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Day 1 Saturday 10th January
Everyone met on time at London Heathrow Airport this morning, and we were soon on our way on what can only be described as an excellent flight by Sri Lankan Airlines.
Day 2 Sunday 11th January
We arrived in Colombo early in the morning, where we were met by our guide and good friend Deepal Warakagoda. The couple of hours it took to drive to our hotel at Ingiriya passed quickly enough and once we had unpacked and freshened up after our journey, it was time for breakfast. A few birds were seen just before and just after we had eaten, including our first Scarlet Minivet, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Brown Shrike, Pale-billed Flowerpecker and Long-billed Sunbird. Then we travelled the short distance to Bodhinigala Forest and followed the main track up into the rainforest. It is always exciting when you have just arrived in a new country and our first few hours of 'proper' birding in Sri Lanka would live up to all expectation. First of all, a Sri Lanka Hornbill flew into its nesting hole and we were able to watch it coming and going. Although it's quite a big bird, it would often be obscured by leaves and would never give a really clear view. But it was our first, and throughout the trip we would get some exceedingly close views. A delightful Tickell's Blue Flycatcher showed very well right by the track, but a Black-naped Monarch was much more elusive and was only seen by a few. In the same area, a party of Dark-fronted Babblers was more obliging, as they moved low down through the bamboo right in front of us, and whilst watching these some movement on the hillside above us turned out to be a fine Crested Drongo that we were able to watch through the telescope for quite a while. Meanwhile, this magical forest was coming to life with birds singing, and a cacophony of cicadas and frogs all around, but a loud noise above us turned out to be a Giant Squirrel, which blundered its way across the canopy. The undoubted highlight of the morning was the roosting pair of Sri Lanka Frogmouths that Deepal somehow located in a stand of bamboo.
Two at a time we walked the 25 yards off the track to look at them and admire their intricately marked plumage features. Wow! We just couldn't get enough of them, but eventually we had to move on and we left them to their daytime slumber undisturbed. So we returned to our hotel satisfied with our morning's efforts and retired for some much needed food. After lunch, some of the group had a siesta whilst others decided to walk around the hotel. They saw some good birds, including Oriental White-eye, Green Imperial Pigeon and several fine Purple-rumped Sunbirds. We all went out later in the afternoon and returned to Bodhinigala Forest . A Brown-breasted Flycatcher showed well, but a Green-billed Coucal remained hidden - only calling occasionally. This is one of the hardest endemics to actually see and we waited for quite a while, but the bird remained hidden way up on the hillside. Whilst we were here, a Chestnut-backed Owlet began calling further along the track and after a game of cat-and-mouse, we eventually located it perched high up in a huge tree, where we had pretty good scope views of him. We also managed to get much better views of a nice Black-naped Monarch that kept returning to the same perch over and over again. We timed our return to the hotel to coincide with the sun setting. As the light faded we managed to entice a Brown Hawk Owl to fly into a palm tree right next to us. Not a bad ending to a great day's birding.
Day 3 Monday 12th January
This morning we returned to the forest after breakfast. On arrival we followed the same path as yesterday, but this time the whole area seemed to resonate to the sound of birds singing, with the evocative sound of Yellow-fronted and Brown Barbets ringing throughout the forest. An Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher was heard amongst a dense stand of bamboo, but we couldn't locate it. However a few hundred yards further along we were privileged to find one perched on a telegraph wire and were able to watch it for a good five minutes. On the hillside above, a Spot-winged Thrush was singing, whilst a distant Green-billed Coucal was also heard once again.
