Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
Sri-Lankan Blue Magpie
The trip report covers a 2 week birding trip with Baurs Tours of Sri Lanka from the 24th January to 7th February 2009. The report has been written to give anyone planning a trip there a taste of what to expect and some practical advice to help people make it an enjoyable trip.
None of the group of three: Dennis Heffernan, Steve Whitely and Craig Howat had visited Sri Lanka before. I think we were bowled over at how beautiful the island of Sri Lanka was. The people have an old-world charm and were very friendly. Sri Lanka has a wonderful living culture and heritage that appears to live in harmony with a varied and rich natural world. Birdlife is both colourful and abundant. I knew little what to expect but I feel Sri Lanka is a must see and experience for any birder.
As a birding destination, Sri Lanka has got the lot with a good number endemics, tropical beauties and excellent wetlands. Most trips see around 220 to 260 species over 2 weeks. Our trip took us from montane forest with the deep red scarlet of rhododendrons, through lush rainforests to gorgeous sandy beaches and marshes of the lowlands. In addition to the birds the other wildlife from Elephants and Leopards to large birdwing butterflies added to the tropical experience.
The arrangements were simplicity themselves. Having met Perry at the Birdfair and knowing Howard Broughton we choose Baurs. Arrangements were made with Perry via email. We choose the Rainforest Rendezvous tour. The tours are quoted for in US dollars which due to Sterling’s collapse which added to the cost. For a group of 3 we were quoted $1300 pp (sharing) and $1500 pp (single). Payment was made in sterling traveller’s cheques at the airport on arrival. I know a number of trips especially to South America are priced in dollars. I changed £200 sterling into Sri Lanka rupees which lasted the holiday. The exchange was £1-00 = 150 Sri Lankan Rupees. Changing sterling travellers’ cheques was no problem at banks but did take about 15 minutes to do.
The tour included guide, transport, accommodation, breakfast evening meal and all entrance fees. We had to buy our own drinks and lunches. As a guide: a coke was about 100-150 rupees; a large ‘Lion’ Beer 250 rupees; a large water bottle about 70-100 rupees and a curry lunch 250-500 rupees.
One important expense is tipping. This can include hotel staff, drivers and guides in National Parks and landowners. I gave our guide around £50 for the trip. For hotel staff I gave around 500-1000rupees (£3-£6). Having a few hundred rupee notes is useful for tips for porters etc. It’s also nice to tip some of the locals whose land you sometimes have to go on. I know most people from the UK are uncomfortable about tipping but Sri Lanka is a poor country and the levels of service are so good I felt a descent tip would justly reward and thank the person. Many staff work very long hours and the local guides put a lot of effort into finding the birds which is something you would not get in the UK.
The flights were booked through Emma at Wildwings and were with Air Sri Lanka. Cost for the return flights including taxes £580-00. The flights left Heathrow’s Terminal 4 at 12:40 on Saturday 24th January 2009 and arrived 1 minute early at 02:15 on Sunday morning. It took 10 hours to get there. The plane, which was an Airbus, was quarter full. Even though Dennis and I are well over 6 foot there are knees had a good couple of inches of clearance from the seat in front unlike other airlines. The food was good and we had 2 meals which were served with a good selection of drinks (free). The service was both polite and efficient making it a comfortable flight.
Entry visa are free and are handed out in the aircraft. A further form should be completed on departed that is collected at the airport.
Daylight and Time
Sri Lanka is 5½ hours ahead of the UK when we visited in January. Dawn is about 06:00 with good light for forest birding by 06:30. Dusk is from 17:45 which lasts for about half an hour depending on cloud cover. So there is about 12 hours of good birding daylight. Like most tropical countries the heat builds rapidly by 10:00 when bird activity drops off, especially in the forest, although birds feeding on flowering/fruiting trees appeared to continue for longer. Wetlands and farmlands were less affected by heat. Activity increases again after 15:00 hours or after rain. Cloudy or cooler weather appeared to prolong birding activity.
Weather and Gear
Our trip was based in the central and southern area of Sri Lanka. The climate has a major impact on the vegetation which splits the Island into the wet and dry zones. Kithulgala and Sinharaja are located in the wet zone. The wet zone is isolated in the south west quarter of the island. We found the wet zone was warm at night but comfortable. In the heat of the day it was hot, especially in direct sun and humid although the forest or the shade of the hotels it was comfortable. None of us found the heat unbearable. We had two heavy showers in the afternoon which last ½ hour each. So umbrella and light waterproofs are advisable. I would recommend a dry bag for camera or other gear that may be badly affected by moisture.
