Sri Lanka - November - December 2010

Published by David Bryant (dmbryant AT

Participants: David Bryant, Vicki Bryant


Photos with this report (click to enlarge)

Indian Blue Robin, Pied Thrush, Spot-winged Thrush, Sri lanka Whistling Thrush, Sri lanka Scaly Thrush
Indian Blue Robin, Pied Thrush, Spot-winged Thrush, Sri lanka Whistling Thrush, Sri lanka Scaly Thrush
Changeable (Crested) Hawk Eagle
Changeable (Crested) Hawk Eagle
Sri Lanka Spurfowl
Sri Lanka Spurfowl
Kashmir Flycatcher
Kashmir Flycatcher
Orange-billed Babbler
Orange-billed Babbler
Sri Lanka Bush-warbler
Sri Lanka Bush-warbler


Sri Lanka is a popular destination for birders. Twenty five or so years after our last long trips to Asia (twice to Malaysia), it was time to go back and now-peaceful Sri Lanka offered a good introduction to the wider Indian Subcontinent as well as some endemics. We broke with our usual independent approach and looked for a guided trip. Our preference for a guide/organiser based in Sri Lanka (putting more money into the local economy) threw up Birdwing Nature Holidays with Amila Salgado, promising an equal emphasis on endemics, ‘night birds’ and other wildlife, across a range of habitats, from rainforest to saltpans, in both the wet (SW) and dry (SE) zones.


Choice of season is inevitably a compromise. If you like the sun and want to minimise the risk of rain and leeches while having a good chance of finding birds, then late January, February and early March are best. Otherwise November to early January are also good for birds, including migrants from the north and the start of breeding, but will likely involve at least some umbrella-birding. Our late November – early December trip had one afternoon completely lost to a torrential storm, and about half of the days had some rain. The post-rain conspicuousness of many birds, however, probably compensates for the slightly reduced birding time in the wetter months, so trip-lists are more or less constant throughout the ‘winter’. Advice about the best times to visit differs between sources (and can include May and September), but unless you are largely focused on seeing just the endemics, the presence of migrants will likely encourage a visit between November and March – when the endemics are equally findable and the likes of Pied Thrush, Indian Blue Robin and the waders are around, and are too good to miss! Accommodation is quieter earlier in the ‘winter’ season, so this may be another factor if you want to meet/avoid other tour parties.


The cost was US$2300 per head for a 14 day tour for two, out of Colombo Airport, all inclusive, apart from bar drinks and tips. Larger parties go at a somewhat lower rate. Vicki and I fancied a bit of settling-in time as well and stumbled on the excellent (for quality and value) Ging Oya Lodge, Waikkala, near Negombo and the airport (, e-mail, where we spent 4 days pre-trip. We found over 60 species, including Black capped Kingfisher, within a 10 minute walk of the hotel and its gardens, themselves close to the sea.


The itinerary followed a well-trodden path with Amila and Camillus (driver) dealing with all the practicalities. Amila specialises in the mainly forest-dwelling endemics and’ night birds’ and this was reflected in us seeing all 33 endemics plus 10 ‘night-birds’. The accommodation ranged across eco-lodges at the forest boundary to hotels on the edge of town, from clean-basic to very spruce, with mostly excellent Sri Lankan food. Western-type food was available if required. It was pretty well what we would have chosen ourselves as independent travellers, but was better located, and invariably set within good birding gardens or with birding views during meals (hard to track down from Lonely Planet!).

The itinerary had 3 main phases – 1. Getting to know Sri Lankan birds and finding the wet-zone forest endemics, 2. Lowland dry-zone species and wetlands, 3. Montane forest endemics. Amila had sites (and backups) for all the key species, and in addition to finding difficult species he was happy to coach newcomers to Subcontinent-birding with his wide knowledge of calls and songs. There was also enough time, plus Amila’s knowledge, to be able to sort out even brief views of the local mammals, butterflies and key forest plants – although we missed out on Leopard.

Itinerary details (and cumulative species totals in brackets, plus selected sightings)

17 November; Early AM arrival at Colombo; Ging Oya Lodge, Waikkala, to 19 November (+62) Black-capped Kingfisher

20 – 23 November; Kitulgala Forest Reserve (+60=122) Green-billed Coucal, Orange-billed Babbler, Mountain Hawk-eagle, Sri Lanka Spurfowl, Red-faced Malkoha, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Drongo Cuckoo.

