Hunting the Hunters: Looking Both Ways

So, getting past how to start this post was probably the hardest thing about it. I normally don’t and to be honest, I have never written about a serious current topic such as this. Now, why is this topic the hill I choose to die on? I think it is because it resonated with me very deeply. And the more I began to read about the most certain two sides to the debate, the more I wondered who was right and what stance benefits all parties. And what you see below is an attempt to outline the main points of the issue.

The Losses on Both Sides

Human-wildlife conflicts as almost all the articles will tell you, are as old as time itself. In Sri Lanka, these conflicts mainly exist between Humans and Elephants. The losses on both sides are great and no sustainable solution has come about as of yet. For example, 67% of Elephant deaths in Sri Lanka are due to man-made reasons and 20% of them being due to gunshots. And on the other hand, there have been a total of 716 human deaths from 2007 to 2017, 11 of whom were children. Another type of conflict that showed up again recently is non-target animal killings. A prime example being the Black Leopard that was caught in a snare on May 26 at the Lakshapana Estate in Hatton. These occur when farmers or locals set up snares to capture other wild animals such as Wild Boars or Samber Deer who are known to damage crops and plantations. Snares often end up killing the animals caught in it as the wire cords, typically from bikes, strangle the animal as they continue their desperate struggle to freedom.

Now to the question at hand that has troubled me: Can human-wildlife conflict be prevented? The thing I see a majority of people doing is considering this is strictly a wildlife issue and thus off the bat assuming that the only party harmed are the animals. However to truly understand the intentions and reasons behind the actions of the locals one must look into how their lives are being both directly and indirectly harmed by animals. There are numerous socio-economic problems that these agropastoralists face due to animal damages to their crop yields and properties. This doesn’t mean that you have to completely empathize with them and their motivations. But rather attempt to find the middle ground in this complex issue.

The Seeds of Conflict

So to start off: Why does the conflict occur in the first place? The general answer is simply put, Human Development. Growth in population constantly consumes one thing: land. In search of land, man invades the habitats that used to once be roamed by wild animals. Settling down, they build homes, farms, grow crops, and build their livelihood around this land.

In addition to this, Human Migration in search of food security and safety are common factors that lead to such conflict. Furthermore, local perceptions that are often legitimate may lead to proactive steps to kill or trap animals such as Leopards or Elephants.

Habitat Limiting Factors for animals may make them more likely to damage human villages. The causes of Habitat Limitation are both man-made and natural. Human factors include development into greenfield sites that were only habituated by animals and natural factors include droughts and wildfires that may push animals to search for newer territories.

Lastly, the most disgraceful and inhumane reason would be Poaching. Although it is widely illegal throughout the island, the lack of effective enforcement has caused it to continuously take animal lives for no reason at all. There are a plethora of other factors that contribute to conflict all over the world. However, the ones I have listed are the major ones that require proactive action the prevent and mitigate.

On this point, I would like to add that in Sri Lanka the perception of human-wildlife conflicts revolves around the acts of animals on human settlements. But, I think an important step forward would be understanding that this also includes all the human activities that directly impact animals that range from poaching and setting snares to using explosives to drive these animals from their habitats.

Animals: The Oppressors?

As I stated before, this issue is also a socio-economic issue, and looking at it as simply a wildlife issue won’t bring about a sustainable solution. Benefits to both parties are required for any long term solution. The most prevalent human-wildlife conflict in Sri Lanka occurs as Elephant-Human Conflict. Being a primarily agricultural economy, population increases have resulted in farms and agricultural lands expanding into forests and known Elephant habitat. Thus resulting in over 70% of Elephants’ range falling outside reserves and parks. This increases the chances of conflict simply due to the overlap of territory. It is important to remember, that the higher the densities of both populations, the higher the chance and frequency of conflict. Studies further address how rice being a staple in the Sri Lankan diet and thus leading to paddy being a crop that takes up a vast amount of land raises the chance of conflict. This would be because of the fact that Elephants find paddy rather enjoyable just before it is harvest-ready. Hence it isn’t a surprise that paddy is the principle crop damaged by Elephants.

Overall, the overlap between human and Elephant territories leads to one of the greatest threats posed by animals: economic losses. The exact monetary value of the loss is hard to calculate as it is hard to project how much crop would have grown given there was no interference. But, it can be safely said that damages to these crops have significant impacts farmers by reducing yield for that season and thus creating a direct impact on a whole family’s livelihood. To further prove the scale and magnitude of these damages, one must look no further than the farmer-suicides that take place in Sri Lanka. Other economic costs include property damages and damages to the water supply and irrigation infrastructure.

And of course, there is the loss of human life and injury that creates a cycle of fear leading to proactive measures to harm wildlife. Although on average about 1500 Sri Lankans are killed by poisonous snakes, the less common attacks by elephants gain more public traction and awareness. This may be due to the fact that these incidents evoke stronger emotions and thus cause a greater outcry. Nevertheless, each incident that concludes with the loss of life generates more fear and anger amongst locals leading to more animosity between the two parties. This is one reason that the matter requires immediate attention. In my opinion, insurance and compensation schemes that attempt to ‘payback’ these damages aren’t the long term or sustainable solution that we are looking for.

Humans: The Oppressors?

