Thursday, 7 August 2014

Sri Lanka November 2013 Part 1 Waikkal to Mirissa

An older holiday adventure I have reposted as a blog. The original web site it was hosted on folded and was lost so it's here for my records.

I hadn't expected to return to  Sri Lanka quite as soon but since the nice people at Qatar Airways had sent us a very nice voucher knocking 33% off the flight tickets it was too good an opportunity to miss before they expired.
Flight only meant DIY which suited me fine. I had made some useful contacts there in March and through them I set about organising my trip, the research done using Trip Advisor and Birdforum.Everything organised off we went,however we soon had the first problem, a missed connection in Doha once again and this time we weren't offered hotel accommodation either and spent a miserable night in the business lounge. I didn't feel much better when our fellow onward passengers revealed they had been in a hotel !  Things didn't get better when  on arrival and a first meeting that my Mr Fixit I found out he hadn't booked any of the hotels he had previously confimed he had done. My careful choice of suitable accommodation was out of the window,my carefully balanced tour to suit both myself and Claire was out of the window too. I walked out of my meeting in disgust stating I would book  and organise my own tour.With some of my chosen venues fully booked I had to start from scratch but as all will be revealed,it might have been to our benefit.
Before starting our tour we had two days (should have been three) and three nights to recover and adjust to Sri Lanka, 5 1/2 hours ahead of UK time. First morning I was out at first light and headed off in the direction of the Ranwelli Hotel where we stayed last March. Only a short walk away, I first spotted a Striated (also known as Little) Heron fishing the river from just by the ferry crossing to the resort.

Striated/Little Heron  Sri Lanka 2013

It kept me amused for quite some time and was totally unconcerned by my presence as there is a reasonable human traffic flow at this point. I hung around to see if it might catch something but it wasn't either my or the Heron's lucky morning despite it's stealth attacks.

Striated/Little Heron  Sri Lanka 2013
Over on the beach little was different from my last visit. A couple of Greater Sand Plover had joined the Lessers which was an addition from March

Greater Sand Plover  Sri Lanka

The Sanderlings were still running around like dervishes, back and forth up and down
Sanderling  Sri Lanka 2013
The Barn Swallows were back for the winter too, with them this years juveniles who had succesfully made the journey in migration

Barn Swallow Sri Lanka 2013 psd

That was about all really. As disappointing as it had been in March. I wandered back to our guest house gardens not in the least bit envious of those in the hotel, our place was more than equal and a lot less expensive too. Curiously, the garden which is a fraction of the size of the hotel seems to attract far more variety of bird too. I decided that's were I would stay until we went on tour.
The tree in front of our bedroom balcony was frequented by several species including Common Tailorbird

Common Tailorbird Sri Lanka  2013

The bushes next to my sun bed were attractive to both Purple Rumped Sunbird

Purple Rumped Sunbird   Sri Lanka 2013

and Loten's Sunbird

Loten's Sunbird  Sri Lanka 2013

The nearby Tamarind tree a favourite for Pale Billed Flowerpecker

Pale Billed Flowerpecker  Sri Lanka  2013

and Scaly Breasted Munia

Scaly Breasted Munia Sri Lanka 2013

White Bellied Drongo, like the Blue Tailed Bee-eaters tended to stay at the top of the higher trees, not good for photos but ideal for spotting prey.

White Bellied Drongo Sri Lanka 2013

The noisy Rose Ringed Parakeets tended to arrive early evening

Ring Ringed Parakeet  Sri Lanka 2013
but best of all, I learnt that Paradise Flycatcher, Black Hooded Oriole and Forest Wagtail were regulars too.
I soon caught up with the Wagtail although at some distance

Forest Wagtail Sri Lanka 2013

The others would have to wait until I returned at the end of our trip.Yes I had found a little birding paradise and who knows what might turn up if we had many rain "showers" like this one !

Villa Suriyagaha Sri Lanka 2013

Fully rested and roughly in tune with Sri Lanka time it was time to set off on our tour. Our original plan had been to make a clockwise circuit of middle and south Sri Lanka trying to balance my photographic nature needs with Claire's opposing interests. Basically I had crammed 5 days of intense nature watching followed by 7 more leisurely days based in Mirissa where we would independantly arrange  extra days whale watching. It had been agreed our driver would drop us there and return a week later to take us back to Waikkal for the rest of our holiday. I had carefully chosen our hotel , The Spice House,Mirissa as it had excellent Trip Advisor ratings and appeared to have gardens full of birds. I was extremely disappointed that they were fully booked for the dates we had originally planned but they did have two free nights immediately. We booked them. Sandie, our host at the wonderful Villa Suriyagaha in Waikkal introduced us to a taxi driver who was prepared to take us down to Mirissa, a 2-3 hour journey for R22,000 or around £100. We declined his offer to stay with us for the entirety saying we would just get a taxi to our next destination as and when we needed one.This was a big and slightly edgy adventure for Claire and I who normally like everything sorted in advance but with that caution in mind I also booked accommodation for four nights after Mirissa too !
Off we went then. Taking the fast motorway route which included newly opened sections lined with the flags of the Commonwealth countries where the recent conference had taken place. Ranjith, the driver, suggested we might like a break in the very modern service station, I had asked couldn't we stop off at the apparently beautiful Galle for a coffee instead.He muttered something about parking was impossible so we settled for the services where they have an excellent tourist information stand and we were presented with some very classy and informative maps and brochures.Was it part of a plan ? Probably!
Perusing the brochures when  Ranjith returned to the van, he made his move !

