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A Sri Lankan Wildlife Cornucopia, July-August 2010

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Old Thursday 16th December 2010, 20:39   #1
Andrew Whitehouse
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A Sri Lankan Wildlife Cornucopia, July-August 2010

So I thought it was about time I got around to doing a trip report for my holiday in Sri Lanka last summer. I wonder if I'll finish it. Let's see how we go. First up, a bit of background.

Organisation
Sri Lanka is a pretty easy country to do independently. It's even easier to do if you're lazy and get other people to organise it for you. I took the lazy, though much more expensive option and sorted out my trip with Jetwing Eco Holidays. This mostly worked well although sometimes emails don't seem to get to them. If you organise things with them and don't get a reply to an email fairly soon then you'll probably need to re-send it. It also wasn't really expensive, given that it was just me on my own with a guide. But you could no doubt do it much cheaper on your own. I was quite happy with Jetwing, although some of the places I stayed could have been better (particularly the fancier places - see below).

Itinerary
Basically, the first eight days were spent with a guide travelling to various areas of the country and then the remaining two and a half weeks were spent on my own at Sinharaja Forest. This is much longer than most people spend there, but I thought it was well worth it.

So the itinerary was as follows:
13th July: Flew from Aberdeen via London Heathrow to Colombo with Sri Lankan Airlines. Although Sri Lankan fly direct from the UK, I must admit I wasn't too impressed with them and would probably fly with another carrier if I was returning. They seem very reluctant to allow you to sleep, for some reason.
14th July: Arrived in Colombo early morning, met up with my guide Upali and then drove to Kithulgala. Stayed at Kithulgala Rest House for three nights. This was quite a nice place, with impressive views across the river.
17th July: Left Kithulgala and drove to Nuwara Eliya, where I stayed at the Tea Bush Hotel for two nights. Quite a friendly hotel.
19th July: Left Nuwara Eliya and drove the fairly spectacular route to Yala. Stayed for two nights at the Elephant Reach Hotel. This is quite a fancy 'safari' type place but it was a bit poor in a lot of respects. Service in particular was quite bad.
21st July: Left Yala and called in at Udawalawe National Park before spending one night at Centauria Hotel in Embilipitiya. This was another rather elaborate hotel that was a bit disappointing, with unfriendly staff, poor food and no mosquito nets in the rooms, despite being in the most mosquito ridden place I went to in Sri Lanka.
22nd July: Travelled to Sinharaja to stay at the legendary Martin's Simple Lodge for the rest of the trip. Martin's is rustic but great. I'll say more about it later.
7th August: Left Martin's and was driven to Colombo airport for a flight back to the UK.

Guides
My guide for the first eight days was Upali Nissanka. He's a good chap and was quite patient with my ever changing demands and my inability to set my clock to the right time (I was half an hour ahead for the first four days!). I wouldn't necessarily say he was the sharpest-eyed guide I've ever met but he had a good knowledge of sites and an ability to drive on Sri Lankan roads.

At Sinharaja you're somewhat obliged to use a local guide when going into the forest reserve. The guides are a bit hit and miss but Upali sorted me out with a young chap called Danuschka. He was quite excellent and extremely good company for the rest of my stay. If you go to Sinharaja you should ask for him. He's a very good guy and razor sharp.

Weather
The weather was an interesting feature. I was going to Sri Lanka in the monsoon season, which perhaps seems a bit foolish. The foolhardiness of it seemed rather apparent during my first few days in Kithulgala where it rained an awful lot. I spent most of that time there sheltering wherever I could waiting for it to stop raining. It occasionally did this, but not too often. In the highlands at Nuwara Eliya the weather was peculiarly Scottish, with cool temperatures, low cloud, a cold wind and drizzle. Then at Yala it was hot, dry and breezy. At Sinharaja the weather wasn't too bad really. I was worried it would be really wet, as it had been at Kithulgala, but most days it didn't rain much at all. I think during my whole stay at Martin's there were only a couple of days when there was a lot of rain. It was very humid though, but I sort of got used to it.

