14th April - Neil and Alexandra Harris
Trip Report By: 
Neil and Alexandra Harris

We are writing to thank you and your team so very much for organising what has become our best holiday ever!  We spent the last two weeks of March touring Sri Lanka with our wonderful guide Hetti and have seen more birds and animals than we could have ever hoped for, including some very rare sightings which we feel incredibly lucky and privileged to have seen.

 

We started our tour on the Kalpitiya Peninsula with two morning whale and dolphin watching trips in Janaka’s boat.  On the first morning we saw the flukes of three different Sperm Whales and then watched one of the whales feeding for some time.  On the way back to the beach we also watched a pod of about 20 Spinner dolphins.  The second morning we spotted a pelagic sea snake, many flying fish and were surrounded for a long time by three different types of dolphin, Spinner, Bottlenose and Rissos and were able to get some great photographs.  Hetti and Neil were also lucky enough to see a ray jump from the water, about 10 feet into the air.

 

Each afternoon we went ‘posh’ bird watching for waders at the Nachchiakalli Saltern.  It was ‘posh’ because we didn’t get out of the car much.  We drove along the road, stopping from time to time, between the lake areas and were able to see the birds very easily.  Staying in the car meant that we did not disturb them as they were used to seeing vehicles and did not fly off.  We saw plovers, godwits, lapwings, redshanks and herons of different varieties and many other wading birds.  Having not done much bird watching in the UK, this was fascinating for us and with Hetti’s huge knowledge of birds, we learnt a lot.

 

We left Dolphin Beach, which is a beautiful place to stay with lovely tented accommodation, after three nights and travelled to Wilpattu National Park.  Even on the journey to Wilpattu when we stopped for lunch we were able to enjoy watching an Indian Squirrel and get close to a beautiful Jerdon’s Leafbird and Spotted Dove as well as getting our bags ‘searched’ by the resident mongoose!

 

At Wilpattu we had an afternoon game drive and then a full day game drive the following day.  This is where we saw our first leopard, which, even though it was a long way away, was wonderful.  Although things were difficult to spot here because of the dense trees, we still managed to see three types of deer, Sambar, Barking and Spotted as well as birds such as a Crested Serpent Eagle, Fan Tailed Flycatcher and Brown Fish Owl and lots of other animals including lots of beautiful butterflies which flew around the jeep like a cloud.

 

After a day long drive we reached Kalu’s Hideaway near Uda Walawe which is where we were staying for the next two nights.  We had a great room, with a large balcony area which was right up in the trees and we sat and watched a Red Vented Bulbul making a nest and watched and listened to lots of other birds in the surrounding area.

 

Uda Walawe is a beautiful national park, lush green and open and full of elephants which we were able to get very close to as they were not worried by the jeep so we were able to sit and watch them feeding and just wandering past the jeep.  There are so many birds to see, beautiful blue tailed bee eaters, peacocks, painted storks, barn swallows to name a few and we watched a pair of fish eagles swooping overhead, displaying to each other.

 

We had one of our luckiest encounters of the trip that afternoon when, after a lot of searching, we came across a Jungle Cat.  It did not run away, but walked off across the undergrowth allowing us to watch it and take lots of photos. 

 

The following morning we travelled to Yala National Park for three nights at Chaaya Wild which is a first class resort where Langur monkeys, wild pigs and other animals roam the grounds.  During five game drives we enjoyed views of crocodiles, elephants, water buffalo, black naped hares, a star tortoise, a cobra, sunbirds, pelicans, lapwings, storks and at least four varieties of kingfisher as well as the fascinating darter or snake bird and bee eaters which came so close they were almost landing on the jeep.

 

Our driver for all five drives was Amarasiri and he was brilliant.  His knowledge of where to look and his ability to spot animals was second to none.  Between him and Hetti we had the perfect combination.  This was immediately proved as within 20 minutes of entering Yala National Park, on our first afternoon there, Amarasiri spotted a beautiful leopard in a tree only a few feet away from the road.  We were able to spend about 10 minutes watching and photographing it before any other jeeps arrived.  In total we watched it swatting flies, washing itself and dozing for over 30 minutes.  It was so close to us and the view we had was truly amazing.  Later that afternoon we were able to see another leopard sitting on a rock but this one was a bit further away and the view was through some bushes.

