Sri Lanka is recognized as an easy birding destination as the island is quite small and easy to navigate. Roads are fairly good and the birding sites are quite accessible. There are still quite large areas of forest and the current 33 endemics and many regional (southern India and Sri Lanka) make a trip here quite appealing. Sri Lanka also has quite a rich cultural history and many historical sites are well worth visiting. With that in mind my wife and I spent twelve days touring the country. We hired a local guide who made arrangements for us and we had a local guide/driver with us the whole time.
We arrived late the first evening so did nothing but arrive at the hotel for some well-earned rest.
Day 1: We woke to some rain and somewhat cooler temps than we were anticipating. Indian Pond Herons and Common Mynas fed in the hotel grounds and we found our first Yellow-billed Babblers and Black-hooded Orioles.
After breakfast we drove north to Anawilundawa wetlands. We arrived mid-morning with a lot of activity across all the lily filled water. Purple Swamphen and Pheasant-tailed Jacana were common along with several Cotton Pygmy Geese. My first Blue-faced Malkoha flew across the road to join another in a tree overlooking the water. Yellow-billed Babblers, Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, Black-headed Ibis, Asian Open-billed Storks and several egrets were all seen well. A huge colony of storks also contained Grey Heron and Indian and Little Cormorants. White-bellied Drongo and Pale-billed Flowerpeckers were also encountered in good numbers in the trees along the roadside.
We arrived at our hotel near Anurhadapura in the afternoon and the grounds proved to be quite productive with Sri Lanka Green Pigeon feeding in a fruiting tree right outside the entrance when we arrived. We spent a little time before sunset at the pond at the back of the grounds where we found Indian Pitta, Crested Treeswift , Black-hooded Oriole and Paddyfield Pipit. A recently passed rain shower provided us with a stunning rainbow as a backdrop to the end of the day.
Day 2: The first rays of light came around 5:45am and I spent the first hour before breakfast exploring the area around the pond at the back of the grounds. A lone tree that stood in the water held White-bellied Drongo, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Crested Treeswift and several Rose-ringed Parakeets. Several Indian Pittas called from the thick vegetation running along the hotels back wall. At least three were in earshot and I managed to track one down where I got great looks at the bird in the canopy as it moved about calling. Once I’d had satisfying views of this bird I made my way back into the more open woodland of the hotel grounds and tracked down two singing Tickell’s Blue Flycatchers that showed well.
After breakfast we spent the day exploring the historical sites of Anuradhapura and its ancient kingdom with many ruins and old temples. In the late afternoon we drove to Sigaraya doing some birding along a huge dike that provided some good birding like Black-headed Cuckooshrike, Green Bee-eater and Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher.
Day 3: We spent the morning hiking through the gardens and ruins below Sigaraya Lion Rock then up to the fortress on the top which provided some stunning views. The local Shaheen Peregrine Falcon circled a few times at eye level providing some great views as well. We spent the remainder of the day visiting the caves at Dambulla which turned out to be a bit of a rainy affair but still fascinating none the less.
We did some afternoon birding along the dike again but it produced little we’d not already seen apart from Grey-breasted Prinia and Purple-rumped Sunbird.
Day 4: A short walk before breakfast around the hotel provided me with great views of Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Tawny-breasted Babbler and Plain Prinia. We drove south to Kandy today with a short stop along the way that produced very little apart from an obliging pair of Yellow-browed Bulbuls.
We arrived in Kandy for the afternoon and walked around the town for a while taking in the cultural and local sites before taking in the famous Kandyan dancers and a visit to the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha.
Day 5: I went out at first light this morning and walked to the end of the road where I found a fruiting tree full of birds. Crimson-fronted and Yellow-fronted Barbets were abundant along with several Southern Hill Mynas and Square-tailed Bulbuls. I also found a small flock of Small Minivets and the raucous calls of a Crimson-backed Flameback got my attention. A brief flyby of an Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher provided a sudden burst of color before it was gone. On the walk back I encountered a group of Yellow-billed Babblers and some noisy Brown-headed Barbets. A single male Loten’s Sunbird sang from a small tree before disappearing up the hill out of sight. There were also many Red-vented Bulbuls seen here before breakfast.