23 – 26 November; Sinharaja Biosphere Reserve (+38=160) Plum-headed Parakeet, Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Serendip Scops Owl, Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush, Sri Lanka Magpie, White-faced Starling.

26 – 27 November; Uda Walawe National Park and Tissamaharama (‘Tissa’) area (+32=192) Indian Nightjar, Brahminy Starling, Slaty-breasted Rail, Blyth’s Pipit, Cinnamon, Bittern, Jungle Owlet, Brown Fish Owl.

28 November; Bundala National Park and Yala NP (+38=230) Greater Sand Plover, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Terek Sandpiper, Marshall’s Iora, Sirkeer Malkoha.

29 November; Bundala NP and Tissa area (+1=231) Blue-faced Malkoha.

30 November; Tissa, Lunugamwewera Forest, Surrey Estate and Nuwara Eliya (+5=236) Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon, Hill Myna.

1 December; Nuwara Eliya, including Botanic Gardens (+12=248) Pied Thrush, Yellow-eared Bulbul, Indian Blue Robin, Sri Lanka Bush-warbler, Kashmir Flycatcher, Dull-blue Flycatcher.

2 December; Nuwara Eliya and Kandy for Udawattakele Forest Sanctuary (+1=249) Brown Wood-owl.

3 December; Kandy, Negombo beach and late PM Departure (+3=252) Brown-headed Gull, Brown Hawk-owl, Ashy Woodswallow.


We took John Harrison’s Field Guide (1st Edition - a 2nd Edition is due in early 2011), which was compact and excellent for field reference. Independent travellers and those leaving the main birding routes will need more, however, particularly P.C.Rasmussen and J.C. Anderton’s (2005) Ripley Guide ‘Birds of South Asia’ (with its two, ‘field’ and ‘reference’, volumes). Thankfully, we could borrow Amila’s copy, otherwise the many recent taxonomic changes (and proposed changes) after Harrison would have been puzzling (i.e. he lists 27 endemics, whereas Rasmussen & Anderton argue for 33) and his 1st edition text is very terse when getting to know a largely unfamiliar bird community.


Sri Lankans were friendly and helpful and we felt at ease everywhere, in forest and town; only once were we approached for money, although more often for sweets. A little care should ensure you come back with what you take – unlike some of the world’s best birding locations. No malarial prophylactics are needed in the south west, nor any other non-routine ‘travel’ injections. We had zero health problems in 3 weeks, perhaps because we relied on Sri Lankan food? The temperature was ideal – neither too hot nor ever cold, even in the mountains. Even so, don’t forget a (compact) umbrella!


We highly recommend Amila Salgado as a guide, organiser and birding companion (e-mail =;, able to turn his hand to all conspicuous nature, identify most of it immediately, by sight and sound, as well as being informative about the Sri Lankan environment, ecology, conservation, history, culture, society, sport, and more or less everything else (see his attached photos, taken on trip)! Tuning-in to new rainforest birds takes me a week or two, and while the majority of the endemics will be encountered somewhere on our route, there is a core of easily-missed species for which a guide is very helpful on a short trip when cold searching is the default option. Amongst the endemics; spurfowl, wood pigeon, Serendip scops owl, whistling thrush, and (in our case, though apparently not always) scaly thrush are elusive or need good luck. Or a very long trip! Finally, Sri Lanka is a place where new species turn up at a rate where they can be thoroughly enjoyed; and most are easy to watch. So, we returned home able to recall nearly all of our wildlife encounters (including 252 bird species, 20 mammals, 43 larger butterflies). Southern Sri Lanka is an ideal locality for a first (or 1-2 week) rainforest experience and the country’s relatively short list of just over 400 species suggests there are plenty of new migrants and possibly a resident or two still to be discovered. After all, the Serendip Scops Owl was first described only in 2004; so recently, that the published descriptions are not yet accurate. Look out for the ‘ears’!

Species Lists

Systematic list follows Harrison, J. (1999), A Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka, 1st Edition, 2009 reprint, Oxford University Press. Square brackets indicate species heard only, or seen too briefly to confirm identification. Round brackets enclose alternative or recently updated names, mostly following Rasmussen and Anderton (2005). Sri Lanka endemics (after R&A 2005) are followed by 'End'.

