Itinerary in detail.
Day 01 After your arrival in Sri Lanka (at the Bandaranaiyake International Airport in Katunayake), you will be transferred to the lush lowlands of Kithulgala for endemics and sub-continental specialties. A 2 1/2 hour drive is in prospect to reach our overnight retreat, which overlooks the Kelani River—the setting for the Hollywood blockbuster in the 50's, “Bridge of the River Kwai.”
Birding: Black-capped Bulbul, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, Layard’s Parakeet, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Sri Lanka Green Pigeon, Green-billed Coucal, Chestnut-backed Owlet, Crimson-backed Flameback, Sri Lanka Crested Drongo, Brown-capped Babbler, Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler, Orange-billed Babbler, Serendib Scops Owl, Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Malabar Trogon, Brown-headed Barbet, Brown Hawk Owl, Black-backed Dwarf Kingfisher, Crested Serpent Eagle, Jerdon’s Leafbird, Gold-fronted Leafbird, Dark-fronted Babbler, Orange Minivet, “Square-tailed” Black Bulbul, Lesser Hill Myna, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Indian Pitta, Forest Wagtail, Purple-rumped Sunbird, Long-billed Sunbird, Pale-billed Flowerpecker, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, Oriental White-eye, Lesser Yellownape, Rufous Woodpecker, Black-rumped Flameback, “Southern” Coucal, Asian Palm & House Swifts, Indian Swiftlet, Crested Treeswift, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Tickell’s Blue Flycacther, Green Imperial Pigeon, Black Eagle & Rufous-bellied Hawk Eagle. (In a 18-day birds, wildlife and culture tour done with 2 British birders (24 Jan-9 Feb, 2009), we managed to score 19 of the 33 endemics at Kithulgala on the first 2-days. This tally was equalled in April, 2010 with a single U.S. birder.)
Non-birding highlights: Dragonflies and Damselflies: Spine-tufted Skimmer, Pied Parasol, Black-tipped Flashwing, Asian Pintail, Yerbury’s Elf, & Shining Gossamerwing; Butterflies: Sri Lanka Birdwing, Clipper, Cruiser, Glad-eye Bushbrown, Plum Judy, Blue Bottle, Red Helan & Blue Mormon; Mammals: Grizzly Giant Squirrel, Palm Squirrel, Layard’s Squirrel and Toque Macaque.
Overnight: at a resthouse or a birding lodge.
Day 02 Full day explore Kithulgala for lowland endemics and specialties with a midday break.
Overnight: at a resthouse or a birding lodge.
Day 03 After this excellent introduction to the island’s avifauna, we will drive to the amazing Sinharaja World Heritage Site Reserve, which represents the largest expanse of lowland rainforest in Sri Lanka and the premier site for endemics. We will check into our rain forest accommodation, which overlooks the climax rain forest–just 200m from the forest’s main entrance for 3 nights. And from there, we will make several walks to the forest along former logging trails, which provide the main access to the good birding areas.
Birding: A highlight of birding in Sinharaja is seeing mixed-species bird flocks, which is a strategy adopted by birds in the tropics to maximize feeding efficiency and to reduce the risk of predation. Studied since 1981, Sinharaja’s are the world’s longest studied bird flock. On average, 12 species occur in the flocks, comprising of 42 individuals. Orange-billed Babbler and Sri Lanka Crested Drongo, found 92 % & 89 % respectively, are jointly regarded as the “nuclear-species” of the flock. We will look for such mouth-watering delights as Red-faced Malkoha, Legge’s Flowerpecker, Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush, White-faced Starling, Sri Lanka Myna, Sri Lanka Spurfowl, Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush, Spot-winged Thrush, Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon, Crimson-backed Flameback, Sri Lanka Swallow, Hill Munia, Besra, , Legge’s Hawk Eagle, Rufous-bellied Hawk Eagle, Crested Goshawk, Black-naped Monarch, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Indian Cuckoo, Brown-backed Needletail, Alpine Swift, and Chestnut-winged Crested Cuckoo.