As the path started to go uphill we hit a purple patch, with an exciting couple of minutes producing Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Lesser Yellownape, Small Minivet, Black-headed Yellow Bulbul, a Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike and three Oriental Honey Buzzards soaring overhead. Walking back to the coach we saw a Purple-faced Leaf Monkey up in the canopy. We returned to the hotel, loaded our luggage and set off to Kelani. Unfortunately our bus, which was changed overnight for this more updated model, broke down! So, improvising quickly, we commandeered a local bus and driver to take us the final 20km to our hotel. Arriving a little later than expected, we had a super lunch before gathering on the verandah overlooking the Kelani River . Below us we saw a Striated Heron perched on a rock on the other side of the river, and Brian found a Stork-billed Kingfisher. Over the distant hills I picked up a pair of Black Eagles soaring and we got pretty good views in the scope, but the Crested Goshawk was really a little too distant and brief for us to count it on our lists. After an excellent lunch, we crossed the river and walked around the small village. Crossing the river involves standing up in a dugout canoe whilst the boatman paddles you across. Its great fun and you soon get used to it! It took four trips to get us all across and once we had assembled on the far bank we headed along the path. There were plenty of birds around, including Purple-rumped Sunbird, Spotted Dove, the leucopygialis race of White-bellied Drongo which is known as White-vented Drongo , Sri Lanka Junglefowl , the local race of Red-rumped Swallows with their brick-red underparts, and a Black Bulbul that Terry spotted perched high up in a tree. We followed the path into a clearing, seeing a fine Brown Shrike, before we heard a Chestnut-backed Owlet calling further ahead. As we followed the sound, a close tree was seen to hold a flock of White-rumped Munias. Suddenly, the owlet flew overhead and perched in a tree behind us. It was a little obscured by the foliage but we eventually managed some decent views. Whilst watching this, a pair of Jerdon's Leafbirds flew in, and began feeding around a flowering tree, and all the while a steady stream of Sri Lanka Hanging Parrots flew overhead. Then we heard the ever elusive Green-billed Coucal in the distance but unfortunately the light was fading fast so we were unable to look for it. Just as we were about to leave, Trevor saw some movement at the base of a nearby bush that turned out to be a pair of Brown-capped Babblers. They were pretty close, and we all got good views of them in the fading light. So we returned to the river and made an uneventful crossing just as the sun was setting behind the distant hills.
Day 4 Tuesday 13th January
After breakfast we returned to the forest on the other side of the river. It was a lovely morning once again, with the mist quickly dissipating to reveal clear blue skies. Once we had all ferried across, we made our way through to the far side of the village where a Grey-bellied Cuckoo was seen perched in a palm tree. Although a little obscured at first, it eventually flew out and landed in a more open position where we watched it for a little while before continuing on. We followed the path overlooking a little creek, seeing Asian Brown Flycatcher, Lesser Yellownape and a Common Kingfisher. Then we walked up into the rainforest, where it seemed rather quiet at first. An Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher showed briefly, but apart from that we saw nothing else to begin with. At one point we heard Sri Lanka Spurfowl, but some noisy villagers walking by ruined our chances of seeing them. A short distance further on and we heard the spurfowl once again, and whilst peering into the gloomy forest floor, John spotted an Indian Blue Robin on the path ahead. As usual, it was always skulking in the shadows but we still managed to see it pretty well. We then crossed a little stream, before finding ourselves at the edge of some rice fields. In the forest above, we saw a pair of superb Sri Lanka Blue Magpies coming to a nest, before a group of Orange-billed Babblers appeared. Overhead, we saw three Crested Serpent Eagles and a couple of Oriental Honey Buzzards. All of a sudden a pair of Sri Lanka Mynas flew over calling, and I managed to get one in the scope perched rather distantly on the hillside. After crossing the rice fields we heard the unmistakable sound of a feeding flock, which was moving inside the canopy. There seemed to be several different species caught up in it, so we waited patiently and were rewarded with good views of more Orange-billed Babblers, as well as our first Indian Scimitar-Babbler. At one stage it flew right over our heads into the trees behind us, before rejoining the flock. A Crested Drongo put in an appearance, before an absolutely stunning pair of Red-faced Malkohas flew out from some dense cover before quickly disappearing again. They only showed intermittently, giving brief views, and it was a case of having your binoculars on the right spot at the right time. Some of the group got really great views, but were nothing compared to the outstanding views we were all to be treated with in Sinharaja in a few days time! Once the flock had dispersed, Brian picked up some movement that turned out to be a Banded Bay Cuckoo. It was sat on an exposed branch for ages, allowing us to see every intricately marked feather through the scope. Returning to the hotel along the same path, Jean saw some movement on the forest floor that turned out to be a fine Spot-winged Thrush. Other birds seen on the walk back included Emerald Dove and Jerdon's Leafbird. We had a rather late lunch, and with the temperature soaring this afternoon we decided to have the rest of the day off to relax in our superb surroundings.
