NOTES ON FIELD TRIPS TO WILPATTU NATIONAL PARK

  • Wilpattu National Park 6th to 8th January 2023

      6.05am 48 Spotted Deer and 3 Elephants at the Hunuwilagama Tank.
      7.10am arrived at the park entrance. The heavy shower in the early morning had made the whole area quite wet.
      An immature Black-winged kite was perched on an electricity cable, less than 20 feet from the ground at the park entrance. The young bird was wet and looked bedraggled. It made a screeching call. I noticed that its iris was pale olive in colour and lacked the characteristic crimson red of the adults.

      7.40am a troop of Purple-faced Leaf Monkey Semnopithecus vetulus at Diulgas Mandiya. This species is seldom seen in the main villu areas of the park.

      11.31am one Elephant feeding at Kanjuran Villu.

      12.32pm the slight drizzle that started at Kumutu villu tuned in to a heavy shower by the time I reached Manik Wila.
      2.15pm one leopard at Kuruttupandi villu. N 08.43656, E 079.98228
      I drove down to Kuruttupandi villu from Manik Wila. The vehicle which was behind me turned on to the Kuruttupandi upper road. Having checked the villu I drove on to the upper road. A vehicle was stopped, and the guide signaled that a leopard had been on the road and moved in the direction of the villu. I reversed and drove down to the villu again. Despite there being no leopard in view the frantic alarm calls of a Giant Squirrel and the alarm calls a few Indian Palm Squirrels indicated that the leopard was close. After some time one vehicle parked across the villu signaled me to come over. I arrived at the spot to see a young leopard lying on a patch of white sand at the edge of the forest. It was Kumbuk Wila Male 2 (KWMC 2), one of the two male cubs of Kumbuk Wila Female 2 (KWFC 2), referred to as Cleopatra. Around 2.50pm with sunlight becoming strong the leopard moved under a Madan tree and was only visible with the help of binoculars. Most safari jeeps left but I decided to wait. At 3.27pm he moved out again and was watching the Spotted Deer feeding in the villu until 3.47pm and moved back under the tree again.
      On the 4th of November 2022 I photographed both these cubs with their mother at Madangaha Wala at Kokkare Villu, which was the last occasion they were seen with their mother.
      The young male was looking intently at the Spotted Deer feeding on the plains. The deer did not detect the leopard lying at the edge of the villu.

      3.02pm while waiting for the leopard to move out I noticed a lovely specimen of a female Brown Shrike perched on a small dried-up branch on the ground at Kuruttupandi Villu. The scaling pattern on the female’s flank was very clearly visible.

      4.20pm left Kuruttupandi to reach the park entrance by 6.00pm.
      6.00pm left the park.
      Mammals and Reptiles observed during the day.
      Mammals – Elephant 4, Leopard 1, Indian Buffalo 13, Sambhur 2, Spotted Deer 263, Wild Boar 1, Barking Deer 2, Golden Jackal 2, Ruddy Mongoose 1, Toque Monkey, Grey Langer, Purple-faced Leaf Monkey, Giant Squirrel, Indian Palm Squirrel.
      Reptiles – Mugger Crocodile 4, Flapshell Turtle 1, Black Turtle 4, Land Monitor, Common Garden Lizard, Low-land Kangaroo Lizard, Devaka’s Fan-throat Lizard.
      7th January 2023
      7.23am entered the park.
      7.24am as I was handing over the entry permit at the gate, I noted that the herd of Spotted Deer at a distance were making alarm calls indicating the presence of a leopard. I advanced about 50 meters when I saw a leopard move from the road into the forest. There was no opportunity for any photography. I parked and waited for some time, but the leopard did not appear again. The Spotted Deer herd had one female with parts of its face covered in white fur.

      8.39am a Brown-breasted Flycatcher between Boaralu Wala and Walas Wala. This is a common migrant species that can be seen in suitable habitat during the migrant season from the lowland forests up to about 2000 meters in the hills except in the extreme north. The Layard’s flycatcher breeds in north-eastern India, central and Southern China, northern Burma, and Thailand. The entire population is known to winter in southern India and Sri Lanka.

