Rock Chicks – with a twist!

Wildlife is our business, but this special sighting took even us by surprise!

On an evening walk in a sleepy corner of Sri Lanka’s east coast, south of the popular surfing town Arugambay, we came across a birders’ dream! ! A pair of recently-hatched chicks on Crocodile Rock … read on to see which species!

While commercial tourism [with the great tunnel-vision that it is known for] promotes Arugambay is a “surfing destination”, its proximity to wildlife and sites of archeological significance are often overlooked (maybe just as well!) 🙂

We often do a guided a walk to explore the area surrounding our beach bungalow Kudakalliya, a few clicks south of Arugambay and away from the busy area of the town.

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0021.JPG
Kudakalliya Bungalow overlooks a little estuary teeming with wildlife. Look closely to see one of the wild elephants who visit us !

That evening, we were exploring the mass of rocks and lagoons around “Crocodile Rock” which sits directly opposite our bungalow. The rock complex is flanked by beach, the ocean, a brackish water estuary and paddy fields. The combination results in some phenomenal biodiversity!

A walk on crocodile rock is usually an exercise of hypothesising and piecing together the history of this area, which appears to hold fascinating tales of ancient civilisation. A simple example of which is the series of steps cut out into the rock (with meticulous workmanship mind you).

KK Greater Thick Knee-2
Fascinating archeological site – these steps are centuries old. Who lived here? Geographically in the middle of nowhere, but archeologically this rock is flanked by a gorgeous beach, an estuary, fed by inland fresh water and jungle. Whoever lived here had perfected the art of chilling 🙂 

The captivating vistas that merges the gold, blue, green and golden hues of paddy, jungle, beach and waterways keep you staring out over the horizon at the best of times, and amidst our guides’ chatter about the history of this area and how people may have lived here and what they may have done here centuries ago, we almost missed this pair of Great Thick-knee (Great Stone Plover) chicks, hidden beautifully with the contours and colours of the rock!!

KK Greater Thick Knee-1
Cute! If you like your baby birds packing attitude 🙂

They were huddled together quietly trying to avoid drawing attention to themselves while preserving the last of the warmth of the rock as the sun on another stunning Arugambay evening.  The mother was probably out scouring for some grub before nightfall and would return shortly so we quickly left them, undisturbed.

KK Greater Thick Knee-3
Camouflaged too well for most predators…

Hmmmm who lived here?

Unlike mammals, baby birds can look quite different to their grown up plumage – below is an adult Great Thick-knee at our Kulu Safaris campsite, one of the best accommodation options on the border of Yala National Park.

 

https://www.instagram.com/p/BU4QtVtFNxa/?taken-by=shehanrama

Kudakalliya is the ideal location for the adventure seeker with a discerning taste for wildlife. A relaxed beach holiday that is enriched with wildlife at your door-step, Kumana National Park within an hour’s drive away, and the world famous Arugambay surf town a few doors down is quite compelling 🙂 But by law, we have to provide the disclaimer that once you spend a few days here, off-grid, in the company of waves, elephants, birds and spicy Sri Lankan food, there is a high risk of saying “F*&%-it” to your urban life 🙂

We look forward to receiving those who dare!

Kulu KK Stills WM BR-11
View from our bungalow – a pair of wild bull elephants begin their evening supper on the fodder of an off-season paddy field. 

 

World Elephant Day – a Sri Lankan Perspective

Most of our wild elephants roam outside our national parks. We know exactly where to find them, but it also means we need to be more cognisant in how we protect them.

World Elephant Day — emotionally stirring social media posts aside, we feel that it also ought to be identified as World “WILD” Elephant day.

The elephant is perhaps the most controversial of all wildlife on the island of Sri Lanka. They are venerated by local culture and are a prominent fixture of our much-loved “peraharas”; they have played an important part in Sri Lanka’s history in both wild and domesticated forms. Yet in the villages, they are treated as rogues and are chased away with firecrackers, even shot with rifles when they wander into farm land (land that has in fact, encroached into their wild habitat). Owning an elephant is also a status symbol for an old-school, aspirational bourgeois.  Meanwhile, conservationists are puling their hair out trying to figure out more effective ways to protect and conserve this fascinating creature within a system of static, fenced, national parks that pay little heed to their innate nature to roam nomadically; some researchers estimate that an entire two-thirds of our wild elephant population roam outside our National Parks!

