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2011-02-24

South Africa (ZA)   Sri Lanka - Part 4  -  Categories: Sri Lanka  -  @ 01:03:25 pm

Day trip to Sinharaja Rain Forest, Sri Lanka - December 2010

During our stay at Reef Villa, I had arranged two day trips with Amila Salgado, our guide from Hunas Falls. This second trip to the legendary Sinharaja Rain Forest which is the only natural World Heritage Site (declared by UNESCO) in Sri Lanka was a day I was really looking forward to. Sinharaja is the jewel of the last remaining virgin rainforest crown in Sri Lanka and is located in the wet zone of the country and holds some amazing biodiversity. Located in southwest Sri Lanka, Sinharaja is the last viable area of primary tropical rainforest of the country. More than 60 per cent of the trees are endemic and many of them are considered rare. The reserve is also home to around 50 per cent of the endemic species of mammals, birds and butterflies, as well as many kinds of insects, reptiles and rare amphibians. Images by Mike Pope


This was to be a dawn to dusk hard-core trip and Amila picked me up at 5am from the hotel where I was ready in good time. We made good progress in the dark against light traffic, stopping for a roosting adult Crested Serpent Eagle

Crested Serpent Eagle

An adult Changeable Hawk-Eagle was seen perched on a telephone pole a little further on

Crested Serpent Eagle

Amila had planned a stop on the fringes of Sinharaja and arranged a tuc tuc to take us up a small road until we reached some good forest elevated far above the road and our morning's birding stated in earnest and intent. As dawn broke, so did the birds and we started ticking off some great species. A Brown Shrike was first up and in the dawn gloom, I had to use flash for the majority of images at this location

Brown Shrike

The Square-tailed Bulbul would be one of the many lifers for me on today's trip

Square-tailed Bulbul

Common Iora was seen in one of the bird parties

Common Iora

Red-vented Bulbuls were pretty common along the track

Red-vented Bulbul

A flock of the forest dwelling Orange-billed Babblers were first heard, then seen

Orange-billed Babbler

followed by a Sri Lanka Crested Drongo

Sri Lanka Crested Drongo

and Spotted Dove foraging on the forest floor

Spotted Dove

a few more Bulbul species were seen, here a White-browed Bulbul

White-browed Bulbul

and Yellow-browed Bulbul feeding on some grubs

Yellow-browed Bulbul

Yellow-browed Bulbul

On the walk back down to the main road, we picked up Black-rumped Flameback (Lesser Goldenback)

Black-rumped Flameback

and the only Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill of the trip

Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill

From here we headed to the heart of the Sinharaja forest were we were met near the base by the rangers. For those that have been before, what followed is a long drive up the mountain on a dirt track in an old jeep with the turning circle of the QE2 and suspension of a Sherman tank, but this is all part of the journey and adds character to the trip. At the offices you pay your entrance fee and sign the guest book and proceed even further up the mountain to Martins Lodge. Some welcome tea, a quick look at a large beetle and a quick survey the forest before starting the walk

Beetle

We had hardly started our walk when I saw one of the first of the many forest endemics, a male Sri Lanka Jungle Fowl

Sri Lanka Jungle Fowl

Forest birding is tough and you can walk sometimes for an hour without seeing anything and so it was on the first part, so we enjoyed other aspects of the forest - a fallen tree full of fungus

Fungi

We looked at a few of the stunning butterflies along the way - these are Cruiser, Tailed Jay and Lesser Albatross

Cruiser

Tailed Jay

Lesser Albatross

When our trainee ranger that had to accompany us picked up a Green Pit Viper, a reptile I really wanted to see. Unfortunately it was sleeping quite high up in a tree, so not good views - but satisfying nevertheless

Green Pit Viper

On the opposite side of the track, he also picked up Sri Lanka Keelback Water Snake - so we had snakes on either side of us

Keelback Water Snake

To further confirm we were in a rain forest, we found pockets of the insect eating Pitcher Plants

Pitcher Plant

At a water break further on, we finally picked up a few more birds - the first being the white form male Asian Paradise Flycatcher (that didnt cooperate for a decent photograph). These birds appear like spirits as the fly dip and rise in flight through the forest

Asian Paradise Flycatcher

We finally made contact with an obliging Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, a riot of colours in the green of the canopy

Sri Lanka Blue Magpie

I found a Blue Admiral (a rare butterfly in these parts) which got Amila very excited

