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The Great Whales are a source ofwonder and fascination to most of usland-based humans, as we struggleto comprehend their alien, unfetteredexistence roaming the mysterious depthsof the world's oceans. Indeed, we seem topossess a seemingly insatiable desire tosavour the experience of being close tothese magnificent creatures and, whereverfeeding or breeding imperatives bringnumbers of whales to congregate in aparticular area, there will invariably be localboatmen taking visitors to enjoy a fewprecious moments sharing the ocean withthese leviathans. The largest of all thecetaceans, indeed the largest of allmammals, the Blue Whale has alwaysbeen something of an enigma, a trueocean wanderer living a pelagic lifestylewhich rarely brings it with any predictabilityclose to land. Gradually, however, scientistsare beginning to gain some understandingof the enormous migrations undertaken byBlue Whales and one discovery has beentheir regular appearances close to thesouth coast of Sri Lanka betweenNovember and April. It is this annual eventthat we will be taking advantage of duringthis popular new tour in a country that haslong been a Naturetrek favourite.Arriving in the capital, Colombo, we headsouth, skirting the towering escarpments ofthe central Hill Country before travellingthrough a landscape of palms, ricepaddies and roadside ponds to the IndianOcean coast where we stay for four nightsat a comfortable resort hotel. Doubtlessthe excellent amenities of theestablishment will be a welcome diversionduring our spare time, but each morningwe will undertake a whale-watching cruisefrom a nearby port. During these 4-hourexcursions we will sail up to 12 kilometresoffshore and, whilst seeing wild creaturescan never be guaranteed, we expect tohave multiple sightings of Blue Whales. Never a gregarious creature, the sightingsare usually of single animals, or perhaps acow and calf, but it is possible toencounter as many as 10 whales duringthese outings and the expertise of thecaptain will be an important element infinding our quarry. Despite averaging 25metres in length and reaching a weight inexcess of 100 tons, Blue Whales can besurprisingly elusive, but in these calmwaters the mighty 9-metre high blow isoften the first indication of their presencenear the surface. Whilst concentrating eachday on observing Blue Whales, othersmaller cetaceans are also likely toentertain us. These may include Bryde'sand Short-finned Pilot Whales, andBottlenose, Pantropical Spotted, Stripedand Spinner Dolphins, the latter regularlyappearing in pods of several hundredindividuals. Although the occurrences ofBlue Whales in Sri Lankan waters havebeen known to researchers for many yearsit is only now that opportunities exist forvisitors to see these impressive animalsand, in recent years, our Naturetrek groupshave been rewarded by close encounters,often of numerous individuals, in this mostidyllic of settings.After this ultimate in whale-watchingexperiences we return to dry land to seekanother highly impressive mammal in YalaNational Park. In recent years diurnalLeopards have been a regular attraction inthis superb reserve and we will do one full-day game drive, in addition to a morningand an afternoon game drive in the park,with the possibility of suddenly comingupon a Leopard adding an exciting frissonto every visit. Wildlife abounds in Yala andeach drive is likely to produce sightings ofIndian Elephant, Wild Boar, Spotted Deer,Sambar, mongooses, crocodiles andlizards as well as a stunning profusion ofcolourful birdlife. No visit to Yala everdisappoints, but it is the sight of asomnolent Leopard draped across thebranches of a tree or padding along atrack before disappearing into theundergrowth that creates a memory to lasta lifetime. During the final three days of thetour we will be staying at a verycomfortable hotel just outside the park and with no fences to constrain theinhabitants it is by no means unusual tosee a Wild Boar wander through thegrounds or even to find an elephantbrowsing in the garden! Yala is a magical place and a perfect venue in which to complete a tour thatcombines the best of Sri Lankan wildlife,both marine