All Newsletters


SRI LANKA WILDLIFE NEWS (February 2010 – August 2010)
– A compilation by Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne. Assisted by Riaz Cader


[*]BritishTV Wildlife Presenter Bill Oddie sees leopards in Yala and the Sinharaja Bird Wave. See Reports.
[*] Kalpitiya Peninsula unveiled as Sri Lanka’s third whale watching hot spot and as an Asian Hot Spot for Pelagic Seabirds. Also butterfly migrations. See Articles.
[*] Advanced Bird Id Guide for the Western Palaearctic, Horton Plains Loris, Rainforest Tea, etc.  New photo guides from New Holland. See Press Releases.
[*] Photographers return to Wilpattu.
[*] 114 species of butterflies recorded during a two week butterfly watching tour

Riaz Cader, Julia Porter, Rushini De Zoysa and Mudara Perera visited Wilpattu National Park for an evening game drive on the 1st August 2010 and managed to get a sighting of a pair of adult Sloth Bear at Maradan Maduwa for a few minutes in the fading evening light. According to the trackers at Wilpattu, bears have been seen very regularly in the late evenings at Maradan Maduwa.

On 28 July 2010, Sashi Jayatunge observed a crow carrying a parrot by the wing and the parrot looked dead. This was near the Access Tower in Colombo.

Wicky was on tour with Jetwing Eco Holidays client Bryan Perera from Melbourne, Australia and managed to sight and photograph a pair of mating leopards on 25 July 2010 on the near Jamburagalla old campsite on Old Jamburagala Rd around 5:15pm at Yala. They observed the pair for over 20 minutes. At 4:00pm, a male leopard at Welmalkema was sighted relaxing on the sand.

Upali Nissanka was on tour with Jetwing Eco Holidays client Dr. Andrew Whitehouse, sighted a Ceylon Whistling Thrush on the 18th July near Seetha Eliya, four Cotton Pygmy Geese in Debara Wewa on the following day and a Pained Snipe at Uda Walawe on the 21st July.

On the 18th July around 7:30am Jehan Mendis was at Yala and spotted a leopard and three sloth bear simultaneously on the Patanangala Rock from the beach side around 7:30am on Sunday, 18th July 2010. Leopard was on the top left of the rock, while the bears were near the cave. One of the bears, which appeared to be the mother, went into the cave while two of the large cubs climbed down the rock and chased each other heading towards the main road, while the leopard on noticing the bear moved off in the opposite direction. Amrit Rajaratnam managed to get a photograph of the Leopard on top of the rock with one of the Bears climbing down the rock.

Mudara Perera was also at Yala National Park on the 18th July. Upon hearing spotted deer alarm calls on the Thalgasmankada Road in Yala around 8:30am, he stopped his vehicle and waited. A few minutes later, a wild pig and its three piglets crossed the road. One of the piglets stumbled while trying to get across the road and suddenly a leopard emerged from the other side. The leopard zeroed in on its unsuspecting prey, pounced on the piglet and immediately took it up a tree as the helpless mother could do nothing.

On the 03rd July 2010, Tariq Mohammed and Shanik De Silva were on their way to Yala using the Bundala-Kirinda Road, had a good sighting of a Rusty Spotted Cat 3-4 km in around 1am. It was spotted in an area at the edge of a lewaya near the salterns.

Devaka Senviratne sent in photographs taken of a hepatic phase female Lesser Cuckoo. He says “The bird in the photos was found in my garden in Wijerama, Nugegoda on Tuesday 11 May evening. Unfortunately one of my dogs had caught it. The bird was rescued and taken to Pet Vet clinic for treatment of a wound on the upper body and leg. However, it did not survive the night. I was in Vavuniya so never saw the bird myself.”

The Lesser Cuckoo (Cuculus poliocephalus) breeds in the Himalayas and NE India. Its a winter migrant to Sri Lanka. Perhaps this was a sick bird which could not manage the journey back.

On Monday 10th May 2010, Dr Peter Hayes (British High Commissioner) had a Leopard, a Sloth Bear and a Fishing Cat on a morning game drive. His children in another vehicle saw two Golden Jackals on the same game drive. On the evening game drive he had a mother Sloth Bear and a cub, a Common Palm-civet and more Leopard.

Devaka Seneviratne was off the seas of Kalpitiya Peninsula on Saturday 24th April. He says “We were out in the hope of seeing whale / dolphin and had gone out towards Talawila but the swells were too much. It was literally around 8 – 10 ft high so we turned around and were on our way North when we came across them. About 10 km from shore between the Sand Bar and Uchchumunai we came across a mixed flock of sea birds. This held aLesser Noddy, Bridled Tern and Persian Shearwater.

I usually stay at Turtle Point Cottage or Sethawadi in Kandakuliya. The two trips for the lecture however were done out of Diyamba, also in Kandakuliya. It’s right next to the Kandakuliya fishing harbour so you can walk out and into the boat. I also have a couple of boatmen that I use. They understand that we are not casual tourists and make an extra effort in showing things / taking us places.

Also fascinating is speaking to the fishermen there, the wealth of information they have with regard to sightings is immense and unfortunately unrecorded. They even swear at seeing Dugong. Which for me would be my ultimate sighting on the peninsular”.

On 17 April 2010, Mohammad Abidally observed a Purple-faced Leaf Monkey at Dickman’s Road in central Colombo. There is at least one troop of Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys which are centred around the Buller Road (Colombo 07) area. Reports from Flower Road (Colombo) and Model Farm Road (Colombo 08) 07 may be from this troop.
On Saturday 27 March, Susantha one of the boatmen at Alankuda Beach Resort had taken a group out dolphin watching. Around 8am they came across a group of 3 Sperm Whales, in shore of the reef, within the ‘dolphin line’.

On Friday 26th March, Chamath Ariyadasa observed a Tropic-bird flying inland past his apartment in Wellawatta in Colombo.

On Saturday 7th March a group of dolphin watchers had seen an Orca near Barr Reef. This was conveyed byZainab Ibrahim who had been at Barr Reef.

John and Valerie Neild observed a small flock of Mongolian (Lesser Sand) Plovers about 250 meters along the beach from the Lighthouse Hotel towards Galle on the 17 March.  They also saw an endemic Legge’s Flowerpecker with Anoma Alagiyawadu just outside the Hiyare Reserve on the 25 March.”
* Unveiling the Kalpitiya Peninsula as Sri Lanka’s third Whale Watching Hotspot
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne
(This article in a shorter edition was first published in the Sunday Times Plus on Sunday 7th March 2010. See

Key Facts
* This article offers the first credible case as to why Kalpitiya can be one of three whale watching hot spot is Sri Lanka. The island has three potential whale watching locations. This where the edge of the continental shelf which plunges to a depth of a kilometer or more comes in very close to the shore and infrastructure is available. These are Trincomalee, Dondra and Kalpitiya Peninsula.

* The depth data for Kalpitiya only became available after the ocean floor was mapped in this area in October 2009 for oil exploration. The mapping of the entire island, showing Sri Lanka had just three potential whale watching hot spots were not shown on a map until January 2010.

* No one had made a serious effort to evaluate Kalpitiya’s potential for whale watching by traveling off shore of the reef until February 2010 when Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne succeeded in testing a verbal hypothesis made in March 2009 by Dr Charles Anderson about the proximity of the edge of the continental shelf and Kalpitiya’s whale watching potential.

* Until February 2010, the dolphin watching boats would spend several hours, within a 4 – 6 km band parallel to the Kalpitiya Peninsula which lies on a North-South axis. They did not go beyond the reef to the deep water where the edge of the shelf plunged deep. The dolphin watching boats only occasionally chanced across a stray whale which had wandered in-shore of this reef.
As I walked to the beach an Indian Nightjar churred. I was sensing the world through my ears. I was in a world of darkness, like the one inhabited by the Sperm Whales. In their world, in the murky depths where no light penetrates, they will ‘see’ with sound, using echo-location. Starlight filtered softly to be swallowed by the sea. Waves gently lapped the shoreline in front of the boat house at the Alankuda Beach Resort. The silent murmur of the sea was abruptly broken by the scream of a powerful out-board engine as we thundered out, hurtling across the reef at 30kmph to where the continental shelf plunged away into a deep abyss. I was heading in the darkness before day break, in search of the creatures of the darkness of the deep. I had instructed the boatman Susantha to head West, in search of whales and answers to another theory put forward by Dr Charles Anderson.

An orange fireball lurked below the Eastern horizon, still waiting to be uncovered by the Earth’s rotation. I was on my way for one more of my dedicated whale watching trips in Kalpitiya. Amazing as it may seem, it seems that this was the first serious, dedicated effort to look for whales off Kalpitiya and to ascertain whether whale watching could work as an eco-tourism product. Its not that others had not seen whales before. But almost all of them had been chance encounters of people watching dolphins in-shore of the reef. No one it seems had so far made a serious effort to go in search of whales beyond the reef which lies around 6km out, roughly parallel to the peninsula. Any references to the reef in this article is not to Barr Reef which is near the Northern-most tip of the peninsula, to which people go snorkelling.

Sri Lanka already had two sites known for its whales. Trincomalee known for its whales since the 1980s. But as at February 2010, it is yet to be assessed for its whale watching strike rate, in Sri Lanka’s post-war environment. I had already led the publicity campaign for Dondra. I was back in Kalpitiya to research another story. That Kalpitiya could be the other whale watching hot spot in Sri Lanka.

My last effort on 19 April 2009 to look for whales off Kalpitiya was thwarted by bad weather. I had anxiously watched the rough seas and diverted my effort to undertake three sessions to find and photograph the Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphins in the Puttalam Lagoon. My successful adventure with Dallas Martenstyn was written in the July-August 2009 issue of Serendib, the in-flight magazine of Sri Lankan.

Despite the bad weather, I had tried once. With the boat buffeted by strong waves, and the chances of spotting a blow almost nil, I called off the search. I decided to bide my time for the next season after the current South-west Monsoon had spent its energy.

My next dedicated whale watching session off Kalpitiya had been the day before, on Tuesday 23rd February 2010. Two boats set out. One had Sandie Dawe, the Chief Executive of Visit Britain, with her husband Jock. They would follow the ‘Dolphin Line’, broadly an area which ran North-South parallel to the Kalpitiya Peninsular, in-shore of the reef. The other boat, prepared with three tanks of fuel and food and water for a long sea faring session carried me, Dallas Martnestyn and Georgina Viney with boatman Susantha for a deep sea mission. None of what I have done in Kalpitiya would have been possible with the help of Dallas and his team who put together all the logistics for my whale watching trips. It is thanks to Dallas and his fellow investors at Alankuda that the world learnt about the dolphin watching at Kalpitiya. As we headed out, we paused a few times to gauge the depth using a fish finder. In a conversation on 24th March 2009 at Alankuda with British marine biologist Dr Charles Anderson and Dallas Martenstyn, Charles had articulated that the continental shelf may be close to Kalpitiya which could explain the presence of the Spinner Dolphins.