In the lowlands to the south east which is the dry zone the weather was hot and very sunny. There was a notable change in the forest. It was a dry heat and got hot by 10:00hours. By the coast a strong on shore breeze developed which cooled things down. Sun hat and high factor sun cream is advisable.
The highlands over 2000m varied greatly. We had sunny weather but the week before we were informed it had mist and drizzle! In the day it was warm but by late afternoon it got chilly. We had frost on both mornings and it was decidedly cold! Most reports recommend just a fleece. I would go for sweeter, coat and gloves which you can always take off as things warm up. Neither our hotel nor minibus had a heater so some warm gear might stop some chilly evenings and dawns.
Vegetation types and Weather Zones
The wet zone is dominated by wet broadleaved evergreen forest (rainforest) within the south west zone of Sri Lanka of which Sinharaja is the largest remaining fragment. This area receives its majority of rainfall from the monsoon as it moves northward in April to June and then again as the rains move southward in autumn in October-November. Showers can occur at anytime but normally happen in the afternoon.
The Montane zone which occurs above 1500m and includes Horton’s planes is dominated by rhododendrons, tree ferns within low broadleaved evergreen forest and covered by epiphytes. Nights can be cool and rain and mists common at anytime.
The dry zone which includes the south east we visited has dry evergreen forest and thorn scrub, forests, coastal and freshwater marshes. There are a number of reservoirs that are termed tanks. These are superb habitats supporting lush growths of beautiful Lotus, Water Hyacinth, and Reedmace etc. The freshwater wetlands in Sri Lanka support abundant and spectacular birdlife. Coastal habitat includes shallow inlets, mangroves and salt pans.
Field Guides & Avifauna of Sri Lanka
The Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka by John Harrison was an indispensible book with its excellent illustrations by Tim Worfolk. Sri Lanka has a total list of over 430 species of birds. Of these, 233 are resident and these include the most important 26 or 33 species (depending on what authority you choose) that are recognised as endemic to the country. Most of the resident species are shared with the Asian mainland. A further 198 species have been recorded as migrants to the country. The majority of these migrate to Sri Lanka during the northern winter and are present from about August/September to April/May. In contrast, pelagic species of seabirds like Shearwaters, Petrels, Storm-Petrels etc migrate to Sri Lankan waters from southern oceanic islands during the southern hemisphere`s winter. Of the migrants, about 100 species regularly visit the country. The rest are occasional visitors and vagrants.
None of us required any inoculations for this trip although we are all pretty well up on normal jabs for things like hepatitis A, tetanus etc. We were advised we didn’t require malaria tablets either. It is always important to check before going what inoculations you need as these change.
Often being the bane of many trips to India, none of us had any problems with our digestive systems. Both Steve and I have very delicate constitutions (I get stomach problems in Yorkshire!) and yet we were both fine. It appears from other trip reports stomach problems are thankfully rare!
Leeches. Before the rain we had no problems with leeches even after a full day in the forest. Unfortunately rain does bring these unpleasant creatures out. Leech socks are essential and I got mine off the internet made by Nomad. Cost about £13:00 including delivery. This all-in-one sock (that can be worn without socks) stops the leech squeezing into your boot or going on your shins. All of the leeches were very small and you would get 3 or 4 on you after a few hours in the forest so it’s not an unbearable infestation but rather a nuisance. Always thoroughly check yourself before taking them into your room! We sprayed Deet around our waistbands which helped.
Steve did get about 7 bites but this was after chasing scrubfowl through Sinharaja without leech socks and having his shirt not tucked in. I had one which I only found out about when I found the blood on my shirt. They don’t hurt but the wound does weep for a bit. In such warm humid environments anti-septic creams must be used once they have dried to stop infections from occurring.
Apart from the odd one at dusk we did not find Mosquitoes a problem. There were no biting flies. Dennis did pick a couple of ticks up in scrub where farm animals had been but these were removed before they became attached.
14 DAY BIRD WATCHING TOUR
Day 1 Sunday 25th January 2009
We arrived at Bandaranaike International Airport Katunayaka at 02:15am. We got through in ¾ hour. We met Sam from Baurs who took the money in travellers’ cheques. We all exchanged money which was very quick.
We met our guide and driver for the next 2 weeks Sunil de Alwis. After loading our luggage onto the minibus we were off.
