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A Report from

Sri Lanka Endemic birds, 8th July-15th July 2011,

Michael Grunwell

Could I record all the Sri Lankan endemic birds in only a week’s visit? Easily.

Sri Lanka is a reasonably cheap and easy 5 hour flight from where I live in Qatar, due to family commitments I needed a quick trip to concentrate on the endemic species. Being mid-summer I knew I was not going to see any of the special wintering birds such as Kashmir flycatcher and Orange-headed thrush.

However, other than Kashmir flycatcher Sri Lanka does not offer that many wintering birds compared to Goa or Bharatpur. At 33 endemics it is good but perhaps does not offer enough species for the hardened world-lister who may baulk at spending a full two weeks of their precious holiday for a relatively low return of 2.4 world ticks a day.

So my plan was to get all 33 endemics in just a week. From the internet I found Chandima Jaya of Birding Sri Lanka. Email  website

He had a plan, a car, the local knowledge and was reasonable in terms of cost.

I was lucky with my choice of guide as he is a professional guide/driver with years of experience. He has excellent vision and good road-eyes, he is good with calls and has a comprehensive range of sound recordings, if you want a low-stress, hassle-free trip then Chandima is your man. Excluding the airfare my total spend was around USD1200 which I reckon is very reasonable given a one on one service.

The costs increase dramatically if you want to go into National parks such as Yala for leopards or Uda Walawe for elephants as you have to use their 4x4 vehicles and you are looking at around USD100 per person per day. The most expensive part of my trip was the entry fees to places like Horton Plains NP which are around USD30 per day.

The accommodation was generally basic in the forests but was fine at Tissa and Nuwara Eliya, I changed the plan for the last day and returned to Kitulgala where we stayed at the up-market Kitulgala rest house.

I have no idea of the cost of accommodation as it was all included but it is not expensive for basic rooms. The distance between sites does not look far on the map but we spent around 25 hours in the car driving over a thousand km in the week.

The itinery

Friday 8th July 2011, Day 1

Arrival at CMB airport, away in Chandima’s comfortable, roomy and air-conditioned Hyundai by 17:30. In the last hour of light we stopped a few times and recorded about a dozen common species. Drove in the dark to Kitulgala, stayed at Sisira’s river lodge, this is 200m beyond the police station at Kitulgala. The accommodation was a basic chalet with a nice outdoor bathroom, hot water, electricity and mosquito nets. The food here is very good.

Saturday 9th July, First full day.

Birded around the lodge, quickly saw Chestnut-backed Owlet and Green-billed Coucal. This is clearly a very good site for these two endemics.

Then drove the 2km down to the ferry crossing at Kitulgala rest house. The ferry is a canoe-catamaran, it is narrow and you either stand for the short crossing or sit on the cross-spar. You need to wade on and off the canoe so on the other side I donned boots and leech socks. We spent the next few hours walking the easy, surfaced tracks around the small village. Among the commoner birds we had excellent views of SL grey hornbill, the only sighting of the trip.

We then returned, packed up and left for the long drive to Sinharaja. At Sinharaja in order to get to Martin’s lodge you must decant into a Jeep for the final track is very rough, in my view impassable even when dry for a saloon car. For a 4x4 with good clearance it is just a slow drag, not difficult. Chandima first drove to the main visitor centre, purchased the tickets, arranged for a tracker then drove back to the village where we all got into the Jeep for the ride up the hill. The ride takes about an hour and it would take about two hours to walk it down hill. In my view this Jeep track from the village up to Martin’s lodge is an essential site for any birder.

We were joined for the Jeep trip by Ranjith, one of the forestry department’s guide/trackers whose company is a prerequisite for entry into the forest reserve. Chandima had asked for Ranjith as he has a lot of expertise with bird finding, he is a class act with superb eye-sight and a good ear for calls. When you visit Sinharaja you need to make sure your guide gets you one of the better trackers, such as Ranjith.

We stopped for birding on the way with the highlight being Ranjith’s site for roosting frogmouth.

Martin’s lodge has about a dozen rooms, mine had its own bathroom with hot water, a great view from the dining area and good food.

Sunday 10th July, second full day, first full day at Sinharaja.

Spent the whole morning walking the main trail. Forest birding at Sinharaja as in most rain-forests is hard work, you can walk for 30 minutes and not see a single bird. We had just two smallish bird flocks all morning and got the following endemics: wood-pigeon (actually first bird of the day, just outside the lodge), scimitar-babbler, red-faced Malkoha, drongo, SL myna and blue magpie. After lunch and a rest Ranjith found a big flock just outside the park gate, this flock provided the elusive brown-capped babbler plus lots of laughing thrush. We then had superb views of spot-winged thrush followed by my only sighting of spurfowl.

