John Diley's Trip Report

Trip Report Title: 
SRI LANKA – 18th March to 4th April 2013
Tour Start: 
Monday, March 18, 2013
Tour End: 
Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Trip Report Year:

Jhon and Anne Diley

John and Anne Diley

SRI LANKA – 18th March to 4th April 2013

It is always a problem deciding on where to go for a holiday for me [a keen birder of over 50 years] & my wife Anne [a non-birder].  When we went last year to Trinidad, a number of people there recommended Sri Lanka for its birds, wild animals, culture/historic sites & fantastic scenery.  It took some persuasion on my part to get Anne to warm to the idea which I`m pleased to say in the end, she did.  She had her reservations regarding the many apparent safety issues – malaria, dengue fever, cholera, rabid dogs, venemous snakes, civil conflict, tsunamis, not to mention blood-sucking leeches & monsoons.

We obtained quotes for fully guided holidays from three companies who specialise in birding holidays.  Baurs & Walks with Jith were about the same figure but from what we read, although we understand, he has only been in the business around 5 years, Prasanjith Caldera seemed to be the right one for us.  Not too heavy on the birds perhaps for Anne.  With each of these local companies you have the use of an expert driver/guide to take you where-ever you wish to go & the holiday is tailor-made to your exact requirements.  An exchange of e-mails over a couple of weeks or so adapted Jith`s standard itinerary to suit us.  As birding specialists the itineraries usually telescope the “culture” into one, possibly two days, birding the rest of the time.  This would not do for Anne & I suppose me also with my keen interest in the cultural & history side & the architecture.  So in the end we honed it down to a 16 day holiday with the extra day or two from the norm, for a more relaxed tour of the historic sites.  From Colombo [one night, not far from the airport], we were to travel via Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage to Sigiriya for three nights to see the historic sites there & at Polonnoruwa [& some birds].  Then on to Kandy for one night [for the Temple of the Tooth & some birds].  From there up to the highlands to stay at Nuwara Eliya for two nights, visiting Victoria Park [for the birds] & the unique cloud forest at 6,500 feet at Horton Plains & Worlds End.  Then down towards the south coast staying at Tissamaharama for a day`s jeep safari in Yala National Park & then a half day jeep safari to Bundala [for the birds].  Then up to the rain forest at Sinharaja staying at Martin`s Lodge for two nights before heading back down to the south coast & the Indian Ocean, staying at Weligama for two nights for a whale watch.  Finally from here along the west coast to Ranweli Village for two nights  bordering the Arabian Sea before heading for the airport & home.  All at a cost of just short of £1,500 each [plus flight], all inclusive apart from our lunches & tips.  Anne had in the meantime booked  the flights with Emirates at the best cost she could find [around £500 each], the fight out leaving Manchester at 8-10pm on 18th March, via Dubai & then Malé  in the Maldives, arriving in Colombo at 6-20pm [Sri Lanka time] on 19th March.  The return flight [somewhat shorter] was to leave Colombo at 10-05am on 4th April, via Dubai, arriving in Manchester at 7-15pm [local time] on 5th April.

We had a booster injection against Typhoid & were told by our local health centre that protection against malaria was not necessary as we were not going to the extreme north of the island.  We decided not to have a course of treatment against rabies at a cost of £125 each as we felt rightly or wrongly that we wouldn`t be spending much time in urban areas where we may be more at risk & we didn`t plan on getting too close to the monkeys.

As regards the birds I wanted to see, I had not been to the Indian sub-continent previously so I was hoping for a good number of “lifers”, expecting to see in the region of 150.

We were a little disappointed that Jith personally, would not be accompanying us on our holiday but he assured us that he had arranged a very good guide [“who knows his birds”], Upali Nisshanka.  We cleared customs, changed some money & were met at the airport by Jith who took us to his car where we met our guide for the holiday, Upali.  By now it was throwing it down!  Not a portent for the holiday, we hoped & after a short drive we arrived at our hotel, the “Tamarind Tree” for the night, not far from Colombo where by now it had stopped raining & was dark, very hot & incredibly humid.  We had a bungalow, very big, quite basic but comfortable enough for the night & most importantly with air conditioning.  Dinner was basic but edible, little chunks of chicken, over done, not very hot, with rice & some fruit for dessert.  

DAY 1 [20th MARCH]


Breakfast itself was very good with a reasonably wide choice.  So no complaints as regards this first hotel.  A wedding celebration was being held on the hotel lawn as we prepared to leave following breakfast.  Anne quizzed Upali as to why there would be a wedding reception so early on a Wednesday  morning.  Traditionally the timing of a wedding here in Sri Lanka, he told us, is all down to the stars, the couple taking advice from an astrologer as to which is the most auspicious time for them specifically.

Then it was off to Sigiriya stopping on the way at Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage [where there are complaints from some tourists that the animals are mis-treated],  which we reached in brilliant sunshine at around 11-30am.  This was a welcome introduction to the Asian Elephant with the prospect of seeing wild ones in the coming days.  Birds seen on this part of the journey included PADDYFIELD PIPIT on roadside wires, the odd ASIAN OPENBILL, BLACK-HEADED IBIS & hundreds of EASTERN CATTLE EGRETS, CRESTED SERPENT EAGLE, ASIAN PALM SWIFTS, WHITE-BREASTED KINGFISHERS everywhere, one or two flocks of  migrant BARN SWALLOWS & a number of SRI LANKA SWALLOWS [an endemic to some, the island race of Red-Rumped Swallow to others].  More RED-VENTED BULBULS & another WHITE-BELLIED DRONGO, COMMON MYNA by the hundred & a single SCALY-BREASTED MUNIA.

There were a few birds to be seen around Pinnewala – waders on the rocks in the river, GREEN SANDPIPER, GREENSHANK & RED-WATTLED LAPWING.  There were egrets, POND HERON & LITTLE CORMORANT.  Overhead there was a soaring CRESTED SERPENT EAGLE & over the river a small flock of HOUSE SWIFTs.  There was a large roost of Flying Foxes hanging from the trees across the main road.  In due course this would become a familiar sight throughout the holiday.  Every roadside it seemed, had the odd corpse, hanging “frizzled” from the overhead wires.

We moved on towards our destination, Sigiriya, stopping for some lunch at a small roadside café.  The various curry dishes we were served up we enjoyed as a big Horseshoe Bat flew [in broad daylight] low over the dining table.  The last leg of today`s journey produced INDIAN PEAFOWL, a huge Water Monitor at the roadside & two captive Porcupines held by the road as a tourist attraction.  We arrived at Sigiriya around 3-0pm making a brief stop on the way in, by the beautifully picturesque tank dominated by the impressive Lion Rock towering in the near distance.  The country is peppered with vast “tanks”, most dug out by hand in ancient times, many acres in extent for the storage of water for drinking & irrigation.  This short stop produced PHEASANT- TAILED JACANA,  LESSER WHISTLING DUCK, WHISKERED TERN, both LITTLE CORMORANT & INDIAN CORMORANT, POND HERON, INTERMEDIATE EGRET, PURPLE HERON, PURPLE SWAMPHEN, LITTLE GREBE, WHITE-BREASTED KINGFISHER & RED-VENTED BULBUL.

Peafowl at Bundala
Peafowl at Bundala

Sigiriya, Lion Rock
Sigiriya, Lion Rock

Our hotel, the “Sigiriya Village” was superb, the best undoubtedly of the whole holiday.  Big detached bungalows set in the most wonderful grounds of lawns & woodland, ornamental pools surrounded by luxuriant plants & a swimming pool dominated by Lion Rock in the distance.  We had three nights here but would happily have stayed longer.  On the rooftops of the bungalows & in the trees there were troops of mischievious Toque Macaques along with troops of their [less bold] cousins the Hanneman Langur monkeys.  One troop of Macaques appeared to be busy trashing the bungalow two doors up, one up on the roof ridge, drinking from a plastic bottle before throwing it down to the ground.  A timely reminder to keep our door closed at all times!  A walk around the grounds & along the access track produced – SRI LANKA GREY HORNBILL [pair], SRI LANKA GREEN PIGEON, GREEN IMPERIAL PIGEON, EMERALD PIGEON, ALEXANDRINE PARAKEET, BLUE-FACED MALKOHA, BROWN-HEADED BARBET, COPPERSMITH BARBET, PURPLE SUNBIRD, LOTEN`S SUNBIRD, WHITE-RUMPED SHAMA, TICKELL`S BLUE FLYCATCHER, ASIAN PARADISE FLYCATCHER [white male with full tail streamers] & last but not least INDIAN PITTA [in full view].

More birds viewed from beside the tank – BRAHMINY KITE, GREY-HEADED FISH EAGLE, INDIAN SWIFTLET & BROWN-BREASTED FLYCATCHER.  As we walked along the sandy track from the tank back to the hotel we were surrounded by a seemingly never ending procession of white Albatross butterflies, thousands of them, a spectacular event that happens on the island for about a month [usually about now] each year after which they are all gone & this we witnessed in all its glory each day of our stay here.  At dinner that evening I was able to reflect on what had been a superb start to our holiday & 52 lifers to date.

DAY 2 [21st MARCH]

Up at 6-0am on what promised to be another “scorcher”.  It was just becoming light & a pre-breakfast walk around the wonderful hotel grounds produced more good birds.  I managed to find the nest of the SRI LANKA GREY HORNBILLS in a huge spreading tree by the tennis courts & the male was seen arriving with an enormous dragonfly to feed its young.  There was ROSE-RINGED PARAKEET, a COPPERSMITH BARBET, WHITE-RUMPED SHAMA, BROWN-HEADED BARBET, a pair of tiny PALE-BILLED FLOWERPECKERS, PURPLE-RUMPED SUNBIRD, COMMON TAILORBIRD, WHITE-BROWED BULBUL, TICKELL`S BLUE FLYCATCHER & a new lifer, BAR-WINGED FLYCATCHER SHRIKE.

There was a possible problem as Upali told us yesterday that today there was to be a strike involving all the guides/taxi drivers.  The general guides were paid a lot less than the likes of Upali who would be expected to show solidarity with them & at worst this could mean that he would not be able to take us up to the top of Lion Rock as planned.  Indeed he was expected to go on the planned march with the others.  In the event it was not a problem, he would leave his car at the hotel & we would walk together to the rock.  So after a superb full breakfast which offered just about everything [including porridge] we set off for the rock.  Birds seen included – WHISTLING DUCK, POND HERON, LITTLE & INDIAN CORMORANT, PHEASANT-TAILED JACANA, INDIAN ROBIN, ORIENTAL MAGPIE ROBIN, CHANGEABLE HAWK EAGLE, GREY-HEADED FISH EAGLE, BRAHMINY KITE & CRESTED SERPENT EAGLE, ASIAN BROWN FLYCATCHER, BLACK-HEADED CUCKOOSHRIKE, GOLDEN-FRONTED LEAFBIRD, ORIENTAL WHITE-EYE, ALEXANDRINE PARAKEET & EMERALD DOVE. LITTLE GREEN BEE-EATERS were everywhere.  There were SRI LANKA SWALLOWS in the air & INDIAN SWIFTLETS, ASIAN PALM SWIFTS & COPPERSMITH BARBET, BROWN-HEADED BARBET & CRIMSON-FRONTED BARBET were all noted.  Another superb all white, full-tailed ASIAN PARADISE FLYCATCHER was seen well close to the hotel grounds.  Two kingfishers were seen, COMMON KINGFISHER & STORK-BILLED KINGFISHER in flight.  The most striking feature of this bird in flight was a broad streak of white down the back that the field guides do not seem to show or mention in the text.  There were the usual common birds such as BLACK-HOODED ORIOLE, ROSE-RINGED PARAKEET & WHITE-BREASTED KINGFISHER.  Land Monitor, Toque Macaque, Hanneman`s Langur & a huge Giant Squirrel were also seen.

Lion Rock is over 1,200 feet of sheer cliffs with 1,400 steps leading up along narrow exposed staircases [not for the faint hearted], sometimes rock at others a rickety steel staircase.  The views as we climbed, were quite breath taking for miles around as far as the distant mountains.  On the long tortuous climb up we passed nests wedged into the fissures of the rock, these the nests that are made into birds nest soup, the nests of Indian Swiftlets.  A SHAHEEN was seen perched on a rock ledge before taking flight. Again there was a never ending procession of white Albatross Butterflies floating across the ruins on the top. The afternoon was spent relaxing around the hotel grounds & still the thousands of Albatross Butterflies were wending their way in endless procession, pausing in hundreds to drink in the puddles.  What a magical experience.

