I had sufficient frequent flyer miles with British Airways to fly free from Geneva to Colombo and return. This determined my routing via London. I flew from Geneva to London, then on via Dubai to Colombo. I arrived in Colombo late on Sunday 19th October in a heavy tropical storm. Clearing immigration and customs inbound into Colombo was fast and efficient; however, when leaving Colombo a good three hours should be allowed before planned departure time due to stringent security checks. The flight from London to Colombo left from Gatwick on a DC10, the return flight (winter schedule) was into Heathrow on a new 777. Our arrival into Heathrow was delayed by another aircraft having a landing incident and blocking one of Heathrow's two runways.
I made my reservations though a Colombo tour agent, Quickshaws, whose address I had obtained via a correspondent in EuroBirdNet. I reserved a car with driver for the duration of my stay together with bed and breakfast accommodation. Note: It is normally cheaper in Sri Lanka to rent a car with driver than drive oneself for reasons of insurance, and I had no regrets at all as driving conditions are not very good. In particular, the buses drive both fast and often dangerously. In addition, the road signs are also not easy to follow. I do not recommend self drive other than for those with a real sense of adventure and experience of driving outside Europe or North America.
October/November are amongst the wettest period of the year in the wet zone, but the advantage is that the hotels are mostly empty, and few tourists are encountered. It was extremely wet in both Nuwara Eliya and Kandy during the afternoons, and unless one is particularly attracted by these towns it is probably worth giving them a miss at this time of year and spend more time in the dry zone. I stayed generally in small hotels with a dozen rooms or so and in many cases was the only guest. I was very pleased with Quickshaws (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, attention Miss Nirama De Mel), and their driver/guide who was a mine of information about all aspects of Sri-Lanka, although not a birding specialist.
The population is extremely friendly, and most people speak some English, and in the hotels and other places catering to the tourist trade English is universal. Generally speaking there is also almost no begging, other than the odd small child who is mostly interested by "bon-bons". Some of the beach resorts are not so good, however, and are in any case not likely to be of much interest to the serious birder!. (I did see my only Black-capped Kingfisher on the beach in Bentota!)
Several of the trackers in the national parks spoke little or no English, therefore do not count on them to provide you with a great deal of information about the birds that you are likely to see: A kingfisher is a kingfisher irrespective of which species it is; there are exceptions of course. This is where your driver/guide might be useful as a translator! The Sri Lanka Field Guide does have the names in Sinhalese as well as English, but I did not find many people who could recognise the local names.
My schedule resulted in changing hotels every day or so, and in some cases this was too often to leave time for adequate birding in the more interesting spots. While distances are not very great, visitors should make allowances for low average speeds resulting from the state of many roads. I did not spend all my time birding, as there are many other things to see in Sri Lanka. My first night in Sri Lanka was spent at the Galle Face hotel, a 1860s colonial style hotel and a last moment replacement for my city centre hotel which was blown up by a lorry bomb three days before. I was glad to get out of Colombo as many roads are blocked off, and there is relatively little to see. The national museum in particular is in very poor shape. There were relatively few birds to be seen around Colombo other than the very common India House Crow, Common Myna, House Sparrows, the odd Greater Coucal, a few Little Green Bee-eaters, and big flocks of Spot-billed Pelican flying over Beira Lake. My hotel also had a couple of White-breasted Kingfishers diving for fish in an ornamental pond outside the main entrance!
After Colombo I followed the itinerary listed below. Many authors of other trip reports that I have read did much better than I in the rain forest zones such as Sinharajah, and particularly Udawattakelle which was almost bird-free the day I visited. I think that this is possibly due to the time of year. Many of the best spots in October/November seemed to be in the dry zone or areas where northern migrants gather, however this is based only on my limited experience. The tracker in Sinharajah told me though that he had seen very few birds over the preceding 3 or 4 weeks, and that this was due to little or no fruit remaining on the trees in the forest. I never managed to see the Ceylon Blue-Magpie which should be normally not be too difficult in Sinharajah. Many other of Sri Lanka's endemics are fortunately quite easy to see. I saw far more Ceylon Wood-pigeons than I expected as some other reports I had read listed almost none. I saw this species in several locations, and around the bungalow in Bandarawela they were quite common, and four or five were always in the trees around the house. I bird-watched on my own, and with more pairs of eyes I would have seen more. I also saw several birds which I was unable to identify from any of my guides. In particular, at Horton Plains what appeared to be a thrush with olive/brown upper parts and orange under parts which I was unable to find in either of my guides.
