Friday, November 29, 2013

Wildlife at a glance - What is special about Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is the best place in Asia to see wild Elephants and Leopards. The presence of the largest terrestrial animal and a top level carnivore such as the Leopard is highly unusual for a relatively small island of 65,000 square kilometers. It has other "Big Game' safari animals such as Sloth Bear, Jackal, Water Buffalo etc.

The Gathering
The Gathering of Elephants in Minneriya National Park from July to early October (with peak numbers in August and September) is the highest concentration of Asian Elephants in the world. 300 may be gathered in a one kilometer quadrat, with total numbers on the Minneriya lake bed exceeding four hundred and fifty.

Leopard's Island
Yala National Park in Sri Lanka may have one of the highest densities of leopards in the world with a study showing an average of one leopard per square kilometer. Being the top terrestrial predator, cubs and sub-adults are relaxed during the day and have become accustomed to visitors. Yala is one of the best sites for photographing leopards and other Asian wildlife of fry lowlands.

Sinharaja Bird Wave
The Sinharaja Bird Waves in the lowland rainforests of Sri Lanka are the largest mixed species feeding flocks of birds in the world. They are also the subject of one of the longest such studies, with over two decades of field work. The Sinharaja Bird Waves average 41 individual birds and 12 species (although 21 species of birds participate in the waves).

Monkey Business
Sri Lanka is also very good for watching primates, a class of mammals with universal appeal. The Toque Monkey, Purple-faced Leaf Monkey and the nocturnal Red Loris are found only in Sri Lanka. The montane race of the Red Loris may well turn out to be a new species. The pronounced climatic zones has resulted in three sub-species (or geographical races) of the Toque Monkey and four races of the Leaf Monkey. Ancient cities such as Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa are good places to watch primates in the wild.

Biodiversity Hyper Hot Spot
The islands' isolation from the mainland, two diagonally blowing monsoons shedding water into a mountainous core, has created a variation in climate which is normally found only across a continent. The wet lowlands rainforests and the cloud forests in the highlands teem with an endemic bio-diversity found nowhere else in the world. Sri Lanka (together with the Western Ghats) is amongst the eight bio-diversity hyper hot spots in the world.
In terms of species per square kilometer, Sri Lanka ranks amongst the top fifteen in the world for many groups including flowering plants, birds, mammals, amphibians and snakes. There are few islands in the world which have both this high rate of species diversity, endemism and the presence large mammals such as elephant, leopard and sloth bear and with a very real chance of seeing them. In fact no small island of this size, packs in so much.
Sri Lanka is also very popular with birdwatchers. 33 species are found only in Sri Lanka. Another fifty plus specie are found only in Sri Lanka and India. The mixed species feeding flocks of birds in Sinharaja are the largest in the world, averaging 48 individuals and a dozen species. They are the subject of one of the longest running studies of its kind.

Uda Walawe National Park is the best place in Asia for seeing wild elephants. Yala National Park is your best chance in Asia for seeing Leopard. Yala also has elephants, Sloth Bear, Jackal etc. Serious birdwatchers in search of endemics should visit the lowland rainforests in Sinharaja and Kithulgala and the cloud forests at Horton Plains National Park.
Sri Lanka has 14 species of endemic mammals. Endemism is very high with Dragonflies and Damselflies (almost half), amphibians and (over 90%), freshwater crabs (100%), flowering plants (a quarter), etc.
A typical wildlife tour will range from coastal habitats to scrub jungle with large mammals to bio-diversity rich lowland rainforests and cool cloud forests. A day could start with snorkelling in clear water with an abundance of reef life and end with a drive through beautiful green paddy fields and village gardens culminating with an ascent through rugged mountain ranges to an elegant Tudor property at the foot of a cloud forest.

Email for any inquiries

This information is the copyright of Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Sperm Whales of Kalpitiya. Tales from the field.

