13–23 February 2018
With 32 endemic bird species currently recognised, Sri Lanka, is a wonderful, warm winter destination, that is 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. This tour will be led by one of the foremost Sri Lankan bird guides so there is a good chance that we will see all of the endemic birds.
Day 1 Overnight flight from London to Colombo.
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 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. The recently-discovered 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 Udawattekele Sanctuary, 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 change, have dinner, complete our final log and have some well-earned sleep although, as Brown Boobook can sometimes be found in the grounds at night, this may be delayed!
Day 11 Starting early, we will make the short drive 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; maximum group size: 10 with 1 leader, 16 with 2 leaders.