Ann and Roland Glifford's Trip Report

Trip Report Title: 
Ann and Roland go Birding in Sri Lanka
Tour Strat: 
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Tour End: 
Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Trip Report Year:

Ann and Roland Glifford

Dates: December 15th 2010 – January 1st 2011

Flights: Sri Lankan Airways

Accommodation: Various!

Tour details: arranged through Walkwithjith.com

 

Thursday, December 15th 2010

We travelled down to London on the train. Quite an entertaining journey thanks to the lady (?) who objected to being asked to turn off her mobile phone as she was in the Quiet Zone. Much muttering, glaring, reports to the train manager ….. We then caught the tube to Heathrow and can recommend the little shop just past the platform for snacks etc. Much cheaper than at the terminal! Check-in etc went smoothly so off we went to explore the shops. Very disappointing. Not a patch on Manchester. Our flight was on time, the seats comfy, the food and service great. Our journey had the added excitement of a drunken passenger sitting near us who had been stuck in Heathrow waiting for a flight for the past 3 days, you know! She was an absolute pain in the backside and the stewardesses deserve a medal for the way they dealt with her. Mind you, I have no compassion. Nor do I when I want to sleep and some stupid woman spoils everyone’s peace and quiet. Anyway, we landed safely and on time though it took forever to sort out the suitcases! Jith was waiting for us in Arrivals and he soon had us installed in his air-conditioned minibus along with his driver, Mr. Silva. They were to accompany us throughout our tour. The temperature was 29, a welcome change after all the unwelcome snow and ice we had been experiencing in England. It did pour down later though! So, off we went to Kitulgala, a mere 86kms away. We stopped to admire some ashy woodswallows but were keen to get to our destination. We were happy with the hotel, the Kitulgala Resthouse, and very pleased with our spacious room which had a patio and a lovely view across grass to the river. We had fried rice with chicken, salad and chill paste for tea plus fruit salad or ice-cream. We were in bed for 20h30, tired after our long journey and eager to start birding the next morning.

 

At Kitulgala
At Kitulgala

The resthouse was originally built for travelling colonial administrators and is now managed by the Ceylon Hotels Corporation, who bought up the resthouses. It is on the bank of the River Kelani where The Bridge over the River Kwai was filmed. The actors stayed in the hotel during the filming. The hotel has an air of faded splendour with fabulous views over the river and a magnificent flame tree outside the dining-room. The linens, crockery etc have seen better days and the rooms didn’t get cleaned during our stay but we were happy enough with it. There was a nice crib in the dining-room. Most Sinhalese are Buddhists but there are also Muslims, Hindus and Christians. All live peaceably together and all the religious holidays/festivals are celebrated by everyone. Great idea. The River Kelani has the best white water rafting in Sri Lanka and there is an old house next to the rest house used by rafters.

At Kitulgala
At Kitulgala

Friday, December 16th.

We were up at 5h30 and explored round the hotel before breakfast. We saw:

Red-vented bulbul

White-throated kingfisher

Magpie robin

Sri Lanka hanging parrot  **

Indian shag (flying)

Scarlet minivet

Purple-rumped sunbird

White-bellied drongo

Yellow-billed babbler (seven sisters)  **

Golden-fronted leafbird

Sri Lankan green pigeon E,  **

Lotan’s sunbird

Black-rumped flameback

Common sandpiper

Greater coucal

House sparrow

Jungle crow

Bold = Endemic

** = Lifer

 

We had primed Jith on our culinary tastes the previous day so breakfast was fish curry, rice, dhal and chilli coconut. Yum. Washed down with fresh fruit juice and ground coffee. We were ready to start Walking With Jith! Off we went to the outskirts of the village where we met our first obstacle, the swinging bridge. We already knew about this, having seen it on a Malcolm Rymer DVD. Only 3 people allowed on it at once. Jith went first, then me then Roland. I was terrified of tripping up and slipping between the wires into the river below but made it safely to the other side! Phew! It wasn’t long before Jith heard the call of a greenbilled coucal. It took him a while to find it, but he wasn’t going to give up! It was very well hidden in the bushes but he even managed to find it in the scope! Incredible! We had a very pleasant walk in the forest and village area, adding the following to our list:

Yellow-browed bulbul

Common myna

Blue-tailed bee-eater

Spotted dove

Yellow-fronted barbet

Imperial green pigeon

Paradise fly-catcher

Sri Lanka green-billed coucal  **

Tailor bird

White-breasted waterhen

Sri Lankan swallow E  **

Sri Lanka orange-billed babbler E  **

Brown-headed barbet

Black-headed bulbul

Pond heron

Brahminy kite

Crested serpent eagle

White-throated flowerpecker E  **

Black eagle

Black-hooded oriole

Black bulbul

We were getting a little concerned by this time because we had walked quite a long way, time was getting on and we needed to get back to that dratted bridge and our lunch. We were, however, saved from the bridge by virtue of the fact that we emerged on the opposite bank of the river to our hotel. Worse was to follow: the stand up narrow canoe ferry. We had seen this from the hotel but hadn’t realised we would actually be expected to use the damned thing! So, off came the shoes and socks. A quick paddle later, I was sort of seated in our vessel. Well, balanced and uncomfortable because the canoe wasn’t wide enough for my legs. In fact, it wasn’t even wide enough for you to put your feet down across the bottom. Nightmare. Actually it was soon over and I even managed a quick photo or two half-way across. The painful walk across the stones of the “beach” was probably worse than the ride. So up the steps we went, pausing to admire the little shop with its beach balloons etc for sale and into lunch. We chose spicy omelette which was nice but not what we call spicy! We had a couple of hours to kill before our afternoon walk so set off to explore Kitulgala. It was very hot! The main street had lots of shops, of course and a couple of very bright yellow pedestrian crossings. We were to see many more of these, often in the most unlikely of places. We did try to use them but crossing the road in Sri Lanka is as hazardous as it is in India!! We bobbed into the bank to see if we could change some sterling into rupees but that wasn’t possible. The armed security officer was very pleasant! The shops were all the concrete box style but strangely, they were mostly housed in semi-derelict buildings, almost as if the village had suffered a bombing raid. We paused to photograph a rather splendid lizard, admired a couple of buses and returned to the hotel ready for our afternoon walk with Jith. Mr.Silva dropped us off near the police station, conveniently located up a steep hill in the forest outside the main village. We walked down to the area around the Sisira River Lodge and added the following to our list:

Asian palm swift

Emerald dove

Brown-breasted flycatcher

Grey wagtail

Brown shrike

Hill myna L

Layard’s parakeet E  **

Green imperial pigeon

Brown-capped babbler E  **

We also watched the antics of a palm squirrel and found some potter wasps collecting mud for their nest. There were a couple of showers while we were out but they were very short and at least the rain was warm!

Back at the hotel, we were required to change rooms. An upgrade, no less! We weren’t right happy with it because: the TV didn’t work, there was no ventilation, no tea and coffee-making facilities and the shower was absolute rubbish. Also we didn’t have as good a view as from the other room.  ** We did, however, have a small “sitting-room” where there was a proper light to read by! If you go to stay here, make sure you ask for a downstairs room with a fan, not one of the air-conditioned ones upstairs. We got more gekkoes downstairs too!

Tea was rice, carrot, aubergine, coconut with chilli, dahl, chicken curry, popadoms (Sri Lanka style) and potatoes. Pud was fresh fruit then I opted for a pot of tea. It came with hot milk.

In bed for 20h30.

