In the Christmas-New Year interval 2000-2001 my wife and I went to Sri Lanka for 14 full days. The bird book is Harrison and Worfolk (A Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka, ISBN 0 19 854960 paperback). We did extremely well birdwise, thanks largely to the help of Upali Ekanayake, who is both a delightful guy and a Sri Lankan birder with 30 years field experience. Upali charges $US50/day for 1-2 persons, and (somewhat) higher amounts if the group size is larger. We would have had far fewer birds without him. He has special site/bird habits knowledge. I strongly recommend you retain his services. E-mail: email@example.com
Sri Lanka has 24 currently-recognized endemics (list 1 below) and perhaps 8 further birds (list 2 below) which are likely to be split in the future - my splitting authority for 6 of these is Tim Worfolk; the artist cited above. Of the remaining 2, Upali thinks the Black-headed Yellow Bulbul will also be split, while I think the Sri Lanka Paradise Flycatcher will go that way also! There are other possible splitting candidates (example: the "Jerdon's" form of the Blue-Winged Leafbird). Of the 32 birds of lists 1 and 2, Upali is of the view that only 4 are "hard". These are Sri Lanka Spurfowl (we had 3 crossing a forest track, in sunlight, in response to tape), Green-Billed Coucal (we found one at the border of Sinharaja forest), Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush (there is a special site by a pool on the Horton Plains, and the bird is (a) very strictly crepuscular, and (b) very fussy about what it wants to hear on tape before it will come out and sit on a branch to sing for you), and the Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush (we had a pair at Sinharaja - this is a most definite split - it looks nothing like dauma).
We saw ALL the recognized endemics and ALL the possible future endemics (thus: all birds on lists 1 and 2 below). This must rate as an excellent outcome. I also got 27 more ticks (list 3 below). I include these in this report because they are biased towards either (a) South Indian birds which you may not have seen unless you have spent time in southern India (!), or (b) valuable winter visitors, which may breed in awkward places like NE India or Kashmir (examples: Pied Ground Thrush and Kashmir Flycatcher). I also include (list 4) birds I consider notable - this list is obviously more personal in character than lists 1-2.
We lost one day to a cyclone, and had 2 days left over for "shopping" (my wife is into this) at the end. So you could possibly squeeze Sri Lanka into 11 days (or even less, as some of the sites we visited are not essential - see below). Unless you are really pushed for time/money, I wouldn't rush things. Sri Lanka is a delightful place. Upali is great company. Roads are pretty good; drives are quite short. Accommodation is very good ("Martin's" at the gate of Sinharaja Park is a must-stay place and is the only basic lodging you will find - even then there are beds, flush loos, and good food).
From Colombo we drove NE to Sigiriya (hotel: Sigiriya Village Lodge), which is more-or-less in the centre of the island. Then to Kandy (SE of Sigiriya) and the elegant Stone House Lodge with eccentric proprietoress. We next drove to the highland town of Nuwara Eliya (Nureliya) (hotel: Grand Hotel), which lies S of Kandy, and which is the jumpoff point for the Horton Plains park. Victoria Park (much peopled) is in the centre of Nureliya; you can find Pied Ground Thrush and Kashmir Flycatcher among the courting couples. Then to the SE of the country, and the dry Yala/Tissa(maharama) area on the coast (hotel: Tissa Rest House - government-run and thus rather slack). Now we travelled W of Tissa to the Safari Lodge near Uda Walawa National Park. Finally, we went further W to Sinharaja, and "Martin's" Rest House, from where it is a few hours NW to Colombo. So the birding route circles the lower half of the country clockwise. Of the sites mentioned, Nureliya, Yala area, and Sinharaja are absolutely essential.
If you take this route you will miss 2 (non-endemic) birds which I need. These are the Painted Francolin and Jungle Bush Quail. Upali says there's no difficulty in getting to their habitat, but you need to budget a few extra travel days. Mention these birds specifically to him if you want them?
Although Sri Lanka is a troubled country, we saw none of this at all. The Sri Lankans are friendly and welcoming; you do not get hassled in the Indian manner. My wife (who's not into birds) is already at me to find a reason to go back. Total costs were about $US2500 ($US700 for Upali; $US800 for private Hi-Ace van and excellent driver Hilmey throughout - Hilmey is a Muslim and thus doesn't drink, which is a useful trait in drivers, and about $US1000 for all accommodation and food).
