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South Africa (ZA)   Sri Lanka - Part 3  -  Categories: Sri Lanka  -  @ 07:52:06 am

Day trip to Galle, Sri Lanka - December 2010

During our stay at Reef Villa, I had arranged two day trips with Amila Salgado, our guide from Hunas Falls. On the way to Galle, we had a few stops at the Mask Factory, the Moonstone mine and jewellery manufacture, a lunch stop, the historic fort and cricket ground in Galle and finally the famous Stilt Fisherman south of Galle. It was a great cultural day out with the family. Images by Mike Pope

Birding was not the prime objective of today's excursion, but at a comfort stop we picked up White-breasted Waterhen in one of the hotel gardens

White-breasted Waterhen

In the tree's outside the Mask Factory, in the middle of a busy town, we picked up the endemic Purple-faced Leaf Monkey - a primate with pizazze

Purple-faced Leaf Monkey

Purple-faced Leaf Monkey

At the Moonstone Mine, a little off the main roads we found the common White-throated Kingfisher

White-throated Kingfisher

Amila pointed out a few Dragonflies, this a female Pied Parasol

Pied Parasol

Whilst enjoying and learning about the stilt fisherman south of Galle, a passing Swift Tern that I caught preening in flight, provided a brief distraction. Searching the net, I found out more about these fascinating Stilt Fisherman. Stilt fishing is a tradition that only about 500 fishing families in the southwestern-most Sri Lankan district of Galle practice, especially around the towns of Kathaluwa and Ahangama. Though no one knows exactly how and when the tradition started, some of the older fishermen recall that stilt fishing was started after the Second World War by some inventive fishermen. Fishing at the time was done from rocks protruding above the ocean surface. As not enough of these rocks were available for all fishermen, some used iron poles left over from the war and planted them into the reef. But even these iron poles were scarce, so the fishermen soon discovered that even wooden poles were strong enough to be planted into the reef and thus, stilt fishing in today’s form was born.

Swift Tern


South Africa (ZA)   Sri Lanka - Part 2  -  Categories: Sri Lanka  -  @ 05:13:29 pm

Jetwing Hunas Falls to The Reef in Wadduwa, Sri Lanka - December 2010

After a very pleasant 4-days in the cool hills north of Kandy, it was time to head south to the coast and small town of Wadduwa. We would spend the balance of our holiday at this sumptious boutique hotel, The Reef ( which is 40 odd kilometers south of Colombo.

The birding would be less frenetic and restricted to what was seen in the stunning gardens, walks on the beach and the odd stroll outside the hotel along the railway line. No leeches or need to break into a sweat climbing hills, not that these were hardships for me. I didnt expect to add any exciting birds to the Hunas Falls list, so there was no pressure.

I got up early every other morning to explore the gardens whilst my family slept in before enjoying creative breakfasts and either heading to the pool or beach to vegetate for the rest of the day - just what the doctor ordered after a hectic work year. Images by Mike Pope

Blue-tailed Bee-eaters were abundant in and around the hotel

Blue-tailed Bee-eater

The comical Brown-headed Barbet was seen twice in the 7-days

Brown-headed Barbet

Common Tailorbirds were more often heard than seen and then it was only a fleeting glimpse

Common Tailorbird

The gurgling of the Greater Coucal was part of the dawn chorus each morning

Greater Coucal

Masses of House Crows hung around in the palms around the pool and every now and then some sort of ground squabble ensued - here a Jungle Crow flying in to see what the commotion was about

House Crow

After stopping the fight, the Jungle Crow stopped by the pool for a drink - the stress of life in the urban jungle

Jungle Crow

One morning a juvenile Shikra scattered all below as it flew in to check who might have been breakfast


Every now and then this resident group of Yellow-billed Babblers would work their way through the gardens, lifting and turning over leaves in search of grubs

Yellow-billed Babbler

Yellow-billed Babbler

A few large Land Monitors were seen casually strolling through the garden

Land Monitor

They, in turn had to watch out for the Brahminy Kites as they passed by overhead

Brahminy Kite

Another butterfly for Amila to identify - this one was stunned (perhaps be a Bee-eater), but eventually recovered to fly off


