Birding Tour Sri Lanka: Island Endemics and Wintering Specialties
Birding Tour Sri Lanka — Island Endemics, Wintering Specialties and Blue Whale Pelagic
This exclusive small-group birdwatching tour of Sri Lanka explores the picturesque continental island situated at the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent where we go in search of the country’s mouthwatering endemic birds and wintering specialties.
Sri Lanka is home to 34 currently recognized IOC endemic species, with some of the most impressive ones including the rare Sri Lanka Spurfowl, the gaudy Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, Layard’s Parakeet, the shy, thicket-dwelling Red-faced Malkoha, the tiny Chestnut-backed Owlet, the common Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Crimson-fronted Barbet, Yellow-eared Bulbul, the spectacular Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, the cute Sri Lanka White-eye, and the tricky, but worth-the-effort trio of Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, Sri Lanka Thrush, and Spot-winged Thrush. We will also look for the relatively recently discovered (2001), Endangered (IUCN), range-restricted, and endemic Serendib Scops Owl, which we will hopefully find on its day roost, as we hope to do with the shy and secretive Sri Lanka Bay Owl too.
Sri Lanka Frogmouth can often be found during the daytime.
This tour is also timed to coincide with the presence of several overwintering species in the country that are difficult to find at their breeding grounds; these include the boldly patterned and highly skulking Pied Thrush, the pretty Kashmir Flycatcher, and the simply stunning Indian Pitta. There are also plenty of other exciting species possible, such as Lesser Adjutant, Indian Blue Robin, Indian Peafowl, Legge’s Hawk-Eagle, Orange Minivet, Indian Paradise Flycatcher, Forest Wagtail, Malabar Trogon, and Sri Lanka Frogmouth (surprisingly not a Sri Lankan endemic, given its English name; it also occurs in southern India in the Western Ghats, as do a couple of the other birds listed above such as the trogon). Furthermore, Sri Lanka is the westernmost representative of Indo-Malayan flora, and its abundant birdlife also shows many such affinities.
This tour also offers plenty of wildlife-viewing opportunities with Asian Elephant, the Sri Lankan endemic subspecies of Leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya), and Blue Whale all being possible, along with a range of monkeys, squirrels, and deer. The itinerary covers a variety of habitat types, including lowland, monsoon and cloud forests, grasslands, lagoons, coastal mudflats, fresh and brackish waterbodies, imposing riverine woodland, and forest, and will include a pelagic trip off Sri Lanka’s southwest coast into the sparkling Indian Ocean.
Found only in Sri Lanka and the Western Ghats (in India), Malabar Trogon is sure to delight
You could combine this tour with our exciting Birding Tour India: Andaman Islands Endemics, designed specially to follow this Sri Lanka tour. This extension will look for numerous endemic birds, including Andaman Serpent Eagle, Andaman Masked Owl, Hume’s Hawk-Owl, Andaman Hawk-Owl, Andaman Woodpecker, and many more!
We have many other Indian tours following after this tour, details of which can be found here.
Itinerary (14 days/13 nights)
Day 1. Arrive in Katunayake and transfer to your hotel near the airport
Arrival in Sri Lanka at the Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake and transfer to your nearby hotel with the remainder of the day at leisure. We will have a group dinner together in the evening, our first of many wonderful local meals; the food in Sri Lanka is great!
Day 2. Kitulgala for lowland endemics and specialties
We will leave the hotel after breakfast, heading toward the west to our first birding base, the lush lowlands of Kitulgala.
Roadside birding in Sri Lanka is refreshingly good. Blue-tailed Bee-eater, White-throated Kingfisher, White-bellied Drongo, Indian Roller, Sri Lanka Swallow, Scaly-breasted Munia, Brown Shrike, Indian Jungle Crow, Yellow-billed Babbler, Oriental Magpie-Robin, and Ashy Woodswallow are often seen perched on wires. Though we will no doubt see them again and again, these wayside temptations will be hard to resist. The odd Crested Serpent Eagle and Changeable (Crested) Hawk-Eagle, sentinels on posts, will almost certainly bring our vehicle to a halt. The more common waterbirds such as Red-wattled Lapwing, Indian Pond Heron, Eastern Cattle Egret, Intermediate Egret, Black-winged Stilt, and Asian Openbill will certainly not be ignored either.
Changeable (Crested) Hawk-Eagle is one of a number of raptors to see on this tour.
With all these leg-stretching stops it will be close to midday by the time we reach our overnight accommodation, nestled in a well-wooded garden and overlooking the Kelani River, the setting for the renowned ’50s Hollywood blockbuster “The Bridge on the River Kwai”.
After enjoying our first of many rice-and-curry lunches we will commence our quest for the island’s endemics in the well-wooded garden of our lodge. The resonant call of Yellow-fronted Barbet is likely to demand our attention first – a common element in the soundscape of the wet Sri Lankan hinterland. The gregarious Orange-billed Babbler with its constant chattering will be easier to locate. A gem of a bird, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot – with its specific name beryllinus named after beryl, a semi-precious stone found in Sri Lanka – may require scope views to properly take in its scarlet forehead and rump patch against a greener body.
Our night bird tally is likely to get ticking with the adorable Chestnut-backed Owlet at a stakeout. The well-wooded, home-garden-type birding, combining several patches of habitat, will add a mouthwatering array of birds to our tally in the form of the newly raised-to-endemic Sri Lanka Swallow (perched views on wires), Sri Lanka Green Pigeon, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Square-tailed Bulbul, White-browed Bulbul, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Orange-billed Babbler, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Black-rumped Flameback, Black-headed Cuckooshrike, Sri Lanka Hill Myna, Common Iora, Purple-rumped Sunbird, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Orange Minivet, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Forest Wagtail, and perhaps Layard’s Parakeet, named after E. L. Layard, a 19th century British civil servant, who added an astonishing 136 species to Sri Lanka’s avian inventory.
Day 3. Full day birding in Kitulgala for lowland endemics and specialties
Spot-winged Thrush may greet the new day with its rhythmic dawn chorus, and it may perhaps come hopping in to find an easy meal at first light. The “pretty-dear” call, likely to be heard in the undergrowth, may betray a flock of Brown-capped Babblers moving low. The Himalayan delight, Indian Pitta, might also be not too far, if you scan well. With more light of the day the dawn chorus may peak with additional tunes of Green Warbler, Large-billed Leaf Warbler, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, and the aforementioned thrush, with harsher greetings from Chestnut-backed Owlet.