An evening walk around the tank to the far side, gloriously hot & sunny in crystal clear light produced – INTERMEDIATE EGRET, LITTLE & INDIAN CORMORANT, ORIENTAL DARTER, GREY-HEADED FISH EAGLE, both JERDON`S & GOLDEN-FRONTED LEAFBIRDS, GREY-BREASTED PRINIA, SRI LANKA GREEN PIGEON, GREEN IMPERIAL PIGEON, INDIAN SWIFTLETS, CRIMSON-FRONTED BARBET, BROWN-HEADED BARBET, BLACK-HEADED CUCKOOSHRIKE, LESSER GOLDENBACK, DRONGO CUCKOO, GREY-BELLIED CUCKOO [2] & two new endemics – SRI LANKA WOODSHRIKE & BLACK-CAPPED BULBUL.  No Orange-headed Thrush nor Brown-capped Babbler unfortunately.  No sign of the Brown Fish Owl either.  New lifers to date now stood at 68.

DAY 3 [22nd MARCH]


After another superb full breakfast under the shadow of Lion Rock we were off with Upali to Polonnaruwa, still in our cultural section of the holiday.  On the hugely enjoyable drive in the heat & sunshine we saw both Grey & Ruddy Mongoose close at the roadside & a number of both Water & Land Monitors.  A SRI LANKA JUNGLEFOWL was heard calling from deep within the undergrowth at the roadside & PADDYFIELD WARBLERS were typically on roadside wires.  WHITE-RUMPED SHAMA was seen in flight, also a brown full-tailed ASIAN PARADISE FLYCATCHER & one or two ASIAN OPENBILLS & many INDIAN POND HERONS were seen along the way.  Again throughout the journey today, the procession of Albatross Butterflies continued unabated.  En-route to the ruins of the ancient city we stopped at a tank which produced some good birds – STORK-BILLED KINGFISHER, GREY-HEADED FISH EAGLE, WHITE-BREASTED WATERHEN, WOOLLY-NECKED STORK, PLAIN PRINIA, JUNGLE PRINIA, BAYA WEAVER, CRESTED TREESWIFT, HOUSE SWIFT, WHITE-RUMPED MUNIA, BLACK-HEADED MUNIA, ORIENTAL WHITE-EYE, COMMON TAILORBIRD, COPPERSMITH BARBET, BROWN-HEADED BARBET, YELLOW-EYED BABBLER, COMMON IORA, JERDON`S LEAFBIRD, SRI LANKA GREEN PIGEON & SMALL MINIVET.  A flock of at least 50 LITTLE CORMORANTS materialised as if from nowhere, dropping on what must have been a huge shoal of fish & they proceeded to gorge themselves in a feeding frenzy, then as quickly as they appeared they all took off & left.

As we approached Pollonaruwa I added SPOT-BILLED PELICAN [1] & INDIAN ROLLER  to the list.  There were more BRAHMINY KITES & a couple of CRESTED SERPENT EAGLES & my one & only ORIENTAL HONEY BUZZARD of the holiday was seen over the ruins, harried by an ASIAN OPENBILL.  A single WOOLLY-NECKED STORK was feeding by the car park.  On the way back to Sigirya after some lunch in a roadside café we saw first one ASIAN ELEPHANT right at the roadside then a second & then a small herd moving through the long grass beside the main road.  Finally a CHANGEABLE HAWK EAGLE was seen on a small tree beside the road.  Another late afternoon session by the tank produced the usual birds including the pair of typically tame & approachable ORIENTAL MAGPIE ROBINS which were nesting in a nest box below the eaves of a shop. Then a pair of INDIAN ROBINS & WHITE-RUMPED SHAMA & two ASIAN OPENBILLS disturbed from a treetop by a BRAHMINY KITE.  Dinner as usual was first class & my tally of lifers after today had now risen to 82.

DAY 4 [23rd MARCH]

The day started once again with a stroll around the hotel grounds & a session beside the tank when the by now usual birds were seen including once again the SRI LANKA GREY HORNBILL [female this time] at the nest & a Giant Squirrel was seen near reception. After another superb breakfast we reluctantly had to leave the Sigiriya Village hotel after a really enjoyable stay, for our journey to Kandy, our next overnight stop.  Again the weather was incredibly hot & sunny.  On the way along another good road through largely wooded countryside & small villages I added BROWN SHRIKE to the bird list, perched on roadside wires in a village & then a male BESRA in flight.  There were PADDYFIELD PIPITS & the odd BRAHMINY KITE & an ALEXANDRINE PARAKEET.  Upali decided to stop at a herb garden where there is a regular roost site for one of the most difficult endemics to find, the Chestnut-Backed Owlet.  Whilst we waited for Upali to find the bird we were led around the garden by a chap who explained to us what all the plants were & their medicinal properties.  I ended up having a body massage!   We were unlucky as there was no sign of the owlet today though a SRI LANKA GREY HORNBILL flew overhead.  Anne bought a few herbs & we continued on our way. 


We arrived at Kandy in heavy traffic around 12-25pm where it was still hot & sunny.  Kandy appeared as a wonderfully attractive place, the famous Temple of the Tooth set on the edge of the huge lake with its central [Geneva like] fountain shooting vertically high up into the air.  A single SPOT-BILLED PELICAN was prening on the near bank at the waters edge.   There was a huge daytime roost of Flying Foxes hanging from the lakeside trees.  We continued up into the hills to our overnight stop at the “Nature Walk” Hotel & settled in.  After some lunch we went to Udawattakele Forest Reserve [the forbidden forest of the ancient Kandian Kings] not far from the centre of Kandy.  We walked the loop through the forest, around the relatively small lake hoping to see the resident Brown Fish Owl that is regularly seen feeding there.  But alas, not this day, dipped on the owl for a third time!  There were troops of Toque Macaques everywhere, this a different sub-species from those we had seen previously.   They are the Wet Zone race known as the Dusky Toque.  There were not many birds to be seen.  There was a LESSER GOLDENBACK, a fleeting glimse [the back end] of a new endemic, a YELLOW-FRONTED BARBET to complete the barbet set.  There was the distant but convincing view high in the canopy of a LESSER HILL MYNA which we first heard before finally pinning it down.  I had a poor, fleeting view in silhouette of what must have been a VELVET-FRONTED NUTHATCH creeping along a horizontal branch high in the canopy & there was a single SRI LANKA GREEN PIGEON.

Looking down on Kandy
Looking down on Kandy

Temple of the tooth
Temple of the tooth

The clouds were building up as we left the reserve & as we headed back it threatened rain.  Upali dropped us off at a Gem Museum close to our hotel that Anne was keen to visit & we spent an enjoyable hour or so watching a film show of how Sri Lanka gems are mined from the gravel deposits deep in the ground.  By now the heavens had opened & there was the most torrential rain I think I have ever seen [up to that point].  At 5-30pm, still raining heavily, we walked the short distance from our hotel to an open sided hall where we watched a very enjoyable performance by the Kandyian Dancers & drummers & fire walkers.  It was still raining though now lightly as we walked back to the hotel at dusk with countless huge Flying Foxes flapping overhead on their way to the night`s feeding in the forest above.  It was a simple “no frills” hotel with a big room & balcony, comfortable enough with the necessary air conditioning & the evening dinner was reasonable, soup, curry & fruit. 

It was another good day again full of highlights & the list of lifers was now up to 85.  We had worried about the weather in the weeks leading up to the holiday, Anne checking the forecast daily.  There are two monsoons annually on the island, the second due to begin in May but over recent years [global warming & all that] they have become far less predictable & now heavy rain frequently falls in March & April.  The last forecast we had before leaving suggested the first three days hot & sunny as it had been, but after that rain was forecast even down in the Dry Zone for the three days we were to stay at Tissamaharama.  Was this night`s rain the start of a period of rain for the rest of our holiday? 

DAY 5 [24th MARCH]

By first light the heavy overnight rain had stopped though as I looked out from the balcony it was a misty start to the day with low cloud hanging around in the valley obscuring the view of Kandy far below.  Small flocks of cormorants below far in the distance flew to Kandy from their night time roost & a couple of small flocks of LAYARD`S PARAKEET [endemic] flew across the valley.  A short walk up the lane produced a singing YELLOW-FRONTED BARBET. The usual WHITE-BREASTED KINGFISHERS & a single RED-VENTED BULBUL were perched in the trees.  As I walked back towards the hotel, to my left a large troop of Toque Macaques were hurrying in line along the top of a high garden wall & moving at high level along the overhead wires with the aid of their prehensile tails for support & by the time I reached the hotel they were massing on the pantile rooftops of the buildings below, ready to pounce!  The warning at this hotel is – don`t leave your balcony doors open as the macaques habitually enter the rooms to steal any food they could lay their “hands” on or your unguarded belongings.

Breakfast was a simple affair, eggs, bread & marmalade & fruit.  By now the mist had cleared & the sun was beating down.  Upali suggested as it was Sunday & likely to be very busy at the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, we should leave the car at the hotel & walk down.  It was a pleasant walk in the burning sun down the hill to the centre of Kandy & the serene pantiled white Temple buildings sitting alongside the picturesque lake with a huge white statue of Buddha high up on top of a distant wooded hill.  The weather now was perfect, crystal clear under a cloudless blue sky, the sun beating down.  We could hear what sounded like fireworks going off in the distance that were set off to scatter the troublesome macaques.  Security was tight as the Tamils had bombed the temple back in 1998 since which the badly damaged frontage has been lovingly restored.  The whole scene was magical & serene, the moated temple buildings set in lush lawns, the ceremonial access route lined with the multicoloured Buddhist flags & the masses of pilgrims all in immaculate white who had come for this, one of the three daily ceremonies to honour the sacred relic of Buddha`s Tooth.  The tooth is housed in a shrine under a golden roof.  Inside, the crowds all in white were building up , queuing quietly in file three abreast, up the wide staircase hoping to catch a glimse of the relic during the ceremony due to start at 9-15am.  When the ceremony started & the huge silver doors of the shrine were opened it was accompanied by a cacophany of noise from the beating drums.  The whole thing was breath-taking & the palace, spectacular.

Devon Falls
Devon Falls

Ceremony & our tour of the temple over we returned to the hotel, exhilerated, I for one, feeling it a huge privilige to have been there.  We checked out & set off for our next hotel high up in the highlands at Nuwara Eliya where we would be staying for three nights.  Our first stop was high above Kandy for breathtaking views down to the lake with its fountain & the Temple of the Tooth complex, the gold roof of the shrine dazzling in the sunshine, all set in a huge amphitheatre of wooded hills, dominated by the distant gigantic white statue of Buddha.  The journey to Nuwara Eliya was as it had been up to now, along a good road through heavily wooded country with the occasional small village all the time rising higher & higher.  There were big wide spreading trees with masses of vivid red flowers, then with bright yellow flowers.  As everywhere there were cows that had wandered from the fields to chill at the roadside.  Gradually the scenery was changing, the rain forest was now replaced by more open terraced hill sides, acres & acres of tea plantations & in places, paddy fields with women dressed in bright colours working.  The cheap labour picking the tea is carried out by the Tamils who come down from the north to work.  As for the birds along this journey there were the usual CATTLE EGRETS in their hundreds in the paddy fields & around the domesticated water buffaloes with flocks of HOUSE SWIFTS overhead.  A SHIKRA, soaring CHANGEABLE HAWK EAGLE & then high up in the mountains as we rounded a bend, a BLACK EAGLE was seen soaring with its distinctive profile [wings nipped-in at the base].   JUNGLE CROWS now replaced the HOUSE CROW.  We passed the dramatic Ramboda Waterfall, which falls 328 feet & as we reached around 6,000 feet, the brilliant sunshine was replaced by hazy cloud.

Our next stop was at Labookellie Tea Factory where we were guided around the process of tea production followed by some lunch in the modern glazed restaurant with fantastic vistas all round of the hillside plantations, mountains & valleys.  We finally arrived at the Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya at 2-45pm, the sun having gone in & rain looking likely.  Nuwara Eliya is known affectionately as “Little England” having been founded by the British in the old colonial days with its more affable temporate climate, a refuge from the oppressive heat & high humidity down below.  The Grand Hotel alongside the picturesue golf course was built at that time & still retains a classy Victorian air with “certain standards” in the huge panelled dining room.

