Trip reports from 2013

PART III - Sri Lanka’s Endemic Birds

Trip Report Year:

David Hill & Chris Hill - Sri Lanka Trip Report – Jan/Feb 2013 (PART III)

Sri Lanka’s Endemic Birds

Sri Lanka is a popular destination for  traveling birdwatchers with healthy population of endemic birds – up to 33 can be seen (the actual number varies depending on which classification system you want to use!).

During a two week visit in January /February 2013, our primary target was to see all 33 and then obviously try to photograph as many as possible.  To that end, we were extremely successful – all 33 were seen and record shots were obtained of 32 of them.  Here they are in order of when they were first seen and photographed:

(1)  Sri Lanka Chestnut Backed Owlet – Kitulgala

This was the first endemic encountered on the trip, in the garden of a private residence near Kitulgala soon after dawn.  Great views were obtained of a pair of owls which included them investigating a nest hole in a hollow coconut tree trunk.

This owl was only seen once at Kitulgala although it may also be encountered at Sinharajah.


(2)  Sri Lanka Layard’s Parakeet - Kitulgala, Kandy and Sinharajah

Emerald-collared Parakeet, Sri Lanka Layard’s Parakeet, Calthorp’s Parakeet

The best views of the Layard’s Parakeets were obtained at Kitulgala, where a male and female were photographed on a nesting hole (below left – the male shows the red bill).  These parakeets were often seen at the other sites but most frequently in flight or only briefly perched.



(3)  Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot - Kitulgala and Sinharajah

Sri Lankan Hanging Parrot, Ceylon Hanging Parrot, Ceylon Hanging-Parrot, Ceylon Lorikeet, Sinhalese Hanging Parrot

This was the only endemic where no photograph was obtained at all.  The majority of views were of the parrots shooting overhead and they were most frequently encountered at Kitulgala, although I wouldn’t describe them as common.  Only one over flying parrot was seen at Sinharajah.


(4)  Sri Lanka Green Pigeon - Kitulgala and Sinharajah

Pompadour Green-Pigeon, Pompadour Pigeon, Ceylon Green Pigeon

The Sri Lanka or Celyon Green Pigeons were relatively frequently seen at both of the forest sites.  The photos below show the male (right) and female (left).


(5)  Yellow Fronted Barbet – Kitulgala, Kandy, Dumbulla and Sinharajah

Sri Lanka Yellow-fronted Barbet, Yellow-faced Barbet

The Yellow Fronted Barbet was the most frequently encountered of the two endemic Barbets and was best seen at Kitulgala and Kandy.


(6)  Orange Billed Babbler - Kitulgala and Sinharajah

Ceylon Babbler, Ceylon Jungle Babbler, Ceylon Rufous Babbler

It appeared to be less common and more shy than the Yellow Billed Babbler but was seen relatively often at the two forest sites.  Along with the Sri Lanka Crested Drongos, the Orange Billed Babblers were often seen leading or in the forefront of the mixed feeding flocks in Sinharajah.


(7) Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill - Kitulgala and Sinharajah

Ceylon Grey Hornbill, Ceylon Gray-Hornbill

This hornbill was seen well at both Kitulgala and Sinharajah.  Based on our experience, Kitulgala is probably an easier site for it as there were more mixed areas allowing more open views of the forest.


(8)  Brown Capped Babbler - Kitulgala and Sinharajah

Brown-capped Jungle Babbler, Brown-capped Jungle-Babbler, Sri Lanka Babbler

This babbler was encountered at both sites although the best views were at Kitulgala.  We didn’t try for it at Sinharajah but I image decent views could be obtained with a bit of effort if missed elsewhere.


(9)  Ceylon Junglefowl - Kitulgala, Polonnaruwa, Yala and Sinharajah

La Fayette’s Junglefowl, Sri Lanka Jungle Fowl, Ceylon Jungle Fowl, La Fayette’s Jungle Fowl

This is probably one of the easiest and most conspicuous of the endemics, being easily seen at Yala and Sinharajah.  In fact, a pair appear to patrol the main trail at Sinharajah, rushing up to visitors in search of an easy meal!



(10)  Ceylon Swallow - Kitulgala, Sigirya, Sinharajah and around Colombo

Sri Lanka Swallow, Sykes’s Striated Swallow, Sykes’ Striated Swallow

Not as frequently encountered as the Barn Swallow but seen on several occasions during the trip and not uncommon.


(11)  Black Capped Bulbul - Kitulgala and Sinharajah

Black-capped Yellow Bulbul, Black-headed Yellow Bulbul

Only seen on 3 occasions during the trip – twice at Kitulgala and once at Sinharajah – and could be overlooked.


(11)  Ceylon Crested Drongo - Kitulgala and Sinharajah

Sri Lanka Drone

Only a fleeting glimpse at Kitulgala but common and conspicuous at Sinharajah – often leading or in the front of the mixed feeding flocks.


(12)  Common Woodshrike – Sigiriya and Yala NP

Sri Lanka Woodshrike, Ceylon Woodshrike

Lived up to its name in the right habitat – was particularly widespread and common around Yala and Tissa.