Day 5 Wednesday 14th January
Before breakfast we drove upriver a couple of kilometres to check out an old site of the Green-billed Coucal. Following a path downhill to the river we saw Yellow-fronted Barbet, a pair of Asian Koel, a Shikra perched in palm tree and a Greater Coucal. Up to 10 Sri Lanka Grey Hornbills were flying around, and we also had a flyby Layard's Parakeet, a confiding Green Warbler, several Orange-billed Babblers and Green Imperial Pigeon. Next to a wood pile, an Indian Pitta gave good views as it worked its way across the leaf litter, and at one stage it flew onto a low branch just staring at us. Then, at last we saw the elusive Green-billed Coucal as it flew through the bushes, promptly disappearing into the dense vegetation. But after a short walk we managed to locate it skulking low down in some bushes, where it showed on and off for the next 10 minutes allowing everyone pretty satisfactory views. Elated with this we returned to our hotel for a well deserved breakfast. We had a final look around the gardens, seeing a Crested Serpent Eagle at the waters' edge, a pair of Black Eagles, White-throated Flowerpecker and a Golden-fronted Leafbird, before setting off to Ratnapura and the lovely Ratnolake Tour Inn. A fine lunch was waiting for us, and from the dining table we saw our first stunning Crimson-fronted Barbet feeding in a huge tree next to the dining room. Other goodies that distracted us from our excellent lunch included a Forest Wagtail, Brown-breasted Flycatcher and Common Tailorbird. Down by the pond, a Blyth's Reed Warbler skulked in the bushes, whilst a White-browed Fantail put on a great show for us. After lunch we had a rest for an hour, before making an abortive attempt to do some birding, but it was simply too hot. So after a swim in the pool and a few cold drinks we ventured out an hour or so later. In the gardens we saw Oriental Magpie Robin, Black-backed Robin, Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike and Scaly-breasted Munia. At the bottom of the garden, a White-rumped Munia was watched for a while, as it built its nest in a small bush. We walked a few hundred yards out of the hotel grounds, seeing a pair of Black-headed Cuckooshrikes, a Brown Shrike of the race lucionensis (which is also known as Philippine Shrike), and a couple of White-browed Bulbuls. From the little hill overlooking a small tea plantation, bushes and woodland we saw Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Plum-headed Parakeet and Little Swift, as well as a Purple Sunbird and a fine male Common Iora. Walking down the road, another Indian Pitta was seen as it skulked in the shadows underneath a tea bush. And, to our amazement, just down the hill from this bird, another Indian Pitta decided to come out into the open and feed right in front of us. Whilst looking at this, a Black-backed Robin flew onto some logs right next to us. Amazingly, whilst we were still watching the pitta some thirty minutes later, Mike spotted some movement under the tea bushes, and it turned out to be a pair of Barred Buttonquails. They soon scurried into the thick cover and out of sight, but we didn't mind, as the light was fading fast and we were looking forward to a nice refreshing shower and another excellent buffet meal!
Day 6 Thursday 15th January
After an early morning cup of tea we said farewell to our lovely hotel and drove the couple of hours to Sinharaja. On arrival, we checked into the Blue Magpie Lodge and ate our packed breakfast. Although a little rustic, this new lodge is quite literally just downhill from the premier rainforest in Sri Lanka . Whilst here, a flowering tree was proving very attractive to numerous Black Bulbuls, a Golden-fronted Leafbird and a delightful pair of White-throated Flowerpeckers. The drive uphill to the rainforest was as bumpy as ever, but once at the top everyone was excited as to what the day would bring. The path was bordered on either side by dense forest, and the secret here is to be patient and listen to the numerous calls all around for something new. A Green-billed Coucal called from the hill above us, and was answered by another some distance away, before we saw it perched briefly in a bush before flying across the meadow. Further on, a very obliging Spot-winged Thrush nearly had to be stepped over as it fed on the path in front of us totally unconcerned by our presence. Deepal then heard something interesting from inside the forest, and whilst we waited quietly, several Ashy-headed Laughingthrushes were seen creeping amongst the ferns, quite close to the floor. After a while, we all got reasonable views as they moved through the undergrowth, occasionally perching higher up in a tree. Finally, one appeared at the side of the road and showed extremely well as it searched for food right out in the open. We kept moving, on the lookout for a mixed feeding flock, seeing a beautiful Sri Lanka Blue Magpie that showed well right beside the path. We also saw a Sri Lanka Frogmouth sat on its nest in the ravine below us as well - an amazing sight and one few other birders have been fortunate to witness. On reaching the Research Centre it was quite hot, so we took a little break and scanning the surrounding area revealed several Brown-backed Needletails chasing each other across the sky. We searched the nearby trails without finding anything new, so decided to have our packed lunch here. During lunch, a Crested Serpent Eagle and Oriental Honey Buzzard flew over and another Sri Lanka Blue Magpie was seen. By now the clouds had begun to build up and an ominous clap of thunder led to a heavy shower, so we took shelter in one of the buildings and after a short while the sun came out once again. Around the buildings we saw a Layard's Flameback Squirrel, a troop of Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys, a Water Snake and a huge Water Monitor. Retracing our steps back along the track, a couple of the group saw a brief White-faced Starling and whilst trying to relocate it, a superb adult Rufous-bellied Eagle appeared high in the sky and circled a few times before drifting away. Then we came across a little flock of Orange-billed Babblers, and suddenly a superb Red-faced Malkoha flew over the track and landed in a close tree. We watched as it crept through the foliage, but eventually it came right out into the open. Further on, some more Orange-billed Babblers called from deep within the vegetation and began crossing the track in front of us. Amazingly, a little group of three Sri Lanka Spurfowls appeared at the side of the track and proceeded to walk out into the open right in front of us, before scuttling away into the undergrowth. Wow! Near the entrance gate we saw another three Red-faced Malkohas, Layard's Parakeet, Crested Drongo, and an extremely confiding pair of Sri Lanka Junglefowl to end the day off nicely!