Horton Plains - mountains
Horton Plains - mountains

Having settled in, Upali & I went off the short distance to the Whistling Thrush roost site.  There are two regular sites, here at Nuwara Eliya & beside a small pond at Horton Plains.  There are two extremely short windows of time each day in which to see the bird – about 15 minutes at first light & the same at dusk.  No chance at any other time of day.  So off we went to this little thickly wooded gully on the bend of the main road, scrambling down a muddy bank to a tiny narrow concrete bridge over a fast flowing boulder strewn stream to wait till dusk.  Fortunately Upali remembered to bring two umbrellas as the rain began to fall steadily & the mist rolled in between the trees.  He failed however to remind me of the dreaded leeches!  He bent down to flick one or two off his legs & I quickly tucked my shirt into my trousers & my trousers into my socks.  Still though they got me.  One or two I flicked off but at least two got through to draw blood.  As we patiently waited we saw ORIENTAL MAGPIE ROBIN & INDIAN ROBIN & at least one YELLOW-BILLED BABBLER before two new endemics appeared.  First a YELLOW-EARED BULBUL, then a female DULL BLUE FLYCATCHER followed by a male at very close range, both birds found only in the highlands.  We waited & we waited, Upali frequently playing his tape lure.  How any bird would have heard it above the noise of the rushing water mystified me but no doubt it usually works.  Alas, this time no Whistling Thrush & at around 6-0pm when the light was failing we reluctantly gave up & returned a little wet & leech bitten to the warmth of the hotel for a really good buffet dinner after another hugely enjoyable day.  Four new lifers to add to the growing total now standing at 89.

DAY 6 [25th MARCH]

Having rained heavily in the night it was now dry at first light.  Upali & I set off again for a second attempt at the Whistling Thrush site.  At 6-30am we gave up again.  A double-dip!  Following another really good & full breakfast we were to head up higher to Horton Plains.  Horton Plains is a rare cloud forest environment of rolling hills & plains, lush grassland & pockets of tangled woods covered in Spanish Moss & bromiliads, inhabited by the rare & endemic Purple-Faced Leaf Monkey [or Bear Monkey].  It`s a forbidding & misty landscape often enveloped in dense cloud & rain.  We set off in hazy sunshine with some cloud, rising up the steep winding road with hairpin bends.  One or two PIED BUSHCHATS were at the roadside as we left Nuwara Eliya. There were a couple of BROWN SHRIKES on roadside wires & in a little village whilst Upali stopped to buy us a coffee, I had HILL SWALLOW perched on overhead wires & then across the road a GREY-BREASTED PRINIA dropped down into cover from its tree top perch.  A SHIKRA was soaring in the distance & more HILL SWALLOWS & some PADDYFIELD PIPITS were seen.  Two pigeons perched on overhead wires on a bend in the road near Hakgala took flight which Upali identified as the endemic SRI LANKA WOOD PIGEON.  A really good sighting.  My first GREY WAGTAILS of the holiday were noted & as we got higher first a GREAT TIT [or locally Grey Tit] was seen on the wires & then a male INDIAN BLACKBIRD.  Both birds, introduced by the British colonists.  As we approached the National Park the scenery became more dramatic.  One or two YELLOW-EARED BULBULS & my next new endemic were seen – SRI LANKA WHITE-EYE [2 or 3 in the bushes at close range].  Just outside the park entrance our first Sambar Deer was seen at close range feeding at the roadside.  By the park gates another GREAT TIT & a BROWN SHRIKE were in a bush.  It was still hazy sunshine as we entered the park where another Sambar was seen in the near distance & then my first SRI LANKA JUNGLEFOWL [endemic], a magnificent male, was seen as it emerged briefly from cover.  At the car park a rather tame male Sambar with a full set of antlers [complete with HOUSE CROW, hitching a lift on its back] came over to share my packed breakfast.  Overhead flew ALPINE SWIFTS & HILL SWALLOWS.  Breakfast finished we set off on what Upali referred to as the “bird walk” where we would hike as far as Baker`s Falls.  Our first port of call was the small area of tangled bushes by the information centre where we managed to tease out two or three skulking SRI LANKA BUSH WARBLERS [endemic]. The common bird along this track was the PIED BUSHCHAT that seemed to be everywhere typically in pairs & there was also the odd ZITTING CISTICOLA. The weather was still fine & very hot as we passed pools & streams heading for Baker`s Falls.  It was a hard climb down a steep, narrow, winding path with high stone steps to the falls but well worth the effort to the picturesque little cascade, the perfect place for a break.

Sambar Deer
Sambar Deer

Upali now offered us a choice, to head back from here or to continue on to the dramatic “World`s End” with its shear drop [half a mile deep] & stunning panoramic views, completing the loop back to the start of the trail & the information centre.  Back from here I think would have been about 4km & to complete the loop via World`s End & Mini World`s End around 5.5km.  In for a penny.  We felt it would have been a shame to miss the best bit so we carried on.  An adult BLACK EAGLE was seen & we heard a singing Spot-Winged Thrush from the woods in the near distance.  As we finally approached the dramatic World`s End we could  see whisps of cloud sweeping in ahead of us, just a bit at first.  Behind us in the far distance there were ominous black clouds low over the hills & it looked like it was raining there.  No turning back now.  By the time we finally reached World`s End it was completely shrouded in cloud such that beyond the edge & the shear drop, nothing could be seen.  Nothing unusual in this here, that`s what cloud forest is.

After a short rest we set off  the 3 or 4km back to base through the mist shrouded tangled forest, but unfortunately it had now started to rain & it gradually got heavier & heavier becoming steady & torrential!  The walk back took an emmense effort & will power to keep going as the rain never let up.  We were soon hiking through a torrent of water sweeping down as a river, stumbling, climbing up & down over boulders.  It was a case of “what the hell”.  We were so wet that it no longer mattered, nothing we could do could stop the rain penetrating our clothing & Upali, like a sherpa marched on seemingly without ever taking a breath.  But eventually through sheer perserverence we made it back to the information centre.  The drive back was most uncomfortable even after a stop at the little village for a hot cup of coffee & back at the hotel we nearly blew the fuses with our little room heater on full throttle in a vain attempt to dry our shoes.  It was certainly an experience!  It was still raining heavily, we were knackered so Upali`s plans for the rest of the day were cancelled – a visit to Victoria Park & a third attempt for the Whistling Thrush.

Our clothes were sent off to be dried & we went down rather bedraggled for another really good buffet dinner, me minus socks in my sandals.  Dress code?  No one complained.  As for the day`s birds – my list of lifers for the holiday now stood at an impressive 95.  I remember feeling a little depressed that night thinking the portents were not good.  Were our worst fears to be fulfilled, was this the end of the good weather, was it going to rain from hereon in?

DAY 7 [26th MARCH]

Up again at first light & at least it had stopped raining & as Upali & I set off on yet another attempt at first light to try to see that “bloody thrush” you could see the mountains beyond the lake.  Dare I tempt fate & say that it looked as though it was going to be a fine sunny day?  Needless to say I didn`t see the illusive thrush though Upali was convinced he had a fleeting glimpse of the bird flying off through the bushes & away for the day.  Well at least you can`t say we didn`t give it a good go.  So it was off to the wonderful Victoria Park in the centre of Nuwara Eliya.  The sun was up by now, it was hot as usual & it was looking as though it was going to be a really nice day.  Victoria Park just across the road from the Grand Hotel, is an attractive little town park, very easily worked, a place where I would have loved to have spent more time.  Set on a plateau above the river with heavily vegetated banks, a little novelty railway, tall trees, shrubbery borders & flower beds.  A variety of habitats which annually attract some very special migrants.  There were the usual common birds in the park – CATTLE EGRET & POND HERON in the grass, SPOTTED DOVE, RED-VENTED BULBUL, COMMON TAILORBIRD, ORIENTAL MAGPIE ROBIN & GREY WAGTAIL & COMMON SANDPIPER along the riverside.  Then there were birds such as FOREST WAGTAIL & BROWN SHRIKE & a single LAYARD`S PARAKEET.  After a short time the first “special” from the foothills of the Himalayas was found perched low in a tree –  INDIAN BLUE ROBIN.  On the opposite side of the park we found an INDIAN PITTA this one typically on the ground under a bush in the shadows.  Then an INDIAN BLACKBIRD & in a bush close by a SRI LANKA WHITE-EYE.   On bare ground under a wide spreading tree I glimpsed what was surely “special” number 2, a PIED THRUSH which all too soon before Upali could get on it, flew off low into cover.  Some time later this bird or another appeared in flight & disappeared across the river.  A group of bird ringers erected a couple of mist nets.  Before long they had netted a COMMON TAILORBIRD & a YELLOW WAGTAIL.  We still needed “special” no.3 which we searched for patiently in all the favoured places.  Whilst we searched  we found – a SRI LANKA SCIMITAR BABBLER [endemic], its back end glimpsed & a LARGE-BILLED LEAF WARBLER.  Then finally a male KASHMIR FLYCATCHER & a second bird mostly out of sight, presumably the female as these birds are always seen in pairs & they usually wait for the sun to shine before they emerge from cover.    Over the far side of the river we saw another couple of FOREST WAGTAILS & a DULL-BLUE FLYCATCHER before we returned to the hotel.

After another full breakfast we checked out of the Grand Hotel [good accomodation, good food] & set off back down to the Dry Zone, towards the south coast & Indian Ocean to our next hotel “The Hibiscus Garden” at Tissamaharama.  HIMALAYAN BUZZARD [race of the Common Buzzard] & PIED BUSHCHAT were seen as we left Nuwara Eliya.  We drove in the sunshine [some hazy clouds] down through wonderful scenery past impressive water falls such as the Rawana Ella Falls which drop 328 feet at the Ella Gap.  Ella is a popular tourist resort surrounded by a number of impressive waterfalls.  CHESTNUT-HEADED BEE-EATERS & a WHITE-BELLIED DRONGO were seen on overhead wires & in roadside trees.  Leaving the high mountains with their HILL SWALLOWS in the distance we dropped down onto the flat plain & the long straight road lined with paddy fields down into Tissa`.  The streets down here were a little damp suggesting as the weather forecast had predicted, that there had been some rain earlier.  Indeed there were a few spots now & it was a little cloudy but still incredibly hot.  En route I had seen a pair of BLACK EAGLES [adult & juvenile] soaring over the mountains, a pair of WOOLLY-NECKED STORKS soaring & the odd BRAHMINY KITE.  On the outskirts of Tissa` I saw my first WHITE-BELLIED SEA EAGLE, an adult landing in the trees on the distant islet in the tank.  By the time we arrived at the hotel it was beautiful & sunny.  And again, the hotel was superb, a collection of modern pantile roofed bungalows grouped around a swimming pool in the most magnificent grounds.  Our bungalow had a lovely wide spreading tree directly infront which was full of feeding SCALY-BREASTED MUNIAS & diminutive PALE-BILLED FLOWERPECKERS & a couple of GREEN IMPERIAL PIGEONS.  There was a COPPERSMITH BARBET in a tree at the back of the bungalow together with a COMMON IORA & THICK-BILLED FLOWERPECKER.

After settling in Upali & I went off to a big tank at Debarawewa nearby for a walk along the edge of the water in the burning hot sunshine.  Here we saw – PAINTED STORK [2], BLACK-HEADED IBIS, BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON, PURPLE HERON, INTERMEDIATE EGRET & GREAT WHITE EGRET, SPOT-BILLED PELICAN [2], LITTLE GREBE, LITTLE CORMORANT [large nesting colony], ORIENTAL DARTER [4+], BRAHMINY KITE, WHITE-BREASTED WATERHEN [many], PURPLE SWAMPHEN, PHEASANT-TAILED JACANA, RED-WATTLED LAPWING, WHIMBREL, WHISKERED TERN, WHITE-WINGED BLACK TERN, GREEN IMPERIAL PIGEON, ROSE-RINGED PARAKEET [many breeding], GREATER COUCAL[3+], ASIAN PALM SWIFT, CRESTED TREESWIFT, LITTLE GREEN BEE-EATER [many], BLUE-TAILED BEE-EATER [2 hawking from overhead wires], PIED KINGFISHER, BROWN-HEADED BARBET, BLACK-HOODED ORIOLE, PLAIN PRINIA, YELLOW-BILLED BABBLER, COMMON MYNA [hundreds], PURPLE SUNBIRD, ORIENTAL WHITE-EYE & a colony of BAYA WEAVERS in a paddy field.  The best birds seen here were YELLOW BITTERN [3 seen well], BLACK BITTERN [2 seen well] & two juvenile WATERCOCKS.  So back to the hotel for a reasonable buffet dinner which was difficult to eat in the incredibly high humidity before bed at another first class hotel on a day when a further 12 lifers had been added to the list bringing the total to date to a very healthy 107 [including so far 15 of the 33 endemics].