We arrived at Kithulgala Rest House at 05:45 as light was just appearing. The dining room has a wonderful elevated view of the Kelani River below. It is famously known as the location of the filming of the ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’ and there are a number of photographs of the production scattered throughout the hotel. As dawn lightened flocks of Ceylon Green-Pigeon and Green Imperial Pigeon, Crimson-Backed Flameback, White-bellied Drongos could be seen perched in the trees on the far bank. A Golden-fronted Leafbird sang on the television aerial. Indian Pond Herons; Yellow-billed Egrets and Cattle Egrets flew down river from that night roosts.
Indian Swiftlets flew overhead. Common birds found around the Guesthouse were Purple-rumped & Lotens Sunbird; White-bellied Drongo; Black-headed Orioles; Ceylon Hanging Parrots; Oriental Magpie Robins; Spotted Dove; Pale-billed Flowerpeckers; Common Myna; White-breasted Kingfisher; Yellow Billed and Babbler and Red-vented Bulbils. After having breakfast of tea, toast and cheese omelette Sunil took us across the river.
A lovely Tickell’s Flycatcher (right) and Large-billed Leaf-warbler were seen in the undergrowth leading down to the river and a Stork-billed Kingfisher perched on power cables overhead and Little Cormorant on a rock. Transport to the forest on the other side of the swift flowing but shallow Kelani River is undertaken by a hollowed out canoe. The problem is it is a hollowed out round palm log with a narrow aperture running down its length leaving only room for a foot to get in it so you had to shuffle down. Stability was provided by a bamboo pole running parallel to the log in a catamaran arrangement. It was surprisingly stable and the locals stand up. We nervously sat leaving a couple of inches above the water line. Later on we would stand to cross. It’s well worth bringing a dry-bag with you to ensure if you do tip up and camera gear or optics is protected. These can be obtained from any good camping store or on the internet. On the other side we safely disembarked. Next to the path and too close to focus a pair of Dark-fronted Babblers greeted us. These lovely birds are very confiding and inquisitive and were often seen through the trip by the paths looking at us! Walking through the farmland we picked up a lovely party of Scarlet Minivets Pericrocotus flammeus flammeus and Black Bulbils, Sri Lankan Grey Hornbill; Orange-billed Babblers and a superb Greater Flameback feeding on coconut palms. At a small café a welcome cup of tea was followed by a brief but beautiful view of an Indian Pitta. This lovely bird winters in Sri Lanka and can often be found in the tea gardens.
We then re-crossed the river for lunch. We tried a local buffet which was way too hot! This was the only disappointing meal of the trip.
Back across the river in the afternoon a Lesser Yellownape appeared on the palm playing hide and seek. We then walked through the farmland and after going up a slope we entered into the forest which was surprisingly quiet. We came to an area of paddy fields that was near to harvest and birded the surrounding forest. Black-Capped Bulbul, Gold-Fronted Leafbird, Ceylon Crested Drongo; Brown Headed Barbet; Green Imperial Pigeon and Layard's Parakeet were all found. A flock of Sri Lankan Magpies went quickly through giving fleeting views. Rice attracts Munia’s which upsets the farmers. Good views of White-rumped Munia and the rarer Sri Lankan Hill Munia were had here. An attractive bird close views of this endemic were had. Other good birds were Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike and Indian Cuckoo.
Day 2 Monday 26th January 2009.
We travelled 1km north to a patch of farmland to look for the Green-Billed Coucal. After 10 minutes a bird was called in firstly to a dense broadleaved tree where it gave tantalizing views before appearing well. These lovely birds have a cool green bill. A supporting cast of Purple-rumped Sunbird; White-bellied Drongo; Ceylon Hanging Parrots; Spotted Dove; Oriental Magpie Robins; Common Myna; White-breasted Kingfisher; Crimson-Backed Flameback; Yellow Billed and Orange-billed Babblers and Red-vented Bulbils. We stopped for water where Sri Lankan Grey Hornbill, Oriental Magpie Robins; Large-billed Crow and House Sparrow. Back to the guesthouse for breakfast where a Sri Lankan Swallow flew overhead showing it rich reddish brown under parts and rump. The normal species of birds were seen as we crossed the river including a pair of Stork Billed Kingfisher and the Little Cormorant on its usual rock. At the tea garden a fantastic male Indian Blue Robin gave lovely views hopping through the bottom of the tea bushes before bathing by the hand pump. The next bird to appear was a cock Sri Lankan Junglefowl a brilliant and intricately plumed bird. The lady fed the birds and the confiding nature of many of the birds and mammals reflects the respect and appreciation the local people have. The next star bird was a male Spot-winged Thrush (left) which sang in full view for 10minutes. We celebrated by having some Tikiri Marie Arrowroot Biscuits a fine biscuit at 30 rupees a packet.