The whale watching effort this time got of to a fairy tale start. We had left at 7.00 am and at 7.55am, English photographer Georgina Viney spotted the first blow whilst Dallas and I were fiddling with our two GPS units. We were at N 08 03 583 E 79 35 300 approximately 7 nautical miles out from the shore (Alankuda Beach Resort is at N 08 03 121 E 79 42 560). We had encountered a group of five Sperm Whales. I explained to Susantha he should never make a direct bearing to the whale and explained the importance of keeping a distance from the whale where it would be comfortable with the boat. I coached him on how to pull parallel to a whale and not approach it from behind. Once Susantha had understood these basic techniques I explained what I call the ‘arc-forward’. It works as follows. If you are parallel at a comfortable distance to a ‘logging’ Sperm Whale you pulls away from the whale, and then travel well ahead and later pull back into its projected path, describing a wide semi-circle. You then cut the engine off. If you have pulled in front several hundred meters from the Sperm Whale, if it is comfortable with you, it will swim up to and past the boat. The Sperm Whales off Sri Lankan waters are used to fishing vessels and have no fear of boats. By letting the whale approach you, you may be able to obtain close sightings and have them around for much longer than if you rushed up to one.

We spent about 15 minutes with the school that were traveling on a South to North trajectory parallel to the peninsula. A fishing boat raced up to a Sperm Whale we had been following in parallel at a distance and it immediately dived, proving what I had explained to our boatman.

I was elated that the search for whales had been so successful. Dallas and Georgina were not going to join me for the next two trips. Georgina was to spend that evening and the next morning photographing the Alankuda Beach Resort. So I recruited two new research assistants, Nikki Connolly and Linda Fennell, the sister and mother in law respectively of James Fennell, an Irish Photographer who had done the photography for the book ‘Living in Sri Lanka’ published by Thames and Hudson. I needed a few more pairs of eyes to look for the tell tale blow of a whale and also to operate the Canon XL1S video camera I had brought. The sea had turned rough when he headed out at 3pm. At the boat scudded along, it felt as we were being dragged along the gravel bed of a dry riverbed strapped to a wooden board and picked up and slammed down intermittently as well.  We searched in vain for over three hours and we returned as darkness fell, and the orange glow in the sky had dimmed.

Determined to find more whales, the third consecutive whale watching session had begin before day break. I was joined once again by Nikki Connolly and Linda Fennell who had been excited by the images I had taken the previous morning. These are probably the first images of Sperm Whales taken off Kalpitiya of a publishable standard. We headed out due West and the traveled on a South to North axis past the previous day’s sighting which I had marked on Jonathan Martenstyn’s GPS unit. We continued North keeping out sea at a distance of around seven nautical miles, with the shoreline no longer in sight. I stood for some of the journey to enhance our chances of spotting a blow. Three hours of searching yielded nothing when on the way back, I saw a burst of spray dancing over the waves. We had found Sperm Whales. There was a group of three and another pair. They were traveling South, on a South-North trajectory, at a pace of around 10 kmph.

Susantha knew how to handle them this time and we spent over an hour with the group keeping a comfortable distance and trying out the arc-forward a few times. The school of Sperm Whales remained offshore of the reef but were approaching the front of the Alankuda Beach Resort. An earlier phone call brought out James and Jo Fenell with their family. We had positioned the boat a few hundred meters in front of the Sperm Whales  when the Fennells arrived and we gestured them to stop. A few minutes later a logging Sperm Whale arrived and swam closely, between the two boats, completely unruffled by the two boats which had both cut their engines. Another Sperm Whale approached us, swam within to ten feet and raised it head to look at us. Then it dived underneath the two boats and re-surfaced about thirty feet away and continued swimming. We decided to leave them go, to avoid causing stress and watched them receding into the distance. For Nikki Connolly it was the highlight of her holiday in Sri Lanka.

Susantha the boatman said that only just once before had he come out beyond the reef to look for whales. It had been with some of the staff. He said that with clients they always stayed in-shore of the reef to look for dolphins and that they encountered a stray whale about once every three weeks. That evening I spoke to Jonathan Martenstyn who runs the boats from Dolphin Beach. He also confirmed that they stay in-shore of the reef and had never gone looking for whales. He said their rate of encounter with whales was les than with Alankuda who ran more dolphin trips. Chitral Jayathilake of John Keels who runs the whale watching from Mirissa and dolphin watching from Kalpitiya also confirmed that they stayed in-shore of the reef. Chitral had never gone out to look for whales off Kalpitiya and had never seen one here, in-shore or off-shore of the reef. Even Dallas Martenstyn had told me that the only time he went out beyond the reef to look for whales was when he had gone out with Georgina and me the previous morning.

It seems quite astonishing that with Kalpitiya becoming publicly known two years earlier for its dolphin watching no one had made a dedicated effort to whale watch and evaluate whale watching as an eco-tourism product from Kalpitiya.

It was not that people had not reported whales from Kalpitiya before. There had been a trickle of reports from people who had gone dolphin watching. Initially, I had dismissed them as chance events. I was a skeptic until March 2009. No one had offered a concrete reason for why Kalpitiya should be good for whales.

My earlier doubts about Kalpitiya being good for whales had to do with the location of the continental shelf. I knew the continental shelf held the key to an area of sea being good for whale watching. It had to be close to land. I had looked for whales off Negombo and Kirinda for example and failed because one had to travel out over 30 nautical miles to reach the edge of the shelf. In May 2008, I had taken the story to the world that the seas South of Mirissa was beyond doubt the best place in the world for seeing Blue Whales. My conviction was based on field results of a theory by the British marine scientist Dr Charles Anderson. In addition to a theory of a migratory movement, a key to the ease and proximity of sightings was the fact that the continental shelf pinched in very close to Dondra Head.

Reports of the dolphins from Alankuda were regular and almost daily outside of the South-west Monsoon. Most of the dolphins seen were Spinner Dolphins, an oceanic species. I just could not understand why Kalpitiya was so good for an oceanic species. My interpretation of Admiralty Chart No 828 Cochin to Vishakhapatnam was that the continental shelf was just too far out from Kalpitiya. I remember telling Libby Southwell in the second half of 2008, that would be whale watchers from Alankuda were not likely to get anything more than the odd stray whale. But I wondered whether there was a submarine canyon which in conjunction with a movement of currents or tides somehow created a channel rich in nutrients which created an unusual and exceptionally rich concentration of marine life. The Spinner Dolphins would be a top predator of this unusually focussed food chain off Kalpitiya.

A more likely answer came on 24th March 2009 as I listened to Charles explaining to Dallas Martenstyn that the latter’s observations of dolphins and the occasional stray whale could be explained by the continental shelf being closer than was previously believed. He also thought that there could be whales to be seen beyond the reef. I interjected. I had been circulating a graphic we had done based on British Admiralty Chart No 828 which showed that the continental shelf was far out from Kalpitiya, not close to it. Charles disagreed with my interpretation and we pulled out a bundle of admiralty charts that Dallas had in the office. I saw that the 1,000m depth contour which is my personal benchmark is not actually shown on any of the admiralty charts. I had carelessly interpolated. It was easier to interpolate smoothly along where the depth was available and draw the 1,000m isocline far out from Kalpitiya than to imagine that somehow it pinched in close to the Kalpitiya Peninsula like it did at Dondra.

Hmmm. But I was not going to be proven wrong so easily. I pulled out Admiralty Chart No 1586 Pamban to Cape Comorin. “Look” I said to Charles pointing to a depth at a distance from the shore on the chart which was marked at something like 284m, “This clearly shows that the depths are not great at this distance. The continental shelf must be far out. There must be some other reason why the dolphins are coming in”. However, Charles countered ‘See the dash and the dot over the depth number. That means the depth is greater than the amount shown. They ran out of rope’. I studied the charts more intently and with Charles teaching me to read the charts the realisation swept over me, that what I had misinterpreted as hard evidence for a wide shallow basin was no evidence at all. In fact location of the edge of continental shelf was wide open. There was absolutely no data available at that time to us or anyone to know conclusively where the continental shelf lay. I instinctively knew that Charles with his deep experience was onto something. I was astonished by the idea that the continental shelf could be pinching into the Kalpitiya Peninsula as it does at Dondra. That night, long after the others had turned in, I waited in the ‘Ambalama’ thumbing through the charts. Occasionally I stared out to sea, immersed in thought, a shiver of excitement running through me. I knew that Dr Charles Anderson had led me onto another big story. The next day, on 25th March 2009, Dr Charles Anderson, Dallas Martnestyn and I went dolphin watching from Alankuda and saw around 600 Spinner Dolphins. I returned to office as there was a business to run. But I knew I had to come back to nail the story with evidence. I needed to get the whales and get the depths.

Realizing the value of the insight offered by Charles Anderson I wrote about in a book which was published in January 2010. The book was “Sri Lanka the other half’ by Juliet Coombe and Daisy Perry. As far as I know, this was the first airing in print of a theory that the continental shelf is very close to Kalpitiya and that as a result Kalpitiya could be good for whale watching.

On 24th March 2009 I had realised I needed to get the whales and the depths to confirm Charles Anderson’s insight that the continental shelf was close and that explained the presence of whales straying to the dolphin line. I was elated that on 24th February 2010 I had finally found the whales. But I decided not call or text anyone yet with the news that there was conclusive evidence that Kalpitiya could be a whale watching hotspot. In my heart, I knew I did not have all the pieces together. The depth soundings I had taken with Dallas with a fish finder effective up to 700 feet was mickey mouse data. It did not prove anything. Co-incidentally Charles who had pulled into Colombo Harbour briefly, had called me on Friday 19th February. I told him quite proudly that on the Monday I would be driving to Kalpitiya and I will set out with Dallas and a fish finder to test his theory. Charles said that it would require very sophisticated equipment. Driving back, that Wednesday, I knew that the only chance for any meaningful data lay with the National Aquatic Research Agency (NARA). What followed was a remarkable series of fortuitous meetings.

The next day, on the Thursday 25th February I attended a meeting at the World Bank convened by Sumith Pilapaitiya. I looked around for people who could help me in the search for the missing data. I homed in on Dr Malik Fernando a marine biologist and asked him if there was any data available on depths off Kalpitiya and where the continental shelf may lie. Malik told me how he had swum with Arjan Rajasuriya from NARA in the area where they had thought the continental shelf plunged into a deep abyss. Dallas Martenstyn had also told me on the last visit that with his experience as an angler, sailor and diver, that the continental shelf was close. But visibility in water does not go beyond a hundred feet. No one can peer down to a few hundred meters and see the edge of the shelf plunging a kilometer or two deep. So although there were clearly others who shared the Anderson theory, I only had gut feelings to go by. I desperately needed hard data. As if reading my mind, S.A.M. Azmy, Head of the Environmental Studies Division of NARA joined us and introduced himself as from NARA. I asked him whether there were any data, any recent data at all of depth soundings off the Kalpitiya Peninsula. He explained that the search for oil had resulted in the sea floor being mapped. I asked him whether it would show the 1,000m and 2,000m isoclines. He confirmed it would and in fact said that they would have that for all around the island.

The following day on Friday 26th February 2010 as I drove to NARA I called Asantha Sirimanne from Vanguard who produce Lanka Business Online (LBO), Lanka Business Report on ETV, etc. They are one of my favourite media teams for the depth, accuracy and analysis in their reporting. I told him how I was on my way to collect data to prove that Kalpitiya can be a whale watching hot spot. I told him how three days earlier I had watched Sperm Whales swim South to North and a day later I had followed a school of Sperm Whales swimming the opposite way in a straight North-South axis. Its almost as if the 1,000m and 2,000m isoclines ran parallel to the Kalpitiya peninsula. They were clearly hunting along this line as I watched them dive down repeatedly and emerge later on the same axis.

