14 hours after leaving London,
we touched down in Colombo, making a welcome re-acquaintance (for
those of us who were at the 2003 Bird Fair) with Amila Salgado,
our guide for the next two weeks. We headed for a well-deserved
rest at our first hotel and although six Eurasian Thick-knees stopped
us for a while at a park near the airport, we soon rejoined the
mêlée of Colombo’s morning rush hour, the traffic
mostly driving on the left in horn-blaring, tangled confusion. The
attendant blur of Buddhist stupas and shrines mingled with the more
familiar artefacts of Christianity, rough-and-tumble roadside shops
and obligatory advertising hoardings, some in Arabic script, some
in the looping script of Sinhala. Like twisted coat hangers hung
like washing on wires, close inspection reveals a more amphibious
quality, some characters recalling frogs, others Toby Jug frogs
and frogs in mustard pots.
It was difficult to avoid the feeling that the very plush Galadari
Hotel was a touch inappropriate, particularly as a wedding reception
with all its trimmings greeted our arrival, the photographer arranging
the bride with the eternal precision of a White-tailed Plover and
bridesmaids and guests looking resplendent, while we looked and
felt like extras from a Bruce Willis post-devastation film set.
Still, ‘tis wondrous what lunch can do, and we metamorphosed
brightly into the afternoon and our first birding excursion of the
trip, to Talangama Tank, on the outskirts of the city, where many
of us supped our first Sri Lankan birds, then tea and cakes at a
rest house overlooking the lily-covered lake. Though the similarity
to Goa was striking, the abundance of Cotton Pygmy-geese and Yellow
and Black Bitterns, with full-tailed Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, Spot-billed
Pelicans and Forest Wagtails flying to roost underlined that we
were somewhere very different.
Little and Indian Cormorants, Spot-billed Pelican; Yellow and Black
Bitterns, Asian Openbill, Black-headed Ibis, Lesser Whistling Duck,
Cotton Pygmy-goose, Brahminy Kite, White-bellied Sea-eagle, Shikra,
Purple Swamphen, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Eurasian Thick-knee; Pacific
Golden and Red-wattled Plovers, Whiskered Tern, Spotted Dove, Alexandrine
Parakeet; Stork-billed, White-throated, Pied and Common Kingfishers,
Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Forest Wagtail; Red-vented and White-browed
Bulbuls, Zitting Cisticola, Plain Prinia, Asian Paradise Flycatcher;
Purple-rumped and Loten’s Sunbirds, Black-hooded Oriole, Brown
Shrike, White-bellied Drongo, Black-headed Munia.
Well, it’s good to get a good night’s sleep after a
long journey, but no such luck. Instead we were up at 4.45 to begin
our tour of this lush, green island that lies at the tip of the
Indian subcontinent. Passing rice paddies and date palms we headed
for the forest at Bodhinagala, a small tract of secondary lowland
rain forest south-east of Colombo, where Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot
became the first of Sri Lanka’s endemics to succumb to our
prying eyes. The lovely crimson race of Black-rumped Flameback and
the local race (or endemic if you follow the Ceylon Bird Club’s
view) of Black-crested Bulbul competed for our attention with Velvet-fronted
Nuthatches, Brown-headed Barbets, Black-naped Monarch, Crested Treeswifts
and a Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, while nosy gangs of Black-fronted
Babblers tried to pretend they weren’t looking at us and a
couple of handsome Sri Lanka Junglefowl made it two endemics for
the day thus far.
We progressed steadily through the hot and humid forest in search
of the endemic Green-billed Coucal, but the dry litter on the forest
floor made it difficult to move inconspicuously and it was some
time and a couple of diversions before Amila heard one calling close
to the track. Hearing and seeing are two entirely different kettles
of coucals, however, and although we were very close to one for
some time, only a couple of us managed good views as it flew into
view in low vegetation near a clump of bamboo and almost immediately
down again on to the forest floor and out of sight. However, almost
immediate compensation came in the form of a party of Sri Lanka
Grey Hornbills, endemic to the island, some red-faced, almost embarrassed-looking
Toque Macaques and impressive Giant Squirrels. We wove our way steadily
back to the bus and to lunch, passing Crested Serpent Eagle and
Oriental Honey-buzzard on the way, and a perched Besra that gave
almost as much cause for deliberation than the average case of multiple
fraud in the High Court before it was adjudged guilty.
Moving on eastward, we arrived beneath the imposing forested ridges
of Sinharaja in late afternoon. Piling into jeeps for the rickety
journey up the rutted forest track, we stopped as a bunch of Orange-billed
Babblers hove into view and quickly added our first Layard’s
Parakeets and Legge’s Flowerpecker at the same spot; three
more endemics, making no fewer than seven for the day – eight
if you count the Black-crested Bulbul, still regarded as an endemic
race by the Field Ornithological Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL in future
to save on depletion of the world’s forests).
Martin’s Simple Lodge is, well, simple. Fortunately, his
insects are also of a similar persuasion and we saw no mosquitoes
in our well-ventilated rooms, nothing more linguistically complicated
than fly or flea being allowed in. The basic nature of the lodge
was to be more than compensated for by its proximity to the forest,
saving a long drive from the nearest town and the dreadful last
leg up the track. The food was good and, frankly, we were all so
tired by now that sleep was a foregone conclusion for most of us,
especially after liberal helpings of arrack and soda.
Oriental Honey-buzzard, Crested Serpent Eagle, Besra, Sri Lanka
Junglefowl, Emerald Dove, Green Imperial Pigeon, Sri Lanka Hanging
Parrot, Layard’s Parakeet, Green-billed Coucal, Crested Treeswift,
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Brown-headed
Barbet, Black-rumped Flameback; Black-crested, Yellow-browed and
Black Bulbuls, Blue-winged Leafbird, Common Iora, Oriental Magpie
Robin, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch; Dark-fronted
and Orange-billed Babblers, Velvet-fronted Flowerpecker, Legge’s
Flowerpecker, Oriental White-eye, Scaly-breasted Munia.
Sinharaja is probably Sri Lanka’s most important reserve,
internationally significant for its biodiversity and encompassing
some of its few remaining tracts of undisturbed primary lowland
rainforest. We made the most of our on-site accommodation, rising
early to catch the first Black Bulbuls of the day as they perched
noisily on bamboo stems outside the lodge and our first Sri Lanka
Blue Magpies, moving rather furtively about the branches below.
As we enjoyed the waking morning from the road above the lodge,
the sun rose slowly in the cleft between ridges, breaking into a
beautiful dawn, full of Scarlet Minivets, Yellow-fronted Barbets
and Crested Drongos.
Dropping down the access road from the lodge, we were soon enjoying
wonderful views of Malabar Trogons and our first Spot-winged Thrush,
Brown-breasted Flycatcher and Large-billed Leaf Warbler, the latter
distinctively tail-flicking in the undergrowth not unlike a fantail.
Moving up and on, along the wide and sandy trail that runs from
the lodge through the forest, this was the first encounter for many
of us with the terrestrial leech. Although the little devils were
largely confined to the low leafy vegetation at the trail edges
it was not long before everyone realised that we had been provided
with leech socks for good reason. Still, we progressed watchfully,
flushing a Cinnamon Bittern from fields below us, and after a fairly
quiet spell with few feeding flocks in evidence, two Indian Scimitar-babblers
and an Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher that flashed across the trail in
front of us. Diligent work located the tiny pink and blue apparition
in the forest and everyone was treated to excellent views as it
sat in quiet contemplation of its dappled, shadowy world.
The forest trail was also alive with spectacular butterflies. Above
us, paper-thin Ceylon Tree Nymphs drifted flimsily over the treetops
and great Ceylon Birdwings sailed across clearings, while lower
down Blue Glassy Tigers and striped Clippers flitted across the
trails, Grass Yellows danced along the verges and the warm brown
eye on the closed wing of a Glad-eye Bushbrown peered back evenly
at whatever it might distract.
The morning ended with fabulous views of a male Sri Lanka Frogmouth,
incubating what appeared to be a fluffy white chick in a shallow
lichen-lined nest on a narrow branch and Graham and Brian demonstrated
their digi-scoping skills, producing some memorable images of this
enigmatic and much sought-after species.
Thunder rolled about us throughout a hot and humid afternoon, but
it remained more or less dry as we headed into the forest around
the research station after finding a couple of White-faced Starlings
in the trees above the trail. A party of Ashy-headed Laughingthrushes
slipped unobtrusively through low vegetation in the enclosed and
rather gloomy forest, then careful work by Amila and some patience
from the rest of us allowed excellent views of a Scaly Thrush, close
to another Spot-winged Thrush on the forest floor. Very different
from the much shorter billed individuals some of us have seen in
Nepal and China, it has more in common with Dark-sided and Long-billed
Thrushes and provoked a good deal of discussion on the subject of
splitting and lumping. At least six Sri Lanka Blue Magpies were
clambering about at the rear of the research station cookhouse as
we stopped for tea and, emerging into the open, we found a couple
of groups of Sri Lanka Mynas, making a total of six more endemic
Back at the lodge, we discovered that Sheila had interrogated Martin
Wijesinghe at length over lunch, discovering his skills as an accomplished
field biologist, to the extent that he has an endemic species of
yam named after him. Still sounds like a leg-spinner to me, though.
Cinnamon Bittern, Pompadour Green Pigeon, Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Indian
Swiftlet, Brown-backed Needletail, Malabar Trogon, Oriental Dwarf
Kingfisher, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Lesser Yellownape, Scarlet Minivet;
Spot-winged and Scaly Thrushes; Greenish and Large-billed Leaf Warblers;
Brown-breasted and Asian Brown Flycatchers, Indian Scimitar-babbler,
Ashy-headed Laughingthrush, Pale-billed Flowerpecker, Crested Drongo,
Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, White-faced Starling, Sri Lanka Myna.
Missing Red-faced Malkoha from yesterday’s list of endemics,
we made fairly rapid ground (for a change) along the main forest
trail to a patch of high forest, close to a fish-filled pool, where
I saw the species on my previous visit. Amila soon heard a couple
calling and we were soon enjoying prolonged views as they moved
about the trees above, with two more Malabar Trogons close by and,
for some of the group, a party of Sri Lanka Spurfowl crossing the
track. Several more malkohas and Crested Drongos later and it was
time to go, so we bade farewell to Martin and his Simple Insects,
clattered down the access road one more time and rejoined our bus
to head back into the dry zone once again.
Our goal was Udawalawe NP, a mix of abandoned teak plantation,
grassland and scrub jungle, roughly half way to our next destination
at Yala NP. Dark clouds decorating the hills we had just left, Black
Eagle and Black-shouldered Kite over the grassy lowlands, villages
with small shops and waving children in bright sunshine, people
standing and talking on a bright Sunday morning; just some of the
images along the way. In fact, we had some time to take them in,
as the journey proved to be particularly convoluted as a result
of road works and diversions, confirming the general impression
that in Sri Lanka time is more of an illusion than in most other
places; lunchtime doubly so.
