Sri Lanka Jan 09—25, 2018
Posted by Machiel Valkenburg
It has been over a decade since VENT’s last visit to Sri Lanka. We felt it was definitely time for a return, and the group and I were very happy we did. Sri Lanka is an amazing tropical destination located just south of India and offers some great birding in combination with some awesome wildlife opportunities. Our tour started in the busy city of Colombo, which we left on the first morning moving south towards Bundala and Yala national parks where we spent four days birding.
Both parks are located in the dry zone of Sri Lanka. The influence of the two monsoon seasons is very limited in these parts of the island, and they receive very little precipitation year-round. Bundala NP is an open, arid landscape with many wetlands near the shores of the Indian Ocean. Birding here is very good, with very close sightings of the many species that occur. We enjoyed some close scope views of Asian Openbill, Painted Stork, Black-headed Ibis, Crested Hawk-Eagle, and Watercock. This park is an ideal place to study and learn up-close all the occurring Palearctic waders. Interesting species like Kentish Plover, Little Stint, Spotted Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, and Common Redshank occur commonly and were seen in large numbers. In the sky, Crested Treeswifts and Little Swifts are feeding, and sometimes they almost fly through the jeeps. Asian Barbets and gorgeous bee-eaters are seen in massive numbers, with Green Bee-eater and Blue-tailed Bee-eater being the most common throughout the tour.
The days in Yala NP had a particular focus on finding the Sri Lankan race of Leopard. Yala NP has the world’s largest density of this fantastic cat; however, it proved to be a popular outing for the locals and many beach tourists, which made the experience far less superior than it could have been. During our visit, around 300 jeeps drove into the park in the early dawn to “hunt” for a Leopard sighting. We quickly had enough of this spectacle and headed for calmer parts of the park, where we mostly enjoyed the birds but also the many roaming wild elephants. In the park, we were birding from jeeps, as with so many roaming elephants and Leopards around you are not allowed to exit the jeeps. The endemic Black-capped Bulbul and Long-billed Sunbird gave some close encounters. Both Streaked and Baya weavers, with males building the nest, were found. At our lunch break, a superb Orange-headed Thrush came in to drink at a waterhole accompanied by an Asian Brown Flycatcher. We searched in the evening for Indian Pitta around the hotel grounds until Hetti got a call from his friends…a Leopard was sleeping on a rock and was visible from the hotel roof. We all ran as fast as we could; on the roof we scanned the rock, and there it was standing, the largest cat of Sri Lanka! In addition, yes, we found the Indian Pitta that gave walkaway views and was eventually photographed from every angle.
Read Machiel’s full report in his Field Report.