SRI LANKA

FROM LEOPARD TO LIZARDS
WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR

 

 

At a glance

  • Tour Dates

    2019 Tour Dates - Saturday 27th July - Monday 5th August 2019
    2020 Tour Dates - Sunday 19th July - Tuesday 28th July 2020

  • Number of Days

    10 days. A 4 day extension to Sinharaja Forest is also available (fee applies)

  • Group Size Limit

    8

  • Tour Price Information

    2019 Tour Price - £2590, €2950, $3600 (confirmed)
    2020 Tour Price - £2590, €2950, $3600 (provisonal)
    Colombo/Colombo.
    Deposit 10%.
    Sinharaja Forest Extension: £790, €900, $1100. Deposit: 10%.
    Includes surface transportation, accommodations, meals, entrance fees and tips/gratuities.
    Single Room Supplement: £405, €461, $563. Extension: £90, €101, $123.
    This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in Pounds Sterling and Euros are based on £1 = $1.390 and €1 = $1.220.
    Air Travel To and From The Tour: Wild Images' in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

  • Photographic Highlights

    • Very good opportunities for photographing Leopards at what has to be one of the best sites in the world for seeing this generally elusive cat
    • Brilliant gatherings of photogenic Asian Elephants at Minneriya
    • Chances to photograph other rare species such as the imposing Sloth Bear
    • An excellent variety of birds that can be photographed during our safari-style excursions around Yala National Park
    • Cultural wonders such as the famous Sigiriya ‘Lion’ Rock and Polonnaruwa, the medieval capital of Sri Lanka and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, both with excellent primate photography opportunities, as well as the Dambullah Cave Temples

TOUR OVERVIEW

“Leopard!” That shout-whisper is surely the word that every wildlife photographer wants to hear during a safari in Sri Lanka. After all, Yala National Park in Sri Lanka is home to the highest density population of leopards in the world. There is nothing quite like watching a leopard slink across the road in front of you or having it watch you from its midday slumber in a nearby tree. While making eye contact with leopards is a breath taking highlight of any trip to Sri Lanka, the island is a wildlife haven whose forest clad mountains echo with the calls of Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys, barking Sambhar Deer and a myriad of birds. Across Sri Lanka’s lowlands gigantic herds of Asian Elephants roam in search of water. Even driving along the roads you might encounter beautiful Common Green Lizards and Sri Lankan pit vipers attracted to the heat of the tarmac. Combine these wildlife highlights with beautiful historical monuments, friendly local people, pretty palm lined beaches and a rugged, mountainous interior and Sri Lanka is truly a photographic wonder of South Asia.

sri-lanka-wildlife-photo-safari-andrew-sproule-photography.jpg

This two-centred 11 day photographic safari focuses on two of Sri Lanka’s wildlife treasures.

The first is Minneriya National Park where spectacular gatherings of Asian Elephants can be seen wandering through the forest or out on the plains. During safaris in Minneriya we may find ourselves surrounded by herds of elephants wandering through our safari jeeps or feeding close by. The waterways of Minneriya feature large, open grassy areas and small patches of flooded forest which can form the background of wonderful landscape images if the elephants have entered these areas to bathe or drink.

The second is the wonderful wilderness that is Yala National Park, one of the best places in the world to see and photograph wild Leopards and Sloth Bears. Yala lies directly on the southern coast of Sri Lanka and features a mixture of habitats including wetlands, patches of riverine forest and dry woodland areas. Perhaps its most spectacular feature is the large granite outcrops or “koppies” that dot the park as geographical high points. Along with leopards and Sloth Bears, Yala is home to smaller numbers of Asian elephants, Ruddy Mongoose, Stripe-necked Mongoose, Buffalo, Wild Boar and many species of birds including Black-necked Stork, Indian Peafowl, Crested Serpent Eagle, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Sirkeer, Spot-billed Pelican, Painted Storks, Black-winged Stilts, Pheasant-tailed Jacana and Asian Spoonbills.

During the main tour we also visit three of Sri Lanka’s most extraordinary historical sites including the spectacular cave temples at Dambulla, the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. We will explore the vast complex of buildings, temples and carved rocks at the ancient Kingdom of Polonnaruwa and we will climb the stairs of the giant Sigariya Rock.

Sinharaja Extension

The stunning, rainforest clad mountains of Sinharaja are home to some of Sri Lanka’s most spectacular bird species including Red-faced Malkohas and Blue Magpies. Here in these deep forests lives the incredibly well camouflaged Sri Lankan Frogmouth and the rare, exceedingly difficult to see, Serendib Scops Owl.

