Monday 1 April 2024

Sri Lanka with Bird's Wildlife & Nature - Day 2: 17th March 2024

I slept poorly – excitement of what was to come being a contributing factor but not helped but what turn out to be a Common Hawk Cuckoo singing, quite literally all night.  A three note whistle that would increase slowly in pitch and volume!  Booming Great Coucals and Asian Koels joined in before first light along with the delightful song of Oriental Magpie Robins.

An early pre breakfast walk in the rapidly rising heat allowed us to reconnect with some of the bird’s first seen the previous evening.  The last of the Flying Foxes were heading back to their roosts and quite a few Pipistrelle sized Bats were still whizzing around while a selection of Herons and Egrets moved off to feed including Intermediate, Great White, Indian Pond, Purple Heron, Night Heron and Eastern Cattle as well as Painted Stork and our first Black-headed Ibis.

We eventually found one of the pesky Hawk Cuckoos in the dead tree and both Brown-headed and Crimson Fronted Barbets were adding their own pop-pop songs to the mix. 

Great Coucal

Brown-headed Barbet

Barn Swallows, Little Swifts and Asian Palm Swifts zipped over and down in the big border trees the Southern Hill Mynas put on a fine musical show with Black-hooded Orioles for accompaniment.  Groups of noisy SL Red-backed Woodpeckers tried to out shout the quarrelsome Yellow-billed Babblers while the Indian Scops Owl was once again trying not be seen.

Jungle Crow - Like a Raven in a Carrion Crow's body

Southern Hill Myna

Southern Hill Myna

Turf warfare - SL Red-backed Woodpeckers and the Seven Yellow-billed Babblers

Indian Scops Owl - not amused at all the general ornithological noise

Common Tailorbird - tail so vertical that you can't see it!

White-bellied Drongo

Common Jezebel

We were soon on the road again for the wiggly route through to our next base at Kithulgala.  The journey was enlivened by a selection of new roadside species with Blue-tailed Bee-eaters on the wires beside White-throated Kingfishers, a full compliment of Heronry things again with the addition of Asian Open Billed Storks and in the skies above us we picked up Oriental Honey Buzzards (the first of several instructive species from a Western palearctic point of view), Brahminy Kites, Shikra and White-bellied Sea-Eagle Ashy Prinias foraged in the grasses alongside the bus on a brief leg stretch stop.

Eastern Garden Lizard

The hotel at Kithulgula overlooked the Kelani River just a about a mile down river from where the ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ was filmed in 1957 and the vista up into the hillside beyond was immediately filled by the huge handed shape of an adult Black Eagle as it circled effortlessly by.  

Black Eagle

Black Eagle

A Crested Serpent Eagle quickly followed along with several Oriental Honey Buzzards and a White-bellied Sea Eagle that came in to land opposite us.  It was going to be a good place to stay. Time between lunch and heading back out was very productive with Indian Swiftlets, Palm Swifts and monstrous Brown Backed Needletails zooming through our air space with Sri Lanka Swallows (endemic #3) looking like mahogany and shiny blue Red-rumps over the river.

White-bellied Sea Eagle 

The grounds were full of tourists making their way down to the river for white water rafting while the locals bathed and played in the shallows but any noise did not detract from the birds we saw.  One tree held Magpie Robins, Purple Rumped Sunbirds and our first Indian White-eyes and a flouncy White-browed Fantail. 

Oriental Magpie Robin

Purple Rumped Sunbird

Oriental Magpie Robin

Oriental Magpie Robin

Epipremnum pinnatum - a house plant that gets a little bigger out here

Square-tailed Babblers were raucously playing chase and would become a feature of the next few days and Alexandrine and tiny Sri Lankan Hanging Parrots (endemic #4) were seen although we would have to wait a while to see the latter well. Open Billed Storks and Brahminy Kites joined the overhead circlers and a Stork Billed Kingfisher perched briefly on the other side of the river where a male Sri Lanka Green Pigeon (endemic #5) was also noted.  It was that usual situation of birding in a new country where the new birds come so fast that you struggle to keep up and process it all but in the knowledge that nearly everything you encounter you will see better over the ensuing days. I love it.

A troop of Toque Macaques bounded through the trees opposite with their ginger pelts and Beatles mop tops. There were many Butterflies with Leopards, Tigers, Mormons, Sailors, Roses and Emigrants and Green Skimmers and Pied Parasols dragonflies darted around the grounds.

Common Emigrant - Catopsilia pomona

We reconvened with leech socks deployed for the early evening walk in the nearby village where the local people welcomed us into their gardens and surrounding woodland to search for wildlife. 

Hanging Parrots were noisy but invisible in the palms and Layard’s Parakeet (endemic #6) with almost as tricky to see but Green Imperial and  Sri Lanka Green Pigeons and delightful Emerald Doves were somewhat more obliging. A female Sri Lanka Jungle Fowl (endemic #7)  escorted two chicks through the leaf litter and could be heard throwing leaves around while singing Yellow-fronted Barbets (endemic #8) became our third species along with louder Brown-heads.

Sri Lanka Jungle Fowl with a chick below and right (endemic #7)

Emerald Dove

Emerald Dove

Finding birds lower down was tricky and we had several targets here but with some patience and fieldcraft we were successful with Square-tailed and Yellow-browed Bulbuls down to a feeding table before a calling Chestnut-backed Owlet  (endemic #9) got their attention and they pushed it out into the open for us.  A feisty little creature. 

Square-tailed and Yellow-browed Bulbuls

Chestnut-backed Owlet  (endemic #9)

Chestnut-backed Owlet 

A male Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher gave hints of blue and pinky red in the gloom but it was Indian Pitta that were we really after but a Brown Mongoose spooked it off the path as bins were about to be raised and we had to walk away for a while to give it the chance to return which it thankfully did.  It hopped around on the sandy areas hunting for insects before merging back into the undergrowth.  My first of this family and as a wintering species here it was by no means guaranteed.

Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher

 Brown Mongoose

Indian Pitta 

A mix and match Giant Squirrel was dropping Kapok seeds down on us but we all somehow contrived to miss the 2m long Water Monitor that Saman found while searching for the elusive Spot Winged Thrush (endemic #10).

Giant Squirrel

Time was pushing on so we made our way back up the slope to the road where said Thrush flicked across in front of us!  A few minutes later it started singing and soon gave fantastic views every now and then as it moved between liana song perches.

Spot Winged Thrush (endemic #10)

We trudged back happy and were met with a pair of Indian Peafowl going to roost in the top of the biggest trees overlooking the river.

Before I came away I had half joked that I really wanted to see both the ‘chicken and peacock’ in the wild and had down so on the first full day.  How marvellous.

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