Exploring the roads and along the railway line outside the hotel, produced a few birds not seen in the garden, including Rose-ringed Parakeets

Rose-ringed Parakeet

White-bellied Drongo's on the overhead lines

White-bellied Drongo

A Great Egret passing by overhead

Great Egret

Black-headed Oriole on a drizzly morning

Black-headed Oriole

and a few White-browed Bulbuls in the palms outside the gate of the Hotel

White-browed Bulbul

White-browed Bulbul

In between swims in the Indian Ocean and long strolls along the beach, we found other birds especially when the fisherman were pulling in their nets. Cattle Egrets were prevalent on the fringes of the coastal shrub

Cattle Egret

However, when nets were pulled in Terns materialised from far out to sea to take advantage of any fish that werent harvested by the fisherman, the most common were Whiskered Terns

Whiskered Tern

Whiskered Tern

Followed by Common Terns

Common Tern

Common Tern

Common Tern

and the odd Little Tern on the fringes of the feeding flock

Little Tern

The impressive White-bellied Sea Eagle was only seen on one occassion

White-bellied Sea Eagle

and here dropping it's food by accident or on purpose

White-bellied Sea Eagle


South Africa (ZA)   Sri Lanka - Part 1  -  Categories: Africa, Sri Lanka  -  @ 05:43:18 pm

Colombo to Hunas Falls, Sri Lanka - December 2010

This December we again considered Thailand for our Christmas vacation, unfortunately there are no direct flights to Bangkok from Kuwait and as a result flight prices had literally doubled from last year.

So, after more research and good reviews from friends who had visited, we chose Sri Lanka for our December holiday destination.

Whilst my wife researched hotels, I trolled bird forums and trip reports to get whet the appetite as this was our first time to Sri Lanka. On a number of reports, Amila Salgado’s of Birdwing Nature Holidays name popped up as the guide, so I made contact with Amila ( and after understanding our requirements put together an itinerary for parts of our trip which he called Elephants, Endemics and Temples Tour. This gave the right mix of excursions and destinations for my family and I, including some dedicated birding time for me.

We flew Sri Lanka via Dubai to Colombo and had a really great time in this now peaceful country that is abundantly green (at least in the SW), has a temperate climate at this time of year, considering its equatorial position – even in the defined Wet Zone (it is said that it is always the right season somewhere on the island), friendly people and good service wherever we went and an acceptable infrastructure which accounts for slow travel between different locations due to traffic pressure (but that is to be expected).

The continental island of Sri Lanka forms part of the wider Indian Subcontinent and is shaped like a teardrop falling from the southern end of India. Only 437 x 225km it has habitat diversity from coastal areas to mountains with elevations ranging from 900 – 2440m and is considered on the most bio-diverse areas in South Asia with some impressive avifauna and 33 endemic birds amongst the 430 recorded on the island. Amila suggested Hunas Falls (just 1-hour north of Kandy) for the first 4-nights and after we had moved to our second hotel in Wadduwa to include a visit to Galle and a full day for me in Sinharaja Forest – one of my birding highlights of the trip. Amila made all the travel arrangements which included a driver and vehicle, so no stress for us and I can really recommend this option for the travelling family – as it eliminates the logistics stress, especially in a new country.

Amila has an encyclopedia of knowledge for Sri Lanka’s wildlife and that certainly adds interest to the trip, especially for those non-birding members of the family and I would recommend Amila for hardcore birding and more leisurely nature type excursions for families that have a general wildlife interest. He is also pretty competitive when it comes to Scrabble when outings are interrupted by rain…

And so, the first part our trip from Colombo to Jetwing Hunas Falls ( just north of Kandy started. After an early morning pickup from the airport by Amila, we stopped to call up Indian Scops Owl to get into the spirit of the trip as we headed to Pinnawa Elephant Orphanage and onward to Hunas Falls. Images by Mike Pope

Whilst watching almost 60 elephants splashing about and drinking in the river, a Flying Fox came lumbering by overhead - an impressive beast, especially if you have never seen one before

