Monday, May 2, 2016

Weekend Break to Yala and its little known places

Hello friends,

Finally after coming back from Africa and spending a few weeks at home, I started to get the jungle bug again. For people like me, its hard not to get the jungle vibe, and the urge to get back into the wilderness. Hence during end of April, I decided to do a quick trip to parts of Yala National Park which I have never visited before. Yes my friends,  there are still places in Yala which are not that visited by people and might still give a more genuine "wilderness" experience.

Hence making plans with my friend Hamid, we decided to head to the park late on Friday evening. The drive that night was quite fun, and leisurely. Enjoying Hamid's stop overs to get his much needed fruits was quite interesting, and it got me eating some tasty mangoes and watermelons after a long time. Listening to great music courtesy of Hamid with his 90's rock collection, we made it to Kataragama late that night.

Our abode for the night was Hotel Sanora, a small guest house, popular with pilgrims. We were welcomed by the owner Sahan, who showed us the room, and after a much needed wash we retired for the night, as we had to wake up early the next day.

We ended up getting late, and reached the park entrance by 6.30 am when the plan was to make it by 6.00 am. Entering into this new area, its was refreshing to enjoy a new landscape, which I have never seen before. Further there were very few vehicles, which was a welcome sight. Despite traversing all the roads, and exploring every nook and cranny we couldn't locate a leopard. By mid day, we came across something very interesting. The tracker showed us a nest of a Grey Hornbill by the side of the road. I was quite excited because I have never photographed this endemic bird well, as its very shy and tends to fly off. In preparation for the arrival of the male bird, we stayed at a distance, so that we wouldn't disturb it. After over 20 minutes of waiting the male bird arrived, and latched onto the tree and passed fruits to the female who was inside the tree hollow. It was a great sighting for me, and very satisfying. After a good morning round exploring the place, we retired to Kataragama for the afternoon.

Back at the park by evening, we traveled on the main road, and from a point took on a lonely jungle path. While on the path, we noticed fresh leopard droppings and footprints. In anticipation we followed the tracks, but to no avail. By late evening clouds were gathering and it was about to rain. Just then I heard an unusual cry. Through experience I knew it was the Toque Macaque or "Rilawa" a monkey species, giving an alarm call for a leopard. We scoured the bushes and trees, but could see anything. The rain started to pour and we remained in once place till it subsided. Thereafter we took another lonely jungle road, and whilst taking a bend, Hamid stopped and said he saw something like a cat on top of a small bush. When we reversed we realized it was no cat, but a massive leopard, hanging on a tiny bush. It got down, and did a trot away from us towards the jungle. It was stalking. We waited patiently, as it turned round and looked at us. After about 5 minutes of waiting motionless it ran into the jungle and we heard deer alarm calls. Maybe it had missed its quarry, maybe it caught it, we would never know. Waiting for some time, we realized the creature will not come back out, and hence we decided to head back to the place where we heard the alarm calls of the monkey.

When we arrived there were two vehicles already on the lake bund. when we inquired they showed a leopard walking down below the bund. Using the long lens I managed to get one acceptable image. It was getting dark, and it was time to head back out. When dropping the tracker at the ticket office I noticed a large black mound near the office. Asking Hamid to turn the jeep and position the headlights we found a mother bear walking back to the forest with two cubs on the back. It was a thrilling sighting.

Early morning the next day, we arrived ahead of schedule at the office, and were ready for a new adventure. Travelling on the jungle roads we were on the look out for fresh paw prints. Along the way I came across a pair of rare King Mongoose, also known as the Stripe Necked Mongoose, a beautiful and massive specimen. This was an animal which has eluded me for over a decade and I had no decent photos of this  animal. I was overjoyed and thrilled about this sighting even more than the leopard sighting the previous day.

 After going to the site where we saw the leopard the previous day, we came across another pair of Stripe Necked Mongoose. This was my lucky day and I took enough photos to my hearts content. Thrilled with the sightings, we continued on our search, and while going on a trail, Hamid suddenly showed me a bird on a tree. It was unlike anything I have seen before, but I knew immediately what it was. It was a rare Osprey. This fish eating bird of prey are found one in a while in parks such as Bundala, and only one or two individuals at that. This lone animals was on a tree perched high above the water looking down for fish.The claws are structured specifically to catch fish and are hence different to an eagles. The sun was high and it was midday so the photos weren't that great, but seeing this species for the first time it was a major thrill for me. After this sighting, we decided to head back out of the park as we had to get back to Colombo. All in all, I had got 3 species which I have never photographed before, the Grey Hornbill, Stripe Necked Mongoose and Osprey.

After saying our goodbyes we departed back to Colombo that afternoon. The tour overall produced some unique sightings, and few encounters which are a first for me.