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About Sri Lanka - Sri Lanka Bird Watching

Regions: ancient-cities | capital-colombo | hill-country | south-coast
Sri Lanka Sri Lanka Bird Watching
Choosing a holiday can be agonising, especially if you’re a birder – but what if you want to see more than birds, or you have a partner or family who are less keen than yourself? We have the perfect solution in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has something to offer everyone. But for birders the country boasts an impressive range of habitats and 430 bird species of which about 26 are endemic (depending on your taxonomy) a number of others are shared only with the Western Ghats of southern India. A typical Sri Lanka Bird Watching tour could take in an ancient city, botanical gardens, national parks, nature reserves or wildlife sanctuary. These sites are ideal for anyone and not just for birder.

One of 26 bird species unique to the island is the Sri Lanka Woodpigeon, a shy inhabitant of highland forests.
Nuwara Ellya is the best site fo Kashmir Flycatcher, which winters almost exclusively in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka Magpie, one of the country's most colourful endemics, occurs In the forest at Sinharaja, Sri Lanka's best birding site.
Cultural sites are a bonus on a birding holiday: this colossal statue of Lord Buddha graces the Wevurukannala Temple In southern Sri Lanka.
The Impressive fortress at Sigirya, rising 600 feet above the plains, is popular with tourists and birds alike.

Armed with a professional bird guide and with a partner who is less fanatical bird watcher, we setoff to explore the delights of this gem of an island, Sri Lanka. Our mission was to see all the endemics as well as taking in some of the cultural sites.

Negombo


A visit to the wetland sanctuaries of Bellanwrla and Muthurajawela (near Negombo Lagoon) a short distance to thenorthof the Capital and only 15 minutes from the Colombo International Airport, is a good place to start to get your first taste of some of the country's more familiar birds: Pond Herons, various egrets, Brahminy Kites, Red-wattled Lapwings, Ring-necked Parakeets, Koels, Common Mynas and hordes of House and Jungle Crows. Rather more unusual in global terms are Black Bitterns, which are surprisingly easy to see.

Anuradhapura


In the best tradition of saving the highlights to the end, it is best to head initially to thenorthpart of Sri Lanka into the dry zone, to the ancient city of Anuradhapura in the Northern Central Province. There is plenty to see on the way and a journey which should only take two or three hours can last all day if you decide to stop and observe the colourful tropical nature of Sri Lanka.

Anuradhapura is an ancient capital of Sri Lanka and was home to a long succession of Sinhalese kings - spanning 14 centuries. The cultural heritage here is magnificent and there are countless temples, stupas and shrines in celebration of strong Buddhist faith on this island of Sri Lanka.

There are plenty of birds around Anuradhapura. Not surprisingly, waterbirds abound in the extensive wetlands and elegant Pheasant-tailed Jacanas are a familiar sight. Obligingly, they were all in their long-tailed breeding plumage during our visit.

We were not expecting endemics in this area, but Sri Lanka Junglefowl were vocal in the mornings in the dense undergrowth and was very shy. Tree enthusiasts won't want to miss the sacred Bo tree, reputed to have grown from a sapling of the tree under which Lord Buddha gained enlightenment.

To the west of Anuradhapura is the Wilpattu National Park which has recently been popular with some tourists since reopened in March, 2010. It is just a matter of time before it becomes a popular eco-tourism destination. Wilpattu National Park spanning from Anuradhapura to the northwest coast (50 km to the west of the Anuradhapura) covering an impressive 425 sq miles, the park is Sri Lanka 's largest. Wilpattu National Park has nearly sixty lakes and tanks with an excellent bird population due to the wetlands. Some of the wetland bird species that can be found in Wilpattu National Park includes Garganey, Pin tail, Whistling teal, Spoonbill, White ibis, Large white egret, Cattle egret and Purple heron.

Polonnaruwa


To the south-east Polonnaruwa succeeded Anuradhapura as the country's capital – another major cultural site, with large number of ruined temples, stupas, sculptures and several giant statues of Loard Buddha carved out of rock face. Elephants are common in the surrounding forests, but not easy to see. Our driver new a road which the elephants sometimes cross and sure enough, we spotted one lurking in the dense roadside vegetation, exactly as predicted. Another reward came even later when we surprised another on the road after darkness had fallen.