Flying Fox

The Hunas Falls Hotel is situated in the cool high country with manicured gardens surrounded by forested covered mountains. During our stay we had a mix of sunshine, mist and light rain – a welcome relief from Kuwait, in addition to the abundant greenery. There is always an air of excitement when travelling in a new country and so it was as I walked the gardens on the first day in dim light testing my flash setup (required for low light forest photography). Oriental Magpie Robins were pretty common around the manicured gardens

Oriental Magpie Robin

Plain Prinias were obliging as they foraged on the lawn and between plants

Plain Prinia

Jungle Crows were seen most mornings on the hotel roof

Jungle Crow

On other excursions around the gardens with ponds and flowers, I picked up Red-vented Bulbul

Red-vented Bulbul

Spotted Dove on the garden paths

Spotted Dove

A male Loten's Sunbird with it's deeply decurved bill

Loten's Sunbird

together with the smaller, but much more striking male Purple-rumped Sunbird

Purple-rumped Sunbird

and his drabber partner

Purple-rumped Sunbird

Whilst enjoying early breakfasts on the balcony overlooking the dam and waterfall, we saw a Brahminy Kite surveying its domain

Brahminy Kite

and a Little Cormorant fishing from its rock in the dam

Little Cormorant

a flash of irredescent blue across the water alerted us to this Common Kingfisher, who used the rock as its high ground for hunting

Common Kingfisher

during breakfast, we were also entertained with a Great Tit

Great Tit

feeding together with the comical Palm Squirrels

Palm Squirrel

a morning stroll around the lake, gave us Stork-billed Kingfisher with it's impressive beak

Stork-billed Kingfisher

as well as the very active Pale-billed Flowerpecker

Pale-billed Flowerpecker

a late afternoon walk around the mini golf course away from the manicured garden gave Yellow-fronted Barbet

Yellow-fronted Barbet

some Hill Swallows on the overhead lines

Hill Swallow

along with some of the larger Sri Lanka Swallows

Sri Lanka Swallow

a couple of noisy Lesser Hill Myna's were seen in the fading light

Lesser Hill Myna

On my first morning walk with Amila, we headed up on a small road toward the radio tower on the summit of one of the hills. The comical Yellow-billed Babblers were seen just as we left the hotel

Yellow-billed Babbler

a small butterfly that Amila will identify for me, was seen on the road


at a soggy cricket pitch near the staff village, we found Indian Robin

Indian Robin

some Oriental White-eyes were seen on the fringes of the cricket field

Oriental White-eye

as well as a small group of the fantastic looking Plum-headed Parakeets

Plum-headed Parakeet

further along the road in some dense scrub, we finally got fleeting views of a group of Tawny-bellied Babblers that were moving swiftly through the undergrowth

Tawny-bellied Babbler

a little higher in elevation, the call of a Lesser Yellownape finally got us onto this common, but smart woodpecker

Lesser Yellonape

in the same area we were fortunate to get close views of a noisy flock of Layard's Parakeet - here an adult

Layard's Parakeet

and a juvenile

Layard's Parakeet

at the summit we found White-browed Fantail

White-browed Fantail

we dipped on the Dull Blue Flycatcher, but were rewarded with a few raptors at 1000m ASL. A Crested Hawk Eagle came by pretty low

Crested Hawk Eagle

and higher overhead, two variations of Oriental Honey Buzzard, this the lighter phase

Oriental Honey Buzzard

and a darker phase

Oriental Honey Buzzard

on our 2nd early morning walk, we started around the lake before proceeeding to the summit of Shaheen peak. In the pre-dawn, he heard and then finally saw the endemic Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler

Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler

shortly followed by Tickell's Blue Flycatcher

Tickell's Blue Flycatcher

and finally Indian Blue Robin, which turned out to be the most obliging for photographs

Indian Blue Robin

Indian Blue Robin

a small troop of the endemic Toque Macaque strolled by quite unperturbed by these two birders

Toque Macaque

Toque Macaque

as we gained elevation the habitat thinned out, but we had a fleeting glimpse of the massive Giant Squirrel

