Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Dear Lord

14 October, 2009

The Lord of the Gods and Chief Rain Maker,
South Asian Affairs,

Rain to the dry zone in Sri Lanka

Dear Lord,

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. I am now sort of admiring the looks of the Canon 500mm f4.5 lens, its amazing curves and all that.

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 the hell is that bird? I heard somebody mentioning that only God knows it. Hence the question, pardon me.

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.

The Usain Bolt bird
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.

Hanuman Langur

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.

Territory marking
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.

Green Bee-eater
Again, you were terrific in giving me interesting compositions of the Leopard and the Wild Buffalo.

Face off
Here's a crop of the feline half, and showing its better half.

The feline half
After a while, a Wild Boar male arrived to quench his thirst; thereby forming this tense triangle
A tense triangle
It was like finding RD, DB, and NB in the same bar.
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.

More revealing
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.

A crowded scene with Asian Openbill, Mugger Crocodiles, Black-crowned Night Herons and Little Egrets
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.

Thanking you,

Respectfully yours,

Amila Salgado


rainfield61 said...

1. May God fufill your request.
2. Your lens brings us very terrific pictures. No one I would like to miss out.

Java Jones said...

I just spotted (a few days ago) the first migrants in these parts in the shape of the Grey Wagtail and Forest Wagtail - a whole three weeks later than they appeared last year. So maybe he heard you, as it looks like the winds have changed and the monsoon should be soon here.

Great shots - as usual!

flowergirl said...

Amila, could you please redo your letter to include us in the rain petittion as well?!

I love this post, had me grinning all along!

And by the way, is that what human males are also doing - territory marking - our city walls are afflicted by this problem!

Kirigalpoththa said...

This is a cracker! I couldn stop laughing all the way..(Think Indra must be laughing as well..)

You've been so lucky to spot that many spotted variety over there. no wonder Yala has one of the highest density of leopards or is it just that the god has listened to you? BTW glad you had your new lense and it was you who saw all these. ( we are seeing the same wonder right from our home)

That Usain Bolt bird is a 'beauty' too.

O God!
stop laughing and bring us rain..

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

I hope it's not getting boring to say so, yet again, but great photographs Amila, thank you.

santhoshi said...

Great post and photography... Surely the gods must be smiling too...

Sunita Mohan said...

Amila, this has to be one of your funniest posts ever! :D
Hey, listen, please be a little neighbourly and tell Indra that we're around here too. I think he's forgotten us this year :(

Tabib said...

OMG!, This is funny and interesting letter.
Great pictures with new lens. So, you are not having focusing problems now?

Unknown said...

lol Amila - great post again. Very funny and excellent piece of writing. So very jealous of your leopard sightings - we ran around Yala for 3 full "hot and dusty" days and got only brief sightings of the leopard. I guess better than nothing - but would have loved a 1 1/2 hour show like you got :D

spookydragonfly said...

Thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining post, Amila! Such variety in your I would love to walk among those felines...and exchange glances with such a majestic creature. I absolutely love your image of the Green Bee-Eater! Beautiful.

Wish I could send you all of our rain we're experiencing lately!

Unknown said...

Lolz Amila, you had me laughing all along :-DDD. I needed one very badly and this was just what "the doctor ordered!"
Great post and great shots. Hope we will see some leopards when we go to Yala next.

Stuart Price said...

Wow some amazing shots there.........

Anonymous said...

nice shots mate...

GG said...

Absolutely BRILLIANT!!!!!!!!

Chrissy said...

Those are some fantastic shots. Wish I had those lens. I hope you get some rain soon. Vancouver has got lots to spare. As I'm writing this we're having rain. I shall send some your way. Have a great day Amila!

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Rainfield,
Thanks! It rained yesterday (15 Oct) to several areas in need of rain, including Yala NP.

My calls were answered!

Hi Java,
Interesting observations.
I got my first Forest Wagtail on 16Sep, but my first Grey Wagtail (which usually arrives before FW) was seen only 30 Sep. That was because I visited the areas it winters here a bit late.

I think a birding post by you is long overdue.

Hi flowergirl,
You have put me in a difficult position. As mentioned above, we have had some much-needed rain to areas that matter and I now cannot go pressing Indra again. I hope you will understand this.

