Serendib Scops Owl is one of the most sought-after birds on the Sri Lanka tour. Photo: Uditha Hettige
Early travelers romantically named Sri Lanka “the teardrop of India.” Just 270 miles long and 140 miles wide, this small island does indeed look like a tear that has fallen from the face of the subcontinent to become petrified in the Indian Ocean. Having, in reality, risen from the sea millions of years ago and since been subjected to much geological upheaval, Sri Lanka has developed into a magical land of mountains, gently undulating hills, open plains, and lush valleys. Running through these are countless rivers dotted with beautiful waterfalls, many hidden beneath a dense cloak of rainforest.
For the birdwatcher, islands have the added attraction of endemic species that have evolved during centuries of isolation. Sri Lanka is no exception with upward of 33 unique birds, and we’ll endeavor to see them all. In addition, a large number of northern migrants winter on the island, joining many other resident species that are difficult or impossible to see on the usual birdwatching circuits of India. We should add that Sri Lanka has a rich cultural history that will surround us while we bird, and a famously hospitable people.
Day 1: The tour begins this evening in Colombo. Night in Colombo.
Day 2: After breakfast we’ll drive to Sigiriya, a 600-foot-high, wide pinnacle of rock rising out of the jungle and perhaps the most striking sight on Sri Lanka. One of seven World Heritage Sites on Sri Lanka, Sigiriya is famous for the ancient fortress that sits on its summit, and especially for the ancient rock paintings or frescoes that adorn the walls.
After checking in to our hotel, we’ll have time to explore the surrounding forest for our first birds, which could include Ceylon Grey Hornbill and a selection of woodpeckers such as the striking crimson form of Black-rumped Flameback and White-naped Woodpecker. Night in Sigiriya.
Day 3: Around the base of the imposing rock is an extensive series of ancient ruins, most of which have been swallowed by the jungle that will provide many of today’s birds. We’ll wander the extensive network of tracks and roadways in search of Oriental Scops, Brown Fish, and Forest Eagle Owls, Jerdon’s Nightjar, Blue-faced Malkoha, Drongo and Banded Bay Cuckoos, Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Indian Pitta, Ceylon Woodshrike, Large and Black-headed Cuckooshrikes, Blue-winged Leafbird, Orange-headed Thrush, White-rumped Shama, Indian Black and Indian Blue Robins, Jungle, Ashy, and Grey-breasted Prinias, Green and Large-billed Leaf Warblers, and Brown-capped Babbler. For those who wish, there will also be the chance to climb the long staircase to the top of Sigiriya Rock to admire the paintings and the carved fortress. Night in Sigiriya.
Day 4:Leaving Sigiriyan, we’ll travel to Kandy, home of traditional Sri Lankan culture and famous for the temple that houses a sacred tooth rescued from the Buddha’s funeral pyre in 543 BC, which we’ll make time to visit as soon as we arrive in the town. For birds we need venture no further than the secluded grounds of our accommodation, an utterly delightful small hotel on the outskirts of the town with grounds that are visited by a range of species, and we’ll spend the afternoon in this peaceful setting. Night in Kandy.
Days 5–6: We’ll continue our drive into the highlands and the town of Nuwara Eliya in the heart of Sri Lanka’s hill country and tea-growing region, and we’ll make a stop to sample some of the tea for which the island is so famous. Among the formal shrubbery of Victoria Park we should see Indian Pitta and Pied Thrush, while on the Horton Plains we’ll search for Jerdon’s Baza, Yellow-eared Bulbul, Ceylon Scimitar-babbler, Sri Lanka Bush Warbler, and Sri Lanka White-eye, among others. Over the next few days we’ll visit many sites to look for Kashmir and Dull Blue Flycatchers, but the real prize of our visit to this region will be the Arrenga, or Ceylon Whistling-thrush, one of the rarest and most magical birds on the island. Nights in Nuwara Eliya.
Day 7: Leaving the cool hill county, we’ll drive south into the dry lowlands. We’ll reach our hotel in time for lunch and spend the afternoon visiting the Udawalawe National Park. Established to protect the forest catchment of a large reservoir, this park is home to good numbers of waterbirds and mammals. We’ll switch to open-topped jeeps and drive around the park searching for the distinctive Sri Lankan forms of Crested Hawk-eagle and Barred Buttonquail, as well as Lesser Adjutant, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Plum-headed Parakeet, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Sirkeer Malkoha, Jungle Prinia, Forest Wagtail, and Blyth’s Pipit. We can also expect close encounters with some of the many wild Indian Elephants that inhabit the park. Night in Udawalawe.