This morning we visited the Udawattakelle Forest Reserve but it was very quiet. Brown-capped Babbler, Forest Wagtail and Layard’s Parakeet were the only additions in what seemed to be a rather silent patch of forest.
From here we drove into the highlands visiting a tea factory along the way before arriving in Nuwara Eliya. We visited the famous botanical gardens but the Kashmir Flycatcher was nowhere to be found. A Pied Thrush was compensation as the light was fading.
Day 6: We left early and drove the winding road up to Horton Plains where we spent the morning. There was quite a bit of activity with a flyby of Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon first thing. Several more were heard calling but not seen. Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Dark-fronted Babbler and Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler were seen well along the first stretch of road and several groups of Sri Lanka White-eyes were seen but the Sri Lanka Bush Warbler put up a fight and two hours were spent tracking one down. Dull Blue Flycatcher and Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush were never heard and though we tried in a few places it was very quiet after the initial rush of morning birds. Near the end of the drive I heard Indian Blue Robin singing and managed to find one in the dense underbrush for some decent views. On the drive down we found a pair of noisy Sri Lanka Blue Magpies.
An afternoon stop along a small lake provided more of the same species we’d seen earlier in this type of habitat but new birds included Sri Lanka Woodshrike and an immature Yellow Bittern. We arrive late at our hotel in Tissamaharama.
Day 7: We spent the whole day in Yala National Park looking for Leopards and Elephants plus several Ruddy Mongoose. Many of the waterholes held several species of birds with new birds including Pacific Plover and Lesser Sand Plover, Common Redshank and Little Stint, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Great Thick-Knee and Painted Stork. Sri Lanka Spurfowl were found a few times in the understory along the forest tracks and a Grey-bellied Cuckoo was also tracked down.
Day 8: This morning we drove to Sinharaja and spent the afternoon birding the road up to Martin’s Lodge. This turned out to be quite productive with Greater and Green-billed Coucal, a nice Marshall’s Iora, many Square-tailed Bulbuls, Brown Shrike, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, Asian Paradise Flycatcher and Yellow-fronted Barbet. Near the end of the walk it began to rain heavily but we managed to make it to the lodge fairly quickly at that point.
Day 9: We arrived at the gate to the park at 7:00am but our guide didn’t show up till 8:00am so we lost a bit of time but were treated to a nice canopy flock in the meantime which included Red-faced Malkoha, Orange-billed Babbler, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush, Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, Sri Lanka Drongo and Brown-breasted Flycatcher. We also found a very obliging Spot-winged Thrush foraging in a small water runoff ditch next to the main jeep track.
Once our guide showed up he went off to check for a roosting Serendib Scops Owl which he eventually found and rounded up all the groups who were birding at the time and we all trapesed over to the spot where two at a time we crept into the forest to have a look at this rare little owl perched under a vine tangle. We all got great views and quickly departed to leave the bird in peace.
Back along the main track of the park we heard a Chestnut-backed Owlet calling but were unable to track it down so we continued on to where a pair of Sri Lanka Frogmouths were roosting and enjoyed some great looks at this pair.
Back along the main pathway we came across a nice pair of Green-billed Coucal and eventually got solid views of one of them. Both male a female Malabar Trogons were spotted as well. A startled thrush might have been a Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush but it was never found. Several good areas of habitat didn’t yield one and with the heat coming up we headed back to the lodge for lunch.
We had the afternoon to ourselves so I walked along the path through some tea plants but found little in the small stretch of forest I could visit. On the way back I bumped into a couple that had a scope with them on a pair of White-faced Starlings so that was fortunate. More rain came later on and we just hung out at the lodge drinking tea while we tried to dry off.
Day 10: This morning we went to visit a house where they had a small fresh water pool that was visited by quite a few great birds. First of was a pair of Green-billed Coucals at the side of the house and while trying to get photos of one of the birds our main target showed up in a pair of Sri Lanka Spurfowls. These were joined by a throng of female Sri Lanka Junglefowl and a stunning male. A nice Indian Blue Robin foraged furtively at the back of the pool area next to the forest and several Red-faced Malkohas bounded from tree to tree outside the house along the main road. Once the show here was over we walked along the road for a while picking up Orange-billed Babblers, Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Sri Lanka Drongo and a perched Legge’s Hawk-Eagle. The rest of the morning was spent driving to Kitulgala which was fairly wet and rainy when we arrived but we did a bit of birding near the hotel but saw very little.