On 26 February 2010, S.A. M. Azmy Head of the Environmental Studies Division of NARA pulled out a chart which showed in remarkable detail the depth contours off the Kalpitiya Peninsula mapped for exploration of oil. There in front of me were the depth contours which showed that the continental shelf was indeed very close and that the edge of the shelf, where it rapidly plunged to 1,000 and 2,000m was parallel to the peninsula. It was the North-South axis at E 79 35 the Sperm Whales had hunted on and for which I had taken GPS readings. I could not believe how well it all fitted together. Wow.

Technically speaking the continental shelf is defined as the 200m isocline and here that was as close as 4 nautical miles. The 1,000m depth isocline which I use as a benchmark for whale watching was 9 nautical miles away. I was probably the first person from the general public to see this chart which had been published internally in October 2009. The data simply had not been available when Charles Anderson had first convinced me to re-consider my view. The data had come out seven months later and I suspected that few in marine biological circles were aware of it.

The previous evening, I had attended a dinner hosted by master facilitator Chris Dharmakirthi at his new house. Seated on either side of me was Tissa Vitarana the Minister for Science and Technology and Dileep Mudadeniya, the Managing Director of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau. I regaled them with stories of the arc-forward technique and how I had Sperm Whales swimming up to within a few feet of the boat and how one even swam under my boat, completely unafraid and un-disturbed, approaching us entirely at their discretion. I mentioned I was visiting NARA the next day to see the depth data from the oil exploration and details of the shape of the continental shelf around the island. Chris Dharmakirthi mentioned he was involved in the DECOM Project, the Project on Delimitation of the Outer Edge of the Continental Shelf of Sri Lanka under UNCLOS. So I asked Azmy about DECOM. He had already briefed M.A. Ariyawansa the Head of the National Hydrographic Office (NHO) that I would be visiting.

M.A. Ariyawansa, the Head of the National Hydrographic Office (NHO) introduced me to his team and to their amusement I rushed over to a pile of maps on a table and began thumbing through feverishly. Out came an untitled map simply which showed the 200, 1,000 and 2,000m depth isoclines around Sri Lanka and the outer limits of the exclusive economic zone. It showed the continental shelf pinching in three places. Trincomalee with a submarine canyon which has been known for some time and shown in the Admiralty charts. There was Dondra, again shown on the Admiralty charts but its significance for whale watching unknown until Charles Anderson had explained it to me in August 2003. There was only one other place. The Kalpitiya Peninsula. The edge of the shelf where it plunges to depths of a kilometer and more, runs along a North-South axis at approximately E 79 35. It remains un-changed in position for example between Colombo and the Kalpitiya Peninsula. However, because of the curvature of the island, it is far from Colombo but very close to the Kalpitiya Peninusla.

It is easier to explain this with the metaphor that the edge of the shelf with deep depths comes in close to Kalpitiya or that the Kalpitiya Peninisula pushes out (relative to Colombo for example) to where the edge of the shelf lies.

Sri Lanka therefore has three places which in terms of the location of the continental shelf is positioned ideally to be whale watching hot spots because the whale and oceanic dolphins need deep water to come close in. I had now found the conclusive evidence which connected the dots to show that Kalpitiya was one and in fact the last of the three whale watching hot spots to be recognized as such. My role once again had been to listen to scientists and to go out and do the field work and connect the dots to make a big story to bridge science with commerce. I was on a commercial agenda to connect whale watching in Kalpitiya with leopards in Wilpattu (the park was to open that Saturday 27th February). This gave tour operators like Jetwing Eco Holidays a second option for the whales at Mirissa and leopards at Yala. But I also knew that I enjoyed being the man who takes a big story about Sri Lanka to the world, like I had done with Best for Blue Whale, The Gathering of Elephants, Leopard’s Island and so on.

The NHO team were very helpful, courteous and genuinely interested in their work. They gave me a print out of the Mannar depths and a custom print out of the chart showing the continental shelf. I came out of NARA clutching the remaining evidence why Kalpitiya can be a whale watching hot spot. It is utterly strange that despite two years of dolphin watching, only I had ventured out with the purpose of finding whales to develop whale watching tourism and that within a matter of days, the hard data to prove the latest Charles Anderson theory were in my hand. The chart with the continental shelf was dated January 2010. My timing had been perfect. A few weeks earlier and the chart may not have existed.

On my way back to the office I triumphantly called Asantha Sirimanne and Renuke Sadananthan (Sunday Times) to announce that I had a story backed up by hard mapping data and field work to prove that Kalpitiya is one of three whale watching hotspots in Sri Lanka.

On 1 April 2008 when I set out to prove that Sri Lanka is the ‘Best for Blue Whale’ I realized that the boat crew could not at that point in time tell apart Sperm Whales from Blue Whales. It was the same at Alankuda on Tuesday 23rd February 2010. This will change very quickly as it did in Mirissa as clients switch their focus from dolphins to whales. I had listened to first hand accounts of dolphin watchers who claimed to have seen Humpback Whales. But by asking them questions, I had realised they had not seen Humpback Whales which have distinctively long white pectoral flippers. They said the whales ‘humped their back’ before diving. I now realise they have been seeing Sperm Whales which do this. The presence of the 1,000m and 2,000m depth isoclines parallel to the peninsula suggests that there is a deep edge which is a suitable hunting ground for Sperm Whales which are the champion divers of the animal kingdom and habitually dive to depths of between one to three kilometers. Dr Charles Anderson had also told Dallas and me that the South-west Monsoon may bring nutrients from the Arabian Sea as well as from up-wellings from the Kerala Coast to the peninsula. There may be other up-wellings off the peninsula which make it a rich feeding ground. Howard Martenstyn had emailed me accounts of his dolphin watching trips where he had seen more than one species of dolphin in large numbers. Of the three records of Orca since 2008, two have been at Kalptiya, photographed in March 2008 by Senaka Abeyratne and on 31 January 2010 by Maithri Liyanage. It is likely that Kalpitiya could rival Mirissa for the diversity of species of marine mammals. However, Mirissa may remain the top spot for watching Blue Whales because the migratory movement postulated by Dr Charles Anderson takes them past Dondra twice. I saw no Blue Whales on the two days I was whale watching at Kalpitiya. In contrast on Wednesday 24th February, Anoma Alagiyawadu, the Jetwing Lighthouse naturalist observed what he believed to be seven different Blue Whales from Mirissa. But there were also six days between the 17th and 22nd February where no Blue Whales were seen, but partly because the sailings were short due to rough weather. It is too early to conclude where Trincomalee, Mirissa and Kalpitiya will rank in terms of overall species diversity, the likelihood of seeing Blue Whales and Sperm Whales, etc. But what is very clear is that we have a scientific basis for concluding that Sri Lanka has three key sites for whale watching because of the proximity of the continental shelf, the marine mammal species diversity and logistics. The three sites could result in Sri Lanka emerging as the leading whale watching destination in the world.

A lot more work needs to be done to assess the strike rate for seeing whales at Kaplitiya. In May 2008, when I broke the story that Southern Sri Lanka is the best for Blue Whales, I had 22 days of data with a hundred pr cent strike rate for April 2008. With Kalpitiya, I am relying on the steady stream of reports of whales and other marine mammals corroborated by just a a few days at se by myself and the proximity of the edge of the shelf. All of this seems to fit in with the idea that Kalpitiya has high potential.
From the conversations I had with Dallas and Jonathan Martenstyn, Chitral Jayathilake and Maithri Liyanagae (Ruwala Adventure & Nature Resort) it was clear that none of the boat operators were going off shore of the reef after whales off the shores of Kalpitiya. They stayed in the dolphin watching area between the reef and the shore and had only the occasional chance sighting of a whale. My whale watching sessions and this article have now created awareness that whales can be seen off the Kalpitiya Peninsula if you set out to look for them. If you are called out for a sighting it could at times be as little as thirty minutes away but three hours of searching is more likely. The explanation that the continental shelf is close to Kalpitiya explains why. At least two boatmen have now learnt from me how to handle the Sperm Whales and begun to show them to clients. The appetite to go after whales from Kalpitiya and not to dally with just the dolphins will grow. Serious whale watching will now start from Kalpitiya. A trail has been blazed. In Kalpitiya as with elsewhere, legislation or guidelines will need to come in for the safety of the whales as well as the whale watchers. But legislation must be intelligent, practical and simple, to allow the whale watching industry to grow and create livelihoods. Whale Watching in Sri Lanka can easily grow to be worth several billion rupees of revenue each year. Wildlife can pay its way.


* Why Kalpitiya an Asian pelagic seabird hotspot
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne explains the launch of commercial pelagic seabird tours thanks to the Kalpitiya Peninsula being an Asian hotspot for pelagics.

[This article was first published as follows.
de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2010). Off to see seabirds. The Sunday Times Plus. Sunday 2 May 2010. Features. Page 6.]

Key Facts
* The continental shelf runs on a North-South axis approximately parallel to the Kalpitiya Peninsula. This creates a natural linear flyway for rare seabirds of the open ocean (pelagics).

* The seas off the Kalpitiya Peninsula seem particularly rich in the marine food chain evidenced by the large numbers of seabirds, marine mammals, flying fish (and commercially fished Yellow-fin Tuna) which are seen during the period when the seas are calm (November to April)

* The 400m depth line can be reached easily within half an hour from 18 footer boats which are available for leisure use. The ease of access and the ability to track birds flying in parallel between the E 79 038 and E 79 035 longitudinal line, makes viewing and photography easy. Bad weather may bring pelagic birds sufficiently close to for shore-based sea watching.

* The area in line with the tip of the peninsula around N 08 15, between E 79 35 and E 79 38 seems particularly good for encountering flocks of rare seabirds. This may have to do with the underlying oceanic topography and oceanic currents mixing with the nutrient flow from the Puttalam Lagoon creating a rich food chain.

The setting sun had sculpted a vast sea monster edged with fire over the horizon. Pink candy floss clouds were gradually engulfed by the encroaching darkness. Flashes of lightning illuminated a seemingly primordial world. As sunlight was about to be totally extinguished Rohan Susantha, the Alankuda Beach ( boatman opened the throttle and we sliced through a rising swell to return from another session at sea from Alankuda Beach. I had been out with my colleague Riaz Cader to develop pelagic tours for seabirds and marine mammals. We had a good session with a rarely seen Lesser Noddy (a kind of tern) making three abortive attempts to land on the canopy on our boat.

The next morning’s session, five hours out at sea, was the stuff of dreams. Over five hundred Spinner Dolphins cavorted around our boat, as we headed out to the Sperm Whale hunting line, the 400m depth isocline at E 79 36. The dolphins spun and raced and bow rode for thirty exhilarating minutes before I asked Susantha to peel away in case our presence caused stress. In deeper water, at E 79 35, N 08 15, for me what is a seabird hot spot, I motioned Susantha to pull over to photograph a Persian Shearwater, a rare pelagic bird, whose second record in Sri Lanka was by me only a week ago. “Whale” yelled out the hawk-eyed Susantha distracting Riaz and me from the Persian Shearwater. The Blue Whale slipped into the water on its third dive and we circled around looking for it. A bird with a pale head and a black cap floating in the water at a distance caught my eye. I knew it was something very special and I told Susantha much to Riaz’s surprise we must abandon the Blue Whale for the bird in the water. It turned out to be a Long-tailed Skua, possibly the second record for Sri Lanka (if another previous record is accepted) and the fourth or fifth record for the Indian Sub-continent. The show by the Spinner Dolphins, a Blue Whale with Persian Shearwaters flying over it or the second Sri Lanka record of a Long-tailed Skua are three things of which a marine biologist or enthusiast would have settled for just one. We had all three in one amazing pelagic session in one morning on Sunday 11th April.

