Saturday, 19 November 2016

Summer of 2016

With not enough hours in the day I'm struggling to keep up to date with all my wildlife endeavours, hence why for this blog post you will have to cast your mind back to the slightly warmer months of July and August. 

My summer holiday was satisfyingly frantic, visiting the East Coast of America with my family, but also spending two weeks in Sri Lanka. My school runs an annual award scheme in which students from year 12 can compete to win a holiday of their choice funded by the school. The trip has to be "broadly educational" but there is an enormous amount of leeway, with groups pitching trekking expeditions, far-flung cultural trips but also more modest sight-seeing holidays. My friend Avishka, and I, were lucky enough to win this award along with two other groups, allowing us to take a 2 week trip to Sri Lanka practically free! The main objectives for the trip were to explore the countries huge array of wildlife, much of which is endemic to the island, but also to experience the local culture and cuisine. We began our adventure on the west coast of Sri Lanka, in the capital of Colombo.   

Common Grass Yellow 



The culture shock of arriving in Sri Lanka was definitely an experience. The contrast between the overcrowded market streets lining the city and the areas of tranquility that could be found dotted amongst the chaos was astounding. Butterflies and birds were in every patch of greenery, and the sound of parakeets echoed over the city every morning. Monkeys perched on rooftops and brick walls waiting for their chance to steal fruit from the market stalls below. This combination of chaotic streets, the safe sanctuary of buddhist temples and areas of total wilderness created a very memorable, and unique, atmosphere.  

Red-vented Bulbul Pycnotus cafer






On the way from Colombo to the south coast we encountered a huge colony of bats hanging high up in the trees, in broad daylight. They themselves were just as huge as the colony, easily on par with the size of the UK's larger birds of prey species. Kingfishers were another surprisingly abundant species, having seen many different species throughout our trip. 



White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis


As Avishka has relatives in Sri Lanka we were fortunate enough to stay in accommodation which we wouldn't have been able to afford without their recommendations. In the small town of Balapitiya on the southwest coastline we stayed in a beautiful villa with a private beach...the views were incredible, especially in the evening when the sun set over the sea. Hermit crabs, other crab species, and even hedgehogs could be found on the beach and in the surrounding dunes. Whilst staying at Balapitiya we also helped out at local primary schools, one of which our school funded the rebuilding of following the boxing day tsunami in 2004. 





After our stay at Balapitiya we moved along the coast to Galle, a lovely walled city with lots of shops and cafes. But even in this urban settlement wildlife seemed to appear around every corner. This (oriental garden) lizard was happily bathing in a patch of sand no more than two metres from our table whilst we were having lunch. I very much appreciated it's confidence as it allowed me to capture some up-close shots. The second image illustrates it's abilities to blend into the surroundings perfectly. 





Both Avishka and I agreed that the highlight of our trip was visiting Yala National Park on the south coast, where we managed to see Ceylon Spotted Deer, Asian Elephant and even Sri Lankan Leopard! This was a huge privilege as the Leopards of Yala are often very elusive and shy. Even our safari guide was over-the-moon to see one despite touring the national park every day!

We watched this individual for about 20 minutes, quietly following it (from a distance of course) along the track. Just when we thought it couldn't get any better a Spotted Deer appeared out of nowhere, and we managed to watch this beautiful leopard stalk the deer. Unfortunately we didn't see the kill as the leopard chased the deer into the bracken shortly after. The third image was taken just before the hunt began...




There was wildlife everywhere. The only problem was trying to spot it!


Juv. White-bellied Sea Eagle? 

Indian Cormorant Phalacrocorax fusciollis

(Purple-Rumped?) Sunbird Nectarinia zeylonica

(Purple-Rumped?) Sunbird Nectarinia zeylonica


Common Tailorbird Orthotomus sutorius


Yellow-wattled Lapwing Vanellus malabaricus



Other bird species we saw included: Painted Stork (Mycteria leucocephala), Black-headed Ibis (Therskiornis melanocephalus), Cattle Egret (Bibulous ibis), several species of Parakeet (Psittacula), Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis), Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis), House Crow (Corvus splendens), Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis) and Spotted Dove (Stigmatopelia chinensis). Huge thank you to AFON (A Focus on Nature) for providing me with the 'Birds of Sri lanka' field guide, it was an enormous help!



Great Thick-knee Esacus recurvirostris


Ceylon spotted deer Axis axis ceylonensis


Overall it was a fantastic trip that I will never forget, with the highlight definitely being the extremely lucky sighting of the Sri Lankan Leopard. Once I got back from Sri Lanka it was only a couple of days before I was off again...this time to America!

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We stayed in Boston on the East coast of America for three days, before moving south to Philadelphia and Washington. Whilst staying in Boston we went on a 4-hour boat trip into massachusetts bay in search of predominately humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). Not only did we see around 5 humpback whales we also saw a finback and a what looked to be a shark just below the surface of the water. 







During our trip to America we saw a huge variety of other species, but as this was a family sight-seeing holiday I didn't always have time to grab my camera! It was very enjoyable never-the-less. 

American Goldfinch


My family have already started planning our next summer holiday - it will definitely take a lot to beat these two trips!