Blue Admiral

Some spectacular Orchids were also seen, this a Bamboo Orchid

Bamboo Orchid

A few more reptiles were seen, including the endemic Kangaroo Lizard aka Eared Lizard

Kangaroo Lizard

and its green counterpart the Green Forest Lizard

Green Forest Lizard

Amila left me with the trainee ranger while he departed on a search mission with one of the reserve rangers. Whilst waiting and watching in the shade, we ticked the endemic Black-capped Bulbul

Black-capped Bulbul

a small troop of the endemic Toque Macaques passed by

Toque Macaque

and above us we had Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys

Purple-faced Leaf Monkey

Standing quietly sometimes brings birds to you, here another male Sri Lanka Jungle Fowl

Sri Lanka Jungle Fowl

followed by a female that walked around my feet before slipping into the undergrowth

Sri Lanka Jungle Fowl

Amila returned and had difficulty in supressing his excitement but asked me to follow at pace. We departed off the main track and pioneered deeper into the forest where finally he revealed a roosting Serendip Scops Owl, a bird high on my list to see and finally here it was less than 3m in front of me - abso-bloody-lutley fantastic. This is the most recently discovered bird of Sri Lanka and first seen on 23 January 2001 and formally described as a new species to science in 2004. It is the first new bird to be discovered in Sri Lanka since 1868, when the Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush (then Ceylon Whistling Thrush) Myophonus blighi was discovered.

Serendip Scops Owl

Serendip Scops Owl

We didnt want to disturb this daytime roost, so elated we headed back to the main track and started our walk back to the lodge. A diversion off the main track gave a few more Asian Paradise Flycatchers and a juvenile Crested Honey Buzzarad

Oriental Honey Buzzard

Just before the lodge we were able to pick up one of those amazing bird parties we were hoping for and this one contained at least 8 species as it moved swiftly through the forest. Dark-fronted Babblers were amongst them

Dark-fronted Babbler

Along with Orange-billed Babblers and Ashy-headed Laughingthrush which I battled to get onto with my camera/flash, so only managed these poor images of a smart endemic bird

Ashy-headed Laughingthrush

Ashy-headed Laughingthrush

another star of this party was the gaudy clown looking Red-faced Malkoa following on the fringes of the party, when in fact he should have been the soul of the party, dressed as he was

Red-faced Malkhoa

Red-faced Malkhoa

I was one very satisfied birder when we reached the lodge for a welcome coke, we tried for Legge's Flowerpecker without success, but this trip was not over yet. On the way down in the jeep, Amila and I met another forest ranger who took us on another detour into the depths of the forest and revealed to us a pair of roosting Sri Lanka Frogmouths - what a way to top off a fantastic day in Sinharaja Rain Forest and my first experience of birding in Sri Lanka, highly recommended

Sri Lanka Frogmouth

Sri Lanka Frogmouth

On the slow drive back to the hotel, we stopped for Shikra

Shikra

and an Ashy Woodswallow in the fading light. Once back at the hotel I could relax for the next few days to digest and soak up the Sinharaja experience and when I could come back to find the remaining 14 endemics, as I had seen 19 of the 33 in just these few outings, truly awesome - thank you Amila

Ashy Woodswallow

2011-02-23

South Africa (ZA)   Sri Lanka - Part 3  -  Categories: Sri Lanka  -  @ 07:52:06 am

Day trip to Galle, Sri Lanka - December 2010

During our stay at Reef Villa, I had arranged two day trips with Amila Salgado, our guide from Hunas Falls. On the way to Galle, we had a few stops at the Mask Factory, the Moonstone mine and jewellery manufacture, a lunch stop, the historic fort and cricket ground in Galle and finally the famous Stilt Fisherman south of Galle. It was a great cultural day out with the family. Images by Mike Pope


Birding was not the prime objective of today's excursion, but at a comfort stop we picked up White-breasted Waterhen in one of the hotel gardens

White-breasted Waterhen

In the tree's outside the Mask Factory, in the middle of a busy town, we picked up the endemic Purple-faced Leaf Monkey - a primate with pizazze

Purple-faced Leaf Monkey

Purple-faced Leaf Monkey

At the Moonstone Mine, a little off the main roads we found the common White-throated Kingfisher