Day 7 Friday 16th January
After breakfast, due to the excellent location of this new lodge, we were able to return to Sinharaja Forest . At the entrance gate, we scanned the trees for our last endemic here, and after a short while we found a White-faced Starling perched on top of a leafless tree. It was soon joined by another, as well as several Pompadour Green Pigeons and a male White-throated Flowerpecker. Just around the corner we found a small flock of Ashy-headed Laughingthrushes foraging low down, next to the path, and a female Malabar Trogon showed briefly before flying away deep into the forest. Whilst searching for the trogon, we saw a Crested Drongo and a confiding Green Warbler. The walk to the Research Station was relatively quiet, but we paid our respects to the Sri Lanka Frogmouth at its nest! On reaching the buildings we walked a little further on and found a male Malabar Trogon. It was rather flighty and took a while for everybody to see it well, but eventually everyone had pretty good views. With all our target birds seen, and seen well, we had lunch before deciding to head back to the lodge early. Along the way we saw a Buff-sided Tree Snake and another very confiding pair of Sri Lanka Junglefowl. Back at the lodge, we were enjoying a nice cup of tea in the dining hall, when our first Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker flew into the flowering tree, along with an Oriental White-eye. As we chatted in the dining hall, the heavens opened and we experienced our heaviest and last rainfall of the entire trip. The sound of the rain on the roof was so loud that it was difficult to hear each other speak, but fortunately it didn't last too long.
Day 8 Saturday 17th January
We had breakfast at first light, before loading our bags onto the coach. Then we had a final look around the gardens, watching many birds visiting the flowering trees. A few Orange-billed Babblers were new for the gardens, and we also saw a Golden-fronted Leafbird, Layard's Parakeet, Sri Lanka Myna (which has apparently been quite difficult to see this season so far), White-throated Flowerpecker, as well as loads of Sri Lanka Hanging Parrots. Then, with the mist slowly lifting from the hillsides we said our goodbyes to the excellent staff and set off on the journey to Embilipitya, seeing a couple of Red-rumped Swallows perched on some wires along the way. The route took us through some beautiful scenery, with rainforest cloaked hills stretching for miles in all directions. We passed many small but thriving villages before finally reaching another excellent hotel at lunchtime, where a nice buffet meal was then consumed. Out on the lake behind the hotel, we saw Spot-billed Pelican, Little Egret and Whiskered Tern. Soon after lunch we set off on the short drive to Udawalawe National Park . On arrival we boarded our two jeeps in great anticipation as to what our safari would bring. As we drove out into the park it was immediately apparent that the scenery was totally unlike any we had experienced before with gently rolling, grass covered plains stretching to the horizon, where dark storm clouds gathered over the distant hills. The landscape was punctuated with trees and bushes, as well as the odd pond and by driving slowly and stopping for any movement in the grass, we saw some great birds and animals from our jeeps. Our first Indian Elephant was rather distant, before one crossed the track behind us and began to bathe in a muddy pond. It was an extraordinary experience being so close to this huge animal. Moving on we had a Jerdon's Bushlark perched in a close tree, and a distant White-bellied Sea Eagle before we saw our first Plain and Jungle Prinias amongst the tall grasses. A few nice Black-headed Munias showed well, as did several Blyth's Pipits that foraged in the short grass along the edge of the track. One of our main highlights this afternoon was the extremely prolonged and close views of up to 16 Malabar Pied Hornbills. We saw several groups flying in a long procession from one tree to another, as well as foraging around some nearby fruiting trees. As we ventured further into the park we saw Ashy Prinia, a couple of nice Yellow-eyed Babblers, Indian Silverbill, and a large flock of Baya Weaver, with most being in non-breeding plumage. A Montagu's Harrier also showed pretty well.