      10.12am a Pacific Golden Plover at Tala Wila. This species breeds in the Arctic tundra in Western Alaska and Siberia. It winters on islands across the Pacific Ocean through South-East Asia to North-Eastern Africa. A small population is known to winter in California and Hawaii in the United States of America. This is a common species at Wilpattu during the migrant season and can be regularly seen at most open fields around the Villus and water bodies such as Mahapatessa, Kudapatessa, Panikkar Villu, Tala Wila, Borupan Wila, Thimbiri Wila and Kuruttupandi Villu. They can be seen at these localities feeding on the ground sometimes in scattered flocks of up to 20-40 birds.

      10.45am photographed two Tricoloured Munias perched on an exposed branch accompanies by an immature bird. As seen in the image the young birds are olive brown in colour with a whitish head and are very different in colouration to the adults. This striking bird is a breeding resident found throughout the country. It is also found naturally in India, Bangladesh and southern China and has been introduced to Trinidad, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. Even though not as common as the White-backed or the Spotted Munia this species can also be seen throughout the country. It is even found in the wetlands just outside the city of Colombo. One of the best places to observe and photograph this species is around Pomparippu. Like other munias they feed on paddy and may species of gras seeds.

      11.00am a troop of Purple-faced Leaf Monkey at Uththamadaaru Bridge in Pomparippu. Unlike the Torque Monkey and the Grey Langurs which are quite common in the park, this species is seldom seen. Four races of this endemic leaf monkey have been recognized. Race vetulus in the Wet Zone, race nestor in the Lowland Western parts, North Central Province philbricki and Hill Country Monticola. The race that is found in Wilpattu is Semnopithecus vetulus philbricki. This species is regularly seen around the Uththamada aru bridge.

      11.14am the beautiful Scarlet Mallow Pentapetes phoeniceaflowers in bloom at Pomparippu. This is an indigenous species that grows in swamps, marshy areas, paddy fields and grassy bunds of tanks in the dry lowlands. These beautiful flowers are referred to as “Bandu vada” in Sinhala. Scarlet Mallow is also found in India, Myanmar, Thailand, Bangladesh, Indochina, Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines, Australia and New Guinea. The fruits and the roots of this species are used in India as an herbal remedy to treat Fever, skin deceases and even snake bite. Indian literature often draws similarity between the striking red colour of these flowers and female lips.
      I have observed and photographed the beautiful flowers of this species in open moist fields, in the northern parts of the country, including Mannar, Kilinochchi and Vidaththalthivu during the months of January and February. They are never found in large communities. A few plants will bloom in suitable places after the rains. The striking red colour of the flowers among other green herbage makes it easy for anyone with an interest in wildflowers to detect it even from a fair distance. In Wilpattu these flowers can be seen at Pallekandal Pitiya in January where the fields contain a fair amount of water after the rains. By end February there was no trace of these flowers as the flied had dried up.

      12.30pm by the time I reached Kokkare Villu the drizzle that started at Nelum Wila had developed into a very strong shower. Despite being midday, the visibility became very poor. When it rains so hard usually it does not last very long. Thus, I decided to park by the side of the Villu and have lunch. By the time I was done the rain had stopped.
      1.12pm one leopard at Thimbiri Wila. N 08.42680, E 080.01279
      It was a young male leopard and was stalking a herd of Spotted Deer. I managed to get some images as he moved quickly from one bush to another. Despite his efforts to conceal himself some Spotted Deer detected him and started making alarm calls. After some time, he broke cover and emerged through a large bush. There after he walked out and permitting us to get a few good images. It was Boralu Wala Male 1 (BRWMC 1). This leopard was often seen, with its mother, the Boralu Wala Female 2 (BRWFC 2), between Ibba Wala and and Boralu Wala from April 2021. On the 10th and 11th of December 2022 I saw him at Borupan Wila and Borupan Pitiya respectively. This is the first time he was seen at Thimbiri Wila. Later, that day I was told that he had moved back to Borupan Wila by evening.

      3.49pm a flock of 69 Lesser Sand Plover, 12 Black-tailed God Wits and a Curlew Sandpiper at Mahapatessa.

