It's a Red-vented Bulbul, Stupid!

Two Weeks in Sri Lanka: the Land of Temple and Tank

Scottish Ornithologists Club Ayrshire Branch, Easter Trip

24th March 1999 - 7th April 1999

Author: Keith Martin. Groenstraat 30/2, B-3001, Heverlee, Belgium.

Sri Lanka

It's always fun going to places that your local travel vaccination centre doctor can't locate on the map. So, for the benefit of anyone else that tries to inoculate me against Yellow Fever and Paraguayan Influenza, nope it's not over there, Sri Lanka is actually that teardrop drifting off the SE coast of India. A land synonymous with self-igniting two legged Tigers, Sri Lanka is very lush and green, and is the most peaceful and happy country in the grip of a civil war that I have ever been to. There is still a war, and there is a dotted line (across the country and down a bit) beyond which you should not, and cannot, go. But that leaves the bulk of this varied and fascinating country open for safe and fulfilling exploration.

The Tourists

Although based on membership of the Ayrshire SOC, this was really a private holiday organised by Tony and Gerda Scott, the only Sri Lankan veterans (they liked it so much they came back with a busload of their friends..) The trip was aimed as an introduction to Sri Lanka, with an emphasis on the birds, rather than an exhaustive two weeks of birding. The seventeen participants represented a very broad spectrum of age, expertise and keenness, from the select few who regularly saw first light, to one who never left the poolside! The balance of birds and tea factories / spice gardens / temples / rice and curries, etc, was very successful.

General Logistics

The size and make up of the group dictated that the emphasis was on comforts rather than luxury deprivation. Private arrangements were made by Tony and Gerda through ACE Travel in Sri Lanka, and details can be obtained from them at We hired a coach, and driver. ACE provided a tour manager George who was absolutely outstanding in his role as guide, planner and general fix-it man. George was rather surprised by the apparently infinite appetite that birders have for looking through their binoculars, but he did his best to provide a sufficient number of other distractions that ensured that we left Sri Lanka with a marginally shorter bird list, but a richer knowledge of his country. Good on him! Accommodation was in upper market hotels, but by block booking and working through an official tour operator I believe we got embarrassingly cheap rates. Undoubtedly a small group could use perfectly functional hotels that cost around $5 a night.. but you would be amazed what we stayed in for $20 a night! Food was generally superb, but some of the hotels were infuriatingly reluctant to serve local dishes (which in my opinion were superior to their Western fare). Communication was not much of a problem as many people spoke English (a large number fluently). Roads in Sri Lanka are very rudimentary (and quiet) by western standards, and thus our notion of distance had to be severely adjusted (I'd guess the bus averaged 20 to 30 km/h). However this has the advantage that the narrow roads all cut straight through towns and villages and bring travellers directly into contact with island life, in a way that is hidden in other countries behind verges, carriageways, used car lot strips and fast food outlets. And the slow speeds of the traffic allow all this to be taken in very comfortably, while the locals wave incessantly and smile at all the opportunities when kids at home would probably start to think about hurling insults or missiles. We have some things to learn from Sri Lanka, or perhaps to forget.

Park Logistics

In several of Sri Lanka's National Parks and Bird Sanctuaries the only access can be obtained by hiring jeeps and trackers (the latter is not compulsory but rather hard to negotiate out of). Although birding by jeep is far from ideal, these things just have to be accepted and made the most of. Where the jeeps are open-topped (Bundala, Uda Walawe) this is an experience in itself. Where the jeeps are closed (Yala) this can be very frustrating and restraining. After three hours of being hurled around in a jeep it is usually safe to say that the bird list has ceased to become a priority! Trackers come in a vast spectrum of usefulness. They almost never have binoculars and as a result tend to be rather more accurate on their calls than their sightings, although there was a tendency to emphasise genera over species. We also had one who called everything a Red-vented Bulbul unless it was clearly too small, in which case it became a munia (actually he was probably correct..!) This controlled access has advantages for park management (if applied carefully), but also means that visits are not particularly relaxed, and the "getting away from it all" aspect is somewhat reduced since in certain parks you end up following other jeeps full of rather similarly pasty looking travellers.


Hot and sticky of course - just the way I like it! Our visit coincided with the end of a particularly dry dry season. Towards the end of the visit the rains broke, and by the last day the SW monsoon was in full flood (about three weeks early apparently). As a result of these conditions, mosquitoes were almost non-existent and leeches were a much fought over rarity (the lucky few who copped one in Sinharaja should consider themselves blessed).


The itinerary was carefully planned by Tony to include a little bit of all the different Sri Lankan habitats, and to make sure that we were always in the vicinity of somewhere selling cold beer and rice and curry at lunchtime. Habitats in Sri Lanka come in easy packaging - they are either dry or wet, and low or high. The precise locations were based on the birding lore (not the least being the Oriental Bird Club Sri Lanka Supplement [7]) and Tony's expert nose for seeking out a good time.

25th March

Arrived mid afternoon and drove to Kandalama (Dambulla).

26th March

Day spent at Kandalama. Late afternoon visit to Dambulla Cave temple.

27th March

Day trip to the ancient city of Polonnaruwa.

28th March

Morning at Kandalama. Afternoon at Sigiriya rock fortress.

29th March

Drove to Kandy with stop at a Spice Garden. Late afternoon visit to Udawattakele Sanctuary.

30th March

Morning visit to Peradeniya Botanical Gardens. Long drive to Nurawa Eliya with stops at a Tea Factory and a resthouse for lunch. Late afternoon visit to Victoria Park.

31st March

Morning visit to Hakgala Gardens. Long drive to Hambantota with a stop at Ella Gap.

1st April

Morning visit to Bundala National Park. Siesta and then late afternoon visit to local wetlands.

2nd April

Morning free. Afternoon visit to Yala National Park.

3rd April

Morning visit to Uda Walawe National Park. Afternoon drive to Ratnaloka.

4th April

Part day trip to Sinharaja Rainforest.

5th April

Long drive to Negombo, with a brief stop at Bellanawila-Attidiya Sanctuary and an extended lunch at the Mount Lavinia Hotel.

6th April

Morning visit to Muthurajawela Marshes Reserve.


Nomenclature and sequence

Common names in this part of the world are a bit of a nightmare, so I'll choose to adopt those of the Oriental Bird Club checklist [6]. Sequence follows Kotagama and Fernando [1].



By the time you read this there should be a good dedicated field guide available for the birds of Sri Lanka by Harrison. We went just too early for this book and so had much more fun. Generally identification proved fairly straightforward (except for a severe shrike error), probably to the impoverished diversity of bulbuls and babblers on the island. Texts studied included:

[1] A Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka, S. Kotagama and P. Fernando.

[2] A Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka, G.M. Henry (2nd edition).

[3] Birds of the Indian Subcontinent, R. Grimmett and C.&T. Inskipp, 1998.

[4] A Pictorial Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent, Salim Ali and Dillon Ridley.

[5] Birds of the Indian Subcontinent, Bikram Grewal, Odyssey, Hong Kong, 1995.

[6] An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of the Oriental Region, Oriental Bird Club, 1996.

[7] Oriental Bird Club Supplement: Sri Lanka, Forktail 26, Oriental Bird Club.

[8] A Selection of the Animals of Sri Lanka, John and Judy Banks, Lake House, 1986.

[9] Travel Survival Kit: Sri Lanka, Lonely Planet Publications, 1996.

[10] Culture Shock! Sri Lanka, R. Barlas and N. Wanasundera, Kuperard, 1994.

[1] is portable but basic, and the most relevant field guide available at the time of our visit. The illustrations are not up to scratch (although sufficient for most sightings if you are already fairly familiar with SE Asian birds). The text is very disappointing, with no behavioural description, no regional information and almost no discussion of calls. [2] is a superb read and very informative. It does not stand alone as a field guide as many birds are not illustrated, but is highly recommended as a support text to [1]. The Handbook [3] is really too big to travel with, but thanks Tony for lugging it out to Colombo! Jim photo reduced a number of the plates and put them in an album, which was a very useful little trick. The Bombay Natural History guide [4] is comprehensive but proved useful mainly as a supplementary source of illustrations. [5] covers some of the commoner Sri Lankan birds, but was not taken on the trip. [7] is worth getting if you are planning an itinerary. I picked up [8] in Sri Lanka as a good idiots guide to common beasts. [9] seems to be compulsory these days, and [10] is a nice little read if you can find it.




As I had no need to do anything other than sign the pleasantly small cheque before I went, the bulk of acknowledgements go to Tony and Gerda Scott for conceiving, planning and putting the trip together with the help of ACE Travel. Big thanks also to Uncle George, our guardian and ever attentive leader while in Sri Lanka. Our driver and his assistant were absolute heroes, especially in negotiating the bus over the mountain switchbacks. And thanks of course to all the participants who made the trips such fun, not the least being my father who sucked me in on the trip in the first place.



Species in boldface are endemic to Sri Lanka.

Everywhere: Some of the Common birds

Driving through Sri Lankan low country inevitably involves passing acres of rice paddyfields with copious supplies of Cattle Egret and Indian Pond Heron, and plentiful Great, Intermediate and Little Egrets, Red-Wattled Lapwing, Little Cormorant, and Grey Heron. Most decent ponds had Pheasant-tailed Jacana. Commoner land birds include Common Mynah, Spotted Dove, Rose-ringed Parakeet, White-throated Kingfisher, Green Bee-eater, Yellow-billed Babbler, Indian Robin and Oriental Magpie-Robin. Telegraph wires proved common perches for Indian Roller, White-bellied Drongo (but less than expected) and deep fried Common Flying-fox. Little birds whizzing about were likely to be Purple, Purple-rumped and Loten's Sunbird, Pale-billed Flowerpecker, and if in a bush, Plain Prinia and Scaly-breasted Munia. The common crow of urban areas was House Crow, and of rural areas Large-billed Crow. Birds of the air tended to be Barn Swallow, House Swift, Indian Swiftlet or Asian Palm-swift. The most commonly seen raptors were Brahminy Kite (near water) and Changeable Hawk-eagle. And Red-vented Bulbuls ? They were everywhere mate, everywhere.

