Storks and flamingoes, parakeets and pigeons, bee-eaters and eagles, peacocks and darters.
Simply put – Bundala is for the birds!
Visiting Bundala National Park, on the southern side of Sri Lanka was a last-minute decision. I had been travelling around the country for nearly a month already and Bundala hadn’t stood out to me as one of the top parks to visit. It was actually my driver and guide who sort of made the trip happen. He was a decent birder and insisted we visit Bundala as it is a famous stopover area for migrating birds.
He wasn’t wrong either, any birders I’ve talked to about Sri Lanka bring up Bundala as a top place to visit in the country.
Sold more on the possible elephant and monkey sightings more than anything, I soon found myself being schooled on birds in Bundala. As much as I resisted and tried to avoid getting pulled into the birding world, my guide Nandana was simply too passionate and eager to show off his birding knowledge that I soon came around and started to play the “what bird is it” game.
The first bird I managed to identify correctly was a peacock. Trying to stump me, Nandana asked if was a male or female bird, but luckily I knew it was only the males who had the bright, flashy feathers (to impress the ladies of course).
Then I thought I saw some small parrots, but it turned out they were rose-ringed parakeets. I should have known better, as I’d seen such birds in pet stores in Canada when I was a kid. The small birds proved to be quite tricky to photograph and even spot before they flew away, so I stuck to the bigger birds for the most part.
Flamingoes were an easy one. Plenty of them around, often mingling with some storks, or painted storks, to be more precise.
It turned out that it wasn’t good enough for me to call a bird an eagle or stork, I had to know which specific species it was. Was that a painted stork or an Asian open-billed stork? Like this eagle above. I spotted it first, before our safari driver or my “eagle-eyed” guide Nandana, who was sporting his big binoculars. But when I proudly pointed out the eagle, he was unimpressed as it was a mere crested hawk eagle also called a changeable hawk eagle – nothing special apparently.
I took a picture of it anyway.
While I was happy looking at the big, colourful birds, the biggest excitement of the day came from Nandana spotting a pigeon. Yes, a pigeon. Apparently the Ceylon, or Sri Lanka, wood pigeon is listed as a vulnerable species. It looked like a regular old pigeon to me, but I took a picture anyway.
Then there were the bee eaters. I’d seen these type of birds in Africa before and wasn’t totally clueless about them. Nandana was impressed when I knew they were bee-eaters, but of course then he asked me what type of bee eaters they were and I had no idea.
They have cool colours, that is all I cared about, but apparently blue tails and green bodies and purple heads and such all mean different species. I managed a picture of the blue-tailed one, which we saw many of. I also snapped a red-headed one, which may be a chestnut-headed bee eater, but I really don’t know for sure. These little birds were a bit beyond my interest and I didn’t feel the urge to look them up in any of the bird books my guide was lugging along on the trip.
The sheer number and variety of birds in Bundala was what impressed me most. I had no idea which ones were rare and which ones were residents or just passing by on their migration routes. I’ve seen big flocks of birds at home and on my travels, and I’ve seen plenty of weird birds around the world, but nowhere else compared to the variety I saw in one single day at Bundala.