Non-birding highlights: Dragonflies: Asian Skimmer, Marsh Skimmer, Sapphire Flutterer, Wall’s Grappletail, Dark-glittering Threadtail, and Jungle Threadtail; Butterflies: Giant King Crow, Tawny Rajah, Red-spot Duke, Five-bar Swordtail (seasonal), Great Eggfly, Rustic, Three-spot Grass Yellow, One-spot Grass Yellow (seasonal), Tailed Jay, Blue Glassy Tiger, and Sri Lanka Tree Nymph; Botany: Ant plant, 45m canopy giants of various Dipterocarp species, and the alien Bamboo orchid; Mammals: “Western” Purple-faced Leaf Monkey, Red Slender Loris (if lucky), Giant Squirrel, Layard’s Squirrel, and Dusky-striped Squirrel.
Overnight: at a family-run guest house just 200 m from the virgin forest.
Day 04-05 Full day birding in Sinharaja for lowland and peripheral patches for endemics/mixed species bird flocks.
Overnight: at a family-run guest house just 200 m from the virgin forest.
Day 06 In the morning, we will explore several patches in the periphery of the reserve, before driving to the dry lowlands of Udawalawe National Park, where a totally different avi-fauna await us. We will check in to our cosy game lodge accommodation, and after a tasty Sri Lankan rice and curry lunch (& other food options for those not into curries), we will board an “open topped” safari jeep and visit Udawalawe National Park. This dry zone park is made up with open grasslands interspersed with shrubs and trees, gallery forests, smaller water hols, monsoon forests, vast freshwater bodies to name a few. As such the park will provide an excellent introduction to dry zone birding; therefore today’s birding will see steep rise in our bird tally.
In addition to excellent birding, a visit to Udawalawe would also present a good opportunity to observe Asian Elephant, which are found in good numbers in the park.
Birding: Sri Lanka Woodshrike, Blue-faced Malkoha, Sirkeer Malkoha, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Green Bee-eater, Coppersmith Barbet, Yellow-eyed Babbler, Tawny-bellied Babbler, Indian Robin, Brown Fish Owl, Indian Scops Owl, Rosy Starling, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Jungle Prinia, Baya Weaver, Streaked Weaver, Black-headed Munia, Indian Silverbill, Plum-headed Parakeet, Oriental Darter, Paddyfield Pipit, Richard's Pipit & Blyth’s Pipit, Jerdon’s Bushlark, Oriental Skylark, Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark, Lesser Cuckoo, Grey-bellied Cuckoo, Orange-headed Thrush, Barred Buttonquail, “Indian” Red-rumped Swallow, White Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Citrine Wagtail, Pied Kingfisher, Spot-billed Pelican, Woolly-necked Stork, Lesser Adjutant, Painted Stork, Pallid Harrier, Western Marsh Harrier, Osprey, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Crested Hawk Eagle, Common Kestrel, Black-shouldered Kite, and Grey-headed Fish Eagle.
Non-birding highlights: Dragonflies: Variable Flutterer, Dancing Dropwing, Wandering Glider, Foggy-winged Twister, Scarlet Basker, Blue Percher, Blue Pursuer, and Oriental Scarlet; Butterflies: Lime Butterfly, Blue Wanderer, Plain Tiger, Glassy Tiger, Blue Tiger, Tamil Bushbrown, Small Salmon Arab, Pioneer, Crimson Rose, Common Rose, Common Gull, Common Jezebel, Tawny Coster, Common Cerulean, Grey Pansy, Lemon Pansy, Peacock Pansy, Lemon Emigrant, & Psyche; Mammals: Asian Elephant, which is present in fair numbers in this park, Golden Jackal, Wild Boar, Wild Buffalo, Ruddy Mongoose, Jungle Cat & Spotted Deer.
Overnight: in a game lodge just 15 minutes from the park's entrance.
Day 07 Today we will penetrate deeper into the dry zone and reach Tissamaharama (affectionately, Tissa!), which lies superimposed on the ancient provincial capital of “Magama,” with its stupas, inscriptions, and ancient man-made “tanks” (reservoirs) some of which date back to the 3rd century B.C.! Some of these lily & reed covered tanks—evidence of a once thriving hydraulic civilization—are excellent for birding. En route, we will pause at several hotspots known to Amila looking for among other things, the newly re-discovered breeding resident, White-tailed Iora. Amila was the first guide to show this speciality to an overseas birding audience, which he did in Dec, 2007.
