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ZEISS DTI thermal imaging cameras. For more discoveries at night, and during the day.

From Dusk Till Dawn (1 Viewer)

Farnboro John

Well-known member
From Dusk Till Dawn: Spotlight on Sri Lanka’s Mammals

This report is entirely my own work using memory, notebook, photos and trip checklist to reconstruct what we saw when. I’ve added some of the anecdotal stuff. In both respects my memory may be at fault. Hopefully Steve or Roy will chip in occasionally and straighten out any misrecollections.

Cast:

John Dixon (me)

Stephen Babbs

Roy Hargreaves

John Pilgrim

Dulan Ranga Vidanapathirana (Guide)


Plan:

Fly Heathrow – Colombo with Sri Lankan Airlines (Airbus A330-300 reg 4R-ALQ) arriving just after midday local, overnight Colombo to get a full night’s rest before starting the tour.

Ten days with Bird and Wildlife Team:

Drive Colombo – Wilpattu. Transits were in an air-conditioned minibus, park and night drives in local open safari 4WD vehicles.

Three nights at Wilpattu, accommodated at Claughton Wild: day drives in park, night drives around the area outside.

Four nights at Sigiriya accommodated at Sigirya Village Hotel: day sorties to various venues nearby and night drives with some walking.

Two nights at Kitulgala accommodated at Kitulgala Rest House: Night walks in forest across the river.

Drive Kitulgala – Colombo. We were lucky that our minibus driver was available after the formal tour so he then took us to Mirissa the same afternoon, where we overnighted prior to a whalewatching pelagic with Raja and the Whales: he then drove us back to Colombo and dropped us at our last accommodation to overnight before flying home the following day with Sri Lanka Airlines (the guesthouse provided car and driver to the airport). Aircraft was Airbus A330-300 reg 4R-ALP.

Our BWT guide, Dulan, was outstanding, combining practically encyclopaedic wildlife knowledge with frighteningly boundless energy and enthusiasm. In fact he is a Terminator: he absolutely will not stop until you are dead – on your feet! You do feel a little bit pushed onward but it is absolutely worth it. His good humour added to the experience, his invariable neat turn out as we became progressively sweatier, dirtier and more crumpled was slightly miffing. A really great bloke.

The trip was Steve’s idea and he did most of the organising including finding a fourth member of the team (Big John) by advertising on BF and Mammalwatching. Though when asked for an opinion/vote in decision-making I contributed, I would like to offer Steve a big thank-you for his efforts because all I had to do was slipstream behind him and the results were fantastic.

With an overnight flight departing at 2130, what Naturetrek would call Day 1 of a tour was a non-event: as we didn’t meet our tour guide and driver till the day after arriving in Colombo that is Day 1, so our arrival day is Day Zero. Confused? You will be.

John
 
Day Zero: Sunday 2 April

All the bags arrived with us at Colombo Airport and after a brief skirmish with an ATM for local currency and being hit by a wall of heat as we walked out we got a taxi to our hotel, the Saasha City Hotel on Sea Road. En route we began the trip list with traditional city birds: Rock Dove (all right, Feral Pigeon), House Sparrow, Cattle Egret, House Crow. Before we arrived I had two ticks: Brahminy Kite and Spot-billed Pelican, numbers of the latter being seen roosting on lamp-posts along the highway.

The Saasha was a comfortable air-conditioned hotel (mind you we had to reassess our use of aircon after practically freezing overnight at about 16C – which I’d find warm in the UK – about 21 was more like it later in the trip) and we had a room each to ensure that we could get a good night’s sleep after the grimness of an eleven hour flight and before starting an ambitious mammal-watching tour. We walked out to find a local restaurant for dinner and had an introduction to what was to be a fortnight of chicken curries. The waiter relied on his memory to convey our orders so dinner was in stages as we prompted him repeatedly for the elements that hadn’t arrived…..

Returning to the hotel we decided we hadn’t the energy for a planned walk/taxi ride to the park where the big Indian Flying Fox roost was, but it turned out not to matter because they were already flying over us in ones and twos. Instead we asked at Reception if there was access to the roof and it turned out there was, so we grabbed our bins and cameras and headed upwards.

