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A great start. Lots of details are always welcome.

We found the food excellent and had no health problems at all in a 3 week visit - and we certainly ate the curd and food from local hotels! (I also stayed 2 months when I was in my 20s - a very long time ago - and didnt have any health problems) We were not brave enough to drive (we hired car and driver at different points of our trip) so I admire you both for that!


I enjoy seeing the photos of where you stay and the food as well as the wildlife as it all creates a feel for the country. But I do know from your bird thread that we have more wonderful photos to look forward to.

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Although we have been clear that leopard is not our main target, it could be visible in the looks of both the driver and Prasanna that they were keen to show us one. As the shadows started to become l

Bigger than Barking Deer is the Sri Lankan Axis Deer, or Ceylon Spotted Deer. This male was a majestic exemplar.   Bigger mammals also means bigger raptors. Close-up of a Crested Serpent Eagle.

Lizards are always interesting photo subjects; the problem is, some of them will display all their colours while others will try their best to use their camouflage as best as they can.   Green Fores

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Honestly, it does not need to be brave, to drive in Sri Lanka. Following some specific local traffic rules is what is needed, and driving slow (well, one cannot drive fast anyway :) ), basically Driving Defensively is the name of the game.

As most of (better) birds photos are posted here: http://safaritalk.net/topic/16379-zvezda-alex-big-year-2016-first-attempt/page-16 I will concentrate more on other wildlife, and on nature and social aspects .

I hope photos will not disappoint in portraying this beautiful country

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Quote or even cut&paste isn't working for some reason.




The more details, the better. I read the full version in TA and even the comments. Funny how that guy was so defensive...being kind here, really utterly rude and made absolutely no sense, your patience is remarkable, well done!!


Really enjoyed the photos of street life, the homes etc., frankly more so than the animals :mellow:....kidding! they are all good. The more variety the better. I wasn't kidding about using this thread as the reference. I have no contacts in Lanka, I will be a foreigner there. In fact your trip is much better planned than my brothers.


P.S: I think you mentioned somewhere you've been to India. How is the driving compared to India? Will you dare drive there? I've been to India recently, many Indians are scared if driving there.


P.S 2: Wow! 115 birds, great work. Looks like you shoot with a Bigma, right?

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Nope, no India (yet), not visiting nor driving. So many millions of Indians are driving on their roads; why a Westerner should not be equally good at this job? Although, after watching a series of Truckers in India (??) I would have first to adopt the proper religion :) .


Not the Sigma but its smaller cousin, the Nikon 200-500 f/5.6. Excellent lens on an excellent body (D7200), and the total weight was just at the upper limit for me to carry it around, and for Zvezda to handhold it.

Edited by xelas
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31/07 - 02/08 - Negombo to Wilpattu NP (continued)




Our departure to 1,5 km away Wilpattu NP entry gate was scheduled at 05:00 in the morning. Jeep and driver arrived on time. Driver is a regular driver Prasanna is using whenever he visits Wilpattu. We arrived early at the ticket office and when the booth opened at 6 am we were about #2 to enter the park.




Wilpattu is best known for leopards and sloth bears. Tracking is very easy: one drives up and down the road(s) and if a lucky winner of a leopard (or sloth bear) lottery, the respective animal decides to cross the road right in front of the vehicle. Or it is spotted on the edge of the road where vegetation is thinned and allows for some visibility, but if the animal stays just 1 meter inside the vegetation area, good bye leopard sighting!


We did not know all this before, however we knew and we told Prasanna that we did not want to chase after the leopard. Instead, we wanted to take photos of every living being, and even some plants and landscapes, and that birds were our priority. After the driver was instructed accordingly and soon after entering the park we started to veer off the main “leopard loop”. We did opt for a full day tour and we had some excellent sightings.


Wilpattu NP is second only to Yala NP. They both share similar wildlife with leopards and sloth bears as main attractions. As Sri Lanka lowlands is full of natural and man-made lakes, wildlife has easy access to water. Very different situation than what we have experienced in Etosha or in Kgalagadi.



Wildlife diversity is quite good; mammals, reptiles, predators (if extremely lucky), birds. Our first larger animal was this Barking Deer.




Two species of crocodiles are living in Sri Lanka: Mugger crocodile and Saltwater crocodile. Both the young Mugger crocodile and his smaller but older cousin Asian Water Monitor lizard have enjoyed early morning sun.





Birding was our main interest sharp eyes of our companions have pointed out many great bird sightings. The Rose-ringed Parakeet couple openly showed their affection; and on the third photo, they look like coming straight from the Star Wars movie!






There are two tiny birds which are very difficult to take photos in Europe (when they are even spotted, right, @@michael-ibk ?): the bee-eater and the kingfisher. As anticipated Green bee-eaters are omnipresent all over Sri Lanka; and Common Kingfisher can also be found along many water surfaces. This one with a catch of the day.



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Bigger than Barking Deer is the Sri Lankan Axis Deer, or Ceylon Spotted Deer. This male was a majestic exemplar.



Bigger mammals also means bigger raptors. Close-up of a Crested Serpent Eagle.




