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Sri Lanka January 2003

241 species seen (2 weeks)

Nick Bray + Deepal Warakagoda

Day 1 Sun 12th January

Everyone met on time at Heathrow Airport, but our plane was delayed on the runway for over an hour due to technical problems. Once we had taken off, we were able to sit back in our incredibly comfortable seats, relax and enjoy the flight. Gulf Air did us proud and we arrived in Abu Dhabi some six and a half hours later. On arrival we went straight onto our connecting flight and flew just over 4 hours to Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Day 2 Mon 13th January

We arrived in Colombo at 6.30am, but our baggage took an almost intolerable amount of time to arrive on the conveyor belt and there were a few worried faces! Eventually all the bags came, and after exchanging our money for Sri Lankan rupees in the airport we met Sam, our contact from Baurs & Co, and waited outside the terminal building. On a small pond we had our first taste of local birding with LittleCormorant, Indian Pond Heron and Common Mynas being seen. A short while later we were met by Deepal in our air-conditioned 16-seater minibus, loaded our bags aboard and off we went through the chaotic local traffic. Deepal informed us that the rains had finally stopped a few days ago and we were met by glorious sunshine! The two-hour drive to the hotel was enlivened by views of Brahminy Kites, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Cattle Egrets and lots of Barn Swallows. On arrival at the new Citizens Rest House at Ingiriya, we checked into our rooms and then met for our first lunchtime curry. This was to be a feature of our tour, but the food was quite varied and there were always grilled fish or chicken dishes available, as well as omelettes, copious amounts of fresh fruits and even ice cream for anyone not keen on spicy food. Soon after lunch we met at the entrance, crossed the road and followed the path towards the `old' hotel. There was a good amount of cover with tall trees and low shrubs providing some excellent habitat for the commoner birds. We soon had our first Yellow-billed Babblers, a Little Egret perched in a tree, Oriental Honey Buzzard overhead, confiding Bright-green Warbler that was a very bright green colour (!), Purple-rumped Sunbird and lots of Little Swifts. High above us a nice Ashy Woodswallow soared over, whilst in some nearby trees we saw Black-hooded Oriole, FlameMinivet, and White-throated Kingfisher whilst a few Sri Lanka Hanging Parrots whizzed overhead calling. At the end of the path we saw our first Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill that proved frustratingly elusive, staying quite deep in the foliage but we eventually got reasonable views. Near some houses we had a stunning Long-billed Sunbird and Pale-billed Flowerpecker in the same group of flowers, whilst nearby we saw White-bellied Drongo and a Common Tailorbird. By now it was getting very hot so we returned to our hotel.

At 3.45pm we all met for the short drive to the forest at Bodhinigala. Driving into the forest we stopped abruptly when a Black-rumped Flameback was spotted. When we got out of the bus for a better view, a pair of Common Iora's were also found high up in a tree. It was only a short drive to our final destination and we walked up a small hill into the main forest. Our first real good bird was a splendid male Indian Blue Robin, which skulked on the forest floor down the slope alongside the main path. Looking under the taller vegetation we eventually managed some good views as the bird tried to remain hidden in the shadows. Whilst looking at this bird some Dark-fronted Babblers

Purple-faced Leaf Monkey

appeared quite close to us. Then, an Emerald Dove flew by. Further up the track we had a stunning male Malabar Trogon that would just not stay still long enough to get the scope on but everyone was happy with the views. Some Black-headed Yellow Bulbuls showed high up in the canopy before we arrived at the top of the path at the Hermitage. Here we had a tree full of Pompadour Green Pigeons giving their peculiar whistling calls, 2 Tickell's Blue Flycatchers were very obliging, as was a Large-billed Leaf Warbler that seemed to freeze on a small branch allowing some incredible scope views and a few Yellow-browed Bulbuls put in an appearance. Nearby were several Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys up in the canopy. Walking back down, Deepal spotted some movement in the leaf litter on the bank above us, and it turned out to be an extremely skulking Green-billed Coucal. It gave frustratingly brief glimpses as it creeped around on the ground, occasionally flying up higher to pick at some grubs in an ivy covered stump before dropping to the ground again. With perseverance it was possible to get the main i.d features, but not everyone managed to glimpse the pale bill. Another one called from higher up in the forest but remained distant.

By now it was nearly 6.15pm so we moved back down the path and waited in a clearing for dusk to settle. No sooner had the light gone than a Sri Lanka Frogmouth began calling, but no matter how hard we tried we could not locate it perched. Several times one flew over our heads but it seemed to go straight into deep cover. We tried several times to locate it, but without success and after a good try we decided to return to our hotel for dinner.

Day 3 Tues 14th January

We had a breakfast of omelettes and toast and returned to the forest at Bodhinigala just after dawn. We retraced our steps of yesterday up through the forest and all around the calls of birds, frogs and insects surrounded us and as the mist slowly lifted from the river we felt privileged to be in this magical rainforest. In a clearing in the canopy an Ashy Woodswallow flew over, whilst we heard a Green-billed Coucal but could not locate it. Soon after we heard a Chestnut-backed Owlet calling, so we retraced our steps back down the path, seeing the first of many Asian Paradise-flycatchers of this trip. We eventually found the owlet perched on the side of a tall thin tree covered in creepers. It was being mobbed by Yellow-browed Bulbuls and at one stage we saw a male Malabar Trogon swoop down and perch next to it. Wow! The owlet gave superb views in the scope and we watched it for ages, studying every little plumage detail. No sooner had the owlet got tired with all this attention and flew off, than an Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher shot past us and disappeared into the forest. So we followed the path in the direction the kingfisher had gone and could hear both a Green-billed Coucal and a Spot-winged Thrush high up on the impenetrable forested hillside. However, the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher decided to fly in and land on a nearby branch, but only briefly before flying off into deeper cover. Amazingly, we soon relocated it perched low down over the small stream that crosses the path. It would only perch briefly before flying a short distance to another perch. It was a game of cat-and-mouse as everyone tried to get a good look at it, but with only my scope available it took quite a while. A few of us saw a brief female Sri Lanka Junglefowl walking over some nearby rocks. Eventually we all saw the kingfisher really well and it stayed for ages on one particular branch enabling us all to appreciate this stunning and often hard to find bird. Whilst watching this, a rather showy Brown-breasted Flycatcher was found and we could all get a real good look at its plumage features, including the all pale lower mandible that separates it from any other possible confusion species. Continuing up the path, we found several Dark-fronted Babblers skulking low down as usual in the thick vegetation. We walked down some steps just off the main path and just let the birds come to us. First in was an Emerald Dove that perched up briefly on a nearby tree, and then we saw a Green Imperial Pigeon, followed by a female Malabar Trogon. Then a superb Brown-capped Babbler flew in and landed on the steps before doing its more usual habit of skulking in the undergrowth. Behind us a lovely Black-naped Monarch flitted in the canopy, whilst a small group of Black-headed Yellow Bulbuls flew in. Overhead, our first Layard's Parakeets zoomed across a gap in the canopy, whilst higher up several Grey-rumped Treeswifts and Indian Swiftlets soared around the blue sky. Then we had some really great views of an Indian Paradise-flycatcher, some brief Flame Minivets and a neck-breaking Large-billed Leaf Warbler feeding high up in the canopy. Content with this little lot we walked back up the steps and soon heard our first (of many) Sri Lanka Spurfowl, but they were calling from quite a distance away and we had no chance.

