Monday, 16 March 2009

Leopards galore

Leopard at point blank range, Yala National Park
I am a firm believer that for getting ‘tickable views’ of rare species on tours that are usually limited in duration, you need lots of good luck. You can be a birder or a naturalist with good field craft & have all the latest tools in the trade, but if you don’t have enough luck, you are bound to head back home empty-handed.
Over the years of guiding birders and naturalists I have met persons of varying levels of field craft. Some of them were extremely skilled naturalists but they just lacked that luck factor while others were average as far as field craft was concerned but brought with them lots of luck to the equation. Naturally, with the latter types we end up seeing lots of specials, surpassing expectations. No other person that I have guided so far had bought field craft and luck in equal high measures as Dr. Andreas Prevodnik of Swedish Society for Nature Conservation.
Leopard at Yala National Park
I had the fortune of guiding him on what turned out to be a high-adrenaline ‘Bird and Natural History’ tour from 10-17 Feb. This tour came to me through Red Dot Tours, a British Tour Operator to which I freelance in between my tours. It turned out to be an absolutely fantastic trip in terms of both numbers and quality of sightings. We both worked tirelessly and ended up bagging a whopping 216 species of birds including 31 of the 33 endemics currently recognized, which was quite something given the short duration of the trip. We missed out on the Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon and Sri Lanka Small Barbet. Our best efforts to see them failed, driving home, another crucial fact - you sometimes need time too!
Our final bird tally included 6 of the 15 resident night birds, which included Serendib Scops Owl, Chestnut-backed Owlet, Brown Wood Owl, Indian Scops Owl, Indian Jungle Nightjar & Sri Lanka Frogmouth – another brooding male shown below cooperating to offer stunning views.

A special natural history highlight of the trip was seeing 7 Leopards in 2 game drives at the amazing Yala National Park. Four of these were recorded on the first game drive. We just couldn’t stay away from Leopards at Yala on this tour as they turned up every time we were after other targets. I hate to admit this, but Leopards were a big distraction on this tour!
The first of the Leopards to grace our visit to Yala (shown at the top) settled under the shade of a tree by the roadside at the beginning of the Uraniya road and gave us stonking views just, 2.5m away from our safari - after 30 minutes from entering the park.
Our second Leopard found at an area casually named as ‘Ahelagas-wala’ at the famous Leopard zone, Meda-para was this stubborn cub, who refused to give us any decent look at it except a bum view.
Leopard at Yala National Park
Our third Leopard only offered a fleeting glimpse as it crossed the track a bit ahead of the location where the above brat cub was 'misbehaving'. Our fourth and final Leopard was sighted in full view close to Uraniya road when it came down to the ground from a Palu tree when we were exiting the park.
Our 5 & 6th Leopards were spotted together on our second safari, guarding over a Water Buffalo kill from a safe distance. Despite their intimidating presence near the carcass, a Golden Jackal, and a Wild Boar and several birds crashed the party and helped themselves for a quick McBuffalo meal. Here’s what happened, shot from about 70m away.

When we were observing this, news arrived that a male Leopard is out in the open at the nearby Palugaswewa No.1. We wasted no time in going for it to find this beautiful Leopard. (note: the colours are wrong.)
Leopard at Yala National Park
It was well worth it as this male really put up a show for us with a curious male Sri Lanka Junglefowl also playing a support role. Check this out.

We also chanced upon 2 Jungle Cats outside the park while returning to our accommodation on the 2 days that we visited the park. Andreas photographed one of them at point blank range.
Apart from the endemics, our other birding highlights include Black-backed Dwarf Kingfisher, Malayan Night Heron (adult in clear view – easily my best sighting ever), Painted Snipe, White-cheeked Tern, Western Reef Egret, Western Marsh Harrier, Ruddy-breasted Crake, Watercock, Black-necked Stork, Pied Thrush, Fork-tailed Drongo Cuckoo, Small Pratincole, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Blue-faced Malkoha, Indian Pitta, Indian Blue Robin, Rufous Woodpecker, Marshall’s Iora, Black Bittern, Yellow Bittern & Streaked Weaver.
Sri Lanka Frogmouth


Anonymous said...

Hi Amila - Looks like another highly successful trip - great stuff.

The next time you want to see the Wood Pigeon and Coppersmith give me a buzz at Flowerbook!!


Anonymous said...

It sounds like a really amazing tour. I have found that with birders or people who have a stronger enthusiasm for nature, one tends to see Leopards more frequently. I am a firm believer that the more you look, the more luck you have. And as a guide you tend to look more when your guests are looking more.

