Sunday, 20 December 2015

Sri Lanka November/December 2015 Part 3 Negombo and Waikkal beach

We had 8 days to simply relax and enjoy some winter sunshine but I also needed to sort out our railway tickets. Sri Lank is famed for it's stunning mountain railway and scenery and we decided that was the way to travel, however, you need to book in advance to guarantee seats otherwise it's 3rd class and possibly standing room only which we didn't fancy one little bit. Much too long a journey for that! It is possible to book over the internet but I decided we would travel to Colombo and buy the tickets over the counter at the main railway station at Fort Colombo. We should have gone immediately we arrived but we put it off making our first trip out a more local journey to the nearest and main holiday resort north of Colombo...Negombo. 
A 1600 rupee round trip by TukTuk ( that's around £7.50) will take you to a wide choice of hotels and restaurants but the reason we wanted to go was to look at the shops ( well, Claire did) and to look at the Fish Market (I did!)
What likes to eat fish? Well, besides me, a whole host of birds of course!
Negombo   Sri Lanka
The beach is lined with Little Egrets. Flying overhead a mixture of Terns. Mostly Whiskered but it was the only place I noticed Gull-billed Tern too.
Gull-billed Tern   Sri Lanka
Better still, my only Pallas Gull of the trip as well.Well no it turns out, my initial ID is wrong. My only Brown-headed Gull of the trip now.
Pallas Gull    Sri Lanka
Having only taken my short 70-200mm lens I wasn't too bothered about staying for long although photo opportunities are plentiful with the right gear. Even with a short lens you can still capture some fairly large in the frame images like this Little Egret.
Little Egret    Sri Lanka
Anyway, I decided that I couldn't subject Claire to any more hanging around and after relieving her of the self appointed guide who was showing her the fish curing and drying we headed off to the nearest shopping to buy some spices.
Negombo    Sri Lanka
Negombo is OK but not somewhere I would want to stay too long.
During our stay at Waikkal I did consider other options too. A day trip to Chillaw to the reservoir or tank as they are known in Sri Lanka. I had had some good results there on my first visit however, I felt that it was a waste of money as I had a week lined up where I would see everything that I could see there anyway. The other big temptation was a combined trip to go Dolphin watching at Kalpytia followed by a half day to Willpattu N.P.  I have done the Dolphin watching trip 4 times and 3 were outstanding. The fourth was very poor indeed. Wilpattu had nothing to offer that Yala hasn't got and in fact the viewing isn't nearly as good there as it's highly wooded unlike the more open spaces in Yala. I asked about a taxi but the overall cost of the day, in excess of £180, made it prohibitively expensive for what I was likely to gain.
Instead I wandered the local beach at Waikkal!
The mixed Sand Plover and Sanderling flock was still there as per last time. They were to be found either on the beach 
Sanderling     Sri Lanka

or roosting on the sea defence rocks.

Sanderling and Sand Plover    Sri Lanka

However they were constantly being flushed from one place to another by fishermen on the rocks and joggers and walkers on the beach.
Sanderling and Sand Plover    Sri Lanka
Photographing flocks in flight is very challenging to me as so many birds are out of focus due to the distance between the front and back of the flock, still makes for fun trying.
Sanderling and Sand Plover    Sri Lanka
Trying to make the birds a bit bigger in the picture is equally difficult for the same reason. Tips on how to improve would be gratefully received!
 As well as the wader flock there was also a small flock of mixed terns. Mainly Lesser Crested there were also a single Greater Crested,Caspian and Little Tern together what I think are one or two Common Tern too.
Mixed Tern flock   Sri Lanka
The Terns were even more flighty than the Plovers. Greater and Lesser Crested Tern  Sri Lanka
and chances to work my way closer were usually ruined by someone else's approach. I did get one or two shots though.
Lesser Crested Tern     Sri Lanka

Caspian Tern  2015-11-17
Disturbance wasn't just down to humans though, equally responsible were the large flock of House Crow which seem to have taken the beach as their territory.They appear to leave the small waders alone but would see off the Terns if they didn't like the  spot where they had settled.
They must of been considering seeing me off too, starting by claiming my sandals!
House Crow     Sri Lanka
The beach was a disappointment really. Getting there meant catching the raft ferry provided by and then walking through the grounds of the Ranwelli Hotel, somewhere I am familiar with as we stayed there on our first visit. I always tipped the ferryman which was more than most guests did so he didn't object and I walked past security unchallenged but I didn't feel comfortable doing so. Approaching the beach without going through the hotel is totally impractical from where we were staying.
After three trips I decided that was enough. Many of the species I had seen on previous visits were not there it seemed. Gone were the Bee-eaters,Rollers,Swallows, Cattle Egrets and Lapwings although the Common Mynah were still patrolling the hotel grounds.
Common Mynah    Sri Lanka
and the delightful White-breasted Waterhens were still to be found in the marshy area behind the beach.
White-breasted Waterhen    Sri Lanka
One evening I went for a walk along the local roads to see if I could find anywhere that might produce something interesting and at the same time seek out someone I knew to be staying locally too. I didn't find the place he was staying but I did find some superb views of Indian Thick-knee. The next evening I went back again, this time with Claire but again without my camera gear.Sure enough the birds were still there and looking magnificent in the evening sun. The following morning I set off with all my camera gear which weighs a fair bit. It was a longish walk, 2 kms, and in the heat of the rising sun, not very comfortable. By the time I got to the spot the Thick-knee had retreated to cover and there was no way they were going to come out!
Greater Thick-knee    Sri Lanka
A pair of Red-wattled Lapwing were more obliging.
Red-wattled Lapwing    Sri Lanka
On the way back I spotted one or two species on the overhead wires.Scaly-breasted Munia had been seen in the Villa's garden on our last visit but not this time. I grabbed a shot in case it was my only sighting.
Scaly-breasted Munia     Sri Lanka
I'm not a great fan of birds on the wire ( although the Leonard Cohen song is a favourite!) so instead I just ticked off a few more garden birds to pass the time.
Ring-necked Parakeet
Rose-ringed Parakeet    Sri Lanka
and the ever present Yellow-billed Babblers
Yellow-billed Babbler    Sri Lanka
I wasn't in the least bit disappointed. I had always known that I probably wouldn't get to do too much in the first week. It was really more about letting Claire enjoy her style of holiday and some well deserved R&R.
My time would come later, we just needed to sort those railway tickets !

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