In the last week of March we went public of my plans to return to the UK permanently. I informed my team that my last field project of eco-tourism product development would be to provide a firm foundation for pelagic tours for seabirds. For this we needed a site where there were good underlying reasons as to why seabirds could be seen with a fair degree of reliability. This required field work and know how. Although at least one other company had advertised pelagic tours, for various reasons I knew there were weaknesses with their chosen location and I had to find a site which could be used even if the seas were too rough to go out to the open sea.

On 1 April 2010 I sailed out of Mirissa with Jetwing Lighthouse naturalist Anoma Alagiyawadu marking the second anniversary of my sailing on 1st April 2008 which saw me leading the field work and a media campaign to firmly position the South of Sri Lanka as the best place for seeing Blue Whales. Also with me one the boat were my colleagues Hiran and Shiromal Cooray who were hoping for Blue Whales. My thoughts were however on pelagic seabirds. Pelagic refers to the open seas and pelagic seabirds are species of seabirds which do not come to land unless bad weather forces them close to shore or to the shore to rest when exhausted. I discussed with Anoma how the sightings of seabirds were progressing and he told me he had already seen the first shearwaters, a sign that the South-west Monsoon would come early. A skua, possibly a Pomarine or Arctic Skua flew overhead and I pointed it out to Hiran, regretting later that I was showing and not photographing.

My thoughts on how to go after the pelagic seabirds had been influenced on my time out at sea from Mirissa with British marine biologist Dr Charles Anderson. It had been documented in the literature, perhaps for 20-30 years that the South-west Monsoon brings in these rare seabirds. But the conversations out at sea with an experienced scientist like Dr Anderson somehow added the extra ingredient to make me realise that it may be possible to pursue the pelagics rather than leave it to chance. But I had a problem. From Mirissa, the sightings of pelagics were random and improved only when conditions started to become rough. When it was really rough we could not go out at all and the continental shelf although close to Dondra only pinched in there. Elsewhere it widened out again and shore-based watching did not seem attractive.

By April 2009, I had already homed in on what could be the site for the commercial development of pelagic tours. This was the Kalpitiya Peninsula. Once again there was a link with Dr Charles Anderson who had led me onto the story that Southern Sri Lanka was the best for Blue Whales. I had followed one of his leads to photograph the Pink Dolphins (Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphins) in the Puttalam Lagoon. On 7th March 2010 in the Sunday Times, following another lead by Charles I had explained why Kalpitiya will be the third apex of a whale watching triangle with Trincomalee and Mirissa. A key factor for its potential for whale watching and pelagic birds was the location of the edge of the continental shelf being close and running along a North-South axis, practically parallel to the Kalpitiya Peninsula. When I was doing my field work to research why Kalpitiya was a marine mammal watching hot spot I had noticed other factors which would make it ideal for pelagic seabirds. The North-South axis of the continental shelf created a natural linear flyway, close to land for rare seabirds.  The peninsula also had a reef which broke the force of the open ocean and which may at times allow pelagic seabird watching boats to go out when the open seas was too rough. There were records of exhausted pelagic birds (Sooty Terns photographed by Howard Martenstyn) resting on the beach which meant when the seas were really rough, shore-based pelagic seabird watching would be possible. I had also noticed that I was seeing anything from 5 to 10 times more seabirds off Kalpitiya as I was off Mirissa. I was seeing that many times more flying fish as well once I reached the 400m depth isocline (at E 79 36). The presence of large flocks of Spinner Dolphins and birds such as Little Terns suggested that it was a very rich feeding ground. I was sure that when the South-west Monsoon began to blow Kalpitiya would be the place to go in search of pelagic seabirds.

It is not that others had not looked here before. On 12 April, the day after my Long-tailed Skua sighting I chanced upon an article by Rex de Silva which I had first read when it was first published in the Oriental Bird Club’s Sri Lanka special bulleting in 1997. In it he mentions Talawila in the Kalpitiya Peninsula. Rex has been one of the leading personalities in studying seabirds in Sri Lanka and has written many papers and delivered many lectures. I had been inspired by listening to his lectures organised by the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) and as an A Level student I had assisted with shore-based counting of the mass migration of Brown-winged Terns, a study which he did for thirteen years. Early pioneers such as Rex were handicapped by certain constraints. Most significant of these was the cost of going out to sea. In those days and when I first began to explore whale watching, hiring a boat was expensive because one had to effectively hire a fishing boat and pay for the average value of a day’s catch. Furthermore the boat were seldom suitably outfitted for birders. In the early days there were no mobile GPS units available for navigating out of sight of land and for recording accurate coordinates of sightings. Furthermore with specific reference to the Kalpitiya Peninsula the location and the shape of the continental shelf was a guess until exploration for oil resulted in the first sea depth contour charts in October 2009 which were given to me by NARA when I was researching the Kalpitiya whale watching story.

Access to the seas off Kalpitiya Peninsula changed dramatically when boats became available for leisure thank to Dallas Martenstyn and his co-investors who set up Alankuda Beach, a barefoot luxury resort in Alankuda. Dallas had put Kalpitiya on the map for dolphin watching. I first visited Alankuda in April 2009 with Dr Charles Anderson it was already known for its dolphins. Dallas was aware that the availability of boats for leisure use off Mirissa though Mirissa Water Sports after the Boxing  Day Tsunami and a research insight by Charles had led me to taking the Sri Lanka is Best for Blue Whale story. Dallas suggested that if I wanted to chase up anymore leads, the Jetwing Eco Holidays team will be supported by Alankuda Beach with free food and accommodation and the use of the boats and their experienced boatmen. I was the right man in the right place at the right time to make a clear case for why Kalpitiya should also be Sri Lanka’s preferred site for pelagic seabirds. I began by exploring first the Pink Dolphin story and the whale watching story off Kalpitiya thank to the field work support of Dallas and his investors at Alankuda Beach.
In May 2008, I had taken a well researched story world-wide that the South of Sri Lanka was the best place in the world to see Blue Whales. In the short space of two years, this story and subsequent follow ups (over 70 press ‘events’ to date by my team) saw a Blue Whale watching industry in Sri Lanka becoming firmly established. My open release article of May 2008 which positioned Sri Lanka for Blue Whale watching concluded with the following. “The success of whale watching will be closely parallel the development of pelagic cruises for seabird watching. This will also contribute a wealth of ornithological data. At present most Sri Lankan birders have not seen a Pomarine Skua. One morning we saw over forty. The development of pelagic cruises for seabird watching will have to be another story”.

This is the ‘another story’. April 2010 would be my last chance to research Kalpitiya as a site for pelagic seabirds. In February and early March I had been seeing pelagics such as Brown-winged Terns. But I needed a few more special birds and I knew I would have to put on a few trips in March and April to cement the story.

On 4th April 2010, four days of rough seas had mellowed into a calm morning where the sea was as flat as a pancake. I stood in the mid-section of the 18 foot speed boat scanning the sea intently for the blow of a Sperm Whale. I was running a transect on a North-South axis parallel to the Kalpitiya Peninsula on E 79 37 which is on the 400m depth isocline. This is the typical hunting depth of Sperm Whales although they can dive to depths of between 1-3 km. I was also looking for seabirds.

The timing for watching pelagic birds, was just before the on-set of the monsoon. In April 2008, whilst looking for whales on the Spirit of Dondra, I saw how increasing numbers of Pomarine Skuas, Flesh-footed and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters began to come in, ahead of the monsoon. The shearwaters which skim the waves, sometimes just inches above the water are enthralling to watch. They skim the undulating waves, riding them like a surfer, but with no contact and with hardly a wing beat.

As the South-west monsoon arrived the number and diversity of pelagic seabirds became better. But the conditions on the water also became rougher and at times it was too rough for the boats to head out.  I realized that sea watching from Mirissa fishery harbour (in Weligama Bay) would present problems in rough weather. It would be worse from fishery harbours such as Beruwela where the continental shelf was further out. In March 2010 I realised that Kalpitiya would be an ideal location. This is because the continental shelf is close and there is a reef which cushions some of the impact of rough weather. Even if the open seas was too rough, seabird watchers could be at sea but stay in-shore of the reef in calmer protected water and watch seabirds which have drifted in. I had also noticed that during the migrant season, seabirds which are found close to shore roosted on the beach. During several trips to sea in February and March I had noticed that the seas of Kalpitiya had much greater numbers of seabirds than Mirissa. I would regularly see hundreds of Little Terns and dozens of Brown-winged Terns. On the beach, I would see Gull-billed Terns patrolling the tide line for crabs and Large-crested, Lesser-crested and Common Terns perched together, occasionally in the company of Sanderlings, Lesser Sand Plovers and Whimbrel.

During my fifteen years in the UK, I had been on a number of sea watching trips ranging from Cley to Dungeness in the South. I had noticed how in rough weather birders could observe many seabirds from shore using telescopes. The beach at Alankuda Beach ( would be an ideal location for watching seabirds during rough weather. In slightly rough weather, it may even be possible to head out to sea into the area in-shore of the reef for closer and richer encounters. In terms of physical topography (especially the proximity to the edge of the continental shelf), the presence of a rich marine fauna and the year round presence of seabirds, Kalpitiya seems to have all that was necessary for a rich showing of rare pelagic birds when the South-west monsoon brought them in.

On Sunday the 4th of April, I was to have one such encounter which provides very clear evidence that Kalpitiya Peninsula has all the ingredients to be Sri Lanka’s top spot for seabird watching. I came across a flock of seabirds which would have surpassed the imagination of any Sri Lankan birder. I came across what is probably the largest flock of shearwaters ever seen off the seas of Sri Lanka by a birder and what is more, it was sprinkled with rarely seen seabirds.

I had taken out Shiromal Cooray the Managing Director of Jetwing Travels to acquaint her with my plans to brand Whales and Wilpattu. Also with us was Anne Shih a keen photographer. Much of Sri Lanka’s ‘sellable bio-diversity’ lies left of the ‘The Diagonal’. This is a line connecting Mannar Island on the South-west to Ruhunu (Yala) National Park on the South-east. Trincomalee with its whales and Minneriya and Kaudulla and Lahugala with its elephants are the only big wildlife stories to be on the right of ‘The Diagonal’. In terms of wildlife tourism, almost everything a foreign or local traveller could want for is to the left of ‘The Diagonal’, especially with regard to the endemic rich lowland rainforests and the cloud forests. “The Diagonal’ had been bottom heavy with Blue and Sperm Whales in Mirissa and Elephants, Sloth Bear, and Leopards in Yala. However with the re-opening of Wilpattu National Park on 27 February 2010, ‘The Diagonal’, could now be balanced with Sperm Whales and Dolphins in Kalpitiya and Leopards, Sloth Bear and possibly Elephants in Wilpattu.

We travelled over 14 nautical miles (26km) North from Alankuda Beach to N 08 19 at which point the Kalpitiya Peninsula which arched inwards was no longer visible. We began to head back South on the Sperm Whale line of E 79 37 when I spotted a flock of seabirds. I had already had fours sightings of individual Persian Shearwaters and a Noddy. Birds which probably less than half a dozen Sri Lankan birdwatchers have seen at the time of writing. I looked through my Swarovski 7 x 42 and realised immediately that this flock was very special. There were by a conservative estimate at least 25 Persian Shearwaters  and some Noddies with Brown-winged Terns and Little Terns.

