433 bird species have been recorded in Sri Lanka of which 26 are endemic. Mannar in the north-west is one of the top birding destination of the island and with a large numbers of migrants seldom seen elsewhere in the country, Vankalai wetland is the prime site of the region
Millions of migrant birds fly down the Indian peninsula to funnel through the 4 km wide Talaimannar panhandle to reach the wetlands of Vankalai to over-winter. Ornithologists call this the Central Asian Flyway. The 4,839 ha sanctuary created in 2008, consists of several ecosystems which range from arid-zone thorn scrubland, arid-zone pastures and maritime grasslands, sand dunes, mangroves, salt marshes, lagoons, tidal flats and sea-grass beds and provide shelter to over 20,000 birds in any given year.
I revisited Vankalai a week ago. As professional bird guides are hard to find in Mannar, I asked Upali Ekanayake, a leading bird tour operator and bird guide in Colombo for advice. “The only bird expert in Mannar is Lawrence but he will be busy running 4Ts, his guest house for birders.” Upali said. ” Just take a Tuk Tuk from your hotel to the Mannar causeway and the road leading to Thiruketheeswaram Kovil and you will see all the migrants you want to see” he added. He was right. I saw Crab-plovers, Black Kites, Grey Francolins and many others I had never seen in Sri Lanka before. There were thousands of Greater Flamingos and huge flocks of Painted stork and Asian Openbills. Sometimes Flamingos feed some distance from the shore and a spotting scope becomes very handy.
Here’s a list of birds I spotted at Vankalai:
Spot-billed Pelican, Great Cormorant, Little Cormorant, Oriental Darter, Greater Flamingo, Herons (Indian Pond & Grey), Egrets (Cattle, Little, Intermediate, Great & Western Reef), Painted Stork, Asian Openbill, Lesser Adjutant, Little Grebe, Lesser Whistling-duck, Eurasian Wigeon, Garganey, Common Buzzard, Brahminy Kite, Black Kite, Western Marsh Harrier, White-bellied Fish Eagle, Common, Kestrel, Grey Francolin, Indian Peafowl, White-breasted Waterhen, Crab-plover, Black-winged Stilt, Red-wattled Lapwing, Common Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Common Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Heuglin’s Gull, Great Black-headed Gull, Common Black-headed Gull, Caspian Tern, Common Tern, Little Tern, Spotted Dove, Eurasian Collard Dove, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Large-billed Crow, White-throated Kingfisher, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Indian Roller, Asian Palm Swift, Red-vented Bulbul, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Black-backed Robin, Black Drongo, Common Myna.
Birds to look out for
Indian Spot-billed Duck, Eurasian Widgeon, Avocet, Common Teal, Northern Shoveller, Pintail, Gargeney, Greater Flamingo, Crab Plover, Oystercatcher, Red Knot, Great Knot, Ruff, Indian Grey Partridge, Lesser Crested Tern, Great Crested Tern, Caspian Tern, White-winged Black Tern, Little Tern, Great Black-headed Gull, Heuglin’s Gull, Brown Headed Gull, Common Coot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Kentish Plover, Black Drongo, Rufous Rumped Shrike, Collared Dove, Hoopoe, Montague’s Harrier, Pallid Harrier, Peregrine Falcon, Golden-backed Woodpecker.
Bird & Wildlife Tours In Sri Lanka
Upali Ekanayake is the senior most Ornithological Tour Leader in Sri Lanka and is the Director Operations of Starron Bird & Wildlife Tours Ltd. His phone number in Colombo is 0777575657. E-mail: email@example.com
(All photographs except Google maps are by the author. The visit to Vankalai was arranged by Flamingo Tours)