Jump to content

SRI LANKA FEBRUARY 2022 - 'THE PEARL OF THE INDIAN OCEAN'.


johnweir
 Share

Recommended Posts

johnweir
Posted (edited)

404A3046.JPG.eb73e4e2e4d9cbb18d1be557252aad5f.JPG

This was the number one target species for this trip, we certainly weren't expecting another mammal to steal the show and it wasn't even on the wish list!

 

In February 2022 my wife and I visited Sri Lanka for a 3 -week trip deferred from 2021 due to covid. Many trip reports have appeared on the internet in recent years from mammal watchers  who visit the island for a relatively short stay during which time they secured very healthy species lists, many are driven by the opportunity to reliably observe the islands four Cat species, five if you include subspecies. We were drawn by this opportunity but wanted to enjoy a more leisurely approach to our time on the island. I had also become very interested during the planning stage of the trip by the apparent development of different mammal subspecies on the island influenced by the climatic zone in which they live. Briefly the island has a dry and a wet zone (plus an intermediate zone), a good example of subspecies development would be the Rusty-Spotted Cat which at the moment has two subspecies on the island, one in the wet zone and one in the dry zone. This applies to other mammal species also Primates, Deer, Civets, so I was interested to observe as many species/subspecies as possible in the different climatic zones and investigate any obvious different morphological features.

To make the most of wildlife viewing on the island you need to embrace an almost nocturnal lifestyle, this in itself can be quite a challenge. Many of the islands rare mammals are nocturnal, so our itinerary included a significant number of extended night drives usually from around 21.30 until 03.00.

We flew from Newcastle (UK) to Dubai and then on to Colombo via The Maldives, the return flight was direct to Dubai. Most of the covid testing we experienced has now been lifted, but it was very thorough when we travelled. It was very apparent during the trip that the island and her fantastic people had suffered very badly as a result of covid, tourism was/is one of the islands main sources of income, at most locations we were the only foreign travellers and all lodges and hotels were quiet. During the visit we had no indication of the financial storm that Sri Lanka was about to experience.

Our guide throughout was Uditha Hettige, an exceptional guide in every respect, when you spend 21 day's in someone's company it is vital that you get on well, very quickly we formed a strong friendship which will continue beyond this trip. Udi apart from being a great guide, is a very good photographer, one of the leading ornithologists on the island, certainly knows how to find rare mammals, day or night and has a terrific sense of humour. This was the first trip I have been on which has allowed me to accurately record Bat and Rodent species, hence we visited several Bat colonies and unusual wildlife locations. We specifically booked Udi as our guide (based on reputation) and were delighted he was still on board when the trip was re-arranged, our choice of guide proved to be a very good one. This was the first trip that Udi had guided in two years due to covid restrictions, so he and his family had found things hard, and that unfortunately will now continue due to the gross mismanagement of the island finances over several years, which has led to the present crisis. I will update on the current situation at the end of the report. I would like to thank our tour operator Reef and Rainforest Tours (UK) who put together the perfect itinerary, held the price for an additional 12 months and returned flight costs when the trip was delayed. One thing I would say about wildlife travel in this region is that you get far more for your money than you would in Africa. Just before covid took hold (early 2020) my wife and I spent just over 4 weeks in India, staying in good lodges and hotels with private transport throughout and it cost about the same as a similar 10-12 day trip in Africa!, safari / wildlife travel no matter at what level is becoming a very expensive business.

 

Our planned itinerary in Sri Lanka was as follows:

Private vehicle, Udi and driver throughout. Private safari type vehicle, Udi and driver at each wildlife location.

Fully inclusive tailor-made trip.

1 night Colombo                    Airport Garden Hotel, on arrival, excellent

4n         Wilpattu N.P.            Wilpattu Safari Camp (3)

4n         Sigiriya                      Sigiriya Village Hotel  (3)

 In          Kandy                       Tree of Life Hotel

 2n         Numara Eliya,           Horton Plains N.P.  Galway Heights Hotel (1)

 2n         Kitulgala                    Rest house Kitulgala *

 In          Uda Walawa N.P.      Centauria Wild Hotel (1)

 3n         Tissa (for Yala N.P)  Kethaka Aga Villa (private villa) (2)

 1n          Marissa                     Mandara Resort (for Whale watching)

 2n         Colombo                   Galle Face Hotel

 

 (n) after hotel, number of extended night drives at that location

* This location was not visited due to a covid related issue, this was disappointing as it meant we were unable to spend as much time as we had hoped in the wet zone. We therefore spent 2 extra nights in the Highlands around Horton Plains N.P.

 

At each location (per day) the mammal watching activities consisted of at least 2 from the following list: full day safari drives, half day safari drives, extended night drives, visits to derelict houses, caves, temples and refuse dumps which incidentally were very good for Rats. We also visited several botanical gardens, one at night.

 

Sri Lanka is also an ideal country to visit for the serious birdwatcher with 452 recorded species of which 33 are endemic.