 

Saturday, 18th December

 

Today we were up at 5 and out at 6. We returned to the area around the Sisira River lodge and found:

Spot-winged thrush

Sri Lanka junglefowl E  **

Tikkels blue flycatcher

Crested hawk eagle

We also saw a giant squirrel and a mongoose.

Breakfast was at eight. Curry, rice, dahl, coconut again plus a banana and some pineapple and off we went again…… on the canoe ferry. I spotted a white-rumped munia  ** just as we set sail. We went for a walk through the village and rainforest on the opposite bank adding Malabar trogon, pale-billed flowerpecker and Sri Lanka grey hornbill  ** to our list. As you leave the houses behind and move into the forest there is a new information centre. It looks really good but isn’t open yet. There is a lovely ornamental pond in front and efforts have been made to put signposts up to the different trails and on the indigenous trees. I was first to attract a leech but Roland did much better just afterwards and there was quite a lot of bleed! Funny things, these leeches. Small, thin and brown, you can see them amongst the leaf litter, vertical and swaying about just looking for something tasty to latch onto! They do not hurt and are relatively easy to pull off – they are very stretchy and do have a tendency to reattach themselves to your thumb which is a bit of a pain but we soon developed our own techniques for dealing with them. I was amazed to see the little buggers disappearing through my socks and even through my trainers! Incroyable! They are virtually indestructible – you can stamp on them, squash them in tissue, roll them about between finger and thumb and still they come out smiling! Except when you absolutely smother yourself in Deet – they weren’t too happy with that. Don’t seem to be able to get a purchase on you. Yes, I know about leech socks. Jith lent us some. We didn’t want to wear them. Soon we came to a river. I have short legs, soft feet and am a wimp. The rocks were too far apart for me to get across so Jith lent me his flip-flops and Roland and I crossed together, he being in his bare feet and used to walking about bare-footed. The water was lovely and cool – I love standing in shallow, fast-flowing cold water. A little further on we went off the path into the forest because Jith could hear a chestnut-backed owlet calling but we couldn’t find it and the undergrowth was a bit dense. We retraced our steps and suddenly came out in to a paddy field in a clearing! We saw another grey wagtail and chestnut-headed bee-eaters. We crossed the paddy fields to a “ditch” which turned out to be another river! Unfortunately there was a massive tree root to climb over then you had to walk the trunk to get to the other side so I wimped out. I actually only missed out on a black-headed bulbul and 2 serpent eagles flying overhead. I was quite happy watching yellowbrowed bulbuls, bee-eaters, dragonflies, white-throated kingfishers etc in my own paddy-field! The irrigation system was interesting: hollowed out coconut palms made excellent drain pipes! It was so lovely, so still, so fresh and quiet there. Just the hum of insects, the twitteirng of birds, the sun beating down, droplets of water twinkling jewel-like on the rice…… Perfect. Anyway, off we went, back the way we had come. Yes, across the river again! It seemed easier this time. We stopped to watch a kangaroo lizard (gorgeous) and a couple of forest skinks that are darker than the ones we are used to seeing. I stopped to admire some exceptionally beautiful orchids in a garden and a lady came out and invited us to look round her garden which was really nice. She had lots of orchids either in tubs or on a tree fern. Very impressive. A bit further on we saw rubber sheets hanging out to dry. The man at that house collected latex from the trees, took it home to mix with acid and pour into trays to set, then rolled it out, hung it on the line to dry and sold it to the rubber factory. He kindly let me take photos. All too soon we were back to the canoe ferry and it was time for lunch which was a buffet, it being the weekend. All rice and curry but very yum especially the mango curry. We were free until four when we went out looking for the chestnut-backed owlet. Jith thought he had heard it near the English teacher’s house by the police station but we couldn’t find it. We did, however, see a Crimsonfronted barbet and Sri Lankan grey hornbill, E  **. I took photos of some interesting light switches. We were a bit puzzled to see them on trees and in various other strange places! Jith explained that they were for the street lights and that each community has its own group which everyone has to join for a fee and they, as a collective, are responsible for certain aspects of the upkeep of their area including switching the lights on and off. We got a bit wet this afternoon but it was no big deal. We had great difficulty in staying awake after our return and before tea which was another buffet. Curry, rice etc but very yummy. There were quite a few people at the hotel tonight but we didn’t see any of them eating – they were there for a reunion. Locals and relatives who had emigrated to Australia having a reunion. A trio of young girls did some very nice dancing and then there was a calypso band. Odd. The Caribbean meets the East! Actually, I quite liked the music/songs and they were certainly popular with the guests. The men were the first up and did not mind dancing together! Mind you, there was some interesting dancing and they looked pretty well oiled! All in all a very entertaining evening though we left early to be in bed before 9.

 

Sunday, 19th December

Up at 5h30 for a 6h30 start. We went back to the area around the Sisira River Lodge to look for the chestnut backed owlet but didn’t have any luck. We were, however, very pleased with the good views of a greenbilled coucal near the police station! Jungle fowl and tickell’s blue were also around and it was amusing to see a drongo (white-bellied) visiting the bird table at the Lodge! Kitulgala had been decorated with Buddhist flags overnight in honour of a festival due to pass through the town. This is the time of year when pilgrims set off for Adam’s Peak http://sripada.org/ratnasinghe.htm and as they pass through a town, decorations are put up. It is alleged that when Adam was thrown out of Paradise, that is where he landed and his footprint can be seen. Later on, when we were staying in Nuwara Eliya we could actually see a line of torches from pilgrims going up the peak at night.

 

Breakfast today was a buffet. I had a nice freshly made spicy omelette with lots of chilli! The hotel was hosting a lunch for 700 today. A works “do”. I was sorry that we were leaving as I was intrigued as to where they would put everyone! But we had to set off for Kandy, the last capital of the ancient kings' era of Sri Lanka. It lies in the midst of hills on the Kandy plateau, which crosses an area of tropical plantations, mainly tea. Kandy is one of the most scenic cities in Sri Lanka; it is both an administrative and religious city and is home of The Temple of the Tooth Relic, one of the most venerable places for the Buddhist community of Sri Lanka and all around the world. It was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1988. It was quite a long drive through beautiful countryside and we had a very exciting moment when we were forced off the road by a lorry overtaking in a stupid place. How unusual! We passed through a couple of interesting-looking towns too but didn’t have time to stop except when Jith spotted some mangoes for sale by the side of the road and stopped to buy us some. We had them later at the hotel and they were right yummy. We love mangoes. We saw two freshly-dug graves by the side of the road – they were easily identified by the intricate white decorations.