Kandalama Low country, dry zone /wet zone interface

Kandalama Tank (reservoir) and Hotel are a few kilometres to the east of Dambulla, a market town in a very central location on the island, where the wet zone becomes dry. What can I say to do any justice to this place really? The Kandalama Hotel is one of those tourist developments that would have made my hair stand on end before it was built. Take an undisturbed piece of jungle scrub at the foot of a cliff on the shores of Kandalama Tank, put up a massive hotel complex, and then bus in hundreds of Westerners and wealthy Sri Lankans to stuff their rich fat tummies with gourmet food. The result is not as horrendous as some of it sounds. The Kandalama Hotel resembles a skinny Starship Enterprise hugging the cliff face, but incredibly it seems to disappear if you walk just a few hundred meters down the road. The architecture is surprisingly discrete and the jungle is slowly eating back at the exterior, allowing the enormous hotel to amazingly merge back into the landscape it must have once threatened to destroy. It is an astonishing place. And the birds are very very good. Although the water level was high, resulting in very few water birds at the shore, the surrounding scrub jungle and trails turned up over 80 species during our stay. It proved a superb place to acclimatise and get to know some of Sri Lanka's birds and culinary treasures. Birding from the upper balconies was outstanding (almost all birds recorded were seen at some point form the hotel balcony!). In particular there was an enormous dead tree behind the hotel, and almost the height of the hotel, on which we decided every bird in the area landed on for at least a few seconds of every day. Just lie back, beer in one hand, bins in the other. It's not always that easy!

Bird Highlights: Asian Openbill, Woolly-necked Stork, Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Barred Buttonquail, Pompadour Green Pigeon, Blue-faced Malkoha, Brown Fish-Owl, Indian Nightjar, Crested Treeswift, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Crimson-fronted Barbet, Coppersmith Barbet, Indian Pitta, Black-hooded Oriole, Large Cuckoo-shrike, Black-headed Cuckoo-shrike, Small Minivet, Black-crested Bulbul, White-browed Bulbul, Tawny-bellied Babbler.

Mammal Highlights: Brown Mongoose, Sri Lanka Grey Langur, Toque Monkey, Sri Lanka Giant Squirrel.


Polonnaruwa Low country, dry zone.

Kulchurr, dahling, kulchurr. Polonnaruwa is an ancient city site, truly astonishing in its age and scale. Polonnaruwa is east and slightly north of Dambulla, but it was a deceptively long (but interesting) drive to get there due to the usual road technicalities. Polonnaruwa is also getting very close to the limits of the "go" part of the island, and we saw an increasing number of roadblocks as we progressed closer the "no go" border. Its current accessibility to the uncontrolled feet and hands of tourists make me wonder how much longer it will last. Archaeology fans could spend their entire holiday here, and probably early morning birders would have a good time as well. We made a token visit to the main sites in the heat (and I mean heat) of the day and didn't see as many birds as white uniformed schoolchildren, who poured around the complex in an amazingly controlled and well behaved manner. Shoes off (ouch.. ahh .. hot..), shoes on, to see the temples. Several ponds next to the road to Polonnaruwa were well worth stopping at, and we were held up on our return journey by wild Sri Lanka Elephants crashing across the road.

Bird Highlights: Shikra, Indian Roller (almost tame), Black-rumped Flameback.

Mammal Highlights: Sri Lanka Ruddy Mongoose, Sri Lanka Black-naped Hare.

Sigiriya Low country, dry zone.

More kulcha. East of Dambulla, and only an hour by Sri Lankan road, Sigiriya is really Sri Lanka's Uluru (Ayer's Rock), except without the aboriginal request of "no climb" which means that the eager tourist's adrenalin tends to say "go up, young man" despite the rest of the body's more sensible suggestions such as "it's a bit hot for climbing".. The climb is not so much strenuous as bloody scary. There is a metal staircase of indeterminate age clinging to the rock's surface, and while this might look secure on a normal day, it looked a lot less assuring on a Sri Lankan holiday when it was completely packed with sweaty noisy bodies. But it had to be done and I feel good for joining Mike and Averil as a survivor. Birds? What birds? Lots of House Swifts circling the summit though. Birding was kept for the bottom, where a nice pond just outside the park had a few items of interest.. Also common at Sigiriya was the relatively scarce Sri Lanka Rent-a-guide Shark, which performs a number of exciting routines such as cutting your head off and then offering to glue it back on for 500 rupees. Avoid eye contact with this species at all times, or tell them that although you don't want to buy any nice wooden elephants, your friend in the green shirt away over there collects them and is very rich.

Bird Highlights: Lesser Whistling Duck, Black-headed Ibis., Common Kingfisher, Purple Swamphen, Zitting Cisticola, Ashy Prinia , White-browed Fantail, Black-headed Munia.

Udawattakele Sanctuary Mid height Hill Country

Udawattakele Sanctuary is situated right next on the edge of the famous city of Kandy, which itself lies east of Colombo and south of Dambulla, surrounded by high hills. Udawattakele is a very ancient protected area, and as a result this the hilly park contained some of the oldest and tallest trees that I saw on the island. We arrived late afternoon and only had a few hours before the light failed. There was also a slight hassle at the gate regarding closing time. Birds were quite hard to locate in the tall forest, and seemed more plentiful at the park entrance than up the hill. Nonetheless, this forest is undoubtedly an asset to the city of Kandy and was well worth devoting some time to. It would have been interesting to have explored it in the early morning.

Bird Highlights: Black Bulbul, Great Tit, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, Hill Mynah, Brown-capped Babbler, White-rumped Shama, Yellow-fronted Barbet.

Mammal Highlights: Mouse Deer


Peradeniya Botanic Gardens Mid height Hill Country

Not a paradise for birds, but a very attractive botanical garden on the edge of Kandy and a good place to closely observe some of the commoner Sri Lankan birds. This is the only place I have been where it was cooler inside the orchid house.. Perhaps the most stunning feature was the enormous Common Flying Fox colony, which had been disturbed and was wheeling and screaming over the trees in broad daylight. A place for strolling and admiring the flowers, but big enough to get lost in.

Bird Highlights: Shikra, Alexandrine Parakeet, Indian Roller, Sri Lankan Hanging Parrot.


Victoria Park, Nuwara Eliya Hill Country

The old colonial hill station of Nuawara Eliya is south-west of Kandy, and very much the urban centre of the surrounding high tea country. The climate is cool and the local farms grow very familiar looking plants such as carrots, leeks, and potatoes, and of course the less familiar (as a crop !) tea. This is the "little England" of Sri Lanka. Victoria Park is a very traditional looking small city park right in the middle of Nuwara Eliya but is a remarkably good birding spot, and our late afternoon visit could happily have been for longer. The park has an amazing mix of tall trees, dense scrub, open grass, riverine jungle and ornamental flowerbeds, all packed into an area you could stroll around in 20 minutes flat. Time was all that defeated us, and we crept around the park furtively in the wake of four Geordie birders armed with telescopes (looking just a bit eccentric) who seemed to be rather better at finding the birds than us. I have a suspicion that they were armed with a guide who knew his calls… One particularly productive spot seemed to be centred on a small pond surrounded by dense vegetation, and the thick jungle behind it that marked the border of the park.

Bird Highlights: Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Asian Paradise Flycatcher (white morph), Pied Thrush, Indian Pitta, Kashmir Flycatcher, Grey Wagtail, Yellow-eared Bulbul.

The Tea Factory, Nuwara Eliya Hill Country

We stayed just outside Nuwara Eliya at a tea factory that has been stunningly converted into a hotel. The building sat on top of a small hillock and had a panoramic view out over the surrounding countryside, most of which naturally enough was tea plantations. Small woodlands had been planted amidst the tea, presumably for shelter and perhaps drainage purposes. The tea itself is not such a bad habitat, and so the site deserves a mention for this alone. The dawn chorus (shortly before first light at 06.23 precisely!) was impressively loud here.

Bird Highlights: Hill Swallow, Crested Goshawk, Grey Wagtail, Pied Bush Chat, Brown Shrike.

Hakgala Gardens Hill Country

A little bit south of Nuwara Eliya lies the sizeable Hakgala Botanic Garden. This large public garden contains a mixture of interesting habitats covering a fairly steep hillside. The park includes several mixed plantations of exotic species, but as you climb up the hill the park gets both quieter and gradually more native in its vegetation regime, ending up in elfin forest. We got there rather too late for ideal birding, with the day becoming hot and the crowds becoming frisky, but in one of the cooler and darker gullies of the gardens we found a number of good birds. Notably, several most of the flycatcher species we recorded here were not encountered at any other location on the island.

Bird Highlights: Black Bulbul, Yellow-eared Bulbul, Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher (at nest), Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike (at nest), Velvet-fronted Blue Nuthatch, Dull Blue Flycatcher (common), Alpine Swift.

Mammal Highlights: Purple-faced Leaf Monkey (Highland race: Bear Monkey)

Hambantota Low country, dry zone

Hambantota is on the southern coast of Sri Lanka (fairly centrally located) and was the best part of an afternoon's drive from Nuwara Eliya. The town itself is not of much birding interest, rather being a busy little fishing port, famed for its Malayan influences. By Hambantota, I am loosely referring to the region around the town, but most specifically to the vicinity of the Oasis Hotel, a few kilometres west. This new hotel has a lagoon immediately outside its front door, and a strip of heathland between its rear and the sea which was positively jumping with birds in the early morning, and was suspected of being a bit of a migrant trap. Also in the Hambantota area is a huge salt works, and a variety of large coastal lagoons, all of which seemed good for water birds.

Bird Highlights: Spot-billed Pelican, Painted Stork, Greater Sand Plover, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Black-winged Stilt, Great Thick-knee, Yellow-eyed Babbler, Tawny-bellied Babbler, Barred Buttonquail, Pied Cuckoo, Plum-headed Parakeet, Lesser Adjutant, Brahminy Starling.


Bundala National Park Low country, dry zone

Just to the east of Hambantota, Bundala is a large area of fairly dense and low lying coastal scrub surrounding enormous lagoons and salt pans, fairly recently . Access was by open topped jeep. The only minor mistake we made here was to allow the drivers to take us round rather too fast for my liking, and so lots of birds were seen zipping off the tops of bushes as we flew past. Next time - more time. Although the scrub contained many interesting birds, including hundreds of Peafowl, it is the lagoons that are undoubtedly the highlight. A memorable moment was descending a narrow track which suddenly opened out onto an enormous salt pan, teeming with waders, terns, storks, and a huge flock of flamingos. Now that's what I call a decent spot for breakfast.

