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Bundala – the first RAMSAR site

Updated: Feb 29, 2020

If you are serious about birding, #Bundala is one place you cannot afford to miss.

A small strip of jungle and wetland in the deep south of Sri Lanka, it’s an internationally renowned and important wintering ground for migratory waterbirds coming to Sri Lanka. It’s the first RAMSAR site in Sri Lanka and it's designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in addition to being a National Park.

Located southeast from Colombo, it’s a 4-5 hour drive from Colombo. The park opens at 6.00 AM in the morning and one needs to be accompanied by a park guide to go inside the park. Being close to Hambantota and Tissamaharama, there are lots of options for accommodation. During my last visit, I drove from Kirinda to Bundala. It was exciting to come across elephants on the road early morning.

Although there are many different habitat types within the park, they can be grouped primarily to 3 features. The lagoons & wetlands, the terrestrial habitat with mostly dry thorny shrubs and the salt flats. There are amazing 197 bird species recorded in the park but depending on the season, the diversity changes.

One of the most amazing moments in my journey of bird photography thus far is when I came across the very rare Black-capped Kingfisher and then a Common Kingfisher also decided to come and sit on the same branch with the larger Black-capped. It was one of those rare moments.

Lagoons and Salt Flats

By far, the water birds are the main attraction to Bundala. There is an ongoing issue with more freshwater being released into natural saltwater lagoons reducing its salt concentration. This has been identified as the primary cause of the decline in certain bird species coming to the park. Especially the Greater Flamingo's which Bundala is most famous for.

Early morning sun provides ideal lighting for photographing these beauties and the park roads cover wetlands very well.

Although the best time to visit is during winter months in the northern hemisphere (November to March), there are 139 resident bird species recorded in Bundala which means one can visit all year round and still see Sri Lankan birdlife in all its glory.

The grasslands bordering the small water tanks provide ideal habitat for a myriad of birds. One has to carefully observe the grass bushes as it's easy to hide among them and be invisible.

One will come across other wildlife within the park and get great opportunities to take some fabulous photographs.

Terrestrial Habitat with mostly dry Thorny Shrubs

The strip of 'Palu' tree forest on the sand-dunes east of Bundala village is a unique type of forest in Sri Lanka. Although this type of forest was the dominant type of habitat earlier, it's increasingly under threat as a result of the spread of two invasive alien plants Prosopis juliflora and Opuntia dillenii.

There are many beautiful bird species including different types of birds of prey that can be observed in this habitat.

Once the sun goes down, that's when the Nightjar's come out. If your careful, you can see them under your vehicle headlights and take a decent photograph.

Other Attractions

The sand dunes which have been building up for thousands of years is a superb location to visit. One needs a 4x4 vehicle to go there as the sand can be difficult to navigate. The dunes provide a vantage point to see the beautiful panorama of both the Indian ocean and the park.

All in all, Bundala is a national treasure that boasts an amazing diversity of plant and animal life and a heaven for migrating water birds. The coastal lagoons need protection from human activity and careful conservation will continue to attract large flocks of migrants to make a stop in beautiful Sri Lanka.

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