We eventually reached Udawalawe at 4pm, boarding jeeps for a drive
into the open savannah with its wonderful backdrop of serried hills,
stretching away towards the pinnacle of Adam’s Peak that we
would see again from the north in a few days time. Wind in our hair,
we set out past Malabar Pied Hornbills in the scattered trees, Rufous-winged
Bushlarks and Paddyfield Pipits on the dusty track and a female
Pallid Harrier drifting over the open grass; redolent of an African
landscape that added to the list of images rapidly accumulating
from this land of constant surprises. Grey-bellied Cuckoo and Black-headed
Cuckoo-shrike in low branches, lovely Orange-breasted Green Pigeons,
Ashy and Jungle Prinias and a party of Tawny-bellied Babblers in
trackside bushes and a Blue-faced Malkoha moving away from us into
deep cover, then a Pied Cuckoo and our first Indian Pitta, low down
in the undergrowth. All were eagerly digested as the afternoon wore
on and white clouds nestled in the valleys of the hills that overlook
the plain, the last pink lines of daylight diminishing into a beautiful
sunset, illuminating the cone of Adam’s Peak beneath the leaden
We arrived at TASKS jungle camp well after dark and the chance
to chill out over a beer was most welcome. It had been a long day.
Pallid Harrier, Black Eagle, Changeable Hawk-eagle, Sri Lanka Spurfowl,
Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Plum-headed Parakeet; Pied and Grey-bellied
Cuckoos; Blue-faced and Red-faced Malkohas, Green Bee-eater, Indian
Roller, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Indian Pitta, Rufous-winged Bushlark,
Paddyfield Pipit, Black-headed Cuckooshrike, Indian Robin; Ashy,
Grey-breasted and Jungle Prinias; Tawny-bellied and Yellow-eyed
Babblers, White-rumped Munia.
TASKS jungle camp lies about 35km south-east of Udawalawe, and we
spent the morning in the camp and the surrounding scrub and secondary
growth that recalled the camp at Chitwan in Nepal, where several
of us were only a year ago. An Orange-headed Ground Thrush in the
camp grounds was possibly taken too lightly by those of us who have
seen it on numerous occasions in Goa, but it proved to be the only
one of the trip, while White-browed Fantail, White-rumped Shama,
Besra, Oriental Honey-buzzard, Small Minivet and at least four Indian
Pittas were seen between us.
A Jungle Owlet appeared in the trees above one of the huts before
we moved on from the camp towards our next base at Yala NP, where
we would spend the next three nights in the hope of seeing the park’s
speciality, leopard, of which there are probably 35 in an area comprising
14,000 hectares. On the way, we stopped at the tanks at Pannegamuwa
and Weerawila, finding Watercock and Gull-billed and Little Terns
at the first and, as it began to rain, a large flock of Garganey
and Black-tailed Godwits, Caspian Tern, Yellow-wattled Lapwing,
Greater and Lesser Sandplovers, Oriental Skylarks and Painted Storks
at the second.
We arrived at Yala in time for lunch and an afternoon jeep drive,
during which it was overcast with heavy rain. The richness of the
park was immediately apparent as we ticked off Great Thick-knee,
Eurasian Spoonbill, several Indian Pittas, Barred Buttonquail, a
large flock of Rosy Starlings, with a few Brahminy Starlings nearby,
a superb Black-necked Stork and a rain-drenched Sirkeer Malkoha,
just about identifiable as it wiggled away into tree near the track.
Some excellent mammals included numerous Black-naped Hares, the
ubiquitous Black-faced Langur, Indian Grey and Stripe-necked Mongooses
and a male Elephant with magnificent tusks, just a few yards from
us at the track edge. Large groups of Spotted Deer and a quite magnificent
stag Sambar left us well satisfied with an excellent introduction
to this excellent place.
Until the evening log, that is.
In one of those unforgettable moments of timing, like Donald Pleasance
reading Edgar Allan Poe, as we came to the end of the mammals section,
Fran announced that she, Sandy, Alan and Sheila had been the crew
in the jeep that had seen a Leopard. Yes, a Leopard. A Leopard?
Yes, a Leopard.
Painted and Black-necked Storks, Eurasian Spoonbill, Garganey, Barred
Buttonquail, Watercock, Great Thick-knee; Lesser and Greater Sandplovers,
Yellow-wattled Plover; Gull-billed and Caspian Terns, Sirkeer Malkoha,
Jungle Owlet, Oriental Skylark, Small Minivet, White-rumped Shama,
White-browed Fantail, Thick-billed Flowerpecker; Brahminy and Rosy
Our game drive was in the morning today, though it has to be said
that many of us were pretty tired and things meandered on somewhat,
to rocky outcrops and likely areas where leopards might be found,
though the nearest we got to the magic beast was feeding our sausages
(in the vegetarian packed breakfast!) to a couple of cats by the
beach. We added a couple of Yellow-crowned Woodpeckers, Woolly-necked
Stork, Drongo Cuckoo, Grey-headed Fish-eagle and a few Indian Silverbills
and returned for lunch, prior to leaving for Bundala in the afternoon.
Three Jackals crossed our paths as we left Yala (if black cats
mean good luck, what does that mean; ten years of shoplifting?),
but lunch did not help the soporific effect of our luxurious accommodation
and we drifted around the ponds and pans of Bundala until woken
by an excellent tern flock, in which Great and Lesser Crested Terns
stood side by side with others of a Caspian, Little and Whiskered
persuasion. Amila waxed lyrical at a party of five Sand Martins,
a good record for Sri Lanka, and we spent some time over a whirling
flock of marsh terns that included two White-winged Blacks, both
tatty individuals in a plumage unfamiliar to any of us.
Decamping in late afternoon to a palm grove at Tissamaharama, where
we had tried unsuccessfully for White-naped Woodpecker a couple
of days before, we were treated to excellent views of at least one
in the trees above the track, as well as some puzzled looks from
the locals, probably wondering what all the coconut-spotting was
And so to bed, as fireflies danced along the beach ...........
Woolly-necked Stork, Grey-headed Fish-eagle, Grey-headed Gull; Great
and Lesser Crested Terns, White-winged Black Tern, Drongo Cuckoo;
Yellow-crowned and White-naped Woodpeckers, Baya weaver, Indian
Our rehabilitation was completed by a late breakfast (well, it’s
all relative, we were earlier than any of the other punters) and
a walk along the beach, passing Grey-bellied Cuckoo, Indian Pitta
and White-rumped Shama, until Amila, playing his cards very close
to his chest, surprised us with three gorgeous Small Pratincoles
at a rolling, gravelly section of the beach. For me, these gentle
little creatures have magical connotations, from the evocative location
where I first encountered them, on sandbars in the Mekong between
Thailand and Laos, to ghostly apparitions flying with soft, fluid
quietness over green paddies on late Goan afternoons. Here, though,
on the stark, bare gravelly humps of a Sri Lankan beach, were the
best views I have ever had.
Several of us, names have been omitted to protect the innocent,
decamped to the hotel swimming pool prior to our afternoon jeep
ride and our last chance of seeing the big cat. Our driver gave
it a good shot, arriving back at the camp gates well after the deadline
of 7pm and attracting a good deal of flak in the process, but we
were not to see leopard on this trip. We probably knew the outcome
in advance – Yala might be a great place to see it, but it
remains an elusive animal and, like all cats, you get what they
want to give you and when they feel like giving it, all of which
preserves its mystique, of course. The 5½ hours of being
mercilessly bumped about did have its compensations, however, none
better than a herd of elephants with two calves, protected from
their inquisitiveness by the surrounding adults, while birds included
Indian Nightjar, Watercock, Grey-headed Fish-eagle and a party of
31 European Bee-eaters, which would have been a tick for Amila had
he been in the right jeep.
Small Pratincole, Indian Nightjar, European Bee-eater.
Departing from Yala after breakfast we called in at Palatupana saltpans,
where highlights included a full house of terns and seven pale,
streaked Red-rumped Swallows of the Himalayan race H.d.nipalensis,
very different from the brick-red Sri Lankan H.d.hyperythra –
all credit again to Amila for his unflagging interest in pointing
out variations in species that helped make our trip so rewarding.
The remainder of the journey to the highlands of Nuwara Eliya was
largely one of impressions as we passed from the arid scrub of Yala
into a country of rice paddies, palm groves and houses nestling
beneath the shade of rain trees along the roadside, those under
construction bearing effigies to ward off evil spirits. The body
part seems fairly universal – a cloth-draped figure with arms
outstretched – but the head of each is highly variable, from
pumpkin-like affairs that wouldn’t have fooled the sort of
evil spirit that might hang around Andy Pandy to buffalo skulls
that would worry a Millwall supporter. The head made from a grey
oil can with eyes painted on the side was simply surreal, probably
most effective on evil spirits that themselves had partaken of too
much evil spirit, not that we would know anything about that sort
Bright white-uniformed schoolchildren, playing with a happy gaiety
that we see so infrequently, a woman drawing water from a well,
slow brown buffalo padding steadily through just-flooded terraces;
all were images of a country that was growing on us by the day,
one in which we were becoming increasingly happy to be.
We reached the edge of the high plateau after two hours, climbing
up winding roads past a spectacular waterfall, the largest trees
we had seen since leaving Sinharaja and signs of reforestation where
slash-and-burn agriculture had begun to be replaced with regenerating
forest. The spectacular view through the cleft in the escarpment
to the lowlands we had just left was accompanied by our first Crimson-fronted
Barbet, endemic species or subspecies depending on whether your
point of view corresponds with FOGSL or Ceylon Bird Club, and a
welcome cup of tea, appropriate to the plantations we began to drive
through as we climbed on, eventually stopping at Surrey Estate,
about half an hour from Nuwara Eliya. Here, the narrow track through
the forest produced close views of the endemic Brown-capped Babbler,
then Southern Hill Myna at a nest hole, though attempts to see Brown
Wood Owl proved to be nebulous at best for most of us.
Audible gasps could be heard as we emerged from the bright bustle
of Nuwara Eliya’s shops and traffic and drove through the
gates of St.Andrew’s Hotel, seeing its half-timbered colonial
façade and manicured gardens for the first time – the
archetypical hill retreat of the British, scattered across Asia
from Simla in India to Fraser’s Hill in Malaysia. A fine dinner
and a good red wine in the wood-panelled dining room, high ceilings,
wide stairs and photographs of the Nuwara Eliya valley from around
the late 1800s and we were in another world, though heavy legs reminded
us that it was one that was situated at an altitude of 6,200 feet.