 

Wilpattu N.P. (Part 1)

Wilpattu prior to covid was rapidly becoming the park to visit in Sri Lanka to see Leopard and Sloth Bear, many preferring it to Yala N.P. which had apparently become unbearably busy, particularly around large mammal sightings. I will refer to this in more detail later. Wilpattu is a beautiful park consisting mainly of dry tall forest, open grassland, scrubland and several shallow natural lakes (villu). The buffer zone around the park in which the night drives take place consists mainly of agricultural land in various stages of cultivation, there is also a man-made reservoir in which we saw an Eurasian Otter, on a night drive most of the time is spent spotlighting on the numerous tracks that criss-cross the buffer zone. Possibly the main drawback of Wilpattu is the absence of a selection of reasonable accommodation in the immediate area, we stayed at Wilpattu Safari Camp which was described by our guide as the best in the area, it would equate to a basic lodge/camp in Africa. The manager Darrel was very accommodating and was very knowledgeable about the natural history of the park, he was also a keen and very good photographer. Lighting in the tents however was very dim and biting insects were an issue. The food was good and they somehow managed to conjure up a cake and candles for my birthday which was very unexpected and embarrassingly appreciated. The park itself was very quiet and once inside we rarely saw another vehicle, the camp was generally quiet as well, we were the only foreign guests.

Despite spending 3 full days in the park, we did not observe a Sloth Bear, which was thought to be quite unusual, Leopard sightings are virtually guaranteed! The following images and notes (which will appear in 2 parts) hopefully give a reasonable impression of the National Park.

 

404A8760.JPG.c2a185e305a2635fa98cc5c2a670ed05.JPG

This the CRESTED SERPENT-EAGLE was along with the Brahminy Kite the most frequently sighted Raptor on the trip. This is a young bird.

 

404A8770.JPG.9b9244031e890ec574d400e892363890.JPG

INDIAN MUNTJAC (BARKING DEER) ssp. malabaricus, this ssp. is found in Sri Lanka and southern India. I had trouble getting an image of a Muntjac in India, they are very skittish, so it was pleasing to get an OK shot on the first day and only 100 yards into the park.

 

404A8830.JPG.8e3636bab2fb01940cb457cfe2834893.JPG

SPOTTED DEER (CHITAL). Fawn. Possibly the most common large mammal seen on the trip as in India. Very common. It is easy often to overlook just how interesting some of the common species are.

 

404A8867.JPG.43893ade38bf2c58a33116f6e7bc7499.JPG

WATER BUFFALO (FERAL or WILD?) with CATTLE EGRET. Many wildlife enthusiasts when they draw up their species lists for Sri Lanka include both Feral (B. bubalis) and Wild Water Buffalo (B. arnee), our guide was quite comfortable with that, I find it very hard to believe that both can exist in a National Park (Wilpattu, Yala) and that the truly wild population has not over hundreds of years been genetically compromised. The image above is in my opinion a Feral Water Buffalo. The image below which I took in Kaziranga N.P. India in 2020 is of a totally Wild Water Buffalo and is genetically sound for the species.

 

5H1A2380.JPG.e67fc9db44b36a2875fc4904d1748f0c.JPG

WILD WATER BUFFALO. Assam, India.

 

404A8961.JPG.2a6c4c72c5df267772123413a1d66ae2.JPG

This WATER BUFFALO with calf, looks more similar to the genuine article, our guide thought this individual was OK , but not to worry, that I would see true examples in Yala N.P. that definitely were the 'real deal'. I remain unconvinced.

 

404A8942.JPG.e5d97116bda918b2ceaae9b331cdba73.JPG

A pair of LAND MONITORS mating, a very common reptile except in the Highlands.

 

404A9072.JPG.cedf5d3c713f23a6006215382382a904.JPG

STAR TORTOISE. We were pleased to see several in all sizes this was possibly the largest and in beautiful condition.

 

On the 2nd night drive we picked up eyeshine indicating a cat in long grass in the middle of a large fallow field (00.30) we approach to about 50 yards and watched a very small cat hunting for several minutes. There was no doubt it was a Rusty-Spotted Cat, unfortunately it was not possible to get an image due to poor light and the fact it repeatedly became concealed in the long grass, however we certainly got a good view of it. It appeared virtually identical to one we saw in Satpura Tiger Reserve India again in 2020, of the nominate subspecies. The pelage was light brown with dark brown / rusty coloured markings. Its hunting technique was very similar to that used by the African Serval, surprise and pounce. I have included an image of our Indian sighting to give an indication of the species generally. The Wilpattu sighting was of the subspecies koladivius, which is found in the dry zone.

 

5H1A5181.JPG.e77e422ebcc6a8d1a8a00aabdeba0c32.JPG

RUSTY-SPOTTED CAT. Satpura Tiger Reserve India. Buffer zone. 21.30 February 2020. The nominate form, very similar to the one observed in the Wilpattu buffer zone.

