Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Sri Lanka (part 2)

Just a few more photographs from my recent Sri Lankan trip. Still buzzing from it.

Sri Lanka Blue Mapgie

Dusky Blue Flycatcher

Asian Elephant

Intermediate Egret

Jerdon’s Bushlark

Joy at the Blue Magpie Lodge

Me at the Blue Magpie Lodge

Oriental Magpie Robin

Painted Stork

Pale-billed Flowerpecker

Pheasant-tailed Jacana

Purple Heron

Red-wattled Lapwing

Rose-ringed Parakeet

? I’m no good with mammals

Spotted Dove

Sri Lanka Woodpigeon

The Typhoo Ladies outside our hotel room.

White-bellied Sea-eagle (with fish)

White-browed Bulbul (youngster)

Woolly-necked Stork

Yellow-eyed Babbler

Monday 24th March

Still on Sri Lankan time! Up at 5.00am so decided to take a walk around the reservoir. It was a stunning morning with clear blue skies. Bird wise it was quiet, apart from the female Scaup/hybrid type that was still present. There were no hirundines and the only birds of note was a small party of four Meadow Pipit.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Saturday 22nd March

I was up early this morning with lots of things to do. I popped into the reservoir to have a search for Sand Martin and there were around 50 all quite high. The rest of the reservoir looked really quiet but I had a quick scan untheless, and was amazed to see a female Scaup. I didn’t have time to walk around but when I got home after doing a few bits and bobs, Ron Thomas had been to my house to tell me he had seen the Scaup. I don’t know who saw it first but it doesn’t really matter.

Last week Sand Martin were seen on a couple of occasions plus there has been a Red Kite (Steve Cawthray). Hopefully I will start getting over.

One last thing on Friday night I had a Barn Owl locally.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Having a Whale of a Time

After a visit to a temple in Kandy we had a full days travelling down to Mirissa, we saw a few birds on the way but I wasn’t feeling great.

We eventually arrived at the hotel and our room overlooked the Indian Ocean with a vast expanse of Sand and blue sea. Joy and I went for a walk along the beach – having a paddle on the way. We did see Lesser Crested Tern, but in all honesty I was glad for a break!

The next morning we were up early again to board the boat for our mornings Whale watching. As we made our way along the quay most of the double decker boats were full! I was thinking I don’t fancy this – full boat – rough sea. But we went to the end where the most impressive of the boats stood completely empty! It turned out that the company we used have a share in the boat and it was for our use only. Stunning!!!

As we made our way out the waves breaking over the pointy end were gettting us soaked as the sea was rather rough! A cry went up and we all headed for the front with the crew there to make sure we didn’t go overboard we had great views of Spinner Dolphins as they rode the wake of the boat. Not long after we had our first Blue Whale followed by at least another seven including a female and calf!

The next day it was more of the same although it was rougher and we got wetter, but we still got great views of the Blue Whale and Spinner Dolphin plus a Olive-Ridley Sea-turtle. It was our last day so we walked along the beach again and had a swim and made out we were normal tourists! The next day we were up early and Chami drove us to Columbo airport to catch our flight.

All in all it was a great holiday I saw 233 species plus a couple heard plus a couple of species the others saw that I didn’t. I managed all the endemics plus a lot of mammals. It was a wonderful country with wonderful people. The guide “Chami” was excellent, knowledgeable and friendly, he was proud of his country and its wildlife and clearly enjoyed sharing it with us.

Joy and I had a great time, I thought it would be hard to top Panama, but this was equal to it. I would heartily recommend it to anyone interested in birding. It is easy to organised and as a party of four we saved £1,3000 each on the price that some of the birding company charge. If you want any information on who to use just get in touch and I will happily forward you the species list and the details of Sri Lanka Birding Adventures!
Blue Whale – Ron Thomas

9-10th March – Horton Plains to Kandy

This was our earliest start – up at 4.30am, it wasn’t easy to sleep, the tv lounge was outside our room and Sri Lanka were playing Pakistan in the Asian Cricket Cup Final! They Won!

Anyway we were up early and after a coffee/tea we were off, the sky was tremendous with 1,000’s of stars. It was an hour drive to Horton Plains and we arrived just as the sun was coming up. We only went about a mile before we parked up and started hunting for the only two endemics that we had left to get. Straight away we were into a couple of Dusky Blue Flycatchers and they performed really well. The Sri Lanka Bush-warbler was a different matter and it took us getting on to 30 minutes to nail it. When we did it showed really well. There was a disused toilet block which gave good views through the forest and we used it. I actually found the nest of a Sri Lanka Whistling-thrush with two eggs in it!
Dusky Blue Flycatcher

Pied Thrush (female)

We had great views of the aforementioned bird plus a couple of Great Tit which looked grey compared to the birds we get. We drove another couple of miles and stopped at a parking area were we saw two Alpine Swift. As we had now cleaned up we decided to head back to Nuware Eliya to a site that had Scaly Thrush but not before we had good views of Adams Peak and another tick with a flock of 40 or so Black-headed Munia.

