Trip report: Sri Lanka (Jan 2016) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Sam WoodsThis was a set departure tour.

Sri Lanka is, or has been, many different things to different people; to the Persians and Arabs it was “Serendib”, a name that dates back to AD361; to the Portuguese of the 16th Century it was “Ceilao”; to the Dutch that followed them a century later, it was “Zeilan”; and to the British, who enjoyed colonial sway on this Indian Ocean island for nearly half of the 20th Century it was “Ceylon”; a name which has now become synonymous with the World’s finest teas. Since 1972 the island has been called Sri Lanka, meaning “Resplendent Island”. For us, it was primarily the home of many endemic birds that we were after. On this front, the tour was a complete success, with the entire set of 34 endemic bird species completed by our final morning of the tour, which included excellent looks at the toughest of these, Sri Lanka Thrush, and likewise, good looks at Sri Lanka Spurfowl. Among the other top draw endemics seen were Red-faced Malkoha, the dramatic Sri Lanka Blue-Magpie, Sri Lanka Hanging-Parrot, Crimson-fronted Barbet, and Crimson-backed Flameback. A special mention should also be made for the owls on the tour; we managed to see 7 species of owl, 6 of which were during the daytime, meaning minimal time was needed to search for these by night. Fittingly, the tour therefore ended with a spotlit Brown Boobook near Colombo airport shortly before our international departures. Among the owls was Sri Lanka’s most famous bird of recent years, the recently described (2004) Serendib Scops-Owl, skillfully found snoozing during the daytime by our local guide, Chaminda. But, Sri Lanka gave us much more than only a list of birds found nowhere else; we also enjoyed 23 species of mammals, (including an unexpected Sloth Bear at Yala), and nearly twenty species of reptile, plus plentiful butterflies too, which led to a great all round natural history experience on this teardrop-shaped island.

The tour took the form of three distinct stages; starting out in the humid Wet Zone of southwestern Sri Lanka, where the majority of the endemic birds are located; then moved east to the Dry and Arid Zones of the southeast, before moving into the tea-covered slopes of the cooler Hill Country, where the final, higher elevation endemic species were added. Sri Lanka is an island country steeped in history; it’s culture and history is old, dating back two thousand years, and the country lays claim to the oldest Buddhist culture in the World. The Buddha is ubiquitous and was seen everywhere on this tour, although nowhere more memorably than within the nation’s premier cultural and religious attraction, the Temple of the Tooth in Sri Lanka’s cultural heartland, Kandy, which is the sanctuary of a tooth relic, said to have come from the Buddha. To compliment the birding we also enjoyed short tours of a gem museum, (for precious gems are one of Sri Lanka’s other natural treasures); and also visited a tea factory to sample various Ceylon teas, revered as some of the finest on Earth.

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