Pass Polonnaruwa to east of the country there are several national parks, Wasgamuwa National Park and Maduru Oya National Park. These parks are great eco locations but yet to be explored by travellers to Sri Lanka. Maduru Oya National Park is located in the Dry zone and is 314 km away from Colombo. Lesser Adjutant, Wooly necked stork, open bill, painted stork, Racket tailed Drongo, Yellow fronted barbet, Sri Lanka Junglefowl & Spurfowl are among the over 100 species of birds found within the park.

Sigiriya


Perhaps the most amazing cultural site of all is the fortress of Sigiriya. Rising 600 feet above the plains, this giant plug of rock houses an improbable palace on its flat summit and some ancient cave paintings halfway up. The climb is steep and exhausting but the sight of Peregrines chasing swifts against this spectacular panoramic backdrop is breathtaking. Down below, in the surrounding grounds, formal gardens with ponds flanked the mad leading to the rock, while nearby, more wetlands and forest provided great birding – nothing particularly unusual as far as endemics were concerned, but wintering Indian Pitta is not to be sneezed at.

Kandy


Kandy lies at the heart of the Central Highlands and is another important cultural centre, steeped in history. It too was a former Sinhalese capital and was last kingdom in Sri Lanka to fall into colonial hands. The Temple of Tooth Relic is a major tourist attraction and nearby, the Udawattakele Forest Reserve provides some excellent birding within the city limits. Layard's Parakeet, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Blue-winged Leafbird, Spotted Dove, Emerald Dove, Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Crimson-fronted Barbet, Brown-headed Barbet and Black-backed Kingfisher are common in the forest. Red-faced Malkoha and Kashmir Flycatcher are two birds listed as threatened that can be found in UdawattaKele.

Having reached the wet zone we started clocking up the endemics. Four species of parakeet in one flowering tree (including the endemic Layard's Parakeet) was ideal for comparison purposes, together with the tiny Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot.Yellow-fronted and Crimson-fronted Barbets were also easily found in this area.

Our stay was brief and soon we were climbing into the hills, the road twisting and turning through endless tea plantations, to the former colonial retreat of Nuwara Eliya. Victoria Park, in the town itself, is a busy place yet we managed to find Pied Ground Thrush. The birds themselves are moderately wary but seem unconcerned by all the bustle of the town.

A little further out, Hakgala Botanical Gardens is a good place to mop up a handful of endemic species such as Dull-blue Flycatcher, Yellow-eared Bulbul and Sri Lankan White-eye.

Nuwara Eliya


Other highland specialities are easier to find in the picturesque Horton Plains National Park. A pre-dawn start is needed for one of the hardest species, the Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, as dawn is the best time to find this Inexplicably shy bird. Just as light was breaking, a weak burst of song gave the bird away and it was quickly located in the half tight. Other endemics such as Sri Lanka Bush Warbler and Sit Lanka Woodpigeon fell in quick succession and we were back in Nuwara Eliya for a late breakfast.

Golden-fronted-Leafbird open-bill Sri-Lanka-Junglefowl Lesser-Adjutant Wooly-necked-stork

Sinharaja Rainforest


Undoubtedly the single best birding site in Sri Lanka is Sinharaja Rainforest. This magnificent piece of lowland and foothill forest is easily accessible from Ratnapura, a town famous for gemstones. You will need an early start from Ratnapura to visit Sinharaja Rainforest. As we rumbled along the last stretch of rough track into the park, a brown lump on a roadside branch caught our eyes. We were rewarded with a Sri Lanka Frogmouth, a much sought after nocturnal species.

A wide track through the forest makes birding relatively easy in Sinharaja, but there are few side trails. The leeches can be bad at times (mainly after rain), but were localised. Birds here travel around in 'bird waves'- large, loose mixed flocks which passes randomly through the forest. We saw nothing for the first two hours but when the first bird wave came through it was race against time to see as many as of its component species as possible. Orange-billed Babblers and Ashy-headed Laughing Thrushes were the most numerous and most visible members of the flocks, with smaller numbers of various other species. Gorgeous Malabar Trogons and the spectacular Red-faced Malkoha are also found here.

With its impossibly red bill, legs and eye-ring, the Sri Lanka Magpie is one of the best-looking endemics. Inside the forest, we watched a pair persistently attacking a tree trunk - eventually a huge hairy spider retreated from the tree. On the forest floor, Spot-winged Thrushes performed well, as did the local race of Scaly Thrush (possibly a separate species).