 

Hybridisation with the domestic cat has become quite a problem for the 3 small cat species found in Sri Lanka, not dissimilar to the plight of the Scottish Wildcat nearer to home. I took lots of images of the hybrids we saw, of all 3 species and I will at some stage working with Udi put together some sort of illustrated article on the problem, but will need to wait now until the situation in Sri Lanka improves. I am reasonably sure that some cat enthusiasts over the years will have left the island having not seen the real thing, particularly when viewing the small cats from a distance.

 

404A9263.JPG.100a0df8c3cde9eb7a31d50505a4c8f8.JPG

HYBRID CAT.(DOMESTIC CAT X RUSTY-SPOTTED CAT), observed in a field close to the camp. This cat clearly doesn't look quite right, several of the others were more difficult to distinguish from pure bred individuals. Our guide was very good at identifying hybrids and we saw many.

 

On the 2nd morning in the park about 07.00 we enjoyed our first of many Leopard sightings.

 

404A9360.JPG.ba0aca9d87d878cc6317e3b77fa90f05.JPG

The SRI LANKA LEOPARD undisputed subspecies kotiya. Endemic ssp. Possibly the largest Leopard subspecies, the adult Leopards on the island, particularly the males, certainly appeared larger than those I have observed in Africa and India, they are also thought by many to be the most beautiful subspecies, we saw at least 14 individuals on this trip, several more than once. They were all relaxed, this pair mother (right) and her son were initially seen quite close to the track with no other vehicles about. The youngster was about 21 months old and was not far off becoming independent. Apparently the father really is a huge cat.

404A9428.JPG.fe182e2276bf70ccedaed30cf9430b6b.JPG

The young male,  Leopard numbers in the park are very healthy.

 

404A9503.JPG.e9cde38d192ff7b673f3fb79d194e297.JPG

The male again, on the move, a beautiful animal.

 

404A9760.JPG.2ec89dffe91baaede8fcfcf666c12997.JPG

TOQUE MACAQUE. (Dry zone ssp. sinica) Endemic. There are 3 different ssp. on the island, all 3 were observed during the trip. This ssp. is common in Wilpattu, Sigiriya and Yala N.P. They congregate at picnic sites etc. and like most macaques can be quite aggressive.

404A9738.JPG.92090759d16c29dba86ce10cc54f2b8e.JPG

Toque refers to the bonnet on the Macaques head. 

 

404A9807.JPG.ae7c801d8b901b5f812efe017902801e.JPG

CHESTNUT-HEADED BEE-EATER.

 

404A0001.JPG.8c2d6c19dd7ff6c03cc8848ba21b2142.JPG

OSPREY, a rare migrant in Sri Lanka.

 

404A0131.JPG.a56681cc7ad0a13fafe2eb23f54014df.JPG

BRAHMINY KITE, very common throughout the island.

 

404A0194.JPG.0f5fcc41e0608dc6d3832d6ff116d81c.JPG

INTERMEDIATE EGRET.

 

 

Two male LAND MONITORS fight for mating or territorial rights, we watched them for about 15 minutes, it was like something out of Jurassic Park. Although it appeared very aggressive neither lizard seemed to get hurt, eventually one was pushed to the ground, they then separated and went their own way.

 

404A0242.JPG.16765a36fe219937dfb670f7565d0cfe.JPG

 

404A0285.JPG.85cd39712f3cccc55e6473902d8ea800.JPG

 

404A0296.JPG.569e65b8c132f6fe668b7ddf34cb3799.JPG

 

 

404A0307.JPG.b1140f3cf43736c7758b52314b48764b.JPG

YELLOW-WATTLED LAPWING.

 

404A0458.JPG.40a0de3d509228dfafb5acd736d17f7c.JPG

PINTAIL SNIPE.

 

404A0465.JPG.89d299503e6aa23065b8fed67d0cc7e7.JPG

MUGGER or MARSH CROCODILE. Lots were seen particularly in Wilpattu including some very large individuals. This one was at least 3.5 metres in length.

 

404A0479.JPG.defcaca789551c8a19b1024d91b835da.JPG

ORIENTAL MAGPIE-ROBIN. Male.

 

As we left the park on the 2nd day instead of going straight back to camp we eventually parked up outside a derelict farm house, Udi had the key!, we entered to be greeted by an interesting smell and waded through several inches of guano, in most rooms there were hundreds of Bats, our presence disturbed many and they flew around us never making contact, photography and breathing was almost impossible, but I did manage a few images. In this colony there were 3 species of Bats, Dusky Roundleaf Bat, Cantor's Leaf-nosed Bat and Schneider's Leaf-nosed Bat.

 

404A0563.JPG.f8cb9bf511518937a5c425b0863d3a6c.JPG

One of several rooms in the house with a thriving Bat colony.

 

404A0605.JPG.c6135768f3b9a0c6f4296e9784a79975.JPG

SCHNEIDER'S LEAF-NOSED BAT.