A trackside fruiting tree held several Rosy Starlings, as well as a few cracking Orange-breasted Green Pigeons. The male pigeons were absolutely superb and we had the closest views imaginable. Also here, Lynne picked up a pair of Yellow-crowned Woodpeckers that spent quite some time feeding on a dead tree, whilst nearby the track overlooked a valley, where a small pond held several wild Water Buffalo, with some Spotted Deer. Closer to our jeeps, a small troop of Tocque Macaque crashed through the bushes and overhead, Black-shouldered Kites were constantly in view. Other birds seen as we drove deeper into the park included a few Barred Buttonquail, Indian Roller, Zitting Cisticola, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Large Cuckooshrike, Coppersmith Barbet, Little Green Bee-eater, and a pair of Red-wattled Lapwings. Returning along the same track we had a 2nd year Crested Hawk Eagle perched in a dead tree quite close to us, a couple of Yellow-wattled Lapwings and a Pied Cuckoo. Certainly an action-packed afternoon and it made a really good contrast to our birding exploits in this fabulous country so far.
Day 9 Sunday 18th January
We left early to drive to Bundala National Park , where at first light we stopped at a huge lagoon that held good numbers of waders and ducks. At first, the closest birds were Pintail, but soon several flocks of waders began to fly in. The most common were Curlew Sandpipers, followed by the superbly delicate Marsh Sandpipers, and much smaller Little Stints. Lesser Sand Plover numbers soon built up to around 200+, and they mixed with Kentish Plovers, providing a good comparison of plumage and bare part features. We found a couple of Greater Sand Plovers as well, which stood out due to their larger size, huge bills and long legs. Other birds here included a few Black-headed Ibis and Painted Stork flying over, and a distant Great Thick-knee that Trevor spotted. Several Great Crested Terns also flew by, but were rather distant. We had our packed breakfast at this superb spot before driving onto to the park HQ. We boarded our jeeps and set off through the scrub jungle. The first pool we came across held a couple of close Painted Storks, Eurasian Spoonbill, Little Egret, several Little Green Bee-eaters and a superb Black Bittern. The surrounding trees had a stunning perched Grey-headed Fish Eagle, with a chick on the nest nearby. A Chestnut-winged Cuckoo flew over and we also saw Pied Cuckoo, Ashy Drongo, and Rosy Starling. A little further on we stopped at a channel connected to a large lagoon. Amongst the bushes in the water we saw up to seven Yellow Bitterns, with Little, Whiskered and White-winged Terns flying over. Another Grey-headed Fish Eagle was here and flew right in front of us, providing crippling views. Moving on we saw Wood Sandpiper, Shikra, Black-headed Cuckooshrike, a pair of Yellow-crowned Woodpeckers, Crested Hawk Eagle, Barred Buttonquail, several Great Thick-knees, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, and a few Paddyfield Pipits. We finally arrived at the top of lagoon and saw a huge Marsh Mugger, whilst a small flock of roosting birds out on the main lagoon held a couple Brown-headed Gulls, and several Lesser Crested Terns amongst the smaller Little and Whiskered Terns. A Pacific Golden Plover was seen out on the marsh, whilst a few Pheasant-tailed Jacanas were feeding on some floating vegetation right out in the middle of the water. We decided to drive over to the salt lagoons, where we saw more of the same waders: mainly Marsh and Curlew Sandpipers, Kentish and Lesser Sand Plovers, plus a few Oriental Skylarks feeding along the bunds. But by now it was really hot, so we returned to our coach and headed to the wonderful Yala Village . On the way we had several close Asian Openbills, and several Ashy Woodswallows perched on some telegraph wires. What a delightful place Yala Village turned out to be, and was certainly one of the main highlights of our stay in Sri Lanka . The main dining hall is a two storey wooden affair, surrounded by trees and overlooking a good sized lagoon. The lodges, again set amidst mature trees, were rather on the luxurious side with large bedrooms and possibly the biggest bathrooms of anywhere we stayed! Walking from our lodges to the dining area always produced birds and it was a real pleasure to stay here for two nights. After another delightful lunch, we went to the reservoir or 'tank' at Tissamaharama. We waited patiently amongst a stand of palm trees, where we saw a female White-naped Woodpecker pop its head out of a nesting hole. A few minutes later, the male flew in and we watched the pair climb up the trunk before disappearing. Scanning the huge tank revealed at least three non-breeding plumaged Watercock, as well as many Purple Swamphens and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas. As dusk slowly settled, we observed a steady stream of Fruit Bats flying off into the nighttime sky and we heard an Indian Scops Owl in the distance. Several Black-crowned Night Herons took flight before we saw a brief Eurasian Otter on the bund. Returning to Yala Village , a huge Indian Elephant was standing on the approach road to the hotel, so we had to turn the engine off and wait patiently for it to move away. I think we could have waited longer than the quarter of an hour we did, if one of the parks land rovers hadn't appeared around the corner and move the huge beast off into the dense jungle. On arrival at the reception area, we were informed of the presence of at least 10 Indian Elephants in the grounds and had to be escorted to our lodges and back again to the dining room. That evening there were several Wild Boars roaming around the gardens and they seemed totally oblivious to our presence as we walked to dinner. What excitement!