As mainstream media and other news networks often report, there is a substantial impact on animals such as elephants, wild boars, and even leopards as seen recently. The impacts on wildlife have been recently been a public hot topic due to the events that recently transpired in Kerala, India. However, in Sri Lanka itself, 2019 showed record-high Elephant deaths at around 386 elephant deaths of which only 37 were due to natural causes. There was a decline in the no. of deaths since 2011, but it began to increase after 2015. Other than the loss of life, Elephants also face a reduction in habitat due to the increasing use of their habitat for farming. This results in a fall in access to food and water.

Another, less talked about issue would be non-target animal killings. Although I briefly touched on this above, the main victims of these snare left for wild boars are leopards. The three specific incidents began with a rare Black Leopard being caught in a snare at the Lakshapana Estate in Hatton. After an attempted rescue the animal died three days later due to the injuries sustained from the snare. This further continued with the latest case of a dead leopard found caught in a snare on a cashew plantation on the edge of a forest reserve in Neluwa. Lastly, there was another leopard found caught in a snare but was thankfully returned to the wild safely. All these cases reflect on the issue of non-target animal killings. These are set up by farmers but often attack leopards as they also follow the same footpaths of wild boars. With regards to legality, in Sri Lanka it is legal to kill wild boar if they invade your property, however, the sale and use of their meat are prohibited. Nevertheless, this often does not stop poaching of these wild animals and the consumption of their flesh.

This brings me to my next major issue faced by animals. Poaching. This activity can be divided into two based on intent. The first of these being, Subsistence Poaching. This refers to poaching carried out on a small scale with the primary reason as a secondary income or food security. The second being commercial poaching in which animals are poached for parts such as skins, meats, and ivory tusks. In Sri Lanka, the greatest threat comes from Subsistence Poaching as the no. of deaths is greater. This is mainly due to a lack of enforcement in these regions and a growing need for DWC personal. Another side of this issue would be the impact of COVID-19 on poaching numbers. As many have expected, the lack of tourism and people in the parks have made it easier for poachers to go about their business during the quarantine. In addition to this, the fact that many do not have stable jobs has led to an increase in Subsistence Poaching. Although official numbers cannot be gathered as of now, personal reports from Wildlife parks and reserves indicate growing levels of poaching.

The Solutions at Hand

Allternative Incomes

I think the government should attempt to create alternative sources of income for people in these rural areas where conflicts are high. The benefits of this can be two-fold. Now firstly, strengthening the eco-tourism in Sri Lanka could allow people who poach for sustenance an alternative. This would reduce the chance of going into wildlife poaching. The use of tourism after the lockdown should be carefully handled and the recruitment from local areas is essential. This would be because it is more likely for them to conduct poaching. In addition, the dissemination of information regarding available jobs at hotels and the DWC could help encourage community participation. Secondly, increased tourism sector activity may benefit during times of economic downfall. Now, its rather obvious that a majority of these solutions are gonna seem dreamy and far-fetched. And I believe that is the fundamental issue at hand. To tackle an issue certain changes need to be made to the status quo. It is rare to find solutions dropdown that has no effect on the status quo. So it’s up to the relevant authorities to enact and enforce meaningful change.

Comunal Education and Training

It is safe to say that a large no. of farmers rely on handed-down information to attempt to protect their crops. These attempted improvisations often do not lead to a peaceful solution. ( snares and such) Thus proper education on methods to combat the advances of animals must be made. As a first step, the generation in charge of conflict management should be educated but in the medium term, one must integrate such education to local schooling systems to ensure that future generations utilize these methods. The goal here is long term behavioral change. Now, what kind of content should be included? Although I am in no position to give any specifics, topics such as practical skills would help them deal with dangerous wild animal species and acquire and develop new tools for defending their crops and livestock. I also believe that attempting to teach them about wildlife conservation and its importance in maintaining healthy eco-systems that benefits us as well. Another important role of this may be to dispel any current myths and incorrect information that is circulating in the community.

If you are wondering if this actually works, look no further than Kakum National Park in Ghana, where 50 farmers were trained in crop protection and deterrent techniques. This led to an almost 70% drop in crop losses in the area. Furthermore, according to a study on Crop Protection by Finbarr G. Horgan and EnokaP. Kudavidanage, one of the main reasons for crop loss can be linked to the lack of farmer training.

Increasing Human Vigilance

Vigilance and crop guarding can play an important role in the protection of crops. Although the use of watchtowers and tree huts may not be anything new in Sri Lanka, making these more efficient and useful is vital. Creating local rosters and patrols are clear and easy methods of long term conflict management. However, the use of nonlethal alarm systems and deterrence through sound and smell is essential for there to be a point in watching over crops. No matter how long and well farmers may look over their crops, in the case of an attack, the lack of a proper method to harmlessly scare away the animal may be fatal. Thus the setting up and use of cheap alarm systems such as cowbells and tins can help scare animals. This whole process requires prolonged proactive action by the government in ensuring that locals have the necessary equipment and knowledge to protect their crops. Furthermore, short term involvement of the DWC to enforce this process would be necessary in order to make sure that locals fall into the system of patrolling and watching.

