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Bird Watching and Wildlife Safaris

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Is Sri Lanka one of the top places to see wildlife outside of Africa?

why-srilanka-is-super-rich-for-wildlife Sri Lanka is one of the best  wildlife safari destinations outside Africa And thats a fact! Sri Lanka ticks all the correct boxes.
  • Species diversity
  • High rate of endemic species
  • Large Mammals
“…This is a story of how evolutionary forces and ancient civilisations have made a tropical island super-rich for wildlife on a scale that is not seen anywhere on moderately sized or large islands. (de Silva Wijeratne.G (2014)) With two monsoons bringing heavy rainfalls across this tiny island, a sharp spike in altitudes across a very small landmass that is just over three times the size of Kruger National Park and the island’s isolation from mainland southern India and the Western Ghats – Sri Lanka has a unique formulae to make a potent mix of climatic conditions, biodiversity and a high rate of species endemism. Scroll down to read more on the best wildlife highlights and the top spots to see Blue Whales, Birds, Leopards, Asian Elephants, Dolphins, Monkeys and other Primates in Sri Lanka.

Whales and Dophins

Whales and Dolphins Sri Lanka
  • Sri Lankan waters have 26 of the 86 Cetacean species counted worldwide including 13 species of Whales and 15 species of Dolphins
  • Blue Whales: Sri Lanka is the World’s top spot for Blue Whale encounters
  • Sperm Whales: Sri Lanka is among the world’s top 10 locations
Trincomalee Submarine canyon: The Peak season for Blue Whales is from March to April but the Whale watching season runs from October to April in Trincomalee. Mirissa: There is a 90% encounter rate for Blue Whales between December to April. Kalpitiya: A wonderful location to see super pods of Spinner Dolphins, the Brydes Whales and Spinner Dolphins between December to April. Little Basses Canyon Yala – Off the usual tourist trail, Blue Whales and Dolphins can be spotted between October to May. Other marine mammals: Orcas, Beaked whales, Risso’s Dolphins, Spinner Dolphins and Bottlenosed Dolphins are among the host of other marine mammals that can be spotted off the coast of Sri Lanka.

Elephants

Elephants
  • The ‘Gathering’ of wild Elephants in the Minneriya National Park has been billed by the Lonely Planet as the World’s 6th greatest animal spectacle
  • Sri Lanka is one of the best places in the world to see the largest land and marine mammals in a two week tour (Wild Elephants and Blue Whales)
Minneriya NP: The ‘Gathering’ a seasonal congregation of wild Elephants happens each year during the drought between July and August as they travel across elephant corridors to converge together on the banks of the beautiful Minneriya tank in search of food, water and mates. Gal Oya NP: Wild Elephants can be spotted on safaris by jeep, foot and boat which are available all year, except during the drought where water levels recede and boating safaris are not possible. Uda Walawe NP: A wonderful all year destination for a safari to see wild elephants in Sri Lanka. Kaudulla NP and Eco Park:Two National Parks that are visited as an alternative to Minneriya National Park, when herds of Elephants move away from the Minneriya Tank.

Leopards and Sloth Bear

Leopards and Sloth Bear
  • Sri Lanka is one of the best places in the world to see a Leopard in the wild – the prima donna of big cats.
  • Unlike in other parts of the world, the Leopard is Sri Lanka’s top predator and roams freely making for easier sightings inside the National Parks.
  • Sloth Bear: Sri Lanka is the best destination to photograph the Sloth Bear especially during June to early September.
Wilpattu NP: An uncrowded, all year destination for Leopard and Sloth Bear and a great alternative to the more crowded Yala NP. Yala NP: Yala is Sri Lanka’s most wildlife rich National park and hence, the most visited. Wonderful all year wildlife viewing is possible on safari in Yala. The Park is generally closed during the peak drought periods between 1 September to 15 October. Kumana NP: Recommend safaris in Kumana NP between May to September when Tented Camping is possible on the banks of the rivers.