Leeches
You get leeches in Sri Lanka, at least in the wet zone. I had one on my leg after my first brief walk at Kithulgala and got another one the following day, which climbed up under my shirt and onto my waist when I was sat down sheltering from the rain. Another found its way onto my neck, but luckily I got it off before it got to grips with me. At Sinharaja there were sometimes an awful lot of leeches, but they seemed to decline during my stay. A rigorous approach to protection involving leech socks, wellies, deet and tucking everything in resulted in me never being bitten whilst out in the field. I did get bitten twice whilst asleep though. The beds at Martin's have mosquito nets and the two times I got bitten were either on occasions when I didn't use the net or when it came loose. Mosquitos themselves weren't much of an issue though.

Food
Sri Lanka is very good if you like curry. I like curry and was very happy in general. Martin's in particular is quite splendid for eating.
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Old Thursday 16th December 2010, 21:04   #2
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Day One, 14th July: Kithulgala

The drive through the hills to Kithulgala didn't produce too many birds, aside from brief views of Red-wattled Lapwing. After unpacking at the Rest House I had a quick look around the grounds, seeing various common birds: Indian Swiftlet, Long-billed and Purple-rumped Sunbirds, Red-vented Bulbul, White-bellied Drongo, Yellow-billed Babbler, Common Tailorbird, Greater Coucal and Asian Koel. A pair of Crested Serpent Eagles were soaring over the lush forest on the other side of the river. As this was my first visit to south Asia, most of these birds were new to me.

We went for a short walk along the river near the hotel where we found some fruiting trees that were very busy with birds, including my first few Sri Lankan endemics. These included two species of barbet: Yellow-fronted and Sri Lankan Small Barbet (I'm going on the 'generous list' of 33 endemics). These were splendid, colourful birds. Less colourful but even more impressive was a male Sri Lankan Grey Hornbills: a rather small but characterful hornbill. Other birds busying themselves at the fruits were Green Imperial Pigeon, Black-rumped Flameback, Lesser Yellownape, Brown-headed Barbet, Black Bulbul, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Yellow-browed Bulbul and Hill Mynah. Birds were buzzing everywhere and I was struggling to know where to look.

Then it started raining and it rarely stopped for the rest of the day. After lunch we headed to the other end of the town to an area near Sisira's River Lodge. This was quite busy before the heaven's opened. A few bullet-like Sri Lankan Hanging Parrots buzzed over and an Alexandrine Parakeet was seen feeding in the top of a fruit tree. A couple of Sri Lankan Swallows were hawking over the fields and the first of many Black-hooded Orioles were quite dazzling. A party of Sri Lankan Rufous Babblers, one of the main flock-forming species in the wet zone, kept things lively. We heard one of the local specialities, a Green-billed Coucal but never came close to seeing it. And it really did rain an awful lot.
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Old Thursday 16th December 2010, 21:25   #3
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Day Two, 15th July: Kithulgala

This was another dominated by rain. It began with me watching the dawn rise from outside my hotel room, watching White-rumped Munia, White-breasted Kingfisher and Oriental White-eyes in the nearby bushes. After breakfast we headed across the river in a dug out canoe - rather an entertaining experience - to explore the forest on the other side. Or tried to, but it rained for a couple of hours. When the rain cleared we mostly looked around the forest edges by an area of paddyfields. This was quite busy, with a couple more endemics giving lovely views: Sri Lankan Mynah and Sri Lankan Crested Drongo. A couple of brilliantly coloured Flame Minivets (or Scarlet if you prefer) and some Black-capped Bulbuls rumaged around the edges, and a tiny, plain-looking Pale-billed Flowerpecker zipped about the foliage. Raptors took advantage of an interlude of warm sunshine. A Black Eagle glided over the clearing and a mysterious hawk-eagle was seen badly perched in a tree canopy before slipping away all too quickly. It was probably a Mountain Hawk-eagle but we couldn't be certain. Some Sri Lankan Blue Magpies were heard calling though they remainded far out of sight.

In the afternoon we returned to Sisira's and, more specifically, to the same building where we had sheltered from the rain the previous day. One good bird was an Oriental (Crested) Honey Buzzard - a big dark looking thing that was perched up in a tree. I saw what was probably the same bird the following day but didn't see it anywhere else on the trip. After a few hours we realised the rain wasn't going to stop and that was that for the day.

