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Sri Lanka is famous for the endemism of its plants, birds and other animals. Some 35 bird species have been given full endemic status, including the wonderful Red-faced Malkoha, Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, Layard’s Parakeet, Sri Lanka Swallow and Yellow-eared Bulbul. We have a good chance of seeing all of Sri Lanka’s unique species. The island also attracts some very special wintering birds, and is home to an array of fabulous butterflies, making it one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots.
For many years we have wanted to run a tour to this verdant, beautiful island, since the birds are special and most are easily seen. But we had been put off by a lack of good accommodation near some of the birdwatching sites. Now, after improvements in infrastructure, we are pleased to offer an innovative itinerary which includes the less well known but wonderful Wilpattu National Park, and a high level of comfort throughout. The lower elevations are hot and humid all year so good hotels make a real difference. For instance, Sinharaja is a fabulous rainforest experience which is made all the better for staying at a nearby lodge with lovely rooms and a pool in a beautiful hillside setting.
Despite its turbulent history, this island nation is now peaceful and quiet. On our tour we will encounter sacred temples, the welcoming Buddhist culture, outstanding landscapes, and architecture from the European colonial periods. All in all Sri Lanka promises a holiday full of spectacular, unique wildlife on a sun-blessed, tropical island with a varied cultural backdrop.
After an overnight flight, we will arrive just after lunch and head straight for Wilpattu for a two night stay. If time permits we will birdwatch in the immediate area for our first endemics and commoner birds, including Southern Coucal, the deep red Sri Lanka Swallow, Green Imperial Pigeon, Blue-faced Malkoha, Indian Pitta, Coppersmith and Sri Lanka Barbets, Green Warbler and Purple-rumped Sunbird.
Wilpattu is the country’s largest national park; located in a dry zone but with many wetlands. We have chosen to include Wilpattu, over the more frequently visited Yala, since the park is much quieter. This allows for a more intimate experience with the birds and mammals that we come across. Our first full day will include a game drive, with chances to see White-bellied Sea-eagle, Lesser Adjutant, Lesser Whistling Duck, Painted Stork, Asian Openbill and more. Mammals possible include Asian Elephant, Ruddy Mongoose, Indian Wild Boar, Sambar and Chital Deer. There is also a chance to see Leopard. On our last morning we will take another safari drive, then transfer to Sigiriya after lunch.
Here there is more good birding right on our doorstep, so we will explore the various local habitats during our two night stay. Some of the forest and edge birds we expect are Crested Hawk Eagle, Shaheen Falcon, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Jerdon’s Nightjar, Crested Tree Swift, Indian Swiftlet, Sri Lanka Woodshrike, Pale-billed Flowerpecker, Dark-fronted and Brown-capped Babblers, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Sri Lanka Green-pigeon, Orange-headed Ground-thrush and White-naped Flameback. Along the way we may well find Toque Macaques, Tufted Grey Langurs and Sri Lanka Giant Squirrels, plus huge Land and Water Monitors. This area has, like all the sites, good paths in areas that our local guide knows well. The birding is consequently very enjoyable without being especially challenging.
KANDY AND NUWARA ELIYA
On day seven we will leave for the highlands, breaking the journey with a night in the World Heritage city of Kandy. Here we will visit the Buddhist Temple of the Sacred Tooth. Nearby there is some fine birding where we will try for Brown Fish-owl, Crimson-backed Flameback, Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler and Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, amongst other birds.
The following day will find us taking a relaxed, scenic route to the Nuwara Eliya hill station and checking into the impressive, colonial-style Grand Hotel for two nights. The town’s formal gardens at Victoria Park attract Yellow-eared Bulbuls and Sri Lanka White-eyes. It is also a regular winter site for the striking Pied Thrush, Kashmir Flycatcher and Forest Wagtail.
From Nuwara Eliya we will visit Horton Plains, a protected plateau at 2000m. We know of sites in the cloudforest and grassland that do not require the usual hiking. We will search for Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Indian Blue Robin, Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, Sri Lanka Bush Warbler, Tri-coloured Munia, Dusky Blue Flycatcher, Sri Lanka Woodpigeon and Hill Swallow, with a chance of raptors including Himalayan Buzzard. Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys are often seen too.