Birds

Birds
  • Sri Lanka has an incredible 33 species of endemic birds.
  • Sri Lanka is the last stop for the winter migrant birds
  • A total of 441 species of birds have been recorded in Sri Lanka
Sinharaja Rainforest: The Bird Wave, a mixed species feeding flock can be observed between November to March. A day out on safari in Sinharaja can yield 29 of the island’s 33 endemic birds. It is the last remaining virgin rainforest in the island where 50% of the trees are endemic. Horton Plains NP and the Kitulgala Forests: Must visit birding hot spots in Sri Lanka to observe the 33 endemics of the island. RAMSAR Sites of Mannar and Bundala NP: Sri Lanka Migrant hotspots where hundreds of winter migrants arrive for feeding during October until April. Mannar is a great location to photograph Flamingos, Water birds and and shorebirds. Kumana NP, Yala NP, Wilpattu NP, Uda Walawe NP and Sigiriya: Birding hotspots for Migrants and Endemic birds in Sri Lanka.
  • The Website of the Ceylon Bird Club is a wonderfully informative site on the birds of Sri Lanka and why Sri Lanka is a great destination for ‘Twitchers’

Biodiversity Hotspot

White Four Ring Butterfly in the Sinharaja Rainforest Sri Lanka
  • Sri Lanka One of the world’s 35 Biodiversity Hotspots.
  • Biodiversity Hotspots are the Planet’s most important 2.3% of land surface.
  • Sri Lanka is ranked 15 in the world for species per kilometre for Amphibians, Mammals, Birds, Flowering Plants and Reptiles
Horton Plains NP: The cloud forests of Horton Plains can be visited all year and provides for some great trekking to observe plant and animal life in the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka. Knuckles Mountains: A Highland wet zone forest that is best visited between May to September. Sinharaja Rainforests: A Lowland virgin Rainforest that is best visited during the bird migration season between December to April. Kumana NP, Yala NP, Bundala NP, Wilpattu NP: Excellent locations to study plant and animal diversity in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan Wildlife Calendar

Depending on when you travel you may see them all or just some. But with 22 National Parks that fit into this small island, Sri Lanka is great for big game and un-spoilt epic landscapes, throughout the year.

Calendar

To see the best time of year to spot wildlife in Sri Lanka, choose a month from our Wildlife Calendar

January

Recommend safaris in Wilpattu, Anaiwilundawa, Kalpitiya, Giant’s Tank Mannar, Sigiriya, Peak Wilderness, Wasgamuwa, Sinharaja, Uda Walawe, Palatupana Saltern, Yala, Bundala and Mirissa. Weather made for traveling – not too hot in the dry zones and not too cold during the day in the Central Highlands and Horton Plains. Tail-end of the North-East Monsoon. Great seas off the Southern Coast and better than the seas off the East coast. Most parks will be in lush foliage. Asian Elephants and their young may be witnessed in small herds at Kaudulla or the adjacent Eco Park and in the mornings until almost mid day and in the late afternoons in Yala and Uda Walawe. Leopard and Bear in Yala and in Wilpattu where it maybe wet until mid-January. Midway through the peak birding season; especially the unique spectacle of ‘The Mixed-species Feeding Flock of Sinharaja’ where hundreds migrate and just two take the lead of the flock. Whales off Mirissa. Good time to spot butterflies and dragonflies and especially the island’s 33 endemic birds and the winter migrants that escape the harsh Northern Winters and flock to the recommended safari destinations.

February

Recommend safaris in Wilpattu, Anaiwilundawa, Kalpitiya, Giant’s Tank Mannar, Trincomalee, Sigiriya, Peak Wilderness, Wasgamuwa, Horton Plains, Sinharaja, Uda Walawe, Palatupana Saltern, Yala, Bundala and Mirissa. A little warmer than January and quite cold nights in the Central Highlands and towards evenings in the dry zone National Parks. All parks may be crowded on the 4 February, the island’s Independence Day. Beautiful calm seas in the South and West and not too calm in the East coast. Big Game and birding highlights would be the same as in January. In addition, Whales may begin their migration towards the Eastern Seas off Trincomalee which, however could experience wet conditions. Clear days in the Central Highlands makes for great trekking in the Horton Plains.

March

Recommend safaris in Wilpattu, Anaiwilundawa, Kalpitiya, Giant’s Tank Mannar, Sigiriya, Peak Wilderness, Wasgamuwa, Sinharaja, Uda Walawe, Palatupana Saltern, Yala, Bundala and Mirissa. Warm days and nights and the absence of rain, could make for some discomfort on safaris but the flowering and fruiting trees makes for great photography. Big Game highlights would be the same as in previous two months. Probably the last chance to spot the migrant winter birds in all recommended safari destinations, the Mixed species Feeding Flocks of Sinharaja and the Whale migration in Mirissa and Kalpitiya.

