This tour encompasses the best regions and locations to experience the islands avi faunal diversity, from covering all the endemics, as well as many residents, migrants and even pelagic bird species covered in this insightful tour.
Upon arrival at Bandaranaike International Airport, you will be welcomed by your naturalist guide and transferred to your hotel in Negombo, Goldi Sands.
Check into your hotel and spend the remainder of the day in leisure.
After breakfast, leave Negombo heading toward the west to our first birding base, the lush lowlands of Kitulgala (4 hours drive). Roadside birding in Sri Lanka is refreshingly good. Blue-tailed Bee-eater, White-throated Kingfisher, White-bellied Drongo, Indian Roller, Sri Lanka Swallow, Scaly-breasted Munia, Brown Shrike, Indian Jungle Crow, Yellow-billed Babbler, Oriental Magpie-Robin, and Ashy Woodswallow are often seen perched on wires. Though we will no doubt see them again and again, these wayside temptations will be hard to resist. The odd Crested Serpent Eagle and Changeable Hawk-Eagle, sentinels on posts, will almost certainly bring our vehicle to a halt. The more common waterbirds such as Red-wattled Lapwing, Indian Pond Heron, Eastern Cattle Egret, Intermediate Egret, Black-winged Stilt, and Asian Openbill will certainly not be ignored either.
With all these leg-stretching stops it will be close to midday by the time we reach our overnight accommodation, The Plantation Hotel nestled in a well-wooded garden and overlooking the Kelani River, the setting for the renowned ’50s Hollywood blockbuster “The Bridge on the River Kwai”. After enjoying our first of many rice-and-curry lunches we will commence our quest for the island’s endemics in the well-wooded garden of our lodge. The resonant call of Yellow-fronted Barbet is likely to demand our attention first – a common element in the soundscape of the wet Sri Lankan hinterland. The gregarious Orange-billed Babbler with its constant chattering will be easier to locate. A gem of a bird, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot – with its specific name beryllinus named after beryl, a semi-precious stone found in Sri Lanka – may require scope views to properly take in its scarlet forehead and rump patch against a greener body.
Uda Walawe was declared as a national park in 1972 and was at one time, an area where destructive slash and burn chena cultivation was widespread. The area was declared as a national park with the intention of safeguarding the flora and fauna in the catchment area of the reservoir on the Walawe river. With ample water and rich nutrition from the scrub jungles and grasslands, Uda Walawe is a stronghold of the Asian Elephant and one of the best places to see them in the wild year-round. Grey Langur, Toque Macaque, Jackal, Mugger Crocodile and Spotted Deer are the other larger animals seen occasionally. Uda Walawe also has occasional sightings of Jungle Cat, an elusive medium sized feline. The park is an excellent biding destination too especially for dry-zone species and raptors. Changeable Hawk Eagle, Grey-headed Fishing Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Black-shouldered Kite, Shikra, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Common Kestrel and Brown Fish Owl are some of the raptors regularly encountered here.
Our night bird tally is likely to get ticking with the adorable Chestnut-backed Owlet at a stakeout. The well-wooded, home-garden-type birding, combining several “patches”, will add a mouth-watering array of birds to our tally in the form of newly raised endemic Sri Lanka Swallow (perched views on wires), Sri Lanka Green Pigeon, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Square-tailed Bulbul, White-browed Bulbul, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Orange-billed Babbler, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Black-rumped Flameback, Black-headed Cuckooshrike, Sri Lanka Hill Myna, Common Iora, Purple-rumped Sunbird, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Orange Minivet, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Forest Wagtail, and perhaps Layard’s Parakeet, named after E. L. Layard, a 19th century British civil servant, who added an astonishing 136 species to Sri Lanka’s avian inventory.
Full day birding in Kitulgala for lowland endemics and specialties
The Spot-winged Thrush may greet the new day with its rhythmic dawn chorus. And it may perhaps come hopping in to find an easy meal at first light. The “pretty-dear” call, likely to be heard in the undergrowth, may betray a flock of Brown-capped Babbler, moving low. The Himalayan delight, Indian Pitta, might also be not too far, if you scan well. With more light of the day the dawn chorus may peak with additional tunes of Green Warbler, Large-billed Leaf Warbler, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, and the aforementioned thrush, with harsher greetings from Chestnut-backed Owlet. Our morning’s birding will add a huge boost to our trip list, with the likes of Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Sri Lanka Drongo, Lesser Yellownape, Indian Paradise Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch, Black-capped Bulbul, Oriental White-eye, and Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill. We will cross the Kelani River in search of rarer gems. Foremost among these is the Serendib Scops Owl, discovered in 2001 and with an estimated population of only 200 – 250 birds in the wild. We will look for it at a daytime roost. The ultra-secretive Sri Lanka Spurfowl may require patience, as it is highly wary of people! Crimson-backed Flameback is also in this forest and is a gorgeous woodpecker. During the return journey we will pause at a forest patch to look for a roosting pair of Sri Lanka Frogmouth, which is a South India and Sri Lanka endemic.
