Sri Lanka -
1 Sri Lanka The Enchanted Isle A Greentours Trip Report 29th November to 14th December 2009 Led by Paul Cardy Trip Report and Systematic Lists written by Paul Cardy Days 1 & 2 Sun 29th & Mon 30th November Journey to Sri Lanka, and to Kandy We met at Heathrow on a stormy wet Sunday morning, me fresh from Belize and Guatemala via Norfolk! The Sri Lanka check in was amazingly quiet, the flight and service excellent, with the bonus of many spare seats. Arrival was on schedule at the odd time of 2.30 a.m. Luggage delivery was rather slow with Pete���s suitcase being literally the last to arrive, but at this time of day that hardly mattered. A chance to change money, and then I met up with the ever reliable Mr Silva, our ground agent, and a short walk took us to our spacious vehicle. We drove through unusually empty town streets in the dark, past a few checkpoints, at a very pleasant slow pace, being in no hurry at all. None of the planned breakfast stops was yet open so we continued to our destination, The Suisse, at Kandy, arriving just after 6 a.m. Several Flying Foxes were coming in to roost, trees outside the hotel were full of them, and the common birds were waking up. The staff at the hotel gave a warm welcome and it was impressive that they let us check in so very early in the day. Breakfast followed with the usual fine selection, western and Sri Lankan, but of course the curries were the highlight. Then it was time for sleep, and most of us managed several hours, with lunch optional. We met up at 3.30 for an afternoon excursion, Jenny having meanwhile arrived from Colombo where she had been staying. In three wheelers we motored around the lake to the small Greenwoods Guesthouse, the roof of which overlooks the good forest of the Udawattakelle Sanctuary. There had been rain earlier but now there was some blue sky, and much bird activity. Initially it was difficult to know where to look. Orange Minivets, Brown-headed Barbet, Black-hooded Oriole, Purple-rumped Sunbird, Oriental White-eyes, White-rumped Munias, Spotted Dove, Greenish Warbler and Hill Mynas were all seen within the first few minutes. Sri Lanka Hanging Parrots regularly flew over, calling. A troop of mischievous Toque Macques moved through the fig tree above us, shaking the branches so the water would fall. The other mammal was Three-striped Palm Squirrel. The beautiful butterfly Red Pierrot was in evidence throughout our stay. The birds continued with
2 Layard���s Parakeet, Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, Jerdon���s Leafbird, Common Iora, a Ceylon Woodshrike, Ceylon Small Barbet, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Magpie Robin, and Black-rumped Flameback. A White-bellied Sea Eagle flew in the distance and then I spotted it atop a tree. Whilst all this was going on our hosts provided tea and coconut hoppers. Back at the Suisse we enjoyed a very good buffet dinner. Day 2 Tuesday 1st December Peradineya and Kandy Today the weather was fine with mostly blue skies, and Asian Palm Swifts sped around the hotel. After an excellent breakfast, as usual either western, or curry, we set off in the bus for the short drive to Peradineya Botanic Gardens. We spent the morning walking slowly around the gardens, very crowded today, this being a Poya Day. Of course there was a fine selection of plants here, both native and non-native, and the gardens are particularly attractive and well laid out. Several orchids were in flower in the Orchid House, but sadly not Sri Lankan species. An avenue of Javan Almonds was particularly fine, with incredible irregular buttress roots. Among the many trees were Mango, African Tulip Tree, Sausage Tree, Bread Fruit and Jack Fruit, but the most impressive were probably the Pride of Burma, Amherstia nobilis, which were in fine bloom. The Cannonball trees were in both flower and fruit, a good example of cauliflory. Thunbergia fragrans had white trumpets and there was some fine Monstera deliciosa. A feature of the gardens are the beautiful avenues of Cabbage Palms and Borassus Palms. The climber Thunbergia mysorensis was in fine flower. The gardens support a rich avifauna, and gave us an introduction to the common birds of Sri Lanka. Yellow-billed Babblers moved around in small groups, White-throated Kingfishers and White-bellied Drongos sallied for insects, and Magpie Robins were conspicuous. Indian Swiftlets and Asian Palm Swifts wheeled over the lawns, with lone Ceylon and Barn Swallows among them. We had good views of nectaring Loten���s and Purple-rumped Sunbirds, and Pale- billed Flowerpecker. Koels called noisily and a male was located, and Brown-headed Barbet and Jerdon���s Leafbird looked fine in the sunlight. Among the few butterflies were Psyche, White Four-ring, Common Line Blue, Common Crow, and both Emigrants. The scarcity of butterflies was a puzzle in the hot weather. A fine black spotted green Buprestid beetle was found, and a remarkably camouflaged flat spider on a lichen covered palm trunk. Three-striped Palm Squirrels were much in evidence and a rubbish dump was being examined by a troop of Toque Macaques. Asian Brown Flycatcher was seen briefly, and later a close to Brown-breasted Flycatcher was ���scoped giving fine views. We reached the Flying Fox roost, and marvelled at the huge numbers of these impressive bats, quarrelling noisily and never seeming to rest. As usual several were on the wing, despite it being mid-morning. After reaching the huge spreading Javan Fig we strolled along an avenue of contorted Cook���s Pines to a pond where we saw a few Odonata, including Yellow Damselfly, Black Velvetwing, Tramea limbata and Anax guttata. A Blyth���s Reed Warbler skulked in the bushes. Here too was a