Due to so much water the waders are the most numerous bird species. One that can be found all over the world, but is still an amazing sighting:



Monkeys are also widespread all over Sri Lanka. There are two different genus: macaca with Toque Macaque and semnopithecus with Tufted Grey Langur and Purple-faced Langur. Depending on the microlocation/altitude there are subspecies of those three, but for me, I was able to distinguish the main two. And we have given also our nicknames to them. The Toque Macaque became "Mič Styling" (a very fashion hair stylist in Slovenia).





Above photo is of a dominant female; maybe I am wrong but the reddish the face the more dominant the female.


Youngsters are always such fun to observe, and so photogenic.





The Tufted Grey Langur aka "Bradonja" (a man with a big beard); in below case, it applies also as "a woman with a big beard":



Edited by xelas
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Lizards are always interesting photo subjects; the problem is, some of them will display all their colours while others will try their best to use their camouflage as best as they can.


Green Forest Lizard - male in breeding colours


Painted Lip Lizard (??)


Green Forest Lizard - juvenile or female




And more birds ...







Wilpattu NP is much less visited than Yala NP; and once off the main "leopard circuit" there were only a handful other cars we have seen. The game drive jeeps are also more comfortable, mostly the Afrivan safari type with two rows of seats for up to 6 guests. Indian producer TATA with its model Mahindra was the most used car in safari parks.









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Although we have been clear that leopard is not our main target, it could be visible in the looks of both the driver and Prasanna that they were keen to show us one. As the shadows started to become longer their faces did the same. And only a short time before having to leave the park, it happened. Many years ago we learned not to chase after the wildlife and wildlife will chase after you. A sudden commotion among the few jeeps on the road ahead revealed a nice specimen of a sloth bear walking down the red dusty road.






For a few moments the bear disappeared into the roadside dense vegetation, and there the driver’s experiences kicked in. He moved the car about 200 m back, and around a corner. The bear reappeared right in front of our car! Perfect position for perfect shots! And the sun has also smiled on all of us!







Happy as a teddy bear (or should I say a sloth bear?!) we left the park at last minute. But not before we took a quick glance and a few photos of a pack of Golden Jackals.





What a day! If first safari day was the announcement of what lay ahead of us, the decision to visit Sri Lanka would prove to be the right one. It was another delicious dinner of some fine homecooked Sri Lankan food. Our last photo of the day was of Common hour-glass tree-frog /Sri Lanka whipping frog.



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Peter Connan

I am loving this Alex!


Having been to India just once, all i can say is that the busses look exactly the same. Even the same paint-job!

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Wonderful report @@xelas, always wanted to visit sri Lanka and your report only acts as encouragement!

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@@Peter Connan

I am quite assured that you might have seen several exactly the same buses :) ! But wait till I post a couple of truck photos :o .




That sloth bear was as good as it gets; beautiful animal great light lot of excitement, indeed we prefer that one to a probable leopard doing nothing in the bush.




You should consider Sri lanka seariously while it is still having that old asia vibe. Even if using car&driver, there is a good mix of history, nature, food and for those that like it, beach time.

Edited by xelas
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Caught up with this excellent report for which thanks. Your negotiations skills with Zvezdana may be a touch blunt but achieved teh desired effect. I employ somewhat similar tactics but often the first thing Lady M knows is when the Credit card receipt for the tickets arrives. "Where are you dragging me to now?"

Pleased that the lady got over her reluctance to revisit Sri Lanka after her first bad expereince. I made the same statement about India but have been back four times since. Never say never.


Lovely photos as expected.

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Wow! superb report. Sloth bear is terrific, surprised by the variety of birds and animals too...well done!

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@@xelas, beautiful Sloth photo, glad it was so obliging for you. They certainly have some claws on them. I admire your tenacity in doing this trip your way. Looking forward to the rest.

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31/07 - 02/08 - Negombo to Wilpattu NP (continued)



Another 4:30 am wake-up call, another early drive to Wilpattu gate. After seeing how disappointed our local guys were by us missing the leopard, I told them that they were allowed to search for one. As we have had only half day (4 hours) in the park, I hoped that not too much driving up and down the road would be involved in that task.


They did their best but again, but our ticket did not win the leopard lottery jackpot. We did meet a jeep who did however. But the sighting was so quick only the ranger was able to capture the cat while his guest did not. Not a very happy guest, I was thinking, after seeing his “this was one very bitter lemonade” face. Maybe the ranger would give him his shot, after all, the guest paid for the drive?! Even without leopards and sloth bears we enjoyed the park and its various animals.
Sambar deer is the largest of deers, with big antlers and weighing up to 300 kg.
Plenty od good looking spots in this group.
First sighting of Malabar Pied Hornbills
Woolly-necked Storck are usually staying on the grounds
A very relaxed White-spotted Kingfisher
As said already, safari in the thickets of Sri Lanka dry forest is very different to what we have experienced on our recent trips to Africa. This is how an average road through the park looks like:
However, due to the combine expertise of our driver and our friend Prasanna, we have had many excellent sighting in 1 and 1/2 day driving through Wilpattu NP. The park itself does not excel in the landscape department; it does contain a wide variety of wildlife, and if allowing enough time, one can have some great memories, and photos. Photography wise, it is a tough environment. The not so dense vegetation allows for many very bright patches of light, and camera's own metering is working overtimes, sometimes with not so good results. Shooting RAW is a must, in order to have some latitude to correct later.
Staying close to the park is quite important, IMO. Starting really early (as soon as the gate opens) is imperative as the park is big. Also, the jeep driver might be willing to pick you at your accommodation. Be warned that you will hang on the pick-up part of the jeep, and there are no safety devices behind the cab! I have always requested to the driver that Zvezda seats in the passenger seat. Next time around, I will drive to the park myself, and will meet the driver there.
Last photo from Wilpattu: our new friend and local photographer/naturalist Prasanna, our driver and me. Who the real tourist was can be judged by the shoes ... or better by the lack of the shoes :) .
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love the white spotted kingfisher @@xelas