 

Apologies for the technical issues, now appear to be resolved, special thanks to @wilddog . 

 

Wilpattu N.P. (Part 2), to follow and eventually images from each location.

 

 

 

Edited by johnweir
Rectify small text inaccuracy.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

janzin

Very eager to read this report, however the images are not displaying for me. Can anyone else see them? (tried on both Firefox and Chrome.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

johnweir

Technical issues possibly my fault have managed to get one to load, so I think I have the solution. Hopefully will do the rest tomorrow but it could be a slow process. It did load properly initially! I will see if the first image remains in situ correctly overnight, there are some fairly interesting images to come later. Thank you to everyone for your interest.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

wilddog

that looks promising, John. No rush.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Atravelynn

Take your time with the technical issues and Happy Belated Birthday.  How nice to celebrate in Sri Lanka.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

shazdwn

What an opening line, I’m hooked. I can see your first image but not the others so it looks like the fix worked 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

janzin

Yes I see the first image now, what a tease :) Look forward to the rest!

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Atdahl

Looking forward to this report.  The first half of the pictures are loading for me but nothing after the 1st leopard pic yet.  I view this as just more of a tease...:)

 

Alan

Link to comment
Share on other sites

janzin

I am getting all the images now :)

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Atdahl

Yup, me too.  And, they were worth the wait.  Beautiful leopards and that monitor fight must have been fantastic to watch.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Kitsafari

Fishing Cat!!! oh my. how can i not continue reading? waiting for the next instalment now, @johnweir (welcome back and what a return. )

((yes, very sad about SL. i've been following thecountry's financial crisis for my company, really sad how good things can just overturn nearly  overnight.))

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

kittykat23uk

Great stuff! I had tentatively booked Sri Lanka for next march but given the current situation there I'm now looking to push it back a year or so. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

johnweir
Posted (edited)

Wilpattu N.P. (Part 2).

On the 3rd full day in the park within a 100 yards of the entrance (07.00) a Sri Lankan Jackal was spotted in the trees.

404A0666.JPG.556e65c65133429eae129d42e80b060e.JPG

SRI LANKA JACKAL (INDIAN / GOLDEN) ssp. lankae, it looks noticeably different to the Golden Jackal found in India. (some texts list as ssp. naria). Endemic ssp. Commonly seen in most parks, irrespective of zone.

 

404A0696.JPG.232a2d3213124f1846b72f1d3dfc1b7d.JPG

Early morning image of SRI LANKA GREEN-PIGEON. Endemic. 

 

404A0760.JPG.5315fdd5f1c1b37ae2436d182a31b7be.JPG

CRESTED SERPENT-EAGLE. Adult, as previously mentioned unbelievably common.

 

404A1115.JPG.ca1b0acb4827ad1798a715b146e7e841.JPG

SRI LANKAN LEOPARD. As seen from the track (centre of the image), this was Leopard 4 another juvenile male. We were given two options continue into the park or sit it out, our guide was convinced it would leave the tree in about 60-90 minutes. We decided to sit it out, there was a small pond in front of our vehicle I decide to take an image of anything that appeared during the wait to relieve boredom.  The next 3 images were taken during that time, although I did take several more.

 

404A0791.JPG.cbb724a460d738b50e7c273cd33c9024.JPG

FLAPSHELL (SOFT-SHELLED) TURTLE.

 

404A0804.JPG.34159e67c9b2f6e6a3e5f2671b41465a.JPG

INDIAN POND HERON.

 

404A0842.JPG.b5152dc603db62df5927406a23410c1b.JPG

How I got this shot I will never know, it was taken from at least 30 yards, handheld, and is shown straight from the camera, it is however heavily cropped.

 

After 70 minutes of waiting the Leopard proved our guide right and started to move down and out of the tree. The following images were taken as it slowly descended, there were only 3 vehicles present at this sighting.

404A1138.JPG.175eb331c5fe98ff6521820df26f986c.JPG

 

 

404A1184.JPG.573c1cabaadf3f83a944d077ac5d721c.JPG

 

 

404A1196.JPG.0cda288a3a3bb30d045c6e29b05f6e67.JPG

 

 

404A1231.JPG.53f3fac1b2573c00c4a708254fe90a50.JPG

 

That evening we did a long night drive trying hard for another Rusty-Spotted Cat sighting, as I was desperate to get an image but It wasn't to be. It was amazing just how many resting birds we came across during the night drives, it was also a good time for reptiles.

 

404A9226.JPG.a5a5e8d8d37d68cb6517abd8e4c6cc70.JPG

COMMON GARDEN LIZARD.

 

404A1599.JPG.21add8e7f8b53352acc9065940f03978.JPG

INDIAN PARADISE-FLYCATCHER, female.

 

Two Chevrotains (Mouse Deer) are found in Sri Lanka, we only saw the one found in the Dry Zone. They are tiny, fully grown about the size of a large rabbit. The species we saw was relatively common but was very nervous thus making them difficult to photograph.