Fencing

Concerning the use of fencing, I think it would be an essential deterrent. There various types of fencing options that can be pursued by locals. In Sri Lanka, the use of fencing ranges from the setting up of bata vata to electric fencing. The main factor to its utility would be how well these fences are maintained and repaired. I will touch on this a little later. But before that, I wanted to get the issue and controversy surrounding electric fencing out of the way. Electic fencing can be taken as a viable long term solution. However, factors such as set up costs, maintenance, technical know-how, and incorrect installments cause obstacles in their proper use. Firstly, the integration of locals into the process of setting up is vital. This would be to develop a need to protect and maintain it later. Furthermore, the DWC must ensure that before the setting up of such fencing proper approval and participation are enlisted by locals. They should also establish small local groups that are trained with the ability to maintain, operate, and repair these fences in the long run. In addition, the use of alternative fencing on top of these electric fences should also be pursued where possible. (such as vegetative fences) Lastly, this should also go hand in hand with other solutions such as habitat enrichment rather than being treated as a one-time, stand-alone solution.

Well, these 4 broader solutions are by no means the only. There are numerous other solutions that range from translocation to habitat planning to land use policy. However, it is my opinion that the above solutions are the basics of the mitigative action required. The issue itself has become rather normalized in Sri Lanka. It’s common to hear news stories about elephant attacks and stories of leopards in snares that create a sense of momentary grief within viewers. But crackdowns that are meant to follow (on poaching and hunting) never really occur. To add on, it’s not a lack of data either. While reading this I came across numerous studies and papers regarding the specific issues within the larger problem of Human-Wildlife Conflict done in Sri Lanka. I’m going, to be frank here, the only reason this is getting written is because I was bored at home, but reading into it you truly understand the scale of the issue and how fixing one side of it changes nothing. Only considering about either the animals’ or the humans’ distress doesn’t have a sustainable impact. So the least I can ask the 10 or (hopefully) 15 of yall who are reading this is to read about the issue and come to your own decisions. Don’t think that this post has enough information for you to get there but take it as a beginning to read about something that should be read about especially in Sri Lanka.

Caught in the Kingdom of Kenya

Now this grand outing into the wilderness took a total of 12 days and I’m not going to torture both you and I by describing exactly what happened on each day. (it’s just bad). Instead, I will share with you my experiences at each wildlife hotspot and national park I visited, and thus effectively cutting out all the boring sightseeing and touristy stuff I’m sure your not interested in. (assuming yall like what’s below)

Ol Pejeta Conservancy

Well to begin with, spot one was the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. Now, being the first place on the list, I had utterly no idea of what to expect from Kenya and its wildlife. Like in terms of the types of birds and the frequency of animal sightings. But I was dumbfounded when I witnessed the legions of animals and birds surrounding us constantly. My dad and I had gotten so used to creeping and crawling our way to find mere signs of wildlife, that in Kenya was a fantasy brought to life. And thus it began, from the moment we arrived at Ol Pejeta, we were in an inescapable cocoon of animals. In front of where we were staying, was a fence and across this fence was… a reserve. Yes a reserve! A real dream come true for me. And here are a few of the pictures we took throughout our stay at SweetWaters.

Everything you see above is from right outside the hotel. Not any safaris that went into the actual park. Now before I go on to show you any of those pictures, a few details about the place. The Ol Pejeta Conservancy is one of the most important haven of wildlife in Kenya. Its main goal is to protect and conserve the wildlife within it and this is shown in the fact that they harbour the world’s last Northern White Rhinos. In addition, it’s the only place you can see chimpanzees in Kenya. The do all this through donations and income gained through wildlife tourism.

For further info just check out: https://www.olpejetaconservancy.org/

You are now reading one brief introduction later. So, the day we arrived we went on two safaris. And the first day one was off the bat nothing like Sri Lankan Safaris. The sheer abundance of big cats and different wildlife surprised me. My camera was never bored. My arms were always tired. My fingers were forever clicking.

Day 1, Safari 1, we saw lions and their cubs in the bushes and tonnes of other animals and birds I had never seen. Here are a few pictures from our first escapade:

Later that day, I found myself on a night safari, freezing in a blanket so thin it couldn’t keep a mouse warm. While my sister and mother had the luxury of staying warm inside the vehicle, I had to constantly have my head outside as the wind and cold ripped me to bits and drained my will to see. Nevertheless, we did see a few more lions and elephants rather unsuccessfully, making me realize that this was of those “for the experience things” .

We had one more chance to witness the greatness of this truly magical place when we embarked on our last safari here. And below are the pictures we got.

And that’s that. Our stay in Ol Pejeta was fantastic. And if anyone reading noticed I’m not as whiny as I am in other posts and that’s because this place truly, actually, most definitely and 100% blew me away. But it was a really small percentage of what was to be seen in Kenya.

The Aberdare National Park

This one turned out a bit weird for me at the beginning. The area looked like very similar to a rainforest in Sri Lanka and I began to immediately question the existence of Elephants and Leopards in these parts. Anyways, we made it to our destination and it was easily one of the coolest places I have ever stayed in. It was called TreeTops and the most interesting thing here, besides the architecture of the building, was the fact that there was a special viewing deck sort of thing that at night was used to observe herds of elephants that visit the watering hole right next to it. This really excited me.