Our hotel

Indian Roller

By now it was mid-morning and we had to head back to the coach. On the way we had a pair of Sri Lanka Grey Hornbills that gave some nice views and were much appreciated by Dick and Jan who missed them yesterday. And so we eventually said goodbye to Bodhinigala Forest, which had proved very rewarding for us. But, there were still a few surprises to come, as a soaring raptor over the track turned out to be a superb adult Rufous-bellied Eagle. So we all got out and had a good look at it - this turned out to be our only sighting of the entire trip! Back on the main road we had not gone far when we stopped to have a look at a Brown Shrike and a gorgeous Blue-tailed Bee-eater perched next to each other on the telegraph wires. And then we were off again for all of 100 yards before screeching to a halt to have a look at an Indian Roller perched on some wires. Whilst looking at this a Changeable (Crested) Hawk Eagle circled over the forest. Eventually we got to our hotel, some 10 minutes away, placed our bags on the coach and set off on the two hour drive to Kitulgala. The journey was very interesting, with some lovely scenery to look at and our first Red-wattled Lapwings in a rice field being seen.

Our hotel overlooks the Kelani River, where "The Bridge on the River Kwai" was filmed all those years ago. Indeed, some scenes were actually filmed in the bar of our hotel! It is a lovely setting; with rainforest cloaked hills surrounding us as far as the eye can see. A delicious curried lunch was served, (with grilled fish and chicken also available) and some refreshing cold drinks. And whilst some of us scanned the river from the gardens a majestic Black Eagle flew over in the clear blue sky.

"Ferry" across the Kelani River.

Soon we were all off across the river on the little ferry; well the word `ferry' may not be too accurate, it's more your average dug-out canoe, but it does a grand job shipping the local villagers and the more adventurous birders across the placid waters of the Kelani River. It took 3 journeys to shuttle us all across, but it is definitely worth the trouble as the forest on the other side is quite simply superb. On the river we saw several Little Cormorants and the more familiar Common Sandpiper.

Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill

We had not walked far before encountering our first Orange-billed Babblers and we took some time to watch them. In one little area the birds came quickly (which often happened on this trip). We had another Brown-breasted Flycatcher, lots of Sri Lanka Hanging Parrots flew over calling but frustratingly they never seemed to land, an Indian Pitta called from some dense vegetation, a White-bellied Drongo flew in, and an inquisitive Oriental Magpie Robin put in an appearance. Then, in the same area, we found a lovely Lesser Yellownape which stayed in the same tree for ages, a Black-rumped Flameback flew in and a Yellow-fronted Barbet was tracked down to a perch deep inside the canopy and several Flame Minivets were found.

Spot-winged Thrushes

Further on a pair of Sri Lanka Grey Hornbills were seen in a bare tree, but the best sighting of all was the pair of Spot-winged Thrushes that we found along the little stream. One bird was bathing in a small pond some 30 feet away from us whilst its partner sang just above on an exposed branch. We must have watched them for a good quarter of an hour at least. At one stage a cat that had been sleeping by the pond made a desperate lunge for the bathing thrush and only just missed! Literally just back around the corner we had our first perched views of Layard's Parakeets, whilst an Oriental Honey Buzzard flew over, a Brown-headed Barbet was seen perched and a Common Tailorbird showed well. But it was time to leave and we walked back to the river, seeing a huge Stork-billed Kingfisher fly low over the water.

Our day was not yet over and once we had gone back over the river, we went straight to the coach and drove 5 minutes up the road to a metal suspension bridge. We walked back over the river in a rather bouncy fashion on the bridge to a small village in the forest. We got to an open area and listened intently for any birdcalls. Eventually, we heard a Sri Lanka Frogmouth calling from deeper in the forest behind us. So we followed a little path and found one perched right above our heads. Well it took a lot of searching to find it, but it was definitely worth the wait. In the spotlight we had some really nice views and after dipping it yesterday our victory was all the sweeter!

Day 4 Weds 15th January

White-bellied Drongo

Breakfast was at 6.30am and we went over the river again. Scanning from the banks, we had several Pompadour Green Pigeons, Yellow-fronted Barbet, a perched Crested Serpent Eagle and a Stork-billed Kingfisher. George was feeling a little under the weather so decided to stay at the hotel while the rest of us headed back to the area that we had heard the pitta yesterday. In the immediate vicinity were several groups of Orange-billed Babblers, and in a large tree we picked out a Golden-fronted Leafbird, Flame Minivet, White-throated Flowerpecker, brief Oriental White-eye, Brown-headed Barbet and 2 Lesser Yellownapes! Walking back through the village we also saw the commoner Yellow-billed Babblers and White-bellied Drongo. At the little stream we watched a very obliging Emerald Dove perched on the same branch as the thrush was yesterday, as well as a female Long-billed Sunbird and an Oriental Magpie Robin. Climbing up through the forest, the path was quite broad. In an open area we managed to scope a group of Layard's Parakeets whilst searching for a calling Sri Lanka Myna. A loud call behind us turned out to be a Greater Flameback and we tracked it down to a dead tree some 40 yards away, but it was quite hidden by the surrounding foliage. A little further on, at another open area, we had a Rufous Woodpecker fly over us and land briefly in a group of dense trees before flying off again.

Going deeper into the forest we arrived at an area of rice fields where we watched 3 Oriental Honey Buzzards soaring above us. In the surrounding forest we picked out a few Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, a Brown Shrike and a nice male Black-headed Cuckooshrike. We heard some alacca call on the other side of the fields and walked over to them, but once again they didn't show themselves, but we had some good views of a Black-naped Monarch. By now it was really quite hot and we had a rest in a thatched `shed'.

Walking back down through the forest we found a young Sri Lankan Kangaroo Lizard, a rather bizarre little creature with large `bandy' legs! An impressive Crested Drongo gave a good performance a little further down the path and dwarfed a nearby Tickell's Blue Flycatcher. By now we were all hungry and returned to our hotel for lunch where the crème caramel was the popular choice for desert. We now had a couple of hours to rest and relax (in theory) as we did not intend going out birding again until 4pm.