We stopped in a laybe on the way down the mountain and had two Peregrine plus a Legge’s Mountain Hawk-eagle. We also had an opportunity to photograph the wonderful Dusky Blue Flycatcher.

After lunch we went to Victoria Park in Nuwara Eliya which was pleasant and we saw two Pied Thrush a male and a female. We saw other bit and bobs in the park but there were a lot of people. Early evening saw us searching again for Scaly Thrush in the ravine but had no luck. But, as we were making our way back to the van a Scaly Thrush flew over us, Joy got a good look at it but the rest of us just saw a shape high up in the trees.

The next morning we were back at first light and although we heard a Scaly Thrush we didn’t connect with one. We headed back to the hotel for breakfast and afterwards, we headed to Kandy birding on route. As I had spent most of the time in the coach sat next to Joy, but this time I had the front seat!

As we wound our way up and down the mountain roads we picked up a few raptors. I spotted a bird high up on a ridge and we pulled over. It was one of the more easily recognisable raptors Crested Serpent-eagle, we were just about to get back in the van to continue when I picked up a lower paler looking bird. Chami looked at me and after about a minute he turned and said “Jerdon’s Bazza”. On hearing this Ron came hurtling around the side of the van tripping over a wire – he was fortunate not to disappear over the edge! The bird soared around before making a pass directly overhead. Scaly Thrush – what Scaly Thrush!!!

We then stopped at Lochglen Tea Factory and had a guided tour, unfortunately the tea made me really ill and I was knocked sideways for 24 hours.

But after lunch, we visited Edawattakele Forest Reserve where the birding was hard as I was feeling under the weather. We did however have really good views of Brown Fish Owl.

Brown Fish Owl

7-8 March – Tissamaharama to Nuwara Eliya

We were up early again this morning to check out local wetlands. As the sun rose we started off watching shapes slowly turn into birds. It was a magical experience at this time of day, we eventually identified Indian Stone Curlew, Watercock, Painted Snipe and Black Bittern before the sun had a chance to warm up.
Plain Prinia
After breakfast we headed off into the hills to Nuwara Eliya which would be our base for a further two nights. On route we stopped off at the Surrey Estate where we saw Brown Wood Owl and a Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, this was only a short stop to break up the journey.

We eventually arrived at Nuware Eliya in time for lunch and at 6,000ft it had a strangely Alpine feel to it. It was also a little cooler, a welcome development. After lunch we visited a site about two miles away where we saw Kashmir Flycatcher and one of the few endemics we hadn’t yet seen – Yellow-eared Bulbul. We also heard Dusky Blue Flycatcher but it evaded us. Next we visited a heavily wooded gorge that was a site for Sri Lanka Blue Whistling-thrush.

There was a steep path down a slope with a fast flowing stream at the bottom. We scanned the stream waiting for the Whistling-thrushy to happen by. However, it soon became apparent that wasn’t going to happen as there were several British birders standing downstream, it was obvious that the birds were not going to show, 1. they were in the way and 2. they were remarkably noisy. We eventually saw the birds fly past going to roost.

Yala National Park - 6th March

We left the hotel early, birding on the way, we picked up a couple of ticks with a two Painted Stork and a Black Bittern. The hotel was good not up to the standard of last nights but more than adequate, however like everywhere – the food was excellent.

We arrived at Yala again transferring to an open jeep. It would be had to say that it was disappointing but there were not as many birds as yesterday. But we were on the coast and we saw the Indian Ocean for the first time. We still managed to get a few ticks with Grey-headed Fish-eagle, Greater Thick-knee and a Black-necked Stork. It was my turn this time to make some noise when Ron got really excited about a Pin-tailed Snipe and stood on my bare foot!

Asian Paradise Flycatcher (White morph)

Greater Thick-knee
The only bird we missed was Oriental Skylark and Barred Buttonquail. We saw a good number of species including our only Besra of the holiday.

Malabar Pied Hornbill

Yellow-wattled Lapwing

As we left the park Chami asked if we wanted to wait until dark to search for Nighjars, he didn’t have to ask twice. As dusk approached we had two Indian Nightjar fly past and although we heard Jerdon’s Nightjar we struggled, eventually we had to move on, but fortunately one flew across the track and we managed to get flight views of one of them.