 

404A1658.JPG.6ad1c4b7d2ba3d9025940b05e1a1a92e.JPG

SRI LANKAN WHITE-STRIPED CHEVROTAIN. Found only in the Dry Zone. sp. meminna, Endemic.

 

404A1665.JPG.7e6ce882b8b1d50ee7ed42d75158b46d.JPG

 

 

404A9194.JPG.462ebc6f004f1d4851134a7163348294.JPG

INDIAN PITTA.

 

The following morning we spent some time in the park, entering around 09.00 before heading on to Sigiriya for the next stage of our adventure. The following images were taken before we left.

 

404A1290.JPG.2b8af0c0052ea51ee6cd6083db7b346a.JPG

Udi, in my opinion one of the best wildlife guides in the world had an uncanny knack of spotting wildlife from considerable distances.

 

404A1335.JPG.ca1b26d0cad7e6fda3356afd516def6c.JPG

GREAT CORMORANT.

 

404A1442.JPG.910765d8719bab58ed4d791cca069915.JPG

Yet another Leopard!

 

404A1452.JPG.185f372f6b93101391f791fce42c2879.JPG

Love is in the air, yet more mating Land Monitors.

 

404A1484.JPG.13257c3881371ad042562d8212f764b9.JPG

PAINTED STORK, adult.

 

404A1456.JPG.cb3eb5b29ce3bec28432c13176ba9f21.JPG

ASIAN GREEN BEE-EATER.

 

404A1526.JPG.cb04d3d12aa4205638789dcebb440e7b.JPG

MALABAR PIED HORNBILL. Commonly seen in the lowlands often in pairs at this time of year, presumably the start of the breeding season.

 

404A1302.JPG.46a41ed6b93352927df473e4ce34a426.JPG

Typical woodland habitat with of course yet another Crested Serpent-Eagle (top right), they appeared to be very tolerant of human presence.

 

404A1898.JPG.4525c0bcb351cbf0bca23c5b4df7c043.JPG

Typical 'villu' habitat, note the GREY-HEADED FISH-EAGLE in the tree top left.

 

404A1781.JPG.1299521e8b5d574222fdb01d76cdb65c.JPG

ASIAN ELEPHANT (SRI LANKA ELEPHANT). ssp. maximus. Endemic ssp. The largest of the Asian subspecies. We saw several in the grasslands in the northern part of the park in savannah like conditions, Elephant sightings are not guaranteed in Wilpattu. I particularly enjoy Elephant sightings in more unusual settings, this lone Elephant captured in the forest is one of my favourite images from the trip.

 

871464982_404A18552.JPG.c1c7ed8c1abfd6449ed4b7c6a06a87ab.JPG

SPOT-BILLED PELICAN.

 

404A1878.JPG.1a47745d256376e6874c7ce98b2f3e73.JPG

STORK-BILLED KINGFISHER.

 

404A2147.JPG.525bbfb3f69f9a1e189b267940ddeb48.JPG

Close up of yes you've guessed it another Crested Serpent-Eagle. Last one I promise.

 

404A2068.JPG.a7b34f2e7d432b76f597098fd208c981.JPG

GREATER COUCAL.

 

404A2169.JPG.f33d5e7185b139a60778e3e8a9b59baa.JPG

SRI LANKA JUNGLEFOWL, male. Endemic.

 

That's it for Wilpattu N.P., next we move on to Sigiriya, where things get significantly more nocturnal. The only disappointment at Wilpattu was that we didn't manage to observe a Sri Lanka Sloth Bear.

Edited by johnweir
Taxonomy revision.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

johnweir
Posted (edited)

SIGIRIYA (Part 1).

The journey from Wilpattu to Sigiriya took about 3 hours, by our own private small mini-bus. Sigiriya is indeed a most unlikely wildlife hotspot. Most visitors come here to enjoy the outstanding historical and archaeological features of the fortress built on the top of a massive column of rock, the fortress dates back to to the 5th century AD, and is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.The site, its' moats and gardens are well worth a visit in their own right, we were there however for one species in particular The Fishing Cat, this location is possibly the best place in Asia for a sighting of this beautiful cat. Sightings are not guaranteed and I know of several visitors who have left disappointed.

During the day wildlife sightings are limited, we saw primates, squirrels and at dusk several species of bats, unusually our only sighting of a Sri Lankan Brown Palm Civet (Endemic) was during a late afternoon walk. However, at night the area comes alive with several rare nocturnal mammals, this is not a National Park or Reserve (I have heard it referred to as a Sanctuary), the wildlife is viewed in the grounds around the fortress and further out  from the town in woodland, botanical gardens, temple grounds and on agricultural land. Spotlighting on ungraded roads in the area is very productive, if you put the time in with a good guide your efforts will certainly be rewarded.

We went out every night during our 4 night stay here usually from 21.00 until around 02.30, one night we returned at 04.00. The night drives whilst being an essential part of a trip to Sri Lanka are quite demanding. Obviously you can do shorter night drives, but it will more than likely impact on the quality of your sightings, our guide at all times was keen to spend as much time in the field as possible, which suited us, but I understand would not suit everybody.