Day 10 Monday 19th January
A leisurely buffet breakfast was followed by a walk around the gardens, where Mike saw an Indian Pitta and White-browed Bulbul before we all met at the lagoon. It was a perfect morning with a clear blue sky as we scanned through the wader flock, seeing Marsh and Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Lesser Sand Plover, Pacific Golden Plover and Little Ringed Plover. A couple of stunning Small Pratincoles flew in and landed briefly before flying around and heading off. We then walked down to the beach, finding a Greater Sand Plover. A couple of hours rest led to a swim, a few drinks and a siesta. Meanwhile, Terry and I returned to the lagoon seeing a Green-backed Heron perched on one of the large rocks. After lunch we drove in the jeeps to Yala National Park . A pool near the reserve HQ held over 50 Eurasian Spoonbills and a Pied Kingfisher, as well as all the usual waders. Following the main track right into the heart of the park, we passed some lakes which held Lesser Whistling Duck, and several Marsh Muggers. At one lagoon we saw some Small Pratincoles, a Pintail Snipe skulking in the grass, Oriental Skylark and Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark. We passed many Spotted Deer, as well as Sambar, Land Monitor, Ruddy Mongoose and a Giant Squirrel. We searched a good area looking for the ever elusive Leopard without success, but still found some good birds, including a confiding Brown Fish Owl at its daytime roost. As we drove along the numerous tracks, a Lesser Adjutant flew over, and we found a Woolly-necked Stork on its nest. Other birds here included Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Grey-rumped Treeswift, Asian Koel, Grey-bellied Cuckoo, Hoopoe, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Brahminy Starling, and a Crested Hawk Eagle.
Day 11 Tuesday 20th January
We left the wonderful Yala Village early and began the long drive up into the mountains. We stopped for some birding and our packed breakfast along the edge of Yala National Park , and the surrounding forest was alive with birdsong. As the sun began to reach the treetops around us we saw several good birds, including our first really good views of a Thick-billed Flowerpecker perched right on top of a tall tree allowing everyone a good look through the scope. Other birds seen here included Common Iora, Black-hooded Oriole, Brown Shrike and Ashy Drongo. A small pool held a pair of Tawny-bellied Babblers, as well as a couple of shy Emerald Doves, a skulking Blyth's Reed Warbler and one or two Plain Prinias. We returned to the coach, and the road carried on through the forest for some time, before opening up to reveal a large wetland. Many Pheasant-tailed Jacanas were present, as well as a young Grey-headed Fish Eagle, but it was relatively quiet, so we carried on. The road wound its way ever upwards, and the scenery changed to reveal steep sided hills covered in tea plantations and some stunning views back down to the foothills way below us. We paused for drinks at a bar near some waterfalls, and took some time to admire the beautiful mountain scenery. Continuing ever upwards, a few Black Eagles were seen over some distant peaks, and as we neared Nuwera Eliya, a Pied Bushchat was seen perched next to the road. Soon after our arrival at yet another excellent hotel, we consumed a superb lunch, before going the short distance to Victoria Park. Situated right in the middle of the town, this park is home to some really good birds, but it took a little while before we found, and everyone saw, the stunning Pied Thrush. Several males and a female skulked amongst the dense foliage on the far side, but with a little patience, one would come out into the open whilst feeding on the berries and show pretty well. Also present were several Yellow-eared Bulbuls, Sri Lanka White-eye and a Great Tit. Down by the stream a Forest Wagtail crept along the floor, and whilst watching it a Kashmir Flycatcher began calling, but remained hidden from view amongst the dense bushes. Time passed all too quickly here and as the light began to fade fast, we returned to the hotel.
