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A Report from

Sri Lanka: March 27 - April 4, 2004,

Gary and Marlene Babic


As with most birding holidays to Sri Lanka, we used the services of A. Baur's and Co. (e-mail:, web site: Perry at the office responded promptly to all e-mails. Although there are many trip reports about Sri Lanka, this report describes how it is possible to see all Sri Lankan endemics (as broadly defined by Baur's)  in eight days of birding. The sole endemic we did not attempt to see was the newly-described Serendip Scops-owl, which is seriously endangered and probably is better not disturbed. This short trip focusing on endemics was possible because we had seen nearly all of the waders in Sri Lanka already. Therefore, we were able to eliminate the day or two normally spent on tours looking for these. The result was a shorter bird list than normal, but we saw essentially all the birds we expected to see. In addition to the not trying for the Serendip Scops-owl, we also missed seeing some migrants (Kashmir Flycatcher, Gray-bellied Cuckoo, Rosy Minivet) which had been common two weeks earlier. Therefore, it seems that early April is already too late to see some of the migrants in Sri Lanka.  We had provided Baur's with our list of target birds, and our guide used the list to focus on these birds.

Sri Lanka is a nice place - somewhat like India but much cleaner and with fewer people. The roads were overall good, with the exception of the road to Sinharaja Park. However, because of winding roads, it often took a long time to travel a short distance. The food was good but simple, mostly curry-based. There are some opportunities for western food at the larger hotels. Mobile phone coverage was spotty. We opted to have Udi pay for our drinks as we went along, and to repay him at the end in US dollars, but we suggest that some currency be exchanged at the airport for incidentals, tips, etc. Even the larger hotels had trouble exchanging US dollars. We converted USD 50 at the airport upon arrival and that went a long way. I did not see many ATMs and do not know if they accept foreign cards. Udi said that sometimes the airfare does not include the airport departure tax, but ours did. If not, this must be paid in Sri Lankan rupees but money can be exchanged for this at the airport. Overall, everything by Baur's was very efficient.


The Baur's literature outlines birding trip from 10 to 21 days, so our shorter trip was an exception. However, we did visit all major sites and had ample time for multiple visits when required, and added an overnight in Bibile. We had rain on several afternoons, but this did not seriously affect the birds we saw. In sum, the birding pace was quite relaxing, and we had only one very early morning start (at Horton Plains). Most days we had mid-day breaks, and rain gave us some unexpected afternoon breaks as well. Bring a book, and leech socks.

The lodging ranged from good to basic. Baur's no longer recommends Martin's Bungalow at the Sinharaja Park because it is too run-down; however, it does have a prime location at the park entrance. The Wild Orchid lodge, where we stayed, was basic but adequate and is only about 20 minutes away from Sinharaja, and we used that trip to see some key birds anyway. In other places, I am sure we stayed at hotels that were either the best or among the best available.

Our guide was Mr Uditha Hettige, and he was excellent. However, I understand that all four of the Baur's guides are excellent. Udi knew all primary and backup sites and birds, and found them all for us with time to spare. He had tapes but only used them when necessary (e.g., Spurfowl). He did not have a scope, so it is useful to bring your own and we used ours on several occasions. In Sinharaja, the local park guide carried ours (and got a nice tip for doing so). Because Baur's does have a limited number of guides, it makes sense to reserve a spot early, especially during peak times in February-April.

The cost for the trip is very reasonable, so most of the groups are actually only two to four persons. That makes it great for spotting skulking birds, but it does occupy the guides quickly. Our cost was USD 1110 per person from Colombo, which included all meals and lodging, but did not include water or other drinks (these did not add up to much, and were readily available). Most trips apparently follow a standard itinerary, as we saw members from another Baur's tour at three stops, a few days behind us. One minor limitation is that, once the itinerary is set by the main office, it appears to be a challenge for the guide in the field to adjust it. For example, we had finished our birding at Sinharaja by noon one day, but did not move on to the next location until the next morning because there were no phones available for changing plans. However, that said, we did end up seeing all the birds, so the guides know how to run the trips. 

Our trip was interesting because it occurred during the Sri Lankan elections, which in the past had been marred by violence. But this campaign was relatively quiet, and before election day all we saw was a lot of campaign posters. On election day, we saw hundreds of people walking to their local voting places. Udi warned us we may face a curfew if there was police concern about violence, but none was put in place. The only inconvenience was that Victoria Park was closed on election day, presumably to stop large groups gathering there.

One aspect that was particularly striking was the friendliness of the people. Several people invited us into their modest homes when it was raining or when we were sitting around waiting for a bird wave. Many people appeared to know about birds and would point them out. Everyone seemed to have a smile. It was very pleasant.