 

There is a big university at Kandy and the road from Colombo to Kandy was the first tarmacked road in Sri Lanka. The town was absolutely heaving. And full of interesting looking places (shops, stupa, churches, temples etc). We stopped at a baker’s to buy a snack for lunch. They had all sorts of yummy looking things. And amazing sponge cakes. I chose an amazingly empty butty, a vegetable pasty thing and a stodgy bun whilst Roland opted for the stodgy bun, fish and egg samosas and a fish roti. It came to less than £1.50 all told! We had to drive right through Kandy to get to our hotel. I wondered where on earth we were going up this steep, windy, narrow “road” and was amazed at the hotel we eventually arrived at. Right on top of the hill, with absolutely amazing views, it was probably the poshest hotel I have ever stayed in! It was really lovely. We not only had our own bathroom but our own dining-room/tv room as well! They even came and turned down the bed at night! Not had that since I worked in France for a family who had a maid…. We had an hour or so in which to eat our picnic on the balcony and admire the sea eagles circling outside, legs dangling before we set off for the Royal Botanical Gardens. It cost /- for us to go in but was free for Jith. The trees round the entrance were quite spectacular – large and adorned with beautiful red flowers which apparently appear all year round, they are nicknamed Lady Amherst’s flowers. We had an ice-cream before we went in from a proper ice-cream seller. He charged us 50/- each which was at least double but he did let me take a couple of photos so we didn’t mind. Jith was a mine of information about the gardens and it was all so interesting we almost forgot to look for the birds! Of particular note are the cannon-ball tree planted by King George V and Queen Mary in 1901 and the Javan fig tree which covers 1600 sq metres! There are also coco de mer –these palms have the largest and heaviest double coconuts at 10-20kg each! Then there was the bead tree which has small red fruit. These always weigh exactly the same and can be made into necklaces. They are still used as weights in Ayuverdic medicine, Napoleon’s crown has flowers which are supposed to resemble Napoleon’s hat but being brown and yellow and the wrong shape, I couldn’t see the similarity. They were nice flowers though! The wild poinsettia were nice and Jith pointed out one of two cocaine bushes. He also showed us the ironwood tree that is their National Tree. Its wood doesn’t float and there is one planted next to every Buddhist temple. Drunken Avenue is so named because these conifers have been attacked by termites and lean drunkenly! There was so much to see – I absolutely loved it, especially the orchid house! At one point I was mobbed by a group of children shouting Photo! Photo! They were very good – arranged themselves immediately but were a bit too impatient! They loved the photo though. Later on I was asked to take a photo of some other children – they seemed to be happy with this and didn’t want any money so I obliged and then noticed a big cricket on the grass. Brilliant! Even let me pick him up! The birds? Well, yes, we did see some! The only new ones were the rose-ringed parakeets though. I was sorry when we had to leave but the gardens close at 6 besides which it was already going dark then. Back to the hotel for a scrabble through the suitcases to find something appropriate to wear in our posh hotel. The buffet was superb: half Sri Lankan and half western style food. Everything looked and tasted delicious. The desserts were wonderful but serving a cake with a spoon was a bit of a novelty! A bottle of water was 225/- though. Tap water in future. Bed by 9 but a barking dog kept me awake – reminiscent of Goa! It didn’t rain today!

 

Monday, 19th December 

Up at 5h00 today for a 6.00am start with breakfast boxes: cheese butties, cake?, pineapple, banana and water. We got to Udawattakelle Forest, which is only 10 minutes from the centre of Kandy for opening time and it was quite cool. Very cool even in the forest. I was glad of my cardigan. It was very dry underfoot but the leeches soon found Roland! He detached them quickly with minimum bleed and we applied extra Deet! Our haul was as follows: alexandrine parakeets, tickell’s blue flycatcher, forest wagtail, oriental flycatcher, brown flycatcher, scarlet minivet, oriental white-eye, white paradise flycatcher. We also saw hard shell terrapins and toque monkeys. These monkeys are endemics and mustn’t be killed but they can be a right nuisance round peoples’ homes so you constantly hear warning gun shot! They are quite cute really with a centre parting. When we paused for breakfast we chatted with another birder who said he had seen a pied thrush so we went to look for it.

 

We spent a lot of time searching but had no success. The forest was lovely with lots of climbing plants. Wild boar live there and you could see where they had been grubbing for food by the side of the paths. Before we left, we arranged to get in early the next morning. We got dropped off in town instead of going back to the hotel so that we could have a bit of an explore. It was exciting driving down towards the lake (man-made) because it looked almost as though there was smoke blowing across the road but it was spray from the rather unimpressive fountain! There were plenty of hawkers about as we were near the Tooth Relic Palace and one or two men wanted to be our friend but we managed to dodge them all and find the bazaar and some shops. Everywhere was very crowded and noisy because it was a public holiday, there having been a full moon. We had a fruit juice down a side street (200/-) and set about finding somewhere to eat. Plenty of bakers and even a KFC but we wanted to sit down and enjoy something local. Our eventual choice could have been better but at least it was cheap! Plate of rice, piece of cold dry chicken, green beans, ketchup (!), green paste. This time the water was only 50/- and was a bigger bottle than at the hotel. Roland had faluda for pud and I had a wood apple drink with ice-cream in it. It was OK but very thick. Total cost: Time was moving on so we had a quick look at the Methodist church across the road and in the shop selling Christmas stuff before we headed off for the hotel bus. It stops outside the police station and is free. We had time for a bit of a rest before we had to go out again so I did a bit of washing and then it was time to go and see the Tooth Relic. http://www.sridaladamaligawa.lk/ Of course, you can’t actually see the tooth itself as it is too well protected for that. It is on a gold lotus flower inside a gold casket inside a room etc but it was all very interesting. You had to go round barefoot, of course, and there were lots of people offering flowers. We couldn’t visit the museum because it was a Holy Day but we could go into the elephant museum which is dedicated to one elephant in particular, Horace, who is stuffed and behind glass. On the way back to the hotel, I caught sight of a massive Buddha at the top of a mountain. Apparently one of the kings liked torturing people and his favourite trick was to put people in wooden barrels then roll them down the mountain. The Buddha and a temple were erected at the top in remembrance of these people after his death. My feet and legs were killing me so I went off for a foot and hand massage. Out of this world. Not so much the hand massage but the foot massage was heaven. Cost for both and worth every penny. Tea was another buffet but nearly everything was different from the previous night and just as delicious. We had the best seat with a panoramic view! No wine or any other alcohol was being served tonight because it was a religious holiday.

 

Tuesday, 21st December

Up at 5 to be out at 6.We went back to the Royal Park to look for the pied thrush. The gatekeeper let us in early, true to his promise with the help of something to grease his palm (or wet his whistle). Jith immediately saw a spot-winged thrush and Roland saw a white-rumped shama which posed very nicely for us and we were able to watch it spot a worm, stab it in two and enjoy breakfast! At one point there was a bit of a monkey squabble in the tree tops above us and eventually one fell at great speed, narrowly missing Jith and managing to land in a bush which broke his fall! A lucky escape for both of them. We watched a tickell’s blue having a great time whizzing backwards and forwards between two points and making a clicking noise … very strange. We also saw Indian blue robin, 2 hill myna and some brown-capped babblers but no pied thrush so it was back to the hotel for a scrumptious buffet breakfast then it was time to leave. We were sorry to leave this splendid hotel and we would have liked to have seen how many more Christmas decorations they were going to put up! There were the huge snowmen outside, strings of flashing lights, silver Christmas tree cut outs along the drive, decorations in the corridors and on the stairs, ….. full on Christmas!

We were on our way to Nuwara Eliya by 9h30 but had to stop first at a bank so we could get some money and Jith could get paid! The bank was on the way out of Kandy near the huge university campus and, strangely enough, there were three lots of street vendors outside! One was selling spices (200/- for a long strip of big bags=excellent value), one had “jewellery” and the others had not one, but three cobras. Whowee! Always wanted to see snake charmers. They kept giving me tantalising peeks – what fabulous markings – but I had no money and they wanted 500/- to charm them and allow me to take photos. However, when Jith and Roland came back they said it was too much and hustled me back into the bus. Meanies.

