Friday, 15 April 2016

Sri Lanka 2016 - 4

Sri Lanka bird trip 7-21 February 2016. Part 4 - Kandy - Sigiriya - Negombo

In Part 4: British tea factory machines over 100 years old. The most expensive Lion beer in Sri Lanka? More nature photographs

For other parts

Part 1 - Kitulgala and Sinharaja
(Is this the longest tail of any flycatcher?)

Part 2 - Embilipitiya and Tissamaharama
(Kingfishers fall out. What's the wingspan of a fruit bat?)

Part 3 - Nuwara Eliya and Horton Plains
(How do the Sri Lankans drive?)

Kandy (no. 11 on the map).
On Thursday 18 February we descended from the lofty heights of Nuwara Eliya to Kandy, a major city to the North West. On the way, we visited a tea factory. The usual visit to a local production facility with its own tourist shop is something of a cliché. I enjoyed the visit. I was amazed that most of the machines were over 100 years old, often belt driven, and probably made in a Sheffield or Bradford engineering factory!

Tea separting machine. At least 100 years old and still going strong!
Only the stuff that comes off the front is 'tea'.
The four spouts at the side are all for 'waste'.

Tamil tea pickers. They posed for us. Tamils originally came from
India to work on the tea plantations.
The Sri Lankans didn't want to do this hard work.

After the factory tour, it was de rigueur to stay for tea!
The beautifully packaged tea of the shop was very expensive.
View from the tea room.

In Kandy, we were supposed to stay at the Hotel Suisse. This is a charming old colonial style hotel overlooking the lake. The view would have been something like this:
The lake in Kandy

On arrival, the manager explained that there had been a water leak on our floor. He had arranged for us to stay at the modern OZO hotel, which overlooked the Hotel Suisse. Now, personally, I didn’t mind. As we were in a big city anyway, I preferred a room with modern facilities to the Victorian plumbing of the Hotel Suisse. We got the best of both worlds in the end. We enjoyed lunch in the grandiose dining room of the Hotel Suisse, but stayed at the OZO.

Lunch in the majestic dining room of the Hotel Suisse. This photo shows the whole party.
From Left: Tharanga, David, Phil, Anne, Alan, Sasha, Tony, Greta, Gary, Henry

After lunch, we headed to the nearby Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, home to a host of trees, plants and birds. This was quite a busy place, with tourists from all over, including Sri Lanka.

Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, Kandy. The main fountain.

Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, Kandy.
The gardens were well tended. Shame the weather was a bit drizzly.
This is a cannon-ball tree. Truly. Wouldn't like to be underneath when they drop!

I called this the 'tornado tree'.

Lesser Hill Myna. Last of the three mynas.
Black-rumped flameback. One of a family of woodpeckers.

The next morning it was another early start to beat the traffic. Our destination wasn't far away, but the traffic in the city was heavy from quite early on. The Udawatta Kele Royal Forest, Kandy is a mature forest on a hill near the city. We found several new birds there, although the number of new birds had, of course, slowed considerably as we approached the end of the tour. For me, as a photographer, this meant that I could concentrate on getting better photos of birds we had already seen.

Udawatta Kele Royal Forest, Kandy
Brown-capped babbler. A very underwhelming bird, almost lost in the dimness.
White-rumped sharma. Here is the white rump.
It's quite pretty, and trogon-like. It didn't call much.
You just noticed it on a branch.
White-rumped sharma. I managed to get quite close to this individual.
It didn't seem to mind. Eventually I left it after photographing it for 7-8 minutes.

Sigiriya (no. 12 on the map)
Our last overnight stop was at Sigiriya. The hotel was quite a large complex. It was nicely planned with many chalets, a swimming pool and open sided dining area. In all other hotels we had visited, the price of a large Lion beer was fairly standard. Typically 350-450 rupees, even in the best hotels. At Hotel Sigiriya it was 875 rupees! All other drinks were similarly overpriced. Hmm! Is that just profiteering?

The dining-room was open at the sides, with nets to stop monkeys and giant squirrels from coming in. David had trouble adjusting to Sri Lankan food. When the hotels offered Western food, he made the most of it. At Sigiriya, he ate a record fourteen pancakes with syrup at one sitting! That was after the main course. But, hey! Who's counting?

The area around the moat at Sigiriya Fort was a magnet for all sorts of birds. We had a great time there. The white-naped woodpecker eluded us on this trip. We looked hard at Sigiriya but to no avail. I didn’t mind. I was very happy with what I saw and photographed. Here are some of them:

Indian robin. The red is on the tail instead of the breast!
Not like our robin at all.
Indian robin - female. The same as the male but brown.
Male and female European robins are indistinguishable.
Asian paradise flycatcher. This is the brown version of the white one in Part 1.
The tail is short here, so it's either a female or a juvenile. A beautiful bird.
White-browed Bulbul - a plain member of the bulbul family.

