[ A Birding and Wildlife Trip Report: Sri Lanka]
This small island has so much to offer that even after four years of living here there are so many more things to discover in terms of wildlife and beautiful scenes. This month I thought it time to pack up the search for the large creatures and head in search of the small. Previous trips with Jetwings Eco Holidays have been for the more obvious wildlife – capturing big cats on camera, watching for whales, enjoying close proximity to elephants at play, smiling at awkward-antlered dancing deer, clicking away at crocs, bears, birds and boars, and returning home with thousands of shots to edit, upload and share. So the small creatures for me were a new experience and it took a little time and patience to get attuned, or, rather, focussed.
I was lucky to manage two trips – to Talangama (28 April 2009) and Bodhinagala (6 May 2009), which for me were a way to both grab more wildlife photography opportunities in Sri Lanka and to understand and learn more about the indigenous species, the rain forest and wetland life, the migration patterns, and the breeding plumages, amidst two very different yet beautiful areas of the island.
On the first trip (to Talangama) we stopped the car to much excitement and I was wondering what it was we were looking at, until our guide Wicky pointed out a red dot perched on a twig beside the track. It was the aptly named Scarlet Basker dragonfly, such a vibrant red – a marvel of nature and its incredible ability to continually surprise. It stayed close for quite some time, this scarlet spec darting from twig to leaf. I took a while to work out what camera setting, what lens and what patience was needed to photograph this tiny compact creature with its glorious colouring. Whilst attempting to focus I was also wondering just how did Wicky spot it? I realised it would have been a futile attempt at photography on my behalf without someone there to point out where to look, how to look, and to explain what things were.
After the encounter with the Scarlet Basker I had now become hooked on the small. It was easy to appreciate these tiny, delicate net-winged creatures which became fun to seek out and photograph. So much so that I almost forgot about the plentiful birdlife, alongside my favourite buffalo herds, as they went about their business pecking, munching and wading through the Talangama wetlands or gathering in groups enjoying evening baths of mud – scenes illuminated by the golden light of dusk. This perfect light for photography also enhanced my shots of the other dragonflies I found hovering by the water such as the Spine Legged Redbolt Pied Parasol and Variable Flutterer.
Talangama and Bodhinagala have different scenes to offer – wetlands and rainforest, both worthy of photography in their own right but for me the dragonfly had become my new interest. This could be found in both, so I was pleased to find more of these miniscule flights of colour whilst strolling beneath the forest canopy.
Bodhinagala was as impressive as Talangama in what we saw despite the odds being against us with the weather – we spent an afternoon seeking out dragonflies, butterflies, moths and birds. This time the guide was Sam Caseer whose excellent mimic of birdcalls alerted us to the huge variety of birdlife in the rainforest area. However, it was not the birds I was there for.
On arriving, after donning our fashionable leech socks (!), we set off up the hill to see what we could find having been warned that the light was not quite right for dragonflies or butterflies. Almost immediately our luck proved good as a Common Birdwing butterfly flew in front of us and perched for a few minutes on a branch just above our heads. It seemed to glow through its feathered markings of black, grey, white and yellow. The name is a great description of an incredibly impressive feat of nature – a butterfly’s wings mimicking those of a bird. We were privileged as the Birdwing, not normally known to stay around too long, settled on the branch for a few minutes giving us photographers the chance to happily click away.
The next impressive sighting for me was the Dark Forestdamsel dragonfly, which also proved a great challenge due to the patience needed to photograph this minute, compact and colourful insect. It had a long thin black abdomen, which kinked at the end with a small strip of electric blue, topped with fine net wings with a delicate patch of brown at their tip. Another dragonfly we managed to photograph was one yet to be identified, but the experts amongst us thought it could be one of the Drepanosticta species. This had a rustic body dotted with six small blobs of turquoise along the back, the biggest being on the tip on the tail, and its tiny head was topped with two huge white eyes and mouth. Magnificent! These three sightings were the highlights for me but we also encountered moths, lizards, geckos, caterpillars, millipedes, frogs, beetles, and Sri Lanka’s ever present monkeys which threw things down at us from the tops of the trees!
So, another successful couple of trips and yet more knowledge gained from the helpful and informative Jetwings Eco Holidays team about this wonderful land and its incredible diversity of life. For me, it is time to get out the photography books and learn for next time how better to capture of the beauty of the miniscule, in focus and in glory, to savour and share with those not fortunate enough to travel here to see for themselves.
To see Faye Ruck-Nightingale’s photo blog, visit