3 male Baron butterfly. Pete and I saw a young Water Monitor jump into the aquatic vegetation, and soon after some movement in the water lilies, which proved to be the monitor catching a frog that we then watched it devour with some difficulty. Also in the pond were Indian Pond Terrapins. Here was a strange tree, Napoleona, placed in its own family, showing cauliflory, the flowers being rather Passiflora like. We reached the bus just as it started to rain, how���s that for timing. In Kandy a small family run restaurant near the river provided us with a very good rice and curry lunch. There were many dishes, such as banana flower, and jak fruit curries. It was time to return to the hotel for a siesta. At 5 p.m. Ranjit took everyone to a display of Kandyan dancing, and then to the Temple of the Tooth, especially busy on this Poya evening. Day 3 Wednesday 2nd December Sorabora Breakfast was a delicious selection of curries at 6.30, although of course western food was available too. Leaving at 7 o���clock we drove east from Kandy, initially making good progress until we hit the first of a multitude of road works, mostly road widening projects. After some time we were in more rural surroundings, and some fine verdant scenery. Our journey over the Knuckles Range, where the verges had a fine variety of ferns, the ���handkerchief��� tree Mussaenda frondosa, Stachytarpheta urticifolia, and Crotalaria verrucosa with purple veined white flowers, but the flora was much disturbed by all the road excavations. Having crossed the pass we started the descent of the seventeen hairpin bends. There were fine views of the eastern lowlands, and our destination of Sorabora, the whole area rather wet this year. Toque Macaques frequented the roadsides. Once in the paddies there were many egrets and paddybirds, a few Red-wattled Lapwings, and many White-throated Kingfishers on the wires. Three circling Woolly-necked Storks prompted a stop that also produced a perched Crested Serpent Eagle, and Indian Roller. We reached the Mahiyangana Rest House and had a tea and ginger beer break by the river. Common Mormon and Crimson Rose were among the butterflies, and there was also a nectaring humming-bird hawk-moth. At Sorabora we parked and walked slowly to the reservoir. There were several Garden Calotes lizards, and also a fine Green Calotes on the wires. Butterflies were much in evidence with Common Gull, Lemon and Peacock Pansy, Chocolate Soldier, Common Leopard, a Long-tailed Blue and Blue Mormons sailing past. There was also a pair of Danaid Eggflies showing marked sexual dimorphism. Fine views were had of Green Bee-eaters. Nearing the reservoir we met the first of several Water Monitors, and a White-breasted Water- hen. At the reservoir itself was a large raft of Little Cormorants, which was later augmented by a vast number of Indian Cormorants flying in. Brahminy Kites were in the air and there were many pelicans and egrets in the distance. Walking slowly along the bank, lined with impressive fig trees, we had fine views of Brown-headed Barbet, Black-hooded Oriole, and one fruiting fig full of Coppersmiths. Also here were Thick-billed Flowerpecker and Great Tit. Crossing a small bridge brought us into excellent habitat. Dark-fronted Babblers and White- rumped Shama skulked in the bushes, but a calling Pitta refused to come out. White-browed
4 Bulbuls moved through the scrub. An open area by the lakeshore had a huge concentration of danaids attracted by the Heliotropium indicum, predominantly many hundreds of Common Crows, but also Common Tiger, Plain Tiger, Dark Blue Tiger, Blue Tiger, and Glassy Tiger. This was quite a sight. Blue-tailed Bee-eater was the third species of bee-eater the morning, and Common Kingfisher was seen. Grey-headed Fish Eagle called. There was a good selection of bugs, beetles, Hymenoptera, Diptera, and other insects seen today. Among the dragonflies were Sombre Skimmer, and Wandering Glider, whilst Tailless Lineblue, Chestnut Bob, and Common Small Flat were added to the butterfly list. Back along the track were a few Brahminy Skinks. We ate our picnics back across the bridge. The skies had darkened and this time we got caught by heavy rain as we neared the bus. Janaka kindly came to meet us with an armful of umbrellas. After a brief toilet stop back at the rest house, where I saw a Grey-breasted Prinia, we took a road to the south through the reserve of Victoria Radenigala. The paddies were full of the common birds, and we saw also a small group of Painted Storks, a few Asian Openbills and Woolly-necked Storks, and Zitting Cisticola on the wires. Our first Black-headed Ibis were here. A highlight was a Sri Lankan Grey Hornbill in flight but it was seen only briefly. Both Indian Grey and Ruddy Mongooses were seen on the journey. A walk along the road beside the reservoir produced our first Hanuman Langurs, and the only Ceylon Green Pigeons of the tour. Also here were Ashy