Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Sri Lanka posted 6/2013 and restored 8/2014

 Arrived at Colombo, to a world class airport and taken by the guide to the Cinnamon Hotel for the night (probably the most luxurious hotel I have ever stayed).  The next day in the early morning departed in a luxury van and driven for 5 hours to a tented camp outside the Yala National Park.  My reason to go there was to photograph leopards; he park it is credited to be where the greatest concentration of leopards are in the world.
That afternoon was driven to the park about 45 minutes away, but the road from the camp to the main one took at least 15 minutes to negotiate; it was so bad that it makes the roads in the Masai Mara like autobahns.  After clearing the park gate after undergoing a long bureaucratic process, the adventure started.  The park is overwhelmed with tourists in large and tall vehicles as well as local families in small cars.  And the chase started, not much different that the situation in Bandharvgarh Park in India.  The difference was that in India, the tigers are easily seen and photographed.  It is another situation in Yala with the leopards. These are mostly seen at sunrise and sunset, and mostly crossing or walking along the sides of the road, and in occasions sleeping on trees.  So the odds of getting a great photo of them are challenging. Another problem is that the forest is covered with thick underbrush of mostly bamboo and Lantana.  The Lantana is an invasive species brought in by the British colonials and has proliferated throughout the park.  Finding the plant here in the wild was surprising; I have them at home in the garden mostly to attract butterflies.

The lack of leopard sightings was more than compensated by the variety of birds; at least 95 % of them new to me, so I had a feast shooting them.  The birds of prey were surprisingly cooperative and not afraid. Above is the Sri Lanka Jungle Fowl, the national bird of the country. So, I will follow with a few more birds.  This one is the green beeeater, a very common one and easy to photograph since it chooses a perch to watch for insects, flies away to capture them and return to the same branch.  If the insect is big such as a grasshopper, it hits the bug to the branch repeatedly until it is killed.  It is the most colorful bird in the park.

There were numerous water birds in great such as the gray heron who caught a fish and the Indian Pond Heron with the feather in the beak.  The painted stork is the most striking I had seen with such vivid colors and the thicknee, a weird looking bird with such large eyes.

The birds of prey were numerous, and all were new to me.  The most striking was the brown fish owl that I was fortunate to photograph while taking a bath in the early morning.  Also found the serpent eating eagle perched on a tree that allowed me to approach it very close while preening its feathers.  Had the same experience with an immature with a crested eagle owl.

There also some othere interesting animals such as the jackal, the langur and a monitor lizzard, the later spent most of the time digging for grugs sticking the forked tongue in the air trying to catch a scent.


I used to leave the camp in the early morning and return by 1000 for breakfast, then rest until lunch around 1400.  In the meantime, I would take photos around the grounds or take a siesta.  It was hot but not humid and there were electric fans in the Nairobi tents; first time ever.  But then again in Kenya and Tanzania it does not get hot to have a need for fans.  The Nairobi tents were large and surprisingly, made in Australia.  These tents had the usual layout with a small porch in front with two chairs and tables.  The sleeping area was larger than those found in Africa, the beds were excellent.  In the back separated by a zippered partition the toiled and sink were available.  The shower was outside in the back. There was a larger tent where the dinner and social events took place.  The Sri Lanka food was excellent and surprisingly the alcoholic beverages were included…”free”; so a lot of Lion beers did not live to see the next date.  The camp was next to a small shadow lake but surprisingly, the mosquitos and flies were not a problem; plenty of small lizards around.
Traveling back and forth daily to the park, we drove by large rice paddies and these were protected by sturdy fences against the elephants.  Not that these could stop the elephants and at nighttime, one could hear the firecrackers used by the farmers to scare the elephants away.

Another amazing thing about the roads and for that matter in the cities too, is that they were clean with no trash lying around.  After the safari, returned to Colombo and stayed again at the Cinnamon, this time had time for the breakfast buffet…exuberant fruits and local cuisine as well as the regular eggs.  Then drove back to the airport via the old town sightseen the old colonial buildings and the port.  I will go for the birds as well as the friendly people.

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