DAY 8 [27th MARCH]

Elephant at roadside
Elephant at roadside

A very early start for the day long jeep safari to Yala National Park on another very hot & sunny day. “How often do you see Leopards?” I asked Upali as we set off.  “Every time”, he confidently replied. We set off over the most heavily rutted tracks I think I have ever seen.  We had close up views of Asian Elephant, Water Buffalo, Water Hog, Golden Jackal, Sambar Deer & Spotted Deer, Brown Mongoose, Ruddy Mongoose, Black-naped Hare, Giant Squirrel, Hanneman`s Langur Monkeys, Toque Macaques & Mugger Crocodile.

All at once we were off in a race!  Our jeep speeded up as we held on to the sides for dear life.  Our driver began to pass other slower vehicles, all the jeeps it seemed were heading in the same direction with the same thing in mind.  It could mean only one thing – a LEOPARD!!!  We reached the spot in line with two or three other jeeps, just in time to see a big male strolling nonchalantly through the bush about 15 yards from the jeep.  There was just time to rattle off two record photos.  I say rattle off – as fast as the slow shutter speed on my new camera would allow.  I have just its head to the edge of the first photo & then its back end disappearing in the bushes.  Fantastic none the less!  I turned to Upali & said “do you really see leopards every trip?”  “No” he said.


Painted Stork, Yala
Painted Stork, Yala

We headed back to our hotel seeing at least 50 Flying Foxes flying low over our jeep in the half light, back to another “reasonable” dinner & a very welcome bed.  The total of lifers today had risen now to 116.

DAY 9 [28th MARCH]

Up at 5-0am again for another jeep safari today, same jeep, same driver, a half-day safari to Bundala [Sri Lanka`s first “Ramsar” wetland], again with a packed breakfast.  As I stood outside our bungalow under a crystal clear starlit sky I heard the unmistakable call of an INDIAN NIGHTJAR [or was it two], calling quite close first to my right, then to my left [far side of the pool] but frustratingly without seeing the bird.  A huge Flying Fox flapped overhead.  We set off & as the sun began to rise we approached the reserve.  Here we saw – Spotted Deer, Black-naped Hare, Hanneman`s Grey Langur monkey, Mugger Crocodile [or was it an Estuarine Croc?]  But it`s for the birds that you visit Bundala & these included – INDIAN PEAFOWL, GREATER FLAMINGO [about 50], PAINTED STORK, ASIAN OPENBILL & BLACK-HEADED IBIS together with a few SPOONBILL, YELLOW BITTERN, LESSER WHISTLING DUCK, LITTLE CORMORANT & ORIENTAL DARTER,  BRAHMINY KITE, CHANGEABLE HAWK EAGLE.  The waders here included RED-WATTLED LAPWING & YELLOW-WATTLED LAPWING, GREAT THICK-KNEE, INDIAN THICK-KNEE, BLACK-WINGED STILT, PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVER & a couple of GREY PLOVER.  I had a really close up view of the first  new bird of the day a PIN-TAILED SNIPE.  There was MARSH SANDPIPER, LITTLE STINT, COMMON SANDPIPER & WOOD SANDPIPER. Other birds included – ORANGE-BREASTED GREEN PIGEON [a pair], ROSE-RINGED PARAKEET,  a GREY-BELLIED CUCKOO, ASIAN KOEL [pair], GREATER COUCAL [4 or 5], an INDIAN ROLLER, many LITTLE GREEN BEE-EATERS [as usual], BLUE-TAILED BEE-EATER & one or two CHESTNUT-HEADED BEE-EATERS & of course many WHITE-BREASTED KINGFISHERS.  There were PIED KINGFISHERS & a single COMMON KINGFISHER, a HOOPOE, BROWN-HEADED BARBET & then a SRI LANKA WOODSHRIKE.   BROWN SHRIKES were as usual common with at least 7 or 8 seen perched typically on bushes.  A COMMON IORA was seen in flight, ZITTING CISTICOLA, CLAMOROUS REED WARBLER & at least one BLYTH`S REED WARBLER were in the reeds & a single male BLACK-HEADED MUNIA was in a bush.  My next new lifer for the day was a single ASHY WOODSWALLOW.  In the boggy grass fringing a pool there were WHITE-BREASTED WATERHEN & two  WATERCOCKS.

We headed for the coast where we ate our packed breakfast & here I had a good, convincing view of a single immature or brown phase RED-FOOTED BOOBY in flight quite close in over the sea, a rare sighting here.  After breakfast we headed for the salt pans & river estuary where we added to the growing list of birds –  PADDYFIELD PIPIT, ORIENTAL SKYLARK [my next lifer for the day].  There was a large flock of terns on the sandbars,  LESSER-CRESTED TERNS with their bigger cousins the SWIFT TERNS.   There were hundreds of WHISKERED TERNS with some WHITE-WINGED BLACK TERNS in transitional plumage.  There were GULL-BILLED TERNS & many CASPIAN TERNS & I went through every adult LITTLE TERN I could see amongst the many immatures, hoping to find a rare Saunder`s Tern but without success.  And with the terns were 20 or so gulls.  This was my next new bird BROWN-HEADED GULL, birds in non-breeding plumage & some in breeding plumage with, conveniently, a [quite rare] adult BLACK-HEADED GULL alongside for direct comparison.  There were hundreds of waders at quite close range on the water`s edge – large numbers of LITTLE STINTS, the odd COMMON SANDPIPER, many CURLEW SANDPIPERS [at least one in partial breeding plumage], TURNSTONE [2], GREENSHANK & WOOD SANDPIPER, a single BLACK-TAILED GODWIT.  There were very many MONGOLIAN PLOVERS alongside the much smaller KENTISH PLOVERS & many PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVER & two RED-NECKED PHALAROPES. On the distant grassy bund was my next new bird – SMALL PRATINCOLE [2].  I told the ranger who accompanied us, that I would like to see Ashy-Headed Sparrow-Lark & we headed for the area where these are usually seen.  Unfortunately we reached an area of the track which was flooded & though our driver made three attempts to get through in the jeep we reluctantly had to turn back.  The last bird added to the list before we left to return to the hotel after a hugely enjoyable morning was a BARRED BUTTONQUAIL.

Back at the hotel, the weather still incredibly hot & sunny, the early afternoon was spent relaxing on loungers by the swimming pool.  There were good birds in the trees at the back of our bungalow – BLUE-FACED MALKOHA [a pair], ASIAN KOEL [female], PURPLE-RUMPED SUNBIRD, PALE-BILLED FLOWERPECKER, INDIAN PEAFOWL, SCALY-BREASTED MUNIA, BROWN-HEADED BARBET, ROSE-RINGED PARAKEET, YELLOW-BILLED BABBLER, GREATER COUCAL as well as the ever present WHITE-BREASTED KINGFISHER & LITTLE GREEN BEE-EATER & RED-WATTLED LAPWING.  Soaring overhead there was a succession of birds recorded over the next hour or so – PAINTED STORK [pair], SPOT-BILLED PELICAN [pair], ORIENTAL DARTER [pair], SHIKRA, WHITE-BELLIED SEA EAGLE [two juveniles].

In the afternoon & early evening [3-30pm to 7-0pm] Upali & I took another trip out to the tank at Debarawewa.  All the usual birds were seen, the pick of the birds being –YELLOW BITTERN, WATERCOCK [ 3 more immatures seen at close range], BLUE-TAILED BEE-EATER [3+], STORK-BILLED KINGFISHER, BROWN SHRIKE, GOLDEN-FRONTED LEAFBIRD, PLAIN PRINIA, ASHY WOODSWALLOW & a male SMALL MINIVET. Amongst the BAYA WEAVERS flying into & out of the paddy field below the bund, were a few STREAKED WEAVERS & at least one BLACK-HEADED MUNIA amongst the SCALY-BEASTED MUNIAS.  We tried for White-Naped Woodpecker which is often seen around the tank but with no luck, trying also the garden of a friend of Upali.  As we waited we saw a couple of LESSER GOLDENBACKS & as a bonus a little flock of small TAWNY-BELLIED BABBLERS & had a nice cup of tea on the patio. As the last of the light faded we headed for the side of the main tank at Tissa` & stood for some time under a wide spreading tree full of roosting Flying Foxes that were now beginning to stir flying out for their night time feed.  We were hoping to see the regular Brown Fish Owl that is often seen at last light coming in to feed.  Alas, again not this evening & to compound our dip, we were unable to pick up any Nightjars.  Still as we headed back to the hotel for dinner, it had been another hugely enjoyable day bringing my tally of lifers now to an impressive 123.

DAY 10 [29th MARCH]

I had told Upali that I was disappointed that I had not as yet managed to see any nightjars but that I clearly heard an Indian Nightjar the previous morning around the pool.  They are almost always encountered on the road leading into Yala & the tracks there at dawn & dusk but we had still failed to see any.  We arranged to meet at 5-0am when he would attempt to tape lure them [Jerdon`s & Indian] from the car park & around the pool.  We tried & tried with no response just the hint of a shadowy shape flitting out of the bush next to where we were standing.  We drove along a number of dirt tracks & tree lined roads all without success.  By the tank at Debarawewa where we inevitably ended up as the sun rose we did however have an excellent view of a  male COTTON PYGMY GOOSE & BLACK BITTERN & YELLOW BITTERN.  We returned to the hotel for breakfast which was very good after having missed it the previous two days out on our safaris.  A short time spent watching the trees & one highly productive tree in particular around our bungalow produced some good birds – GREATER COUCAL, PURPLE SUNBIRD, PEAFOWL [female in the tree top], THICK-BILLED FLOWERPECKER, ORANGE-BREASTED GREEN PIGEON, SCALY-BREASTED MUNIA, BLUE-TAILED BEE-EATER, BLUE-FACED MALKOHA, LOTEN`S SUNBIRD, PURPLE-RUMPED SUNBIRD, INDIAN SILVERBILL, BROWN-HEADED BARBET, GREEN IMPERIAL PIGEON, ASIAN KOEL.  From the breakfast table I watched an ASIAN PARADISE FLYCATCHER [full tailed brown male flying to & fro to the roof eaves opposite], GREEN IMPERIAL PIGEONS [in flight] & singing ORIENTAL MAGPIE ROBIN [pair] in the roof eaves.

Sinharaja at dawn
Sinharaja at dawn

Upali at Sinharaja Rainforest
Sinharaja with Upali

After breakfast we checked out & set off for our next stop, two nights at Martins Lodge in the rain forest of Sinharaja.  The Hibiscus Garden had been another wonderful hotel with no complaints other than in Anne`s view, the staff were very young & inexperienced such that the service left a little to be desired & the food [buffet at dinner] could have been better.  The journey up into the rain forest from the coastal plain was spectacular in brilliant sunshine during which we saw Brown Mongoose, Water Monitor & Black-Naped Hare.  We could see the rain forest clad mountains of Sinharaja in the distance infront of us as we passed the impressive Uda Walawe National Park, forests & vast plains around a massive tank.  This is the home of many Elephants, perhaps the best place to see them.  Here as elsewhere on the island there is an electrified fence to the perimeter alongside the main road in order to dissuade the elephants from straying.  In the past they have had to move the fence further back as a second line of defence as some groups of elephants have attempted to raid the many fruit stalls that line the road.   An elephant was seen swimming from one side of the vast sheet of water of the tank to the other, a feat it apparently repeats every morning, heading towards the road.  At the end of the tank we turned right, off the main road down a dirt track leading to the Elephant Sanctuary.  In the car park Upali led us to some trees & pointed out COLLARED SCOPS OWL at its regular daytime roost.  Anne bought some carved wooden elephants here for gifts before we continued on our way.  It was incredibly hot & sunny & very slow going as we headed up towards the rain forest, the condition of the road rapidly deteriorating.  We saw our first live snake – a harmless RED SNAKE, slithering across the road infront of us.  Amongst the birds noted on the journey was a perched CRESTED SERPENT EAGLE, ASIAN PALM SWIFTS, HOUSE SWIFTS, BLUE-TAILED BEE-EATER, BROWN SHRIKE, JUNGLE CROW, WHITE-BELLIED DRONGO, YELLOW-BILLED BABBLER, ORIENTAL MAGPIE ROBIN & INDIAN ROBIN.