Back to the hotel for lunch. 2 Black Eagle were seen as was a passing Gull-billed Tern heading downriver. A Common Sandpiper joined the Little Cormorant with Common Kingfisher. An Asian Brown Flycatcher perched was a new addition.
A Dollarbird added a new bird to the list.
Day 3 Tuesday 27th January 2009
We visited the grounds of the splendid but apparently closed hotel next door. We next took up residence in a ladies garden to look. Whilst we waited, we looked at the paddy fields where Yellow-billed & Cattle Egrets, Indian Pond Herons; Open-billed Storks and Grey Wagtails fed. Before long the Chestnut backed Owlet was back. A fantastic character which was joined by its mate (photo at the front). Another Asian Brown Flycatcher perched up.
We then returned to our hotel. Bright Green Warbler joined the sunbirds at the flowering shrubs in front of the hotel.
After breakfast and on the way back to the river a Blue-eared Kingfisher sat on a rock with its deep royal blue upperparts shining in the sunlight. We went back to the forest where we saw a 4 foot Rat Snake by the path. This snake then shot across the path. We then enjoyed ourselves paddling in a lovely rocky cascade and enjoyed great dragonflies and lizards.
On returning to the hotel we picked up Legge’s Flowerpecker and an Oriental Honey Buzzard. We decided to join the locals in the river for a swim, lovely. Sadly the clouds formed and by 16:00 there was a cloud burst. The local White-breasted Kingfisher though came out and caught a large scorpion. A few whacks and it was swallowed. Like a man eating a lobster alive and whole! Another bigger specimen gave us good views. The birding was ended for the day.
Day 4 Wednesday 28th January 2009
We visited the hotel again our first target bird the Brown-headed Babbler was found “dunnock” like searching through the undergrowth. A charming bird. We spent our last morning watching the abundant birds on the flowering trees at the front of Kithulgala Rest House: A female Common Iora; Purple-rumped & Lotens Sunbird; White-bellied Drongo; Black-headed Orioles; Ceylon Hanging Parrots; Oriental Magpie Robins; Spotted Dove; Legge’s & Pale-billed Flowerpeckers; Common Myna; White-breasted Kingfisher; Oriental White-eye; Yellow Billed Babbler; Ceylon Green-Pigeon and Green Imperial Pigeon.
We packed up and headed off to Sinharaja seeing 2 Crested Serpent Eagles on the way circling a hill by the road. The journey was about 3 hours to Sinharaja. Unfortunately our stake out for the nesting Frogmouths had gone to a Greater Coucal raiding the nest.
We arrived at our accommodation the Blue Magpie Lodge. The lodge is situated just outside the park. There is a large covered Dining Room overlooks a wet field with farm and tea gardens surrounding it. . The food is good traditional Sri Lankan dishes and is better that at Kithulgala.
The accommodation was pretty basic and all the w.c. cisterns can be problematic but its clean and comfortable. Electricity is by generator and only on in the evening meaning a torch is required.
We were greeted with Ashy Woodswallow. Many of the common birds at Kithulgala were present. As we arrived the clouds grew and we had a heavy shower. The dining room makes a good observatory and White-breasted Waterhen; Yellow-billed Egret; White-breasted Kingfisher; Blue-tailed Bee-eater provide excellent views during the rain. The White-breasted Kingfisher particularly enjoyed the rain starting with a large centipede and then one after another large leeches from the wet meadow! Our trips for the Frogmouth only produce a cock Junglefowl in a tree.
Day 5 Thursday 29th January 2009.
In the morning our jeep arrived and transferred us up the steep and bumpy track and through the tea gardens to the reserve which took about 30 minutes. It was very misty after the rain and the birding was quiet. Purple-faced Leaf Monkey’s enlivened the morning. On cleared area an unexpected Sykes Warbler gave prolonged views. A small flock passed through of Orange-billed Babblers, 2 Greater Flamebacks and a fly through Red-faced Malkoha. A displaying Besra circled by 7 Brown-backed Neddletails came next. At the research centre a very tame cock and hen Sri Lankan Junglefowl fed on scraps.
We returned to the lodge for lunch where a Crested Serpent Eagle (below) perched on a wire across a field and a very low Oriental Honey Buzzard went over. Yellow-fronted Barbets came to feed on the bird table and White-browed Bulbils.