Brown Wood Owl, Crimson-fronted Barbet, Brown-capped Babbler, Southern
Two minibuses arrived for us at some unearthly hour and we trundled
off along undulating, winding roads to Horton Plains, arriving at
the famous Arrenga Pool just after 5.30, under a sparkling blanket
of a cold night sky, shooting stars zipping across the twinkling
blackness like tracers as dawn waited out of sight below ink-black
The contents of the minibuses piled out into the empty road as
first light promised long-awaited warmth and although Sri Lanka
Whistling Thrush was silent, a Blackbird began to sing from the
low ridge above us and the first Sri Lanka Woodpigeon tumbled across
the sky, as subtly as our own. Yellow-eared Bulbul and Sri Lanka
White-eye made it three endemics in quick succession and, at last,
a whistling thrush began to call at around 6.15, its thin, even
whistle coming from gnarled, moss-covered trunks just below the
road. It began to come steadily closer but at the critical moment,
half an hour later, headlights appeared along the road and a couple
of tourists climbed out of their transport and walked down the road
past the pool. The calling stopped and shadows shortened as the
sun began to climb, warming us at last and bringing a Dull-blue
Flycatcher into sunlit bushes by the road; four endemics thus far.
Passing vehicles and stubborn silence from the whistling thrush
began to make it look as if we might be unlucky, they are probably
the most unpredictable of the world’s small band of Myophonus
species, but at 7.15 it started calling again, very close to the
road this time. Nerves taut, alert to every movement, we waited
as it continued to call and on the dot of 7.30 a small dark blue
thrush flew low over the road and across the pool, named after the
bird itself, followed shortly after by a female. The magic continued
with a furtive Sri Lanka Bush Warbler moving low down at the water’s
edge, skulking like a Cetti’s, and fine views of an Indian
Scimitar-babbler in the sunlit trees above the road, the warm orange
quality of the light emphasising that the morning was still in its
infancy. For some reason, I found myself alone at the pool when
Sheila attracted my attention, suggesting that I should come closer,
but very slowly, and very quietly. Very slowly, very quietly. What
is that bird, sitting there, she asked? Where, I wondered. There,
just in the leaves opposite, sat a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, sunning
itself! Of all the things I could have said, my response was fortunately
one of the more polite alternatives, but as I frantically tried
to attract the attention of the others it began to move up and away
into the bushes and out of sight. A bit of persistence and cuckoo-like
thinking located it again as it moved unobtrusively through the
trees above the road but only one or two of us were fortunate to
get views of a species that is notoriously difficult to see and
which, for me, concluded one of the most memorable couple of hours
birding I have experienced anywhere in the world. A still morning,
the sun coming up, bringing the birds with it. The hunter knows
it, the cat and the sparrowhawk; concentration so tight that nothing
else can get in. An insight into a secret world that few humans
Walking on along the road, the trees with their lichen-covered
branches suddenly opened out into rolling grassland, and we were
transported from cloud forest into an upland landscape that could
have been Wales or Scotland, small thin streams winding along narrow
rush-filled gullies through dew-sparkled grass hummocks, with only
occasional Pied Bushchats to suggest that might not be Europe, after
all. Paddyfield Pipits and Zitting Cisticolas and more Indian Scimitar-babblers
at the forest edge stressed the point and some forest workers stopped
in contemplation of all that was strange about them, then realised
that perhaps we were not quite so odd, after all, as we stopped
to say hello.
A Steppe Buzzard appeared overhead as we walked back to the pool,
inducing some discussion with Amila, since Steppe Buzzards are not
supposed to occur this far south, but this individual was as close
to the classic fox-red morph depicted in plate 342 of Dick Forsman’s
Raptors of Europe and the Middle East as makes no difference. Back
at the pool, some loud crashing about in the trees above the road
revealed two huge and obviously not very happy Bear Monkeys, the
woolly-coated upland race of Purple-faced Leaf monkey but so different
that it was like seeing another species.
Suddenly, it was time to go, and we slipped reflectively away,
downhill to Pattipola railway station where, as if in a time warp,
we wandered on to the platform like kids in the 1950s. We had come
to check out reports of a pair of Jerdon’s Bazas in a eucalyptus
plantation by the station and there, said Fran, they were, the female
first, then the male, collecting some very fetching sticks for her
in an ultimately successful pre-copulatory offering. Both gave fabulous
views, captured by the digi-scopers before we moved on again, heading
back towards Nuwara Eliya and its famous Victoria Park, passing
a party of three Oriental Honey-buzzards in a staggering variety
of plumages en route.
Mingling with afternoon strollers, many in Muslim garb, we began
a circuit of the park and John soon found a first winter male Kashmir
Flycatcher in trees by the roofless toilet block, though it proved
very elusive, even when it was located again later. Some clearing
of the undergrowth in the park has taken place and as a result it
seems to be less productive than it was three years ago –
we failed to find a single pitta – but a Shaheen Falcon (the
Sri Lankan race of Peregrine) circled overhead and in a corner of
the park where Amila had found Pied Thrush on his pre-tour recce
we were treated to three of these almost mythical birds. Difficult
to find away from where they breed in the Himalaya and northern
India and their high altitude wintering areas in southern India
and Sri Lanka, they fed in a mimosa that would be familiar on their
breeding grounds. They didn’t disappoint, a female setting
the scene for the appearance of a superb male, like a black and
white Siberian Thrush with powerful greenish-yellow bill that was
quite simply stunning.
It was difficult to keep up the pace of this wonderful day, so
we didn’t, retiring to a corner of the lake at Nuwara Eliya
where we tried in vain to find Black-throated Munia, suspected by
Amila to have undergone an altitudinal migration to paddies lower
down, where we might be lucky enough to find them in a couple of
days time. However, we did see several Pintail Snipe and our White-breasted
Waterhen numbers took a boost before we returned to the hotel for
another very welcome meal at the end of what, for me, had been the
best day of the trip.
Jerdon’s Baza, Shaheen Falcon (Peregrine), Sri Lanka Woodpigeon,
Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, Yellow-eared Bulbul, Pied Bushchat, Sri
Lanka Whistling Thrush, Pied Thrush, Sri Lanka Bush Warbler, Dull-blue
Flycatcher, Sri Lanka White-eye, Kashmir Flycatcher.
We wandered, pre-breakfast, into the hills immediately behind St.Andrew’s
Hotel, finding leeks, potatoes, brassicas, carrots and beetroot
in small patches of cultivation and three Grey-headed Canary Flycatchers
around a sunlit snag low down in the forest. These crops are sent
to the lowlands in exchange for fruit that cannot be grown up here,
in an exchange that has probably been taking place for centuries.
Bidding farewell to Nuwara Eliya, one of the high points of the
tour in more ways than one, we stopped briefly at the lake again
as we departed for Kitulgala, to be treated to a Black-shouldered
Kite, but no munias.
We wound our way slowly down into the lowlands, to our next base,
at Rafter’s Retreat, near Kitulgala, enclosed in forest-clad
valleys that spilled down to the river overlooked by our accommodation,
a series of cabins in an old palm plantation. We were nearing Sri
Lanka’s Independence Day and the river was full of bathers,
several of whom came up to us to say hello. A group of males from
Colombo were partying as we sat for lunch, apparently singing love
songs to an accompanying guitar and drinking quite happily, just
like they don’t do at home.
Crossing the river through hordes of bathers in a dugout that took
three journeys to take us all, we trudged through the hot and humid
forest to a small patch of cultivation, finding a green pit viper
in trees at the water’s edge on the way. The mix of birds
was similar to Sinharaja in some ways; Orange-billed Babblers, Layard’s
Parakeets, Black Bulbuls, pittas and hanging parrots, but in addition
to three Crested Drongos the fields held at least 11 Emerald Doves,
more than any of us had ever seen together. A Crested Goshawk soared
briefly over the forest and a couple of Lesser Yellownapes showed
well, but the light had all but faded as we walked back, illuminating
only a couple of Spot-winged Thrushes on the way.
Crested Goshawk, Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher.
Our attention first thing in the morning was devoted to the palm
plantation beneath which our cabins nestled, as we scoured the trees
for Chestnut-backed Owlet, accompanied by a couple of frisky horses.
We eventually found an individual that tested our direction-giving
skills to the absolute limit, but which then provided really good
views in the telescope. After a couple of Tickell’s Blue Flycatchers,
Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill and Giant Wood Spider, the tiny male keeping
well out of the way of the huge female, we left the butterflies
and river views of Rafter’s Retreat and headed for Kandy,
accompanied by some rather disconcerting talk from the back seat
about needing to be focussed for shopping. As Amila suggested, there
was a flock of Black-throated Munias at rice paddies on the way,
though there was probably more to be learned from the form of a
luckless fruit bat, hanging from the same wires that a squirrel
scampered along, full of life, than from our visit to the Temple
of the Tooth in Kandy, where the temple guide rather offhandedly
explained everything and nothing in a plethora of dates. We took
lunch overlooking the city and headed off once again on narrow,
winding forest roads and tea plantations to Hunas Falls, at an altitude
of nearly 3,000 feet, accompanied so memorably by Sheila’s
new magic flute.
Paused in contemplation of the setting sun, close dark hills framing
soft blue-grey ridges receding into the distance and smoke circling
slowly over the flat, shadowed land in between, the view suddenly
recalled the Kathmandu valley, seen from Phulchowki, just a year
ago. How much has flowed by since then.
Chestnut-backed Owlet, Black-throated Munia.
Our bus took us up the hill behind Hunas Falls to Simpson’s
Forest, which produced some very good birds, notably two Pacific
Swallows, a Black Eagle, several Layard’s Parakeets (how on
earth did I miss them last time?), Hill Mynas, a brief Common Hawk-cuckoo
and, as I was forced to depart from the group to a bend in the trail,
a feeding flock that comprised 15 Yellow-fronted Barbets, Black
Bulbuls, Oriental and Sri Lanka White-eyes and several hanging parrots,
minivets and fantails. By the time the group caught up they had
mostly dispersed, though a female Pied Thrush still remained. Further
up, we had very brief views of a large raptor over the ridge, then
better views, if not all we would have wished for, of a Mountain
Hawk Eagle, gliding along the side of our ridge to the next patch
Then, like the Rolling Stones, it was time to move on to the next
gig, at Dambulla Country Club, situated at the edge of Kandalama
Tank, about half way between Kandy and the old capital of Anuradhapura.
So, heading once more from the wet into the dry zone, we passed
into plantation country, existing alongside paddies and habitation
in a more gentle exploitation of the countryside than is evident
in many such situations around the world, from the oil palm plantations
of Borneo to the wheat fields of Kent. We made the obligatory stop
at a spice plantation, for a session of massage, sniffing and defoliation
that was actually quite entertaining. At least, they held our attention
for a good deal longer than on my previous visit when we went to
a spice plantation on our second day and the demonstrator had to
compete for our attention with several bird species that were new
to us. I seem to recall that he gave up.
