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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

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