Our morning’s birding will add a huge boost to our trip list with the likes of Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Sri Lanka Drongo, Lesser Yellownape, Indian Paradise Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch, Black-capped Bulbul, Oriental White-eye, and Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill.
We will cross the Kelani River in search of rarer gems. Foremost among these is the Serendib Scops Owl, discovered in 2001 and with an estimated population of only 200 – 250 birds in the wild. We will look for it at a daytime roost. The ultra-secretive Sri Lanka Spurfowl may require patience, as it is highly wary of people. Crimson-backed Flameback also occurs in this forest and is a gorgeous woodpecker. During the return journey we will pause at a forest patch to look for a roosting pair of Sri Lanka Frogmouth, which is a South India and Sri Lanka endemic.
Day 4. Drive to the endemic hotspot Sinharaja Forest Reserve
After some early morning birding and breakfast we will drive to the amazing Sinharaja Forest Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which represents the largest expanse of lowland rainforest in Sri Lanka and the premier site for endemics, where we will get started on the birds listed for days 5 and 6.
Days 5 – 6. Two days birding Sinharaja for lowland endemics and mixed-species flocks
We will have two full days in this birding hotspot, and we are sure to see many great birds. A highlight of birding in Sinharaja is seeing mixed-species bird flocks, which is a strategy adopted by birds in the tropics to maximize feeding efficiency and to reduce the risk of predation; these flocks are likely to be led by Orange-billed Babbler and Sri Lanka Drongo. The star of this coterie of flock-associated specials is the enigmatic Red-faced Malkoha – a canopy-dwelling endemic, found typically at heights of 25-35 meters (82-115 feet), with a remarkable ability to melt away into dense thickets. White-faced Starling too keeps to the canopy. Ashy-headed Laughingthrush, in comparison, is found in bottom levels of the flock, often scratching the forest floor for insect prey, and Malabar Trogon hawks insects in the subcanopy and remains largely silent.
No ordinary chicken! A regal Sri Lanka Junglefowl looking back at our group
Further target birds we will look for include the montane endemic Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon, which descends to Sinharaja in search of seasonal fruits. With the right technique more bonus birds will come our way in form of Sri Lanka Thrush, Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, Sri Lanka Hill Myna, Indian Blue Robin, Slaty-legged Crake, and Indian Cuckoo.
Sri Lanka Blue Magpie is gorgeous and can at times be quiet as it moves through dense vegetation, giving occasional great and close views.
Finding an Indian Paradise Flycatcher sporting its white ribbon-like tail streamers that are nearly a foot in length may be a possibility if we encounter a good flock. Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, another migrant that joins flocks, may, however, present a tougher challenge, as it is not as regular. We will also try for forest raptors like Besra and Crested Goshawk, which lurk behind flocks to catch birds. During the day we may perhaps hear the blood-curdling screams of Sri Lanka (Grizzled) Giant Squirrel, which would betray the presence of more formidable forest raptors such as Legge’s Hawk-Eagle and Black Eagle, soaring high above the canopy. In addition to the above we will try to obtain improved views of the endemics already seen and try to again experience the magic of mixed-species bird flocks.
We will hope to get great views of the rare and secretive Sri Lanka Spurfowl.
Day 7. Sinharaja and travel to Mirissa
After a final morning birding in Sinharaja we will head to the beautiful southern coast of Sri Lanka at Mirissa to get into a suitable location for the pelagic trip tomorrow.
Day 8. Morning whale-watching tour, afternoon travel to Tissamaharama
We will be up early for a really exciting prospect, the chance to go whale watching in the stunning Indian Ocean for the morning. Our main target species is the largest mammal on the planet – the magnificent and unrivaled Blue Whale, which can reach lengths of over 30 meters (over 100 feet)! Seeing these huge creatures will be hard to beat, although we could also possibly find Sperm Whale, Bryde’s Whale, Orca (Killer Whale), Short-finned Pilot Whale, Risso’s Dolphin, Spinner Dolphin, or Long-beaked Common Dolphin. A range of seabirds are possible (e.g. Bridled Tern, Pomarine Jaeger (Skua), Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Brown Noddy, etc.); however, our main focus of the pelagic is on the sea mammals.
Brown Noddy should be seen on our whale-watching tour
After the pelagic trip we will move up the coast to Tissamaharama, our base for a couple of nights as we explore this excellent area for a wide range of birds. On arrival in the area we will head into some wetlands to start looking for some of the birds listed below.
Day 9. Morning birding at Bundala National Park, afternoon Yala National Park
We will spend the morning birding the fascinating habitats of Bundala National Park, Sri Lanka’s first Ramsar site. This is the premier site for waterbirds, and you can often get close to the birds in the vehicles to get very good photographic opportunities.
We will get there as early as possible to maximize our time in this wonderful set of habitats. Some of the species possible here are Black Bittern, Yellow Bittern, and Cinnamon Bittern, Watercock, Great Stone-curlew, Indian Stone-curlew, Eurasian Curlew, Marsh Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Lesser Sand Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Little Stint, Kentish Plover, Red-necked Phalarope, Small Pratincole, Western Reef Heron, Striated Heron, Little Egret, Black-headed Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Black-necked Stork, Little Cormorant, Indian Cormorant, Oriental Darter, Spot-billed Pelican, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit, Garganey, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Caspian Tern, White-winged Tern, Whiskered Tern, Common Tern, Greater Crested Tern, Lesser Crested Tern, Little Tern, Brown-headed Gull, and Greater Flamingo. Other species possible in the area include Clamorous (Indian) Reed Warbler, Eurasian Hoopoe, Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Brown Fish Owl, Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, and Ashy Drongo.
Cinnamon Bittern can be seen at Bundala National Park.
Further species we will look for include Barred Buttonquail, Painted Stork, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Greater Painted-snipe, Terek Sandpiper, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Grey-bellied Cuckoo, Blue-faced Malkoha, Sirkeer Malkoha, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Indian Pitta, Forest Wagtail, Oriental Skylark, Yellow-eyed Babbler, Rosy Starling, Streaked and Baya Weavers, and Indian Silverbill. There really is a huge list of potential species here, and we are bound to have a great time.
In the afternoon we will move the short distance into the nearby Yala National Park for a game drive to look for the Sri Lankan endemic subspecies of Leopard. Here we will also likely come across some of the birds found at Bundala (listed above) and at Udawalawe (listed below). There is also a good chance of finding Asian Elephant here, which is always a treat.
Day 10. Drive to Udawalawe National Park for dry-zone specialties
In the morning we drive to the dry lowlands of Udawalawe National Park. After checking in at the accommodation we will explore this fantastic park in search of dry-zone birds, which abound here.