Day 12 Wednesday 21st January
This morning we headed up to Horton Plains, arriving just as the sun's first rays touched the far hills. We waited quietly by a pool in the cool mountain air and didn't have to wait too long before hearing a thin, high pitched call from the surrounding forest. Eventually, after a few tense minutes, we located the ever elusive Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush perched in a tree overhanging the water, where it remained for a few minutes before disappearing into the surrounding trees. It called a few times from the dense vegetation but never really showed itself again. So we walked along the road, finding a couple Sri Lanka Bush Warblers skulking low down in some weeds near the floor. We spent a little time looking at these subtly plumaged birds, and whilst watching them some movement in the tree above led us to our first Dull-blue Flycatcher. A pair of Grey-headed Canary Flycatchers showed well further up the road, and our search also revealed Great Tit and Indian Scimitar Babbler before we found a Sri Lanka Woodpigeon. It was feeding in a tree right next to the road and we managed to get first class views of what can often be a difficult endemic to get anything other than just flight views of. By now we were all feeling a little hungry, so we headed back to the minibuses for our packed breakfast, and on the walk downhill a superb male Kashmir Flycatcher put in an appearance and performed very well for us! It was a stunning little bird practically in full breeding plumage and well appreciated by the entire group. With the sun warming things up nicely, we drove down towards Nuwera Eliya, stopping to look at a couple of Hill Swallows that were perched on some roadside wires. Whilst looking at them, we were all astounded when a Jerdon's Baza flew over and landed in some nearby trees. Amazingly, it was joined by another, and over a 40 minute period we were extremely privileged to have awesome views of this quality raptor. But time was pressing and we still had one more endemic to search for. The first site we stopped at was pretty quiet, but at another location Jean picked up a Black-throated Munia perched below us in a little field and once again we had excellent views of this, our last endemic. So we returned to the hotel for lunch where, after another delicious meal, we spent a couple hours relaxing, before returning to Victoria Park. A leisurely walk around the grounds paid off with further views of Pied Thrush, as well as another confiding Indian Pitta. So we spent an enjoyable evening, content in the knowledge that we had cleaned up all the available endemics - although David's singing was only appreciated by a select few!
Day 13 Thursday 22nd January
After breakfast we stopped briefly at a small marsh on the edge of the lake at Nuwera Eliya. We walked out onto the bund, and after a short wait, some movement low down amongst the bushes was noted, and we were extremely fortunate to gain reasonable views of a Pallas' Grasshopper Warbler as it preened in the early morning sun. It was on view for several minutes, although spent the majority of the time partially obscured by some leaves. Whilst we were watching this truly skulking bird, a Baillon's Crake appeared next to the warbler and also began preening. Although it too was obscured by the bushes, it did come out into the open for a few seconds and was later joined by another bird. We also saw several Pintail Snipe feeding out in the marsh, as well as a preening Blyth's Reed Warbler and a couple Black-throated Munias. Then, we drove down through numerous tea plantations towards Kandy . A stop at the Glenloch Tea Factory was made, where we were able to see the various processes in action, as well as purchase some tea! We eventually got to Kandy for a late lunch at our colonial-style hotel, where most of the group saw a White-bellied Sea Eagle fly over, before heading to Peradinya Botanical Gardens. On the way we called into a shop to see some local craftsmen in action and purchase souvenirs before getting to the gardens. Walking through the rather splendid gardens, we saw a huge colony of Fruit Bats roosting in the trees, and at one point they all took off making for a very impressive sight indeed. Just past here a large dead tree held several Alexandrine Parakeets which seemed to be nesting in the holes right at the top. At the far end we had super views of several Crimson-fronted Barbets calling from the top of a tree, and whilst watching them a Golden-fronted Leafbird flew in and began preening. Then, a pair of Common Hawk Cuckoos were found and we watched them for quite a while feeding around a large tree, and also here we saw an Asian Brown Flycatcher before we departed. On arrival back at our hotel, we had some time to freshen up before we made a visit to the Temple of the Tooth. It was an extreme privilege to step foot in this, one of Buddhism's holiest sites.