Services Sri Lanka 2013 2013-11-24

Another bid to have us retain his services ! For another R80,000 he would be our driver for the next 12 days. We agreed, if all else failed we had a van to sleep in, a driver who could speak our language and an idea of what was feasible in the way of planning a route. Originally we had only had a driver for 6 of the planned 12 days, so it was a bonus. Our original tour was going to cost £1900 which included half board accommodation as well as entry fees and guides to the national parks we wanted to visit. The deal with the driver set us back £480. Not a small amount but when you consider that fuel is expensive, he has vehicle to run and he's at our disposal for 12 days it's a bargain. Ranjith, being prepared, had brought his suitcase. We now almost regretted we had left one of ours back in Waikkal to make independent travelling easier. We could have made the planned hike on Horton's Plain up in the hills after all had we packed our boots, it was the first casualty of my original trip. The second had been the famous rain forest at Sinharaja but I had hummed and hawed about that from the start. Jungle photography is hard and frustrating, leeches are a constant menace and the chances of seeing snakes very high. Claire would hate it and as it had been scheduled to visit en route somewhere else she couldn't avoid coming with me either. I happily gave that a miss as it was now impossible with our new journey plan.
What was possible was a detour so we didnt miss out on a visit to Galle and there didn't seem to be much difficulty parking !
Galle is charming an old fortress town, the walls jut out in to the Indian Ocean on one side

Galle Sri Lanka 2013 2013-11-24

and overlooking the international cricket ground on the other.

Cricket ground Galle Sri Lanka 2013 2013-11-24
No free match views today, so instead a little practice with the camera for Claire. Here's yours truly directing the photo and asking her not to miss including my feet for a change.
Yes, it's an uncropped image !

Feet ! Sri Lanka 2013-11-24

Still, practice paid off as I'm sure you'll discover later.
Eventually arriving in Mirissa, my choice of hotel/guesthouse had been spot on. We were allocated the mud house in the garden. A charming room made with recycled materials in many instances.

Sri Lanka 2013 532013-11-24

Outside a private verandah and great viewing spot for the wildlife.

Spice House,Mirrissa   Sri Lanka 2013 2013-11-24
What a shame they could only takes us for two nights. It's a short walk to the beach which is lined with seafood restaurants all of which have their catch on offer for you to choose your fish. A magical spot to have a beer and watch the sun go down.

Sri Lanka 2013 2013-11-24

My biggest regret, we should have stayed longer, still we were there for a full day so the opportunity was there to go whale watching. It was and always had been No 1 on our agenda for the whole holiday !
The advantages of having our driver were already in evidence at 6.00am on our first and only full day in Mirissa. He was waiting outside our hotel to takes us down to catch a boat for our whale trip.
We could only hope that we might get to see a whale, we only had one crack at it now. The odds were in our favour as it's peak migration season with whales moving up the coast right out in the shipping lanes, however, this was to be our very lucky day.Heading out to sea we were informed a boat had made contact with a whale, but not the expected Blue or even Sperm Whale. No what they had connected with was a pair of Killer Whales and it was only the 6th time in 5 years that they had done. Lucky or what !!!

As the big male approached us you were suddenly aware of the huge size of this beast.
Killer Whale  Sri Lanka  2013-11-25 (1)
At around 30 feet long and with a girth that must be almost as big, it's one awesome creature. Nearly as big as the boat we were in !

Killer Whale  Sri Lanka  2013-11-25 (2)

To have one right alongside us was truly spectacular.

Killer Whale  Sri Lanka  2013-11-25 (4)
If you look carefully you can see he's brought his prey up to the surface.The white object in front of him.

After watching the Orca's at close range for quite a while we headed off to look for Blue Whale. Now they make the Killer Whale appear more like a tiddler because they are a staggering 100 feet long. Earth's biggest creature. Again our luck held as a pair had been sighted some way off in the distance so off we went. Our first sighting was a distant tail as the whale dived. Would they reappear ?
Most certainly was the answer, but to be honest , after the Orcas they were a bit of a non event in many respects. Like an iceberg, you only see a tiny proportion of the whale when they are at the surface.
Blue Whale  Sri Lanka  2013-11-25
We didn't get as close as the Killer Whales as there are guidelines, still it was close enough.

As the whale dives a view of a part section along it's back unfolds until the most dramatic bit, the tail comes up then it's gone !Blue Whale  Sri Lanka  2013-11-25 (6)
A pretty small tail for such a huge beast too ! In comparison to the Orcas they are very quiet too. The fine mist they exhale makes little sound and is hard to see, they don't reveal themselves very much, I was so glad we had had the Orca experience or it might almost have been a bit of a let down. Well maybe not, it was after all something quite special to witness.
Still photo's don't really capture everything. You can freeze the action, see the fine detail but you don't get the atmosphere of being there. I wish you could all share that !
Wait a moment though, what about our budding Cecil B DeMille ? With only the briefest instruction this is what she captured on the 5D video mode.
Pretty impressive I thought. I now had a second pair of hands to do movies too.

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