Here there was a mixture of pictures taken from both safaris and the hotels viewing spots. But before any of that a bit of information about the the Aberdare National Park. Now unlike a great number of wildlife parks in Kenya, the landscape here is very similar to Horton Plains compared to Yala or Wilpattu where safaris are common. So it was a first to be taking a safari in an area comparable to Horton Plains. Located 100 km North of Nairobi and established in 1950, the park covers a grand total of 766 square kilometers. The park is host to a large herd of Eastern Black Rhinos as well as numerous endangered bird species. The terrain of the park itself varies from mountainous peaks and deep v-shaped valleys to moorlands and bamboo forests at the lower altitudes. The whole park is governed by the Kenya Wildlife Service and for more information visit: http://www.kws.go.ke/content/aberdare-national-park

Now for the pictures from the safaris.

Now, one animal that was recurring and a specialty of sorts here was the Elephant. And I would soon come to understand why. My experiences with this animal were two fold. Making me see two different sides to them. The first of which occurred during a safari. We were caught in this small dirt road and as we drove on it we encountered this Elephant. Really up close, it was huge and as usual my reaction was stand up and take pictures. But halfway into this, the elephant took a few steps forward and I had to adjust the zoom and all. The driver told me to sit down and I was compliant. And the moment I did the Elephant charged. Now any sane,inexperienced,normal driver would have reversed to save their life. This man had other plans. Firmly placing his foot on the accelerator, he urged the jeep forward and thus effectively charging the elephant. To this day, I remain unaware if it was dumb luck or skillful maneuvering that saved us that day. Because the elephant midway decided to dip back into the forest. Thanking both Kenyan and Sri Lanakan Gods we returned to the lodge.

Now that was the first, the second being much safer, was a viewing of these “gentle giants” at 12 am from the viewing deck. They came to drink water and we observed their calm and collected nature. Here are a few pics from both instances.

And that wraps up the Aberdare National Park experience. I think the two things that stand out the most to me here is how 1.) the innovative ways in which the lodge creates an unique experience for their visitors and 2.) the mismatch to me between the wildlife and the terrain. It’s something I hope to never forget.

Hell’s Gate National Park

This park easily had the coolest name and the most hype before I visited it. Honestly, who wouldn’t want to go to a national park calle HELL’S GATE? We had a few Safaris here and we weren’t exposed to as much wildlife as we had been in the last few places. But the main purpose at this national park was for hiking. Although I’m not gonna explain the hike and all of that cause thats way too long. I’ll attach a few pictures from the whole scene.

Oh, before that. (Almost forgot). So the Hell’s Gate National Park is one of the smaller national parks in Kenya and is known for both its wildlife and scenic views. The park itself hosts a cultural centre for the Masai people and 3 main campsites. One thing that makes this park standout would be the fact that it is also home to 3 geothermal power plants. The park is mainly famous for having the rare and exotic, Bearded Vultures. However, the main tourist attraction here remains to be the Mount Longonot hike. Furthermore, the name isn’t the only thing cool about this park, rather the fact that activities such as Hiking and Cycling is allowed.

For additional information feel free to visit: http://www.kws.go.ke/content/hells-gate-national-park

Now to the pictures.

This one was pretty short cause in my opinion this park was more centered around activities rather than showcasing their wildlife as seen in the other parks. But anyone interested in spending a day or 2 here should definitely consider it as it not the traditional only safari experience.

The Masai Mara

The Big One. The One. Well let’s just start off by saying, we had to spend a whole 2 days in this park. No, I mean 2 full, complete days of just being in the Savannah. I will come clean and say that, I have never spent 48 hours better than this. The abundance of animals ,I thought I would never see, was overwhelming. The most painstaking thing for this post would be choosing the right pictures to showcase.

And for the last time. Located around 270 km from Nairobi, The Masai Mara is considered to be Kenya’s Greatest Wildlife Reserve. It is also connected to Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. Collectively, it forms one of Africa’s, most diverse and spectacular Wildlife Reserves.It is also possibly the world’s top safari big game viewing ecosystem. The best time to visit is in between July and October. This is due to the Wildebeest Migration that makes for incredible shots.

For Further information visit: https://www.maasaimara.com/

The pictures above are of the best birds I took over the 2 days. One of the species that genuinely fascinated me was the Vulture. Its huge size and great wingspan makes it look rather majestic in flight. Further they are nowhere to be found in Sri Lanka so it was probably a first and last. Also a new addition for me was the Secretary Bird. Its common name is thought to derive from the crest of feathers. These quill-like feathers give the appearance of a secretary with quill pens tucked behind its ears.

Although surprisingly, the Cheetah isn’t one of the African Big 5, it is by far my favourite big cat. Its sleek and athletic look makes it look so damn cool. I may be biased because we saw one eat a kill with its cub.( hence the blood in some of the pictures above) Seeing it in a chase will instantly convert all of yall to cheetah lovers. Furthermore, it is the only big cat that can turn in mid-air. Other cool facts include: top speeds of 70 miles per hour and accelerating from 0 to 68 in 3 seconds.

Now, anyone paying close attention,( I hope all of you are!), would soon realise and ask the question: Wheres Simba? The reason you don’t see animated Simba in real life is because I failed. I failed to capture a worthy enough shot of a lion with a mane. We saw one once, and it was under a shady tree leading to bad lighting, etc. [insert other excuses]. But, the lioness and the cubs were equally spectacular as you can see!

