The park gate was locked, the park office was closed and there was nobody in sight. It was six thirty in the morning. Irate telephone calls to the National Parks head office were made and an hour later, a ranger appeared and sheepishly opened the gate
We left Hotel Monty in Ampara at 5.30 in the morning to be at the Gal Oya National Park gate by 6.30. The Rangers however were in no hurry. May be because very few people visit Gal Oya and hardly anybody is keen enough to arrive at the gate at crack of dawn. Every dark cloud has a silver lining, they say. As we waited, a pair of Greater Racket-tailed Drongos flew over. “That’s a Lifer for me” the birder from Canada yelled and hurriedly reached for her iPhone with its eBird app. Pompadour and Imperial Green Pigeons frolicked in a tall trees, a Giant Squirrel scampered about and Toque Macaques made faces at us.
We drove along good dirt tracks in open jeeps through the forest. The trees were huge. Why have the rangers cleared the undergrowth on either side of the track we wondered. “It is bad for birds” the birders lamented.
About 45% of the 29,500 ha Galoya National Park is covered by evergreen forest with tall trees and a further 33% is taken up by savanna. This is where the feeding elephants, in herds of up to 30, are seen, though at a distance.
A fallen tree blocked one of the tracks forcing us to turn back. As we reluctantly drove back towards the park entrance, a truck carrying stones for repair work on culverts inside the park was stuck in the mud blocking the exit road from the park. Though against park rules, the ranger agreed to let us walk back to the park office and a motor scooter was brought in for one of the party with walking difficulties.
We returned to Gal Oya Tank for a two-hour boat safari that afternoon. The Department of Wildlife operates two such tours – first at 6am and the second at 3pm. The morning safari is the more sensible but we missed it. The sun was fierce that afternoon and the open boat was like an oven.
We drove along the massive dam past ponds where fish are farmed for release in to the tank. Over 300 fishing boats are involved in harvesting up to 30 tons of fish a day. The biggest fresh-water fish in the country are caught here and almost all the eateries in the area feature this fresh water fish in their menus.
The open boats sped towards islands and headlands that dotted the tank. Elephants were busy feeding. A crocodile, mouth open, basked in the sun. Small rocky islands were crowded with Whiskered Terns, Little and Large Cormorants, Grey Herons, Thick Knees and Black-headed Ibis. A pair of nesting White-bellied Sea Eagles chased away intruding Brahmini Kites. One dived to snatch a fish from the water and flew straight to the nest. A pathetic looking Gray Langur which has got itself marooned on one of the little rocky islands, watched us speed past.
Galoya National Park is home to about 150 species of birds. We spotted 58 species including Small Minivet, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Indian Darter, Indian Night Heron and Chestnut-headed bee-eaters but the most remarkable bird seen during this outing was a Greater Racket Tailed Drongo. Despite the intense heat, it was an excellent safari.
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/321697716″>Gal Oya Safari 2019</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user12340500″>Bernard Dias</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
The Safari was arranged and led by Padmini Hussein of Flamingo Tours.