We are enthusiastic but average birders with no experience of Asia. We had few expectations, as we didn’t know what was in store for us. When Wicky met our flight and we were en route to Villa Talangama we told him that we would be quite happy to see what we saw and had no pressing need to see all the endemics.
We were delighted and impressed by the welcome at the Villa and spent the first couple of hours trying to sort out the multitude of birds on the wetlands in front of us. Indian Pond herons, Open-Billed Storks and Bee-eaters were all a novelty at first. The following day we were driven to the Sinharaja Rainforest and stayed at Martin’s Lodge. This was a very different experience but Martin’s family were most welcoming and the food was excellent. During our two days there we were able to see several endemics including the Red-Faced Malkoha, Blue Magpie, White-faced Starling and the Scaly Thrush, however, the biggest surprise was when we heard that a Serendip Scops-Owl had been located that morning and we clambered through the forest to see this rare bird.
Our next stop was Udawalawe National Park where we did a half-day game drive. Apart from the numerous elephants we found the birds much easier to see than in the rain forest. Amongst the many birds were White-Naped Woodpecker, Alexandrine Parakeet, Plum-Headed Parrot and Blue-Faced Malkoha.
The next day we drove to Bundala National Park and saw lots of water birds, many of which were familiar to us in Europe. However, Painted Storks, Pheasant-Tailed Jacanas and Small Pratincoles were a novelty. In addition we found an Indian Nightjar at the side of the road.
The following day we undertook a full day’s game drive at Yala. Although we failed to see a Leopard despite the best efforts of our jeep-driver we did come across two Sloth bears, Wild boar, many Spotted deer, Golden Jackal, Badger and Grey mongoose, Elephants, Mugger Crocodiles and macquaques. The bird-life was also abundant; the highlights were probably the Black-necked Stork and the Sirkeer Malkhoha.
After departing Yala we headed for Nuwara Eliya and the traditional St.Andrews’s Hotel. We stopped near Tissa on the way and added to our owl tally with an Indian-Scops Owl and a Brown Fish-Owl. Next day we made a pre-dawn start for Horton Plains to see the rare Sri-Lankan Whistling Thrush and other endemics. This was speedily accomplished although the Sri-Lankan Bush-Warbler proved elusive until one flew out of the bush and nearly landed on my right boot!
After a couple of days in the mountains we descended to Kitulgala to look for one or two difficult species. Whilst unsuccessfully seeking the Green-Billed Coucal we managed to locate the very elusive Oriental Dwarf-Kingfisher. This was quickly followed by excellent views of the Chestnut-Backed Owlet.
Although we are enthusiastic birders we are also interested in Buddhism and much of the second part of our trip was focussed on temples and the Ancient Cities. One of the great benefits of travelling with Jetwing Eco Holidays was their flexibility. We hadn’t wanted to spend all our holiday birding. Wicky proved to be as effective in this area as he was knowledgeable about birds. We found the Cave-Temples of Dambulla and the Ancient Cities very moving.
Although the birding was much reduced during the last few days Sigiriya proved to be a fruitful location. Our penultimate Hotel was the Palm Garden Village, Anuradhapura, which had a recently restored tank just outside its grounds. We spent two very pleasant evenings brushing up on our common Asian birds and adding one or two more to our burgeoning list. A pair of Stone –Curlew was in residence, we also saw the Ruby-Fronted Barbet and the Black Drongo. Finally we returned to Negombo for our last night.
We were delighted with our whole Sri-Lankan experience; we saw 30 of the 33 Endemics and 205 bird species during our trip. It was superbly organised by Ayanthi and Wicky. We would strongly recommend Jetwing Eco Holidays (www.jetwingeco.com) either for more experienced birders than ourselves or for those like us who seek a combination of experiences.