Bird Highlights: Spot-billed Pelican, Painted Stork, Asian Openbill, Eurasian Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo, Garganey, Indian Peafowl, Kentish Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Pintail Snipe, Marsh Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, Great Thick-knee, Gull-billed Tern, Caspian Tern, Little Tern, Whiskered Tern, White-winged Black Tern, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Common Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Indian Pitta.

Beast Highlights: Water Buffalo, Swamp Crocodile

Yala National Park Low country, dry zone

Yala National Park is part of vast protected area on the south-east coast of Sri Lanka. The park is classical safari terrain, with open areas of dry scrub, interspersed with wooded lagoons. The park has a very large population of easily seen mammals, not the least being a healthy elephant population, and as a result gets a large number of overseas visitors. We made an afternoon visit and specifically instructed the drivers to drive around generally, rather than pursue the more normal dedicated elephant hunt. In fact elephants were plentiful, and easily located in the late afternoon by minor jeep jams. We were overnighting several hours from Yala, but there is a decent looking lodge on the outskirts of the park which looks like the best place to stay and maximise time at the park. Yala does have the nightmare closed-roof jeep syndrome, which made this an interesting but very uncomfortable head straining visit. Towards the end of our safari the heavens opened up as a warm up exercise for the SW monsoon.

Bird Highlights: Painted Stork, Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Indian Peafowl, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Pintail Snipe, Pied Cuckoo, Common Hoopoe, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, White-browed Fantail, Crested Treeswift, Baya Weaver.

Beast Highlights: Sri Lanka Ruddy Mongoose, Sri Lanka Jackal, Spotted Deer, Sambhur, Indian Wild Boar, Water Buffalo, Sri Lanka Elephant, Swamp Crocodile, Soft Terrapin, Land Monitor.

Uda Walawe National Park Low country, dry zone

In contrast to Yala, Uda Walawe was a lush green place. The park is situated noth-west of Hambantota, on the way to Ratnapura. Converted partly from an old teak plantation as a massive elephant sanctuary, the part of the park we visited was largely open thick grassland with scattered trees. The flat terrain offered excellent viewing, with picturesque backdrops of the hill country and brewing storm clouds. The visibility also meant this was a very good location for viewing raptors, many of whom were drip drying their wings from the tops of dead tree following the previous night's downpour. Persuading our driver to stop and look at prinias in the grass proved rather difficult (who could possibly be interested in them after all?) This time the jeeps were open-topped, and while a little exhausting, the three hour excursion was a very enjoyable way of taking in the vistas and sampling the atmosphere of the park. This was my favourite park from aesthetics alone, and it would have been wonderful to have spent a few days there camped somewhere quiet with a good book, an eski of cold beer, and not a care in the world (except for the danger of being trodden on by a passing elephant). Yeah - ok - dream on.

Bird Highlights: Black-shouldered Kite, Crested Serpent Eagle, Shikra, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Barred Button-quail, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Sirkeer Malkoha, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Malabar Pied Hornbill, White-browed Fantail, Black-headed Munia.

Beast Highlights: Water Buffalo, Sri Lanka Elephant, Swamp Crocodile, Land Monitor.


Ratnaloka Foothills, wet zone

We stayed at the Ratnaloka Tour Inn, near Ratnapura, in order to be within striking distance of Sinharaja, and this site deserves a mention in itself namely because we spent two nights there and it represented a habitat that we did not spend much other time birding in. The rambling inn was immediately surrounded by a variety of little habitats, that included a pond, cultivated fields, a rubber plantation, and scrub jungle. We scored a marvellous double room ("the bridal suite") which I am sure we did not deserve, and had the best birding from our balcony, which looked out into the middle and upper canopy of some sizeable trees. And more to the point, the minibar was stocked with the more than palatable McCallums Sri Lanka Stout, which goes to show that the British Empire definitely made its mark on the island.

Bird Highlights: White-browed Fantail, Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, Forest Wagtail, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, Oriental White-eye, White-bellied Drongo, Crested Treeswift.

Mammal Highlights: Common Indian Palm-cat.


Sinharaja Rainforest Foothills, wet zone

Sinharaja is clearly the place to visit in the wet zone, as not only does it have a very different suite of species to most of the other locations we had visited, but also it hosts almost all the Sri Lankan endemic birds. Set among quite steep foothills, the dense forest makes both an excellent birding location, and very pleasant hiking terrain. Our short visit was perhaps more tantalising than fulfilling, as we had only a few hours at this magnificent place. The biggest problem is the lack of suitable accommodation close to the forest reserve. Smaller hardier groups do have bunkhouse options in the forest (the most famous place seems to be Martin's), but larger groups (especially those in need of some comforts such as ours) have little option but to stay several hours from the park. Our visit was further hampered by a strange communication failure regarding the length of the journey (which turned out to be 2 and a half hours), which led to us leaving Ratnaloka far too late to catch first light as planned. We did not get onto the trail until 8.30, and so did not enter the park boundary until almost 10.00 (this is a short hike up from the end of the extremely rugged access road). We also ran out of luck at the other end because it was recommended to leave the park promptly as heavy rains were expected by about 3pm. In the event these did not materialise. But it was a privilege to get there at all, and I have no doubt that anyone who spends a few days here will be suitably rewarded, because our short visit was quite productive. As in other rainforest regions the birding can be very hard going, with long periods of silence and inactivity followed by sudden surprising patches of action. Leeches were very quiet (despite their bad press). We had the compulsory company of a tracker, and while he didn’t find us any birds, he did succeed in hearing several species we would have been quite happy to have had a glimpse of (he thus was either very good, or a teasing con-man!) We hiked to the Research station and back. Oh to have been there earlier and longer..

Bird Highlights: Rufous-bellied Eagle, Sri Lanka Spurfowl (heard), Emerald Dove, Layard's Parakeet, Jungle Owlet (heard), Greater Flameback, Sri Lanka White-faced Starling, Common Wood-shrike, Scarlet Minivet, Dark-fronted Babbler, Orange-billed Babbler, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Red-faced Malkoha.

Mammal Highlights: Purple-faced Leaf Monkey.

Bellanawila-Attidiya Sanctuary Low country, wet zone

This was no more than a token visit to these wetlands on the south-eastern outskirts of Colombo. Access was slightly uncomfortable as it involved passing down a narrow track opposite some squatter settlements, and the locals muttered something about the area being used by the military. Just the kind of place that birders always end up spending their holidays! Our visit was late morning and it was enough to confirm that this indeed looks a very good wetland site, with good views over a narrow channel and some large lily covered marsh areas. The track eventually led to a watchtower, which gave good views over a drier part of the marsh, but also looked in grave danger of imminent collapse. Birds however were not surprisingly thin on the ground, although we did flush a series of Black Bitterns, and Mike saw a "grey moorhen like thing" dropping into the reads which was as certain to be something interesting as it was not to make another appearance. The most successfully obtained objective however was to coat our boots in thick stick mud in order to carefully deposit it in neat blobs all over the swanky Mount Lavinia Hotel at lunchtime.

Bird Highlights: Purple Swamphen, Black Bittern, Black-crowned Night Heron, Zitting Cisticola, "grey moorhen like thing".

Muthurajawela Marshes Low country, wet zone

The Muthurajawela Marshes lie very close to the main international airport and are well worth a visit. If you go on a normal day, you can have an idyllic boat tour of the marshes, a lagoon and a series of colonial canals. We went on the first full day of the SW monsoon and the boat trip was not really a recommended option (although the boatmen were keen to go!) The reserve has a small visitors centre and appears to be running some very good educational projects, while struggling economically in the way that sadly these places always tend to do. So make sure you go and spend your money there !! OK - I've done my plug for conservation. the manager was rather astonished that we had attempted a visit at all, and he gave us an introductory talk, showed a video, served some welcome tea, and stared sadly up at the filthy sky willing the rain to stop. I was very impressed with the set up, and wish this project all the very best. There is a small boardwalk at the visitors centre with a rather rickety series of wooden bridges and trails into the marsh giving access to healthy reedbeds (shame on the English visitors who tried to sue the reserve when one of them slipped on one of the bridges - you go at your own risk - sorry, please don't start me on my personal liability hobby-horse..) The main consolation for the incessant rain was that some of the more elusive marsh inhabitants were obviously quite happy to be out and about, and so we did our best to locate more "moorhen like things". A good spot.

Bird Highlights: Yellow Bittern, Cinnamon Bittern, Black Bittern, Lesser Whistling Duck, Slaty-breasted Rail, "small dark moorhen like thing".

Mammal Highlights: Southern Indian Otter.






* denotes endemic species to Sri Lanka

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis

Recorded at several dry zone wetlands, most notably a flock of 50 at Hambantota.

Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis

Pelicans never disappoint. Plentiful at Bundala (40) and Yala (10). A small flock (18) was also seen flying over Bellanawila-Attidiya, and odd birds were often spotted high in the air riding the thermals.

Little Cormorant Phalacrocorax niger

Abundant and seen most days in wetlands, rivers, paddyfields, lagoons, etc.

Indian Cormorant Phalacrocorax fuscicollis

Very common at coastal locations and the more extensive wetlands.

Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo

Only recorded once at a tank near Polonnaruwa.

Oriental Darter Anhinga melanogaster

Seen in very small numbers at most dry zone wetland sites. Easily identified in the water buy the usual snake impressions, but can look rather extraordinary when seen perched in a tree.

Little Egret Egretta garzetta

Very common and seen creeping around paddyfields suspiciously on most days.

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea

Commonly seen throughout the dry zone. Birds are distinctly paler than those of this species seen in Europe.

Purple Heron Ardea purpurea

Seen at several wetland sites, notably Bundala (6) and Bellanawila-Attidiya (4). When seen in good light, this is a very sophisticatedly plumaged bird.

Intermediate Egret Mesophoyx intermedia

Seen in paddyfields and wetlands on most days. The rarest of the egrets (but by no means rare). The greatest numbers were observed in Bundala and Yala.

Great Egret Ardea alba

Very common and seen almost every day. The big white ships of the paddyfields.

Cattle Egret Bubuculus ibis

Abundant, with huge flocks seen flying at dusk to enormous roosting locations. Also seen draped lovingly over Water Buffaloes, straight from a BBC2 Sunday night wildlife doco.

