Sri Lanka


The Sri Lanka photo gallery contains natural history photographs from Sri Lanka.

It is mid-morning in early December. This is Columbo, Sri Lanka. Cars and trucks of all sizes and shapes zip by, large transports, sedans, tuk-tuks - the mini taxis of South-East Asia and the Indian Sub-Continent.  People mill along the edge of the road, occasionally competing for the turf of the street, shrill little horns sound, people barely look.  The air is warm and humid, it will get hotter.  The colors of fresh fruits and vegetables, of silks and magazines, of a montage of dress swirl before me.  The sounds of milling people, the chopping of  pineapple, the putter and groan of vehicles cannot be separated from the kaleidoscope of color or the feel of the air.  A Columbo street scene is shown to the right.

I captured this journey in a two part video, found below.  The videos show some of the cultural aspects of Sri Lanka and the following species:  House Crow, Indian Pond Heron, Little Egret, Common Myna, White-throated Kingfisher, Black-hooded Oriole, Grey Wagtail, Asian Openbill, Black-winged Stilt, White-breasted Waterhen, Marsh Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Little Green Bee-Eater, Blue-tailed Bee-Eater, Little Cormorant, Greater Coucal, Flying-Fox, Red-wattled Lapwing, Black-faced Langur, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Common Moorhen, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Sri Lankan Elephant, Wild Boar, Spotted Deer (Chital), Orange-breasted Green-Pigeon, Little Green Bee-Eater, Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Wooly-necked Stork, Lesser Sandplover, Grey Heron, Indian Peafowl, Asian Kohl, Eurasian Spoonbill, Painted Stork, Purple Heron, Little Grebe, Intermediate Egret, Great Egret, Black-necked Stork, Brown Shrike, Brahminy Starling, Spotted Dove, Eurasian Hoopoe, White-throated Kingfisher, Water Buffalo, Richard’s Pipit, Indian Roller, Pompadour Green Pigeon, Red-wattled Lapwing, Water Monitor, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, White-bellied Fish-Eagle (Sea-Eagle), Ruddy Mongoose, Black-backed Robin (Indian Robin), Large-billed Crow, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Lesser Whistling Duck, Blue-tailed Bee-Eater, Common Kingfisher, Bonnet Macaque, Black-headed Munia, Sambar, Black-headed Ibis, Pied Kingfisher, Black-winged Stilt, Barn Swallow,     Hanuman Langur, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Great Thick-Knee, Lesser Adjutant, Painted Stork, Water Buffalo, Black-headed Ibis, Grey Heron, Little Cormorant, Black-necked Stilt, Common Kingfisher, Lesser Whistling-Duck, Barred Buttonquail, White-naped Woodpecker, Indian Peafowl, Broad-tailed Grassbird, Ashy Prinia, Black-headed Munia, Blue-tailed Bee-Eater, Golden Jackal, Pallid Harrier, Richard’s Pipit, Purple-rumped Sunbird, Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Great White Pelican, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Stripe-necked Mongoose, Baya Weaver, White-throated Kingfisher, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Chestnut-headed Bee-Eater, Red-vented Bulbul, Yellow-billed Babbler, White-bellied Drongo, Roseate Tern, Cinnamon Bittern, Cattle Egret, Intermediate Egret, Zitting Cisticola, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Purple Swamphen, Indian Cormorant, Common Tern, Yellow Bittern, Little Grebe, Indian Pond Heron, and Purple Sunbird.

This place is different from my home, it feels exotic and easy, I am comfortable and amazed, I am trying to absorb it all, to keep it with me forever.  

I head down the coast to the national parks for primates and elephants, for birds remarkably different from those of North America, for a jackal.  The coast that will be destroyed by a tsunami in the near future - to be restored by a vibrant and colorful people.

There are so many people, many poor people.  I don’t like to bird in cities, I am a creature of the American West.  I like those areas where I can see a long way, I like not seeing lots of other people.  Not antisocial or anything - I just love to bird without distraction.  Here, I have hired a driver who knows the birds, it’s easier than trying to learn Sri Lankan driving techniques (which seem chaotic to me, but not aggressive).  Whenever we stop there are people all around us - immediately - and the driver acts like a buffer.  My western sense of personal space is under constant challenge, I don’t like this aspect of Sri Lankan birding.  Just like I don’t like to bird inside of Portland or any other city.  I much prefer the national parks, like Yala on the southeast coast where there are very few people. 

sri lanka pole fishermen

I want to get some local color video for the production and some of the best local color in Sri Lanka are the pole fisherman.  These fisherman climb poles set into the tidal flats and fish when high tide occurs.  It’s a great photo-op and pretty famous.  When we arrive, there are no pole fisherman.  As soon as we get out of the van, they are all around us -- offering to go out and climb up the poles so we can video.  The driver is adamant, 50 cents is to much to pay for this.  The driver and two pole fisherman enter into protracted negotiations.  The driver finally pays them something out of his personal kitty and I get my video.  I am a bit embarrassed by the whole thing, I have no reference point for how I should act, for appropriate or inappropriate behavior in this environment.

droppedImage-filtered 1

In the southeast of the country we wandered Yala National Park in an open Land Rover, it was a beautiful and exotic place with Indian Peafowl (Wild Peacocks), Sri Lanka Junglefowl (looks like a domestic rooster), Indian Elephants (of the Sri Lankan subspecies), Water Buffalo, (pictured right)  etc. etc. etc.  It was a great day for video, very fruitful with many close and colorful photographic opportunities.

If all the world was just like the United States it would be pretty damn boring.  Thankfully, there is still some diversity in the world.  Food is often cited as a significant cultural indicator, not being a connoisseur of food, many of the nuances are lost on me but there are many edible encounters that are worthy of note, near Yala National Park I am discovering one such cultural indicator.  At the moment, I am sitting in the dining area of our small and basic hotel (just my type of place) and we have enjoyed a pleasant meal (on the spicy side as any food in Sri Lanka seems to be).  Now for dessert, Water Buffalo Yogurt and Coconut Honey, a dessert which is a speciality of this area - it isn’t even available in other places in Sri Lanka, much less in North America.  I muse about things like -- wonder if this stuff would pass hygiene regulations in the US - pretty sure it would not -- wonder what it will taste like -- and just what is coconut honey?  Dessert comes and we venture into the unknown, a delicious smooth, tangy, sweet unknown that I will most likely never experience again -- quite wonderful and deliciously memorable.

The video from this trip was recorded in standard-definition and the video is best viewed as a smaller image.  I have pulled a few species accounts from the trip video featured above, they are; Lesser Adjutant, Yellow-billed Babbler, Blue-tailed Bee-Eater, Chestnut-headed Bee-Eater, Little-Green Bee-Eater, Cinnamon Bittern, Yellow Bittern, and Changeable Hawk-Eagle. The entire video portfolio may be viewed at The Birds of Sri Lanka.

Photographs of some of the birds of Sri Lanka may be viewed at the Sri Lanka photo gallery.

© Robert Barnes 2015-2021