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Wasgamuwa National Park – February 2020 in Sri Lanka

Elephant Calf Suckling Mum - Wasgamuwa National Park
Elephant Calf Suckling Mum

On our third full day at the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society we got into the Wasgamuwa National Park when it opened in the morning. This was the norm for the rest of the trip as we spent full days in the park.

Immediately on entering the gate we found a White-throated Kingfisher perched on the branch of a dead tree. That gave us a series of high key shots, before it moved to a similar perch, but this time with a more pleasing bokeh.

We followed that up with both Land and Water Monitors, a Pond Heron, a Crested Serpent Eagle posing nicely in a tree and an Open-billed Stork perched on a nest.

These were all pretty standard static sightings, but what we saw next was a pair of Woolly-necked Storks displaying in a courting ritual. Despite the long grass they were in, we got so quite interesting and perhaps unusual shots of them.

Unusually it was mid-afternoon before we got some Bee-eater images, closely followed by Elephants that were destined to take up most of what remained of the afternoon.

Driving back to the main gate, we passed the swampy area where the previous day we had photographed the Crocodile. The same subjects were there, but the late afternoon light was particularly good for the Painted Stork pictures.

Painted Stork in Late Afternoon Sun - Wasgamuwa National Park
Painted Stork in Late Afternoon Sun

Day four in Wasgamuwa National Park began similarly to the previous day, but this time featured three Black-headed Ibis on a dead tree. The backdrop this time was storm clouds and showed off the Ibis really nicely. That was followed by a Changeable Hawk Eagle on a similar perch, but we were back to high key shots now.

Continuing the single bird theme, we had a White-bellied Sea Eagle, Pond Heron, Bee-eater and Scaly-breasted Munia, before spotting a beautiful Brahminy Kite. In fact, birds dominated the morning session and it was almost lunchtime before we started to photograph mammals. This time it was Buffalo and included a small calf.

Briefly, it was back to birds in the form of a Brown Shrike and then a very large Water Monitor on the track in front of us. By now it was time for lunch.

Straight after our break we had a couple of Kingfishers and then a session with an Indian Roller, again high key. Soon after that we caught up with a large herd of Elephants and the rest of the afternoon was spent with them. We got a variety of images including an opportunity to concentrate on eye shots, as they were so close.

Elephant's Eye - Wasgamuwa National Park
Elephant’s Eye

We now had just two days left in Wasgamuwa National Park and although we were getting a lot of repetition, something new would come along now and again. We started with a Brown Shrike, but closer this time and then we found a Blue-tailed Bee-eater. Another new one was a Common Lizard, which kept us busy for 20 minutes.

Then it was back to the birds with a Spotted Dove and, as the rain started, a Purple Heron. Final sighting before lunch was another Common Lizard.

Early afternoon served up more birds among which new species were Red-wattled Lapwing and Intermediate Egret. They kept us busy for an hour until we found our usual late-afternoon herd of Elephants. This was a large group and gave us plenty to work with for the rest of the afternoon.

On our final day, we arrived at Wasgamuwa National Park gates earlier than previously and were treated to the antics of a troop of Langur Monkeys. There were a number of babies amongst them, which made the encounter all the more endearing.

Once inside, we started as usual with birds, this time a Little Egret. We had a brief encounter with a Land Monitor on the track and then a superb session with a Green Bee-eater. After that we had another first in a Yellow-billed Babbler followed by another Changeable Hawk Eagle sighting.

As we headed for lunch, we suddenly stopped when the guide spotted a Bees nest hanging from a tree above the track. It was an impressive sight.

Unusually, straight after lunch, our first sighting was a family group of Elephants. We spent about an hour with them and took a number of behaviour shots, including a couple of mock charges. This sighting was punctuated by a Cattle Egret in the long grass with a frog it had caught.

Leaving them alone, we found a Spotted Dove perched on a dead twig in beautiful light and with a perfect bokeh. Moving on, we then saw a number of Land Monitors in the same place and were just in time to see them disappearing into their underground burrow.

Spotted Dove - Wasgamuwa National Park
Spotted Dove

Having started the day with Langur Monkeys, our next encounter was a large group of Toque Macaques. Again there were plenty of behaviour shots to be had before we moved on.

By now it was time for our daily late-afternoon Elephant encounter. It started with a pair, engaged in a courting ritual, but while we were there it didn’t result in any mating. We went in search of more and found a small family group that we stayed with until it was time to head to the gate for the final time.

On the way we had one final Elephant sighting that raised concern with our entire group. It was a young female completely alone and we learned she had become separated from her herd some time ago. It was not known whether her mother had been killed or if she became separated when fences were erected.

The concern was that although she was feeding, she should still be getting mother’s milk and without that, her ability to survive was in doubt. The park authority was aware, but planning not to intervene in any way while she was still feeding. Just surviving alone was an issue as was whether another herd would allow her to join.

That brought the trip to an end, with just another white-knuckle ride back to Colombo airport on the following morning. It had been an interesting visit with a fair share of highs and lows. We would visit Sri Lanka again, but a different park would be our choice, in pursuit of more variety of species. For now, it was time to get home to do some workshops and plan our next safari.

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