Morning 6.30a.m is a familiar time line to all FOGL members. Everybody knew it’s going to be another fruitful field excursion and the team had to leave the University of Colombo on time.The Journey started on Thursday the 25th of April 2013 which was a Poya day followed by another three holydays until the 28th of April 2013.Altogether four days away from our busy schedules and families. We entered the Nilgala forest after having our lunch and packed up with all extra snacks water, medicine and batteries from Bibile town.
We reached Bibile Town under heavy rains. Though the heat was reduced by the rain we were expecting a very hard camping experience if the rain continued. We reached the Nilgala park Office around 5 p.m. It was situated 10km away from Pitakumbura Village, overlooking a dry paddy field with watch huts at the edge of the jungle. The family who assigned to prepare our meals during our stay welcomed us and provided us with a welcome drink called “Vishnucranthi” which was made of herbal plants collected from the shrub jungle.
Our camp site was near the wildlife office and not at “Seenugala “or “Makara”.The forest around the campsite is not typically dry zone scrub but was quite thick bush, wines and huge trees such as Aralu, Bulu, Nelli, Waa, Gammalu, Kahata and Rukaththana.
We all were able to put up our tents defore it was dark and we lit lanterns and placed them around the camp site to prevent wild elephants entering there.During the night we all sat in front of the wild life office and discussed about camping life and next day’s programme.
Early morning around 5a.m we woke up to the bird’s calls, it was like we were in a middle of a symphony orchestra. The Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, White-rumped Shama, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher were perching on tree branches over our tents and sang their songs. The Brown-capped Babbler sang in the jungle to the left of our tent. The Jungle Owlet, Frogmouth, Jerdon’s Nightjar, Greater Coucal, Sri Lanka Spurfowl and Sri Lanka Junglefowl calls were heard from time to time from the surrounding jungle.
First day’s birding before the breakfast was done in the surrounding jungle near the camp site. It was gorgeous after the rainfall. The smell from “mana” and” iluk” grass gave a real aroma and small drops of water which falls from tip of the leaves helped butterflies and insects to quench their thirst away. We were in the middle of the jungle parting Gal Oya National park and the Wild life reserve.
The Gal Oya National Park is rich in both fauna and flora and about 45 percent of the Park is covered by evergreen forest while a further 33 percent is taken up by savanna areas. The Park spans over 25,000 hectares in total and has three mountains within its boundaries vis-à-vis Danigala, Nilgala and Ulpotha with the highest peak reaching 900 meters. The Park has just three distinct flora types – forest, shrub and grasslands. There is a substantial area of both low lying savanna grasslands, called Thalawa, and mountainous grasslands called Pathana. Three rare types of Ayurvedic plants can be found growing in this Savanna. And this land runs back to pre Brahmana era where an ancient temple caves and stone inscriptions are still visible. And mid era during which Middle Eastern merchants have passed this area for trade and tomb erected by them gives evidence to this.
Our main target was to observe Painted Francolin, Jungle Bush Quail, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Blue-eared Kingfisher, and Streak Throated wood pecker during our stay here. But I guess most of us really wanted see elusive and beautiful Painted Francolin. We were told sometimes wildlife officers stayed 3 to 4 days here to see and observe Painted Francolin by their naked eyes but they only heard the calls and not lucky enough to see and capture photographs.
But our team seems to be the luckiest ever. The Painted Francolin’s call continued for several minutes which helped us to track the location and our FOGSL eagle’s eye Indrika spotted the Bird on a top of a ‘white ant hill’ about 100 meters away from the main path. It could be a once in a life time chance to see a Painted Francolin in this way. The morning sunlight was perfectly falling onto the Bird and the white Ant hill. Our observation point was above the bird’s elevation and well covered. Those who had cameras started taking photographs zooming their camera lenses. The bird kept on calling continuously. After observing it properly through the spotting scope, the photographers were allowed to walk toward the bird to take close up shots. But the Bird manged to disappear within seconds.
After the breakfast, as planed we walked to the dam, guided by a wild life officer. Before leaving we spotted Banded Cuckoo perching close to our site and White Rumped Sharma flew to the nest built inside the bark of Rukkathana tree. Call of a Spurfowl made us alert for a while to watch whether the bird comes out of the scrub jungle. We heard a deep whistling call made by Pompadour Green Pigeon. It was feeding on fruits above us shared with a Red Vented Bulbul flock. A flock of Malabar Pied Hornbill flew very close to us. During trekking to the dam site we spotted Drongo’s Minivets, Crested Treeswifts Coppersmith Barbet in the vicinity and butterflies too made our journey interesting.
On Saturday (27th) after morning birding session, it was time for relaxation and members took this opportunity to take a dip in the river and expecting to see the Blue eared Kingfisher. Instead, the Stork Bill Kingfisher was spotted perching on a dry branch close to a water hole.
During lunchtime the mode of transport to” Makara” which was a tractor came to the camp site. During this time dark clouds were forming towards the east coast and all of us manage to cover up the tents prior to departure. Makara track was interesting to all new comers and a herd of elephants with a baby elephant made their journey more memorable. Due to heavy rains in the past months the sand dunes have been washed away and water level was high. The team returned to the campsite around 5pm. Heavy shower and thunder made us to strand in one place. This gave a very good experience to our members as to how they should protect their belongings inside the tents during heavy rains.
Next day we closed up the tents and packed our bags to leave this beautiful land, and hoping to come back next year.!!
During our stay we manage to see 70 Species of birds and we thank all the wild life officers for the guidance and great support given to us during our stay.
(Trip Report By Tariq A, Edited by Chandima Fernando)