topics which are easy to understand.
Fernando, J. & Fernando, T. (2008). A Selection of Fruits of Sri Lanka. Published by the author. 72 pages. ISBN 955-50431-1-3.
Colour illustrations of 85 species of fruits. Hard cover. This is the only illustrated guide to Sri Lanka’s fruits which includes endemic, native and introduced species. Rs 1,950.
Francis, C.M. (2008). A Field Guide to the Mammals of South-east Asia. New Holland Publishers, London. ISBN 978 1 84537 735 9
South-East Asia is one of the richest parts of the world in terms of mammals, with species new to science still being described on a regular basis. The first comprehensive guide to the mammals of this region, A Field Guide to the Mammals of South-East Asia covers all the mammals recorded from mainland South-East Asia, from Myanmar through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia and south to Malaysia. A detailed account with key identification characteristics, habitat and behaviour is included for each species, from large mammals such as big cats, the elephant, rhinoceroses and cetaceans, through bears, langurs and badgers, to bats, flying-foxes and rodents. Detailed line drawings amplify details of anatomy and other aspects. Seventy-two magnificent specially commissioned colour plates by top wildlife artists show nearly 500 major species, and thumbnail maps give information on distribution.
Gamage, R. (2007). An illustrated guide to the butterflies of Sri Lanka. Published by the author. 264 pages. ISBN 978-955-50360-0-9.
Colour illustrations of 244 species of butterflies and skippers. Some of the plates show some of the food plants. A5 in size. The inclusion of the host plants make it a useful addition to the butterfly watcher’s library. Rs 2,000.
Jayatilake, C. (2008). Moments of Truth in the Wilderness. Published by Vijitha Yapa Bookshop. 185 pages. Printed in Singapore. ISBN 978 955-665-023-5. 12″ x 9″. The book includes chapters on Leopard cubs, Mammals, Birds, Snakes, Elephants, dominant male Leopards and Village Folk. More than 225 colour images will take you on a safari like never before when animals had done more than just stare at the cameras. Foreword by Dominic Sansoni.
Jayewardene, J. (2008). The Diversity of Sri Lankan Wildlife. Published by the Author: Colombo. 8 x 10 inches. 229 pages. ISBN 978-955-956777-2-1. Rs 4,500.
The book covers a wide range of subjects. It is lucidly written. Each chapter contains many facts on the subject of the chapter. It also records the wide personal experiences of the author. There are many colour photographs. The writing is very comprehensive and covers species groups as well as eco-systems.
Morgan – Davis, M. (2008). From Ceylon to Sri Lanka – Experiences of a Naturalist Tea Planter. 166 pages. Sarvodaya Vishva Lekha Printers: Sri Lanka. ISBN: 978-955-
Designed in the form of a typical 19th century explorer naturalist style, the author has set out to capture the minds of his readers so that they could read about some of his life’s adventures which he experienced as a young man in “Ceylon”. The book comprises of 21 chapters, of which the first two speak about his early years. A few others include “Yala National Park – A Legacy from the Kingdom of Ruhuna, Crocodiles – The Leviathans of Sri Lanka” and “Mannar – Baobab Trees and Palmyra Palms”. The book also features a variety of maps, photographs and paintings of both the author and of various Sri Lankan folklore and wildlife.
Nadaraja, L. (2008). The nature of Sri Lanka. Published by Wildlight (Pvt) ltd. Printed in Singapore. ISBN 978-955-1989-00-2. 320 pages. 13” x 10” full colour and black and white photographs of Sri Lankan wildlife and nature. Eminent writers and conservationists, Dr T.S.U. de Zylva, Shirley Perera, Dr Sriyanie Miththapala, Dr Arjuna Parakrama, Dr Shyamala Ratnayeke, Sri Lanka Thilaka Martin Wijesinghe, Arjuna Nadaraja, Richard Simon and Arittha Wikramanayake have contributed interesting essays on varied subjects.
Somaweera, R. & Somaweera, N. (2009). Lizards of Sri Lanka: A colour guide with field keys. Chimaira Buchhandelsgesellschaft mbH, Germany. 304 pages with over 600 colour illustrations. ISSN 1613-2327. ISBN 978-3-89973-478-2.
This book on Sri Lankan reptiles covers all known lizards (agamids, chameleons, geckos, skinks, snake-eye lizards and varanids) and has colour illustrations for all species, including the doubtful species. It gives comprehensive information (current taxonomy including all know synonyms and chresonyms, details about the type specimens, vernacular name, range, distribution in Sri Lanka, diagnosis, size, natural history and conservation status) for all Sri Lankan species over eight chapters, and colour illustrations depict most of the colour variations known for each species. The book also features a set of field keys with thumbnails for each lizard family.
Warakagoda, D. & Hettige, U. (2008). Birds of Sri Lanka: Vocalization and Image Guide Volume 1. 2008. CD ROM.
It features 135 species of Non-Passerine birds – Little Grebe to Woodpeckers – with 222 types of vocalizations by them and nearly 300 colour images. This multimedia publication is designed (in the form of an ‘e-book’ or ‘e-guide’) for easy access to the species featured and their vocalization types. All the sounds and plumages shown in the images are identified in detail. This work presents an extensive amount of information previously unpublished on the vocalizations of these birds. This CD-ROM is an excellent companion to any guide book on the birds of Sri Lanka. Also featured are a number of vocalization types not included in the audio guides on the birds of Sri Lanka by the first author, the only such guides available.