(14)  Red Fronted Barbet – Dambulla, Kandy and Sinharajah

Small Barbet, Crimson-fronted Barbet, Ceylon Small Barbet

Heard more often than seen but seen a few times on the trip.


(15)  Crimson Backed Flameback – Kandy and Sinharajah

Crimson-backed Woodpecker, Crimson-backed Goldenback

Seen once at both sites and not common.


(16)  Ceylon Scimitar Babbler – Kandy, Horton Plains and Sinharajah

Sri Lanka Scimitar-babbler

Proved a difficult species to get good views of and photograph although was often heard.  Always moving quickly through the top of the canopy.


(17) Sri Lanka Dull Blue Flycatcher - Nuwara Eliya and Horton Plains

Dusky Blue Flycatcher, Sri Lanka Dusky Blue Flycatcher, Sri Lankan Dusky Blue Flycatcher, Sri Lanka Flycatcher, Sri Lanka Dull Blue Flycatcher, Ceylon Dusky Blue Flycatcher, Ceylon Blue Flycatcher, Ceylon Flycatcher, Dull Verditer Flycatcher, Oriental Dusky Blue Flycatcher, Oriental Dusky Flycatcher, Oriental Flycatcher, Sordid Flycatcher

Only seen at the higher elevations but fairly common in the right areas.


(18)  Sri Lanka White Eye  - Nuwara Eliya and Horton Plains

Sri Lanka Hill White-eye, Hill White-eye, Ceylon Hill White-eye, Ceylon White-eye, Ceylon White Eye, Large Sri Lanka White-eye

Only seen at the higher elevations but common in the right areas.


(19)  Sri Lanka Yellow Eared Bulbul - Nuwara Eliya and Horton Plains

Sri Lanka Yellow-eared Bulbul, Sri Lanka Bulbul, Ceylon Bulbul, Yellow-tufted Bulbul

Common at the higher elevations – particularly on Horton Plains.


(20)  Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon - Nuwara Eliya and Horton Plains

Ceylon Wood Pigeon

Fairly common at the higher elevations but proved hard to obtain good views.


(21) Sri Lanka Bush Warbler – Horton Plains

Ceylon Bush Warbler, Palliser’s Bush-warbler, Palliser’s Warbler

Was frequently seen on Horton Plains but usually only glimpsed moving deep inside low bushes.  One obliging individual was seen and photographed – the rest were impossible!


(22) Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush - Nuwara Eliya

Arrenga, Ceylon Arrenga, Ceylon Whistling-Thrush, Blyth’s Whistling Thrush

Along with the Green Billed Coucal, the Whistling Thrush proved to be one of the toughest birds for us – very shy and difficult to see.  We tried for this on a number of occasions but it was finally seen on our last morning at Numara Eliya – our last chance for this species.  Horton Plains is potentially the best site for this but the location of the entrance gate means that the window of opportunity around dawn to see this near the road is relatively small.

These photographs of a female were taken after a long predawn stakeout near Nuwara Eliya.


(23)  Sri Lanka Myna – Sinharajah

Ceylon Myna, Ceylon Mynah, Ceylon Hill Myna, Ceylon Hill Mynah, Ceylon Grackle, Ceylon Grackle Mynah

Seen a few times around Martin’s Lodge at Sinharajah.


(24) Legge’s Flowerpecker –  - Sinharajah

White-throated Flowerpecker

Relatively common around the forest edge in Sinharajah.


(25)  Spot Winged Thrush -  - Sinharajah

Spot-winged Ground Thrush, Sri Lanka Spot-winged Thrush, Spotted-winged Ground Thrush, Spotted-winged Thrush

I missed out on this at Kitulgula but this lovely bird was relatively conspicuous around Sinharajah – one individual was even a regular dawn visitor to Martin’s Lodge.  Lovely song.


(26) Sri Lanka Blue Magpie  - Kitulgala and Sinharajah

Sri Lanka Magpie, Ceylon Blue Magpie, Ceylon Magpie, Blue Magpie

A brief view at Kitulgala but very confiding at Sinharajah around Martin’s Lodge and the Research Station.  Biggest challenge was fitting the whole bird in the shot!


(27)  Red Faced Malkoha - Sinharajah

One of my personal key targets for the trip and it didnt disappoint.  A striking bird which was seen a couple of times at Sinharajah as part of the mixed feeding flocks.  Photographs show the male (left) and female (right) -  Cuckoos of the World describes the male have more white and less black around the face than the female and states the iris color differs with the  male’s being brown and the female white


(28)  Green Billed Coucal  - Sinharajah

Ceylon Coucal, Sri Lanka Green-billed Coucal

Almost our big bogey bird having missed out on it at Kitulgala.  It was our key target there but we missed out on it both mornings despite it being our main focus.  A quick and poor view was obtained at Sinharajah – slightly fortuitously as we were searching for the Scaly Thrush at the time!


(29)  Ashy Headed Laughing Thrush  - Sinharajah

Seen a few times as part of the mixed feeding flocks but initially hard to pick up and differentiate from the similar sized Orange Billed Babblers.  Always low down or feeding on the ground.

