Day 8 (17th March)

A steady drive south this morning to Hambantota and the coast where the tsunami had struck at its worst. Various roadside stops on the way the first being for a Blue Face Malkoha in bushes right by the road, then a number of wetland sites for waders, terns, huge flocks of Garganey and our first Spot Billed Pelicans. There was little remaining evidence of the tsunami but the new dwellings built inland and on higher ground were noted. We were at our hotel well before lunch so there was chance to relax in the brand new swimming pool. ‘It is like being on holiday’ commented one member of the group!

rnoon’s activities started with a visit to coastal lagoons and salt pans. We added substantially to our wader and tern species list but the highlight was a lone Broad Billed Sandpiper. Then, on to Yala National Park via the remains of the Yala Safari Lodge. Tim and Irene had stayed here at this ‘on the beach’ hotel on a previous visit but Uditha had been here sitting in the dining room when the tsunami struck. He gave us a graphic account of how he ran for his life before being engulfed by the wave and swept through the acacia scrub for a kilometre or more.

Birding in Yala has to be done by jeep because of the presence of both Leopards and Elephant. We added new birds to our list including the only Hoopoe of the tour (!). Highlights were numerous Pin Tailed Snipe which posed right next to the vehicles, our first endemic Ceylon Woodshrike, and a White Rumped Sharma bathing in a wheel rut in the track.
The birding was somewhat cut short when we got word of a Leopard sighting. We proceeded to the spot at speed and joined the queue of vehicles and their occupants watching a female asleep up a tree. We decided to wait and see if she would come down but she never did. Proceedings did liven up however when a male Leopard suddenly appeared at the base of the tree, scent marked, looked up at the female before walking off back into the jungle.
We stayed out till after dark to look for nightjars, managing to find both Jerdon’s and Indian Nightjars. The Jerdon’s was perched on the ground but the Indian we only saw in flight. The evening’s activities concluded with Uditha jumping from the bus to catch a snake crossing the road in the headlights. It was a Cat Eyed Snake which he subsequently informed us as being ‘only mildly venomous’!