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Little Cormorant Phalacrocorax niger
Indian Cormorant Phalacrocorax fusciollis
Oriental Darter Anhinga melanogaster
Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Intermediate Egret Mesophoyx intermedia (Egretta intermedia)
Great Egret Casmerodius albus (Egretta alba)
Little Egret Egretta garzetta (Egretta garzetta)
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Indian Pond Heron Ardeola grayii
Striated Heron Butoroides striatus
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax
Yellow Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis
Cinnamon Bittern Ixobrychus cinnamomeus
Black Bittern Ixobrychus flavicollis
Painted Stork Mycteria leucocephala
Asian Openbill Anastomus oscitans
Woolly-necked Stork Ciconia episcopus
Black-headed Ibis Threskiornis melanocephalus
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia
Lesser Whistling-duck Dendrocygna javanica
Cotton Pygmy-goose Nettapus coromandelianus
Garganey Anas querquedula
Oriental Honey-buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo (Himalayan Buzzard B. refectus)
Brahminy Kite Haliaster indus
Osprey Pandion haliaetus
Rufous-bellied Eagle Hieraatus kienerii (Rufous-bellied Hawk Eagle)
Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus
Besra Accipiter virgatus
Shikra Accipiter badius
Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus
Crested Serpent Eagle Spilornis cheela
Black Eagle Ictinaetus malayensis
Mountain Hawk Eagle Spizaetus nipalensis (Legge’s Hawk Eagle Nizaetus kelaati)
Changeable Hawk Eagle Spizaetus cirrhatus (Crested Hawk Eagle S. c. ceylonensis)
White-bellied Fish Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster (White-bellied Sea Eagle)
Grey-headed Fish Eagle Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus
[Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus]
[Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus]
Barred Buttonquail Turnix suscitator leggei
Sri Lanka Spurfowl Galloperdix bicalcarata End
Sri Lanka Junglefowl Gallus lafayettii End
Indian Peafowl Pavo cristatus
Slaty-breasted Rail Rallus striatus
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus
Watercock Gallicrex cinerea
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio
Pheasant-tailed Jacana Hydrophasianus chirurgus
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Eurasian Thick-knee Burhinus oedicnemus
Great Thick-knee Esacus recurvirostris
Small Pratincole Glareola maldivarum
Yellow-wattled Lapwing Vanellus melabaricus
Red-wattled Lapwing Vanellus indicus
Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola
Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus
Mongolian Plover Charadrius mongolus (Lesser Sand Plover)
Great Sand Plover Charadrius leschenaultii
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa (Eastern Black tailed Godwit Limosa melanuroides)
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus phaeopus
[Curlew Numenius arquata]
Common Redshank Tringa tetanus
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia
Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus
Common Sandpiper Tringa hypoleucos
Ruff Philomachus pugnax
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Pintail Snipe Gallinago megala
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris
Sanderling Calidris alba
Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea
Temminck’s Stint Calidris temminckii
Little Stint Calidris minuta
[Long-toed Stint Calidris subminuta]
Broad-billed Sandpiper Limicola falcinellus
Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus
Brown-headed Gull Larus brunnicephalus
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia
Great Crested Tern Thalasseus bergii velox
Lesser Crested Tern Thalasseus bengalensis
Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica
Common Tern Sterna hirundo
Little Tern Sterna albifrons
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus
Rock Pigeon Columba livia
Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon Columba torringtoni End
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis ceylonensis
[Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto]
Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica robinsoni
