FOGSL in collaboration with Naval base in Vankalai organized a briding excursion to Mannar from 4-7th November 2010 with the participation of 23 members. It was a “first in life” trip to few, while others were “going down the memory lane” to re-discover the birding hotsopts in the area. Mannar was out of bounds for most of the past 30 years due to the civil unrest and thankfully it is now being re-awakened with the conclusion of the war in 2009.
We left the Colombo University around 2.15 in the afternoon and reached St Anne’s Central Collage, Vankalai at sharp midnight; our base camp for the next three days. The guys opted to camp in a big hall upstairs while the ladies plus one child were left to settle themselves in two class rooms down below. Wake up call at 5.30 a.m was hard to stomach, yet we managed to be in the bus by 6.30 as all of us were eager to explore the surroundings.
Vankalai Sanctuary was our first stop. Very recently declared as Sri Lanka’s fourth Ramsar wetland of International Importance, Vankalai has also been identified as an Important Bird Area. Covering 4,839 ha, the sanctuary consists of numerous coastal and marine wetlands, and patches of arid zone dry thorn scurb, arid zone pasture and sand dunes. Mangroves, salt marshes, lagoons and sea-grass beds and maritime grasslands are the prominent wetlands. Due to the integrated nature of shallow wetland and terrestrial coastal habitats, this sanctuary is very productive, supporting high species diversity. Civil unrest has kept human activity out of this area and presently there are only few permanent settlements. Local people engage in small-scale livestock grazing, subsistence and commercial fishing.
We did most of our birding along the abandoned rail tracks that joined the main land to Talaimannar and crossed the Ilayadi Bridge near the Alfa 1 Naval camp. Around 74 species of birds including migratory waders were observed on that day. The most notable records were the Spot-billed duck, Eurasian Oystercatcher, and Sanderling. Even though we looked forward to seeing a large gathering of the graceful Greater Flamingos, our wish was not fulfilled during this trip; instead we had to be content with the colourful and common Painted storks!
It seems that the wild donkey or the assess are very abundant in Mannar, and even in the middle of the town itself you will find them in search of food. If uncheked and conservation measures are not taken, this population too will dissapear soon. Other mammals such as hare, jackal, wildboar and mongoose were also observed running through the thorny buhes of the Sanctuary. We also visited the Talaimannar pier, the tip of Mannar island where around four decades ago people used take ferries to India. On the way to the jetty large number of Indian Rollers were observed. The group also wanted to have a look at the Baobab tree, which has the widest recored tree trunk within Sri Lanka. Located near to the Mannar town, this tree’s orgin is the African continent and it had been introduced to our island by Arabian traders in 1476.
On the day two, the morning hours were again spent brding at the Vankalai Sanctuary. After breakfast we headed towards Vidattaltivu lagoon accompanied by two Navy officials, who were a great help in getting through numerous check points. We were greeted by three Crab plovers at the Vidattaltivu lagoon and this bird was a ‘lifer’ to most of us. Other than several and Little Green Bea-eaters who danced in and out amongst the bushes, the lagoons were devoid of birdlife. We headed towards Iluppaikkadavai Navy base, which is siutated sourrounded by a healty mangrove and salt marsh vegetation as well as the open ocean, for our lunch. Thereafter we took a lengthy walk along the banks of the lagoon. A Wimbrel, Grey Plovers, Pacific Golden Plovers, Terek Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones, White-winged Terns were observed on the banks of the lagoons near to the base. A Rosy Starling and a Blyth's Pipit were also recorded by few of the birders close to the Iluppaikkadavai.
Although it was planned to return to Colombo through Wilpattu National Park and also to do some birding at Silavaturai, the idea had to be abandoned due to floods in that area. Instead we visited the Giant Tank Sanctuary where aquatic birds such as Common kingfisher, Pied kingfisher, Cotton Pygmy-goose, Little Grebes, Little Cormorants, Indian Cormorants and large number of Lesser whistling ducks were present.
The bird list for the trip passed 120 species with the addition of Wooly-necked stork and the Crested Serpent-eagle observed while travelling from Anuradhapura to Puttalam. Large number of butterflies was also recorded during this excursion. Both Vankalai and Giant Tank area can be considered as “photographer’s paradise” for capturing these vibrant beauties on film!
It also needed to be noted that with deep felt regret we observed the bridges, houses and other infrasturcture that was destroyed during the war and the human suffereing that went with it. All of us, including the Naval officers we spoke with hoped and prayed for long lasting peace where all races in our country can live as Sri Lankans under one flag!
We reached Colombo around 7 p.m on Sunday with lots of shared memories of the rich natural and cultural heritage of Mannar and its surroundings!
Participants: Mr. Ranjith Silva, Miss. Uraji Karunaratne, Mr. R.K. Jayarajah, Mr. Sivakumar Selvaraja, Mrs. Chitra Devi Ranasinghe, Mr. Adrian Gadriel, Mr. Osanda Senapathiratne, Mr. A. Nishantha Kulathunga, Mr. M.M. Casseer, Mrs. Sriyani Perera, Ms. Ziniya Nisam, Ms. Nandachitra Hewaga, Mr. G.Herath, Mr. Paba Bandara , Mr. Nilantha Megasooriya, Ms. Nishanthi Perera, Mr. Prasanna kobeesuuaram (Vauniya), Mr. Kuhapreetham, Mr. Kusum Fernando, Mrs. Shamila Perera, Mr. Chaminda Jayaratne, Mr. Kasun Dayananda, Mr. Indrika Pradeepa
Reported by Nishanthi Perera
Photos by Nishanthi Perera and Chaminda Jayaratne
Birds List of Mannar
(Wankalai Sanctuary, Vidattaltivu Lagoon & Gaint’s Tank)
Pacific Golden Plover
Little Ringed Plover
Lesser Sand Plover
Great Crested Tern
Little Green Bee-eater