This tour came to me through Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society (SLWCS). It was a two-man French film crew doing a documentary on ‘animal instincts’ with particular reference to the boxing day Tsunami in 2004. The general angle covered was how animals reacted before the tsunami and how humans/other animals got alerted to these signals & saved their lives.
Our first interviewee was my colleague Uditha Hettige, and when we visited him, he was convalescencing from a nasty road accident while going to see the Sri Lanka Bay Owls early this month. On the fretful day of the Tsunami, Uditha had been having breakfast at the 60 plus-roomed Yala Safari Game Lodge. Just before the dangerous tsunami wave hit, reducing the hotel to a couple walls, Uditha had seen a flock of water birds taking wing suddenly. Soon after he'd seen a big tidal wave coming in towards the land, and had run for his life shouting others around to do the same. Scaling a tree, he'd escaped with only minor injuries. The manager, accountant and his spouse, front office manager, cheff—all my friends—were not as lucky, and they all died. As did several in-house guests.
After shooting the interview with Uditha, we drove to Yala National Park. Thereafter, we visited Udawalawe National Park and the eastern Sinharaja to interview Dr. Eben Goodale who studies mixed species bird flocks.
We had fantastic Elephant footage in Udawalawe and a couple of Leopard sightings in Yala. On the way to Yala, I paused at the Udawalawe causeway for a quick scan, and I was able to see a White Wagtail (race dukhunensis) a scare migrant, which had been turning up at this site regularly. My first sighting of this was at the same site in 2001.
While the crew were busy filming ‘Elephant stories’ with an expert based in a village close to Udawalawe National Park, a mix bag of swifts caught my eye and it contained to my surprise, several White-throated Needletails, a species not in the Sri Lankan bird list! I could positively identify them from a combination of features seen including clear white throat, prominent white mantle and a horse-shoe shaped white marking in the ventral area –the later feature as in the Brown-backed Needletail. As soon as I saw them, it was obvious to me that the tone of the white colour of the throat area and the ventral area was similar. As for the size, it appeared smaller than Alpine Swift, and therefore, definitely smaller than the Brown-backed Needletail. Based on these facts, I was able to confidently excluding these two species. The other species recorded in this flock of swifts included House Swift, Indian Swiftlet, and Asian Palm Swift.
White-throated Needletail was claimed in Sinharaja by a visiting British birder on a tour that I organized in 2002/2003. His record submission to the Ceylon Bird Club’s Rarities Committee was later rejected. I have submitted mine and am awaiting acceptance.