We left the plantation after lunch and arrived at Kandalama in
late afternoon, where some brief birding in the hotel grounds produced
several Great Thick-knees, a party of 18 Black-crowned Night Herons
on an island in the lake, White-winged Black Tern and about a hundred
Mountain Hawk-eagle, Common Hawk-cuckoo, Pacific Swallow, Common
Leaving Kandalama early, we headed to Anuradhapura, where part of
the group stayed behind to frolic in the swimming pool and visit
the old city, while the rest took the opportunity to visit Mannar,
in the north-west of Sri Lanka, closed to visitors until about a
year ago because of the political strife between Sri Lanka and Tamil
The avian highlight for the city dwellers was an Oriental Honey-buzzard,
displaying in a series of steep undulations, clapping its wings
together repeatedly over its body at the apex of each, looking for
all the world like a giant dipterocarp seed in the sky. For our
visit to the ancient city of Anuradhapura, dating back to the fourth
century BC, we were accompanied by the infectiously enthusiastic
R.B.Edirisinghe (‘Eddie’) whose tangle of white hair
may well have last seen a pair of scissors at some similarly distant
time in the past, as delicately observed by Mick. The Bo-tree, under
which the Buddha sat in his search for enlightenment, said to have
been brought to Sri Lanka from India around 250 BC, was planted
in the grounds of the city, rendering Anuradhapura sacred to Buddhists
the world over. The site was built to house over 11,000 monks and
features four great stupas, including the brick-built Jetavana,
at 360 feet high the tallest stupa (or dhageba, to use Eddie’s
preference) in the world. Now a World Heritage site, it is remarkable
to realise that for years the site was embedded in the jungle; one
of the stupas is still covered in earth and remnant vegetation and
another, though largely restored, is still undergoing the process
of being returned to its original condition. This site does not
have the scenic magnificence of Macchu Picchu or the feeling of
spiritual vibrancy of Bodhinath in Kathmandu, but there is a palpable
calm serenity about the place that was brought to life by Eddie’s
passion for his subject; a far more edifying few hours than our
scuttle around the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, which just goes
to show that things are not always to found where you search for
Mannar is no longer an island as a causeway now connects it to
the mainland, either side of which is water and tidal mudflats,
packed with waders, while the tip of Mannar is not unlike like Morjim
Beach in Goa with roosting gulls, terns and waders. Highlights included
uncountable number of waders and terns, including Heuglin’s
Gull, 300 Caspian Terns, five Crab Plovers, 14 Avocets, 20 Great
Knots, the last two of which were seen from the causeway, 16 Greater
Flamingos, Richards Pipits and Grey Francolins, while Black Drongos
and Rollers were abundant on roadside wires. Spot-billed Ducks were
found nesting on a small tank near the start of the causeway and
a long-billed curlew had us wondering about the possibility of Eastern
Curlew, though it seems most likely to have been a very long billed
example of Eurasian Curlew. Although Mannar is now government controlled
it has only just been opened up to visitors and evidence of fighting
between government forces and Tamil Tigers was everywhere, from
bullet holes in buildings to gun-emplacements and restricted areas
that are still not accessible because of uncleared land mines. A
visit to this area is not recommended without a Sinhala-speaking
guide as soldiers are very much in evidence and are understandably
very nervous about bins and especially scopes and cameras. Giantes
Tank, visited on the way back, produced 250 Painted Storks, at least
1000 Openbills and uncountable numbers of egrets.
Back at the hotel, an evening bird walk produced a wonderful display
from several Asian Paradise Flycatchers, all of the brown form,
sallying out from their perches in the trees by the lake to dip
in the water and back again. We had excellent views of the northern,
golden-backed race of Black-rumped Flameback and a male Shikra so
still by the path that I thought it was a plastic one!
Conscious of the fact that our time was fast running out, we took
a last delicious dip in the pool under the sparkling night sky.
A last walk round the hotel grounds in the morning produced Large
Cuckooshrike, among a good sprinkling of common dry zone species,
then it was time to go and we headed off rather wistfully to Puttalam
saltpans, on the coast to the north of Negombo, our last stop before
the flight home, or so we thought. We found a couple of Terek Sandpipers
on a small, disused area then spent a short while getting our eye
in with a flock that consisted mainly of Marsh and Curlew Sandpipers,
Little Stints and Broad-billed Sandpipers, of which there were at
least 18, the largest flock I have seen.
Through coastal palm groves and increasing urbanisation, the journey
onward was fairly unforgettable, though Indian Rollers were common
along the roadside and even in the narrow streets of Chilaw people
had the time and grace to stop, smile and wave as we passed. We
also undertook a memorable diversion on to a rubbish-strewn sand
spit just outside the town, passing through a fishing hamlet constructed
from life’s flotsam and jetsam; some dwellings built roughly
from brick, while others teetered on the edge of existence in mud
and rush-mat flimsiness. Past brightly painted boats pulled up on
to the sand, small fish drying on mats in the sun, fishermen mending
nets, children smiling, laughing and gleefully waving, utterly mystified
adults and then the cemetery; an eloquent commentary on the impermanence
of life itself. Amila had brought us here to see Sanderling, a fairly
local species on the island, and there they were; one group standing
and wondering while others pattered along the tide line, skittering
away from the inrushing water, impelled by the moon like the sea
We reached Negombo and piled into the swimming pool of what can
be most tastefully described as a transit hotel, apparently originally
designed as a multi-storey car park but which at least two people
were capturing on video. Where on earth had they been and what had
they seen in the last two weeks?
Intermediate Egret, Sanderling, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Terek Sandpiper.
Amila called at the appointed time, just before 4 am, to say that
Colombo airport had been closed for ten hours because of an incident
with a Russian freighter (an aircraft, presumably, though ship was
not ruled out) that had crash-landed on the airstrip. It was anticipated
that we would leave at around 10 am. However, we departed just after
midday, reaching Abu Dhabi well after our onward flight, with the
prospect of a 12-hour wait before us. However, Gulf Air arranged
for us to stay in a hotel and we all piled into a bus and off to
the Al Dubious Hotel, passing parties of Grey Francolins by the
roadside and into the concrete and glass high rises of Abu Dhabi
seafront. By the time we had consumed some rather forgettable sandwiches
the light was too bad to make anything of some very interesting-looking
gulls that had gathered on buoys inside a nearby jetty, though we
did see Red-vented and White-cheeked Bulbuls either from the bus
into town or in the park between the hotel and the sea. A couple
of hours sleep and it was time to leave for the airport, away from
the Al Dubious and its night life of western men and mostly oriental
women, doubtless immersed in theories of reverse migration, eventually
leaving for Heathrow at 2 am. By the time we got back to Sandwich
it had been 37 hours since Amila’s call to give us the glad
So, another trip done and dusted. As always, a host of memories
crowd in for recognition, but are any more vivid than the people
themselves? We rarely met anyone on this beautiful island who was
not prepared to smile, to talk or to wave, just because they wanted
to. Best bird? Well, Milky Pratincole is always great to see and
these were the best views I have ever had, but it has to be Chestnut-winged
Cuckoo, for the sheer mouth-opening moment of the event itself.
January 22nd - February 4th 2004
By John van der Dol
For the sake of consistency with previous reports on Goa and Nepal
the nomenclature in the following list is mostly that used by Grimmett,
Inskipp and Inskipp in Birds of the Indian Subcontinent, Helm 1999.
The taxonomy is in a state of flux with so many endemic species
and sub-species, and various species lists are therefore in existence.
I have generally followed the one by Priyantha Wijesinghe in his
"Checklist of the Birds of Sri Lanka" (Ceylon Bird Club,
1994) in terms of species but not necessarily in terms of English
There are about 80 endemic sub-species, many of which could eventually
be elevated to full species level, but currently only three are
under serious consideration and their elevation is imminent and
therefore included as full species. These are Crimson-fronted Barbet
(Ceylon Small Barbet), Black-capped Bulbul and Black-throated Munia
(Ceylon Hill Munia). Others will be due for consideration in the
near future and I will deal with these in the list itself.
The annotation (E) in the list denotes endemic status.
1. Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Up to ten on many of the tanks (reservoirs). Seen on five dates.
2. Little Cormorant Phalacrocorax niger
Seen in small numbers in most wetland areas.
3. Indian Cormorant Phalacrocorax fuscicollis
Very common throughout in much larger numbers than the previous
4. Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
About a dozen at the lake by the Culture Club Resort near Dambulla
and about 15 en route to Negombo on our last birding day.
5. Asian Darter Anhinga melanogaster
Between one and ten on five dates and 20 between Yala and Bundala.
6. Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis
A flock of 52 just along the road from our hotel Galadari in Colombo
was the biggest count. Up to 20 on six other dates.
7. Yellow Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis
An excellent series of records with seven on our first afternoon
at Talangama Tank and then two singles and two twos on a further
four dates. Superb views of a generally shy bird were obtained.
8. Cinnamon Bittern Ixobrychus cinnamomeus
An uncommon resident and a new bird for our guide. Two were flushed
in the paddies at Sinharaja.
9. Black Bittern Dupetor flavicollis
Superb views were had of four at Talangama Tank, a single at Yala
and a further three together on our journey back from Mannar.
10. Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax
Three at Talangama Tank, one at Bundala and 18 at Kandalama Tank
(Culture Club Resort).
11. Little Heron Butorides striatus
Five singles and three at Yala.
12. Indian Pond Heron Ardeola grayii
13. Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Seen in very large numbers and never counted.
14. Western Reef Heron Egretta gularis
Just one single of the white morph at Mannar Island.
15. Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Commonly encountered in all suitable areas.
16. Intermediate Egret Mesophoyx intermedia
A single at Giantes Tank was followed by three on our last day en
route to Negombo.
17. Great Egret Casmerodius albus
Again commonly found throughout with perhaps as many as a hundred
at Kandalama Tank.
18. Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Also good numbers throughout and perhaps 150 at Giantes Tank.
19. Purple Heron Ardea purpurea
Small numbers in most wetland areas but never more than five in
any one day.
20. Painted Stork Mycteria leucocephala
This beautifully coloured stork is a common resident in Sri Lanka
and good numbers were seen. Up to 20 on five dates in the south-east
of the country while there were 75 were seen at Giantes Tank and
250 en route to Negombo.
21. Asian Openbill Anastomus oscitans
This very common resident was seen in small numbers throughout but
there were about 100 at Weerawila Tank in the south and perhaps
a 1000 at Giantes Tank, while there were several thousand on a tank
on the way back to the coast on our last day.