Uda Walawe National Park 6th March

After the excitement of the Blue-and-white Flycatcher this morning we drove to the Lake View Hotel which was a 30 minute drive to the entrance of Uda Walawe. The hotel was wonderful, very classy with a stunning room, wasted on us though! Firstly – we had a date with a couple of Indian Scops Owl in the hotel gardens. Chami took us to a clump of trees and said “right you have got five minutes to find them”. Well we searched and searched and he had to show us the birds, to be fair I was using my experience of European Scops Owl and was looking for a bird resembling a broke branch! After five minutes he showed us the birds!!!

Indian Scops Owl.

After lunch we headed to the Reserve changing vehicles to a open Jeep from which we birded, and we birded. It was stunning, Ron’s camera was red hot we hardly got halfway around before we had to turn around and head out. But in the meantime we had some tremendous birding. At the entrance we saw a Crested hawk-eagle in a tree that performed wonderfully. We also saw Blyth’s, Richards and Paddyfield Pipits, Jerdon’s Lark and a host of other birds.

Crested Hawk-eagle
One of the birds we most wanted was Sirkeer Malkoha and we didn’t have to wait long to get one. We also had Yellow-eyed Babbler, Ashy Prinia and 50 odd Indian Peafowl.

Indian Peafowl
Little Green Bee-eater
There were also herds of Asian Elephant everywhere and Rufous Mongoose! Bird wise there were Bee-eaters everywhere. All the camera’s where working overtime, with Ron specialising in a variety of squeeks and mantera’s, every bird seemed to bring new noises out of him from “Ohh, Ohh, Ohh”, to “Keith, Keith” and the ever present “I need that” but said with so much excitement that it is hard to convey in print! Needless to say, to anyone that knows Ron, after six days my ears were bleeding!
Sirkeer Malkoha
When we left the park we stopped for tea and coffee with Chami pulling the Ginger Nuts out again, there seemed to be an endless supply.

Sri Lanka – Blue Magpie Lodge 4-6 March

We eventually arrived at the Blue Magpie Lodge as the heavens opened. Chami parked the bus right under the shelter so we managed to access the dinning area without getting wet. Straight away the kettle was on and we birding from the dining area whilst enjoying coffee and tea plus some Ginger Nut biscuits! There were lots of Munia feeding in the wetland adjoining the Blue Magpie Lodge and they were joined by the ever present Red-vented Bulbul, Emerald Dove, Oriental Magpie-robin and a host of other birds.

Emerald Dove
We were up at 5.30am had breakfast and entered the Sinharaja World Heritage Wilderness Area via jeep up a mountain trail. That in itself was amazing! We then birded a trail through the forest for 4km seeing a handful of endemics – in no particular order: White-faced Starling, Sri Lanka Woodpigeon, Sri Lanka White-eye, Sri Lanka Myna, Red-faced Malkoha, Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Grey-headed Laughing-thrush and Sri Lanka Blue Magpie. We also saw Indian Pitta which particularly impressed Joy and Ron.

There were a host of other birds and mammals for that matter. But unfortunately, Leech’s were a problem, we seemed to be forever searching for them, they attach to your boots and slowly work there way up your body until they reach bare skin, removing them isn’t easy. We had just nailed down a flock of Red-faced Malkoha and Grey-headed Laughing-thrush, when Joy noticed a Leech on her hand, by the time I caught up with her and then removed the Leech – only for it to attach itself to me, then her, then me again, the birds had gone – fortunately we didn’t have to wait too long to see them again.
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater

We then stopped at the research centre (checking each other for Leech’s) then I had a Sri Lanka Blue Magpie eating out of my hand, not once but three times, unfortunately Joy couldn’t get a photograph, but I did get a photograph of one perched on my Scope!
Chami, Blue Magpie and Joy complete with Leech Socks.

We birded all the way back to the Jeep seeing more birds – the highlight was a pair of Sri Lanka Frogmouths which really impressed Joy.

After lunch we birded the road by the Blue Magpie Lodge seeing a variety of species. The next morning saw yet another early start with the main target being the Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush, this bird proved to be rather elusive and after three hours fighting our way through thick jungle I felt more like a Chindit than a birder!

We eventually arrived in a heavily wooded Dell with a ridge ahead of us – one of our guides pushed the bird through and I picked it up briefly as it landed on a log, within seconds it had gone never to be seen again despite searching! I tried not to get too excited as the others had all missed the bird. In the afternoon we were offered the chance to see Spot-bellied Eagle-owl but it involved a bit of climbing!