By dusk we had our encounter with Serendib Scops so were only left with the starling and scaly thrush as the outstanding wet zone forest endemics.

Monday 11th July, third full day in SL, second full day at Sinharaja.

Chandima and Ranjith were very focused on what was needed and by 11am the scaly thrush and white-faced starling were ticked. This left only crimson-backed woodpecker and I still needed better views of parrots and barbets. Late afternoon was washed out with heavy rain.

Tuesday 12th July, fourth full day in SL.

This was by far the best all-round day’s birding I have had since Ecuador in 1999, with a day list of 80 species plus my first ever wild elephant.

Left Martin’s lodge after breakfast and drove and walked down to the village. After two days of straining necks to look up in rain-forest it was so nice to look at birds on the level or below you in secondary growth and field margins. On the Jeep track had nice views of SL green pigeon, Layard’s parakeet and yellow-fronted barbet. We then transferred to Chandima’s car and set off on the very long journey to Tissamaharama, shortened to Tissa’. The variety in climate and habitat was stunning, lush rain forest turned into high altitude tea plantations then into parched dry plains.

We drove east along the road which borders the southern edge of Uda Walawe NP. Fifteen years ago if you wanted to see wild elephants you had to enter the NP by 4x4 and be guided to the animals. Nowadays there is a cheap-skate option (this is the option I like), bachelor elephants have learnt that if they wait by the southern boundary electrified fence, just by the road, people will feed them fruit. Consequently if you want to see elephants just drive down the road and every few hundred metres is a fruit stall on one side of the road and a waiting hungry elephant behind the fence on the other. Apparently they prefer water melons which people lob over the fence. We saw at least 8 totally wild bull elephants by the road, though only 5% of the males in this population have any sort of tusk.

After stopping to admire elephants we then focused on woodshrike for the rest of the day. Just after the last elephant is a box bridge across a river. We parked here and looked for woodshrike, no luck but we did get a nice Malabar Pied hornbill and Jerdon’s leafbird.

We were now well inside the dry zone, it had not rained for weeks and the dryness of the vegetation was in stark contrast to the dampness of the rain-forest we had left a few hours earlier. There are several very large artificial lakes on the way to Tissa’ (tanks) and these produced a variety of water-birds. Close to the town is a particularly large tank fringed with huge trees, this area was particularly good with stork-billed kingfisher, changeable hawk-eagle, colonies of baya weaver and a family of collared scops owl. It was getting towards dusk and our quest for woodshrike was becoming more earnest. Eventually we scored with a responding bird at the top of a tree, followed by a great view of a Male coppersmith barbet.

We spent the night in a newly-opened hotel in Tissa’ called the Peacock Reach, perhaps they first wanted to call it the Peacock Beach but as it isn’t on a beach changed one letter? The USP of this hotel is the top of the roof where you can stand and scan the treetops and watch birds flying to roost just past your head. However this being Sri Lanka the boundary walls are somewhat low and it is clearly not safe for young children up there. My room was very plush with air-con and a nice bathroom. It is definitely worth staying here for the dawn and dusk rooftop passage. Hundreds of storks and parakeets going to roost and passing close overhead. The only downside was the food which could be generously described as below-par but there is no reason why you can’t stay at the hotel, get the rooftop migration and then find a nice restaurant to eat at. Indeed as a general observation I found the quality of food provided by hotels to be inversely related to the quality of the rooms (the exception was the Kitulgala rest house).

Wednesday 13th July, fifth full day in SL

Spent the first hour of light on the roof of the Peacock Reach hotel, huge numbers of parakeets, mostly rose-ringed with a few Alexandrine whizzing past. Amongst many other species seen was another singing woodshrike. After a disappointing breakfast set off to walk around the tank where we had had the woodshrike the previous evening. Really nice birding with lots of waterbirds seen well including a great view of spot-billed pelican. I quite wanted to see Blue-faced Malkoha and was lucky to get one bird on the first walk. Satisfied with tank birding we set off north to Nuwara Eliya. This was a very long journey with much climbing. The road towards Nuwara is also being rebuilt and we had several long delays on the way. We had quite a few raptors and some amazing scenery en route. We arrived at Nuwara about 3pm in heavy rain and a temperature of around 15 degrees, quite a contrast to the baking dry zone of Tissa’. We checked into one of the many hotels in the town which serve tourists; the food was so dire I will not mention it.