Sri Lanka Junglefowl - common Yala Sri Lanka Spurfowl - 3 Sinharaja Sri Lanka Frogmouth - 1 Sinharaja Green-Billed Coucal - 1 Sinharaja Sri Lanka Pied Hornbill - common Sri Lanka Wood-Pigeon - several Horton Plains Layard's Parakeet - common Kandy Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot - common Kandy Yellow-Fronted Barbet - common Kandy Chestnut-Backed Owlet - 3 Sinharaja Red-Faced Malkoha - 2 Sinharaja Yellow-Eared Bulbul - common Horton Plains Orange-Billed Babbler - common Sinharaja Brown-Capped Babbler - Sigiriya Ashy-Headed Laughingthrush - common Sinharaja Spot-Winged Thrush - common Sinharaja Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush - rare Horton Plains Sri Lanka Bush-Warbler - common Horton Plains Sri Lanka Blue Magpie - common Sinharaja White-Faced Starling - Sinharaja Sri Lanka Myna - 2 Sinharaja Dull Blue Flycatcher - 5 Horton Plains Sri Lanka White-Eye - common Horton Plains White-Throated (Legge's) Flowerpecker - common Sinharaja
Red-Backed Woodpecker - common Red-Backed Greater Flameback - common Crimson-Fronted Barbet - common Kandy Black-Headed Yellow Bulbul - common Sinharaja Crested Asian Drongo (lophorhinus) - common Sinharaja Sri Lanka Paradise-Flycatcher - common Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush - rare Sinharaja Sri Lanka Blackbird - common Horton Plains
Spot-Billed Pelican - several Yala Yellow-Wattled Lapwing - common Yala Small Pratincole - common Yala Grey-Bellied Cuckoo - common Sirkeer Malkoha - difficult Uda Walawa Blue-Faced Malkoha - common Uda Walawa Orange-Breasted Green Pigeon - common Yala Indian Swiftlet - common Malabar Trogon - several Sinharaja Indian Nightjar - common Yala Jerdon's Nightjar - 2 Yala White-Naped Woodpecker - 1 Yala Indian Pitta - common White-Browed Bulbul - common Yellow-Browed Bulbul - common Yellow-Billed Babbler - common Indian Scimitar-Babbler - common Long-Billed (Loten's) Sunbird - common Bright Green Warbler (nitidus) - common Plain Prinia - common Southern Hill Myna - common Kashmir Flycatcher - Nureliya Black-Headed Cuckoo-Shrike - 2 Kandy Pied Ground Thrush - Nureliya Black-Throated Munia - near Horton Plains Hill Swallow - common Horton Plains South Indian Bushlark (affinis) - common Yala
Changeable Hawk-Eagle - common Crested Goshawk - 1 Sinharaja Black Eagle - 1 near Kandy Oriental Honey-Buzzard - common Crested Serpent-Eagle - common Brahminy Kite - common Jerdon's Baza - 2 Horton Plains Shikra - common Black-Winged Kite - common White-Bellied Sea-Eagle - Uda Walawa Grey-Headed Fishing-Eagle - 1 Uda Walawa Booted Eagle - 1
Pied Cuckoo - common Red-Winged Crested Cuckoo - 1 Kandy Common Hawk-Cuckoo - common (calling) Indian Cuckoo - 1 Sinharaja Banded Bay Cuckoo - 1 Uda Walawa
Brown Fish Owl - 1 at day roost, near Yala Brown Wood Owl - 1 at day roost - Upali's site
Generally common unless noted
Slaty-Legged Crake - 1 Nureliya Coppersmith Barbet Brown-Headed Barbet Pompadour Pigeon Green Imperial-Pigeon Alexandrine Parakeet Rose-Ringed Parakeet Plum-Headed Parakeet Malabar Pied Hornbill Yellow-Crowned Woodpecker - 1
Generally common unless noted
Dark-Fronted Babbler Yellow-Eyed Babbler Purple Sunbird Purple-Rumped Sunbird Pale-Billed Flowerpecker Thick-Billed Flowerpecker White-Rumped Shama Large-Billed Leaf-Warbler Ashy Prinia Jungle Prinia - few Yala Grey-Breasted Prinia Tickell's Blue Flycatcher Brown-Breasted Flycatcher (muttui) Paddyfield Pipit Blue-Winged (Jerdon's) Leafbird Golden-Faced Leafbird
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