Here's a picture from the Kithulgala Rest House, during a brief interlude in the downpours.
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Old Thursday 16th December 2010, 21:55   #4
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Day Three, July 16th: Kithulgala

It didn't rain as much on this day and, by the afternoon at least, it was actually quite nice. In the morning we returned to the nearby forest in the vicinity of the Rafters' Retreat. The fruiting trees were still busy with birds and along the river a Stork-billed Kingfisher showed very well in a low overhanging tree. A warbler-like Dark-fronted Babbler was skulking through the undergrowth and a female Jerdon's Leafbird was in the bushes near my hotel room. I saw a male later in the day. A brief trip to Sisira's was curtailed again by rain, but I managed some views of a Tawny-bellied Babbler as it very secretively mooched about in the depths of the vegetation. This was a bird I didn't see again until the final day of the trip. An Asian Open-billed Stork was perched on top of a distant tree.

In the afternoon the weather was much better and we drove about a bit in the hope of calling in a Chestnut-backed Owlet. That didn't work but I did get my first views of Sri Lankan Jungle-fowl - a female that wandered across a track. Later we returned to Sisira's where I had fine views of a splendid male - a really handsome bird, casually sauntering about just a few metres away. There was plenty about here in the sun. A male Legge's Flowerpecker was a real looker and a supremely agile Grey-rumped Treeswift bombed along the river valley.

The main hope was to see Green-billed Coucal. We soon heard one giving its deep cooing song and, with a bit of encouragement, it came in closer. Eventually it appeared in a small bush down a slope where it remained for a few minutes. This is one of those birds that doesn't look too exciting in books but is really impressive in reality. It looks rather like the much commoner Greater Coucal but has subtle purple streaking on the head and a remarkable pale green bill - quite different in colour to almost any bird bill I can think of. So far at least this was the bird of the trip.

Late in the afternoon we headed back across the river again for a dusk vigil for owls. The recently discovered Serendib Scops Owl has been seen in this area and we hoped that we might find one around the forest edges that surround the paddyfields. Sadly no owls were seen but we were treated to a dusk gathering of Sri Lankan Crested Drongos, together with the only two Dollarbirds of the trip. A giant Grizzled Indian Squirrel - as big as a monkey - lumbered about the forest.

Here's a cracking shot of the Green-billed Coucal, showing none of the diagnostic features. There's also a brief recording of the song.
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Old Sunday 19th December 2010, 18:40   #5
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Great read Andrew!

I went with my family in July 2009. They struggled a bit with the leeches and with some of Martin's meals at Sinharaja but otherwise we had a great time. Looks like my views of Green-billed Coucal were much like yours.

Looking forward to more......
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Old Sunday 19th December 2010, 18:55   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve G View Post
Great read Andrew!

I went with my family in July 2009. They struggled a bit with the leeches and with some of Martin's meals at Sinharaja but otherwise we had a great time. Looks like my views of Green-billed Coucal were much like yours.

Looking forward to more......
Thanks Steve - I shall try and get on with more later. Your trip report on here was a bit of an inspiration actually, so thanks for the encouragement.
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Old Monday 20th December 2010, 05:34   #7
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looking forward to the rest of this. Sri Lanka is on the cards for me some time in the next few years. It seems to be a popular place!
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Old Wednesday 22nd December 2010, 14:36   #8
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Bookmarked the thread since I am planing a trip there from Thailand probably in Feb. As things get near I might have questions on guidebooks and etc. So far your trip report's a joy to read ^^.
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Old Wednesday 22nd December 2010, 20:34   #9
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Day Four, July 17th: Nuwara Eliya

We left Kithulgala quite early in the morning and headed onwards and upwards into the mountains and Nuwara Eliya. Not too much was seen as we passed through a mix of forests and tea plantations, aside from brief views of a Hill Swallow and a Crested Serpent Eagle.

We arrived at the Tea Bush Hotel in the cool misty drizzle that was to characterise much of the time we spent in the Highlands. The tea plantation right next to the hotel soon provided a new bird, as a family group of Pied Bushchats flitted about the tea bushes. A wander nearby was quite productive, despite the relatively low diversity of species. I was quite entertained by the rather grey looking Great Tits, one of a couple of 'familiar' birds found in the region. More on the other later. An area of rough ground held a neat Ashy Prinia - a species that is supposed to be widespread in Sri Lanka but I only saw it at high altitude. Whilst having lunch, a few other interesting birds were flitting about the tea bushes. A couple of Paddyfield Pipits were trotting about and there were a number of Sri Lankan White-eyes. These are larger and greener than the Oriental White-eyes that are common at lower altitudes.