Thereafter, we will visit two of the tanks at Tissa, until dusk. Finally, we will reach our comfortable nature resort, nestled in a quaint dry zone village, where we will be based for three nights.
Birding: Cotton Pygmy-goose, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Yellow Bittern, Black Bittern, Purple Swamphen, Purple Heron, Painted Stork, Cotton Pygmy-goose, Watercock, “Western” Black-tailed Gotwit, Black-winged Stilt, Pintail Snipe, Indian Pygmy Woodpecker, Ashy Woodswallow, White-naped Woodpecker, Jungle Owlet, Indian Scops Owl, White-rumped Shama, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Indian Reed Warbler, and Yellow-wattled Lapwing.
Non-birding highlights: Dragonflies: Common Bluetail, Painted Waxtail, Yellow Waxtail, Pruinosed Bloodtail, Sombre Lieutenant, Pink Skimmer, and Paddyfield Parasol; Butterflies: Lime Blue, Common Pierrot, Red Pierrot, Metallic Cerulean, Chocolate Soldier, Tiny Grass Blue, Blue Mormon, and Common Lascar; Reptiles: Common & Green Forest Lizards, Land Monitor, Water Monitor, and Mugger Crocodile.
Overnight: a nature resort at Tissa—offering fantastic garden birding, and great lodging.
Day 08 After an early cuppa, we will collect packed breakfasts and visit Bundala National Park, which is the first “Ramsar Wetland” and a premier site for waterbirds including waders. The park comprises of large extents of dry zone scrub jungles, freshwater bodies, brackish water bodies, lagoons, and plain old mud flats. This visit should boost our tally with a great many shorebirds and more dry zone specials. Thereafter, we will retreat to our air-conditioned comforts of our nature resort for a midday break and to chill by the pool.
After recharging our batteries, we will explore the wilderness expanse of Yala National Park. Yala comprise of a bewildering array of habitats including monsoon forests, scrub jungle, mud flats, lagoons, riverine forests, lily-covered inland fresh-water bodies, open grassy plains, and rock outcrops. Consequently, these ecosystems harbour a rich diversity of wildlife, which makes Yala the premier National Park in Sri Lanka for birds and wildlife. In fact, Yala Block 1, comprising of 141 sq.km., has close to 40 Leopards identified individually by their unique facial spot patterns and other characteristics. This therefore, makes this area of Yala, a premier Leopard hotspot with probably the highest density of Leopards anywhere in the world.
Birding: Western Reef Egret, Red-necked Phalarope, Small Pratincole, Little Heron, Garganey, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveller, Caspian Tern, White-winged Tern, Whiskered Tern, Common Tern, Large Crested Tern, Lesser Crested Tern, Little Terns, Indian Cormorant, Brown-headed Gull, Greater Flamingo, Great Thick-knee, Indian Thick-knee, Eurasian Curlew, Marsh Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpipers, Lesser Sand Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Little-ringed Plover, Black-necked Stork, Common Hoopoe, Ashy-crowned Sparrow-lark, Brown Fish Owl, Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, and Ashy Drongo. (And many of the species recorded in day 6 & 7.)
Non-birding highlights: Mammals: Leopard, Elephant, Sloth Bear, Spotted deer, Sambar, Wild buffalo, Wild Boar, Hanuman Langur, Toque Macaque, Stripe-necked & Ruddy Mongooses & Jackal; Reptiles: Mugger Crocodile and Land monitor.
Day 09 This morning, we will visit some of the wetlands/forest patches at Tissa. And as yesterday, we will retreat to our air-conditioned comforts of our nature resort at midday. After recharging our batteries, we will visit Yala National Park, again, in search of missing dry zone specials. We will also visit a stake out of a pair of Indian Scops Owls.
Birding: Same as days 6-8.
Day 10 The day in a nutshell: “A long drive day marked with regular stops at key birding sites.”
After breakfast, we will say goodbye to the friendly staff at our hotel, and drive up to the cooler hills of Nuwara Eliya, where several montane endemics await us. En route, we will make several strategic stops to bag several “high-value targets.” First, it will be a private patch of Amila holding many specialties including Sirkeer Malkoha, White-tailed Iora, Jungle Owlet, Orange-headed Thrush, and White-naped Woodpecker! And one thing he has experienced here is each visit brings new species to the trip list! Thereafter, we will continue climbing and pause at the Ella Resthouse, which faces the spectacular Ella gap, for lunch.