The rain never stopped but undaunted we set off for the nearby whistling thrush stake-out. Road widening had disrupted access and Chandima had no recent reports but thought it worth giving a go. So from 17:00 to well after 18:00 we stood in the pouring rain under large umbrellas, surrounded by thick dark bushes waiting for a thrush to call or respond. Well after I would have given up, Chandima found a female and at 18:25 in the very last vestige of daylight I had a reasonable view.

Thursday 14th July, sixth full day in SL

Away very early on the 80 minute drive to Horton Plains NP. I asked why we were staying at Nuwara if we really wanted to be at Horton Plains. The answer was simple, there is no where to stay near the park. We arrived at the gate to Horton Plains at 06:10, we were still in cloud and it was cold and drizzling. I was surprised by the number of vehicles full of tourists entering the park so early on a miserable morning. Apparently they were full of walkers keen to explore the long trails the park has to offer.

We drove on a few km and spent the first few hours working a km stretch of cloud forest. Bird densities are very low and bird flocks few and thin. However by 9am we had cleaned up all the remaining endemics; dull blue flycatcher, SL White-eye, SL Bush warbler and c-b woodpecker. The very last endemic was a cracking view of yellow-eared bulbul near the visitor centre where the cloud had lifted. We also had a good view of another Female whistling thrush.

If you like cloud forest then is the place to come but given the sheer paucity of species half a day should be sufficient. I then decided I didn’t want to spend my last night in such a miserable climate, so we returned to the hotel, checked out and set off back to Kitulgala.

Chandima phoned ahead and got us booked into the plush Kitulgala rest house which is adjacent to the ferry crossing. On my first night at the Sisira’s river lodge I thought it very hot and humid and missed air-con so I was pleased to be staying in a room with air-con. However, it was much cooler on our return and I actually switched the air-con off that night. The Kitulgala rest house is a proper 4 star hotel with good food, satellite TV etc and I would certainly recommend staying there particularly as you can walk from the ferry back to your room without putting your shoes back on.

On the way down to Kitulgala we stopped at a nice tea shop for a proper pot of tea and a wireless session.

For the last two hours of light I strolled around the grounds of the hotel and the adjacent hotel, both gave some nice relaxed birding in contrast to the recent frenetic pace.

Friday 15th July, Seventh morning in SL, last day of trip.

Up early to stroll the grounds, rewarded with some excellent views of Male Layard’s. After an excellent breakfast we took the ferry and strolled the tracks for a few hours. No new birds but best views of Long-billed sunbird, red-backed woodpecker and SL hanging parrot. On the return slipped in the canoe and bruised my shin; lucky it was not more serious.

After a shower and packing had lunch then left for the drive to the airport. Chandima took every opportunity to take the more scenic route to give us a better chance of getting a good view of Crimson-fronted barbet. Eventually we found a really nice Male sitting up in a tree. Chandima dropped me off at 16:20. I used the time waiting for my series of flights back to Europe to finish my trip notes.

In summary an excellent, well organized trip which did exactly what I wanted; an endemic clean-up. I would recommend the following as an endemic hunting itinery:

Start at Kitulgala, in particular become familiar with the commoner birds in the hotel grounds before crossing the river. You will need two nights here. Make sure you have seen the owlet, green-billed coucal and hornbill before leaving Kitulgala.

Then go to Sinharaja, spend a minimum of 3 nights/2 full days getting the endemics, make sure you have a good tracker.

Then do the highlands, a half day at Horton Plains should be enough. If it is winter then you will need longer to get birds like Kashmir flycatcher.

Finish in the dry zone, if you have seen everything you may want to watch leopards or elephants.

If it is Dec-April then you will probably want a crack at a boat-trip from Galle for Blue and Sperm whales.

Huge range of habitats and climates, friendly people, cheap food and accommodation, safe, what more do you want? Oh yes, 33 endemic birds. As a final thought, American and European listers might want to consider a week in Sri Lanka then a week at Thattekad, Kerala to get those tricky SW Indian endemics that way you could clean up on southern India and Sri Lanka in a fortnight. I hope to do Kerala next year and will tell you how it goes.