And finally the end of this post. These are a few cool shots of other animals in the Mara. Altogether, the Kenya trip was something truly out of this world for me. It’s something I will most likely never witness again in this lifetime. It’s also partially the reason I want to join the UN, in hopes of further exploring Africa and its wildlife whilst doing what I can to help save it.

Five Photos of Feathered Friends

I did not see this blog becoming a top 5 countdown kind of blog. I think the biggest debate I had with this post is, do I start with the best or the worst. After struggling over this severe crisis over dozens of minutes I decided to put it in no particular order and let you the readers decide which ones are your favourites. So if you feel like it just comment which ones yall like the most and the least.

Common Kingfisher- Yala- 2019

So first off, we will start of with the Common KingFisher I took in 2019 in Yala. These birds are usually found throughout the country and aren’t that difficult to find as the name suggests. However it isn’t the most prevalent Kingfisher in Sri Lanka. That award would go to the far larger and in my opinion less photogenic White-Throated Kingfisher. This particular one was sighted in a fairly dried up lake across a road in Yala. As you can see it was helping itself to a fish that it just acquired. In this case what makes this picture so special to me is the pose the bird is striking rather than the rarity or appearance of the bird. Also this was my first attempts at taking a bird in manual mode.

Grey Nightjar- Yala

Now, this is one of my favourite pictures and birds of all time. (Obviously, it’s on the list) But the reason the Grey Nightjar made it onto the list is because of how elusive this bird has been, at least to me. Nightjars in general are extremely nocturnal and shy creatures during the day. Although in the night it maybe a completely different story, they normally are found on roadsides or like this perched in a low lying branch. One thing that really interests me in this bird is the fact that they rarely make the usual nests in trees. The females lay eggs in hole on the ground and incubate them using that warmth for 2 to 3 weeks. Their ability to camouflage and stay completely motionless helps them elude predators and most photographers alike. In this case, the driver was able to make a lucky spot. But caution! for all bird watchers unlike other birds that would fly away due to loud noises these birds may actually be physically harmed by sudden and loud noises.

Purple-Rumped Sunbird- Matale-2019

Next up is also another rather common and prevalent bird. This Purple-Rumped Sunbird is found in gardens across Sri Lanka. However, this particular picture was taken after hours of waiting and camping in Matale. The picture depicts a female, mother, bird on one of her numerous daily visits to see her rather impatient and hyper young one. Now to be fair both the male and female birds alternatively fed the hatchling. In addition, the female builds the nest with cobwebs and finer plant fibers. The main reason this picture made it in is due to the time it took for me to get a good picture. Although the visits are in like a 2 minute interval, the speed of the whole exchange makes it near impossible to take a clear shot. But in this case the female finally decided to take much needed rest.

Changeable-Hawk Eagle- Diyathalawa-2019

Well, this picture, let’s be honest was a very very lucky shot. It wasn’t like I was waiting for the Changeable-Hawk Eagle to fly over my frame so I could snap it. But the story goes, we were told by one of my dad’s office friends that his brother would like take us to see a few birds along the mountainous railway tracks in Diyathalwa. And half-way into our journey the light started dying and hope along with it. But of course by some miracle we saw the Changeable-Hawk Eagle perched on a tree around 100m in front of us towards the cliff-edge. And seconds after sighting it, it took flight across our view and I just pointed and shot on Auto. And thank god it came out okay. I have always had fairly good experiences with Changeable-Hawk Eagle. The main issue I have with this picture is that although it’s in one third of the frame, it’s in the wrong side of the one-third. This one time we found a juvenile around 4m away from our Safari jeep in Wilpattu and it did not move from its spot for over an hour. Later after we left it there and circled back in a couple of hours, there it was still in the same pose.

Dusky-Blue Flycatcher-Nuwara Eliya-2013

Lastly, we have the Dusky-Blue Flycatcher. This picture is one of my earliest pictures back in 2013. It was a year after I started taking this whole thing seriously and it was I think the first trip we went on since Knuckles. I hadn’t really taken any ‘good’ snaps since I began. And the trip wasn’t very bird friendly either. So during a stop at this place in Nuwara Eliya called Humbugs, I ventured into their backyard garden and managed to take this picture. After closer inspection, I found out that it was fairly clearly and focused. Mind you at this time I had no DSLR and was using a Nikon Coolpix that had a substantial zoom but made it hard to take quick paced pictures with it. And after taking this I was very motivated to do continue birding and it really helped me be more active on the whole birding thing.

And there you have it. Five of my favorite pictures. Now obviously there are probably better pictures I have taken. (Specially, missed out on a few Bee Eaters ) But these pictures came to mind and I decided to include them. Each picture as you can see has a different story for which I appreciate it. And who knows I might do another one of these. But next time it will be a bit more specific like Best of the Waders or Raptors. Gosh! Looks like this is becoming a top 5 blog…

Hidden in the Horton Plains

One of my earliest adventures into the wild began in Horton Plains. A place, I would later come to realize is a haven for birds and wildlife. So this whole first episode of unwanted and uncalled for bravery, on my mother’s part, came in 2010. Yes, in 2010. I had been alive for a grand total of 10 years. Now, at this tender age, one isn’t supposed to be camping in a national park with temperatures 10 degrees celsius at night. Well, 10-year-old rights weren’t a thing at the time. This time around was the merry band consisted of: our family of 4, a newlywed couple ( who’s only mistake was being my mother’s cousin), and my uncle and his friends ( who were of that age where adrenaline substitutes blood ).

