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A Report from birdtours.co.uk

SRI LANKA Dec 1999 - Jan 2000,

Steve Webb

Bird List

With luck and good planning all 26 endemics can be seen in 8-9 days. I saw them (with Barry Reed) in 11 days, but I recommend 12 days if you wish to include waders and waterbirds sites. Our trip was in late Dec 99/early Jan 00. I then stayed on into mid-January for 1 week to do archaeological sites with my family. This is a very cheap birding place, easy to see most of the endemics, and a safe country (as all the endemics are in the south and problems are in the north).

Note that although distances are very small the roads are slow to drive. The best way to see the birds is to hire a vehicle and driver which is very cheap indeed. By far the best company to get these is:

A Baur & Co. Ltd,
P.O Box 11,
Colombo 1.
FAX 448493, email: baurs@eureka.lk

The Baurs driver will be a birder/driver who knows all the sites and important endemic stake-outs. Also Baurs give a special discount to birders. You can hire a vehicle and driver for 11 days and see all the birds just under 150 for 4-5 birders (1999 rates). The vehicle is a mini-bus and hold 5 birders including all the gear. Note that it only costs 3/day to hire the vehicle if no mileage is done. Mileage costs 20 rupees/ 1 mile (not KM) which is about 17 pence. We did just over 1000 KMs (about 625 miles). You will need to hire an extra 4-wheel drive vehicle for the most important site (Sinharajah) at a cost of around 35. However, Baurs are hoping to get a 4-wheel drive vehicle and then this extra hire will not be necessary.

Baurs have an excellent driver Sunil Alwis ask for him by name when contacting Baurs. He can also arrange cheap hotel accommodation throughout the trip which will also save you a significant amount of money. However note * below. Typically you can get a twin bedded room for around 7-8/night. Food is also cheap. Sri Lanka is not particularly a bartering place so even if you do barter the cost will not come down that much.

Baurs will pick you up from the airport and take you on your birding tour without having to waste time filling paper-work/deposit or anything (all this was done at the end of the trip). The best place to change money is the airport on the way in and out of the country. Baurs will accept payment in English pounds and give a good rate of exchange so you do not have to get rupees for them, but most other transactions will be rupees.

Note that the average speed of Sunil's driving is 30mph so allow a lot of time to get around. However this should not be a problem as you can leave each site mid-morning and get to the next site by late afternoon for evening birding. This country is very much a morning place only. Although birds are seen in the evening they do not respond to tape (unlike in the morning) so plan to be at each site for at least one morning. This does not apply to waders or waterbirds of course. Tapes are absolutely essential - without these some of the key endemics will not be seen. You will need Steve Smith's tape and Deepal Warakagoda's tapes.

The only gen. you need is the Brain Gee report and the Oriental Bird Club report. Of course the more reports you have the better for understanding the status of certain birds. When staying at Sinharajah by far the best place to stay is Martin's Place. Take your own food and he will cook it for you, otherwise it will cost a lot to stay there. For this place book it up via Baurs because that is standard practice*. Most accommodation is only partly full (the exception being in Kandy and at Martin's Place). You can book all accommodation by Baurs if you wish but that might be a little more expensive.

Martin's Place is the only place where food will be an issue.

GEN. ON THE DIFFICULT BIRDS

Sri Lanka Spurfowl: This is by far the most difficult bird because of its behaviour. The best place for this is probably Kitulgala and Sunil knows of a good place there (go over the river, through the village into the forest, go left at first fork then left again at the following fork, go up hill 200-300 yds, crash into the left and sit down by some big rocks). You will probably have a much better response if you record a spurfowl and play it back.

Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush: Best site we found was Horton Plains about 22-24K from Nuwara Eliya. Sunil knows the site which is a long thin pool on the RHS on a 100 yard flat bit of land (already passed a pool before this not a thin long pool.). We saw the bird in full day-light for 20 minutes after dawn. Other birders have also seen it at this site after dawn. The viewing conditions are excellent compared to other sites. We also saw a female in Victoria Park in the afternoon and not at dusk. The best place for Pied Thrush was inside the park near the main entrance on the LHS after entering the park in the largest clump of bamboo and this is where we also saw the Whistling Thrush.

Black-throated Munia: the Hukgala Botanical Gdns is a waste of time. Many birders do not see it at this site. These prefer wooded edges with mature rice-fields and feed on the rice seeds low on the ground. We saw them at Kitulgala across the river and instead of going into the village that leads to the forest go the other way to the first paddy field (only 200 yds walk). We saw them in December.

Kashmir Fly: Hakgala Botanical Gdns and Victoria Park in good numbers in January.

Scaly Thrush: seen only on the main track at first light by the start of the loop trail which is about 200 yds before the Forest station at Sinharajah

Ceylon-Bush Warbler: Hakgala Botanical Gdns now not a good site. We saw them at Horton Plains by the Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush. Also seen other places at or near the plains.

Green-billed Coucal: Seems to be regular at Sinharajah. Heard every morning below Martin's Place (ask Martin for details). Also seen along the main river before Martin's Place near the main bridge. We saw 2 (were 3) about half way between Martin's Place and the Forest station on a left hand bend with bamboo, looking up the hill. Just past this bend the slope on the RHS has a large clearing. Maybe bit of a stake-out because other birders have also seen them there. Also heard others at Sinharajah. The Ingiriya Forest is a waste of time for this bird (used to be good) and it is also expensive to stay near the Ingiriya Forest site.

Sri Lanka Frogmouth: the best sites that we visited in order were: Kitulgala, Ingiriya Forest, Sinharajah.

Chestnut Backed Owlet: Best site by far was Sinharajah and can be seen during the day by playing a tape. Another good site is Ingiriya Forest.

Indian Pitta: Seen in quite a number of places but best views were at Victoria Park.

Malabar Pied Hornbill: Most reliable place seems to be the Yala National park by hiring a jeep (but costs about 33). Can be seen outside the park and also driving north along the western edge of the park (block ??). Also saw these in the north near Anuradhapura.

Jerdon's Nightjar: They like more densely wooded areas than Indian Nightjar. A good site is the Yala Safari Beach Hotel area. Also seen at Sigiriya but not easy.

Orange-headed Ground Thrush: seen on at least 2 trips in the same area of Udawattakele. Try first light on the main track i.e. go first left from the entrance and follow the pool around for about 400 yards. The pool is a stake-out site for Brown Fish Owl.

Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon: A few seen by most birders but not always easy. Some say Surrey Tea Plantations a good place (although we did not go there).

Suggested Itinerary:

DAY 1: Kitulgala evening for Frogmouth

2: Kitulgala for Spurfowl, drive to Sinharajah

3, 4, 5: Sinharajah

6: Sinharajah till 10.00, drive to Tissamaharama, evening Jerdon's Nightjar (Jerdon's also seen at the Sigirya but only flight views)

7: Yala National Park for Indian Hornbill, Blue-faced Malkoha

8: Optional day for waders and waterbirds

9: Drive north through Yala N.P for Malabar Pied Hornbill, Blue-faced Malkoha, stay at Nuwara Eliya (both of these I also saw in the north)

10: Horton plains for Ceylon-Bush warbler and Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, afternoon Victoria Park for Thrushes, Kashmir Fly, Indian Pitta

11: Maybe Surrey Tea Plantations for Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon, Hill Swallow at Labookelli tea factory

12: Optional day near Kandy, first light at Udawattakel for Orange-headed Ground Thrush, Brown Fishing Wood Owl, Brown-capped Babbler (very common) and the Kandy Botanical Gdns for Crimson-fronted Barbet. Or could go to Bellanwila-Attidaya sanctuary in early morning for Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler (but difficult to see).

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