The road to Little England took us steadily upwards through yet more beautiful scenery. The landscape was very different with huge tea plantations, tiered market gardening and lots of waterfalls. There were many fruit, vegetable and flower stalls by the roadside and everything was well displayed and looked to be excellent quality. There were lots of “garden centres” too! We stopped to buy red bananas – they were really nice – and to photograph a waterfall. This was obviously THE place to stop as an elderly man, a woman and boy instantly appeared and tried to get us to buy flowers, jaggery ( a form of sugar) or sweets. Jith bought some sweets. We saw a lot of women picking tea – they must be very fit working on these steep slopes. They are mostly Tamils who were originally brought in by the British to pick tea for low wages. We stopped briefly at a collection point where the ladies were having their sacks weighed by the side of the road before they went off to pick more. None of these plantations belong to the British now – they are all owned by Sri Lankans. This is the best tea, picked in the highlands. It is also where the big plantations are though tea is grown everywhere. The tea grown lower down is stronger and mostly grown by individuals who sell their tea to factories for blending. We stopped at Mackwoods http://www.mackwoodstea.com/PressArticles.asp for a superfast tour and a brew. The tea was stewed. Absolutely disgusting but we did buy one packet to bring home. Their reindeer decoration outside and the live Father Christmas inside plus the tree were the most impressive part! It started to rain just as we left Mackwoods and it carried on raining…….

Our next stop was Nuwara Eliya itself for a snack from a baker’s. Not much choice but we found something. What Jith didn’t tell us, the rascal, was that there was a take-away section behind where we could have got something much more appetizing! Off we went to our next hotel, the a deluxe hotel. It was on the slopes outside the town. Just a small place but with a friendly welcome and we had the star room with the best view. It certainly had the windows – pity about the rain and cloud! Lovely new bathroom. But what a shower it turned out to be! Or not be! Trickle, trickle …. Had our snack and a pot of coffee and were out again in the pouring rain by 15h30. I changed into trousers first, added a layer and got my birding coat out! Our destination was Victoria Park. It was very nice and there was an excellent childrens’ play area but birding in the rain when you wear glasses is not best! One of our prime targets was a pied thrush but we couldn’t find one anywhere: an exciting dash through a compost heap only led to yet another magpie robin and there were no views from the bouncy concrete bridge either. Yes, I did say bouncy concrete bridge! We bumped into a British birder who had rung Jith just before he left England trying to get him to guide for him but of course he was already booked. By us! He was obviously angling to join us but Jith handled the situation very well. A true diplomat. At one point a lady in black tried to get her children to speak English to me. They were very shy but lovely! I found it very odd talking to a pair of eyes with a plastic divider between them to keep her letterbox open. By the time we had finished our reccy of the park, we were well wet. Except for Jith with his brolly! Our tally was as follows: Sri Lanka yellow-eared bulbul E, L, magpie robin, thick-billed flowerpecker, grey wagtail, common myna, common sandpiper, tailor bird, forest wagtail, kashmir flycatcher, Sri Lanka white-eye E, L, indian blue robin plus the ubiquitous crows, spotted dove etc! We also saw a highland squirrel which is a sub-species of the palm squirrel but darker. As we left the gardens, we saw a young man selling woolly hats and ear warmers  **.

There are some lovely buildings in this area – old colonial houses, mostly converted into hotels now. There is a beautiful brick-built post office dating back to the nineteenth century, an old red telephone box, a golf course and an amazing “horse track” with wild (?) horses grazing on it. Pony rides are available or trips on the lake and there is a genuine French café/bakers! As we turned off the road to go to our hotel there were several cows wandering about and I even saw ox and horses in the town itself!

Back at our hotel it was a bit chilly and there was no heating! I actually sat fully-clothed in bed writing up my notes whilst we waited for tea which was very good. Rice, curried fish, dahl, coconut stuff, potatoes then fruit salad. The curry had a right good kick but Roland and Jith still felt the need to spice the meal up by munching on raw chillies! I’m not sure how the Germans staying there enjoyed their meal but the French couple were decidedly not keen!!

It was amusing to see that our waiter was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and mr.man standing around taking orders had a fleece and a woolly hat on!

The Christmas decorations had gone up while we were out: a Chrstmas tree, father Christmas masks, tinsel etc. There was a little shrine in the entrance hall so the owners were obviously Christians. We were a little puzzled by the CCTV that had been installed. We wouldn’t have thought there was a need for it but the owner told us it was so he could go on holiday and keep an eye on his staff to make sure they were working properly!

Bed by 20h30.

 

Wednesday 22nd December

Up at 5h00 for a 6h00 breakfast. Mosque blaring out stuff via loudspeakers! Breakfast: papaya juice, rice, coconut, dahl, omelette. Low cloud – could hardly see anything from the window. Four layers on. Needed them! Cold, cold, cold. And very soon wet, wet, wet. By hexk, did it rain!! A slow, slippy, slidy journey to Hakgala Gardens (5,400feet above sea-level) through treacherous roadworks ensued. I felt so sorry for the pedestrians – really mucky conditions and the schoolboys were there in their white uniforms too. By the time we got to the gardens, visibility was down to about 50 metres! We carried on regardless and were rewarded with brief respites in the rain and slowly lifting cloud. Well, it lifted a bit! We saw Toque monkeys, highland squirrel, giant highland squirrel, purple-faced leaf monkeys (so cute) and a rhino lizard. Jith didn’t let the weather slow us down and was very persistant in trying to find the birds he knew lived here. Most of our birding was done right up at the top of the gardens, near the tree-line and it was relatively sheltered up there. Despite the abysmal weather we saw pied bushchat and hill swallows on the way then dark blue flycatcher, Kashmir flycatcher, bar-winged flycatcher shrike, canary flycatcher, great tit, scarlet minivet, yellow-eared bulbul, greater flameback (F), jungle fowl. We heard a wood pigeon and I saw it flying but we didn’t count it. Jith tried really, really hard to find it. It cost us 600/- each to go in and it was 300/- for Jith. The toilets in the gardens were clean and there was a nice glass house with many familiar plants in it! There were quite a few people wandering about in the gardens or visiting the café when we left and there were several traders on the roadside selling clothes, candy floss, ice-cream, plants, balloons… They all had their woolly hats on!

