Sunday, October 23, 2011

Rest in Watawala at Strathadon Estate

It was time for annual visit for our US team member to Sri Lanka and it was the time to give him little payback as he has done a lot when we were there last time. With the order of our CEO guys were checking on a nice place to visit in up country. Hatton was the chosen area, and when searching the web we came across this beautiful tea estate bungalow known as Strathadon which took us sometime to learn how to pronounce it :D Location was picture perfect for us and approved by CEO. Though images looks brilliant, we were not too sure about the current status of the bungalow till we get there.

It was early in a Friday morning we left Colombo to get to Watawala where Strathadon Tea Estate was located. It took us no more than two and half hours to get there from Kottawa. We were planning to get the breakfast from famous "Tea Cup" restoration in Ginigathhena. It was around 7.30 am when we get there and the breakfast was already finished. There was not even a roti. With disappointment there we head directly to the bungalow. It was not to far from the Tea Cup and not too far from the main road either. It was exactly the way there in the web site. Brilliant location !!

Strathadon Bungalow
Inside in the morning
Bed rooms

View from the Strathadon stage

Giant Bamboo

Some creativity :D
Many of you might know this, Watawala is know for the highest rainfall in the country. So we were in doubt with whether conditions. It was quite chill when we get there. Bit of a  drizzle time to time, but overall it was better then I expected. We even had a tea trial.

Tea Trial in Strathadon Estate

Service staff was friendly and caring and the food was amazing. It was best that we could do to our visitor. I even forgot to take pictures when we were eating :D

The welcome drink

Yammi deserts..
Been in such a good environment with such a good caring you don't really need to left the place. But we are born with the nerve for exploring looking to discover something. Even though there was nothing much to visit in the area, Hatton was just 10 min drive from the location. So we plan to visit a Hindu temple in Hatton.


Statues inside

It was a great time at the place, with the idea of returning there one day, we left there in heavy rain. It remind us that we were in Watawala :D but the rain continued till we came to Colombo.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Shaggy Bear Monkey / The Highland Purple-faced Leaf Langur

Shaggy Bear Monkey at Pattipola

The Shaggy Bear Monkey or the Highland Purple-faced Leaf Langur, (Semnopithecus vetulus monticola) is an endemic primate which is called "Walas Wadura" in Sinhalese language. It is very much similar to Western Purple-faced Leaf Monkey, another endemic species, Main difference is it has a heavy court comparing to it's low land relative. This is an adaption for the cold climate in the hills that they live.

On alert!

The Shaggy Bear Monkey (Trachypithecus vetulus monticola) is considered as a sub-species of Semnopithecus vetulus long with North Wetzone Purple-Faced Langur (Trachypithecus vetulus nestor), Dry Zone Purple-Faced Langur (Trachypithecus vetulus philbricki) and the Wetzone Purple-Faced Langur (Trachypithecus vetulus vetulus) sub-species. One of the best place to see them is Horton Plains and Haggala Park.

Next Generation
I might have seen them roaming around Horton Plans on many visits I had to the area. But I haven't ever notice them. Those days all those monkeys were just the same for me. But the recently developed interest on wildlife has gain me some knowledge about them as well. On my last trip to Nuwara Eliya and the Horton Plains I was lucky to see few of them close to the forest bungalow at Pattipola. They were feeding on vegetable cultivations in the area. I m quite sure that farmers in the area considered them as pest. 

Feeding on vegetation.


Bambarakanda Falls, the highest waterfall in Sri Lanka.

Falling from  a clip high as 863 ft, Bambarakanda Falls is the highest waterfall in Sri Lanka. According to the wiki it is the 299th highest waterfall in the world. Situated in Kalupahana in Badulla District, easiest access route to the waterfall is through the A4 highway which connects Colombo and Batticaloa. One has to take the left turn from between 173th and 174th kilometer posts and go along the road about five kilometers to reach the waterfall. It is clearly visible to the road. Going along a small trial one can easily go to the bottom of the waterfall. If water level is not too high, one can enjoy an ice cool bath in the base pool. Keep in mind, if it rains in the upper hills, water level of the fall increase without warnings.

Bambarakanda Falls from the road on a rainy day.

At it's glory!

Kuda Oya which starts from somewhere in the forests of Horton Plains, is the stream which forms this wonderful waterfall and later join with river Walawe. Using another trail from bottom of the waterfall one can reach to the top of the waterfall. (There is another short trial from the Ohiya-Kalupahana road to climb down to the top of the waterfall). There is another small cascade on the top of the falls which is also about 3-4 meters in height.