April

Recommend safaris in Wilpattu, Trincomalee, Kaudulla or Eco Park, Horton Plains, Peak Wilderness, Wasgamuwa, Sinharaja, Uda Walawe,Yala and Kumana. The month for fruits and flowers. Temperatures will be most pleasant in the hills and Central Highlands where the flowering trees will be especially beautiful. All parks could get a bit crowded as School holidays, the Sri Lankan New Year and Easter coincide. It is the warmest month of the year and important to keep yourself hydrated whilst on safari. Seas off the Southern coast can still be somewhat calm just until the onset of the South-West monsoons in mid-April, when, the eastern seas become calmer. Big Game Highlights will continue as in previous three months minus the birding highlights. Best month and the only place in the world to spot Blue Whales from ashore, at the Swami Rock in Trincomalee. Kumana comes into its own with aquatic birds starting on their nests.

May

Recommend safaris in Wilpattu, Trincomalee, Kaudulla or Eco Park, Horton Plains, Maduru Oya, Wasgamuwa Gal Oya, Uda Walawe,Yala and Kumana. The Eastern seas become bluer and calmer and a wonderful alternative to the turbulent Southern seas. Blue and Sperm Whales continue their migration into the seas of Trincomalee. Asian Elephants and their young may be witnessed in Maduru Oya, in small herds at Kaudulla or the adjacent Eco Park and in the mornings until almost mid day and in late afternoons in Yala and Uda Walawe. Leopard and Bear in Yala and Wilpattu. A highlight would be the increased sightings of the Sloth Bear that loves – to the point of inebriation, the ‘Palu’ fruit that comes into season in Yala. Explore the submerged jungles on the vast Gal Oya Reservoir, the picturesque islands inhabited by Elephants and riots of birds, or immerse in the beauty of its surrounding majestic rugged mountain ranges. Keen birders should shift their focus to Kumana – a nesting month and the start of a two month season for Birds, and to the Southern and North-Eastern coasts for possible flocks of migratory Flamingos. Although recommended the parks in the Southern Coast and in the hills can experience rains from the South West monsoons.

June

Recommend safaris in Wilpattu, Trincomalee, Minneriya, Maduru Oya, Gal Oya, Uda Walawe,Yala and Kumana. Big Game highlights are similar to May but likely to witness large herds of Elephants in Lahugala enroute to the calmer seas of the East coast. Blue and Sperm Whales continue to be spotted in Trincomalee. Earliest signs of ‘The Gathering’ of Elephants billed as the world’s sixth greatest animal spectacle, in Minneriya. Rough seas in the Southern and Western coasts. Great photography in the Kumana bird Sanctuary and possibly Flamingos in the North. The ‘Palu’ fruiting season in Wilpattu makes it easier to spot the Sloth Bear almost intoxicated on the fruit. Dry Zone Parks will experience a harsh, dry ‘kachan’ winds making safaris quite a dusty affair.

July

Recommend safaris in Wilpattu, Trincomalee, Minneriya, Maduru Oya, Gal Oya, Uda Walawe,Yala and Kumana. Big Game highlights are similar to June, the highlight being the world’s sixth greatest animal spectacle, ‘The Gathering’ – the world’s largest gathering of Asian Elephants, in Minneriya. A dry month where Elephants migrate across interconnected corridors of jungles across parks in search of scarce water. Large herds may also be seen in Lahugala. Kumana continues to be a birders paradise. One of the best months to visit Wilpattu where it is believed that this dry period makes it easier for Leopards to hunt for food as animals frequent open spaces and water holes, and hence may be the season when cubs are born.

August

Recommend safaris in Wilpattu, Trincomalee, Minneriya, Maduru Oya, Gal Oya, Uda Walawe,Yala and Kumana. Beautiful seas in the East coast. The tail end of the season for Whales in Trincomalee but beautifully coloured schools of Reef Fish could be spotted through a few hours of snorkeling. Dry weather across the island with scattered showers and rough seas in the South and West. Best photo opportunities during ‘The Gathering’ which continues in Minneriya, frequented by local visitors during this month of school holidays. Excellent wildlife viewing in Wilpattu with great sightings of Leopard mothers and sub adult cubs, Elephant and Sloth Bear that feeds on the ‘Dunng’ fruit.