I recorded a total of 129 species on the trip, I have broken these down into three lists:

A, the endemics, 33 species

B, regional endemics/potential splits, 20 species

C, others, 76 species

I have used the scientific and English name as per the internet IOC World Bird List v2.9 (I use this as they provide a nice Excel worksheet to work with). I note that many of the endings on the scientific names are slightly different from those in John Harrison’s A Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka, 2nd Ed. (Oxford 2011), where the English names used on the plates in the Harrison guide are different I have added those to my lists below.

List A, the 33 currently recognised Sri Lankan endemic species.

1          Galloperdix bicalcarata             Sri Lanka Spurfowl
Often heard at Sinharaja, probably at least 8 pairs encountered calling. Probably the most difficult endemic to see, without tapes you would need a lot of luck to encounter a pair crossing a track. We tried to coax into view several calling birds without success. Eventually, late on the first full day at Sinharaja we encountered a calling bird close to the track. I hid with Ranjith at the side of the track whilst Chandima played the tape some way back up the track to encourage the birds into the open. I got the briefest of close views as the pair walked through the vegetation. After a few seconds the Female spotted us and with a squawk flew off, closely followed by her mate. I was relieved to get such good, though brief views. Spurfowl is widely distributed in forested areas through Sri Lanka and you may encounter the distinctive call in several places, the difficulty is in getting a decent view.

2          Gallus lafayetii               Sri Lanka Junglefowl           
An easy bird to see. Usually fairly tame, a pair were at our feet on the main trail at Sinharaja. Probably not that many birds seen at Sinharaja (<6), also seen at Kitulgala where one Male with a harem of 4 female.

3          Columba torringtoniae              Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon        
Only encountered once; a bird in trees close to Martin’s lodge, Sinharaja. It sat around giving a good view then flew off.

4          Treron pompadora      Sri Lanka Green Pigeon          
Only seen once; a Male on the Jeep track down to the village, Sinharaja.

5          Loriculus beryllinus     Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot        
A frequently-encountered species. Often flying over or perched at the top of a palm, good views were not easy. The best view was of a Male feeding on a Jack fruit at Kitulgala.

6          Psittacula calthropae   Layard's Parakeet        
Like the previous endemic, often encountered but good views not easy. The best views were a Male on the Jeep track, Sinharaja and a Male in the grounds of the Kitulgala rest house at dawn.

7          Centropus chlororhynchos      Green-billed Coucal    
Regularly heard calling at Sinharaja and Kitulgala. The only view was of a calling Male at Sisira’s river lodge, Kitulgala. The bird was only 60m from the door of my chalet. To get a view of this species mimicking the call or using tapes is almost essential.

8          Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus        Red-faced Malkoha    
Only seen at Sinharaja. Seen on several occasions, usually 2 or 3 birds moving quickly through the tops of trees, associated with bird flocks.

9          Otus thilohoffmanni     Serendib Scops Owl    
This species occurs at both Kitulgala and Sinharaja however it is very difficult to see unless a roost site is located. Prior to my visit no-one had gone looking for Serendib for many weeks so no roost sites were known. At dusk along the main birding trail at Sinharaja we heard the distinctive quiet hoot of this species. Ranjith our ace tracker was unable to locate the bird in the gathering gloom. Frankly I was not that excited about getting a view of a resting owl in deep shade and was happy to leave the species as heard only. This was the only endemic heard but not seen on the trip.

10        Glaucidium castanonotum       Chestnut-backed Owlet           
The first endemic of the trip. This species is fairly easy at Sisira’s river lodge, Kitulgala. Good views of at least two birds. Ranjith also found a bird at dusk along the main birding trail at Sinharaja, just before we encountered the Serendib.

11        Ocyceros gingalensis   Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill         
Only encountered once; prolonged, excellent views of a Male feeding close to the ferry landing at Kitulgala. We never had a sniff of this species at Sinharaja or on our return to Kitulgala so very much a hit or miss species.

12        Megalaima flavifrons   Yellow-fronted Barbet
This and Brown-headed Barbet are common and heard almost continually in suitable habitat. Unfortunately this species usually calls from within the crown of trees and I had only a handful of decent views through the week, the best were from the Jeep track, Sinharaja.

13        Megalaima rubricapillu    Crimson-fronted Barbet, Sri Lanka Small Barbet
Not easy. Distant brief views at Kitulgala on the first full day, then no sign at all at Sinharaja, in the dry zone or in hill country (though very much a wet zone species). It remained the only endemic for which I wanted better views until the very last day when Chandima drove from Kitulgala to Colombo looking out for this species. After several hours of driving, we suddenly stopped in a town with a Male sitting obligingly at the top of a tree for several minutes. A great example of the perseverance and effort of Chandima to meet his client’s wishes.