Small cascade on top of Bambarakanda falls.
World from the top !

Bambarakanda Rest is the perfect place to stay and enjoy the beauty of Bambarakanda falls. Mrs. Sera, owner of the Bambarakanda Rest is always welcome nature lovers and she has two guides knows about the area very well. One can get their assistance to visit and explore some untouched beautiful natures creation hidden in forests of Kalupahana area.

Through windows of Bambarakanda Rest.
Contact of Bambarakanda Rest is Mrs. Sera Mayakaduwa (Tel: 0575670457)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Common Kingfishers in action at Thalangama Lake

Ever since my friend Madhawa got interested in shooting Kingfishers, he had closely followed this small and colorful kingfisher known as Common Kingfisher. I was inspired by his amazing captures. Most of them were taken at the Thalangama lake. Though I have been there few times before, I haven't seen the chap.  On those visits we were on the foot most of the time. It was very difficult  to shoot them as they were flying away when they see any threatening movement in the environment. So lately I decided to drive on those by roads, which has given me a better chance to get closer unnoticed.

I have spotted a  dead tree branch in the middle of water. (It seems someone has placed it there intentionally, we all should thank that someone.) It seems like an ideal location for a hunter to wait for a fish. I decided to park close to it and wait. There were few other bird species coming to the dead branch including Little Cormorants, Indian Pond Herons, White-throated Kingfishers.

Waiting for a pray..

On pursuit

I was playing the waiting game and it has produce me very good results. Been inside the vehicle birds don't seems notice much of a movement. I had the luxury of using the base of the shouter as a support to hold my lens. This has reduce camera shakes and produced better quality images.(Now I use to shoot with a bean bag on it)

It was my lucky day, there were two Common Kingfishers coming to this particular tree branch and I got a chance of observing them and capture some beautiful shots.



If you are a wildlife photographer, you know that there is nothing call "enough" when taking photographs of a bird. We always want to shoot different poses specially some unique ones and action shots. It is not a photograph of a bird that we are looking for, it is a unique pose of a bird . In order to capture such, we might have to spent days and hours observing them. Ever since my first encounter with Common Kingfishers at Thalangama lake, I had been there several times to observe and photograph them and I will continue to do so.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Gem mining continue at Bodinagala (Ingiriya Forest Reserve)

The gem I'm talking here is none other then Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher. It is not only the rarity of this wonderful birds that made me call it a gem. Rarity combined with it's vivid colors I can only compare it to a colorful gem.

It was about month ago we have last visited Bodinagala and there was no progress in photographing the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher. It was hiding in the bushes far above and according to Thilanka they were feeding a juvenile.

On the very same week we were at Wilpattu, Isuru had been there and managed to get few good shots. Since I was reworded a leave on Friday (6th May 2011) and couldn't get myself going anywhere with my photography buddies, I decided to go to Bodinagala and finish the unfinished business with Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher.

On the last minute I was joined by Sasanka, who had finished his exams on previous week. We bought enough food from Horana and went directly to the reserve. Sky was clouded and light inside the forest was too low for photography and the Kingfisher was not landing on a reasonable location to take a decent photograph. We managed to get some shots but they were not satisfiable. Until about one in the evening we were unable to get a better sighting of the bird and finally we decided to return home. But it didn't let us go that far, we heard its call and both of us were back in position for shooting.

Giving a nice pose

A different pose

Feeling glad about not returning home earlier we spent two more hours in the evening with the bird. Forgot to mention that it was most unlikely at Bodinagala, we were unable to see any other birds that we could see on a normal days. May be it was due to the bad weather conditions on that day. 

Once I uploaded photos to my PC I saw that those photos were way too under exposed. I had lower the exposer to get a better shouter speed under low light and end up with lot of under exposed photographs. It had introduced more noise than I expected when correcting. What a disappointing incident. For those who do photography, make sure you get the correct expose or you will loose lot of details when reducing noise.

I was in two minds, whether to go back there on the following day or not. Finally I decided to give it a try even if it was way too late to do so. But the light has pushed me ever since the day began. It was much better than previous day. I managed to be at the sight by 11.30 and setup my gears there. After waiting about hour or so I got my first chance to take a shot.

First sighting for the day.