The birds on offer here include Sri Lanka Woodshrike, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Green Bee-eater, Blue-faced Malkoha, Coppersmith Barbet, Yellow-eyed Babbler, Rosy Starling, Jacobin Cuckoo, Grey-bellied Cuckoo, Jerdon’s Bush Lark, Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Indian Pitta, White-browed Fantail, Little Swift, Brahminy Starling, Paddyfield Pipit, Blyth’s Pipit, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Spot-billed Pelican, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Painted Stork, Woolly-necked Stork, Indian Peafowl, Indian Robin, Black-winged Kite, and Indian Stone-curlew. Migrant species like Red-rumped Swallow (with paler red belly and rump). Western Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail, and Citrine Wagtail may show up too.
Painted Stork can be seen in Udawalawe National Park.
Other birds we will be on the lookout for at Udawalawe National Park include dry-zone specials such as Malabar Pied Hornbill, Sirkeer Malkoha, Indian Silverbill, Barred Buttonquail, Lesser Adjutant, and if lucky Brown Fish Owl. With its vast open expanses the park also harbors a rich diversity of exciting raptors, such as Changeable (Crested) Hawk-Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Western Osprey – a local rarity, Pallid Harrier, Montagu’s Harrier – another rarity, Booted Eagle, Shaheen – the resident subspecies of Peregrine Falcon, Common Kestrel, Crested Honey Buzzard, and Shikra. In addition to excellent birds a visit to Udawalawe also presents a good opportunity to observe Asian Elephant and Wild Water Buffalo, both of which are found in good numbers in the park.
Green Bee-eater is one of the species we hope to encounter in Udawalawe National Park.
As dusk approaches we will look for Indian Nightjar and Jerdon’s Nightjar in the scrub near our accommodation, likely serenaded by a chorus of Indian Pittas as the sun sets.
Day 11. Transfer to Nuwara Eliya and high-elevation birding
After some more early-morning birding in the Udawalawe area we will commence our ascent to reach the cooler interiors of Nuwara Eliya at 1,890 meters (6,200 feet). We will stop for any good birds noted along the way, but principally the morning is for driving today. Nuwara Eliya is the most famous hill station in Sri Lanka, named by some “Little England”, as it still bears evidence of its colonial past with its English-style holiday homes, an urban park, a few pubs, flower gardens, and a fine 18-hole golf course. As we ascend vast stretches of tea gardens dominate the landscape, a cash crop introduced by the British, which is currently the country’s third-highest revenue earner. A serious drop in temperature of around 10-15 degrees Celsius (50-59 degrees Fahrenheit) at Nuwara Eliya will necessitate sweaters!
Once we reach the town we will explore Victoria Park. Established in 1897 to commemorate the 60th coronation jubilee of Queen Victoria, this urban park is the prime location for Western Himalayan migrants, including Kashmir Flycatcher and Pied Thrush, which winter almost exclusively in Sri Lanka. Indian Pitta, Indian Blue Robin, Forest Wagtail, Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler, Indian Blackbird, and Sykes’s Warbler are some of the other good birds to be found in this park.
We will look on the ground for the gorgeous Indian Blue Robin.
At the end of the day we will reach our cozy highland lodge, where we will stay for two nights.
Overnight: Nuwara Eliya
Day 12. Nuwara Eliya, looking for montane endemics and other specials
We will have an early start with a picnic breakfast to get to the high-elevation Horton Plains National Park, where we will spend time in the forest looking for high-value montane targets: Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, Sri Lanka Bush Warbler, Yellow-eared Bulbul, Dull-blue Flycatcher, Sri Lanka White-eye, and Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon. Mixed-species bird flocks are to be found in this forest, comprised of both white-eye species, Orange Minivet, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, and Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike.
In the afternoon we will descend back to near Nuwara Eliya, where we will reach a patch of habitat close to our accommodation in time to anticipate the arrival of the ultra-secretive, montane, endemic Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, which is one of two Endangered (IUCN) Sri Lankan endemics.
Overnight: Nuwara Eliya
The endemic Dull-blue Flycatcher is found in the mountains of Sri Lanka.
Day 13. Drive to Kandy, in the afternoon local birding
In the morning we will be birding for any missing montane specials before driving to Kandy at an elevation of 477 meters (1,565 feet), the last Sinhalese kingdom in Sri Lanka, which was ceded to the British in 1815. En route we will pause at a tea factory to see the recently split Hill Swallow, which nests inside the factory. After a cuppa we will reach our accommodation, which is a hotel situated close to birding sites and the sacred city of Kandy, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the late afternoon we will go birding within our ample hotel grounds close to Kandy to look for any missing targets. We will also look for several special birds here, namely Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Crimson-fronted Barbet and Common Hawk-Cuckoo.
A noisy colony of Indian Flying Foxes will be hard to ignore, and we could see them in their thousands in several large trees next to the river, with constant fights over landing rights.
Green-billed Coucal is a secretive endemic and we will be constantly looking for one.
Day 14. Birding around Kandy, transfer to Katunayake for departure
We will finish the tour with some optional pre-breakfast birding around the wonderful gardens of the hotel area. After our final breakfast of the tour we will travel back to Katunayake near Colombo before the tour comes to an end with your afternoon international departure.
If you would like to add some further island endemic birds to your travels you might like to consider our Birding Tour India: Andaman Islands Endemics which runs straight after this tour, during which we will look for Andaman Woodpecker, Andaman Serpent Eagle, Andaman Masked Owl, Andaman Scops Owl, Hume’s Hawk-Owl, and Andaman Hawk-Owl, among many others. Alternatively you may like to consider our Birding Tour India: The North – Tigers, Amazing Birds, and the Himalayas, where we look for Bengal Tiger and some incredible birds such as the monotypic pair of Ibisbill and Wallcreeper and a great deal of other exciting birds such as Cheer Pheasant, Indian Courser, and Indian Skimmer to name a few.
Overnight: Not included
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors. In addition, we sometimes have to use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.Download Itinerary
Sri Lanka Trip Report
13th – 26th JANUARY 2019
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Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot
Sri Lanka is always incredible, but we enjoy doing our annual trip in January, as Blue Whale is tough to miss during that month and wintering birds such as Indian Pitta, Pied Thrush, and Kashmir Flycatcher can be seen along with the island’s 34 endemics (that are present year-round). The 2019 trip did not disappoint, and we did well with the endemics, wintering birds, mammals (which also included Leopard), and a lot of reptiles and other taxa.