The great beast of Moby Dick fame had swum to within a foot of where my daughter Amali was seated on the 16 footer boat. It then commenced a feeding dive from just three feet away as Amali started a film sequence on her compact camera which was later broadcast on TV. In April 2011, I was once again exploring the seas off the Kalpitiya Peninsula to consolidate my claim that it is Sri Lanka’s third whale watching hot spot and one of the top sites in the world for Sperm Whales. I was also expecting to photograph seemingly rare pelagic seabirds which only a handful of Sri Lankan ornithologists have seen. I was not disappointed. On some memorable oceanic  trips between Tuesday 19th and Friday 22nd April, I came away with fantastic images of Sperm Whales and pelagic sea birds. The seas off the Kalpitiya Peninsula are special to me.  Since February 2010, I have set out on many trips with a map of the depths and GPS units, in the spirit of old fashioned exploration, to discover and publicise Sri Lanka’s last frontier for big ticket wildlife

In May 2010, based on field work between February and April 2010 and access to data hitherto not in the public domain, I published articles in the Hi Magazine and Sunday Times. In them, I gave the first credible and accurate public exposition that the continental shelf is close to and runs parallel to the Kalpitiya Peninsula. I pointed out that it will take the 16 footer boats equipped with 25 horsepower outboard engines less than 15 minutes to reach the ‘Sperm Whale Line’, the 300 to 400m depth isoclines along which Sperm Whales are seen feeding and travelling on a North-South orientation. I had written that to see and photograph rare seabirds and whales, one should run a boat along the lines of longitude between East 079 38 and East 079 35. Between these two lines is a distance of 3 nautical miles (38-35 = 3). Three nauticalmiles is just under 6 kilometres. In April 2011, once again I found this zone to be the right strike zone for whales and pelagic seabirds (‘pelagics’).
I have written my most recent round of exploration as two encounters in the field. One with Sperm Whales and other with pelagic seabirds. Once again my field research was supported by Dallas Martenstyn and his co-investors at Kalpitiya. As usual, I headed out to sea with three tanks of fuel, two GPS units and food and water.  During my field work in April 2011, with my wife Nirma and daughters Maya and Amali we occupied a tented room at Dolphin Beach ( Jetwing Eco holidays ( provided transport with naturalist chauffeur guide Lakshman Senanayake who was expert at picking out rare seabirds floating on the water.

On Friday 22nd April 2011, I asked the boatman Yasaratne to take the boat north along E 079 38, along which I knew Sperm Whales are regularly found, at least in April, travelling either North or South bound. Before long, Yasaratne spotted the first blow from a group of Sperm Whales. At one time, I could see four spouting ahead of the boat and another four behind the boat. At least eight were on the surface at that point in time and it is a guess as to how many more were underneath the water in feeding dives.
The previous day, my daughters Maya and Amali wanted to use the pool at Alankuda (Barr Reef Resort) which resulted in me running into Viren Perera and Giles Scott. Viren had read Philip Hoare’s book, ‘The Leviathan or, The Whale’, which he had bought at the recently concluded Galle Literary Festival. He had also read my articles on whale watching off Kalpitiya and was keen to join me. It had been a fortuitous meeting and as a result I was on the boat with Viren Perera, Giles Scott, Tim Edwards  and Nirma and Amali.
The group of Sperm Whales were spread out over 2-3 nautical miles and were travelling at a speed of between 20 to 30 kilometres per hour. They were also feeding as they would repeatedly dive. We followed at a distance. After a while, once I was sure that Yasaratne was accustomed to the idea of keeping a distance, I asked him to do an 'arc forward'. This is where we curve away from the whale and then move ahead to position ourselves between 0.5 to 1 km away from the approaching whale. The whale covers this in a few minutes and has the option of moving away or maintaining its bearing. With the engine cut off, our boat drifted away from the path of the on-coming whale.
This whale altered course to investigate us and came to within a foot of the boat. It swam alongside the boat and swam to within a foot of the boat. I could have reached over and touched it.  It them swam about three feet to the front of the boat and then dived on a short feeding dive. I have found even with leopards in Yala, especially sub-adults, if you park a few hundred meters away from them, their curiosity overcomes them. They will come up to investigate the observers. Sperm Whales are highly intelligent, social animals. They are curious and will investigate boats. Around Kalpitiya they are used to seeing a lot of boats, small 16 footer speed boats and larger fishing trawlers on the sea.  They are not afraid to approach the fishing boats which do not molest them.
I managed to take the image of the diving Sperm Whale by leaning back whilst standing on the boat. I had to lean back because it had come so close. The Sperm Whale was completely relaxed and not in any way stressed by our presence because we had not chased it for a close up picture. We gave the whale the option of getting close to us.
A few days later I gave an illustrated talk at Jetwing House to tourist guides. I emphasized that boats with tourists should never chase Sperm Whales. If stressed or angered, they could smash a boat injuring or killing its occupants, as they did in the days when they were hunted by whalers. If you keep a distance and leave it at the whale’s discretion to approach you, one is safe. Intelligent regulation of whale watching will become important as the efforts by me and others succeed in establishing Sri Lanka as one of the top marine mammal destinations in the world.

Images & Text courtesy of  de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2011)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Whale Watching Sightings - 26/11/13

Mirissa Water Sports reported the following sightings during todays Whale Watching Excursion

- 2 Killer whales
- 100+ Spinner Dolphins
- 2 Bryde Whale
- 3+ Blue whales

Monday, November 25, 2013

Whale Watching Sightings - 25-11-13

Absolutely a RECORD BREAKING NEWS today…! 

Whale watching sightings at Mirissa, sent to us from one of our suppliers today. 

You won’t believe that we were lucky to spot more than 60 Dolphins & Whales at Mirissa during one session

- 2 Killer whales
- 10 Risso’s Dolphins
- 50+ Spinner Dolphins
- 1 Bryde Whale
- 4+ Blue whales 

Call 0094 11 2381201 or mail to book your whale watching excursions

We Saw a Blue Whale, Really! Whale Watching, Mirissa Sri Lanka

In general, I believe that anything is possible, that’s mostly what’s got us where we are today. But if you’d asked me, even 3 weeks ago, if I ever thought I’d see a blue whale, the biggest creature that has ever existed on our fragile planet, the answer would have been a resounding “No!”.

I would have been wrong.

Quick Blue Whale Facts
Blue whales come in at around 100 feet ( 30 m) long and weigh in at 200 tons.
Their tongues alone can weigh as much as an elephant ( that’s impressive!).
There are thought to be 10,000 to 25,000 blue whales left.
Blue whales are baleen whales, they eat krill.
The best place to see blue whales would be off the California coast. Or is it?

Mirissa Sri Lanka. The Best Place to See Blue Whales
I really didn't believe we’d see a blue whale. After an hour in what I considered an inadequately sized boat and seeing nothing more thrilling than a few flying fish, I was expecting to get our whale-no-show 50% refund.
Then it happened.
A huge white plume of air and water shot into the sky ahead of us. The first thing we saw, the whale’s spout, the second a dark shape on the surface of the water. We’d found our whale. A huge and lengthy shape slowly gliding down into the depths giving us a flash of an enormous tail as he disappeared.
We saw several whales this morning, blue whales and the stockier right whales. We didn't get very close and none of them were doing back flips for us, but it was an experience I wouldn't have missed for the world.
My camera is still very sick indeed, but I've done my best with what I could get.

Call 0094 11 2381201 or mail to book your whale watching excursions

Whale Watching Images 

(Courtesy of Gehan de Silva Wijeyrathne)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Wildlife Sightings - 09/11/13 - 19/11/13

Suchithra Hettiarachchi, Naturalist Guide from Jetwing Eco Holidays spotted the below during his last tour:

Himalayan Buzzard, Frog Mouth, Himalayan Buzzard, Chestnut Backed Owlett, 2 Leopards

127 species of birds were photographed by the clients during the tour.