After some early morning birding and breakfast we will drive to the amazing Sinharaja Forest Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which represents the largest expanse of lowland rainforest in Sri Lanka and the premier site for endemics.
Reach your lodge which will be your home for the next 3 nights Blue Magpie Lodge for lunch.
A highlight of birding in Sinharaja is seeing mixed-species bird flocks, which is a strategy adopted by birds in the tropics to maximize feeding efficiency and to reduce the risk of predation; these flocks are likely to be led by Orange-billed Babbler and Sri Lanka Drongo. The star of this coterie of flock-associated specials is the enigmatic Red-faced Malkoha – a canopy dwelling endemic, found typically at heights of 25-35 meters, with a remarkable ability to melt away into the dense thickets. White-faced Starling too keeps to the canopy. Ashy-headed Laughingthrush, in comparison, is found in bottom levels of the flock, often scratching the forest floor for insect prey, and Malabar Trogon hawks insects in the subcanopy and remains largely silent.
With a packed breakfast we will reach the ticket office of Sinharaja and commence our foray into this endemic hotspot, looking for our targets. One of them is the montane endemic Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon, which descends to Sinharaja in search of seasonal fruits. With the right technique more bonus birds will come our way in the form of Sri Lanka Hill Myna, Indian Blue Robin, Slaty-legged Crake, and Indian Cuckoo. Finding an Indian Paradise Flycatcher, sporting its white ribbon-like tail streamers that are nearly a foot in length, may be a possibility if we encounter a good flock. Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, another migrant that joins flocks, may, however, present a tougher challenge, as it isn’t as regular. We will also try for forest raptors like Besra and Crested Goshawk, which lurk behind flocks to catch birds. As midday approaches we may perhaps hear the blood-curdling screams of Grizzled (Sri Lanka) Giant Squirrels, which would betray the presence of more formidable forest raptors, such as Legge’s Hawk-Eagle and Black Eagle, soaring high above the canopy. In addition to the above we will try to obtain improved views of the endemics already seen and try to again experience the magic of mixed-species bird flocks.
After a final morning birding in Sinharaja and breakfast we will head to the beautiful southern coast of Sri Lanka at Mirissa (4.5 hours drive) to get into a suitable location for the pelagic trip tomorrow.
Reach your hotel Mandara Resort for Lunch and overnight stay.
We will be up early for a really exciting prospect, the chance to go whale watching in the stunning Indian Ocean for the morning. Our main target species is the largest mammal on the planet – the magnificent and unrivaled Blue Whale, which can reach lengths of over 30m! Seeing these huge creatures will be hard to beat, although we could also possibly find Sperm Whale, Bryde’s Whale, Orca (Killer Whale), Short-finned Pilot Whale, Risso’s Dolphin, Spinner Dolphin, or Long-beaked Common Dolphin. A range of seabirds are possible (e.g. Bridled Tern, Pomarine Jaeger (Skua), Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Brown Noddy, etc.); however, our main focus of the pelagic is on the sea mammals.
After the pelagic trip we will move up the coast to Tissamaharama (3 hours drive), our base for a couple of nights as we explore this excellent area for a wide-range of birds.
Lunch will be served at a select restaurant along the way
Upon arrival, head towards the Tissa and Deberawewa wetlands. These are great for many species of waterbirds such as Black, Yellow, and Cinnamon Bitterns, Watercock, Great Stone-curlew, Indian Stone-curlew, Eurasian Curlew, Marsh Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Lesser Sand Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Little Stint, Kentish Plover, Red-necked Phalarope, Small Pratincole, Western Reef Heron, Striated Heron, Little Egret, Black-headed Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Black-necked Stork, Little Cormorant, Indian Cormorant, Oriental Darter, Spot-billed Pelican, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit, Garganey, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Caspian Tern, White-winged Tern, Whiskered Tern, Common Tern, Greater Crested Tern, Lesser Crested Tern, Little Tern, Brown-headed Gull, and Greater Flamingo. Other species possible in the area may include Clamorous (Indian) Reed Warbler, Eurasian Hoopoe, Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Brown Fish Owl, Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, and Ashy Drongo.
Also a local village contact will take you to their village gardens, which have confirmed roosting sites of Jungle Owlet, Oriental Scops Owl and Brown Fish Owl.
By late evening head to your hotel Oakray Wild for check in ,Dinner and overnight stay.
Early morning head to Yala National Park for your first game drive. The main focus is on photographing the elusive leopard. You will also have chances to get a glimpse of the secretive Sloth Bear. Besides these two iconic species you will also see plenty of other mammals such as the Asian Elephant, Wild Boar, Axis Deer, Sambhur, Grey Langur, Grey Langur as well as the Mugger Crocodile.
In the afternoon head to a different zone Yala National Park for a game drive this would give a very good chance of seeing leopards. Yala National Park is divided into several zones, and your naturalist will choose the zone for the day depending on the latest sightings.