Continuing our search for “high-value targets,” we will drive to a privately-owned well-wooded birding patch holding a “few surprises.” Situated in the eastern direr hills of the central mountain massif, birding at Welimada presents a mixture of lowland wet zone, highland wet zone, and lowland dry zone avian elements. One of our prime targets here is the mountain endemic, Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon, which can at times, prove tough further up. There is also a day roost of a pair of Brown Wood Owls, which may need more careful approach as they are very wary of bipeds. A special Woodpecker is also recorded here in the form of Steak-throated Woodpecker, which is an “Uva-avifaunal zone’ specialty”—a restricted range species in Sri Lanka. We could also see a few montane migrants here including the highly sought-after Pied Thrush, which we plan to see in locations further up.
Thereafter, we will continue our ascent to reach the cooler interiors of Nuwara Eliya (1,890-m), the famous hill station of Sri Lanka, popularly nicknamed: “Little England,” still bearing evidence of its colonial past with its English-style holiday homes, a racecourse, vegetable gardens, shooting ranges, an urban park, a few of pubs, flower gardens, and a fine 18-hole golf course to name a few.
As we ascend, vast stretches of tea gardens dominate the landscape—a cash crop introduced by the British which is currently the country’s third highest revenue earner, which is followed by tourism. We will reach a patch closer to our accommodation in time to anticipate the arrival of the ultra-secretive montane endemic: Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, which is one of the two “endangered” endemics. Finally, we will reach our overnight accommodation for two nights. It is a hotel patronized by bird watchers for many years.
Drop in temperature (around 10-15 degrees centigrade) at Nuwara Eliya will necessitate sweaters, although some of you may welcome this change coming from the warmer lowlands.
Birding: Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon, Dull-blue Flycatcher, Sri Lanka Woodshrike, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Brown-capped Babbler, Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler, White-tailed Iora (aka. Marshall’s Iora), Lesser Hill Myna, Crested Hawk Eagle, Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Indian Pygmy Woodpecker, Lesser Yellownape, Streak-throated Woodpecker, Crimson-backed Flameback, White-rumped Shama, Grey-bellied Cuckoo, Indian Cuckoo, Grey Tit, Grey-breasted Prinia, Jungle Prinia, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Jungle Owlet, Brown Wood Owl, Brown Fish Owl, Orange-headed Thrush, Indian Pitta, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Pied Thrush, and Thick-billed Flowerpecker.
Overnight: in a cosy lodge patronised by bird watchers for many years.
Day 11 In the morning we will combine several of “patches” to bag the remaining montane targets. One of these is Victoria Park, known to many, which is a fine urban park established in 1897 to commemorate the 60th coronation jubilee of Queen Victoria. As far as urban parks go, this should be one of the best in Asia for birding, judging by the swarms of overseas birders that visit it during late October–early April to bag Himalayan migrants: Kashmir Flycatcher, Pied Thrush, Indian Blue Robin, and Indian Pitta.
Birding: Sri Lanka Bush Warbler, Yellow-eared Bulbul, Dull-blue Flycatcher, Sri Lanka White-eye, Kashmir Flycatcher, Pied Thrush, Indian Blue Robin, Forest & Grey Wagtails, Great Tit, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush, Jerdon’s Baza, Zitting Cisticola, Pied Bushchat, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, newly spit Himalayan Buzzard & the potential splits; Indian Blackbird & Black-throated Munia & if patient; Slaty-legged Crake.
Non-birding highlights: Dragonflies: Triangle Skimmer, Red-veined Darter; Mammals: Sambar, and Bear Monkey—the montane race of the vegetarian Purple-faced Leaf Monkey of lowlands; Botany: Endemic variety of Rhododendron; Reptiles: Rhino-horned Lizard, Black-lipped Lizard and if lucky, Dwarf Chameleon.
Overnight: in a cosy lodge patronized by bird watchers for many years.