Drongo, Ceylon Wood-shrike, Black- capped Bulbuls, and a Common Pierrot. Ocimum sanctum and Indian Laburnum bloomed on the roadsides. We arrived back in Kandy at about 6.20, and before dinner went through the checklists. Day 4 Thursday 3rd December Upper Water Catchment, Udawattakelle, and Temple Loop A varied day began at 6.30 for some of us, as we went up to the Upper Water Catchment above Kandy, where a wide track leads up through fine forest. It was just light when we arrived, but our walk was initially very quiet, although several good finds were made in the end. Brown- breasted Flycatchers were active at the forest edge, and Forest Wagtail was on the forest floor. We had a very good view of White-rumped Shama, and Pete saw a Muntjac. In the trees were Black-capped Bulbul, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Greenish Warbler and Orange Minivets. We found the impressive Aristolochia ringens in flower. Among the great variety of trees the Jackfruit relative Artocarpus nobilis was much in evidence with its huge spiky fruits. Several of these had been partly eaten, perhaps by Golden Palm Civets, and I made note of their location for our return after dark. Other trees here included Ficus exasperata and Premna tomentosa. The St.John���s-wort relative Clusea major, also a tree, grew alongside the track. The frog Fejervarya kirtsinghei was found. We returned to the hotel for breakfast and said good morning to the rest of the group. Then, at 9.15, we all took the bus through town up to the forest reserve of Udawattakelle. Mr Silva was there to meet us with a tub full of Jak Fruit seeds for us. The weather was fine and we had a very enjoyable slow walk through the forest. Things were very quiet initially with little other than the forest to see. The light streaming through the trees was beautiful however. Both
5 Thunbergia erecta and Thunbergia grandiflora were in flower. The birds began with an Emerald Dove which was apparently gathering nesting material, and there followed a pair of Tickell���s Blue Flycatchers. Another Muntjac was seen moving away through the forest. Oriental Honey Buzzard soared over the trees. An army post meant a detour to the conservation centre, where we had a look at the interesting photographs which revealed some of the exciting things that live in the forest. Tamil Yeomans and Metallic Caerulean were on the wing. There were good views of Kandy from here, the Temple of the Tooth etc, and the large white Buddha on the hilltop overlooking the town. Having reached the pond again there were many Indian Pond Terrapins, and a large troop of Macaques, mostly young animals. We returned to town and visited Queens Hotel where the ever attentive Mr.Silva had arranged for tea to be served to us. The bookshop was raided for any natural history books, and around the corner from the hotel we visited another bookshop where I found an armful of new publications, including ���Herpetofauna of the Knuckles Range���, and a very useful new plant field guide that covers some 1,000 species. White-bellied Sea Eagle flew over the lake. We returned to the hotel for lunch, a swim, a siesta or any combination of the three. In the afternoon we visited three small temples in the countryside near Kandy, what we call the Temple Loop, it actually was a loop today as we completed a circuit in the bus rather than returning the same way. The first temple was Gadaladeniya, fourteenth century, with some fine carved elephants around the central Dagoba, although there was extensive restoration work going on here this year. There are carved Buddhas as well as Hindu gods. Some visited the temple with Ranjit, whilst the others came with me along the track outside where we had superb views of Sri Lanka Hanging parrots feeding very close by in Mexican Sunflowers. Also here were Orange Minivets, Ceylon Small Barbet, and Dark Caerulean. A moth with hyaline wings, but not a Sesiid, was of interest. The second, larger, temple of Lanka Tilake was perched atop a hill and commanded fine views, and again had both Buddhist and Hindu elements. The group were shown around the temple whilst Jean and I walked the compound perimeter, seeing a lovely male Small Minivet. A large fruiting Fig had the only Plum-headed Parakeet of the tour. The third of the temples, Embekke Divale, boasted some fine carved wooden pillars, also dating from the fourteenth century. The carvings depict a range of subjects such as a bullock- eating elephant (!), Sinhalese warriors and dancers, and a Portuguese soldier on horseback. Most of us walked to the paddies here where we saw White-rumped Munias, Ceylon Swallows, and heard Common Hawk Cuckoo. Here was our first snake, a large Rat Snake, seen very well. This third temple also had a parrot feature, Alexandrine Parakeets overhead. After a short stop back at the hotel, with time for me to buy some more books sent from the Queen���s Hotel book shop, we headed back to the Upper Water Catchment where I led what turned out to be a very productive short night walk. Common Indian Toad was the first thing of interest but I had seen eye shine and as I had suspected I soon found the endemic Golden Palm Civet in a tree I had staked out earlier, with the tell tale signs of partly eaten jak fruit. We had prolonged views of this scarce mammal. Several bats were on the wing.
