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.
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.
Then on the walk up the hill to Martin’s Lodge, we saw Layard’s parakeets, which are endemic,
orange minivets which are not 🙂
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!
Nightfall at Martin’s Lodge did not mean that all the wildlife went to bed. This beautiful hawk moth paid us a visit,
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…
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!
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.
The brown breasted flycatcher seemed to be everywhere.
The Ceylon crested drongo looked to me like a cross between the racket-tailed drongo and the bronzed drongo 🙂
A couple of times, a flock of ashy headed laughingthrushes passed alongside…
There were Sri Lanka giant squirrels in the trees around, their calls exactly like those of the Malabar giant squirrel.
For me, the find of the day was the brilliant green pit viper, of which we were lucky to see two!
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? 🙂
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.
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.
We had great sightings of a flock of yellow browed bulbuls from the dining area of Martin’s Lodge.
Another close encounter at the Lodge was with a Ceylon grey hornbill, which sat and posed on a tree for a long time.
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!
Unlike this fellow, who was completely still, no matter how much the camera shutters clattered!
And here’s an actual green one…
On the way down from Martin’s Lodge, a bonanza awaited us – a tree full of crested treeswifts!
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,
a small flock of black capped bulbuls,
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.