I motioned Susantha to slow down and pull up slowly towards the flock slowly. Flocks of terns are not disturbed by boats and will often follow and mill around fishing boats. Susantha moved the boat gently under the flock. A number of Persian Shearwaters were floating on the water and vocalizing loudly with each other. Some would fly up and join the terns in the air and then land back in the water. At one point I counted 18 Persian Shearwaters, close to the boat on the water and spaced out a few feet apart. They were not afraid at all by the boat and were allowing the boat to drift to within ten feet before they would take off, fly into the air and then land again. Shiromal and Anne commented on how they were like ducks on water on how they were vocalizing in piping calls. Coming across this many shearwaters was extraordinary. No birder in Sri Lanka has seen so many shearwaters together. Later on Monday 5 April 2010 I had a discussion with Uditha Hettige who has been looking at seabirds during the last two years and he also confirmed that he had never seen a flock of shearwaters or come across anyone who had such an observation in Sri Lankan waters. Subsequently Dr Charles Anderson also recorded them off Mirissa in April 2009, forming the fourth set of Persian Shearwater records off Sri Lanka. At a discussion at Yala Village Hotel on 21st April 2010, he told me had never recorded Persian Shearwaters in the Maldives. He suspects this could be evidence of an El Nino year when the direction of the currents change.

I turned my attention next to the Noddies. I soon realised that there were actually two species of Noddies. These are terns which are brown overall. One species was distinctly larger than the other and had a heavier bill. It also seemd to have a heavier spoon-shaped tail and a more laboured manner of flight. It often fanned its tail and bent it down and forward to brake and hover over the water. It hardly showed any white on its forehead. These were the Brown Noddies. The smaller noddies, some with extensive white on the forehead and showing up as white all the way down the nape were Lesser Noddies. None of them showed the black lores which are found on the Black Noddy which is much rarer in Sri Lankan waters. I also noticed two all brown shearwaters and I was able to photograph one of them, a Wedge-tailed and a Flesh-footed Shearwater. We were having five very rarely seen seabirds in this flock, Persian, Wedge-tailed and Flesh-footed Shearwater, Brown and Lesser Noddy with a more regularly seen pelagic the Brown-winged Tern. We spent over half an hour with the flock which accepted us. I reminded Shiromal Cooray that she was on a very successful pelagic tour and was seeing a flock of rare seabirds which no one in serious birding circles in Sri Lanka would have ever imagined to be possible.

The previous evening we had taken the boat close to shore to just beyond St Anne’s Church in Talwaila. We had encountered a flock close to the shore which had mainly Little Terns, Common Terns, Whiskered Terns in breeding plumage (it was unusual to have them at sea) and between 5-10 Brown-winged Terns flying in and out. Gull-billed Terns patrolled the shore and an occasional Lesser Crested Tern and a Large Crested Tern flew by. I commented that there were seven species of terns when into good light and offering good views at a distance of about fifteen feet a tern with black upper-parts flew past. I failed to photograph what could have been a scarce Sooty Tern. I remembered that Howard Martenstyn had showed me photographs of Sooty Terns he had taken at Alankuda Beach.
I had never seen a Persian Shearwater until this day and I had two sightings of what were probably single Persian Shearwaters earlier that day and later on, a very good sighting of another which was perched on some floating debris. When I came across the second bird, I had noticed it because the white on its face was glinting. At first I thought it was some floating debris and when I realized it was a bird we were too close and it flew off. The sea was very flat and therefore I could actually see it floating at a distance. I suspect on many occasions shearwaters which are floating on the water fly away but are not noticed until they take flight. This may lend the impression that they hardly ever rest when away from their nesting sites.

In April, the whale watching boats from Mirissa also begin to see rare seabirds which come in with the South-west Monsoon. However I had been reluctant to promote pelagic tours from Mirissa because if the seas are rough, the seabirds are too far out from the shore of the Weligama Bay to see them with ‘scopes’ and ‘bins’. At locations like Alankuda on the Kalpitiya coast on the other hand, sea watching is possible from the shore line. Also weather which may be too rough for the open sea, may still allow boats to go out 3-4 km in-shore of the reef which mitigates some of the force of the waves. The Kalpitiya Peninsula also offers long, relatively inhabited stretches of coast line which seabirds and waders use to feed or perch on. There are also traditional fishing villages which attract seabirds to offal and these birds venture near properties such as the Alankuda Beach. In stormy weather, rare seabirds will be pushed close to shore and may even settle on the beach. In good weather, during the South-west monsoon, the seas may be calm enough to rare seabirds, relatively close to the shore because of the close proximity of the continental shelf and the rich web or marine life which is present close to shore. The richness of the marine life off Kalpitiya is evidenced by the sightings of marine mammals and the presence of seabirds and waders throughout the migrant season from October to April.

For many years I had hoped of finding a location in Sri Lanka as a hot spot for watching rare seabirds to replicate the sites such as Dungeness in Kent and the beaches of Cley where I had sea-watched in windy, near zero temperatures. The Kalpitiya Peninsula in Sri Lanka seems to be the top site in Sri Lanka for sea-watching from on-shore or out at sea for the reasons I have explained above. Being able to do so in warm weather and the prospect of a chilled beer being close to hand, adds another attractive wildlife tourism trump card to the Kalpitiya Peninsula and another wildlife attraction to the left of “The Diagonal’.

* SEE ALSO  de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2010). Why Kalpitiya is Sri Lanka’s top spot for pelagic seabirds. Hi Magazine. Series 8, Volume 1. Pages 228-231.

An important extract from the original article is reproduced below.

The shape and location of the continental shelf and slope
There is a misconception that the shape and location of the continental shelf is shown on the British Admiralty Charts. The Admiralty Chart No 828 (Cochin to Vishakapatnam) published in June 1977 (based on Indian Chart 32 published in November 1974) revised in April 1974 does not even show the depth isobath off-shore of the Kalpitiya Peninsula!  There is a gap in this area between the depth lines on the West coast and where it is shown again to the South-west of India. In May 2008, when I first began to publicise the South of Sri Lanka for whale watching, I created a graphic which interpolated incorrectly how these lines connect and showed the continental shelf being further out than it is. This error was further reinforced by my inspection of Admiralty Chart No 1586 (Pamban to Cape Comorin) showing what appears to be shallow depths around Kalpitiya. Another chart showing the Kalpitiya Peninsula which I examined included the Omega International chart series of the Indian Ocean. The Chart of the Bay of Bengal (1:3,500,000) produced under the superintendence of the Chief Hydrographer of the Government of India, from the latest information in the Naval Hydrographic Office 1977). This also reinforced the impression that the depth lines veered away from the peninsula and that the edge of the shelf did not run parallel or close to the peninsula. In fact, the position of the 1,000m and 2,000m depth lines on this map is also reflected in a recent map published by the National Hydrographic Office, NARA in 2008. The chart is titled “Arabian Sea Eastern Part” to a scale of 1:3,400,000 and has text in Sinhala and English.

In April 2009, Dr Charles Anderson pointed out that a notation above some of the depth numbers on Admiralty Chart No 1586 meant that whoever was taking the depth sounding had ‘run out of rope’. So a depth of 123 m marked in this way could be 124m or even 2,000m. Dr Charles Anderson suspected the presence of marine life indicated that the shelf was close. But it was not something which had been shown then (or even now) on the British Admiralty charts, when we had this discussion in April 2009. However, fishermen, sport anglers and divers had intuitively guessed that it was close because of the presence of Yellow-fin Tuna and other deep water fish.

In my article in the Sunday Times Plus on 7th March 2010, I stated that the depths and shape of the continental shelf and continental slope, with any degree of accuracy, was only revealed for the first time in the chart published in a NARA report in October 2009 after the sea floor was mapped for oil and gas. I was probably the first person from the public to see this (even marine biologists seemed to be unaware of this data) and use it to make a scientific case for why the Kalpitiya Peninsula is a whale watching hotspot, based on the insight by Dr Charles Anderson.

I may have been partly wrong about when the depth lines were first shown accurately. Alfons van Hoof had read my article in the Sri Lanka Wildlife eNewsletter. On 15 May 2010 he drew my attention to the topographical maps prepared by the ex USSR army who had extended the contour lines out to sea. At the time of writing, I have not been able to examine the full map and ascertain the date of publication. But a ‘cut out’ he had emailed me shows the 400m depth isobath close to the peninsula as shown by NARA’s chart of October 2009. However the 1,000m depth isobath which I consider as an important benchmark for marine mammal watching is shown further away and veering away as in the Admiralty charts. So the October 2009 depth chart given to me by NARA remains the first definitive map of the depths off the Kalpitiya Peninsula. Even if the ex USSR army data was completely accurate, this would not change the substance of my story in the Sunday Times Plus of 7th March 2010. Whether I had been led to the NARA data or the Russian data, the thrust of my story would have been the same. It also would have been the same whether I had been given either set of data before I had set out to sea to demonstrate that one can go in search of whales beyond the reef of the Kalpitiya Peninsula and find them with a reasonable strike rate and to explain why off-shore of the reef is good for whales. I certainly was not the first to see whales off Kalpitiya and neither did I ‘discover the continental shelf’. But I was certainly the one to act on the lead by Dr Charles Anderson and to do the grunt work in the field and break the story with a credible explanation as to why the Kalpitiya Peninsula can be a third apex of a whale watching triangle in Sri Lanka.

Now that I have explained what data exists to explain the location and shape of the continental shelf and slope off the Kalpitiya Peninsula it is easy for people to say, we always knew. As for the Anderson intuition that Kalpitiya can be developed for whale watching, well again, people can now say, oh we always knew. But no one made an effort before February 2010, to seriously look at Kalpitiya for commercially watching whales (as opposed to focusing on dolphins) and looking for pelagic seabirds as a part of a wildlife watching tour.
Sri Lanka’s Vanishing Great Migration
by Srian de Silva Wijeyeratne

“ I just had to go” when I heard of the route being opened between Puttlam and Mannar, through the Wilpattu Park, and on the 20th  of February 2010, my extended family set off in three vehicles to do the journey. Clearing the necessary checkpoints etc, we got over the beautiful causeway and onto the newly constructed dirt track, which was reasonably flat for many parts of the journey but pretty bumpy at times. The run proved to be a bit of a disappointment in that it was not one pent with anticipation and excitement. Military personnel in camouflage  blend with the foliage, and are stationed pretty much every few hundred yards, and the route skirts a couple of Villu’s but apparently runs pretty close to the shoreline, I was told. With the exception of a few birds, and several butterfly species, the run of over two hours had little else to offer. The fencing and work in progress towards the northern end of the National Park was certainly cause for concern. But watching the closest thing to snow that Sri Lanka has, kept my eyes and mind well occupied.