22. Woolly-necked Stork Ciconia episcopus
Two adults with a chick on the nest at Yala were seen on two consecutive
days while there was another single en route to Mannar.
23. Black-necked Stork Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus
A highly scarce resident in Sri Lanka and only one was seen on two
dates at Yala.
24. Black-headed Ibis Threskiornis melanocephalus
Commonly seen in all suitable areas.
25. Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia
Up to 30 on three dates.
26. Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber
The flock which in the last couple of years has been seen at Bundala
had not returned this winter, but a small flock of 16 was seen from
the causeway at Mannar.
27. Lesser Whistling-duck Dendrocygna javanica
Seen in small numbers throughout with a maximum of 50 at Talangama
28. Cotton Pygmy Goose Nettapus coromandelianus
About a dozen at Talangama Tank were followed by four at Pannegamuwa
Tank en route to Yala.
29. Wigeon Anas penelope
A raft of many hundreds was seen from the causeway on the way to
30. Spot-billed Duck Anas poecilorhyncha
Classed as a highly scarce migrant but recently, due to lack of
disturbance because of the political trouble in the north-west,
they have started to breed in very small numbers. Two broods and
a number of adults totalling about 20 birds were seen on a small
tank near the causeway to Mannar. Still from the army's point of
view a highly sensitive area where binoculars, scopes and cameras
are not very welcome. It is not advised to visit this area without
a local Sinhala-speaking guide, as the young armed soldiers look
very nervous indeed.
31. Northern Pintail Anas acuta
Thirteen birds from the Mannar causeway was the sole record.
32. Garganey Anas querquedula
Small numbers in most suitable areas with 200+ at Weerawila Tank.
33. Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
A scarce migrant; just one drake was seen at Weerawila.
34. Jerdon's Baza Aviceda jerdoni
A scarce resident. A pair was watched mating and the male was noted
passing sticks for nesting material to the female in the Eucalyptus
plantation at Pattipola Railway Station near Horton Plains. Fantastic
views were had of both birds.
35. Oriental Honey Buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus
Between one and four on five dates ranging from quite dark to almost
36. Black-shouldered Kite Elanus caeruleus
Between one and six on four dates.
37. Black Kite Milvus migrans
Just one single bird at Mannar.
38. Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus
Probably the commonest raptor on the island and seen virtually daily
with counts up to 20.
39. White-bellied Sea Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster
Also very common with up to four on most dates.
40. Grey-headed Fish Eagle Icthyophaga icthyaetus
Two singles, at Bundala and Yala.
41. Crested Serpent Eagle Spilornis cheela
Between one and three on nine dates.
42. Eurasian Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus
Just one male of this uncommon migrant was seen at one of the tanks
en route to Yala.
43. Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus
A ringtail was seen in Udawalawe National Park and an adult male
was noted on the way back from Mannar.
44. Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus
An uncommon resident; we saw one in the jungle opposite Rafters
Retreat near Kitulgala.
45. Shikra Accipiter badius
One or two on five dates.
46. Besra Accipiter virgatus
Two singles of this scarce resident were seen, at TASKS jungle camp
near Udawalawe and near Bodhinagala, en route to Sinharaja.
47. Steppe Buzzard Buteo (buteo) vulpinus
A rufous form of this race/species of Buzzard was seen well at Horton
Plains. If accepted by the Sri Lanka authorities this would be the
first record of this race of Buzzard on the island. This was a typical
Steppe of the plumage with which we are familiar from Eilat and
South Africa where they winter, very similar to the classic fox-red
morph depicted in plate 342 of Dick Forsman's Raptors of Europe
and the Middle East.
48. Black Eagle Ictinaetus malayensis
Two at Martin's Lodge at Sinharaja were followed by a single on
the road between there and Udawalawe and another two at Hunas Falls
49. Changeable Hawk Eagle Spizaetus cirrhatus
An amazing seven birds, all perched, at Udawalawe NP gave stunningly
close views, one of them just a few metres above our heads. Two
more singles and a two were seen over the next three days.
50. Mountain Hawk Eagle Spizaetus nipalensis
Two individuals of this magnificent eagle were seen at Simpson's
51. Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Just four singles were seen.
52. Shaheen Falco peregrinus perigrinator
A single circling over Victoria Park, Nuwara Eliya, took us by surprise,
especially as we had not found any in the mountains where they are
supposed to be. This beautiful race with its orange underparts is
an uncommon resident in Sri Lanka but occurs throughout the Indian
53. Grey Francolin Francolinus pondicerianus
Fifteen were seen during the late afternoon, when they come out
into the open, on the way back from Mannar. On our bus drive into
the City of Abu Dhabi, also in the late afternoon, about 30 were
noted on the grass verges of the main road.
54. Sri Lanka Spurfowl Galloperdix bicalcarata (E)
Heard on a couple of occasions and just one female was seen flashing
across the road at Sinharaja. Not very satisfactory but it a very
shy and elusive species.
55. Sri Lanka Junglefowl Gallus lafayetii (E)
Perhaps more often heard than seen particularly in forest situations.
Most commonly seen at Yala with maximum counts of 15. A pair with
two chicks was seen at Sinharaja.
56. Indian Peafowl Pavo cristatus
Very commonly encountered, especially at Udawalawe NP and Yala where
they are out in the open.
57. Barred Buttonquail Turnix suscitator
A single at Udawalawe, four and two further singles, all at Yala.
58. Rain Quail Coturnix coromandelica
Two were seen by just a few people at Yala.
59. White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus
Seen in single figures on most days while on a tank near Nuwara
Eliya there was a count of 14.
60. Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Quite a few at Talangama Tank and two further singles.
61. Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio
Commonly found on all lily-covered tanks with up to about 30 in
any one place.
62. Watercock Gallicrex cinerea
Two at Pannegamuwa Tank were followed by two singles at Yala; probably
the same bird.
63. Common Coot Fulica atra
Two on a small tank near the Mannar causeway was the only record.
64. Pheasant-tailed Jacana Hydrophasianus chirurgus
Found in small numbers on lily-covered tanks but an estimate of
200 at Pannegamuwa was quite spectacular. Interestingly most birds
were in breeding plumage whilst in Goa at this time of year we have
never seen one in this plumage.
65. Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus
Just one single from the Mannar causeway.
66. Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Commonly found in all suitable habitats.
67. Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta
A scarce migrant. A flock of 14 was seen from the causeway leading
68. Crab Plover Dromas ardeola
The main reason for going to Mannar was for this species, and it
did not disappoint. A total of five birds gave good views and were
69. Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus
Six were found on the way to our first hotel after arrival in Sri
Lanka, after which ones and twos were seen on seven dates.
70. Greater Thick-knee Esacus recurvirostris
Between three and ten at Yala, six at Kandalama Tank and another
ten at Giantes Tank.
71. Small Pratincole Glareola lactea
Three on the beach just past Yala Safari Lodge were part of a small
population of about three pairs. An empty scrape/nest was found.
72. Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula
Two at Bundala was a good record for this scarce winter visitor.
73. Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius
Ones and twos at Yala and two en route to Dambulla.
74. Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus
Fairly commonly and found in all suitable areas.
75. Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus
Common in all suitable areas but never really counted as this and
the next species were always present and intermingling.
76. Greater Sand Plover Charadrius leschenaultii
As with the previous species, present but never really counted.
77. Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva
Three at Talangama Tank, up to six at Yala and uncounted numbers
in the North-west region.
78. Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola
Up to half a dozen at Yala and uncounted but much bigger numbers
79. Yellow-wattled Lapwing Vanellus malabaricus
Seen in small numbers in all suitable areas.
80. Red-wattled Lapwing Vanellus indicus
Also small numbers seen in all areas but more widespread than the
81. Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris
About 20 were seen from the causeway at Mannar, some in total winter
plumage testing our identification skills for a few moments.
82. Sanderling Calidris alba
An uncommon winter visitor; one was seen at Mannar while 53 were
counted at Chilaw Sandspit, a site visited specifically for this
83. Little Stint Calidris minuta
One of the commonest waders, seen in all suitable areas.
84. Temminck's Stint Calidris temminckii
Two at Mannar were the only birds seen.
85. Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea
Also very common. Seen in hundreds, particularly at Palatupana saltpans
86. Broad-billed Sandpiper Limicola falcinellus
A loose flock of 18 was counted amongst many other waders at Puttalam
saltpans on our last day.
87. Ruff Philomachus pugnax
Ten at Palatupana saltpans was the only record.
88. Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago
A single at Talangama Tank was the only one specifically identified.
89. Pintail Snipe Gallinago stenura
One to four on five dates, all in the second week.
90. Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa
A common wader in large water areas with numbers of up to 300 seen.
91. Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica
In contrast to the last species just three were seen at Mannar.
92. Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
Three at Mannar and two at Puttalam Salt pans were the only birds
93. Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata
Five were seen at Mannar, one of which with an extraordinary long
bill proved to be of the eastern race "orientalis".
94. Common Redshank Tringa totanus
95. Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis
A common enough wader but at Palatupana Salt pans en route to Nuwara
Eliya from Yala there must have been thousands.
96. Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia
Up to three in all suitable habitat.
97. Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus
One or two on five dates.
98. Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola
Seen on most days in suitable habitat with a maximum of eight at
99. Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus
Three at Mannar were followed by two at Puttalam Salt pans on our
100. Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Between one and six on most days.
101. Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Between one and six on five dates and ten at Mannar.
102. Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus
A single at Bundala was unfortunately only seen by a few people.
103. Brown-headed Gull Larus brunnicephalus
Six at Yala, common at Mannar and a single at Negombo were surprisingly
the only records.
104. Heuglin's Gull Larus (fuscus) heuglini
Considered by some to be a separate species and by others a subspecies
of Lesser Black-backed Gull. Either way, there were many at Mannar
but no attempt was made to count them. All plumages were encountered.
105. Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica
Seen in small numbers on most tanks.
106. Caspian Tern Sterna caspia
Up to 25 at Yala, odd ones elsewhere and 300 at Mannar.
107. Large Crested Tern Sterna bergii
Twenty at Bundala, at least 200 at Palatupana saltpans and another
15 at Kandalama Tank.
108. Lesser Crested Tern Sterna bengalensis
Two at Bundala and 30 at Palatupana saltpans.
109. Common Tern Sterna hirundo
Three at Palatupana Salt pans were the sole record.
110. Little Tern Sterna albifrons
Apart from about 100 at Palatupana saltpans there were small numbers
on many of the tanks visited and a few at Mannar.
111. Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus
Probably the commonest and most widespread tern of the region, seen
both out at sea and on many of the tanks and wetlands visited.
112. White-winged Black Tern Chlidonias leucopterus
Two at Bundala, 30 at Palatupana saltpans and six at Kandalama Tank
presented a good exercise in winter plumage identification skills.