And there were few more shots before it moved away again. I have replaced my best shot of the previous day with the new one here.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Pride of Kumana, the Black-necked Stork

Situated just above the Yala National Park, Kumana National Park is recognized as a bird sanctuary. Since it is at the other end of the country from it's commercial capital Colombo, it hits lowest number of visitors compared to any other national parks in the country. Most number of visitors visits the park on bird migration season starting from September to April. Park rangers says that January-March is the best period for bird watching at Kumana since there are lot of breading birds at the park on that period.

Kumana National Park is home to Sri Lanka's last few pairs of resident Black-necked Stork. Though they are mainly seen at the Kumana, occasionally they can be seen at Yala and Bundala National Parks as well. Black-necked Storks are the tallest birds found in Sri Lanka. When at the edge of the water with the look they have, they can be easily mistaken as a humans. The Black-necked Storks usually seen in pairs. My first sight of this bird was at Yala, when we were there on a camping trip on February 2010. It was way to far, we could only see them as dots on the horizon. On that day I got to know that they are very rare and only few pairs are exist in and around Kumana. Black-necked Storks are a species of birds used to migrate to Sri Lanka on migratory season but has stopped doing so for decades now. Few pairs of birds that were left over is still found in the southern part of the country. Some says these pairs are breading at Kumana National Park, but there are no evidence to prove that.

It was on my first camping trip to Kumana National Park we saw a pair of this wonderful bird at the other side of the Yakala Lagoon. They stood high above other bird species and quite far from the road. We took few shots  to make sure what we saw were what we thought we did. Yes..! They were Blacked-necked Storks.

A pair of Black-necked Storks, Yakala Lagoon.

This was the first time I have seen them as clear as much as this but we had to go to the camp site and prepare it before night falls, so we left the sight hoping to return  for them on the following day. I knew they were residents in Kumana, so they must be hanging around the area and must not be that difficult to spot.

On the following day morning we were going around Yakala lagoon and Kumana villuwa and other areas searching for birds, specially the pair of Black-necked Storks we saw on previous day. Kumana villuwa is a tremendous location for photographic backgrounds. I haven't ever seen those colors I saw in Kumana villuwa and surrounding area. Even a commonly seen Indian Darter made a drama out of it.

Sun bathing Indian Darters at Kumana villuwa.
Morning session was disappointing in terms of Black-necked Storks, but there were enough bird sightings for a session on a off season.

Kumana always make it exiting to be there as when we were cooking and collecting firewoods for the night there was a single elephant just about 50 meters away from our camp sight on the river. I was the one who stood next to it and our guide shout not to hesitate of move, I stood still for about a minute till it look away and moved toward water and ran and grab the camera to the a photograph.

An elephant at Bakini gaha camp site.
It remind me that we saw few elephants crossing the river to Yala on the previous night. Tracks on the river bed gave us a better idea about the camping location as there were lot of tracks of elephants and leopards and few other animals. Our camp site was on the Kumbukkan river bed. The river is the border line between Yala and Kumana parks.

Evening session was not better than the morning one, but just before we turn around, we got lucky. Suneth (our tracker) spot a pair of Black-necked Stork on a side of Yakala lagoon. We were careful to not to alert them and got closer as much as possible for better photograph. It wasn't too bad.

A pair of Black-necked Stork, Yakala Laggon.

A Jackal is passing by.

It's time to take off

We returned with a successful day at Kumana. It was better then seen many leopards as Black-neck Storks are so much rare in Sri Lanka. But that doesn't mean we have stopped our leopard hunt..!

Check Birds gallery for my best shot of a Black-necked Stork.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Little Gem of the Ingiriya Forest Reserve.

Kingfishers are one of our favorite photographic subjects. Rarer the better. The Oriental Dwaft Kingfisher is on the top of the list. It is the smallest Kingfisher found in Sri Lanka. Though it had been recorded from all around the country, it is considered as a rare bird species. Fast flight, size and the habitat of the bird had made it difficult to spot. It has a flight call much similar to the Common Kingfisher and it is a good way to track down the fellow.

The closest sight record  of the bird was from the Ingiriya Forest Reserve. NamalK (Namal Kamalgoda) had seen and photographed it at the reserve. I have been there for several times but had no luck of spotting it. Ingiriya Forest Reserve can be categorize as a rain forest located on both sides of the river Kalu. Because of the dense forest canopy  does not allow lost of light to get on to the the forest floor, it has made a low light situation inside the forest. Low light is not good for photography, specially for fast moving subjects such as a bird.