We again went back to the forest and retread our morning steps with better success. This time getting good views of 3 Scaly Thrush by the research station, with 8 very tame Sri Lankan Magpies. A flock of Ashy-headed Laughing-thrushes heralded a flock of babblers and bulbils and Sri Lankan Drongos. A ‘grey’ Brown Shrike was now at the clearing.
Day 6. Friday 30th January 2009
We were greeted to a pair of Black-headed Cuckooshrikes on trees behind the lodges. At breakfast a pair of yellow-fronted Barbets came to feed on the bird table. At Sinharaja we stacked out the open area by the gate. A brief view of the endemic White-faced Starling was had with White-breasted Waterhen; Yellow-billed Egret; White-breasted Kingfisher; Blue-tailed Bee-eater. A pair of Sri Lankan Scimitar Babblers foraged. Legge's Flowerpecker, Brown-Capped Babbler, Black-Capped Bulbul, Ceylon Grey Hornbill, Ceylon Hill-Myna, Ceylon Crested Drongo Ceylon Junglefowl, Ceylon Green-Pigeon, Gold-Fronted Leafbird, Ceylon Hanging-Parrot, Layard's Parakeet, Black-naped Monarch were all found.
At the station a Rufous-Bellied Eagle circled overhead. Chestnut-Backed Owlet was then spotted. Sunil had seen some Spurfowl cross the track so we tried to see them. He said the birds moved fast and they do covering big distances quickly. Despite trying to cut the birds off only a fleeting glimpse of these fast moving game birds could be seen. Unfortunately Steve had taken his leech socks off and paid for it later in the still moist forest! A large flock of Orange-billed Babblers was accompanied by 5 Red-faced Malkoha’s. A truly superb bird. Dennis had a Ceylon Spurfowl whilst we were watching the all white Asian Paradise Flycatcher.
Day 7 Saturday 31st January 2009
Our last morning at Sinharaja. Steve had missed the Spurfowl and Starling so it was an early morning start to pin these birds down but first we had a date behind the kitchen with a Slatey-legged Rail which duly obliged at the bottom of the slope where old rice and food was thrown. Sunil took us to his secret place up a track in the tea gardens. Responding to play back the Sri Lanka Spurfowl that were some distance away suddenly showed themselves (these birds are incredibly quick!) and we had prolonged views of a female noisily calling. Pleased with that we proceeded up the hill to the White-faced Starling stake out.
After 15 minutes Sunil called and a White-faced Starling flies from behind us overhead giving the best views yet. We descend the slope for breakfast where we meet Dennis watching the flowering Red Tulip Tree filled with birds.
As I look up I notice a White-faced Starling (pictured below) quickly running along the branches probing at the flowers. This bird gives prolonged views of this very localised endemic we struggled to get views of over the last 3days!
A supporting cast of Jerdon’s Leafbird, Ceylon Hanging-Parrot, Layard's Parakeet, Purple-rumped Sunbird; White-bellied Drongo; Black-headed Orioles; Spotted Dove; Pale-billed Flowerpeckers; Common Myna; White-breasted Kingfisher; Oriental White-eye and White-lored Bulbul. A Changeable Hawk Eagle circled over the tree.
We left about 11:00 to our next stop at Embilipitiya in the lowlands. It involves retracing our route for an hour before heading south eastwards into the Dry Zone of the lowlands. The temperature became very hot outside and it was a relief to have an air-conditioned minibus.
A brief drive by a dam wall produced Common Snipe, Red-wattled Lapwing, White-Browed Bulbul.
Indian Peafowl is a very common bird in the lowlands.
Sunil persuaded us to put off the scheduled trip of Uda Walawe National Park in the afternoon as mornings were better. We did visit the dam of Uda Walawe Reservoir. Spot-Billed Pelican, Oriental Darter, Indian 7 Small Cormorants, Gull-billed & Whiskered Terns and Grey Herons were perched on mudflats or in the water. Access is tricky by the fact of the warning notice which states “Trespassers will be shot without warning!” Understandably we moved on. The common birds in the dry zone include Indian Black Robin, Indian Peafowl, Little Green and Blue-tailed Bee-eaters; Barn Swallow, Paddyfield Pipit.
We stopped off at a tank that was bisected by a road. The lush wetland Steve spotted a Blue-Faced Malkoha (pictured below) and luckily the bird gave great views looking at us from a dense bush. The wetland were full of Egrets, Cormorants, Streaked Weavers.
