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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Sri Lanka: A Photographic Tour

January 2020
with Stuart Elsom as leader

Price Pending

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Blue-tailed Bee-eaters have a habit of posing for the camera Photo: Stuart Elsom

The magical island of Sri Lanka offers endless photographic opportunities. The wonderful combination of a gentle lush landscape, a fascinating culture, and a rich and varied wildlife means we will never be short of subjects to photograph. From smart Pheasant-tailed Jacanas delicately picking their way through flowering lotus in the many small lakes and “tanks” to mighty Asian Elephants grazing just yards from our vehicle, from beautiful Buddha statues of all sizes and towering stupas surrounded by palm trees to vivid birds and stunning butterflies, there is something to enthrall on every turn, and throughout the tour we’ll find the wildlife, and especially the birds, remarkably confiding. 

We’ve been running birdwatching tours to Sri Lanka for over twenty years and in that time we have come to know the very best places to visit. Together with our local guides we have put together a perfect itinerary that will ensure we’ll return home with some exceptional images.

All photographic tours are accompanied by Stuart Elsom LRPS, who was awarded a Royal Photographic Society Distinction in 2011. Stuart, who delivers training on nature photography and bird identification for the Royal Society of Biology, will be on hand throughout the tour to offer group or one-to-one tuition on all aspects of wildlife photography. 

During each day Stuart will offer group or one on one instruction on all aspects of wildlife photography, and on many evenings there will be optional sessions on photographic techniques or image critique workshops. Perhaps we should add that Stuart’s photographic tours do not try to get shots of a long list of species but rather concentrate on obtaining stunning images of the wildlife we encounter. We may spend long periods with just a few subjects and we’ll take advantage of blinds and feeding stations where available. 

Day 1: The tour begins with the departure of the Sunbird group on an overnight flight from London to Colombo. WINGS participants traveling directly to Colombo should arrive no later than this evening (see note **, below).  

Day 2: After meeting the group arriving from London (about midday), we’ll head south to our hotel at Tissa. The hotel grounds will produce our first close views of Sri Lankan birds, which could include the ubiquitous Asian Koel, Black-hooded Oriole, and White-bellied Drongo. Night in Tissa.

Day 3: We’ll spend our first full morning exploring the wetlands around Tissa, home to numerous photogenic species including Coppersmith Barbet, both the impressive White-naped Flameback and Lesser Goldenback Woodpeckers, Jerdon’s Leafbird, Small Minivet, Indian Pond Heron, Black Bittern, White-breasted Waterhen, and Stork-billed Kingfisher. Nearby is a large roost of Indian Flying Foxes, offering superb photographic opportunities. In the afternoon we’ll visit Yala National Park, the first of our two visits to this world-renowned reserve. Emphasis will be on seeing and photographing Asian Leopard, but other wildlife will compete for our attention, including Asian Elephant, Golden Jackal, Spotted and Sambar Deer, and Asian Wild Boar. The birds here are tremendous too, and we’ll endeavor to see and photograph the spectacular Indian Pitta as well as Indian Peafowl, Red-wattled Lapwing, Great Stone Plover, Lesser Adjutant, Asian Openbill, Spot-billed Pelican, and Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark among others. Both Blue-tailed and Green Bee-eaters are present in good numbers, among many other waders, raptors, herons, storks, and ibis. Night in Tissa. 

Day 4: We begin with a visit to Bundala National Park. From our safari jeep we’ll be well placed to get excellent views of waders, including Lesser Sand Plover, Marsh Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit, and Pin-tailed Snipe. We’ll also be treated to raptors, including Grey-headed and White-bellied Sea Eagles, and many Painted Storks. Indian Robin is found here, as are Marshall’s Iora and Grey-bellied Cuckoo. In addition several species of tern can be numerous, with Great Crested, Whiskered, White-winged Black, and Gull-billed sometimes feeding only a few feet away. The afternoon will make our second safari to Yala, hopefully adding to our previous day’s success. We may also visit an area where Brown Fish Owls are known to roost. Night in Tissa. 

Day 5: Bundala will again be our first port of call as we take our second jeep safari around this rich wetland. We’ll concentrate on seeing and photographing species that may have eluded us or been a bit camera shy on our first visit. After lunch we’ll head north to Udawalawe National Park, where we’ll again travel by jeep in order to see and photograph the reserve’s endearing Asian Elephants. Other species we’ll attempt to find include Sirkeer Malkoha, Crested Hawk Eagle, Indian Roller, and Jerdon’s Bushlark. Night at Udawalawe. 

Day 6: We’ll start at Udawalawe National Park with another jeep safari of the area. Species we may encounter today include Barred Buttonquail, Lesser Adjutant, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Plum-headed Parakeet, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Jungle Prinia, Forest Wagtail, Blyth’s Pipit, Orange-headed Ground Thrush, Sri Lanka Swallow, and Crested Serpent Eagle. After lunch we’ll head for Nuwara Eliya in the central highlands. Time permitting, we’ll spend our late afternoon in Victoria Park, where we’ll hope to get good photographs of such sought-after species as Forest Wagtail, Brown Shrike, Oriental Magpie Robin, Kashmir Flycatcher, and the charismatic Pied Thrush. Night in Nuwara Eliya. 

Day 7: We’ll start early and head to the highlands of Horton Plains National Park. This will be a completely new habitat to us and should produce lots of new and exciting species including the Arrenga—the Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush—Indian Blackbird, Sri Lanka Woodpigeon, Dull Blue Flycatcher, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, and Pied Bushchat. The afternoon will once again be spent around the Victoria Park area, allowing us to catch up with species that may have eluded us the previous afternoon, and we’ll concentrate on getting better views and photographs of Pied Thrush, the special bird of the park. Night in Nuwara Eliya. 

Day 8: After breakfast we’ll drive to our hotel at Sigiriya, a 600-foot-high pinnacle of rock rising out of the jungle and perhaps the most striking sight in Sri Lanka. One of seven World Heritage Sites on the island, 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 Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill and a selection of woodpeckers, including the striking crimson form of Black-rumped Flameback. Night at Sigiriya. 

Day 9: Around the base of the imposing rock is an extensive series of ancient ruins, most of which have been swallowed up by the encroaching jungle. It is this jungle that will provide many more birds for us today as we wander the extensive network of tracks and roadways in search of Oriental Scops, Forest Eagle and Brown Fish Owls, Jerdon’s Nightjar, Blue-faced Malkoha, Banded Bay and Drongo Cuckoos, Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Sri Lanka Woodshrike, Large and Black-headed Cuckooshrikes, Blue-winged Leafbird, White-rumped Shama, Indian Black and Indian Blue Robins, Jungle, Ashy, and Grey-breasted Prinia, 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 to admire the paintings and the carved fortress, as well as to take panoramic shots of the incredible view. Night at Sigiriya. 

Day 10: Leaving Sigiriya in the morning, 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 B.C. We’ll visit the temple as well as the splendid Royal Botanical Gardens, which contain a surprising number of birds and a large colony of flying foxes. After lunch we’ll head towards Colombo and to our hotel near the airport where we’ll have day rooms ahead of evening flights home. 

Updated: 21 June 2017


  • 2020 Tour Price Not Yet Available
  • (2018 Tour Price $3,500)
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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.

This tour is limited to eight participants and one WINGS leader.

**Accommodation the night of Day 1 and transfers from and to the airport as needed are included in the tour cost for WINGS participants. Meals are not included until you join the Sunbird group arriving on Day 2.