A team of photographers from Photo Lanka flickr group were planning to go on a photographic journey to Ingiriya Forest Reserve on a Thursday (17th Feb. 2011). Since it was a holiday I could join them. I wanted  at least to see the Oriental Dwaft Kingfisher. So I listen to it's call from the bird call CD by Uditha Hettige to get familiar with it.

It was about 6.30 AM when we reached there. It was a foggy morning. We climbed up the steps, it was really hard to see birds or any kind of wildlife. Later when the light is good, we were managed to see Brown Flycatchers, Tickell's Blue Flycatchers, few Yellow-fronted Barbets, Paradise Flycatchers and few other bird species. We decided  to comedown and hang around the "Dhana Shalawa" area. Lighting in this area was quite good and there were birds came to eat left over from the "Dhana Shalawa". I thought of stay closer to the stream there, having thoughts of Oriental Dwaft Kingfisher in my mind. It was around 9.00 and with a sharp call I saw a small bird flying along the stream uphills. I recognized the fellow at once. It was an Oriental Dwaft Kingfisher. I informed others and waited there for fifteen minutes and only I saw it flying over our heads again. There was no time for a click. I m not sure whether any of the others believed me on that day. But I saw it.

It was only after two weeks time I got a chance to think about it again. I gave a call to Lasantha and asked him to join me. Next day morning we were on our way to the reserve. Since the sight on the previous week was at about 9.00, we decided to go up hills and come back later around that time. Closer to the image house we were managed to capture a Grey Hornbill. It was my first good sighting and capturing of the endemic bird.

Grey Hornbill
It was closing 9.00, we came down to position ourselves closer to the place I have seen it on previous week. Suddenly I heard the call of the fellow. I searched all around, but I couldn't locate it. It was Lasantha who spot the bird this time, yet it was not is a position to be photographed. We took a record shot. In case if we couldn't shoot it later we still have a record shot now.

We positioned ourselves closer to the stream, there were many sightings but none of them were good enough for a photograph. Then we got lucky, it came and landed on a bamboo trunk about 8-10 ft from us. That was the best shot I could get on that day.

Oriental Dwaft Kingfisher

There were few more shots better shot. It landed on shades almost all the time and out lenses were not fast enough to capture it in those low light conditions. With happy thoughts in our mind we returned home. We'll be back again for the little gem later.

In a place with much better light but was bit too far.
Inside thick bamboo bushes

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Otters in Thalangama Lake

I use to pay a visit to the Thalangama Lake for birding when ever I m at Colombo on a weekend. It is a 20 minutes drive from home and a perfect location to observe Common Kingfisher, one of the popular birds among us to be photographed. Located in the middle of a crowded area,  the Thalangama lake contains an unbelievable richness of bio-diversity.

Saturday 29th January 2011 was another day I was in Colombo so I decided to visit Thalangama Lake.  When I go there I want to be the first and do not to let anyone else to steal my spotlight. So I left home earlier to be there by 6 in the morning. But when I got there, there were this Dr. and his friend. They seems have came there around 5.30 or so. He has missed the Cinnamon Bitten previous weekend and had returned to find it. They were shooting few Pin-tailed Snipes on the other side of the water. For me those birds were too far to be photographed. So I roamed around the place a bit.

Suddenly I heard a sound from the water beside the big "Kottan" tree. It looks like a large animal. I just checked because the place it full of Water Monitors, thinking this must be one of them (I never liked them so I wanted to keep in distance). Oh my god..! it is an Otter, one.. two.. and there were three of them. They were swimming and playing on the water close to the bank of the lake. This was the first time I saw them in the wild and I was so excited.

Otters are one of my favorite animals as I never fed up watching them. They are soo much full of life, I used to be at the cage of them for long time when ever I went to Dehiwala Zoo. I never knew they exist so closer in wild.

Otters , there were three of them.

Swimming away from us.

Playful lives...
 I followed them. They were moving closer to other two photographers, so I let them know there are Otters. But they didn't seems interested. May be they have seen them before. I watched them until they were disappeared in to the mangroves in the middle of the lake. Rest of day birding was not good for me but those otters had filled my day. Hope I could see them again.

See my best shot of them here.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Finally leopards in Wilpattu

A heart breaking start at Wilpattu National Park after opening in 2010 I was so desperate to go there again as many of my friends have been lucky at Wilpattu recently with leopards as well as few bears. I haven't ever seen a bear or a leopard at Wilpattu. Of course I have only been there for a once.