We stayed at Sigiriya Village Hotel, which is a very god hotel, it is not a lodge or camp. The food, rooms (chalet), facilities and service were all excellent, exactly what was needed as the demands of the night drives became more intense. The hotel was relatively quiet we appeared to be the only wildlife enthusiasts staying and there were very few foreign visitors in the hotel. There was a lot of interest shown by the other guests in our departure each evening and even more the following day regarding questions about what we had seen.

Whilst at Sigiriya we also engaged in late afternoon activities, visiting Bat roosts and walking in the grounds of the fortress. We also made an afternoon visit to Habarana Eco Park; this replaced a visit to Minneriya N.P. which was apparently closed due to flooding. The purpose was to view Elephants and Habarana certainly delivered, however other mammal sightings were thin on the ground and we spent most of our time in the park birding. Not a great location, however if we hadn't seen Elephants in Wilpattu we may have felt differently. 

 

404A3221.JPG.d1f5753c67bd20f3b6aa2f15290aa24f.JPG

A general shot taken from a temple looking towards Sigiriya, the fortress is on top of the right hand outcrop, the walk to the top is very demanding. Taken late afternoon.

 

404A3224.JPG.42278e1fd27f8ecb505c1cc76085f966.JPG

Ideal Fishing Cat habitat. Close up from the previous image.

 

404A2272.JPG.302a45b80eb2a458c0e21ad6328b366d.JPG

LESSER FALSE-VAMPIRE BAT, taken in a derelict building at the entrance to a small botanical garden which we visited in search of a Grey Slender Loris sighting. 

 

404A2341.JPG.9cc3b42b59b2fb937dcfc153b81c12fa.JPG

GREY SLENDER LORIS (Northern) ssp. nordicus, (Endemic ssp.), image taken in the botanical garden at 19.00,  very difficult to photograph, particularly in poor light. They move extremely quickly and rarely stay still for long. This was the 3rd individual we recorded at this location.

 

After visiting the above location we went back to the hotel had a great meal and then headed out again. We saw several hybrid small cats including a Domestic Cat X Fishing Cat, we watched it from a distance at the edge of a lake, it actually caught a small fish with its paw. From a distance it looked like the real thing but Udi was quite right with his identification as it was too small and had the wrong shaped head, its' markings however were quite accurate. I was willing it to be the real thing as a Fishing Cat sighting was number one on our wish list.

Around 01.30 after searching several wetland locations I fell asleep, only to be woken by my excited wife to be told a fishing cat was clearly visible 30 metres from the vehicle and was resting on a concrete dam wall presumably thinking about hunting. 

 

404A2483.JPG.6a334833195259ff5385314fdea925f6.JPG 

FISHING CAT. Pure bred, male. 01.30. One of my best wildlife sightings to date. It was much bigger than I had expected and also had a slightly flattened head. It was more than clear now how different the hybrid we had seen earlier was. We watched it for a good 20 minutes before it decided to slowly move on. The Fishing Cat is not a small cat, medium sized would be appropriate, I was quite surprised just how big they are.

 

404A2542.JPG.43942830221684f534cfcb947e54f72e.JPG

What a beautiful Cat, our presence did not seem to bother it at all.

 

404A2514.JPG.8a42880a3a411c1add094256e975ff73.JPG

It certainly appeared very interested in something in the lake which was about 5 metres below the dam wall. 

 

404A2581.JPG.7e5374c99e89eabd363393b3b10b63e8.JPG

It reappeared after about 10 minutes at the opposite side of the lake and decided to have a long drink.

 

404A2598.JPG.7fce85ce4576221eea32df78c3ad63ef.JPG

There was some suggestions made that this was a different Cat to the one we saw originally, but I cannot confirm that. Fishing Cats like many Cats tend to be solitary, is this a breeding pair?

 

This Cat eventually wandered along the bank and settled down close to the water's edge.

 

404A2642.JPG.a7e6350ddbc70ec91c4f82a2e1f9a266.JPG

 

404A2677.JPG.13f22c61ffd9c1b63689de70fbb77f4d.JPG

 

Just as we were about to leave a last scan revealed that the Cat was being watched by an Owl that was perched just to the left of the Cat about 4 metres above it.

 

404A2681.JPG.4adde2de335e88740b4c9c39a6543340.JPG

BROWN FISH-OWL, it was certainly interested in what the Fishing Cat was up to.

 

404A2690.JPG.eb918da736b086d9d531e05f858ee751.JPG

 

404A2695.JPG.038d92db5a613a103870dc3b80239b53.JPG

 

As we drove back to the hotel, Udi spotted a Loris in a tree, he saw it from about 40 metres, I was well awake by now.

 

404A2696.JPG.25c465ed0bba61c4b68a371c8ef329fc.JPG

Spot the Loris, virtually as seen.