Day 11: We spent the morning around the same area but came up with nothing but a nice Spot-winged Thrush singing in the early morning light. We heard a Chestnut-backed Owlet across the river but could not draw it over to our side. We returned to the lodge for breakfast and did a little bit of birding round the hotel where I picked up nice views of both Stork-billed and Common Kingfisher.
We visited another hotel with some wooded grounds for lunch eventually finding a Chestnut-backed Owlet which was very obliging and provided some great views and photos. With this last endemic possible for us we enjoyed a nice lunch.
In the afternoon we hiked up into Kitulgala park but with the intermittent rain it was very quiet and we saw very little.
Day 12: We drove to Colombo this morning and had some time walk around the city and enjoy some of the cultural sites. We had some wonderful tea in one of the teashops before heading back to our hotel to have dinner and rest up before we headed, very early, to the airport for our 4:00am flight.
Overall this was a fairly easy trip and with more time in several places we could have pushed harder for all the endemics and regional endemics. It also wasn’t the best time of year to go with several rain storms hampering our efforts. The people of Sri Lanka and warm and friendly and the scenery here is quite stunning in several places. There is abundant history to explore and some very good birding.
You can see photos from this tour on my Flickr Sri Lanka album.
You can listen to recordings from this tour in my xeno-canto Sri Lanka recordings set.
Lesser Whistling Duck Dendrocygna javanica
Cotton Pygmy Goose Nettapus coromandelianus
Sri Lanka Spurfowl Galloperdix bicalcarata
Sri Lanka Junglefowl Gallus lafayettii
Indian Peafowl Pavo cristatus
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Painted Stork Mycteria leucocephala
Asian Openbill Anastomus oscitans
Woolly-necked Stork Ciconia episcopus
Black-headed Ibis Threskiornis melanocephalus
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia
Yellow Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax
Striated Heron Butorides striata
Indian Pond Heron Ardeola grayii
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea
Great Egret Ardea alba
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis
Little Cormorant Microcarbo niger
Indian Cormorant Phalacrocorax fuscicollis
Oriental Darter Anhinga melanogaster
Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus
Crested Honey Buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus
Crested Serpent Eagle Spilornis cheela
Changeable Hawk-Eagle Nisaetus cirrhatus
Legge's Hawk-Eagle Nisaetus kelaarti
Rufous-bellied Hawk-Eagle Lophotriorchis kienerii
Shikra Accipiter badius
Black Kite Milvus migrans
Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus
White-bellied Sea Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster
Grey-headed Fish Eagle Haliaeetus ichthyaetus
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus
Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra
Barred Buttonquail Turnix suscitator
Great Stone-curlew Esacus recurvirostris
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Yellow-wattled Lapwing Vanellus malabaricus
Red-wattled Lapwing Vanellus indicus
Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus
Pheasant-tailed Jacana Hydrophasianus chirurgus
Common Redshank Tringa totanus
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Little Stint Calidris minuta
Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida
Rock Dove Columba livia
Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon Columba torringtoniae
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis
Common Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica
Orange-breasted Green Pigeon Treron bicinctus
Sri Lanka Green Pigeon Treron pompadora
Green Imperial Pigeon Ducula aenea
Green-billed Coucal Centropus chlororhynchos
Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis
Red-faced Malkoha Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus
Blue-faced Malkoha Phaenicophaeus viridirostris
Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopaceus
Grey-bellied Cuckoo Cacomantis passerinus
Serendib Scops Owl Otus thilohoffmanni
Indian Scops Owl Otus bakkamoena
Brown Wood Owl Strix leptogrammica
Chestnut-backed Owlet Glaucidium castanotum
Sri Lanka Frogmouth Batrachostomus moniliger
