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?)

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