As we finally approached Sinharaja a SRI LANKA SPURFOWL [endemic] flew quite low across the road infront of us, a flash of rufous with black to the tail.  Then  two SRI LANKA HANGING PARROTS [endemic] were seen, typically upside down at the top of a tall straight tree.  We finally arrived at the approach road to Martin`s Lodge after a long hard, at times very slow drive over the heavily pot-holed road.  There was a jeep waiting for us & our bags were loaded into the back.  Upali ominously gave me a pair of the necessary “leech socks” & we headed up the heavily pot-holed steep winding track leading up to our hotel, Martins Lodge.  We passed very close to a troop of endemic Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys & we should have stopped to take a picture or two of this shy animal as we would not get a chance again.  Half way up Upali & I got out to walk the rest of the way whilst Anne carried on with the bags in the jeep.  We finally arrived at Martins Lodge at 3-0pm.  We took a short walk in the local area after settling in when Upali managed to tape lure a typically extremely shy male SRI LANKA SPURFOWL which gave me a brief  but typical fragmentary view before it saw us & slipped off out of sight.  The best I can say is that I saw its distinctive paddle shaped tail.  I noted GREEN IMPERIAL PIGEON, LAYARD`S PARAKEET [ 3 flocks of up to 10 birds], YELLOW-FRONTED BARBET, LESSER GOLDENBACK, BLACK BULBUL [many typically squabbling groups], ORANGE-BILLED BABBLER [endemic], SRI LANKA CRESTED MYNA [endemic, several in the tree canopy], THICK-BILLED FLOWERPECKER & LEGGE`S FLOWERPECKER [endemic, good if distant view high in the tree canopy].  After the experience of being caught in the torrential downpour at Horton Plains I took Anne`s little telescopic umbrella in my pocket & here it served me well in the afternoon, providing at least a modicum of protection during another sudden heavy shower.

Up the hill behind Martins near the Information Centre Upali had the briefest of glimses of one of the hardest endemics to find, Green-Billed Coucal which unfortunately I missed.  We searched the area for some time without success, a story to be repeated for this bird all of the next day.  In a stinking tip in a hollow amongst the trees we saw an enormous Water Monitor over two metres in length, mooching around amongst the discarded rubbish & in a tree overhead, a VELVET-FRONTED NUTHATCH. On our return Anne called me over as she had found a big insect with long legs she said & horns.  It turned out to be a four inch long Stick Insect.  The clouds gradually built up & it began to rain again on & off around 4-0pm & as dusk approached a couple of WHITE-FACED STARLINGS [endemic] were calling typically at the very top of some tall bare trees. 

Martin`s Lodge was a complete culture shock [especially in the rain] after the wonderful hotel we had just left.  We went in with open eyes knowing that the accommodation is basic but this was ridiculous.  It was awful! The rooms were in a single storey block, bare breeze block under a tin roof, the separating partitions stopping well short of the rafters such that there was no privacy.  The tiny room had two rock hard beds each with a thin mattress on slatted boards in a cramped space completely lacking any comfort whatsoever.  The two small mesh covered windows were at high level offering no view out at all.  The bathroom was roughly half tiled with a mish mash of mis-matched tiles & there were two open drain holes in the suspended floor to allow the shower water to drain away.  We settled in as best we could in the circumstances.  It was now dark & raining heavily & we went across the open yard to the open sided dining room where we ate our dinner [not really knowing what the correct procedure was], the dining room dimly lit by a couple of bare bulbs.  As we ate our rather average food, the rain pouring down beyond the open eaves, a huge bat nearly scalped me as it flew low over the dining table, which just about summed it up.  And then it was to bed, to try at least to get some sleep on the rock hard mattress with sheets too small to provide cover, struggling to tuck in the pink mosquito net around us.  Thinking of the additional 8 lifers this day [total to date 132, including 19 of the 33 Endemics] gave me some comfort as I lay listening to the rain & the noises from the people next door.  Jith did tactfully suggest we stay at the Blue Magpie but I insisted it should be Martin`s Lodge.  Maybe he was a little too tactful!

DAY 11 [30th MARCH]

Last night`s rain had stopped & it was dry as we got up at first light, absolutely no problem getting up today from the rock hard bed.  I had bruises from turning over in my efforts to find a comfortable position.  It was an early breakfast so I could be off at 6-30am for the eagerly awaited walk through the rain forest with Upali.  The sun was just coming up as we sat down to eat our simple but edible breakfast.  Amazingly first one then a second bird hopped onto the cill, then the table.  They were the iconic bird of the island, SRI LANKA BLUE MAGPIE [endemic] & they apparently appear at this time every day to feed on insects & dinner scraps from the night before.  What a perfect start to the day.  Breakfast finished we returned to our room.

After a “set to” with an irate German who complained I had woken him up in the night when I inadvertantly went to the loo, leech socks on, Upali & I set off for our walk in the rain forest leaving Anne to do her thing back at base.  As at Bundala it was necessary for us to be escorted by one of the park rangers, another nice young lad, Yalid who knew his birds & for whom nothing was too much trouble.  He would frequently go off ahead of us, beating his way with a complete disregard for the leeches [& snakes] through the tangled jungle to find or attempt to find target birds.  The park was quite easy to work, the walk in no way strenuous, no hard climbing & for the great part, along the wide, flat & even surfaced main track.  Occasionally we would have to tread carefully “off piste” through the tangled vegetation for the more skulking birds.  No matter how careful I was, I still managed to pick up a few leeches, most flicked off, just a couple drawing blood.  The scenery viewed from the few clearings was stunning across the valley to the distant forest covered hills, the vegetation throughout lush & primeval as we followed at times meandering streams through the dense jungle.  There were beautiful big butterflies including Ceylon Wood Nymphs high above floating through the canopy, big Giant Wood Spiders in their huge webs & then a four inch long Millipede moving across the track infront of me.  There were little endemic Kangaroo Lizards by the track side & Purple-Faced Leaf Monkeys could be heard in the distance.  There were Dusky Squirrels, differing from the Palm Squirrel being much darker, dusky grey.  But it was the birds I was principally here for & in particular all the endemics for which the park is most famous. 

A flock of LAYARD`S PARAKEETS flew overhead & a couple of GREEN IMPERIAL PIGEONS & a COMMON IORA as we entered the park.  DRONGO CUCKOO & SRI LANKA SPURFOWL could be heard but not seen. BROWN-BREASTED FLYCATCHER, BROWN SHRIKE & YELLOW-FRONTED BARBETS were seen. The unmistakable song of a TICKELL`S BLUE FLYCATCHER could be heard.  ORANGE-BILLED BABBLERS were flitting through the trees.  My first new bird of the day was pointed out by Yalid, high in the canopy overhead on a horizontal branch, a roosting SRI LANKA FROGMOUTH.  One or two SRI LANKA SCIMITAR BABBLERS were seen, the best views I had had to date & there were noisy groups of BLACK BULBULS in the trees.  Then the second new bird of the day YELLOW-BROWED BULBUL [endemic], three or four seen.  A female MALABAR TROGON was typically perched high up in full view, then a second was seen similarly.   A superb male SRI LANKA JUNGLEFOWL crossed the track ahead of us, later a second & a female was seen at very close range.  Yalid led me off the track into the tangled understorey to show me a SPOT-WINGED THRUSH [endemic] typically skulking on the ground in the leaf litter.  We reached the Research Station in the middle of the forest where on a side track, Upali scattered some bread he had produced from his pocket.  All at once a male SRI LANKA JUNGLEFOWL appeared to feed at our feet, soon joined by a stunning SRI LANKA BLUE MAGPIE.  I was interupted whilst attempting to take some photos, by Yalid who beckoned me over & back into the tangled undergrowth where, slightly distracted by the leeches on my legs, I had as good a view as possible of  a rare & ultra skulking SRI LANKA SCALY THRUSH [endemic] flicking through the leaf litter.  Upali & I headed off along a side track, following the course of a stream as Yalid disappeared again on another mission.  All along the way up to now Upali had been trying to tape lure a Green-Billed Coucal for me without success, frequently stopping at a likely spot to play its call.  Yalid & the other guides were sent off on the specific mission to try to find a roosting  Serendib Scops Owl, number one target for all visiting birders.  Today though we were unlucky with no sign of the bird.

High in the canopy overhead I had a fleeting all too brief view of a RED-FACED MALKOHA [endemic]. We headed back to the main track where we had a good view of a little flock of DARK-FRONTED BABBLERS with pale staring eyes set in a black face, looking like a gang of bandits. 

What I really wanted to see was one of Sinharaja`s famous feeding flocks.  There is no guarantee that a visiting birder will see one though. Within the dense rainforest such as here at Sinharaja, the tactic is for the bird species to gang together in a mixed flock to maximise their chances of finding food & for security, more eyes to warn of any predator.  There are leaders such as the Crested Drongo, a couple being present in a flock, fearless & vocal, they appear to call early in the morning to muster the other species to join the flock.  Their calls full of mimickry, within the flock warn the other birds of a predator that may be in the area & will also mob a raptor to drive it away.  Some of the species are fruit eaters, some insectiverous, different species operating within the flock at different levels. These noisy flocks made up of the many species & usually including Dusky Squirrels, move daily through the forest on a circuit that could be seen at any time.  Our aim now was to walk the main track back & forth until hopefully we would finally come across a flock.  Then all at once after the typical silence of the forest [apart from the periodic almost overpowering buzz of the cicadas], we could hear distant bird calls seemingly getting ever closer.  Upali spotted a Lesser Yellownape in the treetop, a woodpecker which habitually forms part of the feeding flock.  There must be a feeding flock here he exclaimed.  But the noise died down & gradually disappeared.  It seems we had just missed one.  Just a few minutes later however, a little further along the track, the bird calls returned, getting ever closer until we were right in the middle of a noisy feeding flock.  I noted ten species in all in this flock though I`m sure I must have missed a few by the time they moved on, the forest once again becoming silent.  Those I saw were – ASHY-HEADED LAUGHINGTHRUSH [endemic], ORANGE-BILLED BABBLER, SRI LANKA CRESTED DRONGO [endemic], SRI LANKA SCIMITAR BABBLER [endemic], LESSER YELLOWNAPE,  male MALABAR TROGON, BAR-WINGED FLYCATCHER SHRIKE, a white, full tailed ASIAN PARADISE FLYCATCHER,  BLACK BULBUL & CRIMSON-BACKED GOLDENBACK [endemic].  What an exhilerating experience! 

Missing the Coucal & the Serendib Scops Owl & unfortunately the Brown-Capped Babbler [endemic] which we tried for at several of its favoured locations, there was just one more bird to try for, another owl.  Yalid had a location by the Research Station where he had seen one early that morning so we headed for the site where Upali played his tape lure & sure enough after a short, patient wait, the bird appeared high in a tree responding to the tape – CHESTNUT-BACKED OWLET, yet another endemic. We had a great view of this little owl before heading back slowly out of the park & to Martin`s Lodge after a very successful walk.   Anne showed me a photo she had taken whilst I was away, asking me what sort of bird it was.  Amazingly it was a lovely Spot-Winged Thrush that she photographed on the dining table feeding on crumbs!  The very endemic I had suffered leeches to glimpse deep in the jungle.  I did however see this same individual later at equally close range, perched on the rails of the dining room.  When I removed my socks I found that at least one leech had broken through my defences & made its way on to my foot.  One I remember earlier had been particularly persistant & a devil to remove.

After a short rest from our morning`s exertions Upali & I set off for a short session in the forest around the lodge until the rain came around 2-0pm but not before we had seen – SRI LANKA CRESTED DRONGO, WHITE-FACED STARLING, SRI LANKA HANGING PARROT, COMMON IORA, LAYARD`S PARAKEET, BLACK BULBUL, THICK-BILLED FLOWERPECKER, GOLDEN-FRONTED LEAFBIRD, BROWN-BREASTED FLYCATCHER & GREEN IMPERIAL PIGEON.  Again we saw the huge Water Monitor mooching around the stinking tip along with a second one.  We tried to lure out Green-Billed Coucal again without success & then Serendib Scops Owl at another favoured site beside an attractive little pond as the big monitor lazed in the water.  But again regrettably, without success.  Dinner back at Martin`s this evening was much more enjoyable as the rain [much lighter] fell.  The non-communicative Germans of the previous night had now been replaced by two very pleasant English couples but the food again was quite average & samey as we ate our dinner accompanied by the big low flying bats.  Getting a comfortable night`s sleep on the rock hard bed was no easier.  With thirteen lifers added today the total now stood at 145 [including 29 of the 33 endemics].