KITULGALA AND SINHARAJA
After our time in the highlands we will drive through some of the island’s most scenic countryside down to our lodge at Kitulgala, for one night. This allows us to look for some endemics that are hard to see elsewhere. Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot occurs in the garden.
From here we drive south to Sinharaja. Three nights will give us ample time to discover the delights that this forest reserve has to offer. Sinharaja holds the last tract of primary lowland tropical rainforest left in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka Rufous Babblers lead the colourful bird waves of Malabar Trogon, Red-faced Malkoha, Sri Lanka Crested Drongo, Orange and Small Minivets and more. Dazzling butterflies include Sri Lanka Tree Nymph, Blue Mormon and Sri Lanka Birdwing. Sri Lanka Blue Magpies often betray their presence with a loud call. Gangs of Ashy-headed Laughingthrushes pass by, whilst Spot-winged Ground-thrush and Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush rustle the leaf litter. We will search for Serendib Scops Owl (which was only described in 2004), Chestnut-backed Owlet, Green-billed Coucal, Legge’s Flowerpecker, White-faced Starling, Sri Lanka Frogmouth and Sri Lanka Hill-myna. Huge Sri Lanka Giant Squirrels crash through the branches, whilst Kangaroo Lizards jump across the paths.
On day 13 we will head to the southern dry zone. With two nights at Uda Walawa, we will visit the national park as well as having time to explore the environs of our lovely lodge. In the park we hope to watch beautiful Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Grey-headed Fish-eagle, Indian Roller, Grey-bellied Cuckoo, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Blyth’s Pipit, Yellow-eyed Babbler, and Jerdon’s and Golden-fronted Leafbirds.
Barred Buttonquails are common but shy. Gender roles are reversed and the females can often be heard singing in the late afternoon. Asian Elephants are numerous here as are Golden Jackals and mongooses. Nearby are sites for Marshall’s Iora, Great Thick-knee, Indian Stone Curlew, Indian Little Nightjar, Indian Scops Owl, Jerdon’s Bushlark, Oriental Skylark and Ashy-crowned Sparrow-lark.
On day 15, after a morning’s birding we will head back to Colombo, staying overnight in the smart Gateway Hotel by the airport, before our flight home the next morning.
BLUE WHALE EXTENSION
There is the option of a two night extension in Mirissa. Two boat trips out of this south coast town will give you the chance to see the largest creature that has ever lived, the Blue Whale, as well as four or five other species of cetacean and several species of tern.
CLIMATE AND PACE
The lower elevations are hot and humid, but it is cooler in the highlands, where rain is also possible. Early to bed and early to rise is the comfortable way to see the wildlife. When the birds rest in the early afternoons so will we. Most breakfasts will be at around 6.30am. Mornings and late afternoons will be spent in the field, involving short walks. There are a few slopes, which will be taken at a sensible pace. There will be some free time to enjoy the lodges’ facilities, whilst the keener members of the group will waste no time since there is birding on our doorstep throughout.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
Full board accommodation is provided, with two nights at Palm Garden Village Hotel, Wilpattu, two nights at Sigiriya Village Hotel, one night at Suisse Hotel, Kandy, two nights at The Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya, one night at the Kitulgala Rest House, three nights at Rain Forest Edge Lodge, Sinharaja, two nights at Kalu’s Hideaway, Uda Walawa and one night at the Gateway Airport Garden Hotel. All accommodation is of a high/very high standard and all rooms have private facilities en suite. The food is good, with regional dishes and western choices.
PRICE INCLUDES …..
All birdwatching excursions with expert leader and local guide, full-board accommodation (starting with dinner on 18th, ending with breakfast on 4th), soft drinks at meal times, bottled water throughout, local transport by mini-coach, jeep rides, reserve entrance fees and international flights.
WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED
Travel insurance. Cost of visa - obtained by a simple online registration and payment of £20 (we can help if you do not have access to the internet). Items of a personal nature, alcoholic drinks, laundry, tips. Whalewatching extension – please phone for details.
Return flight from London Heathrow to Colombo using the scheduled services of Srilankan Airlines. Outbound flight departs mid-evening, return flight arrives back early evening. It is also possible to fly from Manchester, Birmingham or Glasgow (all via Dubai) using the scheduled services of Emirates Airlines. Please call for details (a surcharge may apply).
The rock fortress
Sri Lankan Junglefowl, stunning!
click here to see the photographs in our Sri Lanka Album
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