It was mid morning, already warm enough, and we were travelling through the early signs of the Great Butterfly migration. I had experienced this in full flow towards early April, going back almost two decades to a work stint I did in Anuradhapura, and repeatedly a few years ago, during this same period, on the Vavuniya road, and in extremely large numbers on the Mahdu road, and within the Wilpattu park. We “guesstimated” over 20,000 butterflies before we stopped counting with thousands more still fluttering by . Later on in the afternoon, the Madhu road provided yet another great stretch to see this flight in action. The spices were mainly the Common Emigrants and the Lemon Emigrants. On a previous trip to Madhu we had guesstimated over half a million butterflies. Of course this was a very crude count and not scientific at all. I looked up my Woodhouse, within which Dr. C.B. Williams refers to the legend of the Mythical Pilgrimage to Adam’s Peak by these swarms.  Woodhouse refers to this phenomena being prevalent in many parts of the Island, and says “ In March, there is often a renewal of activity in nearly all the species which take part in the November flights”.  He also goes on to mention that in Ceylon, 69 species have been recorded at “Flighters”.  In his book, Arittha Wikramanayake refers to his childhood memories (pretty similar to mine), of hordes of butterflies flying through Colombo as well, and his recent observations are during the months of October and November. Unfortunately there seems to be little scientific study done, but this period would be the season to watch out for this amazing phenomena when visiting these areas, as this surely may become a “Myth of the Past” in the decades to come.

During the trip, we caught up briefly in Manner with my uncle, Carl Fernando, who took the same route a bit earlier, and he was thrilled with their Bird Watching success closer to Mannar, having had several good sightings, including the rare Indian Courser, and a  mixed flock of around 50,000 ducks near Vankalai.

(*) Bill Oddie, British Wildlife TV Celebrity tours Sri Lanka

Bill Oddie, arguably the UK’s most famous birder together with Liam Creedon a travel writer from the Press Association in the UK was on a wildlife tour in Sri Lanka from the 23rd to 28th July 2010.  The visit hosted by the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) was initiated by its British representation company Representation Plus. The tour was handled by Jetwing Eco Holidays. Leia Moral from Representation Plus and wildlife popularizer Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne met with Bill Oddie and Liam Creedon in London for a pre-tour briefing. They discussed Gehan’s view that Sri Lanka is the Best for Big Game outside Africa. They also dwelt on other stories seeded by him and the Jetwing Eco Holidays team. One story being that Yala is the best place in the world for watching and photographing leopards. Another story, being the Sinharaja Bird Wave. This is the largest, longest studied and best viewing offered by a mixed species feeding flock. Both of these stories were elements of their tour.

On arrival, the first night’s accommodation was at the elegant Villa Talangama, overlooking the Talangama wetland on the fringes of Colombo. Described by Oddie as being an “urban nature reserve”, the wetland abuts houses and paddyfields. It is however a wonderful site for birders with over 70 different species having being recorded here in a single day. The visitors had species such as Black Bittern, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Shikra, the endemic Ceylon Small Barbet and Stork-billed Kingfisher. It is also a reliable site for viewing the endemic and highly endangered western race of the Purple-faced Leaf Monkey. This rare primate is often seen feeding on the many Jak fruit trees in the area.

Following a morning birding session around the Talangama wetland, Bill’s next destination was Uda Walawe National Park. This is the only place in the world for guaranteeing a viewing of a wild Asian Elephant. Prior to entering the national park, a brief visit was made to the Uda Walawe Elephant Transit Home, which houses around forty young orphaned elephants that are raised and trained for rehabilitation back in to the wild. The evening game drive at Uda Walawe produced sightings of around thirty elephants, with a mixture of loners as well as small groups being seen. The open-top jeeps driven along the jungle paths can often produce some thrilling and at times hair-raising moments for the safari guests where the elephants often get to within a few feet of the vehicles.

Bill and Liam then had two nights at the Elephant Reach Hotel in Kirinda, which is just a twenty minute drive away from the park entrance. From elephants, they set their sights on the island’s top cat – the leopard. Surrounded by the sea from the south, a mix of rocky outcrops amongst scrub vegetation and numerous water holes, Yala is a park with varied and beautiful landscapes. Yala’s star attractions are undoubtedly its leopards, with an average density of one per square kilometer in certain parts of Block I of the park. The high prey density means that adult female homes ranges can be as small as 2-4 square kilometers.  Elephants and sloth bears are Yala’s other two draw cards. Its potential for big game viewing makes Yala one of the finest national parks in Asia. It is also good for birding with over three hundred recorded species. Bill on three game drives at Yala, did not have the best of leopard sessions but managed a brief but memorable sighting of a leopard, good sightings of elephants including two large tuskers, numerous large mugger crocodiles and at least seventy different bird species.

Leaving behind the dry zone scrub jungles in the South, the next destination was the Sinharaja rainforest in central Sri Lanka where he was joined again by the Jetwing Eco Holidays operations team. Accommodation for the two nights was at Martins Simple Lodge in Sinharaja, ideal for birders as it is located in the heart of the reserve. Sinharaja is a favourite haunt among the local birders as almost all of Sri Lanka’s thirty three endemics are found here. In just a couple of rainforest walks, Bill managed to witness two ‘Sinharaja Bird Waves’ and sighted at least eighteen endemics including Red-faced Malkoha Crimson-backed Flameback, Ceylon Hanging Parrot and the Serendib Scops Owl. The calls of the Chestnut-backed Owlet were also heard.

Bill Oddie’s short visit from the wetlands in Talangama to the grasslands of Uda Walawe to the scrub jungle habitat of Yala and finally the rainforests of Sinharaja, produced over 130 different species of birds. Although it was not primarily a birding tour, they still managed 18 of the 33 endemics. Bill and Liam also had good sightings of the big game species such as Asian Elephant, Leopard and Mugger Crocodile. A very diverse range of habitats and wildlife can be seen in Sri Lanka even during a short tour. According to Gehan the author of wildlife books by British publishers Bradt and New Holland, it is the Ultimate Island Safari. A press brief on this is on the website of Jetwing Eco Holidays (, which is Sri Lanka’s leading birding and wildlife tour operator. They have played a pivotal role in developing Whale Watching, Leopard Safaris, The Gathering of Elephants as well as Butterfly and Dragonfly watching tours. Bill Oddie’s tour is one of many wildlife tours they have organised for well known personalities in the wildlife media.

The South of Sri Lanka is the best place in the world for seeing Blue Whales. However, the timing of Bill Oddie’s tour was outside the December to mid April window for seeing blue whales and sperm whales, which together with the elephant, sloth bear and leopard make Sri Lanka’s Big Five. The rationale for a Sri Lankan Big Five and the criteria for a Big List are discussed in detail in the September issue of Hi magazine which is also The concept was overtly launched at the British Birdwatching Fair 2010 by the team from Jetwing Eco Holidays. They also discussed plans by other British wildlife celebrities to visit Sri Lanka in search of blue whales and other big game, reinforcing the message that Sri Lanka is the ‘Best for Big Game safaris outside Africa’.

(*)  114 different species of butterflies recorded during a two week butterfly watching tour

Wicky Wickramasekhara leads a dedicated butterfly watching tour with client Mike Williams from 26th February to 09th March 2010.

They covered a variety of habitats in sites such as Nittambuwa, Kuruwita, Sinharaja, Rumassala, Mirissa, Yala National Park, Tissamaharama, Debara Wewa, Ella, Horton Plains, Knuckles Ranges, Ukuwela and Negombo. 114 different species were recorded.

Lime Butterfly
Common Jezebel
Mottled Emigrant
Common Grass Yellow
Three-spot Grass Yellow
Grey Pansy
Peacock Pansy
Common Palmfly
Common Cerulean
Bush Hopper
Tawny Coster
Ceylon Birdwing
Crimson Rose
Ceylon Rose
Common Rose
Red Helen
Blue Mormon
Tailed Jay
Five-bar Swordtail
Lesser Albatross
Lemon Migrant
Blue Wanderer
Tree Nymph
Blue Glassy Tiger
Blue Tiger
Glassy Tiger
Common Crow
Chocolate Soldier
Great Eggfly
Danaid Eggfly
Common Sailor
Nigger Brown
Tamil Bushbrown
Common Bushbrown
Gladeye Bushbrown
White Four-ring
Nilgiri Tit
Large 4-line Blue
Pale 4-line Blue
Common Lineblue
Tailless Lineblue
Metallic Cerulean
Common Pierrot
Angled Pierrot
Indian Cupid
Plum Judy
Black Angle
Hedge Hopper
Chestnut Bob
Common Banded Demon
Tropic Dart
Tiny Grass Blue
Small Branded Swift
Common Mormon
Painted Saw-tooth
Common Gull
White Orange Tip
Yellow Orange Tip
Small Salmon Arab
Little Orange Tip
Small Grass Yellow
Dark Blue Tiger
Common Tiger
Plain Tiger
Painted Lady
Lemon Pansy
Common Silverline
Common Guava Blue
Long-tailed (Pea) Blue
Zebra Blue
Butler’s Spotted Pierrot
Grass Jewel
Lesser Grass Blue
African Babul Blue
Lime Blue
Giant Orange Tip
Common Evening Brown
Dark Grass Blue
Common Albatross
Angled Castor
Chestnut-streaked Sailor
Tawny Rajah
Dingy Lineblue
Dark Cerulean
Common Hedge Blue
Banded Peacock
Ceylon Tiger
Indian Fritillary
Indian Red Admiral
Blue Admiral
Ceylon Treebrown
Common Hedge Blue
Smallest Swift
Indian Dart
Red Pierrot
Plains Cupid
Tamil Treebrown
Ceylon Forester
Black Flat
Tricolour Pied Flat
Conjoined Swift
Indian Skipper

Compilers Note.
In the press releases, I have included the ‘Butterflies of Britain and Ireland’. The text in this book which is written with the layperson in mind, brings together much research. The text in this book provides an insight into amateurs and professionals in countries like Sri Lanka as to how much more work needs to be done to unravel the life histories and the ecology of tropical species.
(*) Internships with Jetwing Eco Holidays
Internships are available with Jetwing Eco Holidays for periods varying from one month to a year. Candidates should have excellent written English. A creative eye is also very helpful. Interns are exposed to a wide variety of office skills as well as occasional field visits.

If you are interested in an internship, please email Paramie Perera on with the header titled ‘Internships with Eco Holidays’.

(*) First ever pictures of the Horton Plains Slender Loris
Press Release by the Zoological Society of London

One of the rarest and most threatened primates in the world, so mysterious it was once thought to be extinct, has been has been caught on camera for the first time.

The pictures of the Horton Plains slender loris (Loris tardigradus nycticeboides) were taken in the montane forests of central Sri Lanka by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Sri Lankan researchers.

Until now this subspecies of slender loris has only been seen four times since 1937 and disappeared from 1939 to 2002, leading experts to believe it had become extinct.

Conservation Biologists from ZSL’s Edge of Existence Programme surveyed 2km transects for more than 200 hours, looking for signs of this elusive wide-eyed primate.

The pictures of the nocturnal creature, which is classified as endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, show an eight inch long (head and body length) adult male slender loris sitting on a forest branch. It is characterised by his short limbs and long, dense fur.

Conservationists have discovered that both the fore and hind limbs of the Horton Plains slender loris appear shorter and sturdier than the limbs of any of the other loris found in either Sri Lanka or southern India showing how the mammal has adapted to live in the cool montane forest.

ZSL Conservation Biologist Dr. Craig Turner said: “We are thrilled to have captured the first ever photographs and prove its continued existence – especially after its 65 year disappearing act. This is the first time we have been able to conduct such a close examination of the Horton Plains slender loris.

