My encounters with birds and animals, butterflies and trees, and anything else in nature…

Rambles in Ravana’s Rainforest – I: Sinharaja

Diwali 2010 was a landmark for our birding group – the BULBs’ first birding trip abroad! Rajneesh’s Wayfarer put together an itinerary for us to see the endemic birds of the emerald isle, and some of the group (Rajneesh Suvarna, his wife Suma, Garima Bhatia, her dad Mr Jitender Bhatia, Gayathri Naik, Jainy Maria and I) set off for Sri Lanka on the penultimate day of October!

Day 1 – Drama in the dark!

Rajneesh had driven us into Chennai the previous evening, and we awoke to pre-dawn drama. In pouring rain, our cab to the airport, which was already late, punctured a tyre near T Nagar. The cab driver, a strong, silent type (too silent, not strong enough) struggled ineffectually to change the tyre. We were just about to flag down some autorickshaws when an empty van (on its way to the airport for a pick-up) arrived like an angel from heaven!


At Colombo airport, we were met by Chaminda Dilruk, our inseparable guide-cum-chauffeur for the entire trip. He took us to Martin’s Lodge close to the Sinharaja Heritage Forest atop a hill, with amazing views of a range covered with dense rainforest.

View from Sinharaja Information Centre

Our trip was characterised by what I can only call close-encounter birding. The first one was en-route with a crested serpent eagle sitting on a lamp-post right above our heads, calling and posing for a long time.

Mama! Help! These people are taking my picture!

Then on the walk up the hill to Martin’s Lodge, we saw Layard’s parakeets, which are endemic,

I'm no Layabout!

orange minivets which are not 🙂

Orange, scarlet, a minivet is a minivet - nice contrast to the forest, no?

as well as a Ceylon hanging parrot, a Ceylon small barbet, Ceylon green pigeons, and black bulbuls. And a cobra that crossed the road just a few feet away!

The real close encounters came when we reached Martin’s Lodge – an emerald dove, a young Ceylon junglefowl and a huge water monitor!

Never seen an emerald dove this close!

Nightfall at Martin’s Lodge did not mean that all the wildlife went to bed. This beautiful hawk moth paid us a visit,

Which hawk moth?

as did hundreds of flying termites, followed by a couple of frogs who gobbled up the termites with glee. Sometime during the night, so did this massive atlas moth (almost 10 inches across) – we found it early next morning, surrounded by ants, flapping its wings very feebly…

Atlas moth on its last legs...

Day 2 – Birding bonanza

The day started with an unfamiliar call just outside our door – two brilliantly coloured Ceylon blue magpies feasting on dead flying termites from the previous night!

When I look at this bird, I feel that God would have drawn its outline, and given it to a kid along with a box of crayons, and asked the kid to colour it. It is one of the gaudiest possible birds with a very strange colour combination – bright blue body; bright red beak, feet and eye-ring; brown head and wings; white and black tail feathers!

If I'm not colourful, how will I stand out in this dense forest?

Happy with this wonderful start to the day, we set off into the dark depths of the rainforest, leech socks and all. Our foray was extremely productive, netting us several birds! The first one was the endemic spot-winged thrush. (This video has a loud background noise).

It was followed by the Ceylon scimitar babbler, black capped bulbul, red-faced malkoha, yellow fronted barbet, Ceylon rufous babbler, Malabar trogon and Legge’s (white-throated) flowerpecker.

I'm the smallest bird in Sri Lanka!

The brown breasted flycatcher seemed to be everywhere.

LBJ I may be, but I'm cute as you can see!

The Ceylon crested drongo looked to me like a cross between the racket-tailed drongo and the bronzed drongo 🙂

I've got a crest AND I'm glisteny!

A couple of times, a flock of ashy headed laughingthrushes passed alongside…

Ha! I'll have the last laugh!

There were Sri Lanka giant squirrels in the trees around, their calls exactly like those of the Malabar giant squirrel.

Yes, I'm black, not maroon. So?

For me, the find of the day was the brilliant green pit viper, of which we were lucky to see two!

What's the use of such camouflage if I'm going to get stared at like this?

I thought the Ceylon junglefowl at Martin’s Lodge was bold as he was used to coming there everyday, but another couple we saw on our trek turned out to be even bolder, coming right up to us, just a couple of feet away!! I asked Chami about this, and he said that the birds seemed unafraid as the Sri Lankan wildlife protection laws were very strict and nobody killed wild animals or birds. Any thoughts on this, Mr. Jairam Ramesh? 🙂

Had to step backward for this full frame shot!