Crested Treeswift Hemiprocne coronata
Indian Swiftlet Aerodramus unicolor
Asian Palm Swift Cypsiurus balasiensis
Malabar Trogon Harpactes fasciatus
Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis
Stork-billed Kingfisher Pelargopsis capensis
White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher Ceyx erithaca
Green Bee-eater Merops orientalis
Blue-tailed Bee-eater Merops philippinus
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater Merops leschenaulti
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops
Malabar Pied Hornbill Anthracoceros coronatus
Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill Ocyceros gingalensis
Brown-headed Barbet Megalaima zeylanica
Yellow-fronted Barbet Megalaima flavifrons
Crimson-fronted Barbet Megalaima rubricapillus
Coppersmith Barbet Megalaima haemacephala
Lesser Yellownape Picus chlorolophus
Black-rumped Flameback Dinopium benghalense
Crimson-backed Flameback Chrysocolaptes stricklandi
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus
Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot Loriculus beryllinus
Rose-ringed Parakeet Psittacula krameri
Layard's Parakeet Psittacula calthrapae
Indian Pitta Pitta brachyura
Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus picatus
Sri Lanka Woodshrike Tephrodornis affinis
Common Iora Aegithina tiphia
Marshall's Iora Aegithina nigrolutea
Black-headed Cuckooshrike Coracina melanoptera
Small Minivet Pericrocotus cinnamomeus
Orange Minivet Pericrocotus flammeus
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus
Black-hooded Oriole Oriolus xanthornus
Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus
White-bellied Drongo Dicrurus caerulescens
Sri Lanka Drongo Dicrurus lophorinus
White-browed Fantail Rhipidura aureola
Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea
Asian Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone paradisi
Sri Lanka Blue Magpie Urocissa ornata
House Crow Corvus splendens
Indian Jungle Crow Corvus culminatus
Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher Culicicapa ceylonensis
Cinereous Tit Parus cinereus
Jerdon's Bush Lark Mirafra affinis
Black-capped Bulbul Pycnonotus melanicterus
Red-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus cafer
Yellow-eared Bulbul Pycnonotus penicillatus
White-browed Bulbul Pycnonotus luteolus
Yellow-browed Bulbul Acritillas indica
Square-tailed Bulbul Hypsipetes ganeesa
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Hill Swallow Hirundo domicola
Sri Lanka Swallow Cecropis hyperythra
Green Warbler Phylloscopus nitidus
Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides
Blyth's Reed Warbler Acrocephalus dumetorum
Sri Lanka Bush Warbler Elaphrornis palliseri
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis
Grey-breasted Prinia Prinia hodgsonii
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata
Common Tailorbird Orthotomus sutorius
Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler Pomatorhinus melanurus
Tawny-bellied Babbler Dumetia hyperythra
Dark-fronted Babbler Rhopocichla atriceps
Brown-capped Babbler Pellorneum fuscocapillus
Orange-billed Babbler Turdoides rufescens
Yellow-billed Babbler Turdoides affinis
Ashy-headed Laughingthrush Garrulax cinereifrons
Oriental White-eye Zosterops palpebrosus
Sri Lanka White-eye Zosterops ceylonensis
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch Sitta frontalis
Sri Lanka Hill Myna Gracula ptilogenys
Southern Hill Myna Gracula indica
Common Myna Acridotheres tristis
White-faced Starling Sturnornis albofrontatus
Pied Thrush Geokichla wardii
Orange-headed Thrush Geokichla citrina
Spot-winged Thrush Geokichla spiloptera
Indian Blackbird Turdus simillimus
Indian Robin Copsychus fulicatus
Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis
White-rumped Shama Copsychus malabaricus
Brown-breasted Flycatcher Muscicapa muttui
Tickell's Blue Flycatcher Cyornis tickelliae
Indian Blue Robin Larvivora brunnea
Pied Bush Chat Saxicola caprata
Jerdon's Leafbird Chloropsis jerdoni
Pale-billed Flowerpecker Dicaeum erythrorhynchos
Purple-rumped Sunbird Leptocoma zeylonica
Loten's Sunbird Cinnyris lotenius
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Baya Weaver Ploceus philippinus
White-rumped Munia Lonchura striata
Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata
Forest Wagtail Dendronanthus indicus
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
Paddyfield Pipit Anthus rufulus