I have travelled extensively throughout the world, mainly to photograph birds, animals and butterflies, but also to experience the culture that various countries have to offer. I rarely go back to the same place twice as the world is so large and has so much to see. I was fortunate enough though this year to go back to Sri Lanka, a country I love so much, but it was also great to catch up with my old friend Amila again.
Sri Lanka is a truly beautiful country to visit, you don't have to be a naturalist to enjoy the splendours of this island and it's friendly people. There is so much to see and do and I have found it to be a very safe place while travelling.
My brother, Professor Malcolm Crick spent time in this wonderful country in 1980 & 1982, where he wrote a book called "Resplendent Sites, Discordant Voices-Sri Lankans and international tourism". Amila was quick to point out that he had a copy when I first met him after recognising my surname.
Birdwing Nature Holidays offer great value for money, always good accommodation, excellent food and transport. The itinerary is first class as the trips are not intensive, this enables both genders and age groups to have a more relaxed and personal trip, but at the same time still have a high bird list. Amila's knowledge of birds and their latin names is astounding, also trees, plants, butterflies etc, he never fails to amaze us with his wealth of knowledge. Also his knowledge of Sri Lanka's history and cultural heritage, this adds interest on his trips while travelling to birding locations. Finally I would like to thank Amila for his friendship, enthusiasm and hospitality and wish him every success with his Birdwing Nature Holidays.
Our tailor made trip to Sri Lanka guided by Amila Salgado was a tremendous success. There were fifteen of us with a programme designed to combined culture, activity and wild life. This was no easy task, however, Amila had no difficulty taking care of us and "opening the door" to the wonderful country that is Sri Lanka.
I have to say that we had the added bonus of his encyclopaedic knowledge of bird life. Amila is an expert and those with a love of bird life will have a truly excellent experience.
I have just completed my second tour with Amila Salgado as our guide and ground agent for Sri Lanka. This last tour was his inaugural tour for his new company, Birdwing Nature Holidays. As I have now come to expect from him, the logistics were put into place with great attention to detail ensuring a trouble-free smoothly run tour for our party of 11 people. The hotels were well chosen to give great variety, the transport was spot on and the itinerary was well designed. On the bird front Amila was his usual enthusiastic self and led the group with great skill.
Amila has a fantastic knowledge of the whole avifauna and history of the island and conveys it in terms all can understand. We have all learnt a great deal during our two week tour.
Amila is great fun to travel with and his social skills are excellent and he has become a great friend.
Two fantastic tours under our belt and I hope more to come. I can recommend Amila highly enough and should anybody reading this be thinking of visiting Sri Lanka whether for birds, botany, general wildlife or culture or a combination of all of these, then I would urge you to consider contacting Amila to see what he can do for you. His previous managerial and guiding experience with one of Sri Lanka's major tour companies has enabled him to set up his own small company which, I know, will go from strength to strength.
Please contact me if you require further information.
Thank you Amila
I visited Sri Lanka for the first time in February this year with my mother, Moira. We enjoyed a wonderful Kudu tour during two weeks with Amila Salgado as our full time guide. Our small group of a dozen English people immensely enjoyed the whole experience of visiting such a beautiful tropical island with a great variety of habitats.
Only a few of us were already interested in birding, but our delightful and most knowledgeable guide, Amila, was a real inspiration and we looked forward each day to seeing some of the most beautiful birds including the endemics. Amila not only had great skill in finding and indicating these birds, but was able to describe them and their habits with great knowledge and patience! This also applied to other wildlife including mammals, reptiles and butterflies. I am very interested in tropical trees and flowers and another member of our group, a keen botanist, also expected Amila to assist us with our questions relating to the local flora, which he ably did.
Amila has a wonderful gift of transmitting his own pleasure, interest and enthusiasm to his audience helped by his sense of humour and thanks to him we shall now continue to enjoy discussing and watching birds. Following such a happy trip, which for me was one of the best holidays ever, I will be re-visiting Sri Lanka again to enjoy the flora, fauna and great history of the country.
