Sunday 18th November – Thursday 29th November 2018
Extension Thursday 29th November - Sunday 2nd December
This special endemic-focussed tour visits the tropical paradise island of Sri Lanka in search of some of the most exciting birds in the Indian Subcontinent. There are currently 34 endemic species, with several other potential ‘splits' pending and numerous distinctive races that may one day be elevated to full-species status and we shall focus our efforts on finding as many of these as possible. This tour will also give us the very best chance of seeing the recently discovered Serendib Scops-owl. Our tour concentrates on the tropical rainforests of Kitulgala and Sinharaja and the higher areas around Newera Eliya, plus a visit to the bird-filled Udawalawe, where it is possible to see over 100 species in a day. An optional extension will take us to the south of this wonderful island where we will take a pelagic out into the Indian Ocean where we have an outstanding possibility of seeing Blue Whales and a number of other cetaceans including Sperm Whale and Spinner Dolphins, plus a few seabirds as well!. Join us on this endemic rich, and as usual fun-filled, ZOOTHERA tour that will leave you longing to return!
Ceylon Blue Magpie
Ceylon Scaly Thrush
Day 1 UK - Colombo - 18th November
Following an overnight flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka you will be met at the airport and transferred to a nearby hotel. This is purely an arrival day and no activities are planned on this day.
Days 2 - 3Colombo - Kitulgala
We will begin by leaving the hustle and bustle of Colombo behind and head out into the wonderfully lush countryside. We should reach our excellent lodge set in a scenic location overlooking the Kelani River where the film “Bridge on the River Kwai” was made by lunchtime, and from where we will make several excursions into the forest. To reach the reserve we will cross the shallow picturesque river and once inside the forest we will concentrate our efforts on finding the many endemics present, and in particular this is one of the best sites to find the skulking Green-billed Coucal. We will also search for Chestnut-backed Owlet, Ceylon Junglefowl, Ceylon Green-Pigeon, Ceylon Hanging-Parrot, Ceylon Grey Hornbill, Black-capped Bulbul, and both Ceylon Small and Yellow-fronted Barbets, the calls of which ring out across the dense forest providing an evocative backdrop to our birding here. Our guide knows this area exceptionally well and will take us along narrow trails to special sites where we usually get very close views of the attractive Brown-capped Babbler, whilst noisy parties of Ceylon Rufous Babblers clamber through the bromeliad-laden trees, Spot-winged Thrushes sing from favourite perches, and the elusive yet vocal Ceylon Spurfowl hide in the dense understorey. There are many other species we may well encounter here, including Black and Rufous-bellied Eagles, Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Rufous Woodpecker, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Green Imperial-Pigeon, Emerald Dove, Asian Palm Swift, Orange Minivet, Indian Pitta, Chestnut-headed Bee-Eater, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Dark-fronted Babbler, Indian Blue Robin, Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch and Large-billed Leaf-Warbler. There is a good chance of finding the diminutive Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher beside a small forest stream, whilst we will make an evening visit to search for Brown Hawk-Owl and the truly bizarre Ceylon Frogmouth. This is also one of the more accessible sites to try for the recently discovered Serendib Scops-Owl, and we will make a special effort in order to find this extremely rare endemic. Nights at Kitulgala.
