Monday, August 23, 2010

Sri Lanka Birding Trip

Sri Lanka Blue Magpie or Ceylon Magpie (Urocissa ornata)

AUGUST 7-18 2010 - SRI LANKA BIRDING.   Last month when we were at Pulau Ubin, a chance to join a guided birding trip to Sri Lanka came our way when our friend Lioe, asked if we would like to join a birding trip that Poh Bee had planned.  As she had contacted a well known orinthologist guide it was an opportunity for us, being new to birding to experience such a "holiday".  It was with some excitement of the trip that we met Poh Bee, Lioe and Gerard at Changi airport on the night of 6th for our midnight flight.  The five of us arrived at Colombo airport on the 7th at 3.00 am, after a very comfortable flight.  We were welcomed by our orinthologist guide, Upali, and we got underway in an 8-seater air-conditioned van driven by Renga who provided us a comfortable ride for the 12 days.  It was a 3 hour ride from Colombo to Kitugala where we started our birding while waiting for breakfast.  We stayed a night then south to Sinharaja via Ratnapura, birding along the way.  At Sinharaja our stay at Blue Magpie Lodge for 3 nights was a rustic yet comfortable accommodation with excellent service from the small staff of 4.  At Sinharaja we experienced the most adventurous part of the trip, as in this wet zone, even well-covered and wearing leech socks, we found to some bemusement that some of the group had donated their blood to the leeches. In this deep forest we were able to see many species of forest birds especially during the bird feeding waves. The highlight was seeing the Frogmouth that was found deeper in the forest that required the help of a local tracker whose footwear was a pair of flip flops and holding an umbrella for the rain.  Among the many birds that we were able to sight, one of the most spectacular was also the easiest to see. This was the colourful Blue Magpie. After the effort and excitement of the morning we were also fortunate to enjoy the hospitality of a tea farmer, offerring fresh tea with our packed lunch in his garden. We were also treated to "jaggery", a local sweet that he prepares from the fishtail palm.  Leaving the wet zone and heading south to the dry zone, we arrived at Udawalawe where immediately we felt the dry dusty air.  We saw different birds, waders, raptors and also mammals and reptiles in the reserve.  In Udawalawe / Tissa we saw the Asian Paradise Fly Catcher, and at Yala National Park more shore birds.  Our next stop was the highlands of Nuwara Eliya where the cool air was a welcome relief after the hot dry weather.  Our pre-dawn visit to the Horton Plains was cut short due to the persistent rain and the birds like us were also taking shelter and hard to see.   Nevertheless, Nuwara Eliya and the Horton Plains will be worth another visit to enjoy the cool mountain air and to explore the gardens and walking trails.   Our next stop was Kandy, where we visited the Royal Botanic Gardens and a birding visit to the Udawattakele Royal Forest Sanctuary.  It happened to be the first day of a Buddhist festival, "Esala Perahera" and the streets were blocked and crowded for the evening's parade of elephants.   Our last stop was Habarana where we stayed at an eco lodge, surrounded by trees. Our room was on the upper level and we could see the birds at eye level.  The Other Corner,, was so idyllic that we both decided to enjoy our last afternoon in Sri Lanka at the lodge and forgo the last birding spot at Sigiriya, hence another reason to return to enjoy what we missed on this somewhat hectic trip. It was amazing how Upali, could whistle the differnt bird calls inviting the birds to him and his hearing and eyesight are so acute that he could warn us of the birds presence way before we were aware.  It was easy for us to see the birds with his help, the more difficult task was ID'ing the photographs we took of the more than 140 species including residents, endemics and some migratory birds seen on the trip.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Out and about enjoying the drizzle

Even though we seem to be having unusually heavy rain with associated thunder storms the last couple of weeks or so, we found during periods of light drizzle it is nice and cool to go for a walk.  Walking in one of our regular haunts at Telok Blangah Hill Park we were pleasantly surprised last Friday and today to see that we were not the only ones enjoying the drizzle. A number of birds were also out and about. Here are some shots taken Friday and today:
Straw-headed Bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus)

Laced Woodpecker (Picus vittatus)
White-crested Laughingthrush (Garrulax leucolophus)