Monday, 24 March 2014

Elephants at Minneriya National Park

Minneriya National Park is located close to Habarana in NW central Sri Lanka, about 200kms from Colombo.  It contains 24 species of mammals, 160 species of birds, 9 species of amphibians, 25 species of reptiles, 26 species of fish, and 75 species of butterflies - but it's the elephant population that attracts most visitors.  Because it has a permanent source of water, Minneriya has a good population of wild Sri Lankan elephants - when other parks dry up, they migrate to Minneriya. The deal is that you hire a 4WD and driver outside the park for around $50-70, then pay the surprisingly expensive entrance fee (there are several fees included but they amount to about $60 for 2 pax), then you do a game drive through the park in the same fashion as in Africa. When we visited there were probably 60+ vehicles trundling around the park so, once we found elephants, very quickly a traffic jam developed. But, it's a marvellous chance to see herds of elephants in the wild.
Even though we got reasonably close to the elephants in Minneriya,  it's still vital to have a powerful telephoto lens when shooting wildlife. Years ago I read an African blog where the author wrote that to get good bird shots you needed an 800mm lens.  At $10,000+, I thought he was having a lend but having spent several years trying to shoot wildlife I have to agree, at least in part.  The good news is that you can now buy very high quality telephoto lenses, like Tamron's excellent 150-600mm lens, that do a brilliant job without busting the bank balance. Sure they are big, bulky and heavy (this one is 2kg) but this is what you need to get quality wildlife images. In the park I saw several 100-400mm Canon lenses, but most came armed with iPads, iPhones and point-and-shoot cameras. One can only guess at the results they were getting...

Two young elephants were separate from the rest of the group.
Apparently there was a bit of a family feud going on and they spent the best part of an hour tussling with each other...
A male and a female engaged in quite an argument...

Elephant viewing can get cramped - here's a snap of just some of the onlookers.
I counted 48 4WD vehicles.
The park is home to many other animal species including this group of grey langurs
A Sri Lankan toque macaque drinking in a waterhole
I had no idea that peacocks were endemic to Sri Lanka (lack of research Robin!)
Here's a young male peacock with four storks off in the background.
The Sri Lankan painted stork
Unidentified wader - I think this is a type of sandpiper
One of the park's many species of tern
One of my all time favourite birds, the bee-eater is brilliant, beautiful in flight and has a startlingly colourful plumage. This is the russet-cheeked bee eater (I think). Shot using my EF 300mm f2.8 lens + 1.4X Extender
I was surprised to see this, the Indian Roller, which is remarkably similar to the African Lilac Breasted Roller - I have seen these throughout Africa but first time in Sri Lanka
A yet-to-be identified wader in Minneriya nat park...

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