 

404A2705.JPG.8c2ae4db6c953cd8ad004b96b7f60e28.JPG

NORTHERN GREY SLENDER LORIS. Centre of the first image. This one stayed in the same place for a few seconds.

 

404A2717.JPG.e928583d4767dec37d02ab7a06337319.JPG

Significantly cropped image. 

 

Next: Sigiriya (Part 2), including the totally unexpected sighting and highlight of the trip.

Edited by johnweir
Link to comment
Share on other sites

kittykat23uk

What a great trip! I'm really sad now that we're having to delay ours, although it might give us more time to revisit the itinerary. We were also planning it for the cats and, with a lot of luck, we are hoping for a pangolin as I heard that there's a semi reliable site for them in Sri Lanka.. But obviously everything is up in the air now... 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Kitsafari

what a gorgeous looking fishing cat. the eyes are quite close to each other, or am i imagining that? so glad you got it!

 

much enjoying your sightings esp of the lorises.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

johnweir
Posted (edited)

SIGIRIYA (Part 2).

On our second full day in Sigiriya we went for a late afternoon walk looking mainly for primates, as we walked down quite a busy ungraded road in the distance two Golden Jackals were identified standing in the middle of the track. Our guide started to call them in using a distressed bird call. We hid in some bushes at the side of the track and their curiosity eventually got the better of them and they came right down the track towards us approaching to a distance of about 15 metres, eventually they realised they had been had and bolted back up the track and vanished into the undergrowth.

 

404A2766.JPG.85c01ab1d50e3058969f16454de14499.JPG

GOLDEN JACKAL. Possible pair, male right, female left smaller. Both were in fantastic condition and appeared well fed.

 

404A2767.JPG.42311db3a6e55ad6a896fc045814b374.JPG

Just above our heads where we had been hiding, a Brown Fish-owl was spotted.

 

After our evening meal we went out at 21.30, just before we set off a small bird was identified perched in a tree next to our vehicle.

 

404A2782.JPG.2bd9bb4df262a0d4c36211ae8305b070.JPG

BROWN-BREASTED FLYCATCHER.

 

Most night drives began with a visit to a possible Bat colony location, this evening was no exception and involved negotiating hundreds of steps, removing our shoes to pass through a temple (lots of ants!), before gaining access to some rock fissure caves.

 

404A2832.JPG.2ad17972be5edb216fd36636931ebc27.JPG 

Bat Colony, several species present.

 

404A2817.JPG.22c2148db2d89699978f9830e0985bd3.JPG

CANTOR'S LEAF-NOSED BAT (not 100% sure). 

 

On the way back to the vehicle we came across this large insect, I have tried several sources to identify it, no luck as yet, if anyone has any suggestions please let me know.

 

404A2837.JPG.5d759748bd8e7d0c850230e0d5965ef4.JPG

UNIDENTIFIED INSECT. From the tip of each antenna it would be the size of a large dinner plate.

ID confirmed by @inyathiTAILLESS WHIP SCORPION or WHIP SPIDER. 25/7/2022.  Many thanks.

 

        @kittykat23ukYou appear to be ahead of the game on this one, so here goes.

 

Following our Bat excursion for a couple of hours we had no sightings, we were particularly looking for Civet species. At 02.30 we stopped to search a wooded area, when Udi suddenly dashed off telling me to stay still with our driver. After several minutes I heard him calling, "John, John, quickly over here". I walked quickly to where I could see the light from his head torch, to find him crouched by what I initially thought was a football. Very quickly I realised it was the holy grail of wildlife sightings in Sri Lanka, an INDIAN PANGOLIN. I don't mind admitting tears of joy and excitement flowed. 

We backed away and reduced the intensity of our lighting and it immediately started to uncurl and go about it's business hunting for ants, using it's nose and long tongue.

 

404A2869.JPG.a2c8e5557336f2f0a04e0851890abf42.JPG

The 'Football'.

 

404A2860.JPG.071cd3d7f48e41c430a5a6331bb36cb8.JPG

INDIAN PANGOLIN Manis crassicaudata. 02.30 Undisclosed location. Nocturnal / crepuscular and terrestrial. This was a very rare and high quality sighting.

 

Our guide had heard it moving in the dry leaf litter virtually as soon as we started walking, we heard nothing. We stayed with it for about 20 minutes before leaving it in peace, during that time it was quite calm, it behaved quite naturally and we had no contact with the animal at all. It appeared quite relaxed and exhibited foraging behaviour. It was easy to see just how easy they would be to catch. On our travels so far this has to be one of our rarest and most enjoyable sightings.

 

I will let the following images do the talking.