Kelani River

However, some of us returned to the suspension bridge over the Kelani River, just a few minutes up the road - for the experience of bouncing our way across the river again! Just as our minibus pulled up the heavens opened and it began to rain really hard. Not to be daunted we raised our umbrellas and `stoically' headed across. Trying to look at a swimming Water Monitor through binoculars on this bouncy bridge was quite entertaining and no doubt highly amusing to the local villagers. At this stage it started to rain even harder and we took shelter under the eaves of a nearby house. A huge flock of swifts appeared and must have been pushed down from the surrounding hills by the inclement weather. Most of the birds were Indian Swiftlets, but we managed to pick out several Little and Asian Palm Swifts, as well as a single Alpine Swift as well. The highlight was a squadron of at least 15 Brown-backed Needletails that zoomed around overhead and were a rather impressive sight. As the rain eased we made a dash back to the coach, seeing our first White-breasted Waterhen in the dense vegetation along the waters' edge.

At 4pm we headed back over the river in the dugout canoes. We didn't intend to walk very far, but just enjoy whatever we could find. There was a showy Crested Drongo that perched on the telegraph wires near the village and an even more obliging Rufous Woodpecker that perched on top of a dead tree for ages. At one spot we overlooked a small creek and found a Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike high up in a tree. Along the main path we watched a pair of Yellow-fronted Barbets eating some fruits, whilst some nearby trees held a pair of Lesser Yellownapes and whilst looking at them a pair of Southern Hill Mynas flew in to the same tree. Other birds on the walk were the usual Orange-billed Babblers, lots of Black Bulbuls, Common Iora, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrots - this time perched giving good views, and some Indian Swiftlets apparently coming to roost in the palm trees!

Day 5 Thursday 16th January

Crested Serpent Eagle

We had a leisurely walk around the gardens prior to breakfast. Somehow Dave and George missed us and so had to do their own thing - seeing Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, as well as the usual garden birds. The rest of us saw a good selection of the commoner birds, including a perched Shikra and a close Asian Brown Flycatcher. Breakfast was taken at the very respectable time of 8am, before driving off to Ratnapura. On the way we stopped at a site to look for the coucal again and had excellent close views of a Crested Serpent Eagle perched on top of a telegraph post below us. At the same spot there were several Alexandrine Parakeets flying over, male Black-headed Cuckooshrike, 4 Southern Hill Mynas flew over and at least 3 Brown-headed Barbets were spotted in the same tree. Eventually we arrived at the Ratnolake Tour Inn at lunchtime and from our table overlooking the gardens we saw Common Tailorbird, several White-browed Bulbuls, a pair of Plum-headed Parakeets, Black-backed Robin, White-browed Fantail, White-rumped and Scaly-breasted Munias and a huge Water Monitor. And so some of us started a `birds while having lunch' list. And no - it isn't sad at all!

After another excellent lunch a few of us had a walk around the gardens. We started off around the pond, where we got some good close views of the Water Monitor again, as well as finding a Purple-rumped Sunbird feeding its young in a neat little nest low over the water. Up on the hillside we saw another Plum-headed Parakeet and managed to scope it. Out in the front garden we had a nice Asian Paradise-flycatcher, several Red-rumped Swallows of the Sri Lankan race with their brick red underparts flying around the lawn and watched a White-rumped Munia bringing nesting material into the flower boxes on the balcony above.

At 4pm we met Deepal and headed out of the front gate where we found our first Crimson-fronted Barbet and whilst watching this stunning bird a Pale-billed Flowerpecker flew in and perched on the same branch. We walked literally around the corner and heard an Indian Pitta calling. It was in the middle of a small tea plantation and the bushes were packed together so tightly, hardly leaving any open spots to try to see the bird. However, Vernon and Dave managed some decent views. We spent a long time here but the pitta was just not co-operating so we consoled ourselves with distant views of Adam's Peak. In the surrounding bushes and scrub we saw a pair of Large Cuckooshrikes, several Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, Jerdon's Leafbird, Greater Flameback, the increasingly common Yellow-fronted Barbet, Black-hooded Oriole, more Plum-headed and Rose-ringed Parakeets, Brown Shrike, an Emerald Dove walking along the path in front of us and yet another Black-headed Cuckooshrike.

That evening we were treated to some western style cuisine instead of the usual curry but most of us rather enjoyed the more spicy dishes!

Day 6 Friday 17th January

Flame Minivet

We had a very early start this morning in order to get to Sinharaja, so we met in the restaurant at 4.15 for tea and coffee. The two-hour drive was rather uneventful and we arrived just as dawn was breaking over the distant hills. We walked down a narrow track into some beautiful forest, where the mist was slowly rising between the rainforest cloaked hills. This was a good spot for alacca and sure enough we heard one calling but it remained rather distant despite Deepal's best efforts. We did see a Sri Lanka Myna perched on some treetops across the valley, but the star bird was the Sri Lanka Magpie that flew right in and landed in a small tree right next to us. It showed really well and our attention was only distracted from this stunner when a Sri Lanka Woodpigeon flew in and landed right in front of us. It was in a quite dark hole between the dense trees but most of us saw it well. The walk back up the hill produced more Sri Lanka Mynas and a few Flame Minivets. We were all relieved to reach the relative safety of the minibus and away from the threat of leeches! In the trees around the bus we had some great views of a male Flame Minivet, Oriental White-eye and a brief Blyth's Reed Warbler.

We then drove down to the Ranger Station and boarded our jeeps which took us up a steep, rocky trail to the entrance to the reserve. About half way up we stopped and walked down another narrow trail to try for Sri Lanka Spurfowl again. One immediately called from somewhere below us and continued to call the closer it got to our position. It made its way quite close to us before heading round a rather large boulder, crossed to path and made its way onto the hillside above and behind us. The only views obtained were by Vernon, Dave and myself - which just goes to show what an incredibly skulking species this is.

We continued our jeep drive up the hill and had our packed breakfast under the constant vigil of a Brown-breasted Flycatcher. Entering the reserve, we had not gone 200 yards before we found a superb male Malabar Trogon. A short way on we encountered our first feeding flock. The star birds were the pair of Red-faced Malkohas that played hide and seek in amongst the tangle of vines and creepers before shooting out and diving into the next patch of thick vegetation. With a little perseverance we got some really great views of these stunning birds. The main body of the flock was Orange-billed Babblers, but there was also a Crested Drongo, male Malabar Trogon, brief Indian Scimitar-babbler and a shy Chestnut-winged Cuckoo. When the flock had moved through we continued our walk to the Research Station. And just a little way up the path we had our second flock. This contained much the same birds as before, and we had further views of Red-faced Malkoha, Chestnut-winged Cuckoo and Orange-billed Babblers.