During the day we tracked down the remaining endemics of the area: Sri Lanka Spurfowl, Chestnut-backed Owlet White-faced Starling, the Sri Lanka Myna, Brown-capped Babbler and Legge's Flowerpecker and, by the end of the day, had only one left to see, the rather shy Green-billed Coucal. The forest guard who came with us told about an occupied nest near the headquarters. What a stroke of luck! He took us to an isolated tree in a clearing and pointed out a well hidden large ball of dead vegetation. We waited, and waited. At last, as our time was almost up, a coucal suddenly appeared and our hearts sank - it was the wrong species! We couldn't wait any longer, it was time to leave.

Kumana National Park


For bird watching enthusiasts, Kumana National Park is an 'absolute must'. Kumana National Park is one of the most important bird nesting and breeding grounds in Sri Lanka. Over 250 species of birds have been recorded in the national park. One of the most significant features of the park is the 'Kumana Villu' - a 200 hectare natural swamp lake, fed by the 'Kumbukkan Oya' through a half mile long narrow channel. During April–July months tens of thousands of birds migrate to the Kumana swamp area annually. Rare species such as Black-necked Stork, Lesser Adjutant, Eurasian Spoonbill, and Great Thick-knee are breeding inhabitants of the Kumana villu. Pintail Snipes migrate here from Siberia. Asian Openbill, Glossy Ibis, Purple Heron, Great Egret, Indian Pond Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Spot-billed Pelican, Indian Cormorant, Little Cormorant, Common Moorhen, Watercock, Purple Swamphen, White-breasted Waterhen, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Black-winged Stilt, Lesser Whistling Duck and Little Grebe are the bird species migrate here in large flocks. Among the rare birds that migrate to the swap include Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Malabar Trogon, Red-faced Malkoha, and Sirkeer Malkoha.

Summary


We had only scratched the surface. We had achieved 25 of the 26 endemics in just five days! Sri Lanka is a great place for bird lovers and for family members who might not be bird lovers. There is something for everyone here.

This feature is based on a feature originally published in Bird Watching - Britain's top-selling wild-bird magazine.

When to go: November to April is the best time to visit. In addition to being the driest season, a host of wintering species is an added bonus. But it will be more expensive since it is the peak season for tourism in Sri Lanka.

Where to go: Most of the endemics can be found in the wet zone in the southern part of the country. Essential areas to visit include Sinharaja, Nuwara Eliya, Horton Plains and Kumana National Park.

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 Drive through the stunning highlands of Sri Lanka, you will realise why Sri Lanka is one of the world's largest exporters of tea and is where the renowned standard of ‘Ceylon Tea' comes from.
 

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Other Articles

 
Travel Sri Lanka Adventure

Adventure

There is no better or more exhilarating way to discover Sri Lanka’s spectacular scenery and nature than through Sri Lanka adventure holiday offered by Travel Sri Lanka. More...
Travel Sri Lanka Anniversary

Anniversary

Going on a romantic holiday to a tropical paradise such as Sri Lanka can be a great way to celebrate your anniversary. More...
Travel Sri Lanka Ayurvedic

Ayurvedic

Sri Lanka's ancient history has a page devoted to the world of "Ayurveda" meaning the science of life and is the most scientific and complete system of preventative and curative medical care known to mankind. More...
Travel Sri Lanka Culture

Culture

The culture of Sri Lanka has been influenced by many things in the past, but the country has managed to retain much of its ancient, rich aspects. More...
Travel Sri Lanka Golf

Golf

Golf has taken hold in Sri Lanka and is beginning to gather quite a following, speak with our experienced holiday planners; they will help you plan out a holiday which will keep you within range of Sri Lanka’s finest greens. More...
Travel Sri Lanka Half Board

Half Board

For those who enjoy a light lunch and occasional soft and alcoholic drinks when on holiday, we advise you to go on a half board holiday to Sri Lanka. More...

Sri Lanka Weather

Sri Lanka weather is slightly complicated by having two monsoons and an inter-monsoonal period when rain can occur in many parts of the island. As a result, Sri Lanka has become an all year around travel destination. More...

Best Time to Travel to Sri Lanka

Visitors come to Sri Lanka all year around. Sri Lanka’s climate means that it is always the ‘right’ beach season somewhere on the coast. More...

Sri Lanka Visa Requirements

Sri Lanka tourists visa regulations are simple. USA and most European countries receive 30 days tourist visa on arrival. More...

Foreign Embassies in Sri Lanka

As a tourist, it is always important to know where the foreign embassy is in Sri Lanka and what they can and cannot do to help you. More...

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