We had been invited to tour the island of Sri Lanka with friends from Australia; our party consisted of 4 adults and 3 teenagers. We were met at Colombo airport by Amila Salgado who was to be our guide. We were fortunate during the next 2 weeks to not just explore the sites but have the company of Amila who brought the trip to life with his amazing knowledge of the historical and cultural highlights and his infectious enthusiasm for the birds, wildlife and plants of Sri Lanka. We began our tour in Negombo where we explored the beach and the markets and rested after our plane flight from Australia. Amila convinced us to leave early the next morning to travel to the Pinnewala elephant orphanage in time to see the baby elephants being fed.
The memories of the elephants strolling down to the river and the time spent watching them enjoy wallowing in the water were unforgettable. It took some persuasion to get us to leave the river and to travel onto Dambulla. At Dambulla we stayed at Habarana Lodge where Amila took the opportunity to take us on an impromptu birding and wildlife walk around the spacious grounds in search of owls and other birds he knew were in the area. Only a few days into our trip and we were already enjoying the fabulous outdoor restaurants and the extensive choice of dishes available including the fabulous curries. From Dambulla we visited the ancient cities of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura where Amila continually amazed us with his ability to retain and impart a wealth of information about the historical significance of the area.
Our next destination and highlight was Sigiriya and after the arduous climb to the top (with many welcome breaks along the way to hear about the history or wildlife) we were rewarded with the most spectacular scenery. From Dambulla we drove to Kandy where we took the opportunity to view some cultural dancing and look at some magnificent gems and gold jewellery for which Sri Lanka is famous. In the evening we visited the Temple of the Sacred Tooth and the next day enjoyed Amila's extensive knowledge once again as we strolled around the Peradiniya Gardens.
We began the drive up into the mountains where spectacular scenery greeted us as we travelled through rolling hills covered with the brilliant green of the tea plantations on our way to Nuwara Eliya. Amila suggested that we make the trip to Horton's Plains and walk the track to World's End. By this stage of our tour we had come to rely on Amila's suggestions and good judgement to add extra experiences to our itinerary. Amila's passion and enthusiasm for birding, wildlife and plants became infectious and we were soon watching for birds along the track and making frequent stops to find out about the plants or wildlife as we walked. The view from World's End was breathtaking and this was to be yet another highlight of the tour.
Next we travelled to the South East coast to see the fabulous wildlife at Yala national park. We were looking forward to touring the national park with Amila, due to his exceptional knowledge of birds and wildlife; we knew that we would have the best opportunity to learn about what the reserve had to offer. The only safari we did for Yala national park couldn't have gone better as we bagged Leopard, Elephant & Sloth Bear with a baby: Sri Lanka's Big Three (or 3 1/2 ?) plus added Spotted Deer, Wild Boar, Ruddy Mongoose, Wild Buffalo, Mugger Crocodile & many birds including Black-necked Stork thanks to the expertise of Amila. His telescope was a great assistance for us to enjoy most of these sightings.
Now that we had come to the coastal area of Sri Lanka we began travelling through the area that had been devastated by the Tsunami just 6 months earlier. Some rebuilding had begun but many people were still living in tents and temporary huts along the roadside.
We continued onto Galle where we toured the Fort and learned about the Dutch history in Sri Lanka. After 2 restful nights at the fabulous Lighthouse hotel we drove to Colombo to spend a day touring the city sites and take the opportunity to do some shopping before we headed to the airport. The trip had reached its conclusion and we had mixed feelings of sadness at leaving the beautiful island of which we had so many fabulous memories. Our cameras had recorded our trip along the way but photos are not able to impart the experiences we had shared together throughout the 2 weeks of the tour.
We had been fortunate to be invited to tour the island with good friends who knew the island well but also to have had Amila as our guide. Amila was able to relate so easily to our group and his communication skills were excellent. However what he added most to our tour was his immense knowledge and enjoyment of the birding, fauna and flora of Sri Lanka. His cultural and historical information, travel tips, organising ability and humour enhanced our experience and have left unforgettable memories of our short time in Sri Lanka. I have certainly begun to look at the wildlife and especially the birds of Australia more eagerly since our trip and I must thank Amila for this new interest.