113. Rock Dove Columba livia
Apart from the ever-present street pigeons there are some "real"
Rock Doves breeding on a rock in the lagoon at Yala Safari Lodge
and about 20 were seen there. Interestingly they don't have white
114. Sri Lanka Woodpigeon Columba torringtoni (E)
Six were seen at Horton plains. One was perched low down by the
for a long period, affording tremendous views.
115. Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto
About 25 were seen en route to Mannar.
116. Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis
117. Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica
Between one and four on four dates but a dozen were counted in paddyfields
in the middle of the jungle opposite Rafters Retreat giving fantastic
views for a normally quite shy bird.
118. Orange-breasted Green Pigeon Treron bicincta
Seen in small numbers in all forest situations and 14 were counted
on our morning walk at Palm Garden Village Hotel at Anuradhapura.
119. Pompadour Green Pigeon Treron pompadora
Up to ten most days in forested situations.
120. Green Imperial Pigeon Ducula aenea
This handsome giant was seen in good numbers throughout.
121. Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot Loriculus beryllinus (E)
Up to 20 in forested areas on at least six days.
122. Alexandrine Parakeet Psittacula eupatria
A single at Talangama Tank, another Hunas Falls and about ten at
123. Rose-ringed Parakeet Psittacula krameri
Very common throughout.
124. Plum-headed Parakeet Psittacula cyanocephala
One at Udawalawe NP, another at Hunas Falls and six the next morning
at Simpson's Forest.
125. Layard's Parakeet Psittacula calthropae (E)
Twelve at Sinharaja were followed by half a dozen there next day,
seven at Rafters retreat, five at Hunas Falls and about 20 at Simpson's
Pied Cuckoo Clamator jacobinus Between one and five on six dates.
126. Chestnut-winged Cuckoo Clamator coromandus
Excellent views were had by just two or three people of a single
bird at Horton Plains early in the morning.
127. Common Hawk Cuckoo Hierococcyx varius
A single at Simpson's Forest above Hunas Falls afforded the usual
128. Grey-bellied Cuckoo Cacomantis passerinus
Up to four a day at Udawalawe and Yala and a single at Palm Garden
Village. Hepatic females were also seen on a couple of occasions.
A winter visitor.
129. Drongo Cuckoo Surniculus lugubris
An uncommon resident; just the one was seen at Yala.
130. Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea
As usual more often heard than seen but nevertheless up to four
were noted on most days.
131. Blue-faced Malkoha Rhopdytes viridirostris
Singles on three dates and three were seen together at Yala giving
fantastic views as they sat out in the open, which they are not
supposed to do.
132. Red-faced Malkoha Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus (E)
Considering their size, they were surprisingly hard to find. However
we had fantastic views of seven birds in Sinharaja on just one day.
133. Sirkeer Malkoha Taccocua leschenaultii
A single at Yala was seen by just a few of the group.
134. Green-billed Coucal Centropus chlororhynchus (E)
This one is really difficult to see as it inhabits undergrowth we
are not supposed to look into. Although two were heard on two days,
just one was seen briefly by just three or four people. Wholly unsatisfactory
really and an excuse for a return visit.
135. Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis
Between one and five every day.
136. Collared Scops Owl Otus bakkamoena
A single seen in torchlight somewhere near the Culture Club Resort
at Dambulla was a very welcome addition to the author's world list
137. Brown Fish Owl Ketupa zeylonensis
Two singles at Hunas Falls gave the usual stunning views.
138. Jungle Owlet Glaucidium radiatum
Two at Tasks Camp near Udawalawe were the only record, but excellent
views were obtained.
139. Chestnut-backed Owlet Glaucidium castanonotum (E)
One was heard at Bodhinagala Forest after which one was seen at
Rafters Retreat and another two in the evening at Hunas Falls.
140. Brown Wood Owl Strix leptogrammica
Heard on three occasions at three different locations and one was
glimpsed as it flew at Surrey Estate. All rather unsatisfactory
compared with those at Saligao in Goa.
141. Sri Lanka Frogmouth Batrachostomus moniliger
A male sitting on a nest with one chick at Sinharaja was seen two
days running allowing photographers infinite time to get some superb
142. Indian Nightjar Caprimulgus asiaticus
Four on the nightcrawl at Udawalawe, one or two of which gave fantastic
views as they sat on the sandy tracks in front of the vehicles.
A further two were seen on three more evenings.
144. Jerdon's Nightjar Caprimulgus atripennis
One at Yala was followed by another on our night drive from Culture
Club Resort at Dambulla.
145. Crested Treeswift Hemiprocne coronata
Up to about a dozen seen on seven dates. Both male and female were
seen sitting on a nest precariously perched on a bare branch in
146. Indian Swiftlet Collocalia unicolor
Commonly seen throughout.
147. Brown-backed Needletail Hirundapus gigantea
Up to four were seen on three days at Sinharaja.
148. Alpine Swift Apus melba
Three at Sinharaja and ten at Victoria Park at Nuwara Eliya.
149. House Swift Apus affinis
Small numbers throughout.
150. Asian Palm Swift Cypsiurus balasiensis
Common in all areas.
151. Malabar Trogon Harpactes fasciatus
Two males and three females were seen associating with bird flocks
in Sinharaja on our first full day there while on the following
day another three were seen. Fortunately excellent views were obtained.
152. Stork-billed Kingfisher Pelargopsis capensis
One or two on four dates, all affording excellent views.
153. White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis
Very common in open country; seen daily with an actual count of
80 birds, mostly on wires on the way to Mannar.
154. Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
Between one and three on seven dates.
155. Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher Ceyx erithacus
A single at Bodhinagala Forest was probably only seen by our guide
but this was made up for the cracker seen at Sinharaja the next
day. Another as
heard at Rafters Retreat.
156. Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis
One or two on six dates.
157. Green Bee-eater Merops orientalis
This little beauty was seen in numbers of up to 40 in one day.
158. Blue-tailed Bee-eater Merops philippinus
Very common with over 100 recorded in one day at Yala.
159. European Bee-eater Merops apiaster
A scarce winter visitor but nevertheless a party of 31 was seen
160. Chestnut-headed Bee-eater Merops leschenaulti
Between two and six on six dates.
161. Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis
One or two on three dates were followed by a count of 60 on wires
en route to Mannar.
162. Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops
Up to five on six dates.
163. Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill Ocyceros gingalensis (E)
Up to six on six dates in forested areas.
164. Malabar Pied Hornbill Anthracoceros coronatus
Most records refer to Yala where 40 were seen one evening, but they
were also noted in Sinharaja and Udawalawe NP.
165. Brown-headed Barbet Megalaima zeylanica
Up to six most days probably making this the commonest barbet of
166. Yellow-fronted Barbet Megalaima flavifrons (E)
One of the endemic species of Sri Lanka. A bird of open forest seen
in good numbers, particularly at Sinharaja and Hunas Falls with
counts of ten and 15 respectively.
167. Crimson-fronted Barbet (Ceylon Small Barbet) Megalaima rubricapilla
Likely to be elevated to full species status in the near future.
Singles only at the escarpment en route from Yala to Nuwara Eliya
and in the jungle at Rafters Retreat.
168. Coppersmith Barbet Megalaima haemacephala
One to three on six dates, sometimes only heard, as is usually the
case with this species.
169. Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker Dendrocopus nanus
Singles in Bodhinagala Forest and Surrey Estate near Nuwara Eliya.
170. Yellow-crowned Woodpecker Dendrocopus mahrattensis
Two at Yala and another single there two days later.
171. Lesser Yellownape Picus chlorolophus
One or two on five dates.
172. Black-rumped Flameback Dinopium benghalense
This is an interesting species. There are two endemic subspecies
in Sri Lanka, both of which may well be split from the species on
mainland India. In the north of the island there occurs the Golden-backed
version D.b.jaffense, an uncommon resident of which we saw two at
Palm Garden Village Hotel at Anuradhapura, while another two were
seen en route to Mannar. The Red-backed version D.b.psarodes, which
occurs in Southern Sri Lanka, was seen on four dates with counts
of up to three.
173. Greater Flameback Chrysocolaptes lucidus
A pair was seen briefly and only in silhouette in the jungle at
174. White-naped Woodpecker Chrysocolaptes festivus
A single at the Palm Grove at Tissamaharama gave stunning views.
175. Indian Pitta Pitta brachyura
One to three on five days and an astonishing ten birds between TASKS
Camp near Udawalawe and Yala. A winter visitor to Sri Lanka but
obviously much more common here than in the Western Ghats.
176. Rufous-winged Bushlark Mirafra assamica
Seen in small numbers in open country with a maximum of 20 at Udawalawe
177. Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark Eremopterix grisea
Four at Yala and a single at Mannar were the only records.
178. Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula
Three at Weerawila Tank and another three at Mannar.
179. Sand Martin Riparia riparia
A scarce winter visitor; up to five were seen at Yala followed by
a single at Weerawila Tank.
180. Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Commonly seen in all areas.
181. Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica
The same two birds were seen on the two days we were at Hunas Falls.
There are eight sub-species; the one in Southern India and Sri Lanka
is known as H.t.domicola and is classed as an uncommon resident.
It breeds on cliffs high in the wet zone and after breeding disperses
down to the foothills of the wet zone. The fact we only saw one
pair in the high hills suggests that they were possibly breeding
at this time. Its world distribution extends eastwards through south-east
Asia, Indonesia, and New Guinea to the islands of the South Pacific.
(Swallows and Martins of the World by Turner and Rose- Helm1989).
182. Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo daurica hyperythra
One of eleven sub-species and endemic to Sri Lanka. Easily identified
by itsbrick-red underparts and rump. A beautiful bird, seen in small
numbers in most areas. The race H.d.nipalensis, which breeds from
the central Himalayas to Yunnan, is a possible irregular winter
visitor to the lowlands and low hills, according to Harrison in
his "Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka". It is therefore
extremely satisfying that we saw seven birds at close range in flight
and perched on wires at the Palatupana Salt pans. A good record
183. Richard's Pipit Anthus richardi
A scarce migrant, but three were found at the end of the Mannar
184. Paddyfield Pipit Anthus rufulus
Seen commonly in all suitable areas.
185. Forest Wagtail Dendronanthus indicus
Up to six on eight days were seen. It is nice to see these in the
middle of the forest where they belong.
186. Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava
A dozen at Talangama Tank and half a dozen and two singles at Yala
were considered to be of the Grey-headed race M.f thunbergi.
187. Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
Up to four on six dates.
188. Common Woodshrike Tephrodornis pondicerianus
Between one and three on four dates.
