Tweeters’ Paradise | Daily News

Tweeters’ Paradise

Victoria Park

Juliet Coombe armed with a bird book and binoculars heads into the glorious Victoria Park, a 27 acre experimental garden, where the majority of tree species available were brought by Plant Hunters during Queen Victoria’s Reign.

On arrival at this idyllic city park a flock of birds flew over head and after paying an entrance fee I went inside this stunning park, and discovered what was left of the original template for the Hakgala Botanical gardens 10 km from Nuwara Eliya on the Nuwara Eliya-Badulla main Road. Victoria Park is in contrast in the buzzy centre of town just outside its garden walls is short distance from everything. It was established in the 1840s and it is still the nursery for certain plants that are taken to the much bigger and more impressive Hakgala Botanical Gardens on the outskirts of town. However it was not until 1897 it received its official name to commemorate the 60th Jubilee Coronation of Queen Victoria.

The glorified oasis in the city is a bird lovers dream come true as it is easy to walk being compact and very rewarding due to the number of birds you can see in the place on any given day of the week. I am overawed by the diversity of the trees, in size, shape and form; there are around 70 to 80 different species for the birds both small and big to hide in. I start my bird walk in the classic English rose garden, which is a wonderful maze of concentric circles with frameworks and pillars all draped with rose-vines and smelling amazing. “It is best viewed in April/May when most of the roses are in flow,” On closer inspection, I notice plastic bundles around countless stems and ask what on earth they are, not sure whether they are deliberate or some weird phenomenon of littering. “They are used for taking cuttings. By attaching bundles of soil half way up the stem, I discover that you allow the stem to grow roots of its own that will then enable you to transplant the stem straight into the ground once cut off.” Ingenious I am thinking just as an Indian Pitta bird lands on a branch just in front of me, a chirpy little fellow with a yellowish breast and bright green plumage on its back.

He bounces off into the undergrowth of a grove of Eucalyptus trees that tower so high you would expect to find bloodthirsty giants in castles at the top of them. Vines have attempted to climb up these majestic trees but got lost half way up and end up entangled in neighbouring trees or giving up altogether and dropping down again like a waterfall of branches. But birds are the real benefactors of these monsters, as they can forage around in safety on the ground beneath or settle in the tops, hundreds of feet away from any predators or interferers. Victoria Park is home to a staggering 80 different species of birds and if you spend half a day wandering around you will see at least a third of them. My favourite for taking pictures due to its less timid behaviour was the Oriental Asian Magpie, scouting around in the undergrowth, looking similar to magpies from other continents but smaller, sweeter and with a rather proud tail.

Victoria park bushes are always a good place to find smaller birds as they have plenty of delicious things to eat crawling around in them. You can take a break from bird watching by sitting on one of the large central well groomed lawns with open areas for recreation, surrounded by beautifully kept and amazingly vibrant flower beds and exotic creations such as the Asian Melalenca tree with bark that looks like tree leprosy but feels as soft, light and smooth as I don’t know what, producing powder that treats skin disorders.

As you move out from the centre you get to the wild bush and flower borders where most of the birds can hide or go about their business unhindered, unless of course you’re a bird on the pull, in which case you might head for what is known as Kissing Corner but, despite the birds being the main draw for tourists, we find the authorities have cut down a number of large trees and cleared the area here such that it would now need to be renamed ‘voyeur’s corner’ if it were to remain an area for such pursuits, on account of its now being overlooked by five storey buildings across the street.

However, this is a small blip in an otherwise wonderful visual and peaceful retreat from all the sadness of the last few weeks. A place you can reconnect with nature and clear your head to make plans for the future. Bright colourful wild flowers lift the spirits everywhere with exotic offerings like ‘lover’s begonias’, azaleas blowing their massive pink trumpets all year round, and cannas flowers with their bright yellow and orange furling trumpets. As I look up from these explosions of beauty unsurpassable even to King Solomon in all his glory, Cattle Egrets flutter past on their graceful flight to other places, past screeching Rosewing Parakeets perching high in Cypress trees adorned with massive growths about their trunks. Many of the trees here also show off vibrant plumage like the Powderhub with its exploding fireworks of pink and white, the aptly named Bottle Brush trees with their bright red flora, the Hibiscus with red furled bells and vines that wind around their host trees decorating them like Christmas trees with pentagonal yellow and white six inch long trombones. Amongst them, if you are watchful and keen eyed, you may find Grey Wagtails, Spotted Doves or the migrating Kashmere Flycatchers, as we did.

Some trees capture the imagination with their curly ferns, all feathery and fluffy, others like the Kashmir flycatcher with it bright orange charming call is always great fun to see. I even had a go myself at replicating it. The magical Victoria Park garden changes in what you can and can’t see during the day and early evening is much better if varieties of birds and numbers are important to you as in the middle of the day it is way too hot for most animal life to want come out from where they are resting or nesting. Victoria Park during this period is an excellent spot for the kids as it has a train and playground, which lets them meet lots of other little people. You can also give your children a chance to experience a horse ride and learn about the medicinal plants that are good for your health from the lovely gardeners that keep the place looking so beautiful despite the terrible traffic spewing out fumes around it. So if you fancy some green space and love bird watching then Victoria Park is a must next time you are having a holiday in the Hill country.

Pictures by Ishanda Senevirathna and Juliet Coombe

 

 

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