Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Sri Lanka January 2020. Part 4 Tissamaharama...and safari time!

Our next stop over was to be the longest of the trip. Five whole nights in one hotel! The Serene Park is set back from the main promenade that fronts Tissa Lake and is surrounded by rice fields.
Serene Park hotel, Tissa
As with everywhere we stayed it was spotlessly clean and although it wasn't the cheapest at £42 per night for B&B it was probably the simplest room we had.
No fridge, TV, or even much space to store clothes so as with everywhere else we just lived out of the suitcase.
We managed perfectly well although it isn't ideal and is one of the biggest drawbacks of touring holidays. The room had the two things we did need, a decent bathroom
Serene Park hotel, Tissa
and aircon because it was pretty hot in the room until the early hours of the morning.
The best thing about the hotel though was the friendly owner and his staff,  well his main man who seemed to do everything from carrying our bags up to the second floor to taking food orders and serving drinks. 
Oh and the food was excellent!
Who needs a buffet with maybe 100 things to choose. This simple curry and rice did me well!
Serene Park hotel, Tissa
Yes all those dishes are mine, Claire opted for a simple chicken and chips. My curry came to R1500, around £6 and with large bottles of beer at R500 it was happy days.
Breakfast was superb too!
We had 4 full days here and my original intention was to take 3 safari trips. One to Bundala for $130, two to Yala at $165. But after seeing how many jeeps were milling around everywhere and hearing tales of Leopard jams I had decided against Yala and asked if it was possible to go to Udawalawe NP, one I have never been to, instead. I was dissuaded from going on the grounds of distance from Tissa and instead it was suggested we try block 5 of Yala NP. Yala is divided in to 5 blocks, Block 1 is the most popular by far as it's closest to Tissa and has the highest density of visible game.
Ok, I agreed we'd try it but first we'd go to Bundala NP, a firm favourite of mine.
Bundala is low lying, has a lot of wetland area and is a magnet for birds. 
They are everywhere, particularly in winter when it holds migrating species as well as the resident ones.
Best of all those it's practically deserted as far as safari vehicles are concerned and only attracts avid birders!  
Bundala N.P.
I think we probably saw about 6 other safari jeeps during the course of our day and we were definitely the only ones to spend the whole day in the park. Our host hotel owner who had arranged the trips seemed surprised I wanted to spend a whole day there but I was insistent. I certainly wouldn't be bored. In fairness he arranged a driver who had an excellent knowledge of birds and we also picked up a park guide at the gate too. 
Guides are definitely an advantage as it seems their eyesight is so much better than mine.
I would never have spotted that!
Bundala NP Sri Lanka
This turned out , as expected, to be an excellent day's birding. Some of the highlights were as follows
Pheasant-tailed Jacana
Pheasant-tailed Jacana   Hydrophasianus Chirurgus
Yellow-wattled Lapwing
Yellow-wattled Lapwing  Vanellus malabaricus
and some stunning close ups of Blue-tailed Bee-eaters
Blue-tailed Bee-eater  Merops philippinus
Out on the salt flats there were hundreds of gulls and waders, my favourite being a pair of Small Pratincole
Small Pratincole  Glareola lactea
and best of all, a Black-necked Stork, a lifer for me.
Black-necked Stork.  Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus
My biggest disappointment was that a superb area of reed bed no longer existed having been destroyed by elephant.
Yes, there are Elephant in Bundala, not many. maybe 25, but we managed to see 6 of them during the course of the day.
Bundala NP Sri Lanka
No, on a previous visit I managed to see Black Bittern, Yellow Bittern and Ruddy-breasted Crake all in the one small area, this time there was just a couple of small pools with no reed whatsoever there.
I did manage a Yellow Bittern at another spot but the views were distant and the photo opportunities poor.
Despite the disappointment though, my trip was judged a big success. I would recommend anyone to spend the day there.
Nice spot overlooking the sea for lunch.
Bundala NP
Not only birds but a few mammals too.
Ruddy Mongoose
Bundala NP Sri Lanka
and Toque Macaque
Bundala NP Sri Lanka
With no traffic there was no need to get there early either, just two vehicles entered the park at opening time and I think we were the only two of the morning too.
To be honest a whole day trip works out at far better value for money too so for me it's a no brainer.
Tomorrow we would be exploring a new place all together, Block 5 of Yala.
I wondered how it would compare.


  1. Loving it Dave!
    We too didn't like Yala because of the overcrowding. The place was good, just not the madness, sadly I couldn't convince my travelling companions to do the full day safari and finished up with one half-day trip to Yala but two to Bundla. We also did Udawalawe from Kirinda. It is a bit further but just meant and earlier start to the day and travelling there in the dark. The reserve was great, similar to Bundla in some respects but nicer scenery. I'm looking forward to reading how you got on in Block 5, it sounds a much better option than Block 1. (I had been hoping you had visited Wilpattu on this trip, I'm sure I would have got a honest review!!!)

  2. You might be surprised when you read my next couple of instalments Ian!
    I haven't been to Wilpattu since 2013 but have little reason to think it will have changed much. Viewing both game and birds is much more difficult due to the nature of the vegetation. Most of the routes take you through densely wooded areas but you do eventually find yourself in a large open area where we had our best ever view of a Leopard sat next to our vehicle and we shared it with just 4 others. Brilliant experience. That combined with Dolphin watching trips from Kalpytiya will be on our agenda if and when we return for another visit.

  3. Hi, Dave! Going to Bundala was certainly a brilliant choice. It doesn’t suffer from popularity, unlike Yala, and is one of the best sites for birds in the dry zone - apart from Kumana National Park, which I suggest if you haven’t been there before. Lucky you, having seen the Black-necked Stork! I’ve visited the place four times but am yet to see it.
    Greetings from a fellow birder in Sri Lanka!

  4. Thank for taking the time to read and comment on my blog Sadini. Hope you got to see the Black-necked Stork before it vanished if indeed it has done. I have yet to visit Kumana NP, in fact I don't know where it is, I'll have to check. Somewhere for next time hopefully!