Wilpattu National Park – Day 2 (Mammals)

27th February 2020

Large mammals are well represented in Wilpattu – we had good sightings of many species ranging from Ruddy Mongoose upto Sri Lanka’s apex predator and everyones number one target the Leopard.

Our first encounter was with a couple of Ruddy Mongoose that were have a tussle close to the trail, they are quite tricky to photograph as they can be somewhat skulky and quick moving, also being quite small you tend to find yourself looking down on them which is never great from a photographic perspective.  We often had sittings of them from a distance but invariably as soon as we got close to them they skuttled off into the undergrowth.  There are three species of Moongoose in Sri Lanka; Ruddy, Indian Grey and Striped-neck, the Ruddy is easily identified by its upturned black-tipped tail.

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Ruddy Mongoose – Olympus OM-D EM1 mkII – Olympus M.Zuiko 300mm f/4 Pro – f/4 – 1/250s – iso 800

Next up the Sambar Deer.  Found all across south-east Asia the sub-species found in Sri Lanka (Sri Lankan Sambar Deer) are larger than those found elsewhere with large males weighing upto 280kg.

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Sri Lankan Sambar Deer (Female) – Olympus OM-D EM1 mkII – Olympus M.Zuiko 300mm f/4 Pro – f/4 – 1/250s – iso 500

The largest mammal we saw in the park were Water Buffalo, there are Asian Elephants in the park but they are rarely seen and we did not see them.  The Water Buffalo seen in the Sri Lankan national parks are locally described as “wild” although in truth no truely wild animals exist rather they are all descendants of domestic animals which are a common sight across the country.

We encountered this rather sad example, with very badly infected eyes, at one of the small Willus adjacent to the trail.  The Indian Pond Heron found him to be a rather good perch.

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Water Buffalo & Indian Pond Heron – Olympus OM-D EM1 mkII – Olympus M.Zuiko 300mm f/4 Pro – f/4 – 1/400s – iso 200

Following the encounter with the Buffalo the excitement notched up a gear or two, as we were driving along the trail just after 9.00am we encountered this fantastic sight.

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Leopard – Olympus OM-D EM1 mkII – Olympus M.Zuiko 300mm f/4 Pro – f/4 – 1/250s – iso 500

We quickly had our driver stop and reverse away so as to give this young Leopard plenty of room and hopefully allow it to continue to walk down the road towards us (as an aside you would never get a Leopard sighting with so few jeeps like this in Yala NP). Fortunately this strategy worked and did give us fantastic views.

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Leopard – Olympus OM-D EM1 mkII – Olympus M.Zuiko 300mm f/4 Pro – f/4 – 1/250s – iso 500
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Leopard – Olympus OM-D EM1 mkII – Olympus M.Zuiko 300mm f/4 Pro – f/4 – 1/250s – iso 250

We watched it for quite some time as it padded towards us before moving off the trail and into the forest, a fantastic sighting which proved to be the best of our entire trip.

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Leopard – Olympus OM-D EM1 mkII – Olympus M.Zuiko 300mm f/4 Pro – f/4 – 1/250s – iso 250
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Leopard – Olympus OM-D EM1 mkII – Olympus M.Zuiko 300mm f/4 Pro – f/4 – 1/250s – iso 200

After the Leopard excitement the heat of the day was beginning to build which inevitably means that things tend to quieten down somewhat, reagrdless we still had good sittings of some of the parks primates including the ever present Toque Macaques.

After a long lunch (fending off the Macaques !)  and siesta we resumed our drive with a drive around some of the larger Villus in the park, at one we had good but distant views of a Golden Jackal which appeared to be stalking a couple of Black-winged Stilts.

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Golden Jackal – Olympus OM-D EM1 mkII – Olympus M.Zuiko 300mm f/4 Pro – f/4 – 1/800s – iso 200

The most common deer within the park are the Spotted Deer (Chital in India), small herds of these were seen at a number of spots throughout the park, they are of course the main prey for Leopard and their alarm calls are one of the key ways the guides find Leopard.

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Spotted Deer – Olympus OM-D EM1 mkII – Olympus M.Zuiko 300mm f/4 Pro – f/4 – 1/250s – iso 800
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Spotted Deer – Olympus OM-D EM1 mkII – Olympus M.Zuiko 300mm f/4 Pro – f/4 – 1/250s – iso 200

In addition to the ubiquitous Toque Macaques we also had good views of the Tufted Grey Langurs, they do make make very good photographic subjects.

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Tufted Grey Langur – Olympus OM-D EM1 mkII – Olympus M.Zuiko 300mm f/4 Pro – f/4 – 1/250s – iso 500
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Tufted Grey Langur – Olympus OM-D EM1 mkII – Olympus M.Zuiko 300mm f/4 Pro – f/4 – 1/250s – iso 500

It was now late in the day so we headed back towards the park entrance gate when word came in of another Leopard sighting not far from where we were so we headed that way and after some searching managed to find the resting cat, again nice views although this time obscured by vegetation and in very dim light thus pushing the image stabilisation to its limits.

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Leopard – Olympus OM-D EM1 mkII – Olympus M.Zuiko 300mm f/4 Pro – f/4 – 1/50s – iso 6400

and so ended a fantastic day in Wilpattu.

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