189. Large Cuckooshrike Coracina macei
A single at Hunas Falls and another at Palm Garden Village Hotel
190. Black-headed Cuckooshrike Coracina melanoptera
A male at Udawalawe was followed by four and two singles at Yala
on three consecutive days.
191. Scarlet Minivet Pericrocotus flammeus
This beauty was seen in numbers of up to a dozen on five dates.
192. Small Minivet Pericrocotus cinnamomeus
Up to four on five dates and eleven at the Palm Garden Village Hotel
193. Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus picatus
Just one bird in Sinharaja.
194. Black-crested Bulbul (Black-capped Bulbul) Pycnonotus melanicterus (E)
Classed as an uncommon endemic. Between six and 20 were seen at
Bodhinagala Forest, Sinharaja and TASKS Camp. This has to be a favourite
for species status; it has no crest like those found in northern
India and the Himalayas and lacks the orange throat of the birds
of the Western Ghats.
195. Red-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus cafer
196. Yellow-eared Bulbul Pycnonotus penicillatus (E)
Sixteen at Horton Plains and the grounds of St Andrews Hotel in
Nuwara Eliya followed another four at the latter location the next
morning. This is a
stunning bulbul and worthy of a good look.
197. White-browed Bulbul Pycnonotus luteolus
Up to six on five days.
198. Yellow-browed Bulbul Iole indica
Most common in Sinharaja where up to six a day were seen while there
were another two in the jungle opposite Rafters Retreat.
199. Black Bulbul Hypsipetes leucocephalus humii
The endemic race of Sri Lanka is darker than the races of northern
areas. Common and noisy in the forests of Sinharaja and the upland
areas round Hunas Falls. About ten were seen in the jungle opposite
200. Blue-winged Leafbird Chloropsis cochinchinensis
Up to three on six days.
201. Common Iora Aegithinia tiphia
Up to six on eight days.
202. Oriental Magpie Robin Copsychus saularis
Commonly found throughout, often near human habitation.
203. White-rumped Shama Copsychus malabaricus
Eight birds were recorded from TASKS Camp and Yala combined, after
which only two more were seen, also at Yala. A further single was
heard at Surrey Estate near Nuwara Eliya.
204. Pied Bushchat Saxicola caprata
One from the bus followed six in the grasslands of Horton Plains
en route to Kitulgala.
205. Indian Robin Saxicoloides fulicata
Commonly seen in open country particularly at Yala where one day
30 were estimated.
206. Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush Myiophoneus blighi (E)
Three were briefly glimpsed as they flew across the road soon after
dawn at Arrenga Pool on the Horton Plains while another was heard
at the back of St Andrews Hotel at Nuwara Eliya the following morning.
207. Pied Thrush Zoothera wardii
Three males and a female gave stunning views in Victoria Park at
Nuwara Eliya and a further female was found in the hills above Hunas
208. Orange-headed Thrush Zoothera citrina citrina
One at TASKS Camp gave stunning views and was interesting in that
it is a different race to the one found in the Subcontinent which
and which has black and white vertical face stripes. It is a scarce
winter visitor from the Himalayas and northeast India.
209. Spot-winged Thrush Zoothera spiloptera (E)
Four were seen in Sinharaja, where a single was seen the next day,
then another two in the jungle opposite Rafters Retreat. A truly
spectacular thrush, which inhabits the darkest areas of the forest
210. Scaly Thrush Zoothera dauma
This race Z.d.imbricata must be due for full species status. It
has a really long bill looking more like the south east Asian Long-billed
Thrush Z.monticola and the underparts are far more rufous than its
northern compatriots. Two in Sinharaja were the only ones seen,
but they were seen well on the forest floor.
211. Eurasian Blackbird Turdus merula kinnisii
This race is uniformly bluish-grey with a dull orange bill and very
attractive indeed. It is very different from T.m.nigropileus, which
occurs in Goa, or T.m.maximus, which we have encountered in the
Himalayas. A single in Surrey Estate near Nuwara Eliya was followed
by three the next day up on Horton Plains.
212. Sri Lanka Bush Warbler Bradypterus palliseri (E)
Surprisingly one gave excellent and, for this family, prolonged
views at Arrenga Pool at Horton Plains. Another was heard behind
St Andrews Hotel the next morning but this one was in no mood to
213. Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis
Managed to find its way down here as well! Up to four on four dates
in all in suitable grassland areas. Perhaps the most surprising
site was high up on Horton Plains where four were present.
214. Grey-breasted Prinia Prinia hodgsonii
Was it really discovered by one of our crew? Six at the lunch-stop
before Udawalawe gave excellent views and another was seen en route
to Nuwara Eliya.
215. Plain Prinia Prinia inornata
Small numbers throughout.
216. Ashy Prinia Prinia socialis
Up to half a dozen on six dates was a nice set of records of this
217. Jungle Prinia Prinia sylvatica
Although two at Udawalawe and another two at Yala were the only
records, it was probably overlooked.
218. Common Tailorbird Orthotomus sutorius
Commonly found throughout. There are two endemic races in Sri Lanka,
O.s. sutorius, which inhabits gardens and scrub in the lowlands
and hills up to 1500 m, while O.s.fernandonis ('Mountain Tailorbird',
not to be confused with O.cuculatus) frequents the higher elevations.
Both were seen and at least ten were noted up at Horton Plains where
they had noticeably darker green upperparts and grey throat patches
219. Blyth's Reed Warbler Acrocephalus dumetorum
Found in small numbers with a maximum of ten on Horton Plains.
220. Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides
Between one and six on a few days but 15 were noted at Sinharaja
on one of our days there.
221. Large-billed Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus magnirostris
A single and three on two days at Sinharaja and another two at Horton
222. Tickell's Blue Flycatcher Cyornis tickelliae
One or two on five dates.
223. Dull-blue Flycatcher Eumyias sordida (E)
Three of this lovely little endemic flycatcher were seen at Horton
Plains followed by one that was heard behind St. Andrews Hotel at
Nuwara Eliya the next morning.
224. Brown-breasted Flycatcher Muscicapa muttui
Between one and six at Sinharaja and TASKS Camp were followed by
one at Rafters Retreat.
225. Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa dauurica
One or two on four days at Sinharaja and a single at the Palm Garden
226. Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher Culicicapa ceylonensis
One heard on Horton Plains was followed by three seen well behind
the St Andrews Hotel at Nuwara Eliya the next morning.
227. White-browed Fantail Rhipidura aureola
Up to seven on seven dates.
228. Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea
Between two and four on three dates at Sinharaja and Bodhinagala.
229. Asian Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone paradisi
Up to about half a dozen were seen on most days including a stunning
adult male of the white form at Talangama Tank.
230. Brown-capped Babbler Pellorneum fuscocapillum (E)
Just a single at Surrey Estate near Nuwara Eliya, which gave excellent
231. Indian Scimitar Babbler Pomatorhinus horsfieldii
Two were seen and another two heard at Sinharaja while on the Horton
Plains another four were seen. Excellent views of this lovely species
232. Tawny-bellied Babbler Dumetia hyperythra
Six at Udawalawe were followed by eight and two at Yala on consecutive
233. Dark-fronted Babbler Rhopocicla atriceps
Small parties of up to ten were seen in thick undergrowth in forested
locations on six dates but one of the days at Sinharaja about 20
234. Yellow-eyed Babbler Chrysomma sinense
This is an uncommon resident. A single at Udawalawe was followed
by six at Yala and another four on our last morning there.
235. Orange-billed Babbler Turdoides rufescens (E)
An uncommon endemic. Up to 30 were seen on three days at Sinharaja
and another ten in the jungle at Rafters Retreat. This is known
as the "steering wheel" of the bird flocks which means
that it is around these that the flocks begin to form.
236. Yellow-billed Babbler Turdoides affinis
A bird of open country and gardens and commonly encountered all
237. Ashy-headed Laughingthrush Garrulax cinereifrons (E)
Although about a dozen were seen in Sinharaja not many people managed
to connect with them. They move through very dense undergrowth and
it can be difficult to even get a glimpse.
238. Great Tit Parus major
Up to six on seven dates.
239. Velvet-fronted Nuthatch Sitta frontalis
Not many records of a species that elsewhere is quite common. Two
in Bodhinagala and four on Horton Plains and above Hunas Falls.
240. Purple-rumped Sunbird Nectarinia zeylonica
Commonly found throughout. A nest with adults feeding young was
found outside one of our chalets at Culture Club Resort, Dambulla.
241. Loten's Sunbird Nectarinia lotenia
One and twos in most areas.
242. Purple Sunbird Nectarinia asiatica
We encountered twos and threes in low country dry zones, with six
at Palm Garden Village Resort at Anuradhapura.
243. Thick-billed Flowerpecker Dicaeum agile
A single in TASKS camp and another two just above Hunas Falls.
244. Legge's Flowerpecker Dicaeum vincens (E)
A male at Sinharaja was followed by seven and two there over the
245. Pale-billed Flowerpecker Dicaeum erythrorhynchos
The commonest flowerpecker on the island; seen in all areas with
numbers of up to ten a day.
246. Oriental White-eye Zosterops palpebrosa
Just two on four days in the lowlands but there were ten at Hunas
Falls on two days.
247. Sri Lanka White-eye Zosterops ceylonensis (E)
A dozen at Horton Plains, 20 behind St Andrews Hotel at Nuwara Eliya
and Rafters Retreat combined and another ten above Hunas Falls where
they were directly comparable with the previous species. Good views
allow easy separation.
248. Black-hooded Oriole Oriolus xanthornus
Between one and five most days.
249. Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus
Common throughout in open country.
250. Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach
A scarce resident. Four were seen en route to Mannar.
251. Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus
Very common in the north west of the island but nowhere else, apart
from two at Palm Garden Village Resort at Anuradhapura.
252. Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus
An uncommon winter visitor. A single at Yala was followed by another
two there a couple of days later.
253. White-bellied Drongo Dicrurus caerulescens
Up to six were seen on seven days of this common resident.
254. Crested Drongo (Greater Racket-tailed Drongo) Dicrurus paradiseus
This race of the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo is visibly very different
from D.p. paradiseus and is likely to be split in the near future.
This in turn may well be split into two itself with D.p.ceylonicus
making up the Sri Lankan counterpart. There could therefore be two
new species in Sri Lanka leaving D.p. paradiseus in the rest of
the Subcontinent. Unfortunately we never saw any birds with "rackets",
but Crested Drongo was seen in Sinharaja and Rafters Retreat with
five or six birds on three days. These are considered to be the
second species involved in bird flocks after the Orange-billed Babblers
and they are noisy, attracting other species and acting as good
255. Ashy Woodswallow Artamus fuscus
Three at Hunas Falls were followed by 15 en route to Mannar and
another single at Palm Garden Village Resort at Anuradhapura.
