de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2005). Uda Walawe National Park Raptors and Elephants. Adoh. March. Pages 16-18.
Revealing a crop of rarities in Uda Walawe.

Uda Walawe National Park -raptors & elephants

Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne reveals a crop of rarities in Uda Walawe

Raptors and elephants are what Uda Walawe National Park is about. To the un-initiated, the term raptors may require some explanation. Raptors are birds of prey. Many of them like to hunt over open areas, but they also need forest cover. Tall trees for roosting, or to survey the terrain for prospective prey, is a bonus. Uda Walawe is tailor made for raptors. Not surprisingly it is one of Sri Lanka’s best parks for seeing birds of prey such as Oriental Honey Buzzards, Crested Hawk Eagle and Serpent Eagle. The extensive water frontage around the Uda Walawe reservoir also makes it good for White-bellied Sea Eagles.

During the winter, migrant raptors such as the scarce Osprey and Pallid Harriers join the ranks of the resident raptors. Other scarce migrant birds make an appearance as well. February 2005 turned out to be an excellent month for rarities in Uda Walawe. On the 7th of February 2005, Deepal Warakagoda one of the top field ornithologists in Asia identified a Red-headed Bunting at Hulankapolla Junction. To his astonishment the bird flew off and joined a Black-headed Bunting. Both species of birds had never been recorded from Sri Lanka before. The scoop had come about because Deepal had met Susantha Weerappulige, a tracker of Uda Walawe National Park, at Wirawila. Susantha had mentioned that he had seen a sparrow like bird, which he was unable to identify. Deepal followed up on the lead with unexpected results.

News of the Buntings spread and soon keen birdwatchers in Sri Lanka began to visit Uda Walawe for its birds. I arrived with my team from Eco Holidays on the 9th of February 2005 and went in search of the Buntings. Fortunately for us, Uditha Hettige, one of the Master Naturalists of Eco Holidays, phoned us saying he had found the birds. We left a Blyth’s Pipit, a scarce migrant, to join him with the buntings. Blyth’s Pipits are scarce migrants. Over the year Uda Walawe has been the most reliable place to find them. Deepal had seen over thirty on one game drive. Deepal had also seen relatively large numbers of the Indian Red-rumped Swallow, another scarce migrant. We were lucky enough to find a flock roosting on a tree and take frame filling photographs.

Our luck continued after the Buntings. We observed a species of Swift, which is a first record for Sri Lanka. At the time of writing we are waiting to establish whether it is a Pallid Swift or a race of the Common Swift. This was followed by a sighting of a Citrine Wagtail on the causeway, whilst searching for a scarce White Wagtail.

With so much discussion on birds, Uda Walawe’s top draw has slipped into the background. If there is one place in Asia where one is guaranteed to see elephants, it is in Uda Walawe National Park. Uda Walawe was established as a national park in1972 and covers an area of 30,821 hectares. I remember a discussion with Lyn de Alwis, a former Director of the Department of Wildlife Conservation. He told me how soon after the park was established, there were very few animals to be seen. The park was established in an area which was periodically subject to burning by chena cultivators and also subject to intense poaching. Over two decades things have changed and I have observed a number of species of animals in the park. However in comparison to other national parks such as Yala, Uda Walawe still has a smaller density of mammals. The tall grasslands also make it difficult to observe smaller mammals. But this is overshadowed by the numbers of elephants one can see. Some of my best observations of elephants interacting with each other have come from Uda Walawe.

Another attraction of the park is that the drive time from Colombo is only four hours. It is possible to do a day excursion from Colombo to the national park. The city hotels in Colombo would do well to promote Elephant Watching to their guests and cement Sri Lanka’s position as one of the top eco-tourism destinations in the world.

Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne – Averaging weekly media appearances, Gehan is one of the best known wildlife & tourism personalities in Sri Lanka. To receive his free wildlife e-newsletter contact him on Gehan@jetwing.lk