General itinerary

Day 1:
arrived in Colombo at midnight. We had very quick clearance through Customs and Immigration, and we were picked up by Udi and our driver Chomi at 00:30. We then drove in our comfortable van to Kitulgala Lodge, arriving 3:30AM. We slept in, birding after lunch around the hotel grounds. Endemic birds seen: Chestnut-backed Owlet, Brown-capped Babbler, Ceylon Hill Munia, and Yellow-fronted Barbet. The owlet was key, as Udi said this was often difficult. After dark, we saw a Spot-bellied (Forest) Eagle Owl near the lodge. Overnight at Kitulgala Lodge, which was nice but a bit noisy.

Day 2:
Kitulgala is on a river which is very popular with locals on weekends, consequently this was a busy area today, with lots of people swimming and enjoying the water. In the morning, we took a dugout canoe ferry across the river to the forest and walked some trails. New endemics: Orange-billed babbler, Spotted-winged Thrush, Ceylon Junglefowl, Ceylon Grey Hornbill, Legge's Flowerpecker, Red-faced Malkoha, Black-capped Bulbul, and Ceylon Hanging-Parrot (Lorikeet). Heard, but did not see, several Ceylon Spurfowl. We took a break for lunch back at the hotel, planning to resume birding in the forest at 3:30PM. However, this was cut short by a heavy rainstorm, so we returned to the hotel. Overnight: Kitulgala Hotel.

Day 3:
8AM departure to Sinharaja, arriving at the Blue Orchid at 2PM after market stops for provisions. We planned some afternoon birding, but heavy rain again deterred us. However, from the open-air Blue Orchid dining area we saw Ceylon Small Barbet, Layard's Parakeet, Ceylon Myna, and an excellent non-endemic, Slaty-legged Crake. Overnight at Blue Orchid, which is basic - lots of insects.

Day 4:
7AM start to Sinharaja. Stopped en route and found Green-billed Coucal, which had eluded us at several places. At a later stop, we had good but fleeting glimpses of Ceylon Spurfowl. At Sinharaja, we walked trails and saw Ceylon Wood-pigeon, Ceylon Blue Magpie, White-headed Starling, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush, the unusual local subspecies of Scaly Thrush, plus non-endemic Malabar Trogon. Many leeches here. We left Sinharaja by 1PM and drove back to the Blue Orchid; we had taken our lunch with us, but we had seen all the local birds so no need to stay there in the mid-day heat. However, we were not able to depart for our next destination, which was four hours away, because Udi had no way to check if rooms were available in Tissa, nor could he clear this with the head office. So we again had an afternoon off. It again rained heavily in late afternoon, and the local river experienced a flash flood with water rising very loudly and quickly. However, within a few hours, all was back to normal. Overnight: Blue Orchid.

Day 5:
7AM departure to Tissamaharama (aka Tissa), arriving at the very nice Priyankara Hotel at 1PM. En route stopped to see Spot-billed Pelican and Saunder's Little Tern. After lunch, we checked out nearby fields for pipits and larks. Later we drove to a nesting site for White-naped Woodpecker, where we also saw Blue-faced Malkoha. Overnight at the Priyankara Hotel.

Day 6:
5:30AM start to Yala National Park to arrive at dawn. Leopards are sometimes seen here, but we did not see any, only tracks. No new endemics here, but new non-endemics included White-browed Fantail, Orange-breasted Pigeon, Sirkeer Malkoha and Blyth's Pipit. Our view of the malkohas was limited because our jeep had broken down - in leopard territory - and we were not able to get out for a closer view of the birds. I assume the driver/ mechanic has good insurance. We did not see any Gray-bellied Cuckoos even though Udi said they were abundant two weeks before, so they had already migrated. Normally the tours spend at least a full day in Tissa at the local reservoirs ("tanks") to scan through the many waders that congregate here on the southern coast, but since we had seen most of these we left after lunch for Bibile. Late PM in Bibile we heard but did not see Painted Francolin. Udi was quite worried about wild elephants in this area so we left before dusk. En route back to the hotel we stopped and saw Oriental Scops-Owl.  Overnight at the nice Kinkini Hotel in Bibile.

Day 7:
Early morning drive to try for Painted Francolin again. As we were walking through a field, we suddenly found ourselves within 20 meters of some elephants - much too close for comfort. I have no idea how elephants can be almost invisible in knee-deep grass, but they were. We made a hasty retreat and ended that search. This was really our only "dip" where we knew the bird was there but did not see it. After breakfast we drove to Nuwara Eliya, arriving for lunch. I spotted an endemic Ceylon White-eye just outside the door to the hotel. In the afternoon, we went to Victoria Park but it was closed due to elections going on. So we had to walk around the perimeter. Also visited some other sites near town. New endemics in this area: Dull-blue Flycatcher and Yellow-eared Bulbul. Also non-endemic Pied Thrush. This was a key site for Kashmir Flycatcher but none remained. Overnight at the nice Rock Hotel in Nuwara Eliya.