In the morning we drive to the dry lowlands of Udawalawe National Park. After checking in at the accommodation Elephant Trails for Lunch, we will hop on a safari jeep and explore the fantastic Udawalawe National Park in search of dry-zone birds, which abound here. The birds on offer here include Sri Lanka Woodshrike, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Green Bee-eater, Blue-faced Malkoha, Coppersmith Barbet, Yellow-eyed Babbler, Rosy Starling, Jacobin Cuckoo, Grey-bellied Cuckoo, Jerdon’s Bush Lark, Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Indian Pitta, White-browed Fantail, Little Swift, Brahminy Starling, Paddyfield Pipit, Blyth’s Pipit, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Spot-billed Pelican, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Painted Stork, Woolly-necked Stork, Indian Peafowl, Indian Robin, Black-winged Kite, and Indian Stone-curlew. Migrant forms of Red-rumped Swallow (with paler red belly and rump). Western Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail, and Citrine Wagtail may show up too. Other birds we will be on the lookout for at Udawalawe National Park include dry-zone specials such as Malabar Pied Hornbill, Sirkeer Malkoha, Indian Silverbill, Barred Buttonquail, Lesser Adjutant, and if lucky Brown Fish Owl. With its vast open expanses the park also harbors a rich diversity of exciting raptors, such as Changeable (Crested) Hawk-Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Western Osprey – a local rarity, Pallid Harrier, Montagu’s Harrier – another rarity, Booted Eagle, Shaheen – the resident race of Peregrine Falcon, Common Kestrel, Crested Honey Buzzard, and Shikra. In addition to excellent birds a visit to Udawalawe also presents a good opportunity to observe Asian Elephant and the elusive Jungle Cat, both of which are found in good numbers in the park. At dusk falls we will look for Indian Nightjar and Jerdon’s Nightjar in the scrub near our accommodation, likely serenaded by a chorus of Indian Pittas as the sun sets.
After an early breakfast we will commence our ascent to reach the cooler interiors of Nuwara Eliya (1,890m) (6 hours drive). We will stop for any ‘good’ birds noted along the way, but principally the morning is for driving today. Nuwara Eliya is the most famous hill station in Sri Lanka, named by some “Little England”, as it still bears evidence of its colonial past with its English-style holiday homes, a racecourse, vegetable gardens, shooting ranges, an urban park, a few pubs, flower gardens, and a fine 18-hole golf course.
As we ascend vast stretches of tea gardens dominate the landscape, a cash crop introduced by the British, which is currently the country’s third-highest revenue earner
Reach your lodging Galway Heights for lunch.
Finally we will reach our highland lodging Galway Heights, for dinner and overnight stay.
We will have an early start with a picnic breakfast to get to the high elevation Horton Plains National Park, where we will spend time in the forest looking for high-value montane targets: Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, Sri Lanka Bush Warbler, Yellow-eared Bulbul, Dull-blue Flycatcher, Sri Lanka White-eye, and Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon. Mixed-species bird flocks are to be found in this forest, comprised of both white-eye species, Orange Minivet, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, and Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike.
In the afternoon we will descend back to near Nuwara Eliya, where we will reach a patch of habitat in time to anticipate the arrival of the ultra-secretive, montane endemic, Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, which is one of two Endangered (IUCN) Sri Lankan endemics. Further remainder of the daylight hours will be spent on covering any species which you would have missed in the surrounding outskirts of Nuwara Eliya.
Return to your hotel for Dinner and overnight stay.
After an early breakfast in the morning we will be birding for any missing montane specials before driving to Kandy (2.5 hours’ drive) the last Sinhalese kingdom in Sri Lanka, which was ceded to the British in 1815.
En route we will pause at a tea factory to see the recently-split Hill Swallow, which nests inside the factory. After a cuppa we will reach our accommodation Hotel Tree of Life.
In the late afternoon we will go birding within our ample hotel grounds close to Kandy to look for any missing targets. We will also look for several special birds here, namely Crimson-fronted Barbet, Sri Lanka Hill Myna and Common Hawk-Cuckoo. As dusk falls, keep an eye out for the ultra-secretive and rare Greater Flying Squirrel.
We will finish the tour with some optional pre-breakfast birding around the wonderful gardens of the hotel area. After our final breakfast of the tour we will travel back to Katunayake near Colombo (4 hours drive)
Lunch will be served at a select restaurant en-route.
Thereafter you will be dropped off at the airport for your flight back home
Thank you so much, I appreciate all of your hard work helping us find great snakes...
Thanks for sharing your knowledge and helping us find some fantastic wildlife...
Cannot thank Rajiv and Classic Wild enough for the two trips (and more planned)...
Had a wonderful 3 night excursion to Sinharaja arranged by Rajiv and his team at Classic Wild...
Took part on a birding tour to Sinharaja with Classic Wild, it was a very well organized tour...