Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Mannar round trip

It has been almost a year since visiting Mannar and I was tempting to go there again, especially in the middle of the migration season. I have called Mr. Laurance, the owner of Four Teess Rest Inn, many times since the season begun, but couldn’t go there due to some concerns. This time I was very determined to go there and ask my friends to join me from about month a go. Unfortunately most of them had forgotten it and arranged their own trips. Finally there was only myself and Lasantha, my good old friend were the only ones left behind. When we called Four Tees Rest Inn, our beloved rest, all rooms were already been booked for the long weekend. However Mr. Laurance was kind enough to give us other accommodation facilities available, but they all were already full. I was very anxious to go to Mannar, so we left Colombo on 3rd Feb hoping to find a place to stay when we got there or if we couldn’t find a hotel we were planning to return home on the same day.

We were traveling on the same root to Dambulla, which we had chosen to go to Kandalama on previous weekend to enjoy our Balloon ride (I’ll post about the balloon ride later when I get a chance to write). From there we were travelling on A9 to Madawachchiya. A9 is under construction at the moment which had reduced our speed a lot. Whole journey took us about 6.5Hrs to reach the Giant Tank (Yodha wewa).

We stopped there for a moment to have a look around the Giant Tank and I was delighted by the view from the bank of Giant tank, which made me run back to the car and grab my camera with landscape lens on it. But this one I’m going to share with all of you is the one I took from my phone.

Panorama of the Giant Tank
There were few fishermen working on fishing nets and the sunrise over the tank was remarkable. We spent about 20 minutes there enjoying the sunrise, after that started our journey toward Mannar. We have noticed that the area around the giant tank was very active with birds. We have spotted many bird species on the way to Thalladi including a flock of Brahminy Starlings.

Sunrise over Giant Tank

Just before reaching Thalladi we turn left to Vankalai, and turn right again in to the old railway track. I got the information from a reliable source that there are lots of ducks in the pools by the side of railway road. There were birds but they are not use to been approached by a vehicle and as soon as we get close they were flying away. It was Gray Francolins made the funniest move, running as fast as they can. But the Little Grabs were as always photogenic J

A Little Grab fallowed by tiny ones…

Vankalai lagoons

Vankalai is the newest addition to Sri Lanka’s ramsar wetlands. Among the four of them, Vankalai is a vital habitat for wetland bird species; especially for migrant birds because it is situated right on their migratory path.  more info

Common Greenshank
Mash Sandpipers

Eurasian Curlew

Been at Vankalai for about hour, we went toward Thalaimannar, in searching for birds as well as a place to stay. It seems there were few new accommodation facilities have emerged in the area but they all were booked for the long weekend.

Lovely Northern Pintails (Two male and a female)
So called Mannar Wild Horses
 Finally we decided to pay a visit to our good old rest and check whether Mr. Laurance could help us on finding any sort of accommodation, at least for one night. When we took left turn to the station road just passing the telephone tower, we have noticed that the road is widen and under construction. For the first time I noticed that the railway track to Thalaimannar is right by the side of Four TeessRest Inn and later I got to know there is a railway station right in-front of the rest. First glimpse on the rest told us the story of how crowded the place is, however we went in to have a chat with Mr. Laurance to find out whether we have any other option available. It was amazing how easily he recognized us and he was very happy to see us there again. When he got to know that we don’t have a place to stay and we are staying only one night he let us know there is a spare room which is reserved from the following day onward. We were really glad to hear that and took the opportunity at once. There were seven newly added rooms in the guest and we got one of them.

A Indian Roller, one of the most colorful birds on the flight
Just after loading our luggage to the room, weight there we were running back to Koralulam, the lagoon we have passed on our way to Four Teess Rest Inn. Even though it was the famous place on our last visit to Mannar, this time it was not as good as last year. There were quite a few fences in the lagoon itself which were limiting our view over the lagoon and the level of water in the lagoon was less than in other areas resulting birds to be far away. Instead of going on the usual path, we decided to give it a try from the old railway track but couldn’t get much closer from either side. Because of the light is getting harsh, we went back to the rest. After driving for long hours without having a good sleep it was time to get a good nap.