After clambering out of the jeep we descended a steep path to a wide river, we then crossed the river on a causeway which was about an inch under water, then passing through a small village we made our way up the steep hillside through tea plantations. We reached the forest and the path got steeper, we eventually arrived at a heavily wooded rocky escarpment where Chami located the nest, unfortunately the adult was not at home but we did see a well grown chick. The return journey was more of the same and we were all blowing a bit when we eventually arrived back at the jeep!

The next morning we were heading to Uda Walawe National Park but not before we had a search for a first for Sri Lanka a Blue-and-white Flycatcher. We had searched previously for the bird which was by the park entrance but had failed to connect. This morning we got lucky and the bird gave great views as it fed in the trees above us.

On a general note the Blue Magpie Lodge was excellent, it was the most basic of all the accommodation but it was comfortable and all the staff were friendly and helpful and the food was excellent!

Sri Lanka 1-3 March

Joy and I plus the Keith Wimbush aka “The Captain” and Ron Thomas aka “Godfrey” left my house a little before 3pm on the 28th February. The trip down to Heathrow was uneventful but rainy. We managed a couple of Red Kite on the M40 but little else. Everything when like clockwork, we parked up, got dropped off at Heathrow, up the escalator booked in the baggage and straight onto the plane.

Eleven hours later we landed in Sri Lanka, collected our luggage, changed some currency, then walked out to be met by our guide Chami and representative who I had dealt with on the internet Perry. It could not have been easier. I had organised everything myself and we were looking forward to ten days birding with a couple of days whale watching on the Indian Ocean to round off the holiday.

It was a long drive to Kitulgala, not great in distance but progress was slow. We did however, stop a couple of times to do a bit of birding. The first stop produced, Sri Lanka Swallow, Ashy Woodswallow, Brown Shrike and numerous Egrets. The second stop I had my first tick of the week in the form of a Lesser Yellownape, we also saw Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Lesser Flameback and Shikra.

We arrived at the Plantation Hotel, Kitulgala at around 4pm. It was a good standard hotel and the room was comfortable with air conditioning. After a quick shower we were out birding on the outskirts of the village. We had been warned beforehand about Leech’s, Ron seemed to think a bite would be terminal! He seemed rather pre-occupied with what might bite him rather than what he might see. One of his oft used phrases (and there were many) was “Are they dangerous”.

Back to birding, we soon had our first proper endemic – Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, but the bird we were hunting for was Chestnut-backed Owlet one of two Sri Lankan endemic Owl species. Children from the local house/hut joined us in the search and they were so happy, even though they appeared to have nothing (a lesson for us all there me thinks). Eventually the bird appeared although it was by this time rather dark. So with two endemics under the belt we headed back to the hotel for food and a good nights sleep.

We met the next morning for breakfast at 6am then proceeded to cross the river by ferry, which was a hollowed out log, there was barely enough room to stand but we managed it – and it was quite exciting. We made our way along the trail, Chami our guide had been up at 3am to locate the roost site for the main target for the holiday the recently described Serendib Scops Owl. There were another couple of groups after the bird, but the guides had it sorted between them and there was a telescope set up. We got good views – but picking the bird up from the trail with binoculars was near impossible.

Serendib Scops Owl
We carried on birding seeing Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler, Crested Drongo, Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, Brown-capped Babbler and Dark-fronted Babbler. Also, myself and the Captain picked up a couple of Leech’s, the little buggers had gone straight through our socks and helped themselves to an arm full of blood! We spend the next few hours checking ourselves every five minutes (mental note to self – buy some Leech Socks).

After lunch we travelled into the hills and had a good few hours birding seeing more endemics: Sri Lanka Hanging-parrot, Layards Parakeet and Yellow-fronted Barbet. Then it was back to the hotel for some more good food and another night of sleep.

The next morning saw us birding in the Kitulgala village where we saw a further four endemics, Green-billed Coucal, Spot-winged Ground-thrush, Legge’s Flowerpecker and Sri Lanka Junglefowl. After breakfast we changed hotel headed to the Blue Magpie Lodge where we saw Black Eagle.

Black-hooded Oriole

Chestnut-headed Bee-eater

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

18th March

Having just returned from Sri Lanka (more to follow) I am still on Sri Lankan time, so this morning I thought I would brave it and have an early morning walk around. Depressing doesn’t quite sum it up, but it is close. There were a few birds bravely singing but apart from that and a couple of Goosander it was dead. I can see adjusting to birding again in the Midlands going to be hard!