Indian Pond Heron Ardeola grayii

The "paddybird". The first bird observed on touchdown, and abundant from then until takeoff. Mostly rather drab and brown in appearance, but a male in full breeding plumage has a most exotic livery and stunning white wings in flight.

Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax

Seen on five days and easily overlooked. A roost of 20 birds was seen near Hambantota, and a smaller roost at Bellanawila-Attidiya. Professional hide-and-seek players.

Yellow Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis

Glimpsed twice in typical escape mode, at Hambantota and Muthurajawela.

Cinnamon Bittern Ixobrychus cinnamomeus

One bird flushed at Muthurajawela giving the usual rear view of disappearing bittern.

Black Bittern Ixobrychus flavicollis

One bird at Hambantota being cryptic and elusive, three birds at Bellanawila-Attidiya being hurtled from their ejector seats, and a further bird at Bellanawila-Attidiya sitting on top of a bush at midday and being so noticeable and obvious that we all had trouble identifying it.

Painted Stork Mycteria leucocephala

A beautiful stork which was common at Bundala (50), and seen at Yala (8), Uda Walawe and Bellanawila-Attidiya. Did I say this is a beautiful stork? Ah yes - but there is no harm in emphasising the point.

Asian Openbill Anastomus oscitans

The most widespread stork and seen on half the days, but never in large numbers, and often alone. Again, most numerous at Bundala (10) and seen flying each morning at Kandalama. In flight the wings notably appear to be half black and half white.

Woolly-necked Stork Ciconia episcopus

Single or pairs of birds seen on five days, all in the air, with the best views had at Kandalama and en route to Polonnaruwa.

Lesser Adjutant Leptoptilos javanicus

Recorded just twice by (other!) members of the group in the Hambantota district.

Black-headed Ibis Threskiornis melanocephalus

Several flocks seen in suitable habitats, notably en route to Polonnaruwa (10), Bundala (30) and Yala (50).

Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia

Very close views of around 30 birds at Bundala, and a further 5 seen at Yala.

Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber

Enormous flocks seen at Bundala. We conservatively estimated the total numbers to be around 1000. One distant "white cliff" on the other side of a huge lagoon revealed itself through optics to be wall-to-wall flamingo. On another occasion a huge flock was observed in flight on the other side of the lagoon, a seemingly endless smattering of pinkish white dots in the air.

Lesser Whistling Duck Dendrocygna javanica

Seen in small flocks at most wetland locations, notably at Muthurajawela. These birds can confuse in flight as not only are they making a bizarre noise, but their coloration somewhat resembles Yellow Bittern. So ook for flocks of whistling Yellow Bitterns and you'll be right…

Cotton Pygmy-goose Nettapus coromandelianus

This pretty little pond dweller was only seen twice at dry zone wetlands, en route to Polonnaruwa (2) and at Sigiriya (6). Toy birds.

Garganey Anas querquedula

The only true duck we saw in a land seemingly devoid of them. Twenty birds were seen around Bundala and one at Yala.

Black-shouldered Kite Elanus caeruleus

One seen from the bus parachuting down into a valley in the hills, and two seen perched on the tops of dead trees in Uda Walawe.

Black Kite Milvus migrans

Single birds were seen on each of the first three days, and then the supply seemed to dry up. Not as common a bird as was expected.

Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus

Very common near the coast, and whenever areas of low country wetland were encountered (which is just about anywhere!) Seen several times surprisingly far offshore.

White-bellied Sea-eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster

Most common at Kandalama, where it was seen every day. Single birds seen at Bundala and Yala.

Grey-headed Fish-eagle Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus

There was a healthy discussion at Kandalama as to whether distantly seen eagles were imatures of this species, but there was no doubt about the sighting of an adult bird on top of a dead tree at Yala. One was also recorded at Uda Walawe.

Crested Serpent-eagle Spilornis cheela

Isolated birds seen most days, both perched and in flight. A striking raptor with distinct underwing pattern and a very strange reptilian head.

Crested Goshawk Accipter trivirgatus

One birds seen near in the hill country, hunting low over a small wood just up from the Tea Factory Hotel, Nuwara Eliya. Presumably hunting a decent cuppa…

Shikra Accipter badius

The common sparrowhawk of Sri Lanka, and seen on half the days, (maximum 4 around Bundala).

Besra Accipter virgatus

Several of the group reported seeing a Besra near Hambantota. It is also possible that several others of our "Shikras" were "Besras". Confused? We certainly were…

Common Buzzard Buteo buteo

A raptor that passed overhead at Bundala looked suspiciously like this species.

Black Eagle Ictinaetus malayensis

We had two magnificent lunchtime views of this bird. The first at a hill country resthouse en route to Nuwara Eliya, where it did a low fly past to closely inspect our food (anorexic Sri Lankan omlette and eight chips), and the second at Ella Gap where it chose to scan the meals of the entire valley from a safer distance (all-you-can-eat curry and rice, followed by sliced pineapple). This is one of those majestic eagles that only likes to grace the stage if the scenery is suitably dramatic.

Rufous-bellied Eagle Hieraaetus kienerii

One bird seen circling above Sinharaja, showing its very distinctive breast colouration. No doubt wondering how many endemics it was going to eat today.

Changeable Hawk-eagle Spizaetus cirrhatus

Seen on most days, with excellent views of a begging juvenile at Kandalama, and a peak of 8 birds seen at Uda Walawe. Seems to fill the "Buzzard" niche in being widespread and easily seen.

Mountain Hawk-eagle Spizaetus nipalensis

One bird seen flying over Victoria Park, Nuwara Eliya, being hotly pursued by a large flock of adoring House Crows.

Common Kestrel Flaco tinnunculus

Until Jim saw one from the bus on the 3rd, the only bird seen had been from the transfer bus on disembarking at the airport. Three records in total.

Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus

One seen from the bus in the hills.

*Sri Lanka Spurfowl Galloperdix bicalcarata

One bird heard calling at Sinharaja. I assume that this is a common call of the early morning there, but seeing the bird is an entirely different matter.

*Sri Lanka Junglefowl Gallus lafayetii

The cockerels are really stunning, and their coughing wattlebird like call was the common jungle noise at Kandalama. We finally got a good look at one on the day we were leaving, right next to our bedroom door (the Kandalama Hotel is just a birding paradise!) Also heard at Bundala, and seen well at Yala (5) and Uda Walawe.

Indian Peafowl Pavo cristatus

These are truly crazy birds, and never look plausible when sitting up in trees. "Come down number eleven, your time is up!" Nonetheless, that is what they do spend a fair bit of time doing. Common and very visible at Bundala, Yala and Uda Walawe, but not recorded anywhere else.

Barred Buttonquail Turnix suscitator

Good views of this buttonquail were had at Kandalama (where they struck me as rather dumpy) and glimpses at Hambantota (where they seemed diminutive). They were also reported as common from those on the lead jeep at Uda Walawe (there are some advantages to going first).

Slaty-breasted Rail Gallirallus striatus

Just one bird seen pottering down a narrow reed covered track at Muthurajawela.

White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus

Common and seen almost every day in reasonable numbers.

Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio

Common in all suitable habitat (namely big lily covered lagoons and marshes). The largest numbers were observed near Hambantota (20), Bundala and Bellanawila-Attidiya. They seem to adopt the surprising habit of occasionally perching on the tops of bushes where they look, in all honesty, quite ridiculous!

Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus

Not as common as the Purple Topofbushhen, but seen at four wetlands, with the top moorhen spot (for those that care) being Bundala (10).

Pheasant-tailed Jacana Hydrophasianus chirurgus

Sensational birds, which were common anywhere there were enough lily pads to stroll on. Also seen quite often in flight, at which they are surprisingly graceful performers, tails streaming behind.

Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva

One bird, seen at Yala.

Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola

One en route to Polonnaruwa, 2 at Bundala, one at Yala.

Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius

Just one recorded at Yala, but I'm sure there were plenty more out there.

Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus

Recorded in fairly healthy numbers at all of Bundala, Yala and Hambantota.

Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus

The wee ones. Well over a hundred seen at Bundala, and just one lonely bird seen at Yala.

Greater Sand Plover Charadrius leschenaultii

The slightly less wee ones. About 50 at Bundala, and one at Hambantota.

Yellow-wattled Lapwing Vanellus malabaricus

Before having seen scores of Red-wattled Lapwings, I had expected this species to be equally common. But as the trip dragged on I became anxious that we might not see it at all. However, down in the SE coastal parks the Lapwing people were finally appeased. Only 11 birds recorded in total though, 5 at Bundala, 2 at Yala, and 2 sleeping outside our Hambantota hotel room.

Red-wattled Lapwing Vanellus indicus

Very common and seen almost every day. And nobody was complaining about that… except when they start screaming in the middle of the night…

Pintail Snipe Gallinago stenura

Three at Bundala and two at Yala. Quite visible for snipes.

Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa

Seen at Bundala and Yala, with the birds at Bundala being both more numerous and colourful.

Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata

A small flock of ten seen offshore at Hambantota, but not seen elsewhere.

Common Redshank Tringa totanus

Common at both the "ala"s and the "ota".

Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis

Seen in small numbers at the "ala"s and the "ota".

Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia

Seen in small numbers at the "ala"s. One of the birds at the Bund "ala" was so fat that Jim was convinced it was something more interesting, but then the jeep lurched off again and we left it in peace, whatever it was.

Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola

Seen in small numbers at guess which two locations?

Common Sandpiper Tringa hypoleucos

These birds have a habit of turning up in all sorts of wet patches, and were recorded on most days in some suitable ditch, puddle, sewage outlet, lagoon margin etc etc.

Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres

Three birds at Bundala.

Sanderling Calidris alba

Eight birds seen at Bundala.

Little Stint Calidris minuta

Lots at Bundala, with probably Long-toed Temminck's hiding among them, but the light was not ideal for stint leg watches.

Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea

Around the 50 mark at Bundala, including one bird in full breeding regalia.

Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus

Very common in suitably stilty places in the SE, and breeding outside our hotel at Hambantota. I'm always terrified their legs are just going to snap in two. Also seen flying over at Muthurajawela.

Great Thick-knee Burhinus recurvirostris

I was most pleased to discover that our hotel at Hambantota had a resident breeding pair on the beach - and they didn't even charge extra for them. Ten others seen at Bundala and a couple at Yala.