Grey-bellied cuckoo. Well, it's grey. What more can I say?
Jerdon's bushlark. Looks like a pipit but the bill is huge. Wonder who Jerdon was?
Oriental magpie-robin. Size of a robin, looks of a magpie. Very common.
Coppersmith barbet. This one was looking for a home.
He found it in the photo below.
Coppersmith barbet. It got right inside the hole.
The branch must be very weak at his point.
Golden-fronted leafbird. Looks similar to a barbet but no relation.
Asian paradise flycatcher - brown morph.
The same huge tail as the white model in Part 1.
Indian cuckoo. In a tree above the foyer of the hotel (the one with the expensive beer -
maybe seeing rare birds on the doorstep is factored into the cost of beer!).
Orange-headed thrush. Also seen in the grounds of the hotel.
Sri Lanka green pigeon. A lovely pigeon. This is the male. An endemic species.
Sri Lanka green pigeon. This is the female.

The Bandaranaika International Airport, Colombo, is actually to the North of the city. For our last night we stayed at Negombo, which is also North of Colombo and just 15-20 minutes from the airport. Virtually no chance we would miss our flight! After Sigiriya, the whole of the next day was taken up with the long journey South to Negombo. Traffic was bad, there were frequent road works and we arrived just in time for dinner.

On the way we stopped for tea at a roadside cafe. Nearby, we heard giggles from a woman enjoying a massage.

David at Hotel Sigiriya on his 14th pancake!

Roadside massage parlour

The following morning we had time to explore the hotel grounds for birds before leaving. The grounds were surprisingly productive. No new species, but closer to birds we had already seen. Lovely!  

White-bellied drongo. A large flycatcher and very common.
Black-hooded oriole. Has a rich flutey song. 
Asian Koel. This is the male. The female is actually much prettier. Common, but not easily seen. The song, however, always gives away the presence of these birds.

The hotel gave me the key to the ‘business centre’ so I could print some crosswords for David and me to do on the plane home.

Home at last.

And suddenly, it was all over. Check-in, shopping, boarding, flight home, landing, passport control, baggage reclaim, customs, home, bed. My own bed! How wonderful to sleep in your own bed again after a spell away. Even after a very good trip, well planned and executed. Thank you Gary, Tharanga and Limosa Holidays.

You have just read Part 4 of 4.

For other parts:
Part 1 - Kitulgala and Sinharaja
(Is this the longest tail of any flycatcher?)

Part 2 - Embilipitiya and Tissamaharama
(Kingfishers fall out. What's the wingspan of a fruit bat?)

Part 3 - Nuwara Eliya and Horton Plains
(How do the Sri Lankans drive?)

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Sri Lanka 2016 - 3

Sri Lanka bird trip 7-21 February 2016. 

Part 3 - Nuwara-Eliya and Horton Plains

In Part 3: How do the Sri Lankans drive? and many more nature photographs

For other parts:

Part 1 - Kitulgala and Sinharaja
(Is this the longest tail of any flycatcher?)

Part 2 - Embilipitiya and Tissamaharama
(Kingfishers fall out. What's the wingspan of a fruit bat?)

Part 4 - Kandy - Sigiriya - Negombo
(British tea factory machines over 100 years old. The most expensive Lion beer in Sri Lanka?)

Nuwara Eliya (no. 9 on the map).
Tuesday 16 February 2016 was a long travelling day to Nuwara Eliya. At this point driving style comes to the fore. 

Driving style in Sri Lanka.
The style of driving in Sri Lanka is notable. The roads are all single carriageways, with just one lane in either direction. Dual carriageways and motorways are almost unheard of. There is a small stretch of motorway from Colombo to the South coast, but we never saw it. Traffic drives on the left, as in England.

Roads are generally quite winding. Overtaking is risky. Nevertheless, virtually all drivers will overtake, even on left-hand bends, where they can't see what's coming. If they are caught out by oncoming traffic while overtaking, they may brake and pull back in. Otherwise, they may carry on and the oncoming traffic must brake to avoid a collision. This is all done with no apparent road rage.

A lot depends on the relative size of the vehicles. Before we start, here is a tuk tuk:

Here is a bus:

And here is a lorry:

Now, suppose you are driving a bus that is overtaking a lorry and you meet a tuk tuk. What do you do? Apparently, you just carry on! The poor tuk tuk must brake hard and keep over to the far side of the road!

Conversely, what if you are driving a bus overtaking a tuk tuk and you meet a lorry? Well, you still just carry on, but you slowly pull over to the left, almost ignoring the tuk tuk, which is forced off the road, braking hard! 

The truism in the photo below was written on quite a few tuk tuks:
This is particularly true for tuk tuk drivers!!