14        Chrysocolaptes stricklandi      Crimson-backed Goldenback, Crimson-backed Woodpecker
Not guaranteed. Saw at least 5 red-backs but no sign of the endemic until Horton Plains. I heard the distinctive call, we then encouraged the bird closer, got brief views in the mist including flight views, the presumed mate joined up with the first bird and they then lost all interest in our tape. Clearly a species with which you may struggle, as we did.

15        Tephrodornis affinis    Sri Lanka Woodshrike
The only dry zone endemic, taped at a tank near Tissa’ then another calling at dawn from the rooftop of the Peacock Reach hotel, Tissa’. Clearly a hit-or-miss species which involves a bit of luck to get quickly.

16        Dicrurus lophorinus    Sri Lanka Drongo, Sri Lanka Crested Drongo
Fairly easy at Sinharaja. Associated with most bird flocks. Probably 8+ birds seen at Sinharaja including one from the balcony at Martin’s lodge. Only a minority of the individuals had the full tail, most had a truncated version.

17        Urocissa ornata             Sri Lanka Blue Magpie      
Easy at Sinharaja. Small flocks along the main birding trail. During heavy rain a bird briefly joined us in the rain shelter. Most of the birds are colour-ringed as part of an ongoing study. I am told that they are considerably less shy and much easier to see than ten or fifteen years ago.

18        Pycnonotus melanicterus         Black-capped Bulbul, Black-headed Yellow Bulbul
Not common but fairly easy to see. Seen every day at Sinharaja and Kitulgala, only ones and twos.

19        Pycnonotus penicillatus             Yellow-eared Bulbul 
The last endemic to fall, small numbers moving through the trees at Horton Plains. Fantastic views close to the visitor centre and on the road going down. Should be straightforward on a visit to HP.

20        Cecropis hyperythra    Sri Lanka Swallow
Only seen in transit. Small flocks on wires next to the road on the trip from Sinharaja to Tissa’ also by the road from Nuwara Eliya to Kitulgala. Generally in cultivated areas, below the commercial tea plantations.

21        Elaphrornis palliseri    Sri Lanka Bush Warbler          
One bird skulking in a bush at Horton Plains. Apparently the bird is always in or close to this particular bush.

22        Pomatorhinus melanurus         Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler     
Fairly easy at Sinharaja, seen as both lone birds and associated with bird flocks, up to 4 birds at a time. Also seen at HP and Kitulgala.

23        Pellorneum fuscocapillus         Brown-capped Babbler           
Not easy, this is a species for which you could struggle. Seen only once when taped from a major bird flock at Sinharaja but gave excellent close views.

24        Turdoides rufescens     Orange-billed Babbler 
Fairly common in wet zone forest. Usually the predominant species in any bird flock at Sinharaja. Also seen at Kitulgala.

25        Garrulax cinereifrons  Ashy-headed Laughingthrush 
Not encountered for most of the first day at Sinharaja, only seen in our third bird flock of the day, thereafter seen more often. A very nice bird.

26        Zosterops ceylonensis  Sri Lanka White-eye
Common and easy to see at Horton Plains.

27        Gracula ptilogenys    Sri Lanka Hill Myna     
Usually in pairs. Pairs seen on four occasions at Sinharaja.

28        Sturnornis albofrontatus   White-faced Starling
This proved the most elusive of the wet zone forest birds, just one bird perched distantly watched from the clearing at the research station at the end of the main trail at Sinharaja.

29        Myophonus blighi        Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush
Seen at two sites. The first was a well known stake-out at a stream near the main road at Nuwara Eliya, it was pouring with rain and getting almost black when at 18:25 got good views of 1Female. At Horton Plains got a very good view of another Female at the quite late time of 08:00. With a guide, tape and perseverance you should score but perhaps not a Male.

30        Zoothera spiloptera     Spot-winged Thrush
An outstanding bird with a great song. A singing Male seen at two different sites at Sinharaja.

31        Zoothera imbricata      Sri Lanka Thrush, Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush
Not easy, a very shy bird. Towards the end of the main trail at Sinharaja it gets very wet to the right, this is leech central so be warned! No sign on the first day in the forest but made it our target for day 2, got down early and had excellent prolonged views of a bird singing, though the song is just a monotonous series of thin szeecks.

32        Eumyias sordidus        Dull-blue Flycatcher
Seen well early on at Horton Plains in the mist. I was really impressed by the brilliant blue eye-brow, a much better bird than perhaps illustrated.

