The Lord of the Gods and Chief Rain Maker,
South Asian Affairs,
Rain to the dry zone in Sri Lanka
How are you?
It's been a while since I wrote to you. Pardon me for this slightly longish communication.
First, thank you very much for the new Canon 100-400mm lens! I have been thoroughly enjoying it, as you can see from the pictures embedded in this letter.
My Lord, why I am writing to you this time is for a totally different matter. I visited Bundala and Yala National Parks in the dry zone from 5-10 October, just by myself. As you are aware, that part of Sri Lanka is experiencing a severe drought right now. Which of course in anothing new—it being a usual weather pattern. My previous local experiences suggest that you are extremely meticulous in ending this prolonged drought by the mid October. This being that time of the year, I just thought of writing to you to give you a gentle reminder—what with you having to deal with global climatic distabilisation and all that. As you may have heard from many, rains are badly needed to the 2/3rd of this island that makes the dry zone.
I know that you are generous enough to bring rains to the wet zone too during this time of the year. Frankly, we have had plenty of rain where I live in the wet zone, so if you are like in a squeeze or something, please feel okay to direct all those rain clouds to the dry zone—the area with a more pressing need for rain right now.
Coming back to the aforementioned trip, the nearest reason for undertaking this twitching trip (pardon my birding slang) was a Pectoral Sandpiper that was reported by my friend, Chinthaka Kalutota, from the Bundala National Park. Despite making three visits to this magnificent Ramsar wetland site, I drew a blank. Other local birders too had failed to locate it. It's not like I did not try, my Lord. I walked for miles in hot, baking sun in the Bundala lagoon, barefoot, getting feet like this. No, those gum-boots of mine just won’t work in our mudflats. Just, where
My dear Lord, thank you for that Glossy Ibis. Gosh! I mean, God! That really was a consolation! It remained a bogey bird of sorts for me for...god knows how many years, until you finally revealed it. A pair of them at the Embilikala lagoon. Just great!
The Oriental Darter population is doing extremely well at Bundala. This one was doing a Usain Bolt and I thought you might like it, as it sort of would remind you of the weapon you wield: thunderbolt, which you use to slay the dragon, who is like causing all this drought—by enveloping the rain clouds. Just an innocent attempt at imitative magic, that's all.
Those Oriental Pratincoles, which you revealed in flight, were also good, though you only gave me record shots.
Noteworthy migrants that formed larger flocks were Curlew Sandpiper, Lesser Sand Plover, Black-tailed Gotwit, and Little Stint. A single non-breeding Red-necked Phalarope and several Sanderlings were some of the other interesting ones. Here's the kind of flocks you revealed to me.
Did you know that Yala National Park, which is traditionally closed from 1 Sep to 15 Oct annually, was kept opened for visitors this year by the wildlife authorities? That is right, no unofficial 'open season' for poachers this year! Taking advantage of this, I visited this premier National Park on four game drives.
Words cannot express my gratitude for you for finding this Leopard, just minutes after entering the park, on my first game drive.
It was just 3.30 in the afternoon. We had just arrived at a waterhole named, Palugas-wala No.1—a popular Leopard hotspot at Yala. Suddenly, alarm calls of the Hanuman Langurs filled the air. They beckoned that that a Leopard may be close by.
There were just two other jeeps at the site. Before I could even get my pair of binoculars to scan the surroundings, our sharp-eyed tracker, Sujith, spotted that Leopard making its way towards the now dried up northern end of the waterhole. It was a very sturdy-looking male. And I couldn't help going, “OMG!”
Did you hear it? Just kidding!
It turned out to be this individual rather meanly meanly nicknamed by the locals as “Pottaya”—a derogatory reference to person who is blind in one eye in Sinhala.
Do you know why it's blind in one eye? I heard one commenting that only god knows; hence the question.
Anyway, it did a very measured circuit around the waterhole, walking very confidently in the open theatre-like conditions at the site. It was watched closely by a large Wild Buffalo chilling in the mud, which held its ground unintimidated, after repositioning itself not to lose sight of the predator. During its stroll, the Leopard marked its territory by spraying urine to several of the trees, you know, like cats usually do.
I observed this magnificent cat for a good 1 1/2hours, even though you were willing to give me a longer views, if I had wanted.
You were so lovely to have punctuated this prolonged Leopard sighting with plenty of non-feline pleasures. This Green Bee-Eater that sat nearby was just one of them.
Again, you were terrific in giving me interesting compositions of the Leopard and the Wild Buffalo.
Here's a crop of the feline half, and showing its better half.
After a while, a Wild Boar male arrived to quench his thirst; thereby forming this tense triangle
As the Leopard went into a marathon lounging session., it was behaving more like our pet cats. And by 5.00 p.m., I've had enough of this view.
Guess it was telling us to just get lost!
While Sujith suggested that we stayed to see whether it would come to drink at the waterhole nearer to us, with a huge Wild Buffalo laying claim to it, I thought it may not happen too early.
Therefore, instead of lingering on at that site, I suggested to move on to explore other sites good for Leopards, as the time was just right for them. This turned out to be a good move as minutes after entering the main road, that's like at 5.40 p.m., we saw a Leopard crossing the road. Two jeeps that arrived at the junction at that very moment, however, missed that brief crossing episode.
While that saw them making a beeline to the point where the said crossing took place, Sujith came up with a battlefield manoeuver, and commanded the driver to take a different road to outflank the Leopard. Having done that, he then got the driver to kill the engine and bring the jeep to a gradual stop at a certain point. And then, he urged everybody to keep an eye on a particular area. Expecting the low light conditions, I had my camera ready with appropriate settings to take the target before that. Seconds later, a Leopard materialised slowly from the thick shrubbery, and Sujith was the first to spot it.
I managed to get a burst of shots of this glance, which it held for about 20 seconds, clearly looking bemused as to how we had managed to zero in on it!
What brilliant field craft by Sujith!
Returning to my hotel after this exciting game drive, I learnt from those who hung around near the first Leopard site that it had not come to drink but instead vanished to the jungle few minutes after we left. God! You really work in mysterious ways. Don’t You?
Although the three game drives done after this, yielded just 2 Leopards between them, they gave us plenty of other interesting wildlife sightings. One of them was observing a bask of over 90 Mugger Crocodiles in the dried beds of Buttuwa Tank.
It was a veritable croc farm. On my last game drive I found this dead Wild Buffalo there, surrounded by, you know who. Need I remind you of the severity of the drought?
Gosh! I should stop now. One last request; could you please go easy on lightening this time? I just don't want to lose another router.