This ended up being a private tour for three Brazilian bird photographers, so we were able to accommodate the pace they wanted to keep. The below is a day-by-day account of the trip, followed by bird, mammal, and reptile lists. E-bird lists are available for virtually all the birding we did; to view these, kindly go to the public e-bird profile of Chris Lotz (Birding Ecotours) and check the lists corresponding to the tour dates.
Day 1, 13th January 2019: Arrival into Katunayake Airport and transfer to Negombo
The three trip participants arrived today at the Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake, serving Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, and opted to rest at our comfortable beach hotel in Negombo until the next morning.
Day 2, 14th January 2019: Negombo to Kitulgala
We departed at 8:30 a.m. after a leisurely breakfast, giving adequate time for everyone to get a good night’s rest after long flights from the other side of the world. We made frequent stops along the way to Kitulgala, as everything was new and exciting (two of the trip participants had never been to Asia before). The first bird we stopped for was Asian Openbill, but quite a number of other birds were also present at the same place, including Little Cormorant, Red-wattled Lapwing, and the beautiful White-throated Kingfisher, not to mention a massive Common Water Monitor.
A bit further on we stopped at a rice paddy and saw all the possible Egret species, Purple Heron, Indian Pond Heron, Crested Honey Buzzard, a juvenile Changeable Hawk-Eagle, our first of many Brahminy Kites, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Western Yellow Wagtail, and more.
The best stop of the day (until getting to our lodging) was our opportunity to look at a day-roosting Indian Scops Owl. Another highlight was seeing our first Barbets, two of them endemic (Crimson-fronted and Yellow-fronted) and one more widespread (Brown-headed). We also found our first Black-hooded Oriole, and Joao found (and photographed) White-browed Fantail, while the rest of us enjoyed our first of many Purple-rumped Sunbirds. At the same site was our first of many small flocks of Yellow-billed Babblers.
Yellow-fronted Barbet (photo Joao Quental).
We eventually arrived at the Kitulgala Rest House, where we were to spend the next two nights. What an amazing setting overlooking the Kelani River, where “The Bridge on the River Kwai” was filmed!
We immediately sat down for a late lunch but had to keep jumping up to look at new trip birds between courses. So many birds put in appearances, such as Black Eagle, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Indian Cormorant, the endemic Sri Lanka Green Pigeon, Green Imperial Pigeon, Asian Koel, Indian Swiftlet, the endemic Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, and Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker.
One of the great things about the place at which we were staying was the Sri Lanka Hanging Parrots that came down to the feeder, treating us to really close-up views. The endemic Layard’s Parakeet as well as Alexandrine and Rose-ringed Parakeets were much in evidence. A Ruddy Mongoose also came in to try and get its share of our food, and Indian Palm Squirrels with their beautiful stripy backs were always entertaining, sometimes running along power lines. Here we enjoyed our first Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, White-bellied Drongo, and a pair of Indian Jungle Crows that were nice to see after looking at thousands of the abundant (but very entertaining) House Crows along the way. Our first Bulbuls, Square-tailed and the ubiquitous Red-vented, showed well. Common Tailorbird, Oriental White-eye, and Oriental Magpie-Robin were some of the common, widespread Asian species that were also firsts for this tour today.
A beautiful Changeable Hawk-Eagle gave close-up views within the lodge grounds. At one point it hung upside down, and we changed its name to “Bat Eagle”.
We enjoyed looking at the subtle distinguishing features of Asian Brown versus Brown-breasted Flycatchers, species we would become very familiar with in the coming days.
Our friendly Ruddy Mongoose.
Day 3, 15th January 2019: Full day in Kitulgala
After a 6:30 a.m. breakfast we crossed the river by boat and then did an exciting trail, first through a birdy village and then into the forest proper. We were pleased to find a mixed flock of the endemic Orange-billed Babbler and the more common and widespread Yellow-billed Babbler. We also saw an attractive little Dark-fronted Babbler and later the endemic Brown-capped Babbler. We also found a couple of Malabar Trogons, but not as well as we would have liked. Our first Asian Palm Swifts winged their way over us, and we were pleased to see Sri Lanka Swallows as well. Marshall’s Iora was a really pleasant surprise, along with Common Iora a bit later.
On the way back we got amazingly close views of a pair of endemic, beautiful Spot-winged Thrushes that crossed the road one by one.
An afternoon walk after a delicious lunch was very productive, with the endemic Black-capped Bulbul, Yellow-browed Bulbul, and the very common Square-tailed Bulbul, Southern (Greater) Coucal, Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Shikra, and a gorgeous Common Emerald Dove uncharacteristically giving great views as it walked through a small tea plantation. A flock of Small Minivets showed well, and some group members had already seen Orange Minivets earlier today. Sri Lanka Grey Hornbills were everywhere, and we found their antics and laughing as well as bleating calls very entertaining. Lesser Yellownape and the endemic Red-backed Flameback (now that it has been split from Black-rumped Flameback) were two exotic woodpeckers that we managed to find.
The star highlight of the afternoon was a stunning Chestnut-backed Owlet. What a bird, and yet another endemic! By the end of today we had actually found almost a third of Sri Lanka’s 34 endemics!
On the way back to the car we found a male of the beautiful white form of Indian Paradise Flycatcher with ridiculously long tail streamers – what a bird! A nearby female Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher was also nice to see.
Sri Lanka’s smallest bird, Pale-billed Flowerpecker, as well as the more brightly-colored, endemic Legge’s Flowerpecker were also seen a couple of times today. A small flock of Black-throated Munias put in an appearance too.
A Giant Wood Spider and many butterfly species were also excellent to see during the course of the day.
Day 4, 16th January 2019: Kitulgala to Sinharaja Forest Reserve
We had another 6:30 a.m. breakfast, during which we managed to scope a Grizzled Giant Squirrel (what an impressive animal!) across the river. We then took a fun ride in tuk-tuks up and up to an amazing site at higher altitude, where practically the first birds we saw were gorgeous Sri Lanka Blue Magpies. Soon thereafter a pair of sometimes tricky-to-find White-faced Starlings came to their nest! This is a very localized endemic and quite an interesting-looking bird (although certainly not dazzling). Sri Lanka Drongos were scoped. We also heard Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush but sadly were unable to see it. The same happened with Ashy-headed Laughingthrush as well as Green-billed Coucal, so we’d have to find these three endemics later in the trip. We did get our best views yet of the fabulous Red-backed Flameback, though – what a superb woodpecker! Just as we were about to leave Banded Bay Cuckoo started calling incessantly, and we managed to get it in the scope.
