We had decided at short notice to celebrate my retirement by taking a fortnight break in Sri Lanka. We received a recommendation from a friend to use Jetwing to arrange some birding and animal viewing for part of the visit. Wicky was particularly recommended as a bird guide and driver, and we were fortunate that he was available. Our plan was to travel across the island to see birds and game in the Yala national park, then return via Sinharaja forest to pick up a separate set of species including some of Sri Lanka’s forest endemics.
14th November 2010
We made an early start from Ranweli hotel on the west coast, travelling west via Ratnapura, and soon recognised the benefits of having someone driving who was used to the winding roads and endless busy villages. Short roadside stops were made in the hills to view passing eagles, mostly Crested Serpent Eagle but also two Black Eagles. We checked in at Hotel Chandrika in Tissamaharama village near Yala at lunchtime, and found it very comfortable. After a quick bite we travelled on into the national park, seeing our first Wild Boar (in large numbers) , Elephant , Chital and Sambar deer, Jackal, Crocodile, Mongoose and birds including Ceylon Wood-Shrike , Spot-billed Pelican and Great Thick-knee . As it was Sunday some of the main jeep tracks near the Park HQ were quite busy and when a large Leopard was spotted sleeping under a thicket, the message soon passed round so we had to take our placed in the queue of admirers. We were relieved however to have at least seen the species, as we had heard views were not guaranteed. Another Leopard crossed the track giving brief views as we neared the exit around 5pm. A brief view of an Indian Nightjar on a sandy track on the way out, then back to Chandrika and time to use the swimming pool. Wicky advised using our time on the next day to do an extended 5-6 hour visit into the park, rather than do separate morning and evening drives with the associated travel from Chandrika, park entry formalities and possible delays.
15th November 2010
Using Wicky’s plan we started into the Park soon after 6.00 am and explored side tracks at our leisure. An early success came when a young Leopard strolled down the track towards us, giving photo opportunities without any disturbances or interruptions.
We spent up to lunchtime making a slow tour as far as the high rocks, where Black-capped Bulbul were new, and picked up sightings of Buffalo, Mouse Deer,
Crested Serpent Eagle, Greyheaded Fish Eagle, Whitebellied Sea Eagle (family party) and Lesser Adjutant Stork among the more notable species. Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Green Bee-eaters and Brown Shrikes provided good trackside photo opportunities. Yala was a very animal-rich environment with some highly distinctive landscapes and we look forward to another visit in the future, perhaps with a chance of Sloth Bear which was not seen in the area during our visit . After lunch Wicky took David for a walk round allotments and thickets on the edge of Tissa village, where further bird species encountered included Pied Cuckoo, Bluefaced Malkoha, Coppersmith Barbet and Green Imperial Pigeon. Indian Pitta was an additional bonus, although shy and hard to view as always. After a busy day we were happy to retire early.
16th November 2010
We left by 8 am to make the drive back to Sinharaja Forest and Martin’s Lodge. Arriving at the Lodge after the bumpy jungle track ascent we discovered we were the only guests. Karen has some dietary restrictions and food allergies; we were pleased to discover with Wicky’s assistance that they were able to provide a range of suitable meals.
Wicky was not greatly optimistic about our chances of forest species on the pm walk, given dull overcast conditions. However we soon came across an area where not only were Redfaced Malkohas showing, but we had views of Velvet fronted Nuthatch, Orange-billed Babbler and Yellowbrowed Bulbul, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush and Spot-winged Thrush in the next few minutes. Several snakes (non poisonous) were also seen and the Tree Nymph butterflies flitting across the glades were impressive. The forest guide showed us a roosting Frogmouth which provided a good photo opportunity.
At dusk Wicky glimpsed a Chestnut-backed Owlet beside the lodge but we could not track it down.
17th November 2010
We were keen to be up early to check out the early forest activity. As Wicky had promised we were met by Sri Lanka Blue Magpies swooping down to the lodge restaurant balcony to pick up moths around the lamps, at first dawn light. Breakfast was enhanced by Junglefowl feeding close outside and Yellow-fronted Barbet and Legge’s Flowerpecker nearby.
On our forest walk we were joined not only by the usual forest guide but also a teenage girl who was training to act as a wildlife guide, which was encouraging. More pairs of eyes were helpful and we saw Kangaroo Lizard and snakes as well as birds. Monkeys were not easy to see, but we saw Purple faced Leaf Monkey and Toque Macaque. Similar forest birds to yesterday were seen, with the addition of Southern Hill Myna and White-faced Starling. We returned to Martin’s for lunch then as a heavy rainstorm developed, we set off back towards the coast hotels which took several hours drive on partly flooded roads. .
We recognised that we were reliant on Wicky not only for his knowledge and experience of the wildlife habitats, but also his stamina and patience in driving long distances sometimes in difficult conditions.
By David and Karen Norman