Since we retired, we have been able to escape from the U.K. for a short break during the winter months to the tropics/semi- tropics. For the 2005/6 winter we chose Sri Lanka. The native people of Sri Lanka made valuable contributions to the appearance of the countryside long before Europeans began to exploit its riches. For example the Buddhist temples with their extensive landscaped areas around them, and the several very large reservoirs constructed to provide water when there is no natural rainfall.
On our recent trip, we were very fortunate to have as our local guide Amila Salgado, who gave names to all birds that stayed long enough to be seen or heard, and of course substantiated his identification by turning to the appropriate page in the up to date bird book. He was more than pleased to be able to show us a good proportion of the endemics. Amila also had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Sri Lankan history and a sound knowledge of native trees that may not have horticultural value, but nevertheless are memorable, e.g. the tropical forest trees with red/purple pigments in the leaves.
I came to Sri Lanka in January 06 with a Birdwatching group on a tour organised by Amila Salgado of BIRDWING Nature Holidays. All aspects of our holiday were organised excellently. We had an enjoyable and successful birdwatching holiday under his guidance. His knowledge on all natural history aspects was remarkable. It was obvious that a lot of groundwork had been done to make our visit successful. I would also recommend this as a good way to learn about the friendly and very helpful people we met from all walks of life. It is understandable why 'serendipity', a local word, has found its way into the English language.
I returned to Sri Lanka with my brother, sister, father (and spouses) after an absence of 43 years. Amila was our guide and we were very pleased to have such an informed and accommodating guide.
Amila has a wealth of knowledge on the flora and fauna of Sri Lanka, as well as history. We will never forget 'Dendrocalamus giganteus' even we laymen got interested in scientific names thanks to his enthusiasm. Amila joined us on many of our 'family discoveries' and smoothed the way in locating many of these.
Some of our favourite spots included the elephant orphanage, Sigiriya Rock -don't miss out on the climb!, dinner on the rooftop at Kandalama and the tea plantations in the picturesque Nuwara Eliya area. Finishing our tour in Galle was sad but the spectacular Lighthouse Hotel topped off a memorable trip.
Our cultural night on our final night in Sri Lanka was inspired by Amila's 'Traditional-dress night' - we were very pleased to do this.
We would have no hesitation in recommending Amila as a trusted tour guide and look forward to using his services if we return once again to Sri Lanka.
Tour leaders come in all shapes and sizes and with varying degrees of interpersonal skills, local knowledge and knowledge of local avifauna. Many stay in the memory for good and other reasons. Some become good friends.
Amila may come in the smaller category for the former and I for one like a leader whose head I can look over to see what has been found! However my abiding memory of my 2 weeks in Sri Lanka is his profound knowledge of all aspects of natural history, local history and international matters, his unending enthusiasm and his willingness to accommodate all needs whenever possible. His humour never deserts him.
I will especially remember the full days outing to Mannar to see the enigmatic Crab Plover and much much more that he cunningly slipped in to our last days whilst accommodating the needs of those not quite so hooked on new species some considerable distance off our route and not in the most hospitable territory by organising a well planned days tour of Anuradhapura and time to recover by the pool. I would suspect that a trip to this site is again sadly out of bounds.
The events of the 26th December, 2004 immediately brought Amila to mind. He however was thankfully up in the mountains, but Yala did not fair so well and it is with sadness that one thinks that many of the very friendly and colourful locals we met may have suffered.
Sri Lanka is a wonderful destination, boasting wonderful birds many of which are difficult to see on the mainland and for the lister many are now split. The accommodation is good to excellent, the food always excellent and Amila awaits to fulfil your dreams.
As you may have guessed I truly recommend his services and value his friendship.