White-throated Kingfisher

Amila pointed out a few Dragonflies, this a female Pied Parasol

Pied Parasol

Whilst enjoying and learning about the stilt fisherman south of Galle, a passing Swift Tern that I caught preening in flight, provided a brief distraction. Searching the net, I found out more about these fascinating Stilt Fisherman. Stilt fishing is a tradition that only about 500 fishing families in the southwestern-most Sri Lankan district of Galle practice, especially around the towns of Kathaluwa and Ahangama. Though no one knows exactly how and when the tradition started, some of the older fishermen recall that stilt fishing was started after the Second World War by some inventive fishermen. Fishing at the time was done from rocks protruding above the ocean surface. As not enough of these rocks were available for all fishermen, some used iron poles left over from the war and planted them into the reef. But even these iron poles were scarce, so the fishermen soon discovered that even wooden poles were strong enough to be planted into the reef and thus, stilt fishing in today’s form was born.

Swift Tern

2011-02-22

South Africa (ZA)   Sri Lanka - Part 2  -  Categories: Sri Lanka  -  @ 05:13:29 pm

Jetwing Hunas Falls to The Reef in Wadduwa, Sri Lanka - December 2010

After a very pleasant 4-days in the cool hills north of Kandy, it was time to head south to the coast and small town of Wadduwa. We would spend the balance of our holiday at this sumptious boutique hotel, The Reef (http://www.reefvilla.com/) which is 40 odd kilometers south of Colombo.

The birding would be less frenetic and restricted to what was seen in the stunning gardens, walks on the beach and the odd stroll outside the hotel along the railway line. No leeches or need to break into a sweat climbing hills, not that these were hardships for me. I didnt expect to add any exciting birds to the Hunas Falls list, so there was no pressure.

I got up early every other morning to explore the gardens whilst my family slept in before enjoying creative breakfasts and either heading to the pool or beach to vegetate for the rest of the day - just what the doctor ordered after a hectic work year. Images by Mike Pope


Blue-tailed Bee-eaters were abundant in and around the hotel

Blue-tailed Bee-eater

The comical Brown-headed Barbet was seen twice in the 7-days

Brown-headed Barbet

Common Tailorbirds were more often heard than seen and then it was only a fleeting glimpse

Common Tailorbird

The gurgling of the Greater Coucal was part of the dawn chorus each morning

Greater Coucal

Masses of House Crows hung around in the palms around the pool and every now and then some sort of ground squabble ensued - here a Jungle Crow flying in to see what the commotion was about

House Crow

After stopping the fight, the Jungle Crow stopped by the pool for a drink - the stress of life in the urban jungle

Jungle Crow

One morning a juvenile Shikra scattered all below as it flew in to check who might have been breakfast

Shikra

Every now and then this resident group of Yellow-billed Babblers would work their way through the gardens, lifting and turning over leaves in search of grubs

Yellow-billed Babbler

Yellow-billed Babbler

A few large Land Monitors were seen casually strolling through the garden

Land Monitor

They, in turn had to watch out for the Brahminy Kites as they passed by overhead

Brahminy Kite

Another butterfly for Amila to identify - this one was stunned (perhaps be a Bee-eater), but eventually recovered to fly off

Butterfly

Exploring the roads and along the railway line outside the hotel, produced a few birds not seen in the garden, including Rose-ringed Parakeets

Rose-ringed Parakeet

White-bellied Drongo's on the overhead lines

White-bellied Drongo

A Great Egret passing by overhead

Great Egret

Black-headed Oriole on a drizzly morning

Black-headed Oriole

and a few White-browed Bulbuls in the palms outside the gate of the Hotel

White-browed Bulbul

White-browed Bulbul

In between swims in the Indian Ocean and long strolls along the beach, we found other birds especially when the fisherman were pulling in their nets. Cattle Egrets were prevalent on the fringes of the coastal shrub

Cattle Egret

However, when nets were pulled in Terns materialised from far out to sea to take advantage of any fish that werent harvested by the fisherman, the most common were Whiskered Terns

Whiskered Tern

Whiskered Tern

Followed by Common Terns

Common Tern

Common Tern

Common Tern

and the odd Little Tern on the fringes of the feeding flock

Little Tern

The impressive White-bellied Sea Eagle was only seen on one occassion

White-bellied Sea Eagle

and here dropping it's food by accident or on purpose

White-bellied Sea Eagle

2011-02-03

South Africa (ZA)   Sri Lanka - Part 1  -  Categories: Africa, Sri Lanka  -  @ 05:43:18 pm

Colombo to Hunas Falls, Sri Lanka - December 2010

This December we again considered Thailand for our Christmas vacation, unfortunately there are no direct flights to Bangkok from Kuwait and as a result flight prices had literally doubled from last year.