Returning to the Research Station for our packed lunch we heard a Scaly Thrush calling from somewhere near the small stream and after a short while we found it, but only briefly. Walking around to the other side we were treated to what can only be described as excellent views of this soon-to-be-split crippler. It fed right out in the open on a bare patch of floor right below us and at one stage flew over the stream to get closer to us and was joined by a Spot-winged Thrush! Wow! There were at least 3 Spot-winged Thrushes present in the same area, as well as an endemic Sri Lanka Kangaroo Lizard and a shy Male Sri Lanka Junglefowl that kept calling for ages but was incredibly difficult to see in the dense vegetation. At the top of a tree bordering the Research Station a couple of White-faced Starlings were seen.

After lunch we walked back up the track searching for a feeding flock. We found a pair of Sri Lanka Magpies nest building, but only Deepal saw our last target bird here - Ashy-headed Laughingthrush. It was now crunch time, with dark clouds gathering overhead and the imminent threat of heavy rain we had to make a decision: did we want to return tomorrow or give up our only chance of the laughingthrush? The decision was almost unanimous and we decided to cut our losses. It was a shame that it was a festival day today, as there were literally hundreds of villagers and locals paying their respects to this exquisite rainforest reserve - and the accompanying noise had obviously affected our chances of finding a really big feeding flock.

Giant Earthworm

So, we retraced our steps back to the entrance, seeing a Giant Squirrel and a truly bizarre, yet very impressive Giant Earthworm in the rain! On arrival at the reserve entrance it appeared we had just missed our jeep ride back down the hill, so we had to wait a good hour for their return and we took shelter against the side of the ticket hut! The drive back down was rather bumpy and we all applauded the skills of the drivers who negotiated the tricky corners with exceptional skill. We eventually arrived back at the hotel at 9.20pm and thoroughly enjoyed a cold beer and some hot food.

Day 7 Saturday 18th January

Oriental Magpie Robin

We had a bit of a late start this morning and set out after breakfast to Gilimale Forest, arriving at 8.30am. During the drive we saw a Crested Serpent Eagle and several Green Imperial Pigeons. Within a few yards of entering this forest we were watching a pair of Malabar Trogons that gave excellent views. Although never staying still for long, they never seemed to fly far and were easily tracked down from perch to perch. The rest of the forest was pretty quiet, but we did see several Dark-fronted Babblers, another pair of Malabar Trogons and an exceedingly brief Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher that flew by. Non-avian highlights included a huge Blue Mormon Butterfly and a beautiful moth that was sat on the path, which defied identification. We heard two pairs of alacca and made our 7th and 8th attempts at seeing them. The first birds responded to Deepal's tape, but unfortunately they called right behind us, no further than 30 yards away and just melted into the undergrowth never to be seen. After all our hard work in creeping off the path and up into the forest so silently, it seemed we were never destined to get any more views of them. We saw plenty of leeches and Theresa must be complimented for showing so much restraint! Aubrey and Barbara had been most sensible in remaining on the track and had good views of a Crested Drongo whilst waiting for the rest of us. Walking back to the minibus we had another brief Oriental White-eye, as well as the usual Tickell's Blue Flycatcher and Black-naped Monarchs.

Driving back to our hotel, we stopped in Ratnapura for a quick shopping fix - where some flip-flops and umbrellas were purchased. Those of us not interested in the finer art of spending money saw a pair of Crimson-fronted Barbets in a large tree. I must say the smiles of Jan, Theresa and Dorothy were much wider than when waiting for the dreaded Spurfowl! So we returned for another sumptuous lunch and had a few hours off before meeting up at 4.30pm.

In the gardens we had a couple Small Minivets, Oriental White-eye, White-rumped Munia and the usual Oriental Magpie Robin. We walked a few hundred yards out of the main gate to try for the pitta again.

Indian Pitta

Plum-headed Parakeet

Here we saw close Plum-headed Parakeets, 2 Large Cuckooshrikes, a Common Woodshrike and Yellow-fronted & Brown-headed Barbets. We waited for the Indian Pitta for over an hour when suddenly it responded to the tape. Amazingly it had come to within a few feet of us and hopped around under the tea bushes for quite a while, allowing some pretty good views - although still in the shadows. Just around the corner we watched a Black-headed Cuckooshrike, some perched Red-rumped Swallows and lots of Little Swifts zooming around low overhead. Immediately opposite the main gate of our hotel, we tried again for Indian Pitta, just to see if there were any more around. It was most unexpected when one flew up and landed in a tree! It didn't remain there long, before flying back down into the tea plantation only to perch on a tree stump in plain view - much to George's delight. We walked a couple of hundred yards down the road and found a small party of Tawny-bellied Babblers and heard a Slaty-legged Crake calling in some exceedingly dense streamside vegetation. As the light faded completely a Brown Hawk Owl flew in and landed in a nearby tree. In the spotlight we managed to get some decent views before if flew off. In the darkness we could make out several Fruit Bats flying over and the mysterious green lights of Fireflies surrounded us. Happy with all this excitement we spent a few minutes having a look at Saturn through the scope to round off another good day. Late that night, some of us saw a lovely Blue Day Moth in the hotel attracted to the hallway lights.

Day 8 Sunday 19th January

Blue-tailed Bee-eater

Blue Day Moth

We left after a hearty breakfast and drove just over 2 hours to our hotel at Embilipitiya. On the way we saw more Green Imperial Pigeons, Blue-tailed Bee-eater and a few Red-wattled Lapwings in some rice fields. We arrived at the hotel earlier than expected and had to wait a short while for our rooms to be ready, but it was worth the wait. The view from our bedroom windows was fantastic; with a huge lake literally right on our doorstep and we could birdwatch from our balconies. We saw Whiskered Terns, Stork-billed Kingfisher and a few of us had a Black-crowned Night Heron roosting in a close tree. We went for a quick walk around the gardens, seeing Asian Brown Flycatcher before having a further look at the lake. There were Gull-billed Terns amongst the Whiskered Terns, as well as Spot-billed Pelican, Great, Little and Indian Cormorants, Sand Martins and a distant Brahminy Kite. Returning to our rooms a Land Monitor was seen sunbathing on the road but ran away as we approached it.