We would have liked to stop on the way back to look at a highly decorated Hindu temple but there were traffic jams due to the road works and atrocious conditions and nowhere proper to stop so we wouldn’t. We got dropped off in town so we could have a bit of an explore. We like doing that. The market was great and 2 of the fishmongers let us take photos. It was all so cheap and looked to be really good quality as did the fruit and vegetables. A sparrow landed in a sack of rice and had a quick nibble as we walked past! The shops were colourful and sold all sorts. There were constant invitations to go in and have a look but we didn’t have time and didn’t want to buy sarees etc. It stopped raining! The police had fantastic long-length khaki coloured macs on! The tuk-tuks had black flaps across to keep the rain out with just a corner held down for the driver to see out of. It looked highly hazardous to me! There are tuk tuks absolutely everywhere. An excellent means of transport. We saw lots of woolly hats and ear warmers around and not all for sale! Some of the children were so muffled up but then we have found that to be so in Goa too. I found a cardigan I really liked (300/-) but they didn’t have it in my size. We went into a tea shop and bought some tea, looked in the dingy booze shops and finally chose somewhere to eat. Not exactly your posh eating establishment but the food was ok and the water free! The tea, however, was absolutely disgusting! Sweet and milky. Chicken fried rice was dear at 210/- but my omelette was only 70/-. The tea was 60/-. For 2 cups. We found a few Christmas bits: a mask, an inflatable Father Christmas and an expensive singing bird as a souvenir. I wanted to buy the CD of Christmas carols sung in Sinhalese but was vetoed. We tried to find a juice place but couldn’t so went to the bus station to watch the buses. Always interesting! The stopping the starting, the edging forward, the cries to passengers, the way people are squashed in, the way the buses manoeuvre round each other, the quality of the buses …. We had a bit of a shop in a supermarket where the cashiers were dressed in red capes with snow bobbles on. We bought chocolate and ready mixes for fish masala, devilled meat, red curry etc. There were signs up advertising the services provided: gift wrapping, mincing meat, scraping coconuts … It was now time to go and meet up with Jith and Mr.Silva and the sun was coming out! I was warm! We were off to visit the opposite side of the valley, exploring the forest first. We went on a lovely walk but it started raining again. It poured. And poured. There was nothing about. Eventually we gave up and went back. We didn’t mind getting wet but there really was nothing about and it made the morning’s rain look like showers! The eucalyptus trees smelt lovely but are hardly the best choice for reforestation. What were the Brits thinking about? It just doesn’t make sense, importing foreign trees. As we got back to the bridge, we saw our first birds of the afternoon: yellow-eared bulbuls. The river here had been sandbagged in two areas to form pools which some men were using for washing sacks of carrots in. We were all a bit soggy by the time we climbed back into the minibus and our equipment hadn’t fared much better. My rucksack was definitely not waterproof! Never gave it a thought. We stopped by the road on the way back in a market gardening area. The rain had slackened of a bit and there were some birds about: sparrows, paddy-field pipits, magpie robin, lotan’s sunbird. Then it started to rain again and the cloud was getting lower and lower so we went back to the hotel. Jith looked most despondent but with birding you have to take the rough with the smooth. We were later glad to have gone back because the weather just continued to get worse. We ordered coffee in our room and I retreated to bed again with my Sri Lankan fruit and nut 90g for 130/-! The sound of the rain was amazing but we discovered that instead of drainpipes the rain ran down chains into a huge terracotta pot with a hole in the bottom that led to a drain. We had another lovely meal at night then went straight to bed. We were able to see the line of torches held by the pilgrims going up Adam’s Peak in the distance. Probably the clearest it had been all day!

 

Thursday, 23rd December

Rain. Up at 4h45 for a 5h15 start. Looking for a whistling thrush near the Hindu Temple. No luck.

Usual breakfast. The sprats with chillies were nice. We had to set off early for the long drive to Tissamaharama. The road works went on for miles and miles and there were so many areas with no surface at all… slow progress but as we got lower, it got warmer and warmer and drier! No wonder they call the mountains there Little England and I thought it was because the Brits had had so much influence not because the weather was so grotty! Again, we passed through some interesting-looking small towns but couldn’t stop for an explore. We did stop for newspapers at one point and got moved on by the police while Jith was in the shop – I was just about to take a photo looking across the street when this policeman’s face appeared in my view-finder…. We eventually stopped at a rest house called the Grand Ella Motel for toilets and coffee. Both were appreciated. We had excellent views of a black eagle and a flock of Sri Lankan whiteeye (c100). Quite amazing. Sunbirds etc flitting about too. Still 3 layers at this point! A little further down the road, some enterprising chappie had set-up a car wash in a natural layby next to a stream and waterfall! There was still a lot of tea being grown round here but of the middle variety, for blending. There were still lots of bits of roadworks. The tools being used varied from place to place but we hadn’t seen the antiquated methods used in Goa anywhere until we saw three men patting down a patch of tarmac with trowels!

Our next stop was at the famous Rawana Falls. There were more car wash people operating here on the car park. And why not? Every credit. There were also several men trying to sell crystals and they were a pain, shoving them in your hand, saying they were free then asking for foreign money. There were several traders too: ice-cream, corn on the cob etc plus a lottery seller on a motor-bike! We walked down to the falls to take photos – I saw a lady enjoying a shower at the side! I took my cardigan off here! Down to two layers!

We were gradually getting lower and lower, leaving the tea bushes behind and seeing more paddy fields. We stopped briefly at Namanukula for little egret, zitting cisticola, openbill and intermediate egret. We were now in elephant country. Exciting! We started to see stalls selling lots of buffalo curd (like yohyur). There were elephant look-out shelters in the fields and elephant corridor signs! There were lovely blasts of warm air invading the bus when we opened the door – time to take another layer off! As we approached Tissamaharama we saw hundreds of swallows over the paddy fields then lots of pilgrims stopped by the lakes on their way to a Holy Hindu site. We arrived at our hotel. Another posh one! Quite small. Our room was right by the swimming pool. It looked very inviting but we were short on both time and cozzies! We just had time for a quick lunch. I ordered an egg and tomato sandwich (cheapest thing on the menu) whilst Roland plumped for fish curry. When they arrived, I had an omelette on half-toasted bread plus a large portion of thin chips and Roland had nine separate dishes plus the rice which made us feel a bit better about the price! We gobbled it down and set off for the Bundala wetlands where we saw:

Grey heron

Black winged stilt

Lesser whistling duck

Whiskered tern

White-fronted waterhen

Golden plover

Black-tailed godwit,

Marsh sandpiper

Garganey

Wood sandpiper

Green sandpiper

Red wattled lapwing

Lesser sand plover

Common sandpiper

Great egret

Redshank

Greenshank

Purple sunbird

Painted stork

Spoonbill

Ashy-crowned sparrowlark

Turnstone

Spot-billed pelican

Greater thick-knee

Lesser thick-knee

Glossy ibis

Paddyfield pipit

Purple heron Indian darter

Purple swamphen

Pheasant-tailed jacana

Plain prinia

Yellow wagtail (first winter)

Common moorhen

Dark-crowned night heron

Little green bee-eater

Indian roller

Brown-headed gull

Little stint Curlew sandpiper

Peafowl (m+f)

White-bellied fish-eagle

Black robin

Gull-billed tern

Sri Lankan green pigeon

Pied kingfisher

Yellow-wattled lapwing

 

We also saw mongoose and a spotted deer which was nearly an oops! as it ran right in front of us and hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of fruit bats flying overhead as we travelled back at dusk. What an amazing sight.

 

 Tea was rubbish. A small European-style buffet with melting ice-cream for pud plus not much else. We were absolutely shattered and after a great shower collapsed into bed by 20h30.

 

Friday, 24th December

Up at 5h00, set off at 6h00 for wetlands (Hambantota). It was raining. Just a bit! And had been all night with the result that the track was a little bit muddy! Staying upright was a challenge and I soon had so much mud clinging to my trainers that I could hardly move. We saw the fruit bats flying home to roost on our way but there weren’t as many as the night before. It was amusing watching everyone cycling with an umbrella held overhead. We even saw a pair of motorcyclists wearing crash helmets and holding a brolly! It was very quiet in the paddy fields, on the lakes and at Hambantota but we did manage to add the following to our list:

European kingfisher

Stork-billed kingfisher

Black bittern (what a neck!!)

