Our accommodation at Udawalawa was situated right near the boundary of the national park. Sightings of Palm Squirrel, White-throated Kingfisher and a variety of frogs were constant outside the hotel, and in the gardens, prinias and Scaly-breated Munia’s were constructing nests. Beyond the grounds was a river. Wandering along the river it was possible to see monitor lizards, Red-wattled Lapwing, egrets, Greater Coucal, and a variety of butterflies that never settled.
Temperatures both here and at our next destination seemed to climb even higher, but this didn’t seem to detract from the amount of wildlife to be seen. The first bird seen once we started to explore the national park was the Blue-tailed Bee-eater. A pool full of domestic Water Buffalo (we’d see their wild ancestors later) was very active with Cattle Egrets, Yellow Wagtails, Red-wattled Lapwing and various sandpipers. There were a number of species I was familiar with from the UK, such as Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Little Egret and Great Egret, but there were many new birds too – Indian Roller, Black Robin, Rufus Bushlark, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Painted Stork, etc. Almost every body of water had at least one Mugger Crocodile stationed at its edge or lurking within it.
The most obvious creature in this area was the Sri Lankan Elephant. They occur here in large numbers, and it wasn’t uncommon for us to find ourselves within metres of one. We quickly lost count of how many family groups and individuals we saw during our time at Udawalawa.
As the sun started to fall during our first day at Udawalawa, we were at a series of ponds, watching a pair of Pied Kingfishers, while turtles basked nearby and terns fished, when a Golden Jackal suddenly appeared in the valley. It climbed the bank and stood amongst the longer grasses, giving time for a few shots before disappearing.
The following day was at least as hot again, but we spent 13 hours exploring the national park. The morning was very bird dominated… prinias, parakeets, shrikes, eagles, hirundines, waders, kingfishers, pipits, storks, larks, spoonbills, kites and bee-eaters. Then, as the temperature peaked, another Golden Jackal appeared around the corner, and like the one the day before, headed off in to the long grass.
Stopping for rest at an elevated location, I spotted a Grey-bellied Cuckoo nearby as we watched Brahminy Kites overhead, then I noticed conical pits in the sand, just like those of ant-lions that I’d seen in Suffolk and Costa Rica. A quick stroke of the sand with the tip of a blade of grass, and the jaws of an ant-lion broke the surface to try to catch its ‘prey’.
Moving on, I saw my first Sirkeer Malkoha which did a good job of evading my camera, Jerdon’s Bushlark, Paddyfield Pipit, Crested Hawk Eagle, White-bellied Drongo, Lesser Goldenback Woodpecker, Forest Wagtail, Tickell’s Blue Nuthatch… ioras, flycatchers, shrikes, turtles, giant squirrels and lots more. Thirteen hours is too much to document here! As the sun went down, the last photographable bird was another Indian Roller.
The next morning we set off for out next location – Yala.