Our overnight stay was in the luxurious in Centuria Hotel. The Centauria Hotel lies on the edge of the Chandrika reservoir and close to the small town of Embilipitiya . It lies just south of the Uda Walawe national park.
Day 8 Sunday 1st February 2009
This morning we started our first Jeep safari in Uda Walawe National Park. Our drive to the reserve was more Indian Peafowl, Jerdons Bushlark Common Myna and House Crows. At the pickup point we found our first of many Plaintive Cuckoo, Blackbush Robin and a single Booted Warbler perched on the barbed wire. The jeep are open topped and have a tubular metal grid with 6 squares. This allows you to stand. You also get an additional guide who was friendly but made a lot of movement. As we entered the park the tall grassland produced confiding views of Tawny-bellied Babblers; Ashy & Plain Prinia’s; Zitting Cisticolas and Yellow-eyed Babblers. Driving through an abandoned teak plantation that opened out into grassland and scrub jungle a Common Buzzard; flocks of Red-rumped & Barn Swallows; Black-headed & Scaled Munias. A small pool had Painted Storks, Egrets & Ibis with Whiskered Terns feeding in an early morning frenzy. Plaintive Cuckoos were everywhere! This delightful little cuckoo with the deep liver coloured female and the sooty grey male were very common. Our breakfast was eaten at a small pool shred with Black-winged Stilts and a Wood Sandpiper. We encountered a number of small flocks of Rosy Starlings which are always a treat and 3 Golden Jackal. A perched Alexandrine Parakeet at our turn around spot made us retrace our steps.
Our breakfast spot was taken by a bull wild buffalo that squared up to the jeep before 2 large elephants came to drink and put it off charging us! A small flock of Barred Buttonquail flew into our path. Our next stop was a large pool with the star bird a Grey-Headed Fish-Eagle perched in a large dead tree. The pool was filled with birds Oriental Darter, Cormorants, Egrets, Red-Wattled Lapwing, Pacific Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Little-Ringed, Marsh, Wood & Green Sandpiper. Bee-eaters; Whiskered & Gull-billed Terns. As we left a large brown bird left the cover of the overhanging near side trees. It was two glorious Brown Fish Owls!
At the far end Forest Wagtail, Asian Paradise Flycatcher and more Blue-faced Malkoha. By midday bird activity had decreased and we headed out of the park and toward Tissamaharama and the Water Front Hotel. Before we arrived we stopped at the far side of large tank that our hotel was situated on. This reedmace fringed lake was full of birds including the familiar Pintail and Black-tailed Godwit plus Purple Gallinule, Cotton Pygmy Goose, Purple Heron, Egrets, Clamorous Reedwarbler and hundreds of Whiskered Terns. We also found Sri Lankan Woodshrike in the marvellous Rain Trees.
We arrived at our Hotel where we were greeted by the manager, Jude, a charming host who made our stay very warm and friendly.
As the name implies the Water Front Hotel is on the very edge of the large tank. In the evening we were treated to the spectacle of thousands upon thousands of water birds going to roost. Bird Island which is overlooked by the hotel urns white with egrets whilst parties of terns and mynas continually pass over.
Day 9. Monday 2nd February 2009
After breakfast jeep safari in Yala National Park. Our first stop was a long coastal marshes where I noticed a snipe. This turned out to be a Pin-tailed Snipe. As we scanned there were many waders but the star bird was the four Greater Thick-Knee, two of which gave an aerial display. The supporting cast was not bad either with Pacific Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Little-Ringed, Kentish, Lesser Sand Plover, Marsh, Wood, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Redshank, Turnstone; Red-Wattled Lapwing. Another new bird was the Saunders Tern which is very similar to the Little Tern. In flight the large black wedge on the leading edge of the primaries does stand out.
As we got to the Yala compound a small flock of Ashy-Crowned Finch-Lark fed on the football pitch. Wild pigs roamed the compound. As we entered Yala a fine male Orange-Breasted Green-Pigeon perched on a bush by the roadside.
A troop of Grey Langur and herd of wild pigs played in another lovely waterhole with egrets, ibis, terns and storks. We then went try and find a Leopard. A group of randomly parked vehicles looked promising and it was as a fine male Leopard draped itself across a large bow half way up a tree. Obviously we gave this fine animal long and appreciative view.