In the afternoon we headed along a rather bumpy road to Hakagala Gardens. This is a good site for a number of high altitude specialities, although the drizzle had become quite heavy by this stage. Initially birds were inconspicuous and we ended up sheltering at a rather smelly toilet block. This wasn't as bad an idea as it sounds though as a nice mixed flock of birds passed close by. This produced three thoroughly lovely new birds. Best of all was the poorly named Dull-blue Flycatcher (perhaps better to call it by its alternative name of Dusky Blue Flycatcher), which is actually a decorative metallic blue colour. A few dinky Grey-headed Canary Flycatchers were also seen very well, along with a Velvet-fronted Nuthatch. They don't make unappealing nuthatches, I find. The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering the gardens seeing a similar selection of birds. The only other new species was a briefly seen Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike. There was also some mammal interest, with brief views of an Indian or Black-collared Hare. A mother and baby Purple-faced Leaf-Monkey were seen very nicely - these were of the thickly hairy upland form sometimes called a Bear Monkey. The rather bold Toque Macaques were seen in the gardens and also scavenging along the roads.

Some searching was done along the main road for Sri Lankan Bush Warbler and Sri Lankan Whistling Thrush but no luck was had. Another Dull-blue Flycatcher was seen whilst looking though.

Picture: Dull-blue Flycatcher
Recording: Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher
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Old Wednesday 22nd December 2010, 20:58   #10
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Day Five, July 18th: Nuwara Eliya and Horton Plains

This was a day that began early and was rather hard work throughout. We set off in the dark to drive to Horton Plains for dawn. This is a high plateau area that bears a surprising resemblance to a windswept Scottish moorland. The mist, drizzle and wind that accompanied us most of the time enhanced this impression. We began by looking for Sri Lankan Whistling Thrush that is supposedly regular at a small pool by the side of a track. Although we heard one calling it never got at all close.

On arriving at the Plains HQ I was soon seeing the other 'familiar' bird of the Highlands: the Sri Lankan form of Blackbird. These look recognisably like Blackbirds but there's little sexual dimorphism and they're a bit brighter looking than European birds to my eyes. The plains were hard work though, particularly as the visibility was poor, which also rendered the apparently spectacular 'World's End' view where the plateau falls away several hundred feet a bit redundant. The best birds were the charming Yellow-eared Bulbuls that were seen in the areas of scrub forest: very smart birds with a dashing yellow tuft behind the eye. Tantalising views were had of a Crimson-backed Flameback - these endemic woodpeckers being much harder to see than the commoner but closely related Black-rumped Flamebacks. Otherwise, there was a lot of trying but not much to show for it.

We spent the afternoon at the Whistling Thrush stakeout near Seetha Eliya. This is along the road to Hakagala, in a small gully where a stream rushes down some steep rapids. After crossing the slippery bridge we waited in the hope that one would appear towards dusk along the edge of the stream. It took a very long time but eventually the waiting paid off when a female Sri Lankan Whistling Thrush appeared along a rocky platform, dancing about with its wings partly opened. These are quite peculiar looking short-tailed and long-billed thrushes that move with odd, jerking motions and flicks of the tail. It soon shuffled into the undergrowth and didn't reappear. I had brief glimpses of birds as they moved through the trees in the gathering darkness. A pair were clearly about and they called quite vigorously, but normally out of sight. An altogether enigmatic species.
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Old Saturday 25th December 2010, 17:24   #11
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Day Six, July 19th: Nuwara Eliya - Yala

This was rather a varied day in which we travelled from Nuwara Eliya to Ella in the highlands and then down into the dry southeastern lowlands and the wetlands around Tissamaharama. We ended at the Elephant Reach hotel, near to Yala National Park.

