Sri Lanka was again a great success and although a few species were missed due to extremely wet weather from the east and the temporary closure of Yala National Park we found 217 species during the tour. Despite this we managed to observe the vast majority of the islands thirty-three endemic bird species in addition to winter visitors from further north and the resident bird life. Many highlights spring to mind with our visit to Sinharaja being both productive, and in the main avoiding the un-seasonal heavy rains.
December 12th/13th: Heathrow, Colombo, Ranwila.
Weather: Overcast with heavy rain showers 28 C
The group met up at Heathrow Terminal 4 and checked in with Sri Lankan Airlines for the flight to Colombo. Departure delayed by congestion which meant being 30 minutes late on arrival in Colombo. The airport has been recently refurbished with immigration, baggage and customs greatly improved. After changing money we met up with Yatta our driver and general guide for the tour. Heavy rain fell as we travelled north along the coast road passing Negombo and eventually onto Ranwila. Checked in and made plans to meet up at 1630 for a boat trip along the river. The first sector of river gave us views of White-throated Kingfishers, Common Sandpipers, Lesser Sandplovers and recently arrived Blue-tailed Bee-eaters. At the river-end a single Sri Lanka Stilt our first endemic of the tour. After turning round we headed upriver observing Purple and Purple-rumped Sunbirds, Red-vented Bulbul and White-bellied Drongos perched in dead tree tops. Further along the river we encountered Great, Little and Cattle Egrets, Black-crowned Night Heron, Yellow Bittern and all four 'common' kingfishers - Pied, White-throated, Stork-billed and Common. A small rice paddy added Common Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper and Little Cormorant. The river narrows with overhanging branches one of which was heavy with fruit. This enabled us to see Asian Koel, Greater Coucal, Black-hooded Oriole and Brown-headed Barbet. The weather and skies blackened as we headed back to base - a leisurely and relaxing afternoons birding after the long flight from Europe.
December 14th: Ranwila, Kitulgala.
Weather: Overcast with frequent rainy periods 26 C.
Heavy overnight rain on the coast started to spread inland making an extremely dull day by Sri Lanka standards. Before breakfast we recorded Gull-billed, Crested and Little Terns fishing offshore. At 0830 we headed inland to Kitulgala situated adjacent to prime lowland forest. A few stops along the way provided us with Purple Heron, Purple Swamphen, Asian Openbill and the commoner egrets. A short stop (when it stopped raining) by a rice paddy added migrant Barn Swallows plus family parties of Yellow-billed Babblers, Crested Treeswifts, Asian Palm Swifts and singing Common Tailorbirds. The road up to Kitulgala is slow and windy, passing through extensive rubber plantations and remnant forest patches. The latter held Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, Oriental Magpie Robin and Asian Paradise Flycatcher. On arrival at Kitulgala Rest House a quick scan of the river resulted in a perched and calling Stork-billed Kingfisher. After lunch we drove beyond the village and visited a forest area dotted with houses. Before the bridge we encountered our first feeding flock of Pompadour Green Pigeons, Orange-billed Babblers, Yellow-browed Bulbuls and Oriental White-eyes. Overhead a Sri Lanka Swallow and an unidentified eagle. We crossed the bridge and entered an area of gardens. Luck was not on our side as the heavens opened again. On the paddies Indian Pond Herons and two Grey Wagtails from further north. Further on another flock which included Scarlet Minivets, Black Bulbuls and good numbers of Sri Lankan Hanging Parrots. A big bonus here was finding two Green-billed Coucals flitting in and out of hanging vines and palm fronds. Returned to base an extremely wet and contented group.
December 15th: Kitulgala, Gilimale, Ratnapurna.
Weather: Cloudy with occasional showers 27 C.
Breakfast taken at 0600 followed by a mornings birding across the river in lowland forest. In the hotel gardens Oriental White-eye, White-throated Flowerpecker, Black Bulbul and Greater Coucal. We went down to the river side for the short crossing. On arrival I noticed a few Hill Mynas’ feeding high in the canopy. The trail starts almost immediately and passes through a village with many gardens. A fruiting tree held Green Imperial and Pompadour Green Pigeons, Orange-billed Babblers and Sri Lanka Hanging Parrots. Overhead brief views of Layard's Parakeets. We stopped at an opening along the path adding Sri Lanka Woodshrike and a wintering Asian Brown Flycatcher. Above us a party of Sri Lanka Swallows feeding on insects. At the end of the village pair of Green-billed Coucals was heard dueting, plus a family of Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrikes and Common Iora. Shortly after the last house we entered the forest along leafy trails. The first section was extremely quiet apart from Sri Lanka Spurfowl calling from the forest undergrowth and Spot-winged Thrushes in song. Along another trail we encountered several Racket-tailed Drongos a recently split endemic. After crossing rice paddies we entered another section of forest with rocky streams. Above us a pair of Malabar Trogons although they blended well into the background. Returned to base for lunch and the journey to Ratnapurna via Gilimale. The latter held few birds apart from Black-naped Monarchs. Stopped in Ratnapurna for supplies and eventually the hotel where we have a stay of two nights.
