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SRI LANKA

13–23 February 2020
Extension to 28 February 2020

ith 32 endemic bird species currently recognised, Sri Lanka is a wonderful, warm winter destination and a ‘must visit’ birding island. Among many other specialities and winter visitors are Indian Pitta, Kashmir Flycatcher and Pied Thrush, which are easier to see here than anywhere else within their ranges. A whale-watching trip for Blue Whale and a visit to Yala NP for Leopard are available as an optional extension.

Day 1 Overnight flight from London to Colombo (extra nights can be arranged for those who wish to travel out early).

Day 2 Our arrival in Colombo will be followed by a two-hour transfer to Kitulgala, which will enable us to see many common species such as Indian Pond-heron, Asian Openbill, Red-wattled Lapwing, White-throated Kingfisher, Indian Roller and Common Myna. Our guesthouse is situated close to where the film Bridge on the River Kwai was made and we will see the photographs on the walls! It is also on the edge of the hill country so, after checking in, we will visit the Kitulgala Forest Reserve, where we will look for Asian Emerald Dove, Green Imperial-pigeon, Sri Lanka Hanging-parrot, Layard's Parakeet, Green-billed Coucal (Greater Coucal is much more common), Chestnut-backed Owlet, Indian Swiftlet, Crested Treeswift, Brown-backed Needletail, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Crimson-fronted and Yellow-fronted Barbets, Black-rumped Flameback, White-bellied Drongo and Spot-winged Thrush. Serendib Scops-owl can be found at daytime roost around the edges of the forest and our local guide will use his network of contacts to find not only a current roost site but also that of Sri Lanka Frogmouth. Two nights in Kitulgala.

Day 3 We will spend the whole day birding around the Kitulgala Forest Reserve, where a good variety of raptors can be found including Oriental Honey-buzzard, Black and Rufous-bellied Eagles, Crested Serpent-eagle, Besra and Shikra. Further endemics that occur here include Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Black-capped Bulbul, Brown-capped Babbler and White-throated Flowerpecker, whilst Long-billed Sunbird is a regional endemic shared only with southern India. Blue-tailed and Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters are quite common and, whilst Black-backed Dwarf-kingfisher is never easy to find anywhere within its range, we will have an excellent chance of seeing one here.

Day 4 This morning we will go birding around the hotel again before we leave for Sinharaja. It is a three-hour journey to the Sinharaja World Heritage Wilderness area and we will arrive at our hotel in time for lunch. This superb area will probably provide us with the best birding of the whole tour although, as in all rainforests, birding can be frustrating at times with birds either high in the canopy or deep in the understorey. We should see more of the endemic species of Sri Lanka here than in any other site in the country. In the afternoon we will search outside the reserve for endemics and specialities that may include Sri Lanka Spurfowl, Sri Lanka Blue-magpie, Malabar Trogon, Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, Red-faced Malkoha, Lesser Yellownape, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush, Sri Lanka Drongo and Black-throated Munia. Two nights in Sinharaja.

Day 5 After an early breakfast we will make the half-hour journey in jeeps up the bumpy track to the Sinharaja Forest Reserve where we will concentrate on all of the endemic and speciality birds we have not yet seen. In particular we will look for Crested Goshawk, Legge’s Hawk-eagle, Sri Lanka Wood-pigeon, Square-tailed, White-browed and Yellow-browed Bulbuls, Orange-billed Babbler, Indian Paradise-flycatcher, Sri Lanka Thrush, White-faced Starling and Southern Hill and Sri Lanka Mynas. We may also be lucky enough to find a daytime roost site for Serendib Scops-owl. In addition we will be able to enjoy the wonderful diversity of the rainforest with its lizards, dazzling butterflies and epiphytes hanging from trees. We will take lunch at a very basic lodge (the food is good!) just outside the reserve entrance and then spend the afternoon birding back to down to our hotel.

