In Association with:
SRI LANKA 6th - 20th February 2000
DAY 1 Sunday 6th February
Everyone met in plenty of time at Heathrow airport, where after introductions we were soon starting the first leg of our journey to Sri Lanka. The smooth flight soon past and the short breaks in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi broke up the journey nicely. With the last leg over we arrived at Colombo airport just as dawn was breaking on the morning of the 7th.
DAY 2 Monday 7th February
After a lengthy wait and a few concerned faces our luggage eventually appeared on the slow moving convey-a-belt. Relieved, we were soon through customs, before being whisked off in a coach to meet our local guide ‘Deepal’. Here we were introduced to our new coach and its driver and his assistant for the tour.
A few of our group had a quick look in the gardens at the back of the hotel and saw Asian Koel, Purple-rumped Sunbird and a Greater Coucal. We then boarded our air-conditioned coach and set off for Bellanwila/Attidiya marshes. It seemed to take forever to get through the hustle and bustle of Colombo’s traffic, but once through, green fields and lush vegetation started to appear. A list of birds was being ticked off from the coach windows and these included Common Mynas, House Crows and several Brahminy Kites. We made a quick stop beside some fields where a couple of Asian Openbills fed unconcerned beside a pair of Red-wattled Lapwings, and a White-throated Kingfisher looked on. Once we arrived at the marshes we all got out of the coach and were immediately hit with the heat and high humidity. A few small flocks of Rosy Starlings were seen flying around, this being an unusual sighting here. Little Cormorants and Purple Herons were common and a distant thermal of Asian Openbills were spotted. As we walked further along the track into the marsh, both White-breasted Waterhen and Purple Swamphen showed well, while sat atop the scattered bushes we saw Brown Shrike, Plain Prinia and Blue-tailed Bee-eaters. Although the smaller birds were rather quiet a few Long-billed Sunbirds were easily seen. Several species of butterfly were noted including Plain and Glassy Tiger, Common Indian Crow and Common Sailor. In the sky we watched a male, female and juvenile Shikra, but best find was by Roger when he spotted a Black Bittern sat right on the top of a small tree. Leaving this site behind and glad of our air-conditioned coach we set off for Ingiriya where lunch and a cold drink awaited us. Once the rooms were sorted out we soon caught up with the resident Oriental Magpie-robins and Red-vented Bulbul, the latter nesting in a small bush beside the rest house door. A relaxed meal was had followed by a leisurely look around the rest house garden and nearby woods. An Emerald Dove looked superb sat in a nearby tree, but star bird was a Collared Scops-owl, which sat in a tangled bush and gave everyone absolutely stunning views. Further along a track two Black-headed Orioles were seen, a Greater Flameback, Spotted Dove and Common Tailorbird. Later in the afternoon we boarded our coach and headed for the nearby Bodhinagala forest. On our approach Deepal spotted a nice adult Crested Serpent Eagle sat in a close tree. In the forest two Sri Lanka Grey Hornbills showed well along with a Brown-breasted Flycatcher. Beside the monastery a group of Toque Macaques foraged through the treetops, a Giant Squirrel was seen and on the ground a large Water Monitor wandered slowly around. We then made our way back to the edge of the wood where we waited for dusk. An Asian Brown Flycatcher perched just above our heads allowed for comparisons with the Brown-breasted we saw earlier. As the light started to fade Large-billed Crows and Alexandrine Parakeets flew off to roost, it was just then that we heard the call of a nearby Sri Lanka Frogmouth. We soon located this bird sat high up in a tree and most of us obtained reasonable views. It then gave us a bit of a run around but everyone eventually got to see the tiny frogmouth.
Content with a good first days birding we returned tired to our rest house for our evening meal and an early night.
DAY 3 Tuesday 8th February
We were up bright and early for breakfast, after which we headed back to Bodhinagala forest. Several Black-headed Yellow and Yellow-browed Bulbuls were seen as well as an Oriental Honey Buzzard. Further along the track we listened to the beautiful call, and then the song of a Brown-capped Babbler. This bird then hoped right out into the open where we all enjoyed excellent views of this often skulking ground dweller. Further along again we heard the call of a Green-billed Coucal; unfortunately this bird remained well concealed in thick foliage and never revealed itself. As we headed back to the coach we saw a lovely Crimson-fronted Barbet busily feeding in a tree and nearby an immature Brown Shrike sat motionless. It was now time to move on so we collected our luggage and set off in the coach towards Kitulgala. On our arrival at the rest house we all checked into our rooms and after a couple of minutes everyone seemed to have the same idea, and we all appeared from our rooms onto the back lawn which overlooks the river where the film “Bridge on the River Kwai” was made. From this idyllic spot we watched Black Bulbuls, a Yellow-fronted Barbet and a couple of Crested Serpent Eagles, and on the river Little Cormorant and Common Kingfisher. We then had our lunch and later met for the afternoon walk into Kitulgala forest. We first had to cross the river by ferry, which was actually a dug out canoe. Either bravely or foolishly we managed to stand up in the boat like the locals, although we were laden with telescopes and bags. Once we had all safely crossed we set off towards the forest. We hadn’t gone far when we came across a group of Orange-billed Babblers together with two Yellow-fronted Barbets, and in a nearby tree Asian Paradise Flycatcher and a Lesser Yellownape. We then checked an area of scrub beside a small stream and after a lot of searching and just as we were about to give up I found the bird we were looking for, a superb Spot-winged Thrush which obligingly kept coming back to a small puddle to bath. Reluctant to leave this skulking bird just in case it came out into the open again, we slowly made our way deeper into the forest. Along the track a huge Blue Morman butterfly flapped past and on the ground we found a Sri Lanka Kangaroo Lizard, which stood motionless allowing everyone to see it well. The rest of the afternoon proved to be a bit of a washout as it began to rain hard. We saw Asian Brown Flycatcher and Large-billed Leaf Warbler before retreating to take shelter in a local hut. It was obviously not going to abate so we decided to head back to the boat and then back to the rest house. Through the rain we did spot seven Pompadour Green Pigeons and a couple of Crested Drongo’s, and then half of us caught the boat while the rest waited in the boatman’s hut to see if the rain would ease. It did and both the group crossing the river and those by the hut saw a Stork-billed Kingfisher, which flew across and then sat on a telephone cable over the water. Those of us that stayed managed to find a male Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher before the light faded and we too had to return to the rest house.
DAY 4 Wednesday 9th February
After a night of torrential rain we woke up to find it was going to be another hot, humid day. Breakfast over we headed down to the river and awaited the boatman. Stood beside the river we saw Yellow-fronted Barbets, a singing Golden-fronted Leafbird and several Flame Minivets. A Mountain Hawk Eagle then flew over as well as good numbers of Green Imperial Pigeons and a Black Eagle. After we had all been ferried across in a dugout canoe, we walked slowly through the forest. A few Dark-fronted Babblers were found but were soon overshadowed when Deepal found a superb Chestnut-backed Owlet sat out in the open giving wonderful scope views. Not until everyone was more than satisfied with this Sri Lankan endemic did we slowly moved on. More Dark-fronted Babblers were seen and in glorious light conditions we were able to watch a Green Imperial Pigeon sat beside two Hill Mynas. Deeper in the woods we watched Pompadour Green Pigeon and a lovely male Black-napped Monarch, which was sat in it’s delicate cup shaped nest. We then came across a singing Spot-winged Thrush, which stayed long enough for everyone to see it well. Continuing on beside an open area we watched a pair of Mountain Hawk-eagles displaying and the female was seen carrying nesting material. A rare sight indeed! Back at the stream, Julia unintentionally decided to have a swim much to the amusement of the rest of us. We then moved on to an area of rice paddies where a Sri Lanka Myna was found and Sri Lanka Spurfowl could be heard but as is usual could not be seen. A small feeding flock then drew our attention. With patience we all managed to see Indian Scimitar-babbler and a male Malabar Trogon plus a Layard’s Striped Squirrel. But a Red-faced Malkoha and a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo were not so easy to see. Back in the rice paddies we watched White-rumped Munia’s and two Black-throated Munia’s sat in a small bush, while a Besra flew over. It was now nearing lunchtime; we had all been well and truly leeched so we decided to return back to the hotel. A few of the group who had hung back added Rat Snake to the list. After lunch, and with black clouds looming, we visited a nearby site with hope of seeing a few birds before the rain started. Super views were obtained of a pair of Layard’s Parakeets as well as Brown-headed and Yellow-fronted Barbet sat together. It then began to rain so we headed back to the hotel were a bit of relaxation and a cold drink were order of the day.
DAY 5 Thursday 10th February
We decided to try a pre-breakfast visit to a nearby tract of wood in the hope of finding a Green-billed Coucal. With the rising sun, the sights and sounds of birds started to increase. A Collared Scops Owl gave a few calls from a nearby garden while a fruiting tree attracted Sri Lanka Grey Hornbills and Orange-billed Babblers. In the wood we heard plenty of Greater Coucals and even found a nest of one, but there was no sign of our target species, which is both endangered and secretive. We returned for breakfast and then jumped aboard the coach and headed for Ratnapura the gem capital of Sri Lanka. En-route, Deepal stopped the coach beside an area of moss covered trees and gardens. Searching the bushes and trees we found Bright-green Warblers along with a Tickell’s Blue-Flycatcher and two Hooded Orioles, then just as we were about to leave, the bird we had been looking for was found, a Green-billed Coucal, which showed very well as it made it’s way slowly up a close tree. With everyone elated that we had finally found this rare species we were on our way again. With roadside birds including Indian Rollers and Ashy Woodswallow we arrived at Ratnapura just in time for lunch. At our hotel we had our lunch and then after had a brief walk around the gardens which produced displaying Long-billed Sunbirds and a Crested Treeswift. We then relaxed and avoided the heat of the day. At about five, we met Deepal and took a short walk just outside the hotel grounds. In an area overlooking a small tea-plantation we watched White browed Bulbuls, and a couple of Blyth’s Reed Warblers, three Grey-breasted Prinia’s and a male Jerdon’s Leafbird. The light conditions were excellent and we looked at Blue-tailed and Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters and a Pompadour Green Pigeon. In some fir trees, we found a pair of Blacked-headed Cuckooshrikes and a stunning Plum-headed Parakeet, while closer to the ground a group of Tawny-bellied Babblers were well watched. Leaving here we headed for the coach passing a couple of Black-backed Robins on the way. We then drove 10 minutes up the road. A Brown Mongoose was spotted but didn’t stay long enough on the road for all of us to see. We then stopped in a small lay-by, which overlooked the corner of a large river. After a 10 minute wait, as if on cue, a huge Brown Fish Owl was seen to fly slowly across the river, and then disappeared into thick cover. In the treetops we watched Purple-faced Macaques and as dusk fell, a Black-crown Night Heron was heard calling and then seen as it quickly flew past and thousands of Indian Flying Foxes made their way across the skies. It was now almost dark so we returned back to the hotel.
DAY 6 Friday 11th February
We were all up very early for a full day out to Sinharaja Forest. After a long bumpy drive, we eventually arrived at the forest headquarters and while Deepal sorted out our passes, we all tucked into our packed breakfasts. Once we had all finished it was time to transfer from our comfortable coach to two jeeps that slowly took us up an ever-increasing bumpy track until we reached the Reserve entrance. No time was wasted as we quickly set up the telescopes on a White-throated Flowerpecker, a quite superb little bird. Content with this, we moved on with the intention of finding a mixed feeding flock. A shrill call from the top of some distant trees drew Deepal’s attention to the bird in question, a White-faced Starling. It took a lot of searching before I eventually found the bird sat just inside the canopy. Everyone but John managed to see it before it flew off. We put his unfortunate luck down to having eaten the wrong sandwiches. He had actually eaten Deepal’s special fish and jam!! Huge Tree Nymph butterflies drifted past as if made of tissue paper and once again our obsession with leech spotting ensued. However, along the track we arrived at the research station and were immediately greeted by a pair of Sri Lanka White-eyes which showed very well, enabling us to pick up the details that separate it from its more common and wide-spread cousin. A pair of Sri Lanka Magpies flew across the track and we all got the briefest of views as they disappeared through the forest. Continuing on we decided to walk the track hoping to find a feeding flock. Unsuccessful at this, we returned to the research station for our packed lunch. While sat down eating, Deepal spotted a Magpie sunning itself in the open. We set up the scopes and in between the sandwiches and pineapple we could all enjoy the splendour of this large colourful endemic. Our lunch break turned out to be a superb birding session with two White-faced Starlings seen easily in the near trees, lots of Sri Lanka Hanging Parrots flying around, a Sri Lanka Myna sat on top of a dead tree, a Mountain Hawk Eagle and Crested Serpent Eagle flew around together and we had the briefest views of a very close Black Eagle. The next challenge was to find Les a Brown-backed Needletail. Uncannily, within minutes, three were found as well as two Alpine Swifts soaring around above us. Not having drawn breath from these, a superb adult Rufous-bellied Eagle came out of the forest and circled around giving us exceptionally good views. Add to these birds a water snake and two large Water Monitors and you can understand why we were quite content to sit the afternoon out in the same spot. However, we didn’t and it was time to try and find a feeding flock again. We revisited the track we walked up earlier and it wasn’t long before we found the remnants of a large flock of birds and amongst them we found half a dozen Ashy-headed Laughingthrushes. Everyone managed to see them but our views were far from favourable. Quite the opposite was a male Malabar Trogon which sat motionless allowing all of us to watch it until content. As we made our way back towards the research station, both Bright-green and Large-billed Leaf Warbler were seen and then, at last, we found a small feeding flock. As always led by Orange-billed Babblers we waited and waited and then we were rewarded when three Red-faced Malkohas worked their way through a large tree, bathed in glorious sunlight - a perfect ending to the day. It had been a long day and we were all tired and after heading back through the forest to our Jeep and all the way back down the bumpy tracks to our coach, it was time for everyone to nod off as we drove back to our hotel.
DAY 7 Saturday 12th February
After a 7.00am early breakfast, we drove to nearby Gilamale Forest and once there we proceeded to slowly walk down the track, which eventually runs alongside a stream. It was very quiet and there was little moving. Our attention was then drawn by the high pitch call of an Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, deep in the forest. We continued walking and then heard the kingfisher again. We saw a small bird dash through the trees and out of sight. We then played cat and mouse with it and it was occasionally seen perched briefly by one person before flying off again. At one point it flew right across in front of us all. While looking for this bird Deepal found a very rare and seldom seen Hump-nosed Lizard. This wasn’t as illusive and posed for photographs as it sat on the side of a tree. We then continued our way through the forest and then decided to try a new site for Sri Lanka Spurfowl. We selected a spot deep in the forest where unbelievably we heard a pair of these secretive birds calling very close. Steve was first to spot the male creeping through the leaf litter and then all bar one of the group saw either the male or the female before they saw us and made off. It was unfortunate for the one, but incredibly lucky that the rest of us saw this notoriously skulking species. It would be exceptional for just one or two of the group to see this bird let alone the whole group and didn’t we know it. Well nothing could stop us know. We saw a few of the more common species and made our way back through the forest. We all stopped and stood silent for about 15 minutes. Not a word was spoken and not a movement made and then, just like magic, the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher flew up and landed in front of us in full view. It stayed for 5 or 6 minutes until our arms had started to ache. Those of us stood close enough to the telescope had enjoyed even closer views. As we walked back, three Brown-capped Babblers hopped out in front of us and then just off the track, in full view we watched as one bird caught a huge cricket and then tried to give it to it’s near adult youngster. We may not have seen many birds but we had seen true quality. We then returned back to the hotel for lunch after which a few of us went into town to visit the local gem museum. After a couple of relaxed hours, we met up and walked just outside the hotel. A couple of Common Woodshrikes were soon added to our list before we watched the true jewel of the forest, an Indian Pitta which flew up and showed itself off sat on an open branch, after which it dropped down into cover never to be seen again. We were obviously on a roll so we decided to just pop along to have a better look at the Brown Fish Owl. We got to the site, scanned the trees and then waited. There were no worries after a day like today it was obviously going to turn up and, there it was, flying slowly across the river in front of us in broad daylight. It’s bright yellow eyes sparkling in the sun. We watched where it landed, found a vantage point in the garden of some friendly locals and then had telescope views of the bird sat in a tree. The owl then flew back across the river giving another fantastic fly past and joined its mate in a huge tree. As dusk fell we could see both the birds sat together. A Striated Heron was seen to fly off and then five Black-crowned Night Herons left their roost site and flew up river. We then headed back to the hotel after another enthralling day. At the evening meal the discussion was ’How could you ever better the views of birds we had seen today?’ Deepal and myself looked at each other and laughed. Whatever tomorrow brings you can rest assured that we would be trying our best.
DAY 8 Sunday 13th February
We had breakfast at a normal time today and then set off towards Embilipitiya. The now regular roadside birds were ticked off and we had excellent views of a Shikra and hundreds of Indian Flying Foxes roosting in the roadside trees. At Embilipitiya we arrived in time for lunch, a quick look around the gardens found us a couple of Forest Wagtails and eventually we had excellent views of another Indian Pitta. First, hopping around the undergrowth and then perched twenty foot up on a bare branch. After lunch we set off for Udawalawa National Park. As we crossed by the dam we saw Whiskered Terns, a Western Marsh Harrier, a superb White-bellied Sea Eagle and two very close Paddyfield Pipits. Once at the entrance to the Park, we transferred into two Jeeps. We watched a Purple Sunbird and then we set off. We hadn’t gone very far before we found our first five Indian Elephants looking majestic in their natural habitat. There was numerous Sri Lanka Peafowl beside the track and we watched Rufous-winged Larks and a total of 17 Blyth’s Pipits giving exceptionally close views as well as calling. Up to half a dozen Barred-button Quail were spotted creeping around the track edge and Prinia’s were everywhere including many Ashy, Plain and a few Jungle. As we drove deeper into the Park, we started to find more of the birds we were looking for. Two huge Malabar Pied Hornbills sat together in a large tree and then an elusive Sirkeer Malkoha was spotted. We then found another, which allowed super views, three Painted Storks circled over us while Black-headed Munia’s, Little Green Bee-eaters, Coppersmith Barbet, Yellow-eyed Babblers and plenty of Black-shouldered Kites were found. Several Grey-bellied Cuckoos put in an appearance and while watching one of these and an Ashy Drongo, Les found a Blue-faced Malkoha. Although mostly in cover, it did give itself up to us on a few occasions as it jumped through the bushes. Nearby Orange-breasted Green Pigeons looked fabulous in the evening sunlight. As we returned towards the Headquarters, up to seven Golden Jackals were found. We had close views of another two Malabar Pied Hornbills, and then as the sun set we watched hundreds of Parakeets and Munia’s flying off to roost. We then left the park and continued onto the coast and our next hotel. It was now dark and in the headlights of the coach at least two Indian Nightjars were spotted on the road as well as a few Red-Wattled Lapwings. We had seen the birds we had hoped for making this yet another very successful day. After a shower and a serenaded evening meal, we then retired to the sound of the Indian Ocean crashing on the beach beside our hotel.
DAY 9 Monday 14th February
After breakfast we headed straight for Bundala. A couple of roadside stops produced Spoonbill, Black-winged Stilts, three Lesser Whistling Ducks, Garganey and Pheasant-tailed Jacana in full breeding dress. Amongst the many waders were Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper, Pacific Golden Plover, Marsh Sandpiper and several Lesser Sandplovers. At the gates to Bundala we transferred into two Jeeps and set off into the Park. A Pied Cuckoo was seen and scoped well while Sri Lanka Junglefowl crept out from the track edges. A Yellow-crowned Woodpecker sat motionless on a dead tree, while Grey-rumped Treeswifts circled above. Beside us in the trees were a group of forty plus Grey Langers including many young ones. As we drove through the Park there were lots of little pools scattered around. Flocks of Black-tailed Godwits, Marsh Sandpipers and Little Stint dominated. There were lots of Garganey and an obliging Pintail Snipe. Continuing along the bumpy track, we stopped beside a large shallow lake. Marsh Crocodile cruised past giving us a look as though we had been added to it’s menu! There was a little Ringed Plover and two Great Thick-knee amongst the other waders but pride of place went to the Grey-headed Fish Eagles perched together on a nearby treetop. Leaving this beautiful spot we made our way further into the Park. Another two Yellow-capped Woodpeckers were seen and seven more Pintail Snipe. Returning back through the Park, a Blue-faced Malkoha was seen by a few as it flew across the track. We then drove on to the Salt pans and were greeted by a flock of 100 Greater Flamingos flying past. In amongst the tern flock we watched Caspian, Lesser-crested, Great Crested and Little but by far the best find was up to ten Small Pratincoles. These beautiful little birds showing exceptionally well. A very close pair of Great Thick-knee were then found while a little fun was then had trying to pick up an Oriental Skylark in song flight. A Brown-headed Gull then flew past and Pacific Golden Plovers plus many more familiar waders vied for our attention. Leaving the park we headed for our hotel at Tissamaharama arriving just in time for some relaxation and then lunch. Later in the afternoon we drove to a nearby ‘tank’ or reservoir where a nice adult Yellow Bittern posed for us. Backtracking we then called in on a small coconut plantation. Walking towards it along a stream, we watched a formidable looking Stork-billed Kingfisher. At the plantation it didn’t take long before our target bird, a fine male White-naped Woodpecker was spotted on a close tree. It then flew off and we found a female sat higher up on the same tree. This bird stayed for ages and we all enjoyed excellent views of this incredibly scarce species. Leaving this stunning woodpecker behind we made our way back to the coach and then on to an area of wetland. The water levels were particularly high and this may have spoilt our chances of trying to find a Watercock. However, four Yellow Bitterns and a close Shikra were nice compensation. In the reed bed a Clamorous Reed Warbler was vocal but only showed very briefly. Purple Swamphen were plentiful and then as the evening sun dropped, hundred of egrets set a magical scene as they came into roost.
DAY 10 Monday 15th February
After our breakfast we headed back to Bundala. En-route we stopped beside yesterday’s marsh where we heard, but could not see, Clamorous Reed Warbler. On the mud there were sat twenty White-winged Terns, while in the reeds three Yellow Bitterns were found. Continuing on we stopped at a small area of damp saltings whilst going through the grassy area I noticed a Stint pop its head up. My first suspicion was soon realised when we found not one, but two Long-toed Stints. A rarity with only previously single birds being found. In Bundala we had a quick stop by a scrubby area, which produced five Pintail Snipe, and a Blue –faced Malkoha, which untypically sat in full view for us. We then drove on further until we got to a small tank. A quick look beside the pool and we were all watching Sri Lanka’s first ever Bay-backed Shrike a truly beautiful bird. While Dennis tried to get a record shot photograph, the others hand found four Ashy-crowned Sparrow Larks. We then carried on toward Yala Safari Park. At an almost dry pool which held a large gathering of waders, we found four Broad-billed Sandpipers and five Ringed Plovers with the later being the highest count ever recorded in Sri Lanka, while above us a dark phase Booted Eagle flew over. A short while after we arrived at Yala Safari Lodge where we unpacked and settled down for our mid-day meal. In the afternoon we met up with our two Land Rovers and set off into the Park. There were lots of birds around but our first bird of interest was three immaculate Brahminy Starlings sat in a very close bush. Sri Lank Junglefowl showed well and lots of Spotted Deer were found. Whilst scanning an open area a family group and several single Asian Elephants could be seen in the distance. Several Water Buffalo looked photogenic in their mud hole and we saw both Ruddy Mongoose and Striped-neck Mongoose, while beside a large pool in a dead tree sat a Grey-headed Fish Eagle. As we returned through the Park having seen many species a couple of Malabar Pied Hornbills, more Brahminy Starlings, a Sambar and a wild boar were spotted, plus two Barred Buttonquail as well as a superb Black-napped Hare. As soon as we had got back to the hotel, it was time to go looking for nightjars. We put long trousers on, grabbed a torch and set off to the track just outside the hotel grounds. A Jerdon’s Nightjar was immediately heard and nearly everybody managed to get reasonable torchlight flight views of the bird. A little later a few of the group managed to see it very well sat on a branch, again under torchlight. After this we headed back to the hotel for our evening meal.
DAY 11 Wednesday 16th February
We were all up early for the long drive to Newera Eliya. As we left the hotel, an Indian Nightjar was spotted on the road and in the headlights of the coach it sat there and allowed all of us good views. A little later as we drove past Yala Park, we had a roadside stop for our picnic breakfast. The early morning light was perfect. We soon found a Sirkeer Malkoha, a Jerdon’s Leafbird, Ashy Drongo and a few Common Iora’s. Just as we were about to leave, four Blue-faced Malkohas flew across the road and landed in a small tree. There were at least four Ruddy Mongoose walking along the roadside verges and two huge Malabar Pied Hornbills flew over. We continued on with brief stops, to look at an immature Rufous-bellied Eagle as well as Booted and Black Eagle. We eventually arrived at our first stop, the Surrey Tea Estate where we took a slow stroll around. A Changeable Hawk Eagle was scoped in a close tree while Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike and Great Tit were also seen. We then found Black-headed Cuckooshrike and Yellow-crowned Woodpecker. Walking further into the gardens of this big estate we eventually found the bird we had been looking for a very close and obliging Sri Lanka Woodpigeon. It didn’t fly off and we all managed to have stunning views of this difficult, shy bird. It was then time to leave but not before Deepal found an incredibly hard to see Brown Wood Owl in its day-time roost. Leaving the tea estate we carried on to Newera Eliya and our lunch at the hotel. In the afternoon we took a short trip to Victoria Park in the centre of town. Looking from the first bridge in the Park, we saw Forest Wagtail, and Common Sandpiper. Around the back of the Park, and Indian Pitta was seen to freeze in the leaf litter thinking we couldn’t see it. Yellow-eared Bulbuls looked very smart and a couple of Sri Lanka White-eyes flitted around. We then found a superb male Pied Thrush and everyone had excellent views of it as it perched out in the open. We then slowly wandered around the rest of the Park. Paddyfield Pipits walked around the grass and Alpine Swifts flew overhead. Back by the bridge again, three Pied Thrushes and an Indian Blue Robin were seen. A more thorough search of the Park was needed to find one of the other specialities and it wasn’t long before we were watching a first winter Kashmir Flycatcher. With rain now imminent a brief Blyth’s Reed Warbler was only seen by a few and we returned early to the hotel as we had a very early start tomorrow.
DAY 12 Thursday 17th February
We were up very early and headed to Horton Plains with our packed breakfast. We arrived at our site while it was still dark. After a short wait the day dawned and we walked back to view a small pool beside the road. Almost immediately a rare Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush or “Arrenga” was heard singing and just as we located the tree it was signing from a coach came along and it flew off. It then sang from much deeper in the wood and try as we could, it wasn’t seen. A Sri Lanka Woodpigeon flew over and a Blyth’s Reed Warbler and Dull-blue Flycatcher showed very well. Further along the road we had excellent views of a Blackbird, the Sri Lanka race being very distinct and a candidate for separation. In scrubby roadside bushes a pair of Indian Scimitar-babblers were building a nest and then at least two Sri Lanka Bush-warblers showed very close and very well. Several other birds seen here included, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Yellow-eared Bulbul and Sri Lanka White-eye. We ate our picnic breakfasts and then moved higher up into the Paramo where Pied Bushchats and Zitting Cisticolas were common. Deepal then decided to take us on a long walk down into a wooded valley. Dull-blue Flycatchers were easy to see and we found an endemic burrowing snake. We searched along the river for Whistling Thrush but with no luck. Then, just about as far as we were going to go along the river, one was heard singing. We rushed quietly along and over the next 10 minutes all of us got good views of this skulking and very elusive endemic. Triumphant we all walked back knowing that we had seen all the islands endemic species - by no means an easy feat and rarely accomplished by lone birders, let alone a group. As we returned to the coach, Les and Steve found another burrowing snake. Again a very rare sighting as they are normally nocturnal. After our long but successful walk, we decided to return to the hotel with brief stops to look at Oriental Honey Buzzard, and a fly by Sri Lanka Magpie and near a small railway station we got out and scoped Hill Swallows and a small group of Black-throated Munias. After our lunch we went to Hakgala Botanical Gardens. The weather closed in and it began to drizzle. From a shelter in the Park, Julia found a Black Eagle circling in the distance while in between the drizzle and humorous tales from Deepal of a Japanese bird-watching group, we found several Great Tits and a Kashmir Flycatcher. After a relaxing stroll around the Park we checked out a sight for Scaly Thrush but with no luck, so we then decided to return back to our hotel.
DAY 13 Friday 18th February
After a leisurely breakfast we set off towards Kandy. With all the birds under our belts we could afford to take it easy. On route we stopped to view an immature Crested Serpent Eagle sat in a tree and then we called in on a tea factory to see how it was made. we eventually arrived at Kandy in time for lunch after which we visited the local spice gardens and then went on to Peradeniya Botanical Gardens. In this beautiful park we saw close Black-hooded Oriole, and Asian Brown Flycatchers. We were also able to scope Alexandrine, Ring-necked and Layard’s Parakeets as well as Sri Lanka Hanging Parrots. There was a lot of noise coming from the daytime roost of thousands of Indian Flying Foxes and some of these huge creatures could be seen flying around. Both Brown-headed and Crimson-fronted Barbets showed well as did a Large Cuckooshrike and a pair of Hill Myna’s, while a distant White-bellied Sea Eagle was also seen to fly past. We then left the Park and headed back to our hotel. After a wash and change we all met and walked across the road to the Temple of the Tooth - the Buddhist’s most sacred site. We had a good look around this fascinating and beautiful temple before returning for our evening meal and log call.
DAY 14 Saturday 19th February
Today we had an early breakfast and then headed the short distance to Uddawattakele Reserve. It was a little misty and light conditions were not favourable. As we approached the pool where Bo Derek starred in the film Tarzan, a Stork-billed Kingfisher was watched sat on a close tree. Then, on a path, a male Indian Blue Robin proved difficult to see in the dim light. We moved on and found several Tickell’s Blue Flycatchers, Forest Wagtails and briefly an Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher perched close on some nearby trees before flying off. The mist eventually lifted and we found five Greater Flamebacks in one tree, with three males using a hole each. Hanging Parrots and Yellow-fronted Barbets were seen, followed by one of everyone’s favourites, another superb Indian Pitta just hopping around in the leaf litter.
We made our way back around the other side of the pool and were greeted by a very close and amazingly confiding Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher. The bird was seen to catch a large beetle and devour it, after which it just sat on an open branch where we watched it for between 10 and 15 minutes. What superb views, no one could ever better that! After leaving the Reserve we made our way back to the hotel via a woodcarving and batik making shop. Before lunch we took a short stroll around the hustle and bustle of central Kandy. We now returned for our mid-day meal after which we boarded the coach and made our way to Colombo. Lots of the normal roadside bird were seen including up to fifty White-throated Kingfishers, four Asian Openbills, lots of egrets, and Indian Rollers. Arriving at the plush Airport Garden Hotel, we soon checked into our rooms. We then said our goodbyes to our driver and his assistant, and to Deepal who was a superb birder and after two weeks, a friend to us all. A quick look around the lagoon at the back of the hotel produced hundreds of Gull-billed and Whiskered Terns, plus a group of seven Lesser Whistling-ducks, and two Striated Herons. Blue-tailed Bee-eaters and Brahminy Kites were seen to fly around and a beautiful sunset then ended a beautiful tour. We had seen all the endemics, found some rare and unusual species, had excellent views of nearly all the birds we saw, and, above all, had lots of laughs and enjoyed ourselves.
This tour to Sri Lanka will stand as one of the best to this wonderful country and a difficult one to ever match in sheer quality. Thank you to all those who made this tour such a pleasure to lead. I hope to see you again soon.