Sri Lanka is a paradise of birds and mammals.The island of Sri Lanka,with its 65,610 square kilometres, hosts more than 450 species of birds,which 30 of them are endemic.This island is rich in mammal species as well, with 126 species recorded at present.Sri Lanka has a “big four” plus one ( leopard,elephant,sloth bear and wild Asiatic water buffalo, plus the enormous blue whale found offshore ). This is determined by the variety of habitats types across the island:moist semi-evergreen forests, mixed evergreen forests, rainforests, submontane forests, cloud forests, plantations, scrub, grasslands, wetlands, agricultural lands and seas.
There are more than 100 areas under government protection,covering approximately 8% of the country.Of these, some of the most important remarkable birdwatching areas are Sinharaja National Wilderness Area, Kunckles Range, Bundala National Park, Yala,Wilpattu and Kumana National Parks,Mutthurajawela marsh,and Pootuvil Lagoon.
I arrived at night in Bandaranaike International Airport after a 3 hour flight from Bangkok.I woke up early,at 8 am and i went to Negombo bus station to head towards Wilppattu National Park.Although i went by public bus i recommend to go by private buses.They are more comfortable,not crowded and some of them have air con.Local buses are very crowded and very slow ( don’t get into red local government buses ).However roads are well paved and reliable.After getting 3 different buses i arrived in Saliyawewa.
Saliyawewa is a very small town close to the national park with just a few guesthouses.I decided to stay in Uthpalawanna Holiday Resort,which owner is a friendly guy and rooms are affordable ( 2500 rupees per night ).After booking for a half day safari for next day ( it costed me 5000 rupees plus park fees ),i started to do some birdwatching around the town.Along the road,i got excellent views of the stunning Brown-headed Barbet,that seemed to be quite common around this area !!
Near the town,between 4 pm and 5 pm, i was surprised to see so many other interesting birds, as the magnificent and endemic Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill and the beautiful Rose ringed Parakeet, Crested Serpent Eagle, Lesser Goldenback and Red-vented Bulbul perched on some trees beside the road.
On the rice fields, White-throated kingfisher, Common Kingfisher, Indian pond heron, White-breasted Waterhen, Little Cormorant and Red-wattled Lapwing were nice additions.
Next day i woke up very early,around 5 am, to head towards Wilappattu National Park.After 15 minutes of driving and paying the park fees i was inside the national park around 6 am.Just a few meters after the entrance,i could see a group of wild boars and spotted deer on the left side of the rough road.A few seconds later,a huge Asian Elephant crossed the road showing all its splendour.The superb and endemic Sri Lanka Junglefowl was found easily on the sides of the road !!
When the jeep get in to the first lakes ( Wilppattu means natural lakes in Thamil ) the first interesting waterbird species appeared.A Darter was perched on a leafless tree in the middle of the lake.
A couple of Malabar Pied Hornbill were perched on a tree on a side of the lake.Suddenly they flew and stood in a tree where i could have a close and excellent view of these stunning birds.
On the lake area, I could have perfect views, among others, of Indian pond Heron,Painted stork,Wood Sandpiper,Great Thick-knee, Black winged Stilt, Grey Heron and Little Cormorant.
While driving around I spotted one of the most beautiful birds in the world, Indian Peafowl, several times.One male was displaying its beautiful feathers during courtship.While seen in other parts of the world,it s nice to observe this stunning animal in the wild !!
When it was already 10 am, in full daylight,I spotted an Indian Brown Mongoose crossing the road twice.Spotted deer ( the famous “Bambi”) appeared to be quite common along the park,seen in groups, but not least spectacular nice addition.Asian water Buffalo was another great animal to observe in the wild.
Some interesting reptiles that i had the privilege to see was the Mugger crocodile,several tortoises and the common Monitor Lizard.
When going to the gate,among the dense forest,the jeep driver stopped suddenly.He told me that a leopard was on the right side.It took me some seconds to find it,but i could distinguish clearly the tail and the shape of this impressive animal !!! It was just for a while,afterwards it disappeared like a ghost in the dense jungle.
I was deeply impressed of what i had seen in just 5 hours of jeep safari on the solitude,without the crowds of other national parks.Most of the sights were crystal clear,and i could approach very closely to the animals that i saw; quite uncommon for a national park !!!