Day 6 The morning will be spent around Sinharaja again. After lunch we will move on to Embilipitiya. Sometimes a Spot-bellied Eagle-owl nests near our hotel and, if so, we can make the steep walk up to see this spectacular bird. We should also arrive in time to see a pair of Indian Scops-owls at their daytime roost. Overnight in Embilipitiya.

Day 7 After breakfast we will visit the Udawalawe National Park and go on a Jeep safari, where we will look for Spot-billed Pelican, Oriental Darter, Indian and Little Cormorants, Lesser Adjutant, Woolly-necked Stork, Black-headed Ibis, Montagu's and Pied Harriers, Crested Hawk-eagle, Grey-headed Fish-eagle, White-bellied Sea-eagle, Barred Buttonquail, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Orange-breasted Pigeon, Sri Lanka Green-pigeon, Plum-headed Parakeet, Grey-bellied and Pied Cuckoos, Black-backed and Stork-billed Kingfishers, Scarlet and Small Minivets, Sri Lanka Woodshrike, Jerdon’s and Golden-fronted Leafbirds, Coppersmith Barbet, Sirkeer Malkoha, Malabar Pied-hornbill, Tawny-bellied and Yellow-eyed Babblers, Jerdon’s Bushlark, Oriental and Richard’s Pipits and Tickell's Blue Flycatcher. Mammals may include Toque Monkey, Grey Langur, Golden Jackal, Asian Elephant, Spotted Deer and Water Buffalo. After lunch we will transfer to Nuwara Eliya, the highest town in Sri Lanka, stopping en route at the Surrey Estate where, as well as enjoying a nice cup of tea, we will have a good chance of seeing Brown Wood-owl. Two nights in Nuwara Eliya.

Day 8 Leaving early, we will take a picnic breakfast to the Horton Plains. The specialities here and en route include Jerdon's Baza, Hill and Sri Lanka Swallows, Sri Lanka Bush Warbler, Green Warbler, Large-billed Leaf Warbler, Dull-blue and Red-breasted Flycatchers, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Sri Lanka Scimitar-babbler, Sri Lanka Whistling-thrush, Indian Blackbird, Yellow-eared Bulbul, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Pied Bushchat and Black-throated Munia. We will return to Nuwara Eliya for a late lunch and then visit Victoria Park. Species we will look for here include Indian Pitta, Forest Wagtail, Kashmir Flycatcher, Pied Thrush, Indian Blue Robin, Yellow-eared Bulbul and Sri Lanka White-eye.

Day 9 During the morning we will have the opportunity to revisit either Horton Plains or Victoria Park if we have missed any species or if the weather has been inclement. We will then make the three-hour journey to Kandy, where we will check into our hotel and have lunch. In the afternoon we will visit Udawattakale Forest Park close to the city. This is an excellent site for Crimson-backed Flameback and we will also have a chance of finding Brown Fish-owl at its daytime roost. Other birds may include Crimson-fronted Barbet, White-rumped Shama and Southern Hill Myna.

Day 10 First we will visit Hantane Forest Park above the city for some general birding then return to the hotel to take an early lunch and check out. Next we will head back towards Colombo, stopping at a marsh a short distance from our final night’s accommodation. Species we will look for here include Grey-headed Swamphen, White-breasted Waterhen, Black and Yellow Bitterns and Ashy Woodswallow. After we have finished birding we will go to a hotel close to the airport to wash and change in day rooms, have dinner and complete our final log. Depending on next morning’s departure time (many flights leave in the early morning), you can upgrade to a private room unless you are on the extension where private rooms are included to get some sleep although as Brown Boobook can sometimes be found in the grounds at night, so this may be delayed!

Day 11 Those choosing not to take the extension will make the short journey to the airport for the flight home, arriving back in London later in the day.

EXTENSION

Day 11 After breakfast at our hotel we will drive to Koggala in the southern coastal zone of the island. After checking in to our hotel and taking a leisurely lunch, we will head to the nearby Kirala Kele sanctuary, where we will look for some of the forest and water birds which share the marshes, paddy fields and canals in this dynamic ecosystem. Over the years the sanctuary has recorded some of the few vagrant and rare bird species to have found their way to the area, including Grey-headed Lapwing, Greater Spotted Eagle and Baillon’s Crake. Overnight in Koggala.