My friend Madhawa has returned and wanted to spent his vacation productively. We were at Yala last time he was here and had a good time. But Yala is getting crowded in weekend and it is not good for part time wildlife photographers like us who could only go there on a weekend. Some people don't even know how to behave inside a National Park without disturbing the owners of the park. Sad to see but that is the truth. Hope the officers could do a better job in the future. So this time we pick Wilpattu, closer and clam beside I love the backgrounds at Wilpattu.

We were at the gate of Wilapttu by 6 AM on the Friday (22nd April 2011). All together there were 9 of us with a great 4DR5 owner we found when we were searching for a jeep. The area looked like flooded after the rain last night, dreams of seeing leopards was fading when we saw that. But the weather was getting better, we could see rays of sunlight coming through the dense forest.

Sunlight through web made some
beautiful wild moments
We roamed around the park till abut 11 in the morning, we came across the author of Portrait of Birds of Sri Lanka, Mr. Sunil Gunaratne. He was trying to video a Grey Hornbill nesting closer to the bungalow we were booked. He was thinking of getting the permission from us to go there and do the recording but the poor fellow couldn't do it because of the bungalow keeper didn't like it. Later we got to know it was due to the bad behavior of the tracker with him.

After the morning session we went to the Manawila Wildlife bungalow. It was overlooking Manawila with a spectacular view. Perfect place to relax and enjoy the nature and wildlife. I wish I could go there just to be there whole day.

It was raining time to time we were wondering whether to go out in the evening or not. Weather in the evening was much better but it wasn't good for leopards at all. We decided to roamed around to see some birds.

Manawila Wildlife Bungalow, Wilpattu National Park
It wasn't rain in the evening giving more hopes to us but there wasn't any leopard or bear luck till we plan to return to the bungalow. While our friends in the 4DR5 were shooting a Grey Fish Eagle close to Kumbuk Wila we decided to move forward  toward the resting place at the Kumbuk wila. Suddenly Saranga was shouting excitingly.. "lepa.. lepa.." There was a leopard about 100 ft away from us. It was drinking water from  a water hole on the road. Light was disappearing as well as the leopard. It wasn't expecting any visitors and turn around to disappear in to the thick forest in the darkness. It was two or three seconds of pure pleasure to the eyes of four of us and a complete day. I'm sure none from the 4DR5 still believe that we saw it. I can still picture the moment. We returned to the bungalow with hopes of tracking it tomorrow.

After enjoying the great food from Manawila bungalow keeper, we jumped in to the beds outside for a good night sleep. Walked up at about 2 in the morning and it was so cold. I was too lacy to get up and put on a t-shirt and dig deep in to my bed sheet. It was noisy outside. There were lot of frogs in the pond close by. 

It was 5.30 when I walked up second time when Madhawa shouting and pulling us out of the beds. But sooner it began to rain. Instead of going out we decided to hand around the bungalow. Later when rain shades away there were lot of cranes and cormorants at the pond and there were catching frogs. Hah.. I liked the sight more than other because of the noisy experience from the last light.

Caught !

Since weather got better by 10 we decided to go out, even though we roamed around the park whole day there were no signs of large mammals except few sambar deers and lot of spotted dears. It was nice to see that they are not that afraid of vehicles anymore. They were the signs of improvements for nature and wildlife lovers. There was no rain after the morning drop, which was a good sign. We returned to the bungalow at about 4 pm. Been so hungry we ate a lot. Later in the evening we played card and had some fun. I slept even without having the dinner.

Walked up at about 5.30 and got ready for the morning session. But we left the place little late. There were lot of leopard tracks on the way from Manawila to Ilanda mitti and they were continuing toward the Manikkapola side. Seems like it had moved on the road from the beginning. There were tracks everywhere but we couldn't track down. After a unsuccessful morning we decided to head back to the bungalow for the breakfast. Way back 4DR5 has suddenly  stopped in the middle of the road. Curious Sara has park the cab across the road to get a good view in front. Wow, it was a huge male leopard about 75ft away from us on the road. We didn't had the best view but managed to capture some nice shots. 

It was smelling the leaves of those trees
We were clearly in it's sight

Being there for about 5 minutes it had moved in to the forest. We followed it for sometime and bit later it rest under a tree deep down inside the forest. We decided to go back and have breakfast and return to the place again. After the breakfast we packed everything and returned to the leopard sight. It was there when we returned but moved away deep in to the forest later. We roamed around bit more and head back out of the park. It was unexpectedly successful safari in a rainy weather.