256. Sri Lanka Blue Magpie Cissa ornata (E)
Nine were seen in Sinharaja on our first full day there and one
on the next day. A bird was also seen sitting on a nest.
257. House Crow Corvus splendens
258. Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos
Also common and widespread.
259. White-faced Starling Sturnus albofrontatus (E)
This highly scarce endemic was found in Sinharaja only with three
on the first day and two on the second. They were feeding very high
up in the canopy.
260. Brahminy Starling Sturnus pagodarum
Ten at Yala were followed by four and two over the next two days
at the same site. It is a winter visitor.
261. Rosy Starling Sturnus roseus
Another winter visitor but in much larger numbers. Flocks combining
up to 300 maximum were seen at Yala on four days and another 100
at Kandalama Tank.
262. Common Myna Acridotheres tristis
A common resident seen daily.
263. Sri Lanka Myna Gracula ptilogenys (E)
An uncommon endemic. Nine were seen in Sinharaja and six there the
next day while another was heard only at Rafters Retreat.
264. Southern Hill Myna Gracula indica
Two at a nest hole at Surrey Estate near Nuwara Eliya and ten at
Hunas Falls on two days.
265. House Sparrow Passer domesticus
One has to go further east to stand a chance of avoiding these.
266. Streaked Weaver Ploceus manyar
Five on the edge of a paddyfield on the way back from Mannar only
just made the list.
267. Baya Weaver Ploceus philippinus
Six at Yala were the sole record.
268. Indian Silverbill Lonchura malabarica
Six at Yala and another two en route to Anuradhapura with a load
of other munias.
269. White-rumped Munia Lonchura striata
Six at Udawalawe, two at Yala and ten at rafters Retreat.
270. Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata
The most widespread but not necessarily the most numerous of the
family. Seen virtually daily in small numbers up to 25.
271. Black-throated Munia (Ceylon Hill Munia) Lonchura kelaarti (E)
An uncommon endemic and awaiting to be split from L.k.jerdoni which
occurs in South west and Eastern India, although here it is being
considered a full species already. About 30 were found in a mixed
munia flock en route to Anuradhapura from Dambulla.
272. Black-headed Munia Lonchura malacca
Seen on five dates with maxima of 60 at the paddies at Sinharaja
and 150 in the mixed flock mentioned above.
1. Toque Macaque Macaca sinica (E)
Seen commonly on seven dates with a maximum of 50 at Yala.
2. Hanuman Langur Presbytis entellus
Small numbers in Yala on three days.
3. Purple-faced Leaf Monkey Presbytis senex (E)
Small numbers in Bodhinagala and Sinharaja. Both these areas have
different sub-species, the ones at Sinharaja have grey patches on
the rumps but apart from that are mostly black as opposed to the
grey colouration of the ones inthe lowlands. A third subspecies,
colloquially known as " Bear Monkey", is a heftier and
much hairier animal and three of these were seen at close range
at Horton Plains. We did not see the fourth subspecies.
4. Jackal Canis aureus
A single and a family party of three at Yala gave fantastic daytime
views, the latter on two occasions.
5. Common Palm Civet Paradoxurus hermaphroditus
One briefly visited the bar at Yala, but did not stay long enough
for a drink!
6. Small Civet Viverricula indica
One was seen in the evening at Yala.
7. Indian Grey Mongoose Herpestes edwardsi
Common at Yala.
8. Indian Brown Mongoose Herpestes fuscus
Four different ones were seen.
9. Ruddy Mongoose Herpestes smithii
Two singles on the last two days.
10. Stripe-necked Mongoose Herpestes vitticollis
A single at Yala.
11. Leopard Pantera pardus
One of our jeeps was fortunate to have close and prolonged views
of this beautiful looking cat. The rest of us will have to make
a return visit.
12. Asian Elephant Elephas maximus
Two at Udawalawe NP were followed by four more at Yala, then a tusker
the next day, followed by two more males and then a dozen on our
last day there including a family party with two very young animals.
13. Asian Wild Ass Equus hemionus
About 50 near the causeway to Mannar by the side of the road.
14. Wild Pig Sus scrofa
Common at Yala.
15. Water Buffalo Bubalus bubalus
Common at Yala.
16. Spotted Deer Cervus axis
Commonly seen at Yala.
17. Sambar Deer Cervus unicolor
One and four at Yala and another on the road before dawn at Horton
18. Layard's Striped Squirrel Funambulus layardi
One at Sinharaja and about 15 at Horton Plains.
19. Palm Squirrel Funambulus palmarium
Commonly encountered throughout.
20. Grizzled Indian Squirrel (Giant Squirrel) Ratufa macroura
One or two most days in the forest and at Yala.
21. Black-naped Hare Lepus nigricollis singala
Seen mostly at Yala with up to ten a day, mostly in the early evening.
One was seen on Horton Plains.
22. Flying Fox Pteropus giganteus
Seen on several occasions in all areas. One colony had some thousands
but the colony just outside of Kandy has no less than 100,000 individuals.
Many were seen flying here in full sunlight.
1. Ceylon Tiger Parantica taprobana
This large black and white butterfly was seen on Horton Plains.
2. Blue Glassy Tiger Idiopsis similis
Recorded at Sinharaja, Yala, Kitulgala and Anuradhapura, this large
blue-flushed butterfly was undoubtedly one of the most widespread
and familiar of those seen on the trip.
3. Dark Blue Tiger Tirumala septentrionis
Similar to the previous species, we recorded it only at Yala.
4.Common Tiger Danaus genutia
Recorded only at Yala, but probably overlooked, although Plain Tiger
was evidently more numerous and widespread.
5. Plain Tiger Danaus chrysippus
Only recorded from Weerawila and Yala, but undoubtedly more widespread
and more numerous than the previous, rather similar species.
6. Great Crow Euploea phaenareta
One or two of this large brown butterfly with small white dots on
the underwing were seen in Sinharaja.
7. Common Indian Crow Euploea core
Superficially similar to the previous species, but with a broad
white band on the under hind wing, it was seen in the forests at
Bhodinagala and Sinharaja.
8. Ceylon Tree Nymph Idea iasonia
A large, flimsy, paper-like black and white butterfly that sailed
about at treetop level in the forests at Bhodinagala and Sinharaja.
9.Glad-eye Bushbrown Nissanga patnia
Seen perched by the minnow-pool on the track at Sinharaja.
10. Nigger Orsotriaena medus
This species was quite numerous along the river at Kitulgala, with
at least one at the paddies in the forest.
11. Common Leopard Phalanta phalantha
At least one of these fritillary-like butterflies was seen by the
swimming pool at Anuradhapura.
12. Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta
We saw at least two at Kitulgala.
13. Peacock Pansy Junonia almana
A medium-sized pale orange butterfly with eyes on its fore and hind
upper wings; at least one was seen at Kitulgala.
14. Grey Pansy Junonia atlites
A greyish-brown butterfly with eye spots around the edges of the
upper hind wings. One was seen en route to Kandy, at the Black-throated
15. Great Eggfly Hypolimnas bolina
A large brown butterfly with pale spots along the upper hind wing
and a subterminal purple suffusion near the tips of the upper wings;
one was seen at the gap in the escarpment as we headed to Nuwara
Eliya from the lowlands.
16. Common Sailor Neptis hylas
In the same family as the 'gliders' of Eastern Europe and Asia,
several were seen by the river at Kitulgala.
17. Clipper Parthenos sylvia
Recorded in the forests at Bhodinagala and Sinharaja, though undoubtedly
18. Common Jezebel Delias eucharis
A large white, black-lined butterfly with yellow suffusion and red
'teardrops' around the edges of the under hind wings, we saw several
at Yala, Kandalama and Anuradhapura.
19. Psyche Leptosia nina
There were several of these rather delicate white butterflies at
the track edges at Kitulgala.
20. Small Salmon Arab Colotis amata
We saw one of these Clouded Yellow-like butterflies, but I failed
to record the locality.
21. Grass Yellow sp. Eurema sp.
There are, apparently, numerous variations on the theme of deep
bright yellow butterfly with black spots. We saw such insects almost
everywhere we went, usually flitting along verges in open situations
in forests and woodland edges.
22. Common Bluebottle Graphium sarpedon
This large brown and emerald butterfly with distinctive sickle-shaped
wings was seen on a few occasions in the forest at Sinharaja.
23. Spot Swordtail Pathysa nomius
One was seen nectaring on flowers in the garden of our tea stop
at the gap in the escarpment as we headed to Nuwara Eliya from the
lowlands. A medium-sized swallowtail-like butterfly.
24. Blue Mormon Papilio polymnestor
This fabulous, large dark brown butterfly with pale blue patches
on its wings was seen at several places, including Sinharaja, Udawalawe
25. Common Rose Pachliopta aristolochiae
Crimson Rose Pachliopta hector
Fairly widespread, these dark brown to black butterflies both exhibit
crimson patches at the rear edge of the upper hind wings and motor
furiously through open garden-type situations, making specific identification
tricky. Nevertheless, we saw each at several localities throughout
26. Common Birdwing Troides darsius
This spectacular birdwing, the largest butterfly seen on the trip,
was seen gliding about the treetops at Sinharaja and also at Kitulgala.
Another trip has passed and another report written and I hope you
will enjoy reliving some of your experiences as you dip in and out
of this document in times to come.
This is now the sixth trip that I have had the privilege of organising
and I hope people will agree that this was an enjoyable holiday.
Sri Lanka is a beautiful country and its people are colourful and
very warm and friendly. We enjoyed their company and their excellent
cuisine. Apart from some “simple” accommodation where
there was no other choice, our hotels were first class. Even the
lodges in the jungle have their own individual charm and provided
us with fun and happy times.
The success of such trips is usually as a result of some excellent
organisation by the people on the ground. Therefore I wish to thank,
in particular, Amila Salgado who put the package together. He organised
the itinerary, the accommodation and the transport for the whole
trip and on top of that he was our leader in the field. This was
his first tour after resigning his managerial post with the company
in order to become a full-time tour leader. I wish him success in
the future in his new venture.
Amila is extremely knowledgeable about his country’s history
and avifauna and with good humour he was able to impart his knowledge
to us. I thank him, as he made our trip.
Also our thanks are due to our driver and his assistant for their
patience and excellent driving and keeping our bus clean and tidy
at all times, and for their good humour considering we don’t
I would like also to thank Ian for his contribution to this report
and I know you will enjoy his interpretation of some of the experiences.
The unofficial camera club spent many hours in debate about the
ins and outs of photography and some of their excellent results
can be seen in this report. My thanks in particular are due to Brain
and Graham for producing such stunning photographs.
Finally as usual I would like to thank all of you for coming on
the trip and for your company. If you have enjoyed it half as much
as I did, then I know I can look forward to seeing you again on
a tour in the future.