looking forward to some more of your gorgeous photos

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:wacko: Now another place I need to go. Lovely report and photos. Thank you

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Beautiful photos and very helpful details!

The reptiles are stunning, and the Sloth Bear Magnificent. And a good variety of other wildlife :)

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Thoroughly enjoying the report and Zvezdana has surpassed herself.

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2/8 - 4/8 – Habarana / Cultural Triangle



By 10 am we exited the park, said farewell to our driver, packed the luggage and gave Prasanna a lift till the bus stop. From then on till Yala 2 weeks later we were on our own! With expert guidance by Zvezda, and helped by good roads and useful signage, we drove past Anuradhapura (In hindsight we should have dedicated a day for this location … so, next time) and arrived in Habarana early in the afternoon. Habarana was our base for exploring so-called Cultural Triangle. Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya are the most important cultural locations there, with Minithale and Dambulla Caves close by. Kandy is further afield and it merits a dedicated stop.


Habarana is a small “road junction town”. It has a great position on and around a junction of two very important roads. But it is not a lovely town. What you can see are many accommodations, and hundreds of jeeps that cater to visitors of Minneriya NP of the “The Gathering” fame.

Roads are not always filled with honking buses, menacing trucks, swerving tuktuks and overcrowded bikes. In fact many stretches of the roads in Sri Lanka can be very tranquil.


A peaceful moment on the Lankan road



Donut-To-Go Sri Lanka style




Our lodge was Mutu Village; not easy to find as Google Maps has it above two streets higher than it actually is. The place has a small garden so I was out to search for the birds while Zvezda took a well deserved nap. Her option was better.


Our room


A pond in the garden


Ayurveda Spa


Front porch




As we were early (great road, no traffic, an excellent navigator) we had time for a short drive to forest monastery of Ritigala. There was a weathered sign on the road, leading to a dirt track up the hill. Following the track was quite difficult as it looked very ill maintained. After about 30 minutes we reached the end of the road, and people with big question marks in their eyes! Obviously we did not find the right place. There was a monastery but not the one we were looking for. So down the road and further along the paved road we went. There it was, the ancient monastery … but no time to even come close enough for a photo or two. Well, as many other sites that we have skipped (intentionally or by mistake), it will have to wait till our return visit.


Detour started with this simple shrine



The car and the road (looks better on photo then in reality)



Do NOT follow this sign




Manager of the Mutu Village was a nice guy and he talked us into having dinner at the lodge. A very good advice as the cook and thus the food were among the best of all we had. I should take the photo of chef's kitchen; You would be surprised how so much food can be prepared on two gas stoves! Plus it was all delicious!



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Such an amazing trip...all new animals and birds, I really want to go now. I'm not as adventurous as you, so I'm not sure about the self drive method. But as we're not going in the next few years (next couple of years are planned already), there's plenty of time to decide that.

Zvezda's pics are fantastic, as usual, and thanks for posting pics of the roads, the accommodations, the food. Gives us a much better sense of the place.

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2/8 - 4/8 – Habarana / Cultural Triangle



Our first full day was dedicated to Polonnaruwa. This is one of the ancient capitals, a cluster of religious and civil buildings, or more accurately, their remains. The museum is small enough to warrant the visit. Majority of the historical buildings are located about 500 m from the museum, and where the ticket office is. Walking might be too hot, so many people have rented bicycles, and some tuktuks. Having our own car paid off as we enjoyed the air-conditioning while moving from site to site.


The place is spread around, there were many visitors, and tons of pedlars at each parking place. Like Sigiriya this place is best to enter as early as possible, and using a collapsible umbrella is a wise decision. Inside specific monuments, as in their temples, visitors need to have covered legs (long pants), covered shoulders, and have to take off the shoes and the hats. Walking barefoot on sizzling hot bricks is not for everyone! Better informed visitors from abroad have brought their thick woollen socks. As I was not among those, I volunteered to safeguard Zvezda's shoes ;-)).


As I don't want to bother you with any data (and most can be found on the internet anyway) here is Polonnaruwa in widescreen edition, Zvezda's latest fashion in photography :).


A. Palace Complex of King Nishshanka Malla






Along the lake canal


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