(30)  White Faced Starling  - Sinharajah

White-headed Starling, Ceylon White-headed Starling, Ceylon White-headed Myna, Ceylon Starling, Sri Lanka White-headed Myna, Sri Lankan White-headed Starling, Sri Lankan Starling, Sri Lanka White-faced Starling

Pre-trip we thought this may be a tricky species but a few views were obtained of birds perched high up in dead trees.  Did not appear to be part of the mixed feeding flocks we saw.


(31)  Scaly Thrush  - Sinharajah

Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush, Ceylon Scaly Thrush

I was starting to have fears of dipping out on this when it wasn’t showing in any of the regular spots known to the forest rangers.  Fortunately we were able to devote a bit of time to look and finally picked it up near the Research Station.  Once spotted, we watch it for nearly an hour and it soon became apparent why it was easy to overlook – during the time we were watching it, it did little more than move a few meters alternating between feeding for a few minutes, then resting / preening for longer periods.  It also had a curious habit of taking a few paces then bobbing. The shots below were taken near the end when it finally came into the open for a brief period before it was chased off by a Ceylon Junglefowl.


(32)  Serendib Scops Owl  - Sinharajah

Only discovered in 2001 and with a global population estimated at only 250 birds, this is without a doubt the star bird in Sri Lanka.

There is one area within the Sinharajah Reserve where the owl is known to roost by the forest rangers but unfortunately that owl could not be found when we were there.   However, the Forest Rangers were up at 4am on our last full day and managed to find and pinpoint another owl which they were then able to show us.  This new site necessitated negotiating a near vertical 12 foot slope but the reward was well worth it.  As was the 3 hour walk home in the pouring rain!


(33)  Sri Lanka Spurfowl  - Sinharajah

Ceylon Spurfowl

The last in the set was the Spurfowl – often heard but relatively hard to see.  We had tried for it a couple of times on the previous days without success but our guide Upali appeared confident and we had half a morning to dedicate solely to the mission.

A decent downhill walk from Martin’s Place lead us to a known stakeout outside the reserve and we were quickly rewarded with a relatively confiding female (left).  The light was appalling but a record shot was obtained when the spurfowl crossed the path.  Then on our return walk up the hill, a male (right) was then encountered on the road!

Author/s of the report: 
David Hill
Chris Hill

PART II - Day 7 to 15

Trip Report Year:

Continued from Sri Lanka Trip Report – Jan/Feb 2013 (PART I)

David Hill & Chris Hill - Sri Lanka Trip Report – Jan/Feb 2013 (PART II)



31st January 2013 – Nuwara Eliya and Horton Plains

An early start the next day to arrive at the Horton Plains National Park entrance for it opening to give us the best chance of seeing the whistling thrush. Around the gate in the first light of dawn were a number of Indian Blackbirds. Unfortunately, due to the location of the gate (recently moved to the edge of the park), there is only a limited window after dawn to see the Whistling Thrush on or around the main road. Upali knew of a couple of possible spots which we tried but we only got an untickable view of one flying across the road just inside the park gates. We did have better luck with the other higher elevation endemics with good views of the Sri Lanka Woodpigeon, Sri Lanka Dull Blue Flycatcher, Sri Lanka White-eye and finally the Sri Lanka Bush Warbler. The bush warbler was particularly widespread but most views were glimpses of a bird moving in dense vegetation. We did however get luckily when a warbler ventured out into the open on a branch enabling a few photographs and good views.

Main birds seen: Yellow-eared Bulbul, Bright-green Warbler, Paddyfield Pipit, Blyth’s Pipit, Hill Swallow, Sri Lanka Woodpigeon Sri Lanka Bush Warbler, Sri Lanka Dull Blue Flycatcher and Zitting Cisticola

After a bit of a walk he headed back down to Nuwara Eilya, enjoying the spectacular views that were missed in the dark of our pre-dawn ascent.


Pied Thrush (male)

The afternoon was spent at Victoria park quickly seeing an Indian Pitta before concentrating on the area by the stream for the Pied Thrush. Some good birds were seen – Forest Wagtail, Velvet Fronted Nuthatch, Indian Blue Robin, – but only initially got a frustratingly poor view of a female Pied Thrush. Hanging around the park for the rest of the evening, we got much better view of a very attractive male Pied Thrush on the other side of the park as it came to feed on some berries. Chris stayed to try to get a photograph of the thrush whilst David and Upali went in search of the Kashmir Flycatcher – which they found. Unfortunately, it couldn’t be found when Chris got there and we had to leave before the gates closed…

Main birds seen: Forest Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Indian Pitta, Pied Thrush, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Indian Blue Robin
Overnight at the ‘Binota Residency’, Nuwara Eliya.

