Sri Lanka: Ceylon Sojourn
The teardrop of India: weeping with endemics!
Sri Lanka presents those who have never visited the culturally rich Indian subcontinent with a wonderful introduction to the region, while also offering “Indiaphiles” a host of new southern specialties and nearly 30 endemic species. With many local races and new species being elevated this list is sure to swell further in the near future. We’ll visit a range of parks and reserves, from lowland tropical forests to highland cloudforests that will bring with it the real promise of almost all, if not all, of the possible Ceylon endemics, including the recently discovered Serendib Scops-Owl.
Day 1: Colombo. After arriving at Colombo we will transfer to Kitulgala, where we’ll spend the next two nights. En-route we will check out the Ingiriya Forest Reserve for our first volley of endemics like Yellow-fronted Barbet, Sri Lanka Gray Hornbill, or even Chestnut-backed Owlet.
Days 2 – 3: Kitulgala Forest Reserve. Famous as the place where the movie “Bridge over the River Kwai” was filmed, it is also rightly famed amongst Asian birders as a rich hunting ground for many Ceylon endemics. The open nature of the secondary forest makes finding some of the more elusive endemics like Ceylon Spurfowl, Spot-winged Thrush, and Green-billed Coucal fairly easy. We enjoy two full days in this wonderful jungle searching for numerous specialties like Ceylon Junglefowl, Ceylon Hanging-parrot, Brown-capped Babbler, White-throated Flowerpecker, and Southern Hill Myna. This is also the site where the recently described Serendib Scops-Owl was discovered, although it will not be our only quarry on our nocturnal forays as Ceylon Frogmouth is also present.
Day 4: Kitulgala to Sinharaja. This morning we head to Sinharaja, which holds magnificent areas of pristine virgin forest. En route will make stops for the glowing Golden-fronted Leafbird, and of course a chance for more specialties like Crimson-fronted Barbet and Long-billed Sunbird. Three nights will be spent in Sinharaja.
Days 5 – 6: Sinharaja. Known as the “Kingdom of the Lion” this forest area is a world-renowned biodiversity hotspot, being a designated biosphere reserve and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The possibilities in this area are immense and we will be on the lookout for the handsome Malabar Trogon, striking Red-faced Malkoha, and delectable blue Ceylon Magpie, one of the islands most seductive endemics. Other targets include White-faced Starling, noisy rabbles of Ashy-headed Laughingthrushes, Ceylon Wood-Pigeon, Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, the endemic Orange-billed Babbler, and the local form of Scaly Thrush that like many other recently-recognized Sri Lankan endemics may well gain full species status in the future. We also have a chance of running into some interesting animals, not least the Purple-faced Leaf-Monkey or Sri Lanka Giant Squirrel.
Day 7: Sinharaja to Embilipitiya. We travel to Embilipitiya in southern Sri Lanka, where we will overnight. It is a great base for exploring Uda Walawe National Park, an important sanctuary for waterbirds and other wildlife. Our first jeep safari in the park may reveal the scarce Spot-billed Pelican, the unsightly Lesser Adjutant, and slick Oriental Darter. The wooded areas of the park will also offer new birds like Blue-faced and Sirkeer Malkohas, and Malabar Pied-Hornbill. The open skies may yield numerous raptors like Gray-headed Fish-Eagle, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Pied Harrier, and Crested Hawk-Eagle. The safari feel will be reinforced by a healthy contingent of mammals in the park, including Toque Macaque, Asian Elephant, and Golden Jackal.
Day 8: Uda Walawe NP to Tissamaharama. After a final morning of birding in Uda Walawe we depart for Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary, for some afternoon birding. The brackish lagoons, scrub and mangroves are great for waterbirds. We will check the area for Great and Eurasian Thick-knees, Pintail Snipe, and Watercock. The trees and scrub may yield noisy mobs of parakeets, the Ceylon form of Common Woodshrike, or even White-browed Bulbuls. Three nights will be spent in Tissamaharama, an excellent base for exploring Yala and Bundala National Parks.
Day 9: Yala NP. This National Park in far southeastern Sri Lanka is one of the oldest parks on the island. It protects a bewildering variety of habitats, including lagoons, rocky outcrops, open grasslands, scrubland, coastal dunes, and extensive tracts of jungle. Popular for birders and general naturalists alike, Asian Elephants, Leopard, Spotted Deer, Sambar, and Hanuman Langur are all present. We will remain vigilant for Painted and Black-necked Storks, and boisterous groups of Yellow-wattled and Red-wattled Lapwings, in addition to Lesser Sand-Plovers, Bengal Bushlarks, Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Larks, Brahminy and Rosy Starlings.
Day 10: Bundala NP and Tissamaharama. Bundala RAMSAR site is crucial for migratory waterbirds in Sri Lanka, including huge flocks of Greater Flamingos. Additionally, a massive list of shorebirds awaits us, including Terek, Curlew Sandpipers, and Wood Sandpipers, Pacific Golden and Little Ringed Plovers, Greater Sandplover and Little Stint. Other wetland species here include Saunders’s Tern, Brown-headed Gulls and Watercock. Afternoon birding around Tissamaharama may produce Yellow and Black Bitterns, Lesser Whistling-Duck, Brown Fish-Owl, Indian Scops-owl, the striking White-naped Flameback, Baya Weaver, or the endemic Yellow-eared Bulbul.
Day 11: Tissamaharama to Nuwara Eliya. We will travel into the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka to the “city of light”, Nuwara Eliya, where we’ll spend the next two nights. We will arrive in time to explore the ornamental grounds of Victoria Park, a great place to pick up some hill country birds like the boldly-marked Pied Thrush, the striking Kashmir Flycatcher, the beautiful Indian Blue Robin, endemic Yellow-eared Bulbul, and Sri Lanka’s very own jewel, the glittering Indian Pitta.
Day 12: Horton Plains NP. A pre-dawn start will see us in the cloudforests of Horton at daybreak, located at a heady 2000m. (6560 ft.). We’ll search this montane area for Ceylon Whistling-Thrush, Ceylon White-eye, and especially for the Ceylon-endemic Dull-blue Flycatcher, as Horton is the best place to find it. After a morning in the cloudforest we will drop back down to Nuwara Eliya where we’ll search for Sri Lanka Bush-Warbler, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, and others.
Day 13: Nuwara Eliya to Kandy. This morning we head into the heart of Sri Lanka and up onto the Kandy Plateau. Kandy is considered one of the country’s most scenic cities, and boasts one of the finest botanical gardens in Asia. We’ll spend the afternoon in the beautifully manicured grounds searching for Large Cuckoo-shrike, Common Hawk-Cuckoo, and another shot at the “jewel of Ceylon”, Indian Pitta. We will overnight in Kandy.
Day 14: Udawattakele Sanctuary and departure. We will spend our final morning in the forests around Kandy, in the Udawattakele Sanctuary, searching for our final endemics that could include Ceylon Hanging-Parrot, or Layard’s Parakeet, in addition to Tickell’s Blue-Flycatcher, the legendary songster White-rumped Shama, and Emerald Dove. In the afternoon we will travel northwards to Colombo International Airport for evening departures.
CLIMATE: Hot and humid, except in the highlands where it will be cooler. Some rain is expected.
DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate. Easy and flat for the most part, although there are a few optional steeper, narrower trails.
ACCOMMODATION: Good throughout, except for in Sinharaja which is more basic, although still endowed with en-suite facilities.