The sad reality is:

Chennai will see warm conditions prevailing from Sat-Tuesday.

as opposed to Colombo/Sri Lanka

which will turn rainy from Sunday-Tuesday. My only wish is that dry zone will bear the brunt of Indra's generosity!

About the territory-marking issue:
Perhaps those Indian corporate giants can use a tiny portion of their lucre that they pump into IPL to make some public facilities and maintain them?

Hi K,
Thank you!
According to my friend, Namal Kamalgoda, a week before my first game drive, there had been 5 Leopards feasting on a buffalo carcass where I saw the Leopard that performed for me for 1 1/2 hours....with a 6th Leopard waiting in the distrance for his turn! Wicked, innit?

Hi RD,
Thanks! Keep a day or to visit Yala on your next visit here with the girls.

I'll join you if you insist.

Hi Santhoshi,
Thanks! Good to hear from you.
He was kind enough to bring rain to Yala yesterday. And that was just after my request.

Hi Sunita,
Thank you!

I can understand why Flowergirl is complaining of no rain, but YOU? Com'on, I read you blog often enough to know that you'are having enough wet weather there. As mentioned above, it is not wise to press, Indra. Need I remember you of the magnificent old Portia tree?

Hi Tabib,
Thank you sir! No more focussing problems! You will see more evidence for this claim, soon.

Hi Riyazi and Michelle,
Thank a lot!
Yala can be like that at times, during the best of times. A bit of luck always helps!

Out of curiosity what is the month you were there? I will be happy to part with some tips when you are here next.

Hi Kim,
Thanks, I am glad to hear that as always. Yala is an amazing place for cat enthusiasts. Our other National Parks that were out of bounds during the war, will be opened in the coming year as we have PEACE here now. We nature enthusiasts are heading for some very interesting times.

Hi Chandanie,
Thank you! Nice to know that!
Before that, how about Mannar that?

Again, I'll join if you insist.

Hi Stu,
Thanks! What can I say, I was very fortunate. You would have really enjoyed the first sighting.

Hi u4j10,
Thank you! Nice to hear that from a photographer.

Hi Sasani,
Thank you very much! I hope the summer over there is at its sultry best.

Hi Chriss,
Thanks for your generous offer, but it looks like we should be okay! Have a super weekend!

Java Jones said...

Hi Amila - interesting (about your dates), as my sightings last year were Grey Wagtail - Sept. 13th and Forest - Sept. 28th. This year it was October 6th and 8th respectively. And both times the rains followed nearly soon after. I always use their sightings as the indicator of the monsoon rains being due (and blow away a few villagers in the process!)

santhoshi said...

It really rained there? thats super..

Amila Salgado said...

Hi again, Java,
Those Wagtails are very good harbingers of the wet weather. I like how you too keep note of the arrival dates of migrants.

I hope the Crake would arrive this year at FB. Knowing its call is easier to monitor its presence due to its skulking habits.

Hi Santhoshi,
Yes, it did! I got confirmation from Sujith.

Kirigalpoththa said...

It rained! The god has listened to wonder when you write a letter of that caliber..:)

6 leopards in one spot..that is really wicked!

Amila Salgado said...

Hi again, K,
It rained on 15th at but no rain to Yala thereafter, from 16-19th. This should soon change...

Sunita Mohan said...

Amila, I'm not being greedy. I think it must've rained just 15 days this entire monsoon. Yes, the Portia tree did keel over during one of those 15 days but that was something like a freak accident which was just waiting to happen.
C'mon, 15 days? When its supposed to rain and pour for at least 90? Where's your sense of proportion?

Amila Salgado said...

Hi again, Sunita,
Alright, you are excused for crying for more rain, then!

The rainmaking rituals continue in the drought-hit areas.

Pat O'Donnell said...

What an excellent post! You are a very entertaining writer and pretty darn good photographer too. It's nice to read about and see images of birds from Sri Lanka- I would love to visit your country some day.

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Pat,
Thanks a lot!
What a joy to hear that from you! I guide nature tours in Sri Lanka like you do in Costa Rica. I'd be very excited to guide you around, if you decide to visit Sri Lanka.

I am yet to visit the Americas.

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