Day 14 Friday 23 rd January
After an early breakfast we drove the short distance to a reserve called Udawatakelle, which is situated on the outskirts of Kandy . We followed the main path that leads up to and around a pool where we saw a couple Hard-shelled Terrapins sat on a log at the water's edge. Carrying on, it was a little quiet to start with, but once the sun's rays reached over the hill, the place was alive with birdsong. A White-rumped Shama sang from the forest above and with a little encouragement from Deepal, it flew onto a branch over the path where we all managed to see it well. Just around the corner we watched an Emerald Dove gathering nesting material and watched it flying onto the same area of forest floor before returning to its nest, with a beak full of leaves and moss. At one point it perched on a horizontal branch before diving into cover, and we able to study its bright green metallic feathers. Above us high in the canopy, a Lesser Yellownape hacked at a dead branch, and whilst watching this, a Tickell's Blue Flycatcher perched right beside us. As we neared the top of the path, Jean called out when she saw some movement running across the forest floor. Some of us managed to catch a glimpse of a rather shy and rarely seen Mouse Deer, which somehow seemed to disappear into thin air! Once we reached the top of the hill, we followed the path a short distance and were confronted with a lovely view overlooking Kandy . It was a bright, sunny morning and the flowering tree in front of us was alive with birds. There were several Sri Lanka Hanging Parrots, as well as Layard's Parakeet, a few Small Minivets, and a pair of Southern Hill Mynas. Nearby we saw a Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike perched right at the top of a tree. Walking back to the coach we found a close Green Warbler, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and a really confiding Brown-breasted Flycatcher. After lunch we drove to Sigiriya via some spice gardens (!), and arrived in time for some late afternoon birding. We met in the garden, next to a large tree that seemed to be attracting a lot of birds. We saw a Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, Green Warbler, Pale-billed and Thick-billed Flowerpecker, plus a couple of Brown-headed Barbets. A short drive led us to an open area next to a forest, where we saw some Grey-rumped Treeswifts flying over, as well as both Jungle and Plain Prinias in the tall grass, and a Jerdon's Bushlark and Paddyfield Pipit on the main track. As the light began to fade, a pair of White-bellied Sea Eagles flew by and landed in a nearby tree where one of them started to consume a recently caught fish. The light had just about gone when an Indian Nightjar began calling and within a few minutes we saw one flying over our heads several times before perching on a large rock. Shortly after, a Jerdon's Nightjar also flew around us before we managed to see it perched on some bushes in the spotlight. So, not a bad end to the day at all!
Day 15 Saturday 24 th January
After breakfast we birded around the base of the Sigiriya Rock. A stand of mature trees held at least six Forest Wagtails, as well as a close perched Crested Serpent Eagle. Nearby, a White-bellied Sea Eagle flew overhead, and was mobbed by a Shaheen Falcon. The falcon subsequently flew up onto the rocks and we were able to observe it for ages through the scope. A brief Sri Lanka Junglefowl was also seen, as well as Golden-fronted Leafbird and a Black-headed Cuckoo Shrike. An open area of scrub held a good variety of birds including Tawny-bellied Babbler, Plain Prinia, Grey-bellied Cuckoo, Asian Koel, Brown-headed and Coppersmith Barbet, Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Common Woodshrike, White-browed Bulbul and Grey-breasted Prinia. Other birds seen at various stops included Green Warbler, Asian Brown Flycatcher and a Tickell's Blue Flycatcher. A small allotment held a pair of elusive Blue-faced Malkoha that gave us the run around before disappearing for good. Driving back to the hotel we stopped briefly to search for a reported Asian Emerald Cuckoo without success, but had great views of a Coppersmith Barbet and White-browed Fantail, as well as lots of Common Woodshrikes. But all too soon we had to return to the hotel for lunch, before loading our bags onto the coach and heading towards Colombo . We did stop briefly at the bottom of the hotel gardens, where in the shade under some dense bushes we saw Indian Pitta, Brown-capped Babbler and a nice Indian Blue Robin. Eventually we arrived at the Airport Garden Hotel, where we relaxed in our superb rooms before our farewell evening meal, but not before Mike and Marilyn ventured out into the gardens, seeing a nice Black Bittern.
Day 16 Sunday 25 th January
We had a good breakfast before heading off to the airport for our late morning flight back to London . We said our goodbyes to the ever impressive Deepal, as well as the driver and his assistant who had been extremely helpful and friendly, before having time for some last minute shopping at the airport. An uneventful flight touched down at London 's Heathrow Airport right on time, where we all said our farewells.