Saturday, 9 April 2016

Sri Lanka 2016 - 1

Sri Lanka bird trip 7-21 February 2016. 

Part 1 - Kitulgala and Sinharaja
In Part 1:  Is this the longest tail of any flycatcher? and lots of pictures

For other parts

Part 2 - Embilipitiya and Tissamaharama
(Kingfishers fall out. What's the wingspan of a fruit bat?)

Part 3 - Nuwara Eliya and Horton Plains
(How do the Sri Lankans drive?)

Part 4 - Kandy - Sigiriya - Negombo
(British tea factory machines over 100 years old. The most expensive Lion beer in Sri Lanka?)



This winter's bird trip was to Sri Lanka with Limosa holidays. I had not previously been with the company, but I found the trip reasonably priced and well organised. I went with my friend David Campbell, who was making his first foray outside Europe.

The overnight flight was direct to Colombo. I think I prefer a long direct flight rather than a stopover in the Middle East. I managed to watch several films so the flight wasn't too bad.

Here is a map showing the places we stayed and the places we visited. 

The key is:

1                 Kitulgala – Kitulgala Rest House
2                 Sinharaja – Blue Magpie Lodge
3                 Embilipitiya – Centauria Hotel
4                 Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary
5                 Tissamaharama – Priyankara Hotel
6                 Udewalawe National Park
7                 Bundala National Park
8                 Yala National Park
9                 Nuwara Eliya – 1,900m above sea level Leisure Village Hotel
10             Horton Plains National Park – 2,400m above sea level
11             Kandy – Hotel OZO. Udawatta Kele Royal Forest
12             Sigiriya – Sigiriya Hotel – Sigiriya Fort
13             Negombo – Tamarind Tree Hotel

Click the map to enlarge it.


Kitulgala – Kitulgala Rest House (2 nights)

The difference from early February British weather to the 33° C plus humidity of Sri Lanka was breathtaking. For the first couple of days the heat was almost unbearable. This was exacerbated because our first port of call, the beautifully positioned Kitulgala Rest House, had no air conditioning. The lodge was situated high above a medium-sized river and surrounded by rainforest. There were many notices and photographs alerting guests to the fact that Kitulgala was where much of the action in  "The Bridge over the River Kwai" was filmed. We spent two nights here.


Kitulgala Rest House

From Kitulgala Rest House.  

I decided early on that, as far as possible, I would eat the local food rather than the western offerings. This proved to be a good move. Although I had one or two days with the runs, I never had a stomach upset during the whole trip.

Unlike me, David had clearly done his bird homework by reading the field guide from cover to cover. I rarely give the birds more than a cursory look before any trip. I never have a list of birds that I must see. I take my camera and I see what I can. That often means what is pointed out to me, or what I see on my own. I suppose I'm more of a photographer than a true birder.

I had been to Nepal in 2013 and I thought that some of the birds would be the same. Nevertheless, the difference in latitude was enough to ensure that there was a good choice of new birds. For David virtually everything was new apart from some of the waders.

One of the endemic species is the Sri Lanka hanging parrot. This is a small parrot with almost no tail. We never saw it hanging upside down, but it gets its name from the fact that it sleeps upside down when roosting. Here are some of the birds we saw at Kitulgala.

Sri Lanka hanging parrot
Lotens sunbird - female
Spotted dove - one of the pigeon family.
Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill
Sri Lanka Green Pigeon - another pigeon.
Indian Pond Heron
Rufous-bellied Eagle. This is a juvenile. No rufous belly!
Black-naped Monarch on the nest
Tickell's Blue Flycatcher wrestling a huge beetle. Great bird.
Common Myna. One of three varieties in Sri Lanka.
Greater Coucal. This is the commonest coucal which has a dark bill.
Great Cormorant. That's one of ours!
In Sri Lanka it was quite unusual.
Crested Serpent-Eagle drying its wings
White-rumped Munia. One of a whole family of munias.
Brown shrike. Striking, and a very common bird.
Purple-rumped sunbird
Layard's parakeet. Green like the ring-necked but,
note the grey head.
Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike.


Sinharaja – Blue Magpie Lodge – 2 nights.
From Kitulgala we made quite a long journey to Blue Magpie Lodge. The roads in Sri Lanka are quite good. The road surface is generally good but the roads in the hills are very winding. We arrived in time for a late lunch in the restaurant overlooking fields and a marsh. This produced a new set of birds as well as a few familiar ones.


Asian paradise flycatcher - white morph. Magnificent.
That tail must be the longest of any flycatcher!
Despite the tail, not always easy to see.


















Red-vented bulbul. Common but pretty. 









A pair of Chestnut-headed bee-eaters. They're quite sociable


Yellow-browed bulbul.








Asian brown flycatcher


White-browed fantail.


Emerald dove. Yes, another pigeon, I know, but I like pigeons.


Crimson-fronted barbet.


Orange-billed babbler.

Crested hawk-eagle. One of many birds of prey in Sri Lanka.


Whilst there, we visited the Sinharaja Reserve home of many leeches. Now, we all had leech socks. These go over normal socks and over trousers, fastening above the knee.

Leech socks. The close weave of the fabric
stops leeches from getting in - sometimes.
 
Photo: Henry Wheatcroft 
The close weave of the material stops leeches from getting through. What they don’t tell you is that leeches also drop on you from the bushes above! I was lucky and didn’t get a leech. David found one attaching itself to his stomach within a few minutes of arriving at the park! Initially, they look very small and thin, hardly noticeable. When they’ve had your blood they drop off of their own accord. By then they’re as fat as slugs. 

Gary, our Limosa leader, 'acquired' a leech while not wearing his leech socks. He then put them on over the leech later in the day. When he took them off that evening, the fat leech had already had enough and fallen off inside his sock!

This tea worker has clearly had a leech on his left foot.


























We also saw other insects, snakes, invertebrates, lizards, etc. Here are some of them:

Large spider. Species unknown! Anyone?
Giant millipede. Well, it doesn't have 1,000 legs, but I counted over 200!

moth looking remarkably like one of the leaves around it.

Sri Lanka scimitar babbler. 
Sri Lanka hill myna. Quite elusive.
Sri Lanka jungle fowl. Yes, this wild bird is
the origin of all the world's chickens!
Malabar trogon. Why do they never turn round for me!
Dark-fronted babbler.
Brown-breasted flycatcher. Similar to the Asian brown flycatcher but with pale legs.
Sri Lanka frogmouth. Male in front, female behind.
They feed at night,
catching insects in their huge gaping mouth.
Black-capped bulbul, with cockroach?
Common tailorbird. Like a colourful and active wren.
Yellow-fronted barbet.
Spot-winged thrush, very early in the morning with almost no light!
Sri Lanka spurfowl. Again, very early.
Sri Lanka spurfowl. Female.
Green-billed coucal. Note the tell-tale . . . green bill.

In Sinharaja Reserve we saw the endemic Sri Lanka national bird, the blue magpie. It’s a very handsome bird.

Sri Lanka blue magpie. A gorgeous bird - but still a magpie!

You have just read Part 1 of 4.

For other parts:
Part 2 - Embilipitiya and Tissamaharama
(Kingfishers fall out. What's the wingspan of a fruit bat?)

Part 3 - Nuwara Eliya and Horton Plains
(How do the Sri Lankans drive?)

Part 4 - Kandy - Sigiriya - Negombo
(British tea factory machines over 100 years old. The most expensive Lion beer in Sri Lanka?)




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