Towards the end of our holiday in Sri Lanka me n Gabz decided to drag our tanned bodies off the beach and head in the opposite direction from the hotel bar towards a bit of wild Sri Lanka. Wilpattu National Park was to be our destination and after a bit of haggling by Baggins himself we got a good deal from a Sri Lankan guy outside of the hotel, locally renown for giving a good deal and at the equivalent price of £40 each for a full day including transport and jeep safari, we were more than happy to venture forth!
Wilpattu is the largest of 22 national parks in Sri Lanka and famous mainly for its population of endangered mammals such as Indian Elephants and Leopards. Comprising some 132,000 hectares (that's massive - 12 times the size of Minsmere!) its also notable for its large number of natural lakes. Situated in the North of island it turned out to be 3 hrs by train and taxi but the journey itself through the countryside was memorable in itself - it was good to see a bit of the real Sri Lanka.
On arrival we climbed abroad one of these .....
......along with some German folk and with binocs and camera in hand set off on a 4 hour jeep safari. I have to say from the outset that lady luck, locally known as 'bountiful Buddha', was not very bountiful as far as elephants and leopards were concerned, we saw neither, but it didn't matter for we had a splendid time and were treated to some awesome views of the mammals and birds that did decide to come out and play.
Monitor Lizards are fairly common in Sri Lanka but like most of the animals in the park they were much more confiding and it was great to be able get some close up shots
This is a Ruddy Mongoose, skulking off but again hung around long enough for me to get this nice shot.
For me there was some slight frustration in that as we passed through lots of great habitat, some of it teeming with small birds and waders, the tour party was definitely more interested in the bigger animals and any birds worthy of a stop were predictably the bigger, more eye catching ones such as this splendid Peacock
... and this rather ungainly looking monster of a bird, its one of the Hornbill family of birds and in this case a Malabar Pied Hornbill.
By the way if you're at all interested in going to Sri Lanka and want to know more about going on safari at Wilpattu, this is their home page -
Wilpattu National Park and for hotels and more info the site Tripadvisor is a useful start - here's the relevant link - Sri Lanka hotels and deals
Rounding a bend we noticed that our convoy of 3 jeeps had ground to a halt and no wonder because laid right across the road was a giant Indian Python, it was so long and so close I couldn't get it all in using the the lens I had attached. Indian Rock Pythons to give it it's proper name are the longest snakes in the world with the biggest ever recorded being 4.6 metres (15ft) and this was no tiddler - I reckoned about 8 - 10 feet and by the giant bulge in its midriff and sluggish behaviour had just eaten, anyway here's my best shot (pic left)
Not all the animals presented themselves at such close quarters, we were aware of monkeys crashing through the trees and caught a few fleeting glimpses but the only decent shot I managed was of a distant Grey Langur bounding across the grassy plain.
A tad foolhardy to get any closer our next Wilpattu speciality, looking for all the world like a floating log, this is a Mugger or Marsh Crocodile and not sure if Grey Herons form part of its diet but this one looks in grave peril of having it's leg pulled!
Much less sinister and affording great views throughout the reserve are these beautiful Ceylon Spotted Deer, they're endemic to the island and very photogenic.
We were treated to many views like this across the natural lakes and lagoons on the reserve and that was great but, and at the risk of sounding a little ungrateful, as a birder I just wanted to get out and explore. Thrilled as I was to see birds like Painted Storks and Lesser Adjutants previously only seen on David Attenborough documentaries I could have done to have got to grips with the many smaller waders, some of which you can see here in the blurry foreground.
Still I mustn't complain, there was plainly no scope for venturing out and about and getting your feet dirty, and I was treated to some pretty decent 'jeep side' views, especially of perched raptors like this majestic Crested Serpent Eagle sheltering from a brief monsoon downpour
By far the best bird shot of the day for me was this portrait of a Blue Tailed Bee-eater. There were lots of these vividly coloured birds about, darting around all over the place and this one stayed put just long enough for me to capture it in all its glory.
All in all a good day, not sure about the 2 Germans sat behind us (they hardly uttered a sound the whole trip!) but we certainly enjoyed. It is very possible to see Elephants and sometimes Leopard and Black Bear, it might have been the frequent downpours that kept them hidden, and for the price this experience comes highly recommended if you're holidaying here.