Wednesday, 7 May 2014

5th - 8th April - Mirissa, Sri lanka

Unfortunately the blog posts for this trip will not be completely full of photographs due to a failure of the SD card When I Looked to transfer the images from card to camera. Almost 16GB of images have been lost which has been very upsetting. But I will try to convey the details of the trip with what images I have, and of course the wonderful memories.

This trip had two main objectives, whale watching with the hope of seeing Blue Whale out of Mirissa, and then search for the leopard in Yala National park. helped The first of the week what whale watching.

Day 1 - 5th April

We arrived in Sri Lanka at lunchtime on the 5th after a deceptively long ten hour flight from London. After watching fridges and ovens pass us as we waited for our fellow travellers to arrive we were on our way to our first location, the Insight Resort in Ahangama. The journey Took about three and half hours, taking us on new highway, then through the capital Colombo, back on to a highway, and then along the coast road to our hotel.

Along the way were treated to a very lush green vegetation, with plenty of Cattle Egrets, Open-billed Storks and Black-headed Ibis. There was a lot of open water by the road side, and so we Encountered several heavy rain storms.

It was hot and humid when we arrived, and after checking in there what not much time to explore before it started to get dark. The hotel led out on to a beach, and looking away to the west you could see several stilt fishermen in the surf. I am sure we will get the chance to see plenty of synthesis over the next few days.



By now we were both exhausted, and a few beers and dinner were quickly followed by a much needed sleep.

Day 2 - 6th April

It was an early start, leaving the hotel as the sun came up It was a short drive to the harbour town of Mirissa. Originally a fishing village, but since 2006 It has become the centre for whale watching in Sri Lanka, and as a result local tour Businesses have grown up here. About 10 nautical miles off shore the continental shelf drops away to over a kilometer deep, and this is the attraction for migrating whales. The season runs from November to April, and the main attraction is the passage of Blue Whales, But They are not alone and other species are seen as well, notably Bryde's Whale and Sperm Whale, plus huge pods of spinner and Striped Dolphin.

As we waited for the boat to leave Whiskered Terns flew around the fishing boats every so often diving into the water.  The light early morning was wonderful, and lit up the brightly coloured fishing boats in the harbour



Once out of the harbour the swell increased and it became a challenge to stand up and scan the sea out to the horizon. There were more about terns, white-winged Black Tern, Great-crested and Caspian being the most numerous, and every so often you would see gatherings over the water where small fish had been forced to the surface by Tuna.

As we got further out to sea flying fish could be seen alongside the boat, gliding just above the waves long differences. Every so often a Flesh-footed Shearwater would fly past skipping the tops of the waves. A darker individual with a more pointed body and wings sharper turned out to be my first Jouanin's Petrel.

We came across a pod of Spinner Dolphins and they entertained us for a while as they chased tuna through the waves, There were groups intent on fishing and hunting, and then every so often you would see them leap from the water and throw themselves over.

The lookouts were now picking up spouts in the distance but they were not the traditional high spout of a Blue Whale, but the more angled puff of what was probably a Sperm Whale. The boat left the dolphins to play and headed off in the direction of the spouts.

Very soon we came upon small groups of two or three Sperm Whales. As they broke the water the spout would be forward of the animal as it moved through the water. The Sperm Whale is the large largest of the Dolphin family or toothed whales did includes the Killer Whale or Orca. Sperm Whale being the large largest predator on earth. In addition to the teeth they have a single blow hole did dictates the type of spout when they blow.

The boats were gathering around them, and when they became to close the whale's back would arch and then the tail would come up, and the whale would dive and out of sight.

By now Sperm Whale were all around us, and small groups would appear on the sighting of a spout.  Numbers were estimated to be about 30 plus, a group that is referred to as a super pod.  Every so often he whales would emerge further out of the water, and you could see the large head, followed then the back with the ridges and ripples in the skin, and finally the fluke, that when raised high indicates a deep dive.  We followed them for some time, and I took many photographs which unfortunately are now lost.  It was a magical sight, and a rare one that also meant we were very unlikely to see Blue Whale.  When the Sperm come through the Blue Whale head out to deeper water.

Finally we turned back to port leaving the Sperm Whale to continue on their way.  Their migration takes them from the Arabian Sea around the tip of India and up into the Bengal Bay.  The journey back to port saw us pass through several large flocks of terns, mostly Great Crested and White-winged Black.

Back at the hotel, we spend the rest of the time by the pool, and in the late afternoon walked along the beach to see the stilt fishermen.  This was a tourist arranged demonstration and we were asked to pay for the privilege of photographing them.  I paid, but didn't take any pictures of the fishermen but just enjoyed the view of the sunset across the beach.




Day 3 - 7th April

Next day it was up again early, and on our way back to Mirissa.  This time though we stopped top watch the sunrise over the moored fishing boats in the bay.



The sun as it rose changed the colour of the sky and the water.



The area where we were standing was also a landing place for the local fishermen, and was a huge attraction to the local House Crows who appeared to roost in the tree next to the buildings.



They called incessantly and birds would come and go to augment the numbers already present.  Finally the sun broke free lighting up the sky.



and with the sunrise the House Crows were off to scavenge where ever they could.  These crows (not these specifically) were seen everywhere there were people.



When we reached the harbour we boarded the boat, and set off hoping to emulate yesterday's success, but it was not to be.  We almost immediately came across a small pod of Bottlenose Dolphins, and then a little later on Striped Dolphins that have a beautiful pink belly and white stripes on the flanks.  There were to be a few more encounters with pods of Spinners but no sign of any whales.  The boat continued to head out, and into deeper waters.  We eventually went 20 nautical miles offshore.  Along the way excitement was provided by a huge Manta Ray swimming just below the surface, again there were photographs, but now just memories.

Finally the word was out there was a Bryde's Whale showing, and we set off in what seemed an endless journey, that ended when we came across the whale.  Almost immediately other boats appeared desperate to show the customers a whale.

Bryde's Whale is a medium sized whale that behaves in a similar way to that of a Minke.  It would break the surface, spout and they you would see the dorsal fin and it would be gone.  There is no fluke to speak of and they are very quick.  We followed it for awhile, but now it was late and we had a two and a half hour journey back to port.  We finally got back about 15.00 much to the annoyance of some of our fellow travellers.

Back at the hotel there was time for a swim, lie down, or a walk along what was a beautiful beach, the ocean being warm but with a very strong current.  



Other entertainment for some was a game of cricket on the beach.  Some of the players taking it very seriously!



The stilt fishermen were back in position, and Helen took this long distance shot that didn't incur a fee.



As the sun sank into the ocean the Rose-ringed Parakeets flew in to roost in the palm trees.  Our time here was now over, we would return at the end of the holiday for one more whale watch, that hopefully will produce our quarry, but for now it was a meal, and bed as it would be another early start the next day.

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