Not only could we see Flying Foxes (some way off, but surely they would come closer) but it wasn’t long before a Spot-billed Pelican darkened the sky overhead. However, I went straight into meltdown because I could not get my R7 to focus on anything. Naturally as this continued I got more desperate and after the usual quick remedies failed (turn off/on, take battery out and replace, try manual focus and so on) I dashed back downstairs and changed to my back-up 7Dii, cursing the Canon R7 to high heaven and furious that I wouldn’t have it for the rest of the trip.

Back on the roof I added Indian Swiftlets and an Indian Palm Swift to the day’s ticks along with trip fodder of Rose-ringed Parakeets, Grey Heron and Common Myna. Considering we were at least three floors up in a densely urban bit of city the Palm Squirrel nibbling something while sitting on a projecting bit of concrete was a surprise! I clicked off a few photos but decided to wait for better light on House Crows – possibly a mistake as I came home without any good ones. I also got some flight shots of Indian Flying Foxes as a couple came close to the hotel, and another pelican yielded itself up.

As the light faded we decided to get an early night and be both rested and keen for the morning. Unfortunately it appeared we had booked ourselves into a party hotel and the entire night (I am told) was punctuated by shouting, the sound of running feet and banging doors. I slept for ten hours but the guys got about three each. However, what I did manage was the realisation that I’d missed a likely solution to the camera problem: I investigated the viewfinder diopter adjustment wheel and found it had whizzed round, knocking the viewfinder way outside my eyesight’s range. Every photo I’d taken with it was pin sharp. I rotated the diopter wheel back into whack and that was end of problem. Sorry camera, operator error not your fault (in any sense).

Day 1: Monday 3 April

We had time for breakfast before Dulan arrived with the bus to pick us up and head off for Wilpattu, promising us a stop for some general birding on the way to break the journey. We may have banged our room doors shut with less consideration than we would normally early in the morning.

Exiting Colombo took some time despite use of the excellent ring road: first we had to get to it and after it ran out we were in ribbon development for mile after mile even when it was obvious we had left the capital. We began to wonder whether this would persist all the way to Wilpattu but Dulan assured us otherwise and eventually we had roadside paddies and woodlands as a change from local architecture and the accompanying obstacles of scooters, tuk-tuks and wandering pedestrians. Actively worked paddies had flocks of Cattle Egrets and Black-headed Ibis with a few other egret spp mixed in.

Suddenly the bus slowed and turned off the main road onto a track: as we drove along it we encountered our first new mammals of the trip with views of our first endemic Toque Macaques showing their strange centre-parting flat-top hairdos. Dulan announced that we had reached Anawilunbawa, a Ramsar wetland site and the venue for our first wildlife walk. As soon as the door opened that wall of heat hit us but at least it was dry heat. Sri Lanka’s climate varies considerably with location and altitude, the South-west and hills being the Wet Zone and very humid while the North and East constitute the Dry Zone (or even Arid Zone although I don’t think we got into that) and much more bearable.

Our route lay along a drivable track raised above surrounding wetland on both sides. The paddies held Indian Pond Herons, Purple Herons, Cattle, Little, Great White and Intermediate Egrets. Two Grey-headed Swamphens glowed in the sunlight. Black-headed Ibis, present in numbers, turned out to be a tick as I had thought they were just Sacred. A few Asian Openbills were dotted about, none close but still a welcome addition to my list. The first Jungle Crows of the trip were also present. A few familiar waders were feeding in the paddies: Greenshank, Marsh, Green and Wood Sandpipers, Black-winged Stilts and ubiquitous Red-wattled Plovers.