Brown-headed Gull Larus brunnicephalus

Surprisingly uncommon, but double figures scraped at both Bundala and Yala.

Gull-billed Tern Sterna nilotica

Fairly common at Bundala.

Caspian Tern Sterna caspia

Fairly common at Bundala, with isolated records at Yala and Negombo.

Great Crested Tern Sterna bergii

A couple at Bundala, and seen offshore from Negombo.

Little Tern Sterna albifrons

A few seen at Bundala and Hambantota. If any of them had black shafts then I didn't notice.

Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hydridus

An abundant tern, seen at most wetland locations and offshore. Seemed to be the "if in doubt it's a Whiskered Tern" species.

White-winged Black Tern Chlidonias leucopterus

A large flock (40) seen at Bundala, and then an enormous flock (over 100) seen moving along the coast at Hambantota - presumably migrating.

Rock Dove Columba Livia

Well, it's here to make up the numbers really. Feral members of this species were seen on most days in suitable urban locations.

Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis

Abundant bird in all habitats and spotted regularly by Dorothy from the bus.

Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto

A feral species that is apparently on the increase. We caught up with this bird in the Little England of Sri Lanka: Victoria Park, Nuwara Eliya.

Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica

One observed at Kandalama and then two waddled in front of our jeep on the way in to Sinharaja, while I seethed with rage as they were holding up our dawn (sic) arrival.

Orange-breasted Green Pigeon Treron bicincta

A very nice little plump pigeon that proved easy to see and fairly common at Bundala, Yala and Uda Walawe.

Pompadour Green Pigeon Treron pompadora

A handsome pigeon with maroon wings. Only recorded at Kandalama, where a six pack, like most of the Kandalama birds, was observed from the hotel balcony.

Green Imperial Pigeon Ducula aenea

Sounds a bit pompous? Well it looks pompous too. A big woodpigeon, recorded at Kandalama (4), Hambantota region (5), Uda Walawe (2) and distantly at Sinharaja (or was it a Sri Lankan Woodpigeon… we'll never know..)

*Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot Loriculus beryllinus

Fairly common, but often hard to see well. We first recorded them in Udawattakele and Peradeniya, but they were best seen and most plentiful around Ratnaloka. Tiny restless lorikeets.

Alexandrine Parakeet Psittacula eupatria

A huge parakeet regularly seen in flight, but never at rest. I have a theory that they just fly around continuously until they drop dead of exhaustion, so perhaps I should have searched the ground more systematically.

Rose-ringed Parakeet Psittacula kramerii

Abundant, and seen most days in considerable numbers, screaming their heads off. The "default parakeet".

Plum-headed Parakeet Psittacula cyanocephala

A small lone parakeet flying over at Hambantota and making a peculiarly quiet single note nasal "waah" was assumed to be this species. Either that or it was a Rose-ringed Parakeet whose batteries were about to expire. Not noted elsewhere.

*Layard's Parakeet Psittacula calthropae

The endemic parakeet, and the common parakeet at Sinharaja (about 6 flying over).

Pied Cuckoo Oxylophus jacobinus

Nice big bird and unmistakable, except when you see an immature bird on your first day in bad light while you are still a bit jet-lagged. Seen at Kandalama, Kandy, Bundala, Uda Walawe and six in the coastal heath at Hambantota. No Pied Cuckoo shortage in Sri Lanka then.

Indian Cuckoo Cuculus micropterus

Seen well just once at Kandalama. I suspect that glimpses of cuckoos from various jeeps are most likely to have been this species which I am convinced we under-recorded.

Grey-bellied Cuckoo Cacomantis passerinus

Seen only once at Kandalama, and never again. It's a bit of a boring cuckoo though.

Drongo Cuckoo Surniculus lugubris

Someone in the group recorded one at Bundala.

Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea

Seen, or to be more precise heard, every day. The Koel at Brown's Beach Hotel Negombo insisted on calling from about 3am in the morning which was all very well and nice but…

Blue-faced Malkoha Phaenicophaeus viridirostris

Not the most stunning member of the malkoha brethren, but a fairly visible and common one. Peak numbers were seen at Kandalama (five a day), but also seen at Bundala and Yala.

Sirkeer Malkoha Phaenicophaeus leschenaultii

Yes Sirkeer! An excellent pair of brown malkohas seen in the grassland at Uda Walawe. This was a good sighting I think, especially as the birds obligingly perched up on a bush and allowed us to have a bit of a gander at them.

*Red-faced Malkoha Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus

Tantarra… the bird everyone wants to see, mainly because it is on the cover of Kotagama's field guide. Completely sexy bird, whose red eye patch looks rather unnatural and more than a bit comical. Two birds were seen just down from the Research Station in Sinharaja, and all the blunders of the day were temporarily forgiven and forgotten. Well spotted, Michael.

Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis

What looks more ridiculous than a Greater Coucal perched in a tree? A Greater Coucal sitting on your roof. What looks more ridiculous than a Greater Coucal sitting on your roof? A Greater Coucal flying over the road. What looks more ridiculous than a Greater Coucal flying over the road? Four Greater Coucals in a mini… etc.. OK - nothing like throttling a joke to death. Very silly birds that God just shouldn't have created. Common and seen regularly from the bus.

Indian Scops Owl Otus bakkamoena

Expected to be our common owl, it was not recorded until one of the last nights, when James went out for a late night fag and heard one from his balcony at Ratnaloka. It might be bad for the health, but it's apparently good for the bird list.

Brown Fish-owl Ketupa zeylonensis

A big owl spotlit from the hotel balcony at Kandalama could only have been this species. Sadly the binocular boys arrived too late to get what would have been "crippling views".

Jungle Owlet Glaucidium radiatum

Heard calling in the middle of the day from the depths of Sinharaja.

Indian Nightjar Caprimulgus asiaticus

Seen and heard at Kandalama, making a distinctive monotonous low hollow descending double whistle. Seen and heard again at Hambantota, making a noise like a ping pong ball bouncing on a table. What other vocal stunts is this bird capable of?

Indian Swiftlet Collocalia unicolor

Fairly common and usually found in flocks of considerable size. Although not recorded every day of the trip, I think this bird was rather overlooked in our daily counts.

Asian Palm-swift Cypsiurus balasiensis

A common swift, seen in small flocks on each day spent in the dry zone. Clearly identifiable by its long sharp tail.

Alpine Swift Tachymarptis melba

One bird recorded by Jim among House Swifts at Hakgala Gardens.

House Swift Apus affinis

Very common in urban and rural areas. An enormous flock was wheeling and reeling over Sigiriya.

Crested Treeswift Hemiprocne coronata

A beautiful shapely bird, looking rather like a small arrowhead in the air, with very long narrow wings and a sharp pointed tail. Seen hawking in typical flycatcher like manner from a tree on the cliff-face at Kandalama, and subsequently recorded in small numbers at Yala, Uda Walawe and Ratnaloka. A juvenile bird seen by some at Yala was apparently so well camouflaged at the nest that Anne Marie remains unconvinced it was a bird!

Malabar Trogon Harpactes fasciatus

Easily overlooked, so easily that we umm err didn't exactly see any. Heard calling at Sinharaja.

Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis

Certainly common, with single or pairs of birds recorded on most days wetland sites were visited. Sri Lankan birds seem a much more brilliant blue than those in Western Europe, and we were delighted to watch one hovering over a pond at Sigiriya.

Stork-billed Kingfisher Pelargopsis capensis

The greatly beaked one was seen by the edge of a small lagoon en route to Polonnaruwa and at a bridge over a river at what George tried to persuade us was the "geographical heart of the country".

White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis

Yes yes yes .. every day on every wire next to every road in every habitat. And what a pretty bird to have so common. It doesn't stop the park guides creeping up to them in the jeeps and showing you "kingfisher" with great pride, which suggests that the average traveller passes hundreds of them on the way in, but only when entering the parks actually decides to notice them.

Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis

A big kingfisher, and quite majestic in the air, where the pied plumage makes the bird resemble an enormous moth. One bird seen at Kandalama, 6 in Bundala, and then isolated records from the bus and from Bellanawila-Attidiya.

Green Bee-eater Merops orientalis

A very common and attractive bee-eater in low country dry zone habitats. Small and very green, with an iridescent blue throat and a noticeable chestnut cap. An overly spotted bird by trackers in the parks.

Blue-tailed Bee-eater Merops philippnus

A huge stunning bee-eater with dramatic trailing tail feathers. A pair noted on the road to Polonnaruwa, another pair at Yala, and half a dozen sitting photogenically next to the road in Uda Walawe.

Chestnut-headed Bee-eater Merops leschenaulti

Yet another attractive bee-eater, not seen until the hills when it took over from Green as the common wire occupant. Common in the SE at Hambantota, Bundala and Yala, and then the supply seemed to dry up again.

Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis

A big roller seen most days "on the wires". Peak numbers were 6 at Polonnaruwa and 6 driving from the hills to Hambantota.

Common Hoopoe Upupa epops

It's been a long time coming, but they say that you never forget your first Hoopoe.. So there it was, sitting on "the big tree'" next to the top birding balcony at Kanadalma, and then it was gone, as suddenly as it appeared. Three birds were also seen in Yala, including one that sat down in front of our jeeps and played a dangerous game of "chicken" (or should that be "junglefowl"?)

*Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill Ocyceros gingalensis

What do we want? Hornbills! When do we want them? As often as possible! I think Hornbills are just magnificent and am thinking of refusing to go on holiday to any country that doesn't offer them as part of the indigenous avifauna. The Sri Lanka Grey offers all the usual attributes: big, hooter extraordinaire, and of course comical in the extreme. Actually this hornbill is quite a slim bird, which makes the bill even more improbable than normal. Surprisingly, and disappointingly, it was only seen at Kandalama, where a family party of three were seen on several days.

Malabar Pied Hornbill Anthracoceros coronatus

A more conventionally enormous and glorious hornbill, glimpsed in a tree near Kandalama, seen flitting through the canopy at Yala, and then more visibly on the top of a dead tree in Uda Walawe. We suspect the bird in Uda Walawe was defending a nesting hollow.

Brown-headed Barbet Megalaima zeylanica

Kerronk kerronk kerronk kerronk …. A big headed barbet (and by no means the most attractive member of the family) whose call was probably the definitive Sri Lankan jungle noise. The most amusing aspect of the Brown-headed Barbet call is its kookaburra-esque cranking up process, as it builds up the reserves for an extended period of kerronking. It would be fair to say that this bird was very common in all places that offered vegetation greater than about head height. Kerronk kerronk kerronk kerronk..

