Endemic Birds and Mammals (birds and mammals) (with Blue Whale extension)
A 13-day, small group birding tour covering all of Sri Lanka's distinct climatic zones in search of the island's considerable number of endemic birds and equally impressive array of iconic large mammals.
Our tour of Sri Lanka, a global biodiversity hotspot, is a thorough exploration of the southern half of the island. Our itinerary takes us through all of Sri Lanka's distinct climatic zones as we search for the impressive 34 endemic birds found here among a rich avian diversity and accompanied by a selection of mammals that include a number of endemics and some of Asia's most iconic species. We make our way up into the plateau grasslands of the central highlands before descending to the southwest through the lush tropical forests of the island's wet zone, and finally into the scrub jungle of the dry zone in the island's southeastern corner. Among others, we'll look for Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, Crimson-backed Flameback, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush, Sri Lanka Bush Warbler, Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, Chestnut-backed Owlet and Serendib Scops Owl, plus Leopard, Asian Elephant and endemic mammals including Toque Macaque. We visit in the northern winter, when the climate is comfortable in the tropical lowlands and when Sri Lanka's resident birds are accompanied by some enticing winter migrants, in particular Kashmir Flycatcher and Pied Thrush.
Our post-tour extension visits the fishing port of Weligama on the island's southern shore. The narrow continental shelf here allows easy access to deep water, making this one of the best places in the world to see Blue Whale. This will be our focus during daily pelagic excursions where we'll also be looking for a host of other possible cetaceans and a small selection of seabirds.
Day 1: Colombo to Kandy
Arrivals into Colombo international airport this morning and drive inland to the ancient capital Kandy for the night. Spend the afternoon exploring the extensive grounds of our lodge, where we expect to encounter our first endemics, possibly Red-faced Malkoha, Crimson-backed Flameback, Layard’s Parakeet and Crimson-fronted Barbet as we enjoy an introduction to the islands’ rich birdlife.
Days 2-3: Nuwara Eliya and Horton Plains National Park
On day 2, we will drive into the central highlands for a two-night stay in the former colonial hill station of Nuwara Eliya at 1868m. In the afternoon, we will explore patches of montane rainforest that provide shelter to some of the most restricted range endemics confined to these elevations including Dull-blue Flycatcher and the skulking Sri Lanka Thrush, as well as some sought after migrants from the subcontinent, notably Pied Thrush and Kashmir Flycatcher. On day 3 a pre-dawn start will ensure we arrive at Horton Plains National Park by first light, to spend the day exploring native montane grasslands and stunted cloud forests unique to these higher hills. Here, we will search for Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, the elusive Sri Lanka Bush Warbler, Sri Lanka White-eye and Sri Lanka Woodpigeon as well as Alpine Swift and Legge’s Hawk-Eagle, and the highland races of Grizzled Giant Squirrel and of three endemic primates, Toque Macaque, Purple-faced Langur and Red Slender Loris.
Days 4-5: Kitulgala and Kelani Valley Forest Reserve
We leave the highlands in the morning of day 4, travelling into the tropical lowlands to the wet zone of the island’s southwest corner for a two-night stay at Kitulgala and the Kelani Valley Forest Reserve. We will arrive by midday to begin our exploration of this productive patch of native forest along the Kelani River. This is a stronghold of lowland endemics, notably Green-billed Coucal, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill and Chestnut-backed Owlet, complemented here by a host of subcontinental endemics including Malabar Trogon, Jerdon’s Leafbird and Indian Pitta as well as a diverse selection of more widespread forest birds such as Black-naped Monarch and Pied Flycatcher-shrike.
Days 6-8: Sinharaja Forest Reserve
On day 6 we drive to Sinharaja Forest Reserve for a three-night stay in the largest remaining patch of lowland forest in Sri Lanka. Saved from excessive logging by sheer inaccessibility, Sinharaja’s spectacularly lush primary forest is home to virtually all the island’s endemics. Many associate in lively mixed feeding flocks, known to be the largest in the world, and birding is fast-paced and exciting as these bird waves sweep noisily through the forest. Key species here include Sri Lanka Drongo, Orange-billed Babbler, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush, Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, Sri Lanka Hill Myna and Legge’s Flowerpecker, with the chance of the secretive Sri Lanka Spurfowl. The reserve also hosts an enticing selection of night birds, notably Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Sri Lanka Bay Owl and recently discovered endemic Serendib Scops Owl, as well as plentiful butterflies including the endemic Ceylon Tree Nymph and spectacular swallowtails such as Common Birdwing.
Day 9: Sinharaja to Udawalawe
We leave Sinharaja this morning, travelling into the drier southeast to Udawalawe National Park for the night. The reserve’s scrub jungle is a stark contrast to the humid rainforests of Kitulgala and Sinharaja, and we can expect a good selection of birds that favour these conditions and are new to the tour, in particular Sri Lanka Woodshrike and Sri Lanka Swallow, together with Barred Buttonquail, Yellow-eyed Babbler, Indian Silverbill, Grey-headed Fish Eagle and Changeable Hawk-Eagle, and abundant mammals including Asian Elephant, Asiatic Wild Buffalo, Tufted Grey Langur, Golden Jackal, Asian Palm Civet, and the Sri Lanka subspecies of Sambar and Chital.
Day 10-12: Tissa, Bundala and Yala
After a final morning game drive into Udawalawe on day 10 we will drive to the town of Tissa, our base for exploring two of the country’s finest reserves, close to the island’s southern shore. In the monsoon forest and thorn scrub of Yala National Park we will look for Leopard, found here in one of its highest densities anywhere in the world among an array of smaller mammals including the endemic Golden Palm Civet and a good diversity of birds in the mosaic of habitats. At Bundala, shallow brackish lagoons form an internationally important wintering ground and vital wetland habitat within the otherwise dry landscape where we can expect a great selection of waterbirds and shorebirds, including Greater and Lesser Sandplovers, Yellow Bittern, Greater Flamingo and Asian Openbill. We will return to Colombo in the afternoon of day 12 for the night.
Day 13: Depart Colombo
Departures from Colombo international airport today.
**OPTIONAL POST-TOUR EXTENSION: Blue Whale
Day 12-14: Weligama
Those joining the tour extension will drive to the fishing port of Weligama in the afternoon of day 12 for a two-night stay at the island’s southernmost point. Over the next two days we will take morning pelagic excursions beyond the edge of the narrow continental shelf in search of the magnificent Blue Whale. A wide selection of cetaceans has been recorded here and we may also come across Sperm, Bryde’s and Short-finned Pilot Whales and large pods of Long-snouted Spinner Dolphins, together with a selection of seabirds such as Caspian, Great and Lesser Crested and Gull-billed Terns and Heuglin’s Gull. Return to Colombo in the afternoon of day 14 for the night.
Day 15: Depart Colombo
Departures from Colombo international airport today
18 January - 30 January 2021
Extn - Blue Whale: 30 January - 1 February
17 January - 29 January 2022
Extn - Blue Whale: 29-31 January
Duration: 13 days (15 days with extension)
Maximum group size: 8 with 1 leader
2021: £ 2220 (Colombo/Colombo)
2022: £ tba* (Colombo/Colombo)
Single room supplement 2021: £ 400
Single room supplement 2022: £ tba*
Extn - Blue Whale 2021: £ 430 / srs £ 90
Extn - Blue Whale 2022: £ tba* / srs £ tba*
Deposit: £ 500
Estimated flight costs: £ 600
Estimated visa costs: £ 30
Best time: November to April
2021: from £ 2945 per person
2022: from £ tba per person*
[prices are per person based on 2 people travelling together; costs for other group sizes on request]
*2022 costs provisional
Tour grading: Easy to moderate.
Most birding will be on foot along quiet, paved roads or well-marked trails, some from open-topped jeeps; the tour is intensive in terms of time spent in the field in warm, often humid conditions.
Accommodation: Comfortable good to medium standard hotels and wildlife lodges throughout, all with private facilities.
Photography: Good to excellent
Key species: Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush, Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler, Orange-billed Babbler, Sri Lanka Bush Warbler, Brown-capped Babbler, Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, Sri Lanka Thrush, Spot-winged Thrush, Dull-blue Flycatcher, Sri Lanka Woodshrike, Crimson-backed Flameback, Red-backed Flameback, Crimson-fronted Barbet, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Yellow-eared and Black-capped Bulbuls, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, Layard's Parakeet, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Red-faced Malkoha, Sri Lanka Drongo, Sri Lanka Hill Myna, Green-billed Coucal, Legge's Flowerpecker, Sri Lanka White-eye, Sri Lanka Green Pigeon, Sri Lanka Woodpigeon, Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Sri Lanka Spurfowl, White-faced Starling, Sri Lanka Swallow, Serendib Scops Owl, Chestnut-backed Owlet, Sri Lanka Bay Owl, Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Black-throated Munia (the Sri Lanka subspecies a possible future endemic, Sri Lanka Hill Munia), Malabar Trogon, Kashmir Flycatcher, Indian Pitta, Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Alpine Swift, Toque Macaque, Purple-faced and Tufted Langurs, Leopard, Asian Elephant, Grizzled Giant Squirrel. Extension: Blue, Sperm and Bryde's Whales, Long-snouted Spinner Dolphin.
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