Day 8:
Very early (4:30AM) start to drive to Horton Plains. Arrived by 5:30AM, and at dawn we almost immediately saw new endemics Ceylon Whisting-thrush and Ceylon Warbler. Both were gone within 15 minutes after dawn, so the early start was critical. On the way back to Kandy we saw Hill Swallow but not the resident Jerdon's Baza. We also had a problem with the van's suspension, so while Chomi had that fixed in Nuwara Eliya we visited Victoria Park again (now open). Still no Kashmir Flycatchers, but we did see Indian Blue Robin and Asian Paradise Flycatcher. After lunch we made a quick stop for Pallas' Warbler, and then drove to Kandy, stopping at a tea factory en route. Arrived in Kandy at 5PM, and visited the famous Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. Early evening had heavy rain again. Overnight at Queen's Hotel, Kandy, an older but nice hotel, probably the best in Kandy.

Day 9:
Early start to the airport and our end of trip. 26 endemics seen, 46 total new birds for us, and a total of 164 species seen on the tour - the last number could easily have been inflated by 30+ with a longer stay at Tissa to work on waders.      


A good summary with a different itinerary:

Bird List (endemics in bold), distinct Sri Lanka subspecies in italics.
Note: endemics are as defined by Baur's

1)   Indian Cormorant
2)   Oriental Darter
3)   Spot-billed Pelican - near Tissa and at Yala
4)   Gray Heron
5)   Purple Heron
6)   Great Egret
7)   Cattle Egret
8)   Indian Pond-heron
9)   Black-crowned Night-heron
10)  Black-headed Ibis
11)  Eurasian spoonbill
12)  Painted Stork
13)  Asian Openbill
14)  Black-necked Stork
15)  Oriental Honey-buzzard
16)  Brahminy Kite
17)  Crested Serpent-eagle
18)  Shikra
19)  Rufous-bellied Eagle
20)  Ceylon Spurfowl(Galloperdix bicalcarata) - male and female at Sinharaja
21)  Ceylon Junglefowl (Gallus lafayettii) - seen several locations, common at Yala
22)  Indian Peafowl
23)  Slaty-legged Crake - one at Wild Orchid Lodge near Sinharaja
24)  White-breasted Waterhen
25)  Purple Swamphen
26)  Pheasant-tailed Jacana
27)  Pintail Snipe
28)  Black-tailed Godwit
29)  Common Sandpiper
30)  Great Thick-knee - several near Tissa
31)  Eurasian Thick-knee - several near Tissa
32)  Greater Sandplover
33)  Yellow-wattled Lapwing - several near Tissa
34)  Red-wattled Lapwing
35)  Whiskered Tern
36)  Saunder's Tern - several near Tissa
37)  Rock Pigeon
38)  Ceylon Wood-pigeon (Columba torringtonii) - one at Sinharaja
39)  Spotted Dove
40)  Emerald Dove
41)  Orange-breasted Pigeon - several at Yala
42)  Pompadour Green-pigeon
43)  Green Imperial-pigeon
44)  Ceylon Hanging Parrot(Loriculus beryllinus) - a few around Kitulgala
45)  Alexandrine Parakeeet
46)  Rose-ringed Parakeet
47)  Layard's Parakeet (Psittacula calthripae) - several from Blue Orchid and at Sinharaja
48)  Pied Cuckoo
49)  Asian Koel
50)  Blue-faced Malkoha - one near Tissa
51)  Sirkeer Malkoha - a few at Yala
52)  Red-faced Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus) - one male at Sinharaja
53)  Greater Coucal
54)  Green-billed Coucal (Centropus chlororhynchos) - one near Sinharaja
55)  Oriental Scops-owl
56)  Chestnut-backed Owlet (Glaucidium castanonotum) - one near Kitulgala Lodge
57)  Spot-bellied Eagle-owl - one neat Kitulgala
58)  Jerdon's Nightjar
59)  Indian Nightjar
60)  Indian Swiftlet
61)  Asian Palm-swift
62)  Crested Treeswift
63)  Malabar Trogon - one male at Sinharaja
64)  Common Kingfisher
65)  Stork-billed Kingfisher
66)  White-throated Kingfisher
67)  Green Bee-eater
68)  Chestnut-headed Bee-eater
69)  Indian Roller
70)  Ceylon Gray Hornbill (Ocyceros gingalensis) - several at Kitulgala
71)  Malabar Pied-hornbill - at Kitulgala