Day 12 Taking a packed breakfast with us, this morning we will proceed to Mirissa harbour and set sail on a half-day whale-watching excursion. Our main focus will be on the majestic Blue Whales which reside in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. The largest mammal alive gives away its presence with a tall, straight blow that reaches around 9 metres into the air. On any given day, a sighting of at least one Blue Whale is possible, but there have been days on which anything between four and twelve individual sightings within a short distance have taken place. During the course of our search for Blue Whales we may also encounter a host of other marine species such as large pods of Spinner Dolphins accompanied by a few Bottlenose Dolphins, Risso’s Dolphins, Short-finned Pilot Whales, False Killer Whales and Green, Olive Ridley, Hawksbill and Loggerhead Sea Turtles. These waters are also frequented by Sperm Whales, Bryde’s Whales, Killer Whales and the rare Fin Whale. With favourable conditions for sailing, some of the pelagic birds crisscrossing overhead should include Little, Bridled, Whiskered, Great Crested and Lesser Crested Terns, Pomarine Jaeger and Brown Noddy. We will return to the hotel for lunch, after which we will depart for Tissamaharama, our base for the next three nights.

Day 13 With a packed breakfast and lunch we will set off for a day-long safari to Yala National Park. Our main focus will be on the island’s most sought-after top predator, the Leopard. Yala is known to be the place with the largest density of Leopards in the world and it is difficult to drive out of the park without at least having heard of multiple sightings. Unlike many African-style savanna habitats, Yala is diverse, with shrubby growth that changes to rocky outcrops and then immediately to tall, emergent forests, giving the cats the perfect background to blend into. Other mammals calling this park their home include Sloth Bear, Asian Elephant, Water Buffalo, Chital, Sambar Deer, Muntjac, Wild Boar, Golden Jackal, Toque Macaque, Grey Langur, Stripe-necked, Indian Grey and Ruddy Mongoose and Indian Hare. Bird life is also plentiful, with raptors, water birds, waders and forest species scattered throughout our route. We will return to the hotel late in the evening for dinner.

Day 14 Taking another packed breakfast, we will spend this morning taking a jeep safari around Bundala National Park, where our focus will be primarily on the many waders that visit the salt pans situated near to the park. Greater Painted-snipe, Northern Pintail, Greater Flamingo, Lesser Sand-plover, Glossy Ibis, Common Ringed, Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Black-tailed Godwit, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Brown-headed Gull and Blue-faced Malkoha are just some of the inhabitants of this park. After lunch back at the hotel, later in the day we will explore the many tanks in the area for more bird life, keeping a lookout for species such as Cinnamon, Black and Yellow Bitterns, Collared Scops-owl, Barn Owl and Jungle Owlet.

Day 15 We will spend a further morning birding in the Tissamaharama area, returning to the hotel for lunch before checking out and heading back across the island to a hotel close to the airport to wash and change in day rooms, have dinner and complete our final log. Depending on next morning’s departure time (many flights leave in the early morning), you can upgrade to a private room.

Day 16 We will make the short journey to the airport for the flight home, arriving back in London later in the day.

General Information Sri Lanka is quite hot at this time of year and some rain is likely. The heat can be tiring at times. The pace is easy but there will be some early starts. On most days we will split the birding into two sessions with a break in the middle of the day so we can take time off to rest. There are a number of health requirements and you must consult your GP in this respect. Insects are not a major problem but you must take precautions to avoid other health risks. Accommodation is in medium-standard hotels/lodges, all with private facilities.

Group size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 5 (4 for the extension); maximum group size: 10 with 1 leader, 13 with 2 leaders.

Sri Lanka Blue-magpie

Sri Lanka Blue-magpie

Recommended books available from NHBS