Walking along some of Sinharaja’s forest trails you may find yourself surrounded by many species of butterflies, or you might encounter curious Box Milipedes that curl themselves into a tight ball to escape danger. It is possible to find the stunning green Sri Lanka Pit Viper here, along with Checkered Keelbacks or even Green Vine Snake. Curious Sri Lanka Kangaroo Lizards might peer at you from the edge of the trail or a giant millipede might edge its way across the track under your feet.

Looking above your head you might hear Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys springing from branch to branch, or their howling calls will pierce the morning air. The jungle canopy is also home to troupes of wild Toque Macaques.

Three days in Sinharaja will allow you to immerse yourself in this rainforest wonderland and see a totally different side of Sri Lanka. Sinharaja’s biodiversity is truly stunning.

 

USEFUL INFORMATION

  • Accommodation and Transport

    All the accommodation is of a good standard. Road transport is by air-conditioned minibus and roads are of a variable quality though average mediocre. During our safaris around the parks we will switch to jeeps with plenty of space for photography.

  • Walking

    The walking effort is easy throughout.

  • Climate

    Generally warm or hot, dry and sunny. Overcast weather or early morning mist is not uncommon and some rain is possible at this season and it is likely to be rather humid.

  • Photographic Equipment

    If you use a DSLR for wildlife photography you should bring telephotos (and converters) that will (with a full-frame body) cover the range 200-500mm or 600mm or more. Even a short telephoto of around 100-135mm can be great in certain circumstances in Sri Lanka, particularly for smaller animals like snakes and lizards. You will also find a wide angle lens good for landscapes and historical monuments. There will be quite a few opportunities to use a macro lens. If you bring a good quality bridge camera instead of a DSLR (and this is a perfectly good option in Sri Lanka due to the wide variety of photography subjects) it will be best if it has an optical zoom of 18-20x or more, combined with a reasonable wide-angle at the other end of the zoom range. Be sure to bring plenty of spare battery power. If you would like to talk over suitable equipment, please contact our office. We will be happy to advise.

  • Tour Leader

    Andrew Sproule on behalf of Wild Images

ITINERARY

Day 1

The tour will begin in the early afternoon at Colombo Airport. From here we will make the three and a half hour transfer to Habarana for a three nights stay. En-route we will make a stop at Dambulla to view its intricate and beautiful rock temples. Our hotel is beautifully designed and located in close proximity to Minneriya National Park. The large and elegantly designed rooms spread across the attractive grounds. The hotel overlooks the Habarana lake, where one can walk around the nature trails to the edge of the lake and the tree houses, providing fantastic opportunities to photograph a wide range of bird species such as Purple Heron, Common and Pied Kingfishers, the impressive White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Brahminy Kite and, if we are lucky, the superb Brown Fish-Owl. Among the reptiles, water and land monitors (huge lizards) are plentiful. Large numbers of Toque Macaques and Tufted Grey Langurs are also seen around the property, allowing fantastic opportunities to photograph primate behaviour. Asian Palm Civet, Golden Palm Civet and Sri Lanka Giant Squirrel are some of the other mammals seen regularly around the hotel.

Day 2

This morning we visit the world famous Sigiriya ‘Lion’ Rock. The dramatic story of this iconic rock centres around Prince Kasyappa, the son of King Dhatusena (459 – 477 AD). Being the King’s son by a non-royal consort, Kasyappa executed his own father to gain the throne. The Crown Prince, Mogaliana, fled to India in fear of his life. In order to protect himself from future attacks from the rightful king, Kasyappa made Sigiriya his capital and built a palace on the summit of the rock, elevated at around 650 feet. He then proceeded to use his artistic genius to create a vision of heaven on earth, making landscaped gardens with water pools, fountains and terraces. The moat around the Sigiriya sanctuary is another excellent site for photographing the Tufted Grey Langur and Toque Macaques, which are plentiful in the area and are the most photogenic of subjects. Over 150 species of birds have also been recorded here, and there is sure to be something of interest to point the cameras at, such as a Crested Hawk Eagle or a Greater Racket Tailed Drongo.

Climbing this incredible stand alone rock monolith can be a rewarding experience, but photographically it may or may not be worthwhile, depending on your personal opinion. Photographs of the rock paintings are no longer allowed, and in some places the stairways can be crowded, but the panorama at the top of the rock is impressive. For those in the group that wish to make the climb, we can arrange for a guided walk to the top.

After lunch, we will make an afternoon game drive in Minneriya National Park. From July to October, anywhere from 100 to 300 Asian Elephants gather on the receding tank (lake) beds here. The gathering of the Elephants at Minneriya is an extremely impressive wildlife spectacle. The gathering provides a fantastic opportunity to photograph elephants in many different situations, such as young elephants and calves at play, big males interacting with the herds in their search for potential mates whilst others are drinking, bathing and playing in the water.

