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Birding in Sri Lanka - Update

by Dave Sargeant

15-25 November 2004

We have recently returned from a short trip to Sri Lanka. In addition to the plethora of trip reports on the web [e.g., Jon Hornbuckle's detailed report], the following are a few notes and updates useful to potential visiting birders. We did a "standard" itinerary using the services of A. Baur & Co. Ltd. and their driver/guide Abeydeera, who was excellent. In no particular order:

  • November is not the best time to visit Sri Lanka. It was quite wet on the eastern slopes and we consequently lost quite some time to weather. It was especially wet around Bibile, with the lush vegetation making it impossible to see Painted Francolin. Conversely, at Sinharaja it was quite dry, with consequently little bird activity, including no feeding flocks -- a consequence of which was that we dipped on the Red-faced Malkoha. Winter migrants had not arrived in any numbers. Kashmir Flycatcher had as yet not been reported from Victoria Park, and only three Pied Thrushes had arrived and were very elusive. Later is definitely better for these species.
  • Some "clean-up" of "forest" type vegetation is happening in Victoria Park which consequently has reduced the undergrowth and probably its attraction for various specialities. This might be ongoing for some time?
  • Entrance rules for Victoria Park might be changed. Previously you could buy a ticket the previous day so that you could enter early (past the park guard) the following morning. Officially it doesn't open till 08:00. However, we were not allowed to purchase advance tickets. The best workaround would seem to be to enter the park in the late afternoon, as you can exit after dark.
  • As mentioned in a couple of recent trip reports the park entrance to Horton Plains is being moved to before the Whistling Thrush pond. There is a barrier across the road. This means that by early January 2005, birders will need to pay to visit the site. Additionally it should be noted that Baur & Co, and other company drivers make special arrangements with the park guards to ensure that the barrier is left up to allow early access. If you attempt to enter early morning on your own you could well find the barrier down.
  • The newly described Serendib Owl is now known from about five localities, and I heard talk of an estimated 50 pairs having been located. We visited two sites (one in Sinharaja, one in Kitagula) at night where the bird has been found, but had no luck. The best site is the one in Sinharaja park, but it's a grueling two hour drive from the Sinharaja sites that most birders visit at the other side to the park. It would seem that as this owl becomes better known it will become gettable with more ease.
  • One thing I found very surprisingly to not have been noted in any trip reports, is that taping and tape playback is not allowed in Sinharaja park. Whilst neither agreeing nor disagreeing with this, you are advised to keep any taping equipment out of site so as not to attract park guard attention.
  • Based on earlier reports, the Blue Magpie Lodge appears to be under new-management and upgraded a little. Warm showers were available in all rooms via solar systems installed on the roofs. The place was clean and the staff very friendly. We enjoyed our stay.
  • It was disappointing to note that the parks of Yala, and particularly Bundala, are becoming heavily invaded with the Mesquite Prosopis juliflora/pallida sp. Our driver/guide was not aware of the invasive nature and destruction of native species that this species brings. It appears that nothing is being done to control or eradicate it. Of the two parks, Yala is much the better for birding, so if short of time give Bundala a miss.

David E. Sargeant
akalat [at] gmail.com


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