6 Fireflies were much in evidence and I was very pleased to find a ?trilobite beetle that had luminescent abdomen tip. Frogs were represented by several of the bush frog Philautes popularis and Rana temporalis. The highlight was a pair of Bent-toed Geckoes on a tree trunk, fine lizards representing a genus with several recently described very local endemics on the island. The identity of these animals is not yet determined. Day 5 Friday 4th December Journey to Nuwara Eliya It was time to leave the Suisse, for the short drive around the lake to Kandy station, with its many features of a bygone era. We didn���t have to wait long for the first train, in which there was plenty of room. Then, a few stations down the line, we had to connect to the Nanu Oya train, which in contrast was packed. However Mr Silva had arranged for six people to come from Colombo to save our seats! During the journey as people disembarked in ones and twos we gradually gained more space. Our carriage had seats reserved for clergy, and for pregnant mothers (sic). We enjoyed the fine changing scenery as the train climbed slowly but ever higher towards Nuwara Eliya, stopping every now and then at small well-kept stations. Bamboo Orchids became common along the trackside, and there were some very tall Lobelia nicotianifolia in bloom. The pink Ipomoea cairica was common. Once through pine plantations we were in extensive tea estates, each with a distinctive white tea factory at its heart. There were many non-native plants here such as eucalypts and bottle-brush. There were also some impressive waterfalls en route. Life on the train was hectic and we were kept entertained by the constant passage of snack and fruit sellers and the like. We left the train at Nanu Oya, the closest station to Nuwara Eliya, and were whisked into town by the bus that had come by the slightly less romantic road route. Osbeckia cupularis as well as elder, fuchsias, and bracken were seen on the roadsides, and we made a short stop for the ���pink frog orchid��� Satyrium nepalense. Nuwara Eliya comes as a great contrast to Kandy, a hill station with British influenced architecture, and many quirky hints at the colonial past. Our home here was The Hill Club, a colonial institution complete with dress code and a men only bar. We filled in our arrival forms in the library and were soon settling into the rooms. We met again at 3.30p.m. for the short walk into town to visit Victoria Park. In the past this place has turned up some fine birds, but in recent years has been less productive. Nevertheless we did see some good things here this afternoon. A corner of the garden had a male Indian Blue Robin but this was seen only briefly. Forest Wagtail gave much better views beside the stream. Sri Lanka White-eyes, Yellow-eared Bulbuls and Common Sandpiper were also seen, and I saw an Indian Pitta make a short flight. A bizarre sight was a White-breasted Waterhen landing high up in a tree. At the end of the walk I was very pleased to locate a fine male Kashmir Flycatcher, a scarce species. We walked back to the hotel, arriving well before the seven o���clock curfew when we had to be wearing a tie to be seen in the public areas of the Hill Club. In the evening the group made an interesting effort to follow the dress code, Peter and Pete having made their jacket selection from the hotels rather dated selection. We enjoyed a very good dinner served by the white suited waiters. The curries were particularly good, always
7 prepared specially for us, as the usual fare here is western. We were ���entertained��� by some rather incongruous terrible Christmas music. Day 6 Saturday 5th December Horton Plains Tea and biscuits were served at 5.00, and, bleary eyed, we set off in a mini-van up to the Horton Plains. Dawn revealed complex cloud patterns, but much blue sky indicated we should have fine weather today. It can be very changeable on the Horton Plains. We had fine views on the journey, with some attractive low cloud over the hills, and a view of Adam���s Peak. On the climb up the road had many Tree Ferns, Cyathea gigantea, and various species of Osbeckia, with showy pink flowers. At the gate and ticket booth were some smart new toilets, complete with a view. We stopped at the ���Arrenga Pools��� to eat our box breakfast, but sadly saw none of the eponymous endemic bird. We did however find a mixed flock with Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Ceylon Scimitar Babblers and Yellow-eared Bulbuls. Sri Lanka White-eyes moved restlessly among the moss covered trees and Bright-green Warbler was here too. The Rhododendron arboreum was in fine flower. On the open grasslands we saw our first Sambar, and two male Sri Lanka Jungle-fowl. Buzzard flew over, and Pied Bush-chats and Zitting Cisticolas were much in evidence. At the car park, with a tame Sambar, we sorted ourselves out and loaded up with our box lunches before setting out on our circuitous walk around Horton Plains, about six miles in total. Many fine things were seen today, it���s difficult to know where to start describing them. A highlight came at the beginning with a Sri Lankan Bush Warbler skulking in bushes near the gate, giving good views. Soon after that we found the first of several very clear, perfect Leopard tracks on the path. A strange find was an immature Ashy-crowned Sparrow-lark, feeding beside the track and extremely unwary of us, allowing very close approach. This is the real plant day of the tour, with a fascinating flora on the plains, and many very attractive species. The rolling grasslands are interspersed with