Orange-breasted Green Pigeon Treron bicincta leggei
Pompadour Green Pigeon Treron p. pompadora (Sri Lanka Green Pigeon T. pompadora End)
Green Imperial Pigeon Ducula aenea
Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot Loriculus beryllinus End
Alexandrine Parrot Psittacula eupatria
Rose-ringed Parakeet Psittacula krameri
Plum-headed Parakeet Psittacula cyanocephala
Layard’s Parakeet Psittacula calthropae End
Red-faced Malkoha Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus End
Blue-faced Malkoha Rhopodytes viridirostris
Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea
Sirkeer Malkoha Taccocua leschenaultii
Green-billed Coucal Centropus chlororhynchus End
Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis (Southern Coucal C. parroti)
Pied Cuckoo Oxylophus jacobinus (Jacobin Cuckoo)
Common Hawk Cuckoo Cuculus varius ciceliae
Plaintive Cuckoo Cacomantis merulinus (Grey-bellied Cuckoo C. passerinus)
Drongo Cuckoo Surniculus lugubris (Fork-tailed Drongo S. dicruroides)
Collared Scops Owl Otus bakkamoena (Indian Scops Owl)
Serendib Scops Owl Otus thilohoffmanii End
Brown Hawk Owl Ninox scutulata
Jungle Owlet Glaucidium radiatum
Chestnut-backed Owlet Glaucidium castanonotum End
[Spot-bellied Eagle Owl Bubo nipalensis blighi]
Brown Fish Owl Bubo zeylonensis zylonensis (Ketupa z. z.)
Brown Wood Owl Strix leptogrammica ochrogenys
Sri Lanka Frogmouth Batrachostomus moniliger
Indian Nightjar Caprimulgus asiaticus eidos (Little Indian Nightjar)
Jerdon’s Nightjar Caprimulgus atripennis
Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill Tockus gingalensis End
Malabar Pied Hornbill Antracoceros coronatus
House Crow Corvus splendens
Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos (Jungle Crow C. levaillantii)
Malabar Trogon Harpactes fasciatus
Stork-billed Kingfisher Halcyon capensis
White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrensis
Black-capped Kingfisher Halcyon pileata
Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher Ceyx erithacus (Black-backed Pygmy Kingfisher)
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis
Little Green Bee-eater Merops orientalis ceylonicus
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater Merops apiaster
Blue-tailed Bee-eater Merops phillipinus
Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops
Coppersmith Barbet Megalaima haemocephala
Crimson-fronted Barbet Megalaima r. rubicapilla (Sri Lanka Small Barbet M. rubricapillus End)
Brown-headed Barbet Megalaima zeylandica
Yellow-fronted Barbet Megalaima flavifrons End
Brown-capped Woodpecker Picoides moluccensis (Indian Pygmy W. Dendrocopus nanus)
Yellow-crowned Woodpecker Picoides mahrattensis (Yellow-fronted Pied Woodpecker)
Lesser Yellownape Picus chlorophus
Rufous Woodpecker Celeus brachyurus
Black-rumped Flameback Dinopium benghalense psarodes (Red-backed woodpecker)
Greater Flameback Chrysocolaptes lucidus (Crimson-backed Flameback C. stricklandi End)
Rufous-winged Lark Mirafra assamica (Jerdon’s Bush-lark M. affinis)
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula
Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark Eremopterix grisea (Ashy-crowned Finch-lark)
Forest Wagtail Dendronanthus indicus
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava simillima (Siberian Yellow Wagtail)
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
White Wagtail Motacilla alba
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi
Paddyfield Pipit Anthus rufulus
Blyth’s Pipit Anthus godlewskii
Grey-rumped Treeswift Hemiprocne longipennis (Crested Treeswift H. coronata)
Asian Palm Swift Cypsiurus balasiensis
Brown-backed Needletail Hirundapus giganteus (Brown-throated N.)
Little Swift Apus affinis
Indian Swiftlet Aerodramus unicolor
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Hill Swallow Hirundo tahitica domicola (H. domicola)
Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo daurica (Sri Lanka Swallow Hirundo hyperythra End)
Common Woodshrike Tephrodornis pondicerianus (Sri Lanka Woodshrike T. affinis End)
Large Cuckooshrike Coracina macei layardi
Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus picatus
Small Minivet Pericrocotus cinnamomeus
Flame Minivet Pericrocotus flammeus (Orange Minivet)
Black-headed Cuckoo-shrike Coracina melanoptera
