|Sri Lanka: Sigiriya December 2010|
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In December 2010 I had to work for a few days in Colombo. I'd visited Sri Lanka back in 2000 for a few days vacation but still had a long list of animals I wanted to see including Grey and Red Slender Lorises, Golden Palm Civet, and Fishing and Rusty-Spotted Cats. All of these species are quite findable it seems, with time. But I didn't have much of that ... I had run out of holidays for the year. Where there is a will there is a way however, and I figured I could squeeze in a 72 hour trip. So, on the advice of Phil Telfer (see his trip report), I contacted the Bird and Wildlife Team and asked if Uditha was free to guide me. He was.
Given the shortage of time Uditha recommended we focus our effort around the town of Sigiriya and we headed out of Colombo on thursday evening. It ought to have taken 4 hours to get to Sigiriya, but heavy traffic around Colombo and recent heavy rain - which had done turned sections of the road into one large pothole with just a light dusting of tarmac - meant it took over 8 hours. We got to our hotel after 1am, but both Udi and Chandana, our driver, were ready to head out for another 2 hours spotlighting after we checked in. Dedication beyond the call of duty.
On Friday, Saturday and Sunday we spent both the mornings and late afternoons in the field, as well as long spotlighting sessions from dusk til 3am on both Friday and Saturday. We had a brief spotlight on Sunday before heading back to Colombo. I won't give details of all the sites we visited in deference to Uditha who was concerned that others will start using them and chase off the animals (as has happened in the past).The sites are also Uditha's livelihood. If you are heading to Sri Lanka for a fairly short trip I recommend Uditha and the Bird and WIldlife Team whole-heartedly (though travel is quite expensive in Sri Lankan for a tour like this if you are on your own). The results speak for themselves though: we saw what I thought was a remarkable 31 species of mammals in 72 hours (in fact Uditha saw a couple more).
Back in Colombo I stayed a night at the Airport Garden Hotel and finally saw a Brown Mongoose when I was in the taxi leaving for the airport.
One of the nice things about Sri Lanka is that it has a relatively poor (by Asian standards) set of bats and rodents. So much so that you have a reasonable chance of identifying many species you come across in the field on the basis of appearance and their habitat (a number of rodents for example are only at high altitude).
We stayed at the Sigiriya Rest House, which was perfectly adequate and very quiet. Udi had tried to book us into the bigger and more popular Sigiriya Hotel but there wasn't space. We spent a fair bit of time in that hotel's garden though because its a good site for Brown Mongoose, with a number of other mammals common there too.
The Pidurangala temples nearby were also good at night at least for bats (we didn't go in the daytime). Stone steps lead up the hill behind the ranger's house. At the top of the first flight are a couple of out-buildings. One of which contained a small colony of Black-bearded Tomb bats. The room next door had Cantor's Roundleaf Bats.
Another 10 minutes up to the top of the hill are a couple of caves containing a large statue of a reclining buddha. I couldn't get a close look at the bats that were roosting in the tunnel behind the statue. They were roundleaf bats, and the one I saw (quite distantly) was yellowish and I think a Schneider's Leafnose Bat (Hipposideros speoris) as it seemed to large to be a Fulvous Leafnose Bat (Hipposideros fulvus) the other possibility in Sri Lanka, though I stand ready to be connected.
Udi found a few Least Pipistrelles (Pipistrellus tenuis) roosting behind the fly screen of one of the windows of the Sigiriya Resthouse. Some were alive but hard to photograph without removing (which would have been all but impossible), but several were dead and could be extracted. They were small (forearm of about 2.7cm) and appeared to be too dark to be Indian Pipistrelles.
During our night drives we saw several Indian Flying Foxes and a few Painted Bats, easily recognisable in flight from their distinctively bright red bodies. Udi does find them roosting in curled up banana leaves from time to time but we didn't see any.
Sri Lankan Giant Squirrels were abundant around the Sigiriya Hotel and village.
The little Three-striped Palm Squirrels were common too. And it was no problem to find a Giant Indian Flying Squirrel near the moat around the Sigiriya fort at dusk. The other squirrel species in Sri Lanka, including the Travancore Flying Squirrel, are mainly found in wet forest.
Indian Hares were the most frequently observed mammal and we say several on every night drive.
Golden Jackal - one seen on the edge of a paddy field late at night which caused a little excitement at first when we thought it was a Fishing Cat.
Rusty-spotted Cat - one of the highlights of the drive, though the view was fleeting. An animal crossed the road in front of us in some forest a few kilometres from Sigiriya Village. Sightings of this species are by no means guaranteed quickly around Sigiriya.
Ruddy Mongooses are common and apparently easy to see in the grounds of the Sigiriya Hotel. I wasn't looking for them, though we saw one early in the morning there while looking for a Brown Mongoose.
Indian Gray Mongoose - same comments as for the Ruddy Mongoose. We saw a couple in the Sigiriya Village Hotel in the mid morning.
Indian Brown Mongoose - reputedly very common around the Sigiriya Garden and Village hotels though the only one I saw was back in Colombo at the Airport Garden Hotel, just as I was leaving the entrance gate in a taxi.
Eurasian Otter - we saw one animal late at night swimming around a paddy field. Not a common sighting.
Small Indian Civet - seen each night and especially common in the arboretum while we were looking for Lorises.
Golden Palm Civet - one of my two key species for the trip and we eventually found one on our last evening at a good site for this species near Sigiriya. There is some taxonomic debate about the species, with some claiming there are three or four species in Sri Lanka. This was one of the golden subspecies.
Asian Palm Civet - seen every night.
Toque Macaque - common around the Sigiriya Hotel.
Tufted Gray Langur - common around the Sigiriya Hotel.
Grey Slender Loris - one of my two key species for the trip. They are quite widespread but surprisingly shy and hard to see. Udi knows some good locations for this species however and we saw a couple in an arboretum about 45 minutes from Sigiriya.
Chital (Axis Deer) - a few around the arboretum and the Sigiriya Fort moat late at night.
Sambar - one seen in the forest.
White-Spotted Chevrotain - very common, we saw as many as 20 one night. Widespread but particularly plentiful in the arboretum.
Asian Elephant - Udi was quite wary of running into these during the evenings when they venture out of the forest. We only saw one, on some agricultural land late at night.
Stuff I missed
Udi also saw a Greater Bandicoot Rat and one of the brown-coloured Golden Palm Civets which may be a distinct species.