patches of elfin forest, with various species of Syzygium Calophyllum walkeri and Litsea species being among the dominants. The superb blue gentian Exacum trinervium was in fine flower in one wet flush, where we also found two species of sundew, Drosera peltata and Drosera baumannii. The campanula Wahlenbergia marginata was common beside the path. The pink terrestrial orchid Satyrium nepalense is always a joy to see, and it was locally common up here. Rhodomyrtus tomentosa, and the impressive large yellow flowered Hypericum mysurense were among the shrubs. Probably at least three species of Osbeckia were here ��� Osbeckia parvifolia, Osbeckia rubicunda and Osbeckia cupularis. The genus Strobilanthes was represented by Strobilanthes calycina, Strobilanthes pulcherrima and Strobilanthes viscosa, and the rarely flowering Strobilanthes sexennis in leaf. The very common blue flowered iris was Aristea ecklonii and is naturalised here. The delicate flowered Impatiens leptopoda was a good find, and Euphorbia rothiana was seen. In the water bloomed Eriocaulon ceylanicum and Aponogeton jacobsenii. Blue-tailed Bee-eaters were stunning in the sunlight, and Hill Swallows flew over the grasslands. Pied Bushchats were common and confiding, and a few Paddyfield Pipits were seen very closely. We found several very fine Calotes nigrilabis lizards. In the elfin woods at
8 Baker���s Falls was Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, and Orange Minivets. The orchid Oberonia wightii was in flower. Dusky Striped Squirrel put in a brief appearance. Butterflies were few in number up here. However we did see several of the endemic Ceylon Hedge Blue, and a few Ceylon Tigers, a speciality of the area. Long-tailed Blue was here too, and Ceylon Treebrown in the bamboo. Two Common Jezebels were on the wing and remarkably each was chased by a male Pied Bush-chat, unsuccessful but persistent. This is a poisonous butterfly with warning colouration, which appeared not to work on these bush- chats. As is so often the case the dramatic views from World���s End were completely obscured by dense low cloud. We waited for some time, watching the antics of the many visitors, but eventually we had to give up our vigil and continue the walk. A surprise was the butterfly Angled Pierrot. A little further on, lunch was eaten at Little World���s End where a brief break in the clouds revealed a little of the view below. The walk from there produced a fine show of the white flowered Exacum walkeri. It had been an excellent day for Gentianaceae, and as well as the aforementioned members of the family were Gentiana quadrifaria var.zeylanica, Swertia zeylanica, and what was probably Crawfurdia championii. The diminutive Viola pilosa was very attractive, and the skipper White-banded Awl was seen. We���d been checking moss covered tree trunks for hours but it was Pete who turned up the only Rhino-horned Lizard of the day, a superb animal. Bear Monkeys were only heard today, usually we encounter one or two troops up here. Other birds noted today included Kestrel, Sri Lanka Mynas (briefly), Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Dark-fronted Babblers, and Black-headed Munia. We arrived back late afternoon, the group full of thanks to the driver and me after a very enjoyable day on Horton Plains. In the Hill Club it was time to dress for dinner. Day 7 Sunday 6th December Hakgala, Tea Estate, and Nuwara Eliya sites This morning we visited Hakgala Botanic Garden near Nuwara Eliya, another fine garden, this one built on a hillside and merging into native forest at the higher reaches. We strolled around the labyrinthine paths, admiring the plants, and finding butterflies, birds, amphibians and reptiles as we went. Ceylon Tiger, Common Sailor, Small Leopard, Ceylon Treebrown, and Long-tailed Blue were among the butterflies, and a Blue Admiral was a good find. Right at the beginning, near the gate, was a Rat Snake on the lawn, and we watched it for some time. Before long we encountered the first of several Bear Monkey troops, and had great views, in the ���scope, of this endemic primate. The many ponds in the gardens provide excellent habitat for a range of amphibians, and although not numerous today we did find Montane Hour-glass Tree-frog Polypedates eques, and Common Wood Frog, Rana temporalis. Pete again spotted the first Ceratophora stoddartii, and after that we located another three. Among the Odonata also around the ponds were Triangle Skimmer and Mountain Reedling. Almost all the birds we saw were concentrated in one mixed bird flock at the top of the slope, comprising Black-rumped Flameback, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Orange Minivet, Grey- headed Canary Flycatcher, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Black Bulbuls, Great Tit, Bright-green
