The annual wetland and wader field workshop of FOGSL was held at Bundala National Park and its surroundings between 17th and 20th of December 2010. The workshop was conducted by Professor Sarath Kotagama with the participation of 18 members.
The Bundala National Park covers an area of 3,698 hectares and is located in the South-eastern Arid Zone of Sri Lanka. The park consists of thorny scrub jungle and three lagoons; Malala, Embilikala and Bundala, which form a wetland complex providing habitats for around 200 species of birds, including 50 % of Sri Lanka’s migrants. The wetlands are situated in the southern-most end point of the central Asian migratory bird flyway. This led to the declaration of Bundala as Sri Lanka’s first Ramsar wetland of international importance in 1990. Further, these wetlands are also identified as an Important Bird area as well as a UNESCO Man and Biosphere site, indicating its importance for maintaining globally significant biological diversity!
The FOGSL group left the Colombo University about thee in the afternoon and reached the Heritage Centre, Bundala around nine at night. We set up our camp and had a quick introductory session to discuss the schedule for the next three days. Our nights sleep was disturbed during the wee hours of the morning as some of us got drenched from the heavy rains that pounded on the leaky roof!! After tying a tarpaulin over the mosquito nets we went back to sleep to be awaken by the calls of Indian Peafowls around 5 am!
After a quick cup of tea we went out to do an early morning birding walk around the camp. A rainbow could be seen in the still cloudy sky indicating that the sun will quickly follow. Our first stop was at a small lake and in there we encountered birds such as Black-winged Stilt, Gull-billed Tern and Eurasian Thick-knee. The scrub forest was filled with Pied Cuckoos, Plaintive Cuckoos, Blue tailed Bee-eaters and many species of Prinias.
After breakfast it was time for lectures about wetlands, identification of waders and how to conduct a wader survey. These lectures were very interesting and we found out why Bundala had lost its migratory flocks of Flamingos which numbered up to nearly 3,000 individuals in the 1990s. The development of many irrigation schemes in the upland areas had caused the brackish water of the lagoons to turn into freshwater. Since Flamingos feed in only brackish water Bundala wetlands is now deprived of the magnificent sight of thousands of Flamingos wading through the lagoons in search of prey.
After lunch, we rested for about two hours, which made up for the sleep we lost during the previous night. With a nice cup of tea to refresh us, we made our way to the Weligatta Junction with the intension of counting waders. A large gathering of Black-talied Godwits and Openbills as well as multitude of other waders was enjoying their supper at this corner of the Embilikala lagoon. But a sudden downpour had us back in the bus for about half an hour and then very carefully we made our way back to the wader gathering to get a closer look. On the way back to camp we were treated by a sighting of a majestic Elephant which had a satellite collar attached to its neck. During the night, we took our bird count of the day and discussed many threats faced by the Bundala wetlands including the rapid spread of invasive plant species such as Opuntia (Cactus) and Prosopis juliflora (Mesquite or Kalapu Andara in Sinhala), which in turn have reduced the open feeding areas of the waders.
We awoke to quite a chilly morning on the 19th, but after a hot cup of coffee, the group took the same birding route as the previous morning. Few of us managed to wade through the muddy waters to find new birding spots. This proved to be rewarding as we reached a small lake which was full of waders such as Greenshanks, Redshanks, Black winged Stilts and many Plovers.
The most exciting part of that day was the visit to the Bundala saltern. It turned out to be a wader paradise and we were able to observe Grey, Little- Ringed, Pacific Golden and Lesser Sand Plovers and also Marsh, Common and Curlew Sandpipers and Turnstones as well nine Eurasian Curlews. A group of Pratincoles were also recorded from the banks. The use of a spotting –scope is highly vital for identifying these “little brown jobs”.
After lunch we listen to a lecture on wetland conservation and afterwards we were off to Debora Wewa located few kilometres away from our camp. This was a beautiful location as there was a stretch of paddyfields on one side of the path and the wewa on the other. A few of us were very fortunate to spot a Cinnamon Bittern which flew into a paddy field and quickly hid itself among the paddy. The Tank was home to waterfowl such as the Purple Swamphen, Common Moorhen, Lesser Whistling Duck, Pelicans and Egrets. We were also treated to a very beautiful sunset and we watched in awe as the sun bid good bye for the day.
The next morning the members divided into two groups and went in opposite directions behind the camp in order to spot some new birds. Our group took an adventurous route which nearly agitated a herd of buffaloes, which were wallowing peacefully in a small pool enjoying the early morning sun on their backs. Thankfully they did not attack us although they remained in a defence posture until we disappeared from their sight. At a small water hole we watched the antics of a Pied Kingfisher who was successful in catching several fish. But at one point a Gull-billed Tern tried to steal the fish from it, and this resulted in both birds loosing the tasty meal. We were extremely lucky to observe 26 Great Thick-knees at a close range and a Yellow-wattled Lapwing as well as a large gathering of Barn swallows. The colourful Common Kingfishers were also a common sight in this area.
After a good breakfast of kiribath we packed up our belongings in order to return to Colombo and left behind Prof. Kotagama and Indika who stayed back for another wetland workshop organized for a group of university students. On our way we made a quick stop at the new port being built in Hambantota. It was disturbing to learn that the Karagan Lewaya had been converted into the construction site limiting the wader habitats as well as the nesting sites of marine turtles! One wonders if this can be called “sustainable development” as the lives of many species are being sacrificed to satisfy the development of one species; humans!!. This left us with a thought to ponder about on our way back to Colombo after what had been a very interesting trip. Our hope and wish is that the concerned authorities will take relevant measures to mitigate the threats that could harm the survival of the internationally important Bundala wetlands!
Participants: Mr. R.K. Jayarajah, Mr. Asitha Samarawickrama, Miss. Uraji Karunaratne, Mr. Saman Abesinha, Mr. B.J. Subasinhe, Miss. Kalya Subasinhe, Mr. Sivakumar Selvaraj, Ms. Sujatha Mayadunnage, Mr. Galinga Herath, Mr. M.M. Casseer, Mrs. Sriyani Perera, Ms. Nishanthi Perera, Mrs. Shamila Perera, Mr. Rohan Kaththiriarachchi, Mr. Praveea, Ms. Namalee Kotagama, Mr. Odatha Kotagama, Mr. Indrika Pradeepa, Prof. S.W. Kotagama
Reported by Asitha Samarawickrama and Nishanthi Perera
Photos: Nishanthi Perera
(Group photo by Indrika Pradeepa)
Birds List (Bundala and Debora Wewa)
Sri Lanka Junglefowl
Pacific Golden Plover
Common Ringed Plover
Little Ringed Plover
Lesser Sand Plover
Little Green Bee-eater
Sri Lanka Brown-capped Babbler