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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 ( 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 ( 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


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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