9 Warbler, and Sri Lanka White-eye. Ferns and clubmosses carpeted the banks, and we admired bulbs such as the white Eucharis amazonica and Crinum kirkii. In the afternoon some of the group visited one of the many local tea estates with Ranjit, and learnt about the process of tea production, with of course the opportunity to buy some at the end. They also saw Father Christmas. Meanwhile I took Peter and Pete to Galway Forest and the lake. The former is always quiet in the afternoon, but things started well with a nest building Grizzled Giant Squirrel that we watched for a long time. In the forest was Dusky Squirrel, and Black-capped Babblers, but the tales of a ���Leopard Tortoise��� from some other visitors gave a touch of cryptozoology to the walk. Heavy rain came which led me to the lakeshore, where in improved weather we saw a number of Pintail Snipe in the marshy grassland, and had fine views of an Ashy Prinia. We enjoyed our last meal at the Hill Club, and thankfully heard the last of the dreadful Christmas music. Day 8 Monday 7th December Journey to Yala Today we left the Hill Club, being very prompt. Little Grebe was seen on the lake as we drove past. A winding two hour journey took us to Ella where we stopped at the finely situated Rest House for a cup of tea. There were fine views down to the southern lowlands, our destination. Layard���s Parakeet was seen well and Tawny Coster flew in the garden. The road took us slowly down to the plains, via the impressive Ella Falls. Having reached the lowlands we made several stops prompted by paddies and tanks full of birds. A stretch of water had Purple Gallinules, Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, and Lesser Whistling Ducks in a tree. On the journey we saw all three species of bee-eaters on the wires, and Oriental Honey Buzzards soared above. Our route took us along the western boundary of Yala National Park. We stopped briefly for some fine birds, such as Sirkeer, a pair of Malabar Pied Hornbills, and a Crested Hawk-eagle perched in a roadside tree. We had to wait until we were outside the park before stopping to eat lunch, where we found a convenient shaded bench outside a private house that overlooked an open expanse of water. Land Monitor was here. It was time for a tea and toilet stop and we found a rather odd hotel (with a strange aroma!) for this. Here in the garden we did see Paradise Flycatcher, and the only White-browed Wagtail of the tour. After a stop to admire an area of paddies heaving with Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, and a selection of waders including Wood Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, and Marsh Sandpiper, we reached the town of Tissamaharama and stopped by the large tank where an island supports a huge gathering of nesting and roosting egrets, cormorants, ibis, pelicans, and several Black- crowned Night Herons. Another water body nearby had Black-winged Stilts, Painted Storks, and Pied Kingfisher, and Common Grey Mongoose was seen. Along the Yala entrance road we had a short stop, and had our first taste of the wealth of birds here. Yellow-wattled Lapwing sat alongside the much commoner Red-wattled Lapwing. Marsh
10 Crocodiles slid into the water, and the waders continued with Common Snipe, Turnstone, and Black-winged Stilts. The first of many Peacocks were here. We reached the beautiful and secluded Yala Village late afternoon and settled into our very good and well furnished rooms, surrounded by interesting habitat, and just behind the beach. Due to the form of the coastline this hotel escaped the tsunami unscathed, whilst the Yala Safari Beach nearby was completely destroyed with much loss of life. Dinner was an extensive buffet, and Wild Boar and Black-naped Hares were much in evidence around the rooms. Day 9 Tuesday 8th December Yala National Park The jeep was there in the dark at 5.30 a.m., so we could get to the Yala entrance gate at opening time. On the drive to the HQ Indian Nightjar was seen in the headlights. We spent the next six hours driving many of the tracks in the park, exploring the scrub, grasslands and lagoons, stopping whenever we saw something of interest, and that was often. It���s always difficult to give an account of this day, as so much is seen. Some 100 bird species were seen today, many in great numbers. Waders were a feature, including Marsh Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Lesser Sandplover, Great Thick-knee, and several Yellow-wattled Lapwings around the water holes. Painted Storks were much in evidence, with their characteristic feeding method, and there were a few Openbills, Spoonbills, and Black-headed Ibis. We had fine views of Peacocks, common here, some displaying. Chestnut-headed, Blue-tailed and Green Bee- eaters all looked fine in the sunlight, and Hoopoe was seen well. Two pairs of Malabar Pied Hornbills were seen today and we had good views of Indian Pitta, not uncommon in the park, whilst several others were heard. Brahminy Kites, Shaheen (over Elephant Rock), and Crested Hawk-eagle were the raptors seen this morning, and Shikra flew over Yala Village. Around the water-holes were some impressive Mugger Crocodiles, and some large Land Monitors were seen. It is the mammals here that are really special, and the jeeps often allow a remarkably close approach. Today we saw three lone male Elephants, the last one of the few ���tuskers��� in the park. Many Chital were seen this morning, in large herds, but just one Sambar. Troops of Langurs were regularly encountered. A total of three Ruddy Mongooses was seen, foraging around the tracksides and oblivious to the jeeps. Wild Boar were much in evidence, and a few Black-naped Hares were seen. Clear tracks of Leopard were noted in the sand. We had good views of Orange-breasted Green Pigeons in the tree tops, they were common here this year. A female Yellow-crowned Woodpecker was a good find, and we had fine views of Brahminy Starlings and Baya Weavers. Other birds included Paradise Flycatcher, Barred Button-quail, Grey-bellied Cuckoo, and Jerdon���s Bushlark. Breakfast was eaten in a patch of forest at the base of Elephant Rock. Climbing another rock for the fine views east across the park, we saw the aforementioned Shaheen, found a porcupine quill, and saw many Skipper Frogs around a small pond. There was also the only Monkey Puzzle butterfly of the tour.