So, after more research and good reviews from friends who had visited, we chose Sri Lanka for our December holiday destination.

Whilst my wife researched hotels, I trolled bird forums and trip reports to get whet the appetite as this was our first time to Sri Lanka. On a number of reports, Amila Salgado’s of Birdwing Nature Holidays name popped up as the guide, so I made contact with Amila (amila@birdwingnature.com) and after understanding our requirements put together an itinerary for parts of our trip which he called Elephants, Endemics and Temples Tour. This gave the right mix of excursions and destinations for my family and I, including some dedicated birding time for me.

We flew Sri Lanka via Dubai to Colombo and had a really great time in this now peaceful country that is abundantly green (at least in the SW), has a temperate climate at this time of year, considering its equatorial position – even in the defined Wet Zone (it is said that it is always the right season somewhere on the island), friendly people and good service wherever we went and an acceptable infrastructure which accounts for slow travel between different locations due to traffic pressure (but that is to be expected).

The continental island of Sri Lanka forms part of the wider Indian Subcontinent and is shaped like a teardrop falling from the southern end of India. Only 437 x 225km it has habitat diversity from coastal areas to mountains with elevations ranging from 900 – 2440m and is considered on the most bio-diverse areas in South Asia with some impressive avifauna and 33 endemic birds amongst the 430 recorded on the island. Amila suggested Hunas Falls (just 1-hour north of Kandy) for the first 4-nights and after we had moved to our second hotel in Wadduwa to include a visit to Galle and a full day for me in Sinharaja Forest – one of my birding highlights of the trip. Amila made all the travel arrangements which included a driver and vehicle, so no stress for us and I can really recommend this option for the travelling family – as it eliminates the logistics stress, especially in a new country.

Amila has an encyclopedia of knowledge for Sri Lanka’s wildlife and that certainly adds interest to the trip, especially for those non-birding members of the family and I would recommend Amila for hardcore birding and more leisurely nature type excursions for families that have a general wildlife interest. He is also pretty competitive when it comes to Scrabble when outings are interrupted by rain…

And so, the first part our trip from Colombo to Jetwing Hunas Falls (http://www.jetwinghotels.com/jetwinghunasfalls/) just north of Kandy started. After an early morning pickup from the airport by Amila, we stopped to call up Indian Scops Owl to get into the spirit of the trip as we headed to Pinnawa Elephant Orphanage and onward to Hunas Falls. Images by Mike Pope


Whilst watching almost 60 elephants splashing about and drinking in the river, a Flying Fox came lumbering by overhead - an impressive beast, especially if you have never seen one before

Flying Fox

The Hunas Falls Hotel is situated in the cool high country with manicured gardens surrounded by forested covered mountains. During our stay we had a mix of sunshine, mist and light rain – a welcome relief from Kuwait, in addition to the abundant greenery. There is always an air of excitement when travelling in a new country and so it was as I walked the gardens on the first day in dim light testing my flash setup (required for low light forest photography). Oriental Magpie Robins were pretty common around the manicured gardens

Oriental Magpie Robin

Plain Prinias were obliging as they foraged on the lawn and between plants

Plain Prinia

Jungle Crows were seen most mornings on the hotel roof

Jungle Crow

On other excursions around the gardens with ponds and flowers, I picked up Red-vented Bulbul

Red-vented Bulbul

Spotted Dove on the garden paths

Spotted Dove

A male Loten's Sunbird with it's deeply decurved bill

Loten's Sunbird

together with the smaller, but much more striking male Purple-rumped Sunbird

Purple-rumped Sunbird

and his drabber partner

Purple-rumped Sunbird

Whilst enjoying early breakfasts on the balcony overlooking the dam and waterfall, we saw a Brahminy Kite surveying its domain

Brahminy Kite

and a Little Cormorant fishing from its rock in the dam

Little Cormorant

a flash of irredescent blue across the water alerted us to this Common Kingfisher, who used the rock as its high ground for hunting

Common Kingfisher

during breakfast, we were also entertained with a Great Tit

Great Tit

feeding together with the comical Palm Squirrels

Palm Squirrel

a morning stroll around the lake, gave us Stork-billed Kingfisher with it's impressive beak

Stork-billed Kingfisher

as well as the very active Pale-billed Flowerpecker

Pale-billed Flowerpecker

a late afternoon walk around the mini golf course away from the manicured garden gave Yellow-fronted Barbet