In the morning we stopped several times along the road around Hakagala Gardens. The main focus was to try to find Sri Lankan Bush Warbler, which had eluded me on previous days. We played recordings at several promsing bits of thick cover for quite some time. I'd love to say that eventually Bush Warblers responded vigorously and showed well but sadly they avoided us completely. I didn't even hear one - a complete brick wall. This was a bit of a worry as it wasn't likely I'd be in range of them anywhere else on the trip. A few other nice birds were around, including Yellow-eared Bulbul, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher and Ashy Prinia. We had lunch in Ella at a hotel with spectacular views down a valley to the lowlands. In that area I saw Brahminy Kite, Grey-rumped Treeswift, Hill Swallow and White-rumped Munia.

We then drove down the valley and into the lowlands and much drier country. An Indian Roller was seen briefly on a telegraph wire. This area has a number of marshy tanks that are very good for wetland birds, and we spent the afternoon looking for these. First stop was in the town of Debera Wewa, where some lovely marshes and pools were right next to the road. After the relative paucity of birds in the highlands, I was suddenly hit with a wave of new birds. Packs of Little Cormorant, Oriental Darters, Purple Herons, Intermediate Egrets, Indian Pond Herons, Black-headed Ibis, Lesser Whistling Ducks, Brahminy Kites, White-breasted Waterhens and Purple Swamphens were busying themselves amongst the lilies. I was very taken with Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, particularly the implausibly long-tailed adults. Little Green Bee-eaters were hawking the marshes, sometimes perching up nicely. Most impressively, a Grey-headed Fish Eagle appeared, landing on the lilies in the wetland and sitting about rather nonchalantly. A group of distant wildfowl were quite confusing, particularly as there aren't too many species in Sri Lanka. We managed to get a bit closer and realised they were a group of Cotton Pygmy-geese - really gorgeous things, with dinky bills and the males with an almost smew-like pattern in dark green and white.

The second wetland was nearer to Tissa and was more open in character. Soon after arriving a Shikra glided rather casually overhead. The only Ashy Wood-Swallow of the trip was perched on top of a telegraph wire in a field. Another pair of Cotton Pygmy-geese appeared briefly here - almost trying to land in some of the large trees that surrounded the wetland. Plenty of Baya Weavers were at their nests. We drove a short distance to the other end of this wetland where lots of birds were feeding in the paddyfields, particularly Black-winged Stilts. A couple of White-bellied Sea Eagles floated around in the distance. The large weaver colonies included both Baya and Streaked Weavers. A handsome pair of Pied Cuckoos appeared in the marshy vegetation - lovely black and pinkish-white birds. I was also pleased to get some reasonable views of a Sri Lankan Woodshrike - potentially a tricky endemic. A stately Painted Stork dwarfed all the other wetland birds.

Towards dusk we looked unsuccessfully for White-naped Woodpecker in a palm grove. A group of Asian Palm Swifts were dashing about the treetops and a few Alexandrine Parakeets flew overhead towards their night time roosts.
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Old Saturday 25th December 2010, 17:47   #12
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Best read I've had today A great report so far.

Happy Christimas to you Andrew

D
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Old Saturday 25th December 2010, 18:07   #13
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The Leopard

Yala National Park is famous for its Leopards and most visitors are no doubt hoping to see one on a game drive. Quite a few are fortunate, but a lot are unsuccessful.

My moment came on my first drive around the park. We had moved into a more remote part of the park, and hadn't seen any other vehicles for a while. The initial encounter was sudden: we turned a corner and were almost on top of the Leopard, prowling calmly along the edge of the track. It noticed us, and headed slowly through the bushes and out of sight. The driver realised that if it continued along the same path it would walk across a clearing, so we drove a short distance further along and waited. Soon it reappeared, quietly padding across the short grass and into cover. Then it emerged again, this time at the edge of the track just a few metres ahead of us. It waited and we watched.
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Old Saturday 25th December 2010, 18:10   #14
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Eventually it briskly strutted across the track, giving us a quick glance as it went.
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Old Saturday 25th December 2010, 18:15   #15
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Once it reached the other side of the track it seemed in no hurry to continue and it sat for several minutes in the grass before slowly moving into the bushes. Here, it crouched in amongst a bush for some time. It was hard to tell what it was doing, but something in there seemed to be of interest. Even though it was still just a few metres away, I was struck by how inconspicuous it had become amongst the vegetation. Eventually, it slunk off and disappeared into the bush.