Spot-billed Pelican
Grey-headed Swamphen
Asian Openbill
Indian Pond Heron



20230403 (1)_Spot-billed_Pelican.JPG20230403 (4)_Grey-headed_Swamphen.JPG20230403 (6)_Asian_Openbill.JPG20230403 (13)_Indian_Pond_Heron.JPG
 
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Far across the right-hand lake a tree that rose above the general forested horizon was fruiting Indian Flying Foxes, with hundreds hanging up in its upper branches. Near to the proximal shore of that lake a Lesser Whistling Duck added to the tick-list, unfortunately rather into the sun for pictures (which I took anyway).

Dulan pointed out a dozing Dry Zone Grizzled Giant Squirrel lying along a tree branch with its rope-like tail dangling and a bit of casting about found us a decent photographic line to it. Seconds later we were looking at a three-foot Land Monitor on a sloping tree trunk on the other side of the path, while an Oriental Darter perched high in an isolated tree showed well in the sun. Peafowl strode along the bunds between the paddies on the left. A Jerdon’s Leafbird taunted from within the canopy of a close very leafy bush, giving occasional views of its blue face and apple-green plumage as it hunted very much among the leafery. A Common Iora was similarly elusive among the branches while from higher up a Black-hooded Oriole effortlessly kept twigs between us and its finery.

Dulan called a mongoose that ran onto the track from the right hand side. It proceeded away from us but kept stopping giving us decent looks at it and a fair record shot of the new for me Grey Mongoose.

Dry Zone Grizzled Giant Squirrel
Plain Tiger
Grey Mongoose
Common Green Forest Lizard
Oriental Darter


20230403 (14)_Sri-Lankan_Giant_Squirrel.JPG20230403 (15)_Plain_Tiger.JPG20230403 (23)_Grey_Mongoose.JPG20230403 (27)_Common_Green_Forest_Lizard.JPG20230403 (29)_Oriental_Darter.JPG
 
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I think the Scarler Skimmer photo noted in #3 post is in fact an Oriental Darter! ;)
You may be right although the Sri Lanka pix I looked at (admittedly in Wikipedia) seemed to match Scarlet Skimmer and Oriental Darter isn't on the list.

Edit: no you're right. Doh! Now corrected.

John
 
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The first day of a trip is always manic as you try to work out what is going to be a common species seen throughout the trip (with many opportunities for pictures) and what is a one-off to be nailed as hard and fast as possible. Another recurrent realisation is that it just isn’t possible to do birds, mammals, herps, butterflies, dragonflies and everything else in the time available - something has to give….. doesn’t stop a few making it especially when they are as stunning as the Crimson Rose butterfly that conveniently perched up for us. A Green Forest Lizard was a nice reptile to add in what became a long list of herps that had us questioning whether we really were on a mammal trip! My notebook went out of date very quickly. The trouble is the daily log only gives you taxonomic order albeit a complete list, so I may well get a few bits in the wrong place – hopefully Steve will chip in and correct me if necessary.

We headed onwards with a stop for king coconut water at a roadside booth (refreshing after our hot walk) and a brief stop at a wetland with a Caspian Tern flying above it (unusual inland according to Dulan) as well as a few Whiskered Terns and at least one Spot-billed Pelican from within the distribution of the wild population.

We seemed to reach our accommodation just outside Wilpattu National Park quite abruptly: not really any warning as we turned off the main road to new chalet-style accommodation named Claughton Wild. This produced some discussion of the origin of the name, and whether there was a village of Claughton in the UK (one on the Wirral and one in Lancashire, apparently: I’m not sure we got to the bottom of the naming of the accommodation). Bags into rooms, a quick look round and a spot of lunch before we were climbing into our safari truck for an afternoon game drive in the park. Claughton Wild had plenty of resident passerines with Sri Lanka Woodshrike, Indian Roller, Coppersmith Barbet, Purple-rumped Sunbird, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Indian Robin and Yellow-billed Babbler being quickly added to the list as well as a few dragonflies to be identified later and the odd frog. I had a Black-winged Kite from our veranda (Roy and I were sharing, with Steve and Big John a couple of chalets along).

It was only a short drive to the gate of Wilpattu National Park where we had a short wait while admin was completed. Toque Macaques ambled about the lawns while White-breasted Kingfishers and Red-vented Bulbuls were among the small birds foraging.