Days 4 - 5 Newera Eliya – Victoria Park – Horton Plains
Today we head into hill country and a 3 night stay at Newera Eliya. We shall travel through numerous tea estates, climbing higher until we reach our hotel, situated at over 6,000 feet. Later we will visit Victoria Park in the town centre, a traditional site for certain sought-after species. Pied Ground-Thrush can be seen beside the stream or feeding on the compost heaps, while Indian Pitta can usually be very confiding, sometimes even feeding out on the open lawns. The endemic Yellow-eared Bulbul and Ceylon White-Eye are usually present, along with Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher and the recently split Indian Blackbird. We may also be lucky and once again find the skulking Slaty-legged Crake. An early start will be needed to drive up to the dramatic scenery of Horton Plains, where at a secluded pool surrounded by moss covered stunted trees, we will wait quietly for the first rays of sunlight. With some luck and patience a highlight of this trip will be the chance to find the very shy Ceylon Whistling-Thrush in one of the few spots that it can be found. We will also search for Ceylon Woodpigeon, Dusky-blue Flycatcher, Yellow-eared Bulbul, Ceylon Bush-Warbler and Indian Scimitar-Babbler, but will need a good deal of luck to see the shy and very scarce Ceylon Scaly-thrush. This is a very pleasant area and we shall spend a leisurely time looking for some of the other birds to be found here, once all of the endemics have been seen well, of course! Another special bird here and which can sometimes be tricky to find is Kashmir Flycatcher, and other species possible include Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Pied Bushchat, Grey Tit and Velvet-fronted Nuthatch. As we descend, we shall search for Hill Swallow and Black-throated Munia. Our previous tours have also produced a few surprises such as Jerdon's Baza and Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler on several occasions. Nights at Newera Eliya.
Day 6 - 7 Newera Eliya - Udawalawe
Today we drive south-east and spend the afternoon in Udawalawe National Park. A good day's birding here can yield up to 100 species, as well as Indian Elephant, Tocque Macaque, Grey Langur, Wild Boar and Sambar. This area is also excellent for raptors and we should encounter Black-shouldered Kite, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Crested Serpent-Eagle, Montagu's Harrier, Shikra and Crested Hawk-Eagle. In the grassland and scrub-jungle there are several small pools which prove attractive to a wide variety of species, and we can look for Woolly-necked and Painted Stork, Black-headed Ibis, Indian Peafowl, Barred Buttonquail, Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Blue-faced and Sirkeer Malkohas, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Asian Koel, Pied Cuckoo, Yellow-eyed Babbler, Orange-breasted Green-Pigeon, Blyth's Pipit, Ashy, Plain and Jungle Prinias, Oriental Skylark, Jerdon's Bushlark, Indian Silverbill, and both Black-headed and Scaly-breasted Munias. The day we will spend oin the park again catching up with species we may have missed including possible Jungle Cat or Leopard, as well as Sri Lanka Woodshrike, Orange-headed Thrush, Indian Scops-owl and Brown Fish owl, Spot-billed Pelicans, Citrine Wagtail, Barred Buttonquail and more. 2 Nights at Embilipitiya.
Days 8 - 10 Kitulgala - Sinharaja
After breakfast we will head towards Sinharaja, stopping for lunch at a hotel on the edge of the hill country at Ratnapura. The gardens and surrounding area usually provide good views of Ceylon Swallows perched on telegraph wires, whilst both endemic barbets can be found on any fruiting trees around the restaurant, and Ceylon Woodshrike is also present. We shall spend a little time walking the extensive grounds as there are usually plenty of other good birds to be found such as Plum-headed Parakeet, Grey-bellied Cuckoo, Forest Wagtail, White-browed Bulbul, Tawny-bellied Babbler, Brown-headed Barbet, Long-billed Sunbird, White-browed Fantail, Large Cuckooshrike and Jerdon's Leafbird. We have also been treated to incredible views of the gorgeous Indian Pitta hoping amongst the leaf litter underneath the numerous tea bushes here. In the afternoon we will drive to our conveniently situated lodge at the edge of Sinharaja rainforest, where we will spend the next 3 nights. Our stay here will undoubtedly be the major highlight of the tour, as Sinharaja Forest is the single most important site in Sri Lanka in terms of endemic species, and represents the largest tract of lowland rainforest in the country. All but a couple of