“The discovery improves our knowledge of this species, but we need to focus our efforts on the conservation and restoration of the remaining montane forest where this species still exists. Currently this accounts for less than one per-cent of the land area of Sri Lanka.”

Research Leader Saman Gamage added: “This discovery is a great reward for the ongoing field research we undertake across much of south-western Sri Lanka.

“Nearly 1,000 nocturnal surveys have been completed in 120 different forest areas looking for all loris species to assess their status, ecological needs and current threats. We are now conducting further studies to establish whether the Horton Plains slender loris could even be a species in its own right.”

Editorial Notes
– Slender lorises are small, nocturnal prosimian primates found only in the tropical forests of Southern India and Sri Lanka. They live in wet and dry forests, as well as lowland and highland forests. They have long pencil-thin arms and legs and are between 6-10 in (15-25cm) long. Slender loris’, which weigh about 10.5-12 oz. (140-348g), have round heads which are dominated by two large, closely set, saucer-like brown eyes necessary to give them excellent depth perception during their nocturnal hunting. Their coat is light red-brown or grey-brown on its back and dirty white on its chest and belly. Their thumb helps them grasp branches and twigs.

– The Red Slender Loris EDGE conservation programme run by ZSL in collaboration with the University of Colombo and Open University of Sri Lanka, has been underway since 2008. It is assessing the range, distribution and status of loris species across south-western Sri Lanka in order to inform the development of appropriate conservation strategies. A major threat posed the Horton Plains slender loris is habitat fragmentation and degradation. Effective means to protect, regenerate and reconnect the remaining montane forest patches need to be implemented as a priority. For further information please visit:

– ZSL’s EDGE of Existence programme ranks species according to their evolutionary distinctiveness and how globally endangered they are. There is currently an EDGE amphibians and EDGE mammals list. EGDE supports in-country conservationists through the EDGE Fellowship scheme. For further information please visit:

– Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity: our key role is the conservation of animals and their habitats. The Society runs ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, carries out scientific research at the Institute of Zoology and is actively involved in field conservation overseas. For further information please visit

(*) New Books and Photographic Guides from New Holland Publishers
From December 2010, a number of New Holland’s pocket photographic guides will be re-issued as new prints or revised editions. Some of the titles which have been printed and released to book shops are listed below.

Das, I. (2006, 2011). A Photographic Guide to Snakes and other Reptiles of Borneo. New Holland: London. 144 pages. 9.5 cm x 19 cm. ISBN 978-1-84773-881-3.

Davison, G.W.H. & Fook, Chew Yen. (1996, 2011). A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Borneo, Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Kalimantan. New Holland: London. 144 pages. 9.5 cm x 19 cm. ISBN 978-1-84773-828-8.

de Silva Wijeyeratne, G., Warakagoda, D. and de Zylva, Dr T.S.U. (2000, 2011). A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka. New Holland: London. 144 pages. 9.5 cm x 19 cm. ISBN 978-1-84773-318-4.

Fisher, T., & Hicks, N. (2006, 2011). A Photographic Guide to the Birds of the Philippines. New Holland: London. 144 pages. 9.5 cm x 19 cm. ISBN 978-1-84773-830-1.

MacKinnon, J., & Hicks, A. (1996, 2011). A Photographic Guide to the Birds of China including Hong Kong. New Holland: London. 144 pages. 9.5 cm x 19 cm. ISBN 978-1-84773-534-8.

Tilford, T. & Compost, A. (2000, 2010). A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Bali, Java and Sumatra. New Holland: London. 144 pages. 9.5 cm x 19 cm. ISBN 978-1-84773-831-8

Webster, M., & Fook, Chew Yen. (1997, 2010). A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Thailand. New Holland: London. 144 pages. 9.5 cm x 19 cm. ISBN 978-1-84773-829-5.
(*)A Field Guide to The Reptiles of South-East Asia by Indraneil Das

Das, I. (2010). Reptiles of South-east Asia. New Holland Publishers (UK) Ltd. 376 pages. ISBN 987-1-84773-347-4.
South-East Asia is one of the richest parts of the world in terms of reptiles. The first comprehensive guide to the reptiles of this region, A Field Guide to the Reptiles of South-East Asia covers all the reptiles recorded from mainland South-East Asia, from Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia to Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia, as well as the islands of the Great Sundas (including Sumatra, Java, Borneo and Bali). A detailed account with key identification characteristics, habitat and behaviour is included for each species, from crocodiles, tortoises and turtles, to lizards and snakes. Every recognized species is described, and 74 magnificent specially commissioned colour plates by top wildlife artists depict nearly 700 major species in meticulous detail. Where useful, details such as plastrons (for turtles and tortoises), juveniles, variants and head patterns are also shown on the plates.
(*) Advanced Bird Id Guide: The Western Palearctic
by Nils van Duivendijk In association with British Birds

van Duivendijk , N. (2010). New Holland Publishers (UK) Ltd. ISBN Advanced Bird Id Guide: The Western Palearctic. 304 pages. ISBN 978-1-84773-607-9.
This innovative guide will be an essential addition to the library of any serious birder. It accurately describes every key detail of every plumage of all 1,000 species that have ever occurred in Britain, Europe, North Africa and the Middle East – the region known to all keen birdwatchers as the Western Palearctic. Its level of detail is unprecedented for a book of this size, and it will be sought after by all bird enthusiasts.

A large number of existing bird field guides cover Europe and the Western Palearctic. This, however, is a guide with a difference. It has no colour plates or illustrations, but instead its unique selling point is that for every species the detailed text lists the key characters of each recognizable plumage, including male, female, immature, juvenile, all subspecies and all other variations. This level of detail includes, for example, all eleven forms of ‘Canada goose’ and all nine forms of ‘yellow wagtail’ known in the region. In the past such in-depth detail has only been available in huge multi-volume tomes such as Birds of the Western Palearctic. The Advanced Bird ID Guide enables birders to take this information into the field for the first time.

The detailed yet concise nature of the guide means that the original Dutch edition of this title became an instant classic when it was published in 2002. UK birders who know of the Dutch edition have been eagerly awaiting an English-language version for many years, so this is an exciting opportunity for New Holland in terms of publishing a cutting-edge bird book.

The book will be endorsed by the renowned journal British Birds, which has been running for more than 100 years and which has a dedicated and enthusiastic readership.

(*)  The Butterflies of Britain & Ireland
Press Release by British Wildlife Publishing

Thomas, J. & Richard Lewington. The Butterflies of Britain & Ireland. British Wildlife Publishing. 288 pages. ISBN 978-0-9564902-0-9 £24.95 hardback. Published 30th April

When first published in 1991 the ‘Butterflies of Britain & Ireland’ was an instant success. Winning the coveted Natural World Book of the Year award, it was considered to be one of the best accounts of our butterflies. Accessibly written and beautifully illustrated, the book quickly sold out but was never reprinted. Today, copies are highly sought after and can exchange hands for up to £100. This completely revised edition brings this classic work up to date. Richard Lewington has also painted nearly 100 new artworks.
Extraordinary stories
Ant midwives
• One of the amazing discoveries of recent years has been the complex relationship between some butterflies and ants. New research has revealed intriguing ways in which caterpillars of the Silver-studded Blue butterfly are not only cared for by black ants in their nests, but how the emerging adult is escorted by an excited entourage of ants that lick droplets of liquid from the body of the butterfly.

Insect wars
• Another story revealed in this new edition is the battle between the common garden butterfly, the Holly Blue, and a parasitic wasp that lays its eggs in the caterpillar.

Crossing the seas on a butterfly’s head
• Also described is exciting new research explaining how these delicate insects are able to navigate many hundreds of miles across Europe each year, sometimes with tiny flies hitching a ride on their heads!

Jeremy Thomas and Richard Lewington
Jeremy Thomas, one of Europe’s most accomplished butterfly experts, is Professor of Ecology at the University of Oxford, and a Fellow of New College and of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. He previously worked as a research scientist at the Nature Conservancy’s Monks Wood laboratory, at the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology’s Furzebrook Research Station, and at CEH’s Dorset laboratory. He initially helped devise the methods used to monitor change in the distributions and abundance of butterflies, and for four decades has led research teams across Europe to study the ecology of threatened species, including the interactions between ants and butterflies. He has applied his research results widely to conserve declining European butterflies, including the five species of Large Blue. Thomas’s work has attracted a variety of awards, including leading prizes for advancing the sciences of both Conservation Biology and Ecology, for natural-history writing and for practical conservation.

Over the last 35 years, Richard Lewington has built up a reputation as one of Europe’s finest wildlife illustrators. He first became interested in butterflies as a child when he inherited a cabinet of insects from his father. He studied graphic design at the Berkshire College of Art, and since leaving in 1971 has specialised in natural-history illustration. His meticulous paintings of insects and other wildlife are the mainstay of many of the modern classics of field-guide art, including Insects of Britain and Western Europe, Collins Butterfly Guide, Field Guide to Dragonflies of Britain and Europe, Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland, Pocket Guide to Butterflies of Britain and Ireland and Guide to Garden Wildlife. He was, for many years, the principal artist on the multi-volume series, The Moths and Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland. He has also designed and illustrated wildlife stamps for a number of countries.

(*)  A Voice for Animals Sri Lanka
With less time to spare and more animals being forced to live their lives in less than adequate circumstances, most animals in captivity are denied their basic needs of proper diet, exercise, stimulants, companionship and freedom.

With an increase in animal cruelty resulting in many captive animals dying a long and painful death, a group of Sri Lankan professionals have set up a welfare group to reduce cruelty inflicted on captive animals in Sri Lanka .

A Voice for Animals Sri Lanka (AVASL) consists of a group of like minded individuals who are dedicated to one cause –ensuring animals in captivity are kept in an environment that provides them with a safe and healthy life. AVASL works on a voluntary basis with a passion for animal welfare and a keen desire for positive change. They plan to take effective action and provide animals with a voice by changing public attitudes and persuading decision-makers to implement policies to get results.

Programs and Projects
Training for those working with captive animals
Public awareness campaigns
School workshops
Work related to the Dehiwela Zoo

If you would like to volunteer to help make a better day for the animals, please get in
(*) Book on the ‘Primates of Sri Lanka’
‘Primates of Sri Lanka’ a 156 page guide to the primates of Sri Lanka has been published by The Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB), as part of its efforts to promote wild life related tourism to the island.

“Sri Lankan primates have an established track record of generating millions of US dollars worth of television coverage” explains Dileep Mudadeniya, the Managing Director of the SLTPB.

“We have realized that in the search for new tools for gaining media coverage we have to think laterally. Because of the fascination for primates in developed countries, they offer a good medium though which we can gain access to print and television in these countries. Even high end travel magazines such as Conde Nast Traveller runs stories on primates and so do other travel magazines such as Wanderlust. We therefore realized that it would help Sri Lanka to have a publication which could be used by print and television media as a credible brief” he said.

The publication which is authored by Anna Nekaris with photography by Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, is sponsored by Metropolitan, the agents for Canon in Sri Lanka.  At present it is available only in electronic format as a pdf and can be downloaded free of charge from,

“Canon is the preferred choice of wildlife photographers world-wide. Sponsoring this pdf shows our support for conservation’ said Taslim Rahaman, CEO-Regions of Metropolitan Office Pvt Ltd. “Canon were delighted to sponsor the publication. Furthermore, it also underlines our support to Sri Lanka Tourism to brand Sri Lanka and generate tourism revenues in a post war environment” Rahaman said.

