I have wanted to visit to Sri Lanka for some time to reacquaint myself with the birds of my youth and to introduce them to my children. But the sociopolitical turbulence and periodic violence that plagues the county was a deterrent. It is often difficult to gauge the level of bodily risk from the tidbits of filtered information that reaches Canada. However, after much deliberation we decided go on a family vacation in July-August. This is not an ideal time for birding in Sri Lanka, as the southwest monsoon usually brings heavy rains and there are no passerine winter visitors to augment the resident bird species. Certainly the northeast monsoon period would have been preferable, but due to school and work commitments there was no flexibility on the timing.
Getting to Sri Lanka from Toronto was not as simple as I had envisioned as a number of airlines (KLM and BA) had discontinued their service to Colombo. We had to fly with Singapore Airlines via San Francisco-Seoul-Singapore to reach Colombo! This was a painfully long journey. After two days rest in Colombo, to overcome the effects of jet lag and fatigue, we were ready to begin our tour of birding. My original plan was to spend most of our time in key areas of the wet zone in pursuit of the 26 endemic species; however, the heavy rains had flooded or washed out many of the roads leading to the prime birding sites. Therefore we had to alter our birding itinerary to include more sites from the dry zone than intended. As a result we missed out on recording half the endemic species, which was a major disappointment. Nevertheless, the trip as a whole was very rewarding and productive.
Staying healthy on tour is essential. This is of course more easily said than done with children. We had boosters and vaccinations against Polio, Tetanus, Hepatitis A, Typhoid, but no effective vaccine was available for Cholera. Therefore, care must be taken to consume only potable water and well-cooked meals. Mefloquine was also used as an anti-malaria prophylactic with no apparent side effects. This was fortuitous as the children were not adept at sleeping under netting, and their exposed skin was covered in bites. Mosquitoes were abundant in the southwestern region of the country. Although leeches are not known to transmit diseases, they can be an annoyance. The wet trails at Kitulgala, Bodhinagala and Sinharaja were teeming with hungry terrestrial leeches. Spraying Deet (20%) on our shoes and socks was totally ineffective at repelling them. They had no problem penetrating between the weaving of the socks and attaching to the skin or making their way to other regions of the body. We took to using soap to coat our shoes and socks, which proved to be the most effective means of repelling leeches, while fine table salt for dislodging attached leeches worked wonderfully.
A wide range of accommodations is available near the coast, archaeological sites, and national wildlife parks, though not necessarily near good birding sites. Sinharaja is a case-in-point as we spent 3 hours on the road to get there from our base in Kalutara. In hindsight, we should have used Ratnapura as a base, but this is rather academic as the gravel road from Veddagala to Kudawa was too rough to drive on, and a 3 km uphill hike was needed to actually reach the Sinharaja Park boundary! We found the Habarana Village/Lodge an ideal base for dry zone birding, and the hotel grounds yielded 76 species. Minneriya-Giritale Sanctuary, Polonnaruwa Samudara (Tank), Sigiriya Sanctuary, Dambula rock caves, and even Wasgamuwa Park are all within easy reach by car.
Contrary to popular belief it is not expensive to rent a self-drive vehicle in Sri Lanka. But are you crazy enough to want to drive there! With no previous driving experience in Asia, I found the narrow, congested roads and maniacal traffic a nightmare. This was specially so in the capital of Colombo. Outside of Colombo, I was able be get around (slowly) with little difficulty. Not everyone seems to share my anxiety, as our children found this all highly exciting and entertaining. Rental arrangements were made with Walkers Tour Ltd. (Fax: 447087) for a Toyota Corolla at $30 US./day with unlimited mileage. Gasoline (petrol) at $1 US./L is readily available, but road maps were difficult to find. Some of the hotel bookstores had good maps, though rather expensive. Avoid night travel, but if you do venture, be on the alert for security checkpoints that seem to pop up from nowhere! In addition to the car a Jeep was essential at Minneriya-Giritale Sanctuary and Uda Walawe National Park. There was no problem hiring a jeep for both destinations.