On the bright side, this means that we are not limited to National Parks to observe these beautiful, regal, intelligent, entertaining creatures. When we are fortunate enough to be amongst them, we typically see only a tiny part of their spectrum of behaviour — usually its feeding (elephants can consume the better part of a ton of food a day!) or asserting their comfort zone with warning gestures and mock charges towards a human audience, especially in the presence of young. But as social animals, there is amazing depth to the nuances of their behaviour — intricacies that can take a lifetime of studying to fully appreciate the riches of their existence.

 

Kulu KK Stills WM BR-4
A pair of bull elephants square off in a battle of wits (and strength!) to test their dominance, in Kudakalliya, Arugambay

Kudakalliya Bungalow is part of our Haritha Collection portfolio, and sits on a relatively lonely stretch of beach in one of the most fascinating little pockets of ecological wonder (arguably in the entire country!). In front of the bungalow is a tiny island of a few acres with lush vegetation, surrounded by a brackish water moat, flanked by the ocean and rice paddy on either side. Hundreds of acres of such rice paddy are scattered in a messy grid across an expanse of jungle and scrub that informally extends from Lahugala National Park in the north of us, into Kudumbigala Sanctuary and the Kumana National Park to the south of us.

The tall foliage on this particular island makes the stealthy pachyderms almost invisible from ground level — but the balcony from our bungalow is an ideal vantage point to observe them unobtrusively. The video below was from a special morning when a group of bulls (male elephants who are typically solitary) who were feeding on the island decided to have a bit of fun in the moat right in front of our bungalow. Such amazing sightings of unusual elephant behaviour are rare throughout in the world!

 

 

Development in this part of the country was acutely suppressed by Sri Lanka’s battle with terrorism — the war (arguably) preserved these “unprotected” wild habitats that elephants enjoyed for much longer than their cousins who have been in conflict with humans in more developed regions. But with a recent surge of tourism taking over Arugambay (what was once a sleepy town that only the most hardcore surfers visited), these wild areas are under severe pressure to handle a new wave of economic growth without hindrance to a magnificent wild ecosystem right on Arugambay’s doorstep.

While the fate of our wild elephants hangs in the balance, a few pockets of informal wilderness still exist. Kulu Safaris and the Haritha Collection are fortunate to have the Kudakalliya Bungalow in our portfolio, that sits alongside such a fascinating wild oasis. The ability to have such exclusive, non-intrusive access to some of Sri Lanka’s most sought after wildlife — wild elephants, crocodiles, several species of eagles and migrant birds are all visible from the bungalow — is a special privilege. How would you like to sip your evening tea or a sundowner while watching an undisturbed group of wild elephants entirely to yourselves?

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0021.JPG
A lone (wild) bull elephant grazes peaceful in front of Kudakalliya Bungalow, just a couple of miles south of Arugambay – Sri Lanka’s (and now, one of the world’s) hottest surfing town

The picture below is iconic of the life of a Sri Lankan wild elephant. Here, two males have wandered away from the refuge of the island at sunset, having swum across the moat. As night falls, they will (quietly and stealthily!) graze on what remains of an already harvested rice paddy. In the background, you can see power lines alongside the main road that connects Arugambay with Panama, Kudumbigala Sanctuary, and Kumana National Park.  The flip side of “Human Elephant-conflict” coin is “Human-Elephant cohabitation” — hopefully we can evolve to cohabit with these amazing creatures so that sights like these will be enjoyed by future generations.

Let’s not let the sun set on our wild elephants – they need us urgently.

“Happy” #WorldElephantDay to you all.

Kulu KK Stills WM BR-11
Two male elephants banter at dusk, before feeding on the remains of an already harvested rice paddy – 10 minutes south of Sri Lanka’s surf hotspot Arugambay