Sri Lanka: Endemic Birds and Mammals (with Blue Whale extension)
The Indian Ocean island of Sri Lanka is a global biodiversity hotspot, home to an astonishingly rich resident fauna comprising numerous endemic species. These include an impressive 34 endemic birds, evidence of Sri Lanka’s long separation from mainland India. In addition, the island is home to a good number of further restricted range species shared only with peninsular India and hosts a selection of migrant visitors from India and the Palearctic during the northern winter.
Our tour provides comprehensive coverage of Sri Lanka’s distinct climatic zones and the species contained therein, with emphasis on finding all available endemic birds alongside a selection of mammals that includes a number of endemics and some of Asia’s most iconic species. We begin in the ancient capital Kandy, where extensive forests and plantations offer a fine introduction to Sri Lanka’s birds, and we can expect our first island endemic, possibly Red-faced Malkoha or Crimson-backed Flameback. Moving into the central highlands, our next halt is the hill station of Nuwara Eliya and Horton Plains National Park. In the mosaic of plateau grasslands and windswept, stunted cloud forests we hope to come across enigmatic endemics restricted to these higher elevations, such as the crepuscular Ceylon Whistling-thrush and skulking Ceylon Bush-warbler, plus two endemic primates, Toque Macaque and Purple-faced Leaf-monkey. From here we descend into the wet zone of the island’s southwest corner, strongly influenced by moisture-laden winds of the southwest monsoon and characterised by swathes of lush lowland rainforests. At Kitulgala and Sinharaja Rainforest Reserve these forests come alive with the largest itinerant bird waves in the world, and we can expect to find almost all of Sri Lanka’s endemic birds, including Ceylon Rufous-babbler and the stunning Ceylon Blue Magpie, as well as an enticing selection of night birds that includes the secretive Ceylon Bay Owl and recently discovered Serendib Scops-owl. Finally, we move into the rain shadow of the dry zone, exploring the scrub jungle and coastal lagoons of the island’s southeast at Udawalawe, Yala and Bundala National Parks. Among a rich and diverse birdlife that includes the endemic Ceylon Swallow and Ceylon Woodshrike we can also expect a variety of mammals, most notably the Sri Lankan subspecies of Leopard, Sloth Bear and Asian Elephant.
The post-tour extension samples the incredible cetacean diversity off Sri Lanka’s southern shore, fast becoming recognised as one of the best sites for sightings of Blue Whale anywhere on earth. With daily whale-watching pelagic excursions from Weligama Bay we will look for this iconic species among a host of other marine mammals.
Our tour of Sri Lanka is a thorough exploration of the island and the varied habitats of the premier birding sites of this enjoyable and productive destination. We have extremely realistic chances to find all 34 birds endemic to the island among an extensive selection of Asian species. In addition, we will encounter endemic mammals, some of Asia’s most iconic large mammals, and an abundance of butterflies as we make our way through some of the subcontinents most scenic locales.
20 January - 1 February 2020
Extn - Blue Whale: 1-3 Feb 2020
(also available as a custom tour)
Ground price: £ 2240
Single room supplement: £ 485
Deposit: £ 500
Extn - Andaman Islands: £ 490 / srs £ 95
The price includes: Accommodation, all meals, bottled drinking water, all ground transport, all birding/wildlife activities as described, entry fees, guiding, pre-tour information, species checklists.
The price excludes: Flights, visa fees, travel insurance, drinks other than water, tips and any other expenses of a personal nature.
Maximum group size: 8
Accommodation: Comfortable rooms with private facilities in wildlife lodges and hotels.
Tour grading: Easy to moderate. Birding will be mostly on foot, sometimes in open jeeps, often in warm, humid conditions; the tour is intensive in terms of time spent in the field.
Key species: Ceylon Blue Magpie, Ceylon Rufous-babbler, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush, Ceylon Whistling-thrush, Ceylon Bush-warbler, Ceylon Spurfowl, Malabar Trogon, Kashmir Flycatcher, Indian Pitta, Ceylon Frogmouth, Serendib Scops-owl, Chestnut-backed Owlet, Ceylon Bay Owl, Leopard, Asian Elephant, Toque Macaque, Purple-faced Leaf-monkey.
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 Ceylon Small 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 Ceylon Scaly 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 Ceylon Whistling-thrush, the elusive Ceylon Bush-warbler, Ceylon White-eye and Ceylon Woodpigeon as well as Alpine Swift and Legge’s Hawk-eagle, and the highland races of two endemic primates, Toque Macaque and Purple Leaf-monkey.
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, Ceylon 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 Ceylon Drongo, Ceylon Rufous Babbler, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush, Ceylon Blue Magpie, Ceylon Hill-myna and Legge’s Flowerpecker, with the chance of the secretive Ceylon Spurfowl. The reserve also hosts an enticing selection of night birds, notably Ceylon 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 Ceylon Woodshrike and Ceylon Hill Swallow, together with Barred Buttonquail, Yellow-eyed Babbler, Indian Silverbill, Grey-headed Fish-eagle and Changeable Hawk-eagle, and abundant mammals including Asian Elephant.
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 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.