DAY 12 [31st MARCH]

As we were preparing to leave our room Anne lifted the thin mattress to reveal a live cockroach between the wooden slats!  Today we were to leave Martin`s Lodge & the Sinharaja rainforest & head back down to the coastal plain, to Weligama on the Indian Ocean.  The whisps of low cloud swirling around the tree tops bordering the valley infront of the lodge as the sun came up, soon cleared & it promised to be another scorching hot sunny day.  We had been so lucky with the weather up to now, minimal rain really that had not stopped us doing anything.  After breakfast, packed & ready we waited for the jeep to arrive to take us back down to civilisation.  Though I would not recommmend the “hotel” to anyone, the stay had been a good one for me. The advantage of this particular accommodation was that it is as close as you will get to actually being in the rain forest.  As we waited in the sunshine, infront of the lodge we watched a big Giant Squirrel in a tree & Upali beckoned me to follow him.  Down some winding steps to the back of the lodge where he pointed out a venemous Green Pit Viper looped around the frame of the mesh panel over one of the room`s windows. The birds, as we waited, were as good as ever – SRI LANKA WOOD PIGEON, GREEN IMPERIAL PIGEON, SRI LANKA HANGING PARROT, YELLOW-FRONTED BARBET, COMMON IORA, WHITE-BELLIED DRONGO, SRI LANKA CRESTED DRONGO, PURPLE-RUMPED SUNBIRD, BLACK-CAPPED BULBUL, BLACK BULBUL, YELLOW-BROWED BULBUL, SRI LANKA HILL MYNA & LEGGE`S FLOWERPECKER.  Best of all was a stunning brilliant red & black male SCARLET MINIVET & then in the same tree, two bright yellow & black juveniles.  The alternative name for this gem of a bird is Flame Minivet & that is exactly what it looked like to me at a glance, a sudden flame in the foliage.  The last bird  was a rare male BESRA which flew low directly overhead .

The jeep arrived and with that we set off, back down the tortuous narrow & steep, heavily rutted, winding track, unfortunately not a Purple-Faced Leaf Monkey to be seen.  Upali called out “Shaheen” but I missed it.  The wonderfully atmospheric sound of voices singing could be heard as we neared the bottom of the track, resonating around the valley, emanating I think from a school nearby, on this Easter Sunday.  The jeep packed in as we were nearly there, the gear box had jammed & we had to get out & walk the last few yards.  A singing CRIMSON-FRONTED BARBET was recorded en-route & a couple of ORIENTAL WHITE-EYES down by the river as we tried once again without success to see the illusive Green-Billed Coucal.  From the jeep we transferred our luggage to Upali`s car in the car park & headed off for the coast.

Upali chose a different route from the slow & tortuous one coming but this took us along roads in equally atrocious if not worse condition.  Completely lacking a metalled surface, at places we had to weave our way carefully around huge boulders littering the road, remnants still being cleared up of recent landslides down the steeply, near vertical cutting.  Progress was painfully slow for poor Upali who never complained.  Every small village we passed through was heaving with people, white uniform clad children on their way to Sunday School, elegant women in their Sunday best each with umbrella to protect them from the burning sun.  Cows loafing at the roadside, men guiding their buffaloes & cattle along the streets, cyclists & the ubiquitous brightly coloured tuk tuks.  A riot of colour, busy, busy, busy. Driving was as usual amazing, the driver of every type of vehicle knowing his place as to who overtakes who & where [usually on blind bends].  Yet every vehicle seemingly in tip-top condition without a scratch.  How do they do it?  As ever Upali told us all about local life & the many traditional customs particularly as regards the Sri Lanka New Year which occurs on 14th May. This is one of the best things about having your own personal driver/guide.  We had learnt so much about the island from Upali over the days so far.  As we headed closer to the coast & Weligama I asked Upali if he was around when the horrendous, devastating tsunami struck.  He told us in a matter of fact way, he was with two tourists just like us on the south coast.  They left their hotel around 8-30am, half an hour before the tsunami struck, completely sweeping away their hotel, killing every one of the occupants who was still inside!  A sobering thought.

Part of the last leg of the day`s journey was along the only motorway on the island, built recently by the Chinese & not yet finished.   Fast it was, but like any motorway monotonous & boring.  A few birds were noted from it most notable the odd soaring BRAHMINY KITE & some SRI LANKA SWALLOWS.  We were now in a completely different world from the humid & steamy rainforest, down on the coast.    At 1-15pm we finally arrived at the Jaga Bay Hotel.  This had been our choice that Anne had found on the inter-net, being a little concerned with the poor reviews of the one Jith had originally suggested.  The hotels he had selected for us had been on the whole first class [apart of course from Martin`s Lodge, my fault].  Again the hotel looked spot on, set in luxuriant grounds amongst the palm trees & right on to the sandy beach & the ocean.  The room was big, comfortable if a little tired, with a big balcony & thankfully, the necessary air conditioning.  We had a little lunch & then spent the afternoon & early evening relaxing, watching the ubiquitous Palm Squirrels & walking on the beach & after a really good dinner [a huge bowl of vegetable soup & steak & chips, then pineapple pancake] we went to bed for a welcome, good & comfortable [after the last two nights] sleep.  On the journey today we saw Ruddy Mongoose, two Land Monitors & rare Purple-Faced Monkeys of the Western race [according to Upali].  As for the birds I saw – ASIAN OPENBILL, BLACK-HEADED IBIS, countless CATTLE EGRETS, HOUSE SWIFTS, ALPINE SWIFTS [a few], WHITE-BREASTED KINGFISHER [many of course], BROWN SHRIKE, BLACK-HOODED ORIOLE, BARN SWALLOW, HOUSE CROW, SRI LANKA SWALLOW [1], RED-VENTED BULBUL, YELLOW-BILLED BULBUL.  Around the hotel there were JUNGLE CROWS & a BROWN-HEADED BARBET.  Just one new lifer today bringing the tally to 146.

DAY 13 [1st APRIL]

Up early again today for our eagerly awaited whale watch.  Too early for the hotel to provide a packed breakfast we would have to make do with that provided by the whale watch company, the usual chicken sandwich, a piece of dry cake & a banana.  Upali had now unfortunately left us & we said our goodbyes at the hotel.  For the remainder of the holiday we had a new driver/guide, Senarath, who like Upali, was free-lance.  We drove into Mirissa to pick up our tickets from “Mirissa Water Sports” which we had to pay for though Jith had made all the arrangements beforehand.  It cost 74$ each [about £50] for the cruise.  The previous day apparently the boat took 7 hours to find a Blue Whale & it is usually the policy to stay out as long as it takes till they find one [within reason, I suppose].  The Blue Whales are in these waters off the southern coast of Sri Lanka all year round though the best time to see them is between December & April, particularly April.  Many migrate from the Arabian Sea passing the southern tip of Sri Lanka in December.  They then move up the east coast in the Bay of Bengal to spend the next couple of months off the north-east coast around Trincomalee before migrating back to the Arabian Sea, passing the southern tip of Sri Lanka again in April. There would be a much better than 50/50 chance of seeing at least one.  The previous day they also saw a Wedge-Tailed Shearwater as a bonus & a few days earlier a Blue Whale & a pod of 20 Sperm Whales.

It was a lovely calm sea, the weather was as usual very hot with hazy sunshine & a light breeze, in fact perfect conditions. There was little to see at first other than Flying Fish, WHISKERED TERNS & a few WHITE-WINGED BLACK TERNS, SWIFT TERNS & LESSER-CRESTED TERNS & a single pale phase POMARINE SKUA.  At 7-50am there were excited cries from the crew on lookout.  There was the unmistakable blow of a whale dead ahead far in the distance followed by the characteristic pale blue/grey hump of the back before disappearing.  An almighty cheer went up from those on board as we watched a BLUE WHALE.  A few moments later another blow, the arched back, then up came the back end, the flukes appeared & down she went.  Another huge cheer went up!  Boats were heading off in different directions aiming to be the first & the closest when the whale would next surface.  Local boats are often criticised for hounding the whales, attempting to get too close & in doing so driving them further & further from shore.  Jith had selected our company being one of the more responsible ones.

Then right on cue, 8 minutes having passed up she came again giving closer views this time, again a series of equally spaced blows followed by the appearance of the arched back, this time diving without showing its tail flukes.  This continued over more than an hour with the big bulge of the splash guard being occasionally visible until the huge animal finally out-ran the boats & disappeared.  It was a  wonderfully exciting & exhilerating experience which I shall never forget.  We moved on & headed out further to where we could see a lot of seabird activity in the distance.  We began to see dolphins, a small number of Spinner Dolphins, then what was possibly two Bottle-nosed Dolphins.  Then we were in the middle of a cauldron of activity, a large shoal of Yellow-finned Tuna, surrounded by 400 acrobatic Spinner Dolphins, some leaping high characteristically spinning before dropping back into the sea.  Amongst them were Striped Dolphins & Pantropical Spotted Dolphins, swimming alongside the boat each side of the bow & overhead were large numbers of SOOTY TERNS & BRIDLED TERNS.  It really was an unbelievable experience.

We were back in the harbour by 12-30pm & at our request Senarath dropped us off for a short walk in the centre of Weligama & then it was back to the hotel for a rather late breakfast [brunch I suppose].  The rest of the day was spent lazily strolling along the sandy beach under the burning sun.  A single migrant WHIMBREL & a CATTLE EGRET were on the beach.  Back to the hotel late afternoon for a laze under the palm trees as the sun was going down, then another excellent dinner [huge portions], for me chicken roasted in barbecue sauce & chips & another pineapple pancake.  Another superb exhilerating day, the highlight of course seeing the Blue Whale.

DAY 14 [2nd APRIL]

An hours walk as the sun came up, along the beach & around the hotel grounds from 6-0am produced WHITE-BREASTED WATERHEN & COMMON SANDPIPER, a few WHISKERED TERNS, LESSER FLAMEBACK & two WHITE-BELLIED DRONGOS.  After a reasonable breakfast we booked out & set off for our last stop, the Ranweli Village Hotel at Waikkal on the west coast, close to Colombo where we were to spend the last two nights of our holiday.  Again it was very hot & sunny & our first stop was made by the side of the Arabian Sea, to photograph the stilt or pole fishermen.  This unique form of sea fishing has traditionally [the practice going back to around the time of the second world war] only taken place at this short stretch of coastline in the extreme south-west of Sri Lanka in the district of Galle particularly around the towns of Kathaluwa & Ahangama.  The fishermen sit on a cross bar tied to a vertical pole planted into the coral reef from where they fish over the water about 2m up.  Today it is only really performed for the tourists but its an impressive sight none the less.

Ranweli at dawn
Ranweli at dawn


It was gloriously hot & sunny when we finally arrived at Waikkal at 2-20pm, a completely different world from that we had just driven through.  The hotel [or holiday village] is on an island set amongst the mangroves & tall palms & the only way to access it is via a hand propelled ferry. In the most beautiful setting between the mangrove fringed river & the Arabian Sea, it is modern well designed & possitively idylic.  Around 180 individual spacious bungalows are strung out along covered walkways either side of the reception centre with its spacious restaurant & bar.  The female staff are immaculately turned out in traditional saris.  The village prides itself on being “eco friendly” organising nature walks around the grounds which includes a raised boardwalk through the mangroves.  There is a butterfly garden & they display a “flower of the day” in reception.  Our bungalow, almost the furthest out, seemed like a mile from reception but it was beautiful, opening out onto decking & straight onto the silver sand of the beach & the  Arabian Sea.  There were tall palms shading the bungalow with the ubiquitous Palm Squirrels for ever emitting their piercing bird like calls. The food was excellent, buffet meals with a wide choice.  The last day of a holiday we are normally “winding down” en-route to the airport.  This was “winding up”! 

The first birds seen around the complex were ASIAN KOEL [a very common bird here], PIED KINGFISHER, STRIATED HERON [also very common], HOUSE CROW [many on the beach] & COMMON MYNA.  In the early evening as the sun was going down I spent a pleasant complaitive half hour or so sitting quietly beside the ferry terminal during which time I noted BLACK-WINGED STILTS, RED-WATTLED PLOVER,  a pair of ASIAN KOEL, ASIAN PALM SWIFT, INDIAN SWIFTLETS [2] & a STORK-BILLED KINGFISHER in flight low along the river.  Then it was back for a good buffet dinner.

