The first morning was a tough one to wake up to, my ears still ringing with the whines of the dive bombing mosquitoes and feeling a bit weak from losing a couple of pints of blood to the beasts. Shaking the grogginess off, Nalin and I headed back into the park, picking up Dhammika and Nana along the way for good measure. There were a lot less tourists this morning than on the penultimate day of 2009 and it looked like it was going to be a quieter morning in the park as we started on our search for wildlife, with a perky mongoose starting the day's tally.
There is often a fine line between luck and instinct when it comes to trackers successfully spotting leopard and our first sighting of the day might have bordered on the former. While it was Nana who suggested the Gonnagala para as an initial route, it was Dhammika, fortuitously looking left and behind him, who made the spot. And what a spot it was, a massive male leopard stalking through the lush green undergrowth towards the road. This beautiful specimen, with distinctive scarring on his face, was one I had seen before in the area. And he was as unconcerned about our presence as he had been the previous times I had seen him. In fact he was so close to the double cab I couldn’t even get any decent photographs with my fixed focal length 300mm lens.
The sighting, despite the lack of photographic opportunities, was however still magnificent as the leopard sauntered across the road, stopped to take a couple of sips from the water pooled along the road and then leapt into the bushes. From his determined approach it seemed that he was definitely on a hunt, but was soon lost in the thick undergrowth leaving us none the wiser on his achievements for the day.
Off for a hunt
Just when we had thought we had our slice of luck for the day, a friend who was in the park texted to alert us to the presence of a leopard in a tree on Gonalabbe meda pare. We joined a queue of safari jeeps to the location only to be told once we got there that the leopard, a young cub had absconded and was nowhere to be seen. Marginally disappointed we proceeded to wander around the park, entertained by an elephant with an itch, more Jungle Fowl than I had ever seen in the park before and hordes of wild boar wandering around. It’s too bad leopard are scared stiff of boar (the big ones at least), else we would have had predator-prey interactions everywhere.
Clockwise: Itchy elephant, Jungle Fowl males, Protective wild boar
Just before we decided to call it a day, Nana suggested we swing by again on Gonalabbe and see if the leopard cub had decided to reclaim his tree. Nana and I were on the left hand side of the cab as we proceeded down the road to where the cub had been seen. Both of us suffered an epic fail in spotting as we completely missed the cub lying by the side of the road. As we passed and turned around to return up the road, the cub sat up, looked at us quizzically and then cantered off down a path into the bush. There he stopped and stared at us for awhile, providing tantalizing flashes of gold and black through the green bushes but no photographic opportunities. I think we thought we saw two cubs as well, but then we had been in the park awhile and it was hot. Eventually the cub(s?) decided to move off into the bush leaving us bereft. We staked out the site for another 30 minutes pretending we had stopped to munch on lemon puff to avoid attracting the attention of the safari jeeps but eventually we were defeated by the heat and left the park for a shower and lunch.
Once again the birds were a highlight, painted stork and open bills being in abundance throughout and especially at name lake. Nalin came up with an inspired suggestion that I carve a niche for myself in the wildlife photography business by taking pictures of flying birds. So until we left the park for lunch, I spent my time trying to anticipate when a bird would take off. And trying to avoid falling out of the vehicle.
Clockwise: Painted Stork, Open Bill Stork taking off, Open Bill in flight
(To be continued)