Giant Squirrel

on the grassy plains before the summit Scaly-breasted Munia's were feeding on grass seedheads

Scaly-breasted Munia

together with the more striking White-rumped Munia's

White-rumped Munia

Ealier on the walk, Amila had scoped the local race of Peregrine Falcon, called the Shaheen Falcon at the summit of the peak named after it. So, once we reached the summit at 1000m we searched for and finally found this striking looking race of Peregrine, which also treated us to a fly by

Peregrine (Shaheen) Falcon

Peregrine (Shaheen) Falcon

Peregrine (Shaheen) Falcon

It is always fantastic to see a Falcon at eye level, so after saturated views we made our way back down to the hotel for brunch and were very fortunate in picking up a Kashmir Flycatcher on the way

Kashmir Flycatcher

Kashmir Flycatcher

Our last afternoon walk was with my family and this time we descended down from the hotel, but around the hotel we found a male Orange Minivet

Orange Minivet

together with a just as striking female

Orange Minivet

Near the Herb Garden, Amila picked up some Leaf Birds, which are really cryptic in the dense foilage - here a Golden-fronted Leafbird (if you can see it)

Golden-fronted Leafbird

Golden-fronted Leafbird image now cropped, so it is semi-visible

Golden-fronted Leafbird

a single Jerdon's Leafbird created a lot more excitement

Jerdon's Leafbird

I picked up two really smart looking Velvet-fronted Nuthatch's foraging at pace through the wooded driveway leading to the hotel

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

White-bellied Drongo's were prevalent this morning

White-bellied Drongo

We could hear Common Hawk-Cuckoo calling and after a long search it finally revealed itself

Common Hawk-Cuckoo

My wife put us onto a Crested Hawk Eagle that flew into the forest below with a small prey item and we spent some time watching it have breakfast during some light drizzle

Crested Hawk Eagle

After 4-days at this charming hotel (which reminded us a lot of the Hotels in the Drakensberg, South Africa) it was time to head to our next destination - The Reef Hotel in Wadduwa. While we were driving out, it almost seemed fitting to add an Emerald Dove to our Hunas Falls list

Emerald Dove


South Africa (ZA)   Birding without the Birder  -  Categories: South Africa  -  @ 02:27:33 pm

Timeshare at Ngwenya Lodge, Southern Kruger National Park, Mpumulanga, South Africa - August 2010

After I had returned to Kuwait, my wife Gill, son Jaden and father-in-law Graham spent a few days at Ngwenya Lodge. This is our timeshare located on the banks of the Crocodile River on the southern boundary of the Kruger National Park. Images by Mike Pope

When I returned to Kuwait I brought all my camera kit with me, but left my Canon G9 point and shoot and Sony video for Gill to capture more African images. I was very proud, that Gill was able to firstly identify this as a Barred Owl (not easy for a non-birder) and secondly push the G9 to its zoom limits with both optical and digital zoom at their max.

Barred Owl

Finding and photographing an African Buffalo with the G9 didnt raise a sweat after the camouflaged owl

African Buffalo

Paying attention to all elements of life in the bush, Gill then photographed a Tortoise 'rushing' to cross the road. It's my job to now identify it.



South Africa (ZA)   Safari at Kirkmans Kamp in Sabi Sands Reserve  -  Categories: South Africa  -  @ 03:19:11 pm

Return to Kirkmans Kamp in Sabi Sands Reserve, Mpumulanga, South Africa - July 2010

After a hectic half year at work, my family and I retreated to the African bush for 4-days of solitude and peace. It wasnt a difficult decision to return back to Kirkmans Kamp during the South African winter. One of the prime reasons for choosing Kirkmans was that they also allow children under 12, so my son Jaden was ecstatic. Images by Mike Pope