Spending perhaps fifteen minutes or more within just twenty or thirty metres of a big cat was a new experience for me, and one that I won't forget for a long time.
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Old Saturday 25th December 2010, 19:36   #16
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Once it reached the other side of the track it seemed in no hurry to continue and it sat for several minutes in the grass before slowly moving into the bushes. Here, it crouched in amongst a bush for some time. It was hard to tell what it was doing, but something in there seemed to be of interest. Even though it was still just a few metres away, I was struck by how inconspicuous it had become amongst the vegetation. Eventually, it slunk off and disappeared into the bush.

Spending perhaps fifteen minutes or more within just twenty or thirty metres of a big cat was a new experience for me, and one that I won't forget for a long time.
One thing springs to mind - jealous as **** !!

Congratulations Andrew!
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Old Saturday 25th December 2010, 20:33   #17
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A great experience Andrew!
Congratulations!!!

Anyone wishing to see Asian leopard should have Yala at the top of the must-visit list.
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Old Sunday 26th December 2010, 15:47   #18
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Day Seven part one, July 20th: Yala

There was plenty more to see at Yala. We arrived at dawn for the first game drive and were stopping very regularly at first. Small parties of Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Larks were around the entrance and a scan along the shore of a nearby lake revealed both Stone Curlew and its quirky looking relative Great Thick-knee. Various new passerines were soon encountered in the bush: glorious Black-backed Robins, Asian Paradise Flycatchers, White-browed Bulbuls, White-browed Fantails, Rufous-winged Bushlarks, Small Minivets and Plain Prinia. A slightly tatty looking Black-naped Monarch was by a small pool and there were parties of Orange-breasted Green-Pigeons. A female Sri Lankan (Pompadour) Green-Pigeon was picked out amongst these. Most of the pools held a good selection of waterbirds: Spot-billed Pelicans, Painted and Open-billed Storks, Yellow-wattled Lapwings, various herons and the towering and splendidly macabre Lesser Adjutants. Indian Peafowl and Sri Lankan Jungle Fowl strolled cheerfully about the place. A Malabar Pied Hornbill was fabulous in the way hornbills always seem to be.

Lots of other animals were streaming about too. I guess the numbers and variety might not compare with African safaris but I was still impressed. Big groups of Spotted Deer trotted about, always looking a little wary in case a Leopard might be around. There were plenty of Wild Boar, Water Buffalo, Grey Langurs, Marsh Crocodiles and Land Monitors. A Ruddy Mongoose was at one waterhole and a single Golden Jackal was trotting across the dry flats. Just loads of stuff.

1. Lesser Adjutant
2. Spot-billed Pelican
3. Painted Storks
4. Indian Peafowl
5. Indian Pond Heron
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Old Sunday 26th December 2010, 15:51   #19
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1. Purple Heron
2. Asian Open-billed Stork
3. Ruddy Mongoose
4. Grey Langur
5. Marsh Crocodile
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Old Sunday 26th December 2010, 16:04   #20
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Day Seven part two, July 20th: Yala

Around the middle of the day I had a bit of a look for birds around the hotel, but it was too hot for there to be much activity. Another couple of Shikra were seen. After a bit of pestering we returned early to Yala for a second game drive. I liked the look of the various lakes that are on the way to the entrance and we spent some productive time at those. Quite a good selection of waders were around, including many familiar species such as Curlew Sandpiper and Black-tailed Godwit. More interesting were several Mongolian (Lesser Sand) Plovers, Great Thick-knees and some very cute Small Pratincoles. Caspian, Gull-billed and Little Terns were also seen.

1. Great Thick-knee
2. Water Buffalo
3. Small Pratincole
4. Ashy-crowned Sparrow-lark
5. Mongolian Plover
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Old Sunday 26th December 2010, 16:21   #21
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Anyone wishing to see Asian leopard should have Yala at the top of the must-visit list.
Totally agree. I had 5 there over the course of 3 days. Well worth boning up on the birds well in advance as a lot of the guides I was with over the course of my time at Yala/Bundala were distinctly average on the bird front.
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Old Sunday 26th December 2010, 19:23   #22
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Day Seven part three, 20th July: Yala

The final game drive produced a lot of the same birds, but with some good new species. A furtive Blue-faced Malkoha was seen moving through the bush. A small party of Indian Silverbills appeared next to a small pool. Good views were had of another Grey-headed Fish-Eagle. The best was a smashing Barred Button-Quail that was put up by the landrover but then showed rather well for a short time next to the trail - a new family for me.