Primates are a group of animals that fascinate television audiences world-wide. This is especially true of countries in Europe, which are an important source of tourists for Sri Lanka. In the 1980s, the BBC filmed ‘The Temple Troop’ and in 2009, Natural History New Zealand launched the 13 part series, Dark Days in Monkey City. Both of these drew on the work of the Smithsonian Primate Project in Polonnaruwa.

The book can be downloaded from
About the Book
The book was written by Dr Anna Nekaris of Oxford Brookes University who conducted research work in Sri Lanka.  Visits by her and her students have been supported by the Department of Wildlife Conservation, various individuals, organisations and companies in Sri Lanka’s tourism sector. The latter include Jetwing Hotels, under the Jetwing Research Initiative. Dr Nekaris continues to be in dialogue with many local researchers and assists them by the provision of technical literature, academic contacts, funding and other resources needed for research.

The book is in two parts, with the first part having a series of chapters which provides and overview of the social behaviour and ecology of primates. The second part is a series of semi-technical species accounts on the five species of primates found in Sri Lanka. This includes three diurnal species, the Hanuman Langur, Toque Monkey and the Purple-faced Leaf Monkey. The last two species are endemic to the island. The Purple-faced Leaf Monkey has four sub-species, of which the Western Purple-faced Leaf Monkey is listed amongst the 25 most endangered primates in the world. These critically endangered monkeys can still occasionally be seen in central Colombo although sites such as Talangama wetland on its suburbs offer a better chance of seeing it. Sri Lanka also has two nocturnal primates, the Red Slender Loris an endemic found in the wet zones and the Grey Slender Loris. More studies may show that there is more than two species of Loris in the island.

The design of the book was undertaken by Divya Martyn, following a set of design principles laid down for the publishing arm of Jetwing Eco Holidays by Chandrika Maelge. The photography for the book was undertaken by wildlife celebrity Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, who is a brand ambassador for Canon in Sri Lanka. He shoots exclusively on Canon professional equipment.
(*) Book on the Lizards of Sri Lanka
Somaweera, Ruchira & Somaweera, Nilusha (2009). Lizards of Sri Lanka: A colour guide with field keys. Chimaira Buchhandelsgesellschaft mbH, Germany. 304 pages with over 600 colour illustrations. ISSN 1613-2327. ISBN 978-3-89973-478-2

This latest book on Sri Lankan reptiles covers all known lizards (agamids, chameleons, geckos, skinks, snake-eye lizards and varanids) and has colour illustrations for all species, including the doubtful species. It gives comprehensive information (current taxonomy including all know synonyms and chresonyms, details about the type specimens, vernacular name, range, distribution in Sri Lanka, diagnosis, size, natural history and conservation status) for all Sri Lankan species over eight chapters, and colour illustrations depict most of the colour variations known for each species. The book also features a set of field keys with thumbnails for each lizard family.

Professor Indraneil Das, the eminent Asian herpetologist, has done the foreword for the book and a part of the foreword reads as follows. “A modern checklist of species is included, as is an illustrated key (a first for the region), showing thumbnail images for the benefit of non-technical users of the guide. Thereafter is the heart of the volume, comprising species accounts, that include multiple images of each taxa (museum specimens, in case of rare species), showing different ontogenetic stages, sexes and colour morphs. Following this is a short listing of species erroneously or dubiously recorded from Sri Lanka. At the end of the book are the glossary, gazetteer of localities, references and scientific names index.

The Somaweeras have now set a high standard for field guides to an important component of the herpetofauna, and one hopes this example will be emulated regionally and globally”.

This hard-covered is currently available through University of Peradeniya (contact Suranjan Fernando – and IUCN Sri Lanka (contact Sameera Karunarathne – for SLRs 3,400 excluding postage. Its also available online through most online dealers including:—A-Colour-Guide-with-Field-Keys.html Website:

(*) Rainforest Tea
Sri Lanka is famous for its tea, but unsustainable farming practices in both small-holdings and large plantations has seen a dramatic degradation in the quality of water and soil – leading to a loss of biodiversity as well as a loss in income for farmers dependent on the tea sector.

Rainforest Rescue International and Rainforest Tea Gardens of Sri Lanka have been researching and developing a unique, hand-picked tea, grown by rainforest buffer communities in Sri Lanka. Working alongside smallholder farmers the project includes workshops on sustainable farming to try and minimise rainforest encroachment.  Awareness programmes in the community also provide a forum for people to discuss and learn about the importance of protecting the rainforest trees in the area – and the vital habitat they provide to local animals.

Smallholders are working to achieve organic certification through Analog Forestry practices, which means not only do the gardens produce some of the most unique teas of the island but, they also act as home to many rare and endangered animals.

With a premium hand-rolled black tea (OPA) and hand-rolled, full-bud green tea on offer, these teas offer the very best tastes of Ceylon all in one environmentally sustainable cup.

To find out more please contact or
Rainforest Rescue International
Rainforest Rescue International (RRI) works to protect vulnerable environments through ecosystem restoration, development of sustainable livelihoods, education, research and advocacy. Established in 2002 by a group of environmentalists, RRI has grown to support seven plant nurseries, work in over 20 communities and 15 schools across the South and East of Sri Lanka, restoring more than 1,000 acres of land and planting nearly one million trees. RRI is a non-profit organisation based in Galle, Sri Lanka. RRI believes that by bringing together people and the environment, we can build a harmonious and sustainably managed world.

Release date: 19th January 2010. For more information please contact: Julia Frankl,

de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2009). Birds of Sri Lanka. National Trust – Sri Lanka: Colombo. 215 mm x 275mm. 218 pages.
This is the first title to be published in the Heritage Publications series of the National Trust – Sri Lanka. The book covers 100 species of birds in 208 pages. 215 mm x 275mm (slightly shorter and fatter than A4). The book is lavishly illustrated with photographs and the text written in a style to foster an interest in birds amongst the public.

de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2008). A Photographic Guide to Mammals of Sri Lanka. New Holland, London. 128 pages. ISBN 978 1 84773 142 5.
The first photographic guide to the mammals of Sri Lanka, richly illustrated with photographs and packed with information. 40 species are described covering all the terrestrial mammal families. The text is based on the many years of field work by the  author but also brings in what has been published in the latest scientific literature. Many intriguing aspects of mammalian behavior are written in a style intelligible to the lay reader.
de Vlas – de Jong, J., and Dr. de Vlas, J. (2008). Illustrated Field Guide to the Flowers of Sri Lanka. 269 pages. Mark Booksellers and Distributors (Pvt) Ltd: Sri Lanka. ISBN: 978-955-1917-00-5.
Descriptions of approximately 1000 plant species, which are illustrated with more than 2000 colour photographs of flowering plants in Sri Lanka. The information presented is written in simple English and is divided into various topics which are easy to understand.

Fernando, J. & Fernando, T. (2008). A Selection of Fruits of Sri Lanka. Published by the author. 72 pages. ISBN 955-50431-1-3.
Colour illustrations of 85 species of fruits. Hard cover. This is the only illustrated guide to Sri Lanka’s fruits which includes endemic, native and introduced species. Rs 1,950.
Jayatilake, C. (2008). Moments of Truth in the Wilderness. Published by Vijitha Yapa Bookshop. 185 pages. Printed in Singapore. ISBN 978 955-665-023-5. 12″ x 9″. The book includes chapters on Leopard cubs, Mammals, Birds, Snakes, Elephants, dominant male Leopards and Village Folk. More than 225 colour images will take you on a safari like never before when animals had done more than just stare at the cameras. Foreword by Dominic Sansoni.

Jayewardene, J. (2008). The Diversity of Sri Lankan Wildlife. Published by the Author: Colombo.  8 x 10 inches. 229 pages. ISBN 978-955-956777-2-1. Rs 4,500.

The book covers a wide range of subjects. It is lucidly written. Each chapter contains many facts on the subject of the chapter. It also records the wide personal experiences of the author. There are many colour photographs.  The writing is very comprehensive and covers species groups as well as eco-systems.

Morgan – Davis, M. (2008). From Ceylon to Sri Lanka – Experiences of a Naturalist Tea Planter. 166 pages. Sarvodaya Vishva Lekha Printers: Sri Lanka. ISBN: 978-955-

Designed in the form of a typical 19th century explorer naturalist style, the author has set out to capture the minds of his readers so that they could read about some of his life’s adventures which he experienced as a young man in “Ceylon”. The book comprises of 21 chapters, of which the first two speak about his early years. A few others include “Yala National Park – A Legacy from the Kingdom of Ruhuna, Crocodiles – The Leviathans of Sri Lanka” and “Mannar – Baobab Trees and Palmyra Palms”. The book also features a variety of maps, photographs and paintings of both the author and of various Sri Lankan folklore and wildlife.

Nadaraja, L. (2008). The nature of Sri Lanka. Published by Wildlight (Pvt) ltd. Printed in Singapore. ISBN 978-955-1989-00-2.  320 pages. 13” x 10” full colour and black and white photographs of Sri Lankan wildlife and nature. Eminent writers and conservationists, Dr T.S.U. de Zylva, Shirley Perera, Dr Sriyanie Miththapala, Dr Arjuna Parakrama, Dr Shyamala Ratnayeke, Sri Lanka Thilaka Martin Wijesinghe, Arjuna Nadaraja, Richard Simon and Arittha Wikramanayake have contributed interesting essays on varied subjects.

Somaweera, R. & Somaweera, N. (2009). Lizards of Sri Lanka: A colour guide with field keys. Chimaira Buchhandelsgesellschaft mbH, Germany. 304 pages with over 600 colour illustrations. ISSN 1613-2327. ISBN 978-3-89973-478-2.
This book on Sri Lankan reptiles covers all known lizards (agamids, chameleons, geckos, skinks, snake-eye lizards and varanids) and has colour illustrations for all species, including the doubtful species. It gives comprehensive information (current taxonomy including all know synonyms and chresonyms, details about the type specimens, vernacular name, range, distribution in Sri Lanka, diagnosis, size, natural history and conservation status) for all Sri Lankan species over eight chapters, and colour illustrations depict most of the colour variations known for each species. The book also features a set of field keys with thumbnails for each lizard family.
Warakagoda, D. & Hettige, U. (2008). Birds of Sri Lanka: Vocalization and Image Guide Volume 1. 2008. CD ROM.
It features 135 species of Non-Passerine birds – Little Grebe to Woodpeckers – with 222 types of vocalizations by them and nearly 300 colour images. This multi­media publication is designed (in the form of an ‘e-book’ or ‘e-guide’) for easy access to the species featured and their vocali­zation types. All the sounds and plumages shown in the images are identified in detail. This work presents an extensive amount of information previously unpublished on the vocalizations of these birds. This CD-ROM is an excellent companion to any guide book on the birds of Sri Lanka. Also featured are a number of vocalization types not included in the audio guides on the birds of Sri Lanka by the first author, the only such guides available.
SRI LANKA WILDLIFE NEWS is an ad-hoc e-mail of birding and wildlife sightings, events, short notes, articles, and publications etc of interest to birders, photographers, conservationists and tourism professionals reaching over 6,000 subscribers. To receive a copy, please e-mail with “Subscribe Wildlife News” in the subject header. SLWN values your privacy, to be removed, e-mail with “Unsubscribe Wildlife News” in the header. Please e-mail your sightings, events etc to The media are welcome to extract details, but please attribute the source and author(s). Past issues are on