Friday, September 19, 2014

Birding In Mannar

Wading across deep mud among the mangroves of Vankalai, I was searching for the perfect place to settle down for the sunrise. Reaching the water’s edge I found the ideal spot among the bushes and mangroves where I could lay still without being seen for hours on end. Content with my chosen hide I had to lie still in expectation of dawn. At around 6.00 am the sun rose from the east with the most glorious golden light.  In front of me was the vast Vankalai Bird Sanctuary which is a large network of wetlands, and a haven for migrant water birds.

Dawn revealed a vast horde of ducks huddled together in the far corner of the water body. My lens was too small to identify the species, but an hour of lying patiently was finally rewarded with the ducks flying and landing right in front of me. I could identify four different species among the flock, from the abundant Northern Pintails (Anas acuta) with their pointed tail feathers, the Common Teal (Anas crecca) with their colorful plumage, the Garganeys (Anas querquedula) and most unusual of all the Northern Shovelors (Anas clypeata) with their unusual bills akin to a shovel. With the rising sun, more birds began flying in from the east. Eurasian Spoonbills (Platalea leucorodia) with their amazing white plumage flew in and landed in front of me. These graceful birds beauty was further enhanced with the golden morning sun.  Caspian (Hydroprogne caspia) and Whiskered (Chlidonias hybrida) Terns flew above me and the ducks swam few feet from where I was hiding, completely oblivious to my presence. I was one with the environment, and the feeling is simply indescribable. 

Back in the car a few hours later, I continued to drive along the proposed railway track on the lookout for more species. I was not disappointed as I reached the far corner of road I came across the bird I wanted to see above all other. It was a Western Reef Egret (Egretta gularis) a lovely bird with metallic grey plumage. From what I have heard from my local contact Mr. Lawrence of the Four Tees Rest Inn, there are only two to three individuals seen in Mannar. The egret was gracefully stalking the many fish among the mangroves, before moving out of sight. This encounter was among countless other sightings of Eurasian Curlews (Numenius arquata), Painted Snipe (Rostratula benghalensis), Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus), Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola) and many more. Driving along the massive causeway connecting the mainland to Mannar one can observe more birds quite close up from the comfort of one’s own vehicle. Being another corner of Vankalai, the wetlands around the causeway is home to a multitude of Black Tailed Godwits (Limosa limosa) and more Northern Pintails (Anas acuta) who have a very unusual feeding method of floating with their heads underwater and their backs in the air. Gulls are aplenty with species like Heuglins (Larus heuglini), Brown headed (Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus) Gulls along with many species of terns. Driving along the A32 road which leads to Jaffna which is the easternmost corner of the Sanctuary, I witnessed a flock of Pied Avocets (Recurvirostra avosetta) which are rare winter migrants to the region.

Vankalai Sanctuary is a triangular area of land in Mannar with its borders being Vankalai, Puliyanthivu Island and Tiruketiswaram. Declared as a RAMSAR wetland in 2010, the sanctuary attracts more than 20,000 water birds during the annual winter migration. Mannar truly is the Holy Grail for birders (bird watchers), and for newbies like me it is a treasure chest of untold riches waiting to be explored.


Despite its legal protection, the area is surrounded by human habitation resulting in a multitude of garbage being dumped in the sanctuary area. Observations revealed items ranging from plastic bottles, polythene bags and even used TV’s and video tapes scattered around the wetlands. Further the new railway line borders the sanctuary, results in continuous human activity. A firm strategy is needed urgently in order to provide “real” protection to Vankalai and other bird hotspots in the Mannar region. This fragile eco system is special to Sri Lanka in its diversity of species migrating every year, and it truly is a natural heritage worth protecting for our future generations.



No comments:

Post a Comment