Through the gate we were almost immediately into search mode as there had been recent reports of Leopard and Sloth Bear, the latter one of our top targets… Meanwhile our first sighting was probably the best chicken in the world, a male Sri Lanka Junglefowl with contrasting red and yellow comb, gold/russet plumage and iridescent purple wings and tail. Even in the shadows of the forest edge it glowed. An Indian Hare was a treat for me as I’d managed to miss it in Bandhavgarh while the whole of my non-birding family got it, and small groups of Chital were a welcome reacquaintance. We had indifferent views of Jerdon’s Bushlark and on one damp pan a single Yellow-wattled Plover (the only one of the trip) was just about close enough for a photo. A Star Tortoise was walking determinedly across one clearing, showing well, but distant views of Green Imperial Pigeons left much to be desired, as did my first sighting of White-rumped Shama (both did the business later in the trip though). Flying Malabar Pied Hornbills were brief but it’s not hard to get everything on something that big.

At this point clouds that had been building up burst with a Hollywood rush of water that blotted out the park and sent our truck scurrying for the cover of a nice leafy tree by the track. We rolled down one side of the awning as the teeming rain was sufficiently directed by wind that only that side needed it. The temperature dropped somewhat but as long as you didn’t get wet it was still warm enough for our light clothing. Luckily it was just an isolated storm cell and soon passed, leaving the track steaming briefly and everywhere glistening wet – also briefly. Soon the surface water drained away leaving the tracks once again dry if not quite as dusty. On we went.

Crested Treeswifts were sitting up on the upper twigs of a dead tree (dead trees make good hunting perches and are also easy places to find perched birds. Everybody wins.) Soon afterwards we found a rather bedraggled Orange-breasted Green Pigeon sat atop a dead tree. A lake with a Water Buffalo soaking in it had a smart perched Grey-headed Fish Eagle on a fallen tree on the far side, and we also had another brief Grey Mongoose along with much more satisfactory views of Ruddy Mongoose by the track and a Sambar hind leading her calf down to drink. As the afternoon faded into early evening we headed back home to regroup, dine, call the log and prepare for our first night drive.

Scarlet Skimmer
Ruddy Mongoose
Rain stopped play
Sri Lanka Junglefowl
Indian Hare

20230403 (31)_Scarlet_Skimmer.JPG20230403 (44)_Ruddy_Mongoose.JPG20230403 (46)_Rain_stopped_Play.JPG20230403 (48)_Sri_Lanka_Junglefowl.JPG20230403 (49)_Indian_Hare.JPG
 
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During and immediately after dinner we found a bunch of invertebrates and herps around the dining room – moths, Praying Mantis, Asian House Gecko in the dining room, Bark Gecko on a tree outside, a tree frog of some sort and another Gecko not yet identified (by me anyway!) While this was going on our truck arrived and after a while we mounted up for the first of our night drives.

Night driving is a bit marmite: seawatchers will probably enjoy the constant anticipation that something might happen (with often long gaps before anything actually does) while those who like daylight, colour vision and relaxed birding probably won’t. Fiendish concentration on spotting any flash of eyeshine in a weaving spotlight or a warm body showing in a thermal imager is coupled with tunnel vision that requires any member of the team with any consciousness to spare to call approaching branches likely to slap everyone’s faces; everyone gains bruised ribs and arms from sudden lurches of the truck on uneven dirt tracks (since most people are standing up holding onto the awning framework while doing all this) and then of course when something is spotted there are the twin issues of giving directions and whether everyone’s position in the truck actually offers a view, possibly through thick bush….

By the end of the holiday our team’s proficiency was considerable, but the road to that happy state was as uneven as some of the tracks we negotiated with our extremely able drivers.

Anyway, we hadn’t got very far when Big John called a stop for a thermal hot spot of a small animal in the roadside tall grasses (I mean elephant grass tall) – he initially thought a roosting bird but it turned out to be a mouse that we determined to be Asiatic Long-tailed Climbing Mouse, a new mammal and a rather cute one with a prehensile tail and neat sharp features. It sat still for photos, too, which definitely gave it A+ in my book. We had such a good experience with this mouse that we were able to disregard the sequences of them that continued to flare up on the thermal imagers as we proceeded on our way.

