Ian Hillery's Trip Report - Species List

Trip Report Title: 
Bird Watching trip report by Ian Hillery, Durham, UK.
Tour Strat: 
Friday, March 27, 2009
Tour End: 
Friday, April 3, 2009

Trip Report Year:

This report consists of 9 parts: Introduction | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Species List


List of bird species seen

List of bird species seen

Sri Lanka Junglefowl 

Contrary to the image portayed by its domesticated Red Junglefowl cousin, this bird is a lover of forest cover, and so was not usually seen far from trees. The call is also a lot different to that of a "rooster". Most unusual sight was of a male perched in the canopy early evening near to the reception area ofSisira's River Lodge. Sinaharaja 1 male, 2 separate males, 4 females with young; Sinaharaja 1; Hakgala 1; River Lodge 1

Little Grebe

2 Nuwaraeliya lake

Asian Openbill  

The first was seen on the paddies/wet meadow near to the River Lodge. A second bird appeared in flight when the first took off. What may have been the same bird was present on the second day

Cinnamon Bittern

A single male was seen emerging from a small thicket of grass within the rice paddies near to the River Lodge. It spent most of the time in the half cover, creeping out of the rear for a short time before sneaking back into safety

Malayan Night Heron

A single bird was disturbed by our guide within the dense forest as we approached the location of the Serendib Scops-Owl. It was then seen perched high up not far from its original spot

Indian Pond Heron

A common bird in most marshy or wet areas

Eastern Cattle Egret

An abundant bird almost everywhere

Yellow-billed Egret

The larger white egrets were not generally checked during the trip, although a single bird slowly patrolling the paddies near to the River Lodge allowed close scrutiny

Little Cormorant

10 together on wires in Colombo while still within city limits; 1 Sinaharaja reception; 1 Sinaharaja village; 3 in rice paddies on the journey from Sinharaja to Nuwaraeliya; 1 Nuwaraeliya lake

Crested Honey Buzzard

1 over the village below Sinaharaja on the journey to Nuwaraeliya

Brahminy Kite

1 over rice paddies on the journey from Sinharaja to Nuwaraeliya

Crested Serpent Eagle

1 flew over the small tract of forest before Sinaharaja reception, while looking for Sri Lanka Frogmouth

Crested Goshawk

A perched bird was directly over us in Sinharaja. It's presence was initially given away by the small band of mobbing passerines


3 together over financial bank where we stopped to cash travellers cheques on the journey from the airport to Sinharaja; 1 over Sisira's River Lodge; 1 Kitungala forest

Black Eagle

1 on journey from Sinharaja to Nuwaraeliya; 2 circling together over Kitungala forest

Crested Hawk-Eagle

1 over Kitungala forest in the company of a Shikra

Slaty-legged Crake

Jith asked Jaya to stop the car on the journey from Sinharaja to Nuwaraeliya when a small bird had fluttered across the road in front of us. Minutes later, we briefly watched this crake above the bank next to the road

White-breasted Waterhen

1 Sinaharaja in the distance; 2 on journey from Sinharaja to Nuwaraeliya; 1 Victoria Park; 1 River Lodge paddies, with 2 the followng day with chick at the same location

Red-wattled Lapwing

3 in fields on the journey from airport to Sinharaja

Common Sandpiper

2 at the stream in Victoria Park

Whiskered Tern

1 within the city limits of Colombo

Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon

The main breeding area of this endemic is within the mountains, but they do have an altitudanal migration during the non-breeding season. More were seen at the wintering grounds: at least 15 in Sinaharaja forest on the first visit, followed by 1 and 3; 2 Nuwaraeliya forest

Spotted Dove

A common bird throughout: Sinaharaja - 1; 3-4 Hakgala; 1 Victoria Park; 3 Hakgala on second visit; quite common Kitungala area, with ~20 in Kitungala forest

Common Emerald Dove

1 on the  journey from Sinharaja to Nuwaraeliya; 1 Sinaharaja on the track to the information centre; Sinaharaja forest - 1; 3 Sinaharaja village; 2 Kitungala village; 2, 1 River Lodge; 1 Kitungala forest

Sri Lanka Green Pigeon

These had been missed during the stay at Sinharaja, but 3 were picked up on the descent from Martin's Lodge (in his jeep) while leaving the area