A big feature of the afternoon were Asian Elephants, which I'd not seen at all in the morning. We initially came across a small group feeding right next to the track, churning up the dusty ground with their feet. More were to follow, with several groups moving through the bush and a large male standing right next to the track. Lots of Grey Langurs also appeared in various busy packs. A family group of four Golden Jackals were moving across the plains.
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Old Sunday 26th December 2010, 19:27   #23
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Totally agree. I had 5 there over the course of 3 days. Well worth boning up on the birds well in advance as a lot of the guides I was with over the course of my time at Yala/Bundala were distinctly average on the bird front.
I found the standard of guides really variable in Sri Lanka. There was a chap who came out on our first game drive at Yala but he was pretty useless and we didn't use any of the park rangers in the afternoon. The ranger at Ude Walawe was very good though and the local guide I used at Sinharaja, Danuschka, was fantastic.
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Old Sunday 26th December 2010, 20:19   #24
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Day Eight, 21st July: Yala - Ude Walawe

In the morning we drove through the lowlands to Ude Walawe, calling in at various tanks on the way. In most cases these weren't as busy as the ones we'd been to around Tissa. At one I picked out a distant Woolly-necked Stork soaring. The best site was a small lake that produced another Cotton Pygmy-Goose and two new passerines: a smart Black-headed Cuckoo-shrike and a few tiny Grey-breasted Prinias. A few Asian Elephants were along the fenceline as we approached Ude Walawe.

So, onto another game drive, this time at Ude Walawe. This site is a large reservoir on the boundary between the dry plains and the wet uplands and it acts as a magnet for elephants. The habitat is somewhat similar to Yala but is more open and grassy. Initially it was hard to see much, but as the afternoon progressed things got busier and I saw some really good wildlife. The reservoir itself held some good water birds, including one Lesser Adjutant, several Painted Stork, a Spoonbill and some more Mongolian Plovers. A couple of Woolly-necked Storks were seen nicely. Near the edge of the lake a small wader flipped up before settling in the grass. I was delighted to see it was an Asian Painted-Snipe - a bit of a bonus and a gorgeously marked bird.

Ude Walawe is very good for raptors. Black-winged Kites were common and I had some fine views of the lanky Changeable Hawk-Eagles. Yet another Grey-headed Fish-Eagle popped up at the lake. The grassland adjacent to the lake shore was also busy with passerines: Rufous-winged Bushlarks, Oriental Skylarks, Paddyfield Pipits, Plain Prinias and Zitting Cisticolas. Little Green Bee-eaters buzzed about, Pied Kingfishers flew along the ditches and Indian Rollers perched up prominently to good effect.

A few other goodies were found along the way. I was pleased to get some prolonged views of Yellow-eyed Babbler - quite a skulking species that reminded me of Whitethroat. Brief views were had of a Sirkeer Malkoha as it flew up from the side of the track. Another Barred Button-Quail was seen nicely, though a few other small 'quail type things' were not seen well enough to ID. The only Coppersmith Barbet of the trip perched in the top of a dead tree, and more good views were had of Malabar Pied Hornbill and Small Minivet.

Other animals were similar to Yala, with lots of Asian Elephants, some Spotted Deer and Grey Langurs and a few Marsh Crocodiles. Toque Macaques were also seen.

After the game drive we continued on to Embilipitiya where we stayed for the night. Lots of Little Swifts were along the huge dam of the reservoir and another tank stop produced over a hundred Lesser Whistling Ducks, two Shikras and a few hulking Water Monitors.

1. Indian Roller
2. Woolly-necked Stork
3. Pied Kingfisher
4. Gull-billed Terns
5. Red-wattled Lapwing
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Old Sunday 26th December 2010, 20:30   #25
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1. Black-winged Stilt
2. Black-winged Kite
3. Changeable Hawk-Eagle
4. Asian Elephants
5. Malabar Pied Hornbill
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