September

Recommend safaris in Wilpattu, Trincomalee, Minneriya, Maduru Oya, Gal Oya, Uda Walawe,Yala and Kumana. A fairly dry month across the island, which results in excellent photographic opportunities near water holes, especially in Wilpattu for Leopard and in Minneriya where the large herds of Asian Elephants still continue to search for food and water. Boat safaris in Gal Oya can yield stunning photography of Elephants that may swim between islands in search of better grazing. It is believed that Deer give birth during late September in Wilpattu due to the abundance of grass that grow with the scattered showers. The drought is at its peak in Yala where in some years, the park may be closed to give animals a well earned respite and freedom to search for water.

October

Recommend safaris in Wilpattu, Kaudulla or Eco Park, Peak Wilderness,Uda Walawe,Yala, Bundala and Kumana. The advent of the North-East monsoon with eastern seas becoming turbulent. The southern and Western seas, calmer. Quite cool in the Central Highlands. In Bundala, endangered Marine Turtle lay their eggs – despite possible wet conditions.

November

Recommend safaris in Wilpattu, Kalpitiya, Sigiriya, Sinharaja, Uda Walawe, Palatupana Saltern, Yala, Bundala and Mirissa. Constant rains may be experienced across the island with low temperatures especially in the hills. Whales begin their migration towards Kalpitiya and Mirissa and seen alongside Spinner Dolphins. The annual migration of birds begins, albeit as a trickle, as they start escaping the harsh Northern Winters.

December

Recommend safaris in Wilpattu, Anaiwilundawa, Kalpitiya, Giant’s Tank, Sigiriya, Peak Wilderness, Sinharaja, Uda Walawe, Palatupana Saltern, Yala, Bundala and Mirissa. Rains pour down in the East coast bringing turbulent seas, while the seas of the South and West are idyllic. Cool temperatures, especially in the hills. The start of the Annual pilgrim’s trek to Adams Peak. Yala begins to come alive after the rains: vegetation lush, water holes brimming, attracting Elephants and a myriad of animals. Pockets of herds may also be seen in Kaudulla or Eco Park in proximity to Minneriya and in Uda Walawe. The winter migration brings in colour and life to the birding hotspots from the North to the South. Good time to spot butterflies and dragonflies.

Sri Lanka’s National Wildlife Parks worth visiting

Ayuinthewild’s pick of safari destinations across the island..
wildlifemap
Anawilundawa Sanctuary

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Meaning ‘Seven tanks’ in Tamil, and described as a secret beauty for it’s scrubland, paddy fields, tanks and forest patches the Sanctuary is the island’s second RAMSAR Wetland. Good all year round for resident and migratory wetland birds, waterfowl and worth a half day’s visit especially during the winter bird migration between November to March. Wet conditions may be experienced from mid October to November.
Bundala National Park

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Fringed by the coast where the endangered Marine Turtle lay their eggs, this is the first RAMSAR Wetland of the island. Great for birds all year round with an increase in numbers during the winter migration from November to March and warrants at least a full days visit or more during the migration. Wet conditions may be experienced from mid October to November.
Gal Oya National Park

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Islands within the Gal Oya Reservoir which are inhabited by Asian Elephants could be visited by Boat from May to September, coinciding with the drought in the North-Eastern Province. One of the most epic landscapes in the island with the vast reservoir fringed by rugged hills and brightly coloured birds nesting on flowering trees. Boat service may not be regular during wet and windy conditions from November to January.
Horton Plains National Park

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Best visited during the dry months from December to May but treks may be possible all year round depending on weather.
Kalpitiya Peninsula

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Best visited in November to end March during the sea mammal migration and shoals of Spinner Dolphins and to experience the ‘reef’ life on snorkeling expeditions and unspoilt, sparsely populated beaches. Wet conditions and rough seas may occur from May to September.
Kalametiya

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Best visited during the winter migration of birds from November to March. Wet conditions may occur from November to February.
Kumana

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RAMSAR Site. A picturesque park in the East coast best visited from April to June for it’s aquatic birds in the mangrove swamp interspersed with tall ‘Kirala’ trees and rocky outcrops. Ruins of great archeological and historical interest. Elephants and hundreds of deer graze on it’s grassy open plains, the Sloth Bear ventures out to feed on the ‘Palu’ fruit in June and of late, Leopard sighting have increased in frequency. The nesting season for birds that commence in April, peak in June and, in September, the earliest migrants may even begin to appear. Larger flocks follow with the advent of the North-East monsoons in October taking control of the swamps and trees until almost April.
Kokilai Sanctuary

