Trip Report: Sri Lanka, December 24, 2000 to January 8, 2001

Jim Hackett, Hong Kong;

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:

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).

1. Recognized Endemics

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

2. Probable Future Splits

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

3. Other Ticks For Me

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

4. Notable Birds
4.1 Raptors

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

4.2 Cuckoos

Pied Cuckoo                   - common
Red-Winged Crested Cuckoo     - 1 Kandy
Common Hawk-Cuckoo            - common (calling)
Indian Cuckoo                 - 1 Sinharaja
Banded Bay Cuckoo             - 1 Uda Walawa

4.3 Owls

Brown Fish Owl                - 1 at day roost, near Yala
Brown Wood Owl                - 1 at day roost - Upali's site

4.4 Other Non-Passerines

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

4.5 Passerines

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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This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; February 5, 2001