|1||23/07||A.M.: Highway (A8) from Panadura to Ingiriya -rural area with paddy fields and estates. The heavy rain had flooded the paddy fields creating excellent habitat for many waterbirds.|
|2||24/07||A.M.: Ratmalana (RA) -suburb of Colombo and Bellanwila-Attidiya (BA)- low land marsh near Colombo.|
|3||25/07||A.M.: Ratmalana; P.M.: Habarana Village (HV), dry zone, with treed grounds and tank (reservoir).|
|4||26/07||A.M.: Habarana Village and Sigiriya (SG) -- archaeological site, dry zone scrub jungle, monolith, tank.|
|5||27/07||A.M.: Habarana Village and Polonnaruwa Samudara (PS) --
P.M.: Minneriya-Giritale Sanctuary (MG) -- dry zone scrub jungle, grassy fields, tank, waterholes.
|6||28/07||A.M.: Habarana Village|
P.M.: Kitulgala (KI).
|7||29/07||A.M.: Kitulgala -- wet zone secondary rainforest, plantations, gardens and river.|
|8||31/07||P.M.: Sinharaja (SI) - wet zone secondary and primary rainforest. 3h drive from Colombo gave us only 3 hours of birding in this key area for endemic species.|
|9||02/08||A.M. and P.M.: Uda Walawe National Park (UW) -- dry zone
scrub jungle, river, open areas, waterholes.|
Chandrika Tank (CT).
|10||03/08||A.M.: Hambantota Salt Pans (HA), Bundala Salt Pans (BS), Bundala Lewaya (BL)|
|11||04/08||A.M.: Tangamalai Sanctuary (TS) -- montane forest and tea estates.|
|12||05/08||A.M: Tangamalai Sanctuary|
P.M.: Hakgala Botanical Gardens (HB) and Nuwara Eliya (NE)
|13||06/08||A.M. and P.M.: Nuwara Eliya, Nanu Oya (NO): fragmented montane forests and tea estates.|
|15||08/08||A.M.: Bodhinagala (BO) -- wet zone secondary rainforest, coconut and rubber estates, paddy fields and river.|
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis HV-raft of 65 Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis common on large tanks (20) MG Little Cormorant Phalacrocorax niger common Indian Cormorant P. fuscicollis common, (50+) PS Great Cormorant P. carbo (3) HV, (50+) PS, (3) CW Oriental Darter Anhinga melanogaster (6) HV, (1) UW, (1) BS Little Egret Egretta garzetta very common in dry zone tanks, paddyfields Grey Heron Ardea cinerea single at A8, HV, PS, MG, UW Purple Heron Ardea purpurea (12) A8, common in dry zone tanks, paddy fields Great Egret Ardea alba (5) A8, single, common dry zone (20+) PS Intermediate Egret Mesophoyx intermedia (20+) A8, common Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis very common, widely distributed Indian Pond Heron Ardeola grayii very common in paddy fields Black-crowned Night-Heron Nycticorax nycticorax (1) RA, (6) HV Painted Stork Mycteria leucocephala (3) BA, (200+) MG, UW Asian Openbill Anastomus oscitans (3) A8, (100+) MG, UW Woolly-necked Stork Ciconia episcopus (40) MG, (2) HV, (3) UW Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus (1) HV -rare visitor Black-headed Ibis Threskiornis melanocephalus common in dry zone, (100+) MG Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia (70) MG, UW, HS Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber (150+) HS Lesser Whistling Duck Dendrocygna bicolor (4) A8, BA, HV, MG Cotton Pygmy -Goose Nettapus coromandelianus (15) HV, (3) MG Garganey Anas querquedula (1) MG -summer loiterer or early winter visitor? Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus (2) MG, (4) UW, (1) TS Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus (1) common at tanks, rivers White-bellied Fish-Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster (2) HV, (4) MG, (6) PS, (2) UW *Grey-headed Fish-Eagle Ichthyophaga ichtyaetus (2) HV, (4) UW *Crested Serpent-Eagle Spilornis cheela (1) MG, (2) UW Shikra Accipiter badius single at BA, HV, MG, UW Besra A. virgatus (1) HV *Changeable Hawk-Eagle Spizaetus cirrhatus (1) HV, (2) SG, (10) UW Mountain Hawk-Eagle S. nipalensis (1) SG, (2) NO Shaheen Falcon (Peregrine) Falco peregrinus (2) SG Indian Peafowl Pavo cristatus (20) MG, (100) UW White-breasted Crake Amaurornis phoenicurus very common in weedy ponds, drains, tanks Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio common in weedy tanks - (10) BA Pheasant-tailed Jacana Hydrophasianus chirurgus common in weedy tanks, ponds - (25) HV *Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius (2) nest PS, (total 10) MG, flock (10+) HS - winter visitors ? *Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus (total 20+) MG, small flock at HS Lesser Sand Plover C. mongolus (2) HS Greater Sand Plover C. leschenaultii (12) HS Yellow-wattled Lapwing V. malabaricus (2) UW *Red-winged Lapwing Vanellus indicus common, widely distributed Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa (flock 85+) BL Bar-tailed Godwit L. lapponica (1) BL - rare winter visitor Common Redshank Tringa totanus (flock 50+) HS Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis (3) MG, (6) BS Common Greenshank T. nebularia (1) BS Wood Sandpiper T. glareola (6) MG, (6) UW, (5) HS Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos (1) PS, (1) UW, (2) HS Little Stint Calidris minuta (flock 25+) HS Curlew Sandpiper C. ferruginea (flock 20+) HS Great Painted-Snipe Rostratula benghalensis (1) RA, (1) MG *Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus (10) UW, small flocks HS, BS, BL Eurasian Thick-Knee Burhinus oedicnemus (6) MG Great Thick-Knee Esacus recurvirostris (2) HS Small Pratincole Glareola lactea (1) PS Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica (6) HS Great Crested Tern Sterna bengalensis (12) HS Little Tern S. albifrons (2) PS, (2) MG, (1) HS Bridled Tern S. anaethetus (1) HS Rock Pigeon Columba livia Common *Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis very common, widely distributed *Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica (2) SI, (2) TS, (2) KI *Orange-breasted Green Pigeon Treron bicincta (12) HV *Pompadour Green Pigeon T. pompadora (2) HV *Green Imperial Pigeon Ducula aenea (2) HV, (3) Ki, (1) UW **Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot Loriculus beryllinus (6) KI, small flocks at SI, TA Alexandrine Parakeet Psittacula eupatria (2) HV, small flock UW, (2 ) BL Rose-ringed Parakeet P. kramerii very common, widely distributed - 1000+ RA **Layard's Parakeet P. calthorpae common SI Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea common widely distributed Blue-faced Malkoha Phaenicophaeus viridirostris (6) UW Sirkeer Malkoha P. leschenaultii (1) UW **Red-faced Malkoha P. pyrrhocephalus (2) SI, (3) KI Great Coucal Centropus sinensis common, partial to coconut plantations *Brown Fish-Owl Ketupa zeylonensis (2) HV, (1) BO mobbed by Yellow-billed Babblers *Indian Nightjar Caprimulgus asiaticus (1) and egg MG Indian Swiftlet Collocalia unicolor common widely distributed Asian Palm-Swift Cypsiurus balasiensis (2) A8 *House Swift Apus affinis Common A8, HV, SG Crested Tree Swift Hemiprocne coronata (3) A8, HV, UW *Malabar Trogon Harpactes fasciatus (1) KI Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis common at ponds, tanks Stork-billed Kingfisher Pelargopsis capensis (1) BA, (3) HV, (1) KI White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon. smyrnensis very common also seen in gardens Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis (1) PS, (3) BS Green Bee-Eater Merops orientalis common in dry zone Chestnut-headed Bee-Eater M. leschenaulti (2) HV, (2) KI Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis (2) A8, (10) UW Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops (2) UW **Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill Ocyceros gingalensis (4) TS, (2) KI Malabar Pied Hornbill Anthracoceros coronatus (3) MG, (6) UW *Brown-headed Barbet Megalaima zeylanica very common, widely distributed **Yellow-fronted Barbet M. flavifrons common at KI, SI Coppersmith Barbet M. haemacephala (2) HV, (25) UW *Brown-capped Woodpecker Dendrocopos nanus (1) UW *Lesser Yellownape Picus chlorolophus (2) SI, (1) KI Streak-throated Woodpecker P. xanthopygaeus (1) TS *Black-rumped Flameback Dinopium benghalense common *Great Flameback Chrysocolaptes lucidus (1) BL Rufous-winged Bush-Lark