DAY 15 [3rd APRIL]

A short walk down to the beach at first light produced really close up views of waders.  As well as the “clockwork” SANDERLINGS & a single COMMON SANDPIPER there was a small flock of sandplovers, thirteen MONGOLIAN PLOVERS & as a perfect comparison a single GREATER SANDPLOVER.
The last real highlight of this highlight packed holiday was to be a cruise along the mangrove lined waterways at first light this morning and it proved to be absolutely sublime!  Nearly two & a half hours with our boatman/guide, very knowledgable as regards the wildlife.  One of the trip reports [with a different company] I read before we booked the holiday said that they were disappointed with the cruise as they had a boatman who knew nothing about the wildlife & instead drove at break-neck speed “showing off” – a complete waste of money & time.  I asked Jith if he could make sure this would not happen to us & as always, he delivered.

The cruise along the waterways lasted nearly 2 ½ hours from 6-30am.  We saw huge Water Monitors lazing in the water & the birds we saw included – YELLOW BITTERN [2], BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON, STRIATED HERON [some with bright yellow legs, others with deep orange legs], INDIAN POND HERON & CATTLE EGRET.  In the overhanging trees resting together, there were both LITTLE CORMORANT & INDIAN CORMORANT [with deep blue eyes].  WHITE-BREASTED WATERHENS were common & there were a few BLACK-WINGED STILTS in flight.  We saw INDIAN THICK-KNEE, a single RED-WATTLED LAPWING, 20+ SRI LANKA GREEN PIGEONS, ROSE-RINGED PARAKEETS, ASIAN KOELS, GREATER COUCAL & ASIAN PALM SWIFTS overhead.  Four types of kingfisher were seen at close range – COMMON KINGFISHER, PIED KINGFISHER, WHITE-BREASTED KINGFISHER & at least 5 sightings of the big STORK-BILLED KINGFISHER.  There was BROWN-HEADED BARBET, LESSER GOLDENBACK [3], WHITE-BELLIED DRONGO, SRI LANKA SWALLOW, YELLOW-BILLED BABBLER, HOUSE CROW & JUNGLE CROW. ORIENTAL MAGPIE ROBINS were as usual common & I had really close views of both PURPLE-RUMPED SUNBIRD & LOTEN`S SUNBIRD.  At one point we were able to stop beside an area of low open scrub allowing us really close prolonged views of PLAIN PRINIA &  a couple of BLYTH`S REED WARBLERS.  Perhaps the best & least expected bird in this lowland wetland habitat was a LESSER HILL MYNA posing on top of a tall dead tree stump.  Then, perhaps saving the very best for last, our boatman/guide took us right up to the river`s edge to point out not one but three [two adults & a juvenile] COLLARED SCOPS OWLS, at their regular daytime roost low in the mangroves & we had really close views as the three birds huddled together until one by one, maybe a little narked by our presence, they sidled off into cover.  At 8-50am we returned to the ferry terminal after the most wonderful relaxing, yet exhilerating trip.  Fortunately breakfast was still being served & was again first class, buffet style & as much as you could eat.

We spent the rest of the day generally relaxing in the burning hot sunshine, lazing on the sun loungers, strolling around the hotel grounds, taking in the butterfly garden etc.  It was the hottest day so far as Senarath explained, the sun at this time in the calendar was directly overhead.  On the beach was a tight flock of over 80 terns which with a lot of patience, moving up slowly 10 paces at a time, I was able to get quite close to.  There were around 40 COMMON TERNS [all juveniles], 35 LESSER CRESTED TERNS three GULL-BILLED TERNS [one adult & two juveniles] & a single immature SWIFT TERN.  On the shore there was now a single migrant WHIMBREL, many SANDERLINGS, a single MONGOLIAN PLOVER & in flight, a flock of 15 LITTLE STINTS & a PLAIN PRINIA emerged from a bush.  In the evening another contemplaitive session sitting by the ferry terminal produced STRIATED HERON [3], BRAHMINY KITE [flying over], WHITE-BREASTED WATERHEN [two adults & a little black juvenile swimming across the river], a flock of 15 WHISKERED TERN, ASIAN KOEL, ASIAN PALM SWIFT, STORK-BILLED KINGFISHER , COMMON KINGFISHER & PIED KINGFISHER & many HOUSE CROWS & COMMON MYNAS flying to their night time roosts.

As it was regrettably our last night, what better way to finish before dinner, than with a sunset.  So I returned to our bungalow & stood & photographed the scene framed by the palm trees as the sun slowly sank to the horizon over the Arabian Sea, a small flock of SRI LANKA GREEN PIGEONS flying low overhead.  A perfect way to end what had been a perfect holiday.

DAY 16 [4th APRIL]

So that`s it, all over for another year.  After a quick look at the sea shore & the 14 sandplovers again on the beach with a flock of SANDERLING & a single COMMON SANDPIPER, then a pair of WHITE-BELLIED DRONGOS in a treetop, we were off to the airport at Colombo where we arrived at 7-15am for our flight leaving for Dubai at 10-05am.  This flight & the connection to Manchester via Emirates Airways went again without incident & we arrived at Manchester, flying in over the fields of North Wales with remnants of the recent heavy snow.   From the 100 degrees & burning sun of Sri Lanka we touched down in the freezing cold [3 or 4 degrees was it?] at Manchester in April, yes April, on schedule about 7-0pm [local time]. 


For me, this was one of the best holidays we have ever had.  After the initial deep reluctance & reservations on Anne`s part, having read on the inter-net the horror stories as regards the many potential safety hazzards, she enjoyed the whole experience immensely & I`m sure would not have missed it for the world.  The people were lovely & friendly without exception.  The flights with Emirates were first class as was the hotel accommodation [with one big exception – Martin`s Lodge!]  The food was on the whole good, often really good.  The travel company “Walks with Jith” under the umbrella organisation of  “Responsible Travel”, could not be faulted.  We were well looked after at every step of the way & their initial organisation was first rate without a single glitch.  Our driver/guide Upali was excellent & taught us so much about the local culture & history without which the holiday would have been less fulfilling.  What seemed at the outset an expensive holiday at £1,500 per head plus about £500 each for the flight, was on reflection I feel, good value for money.  The cost of entrance fees to all the sites soon mount up [if you were to do it independently] & literally everything was included apart from lunches, drinks [other than water] & tips [which in the event added up quite significantly].  We were worried before we went that the weather in recent years less predictable, might spoil the holiday & stop us doing things, in my case preventing me from seeing many of the birds.  In the event it couldn`t have been much better.  Generally very hot & sunny, the extremely high humidity surprisingly not too uncomfortable.  As for rain, there was the torrential downpour all afternoon at Horton Plains & then into the night.  There were heavy, quite prolonged showers again in the afternoons at Sinharaja otherwise a little rain at night once or twice including the short drive from the airport to our first hotel [when it didn`t matter].

As promised I saw, with Upali`s expert guidance, over 200 bird species of which 146 were “lifers”.  He found for me 29 of the 33 island endemics.  We saw almost all of the mammals especially a Leopard & a Blue Whale & had brilliant close up views of Asian Elephants.  For me the mix of wildlife with cultural/historic sites was just about right & I feel the itinerary was about perfect in the time available.  Every day there was a new highlight to look forward to & never a time when we were kicking our heels thinking what can we do now?  The one question we are left with now is – when can we go back again?  My initial target was for 170 “lifers” so I fell some way short, though only that number to bring my lifer total to a nice round 1200.  There were I suppose, just over 30 birds that with a more concentrated effort [& a little luck] I could or should have seen.  So next time when we return to Sri Lanka we must take in Kitulgala [maybe instead of Sinharaja] where I should have a good chance of seeing three of the endemics I missed leaving only that “bloody thrush” to see at dawn at Horton Plains.  Maybe though, we will miss out the last leg to World`s End!  Our thanks to Jith.


BIRDS [lifers in bold, endemics underlined]