 

 

 

 

The following day had yet another highlight when we watched two elephants and a small calf taking a bath in a lake.  The older elephants were completely submerged and the calf followed them, ‘snorkelling’ with its trunk and trying to climb onto the back of the others.  It was such a privilege to be able to watch them behaving so naturally and such fun to see the little one enjoying itself so much. 

 

 

During that day we also glimpsed a Sloth Bear which appeared in the road a few metres in front of our vehicle.  It was as surprised as we were and quickly turned and ran off into the undergrowth.  Nevertheless we had seen a bear and were so excited with even a brief sighting.

 

On our final day at Yala we had the most amazing experiences.  We had been driving around an area where Amarasiri knew that a leopard had been seen recently with her cubs.  We could see pugmarks but were not very hopeful of seeing the animals.  After quite a while our patience was rewarded when a leopard appeared in the road a short distance in front of our jeep.  She crossed the road and went into the bushes, calling to her cubs.  We watched her and the two cubs through the bushes and then Amarasiri suggested we back the jeep up as she might come out with the cubs. 

 

 

 

Within a couple of minutes she walked out into the road, only 30 feet in front of our jeep and sat down in the road.  Her two cubs followed her, one sat down next to her and the other one walked across the road and disappeared into the bushes on the other side.  She and her cub stayed there for only a couple of minutes but it was fantastic.  To see such beautiful animals so close up and have the amazing view of cubs is a memory that will stay with us forever.

 

Having seen the leopard and cubs we joked with Hetti about seeing another sloth bear.  To our amazement, within 20 minutes of seeing the leopard, we saw a sloth bear crossing the road.  It was quite a distance away from us but we still managed to get a few photos to show our friends!

 

We left Yala the next morning and drove down to spend the last few days of our holiday at Weligama where we had two morning whale watching trips booked in the hope of seeing blue whales.   We were not disappointed.

 

We went whale watching in boats operated by Mirissa Water Sports and the crew were excellent.  On our first morning, within 30 minutes of leaving the port, we saw our first blue whale.  In total we saw about 20 blue whales that morning, some of them very close to the boat and one of which went under the boat so that we could see the shape of it gliding under us.  This is something that is burned into our memories – never, ever to be forgotten.

 

 

 

We took some wonderful photographs of these huge creatures that were so close sometimes you could hear the air escaping from their blow holes.  On the journey back on the first morning we also saw a large pod of Spinner Dolphins which surrounded the boat, there were so many we didn’t know where to look.

 

 

 

The second morning we were incredibly lucky when four killer whales were spotted and we followed them.  We understand that it is very rare to see killer whales in that area and could not believe it when they surfaced and we were able to see them, take photographs and enjoy watching them.  This was totally unexpected and something which we never even dreamed of seeing.  After that we saw some more blue whales, about five in total and still can’t get over how large an animal they are.

 

We had a truly incredible holiday, with a different highlight every single day.  We began to think that Hetti was arranging something special every day for us!  We saw far more wildlife than we ever dreamt we would, including five different leopards, one with cubs, the sloth bears, blue and killer whales, as well as the jungle cat to name just a few.

 

Unfortunately we have not been able to include all the names of all the different types of beautiful birds we saw on our travels but believe it was well over 130 different species.   Hetti was so knowledgeable about them and carefully pointed out and named everything for us from the largest eagle to the incredibly tiny button quail.

 

Hetti was a fantastic chauffeur guide and we think of him very fondly.  His knowledge of all the birds and animals was amazing and he was so helpful to us, teaching us about the wildlife, taking us on a trip to Galle and giving Neil tips on taking photographs.  He is a real asset to Sri Lanka and an ambassador for its wildlife.

 

Thank you all so much for an unforgettable fortnight!

Kindest regards

Neil and Alex Harris