*Yellow-fronted Barbet Megalaima flavifrons

Similar, but considerably more attractive than the Brown-headed, the Yellow-fronted Barbet was common, but only at higher elevations. Thus it was first heard on the way to Kandy, and was common at Udawattakele, was heard at Hakgala, but then not again until Sinharaja. It also cranks up like the Brown-headed, but then has a more melodic kerronk, maybe more of a konk really, which was very distinctive.

*Crimson-fronted Barbet Megalaima rubricapilla

The Sri Lankan endemic subspecies "Ceylon Small Barbet" is often regarded as a full species (for example in [7]). Somewhat similar to the Coppersmith, the Crimson-fronted Barbet did not seem to be that common, or was maybe just quieter, than the other barbets on the island. It was heard every day until Hakgala, but seen only at Kandalama and Kandy. The call is similar in tone to Coppersmiths, but irregularly sounded in bursts of four notes (pum-pum-pum-pum…etc)

Coppersmith Barbet Megalaima haemecephala

A common barbet in dry zone low country habitats, but apparently absent in the hills and the wet zone. This barbet was very vocal and seen each day at Kandalama, at Polonnaruwa, and in Uda Walawe. A very smart little barbet, but the most monotonous of the four Sri Lankan species, just pumming steadily and incessantly. Another great jungle sound.

Yellow-crowned Woodpecker Dendrocopos nanus

Some lucky people saw one in Yala, and some other lucky people saw one in Uda Walawe, and maybe some lucky people saw both, but some other unlucky people saw neither of them!

Black-rumped Flameback Dinopium benghalense

This very attractive woodpecker was the most commonly observed woodpecker, although was most often seen as a vanishing flash of scarlet. Peak numbers were 4 at Kandalama, but it was also recorded at Polonnaruwa and Hambantota.

Greater Flameback Chrysocolaptes lucidus

Just one positive identification of this big woodpecker at Sinharaja.

Indian Pitta Pitta brachyura

We were pleased to see one on the entrance road to Kandalama, and then another one leaving the next day. And then one tried to break into Jim and Mike's room at the hotel, and then two were seen at Victoria Gardens, and another at Bundala, and another at Yala …. So I guess as pittas go, this is not as elusive a bird as you might expect!

Rufous-winged Bushlark Mirafra assamica

A very common small brown bird in open dry zone country. It was quite abundant in jungle clearings at Kandalama, and common at the three dry zone parks in the SE. Has an interesting insect like call, runs on the ground like a quail, and has a parachute flight display.

Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula

Just two birds were seen at Bundala. Almost certainly overlooked elsewhere.

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica

The common swallow and recorded on most days, often in large flocks.

Hill Swallow Hirundo dumicola

Rather easily mistaken at rest for the Barn Swallow, but in flight more reminiscent of a martin than a swallow. A high country bird, seen around the tea plantations (and the Tea Factory) Hotel) at Nurawa Eliya, and at Ella Gap.

Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo daurica

The common swallow around Kandalama, but otherwise only recorded in dribs and drabs in the few wet zone locations we visited.

Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus

A good field guide for Sri Lanka will be welcome when it arrives (soon I gather). We had great difficulty identifying the shrikes on first arrival, but in hindsight I reckon that almost all the sightings were of this species, despite some fanciful attempts to call them Long-tailed Shrikes. Many of the birds appeared to show an amount of grey on the backs, which led to the main confusion. Brown Shrikes were seen most days, with the peak recordings from Uda Walawe (8).

Black-hooded Oriole Oriolus xanthornus

A very attractive and distinctive oriole, with a typically resonant and melodic oriole call. Common at Kandalama, and recorded as far as Kandy, but only again at Yala and Sinharaja.

White-bellied Drongo Dicrurus caerulescens

This was the common drongo in Sri Lanka, but was by no means as common as expected (recorded on approximately half the days). Only in the wet zone did it start to become a regular "wire" bird, and we saw around ten on each of the two days we drove through wet zone habitats.

Greater Racket-tailed Drongo Dicrurus paradiseus

Just two birds recorded by observant members of the party, the first in Udawattakele and the second by Joan in Sinharaja. I had expected this to be a commoner species.

Ashy Wood Swallow-shrike Artamus fuscus

I'm not sure why this bird has such a contrived common name (Ashy Woodswallow seems quite adequate to me). This species was seen on just two occasions, with 4 seen at the "geographical heart of the country" and another 2 at Bundala.

*Sri Lanka White-faced Starling Sturnus senex

Well, we managed to miss some of the commoner endemic species, and rather incredibly saw this one in our short trip to Sinharaja. Just at the official reserve entrance (about half way to the research station) we saw a bird flying swiftly and directly over a clearing. "It looks like a starling, it has a dark back, oh - and it's got a white face…." It was a brief view, but then sometimes that is all you need - a bit of quick binocular work, and a slightly greater piece of outrageous fortune…

Brahiminy Starling Sturnus pagodarum

One bird was seen in the coastal heath at Hambantota by Doreen and James, on the day that they decided to tactically opt out of the general program. It most rudely failed to appear on any of the subsequent mornings suggesting perhaps that it was either migrating through, or that they deliberately caught it and hid it in their room.

(Rosy Starling) Sturnus roseus

There was an unconfirmed sighting from the back of the bus of 4 starlings. This is the only candidate species, but would be a very rare record unless we were present during an invasion. It remains bracketed for this reason. What else would look vaguely like a starling? Baya Weaver?

Common Mynah Acridotheres tristis

One or two birds observed approximately every 5 minutes on every day of the entire trip. Well, maybe every hour...

Hill Mynah Gracula religiosa

A bunch of ten were seen and very much heard at Udawattakele Sanctuary, but this bird was only seen again at Peradeniya Botanical Gardens. Our guide at Sinharaja pointed out the call, but I rather suspect that the Sinharaja bird was in fact the Sri Lanka Mynah, which we otherwise failed to record. We'll have to consider it one that got away.

House Crow Corvus splendens

Ubiquitous wherever homo sapiens is likewise, even to the point of replacing gulls as the common birds when land meets sea.

Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos

The common crow of rural areas and seen each day in considerable numbers.

Large Cuckoo-shrike Coracina macei

Very few of these birds were observed, and in most cases were flying overhead and were identified by their cryptic metallic cry. Two records from Kandalama, and one each from Kandy and Bundala.

Black-headed Cuckoo-shrike Coracina melanoptera

This bird was only seen in the scrub jungle at Kandalama, where a handsome male was seen on two days, and one female observed quietly foraging in a dense thicket.

Common Wood-shrike Tephrodornis pondicerianus

We recorded this bird very definitely in Sinharaja, where it was seen a few times sitting very silently in the midst of medium height forest growth. There is a definite suspicion that we misidentified other previous sightings as Brown Shrikes (careless I know.. but…)

Small Minivet Pericrocotus cinnamomeus

A very dainty minivet that was seen most days at Kandalama, and at Sinharaja. The male have ashy heads and the partly coloured breast is distinctly orange.

Scarlet Minivet Pericrocotus flammeus

Noticeably larger than the last species, this minivet was only seen several times at Sinharaja, where it's glow-in-the-dark plumage made it visible from a considerable distance away.

Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus picatus

A surprisingly elusive little flycatcher which was only encountered once at Hakgala. We saw around 6 very active birds, which appeared to be breeding in a cool gully near the entrance to the gardens.

Common Iora Aegithina tiphia

A common bird that was seen on most days, except those in the high hill country. The white wing bar is very noticeable in flight.

Blue-winged Leafbird Chloropsis cochinchinensis

This species was seen most commonly at Kandalama, but was also probably recorded at Sinharaja. The birds at Sinharaja were foraging very high on a tall tree and seemed to have yellow enough crowns to possibly be the rarer Golden-fronted Leafbird, but neck-strain and dissolving patience prevented confirmation of this.

*Black-crested Bulbul Pycnonotus melanicterus

One of the most strangely named birds in Sri Lanka because of course a crest is one thing it distinctly lacks. One day someone sensible will rename it the Black-capped Bulbul (in fact they already have done), and everyone will be happy. I think this bird's status is not entirely clarified yet, but is often regarded [7] as an endemic Bulbul, rather than being a race of the cousins with the real crests. Seen each day at Kandalama, where it seemed moderately common, and then again at Sinharaja.

Red-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus cafer

And on the last day the great Lord Lanka said unto Adam and Eve Red-vented Bulbul, "go forth and multiply, and may your numbers spread to every corner of this island, every habitat be your domain, every bush a potential nesting site, and may your calls ring throughout the land." And so it came to pass. And there were Red-vented Bulbuls. And it was glorious unto his eyes and ears.

*Yellow-eared Bulbul Pycnonotus penicillatus

A rather chunky sagacious looking olive bulbul, with bizarre yellow tufts. We only saw this bird in the very highest areas in the hill country, with 4 birds seen at Nuwara Eliya (Victoria Park), and another pair at Hakgala.

White-browed Bulbul Pycnonotus luteolus

Described by one field guide as a "solitary skulker', I rather expected this to be a hard bird to see. However it was first up and noisiest in the dawn chorus at Kandalama, and proved common in most low country dry zone habitats. Rather a dull bird to look at, with the white brow being its saving grace.

Yellow-browed Bulbul Iole indica

A very pretty lemon and lime coloured bulbul, which was common at Sinharaja, but not seen elsewhere. As good a reason to go to Sinharaja as any.

Black Bulbul Hypsipetes leucocephalus

A blueish black brightly billed bulbul (and that's easy for you to say) with a striking little mohican. This bird was common at Udawattakele, Hakgala and Sinharaja. Seemed to occur in small parties that flitted noisily about the upper canopy like parakeets, making ethereal liquid screams and generally being very awkward to observe. The bird jammed into its tiny nest at Sinharaja was more subdued, with its orange bill poking out over the rim and its crest flaring.

*Brown-capped Babbler Pellorneum fuscocapillum

A pair at Kandalama and a small party bouncing along the forest floor at Udawattakele was pretty much the entire show from this species. Rather resembling a small orangish female blackbird, and very much a soil cruiser than a bird of the branches.