1) Barred Buttonquail  A few at Yala & Bundala
2) Sri Lanka Spurfowl  Two at Sinharaja
3) Sri Lanka Junglefowl One Horton Plains, several Yala & Sinharaja
4) Indian Peafowl  Many, widespread, recorded on 8 days
5) Lesser Whistling Duck Many, widespread, recorded on 8 days
6) Cotton Pygmy Goose  Male at Tissa` [29th March]
7) Garganey   Up to 20, Bundala
8) Greater Flamingo  50+, Bundala
9) Painted Stork   Quite a few at Tissa`, Yala & Bundala
10) Asian Openbill  Many, widespread, recorded on 8 days
11) Woolly-necked Stork 1 towards Polonnaruwa, several at Tissa` & Yala
12) Black-headed Ibis  Many, widespread, recorded on 6 days
13) Eurasian Spoonbill  Small numbers at Yala & Bundala
14) Yellow Bittern  A few at Tissa`, Bundala & Ranweli
15) Black Bittern   3 at Tissa`
16) Black-crowned Night Heron A few recorded, Sigiriya, Tissa`, Ranweli
17) Striated Heron   Many Ranweli
18) Indian Pond Heron  Very common & widespread
19) Grey Heron   A few Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa
20) Purple Heron   Many, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, Tissa`, Bundala
21) Eastern Cattle Egret  Very common, widespread, also Malé  [Maldives]
22) Great White Egret  Very many, widespread
23) Intermediate Egret  Many, widespread
24) Little Egret   Many, widespread
25) Spot-billed Pelican  One Polonnaruwa, one Kandy, Tissa`, many Yala [breeding colony]
26) Red-footed Booby  Juvenile [all brown] at Bundala
27) Little Grebe   A few, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, Bundala
28) Little Cormorant  Very common, widespread
29) Indian Cormorant  Common, widespread
30) Oriental Darter  Quite common, Sigirya, Kandy, Tissa`, Yala, Bundala
31) Peregrine Falcon [Shaheen] One Lion Rock Sigiriya
32) Brahminy Kite  Quite common & widespread, recorded 10 days
33) White-bellied Sea Eagle 4 or 5 in total, Tissa`, Yala, Bundala
34) Grey-headed Fish Eagle Pair Sigiriya, near Polonnaruwa, Yala
35) Shikra  Individuals recorded on 5 days
36) Besra  One en-route to Nuwara Eliya, one Sinharaja
37) Oriental Honey Buzzard Very pale bird Polonnaruwa
38) Buzzard [Himalayan]  One Nuwara Eliya
39) Crested Serpent Eagle Common,one Pinnewala, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, Sinharaja, en route to Ranweli etc.
40) Indian Black Eagle  One Nuwara Eliya, one Horton Plains, two en-route to Tissa`
41) Changeable Hawk Eagle Quite common, Sigiriya, Nuwara Eliya, Yala, Bundala
42) White-breasted Waterhen Very common, widespread, most wet areas
43) Watercock   Surprisingly well seen, all juvs, Tissa`, Bundala
44) Purple Swamphen  Very common, all inland tanks
45) Common Moorhen  1 or 2 Sigiriya, Tissa`, Polonnaruwa
46) Pheasant-tailed Jacana Common, most wet areas
47) Indian Thick-knee  4+ Yala, 1 or 2, Bundala & Ranweli
48) Great Thick-knee  Two at Yala, four at Bundala
49) Black-winged Stilt  Small number, Yala, Bundala & Ranweli
50) Yellow-wattled Lapwing Quite a few at Yala & Bundala
51) Red-wattled Lapwing Common & widespread, most wetlands
52) Pacific Golden Plover  One Malé  [Maldives], many Yala & Bundala
53) Grey Plover   1 or 2 Bundala
54) Kentish Plover   Many Yala & Bundala
55) Mongolian Plover  Many Yala, Bundala, 14 Ranweli
56) Greater Sandplover  One Ranweli
57) Pin-tailed Snipe  One Bundala
58) Black-tailed Godwit  One Bundala, one Yala
59) Whimbrel   A few, Bundala, Weligama, Ranweli
60) Redshank   Very many Bundala
61) Marsh Sandpiper  Many Yala & Bundala
62) Greenshank   Several Bundala
63) Green Sandpiper  One Malé  [Maldives], Sigiriya,Yala, Bundala
64) Wood Sandpiper  One Bundala
65) Common Sandpiper  Several, widespread
66) Terek Sandpiper  One at Yala
67) Turnstone   One Bundala
68) Sanderling   Many on the beach Ranweli
69) Little Stint   Very many Bundala, 15 Ranweli
70) Curlew Sandpiper  Many Bundala
71) Red-necked Phalarope Two in non-breeding plumage Bundala
72) Small Pratincole  Two Bundala
73) Brown-headed Gull  20+ Bundala
74) Black-headed Gull  One Bundala
75) Gull-billed tern  2 or 3 Sigiriya?, 3 Ranweli
76) Caspian Tern   Many Bundala
77) Lesser-crested Tern  Many Bundala, 35 Ranweli, off Mirissa
78) Swift Tern   Many Bundala, one Ranweli, off Mirissa
79) Common Tern   40 Ranweli
80) Little Tern   2 Yala, many Bundala
81) Whiskered Tern  Common & widespread most wetlands, off Mirissa
82) White-winged Black Tern A few Sigiriya, Bundala, Tissa`, off Mirissa
83) Bridled Tern   Off Mirissa
84) Sooty Tern   Many off Mirissa
85) Pomarine Skua  One off Mirissa
86) Feral Pigeon   Quite common & widespread
87) Sri Lanka Woodpigeon Two near Horton Plains, 1 or 2 Sinharaja
88) Spotted Dove   Very common, everywhere
89) Collared Dove   Small number seen, widespread
90) Emerald Dove   2 or 3 Sigiriya
91) Orange-breasted Green Pigeon  Good number at Yala & Bundala, Tissa`
92) Sri Lanka Green Pigeon Recorded in numbers at Sigiriya, Kandy, Yala, Ranweli
93) Green Imperial Pigeon Good numbers widespread, Sigiriya, Kandy, Tissa`, Yala, Bundala, Weligama
94) Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot 5 in total at Sinharaja
95) Alexandrine Parakeet 5 or 6 in total at Sigiriya, Kandy
96) Rose-ringed Parakeet  Very common, widespread
97) Layard`s Parakeet  Good number though only seen in flight, Kandy,Nuwara Eliya, Tissa`, Sinharaja
98) Grey-bellied Cuckoo  Two Sigiriya, one Bundala
99) Drongo Cuckoo  One Sigiriya
100) Asian Koel   Quite common, Sigirya, Tissa`, Yala, Bundala, Ranweli [very common]
101) Blue-faced Malkoha  2+ Sigiriya, , Yala, Bundala, Tissa`, Sinharaja
102) Sirkeer Malkoha  One Yala
103) Red-faced Malkoha  One Sinharaja
104) Greater Coucal  Common, recorded at Sigiriya, Tissa`, Yala, Bundala, Sinharaja, Ranweli
105) Sri Lanka Frogmouth One Sinharaja
106) Collared Scops Owl  One Uda Walewe. Three Ranweli
107) Chestnut-backed Owlet One Sinharaja
108) Indian Swiftlet  Large flocks mainly Sigiriya
109) Asian Palm Swift  Common, widespead
110) House Swift   Many, widespread.  Recorded on 9 days.
111) Alpine Swift   Many Horton Plains
112) Crested Treeswift  One Sigiriya, 2 or 3 Polonnaruwa, several Yala, Bundala, Tissa`
113) Indian Roller   One Polonnaruwa, one Bundala
114) Little Green Bee-Eater Very common, widespread, particularly Yala
115) Blue-tailed Bee-Eater 2 or 3 Tissa`, many Yala, also Bundala
116) Chestnut-headed Bee-Eater  20+ around Ella, a few Tissa`, Yala & Bundala
117) Stork-billed Kingfisher One Sigirya, 1 or 2 Tissa`, 1 en-route to Sinharaja, 7 or 8 Ranweli
118) White-breasted Kingfisher Very, very common, everywhere
119) Common Kingfisher  Quite common, most wetlands
120) Pied Kingfisher  Quite common, Tissa`, Yala, Bundala, Ranweli
121) Malabar Trogon  Two females, one male at Sinharaja
122) Hoopoe   1 or 2 Yala, Bundala
123) Brown-headed Barbet Quite common, widespread, recorded 10 day
124) Yellow-fronted Barbet A few seen at Kandy & Sinharaja
125) Crimson-fronted Barbet Pair at Sigiriya, 1 or 2 Sinharaja
126) Coppersmith Barbet  Recorded at Sigiriya, Kandy, Tissa`, Sinharaja
127) Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill Pair at Sigiriya, one en route to Kandy
128) Malabar Pied Hornbill 4 pairs at Yala
129) Lesser Yellownape  Two at Sinharaja
130) Lesser Goldenback  Most common woodpecker, recorded on 8 days
131) Crimson-backed Goldenback  One Sinharaja
132) Indian Pitta   One Sigiriya, one Victoria Park
133) Sri Lanka Woodshrike Two Sigiriya, 1 or 2 Yala & Bundala
134) Black-headed Cuckooshrike Females seen at Sigiriya & one male
135) Small Minivet  One en-route to Polonnaruwa, one Tissa`
136) Scarlet Minivet  Male & two juveniles at Sinharaja
137) Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike  One at Sigiriya, one at Sinharaja
138) Brown Shrike   Common migrant, widespread
139) Common Iora  Quite common, recorded at Sigiriya, Tissa`, Bundala, Sinharaja
140) Jerdon`s Leafbird  2 or 3 seen at Sigiriya
141) Golden-fronted Leafbird A few recorded at Sigiriya, Bundala, Sinharaja
142) Black-hooded Oriole  Very common & widespread
143) Sri Lanka Blue Magpie 4 or 5 seen at Sinharaja
144) House Crow   Very common, everywhere
145) Jungle Crow   Quite common particularly first nights stop
146) Barn Swallow   Many migrants widespread
147) Hill Swallow   Quite a few in the highlands, Nuwara Eliya & Horton Plains
148) Sri Lanka Swallow  Quite common & widespread, recorded 7 days
149) Ashy Woodswallow  One Bundala, one Tissa`
150) White-bellied Drongo Most common Drongo, recorded 8 days
151) Sri Lanka Crested Drongo A few Sinharaja
152) Forest Wagtail  One first nights stop, several Victoria Park
153) Yellow Wagtail  One Victoria Park
154) Grey Wagtail   3 or 4 Victoria Park
155) Paddyfield Pipit  Quite common, widespread, recorded 6 days
156) Jerdon`s Bushlark  2 or 3 Yala
157) Oriental Skylark   2 or 3 Bundala
158) Black-capped Bulbul  One Sigiriya, one Sinharaja
159) Red-vented Bulbul  Very, very common everywhere
160) Yellow-eared Bulbul  One Nuwara Eliya, 3 or 4 Horton Plains
161) White-browed Bulbul Quite common & widespread
162) Yellow-browed Bulbul A few Sinharaja
163) Black Bulbul   Many Sinharaja
164) Grey-breasted Prinia Two Sigiriya, one en-route to Horton Plains
165) Jungle Prinia   Two en-route to Polonnaruwa
166) Plain Prinia   5 or 6 Sigiriya, recorded at Tissa`, Yala, Bundala & Ranweli
167) Common Tailorbird  Common & widespread, recorded on 9 days
168) Zitting Cisticola  Quite common, recorded at Sigirya, Yala, Bundala, Tissa`, Horton Plains
169) Sri Lanka Bush Warbler 3+ Horton Plains
170) Clamorous Reed Warbler 2 or 3 Bundala
171) Blyth`s Reed Warbler  One Bundala, two Ranweli
172) Large-billed Leaf Warbler One Victoria Park
173) White-browed Fantail 5 or 6 Yala
174) Asian Paradise Flycatcher Quite common, recorded on 6 days
175) Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler One Victoria Park, up to 10 Sinharaja
176) Dark-fronted Babbler 4 or 5 Sinharaja
177) Tawny-bellied Babbler 4 or 5 Tissa`
178) Yellow-eyed Babbler  One en-route to Polonnaruwa
179) Orange-billed Babbler 10+ Sinharaja
180) Yellow-billed Babbler Very common in large groups, everywhere
181) Ashy-headed Laughingthrush  10+ Sinharaja
182) Sri Lanka Hill Myna  Up to 20 Sinharaja
183) Lesser Hill Myna  One Kandy, one Ranweli
184) Common Myna  Very common in large numbers everywhere, including Dubai Airport
185) White-faced Starling  7 or 8, Martin`s Lodge, Sinharaja
186) Pied Thrush   One [possibly 2] Victoria Park
187) Spot-winged Thrush Two Sinharaja
188) Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush One Sinharaja
189) Indian Blackbird  Two en-route to & at Horton Plains, one Victoria Park
190) Indian Blue Robin  Adult at Victoria Park
191) Oriental Magpie Robin Common, widespread, recorded on 11 days
192) Indian Robin   Common, widespread, recorded on 8 days
193) White-rumped Shama 2 or 3 at Sigiriya, 1 en-route to Polonnaruwa, one Yala
194) Pied Bushchat  Common around Nuwara Eliya & Horton Plains
195) Asian Brown Flycatcher One Sigirya
196) Brown-breasted Flycatcher 2 at Sigiriya, one Sinharaja [almost identical to Brown Flycatcher, note yellow legs]
197) Kashmir Flycatcher  Pair in Victoria Park
198) Dull Blue Flycatcher  Pair Nuwara Eliya, male Victoria Park
199) Tickell`s Blue Flycatcher Recorded at Sigiriya & heard at Kandy, Victoria Park, Sinharaja
200) Thick-billed Flowerpecker Recorded at first night`s stop, Tissa`, Sinharaja
201) Pale-billed Flowerpecker Recorded at first night`s stop, Tissa`, Sinharaja, Sigiriya, Kandy
202) Legge`s Flowerpecker 3 or 4 at Sinharaja
203) Purple-rumped Sunbird Common & widespread, recorded on 10 days
204) Purple Sunbird  Common & widespread, recorded on 7 days
205) Loten`s Sunbird  Quite common, recorded on 6 days, at Sigirya,Tissa`, Sinharaja, Ranweli
206) Oriental White-Eye  Recorded at Sigiriya, Tissa`, Sinharaja, Victoria Park
207) Sri Lanka White-Eye Recorded at Horton Plains, Victoria Park
208) Velvet-fronted Nuthatch One at Kandy, one at Sinharaja
209) Great Tit   Three en-route to & at Horton Plains
210) Streaked Weaver  A few at Tissa`
211) Baya Weaver   One en-route to Polonnaruwa, many Tissa`, recorded at Yala
212) House Sparrow  Recorded in the highlands in particular at Kandy
213) Indian Silverbill  4 or 5 at Yala, one in hotel grounds at Tissa`
214) White-rumped Munia A few in mixed flock en-route to Polonnaruwa
215) Scaly-breasted Munia One en route to Sigirya, 10+ Tissa`, 1 or 2 Sinharaja
216) Black-headed Munia  In mixed flock en-route to Polonnaruwa, one Bundala, one Ranweli



Toque Macaque
Hanneman`s Langur
Purple-faced Monkey [Western race]
Purple-faced Monkey [Southern race]
Asian Elephant
Water Buffalo
Golden Jackal
Water Hog
Sambar Deer
Spotted Deer
Brown Mongoose
Grey Mongoose
Ruddy Mongoose
Porcupine [captive]
Giant Squirrel
Three-lined Palm Squirrel
Dusky Palm Squirrel
Layard`s Palm Squirrel?
Indian Flying Fox
Horeshoe Bat [sp]
Black-naped Hare

Blue Whale
Spinner Dolphin
Pantropical Spotted Dolphin
Striped Dolphin
Bottle-nosed Dolphin



Mugger Crocodile
Estuarine Crocodile?
Green Turtle
Hard-shelled Terrapin
Water Monitor
Land Monitor
Common Garden Lizard
Green Garden Lizard
Kangaroo Lizard
Whistling Lizard [heard]
Common House Gecko
Brooke`s House Gecko
Red Snake
Green Pit Viper
Rat Snake [dead on road]



Giant Wood Spider
Stick Insect
Giant Millipede
Ghost Crab
Mud Crab
Yellow-finned Tuna
Flying Fish [sp]
Catfish [sp]
Frog [sp]
Dragonfly [many sp]



Blue Mormon
Crimson Rose
Dark Blue Tiger
Common Tiger
Plain Tiger
Chocolate Soldier
Common Grass Yellow
Common Jezebel
Common Mormon
Blue Glassy Tiger
Grey Pansy
Common Albatross
Common Birdwing
Common Sailer
Ceylon Tree Nymph
Gladeye Bushbrown

Author/s of the report: 
John Diley

Places Visited in the tour:

Group size: 
Members of the group (clients): 
John Diley
Anne Diley
Tour Guide: