On the outskirts of Colombo, an urban birding paradise flourishes

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  • Sri Lanka’s largest urban wetland, centered around Lake Diyawanna near Colombo, is home to around 100 species of birds, both migratory and endemic.
  • The extensive reedbeds in the marshland provide ideal nesting and feeding grounds for white-breasted moorhens (Amaurornis phoenicurus) and several species of egrets, storks and herons.
  • The area also retains thick patches of woodland in addition to the ubiquitous coconut palms that attract rose-ringed parakeets (Psittacula krameri), black-capped orioles (Oriolus xanthornus), brown-headed barbets (Megalaima zeylanica), and Asiatic koels (Eudynamys scolopaceus).
  • The region’s birdlife has begun to thrive in the absence of human-induced disturbances, due to closures during the pandemic.

COLOMBO — Lake Diyawanna in Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, the administrative capital of Sri Lanka, is located in the heart of an urban wetland that is a haven for birds and an attraction for nature lovers. The lush area with abundant tree cover and water features is home to large numbers of waterfowl as well as other birds common to the Indian subcontinent. The site is just 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the bustling metropolis of Colombo, the commercial capital of the country, and offers urban birdwatchers the opportunity to enjoy birdwatching all year round.

Egrets are a common resident bird in the larger water bodies of the region and, along with the intermediate egret (Ardea intermedia), are among the most commonly seen. Image by Chandani Kirinde.

Sri Lanka moved its administrative capital out of Colombo in 1982 in search of more spacious space to house parliament and other government offices. Along with this, a massive migration of people seeking to settle in the newly developed area occurred. While rapid urbanization has led to the reclamation of marshes, which used to be a significant tract of land in the region, the Diyawanna Lake area still retains the largest wetland area in Colombo district and is a boon for lovers. of nature and bird watchers in particular.

A key feature of the site is the Thalangama Reservoir, an ancient reservoir built to irrigate the rice fields. It remains intact today, although rice cultivation in the area has declined sharply as demand for residential space pushes up land prices.

Brightly colored and with a distinct call, black-hooded orioles (Oriolus xanthornus) are easy to spot among other birds. Image by Chandani Kirinde.

Today, the reservoir is home to more than 100 species of birds, according to Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, who has studied and written extensively on Sri Lankan birds. “The flagship species are the migrating black and yellow bitterns [Ixobrychus flavicollis and Ixobrychus sinensis]which increase the local population, and the water valve [Gallicrex cinerea]writes Wijeyeratne in his Photographic Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka.

Spot-billed pelicans (Pelecanus philippensis), eastern darters (Anhinga melanogaster), and Indian cormorants (Phalacrocorax fuscicollis) abound, and their interactions are a treat for keen observers of bird behavior. Image by Chandani Kirinde.

Diyasaru Uyana, which translates to water-rich park, is a 24-hectare (60-acre) section of the wetland, designated as a park in 2017. It is popular with bird watchers, as is the nearby wetland from Beddagana, which is more isolated and wooded.

Each of these areas, with lotus-covered ponds and grassy banks, are within 5 km (3 mi) of each other, and are therefore part of a popular birding tour that sees visitors leave early in the morning for a day of birding. , photograph them and connect with nature.

The Pied Kingfisher can be seen hovering above the water before diving to catch its prey. Image by Chandani Kirinde.

The main attractions of the Lake Diyawanna area are waterfowl, including the pheasant-tailed jacana (Hydrophasianus surgeonfish), the red-wattled lapwing (Vanellus indicus), and swan swamp (Porphyrio poliocephaly). They feed and breed in the safe surroundings of wetlands, whose extensive reedbeds also provide ideal feeding and nesting grounds for white-breasted moorhens (Amaurornis phoenicurus) and several species of egrets, storks and herons.

Spot-billed pelicans (Pelecanus philippensis) feasting in the fish-rich waters of the wetland. Image by Chandani Kirinde.

The spot-billed pelican (Pelecanus philippensis), eastern darter (Anhinga melanogaster) and the Indian cormorant (Phalacrocorax fuscicollis) are also abundant, as are wigeon ducks (Dendrocygna javanica).

White-throated Kingfishers (Halcyon smyrnensis), Pied Kingfishers (Ceryle Rudis) and blue-tailed bee-eaters (merops philippinus) are also among the resident birds of the region. Seasonal visitors include Asian open-billed storks (Anastomus oscitans), which arrive towards the end of the year and build nests in the treetops.

Colonies of Asian open-billed storks can be seen during the later part of the year as they busily build nests in the treetops. Image by Chandani Kirinde.

The area also retains thick patches of woodland in addition to the ubiquitous coconut palms that attract ring-necked parakeets (Psittacula krameri), black-hooded orioles (Oriolus xanthornus), brown-headed barbets (Megalaima zeylanica) and Asian koels (Eudynamys scolopaceus), enriching the avifauna of the area.

Birds also migrate from the Sri Lankan hinterland, such as the Indian flycatcher (Terpsiphone paradisi) and a subspecies, the Ceylon paradise flycatcher (T.p. ceylonensis), which make a rare and highly anticipated appearance between November and March.

Lesser Eurasian Wigeons (Dendrocygna javanica) are also a common sight. Image by Chandani Kirinde.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, and subsequent lockdowns and movement restrictions imposed by Sri Lankan authorities, the bird life of Lake Diyawanna has begun to thrive in the absence of the original disturbances. human. For bird watchers this was a great time to take a leisurely walk around the lake and surrounding area and take in the beauty of the area and see the amazing bird life all around which I did.

Banner image of Grey-headed Sultana (Porphyria poliocephalus) by Chandani Kirinde.

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