After our buffet lunch we drove the 45 minutes to Udawalawe. We quickly boarded our 2 jeeps and set off into the park, which is very reminiscent of Africa with its gently rolling grassland dotted with small bushes and trees. What a contrast to the rainforests we had become accustomed to birding in! Our first goodie was a nice Coppersmith Barbet, quickly followed by a Yellow-crowned Woodpecker that Vernon picked up. Driving on, we passed a small muddy pond that had a couple of Soft-shelled Terrapins perched on a log. The long grass held lots of prinias and we saw Ashy, Plain and Jungle Prinias in quick succession, whilst overhead there were many Grey-rumped Treeswifts. Back down amongst the bushes we saw some big flocks of Black-headed Munias and watched a few smaller groups of White-throated (Indian) Silverbills coming to drink at a small pond. Blue-tailed Bee-eaters and Brown Shrikes were quite prominent along the drive, but our first Indian Elephant was quite unobtrusive in the tall grass. We saw several lone males before finding a pair with a young one.

Whilst looking at the family of elephants, our attention was drawn to an amazing aerial duel between a pair if Indian Rollers and a Common Kestrel. The electric blue of the rollers' wings really shone out against the dark clouds that were looming overhead. Black-shouldered Kites seemed to be common here and we saw at least 13 different individual dotted across this dramatic landscape. At one point we stopped, as there was a Rain Quail calling but it never showed.

Sirkeer Malkoha

Jerdon's Bushlark

A quick burst of activity led us to our first Jerdon's Bushlarks (now split from the more northerly distributed Rufous-winged Bushlark) along the track and several Blyth's Pipits also put in an appearance before a frantic few minutes trying to locate a cracking Sirkeer Malkoha that seemed to totally disappear in a tiny bush. But it wasn't magic, the bird had just dropped to ground and when it flew up and perched in the same bush we all had great views of this true skulker. Moving on, a small pool held 4 Painted Storks and a family of Lesser Whistling-ducks, as well as Little and Great White Egrets and Water Buffalo. Taking a sidetrack led us to 3 Malabar Pied Hornbills, whilst a nearby lake held Black-winged Stilts, Marsh & Wood Sandpiper, several Indian Peafowl and a Marsh Mugger. Retracing our steps to the previous pond, we had a good look at the Water Buffalo whilst George found several Little Green Bee-eaters.

Orange-breasted Green Pigeon

Hard-shelled Terrapin

Another little pond, this time held a few Hard-shelled Terrapins, whilst the surrounding trees held a flock of superb Orange-breasted Green Pigeons, with a few Pompadour Green Pigeons and a family of Tocque Macaques also present.

Indian Elephant


Driving further into the park, we saw plenty more birds and it was often hard to keep up with the action. With Deepal in the front jeep stopping quite frequently, those of us in the other jeep kept in communication by use of 2-way radio. We also stopped often and our driver was quite used to the whims of birders!

Indian Elephant

Crested Hawk Eagle

We saw several more Indian Elephants, as well as a distant pair of soaring Lesser Adjutants that our tracker identified with the use of my binoculars! There were many Zitting Cisticola and Grey-breasted Prinias seen

in the grass, whilst overhead we watched plenty of Yellow Wagtails and Rose-ringed Parakeets flying around. Several close Crested Hawk Eagles were seen perched on dead trees. But eventually we had to turn around and head back to the entrance and just then it began to rain hard. So we put the canvass roof up to shelter under, but only for a little while as the rain eased. Those in my jeep were privileged to watch a herd of at least 12 Indian Elephants. Driving back we took the canvass roof off, only for it to rain harder and we had to stop to put it up again. I must praise the patience of our driver and tracker. In between the showers we saw Yellow-eyed Babblers, large flocks of Rosy Starlings flying over, Plum-headed Parakeets and a few Brahminy Kites. Near the entrance we stopped to look at a small flock of Scaly-breasted Munias and several Little green Bee-eaters, when a Thick-billed Flowerpecker and a few Small Minivets flew into a close tree. Then Dick picked up some movement way back down the track and there were 2 Small Buttonquails scuttling across. An excellent way to finish our afternoon excursion.

Day 9 Monday 20th January

Great White Egret

Black-headed Ibis

We left early, at 5.30am for the short journey to Bundala. Driving in the dark, we briefly saw 2 Otters cross the road in the headlights. At one spot we stopped to try for nightjars and heard Indian Nightjar and we found our only Yellow-wattled Lapwing of the day as it slowly became lighter. At the Park HQ, we had our packed breakfast before boarding our 2 jeeps and set off into the National Park. Unfortunately it started to rain just as we set out, but only stayed as a light drizzle. We had not gone far when birds started to appear. Sri Lanka Junglefowl were dotted around and quite common, as were Indian Peafowl and Brown Shrikes and a perched Shikra was very welcome. A female Asian Koel was only brief, but we soon had a male perched out in the open. The habitat here is much more enclosed than the park we visited yesterday, and we found ourselves driving along a muddy track surrounded by dense thickets and bushes. Occasionally the vegetation would open out and we kept scanning the tops of the bushes for any birds. We saw an Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, heard Indian Pitta and had huge flocks of Rosy Starlings flying over. However, unlike yesterday, there were several starlings perched in the bushes allowing us good views. Just before we arrived at the first pool a Pied Cuckoo was seen.

At the pool there was a great deal of commotion caused by the rookery, containing Black-headed Ibis, Great White Egrets and Little Egrets, Grey Herons (looking much brighter than our birds), Black-crowned Night Herons and Little Cormorants. Overhead we had our first Great Thick-knees, flocks of Pintails and Black-tailed Godwits. On the far side of the lake, there was a EurasianSpoonbill feeding in the shallows, whilst Gull-billed and Whiskered Terns (in non-breeding plumage) flew around. A few of us saw a Yellow Bittern fly briefly from a near bush and disappear round the corner showing its black flight feathers. Careful scanning around the edges of the lake produced Lesser Whistling-ducks, several Garganey, Little Grebe, Pacific Golden Plover and the usual Marsh & Wood Sandpipers.

Leaving here we drove a little way and stopped at the next pool, which held a few Lesser Sand (Mongolian) Plovers, Pacific Golden Plover and Marsh Sandpiper. On the short grass there were a few Paddyfield Pipits and 2 groups of Ashy-crowned Sparrow Larks. In the trees next to us there was a pair of Common Woodshrikes that showed particularly well. We continued on the muddy track, which was bordered by even denser brush and some larger trees. There were lots of Ashy and Plain Prinias singing on the tops, even though the clouds suddenly became really dark and threatened heavier rain.

We eventually came out of the dense cover and arrived at a huge lake with quite open grassland dotted with small pools. Here we watched a few Pintail Snipe feeding in the grasses, as well as Kentish Plovers, Black-headed Ibis and some Painted Storks. I picked up a Blue-faced Malkoha which promptly disappeared and we had to content ourselves with close views of several Pied Cuckoos, a couple of even closer Great Thick-knees and an Oriental Skylark singing high above us. A short way along we had a nice male Grey-bellied Cuckoo, as well as an Intermediate Egret, several Common Iora's and a few Purple Sunbirds.

Grey-headed Fish Eagle

At the far end of the lagoon, which is cut off from the Indian Ocean by a small spit of sandy beach, we came upon a large group of roosting terns. Here we picked out a few Lesser Crested Terns amongst the commoner Little, Whiskered, Gull-billed, Common and White-winged Terns. It was quite a spectacle to see so many different species of terns together, but there were also lots of waders as well. Lesser Sand Plovers were common, and there were also Kentish Plovers, Curlew Sandpipers, Little Stint, plus a couple of Pied Kingfishers and 2 Brown-headed Gulls. We walked up onto the beach and the tern flock flew around us in a great cloud and blur of wings before settling again. As they settled a Great Crested Tern seemed to appear from nowhere and join the main flock. Out on the ocean a turtle poked its head out of the water, but it defied identification.

All too soon we had to leave and we drove back along the same track. There was a group of 6 Hoopoes that made quite a sight as they flew, but only those in my jeep had some reasonable views of another Blue-faced Malkoha that was perched briefly in the scrub. A Grey-headed Fish Eagle appeared extremely low overhead and perched in the tree right next to us and we had to manoeuvre our jeeps to gain some decent views. In a nearby marsh there was a smart Purple Heron that flew away as we watched the fish eagle. We made another stop to look at a Grey-rumped Treeswift perched on top of a dead tree and there were several Jungle Prinias singing, plus a few Yellow-eyedBabblers seen. At a junction we spotted another Blue-faced Malkoha, which played hide and seek with us before it or another one showed well a few hundred yards further along the track. It is a cracking bird and certainly worth the wait.

Brown Fish Owl

Grey-rumped Treeswift

All too soon we had to leave and make our way to Tissamaharama, seeing our first Asian Openbill in a rice field, and our new hotel. After a leisurely lunch we went out a couple of hours later and went the short distance to a huge `tank' or reservoir. Walking along the path towards the `tank' we found another Blue-facedMalkoha that flew right across the track in front of us and skulked in the shadows of a large tree. We all managed to get some views, but it was one of those cases of piecing the jigsaw together - when you get brief glimpses of different parts of the bird! Once we had reached the raised embankment we had a fantastic view over a massive reservoir covered in lily pads, grasses and the odd small bush. There were loads of birds, included Purple Swamphens, Pheasant-tailed Jacanas and quite a few Purple Herons. However, we were on a mission. The rain clouds were looming again and we had a specific target in mind. In a nearby grove of mixed palm and deciduous trees we had a tense few minutes before we set eyes on a huge Brown Fish Owl at its daytime roost. I set the scope up and everyone took turns to view the bird. It was all very orderly, but definitely necessary, as we did not want to disturb this amazing creature from its daytime slumber. I must say thank you to the young lad who actually pinpointed the birds' whereabouts, as it wasn't to be found in its usual tree!

huge bug!

It had now started to rain quite heavily, so we quietly left and headed for the relative sanctuary of a huge tree to shelter. We could scan the reservoir and actually had good views of the local Stork-billed Kingfisher, as well as a colony of Great, Little and Indian Cormorants. Some of the group had distant views of a rather majestic White-bellied Sea Eagle. Fortunately the rain passed pretty quickly and we walked back along the path to the usual stakeout for White-naped Woodpecker. Deepal said it usually comes in late in the day but due to the inclement weather, it may come in early. How right he was! We only had to wait maybe half an hour, during which time we saw a few Ashy Woodswallows overhead and a huge bug that one of the kids from the village took great delight in showing us. And then, there it was! The White-naped Woodpecker had arrived earlier and there was a frantic few minutes until everyone managed to get on to it. Absolutely superb, we were definitely on a roll and didn't want the day to end. At one point we could compare this bird's plumage to a nearby Black-rumped Flameback - excellent! So, feeling on a high we drove to a nearby marsh to look for bitterns. There was not much activity and a brief and rather distant Baya Weaver, a couple of skulking Pied Cuckoos and flocks of Alexandrine Parakeets calling raucously as they flew overhead on their way to roost were the only noteworthy birds.

The day was not yet over and we still had something else up our sleeve to try for. Although everyone was a little tired by now we all wanted to get at least one more owl species on our list. So we went back to the earlier reservoir and after quite a long wait and with much credit to Deepals' perseverance we were treated to extremely close views of an Indian Scops Owl (now split from Collared Scops Owl) in the spotlight. In fact we got this bird after everyone had given up and were only a few hundred yards from the bus! Tired and hungry we retreated to our hotel for a well-earned meal and at the bird log that night we made our list for the day to be a creditable 119 species.

Day 10 Tuesday 21st January

Woolly-necked Stork

We had another early start in order to get to Yala at first light and also to give ourselves some time to try for nightjars. At our first stop we had at least 2 birds flying around us in the twilight, before gaining good views of an Indian Nightjar perched on a bank in the spotlight. We drove on, flushing another Indian Nightjar from the side of the road. Arriving at the Ranger Station at Yala National Park., we had some close flight views of at least one Jerdon's Nightjar as it flew over the road several times. In the spotlight we could make out the plumage features and note the much bigger size and longer tail than its smaller cousin.

Golden Jackal

Yellow-wattled Lapwing

We quickly boarded our jeeps and made our way into the park. Once again there was a subtle change in habitat, having open grassland as well as rather suffocating enclosed thickets, plus plenty of lakes, ponds and coastal lagoons. Unfortunately, the jeeps have canvass roofs and we had to peer out the sides - which we soon got used to. Following the main track into the park, the first real good bird was a Woolly-necked Stork that picked its way along the grass bordering the track. It was very confiding and allowed us extremely close views - no doubt the overcast conditions didn't really entice it to fly away. Continuing on, we followed a long track and drove by some small lakes where we had several Yellow-wattled Lapwings, Oriental Darter, Spot-billed Pelican, a flock of Pintail, Pacific Golden Plovers, Spoonbill, Painted Stork, Black-headed Ibis, as well as the usual Marsh and Wood Sandpipers. Along the edges we picked out a few secretive Marsh Muggers, whilst several small groups of Spotted Deer stayed in the shadows of the bushes. We passed a large creek that looked interesting, as there were quite a few waders along the waters' edge. The commonest birds were Little Stint, Kentish Plover, Lesser Sand Plover and Curlew Sandpiper - but we couldn't nail a possible Broad-billed Sandpiper. A little way on some of the group had an OrientalSkylark singing, whilst we all saw Paddyfield Pipit and a few Ashy-crowned Sparrow Larks.