Yellow bittern

Common iora

Black-headed munia

Scaly-breasted munia

Small minivet

We returned to the hotel for breakfast which was a buffet and Sri Lankan. We had the rest of the morning free to write notes up/relax. It was very pleasant sitting outside our room in the shade watching the babblers. Although we weren’t impressed with the food at this hotel, we did have a lovely bathroom complete with a power shower, a drench shower and a separate tap. The TV didn’t work but we don’t watch telly anyway and there was hardly any storage and no information about the hotel, services etc but we didn’t care: we had a nice bathroom! And we were about to go on safari! We were ready on the dot of 12h30. Our safari jeep was ready and waiting for us. It had seen better days but who cares? We had it to ourselves! Off we went to Yala. We were supposed to pick up a tracker on arrival but there weren’t any left so we had to do without. Their primary purpose seems to be to make sure that you obey the National Park rules. There is a museum, shop and toilets before you go into the park proper. We stayed until closing time: 18h00 and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves clocking up:

 

Hoopoe

Malabar pied hornbill

Tree swift

Orange-breasted green pigeon

Blue-faced malkoha (flying)

Baya weaver

Black-headed cuckoo-shrike

Brown fish owl

Grey-headed fish eagle

Spotted deer

Land monitor

Marsh crocodile

Langar

Sambar

Black-naped hare

Elephants

Wild boar

Sloth bear

Mongoose

We saw loads of pea fowl. I always get excited by them and will never forget seeing my first wild one in Goa. It was amazing seeing them sitting in the trees too. It only takes something simple to make my day! We were also fascinated by the butterflies which congregated en masse on the clay by the side of the road.

We stopped for a break mid-afternoon near the Ocean. It was a lovely spot but had been badly affected by the tsunami in 2000. There had been over 40 houses there which had been completely wiped out. All that was left was the base of one of them. A memorial and sculpture had been erected here and there is a special remembrance ceremony every year on the anniversary of the disaster.

 

Tea tonight was not until 20h00 because it was a special buffet. We had to pay an extra 10dollars supplement for it. Jith was staying in a different hotel as there weren’t enough rooms and his didn’t do meals so we invited him to join us but he declined. Wise man. The buffet was European-style food with a barbecue outside where you could get hot dog sausages, chicken, beef or pork but it had all been pre-cooked and they just warmed it up, basically. I must admit that the dining-room looked very nice with everything re-arranged and the food displayed to its best advantage. The centre piece was a whole mullet which was very nice. Everyone got a present which was beautifully wrapped but turned out to be a small slice of some rather horrid cake. For pud there was melted chocolate ice-cream, orange mousse, chocolate mousse, fresh fruit and not much else. The entertainment turned out to be a Calypso trio who were nowhere near as good as the one n Kitulgala and only played English/American stuff with lots of breaks in-between. It didn’t take us long to eat and we were in bed not much later than 9. The festivities didn’t keep us awake but the selfish French people next door did trying to get their enfants to sleep. They weren’t very good at it and pretending to be a crocodile (croc!croc!croc!) outside our paper-thin door wasn’t much appreciated!

 

Christmas Day

We were up at our usual 5 0’clock so we could make an early start and go back to the same spot as the day before. It was a lovely morning and much drier underfoot! We saw two cotton pygmy geese on the way but nothing new at our spot. There was, however, a man collecting lotus flowers. He had a round rubber ring which he had tied string across to make it a rectangular shape in which he could sit and float. At breakfast there was a praying mantis on one of the food dishes! We took photos then Roland put it outside. Time to pack and leave. Off we went to another part of the wetlands where we had good views of two crocodiles lying with their mouths wide-open! A black-winged stilt was parading up and down in front of one of them but he must not have been hungry! There were a couple of men who came fishing with nets but they didn’t seem to have been very successful. We didn’t see anything new except for a spotted redshank and a possible Caspian tern. And couldn’t hang around any longer as we had another safari to go on! Off we went to to Udawalawa National Park Again, there were lots of hold-ups due to roadworks and this was the first time we saw women road workers in Sri Lanka. As we neared our pick up point we had excellent views of elephants by the electric fences lining the road. Exciting! Such magnificent animals, these are a smaller sub-species of the Indian variety. It was also getting darker and darker as we neared our destination. Indeed, it started to rain huge spots the moment we got into our rusty jeep! Undeterred off we went without working windscreen wipers! By the time we got to the National Park it was heaving it down and we had to stop and put the roof across. The rain just got worse though and before we knew it we were in the midst of a tropical thunderstorm! Quite spectacular and necessitating putting the sides down too. The “roads” soon looked more like rivers and we had no option but to sit and wait for it to ease off. Fortunately it didn’t go on for too long and we were soon able to set off complete with tracker this time. The roads were a bit iffy in places but the driver was used to them. Fortunately .We got great views standing up especially as there were only the three of us in the back. There were some right idiot drivers in the park who completely ignored all the rules. We watched one chap get completely stuck in the mud – what a mess he made trying to get out and his jeep was almost on its side much to the alarm of his two passengers! Idiot! Despite the poor light and low cloud we managed to see more serpent eagles than you could shake a stick at, ashy prinia, yellow-eyed babblers, grey-breasted munia, blackshouldered kite, crested serpent eagles galore, a big flock of baya weaver, coppersmith barbet, woolly-necked stork (flying), white-naped woodpecker, alexandrine parakeet, rose-ringed parakeet, 7 malabar hornbill, 1 barred button quail, oriental white-eye, several changeable hawk eagle, white-browed fantail, kestrel, plaintive cuckoo and asain koel. At one point we stopped to watch two mongooses at the side of the road. They watched us back for a little while then bobbled further off only to bob back for another look. Then they went off across the road and disappeared. Or so we thought until Roland saw two cheeky little faces peeping out at us from inside a hollow tree! They were adorable and we watched for ages! Animal wise we also saw spotted deer, a jackal and elephants. If we had only gone for the animals, we would have been bored. We stayed until closing time then had to return the jeep and make our way to our next hotel! On the way we stopped at a supermarket to buy supplies for the next few days. It seemed that Martin charged 600/- for lunch which is a lot so we had to buy biscuits and things! We got, mango puffs, ginger biscuits, bourbon biscuits, cheesy biscuits and some little chocolate bars. Very healthy. There was an open space in front of the shop where some youths had set up some sound decks, speakers etc. It was so loud the ground and everything roundabout was vibrating! Mad! Our next hotel was the Centuriya and again it was a bit posh! We were greeted with cold towels again and invited to sit on their plush sofa surrounded by a huge crib, Christmas trees etc! Jewellery shop. Gift shop. Mind you, it didn’t look as posh once you moved away from reception but the rooms were pretty good with a nice big bathroom again and a splendid balcony overlooking a lake. A light in the wardrobe! Free umbrellas! They even supplied you with toothpaste here! We were very happy with our room apart from the separate beds again but we couldn’t push these close to because of the lights. The telly had no reception though and the shower was rubbish. There was a big buffet area but it looked better than it was. It was all beautifully displayed but many of the dishes were balanced quite precariously which made it difficult to serve. The presentation of food everywhere we had been so far was really quite splendid and a sight to behold. The desserts here were nice – a yuletide log, fruit flan and orange cake in particular. We didn’t have to be up until 6 the next morning. A lie-in! Breakfast was at 7 and we had to leave by 8 but not without looking for the collared scopes owl in the grounds first. Breakfast was yum except for the instant coffee.:(

 

Roland, Ann, Jith and Silva at Martin's Lodge
Roland, Ann, Jith and Silva at Martin's Lodge

 