and terrestrial, with the mostcomfortable of accommodation. It will bewith some reluctance that we will finallydepart from here and return to Colombo fora return flight back to colder climes;however, for those unwilling to leave, weoffer an extension to Sinharaja ForestReserve, the largest and most importantlowland rainforest in Sri Lanka, and hometo so much of the island's endemic floraand fauna.Sri Lanka - Blue Whales & LeopardsA 10-day holiday in search of Blue Whales off Sri Lanka's south coast, as well as the Leopardsand other wildlife of Yala National Park, plus an optional extension to Sinharaja Forest Reserve.Saturday 24th November - Monday 3rd December 2012 Cost: £2,395Saturday 22nd December - Monday 31st December 2012 Cost: £2,695Saturday 9th February - Monday 18th February 2013 Cost: £2,395Saturday 2nd March - Monday 11th March 2013 Cost: £2,395Saturday 9th March - Monday 18th March 2013 Cost: £2,395Saturday 16th March - Monday 25th March 2013 Cost: £2,395Saturday 30th March - Monday 8th April 2013 Cost: £2,495Saturday 23rd November - Monday 2nd December 2013 Cost: £2,395Saturday 21st December - Monday 30th December 2013 Cost: £2,695Sinharaja Forest Reserve extension available on all tours Cost: from £595Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationKANDYSINHARAJA FOREST (EXTENSION)MIRISSAYALA NATIONAL PARK COLOMBO INDIANOCEANSRILANKAOutline itineraryDay 1Depart London.Day 2Arrive Colombo; transferMirissa.Day 3/5Whale-watchingexcursions from Mirissa.Day 6/8Yala National Park.Day 9Colombo.Day 10Fly London.Sinharaja extensionDay 9/11Sinharaja Forest Reserve.Day 12 Colombo.Day 13Fly London.AccommodationComfortable tourist hotels; allrooms have private facilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. Easy day walks only.FocusBlue Whales, Leopards, othermammals and birds.LeaderDhammithra Samarisinghe,Susantha Weerappulige, SamanVediyabandara or KoushalyaMahagedara.Single room supplement£450 (extension: £150).Web quick search:LKA06257LeopardBlue Whale

The verdant tropical island of Sri Lankais a paradise for lovers of naturalhistory, and the setting for thisexciting tour. Our itinerary will provide athorough introduction to the island's birdsand wildlife, as well as incorporating somesightseeing in the 'Golden Triangle' ofarchaeological sites. Although situated justa short distance from the southern tip ofIndia, Sri Lanka has many zoologicalaffinities with south-east Asia and much ofthe flora and fauna is unique to the island,including 33 species of endemic bird. Thisholiday offers the obvious attraction ofexchanging a British winter for the tropicalwarmth of Sri Lanka, but this tour has theadded advantage of coinciding with thevisit to Sri Lanka of large numbers ofwintering birds, including waders fromSiberia and passerines from the Himalayanregion. To enjoy all this we have chosen a selection of good quality hotels, many of them situated close to the prime wildlife areas.Our tour begins with a glimpse of theisland's past at Anuradhapura, one ofseveral former capitals used during thereign of the Sinhalese kings. Remains ofthe city dating from 4 BC are remarkablywell preserved and are set amid acres ofparkland frequented by Indian Rollers,Ashy Swallow-shrikes, sunbirds and manyother Dry Zone species. Birds are never faraway in Sri Lanka, even in the midst ofarchaeological sites, nor are the ubiquitousGrey Langur Monkeys which loiter amongthe ruins waiting for hand-outs fromtourists. At nearby Mihintale there is ahuge dagoba at the place where Buddhismwas first introduced to the island, and wewill also visit the towering rock fortress atSigiriya, famed for its ancient wall frescoesand an impressive panorama for thoseenergetic enough to reach the summit. Travelling south through the island's mainspice-growing region we continue to Kandyfor a 2-night stay. Once the capital of anautonomous kingdom until captured by theBritish in 1815, Kandy marks our ascentinto the picturesque hill country, and issurrounded by forests in which we shouldfind such endemic birds as the charmingSri Lanka Hanging Parrot and Layard'sParakeet. Close to the city are PeradiniyaBotanical Gardens which contain over4,000 species of plants in a