Sri Lanka’s other half… The birds of Mannar Island
Having finally had the chance to visit the North of Sri Lanka after many years, some of my birding pals planned a trip to experience and enjoy the bounty of bird life in the other half of Sri Lanka.
First on the list was Mannar Island. Mannar Island and the strip of land on the mainland from around Giant’s tank is a magnet for birders in search of species who are not found regularly in the southern half of the island. Having heard of the many rarities that have been seen here in the past, I was beyond excited to get there.
The drive to Mannar was a great experience having driven along the new road across Wilpathu National Park (which really should not be open due to the bad affect it is already having on the wildlife in the park). We got to Giant’s Tank by afternoon, a quick lunch at the Navy camp and we were walking along the bund of this enormous man-made reservoir. Birds were plenty with the water levels quite low. I had finally seen this famous place which was known in the old days as the best place for duck hunting.
We got to our guesthouse rather late in the evening and after a quick dinner hit the sack for an early morning start the next day.
Varnkale Sanctuary was the target for next morning. This very important wetland area was made a sanctuary a few years back by the Wildlife department based on the information and recommendation of the Ceylon Bird Club. As expected the bird life here was amazing. Within a very short time I was able to see 5 new species of birds (‘Lifers’) which are what we call Mannar specials: Eurasian Wigeon, Pied Avocet, Common Teal, Bar-tailed Godwits and my long awaited Greater Flamingos (Yes I had not seen this bird till now and have looked for it for over 9 years).
The next day we visit another wetland which was nearly totally covered with ducks! Over 30,000 was the estimate. Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Gargany & Eurasian Wigeon were the composition. The Great Black-headed Gulls were also in their numbers here. Wild ponies came to water to drink while we were watching the birds, I felt like I had been transformed to another land.
We spent the next 2 days travelling the length and breadth of Mannar – at least to the places that we were allowed to travel to. Many more ‘lifers’ were added to my list. A total of 11 new birds on the trip – record breaking!
I also experienced watching both the sun rise and sun set from Mannar which was truly memorable experience with the Greater Flamingos in their hundreds flying past the rising sun.
Ops, nearly forgot to mention about the most amazing beaches in Mannar towards the Tali-Mannar area. The sea was absolute crystal clear blue water with white sandy beach with no one expect a few Heuglin’s Gulls to keep you company! And you can walk in to the sea for quite long way with water only up to your knees.
We sadly did not get a chance to taste the famous Mannar Crabs and decided we will be back again for that very soon.
The infrastructure in Mannar is just getting in to place. For accommodation there are a couple of guesthouses and unless you’re a die-hard bird watcher you may not put up with the basic standards there. However come next migrant season, we are sure to have lots of new places to stay and eat out. The main roads are all being done up making the drive there much faster and comfortable. Can’t wait to go back!