de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2003). Wetlands of Jaffna. Serendipity. Month 2002. Page.

Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne is delighted with the birdwatching prospects in the wetlands of the northern peninsular.

‘Identify yourself’ The challenge rang out strongly and loudly, cutting through the cool still night. Orion, the Pleiades, Taurus and a host of familiar constellations looked down on us from a clear night sky, which glowed with star shine. A group of armed men emerged from a guard post and we introduced ourselves. The two naval personnel escorting us made the introductions and we continued past the sentry point and pulled over for some star gazing. It was the first time in two days, that we took a bit of time to unwind since our arrival in Jaffna. I had arrived with Tharindi Fonseka and a crew from YATV to make a story on Jaffna’s wildlife. The media had been flocking to Jaffna in the last few months for peace stories. We were after another angle. It too was something that connected the north to the south. We wanted to film the migratory birds which travel each year to Sri Lanka in the tens of thousands. The northern peninsular with its rich tapestry of permanent and ephemeral wetlands is an important staging post for these birds. The health of the birds seen wintering in the southern coast will depend on the continued good health of the northern wetlands. Economically as well, the northern peninsular wetlands are very important. Most of the coastal mangroves in the southern half of the island has been destroyed. Mangroves are important spawning grounds for many marine fish and crustaceans. If the northern mangroves are lost, in a few years we may witness a catastrophic decline of fish stocks. Despite being an island nation, we may find it difficult to harvest enough fish, sustainably.

With the wetlands as the unifying theme binding the north and the south we headed off to film. We had not gone more than a few kilometers when near Vadukoddai, we pulled over to film Golden Plovers on the grassy pastures. We learnt that the grassy pastures are ephemeral and last only a few months after the north east monsoons. In mid February, kilometer upon kilometer was swathed in a green carpet, not too far from the sea.

Wintering Golden Plovers walked around, running in little spurts. A few Curlews, distinctive with their long, down curved beaks, patrolled the pastures as well. The air was light with the singing of Oriental Skylarks. The displaying males rise near vertically filling the sky with their joyful repertoire. They keep ascending until they are reduced to a blot in the sky.

On the coastline, a flock of Black-tailed Godwit, numbering over a hundred, stood pensively. They were waiting for the tide to go out exposing the invertebrate rich mud flats. Brown-headed Gulls bobbed in the water. A Curlew with its long down curved beak patrolled the grassland on the shoreline. A few Turnstone, scrambled around on muddy edges.

The Jaffna peninsular was unbelievably rich in bird life. Kayts was even better. It felt like a large nature reserve. Black-tailed Godwits, Common Sandpipers, Wood Sandpipers foraged nonchalantly in mud pools near sentry posts. As we crossed over into Kayts Island, a flock of Greater Flamingo fed besides the causeway. It was a memorable introduction to Kayts. As the sun set, YATV rolled the cameras, once again on a flock of Greater Flamingos, feeding on a muddy estuary. Amongst them swam a few hundred Pintail ducks. The Flamingos glowed a warm pink as the sun set. We knew we had to come again to experience the magic of the northern peninsula.

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