Winter in the lowveld is very pleasant with brisk evenings and early mornings, but very comfortable temperatures during the day. In between the morning and afternoon safari's, we relaxed around the pool and patio of the main house enjoying the solitude and watching birds and game passing by in the gardens and the Sand River below our bungalows - really stressful. Although no migrants are present during winter, the resident birds in the gardens and on the game drives kept us entertained. In the garden around the main lodge we had a flowering exotic tree, which attracted a variety of birds. The male Scarlet-chested Sunbird really stood out from the white flowers, but was most uncoperative for photographs

Scarlet-chested Sunbird

The female Scarlet-chested Sunbird is a little more cryptic

Scarlet-chested Sunbird

A Spotted Flycatcher, which is a migrant, must have jumped on a earlier flight to get to South Africa ahead of the others

Spotted Flycatcher

A single Crombec was seen in the maze of branches, this is a bird with character - it has to be since it is almost tailess


Grey Loeries (Turaco) were also seen feeding on the flowers

Grey Loerie

It wasnt just this exotic tree that attracted birds, the indigenous trees in the main garden held their own with Ashy Flycatchers

Ashy Flycatcher

Black-eyed Bulbuls

Black-eyed Bulbul

Brown-hooded Kingfishers

Brown-hooded Kingfisher

A very vocal female Chinspot Batis, why should we be surprised!

Scarlet-chested Sunbird

Drongo's were seen having success hunting from perches above the grassed lawn


During the warmth of the day, we relaxed around the pool and birds came to us. A Black-collared Barbet in the tree above our loungers

Black-collared Barbet

A couple of birds took advantage to drink water from the pool; Yellow-eyed Canaries were quite bold

Yellow-eyed Canary

Greater Blue-eared Starlings are quite magnificent

Greater Blue-eared Starling

Above the pool we had some Wire-tailed Swallows that stopped to rest in the shade of the change rooms

Wire-tailed Swallow

A group of Palm Swifts appeared to be collecting nesting material on the wing

Palm Swift

A pair of Lesser-striped Swallows (intra African migrants) arrived on our last day at Kirkmans

Lesser-striped Swallow

The lodge lawns also had some birds of interest. Every afternoon a flock of Helmeted Guineafowl would come trooping across and took flight if spooked by an overhead raptor

Helmeted Guineafowl

The largest Starling species, Burchells Glossy Starling were seen bathing in the sprinkler spray and feeding on the ground

Burchells Glossy Starling

Both Yellow-billed Hornbill

Yellow-billed Hornbill

and the slightly smaller Red-billed Hornbills were seen

Red-billed Hornbill

Exploring the fringes of the bush at the edge of the property had to be done with care, as the lodge is not fenced. Here the striking Groundscraper Thrush was seen

Groundscraper Thrush

A Tawny-flanked Prinia was seen in a thicket on the ground

Tawny-flanked Prinia

together with a Neddicky


A Southern Tchagra flushed from where it was feeding on the ground


Not many raptors were seen around the lodge, but a African Hawk Eagle high on a thermal did catch my attention

African Hawk Eagle

An adult Bateleur is a sight to behold and also features on the logo for Kirkmans Kamp



Out on the morning and afternoon game drives, we encountered birds not seen around the lodge. An early morning stop on the river gave a fly by of African Harrier Hawk

African Harrier Hawk

Followed by a Hamerkop, a bird that many locals are superstitious of.


As we crossed the river, we saw the large Goliath Heron hunting quietly against the reeds

Goliath Heron

Another Hamerkop was seen hunting on the causeway


Also seen in the early mornings are Green Pigeons preening out in the open before they disappear into the depths of the trees to feed and roost for the day

Green Pigeon

Whilst watching a lion at a waterhole, we saw Crested Francolin feeding apparently oblivious to the lion

Crested Francolin

Also seen was a female Cardinal Woodpecker high up in a dead tree

Female Cardinal Woodpecker

On the opposite side of the waterhole, a flock of White-backed Vultures had roosted for the night

White-backed Vulture

A little later in the morning, once the thermals were rising, the Vultures departed and slowly spiralled upwards

White-backed Vulture

On the game drive, we also saw a Lizzard Buzzard fly into the tree with a small prey item clutched in its talons

Lizzard Buzzard

Yellow-billed Hornbills strike me as the equivalent of the birding clowns of the bush