      5.20pm the Grey Orchid Vanda tessellata in bloom at Maha Wewa. Unlike many species of wild orchids which produce uniformly coloured odorless flowers, the flowers of this orchid are quite fragrant and carry a wide variety of coloures. I have photographed flowers with pink petals and dark pink lips and many with different shades of grey to yellow petals and blue-purple lips at Wilpattu.  

      5.21pm a Malabar Pied Hornbill feeding on Veldt Grape Cissus quadrangularis leaves at Maha Wewa. The bird picked leaves with its beak and tossed them into its gullet in their typical feeding pattern.The bird swallowed 9 leaves and took one in its beak when flying off.
      In Sinhalese this plant is referred to as Heerassa and has been recognized from ancient times for its medicinal use. It is used in Ayurveda and Sidda medicine to treat broken bones, relive pain, injured ligament, Hemorrhoids ect. The high contents of vitamin C and many antioxidant compounds such as carotenoids, tannins and phenols found in this plant is said to be the reasons for its healing abilities. This is my first observation of these Hornbills feeding on the leaves of any plant.  Veldt Grape is a common species in Wilpatu and it produces flowers in October and November.

      5.30pm an Osprey at Maha Wewa. This is where in March 2019 I recorded this specie for the first time at Wilpattu. There were no records of this species prior to that from the park.

      5.32pm an Orange-headed Thrush between Maha Wewa and Thammanna Wala.

      5.42pm one leopard between Maha Wewa and Thammanna Wala. N 08.35631, E 080.12292
      Safari jeep driver Jagath told me that he had seen a female leopard and a cub at this location, and they moved into the forest less than 30 seconds before my arrival. As he left, I moved forward, and spotted a leopard seated ahead of me on the road. While photographing I observed that she was calling out to her cub. Unfortunately for me the cub did not move back on to the road and I had to leave to reach the park entrance by 6.00pm. I drove off thinking how great it would have been if I had arrived a few minutes before. Upon checking her spot pattern, I was pleased to note that the female was Maha Wewa Female 1 (MHWF 1).

      6.00pm left the park.
      Mammals and Reptiles observed during the day.
      Mammals - Leopard 3, Indian Buffalo 19, Sambhur 1, Spotted Deer 512, Wild Boar 16, Barking Deer 5, Golden Jackal 1, Toque Monkey, Grey Langer, Purple-faced Leaf Monkey, Giant Squirrel, Indian Palm Squirrel.
      Reptiles – Mugger Crocodile 6, Flapshell Turtle 2, Black Turtle 3, Land Monitor, Common Garden Lizard.

      8th January 2023
      7.44am entered the park. The overnight heavy rains had resulted in all the water bodies close to the park entrance to be filled to the brim and overflow.
      10.56am an Indian Pygmy Woodpecker at Borupan Wila. We have ten species of Woodpeckers recorded in the country of which nine are resident with two endemic species. The tenth species, the Eurasian Wryneck is a migrant. As its name suggests this is the smallest of our Woodpeckers. It is a breeding resident throughout the country. Other than in Sri Lanka it is only found in India and Nepal. This is a seldom seen species as it usually occupies the canopy. It is equally common in the wet and dry lowlands and is also found up to mid hills. The highest altitude at which I have seen it so far has been at Pitawala Pathana in the Knuckles Forest reserve at an altitude of 1200 meters. It is still found in the rubber plantations in the outskirts of Colombo in Malabe and Athurugiriya. It is a fascinating little bird to observe due to its miniature appearance as they hammer dead twigs with their tiny beaks in search of grubs. While foraging a pair will regularly “keep in touch” by making tinkling, trill call. It is a common but very difficult bird to capture in Wilpattu as it occupies the topmost branches of tall trees. I was fortunate enough to locate a nest of this species once at the park entrance, which allowed me to get some good images of this tiny bird. This bird was perched on a dead tree by the side of the villu and was close to a few Common Swallows.

      12.44pm a White-bellied Sea Eagle perched on a dead tree at the edge of Kudapatessa. This grand eagle is the largest eagle species in the country with a wingspan of 2.2 meters. Despite its name this species is found in most inland tanks far away from the sea.

      1.41pm a Lesser Adjutant at Mare Villu. This is the second largest Stork in the country. It is 4 feet in height with a wingspan of 8 feet and is only second to the rare, Black-necked Stork which is almost 5 feet in height with a wingspan of 7.5 feet.