Green Imperial Pigeon

Quite common at Sinha, where all the birds seen were in flight. 1 was perched close to at the River Lodge area, with another 3 in flight

Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot

These were more of a common sound and flypast than grounded sighting, but quite a few were eventually seen feeding: 4 Sinaharaja; 2 Sinharaja descent;3 Kitungala village; ~8, ~15 River Lodge; ~8 Kitungala forest

Alexandrine Parakeet

These were only seen in flight, with 4 over the River Lodge paddies, and 2 over Kitungala forest. They are very characteristic, being much larger than any of the other parakeets in the area, and having a thin elongated crucifix shape

Rose-ringed Parakeet

1 screeching individual perched near to the reception of River Lodge; 2 flew into a tree briefly at the River Lodge paddies

Layard's Parakeet

Small numbers only were seen at Sinharaja (6, ~10), but all were in flight, so the plumage characters could not be seen. All of those at this location were seen from the restaurant of Martin's Lodge. They were very much more obliging at Kitungala, particularly in the vicinity of Sisira's River Lodge, where they regularly landed after noisy flypasts to feed on the fruit trees. ~15-20 were seen during any one birding session

Green-billed Coucal

This species is one of the more difficult to pin down, due mainly to its low numbers (it is endangered) and retiring habits. One of the best spots to see it is in the woodland just up from the Sinharaja reception. We were out of luck on the very first rainy afternoon hunt, but fortunate with a sunning bird the next morning. A second bird was heard calling near to Sisira's River Lodge 

Greater Coucal

This is quite a hard bird to get good views of, despite its size and colour against the foliage. 1 was on the journey from the airport just before Sinaharaja; 1 Sinaharaja village; 1 Hakgala; 1 Kitungala village

Red-faced Malkoha

Sinharaja Forest is the prime location for these birds, and they are far from easy to find. They are reputed to roam with Babbler flocks, and it is with a group of these that we saw the 3 birds at the Sinharaja research station. They were at the top of the canopy, but could easily be seen due to their size and habit of staying in one tree for a few minutes at a time

Chestnut-winged Cuckoo

1 Sinaharaja; 1 Nuwaraeliya forest

Asian Koel

1 male Sinha, several heard; female River Lodge

Serendib Scops Owl

It is strange notion that this is one of the most newly discovered species, and doesn't even appear in the popular field guide. 4-5 pairs are now known on the island, and each take some tracking down. I was led through the pouring rain and leech infested dense forest to make eye contact in poor light with one of these birds. Kandula, the guide, had heard its call earlier, and skillfully managed to retrace his steps to the exact branch where he had located the bird

Chestnut-backed Owlet

After the first afternoon's birding session around the Sisira's River Lodge area, we were returning in the weakening light towards the reception area when I caught sight of an owlet perched near the rubbish hole. It flew into the canopy to be accosted by mobbing passerines, flew off again, and was then relocated a behind the wire fence nearby

Crested Treeswift

1 in front of Martin's Lodge; 1 on journey from Sinharaja to Nuwaraeliya

Indian Swiftlet

~10 over Sinharaja village; 3-4 over River Lodge on both days in general area of the paddies

Asian Palm Swift

~6 over Martin's Lodge; 2 Sinaharaja village; 3-4 on journey from Sinharaja to Nuwaraeliya; 1 over Kitungala forest; 2 over River Lodge paddies

Malabar Trogon

A total of 4 were seen in Sinharaja forest. The first 2, seemingly a pair, were amongst a mixed flock beyong the research station. The next day, another male was directly above the research station, and a second male was above the track on return to Martin's Lodge, while pinning down a Scimitar-babbler

Stork-billed Kingfisher

1 flew across the river at Kitungala while at the "ferry canoe". A second was first heard calling from the river beside Sisira's River Lodge, and then seen flying into cover. Given the short distance between the lodge and the ferry, these could have been the same bird

White-throated Kingfisher

This species provided the best action sequence of the trip, when a perching bird near to the River Lodge paddies dived to the ground with a thud, and returned with a small snake in its bill, which it them started to smash against the branch. They were generally quite regularly seen: 4 on the journey from the airport to Sinharaja; 2 Sinaharaja village; 3 on the journey from Sinharaja to Nuwaraeliya; 1 River Lodge paddies; 2 Kitungala forest

Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher 

This has to be one of the stars of Sisira's River Lodge. It was pointed out to me by the lodge staff almost on arrival, where it is a bit of a regular. The next day, it reappeared just below the restaurant, quite unmoved by our presence

Common Kingfisher

1 flew past during our packed lunch break in Kitungala village

Chestnut-headed Bee-eater

2 hunting around the rice paddies on the journey from Sinharaja to Nuwaraeliya; 1 Kitungala village; ~ 8 at the River Lodge paddies, including two adults feeding a single immature; 1 Kitungala forest

Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill

These birds reputedly usually travel around in pairs, but the 4 that I saw included only one such brace. First took a bit of locating along the track ofSinaharaja forest before giving itself away by flying over our heads; the pair were over thetrack descending to Sinaharaja village; 1 near to the reception of the River Lodge

Brown-headed Barbet

The first was seen when we stopped to look for Sri Lanka Frogmouth just before Sinaharaja; 2 at Sinharaja village; 4 in the River Lodge area; 2 Kitungala village

Yellow-fronted Barbet

This bird produces one of the characteristic sounds of the lowland forest: Sinaharaja - 4, 1; 2 at Sinharaja  village; 3 Hakgala; 2 Kitungala village

Lesser Yellownape

Sinaharaja - 1, 1; 1 which may have been the same bird was seen on consecutive days at the same spot in Kitungala village

Lesser Goldenback

A group of 4 were at the clearing just above Sisira's River Lodge, and another bird was at Kitungala village

Crimson-backed Goldenback

A pair at Sinha, along the track, were first noticed due to a very soft drumming nearby. Both birds eventually flew into the trees alongside the track. Another bird was in Nuwaraeliya forest 

Indian Pitta

This is a wintering bird on the island, and they are only easy to see if one of the small favoured wintering patches is known. The first bird, in the semi-light next to the track at Sinharaja was seen twice, but this may have been more through luck than judgement. The bird seen early morning at Sisira's River Lodge is a known visitor

Ashy Woodswallow

1 on the journey from the airport to Sinharaja, opposite a supermarket while stopping for provisions; 1 over village on the journey from Sinharaja to Nuwaraeliya

Common Iora

1 Martin's Lodge; 1 River Lodge

Scarlet Minivet

8 playing in rain from the restaurant at Martin's Lodge; Sinaharaja - 2, 2; 1 Hakgala

Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike

2 in mixed flocks at Hakgala on both visits

Brown Shrike

1 Victoria Park; 1 River Lodge paddies

Black-hooded Oriole

1 at the stop just before Sinaharaja; 4 Kitungala village, one of which was harrassing an immature Yellow-browed Bulbul; 2 in the clearing at Kitungala forest; 8 in the River Lodge area

White-bellied Drongo

The amount of white on the belly of these birds varies, and can sometimes appear all dark. 2 on journey from the airport to Sinharaja; 2 at the stop justbefore Sinaharaja; pair building nest Sinaharaja reception; Sinaharaja - 2 separate birds; 1 Martin's Lodge; 1 Sinharaja village; ~6 River Lodge, 4 Kitungala village, 2 Kitungala forest

Sri Lanka Drongo

Sinaharaja - 4, 5; 1 Martin's Lodge; 1 Kitungala forest

Black-naped Monarch

Sinaharaja - 1; River Lodge - 2

Asian Paradise Flycatcher 

2 amazing white males were seen, one with the mixed flock just up from Sinaharaja research station, the other further back along the track the next day. At least 2 females were in attendance on the first occasion, and another 2 on the second

Sri Lanka Magpie

First sighting was one not to miss - 3 birds at the breakfast table at Martin's Lodge on the first morning. They seemed to be feeding on the insects which had collected during the night. They didn't return on the two subsequent mornings. Other birds were 1 flying over Sinaharaja clearing; and 3 Sinaharaja around the Sinharaja research area

House Crow

Abundant in the lowlands, mainly in the vicinity of towns

Indian Jungle Crow

Common in mountains; 1 Kitungala village

Cinereous Tit

This pale looking version of the Great Tit has recently been split from that congener as a separate species. ~6 were in Hakgala

Barn Swallow 

1 over village stop after leaving Sinharaja reception

Sri Lanka Swallow 

2 Sinaharaja village; 2 over paddies on the journey from Sinharaja to Nuwaraeliya; 2 River Lodge paddies; 2 Kitungala village

Ashy Prinia

1 Nuwaraeliya vegetable gardens

Plain Prinia

3 , with 2 singing birds, at the roadside of the paddies stopped at on the journey from Sinharaja to Nuwaraeliya

Common Tailorbird

3 Victoria Park; 2 Kitungala village

Black-capped Bulbul

Sinaharaja - 5, 1; River Lodge - 2

Red-vented Bulbul

Very common thoughout

Yellow-eared Bulbul

This endemic is a speciality of the highlands. The first 4 were seen at the Whistling Thrush site during first light, then 6 Nuwaraeliya forest; 4 Victoria Park

Yellow-browed Bulbul

3-4, 4, ~8 Sinaharaja; 5 Kitungala village; 3 River Lodge

Square-tailed Bulbul

Very common throughout

Sri Lanka Bush Warbler

This is a very skulking bird which takes some time, patience, and leg work to see. It favours low scrub within woodland, and the forest at Nuwaraeliya is one of the better sites to find them. We were in the forest without luck for a hour or so before locating a quiet pair on the way out

Blyth's Reed Warbler

A single bird was initially picked up by its subsong, in the corner of Victoria Park, in trees alongside the stream

Green Warbler

1 Sinharaja village; 1 Nuwaraeliya forest; 2 River Lodge

Large-billed Leaf Warbler 

2 separate birds at Sinha

Brown-capped Babbler

Yet another of the frustrating skulkers. Tandula caught sight of one as we were leaving Sinharaja forest for the final time, and it was difficult to see for any length of time. The 2 at the River Lodge completely turned the tables on this, where they were slowly working their way along the leaf litter directly below the restaurant

Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler 

Patience again finally resulted in decent views of 2 separate birds in Sinharaja forest

Dark-fronted Babbler 

This is not an uncommon bird in Sinharaja, and the soft calls are usually a giveaway. But they do have a habit of feeding under cover! Groups of 4, 6 and 6at Sinaharaja; 2 Nuwaraeliya forest

Orange-billed Babbler

These birds always give away their presence with noisy and constant chatter. They tend to favour feeding and progressing in a tight flock in the branches of trees: Sinaharaja - 15, 10, ~12; Sinaharaja research area - ~10; River Lodge ~12, ~8; Kitungala village ~20

Yellow-billed Babbler

These are almost as noisy as Orange-billed, but can be found on the ground feeding as often as in the trees: pair feeding young on journey stop from airport to Sinharaja; 4 at village before Sinharaja; ~20, ~30 River Lodge; ~10 Kitungala village

Ashy-headed Laughingthrush

Sinaharaja - 1 with Orange-billed Babblers

Oriental White-eye

1 Sinaharaja reception: common Nuwaraeliya forest; common Victoria Park

Sri Lanka White-eye 

A larger and darker bird than Oriental, the width of the black separating the front of the eye ring is difficult to see in the field. Hakgala was the place to see them, where they were common

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Sinaharaja - 2 with the mixed flock just up from the research station; 1 Sinaharaja research station; 4, 2 Hakgala; 4 Nuwaraeliya forest

Sri Lanka Hill Myna

Small groups were throughout Sinha, mainly being heard, with ~20 seen on any one day

Southern Hill Myna

2, 3 River Lodge

Common Myna

Quite common throughout

White-faced Starling

This was picked up on call on two consecutive mornings on the track from Martin's Lodge to the information centre, they may have been the same bird

Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush

4 visits were made to track this bird down, 2 early morning (arriving before first light) and 2 in the evening. First blood was a ghostly image in the murk on the first morning. Then one was heard to call once only on the second evening. Triumph came on the last morning, when the female was feeding around the vegetable stall for some time (for a Whistling Thrush!)