1st February 2013 – Nuwara Eliya to Tissamaharama (‘Tissa’)

A big morning ahead, being our last chance to try for the Sri Lankan Whistling Thrush before finishing our trip in lower altitudes. An early start had us waiting in the dark at the stake-out for the thrush. Patiently waiting as the sun broke, there was no sign of it from our vantage point on the narrow path. It looked like we were going to be unsuccessful when Upali excitedly tapped us on the shoulder and beckoned us down the path where we saw a female thrush on the ground around on the edge of the path! Whilst we had been focussing on the stream and surrounding rocks in one direction, it seemed it had been gleefully hopping around behind our backs! The light was still pretty poor but I managed a few record shots before it disappeared down the valley. What a start to the day and all the more sweet given our previous disappointments – “No sweat, No sweet” indeed!


Kashmir Flycatcher

Hoping our luck was going to continue, we quickly drove to Victoria Park in search of the Kashmir Flycatcher. Starting off in the corner of the park where it was seen the night before, there was no sign but we did get a great view of 3 Pied Thrushes. Back tracking along the stream, we quickly found a brilliant male Kashmir Flycatcher – what a morning!

Leaving Nuwara Eilya after breakfast, we headed through the picturesque Ella region (home of 53 waterfalls), stopping off en route at a private garden where Upali knew of a roosting Brown Wood Owl. We quickly managed to find it but an unexpected bonus was a pair of nesting Mountain Hawk Eagles!! A great lifer for me having dipped out on this species in other locations.

Our run of luck however came to an abrupt end when Upali was ‘caught speeding’ – deemed to be 8km over the limit (1,500 SLR fine) based on a policeman’s eye sight alone, an impressive feat as no speed camera was used!


Rose Ringed Parakeet

The temperature was quickly rising and vegetation was noticeably changing as we entered the dry zone closer to Tissa.
After a good lunch at our accommodation and afterwards good views of a Blue-faced Malkoha, we headed to some nearby lakes for a spot of waterbird watching. A good cross section of birds were seen, all adding to our trip list!

Main birds seen: Yellow Bittern, Cinnamon Bittern, Watercock, Black-crowned Night Heron, Gull-billed Tern, Asian Koel, Blue-faced Malkoha, Brown Wood Owl, Brown-headed Barbet, Forest Wagtail, Pied Thrush, Kashmir Flycatcher and Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush

Overnight at the ‘Hibiscus Garden Hotel’, Tissamaharama.

2nd February 2013 – Yala National Park


A pre-dawn departure to arrive at the gates to Yala NP by opening time. Once off the main tar road, the drive was interesting, even outside the park. The road skirted some pans which contained large numbers of roosting waders – identifying them was however tricky due to the position of the sun. Also seen outside the park was a magnificent bull elephant – ignored by all of the other jeeps racing to the entrance gate. Jeeps racing around was to be a feature of our trips to Yala…..()

Despite the crowds queuing for permits at the gate, Upali and our driver did a good job of finding some solitude in the park. Being our first day, we had a leisurely drive enjoying all the commoner species before heading to the picnic area for lunch. This spot was the site of a couple of government bungalows until they were destroyed by the 2004 Tsunami. A memorial now stands for the 47 lives lost at this spot – the majority of which were picnicking tourists, exactly what we were doing now.


Brahminy Starling

After lunch, we got wind of a leopard sighting so we headed in that direction. The sleeping leopard was duly sighted and our patience in the sun paid off when it descended the tree for a drink in a nearby pool. The wait also yielded a small flock of Brahminy Starlings – beautiful birds.

The afternoon was spent exploring the park before heading out before the gate closed. A long, bumpy but rewarding day with a good range of birds seen including a Sirkeer Malkoha in full view on the road for a few brief moments, plus a decent list of mammals.

Changeable Hawk Eagle (Yala NP, Sri Lanka) (Christopher Hill)

Changeable Hawk Eagle

Main birds seen: Painted Stork, Crested Serpent Eagle, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Barred Buttonquail, Painted Snipe, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Sirkeer Malkoha, Indian Nightjar, Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Jerdon’s Bushlark, Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark, Brahminy Starling, Rosy Starling, White-throated Silver bill

Overnight at the ‘Hibiscus Garden Hotel’, Tissamaharama.


Leopard at Yala

3rd February 2013 – Yala National Park

A repeat of the prior day with another full day trip to Yala planned. Again, our driver did a great job of finding the quieter spots with no other cars seen at all during our morning drive until we hit an area where a leopard had just been sighted. After struggling for a view, we hung around after the hoards had departed, gambling on the leopard making another appearance when things had quietened down. This paid off handsomely as the leopard climbed a prominent tree and lay in full view for a short period.


After lunch, there was a bit of racing around following up rumours of leopard sightings and we managed to get a relatively poor view of a male in a tree. We also picked up some different birds from the first day including Lesser Adjutant, Jacobin Cuckoo and Black-headed Cuckooshrike.

Main birds seen: Lesser Adjutant, Eurasian Spoonbill, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Jacobin Cuckoo, Black-headed Cuckooshrike, Flame Minivet, Purple Sunbird, Baya Weaver

Overnight at the ‘Hibiscus Garden Hotel’, Tissamaharama.


