We left Jetwing Surf at dawn and drove to Kumana National Park. The big coach crawled past Arugam Bay, Panama and Okanda on mostly dirt tracks. At the entrance to the park, a fleet of jeeps was waiting to take us on safari. The jeep drivers wore bright coloured cloths, blissfully unaware of the safari dress code!
Kumana is a great place for birdwatchers. My first trip here was over 12 years ago, during the civil war in Sri Lanka. A group of government highway engineers were on a surveying trip, exploring the feasibility of constructing a road through Yala West and Yala East (which is Kumana) national parks to move troops and armour to the east coast bypassing the long route through Monaragala. I managed to attach myself to this group and travelled through Yala including blocks that are always closed to the public.
The Park covers an area of 18,149 hectares and has over twenty swampy waterways. ‘Kumana Villu’ – a 200 hectare swamp, fed by the ‘Kumbukkan Oya’ through a half mile long narrow channel, is an important nesting ground for many water birds. The wetland areas are surrounded by a thorn forest and Palu, Ehela and Burutha trees dominate the inland forest. Giant kumbuk trees line Kumbukkan river which forms the southern boarder of the park.
Just past the park office, dark bull buffalos with massive curving horns waddled in muddy pools and lighter skinned calves followed their gazing mothers.
Painted and Open-bill storks waded in waterways, looking for fish. An Eurasian Spoonbill stirred the mud pools watched by Egrets. A Pond Heron dived in to the water from a low branch and emerged with a frog in its beak. Black-headed Ibis and Black-winged Stilts fished as elegant Pheasant-tailed Jakanas floated by. Snake like Indian Darters were in the water with only their long neck and head sticking out and Little Cormorants stood still with their wings spread out. A Purple Heron picked up a frog and deftly swallowed it.
Then it started to rain. We drove along a muddy track and watched a pair of wild boar and a jackal in the distance. A mongoose, scratched itself, jumped over a puddle and disappeared in to the bush. A small group of Sambhur sheltered under a tree and a stag led his harem majestically to pasture.
We could go only as far as Kumana Villu. The track to Kumbukkan River and the ancient Hindu shrines in the jungle was flooded after the rains.
On the way back, we stopped to watch a Changeable Hawk Eagle on a tall tree and admired the colours and antics of Green and Chestnut-headed bee-eaters. A Jungle Fowl made a brief appearance and a peacock displayed passionately to peahens who looked utterly unimpressed. A flock of Bar-tailed Godwits fed silently in a meadow.
We failed to see elephants, leopards or a sloth bear – they are not encountered in Kumana that often. The bird sightings however were pleasing. We left the Park and drove to Panama tank for brunch in the bush.
(The visit to Kumana National Park was arranged by Jetwing)