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Trip report: Pittas, panters and Leviathan in Sri Lanka - Oct-Nov 2014 (1 Viewer)

This seems like a good place to put these notes...

Just back from my trip with Mark Edgeller and Ollie Wardman, and it was a good one. We had some poor weather but not enough to spoil things and it allowed us to see all 33 endemics plus take a half-day whale watching trip in just 9 days:

Date / am birding / Travel / pm birding / Night
23/12/2014 n/a, arrive Colombo 1555 drive to Kitagula 3hrs, n/a, Kitagula Rest House
24/12/2014 Kitagula, n/a, Kitagula, Kitagula Rest House
25/12/2014 Kitagula, drive to NE 3hrs, Nuwara Eliya, Leisure Village Hotel Nuwara Eliya
26/12/2014 Nuwara Eliya / H Plains, n/a, Nuwara Eliya / H Plains, Leisure Village Hotel Nuwara Eliya
27/12/2014 Nuwara Eliya, drive to Kirinda 5hrs, Yala, Elephant Reach Hotel Kirinda
28/12/2014 Tissa, 1.5hrs to Udawalawe, Tissa / Udawalawe, Safari Village Hotel Udawalawa
29/12/2014 Udawalawe birding outside NP, drive to Sinharaja 3.5hrs, Sinharaja, Martin's Sinharaja
30/12/2014 Sinharaja, n/a, Sinharaja, Martin's Sinharaja
31/12/2014 Sinharaja, drive to Marissa 4hrs, n/a, Bay Beach Hotel Weligama
01/01/2015 whale watching, drive to Colombo 3hrs, Colombo for Small Barbet, Tamarind Tree Hotel

Our trip was arranged expertly by Walk With Jith and our excellent guide/driver was Nandana Itewa Gamage. It’s hard to criticise Nandana. He was totally reliable, a good driver, great company, an excellent birder and worked very hard to give us just the trip we wanted. Needless to say, I highly recommend him to anyone contemplating a Sri Lankan endem raid.

Endemic notes as follows:
Sri Lanka Spurfowl – amazing close views on the way in to Sinharaja.
Serendib Scops – found roosting impressively by Nandana close to the paddy field clearing in the main Kitagula forest. He also showed us roosting frogmouth and Indian Scops, and called in Jungle and Chestnut-backed Owlets at various sites.
Sri Lanka Whistling-thrush – our time searching for this was hugely reduced due to a Pied Thrush problem (see below). We did however all see a bird on the Horton Plains in dreadful weather but our views ranged from terrible to poor. The one real failure of the trip I guess.
Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush – an area some 20 mins walk into the main forest at Sinharaja was holding at least one and over a couple of prolonged sessions, we all managed good views.
Green-billed Coucal – an early score at Kitagula.
Sri Lanka Small Barbet – we thought our itinerary covered no nailed-on sites for this but Nandana had an excellent location in a shady Colombo suburb where we saw several and they are also present in the Tamarind Tree Hotel grounds apparently.

Notable others:
Indian Pitta – nice views at Kitagula and in Victoria Park.
White-naped Woodpecker – great views of a pair in the plantation adjacent to Debarawewa tank, Tissa. Early morning is pretty much essential apparently.
Pied Thrush – the dirty old canal in Victoria Park, Nuwara Eliya, was full to the brim due to unseasonal heavy rain and Nandana was somewhat taken aback as most of the regular bankside PT habitat was therefore under water. We also saw plenty of landslips as we travelled around, it really did seem that the country had received huge rainfall in the previous days. We scoured the other quiet corners of the park over 2 days and eventually found a PT using a dense shrubbery and one at a roost tree but these only gave us the briefest, untickable views. Setting a target leaving time of 8am on 27th, we eventually had super views of 2 male PTs at 9am (!) as the water level in the canal had by now dropped a metre…
Kashmir Fly – only seen in the Nuwara Eliya Botanical Gardens, which we visited in our ever more desperate efforts to find Pied Thrushes.
Bay Owl and Spot-bellied Eagle-owl – no calling birds at either Kitagula or Sinharaja close to the accommodation. We didn’t go on any proper night walks however and we didn’t push hard for any. An area of activity that Nandana could develop I guess.
Blue Whale – the only significant thing we saw on our morning boat trip in great weather. One was watched surfacing and deep-diving about 7 times over 90 mins, giving some excellent views and Lampreys hanging off the flukes were often visible. Without doubt, a trip highlight.

We were not planning a Yala safari but decided to do one on the day. Big mistake, total chaos in the park on Christmas Saturday and our initial scepticism was totally justified. We did see a Leopard lounging in a tree but only after being trapped in a massive traffic jam inside the park for well over an hour. I’m quite happy to put up with some full on tourist traps to see great wildlife (e.g. the whale watching boat above) but Yala on this day was ridiculous and all in all, a terrible experience. Victoria Park would also be well worth avoiding around Christmas time. It was very busy with tourists on 26th and we wished Walk With Jith had advised us accordingly on both sites when we were planning. Kitagula, Martin’s and Sinharaja would seem to be the best places to be on Christmas and Boxing days if visiting over this holiday period.

Thanks to all who provided info before the trip. Very happy to field questions of course or provide a trip/location list in due course.
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