We spent a fabulous two-week holiday in Sri Lanka in July 2005 with Amila Salgado as our tour leader. Our group was varied - some had visited Sri Lanka before, others were first timers. We had a range of interests and Amila catered for all of them.
We visited UNESCO World Heritage Sites - Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa & Sigiriya and national parks - Horton Plains and Yala. We enjoyed a wonderful nature walk in Horton Plains with Amila and had absolutely stunning views of the 'World's end' its popular viewpoint. At Yala we were fortunate to see many birds & wildlife including Elephant, Leopard & Sloth Bear.
Amila never failed to find the best restaurants for lunch where the rice and curries were always great. He readily shared with us his extensive knowledge of Sri Lankan birds, wildlife, history, Buddhism and contemporary life. His attention to detail and friendship contributed greatly to a memorable holiday. We can't wait for our next Sri Lankan holiday with Amila.
Sri Lanka is a quite beautiful place and I can think of no better companion to bring it fully alive than Amila, whose knowledge and friendly enthusiasm are boundless. I have been fortunate to have travelled with many bird guides in several countries and without hesitation would recommend Amila as one of the very best. He will not disappoint you.
We wanted to write to thank you very much indeed for your fantastic contribution to our visit to Sri Lanka. We never dreamed that we would have such an expert as you as our guide.
Not only was the birding expertise absolutely great, but you were also so knowledgeable about the history of Sri Lanka that it really added to the quality and enjoyment of our visit.
Bird of the trip?...well that was very hard to decide, but probably the brooding Sri Lankan Magpie at Sinharaja, followed by the Green billed Coucal at Bodhinagala. Sri Lanka is a fantastic island and we enjoyed our holiday very much. We would certainly return one day on a more focused birding holiday to fill our remaining gaps!
With best wishes
When I found out the Sri Lankan guide was an avid birdwatcher I got excited, as I too am an enthusiastic birdwatcher. Amila Salgado carries a good scope and knows his birds. Some of our highlights included the Grey-headed Fish Eagle, the Asian Paradise Flycatcher, the Black-necked Stork and the Gold-fronted Leafbird.
Amila is a teacher and companion. He knows the history and culture of Sri Lanka, and my husband and I had many questions. We went to the historic World Heritage Sites of Sigiriya and Anuradhapura and were amazed at the level of development of ancient peoples. He took us to some places we might not have noticed, which included a tea factory, as well as some great restaurants!
It was nice to have a friend on our trip. We sat on our hotel balcony in Kandy and watched the Perahara pageant with many Elephants parading in it. A game drive to Yala Park produced three brilliant sightings of Leopard. At night we all played Scrabble or silly games like "Tilly." On our last day in Colombo we crowned our visit with a 'Test' cricket match, explained by Amila, of course.
Amila Salgado treated us to fantastic birding and scenery in our day trip to Kithulgala. The beautiful valley of "Bridge over the River Kwai" filming fame, seems to be an endemic hotspot and a "patch" quite familiar to Amila. He knows some of the local rafting operators, which gave us access to good sections of privately held riverine forests.
We got our first endemic of the day, the often elusive Chestnut-backed Owlet, just five minutes after arrival - while still sipping coffee on the veranda of a friend's lodge. I got a great initial full face view, but missed the essential "chestnut" back. Amila calmly whistled it back up for a second chance, and also managed a great on-the-spot digiscope, documenting the color I needed.
Amila birds with a scope -even in the close quarters of a forest. His old Kowa may be held together with globs of epoxy, but the optics are still fine and he's lightning fast putting it on a bird. While not strictly needed for ID in these conditions, I find the scope a wonderful aesthetic enhancement -especially when seeing unfamiliar birds.
We spent the next few hours birding some forest edges and fields in and around the river lodges. Here we got Legge's Flowerpecker, Sri Lanka Swallow, the Sri Lanka Jungle Fowl, Layard's Parakeet, the Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot plus a number of more common Asian birds that were still lifers for me.
A cultural highlight of the day was our river crossing, local style. We squeezed our feet into the bottom of a pencil-thin dugout and rode the river with children returning from school.