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus cristatus
Ashy Woodswallow Artamus fuscus
Black-headed Yellow Bulbul Pycnonotus melanicterus (Black-capped Bulbul End)
Red-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus cafer
Yellow-eared Bulbul Pycnonotus penicillatus End
White-browed Bulbul Pycnonotus luteolus
Yellow-browed Bulbul Hypsipetes indicus (Iole indica)
Black Bulbul Hypsipetes leucocephalus (Square-tailed B. B. H. ganeesa)
Common Iora Aegithina tiphia
White-tailed Iora Aegithina nigrolutea (Marshall’s Iora)
Jerdon’s Leafbird Chloropis aurifrons
Golden-fronted Leafbird Chloropis aurifrons
Black-hooded Oriole Oriolus ceylonensis
Indian Blue Robin Erithacus brunneus (Luscinia brunnea)
White-rumped Shama Copsychus malabaricus leggei
Oriental Magpie Robin Copsychus saularis
Pied Bushchat Saxicola caprata
Black-backed Robin Saxicoloides fulicata leucoptera (Indian Robin)
Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush Myophonus blighi End
Pied Thrush Zoothera wardii
Spot-winged Thrush Zoothera spiloptera End
Scaly Thrush Zoothera dauma imbricata (Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush Z. imbricata End)
Eurasian Blackbird Turdus merula (Indian Blackbird T. simillimus)
Indian Pitta Pitta brachyura
Brown-capped Babbler Pellorneum fuscocapillum (P. fuscocapillus) End
Indian Scimitar Babbler Pomatorhinus horsfieldei melanurus (Sri Lanka S. B. P. melanurus End)
Dark-fronted Babbler Rhopocichla atriceps
Tawny-bellied Babbler Dumetia hyperythra phillipsi
Yellow-eyed Babbler Chrysomma sinense nasale
Orange-billed Babbler Turdoides rufescens End
Yellow-billed Babbler Turdoides affinis taprobanus
Ashy-headed Laughingthrush Garrulax cinereifrons End
Sri Lanka Bush-warbler Bradypterus palliseri (Claphrorinis palliseri End)
Blyth’s Reed Warbler Acrocephalus dumetorum
Clamorous Reed Warbler Acrocephalus stentoreus meridionalis (Indian R. W. A. brunnescans)
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis
Grey-breasted Prinia Prinia hodgsonii leggei
Plain Prinia Prinia subflava insularis
Ashy Prinia Prinia socialis brevicaudata
Jungle Prinia Prinia sylvatica valida
Common Tailorbird Orthotomus sutorius sutorius
Bright-green Warbler Phylloscopus nitidus (Green Warbler)
Large-billed Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus magnirostris
Black-naped Monarch Hypothymus azurea ceylonensis
Asian Paradise-flycatcher Terpsiphone paradisi
White-browed Fantail Rhipidura aureola
Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher Culicicapa ceylonensis
Kashmir Flycatcher Ficedula subrubra
Dull-blue Flycatcher Eumyias sordida End
Brown-breasted Flycatcher Muscicapa muttui
Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa daurica
Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher Niltava tickelliae jerdoni (Cyornis tickelliae)
Great Tit Parus major
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch Sitta frontalis
Pale-billed Flowerpecker Diceum erythrorynchos ceylonense
Thick-billed Flowerpecker Dicaeum agile zeylonicum
White-throated Flowerpecker Dicaeum vincens (Legge’s Flowerpecker D. vincens End)
Purple-rumped Sunbird Nectarinia zeylonica zeylonica
Long-billed Sunbird Nectarinia lotenia lotenia (Loten’s S. Cinnyris lotensis)
Purple Sunbird Nectarinia asiatica (Cinnyris asiatica)
Oriental White-eye Zosterops palpebrosa
Sri Lanka White-eye Zosterops ceylonensis End
White-throated Silverbill Lonchura malabarica (Indian S. Euodice malabarica)
White-rumped Munia Lonchura striata
Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata
Black-throated Munia Lonchura kelaarti kelaarti
Black-headed Munia Lonchura malacca (Tricoloured Munia)
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Streaked Weaver Ploceus manyar
Baya Weaver Ploceus philippinus
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo Dicrurus paradiseus (Sri Lanka Crested D. Dicrurus lophorinus End)
White-bellied Drongo Dicrurus caerulescens leucopygialis
Sri Lanka Magpie Urocissa ornate (Sri Lanka Blue Magpie End)
Brahminy Starling Sturnus pagodarum (B. Myna Temenuchus pagodarum)
White-faced Starling Sturnus senex (Sturnia albofrontata End)
Sri Lanka Myna Gracula ptilogenys End
Hill Myna Gracula religiosa (Lesser Hill Myna G. indica)
Common Myna Acridotheres melanosturnus