Day 12 After an enjoyable birding breakfast, we will drive to Kandy (477m), the cultural-epicentre of Sri Lanka, where age-old rituals continue at the Temple of the sacred Tooth Relic. Kandy was the last Sinhalese kingdom in Sri Lanka, which was ceded to the British in 1815. En route, we will pause at a tea factory to see the newly-split Hill Swallow, which nests inside the factory; plus optionally go on a guided tour in the factory to see the production process of “Ceylon tea.” And we will also try their complimentary cuppa. Common Hawk Cuckoo is often heard in the tea plantation nearby, but don’t worry if it doesn’t cooperate as chances are better at locations further down.
Reaching the “World Heritage City” Kandy, we will pause at a restaurant, with a commanding view of the city, with its lake and the temple nicely visible, for our lunch. Next, we will drive for a short duration to reach our comfortable overnight accommodation, with its swimming pool overlooking a forest.
This afternoon, we will visit a couple of patches to bag any missing targets. One of these patches holds Spot-bellied Eagle Owl and Brown Wood Owl, among things. I have shown these two large owls on two back to back tours done in March, and April, 2010. Here, I have also had a lot of success Crimson-backed Flameback—showing it as the last endemic of the 33-endemics on two serious birding tours.
Birding: Spot-bellied Eagle Owl, Brown Wood Owl, Brown Fish Owl, Hill Swallow, Lesser Hill-myna, Rufous-bellied Hawk Eagle (seen sometimes during the descent to Kandy), Common Hawk Cuckoo, Sri Lanka Small Barbet, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Layard’s Parakeet, Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler, Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon, Black-naped Monarch, White-browed Fantail, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Black Eagle, Crested Hawk Eagle, Besra, and Plum-headed Parakeet.
Overnight: A cosy hotel close to the birding sites/city centre.
Day 13 We will check out after breakfast, and visit the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kandy. This magnificent garden covers an area of 147 acres, and is an absolute botanical paradise. We will also look for several special birds here namely the newly-spilt Sri Lanka Small Barbet, and the potential split Common Hawk Cuckoo—the latter is an uncommon resident.
A noisy colony of Giant Fruit bats will be hard to ignore with quarrelsome arguments over landing rights. You will be able to see them in their thousands laying claim to several large trees closer to the river that adjoins.
After lunch, we will drive to our final accommodation at Katunayake, which is just 5 minutes from the airport. A spot nearby also holds Brown Hawk Owl and Indian Scops Owl, and so, we will go for them, if they are missing.
After a farewell dinner and final log, you will be transferred to the airport later tonight or early hours of the following day for departure, marking the end of this excellent birding holiday.
Birding: Common Hawk Cuckoo, Sri Lanka Small Barbet, Sri Lanka Green Pigeon, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, Sri Lanka Swallow, Lesser Hill Myna, Orange Minivet, Alexandrine Parakeet, and Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher..
Non-birding highlights: Dragonflies including Dawn Dropwing, Spine-legged Redbolt, Blue Pursuer, Dingy Duskfly, Indian Duskhawker, Elusive Adjutant, Sri Lanka Forktail, Pale-faced Forestskimmer; Mammals: Giant Fruit Bat aka Flying fox; Botany: including Giant Jawa Fig, which covers an area of 1,600 sq.ft, Double coconut, Drunken Pine avenue, Cannon-ball tree & orchid house in the Royal Botanical Gardens.
Overnight: A transit hotel just 5 minutes from the airport.
Day 14 Departure.
This tour can be amended to include an additional site fitted into day 13 in the form of Sigiriya.
Sigiriya Rock Fortress and the surrounding Sigiriya Sanctuary offer superb birding. Species recorded on previous tours include Orange-headed Thrush, "Fork-tailed" Drongo Cuckoo, Spot-bellied Eagle Owl, Oriental Scops Owl, Jerdon’s Nightjar, “Shaheen”—local race of Peregrine, Black Eagle, Sri Lanka Small Barbet, Crimson-backed Flameback, and Greater Racket-tailed Drongo.
Sigiriya Rock Fortress—a pleasure capital of a single king named Kashyapa in the 5th century A.D. This is one of the 7 cultural ‘World Heritage’ sites in Sri Lanka. The Sigiriya Sanctuary, which envelopes this inselberg is great for birding.
Note: Sigiriya is 4 ½ hours away from the airport; thus will ideally suit for inclusion, if your departure flight fall on the evening of day 14, or early next day. Change rooms/overnight accommodation will be provided as required.