Monday 11 April 2016

Sri Lanka 2016 - 2

Sri Lanka bird trip 7-21 February 2016. 

Part 2 - Embilipitiya and Tissamaharama

In Part 2: Kingfishers fall out. What's the wingspan of a fruit bat? and many more nature photographs

For other parts

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

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

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

After Blue Magpie Lodge we headed south. First stop was Kalametiya Bird Reserve (no. 4 on the map) full of waders and other water birds. (Click for the map. It will open in a new window).

Indian peafowl (a peacock). This one is truly wild.
Gull-billed tern, L and centre, Caspian tern, R
Little stint. A very small wader.
Garganey. Male on left with huge eye-stripe, female on right.
A single Black-tailed godwit with Black-winged stilts.
Common in England, but unusual in Sri Lanka
Yellow-wattled lapwing. A smart wader.
Paddyfield pipit. A large smart pipit.
Blyth's pipit. Could be mistaken for the paddyfield pipit,
but identifiable by the all white lores
(the areas between the eye and the base of the bill).
Ashy-crowned sparrowlark.
Little tern - over the shores of the Indian Ocean
Striated (also Green) heron at dusk.

We wandered around until the sun set, then heading back to the hotel, the relatively luxurious Centauria (no. 3 on the map), with air-conditioning! These Indian scops-owls were in a tree in the hotel car-park.

Indian scops-owls roosting in a tree in the hotel car-park.

I found a bemused pigeon hiding in the artistic lights of the first floor.
feral pigeon with good taste in accommodation!

We were up early for a bird safari in Udawalawa National Park (no. 6 on the map). 

Sri Lankan writing is really curvy and loopy as seen above.

Udawalawa was really enjoyable and we were able to see many species close at hand. We also saw elephants, monkeys and mongeese. Unlike in some countries (eg. Kenya) the monkeys in Sri Lanka kept a respectable distance between you and them. They were not a nuisance at all.

Asian elephant. Although it looks like it has a lump
on its front leg, it seemed fine when it moved.

Black shouldered kite. Those red staring eyes are eerie!
Ashy prinia in the early morning glow.

Blue-tailed bee-eater.
Yellow-eyed babbler.
Rose-ringed parakeet. Yes, the same species we have in the South East.
Compare with Alexandrine parakeet below.

Alexandrine parakeet. Note the pink shoulder patch (absent on Rose-ringed).
Green bee-eater. Also known as the little green bee-eater.
You just can't have too many photos of bee-eaters.
Crested Hawk-eagle (aka Changeable Hawk-eagle).
This is the pale morph (pale version).
Marshall's iora. 
Blue-faced malkoha. Rather distant I'm afraid, and we saw it only once.
Orange-breasted pigeon. Did I tell you I quite like pigeons?
Malabar pied hornbills.
Crested Hawk-eagle (aka Changeable Hawk-eagle).
This is the dark morph.
Grey heron. Our only native heron. They get all over the world.
Oriental darter.
This is the oriental equivalent of the Anhinga in the Americas.
Lesser adjutant. A kind of stork. I agree, it's ugly! His mother loves him.
Indian crow. Is it just a crow you ask?
Well, it does have a very large bill. Larger than our European crow.
Common kingfishers. They won't hurt each other.
It's just posturing. Probably bickering over a woman.
Marsh sandpiper, left, and Indian pond-heron, right.
Booted eagle - pale morph.
Indian roller. This bird is even more handsome in flight.
Crested serpent-eagle.
Painted snipe. Distant, but nice to see.
Red-wattled lapwing. Compare with the Yellow-wattled lapwing above.

Typical safari vehicle for the national parks.
In it are Tharanga, David, Alan, henry and Anne.

After lunch, we travelled to our next hotel, the Priyankara, in Tissamaharama (No. 5 on the map), where we stayed for 3 nights. There was time to have some clothes washed and ironed, and time to relax in the pool in the heat of the day when bird activity was low. On the fence near the pool we could still see white-breasted kingfishers, blue-tailed bee-eaters, green bee-eaters, white-breasted waterhens, etc. whilst relaxing in the soothing water.

In the pool at the Priyankara hotel.

From this base, we enjoyed two more bird safaris, to Bundala (no. 7 on the map) and Yala (no. 8 on the map) National Parks. I felt sorry for those tourists who raced around the park, interested only in looking for leopards. Such sightings are rare as the parks are huge and there are enormous areas that are not accessible to the public anyway. The leopards probably hang out mainly in those areas.

We, on the other hand, took our time and saw so much more. We stopped for lunch by a huge lake under the shade of a tree and enjoyed the sight of hundreds of birds.
As it happened, some of our group did see a leopard as it dashed across the track at dusk just as we were leaving. I didn’t!