beautifulriverside setting and provide a day-timeroost for a large colony of Indian FlyingFoxes that hang like giant fruits in theirfavoured trees. We penetrate deeper into the hills to stayfor two nights at Nuwara Eliya, a favouritehill station of the British as evidenced bythe Victorian architecture, race track andgolf course. This area is the heart of theisland's tea industry and we will visit one ofthe many estates en route from Kandy towitness the production processes andsample the finished product. Yet moreendemic birds occur at this increasedelevation, and even a small park in themiddle of Nuwara Eliya can provide us withviews of Yellow-eared Bulbul, Hill White-eyeand such winter visitors as Blyth's ReedWarbler and Pied Ground Thrush. We willspend one day exploring the wild expansesof Horton Plains which epitomise theuniqueness of the hill country with itsstrange forests of stunted trees festoonedin bromeliads, and stretches of moorlandleading to the aptly named World's Endwhere a sheer escarpment drops to theplains far below. This is the haunt of the handsome highland race of the Purple-faced Leaf Monkey and a greatdiversity of plants and birds including the endemic Arrenga, Blue Magpie and Sri Lanka Woodpigeon.Descending to the arid south of the islandwe next visit a number of freshwater 'tanks'or lakes, crowded with birds, beforereaching the endless palm-fringedbeaches which characterise the IndianOcean coastline. We will spend a half-dayinside the vast Yala National Park hoping tosee one of the resident Leopards, but evenif we fail to locate one of these elusive catsthere will be adequate compensation in theform of Indian Elephants, Wild Boar,Spotted Deer, Sambar, Marsh MuggerCrocodiles, Peacocks and an abundanceof other birds. Sri Lanka Junglefowl areparticularly numerous here, and during theearly mornings they emerge from cover todisplay their gaudy plumage.More herds of Elephants are in prospectduring a tour of Uda Walawe Reserve nearEmbilipitiya before the final highlight of ournatural history tour, a visit to SinharajaForest. Now preserved as a BiosphereReserve, Sinharaja is the largest and mostimportant lowland forest remaining on theisland. Almost everything about it isspecial; over 80% of the island's endemicbird species occur in the forest, 60% of thetrees are found nowhere else in the world,and most of the other flora and fauna has asimilarly high level of endemism. Residentbirds include the spectacular Blue Magpie,Red-faced Malkoha and Orange-billedBabbler, providing an exciting conclusion toa memorable holiday.Sri Lanka - Wildlife & History A 17-day birdwatching and wildlife holiday which also includes visits to the ancient city of Anuradhapura and the rock fortress at Sigiriya, plus an optional extension in search of Blue Whales.Saturday 10th November - Monday 26th November 2012 Cost: £2,695Saturday 22nd December 2012 - Monday 7th January 2013 Cost: £2,895Saturday 9th February - Monday 25th February 2013 Cost: £2,695Saturday 9th November - Monday 25th November 2013 Cost: £2,695Saturday 21st December 2013 - Monday 6th January 2014 Cost: £2,895Outline itineraryBlue Whales extension available on all tours Cost: £695Day 1Depart London.Day 2/3Anuradhapura.Day 4/5Sigiriya.Day 6/7Kandy.Day 8/9Nuwara Eliya.Day 10Tissamaharama.Day 11/12 Yala.Day 13/15Uda Walawe andSinharaja Forest.Day 16Return to Colombo.Day 17Fly London.Blue Whales extensionDay 16/18Mirissa.Day 19 Colombo.Day 13Fly London.AccommodationComfortable tourist class hotels andlodge, all with private facilities.Food All included in the price.Grading A/B. Mostly gentle birdwatchingwalks but a couple of longer walksincluded.Focus Birds and mammals with elementsof the island's history andarchaeology.Leader Paul Dukes, DhammithraSamarasinghe, SusanthaWeerappulige, KoushalyaMahagedara or SamanVediyabandara.Single room supplement£525 (extension: £125).Web quick search:LKA02258Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryANURADHAPURA MIHINTALE SIGIRIYA KANDY NUWARA ELIYA RATNAPURA DRY ZONE HORTON PLAINS SINHARAJAFORESTUDA WALAWENATIONAL PARKYALA NATIONAL PARK COLOMBO INDIANOCEANBAYOFBENGALSRI LANKA MIRISSABLUE WHALE(EXTENSION)Yellow-fronted BarbetYala National Park