Off we were, as all trips start, at 4 am in the morning. We entered Ohiya in the clouds. This sentence doesn’t make sense but check out the pictures below. The white fog engulfed the car and soon we were simply inching along the winding track. We did our due diligence at the park gate and we were in.

Now the plan was to go there and stay the first day at a well lit, nice, warm, cozy, walled, roofed, and bedded bungalow inside the park. Too many adjectives in that sentence you say? Well, I used them while I can, cause the next 2 days wouldn’t deserve any of those words. The initial stay at the bungalow was deceptive on my 10-year-old brain, all the card-playing, good food, and warm spirits around me made me severely misjudge the mood for the rest of this trip. Before the next day blew in, I was as happy as a kid, with clothes twice his weight and in the cold, could be. I was dreaming about just lazing around this comfy bungalow and my dad carrying me around on the hikes we were about to embark on. Little did little me know that both of the earlier premises would be false.

The Big Day snuck up on me and it was time to roll out. We packed our tents and all the camping gadgets into the car and headed to the entrance. We were gonna stroll an “easy” 8km hike to Bakers Falls and the World Ends and head back to the entrance to pick up our camping stuff. My dreams of hitchhiking on my dad’s shoulders were burnt down by my wonderful but unfortunately younger sister. Mere seconds after we entered the walking track, her sharp whining and screaming rang throughout the plains. This whining did not seize until it was firmly seated comfortably 5ft and 10 inches above me. Now, dreading the rest of the hike, I willed my legs to start its long walk to freedom.

Plenty of rests later we found ourselves at Bakers Falls. The pictures we took here weren’t the greatest. Now, I’m not good at descriptive writing, this doesn’t mean I’m good writing at all, but here goes nothing. Other than the sound of my thumping young heart, I could hear the roaring of the tons of water hitting the jagged rocks below. A spectacularly vivid green and distant woodland spotted the surroundings of the waterfall. A tragically beautiful and tremendously rapid flow of water gushed to meet its short and violent end as the subsequent sprays of water created sparkling and picturesque mosaics in the air.

Yeah, that’s all I’ve got. Way too many photoshoots later, we made it to Worlds End and circled back to the entrance. Here we had to wait for my uncle and his friends because they did a different hike tagged Kirigalpotha. ( One that my mother made it a point I did later down the line. ) We wandered around the canteen area, gulping down Sri Lankan delicacies that ranged from Vade to Pol Roti.

After a brief reunion for sharing of many stories in far too short a time and debating the best course of action to transport the gear in one go, we geared up and left the entrance at around 4 pm. And this lead to numerous strange interactions with human traffic in the opposite direction of our travel. As we made our way to the campsite, aunties and uncles gave us stares while visibly questioning our intellect. Until finally one group that was returning to civilization stopped and asked us what we were going to do. To this, my uncles promptly acted utterly dumb and asked them if it was too late to finish the whole hike. Doing their civic duty, they told us that it would take hours to do the whole hike and that the kids would be in danger. Lying that we will try our best to make it back in time we continued our quest to the campsite.

Here, we had no real-time to rest our weary bodies but had to immediately set up camp before it was too dark. I considered my young self particularly pivotal to the efficient setting up of camp. I mean who else would bark arbitrary orders to a bunch of adults who paid the bare minimum of attention to these ‘orders’ in an attempt to not be rude.

Gosh, this post is getting too long.

Night came as fast as we set up the camp. Three tents for three groups, and 30 mins later everyone emerged from their tents, fully clothed with a minimum of 3 layers. And the next challenge on the menu was the menu! And thus the much-awaited cooking began. The items on the menu were egg soup along with bread, salmon, and lunumiris.

Cooking wasn’t easy. At all. The wind and the fact that we had to make our own fire reduced our success rate to around 10%. By a miracle of some sort, we pulled it off and scraped together a meal. We didn’t really stay up and do al the campfire stuff but instead collectively 9 pairs of eyes locked on their respective tents and attempted to get some well-deserved rest. Now, the reason I say attempted is because only 1 out of the 9 of us slept and that was my sister. The rest of us normal ones continuously churned in one spot as the wind berated the flimsy tent and the cold crept in like the mists on a mountainside. And that sums up how our night went. But my favorite part of the trip was yet to come.

Day 2 Will be uploaded soon!

The next day morning wasn’t very pleasant as one would expect. Creaks and groans emptied the tents collectively with a single exception of course. The night had been rough, but on the bright side it was bright outside. I wished I woke up to more mornings like this. But before I could absorb all the sunshine, a story about how there were dozens of eyes surrounding our campsite at midnight scared me to the bone. Minutes of speculation later, we agreed that the pairs of eyes were a herd of Sambar Deer ( free folk of the national park). Basking in the sun, I was tugged towards the trail and was informed that we had to have a wash in the lake next to us. This made me jump and yelp in pure happiness. Never had I ever been this excited to have a wash in my life. Bathing in lakes and rivers has been one of my favourite things to do on trips and no trip was complete without it. Towel and clothes in hand I raced towards the sandy bank of the lake.