Tawny-bellied Babbler Dumetia hyperythra

This is a very cute little bird, whose rusty belly and white throat make it easy to identify. It was not that easy to find however, with a group of 4 seen low in the vegetation at Kandalama, and one seen in the coastal scrub at Hambantota.

Dark-fronted Babbler Rhopocichla atriceps

A wee skulker, no other word for it. A couple were skulking at Kandalama, and a trio were skulking next to the track in Sinharaja.

Yellow-eyed Babbler Chrysomma sinense

A splendid little babbler with a bright yellow eye and a thick dark stubby bill, that looks quite silly. Four at Kandalama, and then six in the coastal heath at Hambantota.

*Orange-billed Babbler Turdoides rufescens

Took over from the next species at Sinharaja, where a noisy party were encountered. Amazingly they were extremely difficult to see, despite the cacophony of screams and yells, whines and screeches. Rather excellent birds, as are their more common cousins (coming up next..)

Yellow-billed Babbler Turdoides affinis

A common bird on the wire, but more normally heard before being observed. This bird can possibly makes any noise that you ask it to, but generally anything reptilian sounding, or anything that grates at the nerve chords, is probably a Yellow-billed Babbler. Almost always encountered in parties of 3 to many, they are both hyperactive and very tame, working at all levels of the canopy, but perhaps most commonly on the ground. Almost certainly the drunkards, farters, comedians and dole-bludgers of the babbler world.

Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa dauurica

A rather innocuous flycatcher that was only seen once at Sinharaja, hopping around the upper canopy in dense foliage.

Brown-breasted Flycatcher Muscicapa muttui

One bird was recorded by Tony at Udawattakele Sanctuary. Presumably almost as brown and innocuous as the last species.

Kashmir Flycatcher Ficedula subrubra

Seen just the once amidst the thick of the action in Victoria Park, Nuwara Eliya.

*Dull Blue Flycatcher Eumyias sordida

The only place we saw this bird was at Hakgala, where it was seemingly very common. A very subtle bird whose plumage looks rather drab in bad light, but rather exquisite when the light shines on it favourably. Tended to sit rather quietly and is probably easily overlooked.

Tickell's Flycatcher Cyornis tickelliae

Mr and Mrs Tickell only put in an appearance outside our hotel room at Ratnaloka, where they hawked for insects just a few metres from our bottle of exceedingly good Sri Lankan stout.

Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher Culiciapa ceylonensis

A pocket sized bird who got more than a little bit angry at the fact that sixteen people were standing just below its nesting hollow. It is of course very hard to take an irate 9cm bird with any degree of seriousness, but after a minor stand-off we politely moved on. A total of six birds, not all so angry, were seen at Hakgala (which was a hotbed of flycatcher activity).

White-browed Fantail Rhipidura aureola

A very classical fantail in plumage and behaviour. One at Sigiriya, 3 at Yala, 2 at Uda Walawe and one from our top birding balcony at Ratnaloka.

Asian Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone paradisi

By far the commonest flycatcher on the island and seen in small numbers on all but a few days of the trip. The peak numbers were at Yala (8), but generally anywhere with a bit of forest cover seems to keep them happy. The males are of course sensational, with their long tail streamers. All birds but one were the brown dark phase birds. A stunning white phase male was present in Victoria Park.

Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis

A fairly common marsh bird, usually heard before being seen. Our best views were from the northern dry zone marshes, en route to Polonnaruwa and at Sigiriya. It was also seen at Bundala and Bellanawila, but was most common in the luxurious grasslands of Uda Walawe.

Ashy Prinia Prinia socialis

A very handsome little bird that was established to be common once we had learnt the call, which is rather like the Tailorbird's. The Ashy Prinia usually called from the depths of a thicket, but was also quite willing to climb up onto the tops of grasses and bushes to serenade willing listeners. Very common in suitable habitat, and particularly so at Bundala and Uda Walawe.

Plain Prinia Prinia inornata

One of the commonest species on the island, and recorded every day bar one, the day we went to Sinhiraja (of all places). Most easily recognised by its strange insect like call. In fact the Plain Prinia was so common that I think we may have overlooked some of the other prinia species as it became increasingly tempting to write off every prinia looking bird as this species. Some birds looked decidedly brown, while others were much paler, but all had the very notable red eye.

Clamorous Reed Warbler Acrocephalus stentoreus

Surprisingly this bird was only seen on one occasion, when it popped briefly out of a reed bed on the way to Polonnaruwa.

Common Tailorbird Orthotomus sutorius

The very cheeky and vocal Sri Lankan tailorbird species, and seen every day of the trip. Recorded increasingly regularly as we became more familiar with its extensive repertoire.

Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus nitidus

Danger - you are entering the taxonomy twilight zone… Well, I'd rather leave them to it to be honest. The birds we saw were definitely the species sometimes referred to as "Yellowish-breasted Warbler", but are probably now the victims of a "lumping". Several seen engaged in the rather hopeless task of wiping out Sinharaja's insect population.

Large-billed Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus magnirostris

Close views of one bird cryptically working the canopy at Hakgala. It gave the characteristic two note call which is accurately described in one field guide as like the "squeaking of a swing".

Pied Thrush Zoothera wardii

Three birds were seen in Victoria Park, Nuwara Eliya, but boy, it was hard work. They were obviously in the process of settling for the night, and so locating them for the group in the depths of some pine trees was not as easy process… but then whoever said birding was easy?

Eurasian Blackbird Turdus merula

Not at all as visible and as vocal as in Europe. Rather, the Blackbird was most commonly seen hurtling across the road between tea thickets. Only seen engaged in this noble pursuit on the two days that we spent in the highest parts of the hill country.

Oriental Magpie-robin Copsychus saularis

Very common, and seen every day. A distinctive bird with a sweet song.

White-rumped Shama Copsychus malabaricus

A decidedly cryptic species that was heard before seen and had a habit of vanishing very soon after discovery. Our best view was in Udawattakele, but it was also present at Kandalama.

Indian Robin Saxicoloides fulicata

Another of the commoner Sri Lankan residents, and seen every day in good numbers. An easy bird to spot from a passing bus due to its astonishing red vent, which is visible both in flight and when the bird displays. Otherwise notable as being the only common dark bird of its size.

Pied Bush Chat Saxicola caprata

Apparently known as the "teabird", and with good reason - because that is where you will find it. Seen in the high tea country, often at the side of the road, and sometimes perched tamely on the wires.

Great Tit Parus major

We didn't go all that way to see Parus Major, but then again it is sometimes nice to have that touch of familiarity again. Grey, not Great, in this part of the world, and common in forested regions of the hills, but not noted elsewhere.

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch Sitta frontalis

A crowd pleaser, that finally turned up in Hakgala, which was just as well for Tony because he had been promising everyone that they would see it there.

Forest Wagtail Dendronanthus indicus

Two birds were first seen in the coastal heathland at Hambantota, but were not seen again until Ratnaloka, where they joined the impressive list of species seen from our balcony (although seeing the wagtails did involve leaning over it and placing unmerited faith in the architect). Someone also saw one in Negombo.

Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea

Seen only in the hill country, where a couple were observed in Victoria Park, and five around the tea plantations. A very British bird seen in that most British part of Sri Lanka, satisfying my sense of appropriateness.

Paddyfield Pipit Anthus rufulus

Seemed to be the most common pipit and seen where pipits are normally seen, doing what pipits normally do, and being as awkward to identify as pipits always are. Most common in the northern dry zone, but was also a regular feature in the coastal parks of the south.

Pale-billed Flowerpecker Dicaeum erythrorhynchos

The smallest bird, and perhaps the drabbest bird, seen on the island. It was common wherever there was forest of any type, and was only missed in the three coastal parks. Flowerpeckers are always rather hard to see well, but despite the presence of other species on the island, every bird that was tracked down to a perch was Pale-billed. Of course, who knows about all the flowerpeckers that were glimpsed "zitting" over…

Purple-rumped Sunbird Nectarinia zeylonica

All three of the Sri Lankan sunbird species proved to be very common. Arguably the most attractive, the Purple-rumped Sunbird was seen every day except in the highest part of the hills.

Purple Sunbird Nectarinia asiatica

Recorded on about half of the days, and again not from the hills. Distinguished from the next species by its "normal" sunbird bill.

Loten's Sunbird Nectarinia lotenia

To put it simply, if you are looking at a purple (or brown) sunbird and are wondering if it is this species or the previous one, then you are looking at a Purple Sunbird! Loten's is a once-seen-never-forgotten bird with a quite disproportional bill that makes it look like a pygmy curlew. It was seen in small numbers at most locations, but only appeared to be very common at the last few low country wet zone locations such as Negombo and Muthurajawela.

*Sri Lanka White-eye Zosterops ceylonensis

The common white-eye at higher elevations. Forget anyone that tells you to split this from the Oriental White-eye by the degree to which the white eyering is open (or other such indeterminate nonsense). It is darker, duller and dumpier than the Oriental White-eye. In fact let's be frank - this is a little fat jabber of a white-eye.

Oriental White-eye Zosterops palpebrosus

And this is the commoner white-eye of the lower elevations, although I would not go as far as to claim it was actually common anywhere. One at Kandalama, 2 at Bundala, 1 at Uda Walawe, 2 at Ratnaloka. That's not really particularly common. More yellow and much slimmer than fatso.

House Sparrow Passer domesticus

Yes - it's House rather than Tree in Sri Lanka. Not recorded every day for reasons of apathy probably. No doubt a good hunt would have tracked one down somewhere.

Streaked Weaver Ploceus manyar

Just one dark bird with a bright yellow cap popped out of a small reed bed as we hurtled past on one of our many jeep expeditions. That was somewhere near Hambantota.

Baya Weaver Ploceus philippinus

Once again I have succeeded in spending several weeks in a country where Baya Weavers are "very common", and completely failed to see one. This time at least there was plenty evidence, with long nests dangling from the bushes, particularly in Yala. But where were the occupants? One of the other jeeps reported more success, with just one bird seen, but not well.

White-rumped Munia Lonchura striata

This was a fairly common bird at Kandalama, where one was nesting at one end of the hotel, but elsewhere it proved surprisingly elusive. Isolated observations were made from a few other locations, notably 4 at Yala.

Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata

Definitely the commonest munia and seen on half the days. Fairly sizeable flocks were seen at Hambantota feeding on the grass. They also seemed to like the roof of the Kandalama Hotel and were rarely seen away from it.