December 16th: Ratnapurna, Sinharaja.
Weather: Overcast and humid 30 C.
An early departure this morning in order to be at Sinharaja at first light. A few metres before the park headquarters three Sri Lanka Blue Magpies were observed perched in a dead tree. Further down the road a superb Spot-winged Thrush fed and perched among small stones. At the park entrance we picked up Rat our guide for the day and travelled up to Martin's Bungalow on an extremely rough track. From here we started to walk along the main track towards the research station. The first sector adjacent to a rice paddy produced Brown-capped and Dark-fronted Babblers, Black-crested Bulbul and four Sri Lanka Scimitar Babblers. Further on brief views of Green-billed Coucal and a party of Small Minivets. Beyond a small incline we located a wintering Brown Shrike and a pair of Sri Lanka Myna's perched in the top of a dead tree. Another feeding flock dominated by Orange-billed Babblers also included two Red-faced Malkohas. On reaching the centre we were treated to Sri Lanka Junglefowl and Sri Lanka Blue Magpies coming down to food by the kitchen hut. The forest beyond the bridge added Large-billed Leaf Warbler, Black-naped Monarch and up to ten Malabar Trogons. Back to Martin's for a late lunch with Ashy-headed Laughingthrushes for company on the way. After lunch we made our way back down to the village where a large fruiting tree held Yellow-fronted Barbet, Pompadour and Imperial Green Pigeons. Bird activity had diminished somewhat so we made our way to a stake out for Sri Lanka Frogmouth. At 1800 the male duly obliged sitting on a branch in front of us a fitting finale to the day. Back to Ratnapurna after a great days birding in the rain-forests of Sri Lanka.
December 17th: Ratnapurna, Embilipitiya, Uda Walawe.
Weather: Warm and sunny 32 C
A later start this morning with the hotel grounds holding White-browed Fantails, Yellow-fronted and Brown-headed Barbets, Green Imperial Pigeons and a few pairs of Asian Palm Swifts. On the road at 0800 hours passing through the bustling town of Ratnapurna and heading south to Embilipitiya located next to a large tank (reservoir). Paddy fields en route were crammed full of egrets and herons including Intermediate Egret and Purple Herons. On one paddy a juvenile Changeable Hawk Eagle perched on a post. Checked in at Embilipitiya for an early lunch followed by a birding safari into Uda Walawe National Park a large expanse of grassland dotted with large trees and scrub, and the occasional seasonal pool. On arrival at Uda Walawe we picked up a guide and 4x4. The reserve has several new buildings which is a welcome up-grade from previous visits. In and around the new centre, Black-shouldered Kite, Indian Robins, Plain and Ashy Prinias and Rufous-winged Bushlarks. From the main track we diverted to a small pool with wintering Common Greenshank. On the track good numbers of Paddyfield Pipits. Grassland with small trees attracted Eurasian Kestrels, Crested Serpent and Changeable Hawk Eagles, Plum-headed Parakeet, Baya Weaver, Common Iora, Zitting Cisticola and roving flocks of Tricoloured (Black-headed) Munias. Larger trees attracted Malabar Pied Hornbills and Black-rumped Flamebacks. A bonus came in the form of adult and juvenile Plaintive Cuckoos from further north in India. Our journey took us towards a large tank bordered by scrub. Yellow-eyed Babblers present plus Pied Cuckoos and sizeable flocks of Ashy-headed Sparrow Larks. On the tank and surrounding walls Indian and Little Cormorants, Oriental Darter, Grey Heron, Little Grebe, Painted Stork, Gull-billed and Whiskered Terns, Common and Pied Kingfishers and a single Grey-headed Fish Eagle. On the return leg a Lesser Adjutant was located in a muddy canal. Shortly afterwards we had close views of an adult Changeable Hawk Eagle consuming a lizard. By a section of low bushes Eurasian Hoopoe and a rather quick Sirkeer Malkoha were noted. Returning towards park headquarters we diverted onto rather unused tracks which produced Little Green Bee-eaters and two pairs of Barred Button-quails. An excellent afternoon’s birding in Uda Walawe National Park.