Our first stop was the elephant transit home. There were about 30 young orphaned elephants here and some of them must have been very young because they were really small and oh so gorgeous! They are fed three times a day and the public can watch from a distance. The rest of the day the elephants are free to roam in the park. It is said that this way the elephants don’t get humanised and can be released safely into the wild but we have our doubts! There was also a museum and shop at the centre. It cost 500/- for us to go in and 20 /- for locals. We then had to make the long journey to Sinharaja. We broke our journey at a very impressive café/bakers n the gem-pit area. It was called and was decorated in blue and silver for Christmas. There was a beautiful display of cakes inside. Very tempting. We bought snacks and had coffee before we moved on. We didn’t visit any of the gem pits because there wasn’t time. Maybe next time. I don’t know how interesting they are but I would love to have a Sri Lankan sapphire! On we went. There was a lot to see but it was difficult to stay awake ! We stopped briefly to look at a couple of serpent eagles and some white-rumped munia and I noticed a pond heron sitting on the telegraph wire! It looked most incongruous. Some of the roads we travelled on were narrow and winding but wherever we went there were buses and tuk tuks! There must be a fantastic public transport system linking all these small villages together. We also saw some sumptious houses round where we stopped. They belong to gem dealers and businessmen. We passed quite a lot of children going to Sunday School. They were dressed all in white. The government encourages this whatever the religion and the children get extra points for going. We finally arrived at Sinharaja village and it was time to change our minibus for a jeep. Mr.Silva didn’t want to take his vehicle up the road to Martin’s Lodge. I hated to think how bad it was as some of the roads we had already travelled were pretty horrendous! How on earth the buses managed I just don’t know. It turned out to be pretty exciting driving up to Martin’s Lodge. Not for the faint-hearted. We stopped half-way to look at some frog mouth. One of the forest rangers took us there. It was a bit of a scramble and a precarious spot but worth it! We also saw needletail. We were relieved when we finally arrived at Martin’s. It was pretty basic but that’s what we expected and we have stayed in far worse places. Our bedroom had 2 single beds, mosquito nets, 3 windows with no glass in but wooden shutters, a locking door made out of a packing case and shelving for our belongings. We had our own bathroom with a view of the jungle, a flooding toilet with no cistern, a flooding wash-basin with a swivelling tap and a shower of sorts. The whole was mostly tastefully decorated with tiles grouted in green. A little uneven ,maybe (downright dangerous even) or not quite matching but nonetheless tiles. Jith ordered us coffee and once we were ready we went for a walk to the Information centre nearby and then down the road a bit. Sinharaja is famous because of its primary rainforest. We could see it from where we were staying but secondary rainforest is better for birding. On our afternoon walk we picked up:

White-throated flowerpecker

Black bulbul

Emerald dove

Scarlet minivet

Layard’s parakeet

Paradise flycatcher, white

Yellow-fronted barbet

Blue magpie.

 

We also saw purple-faced monkeys and were fascinated by the ants’ nests up the trees! We sat in the open dining-room afterwards with more coffee just watching the jungle and the mountains around us. So peaceful. It was wonderful. There were lots of flying creatures around, attracted by the lights. Mostly moths.

Tea was delicious. We had rice, dahl, French beans, 2 kinds of chicken curry, coconut mixture, popadums and bananas.

We were not the only people staying. There were 2 groups of Danes too We went for an early night but had to go out twice to ask people to be quiet. The first time people were sitting outside our room chatting loudly – they might as well have been sat in the room with us such was the quality of the construction and the second time was to point out to the Danes that we had to get up early. They were most apologetic: mum and dad and 2 teenagers. The kids were bored by the next day! I think they all were, actually!

 

Monday, 27th December

Up at 5h30 for the magpies and coffee! We had already been alerted to the fact that they were early morning visitors coming to feast on the moths etc attracted by the lights at night. It was magic watching them. While we did so, Jith walked down to the village to buy our tickets to get into the forest and bring back our guide. Anyone visiting the forest has to use an official guide. Ours was very good and very pleasant and he was to be with us for two days. Breakfast was good: rice, dahl, coconut, omelette, more coffee. As we ate, the mist was slowly descending into the valley. Strange. I would have expected it to dissipate rather then encroach further down. It was hard to see much for the first hour of our walk but when it cleared the sun came out for a while. The rest of the day was overcast but it didn’t rain. We walked a long way that morning and didn’t get back until one by which time I was right tired. We made two sorties into the jungle proper which was exciting! The first was to see a serendip scops owl. A bit hairy but I did it! The second was to look for a laughing thrush – not as hairy but I caught my foot in a liana and landed on my hands and knees with a giggle. Nails intact so all was well. No damage done. Plenty of leeches about but they seemed to be leaving us alone thanks to the magic of Deet. I hate that stuff but needs must and all that! New birds for the morning were the serendip scops owl, laughing thrush, crested drongo, white-faced starling, besra, scimitar babbler. We also saw a bronze-backed snake and some lantern flies. They were very attractive but apparently jump and bite. It was very pleasant walking in the forest – not too hot but a bit rough underfoot in places. You have to pass a barrier where they check your tickets. When you get more-or less to the end of the trail, there is a clearing where there was a research centre. There was a huge satellite dish looking rather the worse for wear. It had apparently been damaged by an elephant a few weeks previously. He lived at the other end of the forest with his mum and sister but they chucked him out so to speak when he was reaching adulthood. It was time for him to find a mate. So off he went. We saw various signs of his passage through: footprints, broken trees etc but he didn’t harm anyone. I hope he finds a mate soon.

Lunch was coffee and nibbles with bananas. I was too knacked to eat anything. Roland found a leech in his camera bag then went off up the hill to see if he could get a signal on his phone and saw the biggest land monitor ever!

We walked the same trail later in the afternoon but didn’t do the information centre. We all saw the land monitor on our way. It really was big! It was fairly quiet but we saw lots of laughing thrushes in a bush near the path – typical after that struggle for one earlier in the day! We also saw Sri Lanka hill myna and had fabulous views of lesser yellownape, red-faced malkoha and trogon (m+f). There was also a watersnake in the pool this time.

The cicadas were amazing. They would start up every so often and make an amazing amount of noise: sometimes they sounded just like a circular saw. They reminded of bits of film where the action is about to reach a climax!

Knacked.

We had bread fruit curry tonight made with the fruit Jith had bought on the way. It was absolutely delicious!

 

Tuesday 28th December

Up at 5h30 for the magpies. Out with Jith and guide at 7h30. Same trail. There is only the one! This time we were looking for the scaly thrush. Our first stop was near the toilets towards where we had seen the owl. The guide thought he had seen a nest. I waited on the path and enjoyed watching the birds flitting about in the tree tops. The intrepid trio were unsuccessful in their hunt. We carried on to the end of the trail, crossed the wobbly bridge and went even further on where we had to cross the river because that was preferable to the bridge. We looked both sides of the tracks, Nothing. Went back across the river, along the river, still no bird. We tried everywhere then made our way upwards throught the jungle to a point above the river. The guide kept hearing the thrush apparently. It was a very steep slippery slope down to the river and I decided to stay at the top with the scope but Roland went down after some hesitation. The guide’s patience was rewarded and the bird was duly seen albeit briefly but not by me! I didn’t mind! It really was a nasty slope! Anyay, I was able to de-leech the scope while they were risking life and limb. It had been left with the strap trailing on the forest floor and when I went to use it, I found four wriggly leeches half in, half out of the case! They were detached with ease and a thorough inspection was made of the scope before further use. Always inspect your equipment after putting it down on the forest floor. Better still, don’t put it down and don’t fall! We trudged back to Martin’s without seeing anything new apart from a goshawk and a black-naped monarch. In fact we hardly saw anything apart from other walkers though it was nice to dawdle by the orchids and the pitcher plants for another look. I think Jith might have wanted to walk the trail again in the afternoon but we didn’t so we parted company with our tracker and walked down the road towards the village later in the day. It wasn’t very productive but it was interesting. We were looking for the chestnut backed owlet and a spur-legged fowl but were unlucky on both counts even though we heard the owl. We were, however, able to watch people delivering their tea to the tea lorry and having it weighed and we also saw a green vine snake (pointed out by a passing local) and a flame-backed squirrel (endemic). We saw some incredibly long leeches and a pale-billed flowerpecker with a white crown! Julie and Ken had walked part of the trail again, turning back when it started to rain, but they did get to see 2 frogmouth and Julie caught a glimpse of a spurfowl. We didn’t get rained on at all! Rainbow

 

 

Wednesday, 29th December

Up at 5.30 for the magpies and coffee. Breakfast at 7.00, left at 7.30. There were lovely pink clouds first thing and just a light mist as we left. Mr.Martin drove us down to the village. He went very slowly and very carefully encouraging Jith to get out every so often and move a rock for him! We paused at one point to admire tree swifts close up. What beautiful birds!