Yellow-billed Hornbill

The Lilac-breasted Roller is probably the most photographed bird in the Kruger National Park and with colours like this, you can understand why

Lilac-breasted Roller

Lilac-breasted Roller

Lilac-breasted Roller

On the way to our sundowner stop an Emerald-spotted Dove was heard before it was seen

Emerald-spotted Dove

During our sundowner, I saw a small group of Little Bee-eaters hawking in the fading light

Little Bee-eater

Saddle-billed Stork is one of the Big 5 of birds - the other 4 are: Lappet-faced Vulture, Martial Eagle, Ground Hornbill and Kori Bustard

Saddle-billed Stork

Saddle-billed Stork

However, the majority of visitors to Sabi Sand Reserve and lodges like Kirkmans Kamp are here for the big game and sadly birds feature quite low on most agenda's. To me the mammals and birds are symbiotic and I get a kick out of everything we encounter on safari. It is almost a priviledge to be able have this kind of exclusivity to enjoy game at close range with your personal guide and ranger. Walking around the camp looking at birds, also provides opportunity to see some of the lodge animals. The shy Bushbuck feeds along the fringes of the riverine bush


A male Warthog was more bold and grazed on the lodge lawns


Vervet Monkeys were daring during lunch when they would steal food off your table if you werent vigilant enough

Vervet Monkey

Out on safari, there are many other mammals to distract whilst looking for the Big 5 and our ranger and tracker together with the guests were able to find some of the smaller antelope like, Duiker


and Klipspringer, a specialist of rocky outcrops and extremely agile across the rocks and boulders


Among the larger antelope, the Waterbuck is still one of my favourites from a photograhic perspective


However, most people consider the Kudu to be the most regal


Two Giraffe grazing in the African bush


We saw these Dwarf Mongoose as the sprinted across the track in front of us

Dwarf Mongoose

As the sun sets, the nocturnal mammals start appearing. This Spotted Hyaena has just seen a Leopard lying off his track and was unsure what to do next. He didnt have to wait long, as the young male Leopard chased him back from where he had come

Spotted Hyaena

The White-tailed Mongoose is always a good sighting on a night drive

White-tailed Mongoose

We almost bumped into this grazing Hippo on one of the early morning drives


As mentioned earlier, most guests main quest at these private lodges is to get up close and personal to the Big 5, well Kirkmans Kamp didnt disappoint. We were really close to a family group of 4 White Rhino's - here a male looking a little apprehensive. It is such a shame that they are being mercilessly poached and slaughtered again in South Africa and the source/demand needs to be stopped

White Rhino

We watched this pregnant Elephant as she systematically shredded the bark off this branch by pulling and rotating it through her mouth with her trunk


A junior Elephant did his best to 'scare' us, but realise we were much bigger than him and beat a hasty retreat


Kirkmans Kamp is one of the places in Sabi Sands for Leopard and the rangers/trackers delivered the goods. We had superb sightings on almost all of our drives - both morning and afternoon. Here a young male sleeping in the afternoon


Yawning after his sleep


One of the males walking his territory


Up in a tree looking over the bush


A portrait in the early morning light


While enjoying the Rhino's, we noted a pride of Lion within 10m of the Rhino's who hadnt noticed them. The Lions were quiet too, as they had cubs

Lion Cub

Lion Cub

We tracked this magnificent male Lion as it made its way to a nearby waterhole


There was a dead Waterbuck in the middle of the small pan, here the Lion trying to work out how to take advantage of this 'free' meal


After assessing the situation and the real possibility of a large Crocodile in the pan, the Lion eventually decided to try and retrieve the Waterbuck. It tentativly walked into the water and discovered that it got deeper as it got closer to the buck. Then either its movement in the water or one of the feeding Terrapins bumped into it - well, he tried to walk on water in his haste to get back to dry land





He tried this move 3 times without success and then gave up and went to mark his territory around the dead Waterbuck. As a note, we visited the pan the following morning and discovered that he did persevere and finally pulled the buck onto the bank - but didnt eat much of it, probably because it had been dead too long


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