Black-headed Munia Lonchura malacca

A very attractive munia with a dark head and lower belly, and a ruddy back. One pair were seen at Sigiriya, another pair near Hambantota and 10 in the grasslands of Uda Walawe.

Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus

On the last day of the trip the SW monsoon decided to break and throw its worst at us, washing out the trip to Muthurajawela. However storms tend to blow good birds into shore, and a motley mystery brown bird seen from our hotel at Negombo flyng up the coast has with the benefit of the domestic library been identified as an immature Pomarine Jaeger (with a very remote chance that it was possibly Parasitic). Not apparently a particularly common sighting in Sri Lanka.

Notes on endemic species

By the latest counts, Sri Lanka has 26 endemic species of bird (although older texts will return numbers of 21 or 23). We definitely saw 14 of these, and heard another. This was a slightly disappointing total, but for those keen to see endemics at the possible expense of other experiences on the island, I can make a few suggestions based on our experience for almost certainly improving on this tally. Firstly and foremostly, spend more time at Sinharaja!! By all accounts at least eight of the eleven we did not record are certainly there. The Sri Lanka Mynah and White-throated Flowerpecker should be easily seen there (indeed we heard Hill Mynahs but were not able to see if they were this species, and we failed to get a good look at most of the flowerpeckers that were flying around the forest). Other reports suggest that Spot-winged Thrush and Ashy-headed Laughing-thrush can be seen there, Sri Lanka Woodpigeon is possible (although there are better locations, such as World's End), and persistence and luck could produce Sri Lanka Blue Magpie (we were shown an alleged nest), Chestnut-backed Owlet and Green-billed Coucal. For Sri Lanka Bush-warbler, Black-throated Munia and Sri Lanka Whistling-thrush more time at Hakgala might be worthwhile, although I am told that Horton Plains is a better location for the latter species. A local birder we met at Mount Lavinia claimed that 20 of the 26 are easily seen, and the remainder quite hard. I am not quite sure where he drew this imaginary line, but I would guess that the only "hard" one we saw was White-faced Starling, and the "easy" ones we missed out on were Sri Lanka Mynah, White-throated Flowerpecker, Black-throated Munia and Sri Lanka Bush-warbler. My feeling is that unless you specifically seek endemics you should expect to see a similar number to us, and that in general around one half of them cannot be seen without a visit to Sinharaja.



Southern Indian Otter Lutra lutra nair

My Dad managed to be the only person to see this beast at Muthurajawela, which shows that sometimes it is a good idea to walk the opposite way to everyone else.

Sri Lanka Ruddy Mongoose Herpestes smithii zeylanicus

Well, the mongeese were rather a nightmare to sort out to be honest, but on at least half of the days a mongoose of some description was seen, actively hunting in full daylight. We definitely saw at least two species. The first was a large mongoose, rather darkish grey/brown with mottled markings and a bare orange/pink facial skin, and a very distinctive black tip to the tail. This animal was seen well at least twice, near Polonnaruwa and in Yala. Depending on which texts you consider this is likely to have been Grey Mongoose (by colour and facial patch) or Ruddy Mongoose (by size and black tail tip). Banks and Banks [8] seem to put a stress on the tail tip markings, so Ruddy has it on this basis, but I can be talked out of it.

Brown Mongoose Herpestes fuscus

A very small and quite nondescript brown mongoose which was encountered fairly commonly in the vicinity of Kandalama.

Common Indian Palm-cat Paradoxurus hermaphroditus hermaphroditus

Our balcony at Ratnaloka was briefly visited by a clambering mammal which can only have been this species. Just after dusk there was a scratching noise and a face peered down from the roof, front paws on the drainpipe, obviously considering taking the emergency exit. Discovering drunkards on the balcony obviously forced a change of plan, and a tactical withdrawal was made. If we were in Australia I would have said a possum, but we weren't…

Sri Lanka Giant Squirrel Ratufa macroura

A bit of a monster as squirrels go, by no means the giantest giant squirrels of the Asian region. They were regularly seen around Kandalama, chasing one another around the upper canopy. Another one was seen at Sinharaja pretending to be an Orange-billed Babbler.

Sri Lanka Palm-squirrel Funambulus palmarum

Very ubiquitous and seen almost every day. Palm-squirrels rather resemble chipmunks in appearance and behaviour, and also in their ability to make noises that sound like very interesting birds.

Sri Lanka Grey Langur Semnopithecus priam thersites

A very attractive monkey with silvery grey fur and a black face, which was fairly tame and often close to human habitation. We encountered family parties in several of the tourist locations such as Polonnaruwa and Sinharaja. We also saw them in the jungle around Kandalama and I suspect that this species is responsible for the beautiful deep ringing hollow calls that burbled and echoed around the forest in the mornings there.

Purple-faced Leaf-monkey Tachypithecus vetulus

A very quiet monkey that seemed lethargic and slow compared to the other local species. We first came across the highland race, known as the Bear Monkey, in Hakgala, and only saw one of the lowland race animals in Sinharaja, where I believe it is the common monkey. The Bear Monkey sat quietly up a tree and endured an extensive photo session, yawning at all the appropriate moments, before clambering off for a bit of peace.

Toque Monkey Macaca sinica

A classical little macaque, and like the best of them has bright eyes, sharp teeth, an insatiable curiosity and the wandering hands of a professional kleptomaniac. Where tourists go, Toque Monkeys tended to congregate, sitting around in groups and sending off begging parties when the more gullible humans strode into their territory. Perhaps the largest assembly of this species was at Dambulla Temple Caves. Lucy and I also saw one with a rather astonishingly shaped… oh maybe I shouldn't go on about that again..

Common Flying Fox Pteropus giganteus giganteus

The only flying fox in Sri Lanka, and most commonly seen either roasted, smoked, baked, or char-grilled, between the upper two wires of the Sri Lankan telegraph system. However, we also saw rather more rarely cooked ones, hanging upside down in large noisy colonies. Undoubtedly the most memorable sighting was in Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, where an enormous roost is hosted by mature trees around the central oval. During our visit something had spooked them and the air was swarming with a vast cloud of bats, making high pitched screams and circling the treetops restlessly. One of the more vivid memories of the entire trip.

Sri Lanka Black-naped Hare Lepus nigricollis singhala

Good views of this animal were had only once, near Polonnaruwa, when a mongoose startled it in open scrub and we were treated to a quick leap-past. Jim thought he got a glimpse of one in Bundala, but it would seem that this hare is not as common as might be expected.

Sri Lanka Jackal Canis aureus lanka

A very fox-like animal seen only once, in Yala. We had a retreating view, but the dark tail, the height off the ground and the very dog like appearance, easily distinguished it from a mongoose.

Mouse Deer Tragulus meminna

They do say that good things often come in small packages (even though this is widely disbelieved). The Mouse Deer is a very cute little animal and we were very lucky to see one in broad daylight, quietly feeding at the edge of the pond in Udawattakele. The pattern of spots and stripes on its back is quite exquisite. Another Mouse Deer was probably also spotlit from the balcony at Kandalama, trotting over the granite outcrop beneath the hotel, but the view was too distant, and the torch beam too weak, to be sure.

Sri Lanka Spotted Deer Axis axis ceylonensis

Ignoring the suspiciously tame one at Kandalama, this was the common deer at Yala, where little groups were encountered fairly regularly during our safari through the open scrub. Both very spotted and often spotted.

Sri Lanka Sambhur Cervus unicolour unicolour

A magnificent beast when seen with full antlers and grass gut. Again there was a dodgy one at Kandalama, but the best examples were seen at Yala. Most memorably towards dusk we passed an open plain and two huge males were sitting beneath a tree majestically surveying their domain.

Indian Wild Boar Sus scrofa cristatus

We're talking serious bacon here. I was very surprised at the sheer bulk of these hogs, looking like small hippos from afar. They also had an uncanny ability to look like boulders when lying on their sides in the mud. The formula is fairly predictable now. Yes - there was a rather mysteriously tame one at the Kandalama Hotel. And yes - we saw lots of them at Yala. Just to spoil things though, we also saw a few at Uda Walawe.

Water Buffalo Bubalus bubalis bubalis

Now that's a scientific name for you! Bad boy bubalus. There were plenty domestic examples in the paddyfields, but the wild ones were confined to the parks, and were seen in Bundala, Yala and Uda Walawe. I was very pleased to note that they tended to perform very closely to their stereotyped norm and were usually seen with just their heads poking out of muddy pools, lolling thigh deep in swamps, and occasionally garnished with the odd Cattle Egret.

Sri Lanka Elephant Elephas maximus maximus

A beast and a half, that's for sure. This was my first encounter with wild elephants of any flavour, and while obviously not being as exciting as birds, they are rather splendid to see lumbering through the grassland like off-road double-decker buses. They were easy to see in the southern reserves of Yala (where they were most easily located by jeep traffic jams) and Uda Walawe, where the open terrain makes them very easy to spot. In fact we had very close views at Uda Walawe of one party spraying mud onto their backs next to the road. We also saw eight elephants outside of a park, shuffling across the road on the way back from Polonnaruwa. Not surprisingly the traffic stopped for them. What amazed me was how easily such an enormous creature can apparently vanish into vegetation. Equally interesting was the occasional sightings of domesticated animals involved in Obelix strength tasks such as log moving.


Some Other Beasts

Soft Terrapin Lissemys punctata ceylonensis

Not mammals, but noted by the banks of several pools at Yala and Uda Walawe.

Sri Lanka Swamp Crocodile Crocodylus palustris kimbula

One of two species on the island, but the crocodile seen in Bundala, Yala and Uda Walawe, in coastal lagoons and inland marshes, was assumed to be this species.

Water Monitor Varanus monitor kabaragoya

Seen at Kandalama and Sigiriya.

Land Monitor Varanus bengalensis bengalensis

Recorded in Yala and Uda Walawe.

Dragonflies (sp..)

We did pay more than a passing attention to dragonflies on our travels, as we had in Bob and Betty a dynamic "dragonfly team", who were hoping to engage in a spot of science on our way around the island. We saw "Yellow and Black Tiger Biplane" dragonflies, and "Very Very Red" dragonflies, and "Bug eyed with Lots of Wings" dragonflies, but no doubt they have a rather more technical list which I am sure they will happily discuss with interested parties.