Then we finally went back to the lodge to quickly pack up, check out, and then drive to the next place where we were going to spend three nights, the Blue Magpie Lodge right next to Sri Lanka’s largest intact lowland forest area, the amazing Sinharaja Forest Reserve, a national park that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Exciting days ahead!
When we arrived at the lodge we immediately sat down for lunch. It rained while we had lunch, but there were many birds in evidence as we looked over to the pond below us. We actually amassed 35 bird species in less than two hours within the lodge grounds during and after lunch, while it rained most of the time! A pair of White-breasted Waterhens with a jet-black chick following them around were quite entertaining. Sri Lanka Hanging Parrots and Plum-headed Parakeets flew over. White-throated Kingfisher provided a splash of color, as did Blue-tailed Bee-eaters. White-rumped Munias put in an appearance, and we had further close-up views of Common Emerald Doves. And a couple of Blyth’s Reed Warblers skulked around.
Non-avian highlights included the most massive Common Water Monitor and lots of Indian Palm Squirrels.
After lunch, from their balcony, the group enjoyed getting photos of a pair of Orange Minivets, a female Black-headed Cuckooshrike, and a nearby Yellow-fronted Barbet. A rufous-morph Indian Paradise Flycatcher with its almost foot-long tail was great to compare with the white morph we had seen the previous afternoon. Both Southern Hill Mynas and the endemic Sri Lanka Hill Mynas were at different times “put into the scope”, as was Golden-fronted Leafbird. Brown Shrike watched from a prominent perch for things to eat. Crested Treeswifts also perched on bare branches and flew around, providing good views.
The group also saw a Common Green Forest Lizard eating a grasshopper.
After the post-lunch rest, during which the group photographed birds from the balcony, we were just about to go for a stroll near the lodge when a local guide called us to say he had found a Serendib Scops Owl, possibly the most sought-after bird of Sri Lanka, at its roost! So we quickly took a jeep to the Sinharaja Forest Reserve and had to walk up a really steep trail, but, wow, what a reward awaited us! This is a recently-described Sri Lanka endemic with a population thought to number less than 250 individuals! The Serendib Scops Owl is a peculiar, tiny owl with “false” ear tufts unlike the “true” ear tufts of other scops/screech owl species. There were also a few Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys around.
Serendib Scops Owl (photo Joao Quental).
After enjoying this wonderful bird we went back to the lodge for an hour-and-a-half break before dinner. What a spectacular day, despite the fact that three hours of it were spent driving between sites, but the birding we did tended to be pretty relaxing, except for the scramble up to the owl.
Day 5, 17th January 2019: Kudawa section of the Sinharaja Forest Reserve
Starting with coffee at the Blue Magpie Lodge at 5:45 a.m. we heard Chestnut-backed Owlet before journeying to the park, where we had breakfast at the entrance gate, looking and listening for birds. One of the first birds we heard (and glimpsed) as we ascended the trail (we spent about six hours walking this trail) was Sri Lanka Thrush, along with its easier-to-see relative, Spot-winged Thrush. We heard Sri Lanka Spurfowl, but didn’t worry too much since we were to go to a stakeout for this species the next morning, and were accompanied by a tame Sri Lanka Junglefowl for a while.
We actually heard Serendib Scops Owl on the way and went to the day-time roost of Sri Lanka Frogmouth (a female); the latter was voted the bird of the day. A pair of White-faced Starlings suddenly appeared at the frogmouth site. We actually encountered this species quite a few times during this tour, although sometimes it proves tricky.
A couple of Malabar Trogons showed briefly, and the magnificent Crimson-backed Woodpecker paid us an all-too-quick visit before flying far away and drumming/calling extremely loudly. Black-naped Monarch and its more extravagant cousin, Indian Paradise Flycatcher, were around in small numbers during the walk.
A couple of mixed flocks were, as always, extremely exciting! Ashy-headed Laughingthrushes showed very well, as did a cute little pair of Sri Lanka White-eyes. Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler did not show very well (but we saw this species much better later in the trip). Red-faced Malkoha called once or twice, but we would have to wait until the next day to lay eyes on this beautiful species.
Arriving back at the jeep after our long walk we were rewarded with some really interesting reptiles in the form of Green Pit Viper and a bright green Whistling Lizard, which, however, sat very quietly and didn’t whistle for us. Soon after we started our drive back to the lodge we stopped for a humongous, gorgeous Atlas Moth.
We were all tired after the long walk, so after lunch we only did some relaxed birding around our lodge and the adjacent village. A pair of Black-headed Cuckooshrikes circling around the lodge and landing in some of the big trees at various places within the lodge grounds were fun to see, although they didn’t ever pose long enough in one place for photos. Blyth’s Reed Warbler popped out a couple of times and made itself more visible than usual for this skulking species. We scoped Golden-fronted Leafbird sitting atop a tall palm tree. Legge’s Flowerpeckers and Plum-headed Parakeet flybys also helped to keep us entertained.
Spot-winged Thrush (photo Joao Quental).
Day 6, 18th January 2019: Sri Lanka Spurfowl stakeout and other sites around Kudawa
We met for coffee at 5:15 a.m. before our half-an-hour jeep journey to the Sri Lanka Spurfowl site. We arrived just before light and were rewarded with great views of some usually-tricky endemics. This is an amazing stakeout, as a pair of the usually really difficult Sri Lanka Spurfowl come in and walk around right in front of people here. Several Sri Lanka Junglefowls do the same thing, and Slaty-legged Crake is also easy to see here. Green-billed Coucal did not cooperate as well as usual, possibly because it was scared of the immature Crested Serpent Eagle perched nearby, so we only heard the coucal calling on a nearby hill and had to wait until later in the trip to get visuals of this species. Ashy-crowned Laughingthrushes, Orange-billed Babblers, and many other star birds did come in close, Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler also lurked around, and a gaudy Sri Lanka Blue Magpie showed up for a little while. Spot-winged Thrushes came really close to us, and Brown Shrike was also present. Mammal-wise we added a new species to our list, Dusky-striped Squirrel.
We arrived back at the lodge in time for a long rest in the heat of the day, but while we were waiting for lunch we enjoyed some of the birds that lived around the lodge. The most popular of these must have been the orange form of Indian Paradise Flycatcher with its mega-long tail, the ever-present White-throated Kingfisher, and Golden-fronted Leafbird. A magnificent adult Crested Serpent Eagle gave us a good flight show.