33        Dicaeum vincens         Legge's Flowerpecker, White-throated Flowerpecker
Fairly easy to see but not common. A Female was just in front of the balcony at Martin’s. Usually encountered at forest edges and around villages. Seen most days at Sinharaja and Kitulgala. Care needed to avoid confusion with purple-backed sunbird.

Starting with our first full day at Kitulgala it took 5 full days and three hours to wrap up every endemic. Clearly if we were to travel at night that could be reduced to under 5 days but whichever way you work it you will need at least 2 full days in wet zone forest, probably three, to clean up plus a trip to dry zone for the woodshrike plus a half day at Horton Plains. If you want decent views as well as ticks then you will need to allow more time so I think 5 days is a realistic minimum time-scale with seven days allowing time to spend looking for the more difficult species. From my trip, the birds you may spend longer than expected to see well are:

Spurfowl, woodpigeon, green pigeon, green-billed Coucal, Serendib, hornbill, crimson-fronted barbet, c-b woodpecker, woodshrike, brown-capped babbler, white-faced starling and all three thrushes. Consequently I would recommend a minimum of seven full days to get all the endemics. This of course assumes you are employing a guide, with all the tapes, plus a good tracker at Sinharaja.

List B  Regional endemics and potential splits

By regional I mean a species you would not see outside SL or southern/central India, this list has 20 species.

1          Phaenicophaeus viridirostris   Blue-faced Malkoha   
One bird near a tank at Tissa’.

2          Otus bakkamoena        Indian Scops Owl, Collared Scops Owl
A pair plus a juvenile sitting in a tree of a private garden at Tissa’.

3          Batrachostomus moniliger       Sri Lanka Frogmouth  
One of the outstanding birds of the trip, talk of a pending split from the Indian population. On the drive up to Martin’s lodge Ranjith ran-off to check his site, he returned and led us straight to a roosting pair. Just superb. Unfortunately it was a damp area full of leeches and I did not change out of sandals; a very bad mistake. No less than 8 leeches managed to get me in the few minutes I was there.
A second roosting pair were seen even better along the main birding trail at Sinharaja, this site is well known so can be prone to disturbance, the pair we had early in the morning had been disturbed and gone by midday.

4          Aerodramus unicolor   Indian Swiftlet
The commonest aerial feeder at Kitulgala and in the highlands.

5          Harpactes fasciatus     Malabar Trogon          
A very smart bird, seen with bird flocks at Sinharaja. Saw about 6 birds in all, both Male and Female

6          Anthracoceros coronatus        Malabar Pied Hornbill 
One bird from the road running along the southern edge of Uda Walawe NP

7          Megalaima zeylanica   Brown-headed Barbet 
A common bird, easier to see than Yellow-fronted.

8          Dinopium benghalense            Lesser Goldenback, Black-rumped Flameback, Red-backed Woodpecker
The race psarodes was by far the commonest woodpecker on the trip. Recorded at least 5 times at Kitulgala and Sinharaja.

9          Pericrocotus flammeus            Orange Minivet, Flame Minivet
Recently split from widespread Scarlet Minivet. A few seen at Sinharaja and Kitulgala.

10        Dicrurus caerulescens White-bellied Drongo 
By far the commonest Drongo. I did not pay attention to separation of races, at the time put most birds down to White-bellied race insularis, but with hindsight most of the birds at Sinharaja and Kitulgala were probably White-vented leucopygialis.

11        Acritillas indica   Yellow-browed Bulbul        
A really smart bird, seen well in ones and twos at Sinharaja and Kitulgala

12        Hirundo domicola       Hill Swallow   
Seen only twice on the trip, 3 from the road about 20km from Sinharaja and 2 about half way down from HP to Nuwara Eliya

13        Rhopocichla atriceps   Dark-fronted Babbler 
Fairly common at Sinharaja, tend to skulk in the vegetation but are not shy. Nice birds. Often in pairs. Also recorded at Kitulgala and Horton Plains.

14        Turdoides affinis          Yellow-billed Babbler 
Split from jungle babbler. Common around villages.

15        Gracula indica            Southern Hill Myna     Lesser Hill Myna
One briefly from the road travelling to Nuwara Eliya, best views were a pair perched just outside Kitulgala Rest House

16        Turdus merula Common Blackbird     Endemic race kinnisii.
One bird, could have been Male or Female, by road just before gate of Horton Plains NP.