December 18th: Uda Walawe, Hambantota, Kelametiya.
Weather: Hot and humid with light sea breezes 31 C.
Checked out of Embilipitiya at 0800 for the short journey towards the coast and Hambantota. Our first birding stop at an area of flooded rice paddies produced the commoner herons and egrets and Black-headed Ibis. Next was a tank with extensive reeds and water lilies. Open water areas held Little Grebe, Indian and Little Cormorants, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, and overhead Whiskered, White-winged and Gull-billed Terns. Around the tank in tangles of vegetation Yellow Bittern, Purple Swamphen, White-breasted Waterhen and Pintail Snipe the latter in flight. The weather was turning very hot and humid as we reached the coast road. After a few kilometers a large tank provided us with excellent birding. On the shore edge Little Stint, Curlew, Marsh and Common Sandpipers, Common Greenshank, Common Redshank, Grey and Kentish Plovers, Greater and Lesser Sandplovers and six Eurasian Spoonbills. In the shallow waters - Little Grebe, Northern Pintail, Garganey and several Little Terns. On the far edge I located three Greater Thick-knees standing motionless on a muddy bank. Shortly afterwards we checked into the Oasis Hotel for a three-night stay. After lunch we travelled to Kelametiya an area of grass, pools and mangroves. En route we stopped at a rice paddy which was being ploughed. Literally thousands of shorebirds present including Black-tailed Godwits, Common Greenshank, Marsh and Wood Sandpipers, and more unusual species in Spotted Redshank and Common Tern. On reaching Kelametiya we found Richard's Pipits and Yellow-wattled Lapwings feeding on short-cropped grass. A short walk over to a 'new' lagoon added Caspian Terns. On returning towards the road a party of Eurasian Thick-knees was noted along with a single Brahminy Starling. We boarded the bus and stopped further along the track next to a flooded field attracting Pintail Snipe. In adjacent bushes Blue-faced Malkoha and a displaying Long-billed Sunbird. Near the end of the track Lesser Whistling Ducks and Common Moorhen. We ended the day by walking up the road with Greater and Lesser Sandplovers, Kentish Plover and Ruddy Turnstones feeding on grassland. A bonus came in the form of 14 Oriental Pratincoles resting on the ground by a group of cattle. Returned to base a happy and contented group.
December 19th: Hambantota, Bundala, Kelametiya.
Weather: Overcast with occasional showers 26 C
An early start this morning to be at Bundala for first light. On entering Bundala we encountered familiar birds of the dry lowlands. A pool provided us with our first Striated Heron of the tour. Next on the agenda were the extensive salt-pans adjoining the Indian Ocean. Hundreds of waders present including Greater and Lesser Sandplovers, Kentish and Grey Plovers, Curlew, Wood, Common and Broad-billed Sandpipers, Little Stint, Small and Oriental Pratincoles, Greater Thick-knee and a rare winter visitor to Sri Lanka - Bar-tailed Godwit. On a sandy spit Caspian, Gull-billed, Common and Little Terns, Brown-headed Gulls, and overhead a single Black Kite. Returned to Bundala checking a few more pools, and adding the eastern race of Eurasian Curlew and Temminck's Stint. On entering patches of woodland Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Yellow-billed Babbler, Black-hooded Oriole and the scarce, and localised, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater. Back to Hambantota for an extended break and an afternoon visit to Kelametiya. First of all we rechecked the lagoons across the road from base. Similar species to yesterday but with a marked increase of Eurasian Spoonbills and Northern Pintails. Kelametiya was reached where we walked along the road between stands of mangroves and out onto the grazed grassland. Yellow Wagtails of the race thunbergi were noted along with Pacific Golden Plovers and Oriental Skylarks. The flock of Oriental Pratincoles had also risen since yesterday. We checked the far end of the reserve recording several species observed on our previous visit. On an offshore island large numbers of roosting Crested Terns. Returned to base with egrets and herons flying into roost en route.
December 20th: Hambantota, Tissa Tank, Bundala North.
