Sri Lanka, Yala – March 2017

We went straight to our hotel, which was situated on the beach close to Yala National Park. Signs around the hotel warned that the grounds formed part of a regular route taken by elephants – the biggest wildlife risk in the area. Brahminy Kites scavenged the beach and Large-billed Crows and House Sparrows both made regular visits to the eaves and the balcony.

Elephant crossing

We’d arrived early enough that it was possible for me to get to the national park for the afternoon. The approach road was worth watching, as I spotted a pair of Golden Jackal on the move. They jumped a stream before climbing into better view, giving me chance to get some better photos than those at Udawalawa.

Yala is very hot, dry and dusty, but has plenty pools of water which attracted lots of life. Saltwater Crocodile was encountered here – the first after so many freshwater Mugger Crocodiles, of which we saw many more at Yala too. Sambar Deer rested in the shade of some trees while Wild Boar fed neaby, and Tufted Grey Langur picked leaves from the trees. A nesting Crested Hawk Eagle oversaw everything. The first new birds for the trip were Open-billed Stork and Wooly-necked Stork.


Turning a corner, a Sri Lankan Leopard was led on a large rock formation, mouth open to cool down in the searing heat. I was too busy trying to photograph it to notice another one had been nearby, and was now joining the first. Both sat together for a few minutes before slowly moving away to somewhere unknown, and presumably cooler.

Leopard pair

Taking a night time walk from the hotel, unsuccessfully looking for Nightjar, we quickly found ourselves accompanied by a stray dog which insisted on staying by our side. We soon found a sounder of female and juvenile Wild Boar, illuminated only by our torchlight. The hotel was owned and managed by the army, who had a base further along the track, and the security night-shift were a bit panicked by our nocturnal quest for more wildlife, fearing we’d encounter an elephant, which was fair enough considering we could see a couple in the distance from the balcony of our room in the daylight.

The next morning we headed out in the dark to begin another thirteen hour exploration of Yala. We spent the first couple of hours searching for leopards, before it got too hot. It appeared we’d just missed one, not far from where I’d seen the pair the day before. A pair of Ruddy Mongoose put on a bit of a show though, then suddenly a leopard came running out of the vegetation and straight across the track in front of us. Awesome to see, but way too brief to have got a photo. Ten minutes later, way up on a rock formation, we saw another leopard on the move.

Sri Lankan Leopard

We kept a constant eye out for more cats, but there was plenty more wildlife to see… Indian Robin, Darter, Spot-billed Pelican, Painted Stork, Lesser Whistling Duck, Baya Weavers, sunbirds, Fan-tailed Flycatcher, Sri Lanka Green Pigeon, Lesser Adjutant, Magpie Robin, Green Imperial Pigeon, Barred Buttonquail, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater.

We did have one further leopard encounter (I think the total was 7 across Sri Lanka). It was particularly close to us, led on a ledge on a small cliff, but almost completely shielded by vegetation. A photo was impossible, and when it finally moved it completely disappeared. Despite sitting in silence for as long as we could stand in what was a very popular area for mosquitoes and midges, we didn’t see or hear anything else from it.

As with all of the other sections of this trip report, there was simply too much seen to mention here, but the entire list can be found on the species list (select ‘Sri Lanka’ from the drop-down menu).