Is this close enough?

And here he is, coming towards us!

Day 3 – Leeches galore!

The leeches were out in full force after the previous day’s rain. Most of us gave generous blood donations. I had encountered leeches by the hundred in Agumbe before, but Sinharaja had the greatest variety in leech size. I found a tiny, less-than-half-cm-long leech between my toes! Having dozed off in my chair after lunch, I was awakened by screams of ‘leech! leech!’ I awoke to find everyone looking at this blood-sated monster on the floor.

Bloated bloodsucker!

So I’ve donated blood (very unwillingly) to the tiniest and the largest leeches in Sinharaja!

In spite of the rain, birding was good – Suma gave us a present on her birthday by spotting the brown capped babbler, which flew circles around us before settling down to pose for the photographers. It has a call very similar to our puff-throated babbler.

Wouldn't you say I'm brown all over?

We had great sightings of a flock of yellow browed bulbuls from the dining area of Martin’s Lodge.

It's not only my brow that's yellow!

Another close encounter at the Lodge was with a Ceylon grey hornbill, which sat and posed on a tree for a long time.

Is this profile better or should I turn around?

Day 4 – Seeking the Spurfowl

Our last outing into the Sinharaja forest was the toughest and leechiest, yielding white-faced starlings, besra, three red-faced malkohas, a pair of hornbills and several other birds. A few of us trekked up with Chami to a spot to see the Ceylon spurfowl which are notorious as very shy skulkers – we got a good look at them, but this was all the photography I could manage as the birds took flight at the slightest noise!

Only a beady eye!

Unlike this fellow, who was completely still, no matter how much the camera shutters clattered!

I'm a ... uh... green garden lizard

And here’s an actual green one…

I'm a green green garden lizard, unlike you-know-who!

On the way down from Martin’s Lodge, a bonanza awaited us – a tree full of crested treeswifts!

One of the gentlemen...

...and his lady perhaps?

The surroundings of the Blue Magpie Lodge where we stopped for lunch, provided an exciting finish to the birding at Sinharaja. We saw this rufous and white Asian paradise flycatcher,

I wonder, are there flies in paradise?

a small flock of black capped bulbuls,

Family picnic - each of us has to pic our own nic...

white rumped munias, kingfishers and a crested serpent eagle in action. Then, happy and exhausted, we said goodbye to Sinharaja and set out for Kithulgala…

Some more photographs here

Coming up next, Kithulgala and Nuwara Eliya.



37 responses

  1. deponti


    What lovely pics and narration! A rufous-and-white flycatcher, all those colourful birds….I *thoroughly* enjoyed my FREE e-trip to Sinharaja, without the wetness and the leeches.

    Great work with the camera.

    Thank you!

    December 25, 2010 at 21:02

  2. Sivasankar Chander

    Hi Uma,
    Great stuff – nice pic of the brown-phase Asian Paradise Flycatcher!


    December 25, 2010 at 21:32

  3. Hey Uma! Awesome photographs! The dense rain-forest background in all your photographs looks very nice 🙂 and I loved the photograph of the pit-viper! too good 🙂

    December 25, 2010 at 22:00

  4. Hi Uma,
    Superb narration and,and, and, you have certainly improved with the lens..a proff. shutterbug ! Thanks for the lovely “trip” to Lanka..never been there, so all the more !!

    December 25, 2010 at 22:07

  5. whooohooo…awesome uma….looks like you guys had a birding bonanza ….. simple awesome….congratulations…

    December 25, 2010 at 22:10

  6. wow..! What variety! You must have had an awesome trip. Was in splits looking at the CSE’s pose. Looking at the magpie’s picture, I initially thought it could be some trogon.. really some colours it has got.

    One post after a year and half.. now don’t stop with this 🙂

    December 25, 2010 at 22:40

  7. Radha

    Interesting narrative and lovely images Uma! But, I still prefer the live narrative we all got and you know why 🙂

    Waiting for part 2 🙂

    December 25, 2010 at 23:47

  8. The pictures breath life into the documentation of the experience you had there, so much so that in between the post one tends to forget that this is just a virtual tour and not a real one of Srilanka :). Amazing place and lovely photos.

    December 25, 2010 at 23:57

  9. ck

    Hi Uma,

    Thoroughly enjoyed your narration, captions and of course the photographs ! Write more often !