17        Chloropsis jerdoni       Jerdon's Leafbird        
Pair at bridge near Ula Walawe, also one bird at Kitulgala.

18        Leptocoma zeylonica   Purple-rumped Sunbird           
The commonest sunbird on the trip. Usually around village areas and gardens.

19        Cinnyris lotenius          Loten's Sunbird,  Long-billed Sunbird
Both MaleMale and female seen well at Kitulgala and several places in transit.

20        Pelecanus philippensis            Spot-billed Pelican
Out of order as I missed this species completely from my first version of this report. I saw at least 20 birds at a tank on the way to Tissa’, and at least another dozen on tanks close to Tissa’. I confused this species with pink-backed pelican which I had seen previously in Africa, it is in fact a really good species, an internet trawl shows that this bird is very range-restricted to southern India and Sri Lanka with only c25 birds in Sumatra. By far the rarest of the 7 or 8 species of pelican in the world. I had a stunning close view of an immature in a tree at Tissa’, one of the highlights of the trip. Confusingly the Harrison guide quotes a range from Iran to the Philippines, I wonder if the SL guide is confusing/lumping Spot-billed with another species? (P. roseus is given as an alternative). Another reason to visit Tissa’ as well as for woodshrike.

List C, other species recorded which have a wide geographical range.  (76 species)

1          Nettapus coromandelianus      Cotton Pygmy Goose
Four birds seen at a tank near Tissa’.

2          Tachybaptus ruficollis Little Grebe
One or two around Tissa’.

3          Mycteria leucocephala            Painted Stork
100+ at one tank, common around Tissa’.

4          Anastomus oscitans     Asian Openbill
Fairly common and widespread around tanks. Over 100 flying into roost at dusk seen from the roof of Peacock Reach hotel, Tissa’.

5          Ciconia episcopus       Woolly-necked Stork
Two birds at a tank.

6          Threskiornis melanocephalus  Black-headed Ibis

7          Platalea leucorodia     Eurasian Spoonbill
Some at tanks, 4 flying to roost from Peacock Reach.

8          Dupetor flavicollis       Black Bittern
Superb views of a bird on a tank near Tissa’.

9          Nycticorax nycticorax  Black-crowned Night Heron
Watched flying out to lake from Peacock Reach at dusk and flying back to roost at dawn.

10        Ardeola grayii Indian Pond Heron
Widespread singles

11        Ardea cinerea  Grey Heron
Common at larger tanks

12        Ardea purpurea   Purple Heron
Common at larger tanks

13        Ardea alba       Great Egret
Fairly common

14        Egretta intermedia       Intermediate Egret
The commonest and most widespread egret, strangely I did not record a single cattle egret.

15        Egretta garzetta           Little Egret
Fairly regular at tanks

16        Microcarbo niger        Little Cormorant
Common though not in large concentrations. One on the river at Kitulgala.

17        Phalacrocorax fuscicollis        Indian Cormorant
Large concentrations in roosting trees around Tissa’.

18        Phalacrocorax carbo  Great Cormorant
A few birds at Tissa’

19        Anhinga melanogaster Oriental Darter
Common at tanks

20        Pernis ptilorhynchus    Crested Honey Buzzard, Oriental Honey Buzzard
Good views of a bird on our trip down the Jeep track, Sinharaja.

21        Haliastur indus   Brahminy Kite
Fairly common.

22        Spilornis cheela           Crested Serpent Eagle
A pair over the road en route east from Sinharaja.

23        Accipiter badius           Shikra
One across road on way from airport and one at Kitulgala.

24        Ictinaetus malayensis   Black Eagle
A bird soaring above A2 road.

25        Lophotriorchis kienerii       Rufous-bellied Hawk-Eagle
Seen at the same site as previous.

26        Nisaetus cirrhatus        Crested Hawk-Eagle, Changeable Hawk Eagle
An adult feeding a juvenile at the big tank at Tissa’.

27        Nisaetus nipalensis      Mountain Hawk-Eagle
One soaring over the A2.

28        Amaurornis phoenicurus         White-breasted Waterhen
A few at tanks at Tissa’.

29        Porphyrio porphyrio   Purple Swamphen
A few seen around Tissa’.

30        Himantopus himantopus          Black-winged Stilt
Fairly common

31        Vanellus indicus          Red-wattled Lapwing
Fairly common

32        Hydrophasianus chirurgus      Pheasant-tailed Jacana
Common on the big tanks at Tissa’.

33        Columba livia  Common Pigeon, Feral dove
Common in villages

34        Spilopelia chinensis     Spotted Dove
Common and widespread

35        Chalcophaps indica     Common Emerald Dove
Fairly common at Sinharaja and Kitulgala, usually in pairs

36        Ducula aenea  Green Imperial Pigeon
Widespread, best views at Kitulgala rest house and Peacock Reach hotel

37        Psittacula eupatria      Alexandrine Parakeet
Excellent views from the roof of Peacock Reach hotel Tissa’. Outnumbered 40 to 1 by Rose-ringed.

