Nature Chronicles : Sri Lanka endemics bird tour
by Uma K
30th October - 7th November 2010
Diwali 2010 was a landmark for our birding group - the BULBs' first birding trip abroad!
Wayfarer put together an itinerary to see the endemic birds of the emerald isle, and some of the group (Rajneesh Suvarna, his wife Suma, Garima Bhatia, her dad Mr. Jitendra Bhatia, Gayathri Naik, Jainy Maria and I) set off for Sri Lanka at the end of October!
Day 1 - Drama in the dark
The trip started with some excitement, when a punctured tyre in the pouring rain on the way to the airport threatened to end the trip before it began. Thankfully a van that appeared like an angel from heaven ensured we got onto our flight. At Colombo we were joined by Chaminda, our inseparable guide-cum-chauffeur for the entire trip. Our first stop was Martin's Lodge in the heart of the Sinharaja Heritage Forest atop a hill, with breathtaking views of a range covered with dense rainforest.
Our trip was characterised by what I can only call close encounter birding. The first one was en-route with a CSE atop a lamp post. Later, on the walk uphill to the Lodge, we saw Layard's Parakeets, Ceylon Hanging Parrot, Crimson-fronted Barbet, Ceylon Green Pigeons, Orange Minivets and Black Bulbuls and as we watched these a cobra crossed the road just behind us! The real close encounters came when we reached the Lodge - a huge Water Monitor, Ceylon junglefowl and an Emerald Dove!
No Samurai this, but our guide leading the way into Sinharaja
Day 2 - Birding bonanza!
Unfamiliar calls had us opening our cabin doors to brilliantly coloured Ceylon Blue Magpies, feasting on flying termites from the previous night! Happy with this wonderful start, we set off into the dark depths of the rainforest, leech socks and all. Our foray was extremely productive, netting us the Spot-winged Thrush, Ceylon Scimitar Babbler, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, Black-capped Bulbul, Red-faced Malkoha, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush, Ceylon Crested drongo, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Orange-billed Babbler, Malabar trogon and Legge's flowerpecker. We also saw Green Pit Vipers and Sri Lanka Giant Squirrels.
If the junglefowl at Lodge was bold, the group we 'met' on our trek turned out to be bolder, walking right upto and through our group!! Obviously the strict laws are making the national bird feel safe.
Dusk falls on the Misty mountains
Day 3 - A day of rain and leeches
The leeches were out in full force after the previous day's rain. Most of us gave generous blood donations. Suma gave us a present on her birthday by spotting the skulking Brown-capped Babbler, which flew circles around us before settling down to pose for the photographers! Close encounters continued, this time a posing Ceylon Grey hornbill. On the foggy, wet afternoon trail the find was a Chestnut-backed Owlet.
Around the pond was a hub of activity
Day 4 - Seeking the Spurfowl
The toughest day yielded White-faced Starlings and Besra among other birds. A few of us trekked up see the notoriously shy, skulking Ceylon Spurfowl, which graced us with clear, excellent views!
On the way down we had an eyeful - a bare tree draped with Crested Treeswifts! The timing of changing from the 4x4 vehicle proved providential as we sighted a rufous APF with a white streamer, Munias, Barbets, Orioles, Cuckooshrike, Black Capped Bulbuls and a hunting CSE.
The dugout catamaran than took us across river Kelani
Day 5 - The bird of the trip!
Sisira's River Lounge in Kithulgala gave us a nice breakfast, as well as an Indian Pitta and Lesser Yellownape. We then crossed the cool Kelani River in a tiny catamaran dugout to enter the rainforest. A steep trek then led us to the bird of the trip - the Serendib Scops Owl! What a present for all of us on Garima's birthday!
Kelani from Sisira's River Lounge
Day 6 - The merry Coucal chase
Garima and I headed out to look for the Green-billed Coucal. We found one in a jackfruit tree but the Coucal was intent on playing hide-n-seek. Soon others joined us and in the merry chase that followed we ended up seeing Barbets, Pigeons and the Sri Lankan spp. of the Black-rumped Flameback.
Post breakfast, we headed for Nuwara Eliya; a long, uphill drive - we reached there in pouring rain and freezing cold. So the first order of business was shopping for jackets. A brief visit to Victoria Park and surroundings produced a Forest Wagtail and the Ceylon Scaly Thrush. Early darkness ensured that we headed to Humbugs bungalow - to hot showers, warm beds and a cute cat!
