Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Trip Report-Weekend Adventure-Malkoha's, Loris, Bear and Leopard

Its been quite awhile since I posted a trip report. Most of my posts have been articles written for magazines and newspapers.

I have been wanting to see Loris for quite some time, and the best known place is at Vil Uyana in Sigiriya. This luxurious hotel plays host to a well organized loris watching tour. The subspecies seen in this area is the Grey Slender Loris (Loris lydekkerianus). It is a species of primate in the family Loridae. It is found in India and Sri Lanka. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests and subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests. It is threatened by habitat loss. The species used to be considered as Loris tardigradus lydekkerianus but Loris tardigradus is now a separate species found in Sri Lanka. This species has been divided into several geographically separated subspecies.

The hotel naturalist Chaminda is a very knowledgeable person who has been recording and photographic this mysterious creature for many years. He has even launched his own book on the species.

Very eager to see this animal myself and my good friend Raveendra made bookings for two nights. Making arrangements to leave office on half day in Friday, I was picked up by Ravee at noon. Driving to Sigirya was an arduous affair as there was road construction all along Kurunegala to Dambulla. This meant we had to wait for 45 minutes at times in one place, crawling at snails pace at other times and reached the hotel only at 7.30 pm. A total of 7 1/2 hours on the road we were dead tired. To our dismay it started raining which meant we weren't able to do the loris tour that night. It was good in a way as we were so tired. The hotel room was very comfortable and after a great dinner we hit the sack.

One of the newest additions to my arsenal thanks to my mom and sister was a carrying case for my long lens from a US based company called Lenscoat. This camouflage case is very easy to carry and I can take my lens out fast in order to capture the images I want. Also I got a camoflauge cover from Lenscoat again for my lens to hide the vibrant white of the Canon lens in order to make it least noticeable to animals. This is crucial especially when one is on foot, the white color stands out compared to other colors as this is very noticeable for animals who see in black and white.

Up early morning we did a walk in the hotel premises with the hope of finding some interesting birds. One thing I noticed first of all was hordes of "Meru" which are matured termites which have grown wings. There were swarms everywhere and the birds were having a field day eating these nourishing insects.

Walking along the beautiful paths in the hotel premises I suddenly came across a bird I have been wanting to capture for a very long time. A Blue Faced Malkoha which is an elusive bird I have been wanting to photograph for a very long time. The blue-faced malkoha (Phaenicophaeus viridirostris) is a member of the cuckoo order of birds, the Cuculiformes, which also includes the roadrunners, the anis, and the Hoatzin. It is restricted to Sri Lanka and southern India. The blue-faced malkoha is a bird of open forests and scrub jungle. It nests in a thorn bush, the typical clutch being two, sometimes three, eggs. This is a largish species at 39 cm. Its back and head are dark green, and the uppertail is green edged with white. The throat and belly are lighter green. There is a large blue patch around the eye and the bill is green. Sexes are similar, but juveniles are duller and barred above.The blue-faced malkoha takes a variety of insects, caterpillars and small vertebrates. It occasionally eats berries.

The light wasn't perfect and the bird wasn't staying in one place, but I managed to get two interesting shots, one was of the bird leaping to catch a flying meru and the other was while it was perched on a bamboo tree. Continuing our walk we noticed many animals enjoying the swarms of meru including Grey Mongoose and Land Monitor Lizards who were all gathering along the pathways. I also noticed large Water Monitors along the paths bordering the lake build in the hotel. The lake is full of fish which have been introduced from snake head, thilapiya and catfish. Some of the fish were gigantic, with snake head around 3-4 feet long.
The day was spent relaxing, enjoying the good food, drinks and the private pool. By late eavening the rain had stopped for awhile, and I urged Ravee to get ready and do a loris watch. We called the naturalist Chaminda and informed that we are coming for the tour and headed out with umbrellas and cameras towards the loris information center at the edge of the hotel. It started drizzling again whilst we waited for Chaminda to arrive. We were given head lamps with a red light, which is not only easy on the nocturnal animals eyes but also makes it easier to spot them. As soon as we put on the lights, we noticed the eye shine of a loris just nearby the information center. Walking towards the location, we came across a very large male. It was much bigger than I had expected and amazingly fast as it walked from branch to branch until it disappeared from sight. We walked further onwards in the forest until we intercepted the loris again. We tried photographing it, but as it was moving quite fast we weren't able to get a clear shot. Despite not being able to photograph we were thrilled to see such an elusive and rare animal for our own eyes. The loris moved fast over the trees until it was not visible.

We walked along the muddy trail, and the rain was making it even more difficult as my slippers were getting layered with clay. The slippery ground made the walk even more difficult. While moving along the trail we came across a civet cat and a kukri snake. Due to the bad weather it was hard to find more animals, so we decided to call it a night.

Early morning the next day we left the hotel after breakfast towards Wilpattu. Ravee has funded the renovation of a park bungalow and hence we wanted to go and see the process. We entered the park at noon and reached the bungalow. After lunch and a quick inspection we continued our safari. While driving along Nelum Wila we came across a leopard named W due to a mark on his forehead. It was a brief sighting, and we continued along the road. In Mahapatessa we came across the famous "Prince" aka "Natta" aka "Panikkavillu Cub" who is a very bold leopard who is accustomed to people and vehicles. In typical Prince style he gave us a good show and I managed to get some good photos.

After awhile we decided to head off in search of something else. While driving towards Walaswala on the main road we came across a bear behind a termite mound. I tried to adjust my bean bag to take a shot, which created abit of noise which scared the skittish animal away. I did manage to get one shot, but I wished It stayed longer.

By 4.30 PM it started to rain, and we decided to call it a day and head back home. All in all it was a relaxing and fun trip which I enjoyed thoroughly, and the wildlife sightings only made it that much better.

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