One area where I would have like to spend more time was the lake at Giritale which was teeming with birds, and the flight of many hundreds (thousands?) of assorted parakeets over the lake from their roosts at dawn was particularly striking. The Alexandrine Parakeets standing out by their much greater size, later on I was to get close up views of this attractive species in the hotel garden in Sigiriya. Another area where I would have liked to have spent more time was the Kuda Oya camp. The camp itself was fun, and many dry zone birds were to be found in the grounds. A reservoir was also within walking distance with many waterbirds as well as very large numbers of Peafowl. An early morning walk to the reservoir with a friendly and knowledgeable employee from the camp was well worthwhile, and every tree seemed to have a Peafowl roosting in it. This is also an excellent place to see wild Elephants, even though it is not a nature reserve as such. The camp has a Jeep and tracker and runs "safaris" into the forest area.
(I stayed overnight at the locations in capitals)
Co - COLOMBO (Galle Face) 19/10
Ra - RATNAPURA (Kalawathi Hotel) 20-21/10
Sh - Sinharajah 21/10
Ti - TISSAMAHARAMA (Priyankara Guesthouse) 22-23/10
Ya - Yala 22/10
Bu - Bundala 23/10
Yo - Yodhakandiya reservoir 23/10
Ko - KUDA OYA (Camp) 24/10
Ba - BANDARAWELA (Kirchchyam Bungalow) 25-26/10
HP - HORTON PLAINS (Farr Inn) 27/10
NE - NUWARA ELIYA (Windsor Hotel) 28/10
HG - Hakgala Gardens 28/10
Ka - KANDY (Chalet Guesthouse) 29-30/10
Ud - Udawattakelle 29/10
Pe - Peradeniya gardens 30/10
Gi - GIRITALE (Giritale Hotel) 31/10
Po - Polonnaruwa 31/10
GL - Giritale Lake 1/11
Si - SIGIRIYA (Sigiriya Hotel) 1/11
Be - BENTOTA (Villa Taprobana) 2-3/11
Se - SEDUWA (Airport Hotel) 4/11
My primary guide was A Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka by Sarath Kotagama and Prithiviraj Fernando, with as a useful backup A Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia by King, Woodcock and Dickinson. The Sri Lanka guide is very useful in that it provides good information on what one is likely to see, but the illustrations are not as good as some I have seen, and identifying birds that one has never encountered before is not easy with this guide as both colours and "jizz" are often misleading. I also had a copy of Woodcock's pocket guide Birds of India which provided alternative illustrations for some species. I was not able to get hold of a copy of G.M.Henry's Guide to the Birds of Ceylon before I left.
For my convenience I used names supported by the database used in Bird Recorder for Windows, which is primarily based on A Complete Checklist of Birds of the World, Howard & Moore 1984.
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) Yo, Po, Si Little (Javanese) Cormorant (Phalacrocorax niger) Very common, reservoirs, paddy fields Indian Cormorant (Phalacrocorax fuscicollis) Common, all reservoirs Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) GL, one only seen, breeding plumage Oriental Darter ( (Anhinga melanogaster) Ya, one only seen Spot-billed Pelican (Pelecanus philippensis) Bu, Ka, Gi, Ya, Co Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) Very common, reservoirs and paddy fields Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) Gi, Bu, Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea) Bu, Si, Ra Great White Egret (Casmerodius albus) Gi, Ti, Intermediate Egret (Mesophoyx intermedia) Bu, Ya, Cattle Egret (Bulbulcus ibis) Very common, reservoirs and paddy fields Indian Pond-heron (Ardeola grayii) Very common all paddy fields, Gi, Bu, Ya, Ra Striated Heron (Butorides striatus) Be Black-crowned Night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) Yo Cinnamon Bittern (Ixobrychus cinnamomeus) Si Painted Stork (Mycteria leucocephala) Gi, Bu, Ya Asian Openbill (Anastomus oscitans) Si, Gi, Bu, Ya Wooly-necked Stork (Ciconia episcopus) Gi, Si Black-necked Stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus) Ya Black-headed Ibis (Threskiornis melanocephalus) Ya, Bu, Si Eurasian Spoonbill (Platelea leucorodia) Ya, Bu Lesser Whistling-duck (Dendrocygna javanica) Bu, Si, Ya, Ko, common on reservoirs Garganey (Anas querquedula) Bu Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus caeruleus) Ko, Gi, HP, Si Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) Gi, Ya White-bellied Sea-eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) Ka, Gi, Ya, Crested Serpent-eagle (Spilornis cheela) Si Shikra (Accipiter badius) Ra, Ko, Gi Indian Black Eagle (Ictinaetus malayensis) Pe Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus) Gi Changeable Hawk-eagle (Spizaetus cirrhatus) HP, Ya, Sh, Ko, Ba, Bu Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) - "japonensis" Si (E) Ceylon Junglefowl (Gallus lafayetti) Sh, Ba, Bu, Si, Ya Common Peafowl (Pavo cristatus) Ko, Ya, Bu, very common at Kudo Oya Barred Buttonquail ( Turnix suscitator) Gi, Ko White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) Ra, Yo Watercock (Gallicrex cineria) Ko Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) Ya Pheasant-tailed Jacana (Hydrophasianus chirurgus) Yo, Bu, Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) Gi, Ya, Bu, common around reservoirs Stone-curlew [Eurasian Thick-knee] (Burhinus oedicnemus) Gi, Ya, Bu Great Thick-knee (Burhinus recurvirostris) Ya, Bu Pacific Golden Plover (Pluvialis fulva) Ya Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola) Ya Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) Gi Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) Gi, Ya, Bu Greater Sand Plover (Charadrius leschenaultii) Ya Yellow-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus malabaricus) Ya, Bu Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus) Ra, Ya, Bu, Gi Pintail Snipe (Gallinago stenura) Bu Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) Bu Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) Bu Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis) Bu Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) Bu Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) Ya, Gi Common Sandpiper (Tringa hypoleucos) NE, Bu, Gi Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) Ya, Bu Little Stint (Calidris minuta) Ya, Bu Long-toed Stint (Calidris subminuta) Gi Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea) Ya Great Black-headed Gull (Larus ichthyaetus) Bu Gull-billed Tern (Sterna nilotica) Ya, Bu, Gi, Yo, most common tern Great Crested-tern (Sterna bergii) Bu Little Tern (Sterna albifrons) Ya, Bu, Yo, Whiskered Tern (Childonias hybridus) Bu (E) Ceylon Wood-pigeon (Columba torringtoni) Ba, Ko, HP, (15 individuals seen) Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis) Very common almost everywhere Orange-breasted Green-pigeon (Treron bicincta) Ya, Ko (E) Ceylon Hanging-parrot (Loriculus beryllinus) Sh Alexandrine Parakeet (Psittacula eupatria) Gi Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri) Yo, Co, Ko, Ka, Ra, Gi, Si, Po, very common Plum-headed Parakeet (Psittacula cyanocephala) Ba, Sh, (E) Layard's Parakeet (Psittacula calthropae) Ba Pied (Jacobin) Cuckoo (Oxylophus jacobinus) Ya, Ko Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopacea) Ya, Ko Blue-faced Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus viridirostris) Ya Greater Coucal (Centropus sinensis) Co, Be, Ra, Ba, Si, very common Indian Nightjar (Caprimulgus asiaticus) Ya Indian Swiftlet (Collocalia unicolor) Ya, Ba, Ra, Ko, common Asian Palm-swift (Cypsiurus balasiensis) Ra, Gi, Alpine Swift (Tachymarptis melba) HP Little Swift (Apus affinis) Ra, Co, common in most villages Malabar Trogon (Harpactes fasciatus) Sh Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) Ya, Ka, Ko Stork-billed Kingfisher (Pelargopsis capensis) Ko White-breasted Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrensis) Very common everywhere Black-capped Kingfisher (Halcyon pileata) Be Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudid) Bu Little Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis) Ya, Bu, and very common everywhere Blue-tailed Bee-eater (Merops philippinus) Ya, Gi Chestnut-headed Bee-eater (Merops leschenaulti) Ra, Ba Indian Roller (Coracias benghalensis) Ko, Bu, Gi, Ba Hoopoe (Upupa epops) Ya (E) Ceylon Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros gingalensis) Sh, Ko, Gi Malabar Pied-hornbill (Anthracoceros coronatus) Ya, Ko Brown-headed Barbet (Megalaima zeyanica) Ra, Ba (E) Yellow-fronted Barbet (Megalaima flavirons) Ba Coppersmith Barbet (Megalaima