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Storks and large numbers of birds may visit the mangroves. Best visited during the winter migration of birds from October to February although wet conditions may occur from November to February.
Maduru Oya National Park

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Best visited from May to September. Wet conditions may occur from November to February.
Mannar

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Giants Tank Sanctuary & Vankalai – RAMSAR Site are best visited during the winter bird migration from November to March. Wet conditions may occur from November to February.
Mirissa Coast

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One of the World’s top spots for Blue Whales. Do not miss the sea mammal migration and shoals of Spinner Dolphins from November to end March. Wet conditions and rough seas can occur from May to September during the South-West Monsoon and visiting is not recommended during this period.
Minneriya National Park

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Do not miss ‘The Gathering’ billed as the World’s sixth greatest animal spectacle when hundreds of Asian Elephants converge to quench their thirst at the Minneriya Tank from June to September. A similar migration maybe witnessed in the adjacent Kaudulla National Park during the same period. Outside the season for ‘The Gathering’, smaller numbers can be seen at the nearby Eco Park.
Palatupana Saltern

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Worth a visit all year round with an increase in numbers of birds during the winter migration from November to March. Wet conditions may occur from November to February.
Peak Wilderness Sanctuary

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Worth a visit all year round with an increase in numbers during the winter bird migration from November to March. December and January are best for butterflies and dragonflies. Better avoided during rains from May to September.
Sinharaja Rainforest

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Designated as a World Heritage Site in 1988, a UNESCO International Man and Biosphere Reserve and the last remaining virgin rainforest in Sri Lanka. Worth a visit all year round. A high rate of endemism in vegetation, 29 of the 33 endemic bird species in Sri Lanka, the Purple Faced Leaf Monkey, reptiles and idyllic streams, waterfalls and fresh water springs. Do not miss out on the captivating and world renowned spectacle of ‘The mixed-species Feeding Flock of Sinharaja’ occurring during the winter bird migration from November to March/April. December and January are best for butterflies and dragonflies. Safaris will be on foot within the rainforest. Although it rains throughout the year, walking could be uncomfortable during heavy rains that fall from May to September.
Trincomalee coast

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One of the world’s top spots for Blue Whales especially from February to August peaking around April and Spinner Dolphins all year. Do not miss an opportunity to, with some luck, be on Swami Rock when Blue Whales swim by – probably the only place in the world where Blue Whales can be seen from ashore. Wet conditions may occur from November to February.
Uda Walawe National Park

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Guaranteed sightings of Asian Elephants with their young, all year round. Best time of day would be early morning and before the strong mid-day sun, and in the late afternoons. A 30,821 Ha beautiful park, excellent for photography with its open scrubland, hardwood trees, rivers lined with Kumbuk trees, raptors and endemic birds, winter migrant birds from November to March, mammals and Toque Monkey. Wet conditions may occur from November to February.
Wasgamuwa National Park

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Best known for its Elephants – both slightly larger and more aggressive than those seen elsewhere in the island and the Sloth bear. The park is also home to Primates and Leopard, although rarely sighted. Can be visited all year round. Wet conditions may occur from November to February.
Wilpattu National Park

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The largest and one of the most beautiful National Parks in the island. The cluster of natural sand rimmed water basins or ‘villus’ are also RAMSAR Wetlands. One of the best for Leopard and Sloth Bear and worth a visit all year. Birds can be seen in great numbers during the winter migration from November to March. Excellent for photography especially near the magnificent saucer shaped water holes or ‘Willus’ fringed by the whitest of sand, scrub jungle and willowing trees, vast grasslands and plains. Can experience wet conditions during October and early November and intermittently in December until mid-January.
Yala National Park

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A captivating jungle of 97,880 Ha with sand dunes and semi deciduous forests: 44 species of mammals, including the largest of the Asian Leopards, 215 species of birds including 46 species of reptiles and 21 species of amphibians. Don’t forget to capture an image of the rare and critically endangered Black-necked Stork although the park is best known for the highest density of Leopards per square kilometer anywhere in the world. Can be visited throughout the year. Can experience wet conditions during October, early November and some days in December/January due to the North-East Monsoons.

“It’s easy to why a tiny island just over three times the size of Kruger National Park vies for the top place to see wildlife outside Africa and is one of the best Asian wildlife safari destinations.”

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