The best forest was on the far side of the river, but by then the branches were quiet. We still managed to score our final endemic: the Crimson-backed Flameback. Amila and I had hit it off well by then: he liked my style of wanting confirmation for new birds. So as soon as I was on the big woodpecker, Amila started rattling off the marks. "You've got a female, see the salt-and-pepper crest?" "Got it," I replied. "White iris?" "Yep." "Ivory beak? Not white." "Got it". "Now check out the white malar area. You should see a white island surrounded by a thin black line..."
"Yes!" Crimson-backed Flameback indeed. That was some fun birding.
Our time in Kithulgala was completed by a killer local-style lunch, served up on the veranda where we had gotten the Owlet. It turned out to be the best meal we had in our five days on the Island.
Our three hour return trip was punctuated by stops for common roadside birds I needed. We picked up quite a few, including my first Intermediate Egret. Amila impressed us again by picking it out of a flock of distant water birds while our driver was dodging through an especially sticky knot of traffic. It turns out that Amila doesn't have a driver's license. He always hires drivers, but that leaves his eyes free and we were the beneficiaries.
I only have one regret from a fine day of birding. Next day, as we were visiting a temple, a hawker approached with a stack of souvenir tee shirts. Among them was a wonderful design featuring the endemic Green-billed Coucal. Sadly, I turned down the shirt. I can't wear the bird I didn't get.
I guess I'll have to come back. As long as I can get Amila.
Once our holiday was booked I began to plan what we would do with the two weeks we would be in Sri Lanka. As well as some of the normal tourist trips, I decided that I would like to do a little bird watching. So I searched the internet and made contact with Amila Salgado to ask if he would take us out. I explained that we are not serious birders but just wanted to see some of the birds Sri Lanka had to offer.
Before we left the UK Amila had suggested possible itineraries and sent us detailed information to help us to prepare for our birding trips. His communications were excellent and he answered all my questions with great patience.
I was a little apprehensive as Amila was taking out a serious 'lister' in the days before our holiday and he was clearly going to be an experienced guide so how would he cope with complete beginners like us? Amila quickly put us at our ease, he was very customer focused and genuinely cared that this should be a good experience for us. Amila always arrived promptly with a comfortable car and a great driver whose name was Sameera.
Our first outing was a one day water birds tour taking us to Chilaw sandspits, Annaiwilundawa RAMSAR Wetland, Nawadamkulama tank/wetland, Puttlam & Palavi saltpans. Amila soon deducted that I wasn't terribly excited by the LBJs although I loved the Little Grebes and various Kingfishers, the Terns, Plovers, Stints etc. left me rather cold.
He quickly altered the focus so that we moved onto different habitats with other birds. The important thing is that Amila adapted to suit us and was even prepared to put a Spotted Dove in the scope just because we wanted to be able to appreciate the it close-up. This is probably sacrilegious to true birders but it was giving us what we wanted.
The highlight of the day for me was probably an excellent scoped view of a Pied Cuckoo, just because I saw it first, and the Crested Serpent Eagle, which conveniently sat in a nearby tree for us to offer great scope views.
After the success of this first trip we decided to take the tour to the Sinharaja World Heritage Rain Forest. This involved an overnight stop at Martin's Simple Lodge, which was about 3km by 4 wd up a rough track right to the edge of the reserve. It is the perfect location for this trip and we were made very welcome by Martin and his family.
I wanted to see some of the endemics, particularly high on my list was the Sri Lanka Blue Magpie and Amila guaranteed that we would see this bird! I was not disappointed and we also saw several other endemics namely, White-faced Starlings, Orange-billed Babblers, Sri Lanka Myna, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, Layard's Parakeet, Sri Lankan Crested Drongo, Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Red-faced Malkoha, Sri Lank Grey Hornbill,Legge's Flowerpecker, Ashy-headed Laughing Thrush, Sri Lankan Scimitar Babbler, Brown-capped Babbler, Spot-winged Thrush & Black-capped Bulbul. Some of the noteworthy non endemics included the Malabar Trogon, Yellow-browed and Square-tailed Black Bulbuls.