When night driving you are in a bubble. The headlights show a little of what is in front of you, the spotlights show a bit more but you are quickly disorientated by turnings on and off roads onto side tracks across farmers’ fields, along raised bunds and quite often teetering along edges that distract one into thoughts of mortality and how easy bailing out might be if the truck lurches off the top, especially with crocodile-haunted waters below….

In short I’ve no idea where we travelled on each night. I know where we were staying and sometimes I might recognize a stretch of canal or lakeside or field crop, copse and so on, on the way round, thinking “oh, we saw that last night”: but for most of the time we could have been on Mars for all I knew of how our position related to start/finish. So, as I keep my location stuff on camera and phone turned off, I can’t give directions to any of the places we saw animals. Which I think is OK: it’s part of what you pay for in hiring a guide and releasing their stock-in-trade having had the benefit of it is more than a little out of order IMHO. It’s my holiday but it’s their career and for that matter with pangolin hunters and other unsavouries about it’s better to keep the gen tight.

As a result of the aforegoing wittering, when I say vaguely that we next went looking for Jungle Cats in some open short grass fields that looked quite promising, it’s because I’ve no idea where we were, not least because of my own efforts to make sure I didn’t know. Eventually we found one, which looked at us suspiciously and stalked away from us before turning to have another look and then getting on with a hunting attempt.

I’d taken on the back right seat on the truck, which meant climbing up the side into the back and sliding along the seat into position. There was enough room to stand up straight with my head out above the awning frame but the seat behind me was close to the back of my shins and turning round required a bit of shuffling. This did not put me in the best place for the first Jungle Cat but I did my best (obviously this is the sort of thing that evens out over a period of time). Actually, a worse problem was simply the efficiency of the cat’s night vision, augmented by the tapetum lucidum reflective layer behind the sensory cells, which causes light hitting it to reflect back through the cells and effectively double the stimulatory signal for the same light level. It also causes carnivore eyes to flare like car headlights in the face of spotlights or flash: a partial solution is to turn down the flash a couple of stops but it doesn’t seem to work on Jungle Cats. That apart, these leggy, tall-eared felines are pretty cool. Somewhere nearby we had another one, and started to think these were common and easy. They aren’t easy. Most that we saw were distant or walked away from us.

Elsewhere we found Indian Gerbils – quite large members of the gerbil tribe compared to those school class pets – foraging along the tracks. They would quite often come into the open, generally moving on just as the camera focused. Frustrating.

Something easier to photograph was a roosting bird in a bush next to the track: a Brown Shrike was kipping among the twigs and gave good views before we moved on in search of bigger game. Initially it was only slightly bigger: we found two species of nightjar hunting from posts with Jerdon’s Nightjar being first to fall, quickly followed by Small Indian Nightjar. Both sat still for us for some time, enabling pictures before the close passage of our truck lifted them from their perches for about a minute: craning necks to look behind showed them dropping back onto their chosen lookouts as soon as we had passed. For me this was nothing short of a miracle as I have in the past been a complete Jonah for nightjars on night drives. Hopefully our luck would continue.

It sort of didn’t, or at least my Golden Jackal jinx continued in that we found a nice looking one but it was behind a thin screen of grass that defied my efforts to find a clear shot through it. We did get another Jungle Cat though, which showed at least as well as the first had. Returning along a dead-end track we’d followed out past a lake before lurching down a slope and turning in the corner of a field below the high bund then climbing back up in the other direction, we reached a sharp T-junction that had taken a couple of reverses to get round and suddenly from the left side came a call of “Elephant!”

Now Asian Elephant was unquestionably one of my targets for the trip and given our itinerary, not one always available, so I reckoned we needed to take our chances when they arose. Now, in the pitch black lit by headlights and spotlights, I was severely torn: there are plenty of tales of elephants taking a dislike to being illuminated and charging down the line of the beam…. I wanted to see it but I wasn’t sure we should pursue it.