11 Cactus-like Euphorbia antiquorum trees were a feature of the vegetation, and the mimosa with parti-coloured pink tassel flowers was Dichrostachys cinerea. The blue butterfly pea Clitoria ternatea climbed over the scrub, and there were many Cassia bushes, notably Cassia auriculata with large flowers. Butterfly watching from a vehicle is not ideal but on the wing were Lime Butterfly, Crimson Rose, Dark Blue Tiger, Plain Tiger, Common Leopard, Lemon Pansy, Small Salmon Arab, Small Grass Yellow, Yellow Orange-tip, White Orange-tip, The Pioneer, Common Gull, Common Jezebel, both Emigrants, Dark Wanderer, and Tawny Coster. The Pierids listed were numerous, with many mud puddling. After a long break in the middle of the day, with lunch optional, we drove back along the entrance road and made several stops. Near Yala Village was a Little or Striated Heron by the lagoon. Some scrub held a male Black-headed Cuckoo-shrike, and more Brahminy Starlings. Mudflats supported Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper among the common waders, with just one Ruff. On the bunds perched Small Pratincoles. I located a lone Broad-billed Sandpiper. Peter talked up the only Stone Curlews of the trip. Near the main junction a wide open area had many Ashy-crowned Sparrow-larks, and a few Paddyfield Pipits. Pied Kingfishers hovered over the water. Pacific Golden Plover was here and we had good views of Green Imperial Pigeons. Day 10 Wednesday 9th December Bundala and Yala Another pre-dawn start saw us heading in the jeep to Bundala National Park, along minor roads, a beautiful drive. Having reached the park HQ we sorted out the formalities and had a quick look from the observation walkway seeing several Purple Gallinules in the wetland, and flocks of Black-tailed Godwits overhead. We were soon on our way into the park itself, finding it hard not to stop on the way as there were already many birds. One stop did produce a skulking Blyth���s Reed Warbler. At the park gate was a young Crested Serpent Eagle, sitting just beside the jeep, a rescued bird that had fallen from its nest. In a tour with so many fine bird sightings this was even more than any other a superb bird morning. It���s again difficult to know where to start. Initially an open area had large flocks of Rosy Starlings, displaying male Peacocks, a perched pair of Crested Hawk Eagles, and the only White-browed Fantail of the tour. Of course the usual cormorants, pelicans, darters, spoonbills, egrets and herons were numerous. A Cinnamon Bittern, seen in flight, was new to us, and I saw a Black Bittern which made a brief appearance just as a close Elephant encounter was engaging the group. Purple Heron was a new bird, and several were seen. Among the waders were Pacific Golden Plover, Ringed Plover, Pintail Snipe, Marsh Sandpiper and Wood Sandpiper. Grey-headed Fish Eagle was finally seen. We saw many large Land Monitors today, some in trees, some terrestrial. There were some impressive Crocodile views too.
12 Monkeys were somewhat less in evidence than usual, but we encountered several troops of Hanuman Langurs. A remarkable sight was a male Elephant laying in a large pool, half of the animal submerged. Initially totally inert, with an apparently distended abdomen, we were concerned about its health. The driver made quiet noises to stimulate it so we could decide whether the park vet needed to be called in. The Elephant stumbled to his feet, and soon demonstrated his mood by charging us impressively, with a ���fifth leg��� difficult to ignore. Obviously much healthier than we at first feared but there was something not quite right about him. As we passed him again on our return he was back in the water, this time soaking his other side, and other Elephants were coming to the water to drink. Terns were a remarkable feature here today, with vast numbers both in the air and at the salt pans. Gull-billed, Caspian, Great Crested, Lesser Crested, Common, Little or Saunder���s, Whiskered and White-winged were all seen. In non-breeding plumage, Little and Saunder���s Terns, long included under the same species, are inseparable. The saltpans had large numbers of waders, but nothing unusual this visit. A brief stop in the dunes to search for Fan-throated Lizards was basically unsuccessful but we did see one, recently caught, in the talons of a Black-winged Kite, one of a pair here. Other birds noted this morning included Crested Tree-swift, Ceylon Wood-shrike, and Indian Reed Warbler. Back to Yala Village for lunch and a siesta. The afternoon in Yala, which was initially very wet, proved excellent for mammals. Initially we sat at the HQ waiting for the heavy rain to stop. Still getting wet under the jeep���s canvas anyway. I decided we should use the time to at least get into the park, as light is a limiting factor in the afternoon here. Even at the entrance gate the rain was much lighter and we were able to roll back the canvas. Chital were again numerous, several Black-naped Hares were seen, and more Ruddy Mongooses. A very close Elephant encounter had a lone male blowing earth over his back with his trunk. The mammal highlight however was a Leopard, the only one this year, seen well, reasonably closely, slightly hidden by a few bushes. We also saw the only two Jackals of the tour (usually we see several here). Among the birds were White-bellied Sea Eagle, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Barred Button-quail, and Yellow-eyed Babbler was an addition to the list. Day 11 Thursday 10th December Yala National Park and Debarawewa We spent another full morning in the national park, again having many great sightings of a great variety of species. New or notable species included two Lesser Adjutants Crested Serpent Eagle the only Pied Cuckoo of the tour several Grey-bellied Cuckoos, some of the rufous phase two more Malabar Pied Hornbills, Yellow-crowned Woodpeckers and Baya Weavers with nests. One flooded area had trees full of nests, mostly Asian Openbills, but with a good selection of egrets, cormorants and the like too. Drongo Cuckoo was a highlight. In the afternoon we visited a couple of large tanks near Tissamahatrama. At Wirawila were several Purple Herons. Debarawewa proved more productive, although the weather was poor. Here were the only Ashy Wood-swallows of the tour, Coppersmith, and Jerdon���s Leafbird. Stork-billed Kingfisher was seen well and Indian Reed Warbler skulked in the reeds.
13 Back at the lodge, as I walked to dinner that night, I met a male Elephant and had to shelter in the guard���s hut with two girls until it decided to move away, much to the amusement of Pete who doubted the existence of any ���Elephant���.