The open areas around the lake are excellent for photographing raptors including Brahminy Kite, Grey-headed Fishing-Eagle and the majestic White-bellied Sea-Eagle. Toque Macaque, Tufted Grey Langur, Sri Lanka Giant Squirrel, Jackal and Chital (Spotted Deer) are some of the other mammals that we are likely to see and may be able to photograph.

This evening there will be an optional post dinner excursion around the Sigiriya area to search for nocturnal creatures including Golden Palm Civets, Grey Slender Lorises, Eurasian Otters and if we are immensely lucky, Fishing Cat. The photographic opportunities for many of these animals may vary, depending on the encounters we enjoy, however an opportunity to see some of these creatures in their wild environment is very special.

Day 3

This morning we will visit Polonnaruwa, the medieval capital of Sri Lanka and a UNESCO World Heritage Site to boot. Here we will visit the world famous rock-cut Buddha statues of Gal Vihara as well as the Parakrama Samudra (‘Sea of Parakrama’) a 2500-hectare man made reservoir (with a capacity of 134 million cubic metres) built by King Parakramabahu I (1153 –1186 AD). Here, we will encounter troops of Toque Macaques, that were famously featured in both the BBC’s Temple Troop and David Attenborough’s Life of Mammals. Here, we will be intrigued by the power play between the Toque Macaques and Tufted Grey Langurs. Troops of the attractive northern race of the endemic Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys can also be found in this area.

In the afternoon, we will make another safari to Minneriya National Park to once again enjoy photographing the ‘gathering of elephants’ and its other wildlife.

Day 4

Today will essentially be a travel day, and after breakfast we will leave for Yala which will be our base for the next six nights. Despite the long drive, we will have a chance to enjoy and photograph some wonderful and varied landscapes in the Sri Lankan countryside. We will travel from the dry zone paddyfields and lakes around Dambulla, to the mountains, waterfalls and tea plantations as we cross the hill country, before arriving at the arid dry zone comprising of shrub vegetation and salt pans as we approach Yala. En-route, we will visit the Dambulla Cave Temples, where we will be able to see the famous rock paintings and rock temples. The temples are comprised of five caves, which have been converted into shrine rooms. Within these rooms a collection of over 100 statues of Buddha is housed , surrounded by the ornately decorated walls. This spectacular site is worth visiting not just for its historical significance, but also for the beautiful views of the surrounding countryside as one climbs up the rock. Later in the day we will arrive at our very comfortable hotel which is situated just a short distance from Yala National Park. The hotel’s observation deck provides a 360 degree view of the park and its surroundings. As a consequence, the wildlife that has been observed from the hotel premises is impressive and can include Wild Boar, Asian Elephant and Sri Lanka Giant Squirrels as well as buffalos and crocodiles that wallow in the nearby tank. Even Leopards and Sloth Bears have been seen infrequently on the approach road to the hotel!

Days 5-9

During our five full days at Yala, our primary focus will be morning and afternoon safaris into Yala National Park. Yala is undoubtedly Sri Lanka’s most visited national park and the best in Sri Lanka for viewing a wide variety of animals. It is a wonderful place with a real diversity of habitats from scrub jungle and rocky outcrops, to lakes, brackish lagoons and riverine habitat. Yala National Park (or Ruhuna National Park as it is sometimes known) is divided into five blocks of which only one, Yala West, is open to the public.

Yala’s star attraction, and one of the main reasons for our visit, is undoubtedly the Leopard. Yala West has one of the highest densities of Leopards in the world and is possibly the best place on earth to see and photograph this usually elusive species in the wild. Early mornings and late afternoons are usually the best times to find these spectacular cats: walking along the roads; lying on a rocky outcrop; having a drink in one of the many waterholes; resting with limbs dangling from a tree or simply just strolling through the jungle. Each encounter is different but every one a memorable event! Most years there are also one or two sets of cubs that at times perform for the cameras, providing photographers a great opportunity for photographing social and interactive behaviour of an animal which usually leads a solitary existence.

Asian Elephant can also be seen here, though in smaller numbers and smaller groups than at Minneriya. A highlight though is to photograph the large tuskers, of which there are around ten in the park. Unlike in Africa and in most parts of Asia only 7% of male elephants in Sri Lanka bear tusks!

Yala’s third star attraction is the magnificent Sloth Bear, and there is usually an individual, or mother Sloth Bear with cubs, which is tolerant of vehicles. During our series of game drives we will have an excellent chance of connecting with this seldom seen creature. Indeed, in June and July, when the Palu Trees begin to bear ripe fruit, Sloth Bears can be seen on most game drives!