38        Psittacula krameri       Rose-ringed Parakeet
Abundant around Tissa’. At least 1,500 birds flew past the rooftop at Peacock Reach at dawn.

39        Centropus sinensis       Greater Coucal
Widespread and fairly common.

40        Clamator jacobinus     Jacobin Cuckoo, Pied Cuckoo
A group of 5 birds well out in the water hyacinth at a tank at Tissa’.

41        Eudynamys scolopaceus       Asian Koel
Often heard, seen well from Peacock Reach.

42        Hemiprocne coronata  Crested Treeswift
Two birds at Tissa’.

43        Cypsiurus balasiensis  Asian Palm Swift
Fairly widespread though not many seen.

44        Apus affinis      Little Swift
Three birds on first evening’s drive from airport.

45        Coracias benghalensis            Indian Roller
A few roadside records

46        Pelargopsis capensis   Stork-billed Kingfisher
One bird calling and gave great views at the big tank, Tissa. One bird at the ferry, Kitulgala.

47        Halcyon smyrnensis     White-throated Kingfisher
Common and widespread, even in the centre of busy towns.

48        Ceryle rudis     Pied Kingfisher
A few at tanks near Tissa’.

49        Merops orientalis        Green Bee-eater
A few near Tissa’

50        Merops leschenaulti    Chestnut-headed Bee-eater
Fairly common around Tissa’.

51        Megalaima haemacephala      Coppersmith Barbet
A few seen, excellent views of a Male in the woodshrike tree at Tissa’.

52        Picus chlorolophus      Lesser Yellownape
Seen thrice at Sinharaja.

53        Hemipus picatus          Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike
One bird at Sinharaja.

54        Artamus fuscus   Ashy Woodswallow
At least two birds at Tissa’.

55        Aegithina tiphia   Common Iora
Widespread and fairly common

56        Pericrocotus cinnamomeus      Small Minivet
Seen at Sinharaja and Kitulgala.

57        Oriolus xanthornus      Black-hooded Oriole
Seen by the road and at Tissa’.

58        Hypothymis azurea      Black-naped Monarch
See a few times in bird flocks at Sinharaja.

59        Corvus splendens        House Crow
Common at Tissa’.

60        Corvus macrorhynchos       Large-billed Crow
Common and widespread

61        Culicicapa ceylonensis      Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher
At least 2 birds at Horton Plains.

62        Parus major     Great Tit
Fairly common at Horton Plains

63        Pycnonotus cafer         Red-vented Bulbul
Common and widespread

64        Hypsipetes leucocephalus        Black Bulbul
The commonest bird in forest.

65        Cisticola juncidis         Zitting Cisticola
Fairly common at Tissa’.

66        Orthotomus sutorius    Common Tailorbird
Commonly seen and heard.

67        Zosterops palpebrosus Oriental White-eye
A few seen at Kitulgala.

68        Sitta frontalis   Velvet-fronted Nuthatch
One at Sinharaja.

69        Acridotheres tristis       Common Myna
Common and widespread.

70        Copsychus saularis      Oriental Magpie-Robin
Fairly common.

71        Saxicoloides fulicatus  Indian Robin, Black-backed Robin.
Just one bird, a Male at the visitor centre, Horton Plains NP.

72        Dicaeum agile Thick-billed Flowerpecker
One at Kitulgala rest house.

73        Dicaeum erythrorhynchos       Pale-billed Flowerpecker
Fairly common at Sinharaja.

74        Passer domesticus       House Sparrow
Common around towns.

75        Ploceus philippinus     Baya Weaver
Several colonies around Tissa’.

76        Lonchura striata            White-rumped Munia
Fairly common around Tissa’.

This report may be used freely to help travelers and birdwatchers. If you quote widely from my report you should give due credit:

Grunwell, M.J. Sri Lanka Endemic bird trip report July 2011
If you would like to comment please contact me on

Michael Grunwell
Al Khor, State of Qatar.

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