haemacephala) Ba, Gi Brown-capped Woodpecker (Dendocopos nanus) Ko Black-rumped Flameback (Dinopium benghalense) Sh Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher (Culicicapa ceylonensis) HP Rufous-winged Bushlark (Mirafra assamica) Ya, Ko Ashy-crowned Sparrow-lark (Eremopterix grisea) Bu Oriental Skylark (Alauda gulgula) HP, NE, Gi Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) Common Red-rumped Swallow (Hirundo daurica) Common Richard's Pipit (Anthus richardi) Ko Oriental Pipit (Anthus rufulus) NE Forest Wagtail (Dendronanthus indicus) Po Grey-headed Wagtail (Motacilla flava) thunbergi Ba Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) Ra, NE, Ba Black-headed Cuckoo-shrike (Coracina melanoptera) Ko Small Minivet (Pericrocotus cinnamomeus) Ko, Ba Scarlet Minivet (Pericrocotus flammeus) Ra, Sh, HP Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike (Hemipus picatus) HG Black-crested Bulbul (Pycnonotus melanicterus) Sh Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer) Very common everywhere (E) Yellow-eared Bulbul (Pycnonotus penicillatus) HP, HG White-browed Bulbul (Pycnonotus luteolus) Gi Yellow-browed Bulbul (Iole indica) Sh Common Iora (Aegithina tiphia) Ko, Po Blue-winged Leafbird (Chloropsis cochinchinensis) Ko Golden-fronted Leafbird (Chloropsis aurifrons) Ud Indian Blue Robin (Luscinia brunnea) Ba Oriental Magpie-robin (Copsychus saularis) Ra, NE, common White-rumped Shama (Copsychus malabaricus) Ya Pied Stonechat (Saxicola caprata) HP Indian Robin (Saxicoloides fulicata) Ya Pied Thrush (Zoothera wardii) Ra Eurasian Blackbird (Turdus merula) - very shy! HP Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) Ko, HP Grey-breasted Prinia (Prinia hodgsonii) Ko Ashy Prinia (Prinia socialis) Ba, Ko Common Tailorbird (Orthotomus sutorius) Ba, Ko, Sh Green Warbler (Phylloscopus nitidus) Ko, HP, Gi Asian Brown Flycatcher (Muscicapa dauurica) Sh (E) Dull-blue Flycatcher (Eumyias sordida) HP White-browed Fantail (Rhipidura aureola) Ya, Ba, Ko Asian Paradise-flycatcher (Terpsiphone paradisi) [Brown form only] Gi, Ya, Ko Indian Scimitar-babbler (Pomatorhinus horsfieldii) Ba, HP Tawny-bellied Babbler (Dumetia hyperythra) HP Dark-fronted Babbler (Rhopocichla atriceps) HP Yellow-eyed Babbler (Chrysomma sinense) Ba (E) Orange-billed (Ceylon) Babbler (Turdoides rufescens) Sh Yellow-billed (White-headed) Babbler (Turdoides affinis) Sh, Ra, Ba, Gi, common Great Tit (Parus major) Ba, HP Velvet-fronted Nuthatch (Sitta frontalis) HG, Ko Purple-rumped Sunbird (Nectarinia zeylonica) Sh Purple Sunbird (Nectarinia asiatica) Ba Long-billed Sunbird (Nectarinia lotenia) Pe, Ko, Ba, Ra, Sh Thick-billed Flowerpecker (Dicaeum agile) Ba (E) White-throated Flowerpecker (Dicaeum vincens) Sh Pale-billed Flowerpecker (Dicaeum erythrorhynchos) Ba, Sh (E) Ceylon White-eye (Zosterops ceylonensis) HP, Sh Oriental White-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus) Ba Black-hooded Oriole (Oriolus xanthornus) Ra, Ya, Ko, Gi Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus) Gi, Si, Ba, Ya Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach) Ya White-bellied Drongo (Dicrurus caerulescens) Ba, Ra, House Crow (Corvus splendens) Common all towns and villages Jungle Crow (Corvus levaillantii) Common, less urban Brahminy Starling (Sturnus pagodarum) Ya Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis) Very common everywhere (E) Ceylon Myna (Gracula ptilogenys) Sh House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) Common urban areas Baya Weaver (Ploceus philippinus) Ko White-rumped Munia (Lonchura striata) Ko Scaly-breasted Munia (Lonchura punctulata) NE, Ko, Ra Black-headed Munia (Lonchura malacca) Ko
Mammals: Asian Elephant, Wild Boar, Water Buffalo, Sambur (an Elk), Spotted Deer, two squirrel species, two Mongoose species, Jackal, three or four Monkey species, many species of Bat, including very large numbers of fruit bats, hundreds of which come to a sad end as their huge size results in them short-circuiting the overhead power lines when they try and land on the top wire. The fruit bats fly rather like Black-crowned Night-Herons, and several times I took them for this species at a distance!
Reptiles: Alligator, Water Monitor, Iguana, but not a single snake!
Return to trip reports.