Other conspicuous wildlife regularly seen at Yala which we may be able to point the lenses at includes the attractive Chital (or Spotted Deer), the large Sambar, Golden Jackal, Wild Boar, Tufted Grey Langur, Toque Macaque, Stripe-necked and Ruddy Mongooses and Black-naped Hare. Some pretty impressive reptiles are likely to crop up too, namely Marsh Crocodile and some rather large monitor lizards which look almost as dangerous as they scamper away noisily at high speed!

And then of course there are the birds. Yala has a very rich and varied avifauna, and over 300 species are known from the park. As we travel around on our morning and afternoon safaris we will no doubt have opportunities to photograph a good number of these, with possibilities including such charismatic species as Ceylon Junglefowl and Great Thick-knee, and we may get to see some of the dry zone specialities such as Sirkeer and Blue-faced Malkohas and Malabar Pied Hornbill at close quarters. In addition, during the ‘down’ time between our safari drives, for those not intent on resting, relaxing or working on their photos, there will be time to explore the environment around the hotel, where many avian surprises may lurk.

Day 10  After a final morning game drive at Yala National Park, for one last chance to photograph Yala’s big three – Leopard, Asian Elephant and Sloth Bear, you will be transferred to Colombo International Airport (if you are departing today) or to your hotel if you have decided to extend your stay. After the long journey back, you will be able to relax and reflect back upon what should have been a marvellous adventure.

SINHARAJA FOREST EXTENSION

Day 1

After departing from Yala we drive overland through the stunning Sri Lankan countryside to the World Heritage listed forests of Sinharaja. It will take a full day to drive between Yala and Sinharaja, allowing for stops. We will arrive at our lodge near the opening of the reserve in time for an early dinner.

Day 2

We will arrange for an early breakfast at our lodge so we can arrive at the entrance to Sinharaja for when the gates open. The attractive park building at the entrance has a tiny water pool which is fed by a tiny cascade. It is worth checking this pool for smaller creatures like Damselflies, frogs, bamboo orchids and water lilies. Checkered Keelback snakes can also be found swimming freely between the lily pads or around the rocks at the bottom of the cascade.

Once the park has opened, we will cross a bridge over the river and start our gentle walk uphill searching for rainforest wildlife including butterflies, snakes, millipedes and birds. We will be looking for and listening out for two of Sinharaja’s most iconic bird species – the Blue Magpie and Red-faced Malkoha but we will also be listening for ‘bird waves’ or mixed feeding flocks of birds in the canopy. If we chance upon one of these we may find Orange-billed Babblers, Crested Drongos and Malabar Trogons on top of the targeted Blue Magpies and Red-faced Malkohas. It is worth watching these feeding flocks for the large Grizzled Giant Squirrel which can sometimes be found feeding in the melee of birds.

On a quick check around your feet while you walk the trails of Sinharaja, you may spot curious Box Millipedes that roll up into a seed pod like ball if they feel threatened. Sinharaja is home to such an astonishing variety of wildlife, it is worth spending time here to photograph the butterflies, look for curious Kangaroo Lizards, check the vines for Green Vine Snake and Sri Lankan Green Pit Viper. On the path verges you might find the non-poisonous Giant Millipedes or a highly poisonous Black Scorpion!

Day 3

After another early start, we will do a slightly more strenuous walk uphill to an alternative entrance to the park. Mornings in Sinharaja can often be misty so we will be listening for the haunting calls of the park’s Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys echoing from the forests. If we hear some calling from the trails we will try to find and photograph them. While normally shy it is possible to have closer encounters with these beautiful monkeys if you remain quiet and you move slowly.
In contrast, the park’s resident Toque Macaques can often be a bit more cheeky and it is worth stopping if you hear any movement in the branches and leaves as Toque Macaques may be running through the canopy above you.

Further into the forest, if you are very lucky our guide may find a very shy, difficult to spot Sri Lankan Frogmouth. These tiny birds can so easily be initially mistaken as dead leaves but a trained eye will spot them. You need to watch for a dead leaf that turns its head!

Day 4

On our final day, we will depart Sinharaja after breakfast we return to Colombo International Airport (if you are departing today) or to your hotel if you have decided to extend your stay. As we head for home we can reflect back upon what should have been a marvellous adventure.

 

 

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If you have any questions about this photo tour please don't hesitate to get in contact with either Andrew (07938 122 753) or the great team at Wild Images (01254 826116). You can also book this trip directly by clicking on the button below: