Mike Nelson's Trip Report

Trip Report Title: 
Sri Lanka December 8th-19th
Tour Start: 
Sunday, December 7, 2014
Tour End: 
Thursday, December 18, 2014

Trip Report Year:

Sri Lanka December 8th-19th

Participants: Mike & Susan Nelson

Sri Lanka is recognized as an easy birding destination as the island is quite small and easy to navigate. Roads are fairly good and the birding sites are quite accessible. There are still quite large areas of forest and the current 33 endemics and many regional (southern India and Sri Lanka) make a trip here quite appealing. Sri Lanka also has quite a rich cultural history and many historical sites are well worth visiting. With that in mind my wife and I spent twelve days touring the country. We hired a local guide who made arrangements for us and we had a local guide/driver with us the whole time.

We arrived late the first evening so did nothing but arrive at the hotel for some well-earned rest.

Day 1: We woke to some rain and somewhat cooler temps than we were anticipating. Indian Pond Herons and Common Mynas fed in the hotel grounds and we found our first Yellow-billed Babblers and Black-hooded Orioles.

After breakfast we drove north to Anawilundawa wetlands. We arrived mid-morning with a lot of activity across all the lily filled water. Purple Swamphen and Pheasant-tailed Jacana were common along with several Cotton Pygmy Geese. My first Blue-faced Malkoha flew across the road to join another in a tree overlooking the water. Yellow-billed Babblers, Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, Black-headed Ibis, Asian Open-billed Storks and several egrets were all seen well. A huge colony of storks also contained Grey Heron and Indian and Little Cormorants. White-bellied Drongo and Pale-billed Flowerpeckers were also encountered in good numbers in the trees along the roadside.

We arrived at our hotel near Anurhadapura in the afternoon and the grounds proved to be quite productive with Sri Lanka Green Pigeon feeding in a fruiting tree right outside the entrance when we arrived. We spent a little time before sunset at the pond at the back of the grounds where we found Indian Pitta, Crested Treeswift , Black-hooded Oriole and Paddyfield Pipit. A recently passed rain shower provided us with a stunning rainbow as a backdrop to the end of the day.

Day 2: The first rays of light came around 5:45am and I spent the first hour before breakfast exploring the area around the pond at the back of the grounds. A lone tree that stood in the water held White-bellied Drongo, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Crested Treeswift and several Rose-ringed Parakeets. Several Indian Pittas called from the thick vegetation running along the hotels back wall. At least three were in earshot and I managed to track one down where I got great looks at the bird in the canopy as it moved about calling. Once I’d had satisfying views of this bird I made my way back into the more open woodland of the hotel grounds and tracked down two singing Tickell’s Blue Flycatchers that showed well.

After breakfast we spent the day exploring the historical sites of Anuradhapura and its ancient kingdom with many ruins and old temples. In the late afternoon we drove to Sigaraya doing some birding along a huge dike that provided some good birding like Black-headed Cuckooshrike, Green Bee-eater and Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher.

Day 3: We spent the morning hiking through the gardens and ruins below Sigaraya Lion Rock then up to the fortress on the top which provided some stunning views. The local Shaheen Peregrine Falcon circled a few times at eye level providing some great views as well. We spent the remainder of the day visiting the caves at Dambulla which turned out to be a bit of a rainy affair but still fascinating none the less.

We did some afternoon birding along the dike again but it produced little we’d not already seen apart from Grey-breasted Prinia and Purple-rumped Sunbird.

Day 4: A short walk before breakfast around the hotel provided me with great views of Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Tawny-breasted Babbler and Plain Prinia. We drove south to Kandy today with a short stop along the way that produced very little apart from an obliging pair of Yellow-browed Bulbuls.

We arrived in Kandy for the afternoon and walked around the town for a while taking in the cultural and local sites before taking in the famous Kandyan dancers and a visit to the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha.

Day 5: I went out at first light this morning and walked to the end of the road where I found a fruiting tree full of birds. Crimson-fronted and Yellow-fronted Barbets were abundant along with several Southern Hill Mynas and Square-tailed Bulbuls. I also found a small flock of Small Minivets and the raucous calls of a Crimson-backed Flameback got my attention. A brief flyby of an Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher provided a sudden burst of color before it was gone. On the walk back I encountered a group of Yellow-billed Babblers and some noisy Brown-headed Barbets. A single male Loten’s Sunbird sang from a small tree before disappearing up the hill out of sight. There were also many Red-vented Bulbuls seen here before breakfast.

This morning we visited the Udawattakelle Forest Reserve but it was very quiet. Brown-capped Babbler, Forest Wagtail and Layard’s Parakeet were the only additions in what seemed to be a rather silent patch of forest.

From here we drove into the highlands visiting a tea factory along the way before arriving in Nuwara Eliya. We visited the famous botanical gardens but the Kashmir Flycatcher was nowhere to be found. A Pied Thrush was compensation as the light was fading.

Day 6: We left early and drove the winding road up to Horton Plains where we spent the morning. There was quite a bit of activity with a flyby of Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon first thing. Several more were heard calling but not seen. Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Dark-fronted Babbler and Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler were seen well along the first stretch of road and several groups of Sri Lanka White-eyes were seen but the Sri Lanka Bush Warbler put up a fight and two hours were spent tracking one down. Dull Blue Flycatcher and Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush were never heard and though we tried in a few places it was very quiet after the initial rush of morning birds. Near the end of the drive I heard Indian Blue Robin singing and managed to find one in the dense underbrush for some decent views. On the drive down we found a pair of noisy Sri Lanka Blue Magpies.

An afternoon stop along a small lake provided more of the same species we’d seen earlier in this type of habitat but new birds included Sri Lanka Woodshrike and an immature Yellow Bittern. We arrive late at our hotel in Tissamaharama.

Day 7: We spent the whole day in Yala National Park looking for Leopards and Elephants plus several Ruddy Mongoose. Many of the waterholes held several species of birds with new birds including Pacific Plover and Lesser Sand Plover, Common Redshank and Little Stint, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Great Thick-Knee and Painted Stork. Sri Lanka Spurfowl were found a few times in the understory along the forest tracks and a Grey-bellied Cuckoo was also tracked down.

Day 8: This morning we drove to Sinharaja and spent the afternoon birding the road up to Martin’s Lodge. This turned out to be quite productive with Greater and Green-billed Coucal, a nice Marshall’s Iora, many Square-tailed Bulbuls, Brown Shrike, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, Asian Paradise Flycatcher and Yellow-fronted Barbet. Near the end of the walk it began to rain heavily but we managed to make it to the lodge fairly quickly at that point.

Day 9: We arrived at the gate to the park at 7:00am but our guide didn’t show up till 8:00am so we lost a bit of time but were treated to a nice canopy flock in the meantime which included Red-faced Malkoha, Orange-billed Babbler, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush, Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, Sri Lanka Drongo and Brown-breasted Flycatcher. We also found a very obliging Spot-winged Thrush foraging in a small water runoff ditch next to the main jeep track.

Once our guide showed up he went off to check for a roosting Serendib Scops Owl which he eventually found and rounded up all the groups who were birding at the time and we all trapesed over to the spot where two at a time we crept into the forest to have a look at this rare little owl perched under a vine tangle. We all got great views and quickly departed to leave the bird in peace.

Back along the main track of the park we heard a Chestnut-backed Owlet calling but were unable to track it down so we continued on to where a pair of Sri Lanka Frogmouths were roosting and enjoyed some great looks at this pair.

Back along the main pathway we came across a nice pair of Green-billed Coucal and eventually got solid views of one of them. Both male a female Malabar Trogons were spotted as well. A startled thrush might have been a Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush but it was never found. Several good areas of habitat didn’t yield one and with the heat coming up we headed back to the lodge for lunch.

We had the afternoon to ourselves so I walked along the path through some tea plants but found little in the small stretch of forest I could visit. On the way back I bumped into a couple that had a scope with them on a pair of White-faced Starlings so that was fortunate. More rain came later on and we just hung out at the lodge drinking tea while we tried to dry off.

Day 10: This morning we went to visit a house where they had a small fresh water pool that was visited by quite a few great birds. First of was a pair of Green-billed Coucals at the side of the house and while trying to get photos of one of the birds our main target showed up in a pair of Sri Lanka Spurfowls. These were joined by a throng of female Sri Lanka Junglefowl and a stunning male. A nice Indian Blue Robin foraged furtively at the back of the pool area next to the forest and several Red-faced Malkohas bounded from tree to tree outside the house along the main road. Once the show here was over we walked along the road for a while picking up Orange-billed Babblers, Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Sri Lanka Drongo and a perched Legge’s Hawk-Eagle. The rest of the morning was spent driving to Kitulgala which was fairly wet and rainy when we arrived but we did a bit of birding near the hotel but saw very little.

Day 11: We spent the morning around the same area but came up with nothing but a nice Spot-winged Thrush singing in the early morning light. We heard a Chestnut-backed Owlet across the river but could not draw it over to our side. We returned to the lodge for breakfast and did a little bit of birding round the hotel where I picked up nice views of both Stork-billed and Common Kingfisher.

We visited another hotel with some wooded grounds for lunch eventually finding a Chestnut-backed Owlet which was very obliging and provided some great views and photos. With this last endemic possible for us we enjoyed a nice lunch.

In the afternoon we hiked up into Kitulgala park but with the intermittent rain it was very quiet and we saw very little.

Day 12: We drove to Colombo this morning and had some time walk around the city and enjoy some of the cultural sites. We had some wonderful tea in one of the teashops before heading back to our hotel to have dinner and rest up before we headed, very early, to the airport for our 4:00am flight.

Overall this was a fairly easy trip and with more time in several places we could have pushed harder for all the endemics and regional endemics. It also wasn’t the best time of year to go with several rain storms hampering our efforts. The people of Sri Lanka and warm and friendly and the scenery here is quite stunning in several places. There is abundant history to explore and some very good birding.


Species Lists



Lesser Whistling Duck    Dendrocygna javanica

Cotton Pygmy Goose     Nettapus coromandelianus


GALLIFORMES: Phasianidae

Sri Lanka Spurfowl           Galloperdix bicalcarata

Sri Lanka Junglefowl       Gallus lafayettii

Indian Peafowl  Pavo cristatus



Little Grebe        Tachybaptus ruficollis



Painted Stork     Mycteria leucocephala

Asian Openbill   Anastomus oscitans

Woolly-necked Stork      Ciconia episcopus


PELECANIFORMES: Threskiornithidae 

Black-headed Ibis            Threskiornis melanocephalus

Eurasian Spoonbill           Platalea leucorodia



Yellow Bittern    Ixobrychus sinensis

Black-crowned Night Heron        Nycticorax nycticorax

Striated Heron  Butorides striata

Indian Pond Heron          Ardeola grayii

Eastern Cattle Egret        Bubulcus coromandus

Grey Heron        Ardea cinerea

Purple Heron     Ardea purpurea

Great Egret         Ardea alba

Little Egret          Egretta garzetta


PELECANIFORMES: Pelecanidae               

Spot-billed Pelican           Pelecanus philippensis


SULIFORMES: Phalacrocoracidae              

Little Cormorant               Microcarbo niger

Indian Cormorant            Phalacrocorax fuscicollis


SULIFORMES: Anhingidae           

Oriental Darter  Anhinga melanogaster



Black-winged Kite            Elanus caeruleus

Crested Honey Buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus

Crested Serpent Eagle   Spilornis cheela

Changeable Hawk-Eagle               Nisaetus cirrhatus

Legge's Hawk-Eagle        Nisaetus kelaarti

Rufous-bellied Hawk-Eagle          Lophotriorchis kienerii

Shikra    Accipiter badius

Black Kite             Milvus migrans

Brahminy Kite    Haliastur indus

White-bellied Sea Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster

Grey-headed Fish Eagle                Haliaeetus ichthyaetus



White-breasted Waterhen          Amaurornis phoenicurus

Purple Swamphen           Porphyrio porphyrio

Common Moorhen         Gallinula chloropus

Eurasian Coot    Fulica atra



Barred Buttonquail          Turnix suscitator


CHARADRIIFORMES: Burhinidae               

Great Stone-curlew        Esacus recurvirostris


CHARADRIIFORMES: Recurvirostridae   

Black-winged Stilt            Himantopus himantopus


CHARADRIIFORMES: Charadriidae           

Yellow-wattled Lapwing                Vanellus malabaricus

Red-wattled Lapwing     Vanellus indicus

Pacific Golden Plover     Pluvialis fulva

Lesser Sand Plover          Charadrius mongolus



Pheasant-tailed Jacana  Hydrophasianus chirurgus


CHARADRIIFORMES: Scolopacidae          

Common Redshank        Tringa totanus

Common Sandpiper        Actitis hypoleucos

Little Stint            Calidris minuta



Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica

Whiskered Tern                Chlidonias hybrida



Rock Dove           Columba livia

Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon  Columba torringtoniae

Spotted Dove    Spilopelia chinensis

Common Emerald Dove                Chalcophaps indica

Orange-breasted Green Pigeon                Treron bicinctus

Sri Lanka Green Pigeon Treron pompadora

Green Imperial Pigeon  Ducula aenea


CUCULIFORMES: Cuculidae        

Green-billed Coucal        Centropus chlororhynchos

Greater Coucal  Centropus sinensis

Red-faced Malkoha        Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus

Blue-faced Malkoha       Phaenicophaeus viridirostris

Asian Koel           Eudynamys scolopaceus

Grey-bellied Cuckoo       Cacomantis passerinus


STRIGIFORMES: Strigidae            

Serendib Scops Owl        Otus thilohoffmanni

Indian Scops Owl              Otus bakkamoena

Brown Wood Owl            Strix leptogrammica

Chestnut-backed Owlet                Glaucidium castanotum


CAPRIMULGIFORMES: Podargidae          

Sri Lanka Frogmouth       Batrachostomus moniliger


APODIFORMES: Hemiprocnidae               

Crested Treeswift            Hemiprocne coronata


APODIFORMES: Apodidae          

Indian Swiftlet   Aerodramus unicolor

Asian Palm Swift               Cypsiurus balasiensis



Malabar Trogon                Harpactes fasciatus


CORACIIFORMES: Coraciidae     

Indian Roller       Coracias benghalensis


CORACIIFORMES: Alcedinidae   

Stork-billed Kingfisher   Pelargopsis capensis

White-throated Kingfisher           Halcyon smyrnensis

Common Kingfisher        Alcedo atthis

Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher             Ceyx erithaca


CORACIIFORMES: Meropidae    

Green Bee-eater             Merops orientalis

Blue-tailed Bee-eater    Merops philippinus

Chestnut-headed Bee-eater      Merops leschenaulti



Eurasian Hoopoe              Upupa epops


BUCEROTIFORMES: Bucerotidae              

Malabar Pied Hornbill     Anthracoceros coronatus

Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill   Ocyceros gingalensis


PICIFORMES: Megalaimidae       

Brown-headed Barbet   Megalaima zeylanica

Yellow-fronted Barbet   Megalaima flavifrons

Crimson-fronted Barbet               Megalaima rubricapillus

Coppersmith Barbet       Megalaima haemacephala


PICIFORMES: Picidae     

Lesser Yellownape          Picus chlorolophus

Black-rumped Flameback             Dinopium benghalense

Crimson-backed Flameback        Chrysocolaptes stricklandi


FALCONIFORMES: Falconidae    

Peregrine Falcon              Falco peregrinus


PSITTACIFORMES: Psittacidae   

Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot               Loriculus beryllinus

Rose-ringed Parakeet    Psittacula krameri

Layard's Parakeet            Psittacula calthrapae


PASSERIFORMES: Pittidae           

Indian Pitta         Pitta brachyura


PASSERIFORMES: Tephrodornithidae    

Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike     Hemipus picatus

Sri Lanka Woodshrike     Tephrodornis affinis


PASSERIFORMES: Aegithinidae 

Common Iora    Aegithina tiphia

Marshall's Iora   Aegithina nigrolutea


PASSERIFORMES: Campephagidae          

Black-headed Cuckooshrike        Coracina melanoptera

Small Minivet     Pericrocotus cinnamomeus

Orange Minivet Pericrocotus flammeus


PASSERIFORMES: Laniidae          

Brown Shrike     Lanius cristatus


PASSERIFORMES: Oriolidae        

Black-hooded Oriole       Oriolus xanthornus


PASSERIFORMES: Dicruridae      

Ashy Drongo      Dicrurus leucophaeus

White-bellied Drongo    Dicrurus caerulescens

Sri Lanka Drongo              Dicrurus lophorinus


PASSERIFORMES: Rhipiduridae 

White-browed Fantail    Rhipidura aureola



Black-naped Monarch    Hypothymis azurea

Asian Paradise Flycatcher             Terpsiphone paradisi


PASSERIFORMES: Corvidae         

Sri Lanka Blue Magpie    Urocissa ornata

House Crow       Corvus splendens

Indian Jungle Crow          Corvus culminatus


PASSERIFORMES: Stenostiridae

Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher                Culicicapa ceylonensis


PASSERIFORMES: Paridae           

Cinereous Tit     Parus cinereus


PASSERIFORMES: Alaudidae      

Jerdon's Bush Lark           Mirafra affinis


PASSERIFORMES: Pycnonotidae               

Black-capped Bulbul       Pycnonotus melanicterus

Red-vented Bulbul          Pycnonotus cafer

Yellow-eared Bulbul       Pycnonotus penicillatus

White-browed Bulbul    Pycnonotus luteolus

Yellow-browed Bulbul   Acritillas indica

Square-tailed Bulbul       Hypsipetes ganeesa


PASSERIFORMES: Hirundinidae 

Barn Swallow     Hirundo rustica

Hill Swallow        Hirundo domicola

Sri Lanka Swallow             Cecropis hyperythra


PASSERIFORMES: Phylloscopidae            

Green Warbler  Phylloscopus nitidus

Greenish Warbler            Phylloscopus trochiloides


PASSERIFORMES: Acrocephalidae           

Blyth's Reed Warbler      Acrocephalus dumetorum


PASSERIFORMES: Locustellidae

Sri Lanka Bush Warbler  Elaphrornis palliseri


PASSERIFORMES: Cisticolidae    

Zitting Cisticola  Cisticola juncidis

Grey-breasted Prinia      Prinia hodgsonii

Plain Prinia          Prinia inornata

Common Tailorbird         Orthotomus sutorius


PASSERIFORMES: Timaliidae      

Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler             Pomatorhinus melanurus

Tawny-bellied Babbler   Dumetia hyperythra

Dark-fronted Babbler     Rhopocichla atriceps


PASSERIFORMES: Pellorneidae 

Brown-capped Babbler Pellorneum fuscocapillus


PASSERIFORMES: Leiothrichidae              

Orange-billed Babbler    Turdoides rufescens

Yellow-billed Babbler     Turdoides affinis

Ashy-headed Laughingthrush    Garrulax cinereifrons



Oriental White-eye         Zosterops palpebrosus

Sri Lanka White-eye        Zosterops ceylonensis


PASSERIFORMES: Sittidae           

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch             Sitta frontalis


PASSERIFORMES: Sturnidae       

Sri Lanka Hill Myna           Gracula ptilogenys

Southern Hill Myna         Gracula indica

Common Myna Acridotheres tristis

White-faced Starling       Sturnornis albofrontatus


PASSERIFORMES: Turdidae         

Pied Thrush        Geokichla wardii

Orange-headed Thrush Geokichla citrina

Spot-winged Thrush       Geokichla spiloptera

Indian Blackbird                Turdus simillimus


PASSERIFORMES: Muscicapidae               

Indian Robin       Copsychus fulicatus

Oriental Magpie-Robin  Copsychus saularis

White-rumped Shama   Copsychus malabaricus

Brown-breasted Flycatcher         Muscicapa muttui

Tickell's Blue Flycatcher Cyornis tickelliae

Indian Blue Robin             Larvivora brunnea

Pied Bush Chat  Saxicola caprata


PASSERIFORMES: Chloropseidae             

Jerdon's Leafbird             Chloropsis jerdoni


PASSERIFORMES: Dicaeidae       

Pale-billed Flowerpecker              Dicaeum erythrorhynchos


PASSERIFORMES: Nectariniidae

Purple-rumped Sunbird                Leptocoma zeylonica

Loten's Sunbird Cinnyris lotenius


PASSERIFORMES: Passeridae     

House Sparrow Passer domesticus


PASSERIFORMES: Ploceidae       

Baya Weaver     Ploceus philippinus


PASSERIFORMES: Estrildidae      

White-rumped Munia    Lonchura striata

Scaly-breasted Munia    Lonchura punctulata


PASSERIFORMES: Motacillidae  

Forest Wagtail   Dendronanthus indicus

Grey Wagtail      Motacilla cinerea

Paddyfield Pipit Anthus rufulus

Author/s of the report: 
Mike Nelson
Group size: 
Members of the group (clients): 
Mike Nelson
Susan Nelson
Tour Guide: 
Upali Nissanka