Weather: Hot and sunny, cloudy pm 30 C.
This morning we headed north passing through Hambantota and towards Tissamahara (Tissa). The first stop was along the road which bisects two large tanks. Large numbers of Little and Indian Cormorants, Painted Stork and wintering Garganey. In Tissa we started the walk down to Tissa Tank the former being bordered by gardens, palm groves and a canal. Birding was quiet apart from a female Black-rumped Flameback, Asian Paradise Flycatchers and Brown-headed Barbets. On reaching the tank we turned left and started to scan this vast lily-covered expanse with the odd patch of open water. Lesser Whistling Ducks, Purple Herons and Purple Swamphens were particularly common along with territorial and noisy Pheasant-tailed Jacanas. To my amazement two Watercocks appeared from nowhere and showed for a few minutes in the open. Further along the track I found a Black Bittern (the first of six) sitting motionless in a low bush. Continuing our walk produced excellent views of Ashy Woodswallows, Shikra and Plain Prinia. Lunch taken, followed by a visit to Bundala North (Yala remained closed to tourists). An area of scrub held Pied Cuckoo, Scaly-chested and Black-headed Munias and a singing Grey-breasted Prinia. We then located an area of rice paddies being ploughed holding the commoner wading birds, Green Sandpiper and Little Ringed Plover. We passed the main entrance to Bundala with similar birds and numbers to yesterday morning. Outside Hambantota we made another stop to observe more than 450 Gull-billed Terns. Also present were high numbers of Kentish Plover, Lesser Sandplover, Curlew Sandpiper and at least three Spotted Redshanks. On arrival at the hotel a short walk around the garden produced nothing of note. However in pines near the sea a wintering Lesser Whitethroat was located hopping around in branches and taking insects.
December 21st: Hambantota, Adisham, Surrey Estate, Nurewa Eliya.
Weather: Overcast with heavy showers and fog pm 24 C.
Checked out at Hambantota and made the long journey inland to the old British Hill Station of Nurewa Eliya. On the outskirts of Hambantota we located four Lesser Crested Terns resting on a raised sand-bar within a salt-pan. Before the village of Ella we walked up the road looking down at extended patches of forest. The forest produced Coppersmith Barbet, White-browed Fantail and a pair of Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters. Overhead a good mix of swifts and swallows - Indian Swiftlet, Alpine Swift and Sri Lanka Swallow. Lunch at Ella with the grounds having flocks of Sri Lanka White-eyes and a few Hill Mynas. Afterwards we headed to Adisham a patch of native forest set among extensive tea plantations. Near the rangers hut a male Tickell's Blue Flycatcher and calling Crimson Flameback. Shortly afterwards we encountered a feeding flock comprising of Scarlet Minivet, Yellow-eared Bulbul, Sri Lanka White-eye, Great Tit and Black-naped Monarch. Above the forest canopy a pair of hunting Indian Black Eagles, and on the forest edge an extremely tame Ashy Prinia. A further stop at a village added Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, Yellow-fronted Barbet and Common Tailorbird. From this point the weather worsened. A short foray into Surrey Estate provided us with nothing of note so we headed in an upwards direction to Nurewa Eliya our base for the next two nights.
December 22nd: Nurewa Eliya, Horton Plains, Victoria Park.
Weather: Heavy rain am, overcast and showers pm 19 C
We left early this morning in order to reach the Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush site by dawn. Unfortunately the rain of yesterday afternoon had intensified making birding virtually impossible. By the pool we did locate Indian Blackbird and a pair of Sri Lanka Bush Warblers giving their distinctive calls. Stops at two patches of forest produced Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler, Sri Lanka Whiteye, Yellow-eared Bulbul and Grey Wagtail. We passed the information centre and checked another section of forest with calling Sri Lanka Woodpigeon, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher. On the return route a perched Himalayan Buzzard, Large-billed and Green Warblers, Zitting Cisticola, and in area of vegetable production Pied Bushchats. The weather this morning had made a considerable impact on our birding opportunities. At 1530 we visited Victoria Park in the middle of Nuwera Eliya. On arrival at the park it was bustling with people on Christmas holidays. Most of our time was spent exploring the quieter paths around the perimeter fence. In an area of rubbish we located a female Indian Blue Robin. Along the river Common Sandpiper, Forest Wagtail and Oriental Magpie Robin. On rechecking another quiet area we found an Indian Pitta which obligingly sat in a tree for several minutes. The weather started to close in again with heavy rain falling. Returned to base after a birding day disrupted by un-seasonal rains from the east.