Now the pictures above depict a bare minimum of liquid to human interaction. However, what actually transpired was quite different. The water was freezing. It was made worse by the fact that the water was dead-still and gave out a mysterious aura. Inch by inch I waded into the water, making sure that there was solid ground beneath each step. The cold surged through me and it became a loud scream when it reached my head. The water wasn’t the most pleasant I had bathed in and staying too long for the first time actually posed a health risk. So minutes later my sister and I raced towards the campsite, back to warmth.

The rest of the day was a real laze. We just had breakfast and rolled around the campsite. Finally, our bodies were getting some well deserved rest. The breakfast was fantastic and gobbled up in seconds.

And that was it. Few hours after 10am we were packed up and on the road. Driving our way down the mountains back to civilization. And you best believe the following few days I came to appreciate my bed a bit more than I did before.

A Sanguine Start

I am a man of very few hobbies and besides Anime, Bird Photography happens to be one of my all time favourites.

So how did it all the bird watching start?

Well, it was the Knuckles Mountain Range and Butterflies. We set of on an ordinary trip to this Small Bungalow at the end of a dirt road with nothing but a solar panel to power it. Although it didn’t have any luxuries that would entice new customers, the one thing it did have going for it was the giant garden with a cliff view of the mountain range.

Now in this plush graden, were my soon to be subjects of interest. Butterflies. Well, in almost no time of arriving, anyone in ear shot would have heard the yelps of a over-excited, hyper , 12 year old running around with his dads camera in hand. This initial escapade came to a swift end when I realized that it was not just me and the butterflies- but rather any 12 year olds worst nightmare. Leeches. Excitement turned to fear, and in no time there I was on the Bungalow porch trying to use my camera zoom to photograph into a butterfly a over 20m away.

Although many may associate bravery with ignorance, the following transpired due to pure 12 year old bravery and courage. The next day began with me kitted up to the teeth with anti-leech clothing (or so my parents told me), ready to photograph every butterfly I could see.

Click, Click, Click went the camera. Point and press were the only two signals bouncing between my brain and fingers. By the end of this ordeal, I was dog tired. ( Later did it come to my attention that this may have been cause I had lost quite some blood.) That day I found a brand new activity that would continue to engage my young brain in for the days to come. Scrolling through pictures I had taken. I would delete the ones that didn’t meet my high standards at the time along with any butterflies that wouldn’t catch my eye. It was the most fun I had had by myself in forever. And here are a few of my earliest results. (Signs of a true genius, Ik)

Now that sign you see at the very end I think was my 3 day long motivation. It had a list of all the possible butterflies I could find there. But let’s be honest, What I really really wanted to find one that wasn’t on the board. The dream at the time was to name my own butterfly. ( the names this 12 year old kid came up with were far more memorable than the dull ones that littered the board)

I’m sure most of yall are now seriously considering the differences between birds and butterflies. But what happened there was, my return to the semi-concrete jungle of Hokandara. Well, it was only a matter of time before I realized that there wasn’t a garden full of butterflies in front of me anymore. So I went to my next best winged alternative, Birds. I would say that this whole transition to birds was only possible because I lived close to a lake that is now a hotspot for local birdwatchers.

And thus it began, the initial act of just photography turned to having to organise these pictures, then edit these pictures and so on. The older I got the more steps were added. Until one day, I held my own exhibition. All cause I chased a few butterflies.

Matale in May

Day 0

Well, this blog itself was rather abandoned but boredom struck me as it did everybody in early 2020. After the tire of scrolling on my phone for days on end, a trip to Matale in May presented itself along with which I decided to ‘re-expose’ my birding escapades. Right now its Day 0, which means I’m waiting to leave my humble abode in Hokandara. This getting away has taken a while for me to perfect. What I mean by this is that, when travelling I always pack sloppy. Forgetting all sorts of important gadgets.

At least I never left my camera at home before such a trip. Right?

Have I ever left without my camera on a Bird Photography Trip? Let’s leave that unanswered.

Nevertheless, this time I was determined to both leave this quarantine and make sure that everything I need leaves with me. Day 0 started with me packing it all. Cameras, extra batteries, pillowcases, battery packs, cables, SD cards, speakers and everything in between. I was also weirdly dedicated to not using my phone for the whole trip. There was no real connection where were staying anyways. However to make it seem to be a healthy voluntary decision I thought of doing so. Half a day was spent on all this. The rest was spent with me praying that I didn’t waste half a day.


Day 1

The day began at 4am.

The merry band of 4 families departed and I won’t try to bore any of yall with details of how beautiful and serene the surroundings were because let’s be honest, I slept. (against the wishes of one my friends)

Slept till the shutters mysteriously came down and the cold-oxygen rich air blasted up my nose and my dad’s incoherent screams filled my ears. In a failed attempt to return to my silent slumber, my head was yanked towards the front windshield. A finger pointed towards a dot in the sky and although I didn’t know exactly what it was, I could make out that it was a raptor of some kind. My body knew what to do. It reached back and grabbed my DSLR. (Now, anyone who owns a DSLR and wildlife lens would know that it didn’t exactly go like this and would be well aware of the pain of removing the 180-400mm from the bag for the first time that day.) And as usual I found myself hanging outside the window of the car, praying that the eagle would magically appear within my frame. Due to reasons of pride and ego any photos from this encounter will not be shared. The adrenaline from this episode ensured I was awake for the rest of the 45 min journey. I now did have to some time to take in the scenery and views. Arriving at the place, I continued to tire my sleep deprived body in the misty morning.