Day 8: Before breakfast we’ll visit a birding site looking for Coppersmith Barbet, Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Jerdon’s Leafbird, Small Minivet, Ashy-crowned Sparrowlark, Oriental Skylark, and Yellow Wagtail. Later we’ll journey east to the village of Tissa, famous for its large tank (or lake) and ancient domed dagoba (Buddhist shrine). On the way we’ll stop at a reservoir to look for a variety of waterbirds including Black and Yellow Bitterns.
This evening we’ll visit Yala National Park, where we’ll encounter drier forest and open grasslands. These habitats are still very rich in birds, and we’ll look for Lesser Adjutant, Asian Openbill, Spot-billed Pelican, Great Thick-knee, and Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark, among others. Yala is also home to many mammals, including Indian Elephant, Leopard, Sloth Bear, Wild Boar, Tufted Grey Langur, Sambar, and Spotted Deer. We’ll also venture out at dusk to search for Jerdon’s Nightjar and the more common Indian Nightjar. Night in Tissa.
Day 9: We’ll visit Bundla National Park, an extensive area of marsh and coastal lagoons, to look for Black and Yellow Bitterns, Watercock, Ruddy-breasted Crake, a variety of waders including Pacific Golden Plover and Pintail Snipe, and hordes of stunning Blue-tailed Bee-eaters. In the evening we’ll explore the ancient reservoirs (tanks) in the Tissa area to see more waterbirds, especially Watercock and any species of bittern missed during our previous birding sessions. Night in Tissa.
Day 10: We’ll drive to our comfortable hotel in Weddagala close to the Sinharaja rainforest. After lunch at the hotel we’ll explore the hotel grounds, where we expect to find some of the island’s endemics, such as Layard’s Parakeet and Yellow-fronted Barbet, along with Black-headed Cuckooshrike, Orange and Small Minivets, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, and many others of interest. Night in Weddagala.
Days 11–12: These two days are set aside for exploring Sinharaja’s rainforest in the heart of the wet zone. The park’s extensive bird list includes most of the country’s endemics, and we have a good chance of seeing the majority of them, although some are easier to find than others. The ground-dwelling Sri Lanka Spurfowl requires stealth and sharp eyes, whereas roving flocks of Ashy-headed Laughingthrushes and Orange-billed Babblers are much more obliging. Ceylon Hill-mynas call loudly and clearly from exposed positions while Ceylon Hanging-parrots shriek past.
The exquisite Ceylon Blue Magpie is a real gem, and with luck we’ll see several. We’ll also keep a sharp eye open for Red-faced Malkoha cavorting around the tangled vines and creepers. Another rare and shy inhabitant of the forest here is Green-billed Coucal, and we’ll listen carefully for the distinctive call that will betray the presence of this remarkable bird. White-faced Starling may appear high up in the trees, and multicolored butterflies, the size of saucers, will float in and out of the warm humid forest, which at times echoes to the excited calls of mixed-species bird flocks. Sinharaja will undoubtedly be a rewarding highlight of the tour. Nights in Weddagala.
Days 13–14: We’ll leave on the morning of day 13 for Kitulgala, on the banks of the River Kelani. Famous as the location for the filming of The Bridge on the River Kwai, our hotel is located right on the riverbank, and we should arrive in time for birdwatching on the grounds. The next day we’ll cross the river to spend time in the lush rainforest. Here we’ll search for the endemic Chestnut-backed Owlet as well as any other endemics and rainforest species we may have missed at Sinharaja. Nights in Kitulgala.
Day 15: After another birding session in the morning at Kitulgala we’ll travel back to Colombo, where, depending on flight schedules, there may be time in the afternoon to visit a forest site to look for Brown Wood Owl. Night in Colombo.
Day 16: The tour concludes this morning in Colombo.
Updated: 24 June 2016
- 2017 Tour Price (Feb) : $3,100
- Single Occupancy Supplement : $450
- 2018 Tour Price Not Yet Available
This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird. Information on Sunbird and an explanation of Sunbird tour pricing can be found here.
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.
Maximum group size 8 with one leader.