Walkup around two in the evening with a screaming stomach and it remind me that we had only two buns for the breakfast. There was a delicious seafood diet awaiting us at the dinning hall. After enjoying our late lunch, it was time for the evening session. This time without hesitation we went directly toward Vankalai. We pulled aside close to Talladi camp watching few Lesser Whistling Ducks in a roadside pond and suddenly caught a glimpse of two beauties. They were two Spotted-billed ducks.  But they flew to the middle of the pond and disappeared between lotus leaves.  After spending some time there hoping that they will reappear, we decided to get back for them later and went searching for new opportunities on the Vankalai road. Lagoons around Vankalai were good as always.

Lesser Whistling Ducks

Spotted-billed Ducks floating far way..

Common Redshank

A Pacific Golden Plover 

After about two kilometers in to Vankalai road we decided to turn around and come to Thalladi looking for ducks.
Ready to go down
 We decided to head back to Four Teess just after ducks flew away hoping to return on the following morning.

Day 2

Another day in Sri Lanka’s largest island has begun. Even though we were planning to photograph the sunrise from a lagoon closer to Four Teess, as a result of cloudy sky, we were on our way to Thalladi to engage on unfinished business from day before. We were glad to see our favorite birds on this trip were floating in one of the roadside tanks.

A Spotted-billed Duck, closer look

It had rose behind us.

After spending about half an hour, we realized that this was the best we could get close to them and leave them alone there. So it was time for a Vankalai visit which was a much better choice as it added few new bird species to my bird collection.

Liquid gold and a miner

So called (Mistakenly)  “Siberian Koka” – A Painted Stork

Black-headed Ibis with a fish in its beak

Mannar donkeys 

 A Terek Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpipers

Plenty of Welders
A Whimbrel 

Whiskered tern

Finally a Gray Francolin 
 While on the way to Four Teess for breakfast, we almost forgot to revisit ducks. But the enthusiasm was so high to let it go resulting a turn around against the hunger. There were no signs of Spotted-billed ducks at first, but then we spot them under a mangrove much closer to the bank we were closing in. So this time we decided to give it a try on foot.

Spotted-billed Ducks under a shade

Colors of Mannar..
It amazed us how alerted they are, as soon as we got a bit closer they started flying toward the middle of the tank. Without giving it up we hang around hoping that they will get use to our appearance. Trick worked for some extend and we were managed to shoot few acceptable shots.

Fly with me sweetheart 
Adding more colors

Eventually we were at Four Tees for the breakfast. On the way back we had a chat with an army soldier and he gave us a clue about Puttlum – Wilpattu road which I thought was not in a good mood for a car to go. After taking a bit with Mr. Laurance about the road condition we got to know a Maruti WagonR has made it on the way without a problem. So we decided to give it a try expecting to see famous Doric house commonly known as “Alli Rani” by Tamils living in the area. It was around 11 when we left Four Tees and drove to Arippu via Vankalai. Road from Vankalai to Silawaturai had a lovely Palmyra fence.

Palmyra fence

We visited Arippu fort on the way to Doric’s bungalow. Tip was given by another two army soldiers. There is also sign board on the road.

Arippu Fort

It took about 45 minutes to get to Doric house. It is situated on an amazing location facing the Gulf of Mannar. There were shells scattered all around waters edge which had remind us that the Gulf of Mannar was once famous for its pearls. It was one heritage that western colonization has steel from us for ever.

Doric House

Doric House History

Once a glory

Future through history

The Doric House

Doric House from the sea

Been there for about half an hour we were on our way to Puttlum through Wilpattu. Road conditions were not good at all; we were travelling at about 10 Km/hr in certain areas. We were lucky that always we had accompanied army/navy soldiers who were travelling on the way to their camps. It was always amazing to travel through such an amazing wildness though we haven’t come across much wildlife. Once we saw an enormous Serpent Eagle on the ground but we were thinking it was a Hanuman Langur until we got a closer look. At another time we thought we had a glimpse of a Blue-eared Kingfisher but later found out they were only Common Kingfishers. I was quite happy until we came to south border of Wilpattu National Pak on the road. There was this Causeway crossing Kala Oya and the water level was bit higher. It seems it had rained somewhere in the middle of the country. I was in two minds thinking whether we can make it over to the other side. But finally I did it. But I advise you all not to take this road on a car, especially from Mannar to Puttlum, if the water level was bit more high, we would have to wait there until it get lower.  After going through all those difficulties on the road it will be a dead end if it had a higher water level. So think twice when you plan to go along this road.\

Kala Oya causeway from Google Earth

It was around 5.30 in the evening when we reach Puttlum finally and made it to home within 3hrs.  

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