In the afternoon we did some birding along the road in the Kudawa area. We managed to see Green-billed Coucal, but not very well. Apart from that we enjoyed a good number of bird species we had already seen earlier during the trip, along with a couple of new lizards. One of them was Sri Lankan Kangaroo Lizard, a small lizard with kangaroo-like, big hind legs and smaller front legs. The other one was an Eastern Garden Lizard.
Day 7, 19th January 2019: Kudawa section of Sinharaja Forest Reserve, transfer to Mirissa
This proved to be yet another spectacular day! Soon after we arrived in the reserve we located a large mixed flock. After about half an hour of enjoying species we’d already seen before we located three Red-faced Malkohas! These beautiful endemics put on quite a show, as two of them decided to fly right towards us, landing in a tree just in front of us. They didn’t stay long but did provide reasonable photo opportunities. A pair of Green-billed Coucals also put on quite a show, and White-faced Starlings showed yet again.
We later found another really superb mixed flock that contained Lesser Yellownape, another Green-billed Coucal that Joao spotted right next to the trail, Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler, Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, and many other star birds, albeit ones we’d seen before. We did get views, however, of a pair of Black-naped Monarchs that had previously only given us glimpses. We also saw Large-billed Leaf Warbler, but although we had poor views at least we heard it calling to clinch the ID. The star birds, however, were three Velvet-fronted Nuthatches, a species we hadn’t seen yet.
Carnivorous pitcher plants were fascinating to see.
On the rough jeep drive back to our hotel for our final lunch there before departing for the south coast at Mirissa we found our first Indian Peafowl, a ubiquitous bird during the second half of our itinerary, though.
During the three-hour journey to Mirissa we saw some nice roadside birds such as a Black-headed Ibis, Painted Stork, and White-bellied Sea Eagle.
Day 8, 20th January 2019: Mirissa pelagic, transfer to Tissamaharama, birding on the way
We started the day with a spectacular pelagic trip looking for Blue Whales, which we saw well! In addition we also enjoyed seeing lots of Spinner Dolphins on the way, the small/young ones leaping out of the water and spinning playfully. We also approached a pair of Green Turtles and saw a Sailfish as well as good numbers of Flying Fish. Birds were scarce, but we did add some tern species to our growing trip list.
After the boat trip we stopped for a delicious, spicy lunch before driving for a couple of hours to the Hambantota salt pans, where we found a lot of shorebirds (waders). These included Eurasian Spoonbill, Black-headed Ibis, many Black-winged Stilts, Grey (Black-bellied) Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, and Marsh Sandpiper. There were several Tern species present, namely Caspian and Little on opposite ends of the size spectrum and the in-between-sized Gull-billed, Whiskered, and White-winged. We’d seen Greater Crested Tern on the pelagic, so it was a good day for terns. We also found our first Striated Heron here as well as a close-up juvenile Shikra.
The last stop of the day was extremely exciting from a birding point of view, and we found 57 bird species within the time of two hours. The site was Debarawewa Lake, but we first had a few non-waterbirds to see in the area. Two of the first species we found were superb owls, Jungle Owlet and Brown Fish Owl. While looking for these we found Jerdon’s Leafbird, Brown-headed Barbet, White-browed Robin, Indian Robin, and a lovely Gray-breasted Prinia that we scoped as it sang from atop a tree.
The marshy areas were full of birds, including Yellow Bittern, Black Bittern, Lesser Whistling Duck, Spot-billed Pelican, loads of Grey-headed Swamphens, Eurasian Moorhen, Painted Stork, Asian Openbill, and large numbers of Indian Cormorants flying over in flocks to roost sites just before it was getting dark. A lot of Rose-ringed Parakeets also started coming in to roost toward the end of our birding session. Chris saw Coppersmith Barbet and a fabulous White-naped Woodpecker. A beautiful White-bellied Sea Eagle flew past at one point.
Indian Flying Foxes, Southern Gray Langur, and huge Muggers (Marsh Crocodiles) were three of the non-avian species we enjoyed.
As it was starting to get dark we checked into our comfortable hotel in Tissamaharama, where we’d spend the next two nights, poised well to tackle the famous Yala National Park the next day.
Day 9, 21st January 2019: a full day in Yala National Park
We spent an entire day inside the beautiful Yala National Park, which unfortunately is by no means a “best kept secret” and is infamous for becoming crowded with tourists looking for the Sri Lankan subspecies of Leopard. This was our main target today, and while this is arguably the best place on the planet for this beautiful cat, Leopards are always elusive. We got our first sighting of one in the mid-afternoon as it quickly ran across the road in front of us and vanished! We had to wait perhaps an hour and a half more before jeeps started rushing past us; obviously there had been a sighting of another Leopard further on. So we followed, only to get stuck behind a line of vehicles. We did have an open area to the right of us (Yala National Park is dry, but densely wooded with lots of thickets), and we basically just hoped the Leopard would move in the right direction and move into the open area. We didn’t feel the chances were very high, but after perhaps 15 minutes of waiting we saw a Black-naped Hare running for its life (literally, I guess). We struggled to contain our excitement, and suddenly Ana spotted the Sri Lankan Leopard at the edge of the open area. It then came into view for all of us and sat down like a dog, allowing great views and photos. After a while it moved off, providing some further good views. What a relief to finally get a proper sighting of this magnificent animal, only 40 minutes before we were due out of the park at 6:00 p.m.!
Sri Lankan Leopard (photo Joao Quental).
During the course of the day we also saw Asian Elephant, wild Water Buffalo, the pretty Spotted Dear, Sambar, Wild Boar (one pair of these was accompanied by a bunch of tiny piglets), Southern Grey Langur, quite a few Common Indian Monitors, a couple of Muggers (Marsh Crocodiles), and other animals.
We also recorded 93 bird species within the park, but since we were focusing on finding Leopard, we didn’t take very much time to get everyone onto all of them. We also knew that the next day we’d have adequate time for finding a lot of the arid-zone birds. I certainly don’t want to downplay the birding, though; in reality it was actually spectacular! We enjoyed close-up views of two dazzling Bee-eaters, Green (abundant) and Chestnut-headed. We also enjoyed seeing our first Yellow-wattled Lapwing among the more common Red-wattled Lapwing. We also added some more shorebirds to our list, such as Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, and a very nice Pacific Golden Plover. A spectacular but ugly Lesser Adjutant and its more beautiful cousins Painted Stork and Asian Openbill were great to see. Grey-headed Fish Eagle also showed up.
