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Wednesday, 18 October 2017 02:44

WNPS Two Day Excursion Report - Wilpattu National Park - 22nd and 23rd July 2017

Participants
A group of 25 members led by our President Rukshan Jayewardene joined the trip to Wilpattu.

Travel Route
WNPS Head office at Battaramulla – Negombo- Chilaw- Puttalam- Karuwalagaswewa- Kala Oya- Nochchiyagama- Wilpattu National Park.

Theme
A field trip to Wilpattu National Park to gain insights into its ecosystem, geography, and archaeological value in the context of the current challenges the National Pak faces

Saturday 22nd July 2017
All the participants arrived at WNPS Head Office at Rajamalwatta well in time on 22nd August, brimming with enthusiasm. We started off at 6.15 in the morning and soon entered the Colombo – Katunayake Expressway. We were served with a snack to munch on the way. At Negombo we turned onto the Colombo –Puttalam main road (A3) and proceeded along passing Kochchikade, Marawila and Chilaw, reeaching Puttalam, the last town before Wilpattu around 9 in the morning. Breakfast was ready for us at the Puttalam Rest House. After a filling meal and friendly conversations we set off again. At Nochchiyagama, we turned off to the road that led to the Wilpattu National Park and entered the park from the entrance at Hunuwilagama around noon.

It took another ½ an hour for us to reach the bungalow where we were to stay for the night. It was located in a serene environment facing the Maradanmaduwa Tank.

We had free time to relax, to make friends and to enjoy the occasional cool breeze till lunch was prepared.

At 3 O’clock in the afternoon, our group set off in four Safari jeeps to explore the wilderness of Wilpattu. The dry weather had dried up most of the tanks inside the park. We could see many birds flocked around the artificial ponds.

The highlight of this trip was the sighting of the leopard at Mahapatassa Tank. As the sun was setting, the leopard stealthily walked into the open area and drank water from a nearby waterhole. As if sensing our presence, it did not waste much time but hastily retired into the dark forest cover. We in turn followed its footsteps as cautiously as possible and found the leopard lying underneath a bush, its presence well camouflaged. It took its own time diligently cleaning its paws and in the meantime our cameras freely captured its every movement. With a final big yawn, the leopard disappeared in the fading light. Our tracker identified this leopard as “Ivan” of Mahapatassa tank.

On our way back, closer to the bungalow, we met a sloth bear ambling along the gravel road. Its small eyes squinted at us through the velvety fur coat.

The day was coming to a close as we reached the bungalow. Purple hues decorated the sky over/above the Maradanmaduwa tank.

Until dinner was served, the entire group had the privilege of listening to a talk on Wilpattu by our President Rukshan Jayewardene. Drawing from his expertise he spoke about the geographical, biological and historical importance of the Wilpattu National Park. Declared as a National Park in 1931, today has been named a Ramsar wetland as well. As the name itself indicates Wilpattu is well known for its complex of villus. A villu, he explained is a fairly shallow, basin shaped, sandy terrain that retains water. It is believed that the changes in the sea level that occurred from the Holocene Period had resulted in forming the Villus.

The vegetation of the park which consists mainly of shrubs and trees like Palu and weera are largely dependent on the rainfall and the drainage system. Wilpattu has a high diversity of birds and also a remarkable population of mammals including leopards and bears although a proper census and research is lacking.

From time immemorial, humans have inhabited areas of Wilpattu and the many archaeological ruins inside the park bear testimony to it. The most noteworthy is the Pomparippu burial site which indicates that proto humans have lived in these lands.

Rukshan concluded his talk by pointing out the sad plight of the gradual destruction of Wilpattu today in the guise of resettlement and other irregular development projects carried out. He stressed the role played by WNPS in protecting these treasures through litigation where necessary and also creating public awareness to bring about effective change.

After a delicious dinner, all retired to their beds at the dormitory. The alarm call of a deer echoed through the silent night hinting us that a leopard was on its hunting trails.

Sunday 23rd July 2017
All of us were ready by 5.45 in the morning to go on the safari. The bird calls greeted us for the new day.

Our dutiful tracker Asuntha knew where to take us that early morning. While driving he eagerly watched for the footstep marks on the dusty pathways. We first arrived at a large tank which had almost dried up. Dr. Hemantha Perera and his wife generously taught us to identify the birds that had flocked at the water’s edge. We could see Painted Storks, Egrets, two Purple Herons, a Grey Heron, Stilts and a Jacana, all trying to get the best catch that morning. A huge crocodile made their task much easier by swaying his head up and down and disturbing the fish.

The view at Kokkari villu, a salt water villu was a breathtaking one. The dead trees stood tall rising above the water level. The mystic silence prevailed there was disturbed only by the animated sounds of a plump of Lesser Whistling ducks. A stork billed kingfisher was aiming at a fish.

We passed Panikka wila which was totally dry and the bungalow on its bank was temporarily closed down. A deer with magnificent antlers and a barking deer were grazing on the dry grass.

On the way back we saw an Sāmbhur mother and its little one roaming. We were lucky enough to see a variety of birds including a couple of Lesser Adjutants, serpent eagles, few pipits and Bee- eaters, a colourful white Rumped Shama, a Racket Tailed Drongo and an Emerald Dove.

On the last leg of our safari, it was most exciting to spot a Leopard beside the Maradanmaduwa Tank Bund. It was resting on a tall tree branch oblivious to the fact a few pairs of eyes were watching it. Its long tail was hanging down as it balanced its weight on the tree top while nodding off to sleep. We assumed that this was the leopard that had made the deer call out the previous night.

After breakfast, it was time to bid goodbye to the Wilpattu National park. We all posed for a group photo before leaving the park. We took the same route and stopped for lunch at the Puttalam Rest House. We arrived at WNPS head office around 5p.m.

Thus ended a memorable journey where everyone broadened their horizons in terms of knowledge, made friends and took a further step towards the preservation of this irreplaceable national heritage by understanding its worth.

Our appreciation is extended to:
WNPS President, Rukshan Jayewardene for reviving the concept of field trip after a long time and for the guidance and the organization of the trip.

Caryll Tozer for her meticulous planning and caring ways

WNPS administrative Secretary, George Thambapillai for his untiring efforts towards the trip and arranging every minute detail

All the participants for their friendly company and discerning ways

This excursion report was compiled by Chanakya Liyanage with photographs by Nillasi Liyanage. The views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of the WNPS.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 18 October 2017 16:06