Mirafra assamica common in open grassy fields - MG, UW Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark Eremopterix grisea (2) BS Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula common in fields Hill Swallow Hirundo dumicola (3) HB, (2) NE *Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo daurica (5) A8, (2) HV, (2) UW *Black-hooded Oriole Oriolus xanthornus common in dry zone White-bellied Drongo Dicrurus caerulescens very common, widely distributed Great Racket-tailed Drongo D. paradiseus (12) KI, (5) SI, BO *Ashy Woodswallow-Shrike Artamus fuscus (25) A8 *Common Mynah Acridotheres tristis very common, widely distributed **Sri Lanka Mynah Gracula ptilogenys (1) KI Hill Mynah G. religiosa (2) SI House Crow Corvus splendens abundant, widely distributed Jungle Crow C. macrorhynchos common in rural areas *Large Cuckoo-shrike Coracina macei (2) HV *Common Wood-Shrike Tephrodornis pondicerianus (4) HV, (1) UW, (1) BS Small Minivet Pericrocotus cinnamomeus (2) HV, (2) KI, (2) UW Scarlet Minivet P. flammeus (1) KI, (1) TS *Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike Hemipus picatus (1) TS, (1) BO Common Iora Aegithina tiphia (2) HV, (6) MG Blue-winged Leafbird Chloropsis cochinchinensis (1) KI, (1) BO Golden-fronted Leafbird C. aurifrons (1) MG **Black-crested Bulbul Pycnonotus melanicterus (1) SI *Red-vented Bulbul P. cafer very common, widely distributed ** Yellow-eared Bulbul P. penicillatus common in montane -TS, HB, NE *White-browed Bulbul P. luteolus common dry zone - HV, GM, SI *Yellow-browed Bulbul Iole indica (2) KI, (10) SI *Black Bulbul Hypsipetes leucocephalus common at KI, SI **Brown-capped Babbler Pellorneum fuscocapillum (1) KI *Indian Scimitar Babbler Pomatorhinus horsfieldii (3) KI, (10) SI, (5) TS *Tawny-bellied Babbler Dumetia hyperythra (1) TS *Dark-fronted Babbler Rhopocichla atriceps (2) MG, (6) TS, (2) KI *Yellow-eyed Babbler Chrysomma sinense (1) UW **Orange-billed Babbler Turdoides rufescens (20+) KI, (5) SI *Yellow-billed Babbler T. affinis very common, widely distributed **Dull Blue Flycatcher Eumyias sordida (2) SI, (3) HB, (5) TS Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher Culicicapa ceylonensis (2) TS, several HB *White-browed Fantail Rhipidura aureola (1) MG, (1) UW, (1) TS *Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea (2) KI *Asian Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone paradisi (6) HV, (4) UW all Red phase (Ceylon) *Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis (1) UW *Grey-breasted Prinia Prinia hodgsonii (2) MG, several in the tall grass at UW *Jungle Prinia Prinia sylvatica (1) MG, (1) UW *Ashy Prinia Prinia socialis (1) HV, several at UW *Plain Prinia Prinia inornata (3) BA, (2) RA, UW *Clamorous Reed-Warbler Acrocephalus stentoreus (1) BA *Common Tailorbird Orthotomus sutorius very common, widely distributed **Spot-winged Thrush Zoothera spiloptera (2) TS - singing their heads off in plain view! Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis common, widely distributed *White-rumped Shama Copsychus malabaricus (1) UW, (1) TS *Indian Robin Saxicoloides fulicata (5) HV, MG, UW *Pied Bush Chat Saxicola caprata (2) NE *Great Tit Parus major (1) KI, (2) NE Velvet-fronted Blue Nuthatch Sitta frontalis (1) KI, (1) UW, (2) TS Richard's Pipit Anthus richardi (1) SG Paddy-field Pipit Anthus rufulus common at MG, UW *Thick-billed Flowerpecker Dicaeum agile (1) HV **Legge's Flowerpecker D. vincens common at KI, SI, (2) BO *Pale-billed Flowerpecker D. erythrorhynchos Common, widely distributed *Purple-rumped Sunbird Nectarinia zeylonica common dry zone - (20) HV *Purple Sunbird N. asiatica very common *Loten's Sunbird N. lotenia common **Hill White-eye Zosterops ceylonensis common in montane - TS, HB, NE Oriental White-eye Z. palpebrosa (2) HV, (5) UW House Sparrow Passer domesticus Common White-rumped Munia Lonchura striata small flock HV Scaly-breasted Munia L. punctulata Common
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