One baggage unloading and breakfast later, I accompanied my dad and his friend, whose name also happens to be Janaka, (a real match made in heaven) around the land. With the camera in hand, I decided to perch myself on hopefully leech free rock and waited. The noises and calls around me were annoying. Annoying cause I didn’t see anything. Nothing chose to cross my sight or camera frame. Defeated, I left the scene and joined by dad and his friend in the survey. The day tumbled on with nothing of interest. I guess I should blame myself for having such high expectations during the off season of birding in Sri Lanka. Hoping for a better evening session, I ate a simple lunch.

And the evening session passed in a similar fashion. Nothing. Just nothing.

Lets just say dinner saved the day as it always does. The cooking helped me get my mind off the misfortune and defeat I suffered today. Optimism for the morning swept through me as the night got colder and the lights dimmed for the last time that day.

P.s.- Reminder to add all the worthy pics once im back in civilization.


Day 2

In my opinion, pessimism is the cure for expectation while optimism tends to feed into expectation. That morning I woke up a bit too optimistic. At 5.45am the sun was just rising but the clouds were doing an excellent job of making sure no-one at our site rose to witness it. My dad and I, still groggy from the night before, made our way down to a rock we had always expected to yield us results. At least that’s what we gathered from the numerous bird-made holes in the tree cover. Descriptive sentence ahead! The faint orange glow from the rising sun brightened as the clouds parted ways.

After a good 30 mins wait of nothingness. We headed further down and out the site. The sounds started buzzing and chirping around us. And as usual, we were constantly looking over our shoulders, not in fear but rather expectation. 500m down this dirt-cliff path we sighted many of the most common species that had bored us ever since we began birding. Red-Vented Bul Buls seemed to be the only courageous creatures around.

Returning to the house, we sat down for tea and I, not being a tea enthusiast as everyone around me seemed to be, headed up the site to a rock to try my usual routine. Here, I witnessed a few uncommon ones like the Oriental White Eye and found a White Rumped Munia’s nest that I promised myself to return to. In other news, I also saw a few sun birds and magpies that didn’t excite me. Overall, although this outing may have been better than yesterday, yet it failed my optimistic expectations.


The Jungle wants your blood.  That line sunk into me in the evening. The usual assault team of both Leeches and Mosquitoes started early. I had never explored the back of the house, so I chose this time to do so. Well, let’s say I’m glad I left it for last. The constant torture ended when I sighted a couple of Oriental White Eyes and Grey Headed Flycatchers flying around in front of me. Finally, something worth my time! A few hours later, I came up with the following pictures.

I ended this birding escapade on the thought of a high note and put my camera to rest.

P.s- I need to edit and crop some pictures before I post them so, await them!

Yesterday In Yala

Day 1

We arrived at the entrance ready, to some extent. We met a close friend of mine and his family who had been kind enough to invite us into Yala for a night stay. The journey began from Kataragama after rather quick Pooja at the famous temple. After we made it into Yala, I was in the open jeep with my friend, Randesh, and his dad. DSC_7476We had many conversations on the adventure each other had had in the wild. And our first good sighting was the Indian Pitta mids a bush. The sight took us by surprise as the bird was the not the most common. Coupled with the fact that we had arrived during the rainy season it was bewildering.DSC_7313

We were on our way to the bunglow called Thalgasmankada Bungalow. Which was a bunglow located within the confines of Yala.  It was a beautiful place with a quiet stream running right next to it. The place seemed to attract many birds and animals alike. We quickly had lunch and we were off on another outing with hopes of a leopard or bear. IMG_1677

However to our great misfortune the weather seemed to be against us. It was raining the whole time and it was not just a simple drizzle of sorts but a full on downpour which didn’t make it too easy to spot animals. Nevertheless, we did manage to sight a White Bellied Sea Eagle near the river area.DSC_7381

Day 2

Day 2 also began with a rather dissppointing morning session with no leopard or bear. however we did mange to sight a Hoopoe and a Night Jar which in itself is rather good. Whats more is that we also met a Tusker crossing the road.

The Grey Night Jar we saw was a really good find.DSC_7621

Next up was the Hoopoe which was taken in a hurry as we had found out there was a leopard in the vicinity.DSC_7602

And the Tusker we met along the road whilst stuck in the mud ourseleves.DSC_7560

Afterwards we left the trail and returned to the bunglow for a shot break. We then restarted our jouney in to Yala. we had gotten to know that tere was a leopard and two cubs close by. We were circling around the area when we suddenly met it in the middle of the road with adrenaline flowing we started clicking away.DSC_7676

Little did we know that we were about to meet her kids. it was amazing sight when we saw all three of them togather. They were playing about and chasing deer.DSC_7735

So this was the first cub we saw.

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Here the babies were chasing deer.

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A lone brave cub.

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A cub with his tail around his mother.

We were satisfied enough the leave and returned back to the bunglow from where we departed at around 2.30 inoder to leave back to Colombo. We were also greeted by a baby leopard in a tree all alone.

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Overall the trip was a huge success and we hope to go there again aleast every holiday.