Birding in Sri Lanka - 3rd February - 23rd February 2006

Published by Alec Crawford (eco AT

Participants: Ann and Alec Crawford with guide Hetti from Jetwing (


What a wonderful place to go on holiday, and also for birding. The people are great, cheerful and smiling, as are the birds, which on the whole are happy to see you, and pose for photographs and identification. There are still those moving shapes at the tops of trees, but not too many. We had organized our trip with Jetwing Eco Holidays ( were helped by one of Eco Holidays superb Naturalist guide Hetti, who found the presence of birds by their song, and then managed to see them, and have the skill and patience to get me to find them, when all know I can be as blind as a mole!

We started off at Talangama Lake, outside Colombo, In 2 hours we found 42 species, including 1 endemic, the Crimson-fronted Barbet, the smallest of the Barbets, which was hopping around the middle section of a tree, but did come out to the end of the branch for a proper identification. It is a pretty bird, basically green, with a yellow and red head. There were also lots of Blue-tailed Bee-eaters. These are beautiful birds, which sit on wires, with their long tails, and pointed beaks, looking not unlike a kingfisher. In flight they look like chestnut birds, as their wings are chestnut, and they shine in the sun. There are two others, the smallest the Green, which is found in scrubby places, especially in Yala, they were everywhere, sitting on perches just beside the jeep; and the Chestnut-headed, which is more common in the hills.

The next two days were spent in the Sinharaja rain forest, where most of the endemic birds can be found. As is usual in a rain forest, for a while you see nothing, then there is a flutter of a mixed flock, and you have to sort them out. That is where we would have got nowhere without Hetti. On the way up we saw three dramatic Sri Lankan Magpies; they are basically bright blue with a long tail edged in white and a chestnut head and neck and red bill. Like the English Magpie they are rather noisy. We saw the rare White-faced Starling, a slender greyish bird, with an off-white face and neck, which lives in the tall trees. We saw those tiny pretty birds, the Minivets, which are either mostly red or orange, which live at the tops of tree, but they did sit at the end of branches and with the sun on them they were quite sensational. The most exciting sighting was the Spurfowl. These are very secretive birds of the undergrowth; like the Water Rail, they are often heard, but very rarely seen. We heard a noise behind us, and two males went out into the middle of the track, and started fighting, so we really had time to admire there chestnut brown fowl, which are chequered black and white underneath.

Then we went to Ratnapura (to look at gems!). The highlight there was a Pigmy Brown-capped Woodpecker. Alec and I must have spent about 20 minutes trying to find it in the top of a tree, hammering away. Poor Hetti was very patient with us trying to explain exactly where it was! We got it eventually. While we were searching we also saw quite easily a Black-rumped Flameback, as very large black, red and white Woodpecker. The prettiest bird I saw there was a Pitta, which was under some bushes, then flew off, so I only got its front view; is has six colours, mostly showing is emerald wings, chestnut breast and blue rump. Later in Nuwera Eliya I saw another, back view, so eventually I saw it all!!

Then off to a dry zone park, Udawalawe, with lots of tall grass, and elephants. That is where we saw a flock of Black-headed Munias, little black headed sparrow-like birds, flitting from the top of one set of tall grasses to another, like flying black dots. We also saw the dramatic black and white Malabar Hornbill, with its huge yellow casque, sitting in a tree, near the track. We also saw most of the parakeets. These are mainly green with long tails, they go around in small flocks making quite a racket. The difference is in the colour of their heads, the Plum is maroon, Layards is blue/grey and Rose-rings and Alexandrine are green.

The next two days were spent in and around Yala. There we saw the Blue-faced Malkoha, a large black bird with a very long tail, edged in white, and blue bare shin round its eye, and the Sirkeer, which is smaller and brown, and less showy. We had already seen the endemic Red-faced in Sinharaja, There we saw the two commonest Pipits, Richard’s with its upright stance and Paddyfield, both hopping in the grass beside the track. We also saw the Pied Fly-catcher shrike, which sat of a bush in the sun, for us to admire, with its crest showing. Near the wetland we had an excellent view of a White-napped Flameback, just sitting on a trunk, peacefully waiting to be photographed. We also wandered into a garden, guided by some children, to see an Oriental Scops owl, which looked like a stump, high in the tree. We had good viewings of the Blyth’s and Clamorous Warblers, when they finally came to the top of the reeds to be admired; we had to wait a while for them, though.

We spent a day in Bundala National Park, where I have never seem so many waders; flocks of Curlew Sandpipers, and Plovers, including Kentish and Little Ringed. We saw a Thick-knee very close to, not hiding among the stones, where it is so well camouflaged it is very difficult to find, and the best was a Pintail Snipe a small snipe, which is usually difficult to see.

Then to Nuwara Eliya, in the hills. There we saw the endemic Yellow-eared Bulbul, a bright yellow bird with a black and white head. We went to Horton Plains, where we missed the famous Whistling Thrush, but did see the shy endemic bush warbler, hiding in the undergrowth, a dark dull little bird. We saw lots of Pied Bushchats sitting on the tops of bushes like our own Stonechats.

Then off to Kithulgala, where we stayed in a lovely rustic hotel on the river, and I was kept awake by the noise of the water! We saw lots of Flycatchers there, the Asian Brown, which are dull birds, but do tend to return to the same perch, so you can see then. There was the lovely blue and chestnut Tickell’s Blue, which eventually showed off his colour in a bush on the riverbank.

Next stop was Hunas Falls near Kandy, where we had a good view of a Brown Fish-owl in a tree, but my goodness it was difficult to see, as it looked like a bit of wood.

We went to Sigiriya rock, as early as we could, and saw a Rufous-winged Bush-lark sitting in the water gardens. It looked just like a smaller version of our Song Thrush. The climb was exhausting but worth it for the view and the ruins.

From there we went to Dambulla, and saw a Shama, sitting on the wire, which is mostly black with its long tail with white edges and chestnut breast

The last stop was at Ranweli, a wonderful eco village. We went on a boat trip up the canal, and saw lots of Bitterns, Yellow and Black and Herons and Kingfishers. We had seen the White-throated all the way round sitting on the wires, and flying off with a flash of blue, and the Common, like ours flying low over the water, and the Pied, the only hovering Kingfisher.
I total we saw 221 different species, which included 27 of the 33 endemic species We “lost” about 8, which got away, like the Green Billed Cougal and the Stork-billed Kingfisher, so maybe we will return to find them. I scored 86 new species.

Ann & Alec Crawford.