It was a long, long way to Ranweli and we were sad knowing that we would be parting company with Jith and Mr.Silva when we got there. We only stopped once to buy some pastries. They were probably the best so far. Again we went through some amazing countryside and small towns but nodded off several times. Good job Mr.Silva didn’t though he managed to throw us out of our seats on one particularly bad bit of road! Ranweli was as we expected it to be, having seen the Malcolm Rymer DVD. Having stayed there ourselves now, we think he flattered to deceive somewhat! Jith escorted us to reception, sorted out the key etc, and gave instructions to the boat man before he left. We were pleased to be in a hut/bungalow rather than in one of the ordinary rooms. It wasn’t quite at the ocean front but we could hear the waves pounding away. Like a dream come true. We had a nice big room with a spacious sitting area, a nice bathroom and a verandah. It wasn’t long before we were out and about exploring our surroundings. We walked round and through the hotel complex towards the end of the lagoon and back again.

Asian koel

House crow

Common sandpiper

Grey heron

Striated heron

Little egret

Pied kingfisher

Common myna

White-breasted waterhen

Plain prinia

Blue-tailed bee-eater

Greater coucal

Whiskered tern

Red-wattled lapwing

Indian cormorant

Pond heron

Intermediate egret

White-throated kingfisher

Reed warbler

We also saw several water monitors and watched crimson rose butterflies mating. There were lots of grasshoppers and other insects bobbing about in the tangle of flowers covering much of the sand. The sunset was marvellous. Very romantic!

 

Thursday, 30th December

Once again we were up at 5.30 so we could start our boat trip at 6.30. This lasted a good two hours and it rained for about the last 30 minutes. Altogether we saw:

House crow

Jungle crow

Great egret

Blue-tailed bee-eater

Striated heron

Pied kingfisher

Common myna

White-breasted waterhen

Black-headed ibis

Redshank

Purple-rumped sunbird

Scaly-breasted munia

White-throated kingfisher

Rose-ring parakeet

Red-vented bulbul

Grey heron

Greater coucal

Pond heron

Black-crowned night heron

Intermediate egret

Red-wattled lapwing

Palm swift

Indian cormorant

Little cormorant

Stork-billed kingfisher

Little egret

White-bellied drongo

Brown-headed barbet

Koel (heard)

Black-rumped woodpecker  **

Purple heron

Indian roller

Black bittern

Golden oriole

Black-capped kingfisher  **

Yellow bittern

White-browed bulbul  **

Common sandpiper

Eurasian thicknee

It took a while for us to find the black-capped kingfisher but the boatman’s perseverance eventually paid off and we enjoyed several excellent views of this lovely bird. Definitely worth getting wet for!

 

Breakfast was scrumptious – probably the best so far. There was loads to choose from and the passion fruit were out of this world! Huge! Not the scrimpy little things we can buy here! We sat outside for a while afterwards. It was lovely and relaxing. An inquisitive palm squirrel kept me entertained for a while and a sweeping lady demonstrated the different patterns she could make with her broom in the sand. Butterflies drifted by, coucals hid in the undergrowth, crows squawked, the ocean crashed onto the rocks …… A nasty-looking fly (huge) got a little bit too friendly so Roland killed it and it wasn’t long before the ants claimed it. We watched a battle between some little ants who wanted to carry it away and one big ant who tried to drag it away! The little ants turned on the big one and he went off looking very unhappy only to return a minute later for another go! He eventually admitted defeat though. One brave ant! Having digested our breakfast we caught the ferry across the lagoon and went for a walk. We saw a young couple having their wedding photos and video done around Ranweli. Very beautiful. There were lots of cribs and decorations outside the houses we passed and some lovely gardens too. We paused to look at an open-air church and chatted with some local children. We saw a shikra and a very bedraggled female koel on our wanderings. On our return to Ranweli we went for a walk on the boardwalk. Mr.Boatman showed us the way in but we had just got to the end when Mr.Stupid from the office came and told us to get out. You’re only supposed to go in on an organised walk which is about the mangroves and their vegetable garden and you have to pay for that! The boardwalk is not in good nick and those of a nervous disposition might find it a bit stressful! Also, although we covered ourselves in Deet, we still got well noshed! We enjoyed the experience but there were no birds. Worth it for the insects we saw though. We tried to organise a guided bird walk for the next day but it wasn’t possible so we went off looking for the pitta and orange-headed thrush we were told could be seen in a different part of the mangroves. All we got were more bites though we did manage to wangle a free walk on the boardwalk for the next afternoon with the boatman.

Back to our hut for a hot shower (sheer bliss!) and then to the buffet which had a “western theme”. Not a cowboy hat to be seen but it turned out to be very good especially the smoked duck breast and the peppered tuna. The roast pork was very yum too as were the devilled chicken and pineapple tempura. We would have liked to have watched the entertainment but there were no signs of it starting so off we went for our usual early night via the jeweller’s. I resisted temptation though and still regret it!

 

Frday, 31st December

 

Our last day.  :(

 

We got up at our usual time and went straight out to look for the pitta, forest wagtail and orange-headed thrush. No luck. After breakfast we walked to the far end of the lagoon and had a look at the open-air church. To the side of it, there was what looked a vandalised crib. Very strange. This was the only sign of vandalism we saw whilst in Sri Lanka and it seemed odd that it had been left like that with broken bottles and litter around it. Very sad. Several people came to the church to pray while we were there. On our walk we saw:

Pied cuckoo  **

Spotted dove

Brahminy kite

Cattle egret

Common tern

Gull-billed tern

Lesser-crested tern

Purple sunbird

Barn swallow

Zitting cisticola

 

Lunch was disappointing especially compared with the other meals we had had so far and it cost . We wouldn’t normally have bothered but were due to leave at 9.00pm and wouldn’t be able to eat later because they were having a special New Year’s Eve bash for which you had to pay an extra . The decorations and buffet turned out to quite spectacular but it wouldn’t have been our cup of tea!

Our guided bird walk through the mangroves wasn’t very productive but we had good views of magpie robins, asian koel, white-bellied drongo, And a white paradise flycatcher. Our last walk along the lagoon netted black-headed munia, ashy prinia, little sandplover, greater sandplover.

Time for our last sunset, packing etc.

Jith and Mr.Silva came to the hotel to pick us up and take us to the airport and that was that! An uneventful flight home and train journey to Preston. All the snow and ice had gone! Excellent timing! Excellent holiday!

Author/s of the report: 
Ann Gilford
Roland Glifford
Group size: 
2
Members of the group (clients): 
Ann Gilford
Roland Glifford
Tour Guide: 
Prasanjith Caldera