Lunch on the beach (this amazing park is indeed right on the coast) allowed us to see a few good birds, such as a lot of Purple Sunbirds, a couple of Plain Prinias, etc.
Blyth’s Pipit, Paddyfield Pipit and Jerdon’s Bush Lark were great to see even though being LBJs (Little Brown Jobs). More strikingly attractive were Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Larks. We enjoyed Streaked Weavers (and we saw the impressive nests of Baya Weaver), two Munia species, Tricolored and Scaly-breasted, and several Malabar Pied Hornbills.
Probably the bird of the day, because it was the only Sri Lanka endemic, was Sri Lanka Woodshrike, which we saw well. We also added another beautiful green pigeon to our list, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, and were really pleased to see another pair of Brown Fish Owls on a branch pretty much right above us – we had close-up views! Yellow-crowned Woodpecker also gave excellent views. A flock of Brahminy Starlings and several flocks of Rosy Starlings were around, and there were lots of Indian Robins and a few White-browed Fantails along with some Indian Paradise Flycatchers, the latter including a dazzling white form with its unbelievably long tail. And Eurasian Hoopoe is always a real treat!
A beautiful Brown Fish Owl in Yala.
Day 10, 22nd January 2019: Udawalawe National Park
The day started with an Indian Pitta and many other birds near our hotel. A male and a female Asian Koel as well as a pair of Indian Silverbills showed very well, as did a lot of other birds not listed here because they were seen earlier in the trip and thus have already been mentioned.
We then went to Tissa Lake to witness the large roost of Indian Flying Foxes in large trees shared with breeding shorebirds such as Grey Heron and cormorants. We were very pleased to find Cinnamon Bittern, three Cotton Pygmy Geese, Great Cormorant, Common Kingfisher, Zitting Cisticola, and other new trip birds. Our closest-yet encounter with beautiful Pheasant-tailed Jacanas was a delight to the entire group.
We then embarked on the 1.5-hour drive to our lodge just outside of Udawalawe National Park and arrived just in time for lunch. An afternoon jeep outing into the park was lots of fun and very rewarding, with quite a number of new birds being added to our burgeoning list. We enjoyed several Prinia species in the form of Plain, Jungle, Grey-breasted and Ashy. Yellow-eyed Babblers and four Grey-breasted Cuckoos were two of the targets we managed to find without problems. A good number of Orange-breasted Green Pigeons showed extremely well, and a few Indian Rollers were also seen. A couple of large flocks of Rosy Starlings were around too. In addition we saw a beautiful pair of White-bellied Sea Eagles, a close-up Changeable Hawk-Eagle, and quite a number of waterbirds, including a couple of new ones like Little Ringed Plover and Green Sandpiper.
What does this Changeable Hawk-Eagle see?
Day 11, 23rd January 2019: Udawalawe to Nuwara Eliya
We left our hotel at 8:00 a.m. and got to Nuwara Eliya at an elevation of 1890 meters (around 6000 feet) just in time for another delicious lunch. At 2:30 p.m. we headed to Victoria Park, where we enjoyed a couple of hours of spectacular birding. We found two tough migrants, both males in brilliant plumage, in the form of Pied Thrush and Kashmir Flycatcher. We also saw our first Sri Lankan highland endemic, Yellow-eared Bulbul, along with a good number of birds we’d already seen. And we thoroughly enjoyed seeing a couple of Forest Wagtails.
We still had another hour or so before it got dark, so we headed to our Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush site but only got glimpses of it. Chris also saw a superb male Indian Blue Robin, but sadly it vanished before the others could get onto it.
Mammal-wise we saw Toque Macaque and some other mammals we’d already seen.
We didn’t have many hours of birding today, but when we did bird, the quality of the species was incredible, and we also were now poised to spend a whole day in the beautiful, cool highlands, a world away from the hot lowlands we’d spent most of our time in.
Day 12, 24th January 2019: Full day in the highlands around Nuwara Eliya
At 6:00 a.m. we headed to Horton Plains National Park, a picturesque area of short grassland punctuated by colorful patches of cloud forest – some of the trees are red or brown, etc., not to mention all the shades of green. Just before entering the park we stopped at our stakeout for Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon and were immediately greeted by about 20 of them. We also enjoyed some more Yellow-eared Bulbuls, a common Sri Lanka endemic throughout this highland area. After entering the park proper it didn’t take us long to find some Dull Blue Flycatchers, but we had to work harder to get views of Sri Lanka Bush Warbler. That basically finished off all 34 endemics for us, except that we had had only had glimpses of Sri Lanka Thrush and Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, and while we had planned to dedicate the following 24 hours to seeing them properly, since the group was tired and wanted photos rather than simply visuals in bad light, we opted to instead take it easy. We did also get excellent views of some endemics we’d seen previously, including Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler and Sri Lanka White-eye.
We enjoyed a few other good birds as well, such as close-up Hill Swallows, lots of Pied Bush Chats, and three separate Himalayan Buzzards. We also saw some majestic male Sambars as well as a cute Northern Red Muntjac (Barking Deer). All in all it was a worthwhile morning, and we were able to reward ourselves with another tasty lunch.
In the afternoon we headed back to Victoria Park for some relaxed birding. When we met at the van a Loten’s Sunbird sat in the sun singing and showing off its iridescent colors. At the park we tried to find Sri Lanka Thrush again, but it didn’t even call today. We did, however, find one new trip bird in the form of Indian Blackbird. Apart from that we enjoyed some species we’d seen before, including the male Kashmir Flycatcher.
Day 13, 25th January 2019: Nuwara Eliya to Kandy
We opted not to bird this morning but instead to “sleep in” and start the day with a 7:30 a.m. breakfast (is that really sleeping in?). We then drove to Kandy, stopping at a fascinating tea factory en route. Sri Lankan (Ceylon) tea is of course the most famous tea in the world.
Kandy, a compact city surrounded by a river and hills and populated by around 315,000 people, is a fascinating place to spend a couple of hours. We visited a silk store (where we also had lunch) and a souvenir store before driving up to a viewpoint to view the very pretty city and its sights from above.
We then drove the half hour or so to our beautiful hotel, which had great birding on the grounds. During an hour or so birding here we had great views of Common Hawk-Cuckoo and many birds we’d already seen, a good number of them endemic to Sri Lanka. Just before dinner we also did a night walk for Indian Giant Flying Squirrel, which we found without too much effort just in time to see its spectacular flight from one tree to another! What an animal, and what a show!