A small flock of Woolly-necked Storks circled ahead (the only ones of the trip). A short drive later we arrived at the coast with a large sweeping bay capped off by a squared off granite headlands. A poignant memorial had been erected at the foundations of a bungalow that had been washed away to the local and tourists who lost their lives in the tsunami of Boxing Day. It was hard to imagine such a peaceful spot had hosted such a tragedy as the evidence of destruction mentioned in earlier trip reports has now largely gone. Our trip to the headline produced a male Black-necked Stork. One of only five birds in Sri Lanka this critically endangered species has a precarious hold on the island. In stark contrast to this 4foot + bird I noticed a flock of 10 small Pratincoles. A White-bellied Sea Eagle then flew over before soaring over the headland before being joined by another bird. A Greater-crested Tern flew by and sea turtles grazed off-shore.
After a leisurely lunch with White-bellied Sea-eagle over head we had back into the park. The afternoon allowed longer views of the wonderful birds of the area.
Highlights were another Brown Fish Owl, Changeable Hawk Eagles, and White-bellied Sea Eagles, with many water birds and Elephants and Spotted Deer.
Day 10 Tuesday 3rd February 2009.
After breakfast jeep safari in Bundala National Park Bundala in the South East of Sri Lanka.
Our first stop at marshland produced Black-Winged Stilt; 2 more Great Thick-Knee, Cormorants, Egrets, Red-Wattled Lapwing, Pacific Golden Plover, Little-Ringed, Marsh, Curlew, Wood & Green Sandpiper; Black-tailed Godwits Bee-eaters; Little, Whiskered (roosting in low bushes) & Gull-billed Terns and Ashy-Crowned Finch-Lark. A Pied Cuckoo perched up on scrub.
After going through scrub we arrived at the salt pans that were full of birds including 2 Sri Lankan Swallows. Pacific Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Little Ringed, Kentish, Lesser (250+) & 1 Greater Sand Plover, Marsh (400+), Wood (40), Curlew Sandpiper (500+) , Little Stint (100), Brown-Headed Gull (9) , Caspian (73), Lesser-Crested (43), Gull-Billed, Whiskered, White-Winged, Saunders’s & Little Tern. Towards the coast a flock of Red-necked Phalaropes fed on the now choppy waters as the wind got up across the saltpans. 3 Common Curlew joined a group of Small Pratincoles perched on a salt bank.
Re-tracing our steps we turned inland towards the large freshwater tanks with numerous Gull-Billed, Whiskered, White-Winged Tern, Pacific Golden Plover, Oriental Darter, Painted Stork, Spoonbill, Purple Heron, Yellow Bittern, Pied and Common Kingfisher, Purple Gallinule, Clamorous Reed Warbler.
By midday we had left the park and went to our hotel for a slap up seafood meal.
A swim later and we ready for the off again. Across the tank again for the flying foxes which roost in their thousand in the Rain Trees and a Collard Scops Owl
Back garden bird! Indian Scops Owl. Off to another lake to find more Pygmy Cotton Geese before going to Bundala for the Nightjar.
Another tank on a calm balmy evening. In the warm light Gull-billed Terns hawked over the luxuriant vegetation with a supporting cast of Lesser Whistling Duck, Great White Egrets, Indian Pond Herons, Pheasant-tailed Jacana. After carefully scanning of the far bank I managed to finally pick up a few Watercock amongst the thick vegetation.
Later on Indian Nightjars hawked over our heads. With great reluctance we left the wetlands. Some trips miss these areas but for I feel you would miss out on truly wonderful wetlands and abundant, spectacular wildlife.
Day 11 Wednesday 4th February 2009.
After breakfast we left for Nuwara Eliya, visiting Surry Estate en route.
We arrived at the Surrey Estate Tea Plantation about midday. We walked down the valley where I found Brown-capped Woodpecker. Sunil called us and we scrambled through scrub before a descent view of a Brown Wood Owl with its dark mask. We also found Sri Lankan Scimitar Babbler, Indian Pitta, and Tickell’s Blue-Flycatcher. We got to the Rock Hotel about 2pm. The area is intensively cultivated for potatoes and other crops.
Birding in Victoria Park. Situated in the centre of Nuwara Eliyah, the park is a typical formal park of bedding, shrubberies and mature trees with large formal lawns. As it was Sri Lankan Independence Day the park was packed with families.
We found Sri-Lankan White-eye quite common as were the Yellow-Eared Bulbul, Common Sandpipers, Common Myna and Grey Wagtail. Sunil put us in front of a large Mahonia at the top of the Park. From information I had heard that the Pied Thrush could be found along the borders I had a bright idea of walking along the borders. Steve came with me. I wish I hadn’t. Dennis was treated to a male Pied Thrush preening in full view on the Mahonia! Despite sprinting back it had gone. Sunil called us to the brook to see the Kashmir Flycatcher a beauty and the only one wintery there apparently.
