Monday, February 23, 2015

Mannar Revisited 2015

I have been wanting to visit Mannar during the dry season even since we went there in December during the rains. Despite all the rainy and cloudy weather we had some great sightings of Flamingoes and crab plovers. The light was terrible and hence the photographs were not that great. I was determined to get some great pictures this time and hence made arrangements for a weekend trip. Being quite far away from Colombo it is hard to do a one night trip as we would have to drive quite a distance. My good friend Raveendra and I decided to leave on Friday night after work. We decided to invite our jeep drivers and good friends in Wilpattu Bobby and Senevi along as well as they were very keen to witness the birds in Mannar as well. Senevi and I go a long way since 2011 when we met and have been close ever since. Bobby is a good friend of Raveendra’s and we decided to take them along.

 Leaving Colombo at 6.00 pm we faced heavy traffic all the way through Negombo, upto Chilaw. Reaching Wilpattu junction at 10.00 pm we picked up Senevi and Bobby and took off straight to Mannar. We took the Oyamaduwa road which was much shorter, and went via Tantirimale and reached Cheddikulam. From there onwards the road was straight upto Mannar. We saw some elephants on the roadside near the Madu turnoff. From Murunkan onwards the road was terrible as they were still carpeting the roadway and we had to slow down abit. We were very sleepy and hungry and it was 1.30 when we reached Four Tees Rest Inn. After a tiring night we went to bed straight away.
Up early morning we headed towards Vankalai looking for birds. We came upto a pond on the roadside where we saw hundreds of spoonbills, egrets, pelicans and painted storks feeding on fish. Among this group were the unusual and lovely Nothern Shoverlor ducks. These lovely ducks have the most unusual bills which are shaped like shovels. The males were shy and tended to be far out in the water whilst the females were closer. I got off the vehicle and positioned myself to get a better angle. I managed to get a great shot of a female as she started flapping her wings in the golden light.
Nothern Shovelor Duck- Female
Driving towards the vankalai bridge we couldn’t find any unusual birds hence we drove back to the Mannar Causeway. We noticed the flamingoes far out in the water. As it was too far for a good shot, I didn’t bother too much, but Ravee was determined to get close and hence called in a fisherman in an outrigger canoe. I know the experience which Kithsiri and Palitha went through when they both fell in the water with their camera’s in Debarawewa few years back and I didn’t want to risk damaging my camera’s hence I stayed back. Another crowd observed what we were doing and got their own boat and paddled fast towards the flock. This was a stupid move as they got too close and ended up scaring the birds who flew away.
 Greater Flamingoes

 Ravee coming back after a round in a fishing boat looking for flamingoes
 Bobby from Wilpattu coming ashore after going on the boat with Ravee to see flamingoes
Senevi from Wilpattu helping Ravee with his big lens
Back at Four Tees we were treated to the usual feasts of excellent “Jaffna” style seafood. That evening we drove towards Vankalai again and managed to get some good shots of Garganey Ducks. While driving along I noticed a slightly different duck and identified it as a Common Teal. This beautiful duck has bright green head and some vibrant colors all around. The lovely golden light made the colors stand out.
 Garganey Duck- Male
Common Teal

Back up early the next day Ravee was determined to go out into the water again, and hence we got Navy permission and hired a fisherman’s boat with a motor. The flamingoes were far out into the sea and Ravee managed to get close enough for good photos. I on the other hand went off to a different spot to find some ducks. After some time observing the Garganeys and Nothern Pintails senevi pointed out a different duck. I immediately identified the fellow as a Indian Spot Billed Duck. This beautiful duck has one of the most colorful bills I have ever seen. This lone duck quietly swam across the pond and went into the bushes. I was thrilled, this was the first time I saw this lovely duck and the sheer beauty left me breathless.
Spot Billed Duck

Raveendra landed back to shore and after a good breakfast we headed back to Colombo which was a long 8 hour drive. Tired and sleepy back at home I was happy that I managed to have some great sightings in such a short span of time and I hope to visit Mannar once again before the season is over. This truly is the place to be during this season.
Painted Stork and Eurasian Spoonbill

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