Yellow-fronted Barbet

some Hill Swallows on the overhead lines

Hill Swallow

along with some of the larger Sri Lanka Swallows

Sri Lanka Swallow

a couple of noisy Lesser Hill Myna's were seen in the fading light

Lesser Hill Myna

On my first morning walk with Amila, we headed up on a small road toward the radio tower on the summit of one of the hills. The comical Yellow-billed Babblers were seen just as we left the hotel

Yellow-billed Babbler

a small butterfly that Amila will identify for me, was seen on the road

Butterfly

at a soggy cricket pitch near the staff village, we found Indian Robin

Indian Robin

some Oriental White-eyes were seen on the fringes of the cricket field

Oriental White-eye

as well as a small group of the fantastic looking Plum-headed Parakeets

Plum-headed Parakeet

further along the road in some dense scrub, we finally got fleeting views of a group of Tawny-bellied Babblers that were moving swiftly through the undergrowth

Tawny-bellied Babbler

a little higher in elevation, the call of a Lesser Yellownape finally got us onto this common, but smart woodpecker

Lesser Yellonape

in the same area we were fortunate to get close views of a noisy flock of Layard's Parakeet - here an adult

Layard's Parakeet

and a juvenile

Layard's Parakeet

at the summit we found White-browed Fantail

White-browed Fantail

we dipped on the Dull Blue Flycatcher, but were rewarded with a few raptors at 1000m ASL. A Crested Hawk Eagle came by pretty low

Crested Hawk Eagle

and higher overhead, two variations of Oriental Honey Buzzard, this the lighter phase

Oriental Honey Buzzard

and a darker phase

Oriental Honey Buzzard

on our 2nd early morning walk, we started around the lake before proceeeding to the summit of Shaheen peak. In the pre-dawn, he heard and then finally saw the endemic Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler

Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler

shortly followed by Tickell's Blue Flycatcher

Tickell's Blue Flycatcher

and finally Indian Blue Robin, which turned out to be the most obliging for photographs

Indian Blue Robin

Indian Blue Robin

a small troop of the endemic Toque Macaque strolled by quite unperturbed by these two birders

Toque Macaque

Toque Macaque

as we gained elevation the habitat thinned out, but we had a fleeting glimpse of the massive Giant Squirrel

Giant Squirrel

on the grassy plains before the summit Scaly-breasted Munia's were feeding on grass seedheads

Scaly-breasted Munia

together with the more striking White-rumped Munia's

White-rumped Munia

Ealier on the walk, Amila had scoped the local race of Peregrine Falcon, called the Shaheen Falcon at the summit of the peak named after it. So, once we reached the summit at 1000m we searched for and finally found this striking looking race of Peregrine, which also treated us to a fly by

Peregrine (Shaheen) Falcon

Peregrine (Shaheen) Falcon

Peregrine (Shaheen) Falcon

It is always fantastic to see a Falcon at eye level, so after saturated views we made our way back down to the hotel for brunch and were very fortunate in picking up a Kashmir Flycatcher on the way

Kashmir Flycatcher

Kashmir Flycatcher

Our last afternoon walk was with my family and this time we descended down from the hotel, but around the hotel we found a male Orange Minivet

Orange Minivet

together with a just as striking female

Orange Minivet

Near the Herb Garden, Amila picked up some Leaf Birds, which are really cryptic in the dense foilage - here a Golden-fronted Leafbird (if you can see it)

Golden-fronted Leafbird

Golden-fronted Leafbird image now cropped, so it is semi-visible

Golden-fronted Leafbird

a single Jerdon's Leafbird created a lot more excitement

Jerdon's Leafbird

I picked up two really smart looking Velvet-fronted Nuthatch's foraging at pace through the wooded driveway leading to the hotel

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

White-bellied Drongo's were prevalent this morning

White-bellied Drongo

We could hear Common Hawk-Cuckoo calling and after a long search it finally revealed itself

Common Hawk-Cuckoo

My wife put us onto a Crested Hawk Eagle that flew into the forest below with a small prey item and we spent some time watching it have breakfast during some light drizzle

Crested Hawk Eagle

After 4-days at this charming hotel (which reminded us a lot of the Hotels in the Drakensberg, South Africa) it was time to head to our next destination - The Reef Hotel in Wadduwa. While we were driving out, it almost seemed fitting to add an Emerald Dove to our Hunas Falls list

Emerald Dove

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