Nobody asked me. The driver swung the truck to the left and we followed the lane on which the elephant’s behind had been glimpsed before it lumbered round a bend. Within a minute John and Roy had contact on their thermal imagers (I really must get one of those). After a short time I asked Roy if it was OK if I had a look, and I’m not interested in any contentions as to the legitimacy of an image processed as thoroughly as that from a thermal imager. He passed the device over and I had a clear view of a purple-edged yellow monster, its forward end a vertical cliff with a spine sloping slightly down to its back legs, moving slowly right with parts of it occasionally occluded by tree trunks. Asian Elephant tick!

It managed to disappear behind thicker woodland and we turned round to go back up the lane we’d originally come down. John found another elephant out in the fields and this time we got a spotlight on its distant form enabling views with conventional optics. I was a little relieved when we left that one without incident.

That was pretty much the last notable episode in the night drive and by something around four in the morning we were falling into bed with alarms set to be up in time to breakfast and get into the park when it opened – the early bird gets the worm and all that.

Praying Mantis sp
Asiatic Long-tailed Climbing Mouse
Jungle Cat
Jerdon's Nightjar
Small Indian Nightjar

20230403 (64)_Praying_Mantis.JPG20230403 (74)_Asiatic_Long-tailed_Climbing_Mouse.JPG20230403 (76)_Jungle_Cat.JPG20230403 (81)_Jerdons_Nightjar.JPG20230403 (83)_Small_Indian_Nightjar.JPG
 
Day 2: 4 April

There was a feeling of disbelief when the alarm penetrated my consciousness. It cannot be time to get up already? But it was. Somehow Roy and I got ourselves into gear and readied ourselves to face the morning – no future in contemplating the whole day at this point!

We breakfasted quickly and tried to get rolling in time to be first at the national park gate: no hope. So we were about halfway up the queue to get in – until Dulan did the paperwork and suddenly we rolled past everyone else and off to the gate about third. Another unsuspected thing that is part of the service you pay for with a formal tour. It still didn’t get us a Sloth Bear… in fact to save words later I’ll admit now that we never got closer than arriving five minutes too late for one. A beast that will have to wait for another trip!

A confiding Painted Stork in a pool along the entrance track was followed by more views of Grey (elusive) and Ruddy (accommodating) Mongooses and then another photographic taunt from a Golden Jackal, this one in the open and not too distant but entirely denuded by mange – yeuch! Poor beast… A sounder of Wild Boar showed only their backsides as they retreated into dense forest and a brief Indian Muntjac bolted into cover before cameras could be deployed.

We took a different route in the park from the one we had followed the previous afternoon, and found ourselves alongside a large lake with short grasses around a sandy/muddy shoreline. Shorebirds were present in some variety, with familiar birds such as Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits intermingled with more exotic fare such as Pacific Golden Plover, Tibetan Sand Plover and what, after some patient observation and a few short flights from the object of scrutiny, was agreed to be Pintail Snipe. However, the stars of the shorebird show were a pair of Great Thick-knees that were not only in the open between us and the lake but then obligingly trotted towards our vehicle for a really excellent show of a top bird at point blank range. Outstanding! One of my bird targets for the trip safely stored in my own memory as well as that of the camera.

The odd Whiskered Tern was floating above the lake or roosting near its edge: not too close to the edge as the lake now revealed it was occupied by Mugger crocodiles, herp tick and like the elephant another one off my Jungle Book list of Asian animals to see. Unfortunately we never got a good chance to photograph them out of the water but at least I’d caught up with what I felt had been a big miss from my Indian trip of 2011. A Black-headed Ibis was foraging along the lake shore (also not too close to the waterline) and gave a good photo-opp in glorious sunshine.