      1.46pm a male Ruddy Mongoose at Avathara Motte. He was quite bold and was not disturbed by the presence of my vehicle.  The small hunter was engrossed in marking its scent by rubbing its face against a small piece of dried wood on the ground. Thereafter he walked a short distance and was doing the same with some dried twig.

      2.06pm Chestnut-headed Bee Eaters at Mila Villu. This species is seldom seen in the main villu areas of the park during these months.

      2.30pm reached Kudiramalei point. All the safari jeeps had left, and the location was devoid of people. I decided to spend some time enjoying the view of the sea and the landscape. There were footprints of an Elephant and the hoof marks of a Sambhur clearly visible on the ground. This is one location where people are permitted to get off their vehicles. I photographed a few species of wildflowers growing at this location. The most prolific speceis was Common Small Justicia Jucticia procumbens, a very common species found from the lowlands up to an altitude of 2000 meters from sea level. This common shrub is found along roads, forested areas, grasslands, and most open areas. In Wilpattu I have observed these tiny flowers throughout the year at most open locations of the park.

      I also spotted a single flowering plant of Thyme Java Tea Orthosiphon thymiflorus, a species which is difficult to spot in the park. This is a species that is native to Tropical Asia from India to Sri Lanka, China, Indonesia, Tropical Africa, South Africa, and Madagascar and is found in shady forested area of the dry lowlands. The flowers emit a very pleasant fragrance. Prior to this I have seen this species between Kanjuran Villu and Kali Villu. The flowers are observed during the month of September - January.
      I also observed the tiny white flowers of a species of  Buttonweed Spermacoce sp.

      4.15pm one leopard between Mahapatessa and Thimbiri Wila. N 08.42938, E 080.00560
      The big male leopard was lying on the road with vehicles parked about 30 meters ahead of him and behind him. Safari jeep driver Sandun was polite enough to move his vehicle which permitted me to get some images despite there being two other vehicles ahead of me. The leopard was Nelum Wila Male 5 (NWMC 5), the dominant big male leopard occupying the main villu area of the park and popularly referred to by the jeep drives as “Neluma”. After a few yarns the leopard moved into the forest.

      Mammals and Reptiles observed during the day.
      Mammals – Elephant 1, Leopard 1, Indian Buffalo 19, Sambhur 2, Spotted Deer 259, Wild Boar 11, Barking Deer 2, Ruddy Mongoose 5, Black-naped Hare 1, Toque Monkey, Grey Langer, Giant Squirrel, Indian Palm Squirrel.
      Reptiles – Mugger Crocodile 4, Flapshell Turtle 5, Black Turtle 2, Star Tortoise 1, Land Monitor, Common Garden Lizard, Low-land Kangaroo Lizard, Devaka’s Fan-throat Lizard.

      Birds, Butterflies & Flora observed during the field trip
      Birds – Black-winged Kite, Orange-headed Thrush, Black-tailed Godwit, Lesser Sand Plover, Osprey, Layard’s Flycatcher, Lesser Adjutant, Painted Storks, White-necked Stork,
      Butterflies - Blue Mormon, Crimson Rose, Lesser Albatross, Blue Wanderer
      Wild Orchids – Vanda tessalate & spathulata
      Wildflowers –

      1. Drosera burmannii Tropical Sundew (E)  Watessa (S)
      2. Cadaba trifoliate Indian Cadaba (E), Irawara (S)
      3. Crotalaria pallida Smooth Rattlebox (E) Andanahiriya (S)
      4. Dopatrium nudicaule Small Horsefly’s Eye (E) Heen Bim Savan (S)
      5. Hibiscus eriocarpus Maple-leaved Mallow (E) Kapukinissa (S) Wal Wada (S)
      6. Jucticia procumbens Common Small Jucticia (E), Maha nai (S)
      7. Pentapetes phoenicea Scarlet Mallow (E) Bandu-vada (S)
      8. Plumbago zeylanica Ceylon Leadwort (E) Wild Plumbago(E) Ela Nithol(S)
      9. Orthosiphon thymiflorus Chilantippatam (S), Thyme Java Tea (E)
      10. Solanum sp.  Wild Nightshade (E), Wal Thibbatu (S)