We returned to the roost site where we got brief views of the Pied Thrush. Phew!
Day 12. Thursday 5th February 2009
A very early and cold start to visit Horton Plains National Park. A picnic breakfast was had in the bus. As dawn broke Common Blackbird fed by the bus. Our stake out of the Sri Lankan Whistling Thrush by the toilets was stuffed by two busloads of photographers on a David Hoskins trip using the facilities. Fortunately two Sri Lankan Wood Pigeon flew over. Sri Lankan Bush-Warbler was more obliging appearing at point blank range in bushes by the road.
The dwarf forest is stunningly beautiful with bright red rhododendrons, tree ferns with moss festooned trees. Further in tussock grassed plains provide a breath taking scenery in the highest point in Sri Lanka.
Dusky Blue Flycatcher (below left), Yellow-Eared Bulbul (below right), Ceylon White-Eye Large-Billed Leaf-Warbler, Great Tit and a Lesser Cuckoo were found in the forest whilst Hill Swallow and Pied Bushchat could be found on the plains.
P.M. We went back to the park we found 3 male Pied Thrushes and 2 females. These are superb birds. Dinner/Overnight stay in Rock Hotel Nuwara Eliya.
Day 13 Friday 6th February 2009.
Having dipped on the Whistling Thrush the day before we went to Sunil’s secret spot where we all got good but brief views of this tricky endemic that follows upland streams.
Another quick stop at Victoria Park for brilliant views of male Pied Thrush perched over the path just in front. Gorgeous bird. Another stop we got Canary-headed Flycatcher.
We left for Kandy having crested Serpent Eagle on the way. We stopped at the Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya. Beautiful collection of trees and a huge roost of fruit bats. By the ban-yan trees at the far end we found the Ceylon Small Barbet amongst the more numerous Brown-headed Barbets. Brown-breasted Flycatcher, Sri-Lankan Paradise Flycatcher, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher was also seen.
Surrounded by hill country are where the world famous tea is grown. Kandy is famed for its magnificent golden toothed temple, Dalada Maligawa, which houses the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha.
A harmonious relationship: the Buddhist culture and its deep respect for life makes Sri Lanka an ideal place to observe wildlife wherever you are.
Sri Lanka Spurfowl Seen 4 times in all. Once at Kithulgala and 3 times in Sinharaja A sort after species often missed our small group helped at locating this species.
Sri Lanka Junglefowl Common in certain area and tame
Crimson Flameback Fairly common
Yellow-fronted Barbet Seen at the Blue Magpie Lodge
Crimson-fronted Barbet At the botanical gardens
Sri Lanka Grey-Hornbill Common
Red-faced Malkoha In flocks at Kithulgala Sinharaja
Green-billed Coucal Scattered at Kithulgala
Layard`s Parakeet Common at Sinharaja
Serendib Scops Owl Ooops. We slipped up.
Chestnut-backed Owlet Scattered at both Kithulgala Sinharaja.
Sri Lanka Wood-Pigeon Scarce in the uplands
Sri Lanka Green Pigeon Common at both Kithulgala Sinharaja
Sri Lanka Blue Magpie Common at both Kithulgala Sinharaja tame at the field station otherwise timid.
Sri Lanka Woodshrike Lowland bird fairly common
Sri Lanka Whistling-Thrush One of the hardest birds. Near streams in the uplands.
Spot-winged Thrush Fairly common at Kithulgala
Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush Tricky likes moist dense forest of Sinharaja
Dull-blue Flycatcher Common in the uplands
White-faced Starling Tricky at Sinharaja scan at flowering trees
Sri Lanka Myna Scattered at both Kithulgala Sinharaja
Sri Lanka Swallow A few seen throughout
Yellow-eared Bulbul Common in the uplands
Black-capped Yellow Bulbul Scattered at both Kithulgala Sinharaja
Sri Lanka White-eye Common in the uplands
Sri Lanka Bush-Warbler Common but hard to see in the uplands
Ashy-headed Laughingthrush In flocks at Sinharaja
Brown-capped Babbler Secretive but seen Kithulgala Sinharaja
Sri Lanka Scimitar-Babbler Scattered throughout
Orange-billed Babbler Common
Legge's Flowerpecker Scattered at both Kithulgala Sinharaja