December 23rd: Nuwera Eliya, Kandy.
Weather: Early rain giving way to weak sunshine 25 C
An early visit to St Andrews Hotel and its small nature reserve. On arrival calling Sri Lanka Bush Warblers and singing Oriental Magpie Robins. The reserve itself held the commoner garden birds of Nuwera Eliya. We then made a return visit to Victoria Park with literally the same birds of yesterday afternoon. At 0830 we headed down towards Kandy the second city of Sri Lanka stopping at Glenloch. The old factory provided us with the localised Hill Swallow. In the degraded trees and scrub Crimson Flameback, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, Black-hooded Oriole, Brown-headed Barbet, Scarlet Minivet and two White-rumped Munias. Further down the road towards Kandy a soaring Mountain Hawk Eagle and a pair of Crested Serpent Eagles. Below us we could study the plumage and jizz of Indian Swiftlets. The Kandy road was reached with a perched Shikra on telegraph wires. Checked in at the delightful Citadel Hotel for a nights stay. At 1500 hours we set off towards Kandy Botanical Gardens an excellent birding location despite being full of people enjoying a public holiday. On arrival heavy rains making birding impossible, we decided on an early finish with another visit in the morning.
December 24th: Kandy Botanical Gardens, Habarana.
Weather: Warm and sunny 27 C.
Thankfully the rains of yesterday had passed through overnight. After breakfast we headed back to the botanical gardens and concentrated on the quieter parts for birdlife. Blue-winged Leafbird singing from an exposed perch was a welcome find. Shortly after this a flock of Alexandrine Parakeets feeding in a fruiting tree. We also heard the distinctive song of a Common Hawk Cuckoo which took sometime to track down due to its far-carrying voice. Along an avenue of palms Brown-breasted Flycatcher, and overhead Asian Palm and Little Swifts. Continuing on a circuit we recorded the commoner birds of the wet zone including Forest Wagtail, Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, Hill Myna and Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters. At 1030 our journey continued in a northerly direction along the Jaffna road to Habarana which has been suffering from severe flooding. Checked in at Cinnamon Lodge an eco-friendly establishment with extensive grounds and a tank for birding. At 1530 we set off along the birding trail set among the hotel gardens. Near the staff quarters Asian Brown Flycatcher, White-browed Bulbul and several Asian Paradise Flycatchers. On entering the farm Stork-billed and White-throated Kingfishers, White-browed Fantail, Common Iora and Indian Pitta. At the back of the farm near a large tank we located Coppersmith Barbet and a beautiful Black-headed Cuckoo-shrike singing from a fruit tree. Returned to our rooms as the light had faded and no sign of the resident Brown Fish Owls.
December 25th: Habarana, Sigiriya, Kaudulla.
Weather: Hot and sunny 30 C
After breakfast we travelled through the town of Habarana and visited a tank on the outskirts. Usual water birds present on the tank. Back to the van with stops along the short cut to Sigiriya a town dominated by a huge outcrop of rock in a flat landscape. Our first stop produced White-rumped Sharma, White-browed Bulbul, Sri Lanka Woodshrike and singing Plain Prinias. A rather open area grazed by cattle resulted in us flushing a Woolly-necked Stork which promptly joined another two birds overhead. We then bird watched an area close to the rock recording Sri Lanka Small Barbet calling from dead tree-tops. Back to base for lunch. At 1400 hours we set off to Kaudulla a reserve of lakes, grassland and forest. A detour down a track bordering a river was alive with birds. Leafy trees attracted Black-headed Cuckoo-shrike, Grey-breasted Prinia, Asian Paradise Flycatcher (including a white phase male), Bay-banded and Plaintive Cuckoos. On entering the reserve a Brown Fish Owl was noted whilst the dam held Common Sandpiper and Grey Wagtail. Another detour down to the lakeside provided us with close views of Eurasian Thick-knee, Rufous-winged Bushlark, Paddyfield Pipit and a wide range of waterbirds. Back to the main track with a pair of Grey-headed Fish Eagles attending a nest. We continued on until the road was blocked by a feeding party of Indian Elephants. Returned to base after an enjoyable days birding in and around Habarana.
December 26th: Habarana, Colombo, London.
We left Habarana for Colombo Airport and the onward flight connection to London. This went smoothly and we arrived on time at Heathrow.
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