After the lake session we were back to driving through forest, not too dense to see a little way through but thick enough to concentrate our efforts on very nearby creatures including another Indian Muntjac, this time one prepared to stand its ground and model for our cameras. Eventually we reached a lodge/forest station by yet another lake and stopped to use the facilities and pick up some more variety: a pair of White-bellied Sea Eagles that circled briefly near the far side of the lake and then flew off (tick but less than satisfactory really), Great White Egret for pictures, a small lizard that was new, Indian Common Clubtail (which is more reminiscent of our Golden-ringed Dragonfly), Common Crow butterfly, a tree frog on a toilet door.

Mangy Golden Jackal
Great Thick-knee X 2
Indian Muntjac

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Dulan let us know we would be back here later for lunch, then we were off back into the woods and a succession of White-rumped Shamas that just would not sit for pictures. We emerged from the forest near another lake and while driving past small copses between us and it Dulan spotted an Indian Pitta standing in an opening into one of them. I got my bins on it for a couple of seconds before it rocketed upwards to disappear in the leafy upperworks of the bushes, but that was enough to be dazzled by the patches of bright colour contrasting with the olive green back and beige underparts as well as the prominent face pattern. A big Land Monitor stalked across our wheeltracks and hunted about in the short turf beyond, its long and surprisingly pink tongue flickering in and out in search of prey.

Along the forest fringe we also encountered our first Tufted Grey Langurs, endemic Sri Lankan versions of the langur clan. On the far shore a herd of about 20 Chital grazed well away from the forest edge. Dulan had picked up intel that a Leopard had killed one earlier and was now lying up nearby. Quite likely, but it didn’t wander into view while we waited. Leaving empty-handed Dulan found us a Painted-lipped Lizard immobile on a tree-trunk, enabling us to take a few pictures of it in situ. Then he spotted a small Land Monitor with only its head visible at the mouth of its refuge within a hollow branch – nothing was getting past him!

All of us could easily spot the next highlight, a Crested Serpent Eagle perched at eyelevel on a tree branch right by the track. Steve and John exclaimed over this as they were accustomed to seeing this species high over the woods, whereas I couldn’t see the excitement as I’d seen several like this at Bandhavgarh years before. It sat tranquilly while we took our photos and drove onwards. Back on a lakeshore we encountered an Osprey perched high in a dead tree, not far from a Grey-bellied Fish Eagle being mobbed by a family of Malabar Pied Hornbills.

Then a Jerdon’s Bushlark popped up right by the truck and also gave us a good photo-opp while it sang as it foraged on the sand and short grass. Shortly after this a White-rumped Shama finally sat up for its portrait and then we made our way back over the tracks to the lodge for lunch (brought with us), which was served indoors with guards on the doors to keep the local Toque Macaques from robbing us blind. Lunch was interrupted by a call from Dulan that an Elephant was at the far side of the lake outside, so we scampered off to get a few frames of that before it could disappear again, then returned to our curried chicken and rice.

After lunch we had more of a wander about immediate locale, adding pictures of Striated Heron and Brahminy Kite to the portfolio as well as a funky orange solitary wasp, before mounting up and heading off in yet another new direction that almost immediately brought us a lot closer to the male Asian Elephant feeding in the shallows of the lake near a tusked Wild Boar. Stopping for these also got us Grey-bellied Cuckoos flying between nearby bushes.

Back at one of the earlier lakes we had a close encounter with two big and zappy wading birds – a Purple Heron and a Painted Stork full-frame close and in no hurry. Presumably at a lake we hadn’t visited before there was a herd of Water Buffalo which, after some considerable discussion of appearance and Sri Lanka history, were ruled tickable by the whole crew. They were definitely photographable as well.

Toque Macaque
Bengal (= Land) Monitor
Red-wattled Lapwing
Jerdon's Bushlark

20230404 (30)_Toque_Macaque.JPG20230404 (36)_Bengal_Monitor.JPG20230404 (37)_Red-wattled_Lapwing.JPG20230404 (43)_Jerdons_Bushlark.JPG
 
Enjoying the report John - even if the day/night combination sounds exhausting!

Not sure I've ever seen such a well-marked Purple Heron

Cheers
Mike
 
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