A short way further on, as we rounded a corner, a Golden Jackal appeared at the side of the track and once the jeeps had pulled to a halt it became quite bold and crossed the road in front of us before returning to the side and scurrying back into the undergrowth. Then we had a small flock of 5 Brahminy Starlings feeding in an open grassy area, whist a Pale-billed Flowerpecker flew in to a tree right next to us. As we drove along there were several more stops for some really close birds, including a few Pintail Snipe, more Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Indian Peafowl, Pied Cuckoos and a full set of prinias. Eventually we arrived at the beach and were able to have a little walk to stretch our legs and visit the local toilets. Whilst Barbara had a paddle in the Indian Ocean, we scoped a White-bellied Sea Eagle perched in a distant tree.

Bay-backed Shrike

Indian Peafowl

Setting off again we had a close Crested Hawk Eagle sat in a dead tree, before watching the 4th record of Bay-backed Shrike for Sri Lanka. There were some good views of more Hoopoes, Ruddy Mongoose, Land Monitor and plenty of the usual storks and ibis before we returned to the Ranger Station. Amazingly, in the car park, an extremely confiding Sambar was sat under a tree with people walking all around. As we drove out of the park we stopped at some lagoons, which held an incredible number of waders. There were literally thousands of Lesser Sand Plovers, as well as 700+ Kentish Plovers and smaller numbers of Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers. An amazing spectacle!

We returned to the hotel for lunch and went out again later in the afternoon to some saltpans near Bundala National park. It was pretty quiet here, with a gusty wind that made viewing slightly difficult. However, we did get good views of at least 7 Small Pratincoles that flew over the water and perched on the embankment. Other noteworthy birds were our only Curlews of the trip, a flyover Great Crested Tern and a big flock of Greater Flamingos in the distance. As we left this area, we found a female Grey-bellied Cuckoo perched in the scrub along the road.

From here we drove to another `tank' to look for bitterns. We had a great time here, seeing the usual Purple Gallinules, White-breasted Waterhens and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas. However, this time we hit the jackpot with up to 20 Watercock, 4 Yellow Bitterns and 4 sightings of Black Bitterns. A Black-capped Kingfisher perched on some posts out in the reservoir was also a welcome find being a scarce winter visitor to Sri Lanka.

Day 11 Wednesday 22nd January

We had another early start this morning, as we had to drive up into the mountains to Nuwera Eliya. We drove through the forest that borders Yala National Park in a steady drizzle that threatened to hamper our early morning birding. We had a few Green Imperial Pigeons, Indian Rollers, Blue-tailed Bee-eaters and a pair of Malabar Pied Hornbills perched in a distant tree. But justice was done when we found a couple of Grey Drongos, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Thick-billed Flowerpecker and a few Orange-breasted Green Pigeons. We also had a few Wild Boars, Land Monitor and a Ruddy Mongoose walking across the road in front of us.

Stopping to view the wetlands along the Budtala Road we had yet another Watercock flying across the marsh (it can be a difficult bird to get - honest!). But the real prize was the pair of Baillon's Crakes feeding in the tall grass at the edge of the marsh: an incredibly rare bird in Sri Lanka & you could tell by his excitement that it was even a tick for Deepal. We watched them for ages and probably stayed far too long, but the birds were good and the sun had come out revealing a beautiful blue sky! Our first Streaked Weavers were busy nest building and we picked out a few Baya Weavers as well. There were also the usual swamphens and jacanas as well as another 2 Yellow Bitterns, one of which perched for ages on some tall grassy stems allowing us to scope him. But we had to leave eventually and we continued our drive. The scenery changed dramatically and was really impressive with steep-sided hills all around, waterfalls and tea plantations. The only bird of note on the way up was a nice male Pied Bushchat perched on some wires as we neared Nuwera Eliya - arriving at lunchtime. We had a rest for a few hours before venturing out again. Whilst waiting for the bus a Great Tit and Brown Shrike were seen.

The drive to Victoria Park only took a few minutes and we were keen to get inside as quickly as possible. First of all we had a really close Brown Shrike, as well as a few Sri Lanka White-eyes and our first Yellow-eared Bulbuls. Along the small stream we had excellent views of a Forest Wagtail picking its way along the waters' edge. Then the bird we had all hoped for came into view, a cracking male Pied Thrush was spotted in the shadows and we all had good views of him eventually. At one stage he flew across the stream and landed right out in the open. Deepal then found an immature male Kashmir Flycatcher, which was joined by a female. They were quite elusive, staying to the far side of a large tree. But with a little perseverance we were able to get some reasonable views of them - despite George's best efforts at break-dancing on the slippery concrete! There was also a Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher that was singing really high up in some tall trees. Unfortunately it flew before everyone in the group could get on it.

By now it was starting to get dark, but we still tried for Slaty-legged Crake. As we all huddled together, peering in the gloomy dusk air, we saw an Indian Pitta and a female Kashmir Flycatcher but no crake. So, giving this up for a lost cause we went shopping in the nearby market and it was all smiles as we perused the outdoor clothing stalls.

Day 12 Thursday 23rd January

We had tea and coffee at 4.45 am before leaving for the drive up onto Horton Plains. On the way a Sambar walked across the road in front of us, but it was a pretty uneventful drive in the darkness - apart from the bus struggling to make the tight bends. No sooner had we left the minibus than a Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush was heard calling, but did not show. We did find a pair of EurasianBlackbirds feeding in the early morning light, before trying a different spot for the whistling thrush. We waited for ages for the birds to show, but they stayed deep in cover down in the vegetation below us. We did get crippling views of a Sri Lanka Bush-warbler creeping low down through the vegetation and a Mountain Hawk Eagle was spotted by Jan. Walking up the hill a bit to the other side of the pool, we tried again for whistling thrush - once again without any joy. A brief male Indian Blue Robin was seen by a few in the group and was much appreciated. Walking back down we heard the whistling thrush again but he was just playing with us and did not want to show. A couple of Dull-blue Flycatchers and a close Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher took our minds off the chilly weather. As it got warmer, there was much more bird activity and we had good views of Indian Scimitar-babbler, Sri Lanka White-eyes, Blyth's Reed Warbler and Large-billed & Bright-green Leaf Warblers. However, our chances of actually seeing the whistling thrush were diminishing by the minute. So we walked much further up the hill to another small pool, but no joy once again! A little compensation came in the form of a small group of Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys, here of the highland race known as Bear Monkeys. They were quite impressive animals, being much bigger than their lowland cousins with shaggy coats. However, just as we started to walk back down we heard one. And eventually we tracked a pair of Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush down to a quite open area where the female was seen right out in the open. The male was a bit more unobtrusive but we all enjoyed exceptionally good views of this skulking bird. And boy had we worked for them! Whilst watching these, a Stripe-necked Mongoose ran across the road and disappeared in this cover - apparently this is quite a rare sighting. So we returned to the coach for our packed breakfast and enjoyed some much welcome sunshine.