After a while, I got quite good at predicting how it would go, based on the situation and the relative size of the vehicles involved. Almost always, the poor tuk tuk came off worst.

Mostly, drivers seem to accept the situation. The average speed of traffic isn't that great. This could explain why we didn't see any accidents while we were there. 

We travelled in a comfortable tour bus. There were plenty of seats to spread out on.

Our tour bus. Comfortable and air conditioned.

David enjoying the comfortable air-conditioning!

On the way to Nuwara-Eliya we stopped at Rawana Falls roadside cafe.

Rawana Falls restaurant.

The view while we had our tea was impressive:

View from Rawana Falls.

Rawana Falls themselves.


Ginger tea at the hotel for David and me. Lovely!

In Nuwara-Eliya we stayed at the Leisure Village hotel (no. 9 on the map). At 1,900 metres, it was about 20°C cooler than lower down. At night, it was close to zero. We had to ask for extra blankets as we shivered the first night.

At the hotel, we were met with hot ginger tea. After checking in, we set off for Victoria Park.

Nuwara Eliya was much loved by the British in colonial times as the climate was close to that back home. The whole place looks very old British colonial, and Victoria Park is very nicely laid out.

Victoria Park, Nuwara-Eliya. A reminder of colonial times.

Here are some of the birds we saw in Nuwara-Eliya:

Sri Lanka white-eye. There are many species of 'white-eye' in the world.
Superficially, they all look the same!
House sparrow. This is the one you have in your garden.
Well, you might have them in your garden.
I've lived in the same suburban house for 25 years and never had a house sparrow!
Scaly-breasted munia. Another of the munia family.
That massive bill enables it to crack the hardest seeds.
Little cormorant. Smaller and daintier than ours. Cormorants have no natural oil in their feathers. That's why they have hold their wings out to dry them.
Forest wagtail. Aptly named. It generally skulks around in
the undergrowth near the river.
Indian pitta. A colourful bird that loves the dark shady areas where there is hardly any light.
If you're a photographer, this photograph shows the value of using a tripod. It was taken at 1/15th sec. with a 700mm lens (500mm + 1.4x converter)!

Pied thrush. This bird was always in the deep middle of any bush.
Almost impossible to see clearly. This is my best shot!

Horton Plains – World’s End (no. 10 on the map)

The following day, we had to get up at an hour I didn’t think existed, despite this being my 7th or 8th birdwatching holiday! We went by taxi to Horton Plains, at about 2,400 metres. We arrived just as it was getting light. The mist was impenetrable, the drizzle was cold as well as wet! 

Horton Plains in the cold drizzle of the early morning. Despite this, some people were
still in sunglasses. But I'm not naming any names!

It was so cold that the endemic birds we were looking for were scarce. Our local guide, Tharanga, did a sterling job of finding them. I missed one, the Sri Lanka whistling thrush, through my own ineptitude. I was expecting it to appear on the ground. It actually appeared briefly in a bush that was nearer me but which I failed to see. Most birdwatchers will know: - sometimes you see the bird straight away; sometimes you just don’t see it, however hard you look!

We saw a few other endemics in the mist but I was glad to get off the plain. Perhaps I would have felt differently had the weather been better.

Dull-blue flycatcher. Fancy naming a bird that?
I wonder if there's a 'dreary yellow' canary or a 'drab pink' parrot?
Pintail snipe in the mist. Yes, in the mist.
I Photo-shopped the mist out, and the image has suffered.

Again, for the photographers amongst you, here is the original shot.

The photo above was taken a couple of minutes before the one below. This mist cleared briefly, but the birds had taken cover from us.
Pintail snipe not in the mist. Possibly the same bird as in the photo above!
Sri Lanka white-eye - juvenile. Like many birds, the salient feature
(the white eye in this case) is missing on the juvenile.
Yellow-eared bulbul. This one taken during another brief break in the mist.
Cinereous tit. Previously known as a great tit. Closely resembles ours
but with an off-white breast (yellow on ours) and a huge vertical breast stripe.

It hasn't got a green tongue. It's eating a grub.

After lunch, it was back to Victoria Park. I got a much better shot of the pied thrush than the previous day. I like returning to places a second time. It’s always more relaxing.

At dusk we returned to the hotel. Unusually, the wi-fi signal in this hotel was strong enough to permit calls home on one of my phone apps. I spoke to my wife and David was able to wish his mother a happy birthday.

We were now on the home stretch. Tomorrow we were off to Kandy.

You have just read part 3 of 4.

For other parts:
Part 1 - Kitulgala and Sinharaja
(Is this the longest tail of any flycatcher?)

Part 2 - Embilipitiya and Tissamaharama
(Kingfishers fall out. What's the wingspan of a fruit bat?)

Part 4 - Kandy - Sigiriya - Negombo
(British tea factory machines over 100 years old. The most expensive Lion beer in Sri Lanka?)