Feb 12 - Leopard spotting

Yala National Park was established in 1938 and comprises about 378 square miles. Our guide from Ajith Safari Jeep Tours picked us up at 0500 and the six of us fitted into a specially designed diesel, 4X4 Jeep, with the front two seats being just a bit lower than the second row, which was just a bit lower than the third row; there was very good visibility in all directions. We entered the Park and had to wait while our guide paid the entry fee at the front office. Sunrise found us surrounded by about 100 other jeeps; some folks were on a half day tour, we booked the whole day tour, 0500-1800, inclusive of breakfast and lunch. When the Park opened, the race was on; everybody was going down the numerous dirt roads trying to position themselves for wildlife viewing. Since sunrise and sunset are the times to see the most critters and birds, I kept a logbook of our sightings and, at times, had to struggle to keep up with the new entries. The birds we spotted were so colorful, and an occasional rare species was sighted. There are no structures in the Park, so we were all happy to finish a breakfast at the designated stopping area near the beach and stretch our legs. The road was uneven thruout, and a 4X4 was a necessity. After a few hours, our bodies felt the jarring. There's no stopping anywhere, and you're not allowed to get out of the Jeep until there is a stop, so it's a long day. Several highlights of the morning included seeing some elephants close up (like 10' away) and witnessing mongoose behavior directly in front of us. A delicious curry lunch was provided, and once again, we boarded the Jeep to circle around to attempt to spot a leopard. What were the odds? Finally, we pulled next to another Jeep...and there he was! He was a large male, probably 85-90kg, lying under the shade of a Tamarind tree. Our friends with telephoto lens cameras got great photos, and we'll post them when we get those files. Within minutes, about 20 other Jeeps were on the road, and the leopard, being about 250 yards away, took it in his stride. He turned over on his back (we used binoculars), put his paws in the air, and scratched his back! After, he was up and away. All the jeeps were after him, staying on the roads, but trying to position their occupants at the next area to sight him. We stayed with him awhile, but felt so fortunate to actually see one of the few remaining leopards in his natural habitat. We still had a few hours to drive around the Park, and departed at sunset. The following is our list of birds and critters seen by one or more of our group; some of the sightings are common ones, some are rare in the Park. We had a wonderful day and returned back to a different hotel (Serene Park Hotel across from Lake Tissa), where we enjoyed a delicious dinner and first rate accommodations. Sighted: blue tailed bee eater, hornbill, yellow water lassie, gray headed fish eagle, egret, painted stork, white coated kingfisher, peacock, dove, brown eagle, green parrot, spoonbill, black wing, gray heron, green bee eater, Indian pond heron, Indian roller, chestnut headed bee eater, Agitant stork, common eagle, kite, purple sunbird, common kingfisher, Bahamin kite, black headed ibis, black winged stilt, crow, indigo kingfisher, weaver bird, sparrow, black neck stork, visiting duck, changeable hawk eagle, orange breasted green pidgeon, serpent eagle, water buffalo, deer, crocodile, domestic buffalo, monitor lizard, wild boar, cow, mongoose, elephant, samba deer, spotted deer, gray lanker monkey, jackal, tusker elephant, LEOPARD, turtle. Apologies for any spelling errors; they are my own.
Pic: The green bee-eater's were flitting everywhere along the road. By the end of the day, they seemed as common to us as the sparrows are back home.

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