Pied Thrush

This winter visitor to the country seems to have a liking for a specific type of fruiting tree, since it was on almost the same branch on successive visits in Victoria Park. This belies the fact that it is still difficult to see, even when its presence in the tree is known

Spot-winged Thrush

Sinaharaja - a bird was seen tending a nest on the first morning visit. A brace and then a singleton were feeding on the wet track when returning from seeing the Serendib Scops Owl. 3 birds were hopping around the grounds of Sisira's River Lodge on successive evenings (2 together and then a lone bird, the latter of which may well have been one of the former birds)

Sri Lanka Thrush

This is one of the more difficult thrushes to find, due to it being a shy bird, preferring to keep to the forest floor. A pair were picked up in this very environment, thankfully fairly close to the track at Sinharaja

Indian Blackbird

1 Hakgala

Indian Blue Robin

While waiting beside the stream for the Whistling Thrush to make an appearance, what was probably same bird was seen on both occasions. The first was a fleeting glimpse, but the second multiple sightings at the base of the cascade

Oriental Magpie-Robin

Common, mainly in the highlands where there were always birds around the gardens

Pied Bush Chat

Pair at Nuwaraeliya vegetable gardens

Brown-breasted Flycatcher

1 at the stop before Sinaharaja; 1, 3, 1 Sinaharaja; 1 Hakgala; 1 River Lodge

Kashmir Flycatcher 

1-2 birds were picked up quite quickly on the first visit to Hakgala, but it took to almost leaving time to see even 1 on the next visit

Dull-blue Flycatcher

~6, 2 Hakgala; ~6 Nuwaraeliya forest

Tickell's Blue Flycatcher

This bird is incredibly tame, one male which was singing could almost be touched: a pair and then a single male at the River Lodge; 1 Kitungala village

Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher 

3-4, 6 Hakgala; ~ 10 Nuwaraeliya forest

Golden-fronted Leafbird

1 Sinaharaja information centre, 1 Sinaharaja forest; 1 Kitungala village

Legge's Flowerpecker

First pair were at the stop before Sinaharaja; Sinaharaja - ~8, 2; 1 Martin's Lodge from the restaurant; 2, 2 Kitungala village

Pale-billed Flowerpecker

1 at the stop before Sinaharaja; Sinaharaja - 2, 2; 1 Nuwaraeliya forest

Purple-rumped Sunbird

Pair at the stop before Sinaharaja; 1 and a pair in Sinaharaja forest; 2 Sinharaja village; 2, 4 Kitungala village

Purple Sunbird

What was probably this species was seen all too briefly in the grounds of the Alpine Hotel, Nuwaraeliya. A definite male was seen singing from the top of one of the tallest trees in Victoria Park

Loten's Sunbird

1 feeding (and catching a large spider) amongst the tea plantations on the journey from Nuwaraeliya to Kitungala

House Sparrow

Common in towns

White-rumped Munia

~15, 4 Kitungala village

Scaly-breasted Mannikin

~20 Victoria Park

Forest Wagtail

2, 2 at Hakgala where they were feeding in leaf litter, but would fly into the trees if disturbed; 2 Victoria Park, feeding beside the stream

Grey Wagtail

1 rice paddies on journey from Sinharaja to Nuwaraeliya; 1, 1 Hakgala; ~6 Victoria Park; 1 Kitungala village


List of mammals seen

Grizzled Giant Squirrel

2 separate sightings at Hakgala

Purple-faced Langur 

1 poor view at Sinharaja; troop of ~15 at Hakgala, feeding and moving slowly in the trees above

Toque Monkey

A small group was walking through Hakgala on the first visit, with what looked like a single animal amongst the troop of Leaf-Monkeys

Dusky Palm Squirrel

Common Nuwaraeliya forest

Indian Palm Squirrel

Quite common in the Kitungala area: 2, 4 River Lounge; 3 Kitungala village; 2 Kitungala forest

Sambar Deer

A stag was disturbed close to us as we were about to enter Nuwaraeliya forest 



List of reptiles

Sri Lankan Keelback Water Snake

1 was positionend nicely next to a small pool and a banquet of fish along the track in Sinharaja forest

Rat Snake

1 slithered across the road in front of the car and into into the tea plantations on the journey from Nuwaraeliya to Kitungala; another crossed the track in front of us just up from the River Lodge 

Green Vine Snake 

This was a treat I had been waiting for some time, of probably one of the most attractive and unusual of the snakes. Despite being on a birding trip, instructions had been given to look out for one of these. Tandula obliged, finding one next to the track at Sinharaja, not too distant from the pool where the Keelback was stationed

Water Monitor

1 small individual in a stream, and a much larger one nearby, both next to Sinharaja research station

Green Forest Lizard

1 Sinharaja

This report consists of 9 parts: Introduction | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Species List


Author/s of the report: 
Ian Hillary
Group size: 
Members of the group (clients): 
Ian Hillary