The rolling Horton Plains
Day 7 - Thrush tapasya on Diwali
Imagine waking up at 3 am on a freezing morning and driving for two hours to see a bird that shows up only at the crack of dawn! That's what we did this day - reaching Horton's Plains to see the Ceylon Whistling Thrush! It was silent and pitch dark - and no thrush... We got out of the van as the light crept into the sky, and saw a Eurasian Blackbird in the gloom - still no thrush... We walked around in the drizzle, our hope of seeing the elusive bird receding with each step. Just when we seemed reconciled to the idea, the whistling thrush couple took pity and decided to bestow 'darshan' on us! And what a darshan it was! So did a Dull Blue Flycatcher couple, Yellow-eared Bulbuls, Sri Lanka Bush Warbler, Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, Brown Mongoose and a troop of Purple-faced Bear Monkeys!
Breakfast was at the sanctuary canteen, which had a huge friendly male sambar too visiting. A stop enroute for the munias sprung a pleasant surprise on us with good views of the Ceylon Woodpigeon and Ceylon White-eyes!
Nuwara Eliya clothed in fog
Day 8 - Foggy birding
Back to Victoria Park in the foggy morning, we saw a Forest Wagtail and got a glimpse of the Pied Thrush. We headed out and came across a male Kashmir Flycatcher busily displaying. We just couldn't get our fill, watching until we were shooed away by some forest department personnel.
Since some missed seeing the Crimson-backed Flameback, we stopped at the Udawattakele reserve forest in Kandy. It was getting dark when we entered the gates, and we quickly realized that here were the quickest and biggest leeches we encountered on the trip. The woodpecker did show up and we beat a hasty retreat.
St. Clair's Falls
Day 9 - Dawn at the beach
Some of us couldn't leave Sri Lanka without hitting the beach, so a stroll on the beach at dawn was on the cards. This incidentally did throw up a few gulls and terns but no binocs meant they would stay just that.
Drama attended our departure as well - high speed winds turned back our flight and it was late in the afternoon when we finally took off from Colombo and past midnight when we finally crept into our beds.
The BULBs Sri Lanka endemics tour, though the most physically demanding of our trips so far, was memorable and successful!
All the endemics in a single trip!
Thanks to Rajneesh for putting it together and to Chami for his indefatigable chauffeur-guiding! And to all the others for the vibrant company! Wonder where we'll go next...
Images from this trip.
Bird list for Sri Lanka (endemics in bold, lifers other than endemics in italics)
Babbler, Dark-fronted Rhopocichla atriceps
Babbler, Orange-billed Turdoides rufescens
Babbler, Yellow-billed Turdoides affinis
Babbler, Yellow-eyed Chrysomma sinense
Barbet, Brown-headed Megalaima zeylanica
Barbet, Coppersmith Megalaima haemacephala
Barbet, Crimson-fronted Megalaima rubricapillus
Barbet, Yellow-fronted Megalaima flavifrons
Bee-eater, Blue-tailed Merops philippinus
Bee-eater, Chestnut-headed Merops leschenaulti
Bee-eater, Green Merops orientalis
Besra Accipiter virgatus
Blackbird, Eurasian Turdus merula
Bulbul, Black Hypsipetes leucocephalus
Bulbul, Black-capped Pycnonotus melanicterus
Bulbul, Red-vented Pycnonotus cafer
Bulbul, White-browed Pycnonotus luteolus
Bulbul, Yellow-browed Iole indica
Bulbul, Yellow-eared Pycnonotus penicillatus
Bushchat, Pied Saxicola caprata
Bush-Warbler, Ceylon Bradypterus palliseri
Canary-Flycatcher, Grey-headed Culicicapa ceylonensis
Coot, Eurasian Fulica atra
Cormorant, Indian Phalacrocorax fuscicollis
Cormorant, Little Phalacrocorax niger
Coucal, Greater Centropus sinensis
Coucal, Green-billed Centropus chlororhynchus
Crow, House Corvus splendens
Crow, Large-billed Corvus macrorhynchos
Cuckoo-shrike, Black-headed Coracina melanoptera
Dove, Emerald Chalcophaps indica
Dove, Spotted Streptopelia chinensis
Drongo, Ashy Dicrurus leucophaeus
Drongo, Black Dicrurus macrocercus
Drongo, Ceylon Crested Dicrurus lophorinus