Indian peafowl. You see, peacocks can actually fly, at least the wild ones.
Peacock displaying. He's not showing off to a pea-hen though.
Instead, it's for the white-breasted waterhen in the foreground, right.
Some males will go for anything in a skirt!
The Indian Ocean from Yala National Park.

White-breasted kingfisher. This one was on the fence by the pool.
Cattle egrets aren't called that for nothing! As the cow moves through the grass
it disturbs insects and other creatures that the egrets eat.
Brahminy kite. Easy to identify with its rufous colour and white breast.
Purple heron. Larger than our grey heron.
Grey-headed swamphen. OK, not the most attractive water bird on the planet!
Yellow-crowned woodpeckers. Female, left. Male, right.
Brown-headed gull. Very like our black-headed gull.
The only obvious difference is that this one has a pale eye (dark on the black-headed).
Plain prinia. This small, active bird was always catching spiders and insects.
Pied kingfisher. Spread in many continents of the world. A very successful bird.
Gull-billed tern. Note the rather fat bill. Most other terns have finer bills.
Redshank. This wader is common on marshes in Britain.
Lesser sand-plover.
Very like Kentish plover below but note there is no white collar here.

Kentish plover. Compare with the Lesser sand plover above
but note that here the white collar goes all the way round.

Small pratincole peeks out over the sand.
Spot-billed pelican.
Eurasian spoonbill. We get the occasional visitor in England.
Grey-headed fish eagle. Have you noticed how many birds start with 'grey-headed'?
Shikra. Rather like our sparrowhawk, or the sharp-shinned hawk in the USA.
Barn swallows. OK guys, let's see how many of us can squeeze onto this wire!
Black-headed ibis.

Great thick-knee with crocodile. Thick-knees are very like our stone curlews.
Crested treeswift. A large swift. We didn't see it in any trees though.
Brown fish-owl at roost.
They hunt fish and crabs at night by gliding over the surface of the water.
Painted stork. Quite attractive colouring, especially in flight,
but why do all storks have ugly faces?
Asian openbill. Another stork, but smaller than the painted.
Gets its name from the fact that the two halves of its bill don't meet. Look carefully.
Brahminy starlings. Female, left. Male, right. 

In the afternoons we visited the nearby lakes or reservoirs known locally as ‘tanks’. At one of these there was an enormous roost of Indian flying foxes, also known as greater Indian fruit bats. Apparently, they are not really bats at all. One thing that cannot be denied is that they are enormous, with a wingspan of up to 1.5 metres!

Small part of the Indian flying fox roost. They are quite big next to a grey heron.
They really look very fox-like with the furry canine head.
Indian flying fox. In flight, they are impressive, with a wingspan of up to 1.5 metres!!

David and I counted at least 12 large trees where these creatures were roosting. We estimated that each tree contained about 3,000-3,500 ‘bats’. That means a total of perhaps 30-40,000 flying foxes.

Just one tree full of Indian flying foxes. There were about 12 such trees.
You could do the maths and check my figures. Even this photo doesn't show the whole tree.

At dusk, they all set off for the night. It was impressive to see the constant stream of these giants leave in search of – well, fruit! Wonder where they find it all?

Roaming dogs are literally everywhere in Sri Lanka.  Even so, someone in our party said there were fewer dogs than when they last visited! Generally they were not troublesome. They kept away from us.

Many of the dogs were thin, diseased or with a limb missing. This was probably due to their habit of lying, literally, in the main roads, and they didn't usually move if a car or lorry came. We had to swerve many times to avoid them. At night, drivers wouldn't be able to avoid them so easily. I imagine many must get run over.

We saw other mammals on our safaris:

Indian grey mongoose. One of four species in Sri Lanka.
These are fast enough to outwit a striking snake.
Funnily enough, you don't see many cats around! Hmm!
Tufted grey langur. Unlike in some countries, monkeys in Sri Lanka
do not usually bother humans. Thank goodness.
Tufted grey langur. Part of a large family troupe.
Wild boar relaxing in the muddy waters of the park.
Water monitor lizard. Some of them are huge but also fast on their feet.

Sambar deer. About the size of a red deer.
Cattle egrets hoping the deer will throw something up for them.
Spotted deer with cattle egrets.
After the safari parks, we left the heat of the lowlands so far and headed for the cool of the hills. 

You have just read part 2 of 4

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

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

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


  1. The Brown Fish Owl is a great spot and capture, very envious! On the other hand I did see Leopard on both my visits to Yala, Sloth Bear too!

  2. Really enjoying your photos, comments, and tales.


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