Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Birding in Mannar - Trip report by Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne - 7th - 9th January 2014

Key Messages
The wetlands on Mannar Island and on the mainland are internationally important for ducks, waders, gull and terns. A count of migrant waders on the mainland led to a revision of the estimate of populations of waders in Asia.

The improved roads and unrestricted access make it easier to understand the size and scale of the wetlands around Mannar and why they are internationally important.

Mannar now has very good road access from key cities and a range of local accommodation options for birders. 

Mannar has been identified as one of the windiest places in the island and a key site for wind farms. This will need to be managed in a way to mitigate adverse conservation impacts and impacts which reduce Mannar’s potential for tourism.

An integrated tourism strategy should include a Black Skies policy for Mannar so that Mannar’s Big Skies are used for tourism both at day and night.

Mannar could become one of the best locations in the country for Loris Safaris to see this nocturnal and enigmatic mammal. 

I visited Mannar with Ajith Ratnayake, one of the directors of Palmyrah House for a two night 3 day trip.
My first two of three previous trip reports written during a ceasefire were standard references for birders and encouraged birders to explore this area.

o Mannar 13 to 16 March 2003
o Mannar 7 to 9 November 2003
o Mannar 1 to 3 April 2006

The situation at the time of my last visit in January 2014 was very different. A visit to Mannar is no different to any other part of Sri Lanka in terms of security issues. To be more precise, there are no security issues as with the rest of the country. The roads are excellent and around three hours have been knocked off the drive time from Colombo. People leave Colombo at 5 a.m. and reach Mannar by 10 a.m. Birders at present have no restrictions in locations such as the Mannar Causeway to stop and look or take pictures of birds. No one will challenge you if you are filming birds or other wildlife in the Vankalai Triangle for example. The situation is very different to my previous trips where I always felt I was being watched by both warring sides.

A number of birders continue to visit Mannar and the notes of the Ceylon Bird Club and Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka document sightings. Also social media such as Facebook and FlickR record the visits and observations of many birders and photographers.

Given the information available and current ease of access to Mannar , I have not attempted a full trip report with a record of all the species seen on this trip. Instead I have copied below the notes I have submitted to the Ceylon Bird Club. I have retained information on sites we visited en-route as other visitors to Mannar may wish to do the same.

The open access to this part of the island does not make it possible to more fully appreciate how extensive the wetlands around Mannar are. A number of habitats are present including salt marsh, tidal mud flats, salt pans, estuaries and lagoons. There are also seasonally flooded freshwater meadows.

There is no doubt that these wetlands are internationally important for wintering waders and waterfowl. Some of these sites are also critically important for resident species such as the Indian Courser.
Adam’s Bridge

Mannar is culturally important and I am not addressing these in this brief report. Adam’s Bridge is important in both a cultural and biological context. I like to note the role of Adam’s Bridge in connection with Sri Lanka’s disproportionate richness for wildlife. This is covered more fully in the articles published in the Sunday Times in 2014.

Trip report by Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne -  7th - 9th January 2014