Drongo, White-bellied Dicrurus caerulescens
Eagle, Rufous-bellied Lophotriochis kienerii
Egret, Cattle Bubulcus ibis
Egret, Great Ardea alba
Egret, Intermediate Mesophoyx intermedia
Egret, Little Egretta garzetta
Fantail, White-browed Rhipidura aureola
Flameback, Black-rumped Dinopium benghalense
Flameback, Scarlet-backed Chrysocolaptes stricklandi
Flowerpecker, Pale-billed Dicaeum erythrorhynchos
Flowerpecker, Legge's Dicaeum vincens
Flycatcher, Brown-breasted Muscicapa muttui
Flycatcher, Dull-blue Eumyias sordidus
Flycatcher, Kashmir Ficedula subrubra
Flycatcher, Tickell's BlueCyornis tickelliae
Flycatcher-shrike, Bar-winged Hemipus picatus
Francolin, Grey Francolinus pondicerianus
Frogmouth, Ceylon Batrachostomus moniliger
Green-Pigeon, Ceylon Treron pompadora
Hanging-Parrot, Ceylon Loriculus beryllinus
Hawk-Eagle, Changeable Nisaetus cirrhatus
Heron, Purple Ardea purpurea
Honey-Buzzard, Oriental Pernis ptilorhynchus
Hornbill, Ceylon Grey Ocyceros gingalensis
Imperial-Pigeon, Green Ducula aenea
Iora, Common Aegithina tiphia
Junglefowl, Ceylon Gallus lafayetii
Kingfisher, Common Alcedo atthis
Kingfisher, White-throated Halcyon smyrnensis
Kite, Brahminy Haliastur indus
Lapwing, Red-wattledVanellus indicus
Laughingthrush, Ashy-headed Garrulax cinereifrons
Leafbird, Golden-fronted Chloropsis aurifrons
Leaf-Warbler, Large-billed Phylloscopus magnirostris
Magpie-Robin, Oriental Copsychus saularis
Malkoha, Red-faced Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus
Minivet, Orange Pericrocotus flammeus
Minivet, Small Pericrocotus cinnamomeus
Monarch, Black-naped Hypothymis azurea
Munia, Black-throated Lonchura kelaarti
Munia, White-rumped Lonchura striata
Munia, Scaly-breasted Lonchura punctulata
Myna, Ceylon Gracula ptilogenys
Myna, Common Acridotheres tristis
Needletail, Brown-backed Hirundapus giganteus
Nuthatch, Velvet-fronted Sitta frontalis
Openbill, Asian Anastomus oscitans
Oriole, Black-hooded Oriolus xanthornus
Owlet, Chestnut-backed Glaucidium castanonotum
Palm-Swift, Asian Cypsiurus balasiensis
Paradise-Flycatcher, Asian Terpsiphone paradisi
Parakeet, Alexandrine Psittacula eupatria
Parakeet, Layard's Psittacula calthropae
Parakeet, Plum-headed Psittacula cyanocephala
Parakeet, Rose-ringed Psittacula krameri
Pigeon, RockColumba livia
Pitta, Indian Pitta brachyura
Pond-Heron, Indian Ardeola grayii
Prinia, Ashy Prinia socialis
Robin, Indian Saxicoloides fulicatus
Robin, Indian Blue Luscinia brunnea
Sandpiper, Common Actitis hypoleucos
Scimitar-Babbler, Ceylon Pomatorhinus melanurus
Scops-Owl, Serendib Otus thilohoffmanni
Eagle, Crested Serpent Spilornis cheela
Shikra Accipiter badius
Shrike, Brown Lanius cristatus
Sparrow, House Passer domesticus
Spurfowl, Ceylon Galloperdix bicalcarata
Starling, White-faced Sturnia albofrontata
Stilt, Black-winged Himantopus himantopus
Stork, Painted Mycteria leucocephala
Sunbird, Loten's Cinnyris lotenius
Sunbird, Purple-rumped Leptocoma zeylonica
Swallow, Barn Hirundo rustica
Swallow, Pacific Hirundo tahitica
Swallow, Red-rumped Cecropis daurica
Swift, Little Apus affinis
Tailorbird, Common Orthotomus sutorius
Thrush, Pied Zoothera wardii
Thrush, Ceylon Scaly Zoothera imbricata
Thrush, Spot-winged Zoothera spiloptera
Tit, Great Parus major
Treeswift, Crested Hemiprocne coronata
Trogon, Malabar Harpactes fasciatus
Wagtail, Forest Dendronanthus indicus
Wagtail, Grey Motacilla cinerea
Warbler, Greenish Phylloscopus trochiloides
Warbler, Blyth's Reed Acrocephalus dumetorum
Waterhen, White-breasted Amaurornis phoenicurus
Whistling-Thrush, Ceylon Myophonus blighi
White-eye, Ceylon Zosterops ceylonensis
White-eye, Oriental Zosterops palpebrosus
Woodpecker, RufousCeleus brachyurus
WoodPigeon, Ceylon Columba torringtoni
Woodshrike, CommonTephrodornis pondicerianus
Yellownape, Lesser Picus chlorolophus
Great orange tip
Purple faced leaf monkey
Indian brown mongoose
Sri Lankan giant squirrel
Indian palm squirrel
Dusky striped squirrel
Green garden lizard
Green pit viper
© Naturechronicles 2010