    December 26, 2010 at 00:03

  10. WoW! I am envious of all the sightings!

    December 26, 2010 at 01:04

  11. Gopal

    Great write up Uma. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it


    December 26, 2010 at 06:28

  12. Looks like you had blast of time there Uma , Awesome place

    December 26, 2010 at 07:08

  13. Ram

    Brilliant photos with crisp description!


    December 26, 2010 at 08:30

  14. Gayathri Naik

    Uma..awesome Videos and Pictures. Will stop by again..thanks.

    December 26, 2010 at 12:59

  15. priya

    Hi mam
    it is great.. photos are too good. i just love the way u narrate it.U add on good words with an element of fun… It s very nice mam…

    December 26, 2010 at 15:13

  16. kokila

    hi mam, wow, great pictures, liked them all

    December 26, 2010 at 15:40

  17. Radha

    Hey Uma!

    That’s a very interesting narrative and the images are lovely!
    But I still prefer the live narration we all got and you know why 🙂

    Looking forward to part 2..

    P.S. I left a comment yesterday, but its gone now! Weird!

    December 26, 2010 at 23:46

  18. Uma ,

    Fascinating trip and I envy, and thanks for sharing


    December 27, 2010 at 00:11

  19. Poonam

    You had a grand trip I can see. 🙂 Very nice pictures. Keep them coming.

    December 27, 2010 at 10:46

  20. Lovely story . Great pictures . The birds of Sri Lanka seem so colourful .

    December 27, 2010 at 10:59

  21. Awesome reading !! Lovely images . Sri Lankan birds look so colourful.

    December 27, 2010 at 11:00

  22. kavita

    good pics- and caption comments. way to go ….

    December 27, 2010 at 11:51

  23. Dr Shankar patil

    Dear Mam,
    Enjoyed your narration, captions and the photographs….

    December 27, 2010 at 11:51

  24. vaidhehi

    very nice photo captions

    December 27, 2010 at 12:36

  25. birdsonthebrainetc

    Thank you all very much for your encouraging comments!!

    December 27, 2010 at 13:53

  26. Ravi Rajagopal

    You really have had a whale of a time. So did I reading ur blog and the fantastic images of magpie and others.
    U really have upgraded

    December 27, 2010 at 20:45

  27. Thanks for sharing pictures and for vividly refreshing the vivid memories of the Srilanka trip. I will send you the pictures as soon as I am able to review them.
    All the best and a million thanks again!

    December 28, 2010 at 13:08

  28. Good to see so many ‘variant’ birds from those we find in the western ghats. And yeah, I was wondering how everyone gets such good images of Jungle Fowl from Sri Lanka as getting a decent image here in India is so hard! 🙂

    December 28, 2010 at 16:47

    • birdsonthebrainetc

      Thanks Sandeep! It was not only the junglefowl (which was really BOLD) but almost all the birds weren’t too far away – which explains the shots I was able to get with my S2IS 🙂

      December 28, 2010 at 19:03

  29. Just amazing. It really inspires one to visit Sri Lanka. Thank you so much for the wonderful photos.

    December 29, 2010 at 21:32

  30. Uma,
    This writeup is amazing, along with the images and videos.
    You seemed to have gotten great shots of some very colorful birds. I envy you. On all our recent trips, we barely managed to get 3-4 good shots.
    Really looking forward to part 2 and i hope we do a birding trip together this year.

    January 4, 2011 at 16:44

  31. Uma,

    Wonderful pictures! Great copy and very interesting read.

    What an awesome trip you guys have had!

    January 4, 2011 at 18:30

  32. manju

    Very interesting report, Uma! You guys seemed to have had a fantastic trip..what with all those wonderful sightings!
    raelly miss the bulbs outings 😦

    Waiting for part 2..

    January 5, 2011 at 18:28

  33. awesome pics and great titles..some of them gave me goose bumps..watching the pics, i remembered your time, pls sign me on 🙂

    January 5, 2011 at 18:55

  34. Wow! What a fantastic collection of vibrant images 🙂
    Superb…Ravana is rather colorful 🙂

    January 8, 2011 at 14:11

  35. Ratan

    GREAT job Uma! Really glad you made me check out your blog. Awesome pics!

    January 20, 2011 at 16:41

  36. Martin Sjödahl

    The unidentified Hawk moth would be Ambulyx substrigilis substrigilis. Saw the same recently.

    January 4, 2013 at 03:52

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