72)  Brown-headed Barbet
73)  Yellow-fronted Barbet (Megalaima flavifrons) - several at Kitulgala
74)  Ceylon Small Barbet (Megalaima rubricapilla) - near Blue Orchid Lodge
75)  Brown-capped Woodpecker
76)  Lesser Yellownape
77)  Streak-throated Woodpecker - near Bibile
78)  Greater Flameback
79)  White-naped Woodpecker - pair at nest near Tissa
80)  Indian Pitta - at Victoria Park
81)  White-browed Fantail - common at Yala
82)  Black-naped Monarch
83)  Asian Paradise-flycatcher - at Victoria Park
84)  Black Drongo
85)  Ashy Drongo
86)  White-bellied Drongo (D.c. leucopygialis) - at Kitulgala
87)  Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (D.p. lophorhinus) - at Sinharaja
88)  Ceylon Magpie (Cissa ornata) - one banded bird in Sinharaja
89)  House Crow
90)  Large-billed Crow
91)  Ashy Woodswallow
92)  Common Iora
93)  Black-hooded Oriole
94)  Black-headed Cuckoo-shrike - several at Bibile
95)  Small Minivet
96)  Scarlet Minivet
97)  Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike
98)  Golden-fronted Leafbird
99)  Brown Shrike
100)  Ceylon Whistling-thrush (Myiophoneus blighi) - male and female at Horton Plains
101)  Pied Thrush - one at Victoria Park
102)  Spot-winged Thrush (Zoothera spiloptera) - one at Sinharaja
103)  Scaly Thrush - (Z.d.imbricata) - one at Sinharaja
104)  Eurasian Blackbird
105)  White-faced Starling (Sturnus albofrontatus) - several at Sinharaja
106)  Common Myna
107)  Ceylon Myna (Gracula ptilogenys) - several near Blue Orchid Lodge
108)  Hill Myna
109)  Brown-breasted Flycatcher - at Sinharaja
110)  Dull-blue Flycatcher (Eumyias sordida) - at Victoria Park and Horton Plains
111)  Tickell's Blue-flycatcher
112)  Indian Blue Robin - one at Victoria Park
113)  Oriental Magpie-robin
114)  Indian Robin
115)  Pied Bushchat
116)  Velvet-fronted Nuthatch
117)  Barn Swallow
118)  Hill Swallow - several near Horton Plains
119)  Red-rumped Swallow (P.m.melanicterus) - near Bibile
120)  Black-headed Yellow Bulbul ( Pycnonotus melanicterus) - several at Kitulgala
121)  Red-vented Bulbul
122)  Yellow-eared Bulbul (Pycnonotus penicillatus) - at Victoria Park
123)  White-browed Bulbul
124)  Yellow-browed Bulbul
125)  Black Bulbul
126)  Ceylon White-eye (Zosterops ceylonensis) - at Rock Hotel and at Horton Plains
127)  Oriental White-eye
128)  Zitting Cisticola
129)  Plain Prinia
130)  Ceylon Bush-warbler (Bradypterus palliserii) - at Horton Plains
131)  Pallas' Warbler
132)  Blyth's Reed-warbler
133)  Clamorous Reed-warbler
134)  Booted Warbler
135)  Common Tailorbird
136)  Greenish Warbler
137)  Large-billed Leaf-warbler
138)  Ashy-headed Laughingthrush (Garrulax cinereifrons) - small flock in Sinharaja
139)  Brown-capped Babbler (Pellorneum fuscocapillum) - at Kitulgala
140)  Indian Scimitar-babbler - at Kitulgala and at Horton Plains
141)  Tawny-bellied babbler
142)  Dark-fronted Babbler
143)  Yellow-eyed Babbler
144)  Orange-billed Babbler (Turdoides rufescens) - common at Kitulgala
145)  Yellow-billed Babbler - common at Kitulgala
146)  Rufous-winged Bushlark
147)  Ashy-crowned Sparrow-lark - near Tissa
148)  Oriental Lark
149)  House Sparrow
150)  White-throated Munia
151)  White-rumped Munia
152)  Ceylon Hill Munia (Lonchura kelaarti) - several at Kitulgala
153)  Forest Wagtail - near Kitulgala Lodge
154)  Yellow Wagtail
155)  Gray Wagtail
156)  Richard's Pipit
157)  Blyth's Pipit - at Yala
158)  Streaked Weaver
159)  Thick-billed Flowerpecker
160)  Legge's (White-throated) Flowerpecker (Dicaeum vincens) - at several locations
161)  Pale-billed Flowerpecker
162)  Purple-rumped Sunbird
163)  Purple Sunbird
164)  Long-billed Sunbird - several at Kitulgala

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