404A2875.JPG.fc602542cf8a8b0066b88a30d4f08298.JPG

 

404A2880.JPG.ef573a8ea8add5d3d6bfff25f229f85f.JPG

 

404A2882.JPG.7670ee8e2749817d52f94703c1c50781.JPG

 

404A2887.JPG.e59a598ef5c968d27156fafe0aff7312.JPG

 

404A2894.JPG.e2091a70663fdacc43f65263d082cbfa.JPG

 

404A2900.JPG.30f45a295249dbdc962278efa6ff0755.JPG

 

404A2914.JPG.4447ed8501dc9d3e0a5990b5c482a763.JPG

 

404A2929.JPG.3a41bf2ce6675b26016722ef131987dc.JPG

 

404A2952.JPG.d3a936fed08bf3f162d659f3c8ad9199.JPG

 

404A2957.JPG.b6eaf7d4af902cb13a269a5df90f433e.JPG

 

404A2944.JPG.60a13e99b119d5ee8f469575a9fc3464.JPG

 

404A2968.JPG.8483a377c88abe844fe10be4ffa893c3.JPG

 

404A2998.JPG.0ee7eab06e7dec3e0e3c853c8b06e4e5.JPG

 

I feel very privileged to have now observed Pangolin species in both Africa and Asia. I include an image taken in the Central African Republic for comparative purposes.

 

5H1A7344.JPG.6966ee71156d28108c16d51f11bd0ccb.JPG 

BLACK-BELLIED (LONG-TAILED) PANGOLIN. Generally nocturnal / crepuscular, strictly arboreal. C.A.R. (see trip report Into the "Heart of Darkness". May 2019).

 

@kittykat23ukI do hope you manage to get to Sri Lanka sometime soon, I will add a few notes at the end of this trip report regarding the current situation as I am in contact with a couple of people, although less so in recent weeks. I still think like us you will need to be very lucky to see a Pangolin during a trip to the island. I am familiar with the recent trip report(s) suggesting Sigiriya as a Pangolin hotspot, I am not sure I agree. When we sat down with our guide on the first night to discuss expectations, a Pangolin sighting was dismissed quite quickly as vaguely possible but not probable, so it was never really a target species. We would not have been disappointed at all if we had not been so lucky.

 

After the early morning excitement we returned to our hotel just as we approached our chalet door movement in a shrub revealed a large turtle.

 

404A3021.JPG.bb6448ddde24788002640f1b0ddd7882.JPG

INDIAN (PARKER'S) BLACK TURTLE.

 

Next: The final day in the Sigiriya (3) area and we move to Nuwara Eliya (Central Highlands) via the outskirts of Kandy.

 

 

 

 

Edited by johnweir
Link to comment
Share on other sites

kittykat23uk

@johnweirwhat a fabulous sighting! Yes I do hope we get to Sri Lanka at some point. As you can probably gather I had also heard that this area was becoming something of a hotspot for pangolins. I know of one or two others who have seen them there. The other place that is seemingly getting a reputation is Ghana. However I have read a worrying report on mammalwatching.com that some companies are actually paying hunters to place pre-caught pangolins at a particular location for the tour guides to subsequently "find" in Ghana. Hopefully that is not the case in Sri Lanka although it does have me feeling a bit more circumspect about any guide who claims good chances of these increasingly rare creatures...

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

wow wow wow on the Pangolin!

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, a pangolin is an awesome sighting!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Towlersonsafari

Goodness what excellent sightings- and to see the pangolin, and just watch it and then letting it go on its way must have been magical indeed @johnweir

Link to comment
Share on other sites

inyathi

@johnweirFantastic report, some very special sightings and very good to know that there are still some pangolins left in Asia, I still haven't seen one anywhere, I really need to go to Sangha Lodge and find one there. Your mystery insect isn't an insect, it's a Tailless Whip Scorpion or Whip Spider, I couldn't tell you the precise species name, arachnids are not my favourite group of animals, but they don't seriously bother me, I'm not an arachnophobe, they just don't have quite the appeal of a Fishing Cat, a pangolin or a junglefowl I have seen whip scorpions in various parts of the world, they are so extraordinary looking, that I recognised that that is what it is straight away.

 

Tailless Whip Scorpion | Project Noah 

 

On Wikipedia it says that 

 

Quote

In Sri Lanka, only three species can be found, belonging to a single genus.

 

List of lesser arachnids of Sri Lanka

 

If there are only three options, you might be able find someone who could tell you which species it is. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Kitsafari

extraordinary and beautiful shots of the INdian pangolin. how very very lucky you were John! and did you hear how the scales rattle as it walked? very envious indeed.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

@johnweirwhat wonderful sightings you had in Sri Lanka 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

michael-ibk

Such a cool report John, love the Pangolin and the Fishing Cat. Congratulations, such fabulous sightings.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

Safaritalk uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By using Safaritalk you agree to our use of cookies. If you wish to refuse the setting of cookies you can change settings on your browser to clear and block cookies. However, by doing so, Safaritalk may not work properly and you may not be able to access all areas. If you are happy to accept cookies and haven't adjusted browser settings to refuse cookies, Safaritalk will issue cookies when you log on to our site. Please also take a moment to read the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy: Terms of Use l Privacy Policy