National Parks covered: Horton Plains National Park, Udawalawe National Park, Yala National Park & Sinharaja Forest Reserve

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dolphin & Whale watching sightings for November 2013 from one of our suppliers

Log Book of Blue Water Cruise (Pvt) Ltd

Sighting  - Species of Whales and Dolphins
Numbers of Whales and Dolphins
Vessel Name " Spirit of Dondara "

Captain : Rasitha Jayasekara

Time : 10.00 am

Bryde's Whales

Spinner Dolphines
Around hundred
Vessel Name " Spirit of Dondara "

Time : 10.00 am

Bryde's Whales

Spinner Dolphins
Around hundred
Vessel Name " Spirit of Dondara "

Blue Whale

Time : 12.00 pm

Vessel Name " Spirit of Dondara "

Pilot Whale
Around 20

Common Bottlenose Dolphins
Around 100

Time 12.30 pm

Bryde's Whales

Time 10.45 am

Bryde's Whales

Blue Whale

Common Bottlenose Dolphins
Around 10
Fin Whale

Spinner Dolphins
Around 100
Blue Whale
Bryde's Whales

Spinner Dolphins
Around 100

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Extinct toad rediscovered after hiding for 133 years in Sri Lanka

The Kandyan dwarf toad hadn't been seen for over a century until researchers stumbled on it in 2009. Photo courtesy of: L.J. Mendis Wickramasinghe. 
A small toad not seen since 1876, and considered by many to be extinct, has been rediscovered in a stream in Sri Lanka. First recorded in 1872, the Kandyan dwarf toad had (Adenomus kandianus) vanished for over a century before being found by scientists during a survey in 2009 in the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary, according to a new paper in Zootaxa.
During a nocturnal sampling session, about four specimens of an unusual species were observed, from the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary on the 23rd October 2009, which were sympatric with Adenomus dasi on rocks close to fast flowing streams where a single specimen was collected in order to taxonomically clarify its identity," lead author L.J. Mendis Wickramasinghe with Herpetological Foundation of Sri Lanka told 
After being collected, however, the individual was found to not be the closely-related Adenomus dasi, but the long lost Kandyan dwarf toad. The genus Adenomus is only found in Sri Lanka and comprises just three species. Although the discovery is worth celebrating, Wickramasinghe cautions that the species is likely close to extinction.
"It's most likely that this population will be categorized as a Critically Endangered population in future updates of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species," Wickramasinghe says. 
Wickramasinghe and his team were in the region to survey land-based amphibians because "not much light has been shed on their diversity by scientists, because of the difficulty to reach these sites due to harsh weather conditions and tough trails." 
Wickramasinghe hints that the rediscovery of the Kandyan dwarf toad (Adenomus kandianus) may not be the last of supposed extinct frogs found on the island-nations. 

"Although Sri Lanka carries the dubious distinction of contributing the highest proportion (60%), to the global list of extinct amphibians, I must say there are several others that are yet to be updated and will be published in the near future," he says. 
Another view of the Kandyan dwarf toad. Photo courtesy of: L.J. Mendis Wickramasinghe.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Wildlife Sightings - 25/10/13 - 03/11/13

Mahinda Jayasinghe, Guide from Jetwing Eco Holidays sent us the below observations:

28/10/13 - Mirissa
We saw two whales at Mirissa

30/10/13 - Yala National Park
We saw a Leopard, Sloth Bear, many Spotted Deers, Jackal, some Endemic Birds and Crocodiles

01/11/13 - Yala National Park
We saw a Leopard and more animals & birds. Some Brahminy Kites & Crested Eagles.

02/11/13 - Udawalawe National Park
We saw more than 75 Elephants, Brahminy Kites, Changeable Hawk Eagles, Painted Storks, Grey Herons and some Pied Kingfishers