the island's 34 endemic species occurs here, although several are very difficult to see and we can spend two full days visiting this wonderful area. This will mean early starts, but if anyone wishes to opt out on any of these days, they will find our lodge an ideal place for relaxing as the gardens often produce great views of Legge's Flowerpecker, Layard's Parakeet, Ceylon Hill-Myna, and we have also seen Green-billed Coucal here as well. Once in the forest we will walk along the old logging tracks, where we should encounter spectacular mixed flocks of birds. Among these feeding flocks we can find Crimson-backed Flameback, Red-faced Malkoha, Ceylon Scimitar-Babbler, Ceylon Crested Drongo, Ceylon Blue Magpie, White-faced Starling, and noisy parties of Ashy-headed Laughingthrushes. Other species present in these bird waves include Lesser Yellownape, Black-rumped Flameback, Malabar Trogon, Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, Bright-green Warbler and Square-tailed Black Bulbul to name just a few. There will be plenty more to see as we walk quietly through the forest, and if we have not been successful yet then this is a great place to find Ceylon Spurfowl and Sri Lanka Junglefowl, whilst overhead Brown-backed Needletails are sometimes found. We will also visit a site for Serendib Scops-owl that our guide, Upali, has found. Only recently discovered, this owl has captured the imagination of birders all around the world, and will surely provide one of the major highlights of this tour if we are lucky enough to see it! All our previous visits to this fascinating country did indeed get to see this wonderful bird. Nights at the Blue Magpie Lodge, Sinharaja.
Day 11Sinharaja - Colombo
After some final birding we will have to tear ourselves away from this wonderful area and return to the lowlands and a hotel near Colombo airport for our last dinner together.
Day 12End of Main Tour - 29th November
An early morning transfer to the airport and international flights back to the UK/Europe/USA and conclusion of the tour.
WHALE WATCHING EXTENSION
Day 12Colombo - Weligama- 29th November If continuing with the extension we will set out on the drive to the coastal resort of Weligama where we arrive in the early evening.
Day 13Whale-watching Pelagic
An early start will see us heading out on a special journey from Mirissa Harbour for our pelagic excursion in search of Blue and Sperm Whales. We will sail across the calm, azure Indian Ocean for approx 20-40 nautical miles with the clear and crisp early morning breeze keeping us cool! Blue Whales are seen frequently and our chances are good, Sperm Whales are also usually present in the area, and we could also see Common and Spinner Dolphins as well. Whale watching in Sri Lanka is a relatively new phenomenon and it is with great excitement that we look forward to being amongst the first ‘foreign’ tourists to have the thrill of experiencing close up views of these superb mammals. Although not noted for too many seabirds our previous tours have recorded hundreds of Bridled Terns, Flesh-footed Shearwater, Pomarine Skua and Common Noddy. The afternoon can be spent relaxing around our lodge.
Day 14 Whale-Watching Pelagic - Colombo
This morning is set aside for another whale watching cruise. In the afternoon we will transfer to an airport hotel near Colombo.
Day 15 End of Tour - 2nd December Early morning transfer to the international airport for our international return flights and the conclusion of a wonderful tour.
Group size:Minimum of 4 and maximum of 10with 2 leaders.
Included in cost: Accommodation in twin rooms en-suite, all meals including picnic lunches where necessary, all entrance fees to National Parks, transport throughout in air-conditioned coach, jeep safari, 2 whale-watching pelagics (if taking the extension), and services of leaders.
Not included:International airfare, insurance, departure tax, drinks, tips and items of a personal nature.
Accommodation:The hotels used during this tour range from good to standard, all with en-suite facilities. We will stay in the best available lodges/guest houses as close to the birding sites as possible.
Tour Code: This is a relatively standard birding tour with early starts quite normal as this is when bird activity is at its best in the tropics. Walks are usually at a slow birding pace and along well worn trails but can be a little slippery in places if it has rained recently. The weather is warm to hot at this time of the year, and in the rainforests the humidity is sometimes high. On Horton Plains it is quite cold early in the morning. Some light showers are possible at this time of the year.