4th February 2013 – Tissa to Sinharajah Rainforest

We opted to head to the nearby reservoirs before breakfast to try and pick up some waterbirds missed so far on the trip. We started off well picking up a Black Bittern as well a numerous Cinnamon Bitterns squabbling over roosting sites.

Grateful for comfy seats after two days on bouncing around on the wooden benches of the jeep, we left Tissa after breakfast for Sinharajah. As usual, Upali knew of a few spots en route to try for a few things of interest. Unfortunately, the resident Scops Owl wasn’t in its usual spot at the Elephant refuge.


Legge’s Flowerpecker (male)

Arriving late afternoon, we concentrated on birding around the lodge itself, getting back on the endemic trail with good views of Sri Lankan Myna, Sri Lankan Drongo and Legge’s Flowerpecker.

Main birds seen: Yellow Bittern, Cinnamon Bittern, Black Bittern; White-bellied Sea Eagle, Black Eagle, Layard’s Parakeet, Black-headed Yellow Bulbul, Black Bulbul, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, Legge’s Flowerpecker, Sri Lanka Myna


Malabar Trogon (male)

Overnight at the ‘Martin’s Lodge’, Sinharaja.
5th February 2013 – Sinharajah Rainforest

Our first day proper at Sinharajah, the plan was to walk down to the entrance gate to buy tickets before heading back up the hill to the part entrance and walking the trail to the research centre. We also picked up the compulsory park guide but Upali had done well, securing the services of a birding expert whose local knowledge proved to be excellent.

Over a pre-dawn breakfast at the Lodge, we got great views of the resident Spot-Winged Thrush and Sri Lankan Blue Magpies – the latter hawking insects above our heads in the restaurant!

The morning walk was a leisurely affair, designed to pick up as many of the Sinharajah specialties as possible. The birding was typically ‘rain-forest’ i.e. quieter periods then very frenetic when a bird wave was seen. More and more of the gaps on our endemic list were being filled – Red Faced Malkoha, Ashy Headed Laughing Thrush and finally a White-Faced Starling.

The most fortuitous bit of luck was hearing, then finding, a pair of Green Billed Coucals whilst looking for a Scaly Thrush. After all the misses at Kitulgula, it was a relief to find this elusive endemic.

Main birds seen: Besra, Red-faced Malkoha, Green-billed Coucal, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Dark-fronted Babbler, Orange-billed Babbler, Ashy-headed Laughing Thrush, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Pale-billed Flowerpecker, White-faced Starling, Sri Lanka Blue Magpie

Overnight at the ‘Martin’s Lodge’, Sinharaja.


6th February 2013 – Sinharajah Rainforest

After yesterdays success in picking up the majority of the outstanding endemics, the day was focussed on picking up the remaining birds – Serendib Scops Owl, Sri Lankan Spur Fowl and Scaly Thrush.

The day didn’t start well with news that the Serendib Scops Owl still couldn’t be found in it’s usual daytime roost in the park. And the Scaly Thrush wasn’t showing in any of its normal spots on the way out to the Research Centre, although there was the compensation of great views of a Spot-winged Thrush singing close to the trail. The last reliable spot for the Scaly Thrush was close to Research Centre and our guide patiently spent over half an hour searching the area. Just as he was giving up, he heard a faint whistle and managed to pick up the thrush hidden in the gloom. This must be one of the most lethargic birds ever – having to rest for a long period after taking more than a couple of steps. After watching it for about an hour, it finally worked its way in an open area where we were able to get great views before it was forced into turn of speed when it was chased off by a Sri Lankan Junglefowl!


Scaly Thrush

Heading back to the gate, our guide had found the Sri Lankan Frogmouth in their local roost and we got news that a Serendib Scops Owl had been found just outside the park. After a quick lunch, we started the long hot walk to the spot – trying to beat the approaching storm. We met another forest ranger who had found the owl after being out at 4am and pin-pointing the new roost from its call. The path down to the owl started off easily enough but it soon go tricky with a 12 foot near vertical drop but David easily negotiated by inadvertently sliding down it on his bum! Carefully stepping through some bamboo, the ranger beckoned us up one at a time to see the owl. It took a moment to pick it up as it was a lot closer than expected. The light was now terrible and the rain was starting but Chris managed to get a few photos of the owl – this individual is one of an estimated global population of just 250 birds.


Serendib Scops Owl – one of only 250 in the world!

The scramble back up the slope was more of a challenge but we made it back up as the heavens properly opened. It was a long and very wet walk back up to Martin’s Lodge, not that we minded after the morning we had had. The rest of the afternoon was a wash out and we had one endemic to go and one morning to get it in!

Main birds seen: Serendib Scops Owl; Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Malabar Trogon; Indian Pitta; Indian Blue Robin; Spot-winged Thrush; Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush; Sri Lanka Scimitar-babbler

Overnight at the ‘Martin’s Lodge’, Sinharaja.