14 Day 12 Friday 11th December Journey to Bentota It was time to leave Yala after another excellent buffet breakfast and head west along the coast. Initially travelling through good habitat we saw several new birds, namely Tawny-bellied Babbler, Pintail, Garganey, Glossy Ibis, Green Sandpiper, and Coot. At Bundala there was a Small Indian Civet road casualty. Tsunami damage bacame much in evidence, as were the results of foreign aid projects, the latter much more prominent than two years ago. A tea stop was made at the Tangalle rest house where photos of the tsunami damage here were very moving. The journey was fascinating as there was always something of interest going on in the several towns and many villages that we passed through. In Weligama there were none of the hoped for stilt fishermen perched atop their poles, but when we stopped two opportunistic men rushed towards us and then into the water to pose for photos, all for a small fee of course. Here too we saw the small island of Taprobane with its eponymous exclusive hotel, available for private hire. Here we enjoyed a delicious rice and curry lunch in the characterful rest house. Once through Galle, we stopped at the site where a train was derailed and carried inland by the wave, now a poignant memorial, but the train itself has now been moved to another site. We arrived at the Bentota Beach hotel late afternoon and settled in before meeting in the bar to catch up with checklists. This hotel was built by Geoffrey Bawa but its take over by a large chain and subsequent conversion into a package tourist hotel has destroyed nearly all of its original charm. Features such as the central courtyard pool and trees hint at how it once was. Definitely a shock to be in such an enviroment after the rest of the tour, but at least the food here was excellent, always a very extensive buffet, the Sri Lankan food being some of the best of the trip. Day 13 Saturday 12th December Lunuganga and Madu Ganga The morning in particular was superb, spent at the sublime Lunuganga, one of the properties of the architect, the late Geoffrey Bawa. I am at Lunuganga as I write this. Situated only fifteen minutes from our hotel, on arrival we initially watched birds such as White-breasted Waterhen, Blue-tailed Bee-eaters and White-bellied Drongos in the overgrown paddies outside the estate. Pete and I arrived later than the others having run out of fuel on the way, which gave the opportunity for Pete to be photographed ���driving��� the three wheeler. We set off to explore the extensive beautiful landscaped gardens surrounding the Bawa house, the lawns sweeping down to the lakeshore. Of course there were a wealth of trees and shrubs here, some native but many not. Sri Lanka Hanging Parrots became a feature of the day, regularly flying over and giving their three note call. Brown-headed Barbets called continuously. Initially we searched the edge of a pool finding the lovely Bicoloured Damselfly, and nearby Kotogama���s Dwarf Toad. White Four-rings flew over the grass. Butterflies were not numerous but we saw several tigers, Common Crows, and the occasional pierid. A series of ponds near the lake supported many Black Velvet-wings, Sombre Skimmer, and several other dragonflies. There were many millipedes, flattened, with a yellow margin
15 and many of the trees were well protected by vicious orange ants. We also saw a good variety of Hymenoptera, Diptera and other insects. On one of the buildings was a whip scorpion, and there were some fine unusual termite workings. Active in the trees was a small troop of Leaf Monkeys. Find of the day, and one of the trip, was a Three-toed or Black-backed Pygmy Kingfisher that I spotted sitting inside the forest. Not an easy bird to see well and remarkably I managed to show most of the group through the ���scope. At the end of the walk we were granted permission to look inside the beautifully furnished house, superbly designed by Geoffrey Bawa. There were sumptuous guest rooms, with such eccentricities as an oil powered fan made from an old heater! Interesting works of art and colonial furniture graced the rooms. In the gallery we admired plans of various buildings designed by Bawa, including the great Kandalama Hotel that I have stayed in in the past. In another room Prince Charles had visited the architect. Sculptures and small water features adorned the garden. Some large Land Monitors patrolled the gardens. Back at the hotel it was time to rest in the middle of the day, with lunch optional. In the afternoon we met by the bus for a short trip south, to the Madu River. On arrival we arranged for a boat trip along the river, which proved to be a relaxing afternoon���s excursion, with a characterful boatman. Water Monitors started things off. Stork-billed, Common and White-throated Kingfishers were here too. Both Little and Indian Cormorant perched on poles and fishing nets, some of the latter in breeding plumage. Three Little Herons were seen. Brahminy Kites soared overhead, there were several Green Imperial Pigeons, and Black-hooded Oriole was seen. Day 14 Sunday 13th December Bentota Another fine start to the day saw us taking a short walk along a narrow lane to a riverside property where we boarded a boat for a trip up river along the Bentota, which flows into the sea beside the hotel. This was a leisurely last trip, and most things seen were now very familiar to us but the boat did allow close views of some common birds. Initially the river was lined with houses, including several impressive properties. As we motored upriver however the surroundings became more natural, with fine mangrove habitat, and several small islands in the river. The white flowered Suicide Tree, with spherical pendulous fruits, was common here, a member of the Apocynaceae. The warm weather and clear skies meant bird activity was rather subdued, but there were many common species seen well, such as Little Heron and Blue-tailed Bee-eaters. There were several Water Monitors, some very large. Among the many Brahminy Kites were two Crested Serpent Eagles, high up. The highlight was a Brown Hawk-owl that I spotted perched, but it soon flew unfortunately. Blue Water Lilies were admired, and butterflies on the wing included Common Jezebel and a female Baron. Several small crocodiles were seen, but no adults.