The highlight of the trip was possibly the great close-up view of a Crimson-backed Flameback and Amila finding a Sri Lanka Frogmouth by torchlight as we headed back to Martin's for the night.
Amila also seemed very knowledgeable about animals, reptiles, butterflies and plants in the forest. We saw the endemic Purple-faced Leaf Monkey and the Giant Squirrel as well as interesting Lizards, including the Kangaroo Lizard and a couple of snakes. Special highlight for Amila was getting excellent digiscope photos of the male Crimson-backed Flameback and a female of the rare endemic butterfly, Sri Lanka Forester.
There are just a couple of extra bits of information to share with you. There are leeches in the rainforest, fortunately Amila provides leech socks but I still didn't enjoy getting rid of the leeches after our walks. Secondly Amila is a Scrabble expert and loves to play with his clients. If you're going to play him make sure you learn all the strangest two letter words as he seems to know them all and he thrashed us!
We find it very hard to describe the immense pleasure that Amila gave us on our visit to Sinharaja rain Forest. We were pleasantly surprised at the reception and the food that we had at Martin's Simple Lodge, a trip I would recommend to others. At the start of our bird watching tour we were very fortunate to encounter 3 bird flocks in such a short time, this included a superb view of a Red-faced Malkoha, both Lucy and I agreed that the star bird in the flock was the Malabar Trogon. More goodies were soon to follow, with flycatchers, thrushes, leaf birds and at the end of the first day a magnificent view of the Sri Lankan Frogmouth.
After a shower, we sat down to a welcome supper of roast chicken and veg, the perfect end to a successful day of bird watching.
Day two found us up and out at 5.45am, having tea overlooking a very steamy rain forest, it wasn't long before we were joined by four Sri Lanka Blue Magpies. Throughout the day we had three walks into the rain forest, birding was quite slow but we more than made up for it with good views of Lizards, snakes, butterflies (including the Clipper) and a very obliging Sri Lanka Junglefowl. Again a very successful day. After another good dinner we were engaged in a game of scrabble with Amila, who used some very questionable words - be warned you won't have an easy time of it when we meet again.
Our third and last morning saw us in a clearing as dawn broke. As the light improved this place brought some of the best birds of the trip; Legge's Flowerpeckers, Layard's Parakeets, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrots, Orange Minivets White faced starlings and Purple-rumped Sunbird.
Unfortunately this was the end of a very well organised and successful encounter with the rain forest. My advice to anyone travelling with Amila, is to learn how to play scrabble!
Seasonal Greetings and all the best for 2008
I, together with three friends, recently returned from a two weeks birding tour of Sri Lanka organised by Amila Salgado, of Birdwing Nature Holidays. We had an excellent trip with over 250 birds species seen including all 33 endemic species. The tour was well organised and we visited a variety of habits so had a good selection of birds.
Amila is an all round naturalist and was most informative. Accommodation varied from rustic lodges to first-class hotels as is normal on a birding tour. I would confidently recommend this tour company for any birders wishing to see the birds of the island.
(For the Trip report, click here)
I chose to use Amila to arrange our family holiday in Sri Lanka because of the plaudits on the Birdwing Nature website and his lively Blog. I wasn't the slightest bit disappointed. His natural history knowledge is immense and it is imparted with enthusiasm, taste and good timing. He maintained good humour throughout our family trip, coping brilliantly with less enthusiastic birders among our family members ( 3 out of 4!), nonchalantly switching conversational topic to maintain their interest throughout. Ground arrangements were first-rate, but had anything gone wrong I think he would have coped as well as anybody. His choice of driver was also perfect for our family trip. I like to use local guides for birding trips abroad and this experience was a huge vindication of that policy. Amila's unfailing good humour survived the result of a game of Scrabble with my wife, proving that he is also a good loser- a fact I had no chance to observe in the field, as we cleaned up on all the endemic birds!
(For detailed report click here)