7th February 2013 – Sinharajah to Mirissa

We had heard the scrub fowl calling just below Martin’s Lodge so the initial plan was to head down and stake out the area at dawn. That plan was soon foiled by being beaten to the spot by another group of birders after the Chestnut Backed Owlet! Moving onto plan B, we headed further down the hill outside the park to another stake out known by Upali and we quickly had success with a female Scrub-fowl rushing in response to a short burst of playback. It ended up being a quick conclusion to our quest and we were in a very relieved and relaxed mood as we headed back for breakfast. As things often go, we bumped into another scrub fowl on the way back – a nice male this time, foraging by the side of the road!

It was a nice drive down to the coast after breakfast and we arrived in the historic and picturesque town of Galle in time for a good lunch at the Rampart Hotel. It was then a short hop to our hotel in Mirissa and an afternoon to relax.

Main birds seen: Sri Lanka Spurfowl, Crested Serpent Eagle, Sri Lanka Swallow, Plain Prinia
Overnight at the ‘Bay Beach Hotel’, Weligama.
8th February 2013 – Whale Watching
The last main highlight of our trip was a chance to head out on a whale watching sea trip. More details about the trip can be found in a separate post but suffice to say our expectations were blown out the water with well over 10 individual Blue Whales were seen plus a pod of over 300 Spinner dolphins seen at close quarters. It is hard to describe and capture the immense size of the whales and how calm and dignified they behaved. A real wildlife ‘must-see’ – a fantastic experience.


Blue whale and whale watchers!

Overnight at the ‘Bay Beach Hotel’, Weligama.
9th February 2013 – Mirissa to Colombo and departure

The morning was originally planned as a contingency in case our scheduled whale watching trip had been unsuccessful but we decided that we wouldn’t be able to top yesterday and opted for a leisurely drive back to Colombo. That gave us time to stop off at a few spots along the way including a turtle hatchery and a few wetland areas. Unfortunately we hit a heavy thunderstorm just outside Colombo and the last spot Uplai wanted to show us was a washout – a shame as it looked like a promising area of farmland which could have yielded a few more species for the trip.

In the end, we ended up with a very satisfying trip list of 215 which included all 33 Sri Lankan endemics plus a good number of birds that would probably be difficult to find anywhere else e.g. Kashmir Flycatcher, Sri Lankan Frogmouth. We also had seen a good list of mammals and had been well looked after by Upali who had done a great job of showing us as much as he could in the time available. There certainly seems to be a lot more to see and do in Sri Lanka although we would not have wanted to change our itinerary at all – all pointing to needing a return trip to take in the North and spend more time in the cultural heartland of the country.

Sri Lankan Frogmouth (Sri Lanka) (Christopher Hill)



David Hill & Chris Hill's Trip Report

Tour Start: 
2013 Jan 24
Tour End: 
2013 Feb 8

Trip Report Year:

Chris Hill, Upali and Dave Hill

David Hill & Chris Hill toured with Walk With Jith from 25 January 2013 to 09 February 2013.

SUMMARY: 15 night trip to Sri Lanka between 25th January 2013 and 9th February 2013 - Key objectives were to see all the Sri Lankan endemic birds and also enjoy whale watching and leopard spotting - All objectives were met with all 33 of the possible endemics seen and 32 photographed; 3 separate leopard sightings and over 10 Blue Whales seen during the relevant excursions - Local guide provided was excellent in terms of birding as well as looking after us fantastically well during our trip - Sri Lanka was a delightful place to visit with good accommodation, food and infrastructure.

This trip report consists of four parts:

Author/s of the report: 
David Hill
Chris Hill

PART I - Day 1 to 6

Trip Report Year:

David Hill & Chris Hill - Sri Lanka Trip Report – Jan/Feb 2013 (PART I)

Chris Hill, Upali and Dave Hill

David Hill & Chris Hill toured with Walk With Jith from 25 January 2013 to 09 February 2013. The following tour report is from their tour.

Source of the contect from: http://chrishillphotoblog.com/sri-lanka-trip-report-janfeb-2013-part-i/ 


Written by:  David Hill & Chris Hill


- 15 night trip to Sri Lanka between 25th January 2013 and 9th February 2013
- Key objectives were to see all the Sri Lankan endemic birds and also enjoy whale watching and leopard spotting
- All objectives were met with all 33 of the possible endemics seen and 32 photographed; 3 separate leopard sightings and over 10 Blue Whales seen during the relevant excursions
- Local guide provided was excellent in terms of birding as well as looking after us fantastically well during our trip
- Sri Lanka was a delightful place to visit with good accommodation, food and infrastructure


Booked through ‘Walk With Jith‘ who provided an experienced bird guide and made all the local arrangements.
We were the sole participants on the tour, having a dedicated guide who doubled as a driver (car also provided).
David flew from the UK and was met by Upali at the airport and drove straight to Kitulgala.  Chris’ flight from Singapore didn’t arrive until 12am so was met by a different driver who transferred him to Kitulgala to meet up with David and Upali.
Tour cost was GBP 1350 per person which did not include the Whale Watching trip or the second day’s jeep hire in Yala.  Lunches were also generally not included.
The trip itinerary was split as follows:

