Sri Lanka Update - 5th - 25th January 2005 – Don’t cancel your trip!

Published by Ian Merrill (i.merrill AT

Participants: Ian Merrill, Graham Finch, Martin Kennewell



In the light of the events of 26th December 2004, and the horrific devastation and loss of life through a large section of southern Asia, many people may be reconsidering their plans to visit Sri Lanka; we certainly did. Having just returned, however, Graham Finch, Martin Kennewell and I are anxious to spread the word that all of the recognised birding sites remain accessible and that the regular birding circuit is viable without problem.

What is even more important is the fact that the tourism industry is suffering terribly from cancellations at a time when financial income is more important than ever. Tour companies, bird guides, hotels and ultimately the local economy and people will all suffer if trips are cancelled, so we urge any prospective visitors to go ahead with impending travel to Sri Lanka.

Away from the south and east coasts there is no evidence whatsoever of the devastation cause by the tsunami. At Ruhuna National Park (Yala), a strip of grassland and scrub up to 1 km inland from the coast had been scoured by the influx of water but access has been restored to all areas of the park. The resident wildlife appeared unaffected and was present in abundance in this fantastic reserve.

We used Baurs as ground agents and they were extremely well organised and efficient. Our guide and driver, Sunil Alwis, was very proficient and we would recommend him without hesitation.

A full report will be published in due course but in the mean time the following notes should summarise our successes with the most sought-after birds. Please contact me at the address given below if you require any further information.

Notes on Selected Target Species

Spot-billed Pelican
Large colony at Yala and smaller numbers at Tissamaharama Tank.

Ceylon Spurfowl
Heard on a number of occasions and after much effort a pair was seen briefly on the hillside above the HQ at Sinharaja.

Ceylon Junglefowl
Seen with ease at Kitulgala, Yala and Sinharaja.

Slaty-legged Crake
Single bird frequenting a tiny marshy area below a dripping pipe in the garden of a very good ranger/bird guide called Somapala (or ‘Somi’ for short) at Sinharaja.

Ceylon Wood-Pigeon

Four seen in flight only at Horton Plains NP and a similar number perched much more cooperatively at Sunil’s site near Pattipola.

Ceylon Hanging-Parrot

Seen with ease at Kitulgala and Sinharaja.

Layard’s Parakeet

Seen with ease at Kitulgala only.

Red-faced Malkoha

Three individuals seen at Sinharaja.

Blue-faced Malkoha

Pair seen in gardens adjacent to Vikum Lodge, Tissamaharama. Contrary to some reports, we rated the Vikum Lodge as our favourite hotel in Sri Lanka; the food is outstanding.

Green-billed Malkoha

Pair seen in garden of Sisira’s River Lodge, Kitulgala. Also heard at Sinharaja.

Chestnut-backed Owlet

Single birds seen at Kitulgala and Sinharaja.

Serendib Scops-Owl

After nine hours active searching in the field over three successive nights, plus eight hours of travelling over some very rough terrain, we were rewarded with unprecedented views of this stunning little owl. It was ultimately seen at Sunil’s site above the village of Athwelthota, some two hours drive from Sinharaja. The fact that we heard no less than six Serendib Scops-Owls in this time would seem to suggest that this species may not be as scarce as was originally thought. Seeing the bird is, however, a different matter in it’s preferred habitat of tall, dense montane forest. When our bird finally did appear all of the effort was worthwhile as it sat on a bare bough at a height of two metres above the ground at a range of eight metres for over five minutes; certainly the highlight of our trip.

Brown Wood-Owl

Pair of birds at the usual Surrey Tea Plantation roost site.

Ceylon Frogmouth

An incredibly obliging female bird in garden of Sisira’s River Lodge, Kitulgala. Also heard at Sinharaja.

Jerdon’s Nightjar

Pair seen on entrance road to Yala.

Malabar Trogon

Seen at Kitulgala and Sinharaja.

Ceylon Grey Hornbill

Seen at Kitulgala, Yala and Sinharaja.

Malabar Pied-Hornbill

Two pairs seen at Yala.

Yellow-fronted Barbet

Not uncommon throughout wet zone.

Crimson-fronted (Ceylon Small) Barbet

Although heard at both Kitulgala and Sinharaja, the only birds seen were a pair at the Blue Magpie Hotel Sinharaja.

Indian Pitta

Seen at Kitulgala, Victoriya Park, Nuwara Eliya, Yala and Tissamaharama.

Black-crested (Black-capped) Bulbul

Not uncommon throughout wet zone.

Yellow-eared Bulbul

Seen at Victoriya Park, Nuwara Eliya, Horton Plains NP and near Pattipola.

Indian Blue Robin

Female at Victoriya Park, Nuwara Eliya and a male at the Sinharaja Scaly Thrush site.

Ceylon Whistling Thrush

Male seen at the Arrenga Pool, Horton Plains NP. After making a brief appearance in the misty half-light at 06.45 the same bird put in an exceptional close-range performance at 08.50 when it’s dazzling tones could be savoured. The end of the Pool closest to the famous ‘Have you seen the Leopard yet?’ sign was the favoured spot.

Pied Thrush

Single male at Victoriya Park, Nuwara Eliya.

Spot-winged Thrush

Seen with ease at Kitulgala and Sinharaja.

Scaly (Ceylon Mountain) Thrush

Pair in the usual damp hollow, beside the stream, adjacent to Sinaraja Research Station.

Eurasian (Ceylon) Blackbird

One briefly at Horton Plains NP and another three close to Pattipola.

Ceylon Bush-Warbler

Pair at Sunil’s site close to Nuwara Eliya.

Kashmir Flycatcher

Female and first winter male at Victoriya Park, Nuwara Eliya. Two wonderfully bright males at Sunil’s site close to Pattipola.

Dull-blue Flycatcher

Seen at Horton Plains NP and near Pattipola.

Brown-capped Babbler

Seen at Kitulgala and Sinharaja.

Orange-billed Babbler

Seen with ease at Kitulgala and Sinharaja.

Ashy-headed Laughing-Thrush

Seen with ease at Sinharaja.

White-throated Flowerpecker

Five birds seen at Sinharaja.

Ceylon White-eye

Seen with ease at Victoriya Park, Nuwara Eliya and Horton Plains NP.

Ceylon Blue Magpie

Pair at Horton Plains NP and eight birds seen at Sinharaja.

White-faced Starling

Fifteen birds seen at Sinharaja.

Ceylon Myna

Over twenty birds seen at Sinharaja.

Black-throated (Ceylon Hill) Munia

Not seen at the usual Pattipola site despite much searching. Up to twenty-five birds were frequenting the rice paddy below the restaurant at the Blue Magpie Hotel, Sinharaja.

Ian Merrill
January 2005