Day 14, 26th January 2019: Kandy and departure
We spent the morning at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kandy before going back to our hotel to shower and have lunch before our drive back to the Katunayake airport for our flights home. The Botanical Gardens were truly amazing, one of the highlights being an Indian Pitta right next to us, in the open, posing for photos! We also saw another huge colony of Indian Flying Foxes plus our one and only Rock Terrapin. We enjoyed the nice diversity of birds here and equally enjoyed the massive fig trees and other beautiful trees and plants.
Indian Pitta (photo Joao Quental).
What a spectacular two-week tour this proved to have been! Because of the trip participants’ preferences we made this a photographically-paced tour and therefore missed some sites that would have padded our list a lot with widespread shorebirds etc. that didn’t interest us, since this was effectively a private tour. While this annual January set-departure tour is not a photography tour, all participants on this particular one were actually bird photographers, so we transformed it into a birding photo tour to some extent.
Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included. This is a sample trip report. Please email us ([email protected]) for more trip reports from this destination.
General information to help you prepare for your trip to Sri Lanka with Birding Ecotours
WHAT TO BRING
Please see our general packing list (that applies to all tours worldwide). Here we make a few additional comments to help you prepare specifically for Sri Lanka.
Your passport must be valid for a period of at least six months after the date of your arrival in Sri Lanka. Please make sure that there is at least one full empty page available in your passport. Please also bring a photocopy of your passport, to be kept in a different location from your passport, in case of loss.
Travelers to Sri Lanka visiting for tourism purposes must obtain an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) prior to arrival in Sri Lanka. The ETA can be obtained online.
We strongly recommend that you purchase travel and trip cancellation insurance to protect yourself against accidents, medical, illness, loss of valuables, luggage, etc., and travel interruptions or delays of all kinds.
General Global Assistance is one option: https://www.generalitravelinsurance.com/
Electricity in Sri Lanka is 230V. If you intend to recharge video batteries etc. in your hotel room you will need an international adapter ITA Type G.
Note: If you are from North America or another location that does not have 220-240V electricity, then please check all equipment that you plan on charging to see if it is 110/120–220/240V compatible. If that is the case you only need an adaptor into which to plug the US/Canadian/etc. plugs. If your equipment is only listed as 110-120V you will need a converter to convert the electric current to 220-240V.
Please refer to the Centers for Disease Control website section on Sri Lanka at https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/sri-lanka.
Malaria has been eliminated in Sri Lanka, and the World Health Organization declared Sri Lanka malaria-free in 2016. Doctors presently advise that anti-malarial drugs are not necessary.
Dengue fever, carried by the day-flying Aedes aegypti mosquito, does occur in Sri Lanka, but no vaccine is yet available. To prevent mosquito bites we recommend to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, treat clothes with repellents like permethrin or use permethrin-treated clothing (such as Buzz Off), and use an EPA-registered mosquito repellent containing DEET.
If you are prone to seasickness you might want to consult a doctor to get medication to prevent this during the pelagic.
Weather is generally mild to hot and sometimes humid. However, it gets chilly in the highlands and sometimes in the early mornings on jeep trips and on the pelagic. Layers are thus important, including warm outer layers such as fleeces. While we do our trips in the season of minimal rainfall, rain in Sri Lanka is always a possibility, so an umbrella and/or rain gear is always useful to have. While rain usually doesn’t seriously interrupt our birding during these tours, we bird in rainforest, so anything can happen.
Leeches are a real nuisance at a couple of sites during the tour. We provide you with leech socks, which help a lot. The guide will also advise you on when to wear these leech socks (for walks when leeches might be a problem you can opt out of them if you prefer!).
PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS AND PACE
There are one or two long hikes during the trip. We take these slowly, but if you feel you’re very unfit, you might want to speak to the guide about opting out of these. There is invariably great birding and photography around the lodges!
There are a couple of long, rough jeep rides. You can talk to the guide about when they occur. Dust can be a problem on one or two of the jeep rides, especially in Yala National Park. Yala is arguably the best place on the planet for Leopards, but largely because of this the park becomes crowded with jeeps, and it can get chaotic with traffic jams when a Leopard (or Sloth Bear if you’re really lucky!) is sighted. We write this here to mentally prepare you for this.
Hotels in Sri Lanka range from basic to good. We try to use slightly superior accommodation compared to most birding tour companies when possible, but in reality the choice is very limited. At Sinharaja, where we spend a full three nights, we do have to put up with one of the basic hotels (but the best available in the area, close to Sri Lanka’s largest lowland rainforest). The hotel we usually stay in here has its best rooms right at the top, so one has to walk up a lot of steps between the restaurant and the rooms (unless you tell us you want a lower but not-as-good room). While Sri Lanka is famous for catering to birders and tourists, one still has to be philosophical, as hotels don’t get all the details right. For example, one might find a virtually perfect hotel, except there will be nowhere to put one’s soap in the shower except on the floor.
We stay at beach hotels once or twice and some hotels also have pools, so you might want to bring swimwear.
Most hotels and restaurants we use provide a choice between Western and Sri Lankan food. If you choose the latter, you can ask for spicy or mild. Avoid fresh salads, unpeeled fruits/vegetables and tap water (only drink bottled water), otherwise there is a risk of traveler’s diarrhea. We provide unlimited bottled water in the vehicles, but if you purchase water at restaurants it costs more, so that is not included. You’re welcome to take a water bottle or two from the car to the hotel room each night, though, although this is usually unnecessary as most hotels provide a couple of bottles of water in the room.
Occasionally religious holidays will mean that you won’t be able to buy alcohol for a night or two during the trip. But in general light beer (lager) is usually available, and many hotels also stock imported wines. “Soda” (sparkling mineral water) is very popular, and an excellent drink to try is “Elephant House Ginger Beer”, EGB, which is a Sri Lankan classic. Sri Lankan (Ceylon) Tea is amazing. The coffee is not so good!
As always, sun protection (e.g. a cap/hat, sunscreen, lip sun protection, sunglasses, etc.) is necessary.
‘Just wanted to tell you what a fantastic time I had on my custom Sri Lanka birding tour. Everything went flawlessly thanks to Andy’s preparation, and his knowledge and passion for the birds was infectious and made it great fun. Our local guide, Lester, was as passionate, and was expert in locating the birds and sharing his knowledge of the country. The food and lodging were great, and we became good friends as well as birding buddies, and I would recommend Sri Lanka as a, safe, friendly place to bird. Andy’s trip report is on the website. Birding Ecotours ran a wonderful tour, and I will use their services again for our next trip.’