The Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) organized a field tour to Jaffna Peninsula and surrounding islands from 16-20th February 2011, with the participation of 29 of its members. Scheduled for the day three of this trip was a birding tour to Delft Island, locally known as Neduntheevu. It is the largest island (45 km2) in the Palk Strait, located about 40 km off Jaffna peninsula. The only other land mass beyond this is the Kachchativu, which is a barren island positioned at the border of the maritime boundary of Sri Lanka. Delft was named after a city in Holland during the Dutch colonial rule of the country. Unspoilt and untouched by modernity, mainly due to civil unrest during the last 30 odd years, Delft island offers a wide experience to the traveler in the form of birds, wild ponies, old forts, Baobab trees and beautiful beaches.
We boarded the ferry from Kurikadduwan jetty in Punkudutiv island around 8.30 in the morning and reached Delft after more than one hour of sea journey. Several of us opted to sit on the roof of the ferry as the sea was calm as a lake and watched sea gulls and Brahminy kites freely roaming above us. Striated heron was the first bird to be spotted on the nearby shore of the island. It was interesting to watch the antiques of this bird as it got ready to pounce on its prey. These birds are known to place baits such as feathers or leaves on the water surface and pick fish that come to investigate
After having a quick breakfast of ‘sinisambal’ and bread, we found two ‘land masters’ with the assistance of the Navy officials. These small tractors are the main transportation method in Delft and there is single CTB bus operating on scheduled time periods. Thankfully the land is flat, but you have to endure a bumpy ride in the rough terrain under a very hot sun with only Palmyra palms and few dry shrubs for shade. A lonely Indian roller was encountered in an old Dutch church yard near to the navy camp. The beauty of this bird can be only seen during its flight when striking shades of blue mixed with brown can be witnessed. Next bird to be spotted was a Red collared dove, which is related to more commonly seen spotted dove.
The splendor of the dashing wild ponies mesmerized all of us for quite a while. These animals are not native to Sri Lanka, but are a legacy left behind by the colonial rulers including the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British, who bred the animals for transport and work. Some of the animals are branded indicating that their “wild status” is no longer valid. The literature says that during droughts these ponies have a hard time finding enough water to survive and that due to increase in the number of domesticated cattle, there is a competition for food . The remoteness and inaccessibility of the island has provided protection to the wild ponies to live and breed freely up to now, yet in future with the influx of more people, conservation measures will be needed to ensure their survival. Our next stop was a large water hole where an aggregation of waders including Black winged stilts and ducks such as Garganey and Northern Pintail were observed. In the background several wild ponies were quenching their thirst while a young colt was happily playing about.
The giant Baobab tree is another land mark not to be missed. We spent more than fifteen minutes under the shade of the tree, which was a welcoming relief from the very hot sun. Like the Mannar Baobab, this tree was most probably introduced by the Arabian traders. For lunch we purchased biscuits and soft drinks from the small village boutique located near the Kytes tourist court house. Around 5,000 people inhabit the island and they live in small compounds separated from each other by walls built up of dead coral. One has to walk through the small Government Hospitals corridor to have a look at the ruins of the Dutch Fort. Beyond this fort is a cemetery where you will find tomb stones belonging to all religions. During the colonial rule, carrier pigeons were used as the medium of communication between the islands and there still evidence for this in the form of stone cote.
During the few hours we spend at the Delft island, we observed 64 bird species. A multitude of butterfly species are also found in the island and several of us got busy photographing them. Spending five hours was grossly inadequate to fully appreciate the wonders of this delightful small island and its friendly people. Yet due to time constrains, we had to leave it behind with the hope of visiting again, someday soon.
The Department of Wildlife Conservation has identified part of the Delft to be declared as a National Park under the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance, mainly to protect to wild ponies. This came as a recommendation under the project titled Integrated Strategic Environment Assessment for the Northern Province. Although good in intention, the technical and financial feasibility of this action is doubtful and a more appropriate action would be to declare the whole island as an Environmental Sensitive Area under the National Environment Act and thereafter develop guidelines to promote sustainable development initiatives within the island. It is also highly relevant to carry out a species and habitat assessment of the island before any such regulations are established.
Common Ringed Plover
Little Ringed Plover
Little Green Bee-eater
Report and Photographs: Nishanthi Perera