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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Sri Lanka

2019 Narrative

The first meetingup ofthe whole group was at the lunchtime in the restaurant at the airport hotel on the 16th. At lunch we agreed to do a different birding session than was the plan for the first day of previous tours. After lunch we left for a large wetland about an hour’s drive from the hotel. We expected to try for a couple of special Asian birds which are also rarities in Sri Lanka, i.e. a Pied Harrier and a Grey-headed Lapwing which were recently recorded from this wetland. Unfortunately, we dipped on the two target birds but had good observations of many wetland birds and reasonable views of a pair of Blue-faced Malkoha. We returned to the hotel in time for dinner. The following day we birdwatched around the hotel garden for an hour or so before we left for Sigiriya after a good breakfast. Here we added some good garden birds to our list such as the endemic Lesser Sri Lanka Flameback, and Brown-headed Barbet, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Black-hooded Oriole, White-browed Bulbul and Purple-rumped and Loten’s Sunbirds amongst many other species.

Our journey towards the northern dry lowlands in the morning was in a comfortable minibus - our main vehicle throughout the tour. We passed through many small towns and villages as well as a couple of larger towns. There were some good bird habitats along the way, including a few wetlands and we only made a few brief stops, by the roadside, spotting some species important for our bird list. At the comfort stop, about halfway on our journey, we had very good views of a soaring Black Eagle. We reached the hotel in Sigiriya by lunchtime and from there onwards we spent one-and-a-half days exploring bird habitats there, mainly the dry scrublands and forests. During our two-night stay we encountered many important birds including Sri Lanka Green Pigeon, Indian Pitta, Sri Lanka Woodshrike, Brown-capped Babbler, Orange-headed Thrush, Indian Blue Robin, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, White-rumped Shama, Green warbler, Large-billed Leaf Warbler, Lesser whistling Ducks, Purple Heron, Purple Swamphen, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Crimson-backed Flameback, Drongo Cuckoo, Common Iora, Small Minivet, Jerdon’s Leafbird, Black-capped Bulbul, Dark-fronted Babbler and Thick-billed Flowerpecker.

On day four we left the dry zone birding behind and headed to the hill zone. The climate and vegetation changed gradually as we reached the foothills. We expected to see a different set of birds including some species unique to the highlands during our next three nights here. Our first stop was in the lower hills near Kandy, a place surrounded by a rich forest habitat. During our birding here we got some good but important species before we reached our next destination, in a cooler climate in the high hills where we spent two nights. During our highland birding we were very successful in finding all the specialities. We found, and managed to have very good views of, Brown Fish Owl, Brown, Wood Owl Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon, Sri Lanka Bush Warbler, Dull Blue Flycatcher, Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, Yellow-eared Bulbul, Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler, Sri Lanka White-eye, Pied Thrush, Kashmir Flycatcher, Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, Cinereous Tit and Forest Wagtail.

After three days of birding we left the high Central Mountains and descended to the dry lowlands of the south-eastern coast. Parts of our downhill journey were through extensive tea plantations, spectacular sceneries and, by a waterfall, we experienced beautiful mist-covered caps of cascading mountain ranges bordering deep valleys in the distance. Over three days in the dry lowlands we explored a few of the country’s most popular national parks and some rich wetland habitats. We explored the parks on jeep safaris. Amongst the many birds we saw, the following are some of the interesting species encountered: Painted Stork, Black-headed Ibis, Yellow Bittern, Black Bittern, Watercock, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Black-winged Kite, Crested Hawk Eagle, Indian Peafowl, Small Pratincole, Plum-headed Parakeet, Jerdon’s Nightjar, Indian Nightjar, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Grey-bellied Cuckoo, Green Bee-eater, Indian Roller, Coppersmith Barbet, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Marshall’s Iora, Jungle Prinia, Yellow-eyed Babbler, Jerdon’s Bushlark and Blyth’s Pipit.

Completing our birding in the dry lowlands with a very successful pre-breakfast bird watching session at a bird-rich scrubland we headed to the rainforest region of the country. The first location was at the lower hills in a different mountain range south of the Central Mountains and the second was at the western foothills of the main central mountains. Both in the country’s wet zone which harbours many endemic birds and other special rainforest dwellers. Though the high humidity here was sometimes uncomfortable, our five-day explorations between the two locations rewarded us with many interesting birds including all the remaining endemics on our list. The endemic Sri Lanka Spurfowl gave us some trouble since the pair had stopped coming to the regular stakeout – the backyard of a house in a forest village. Our attempts to see it at a recently found stakeout had failed too. Finally, we managed to obtain good views of a pair walking in the forest after patiently waiting and trying for this naturally extremely shy spurfowl. Following are some of the interesting species we had superb views of: Slaty-legged Crake, Red-faced Malkoha, Green-billed Coucal, Malabar Trogon, Serendib Scops Owl, Chestnut-backed Owlet, White-faced Starling, Spot-winged Thrush, Sri Lanka Hill Myna, White-throated Flowerpecker, Ashy-headed Laughing-thrushes, Orange-billed babbler, Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush and Sri Lanka Blue Magpie.

At the end of our rainforest exploration we returned to our first hotel near the airport thus concluding another successful tour of Sri Lanka. Our final group gathering was at dinner with the usual large buffet spread in the hotel restaurant. After completing the day’s bird tally the Bird of the Trip was announced. Amongst the 11 favoured species voted by the participants, the very attractive endemic Red-faced Malkoha stood at the winning place. A foursome of Serendib Scops Owl, Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Jordon’s Nightjar and Sri Lanka Blue Magpie became the runners-up.

During our two weeks we had encountered 239 species of birds including all the country’s 34 endemics and many other Indian Subcontinent endemics. Amongst these, we had 10 species of owl, frogmouth and nightjars seen very well. And of the many of the birds we found, the group had superb ‘scope views too. We also encountered 18 species of mammals and several species of reptiles including Agamid lizards, Monitor lizards and Mugger Crocodile.


-          Deepal Warakagoda



Created: 09 January 2020