Sounds like a great tour.

Tabib said...

How lucky both of you!.

The last one is a beauty portrait, like its bussy eye brows.

KaHolly said...

Amila, sounds like an amazing tour. I so enjoyed reading today's post. The videos were a nice touch. Can't imagine being there!

Unknown said...

Fantastic as always Amila - good to see some videos as well this time !

Love the video of the frogmouth and the last shot which was quite funny !

Pat - Arkansas said...

Fascinating report! I enjoyed the short videos and the still photos. The first one (photo) is marvelous! I can understand why leopard sightings would interfere with birding; it's amazing that you recorded as many birds as you did. Lovely post, Amila.

Patrick B. said...

Wow... just wow...

Sunita Mohan said...

I absolutely love that last photo!
Well, it looks like you've been having fun! Isnt it great when some days you're on a roll and everything just seems to fall in place. The Fates conspiring to keep you happy! It looks like you got a big dose of that. Good for you!

Sunita Mohan said...

Sri Lankan small barbet? Is that similar to 'my' Coppersmith barbet?

GG said...

Aww....that leapord bum is really sweet! lovely spots

Stuart Price said...

Hey I have no fieldcraft or luck........

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Mr. Jones,
Thanks! I will keep your offer in mind next time I am stuck!
It is just that we ran out of time, so that I couldn’t check all the regular spots.

Hi Vernon,
Very true about birders finding Leopards (& other things for that matter) more often as they always are on the look out. On very short tours like this you are limited in looking for more and more, so luck becomes important then. Yes, sharp clients always keep us tour guides on the edge and help to bring our best, more often that not!

Hi Tabib,
Very lucky!
Glad you liked the last Frogmouth shot.

Hi KaHolly,
Thanks! When I reminded how lucky he was each time we saw a rare sighting, Andreas mentioned to me that he has this knack of seeing what he want to see pretty quickly more often than not!

Hi RyanM,
Thanks! We had those Leopards for long, so I had time to do that as Andreas was also busy clicking.
I am pleased you liked the Frogmouth.

Hi Pat,
Leopard sightings interfere with birding as certain bird species at Yala (such as Sirkeer Malkoha) could take time to find and when we keep stopping for Leopards regularly, which ate into our precious birding time!
Managing time is important on tours that are of short duration.

I am very pleased you liked this post.

Hi Patrick,

Hi Sunita,
Thanks for your comments.
The sun was at the wrong side when I took that last shot. Otherwise it would have looked nicer.
The tour’s success was largely owing to Andreas who brought with him lots of luck!

Sri Lanka Small Barbet is closely related is your Crimson-throated aka. Malabar Barbet. Both these were considered as Crimson-fronted Barbet before they were split as two species by Dr. Pamela Rasmussen in her book, Birds of South Asia. You should buy that book now that you are getting more interested in birds.
It is only US$ 95. See:

Hi Sasani,
I too thought that his bum was rather cute! But honestly, I thought we wasted too much of time bum-watching on that particular case!

Hi Stu,
Hehe...your pics don't seem to suggest that.

Modesto Viegas said...

Great report!!!

spookydragonfly said...

Hi Amila...What a fantastic adventure that you have shared with us! I enjoyed the close up of the leopards' spotted coat and your last capture of the Frogmouth in particular. Such a fascinating and rewarding occupation you your photos!

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Amila - Amazsing Leopard luck, I feel so jealous! Great pics too.

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Modesto,
Thanks! Have a good weekend!

Hi Kim,
Thanks as always!
Yes, it was a pretty good trip for both of us. I am still annoyed with that Leopard cub for not showing up properly!

Mine is a tough job, but
somebody's got to do it...

We both were on prime Leopard spotting form!

oldcrow61 said...

Amila, absolutely wonderful pictures. What a glorious creature. And the frog mouth, lol, too much. Fabulous shot.

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Delson Roche said...

Hi Amila, this is my first visit to your blog and it has been such a lovely pleasure to see your posts.
I also loved the way u presented ur profile.

There is lots to read here and Im sure enjoying.


Amila Salgado said...

Hi Delson,
Thanks for dropping by!
I am very pleased to hear those words from you. I have been busy lately and have not been able to attend to my blog. I hope to correct this very soon.

Kathie Brown said...

What a cutie that frog mouth is!

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Kathie,
It is what I'd like to call an ornithlogical joke.

Amila Kanchana said...

This indeed is a nice blend of field craft and luck. Just brilliant!

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