Indian Scimitar-babbler

Yellow-eared Bulbul

Around the pool, birds were on the move and we enjoyed some great views of Yellow-eared Bulbuls who seemed to be enjoying the sunshine as much as us! A party of 5 Indian Scimitar-babblers hung around for ages, inspecting every nook and cranny of the moss covered trees along the waters' edge. Whilst another Blyth's Reed Warbler put in an appearance, along with another Sri Lanka Bush Warbler.

Black-throated Munia

As we descended back down towards our hotel, we stopped to look at a pair of Pied Bushchats and took the opportunity to admire the view. Arriving near some settlements we got out of the bus to have a look at a couple of Hill Swallows perched on telegraph wires and had a Mountain Hawk Eagle soaring high above us. Then we stopped at a site for Black-throated Munia - our last available endemic. Having no joy here we tried a second site without success before it was third site lucky! A small group were located feeding in cover with some Scaly-breasted Munias. Excellent!

And so it was back to our hotel for a magnificent buffet lunch. After lunch we had a little rest during which time the heavens opened and it rained very hard. Not daunted we set off on the short drive to a nearby forest. Us fearless braves wandered down the road, umbrellas aloft getting absolutely drenched and totally birdless as well. So we went over to Victoria Park to try for the crake again. As we huddled under our umbrellas, trying to keep as still as possible we were extremely fortunate to have the Slaty-legged Crake come right out in the open and feed amongst the leaf litter right in front of us. You could just not better that at all. Well, except for a little more shopping in the market across the road!

Day 13 Friday 24th January

During the early hours of the morning the fire alarm had been activated and we all met in reception some time around 4am. Fortunately it was a false alarm, but so much for our early night! The day dawned sunny and warm and after a rather leisurely breakfast (we are on holiday after all!) we left our excellent hotel for the journey to Kandy. A few minutes down the road we stopped at a small marsh and followed the path down to a raised embankment. There was a lot of activity and we had more Black-throated Munias, as well as a couple of Pintail Snipe feeding in the grass. However, pride of place goes to a rather showy Pallas' Grasshopper Warbler that perched out in the sunlight preening, allowing us all to scope him! Wow! He flew to another clump of bushes, this time a little deeper in the foliage, and continued his preening - this was exceptional views for a true skulker and we all really appreciated him. It's not often you get the chance to see such a mega tick and at 6,120 feet it must be some sort of altitude record!

scenic journey to Kandy

Common Hawk Cuckoo

So with this goodie safely under our belts we drove down through extensive tea plantations and stopped at the Glenloch Tea Factory (est 1865). Here we had a guided tour to see how it is all made and examine the different types of tea. After a little tasting session and the obligatory tea purchases we were off. Well only for a hundred yards or so, as Deepal had heard a bird calling that we should investigate. Sure enough after a few minutes I picked out an immature female Common Hawk Cuckoo perched on a telegraph wire. After a few minutes it flew across the road in front of us and landed in a close tree. It then proceeded to fly out of the back of the tree and disappear only for us to find a male Common Hawk Cuckoo perched on a dead tree. We all had simply stunning views as he just sat there, occasionally calling and this provided a good photo opportunity for the growing band of digiscopers in the group! Other birds in this area were a few Sri Lanka Hanging Parrots and several Crimson-fronted Barbets. All too soon we had to leave & continue on our scenic journey to Kandy, seeing close Black Eagle, several Crested Serpent Eagles and 2 immature Crested Hawk Eagles on the way. Kandy was the usual hustle and bustle, but we arrived at the Queens hotel in the city centre just in time for lunch, before visiting a gift shop on our way to Peradinya Botanical Gardens. Here we saw several Southern Hill Mynas, Crimson-fronted Barbets, Black-hooded Oriole, Oriental White-eye, and lots of Alexandrine Parakeets. That evening we paid a visit to the Temple of the Tooth - one of Sri Lankas most sacred Buddhist sites. It was a very interesting hour spent in this magical place, marvelling at the decoration and gold statues of Buddha, as well as learning a little about the history and journey of the `tooth' itself.

Day 14 Saturday 25th January

Alexandrine Parakeet

White-rumped Shama

This morning we paid a visit to Udawatakele forest. On arrival we had a couple of Brown-capped Babblers low down in the vegetation along the path before arriving at a pool where we had a Stork-billed Kingfisher. The forest was pretty quiet to start with, but at the top of the main path where the sunlight was just hitting the treetops birds were more abundant. We had loads of Black Bulbuls, as well as Yellow-fronted and Crimson-fronted Barbets. A Tickell's Blue Flycatcher was confiding before we had a very close look at a White-rumped Shama. A little further on we had a skulking Indian Blue Robin, before a pair of White-rumped Shama appeared and once again gave crippling views.

Yellow-fronted Barbet

Pool where we had a Stork-billed Kingfisher

Back at the pool, we had all the usual barbets, Great Tit and a nice Oriental White-eye that George appreciated. Before returning to the hotel, we paid a visit to a Batik and Wood Carving shop, bought some t-shirts and still managed to see a White-bellied Sea Eagle fly over! Outside the shops a Yellow-fronted Barbet was digging a hole in a tree and showed extremely well. Just down the hill we pulled over to take some photos of Kandy, finally getting back to the hotel for lunch. We left in the afternoon and arrived at our new hotel near the airport by 4.30pm. We said our goodbyes to Deepal, the driver and his assistant before walking around the extensive grounds. We found nothing new but enjoyed some nice birds. A few Forest Wagtails were found, plus a pair of Asian Koel, White-bellied Drongo, White-browed Bulbuls, Blyth's Reed Warbler and a Purple-rumped Sunbird complete with purple rump! That evening we had a leisurely meal before retiring early, falling asleep to the sounds of a Brown Hawk Owl.

Day 15 Sunday 26th January

We were picked up at 5am for the short journey to Colombo Airport. The plane left on time and we were soon heading to Bahrain for our connecting flight to London. The wait at Bahrain was enlivened by a little birding from the window, but all we saw was a distant Lesser Sand Plover - and a little more shopping! We eventually arrived in London late afternoon and said our goodbyes.

On reflection we had an excellent trip: visiting some beautiful rainforests, taking some exciting jeep safaris and seeing some incredible scenery around Horton Plains. We had recorded 241 species of birds, saw many excellent animals and really felt we had a good insight into the country. We also did a little sightseeing at the end of the trip, as well as some shopping! So on behalf of Deepal and myself, I would like to say thank you to everyone for making this tour such a pleasure to lead.

Deepal and the team

Note: All photos in this report were taken by Nick Bray using a digital camera. The bird shots were of the actual birds we saw and the photos were taken by hand holding the camera to the telescope after everyone had looked first.

Sri Lanka Bird List


birdseekers photos