  • Kitulgala (2 nights)
  • Dambulla (2 nights)
  • Kandy (1 night)
  • Nuwara Eliya (2 nights)
  • Tissamaharama (3 nights) for access to Yala National Park
  • Sinharaja (3 nights)
  • Mirissa (2 nights) for whale watching

The order in which sites are visited is obviously dictated by their location relative to each other. We essentially went in a clockwise direction which resulted in Sinharaja being the penultimate site of the trip. This is advantageous as it is the best site in Sri Lanka for forest endemics and by the time it is visited forest birding skills should be at their peak and also allows for a concentrated effort on the “missing” endemics.
Visas can be obtained prior to arrival from www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa/.
Money – changers were at the airport and were open when both flights arrived.  There were also widespread ATMs and no issues were noted using these or accessing funds.
Mobile phone coverage everywhere although this was patchy in Sinharajah (particularly depending on your provider).
No alcohol is sold on public holidays (or at Martin’s Place, Sinharaja) – make prior arrangements!


Sri Lanka is blessed with a selection of up to date field guides. We used A Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka by John Harrison (2nd edition 2011) and Birds of Sri Lanka by Deepal Waragoda, Carol Inskipp, Tim Inskipp and Richard Grimmett (2012). The latter is an offshoot of the Helm Field Guide – Birds of the Indian Subcontinent (2011) and was the field guide used by most other birders we met during the trip.

In addition there is the second edition (2012) of Birds of South Asia The Ripley Guide by Pamela Rasmussen and John Anderton This is in two volumes, the first of which is a field guide. The second volume contains a wealth of information and is essential for any detailed information on the birds of the sub-continent and the latest taxonomic proposals (see below).

We also used Mammals of Sri Lanka by Gehan De Silva Wijeyeratne and Snakes and Other Reptiles of Sri Lanka by Indraneil Das and Anselm De Silva.


There have been a number of recent taxonomic changes (and proposed changes) which can be rather confusing. For example the number of Sri Lankan endemics was generally considered to be 26 prior to the first edition of Rasmussen and Anderton which increased the figure to 33. As with anything taxonomic these proposals are subject to some argument.

In addition, a number of proposed splits have been made for species that occur in Sri Lanka and India from other parts of Asia and Europe. For example, Indian Blackbird has been split from Common Blackbird resident in parts of India and Sri Lanka. There is also the comment that the Sri Lanka sub species kinnisii may itself be a distinct species. These are marked with an asterisk in the List as both as aide memoire and also that if the opportunity arises it may be helpful to note any identification, habit differences etc.

25th January 2013 - Arrival and transfer to Kitulgala

David arrived at Colombo airport about 20 minutes early at 12.45pm Clearing immigration and customs took no time at all then to be met by Upali. They were soon on their way to Kitulgala, seeing a number of commoner birds such as Little Cormorant, Common Myna, Brahminy Kite, Black-headed Ibis, White-bellied Drongo and White-throated Kingfisher en route. Also seen close to Kitulgala was a troop of the endemic Toque Monkey.

After checking in at the hotel, late afternoon was spent in the grounds of a private residency where a number of good birds were seen. The highlight being good views of an Indian Pitta and subsequently a pair of Spot Winged Thrushes, both sitting on bare branches.

Main Birds: Black Bulbul, Sri Lanka Green Pigeon, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Indian Pitta, Spot-winged Thrush, Black-rumped Flameback and Yellow-fronted Barbet.

Overnight at the ‘Rest House’, Kitulgala.

26th January 2013 – Kitulgala


Chestnut Backed Owlet (E)

Chris arrived at the Rest House at 3.00am having flown in from Singapore to Colombo at midnight. Needless to say both of us felt a little tired early morning, but the prospect of all those lifers soon banished that.

The morning was spent in and around Kitulgala at a number of different sites. The first was the grounds of a private residence, primarily in search of the Chestnut Backed Owlet.  Another key focus was looking for the Green Billed Coucal in the grounds of the Plantation Hotel.  We had great success with the Owl, with a pair seen well and investigating nesting holes.  Despite a long wait for the Coucal at the hotel, we had no luck with that.  The general birding was however good and it was a great introduction to Sri Lankan birds and an easy start to the trip.

Main Birds seen:  Emerald dove, Lesser Goldenback, Chestnut Backed Owlet, Layard’s Parakeet, Golden Fronted Leafbird, Sril Lanka Green Pigeon, Common Tailorbird,  Yellow –billed Babbler, Orange-billed Babbler, Brown Headed Barbet, Yellow Fronted Barbet,  Scarlet Minivet, Common Iora.

Lunch at the Kitulgala Rest House where the river was busy with people swimming, bathing and singing due to public holiday.  This was close to where the Bridge over the River Kwai was filmed

We headed off into the Kitulgala Forest Reserve in the afternoon via the suspension bridge and surrounding farmland.  First bird seen was a soaring Black Eagle but once inside the reserve the birding was unsurprisingly slower but got decent views of a female Malabar Trogon and Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill.

Main birds seen:  Indian Cuckoo, Sri Lanka Crested Drongo, Purple-rumped Sunbird and Sri Lanka Blue Magpie.

