Herd of spotted deer, Yala Block 5, Sri Lanka
Where there are herds of the pinkish-brown spotted deer (aka chital or axis deer), there will likely be leopard. Yala Block 5. Photo ©Tony Neilson

A medley of places, things and events

Back in March, not long before the suicide bombers murdered hundreds of innocent people in Colombo, I was in Sri Lanka on a photography mission.

My first report from the trip, A Fortunate Discovery was posted back in May and focused on the many uniquely Sri Lankan birds that we encountered.

But there were lots of other aspects to the trip that I thought might be of interest. So here is a potpourri of experiences and observations to browse at your leisure.

(Please refer to the Gallery at the end of the post for more images.)


Having already written about the horrors of a ‘safari’ at Yala National Park in Sri Lanka’s south-east (where 90% of nature-seeking tourists seem to go), let me tell you there is a far better alternative.

About 40km along the road is another entrance to the park with the unprepossessing name of Yala Block 5.

There, you will find an abundance of wildlife (especially birds) without having to endure the scores of safari vehicles jammed nose-to-tail, their stressed drivers and over-expectant passengers clamouring for a glimpse of a leopard (or maybe a sloth bear), as is the daily situation at Yala Central.

Ornithological delights

Block 5 is an oasis of ornithological delights; and for birders and photographers it offers wonderful opportunities to observe nature at close quarters and stress-free.

The tracks can be a bit rough in places, but with so many bird, animal and tree species to see, a bit of rocking around is a small price to pay. And if you are there at the right time of year (June-July), you may see the elusive and endangered sloth bear out looking for its favourite palu fruit.

Main access track into Yala Block 5, Sri Lanka
Main access track to the delights of Yala Block 5 – fantastic wildlife ahead and not a safari vehicle in sight. Photo ©Tony Neilson


No visit to Sri Lanka is complete without a few days spent exploring the Sinharaja world heritage lowland rainforest – the last significant primary forest patch remaining on the island.

It is the most important site for endemic birds, many of which can be found in spectacular mixed feeding flocks making their way through the thick jungle canopy in the early morning.

Twenty of Sri Lanka’s 24 endemic bird species occur at Sinharaja, and although ticking them all off wasn’t my objective, with the help of a great guide (Tili), I managed to get good shots of the majority over three days. (It was fairly physical at times, and don’t forget to wear leech socks.)

Our accommodation was the well-located Blue Magpie Lodge – where the surrounding gardens dripped with birds and insects, and manager Jerome Perera delighted with his helpfulness – not forgetting his collection of 1970s business outfits in browns, creams and yellows.

No room service, no fan, no frig but the Internet connection was great and ditto the food!


Blue Magpie Lodge, Sinharaja main entrance
Blue Magpie Lodge – painted a strange combo of terracotta and green, but who cares about aesthetics when the gardens are full of birds and other interesting creatures. Photo: ©Tony Neilson


Apart from the madmen who pilot the country’s notorious blue buses, Sri Lankans do drive on the left.

But when a very large elephant emerges from the bushes along a busy tourist route and occupies your lane, it is sensible to take evasive action (see picture).

This otherwise wild animal has learned that motorists are a ready source of snacks, particularly if she positions herself so the cars must slow, sufficient for her to send an exploratory trunk through a side window.

Feeding the elephants is discouraged by national park authorities, but who is going to argue with a 3-tonne maximus while she blocks your egress and ‘hoovers’ your car interior.


Elephant blocks highway to beg for food, Sri Lanka
Elephant hi-jack on a public highway near Yala National Park. Photo: ©Tony Neilson


Sri Lanka is a great place to go herping (searching for amphibians and reptiles). Especially the Sinharaja wet forest reserve in the south-west, and specifically near Martin Lodge – a rustic guest house, a  bone-jarring climb high up in the damp and very humid rainforest. The accommodation is ultra-basic (a bed and mosquito net) but the food is good and the surrounding wildlife is amazing.

Apart from being the best place to pick up most of the island’s endemic bird species, Sinharaja is crawling with important lizard, butterfly and plant species.

Sri Lanka has almost 100 known lizard species. And of the 19 species in the global Agamid lizard family (a diverse iguanian group), 16 are endemic to the island. The common, but beautifully variable, green garden lizard is part of the group and this healthy young specimen (pictured) is enjoying the blood-warming morning sunshine.

Green garden lizard in warm sunshine, Sinharaja forest
Lizards of the Agamid group like this common garden variety closely resemble iguanas. Photo: ©Tony Neilson



©2018 TONY NEILSON All Rights Reserved. All images are protected by Australian copyright law and cannot be downloaded or reproduced without my permission. Please contact me.


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