Heard only: Spot-Bellied Eagle Owl, Green-billed Coucal and Serendib Scops Owl.

Overnight at the ‘Rest House’, Kitulgala. Late evening in the hotel was spent watching FA Cup 4th round programme on a South Asian sports channel. This provided another boost, Luton (a dark secret) achieved the upset of the round at Norwich.

27th January 2013 – Kitulgala to Sigiriya


Brown Breasted Flycatcher

The early morning was largely spent trying for Green Billed Coucal at Plantation Hotel without success (but we did get great views of Brown Capped Babbler and Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher) before leaving Kitulgala for Sigiriya. Layard’s Striped Squirrel, Giant Squirrel and Indian Brown Mongoose were also noted during our stay at Kitulgala.

The journey by road was fairly slow but interesting passing a large roosting colony of Common Flying-foxes near Kurenegala and also doing some waterbird watching at a few large pools close to Dambulla..

The drive took us through Kurungela which is known as ‘Little Japan’ due to all the second hand car parts stacked in huge quantities along the road!

Main birds seen:  Spot-billed Pelican, Cotton Pygmy-goose, Oriental Darter, Great White Egret, Sri Lanksa Woodshrike, Indian Peafowl, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Purple Swamphen; Changeable Hawk-eagle and Yellow-eyed Babbler.

Overnight at the ‘MPS Village’, Dambulla. At dusk we walked around the lake, around which on one side the accommodation was grouped. We first picked up 5 Malabar Pied Hornbill going to roost iin a tree on the far side of the lake. Then as the light was fading, a Brown Fish Owl flew across to land in a dead tree providing good views for a couple of minutes. Later in the evening in the restaurant we saw what was probably a Fishing Cat walking across the lawns to the lake.


Malabar Pied Hornbill

28th January 2013 – Sigiriya

We opted to bird at various spots in the Sigiriya area in the morning rather than climbing the impressive Sigiriya rock.  The birding was a good option with great views of an Indian Pitta, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, White-rumped Shama and Coppersmith Barbet amongst others.


Indian Pitta

Main birds seen: ♂ Paradise Flycatcher, Common Kingfisher, Grey-breasted Prinia, Jungle Prinia, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, and Lesser Whistling Duck.
After another good lunch at a roadside restaurant, we had a more cultural focussed afternoon, exploring the Polonnaruwa archeological site.  The birding didn’t however stop at the impressive 1,000 year old ruins, most notably seeing a Barn Owl roosting in one of the temples!

Main birds seen: Woolly-necked Stork, Crested Treeswift, Paddyfield Pipit, Asian Koel and Indian Cuckoo.
Overnight at the ‘MPS Village’, Dambulla.


Toque Macaque

29th January 2013 – Sigiriya to Kandy

Early morning at MPS Village produced a Grey-headed Fish-eagle followed shortly afterwards by a juvenile.

One way of passing time on the various road trips is trying to spot the best moto on a tuk-tuk – the best one for today was  “No sweat, no sweet”.  I think it was that way round, but some will probably view “No sweet, No sweat” as just as true!

A more relaxed day with the afternoon spent wandering around the Udawatta Kelle forest Reserve on the edge of the city.  This pleasant forest oasis was a world away from the bustling city and it was an enjoyable afternoon despite the birding being a little slow.

Main birds seen: ♂ Paradise Flycatcher (white morph), Dark-fronted Babbler, Lesser Hill Myna and Layard’s Parakeet.

Overnight at the ‘Nature Walk Resort’, Kandy.


Greater Coucal being mobbed by a White Browed fantail

30th January 2013 – Kandy to Nuwara Eliya

A short wander along the road from the Nature Resort before breakfast was unexpectedly productive with a number of good birds seen, including a new endemic – Sri Lankan Scimitar Billed Babbler.  Also saw: Crimson-backed Flameback, Great Tit, Brown Shrike and Sri Lanka Small Barbet.

After a good breakfast, we left Kandy for the highlands of Nuwara Eliya.

Stopped at Glenloch Tea Plantation for a walk around the factory and a cup of exquisite tea!   The factory and plantation is 140 years old and was well set up as a tourist stop.  One thing that surprised me was that green and black tea actually comes from the same bush – the difference is down to how it is processed.

Birds seen:  Oriental Honey Buzzard as we climbed.

We were back on the endemics trail after lunch, birding picking up the Sri Lankan Dull Blue Flycatcher but dipped out on the Sri Lankan Bush Warbler and untickable views of the Sri Lankan Wood Pigeon. We also saw a troop of Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys in a forested area. The hour of daylight was spent at a second site – a stake out for the Whistling Thrush.  The temperature noticeably started dropping with the falling sun and despite a patient wait, we had no success with the thrush.  We were able to add two new endemics, with close views of the Sri Lankan White-eye and Sri Lankan Yellow Eared Bulbul.

Main birds seen: Pied Bushchat, White-bellied Sea-eagle, Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher and Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike.

Overnight at the ‘Binota Residency’, Nuwara Eliya.

PART II to follow shortly….

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Indian Pitta


Author/s of the report: 
David Hill
Chris Hill


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