Day 1 UK - Colombo - Kitulgala - 1st November
Following a morning arrival into Colombo, Sri Lanka you will be met at the airport and we will leave the hustle and bustle of this sprawling city behind and head out into the wonderfully lush countryside. We should reach our excellent hotel by lunchtime and from here, we will make the first of several excursions across the Kelani River and into the rainforest. Night in Kitulgala.
Day 2 Kitulgala
To reach the reserve we will cross the shallow picturesque river and once inside the forest we will concentrate our efforts on finding the many endemics present, and in particular this is one of the best sites to find the skulking Green-billed Coucal. We will also search for Chestnut-backed Owlet, Ceylon Junglefowl, Ceylon Green-Pigeon, Ceylon Hanging-Parrot, Ceylon Grey Hornbill, Black-capped Bulbul, and both Crimson-fronted (Ceylon Small) and Yellow-fronted Barbets, the calls of which ring out across the dense forest providing an evocative backdrop to our birding here. Our guide knows this area exceptionally well and will take us along narrow trails to special sites where we usually get very close views of the attractive Brown-capped Babbler, whilst noisy parties of Ceylon Rufous Babblers clamber through the bromeliad-laden trees, Spot-winged Thrushes sing from favourite perches, and the elusive yet vocal Ceylon Spurfowl hide in the dense understorey. There are many other species we may well encounter here, including Black and Rufous-bellied Eagles, Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Rufous Woodpecker, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Green Imperial-Pigeon, Emerald Dove, Asian Palm Swift, Orange Minivet, Indian Pitta, Chestnut-headed Bee-Eater, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Dark-fronted Babbler, Indian Blue Robin, Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch and Large-billed Leaf-Warbler. There is a good chance of finding the diminutive Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher beside a small forest stream, whilst we will make an evening visit to search for Brown Hawk-Owl and the truly bizarre Ceylon Frogmouth. This is also one of the more accessible sites to try for the recently discovered Serendib Scops-Owl, and we will make a special effort in order to find this extremely rare endemic. Nights at Kitulgala.
Day 3 Kitulgala - Sinharaja
After breakfast we will head back into the magnificent Kitulgala rainforest where we can catch up with any species still missing from our lists. After lunch we will drive to Sinharaja and the wonderful Blue Magpie Lodge where we will spend the next 3 nights.
Days 4 - 5 Sinharaja
Our stay here will undoubtedly be the major highlight of the tour, as Sinharaja Forest is the single most important site in Sri Lanka in terms of endemic species, and represents the largest tract of lowland rainforest in the country. All but a couple of the island's 34 endemic species occurs here, although several are very difficult to see and we can spend two full days visiting this wonderful area. This will mean early starts, but if anyone wishes to opt out on any of these days, they will find our lodge an ideal place for relaxing as the gardens often produce great views of Legge's Flowerpecker, Layard's Parakeet, Ceylon Hill-Myna, and we have also seen Green-billed Coucal here as well. Once in the forest we will walk along the old logging tracks, where we should encounter spectacular mixed flocks of birds. Among these feeding flocks we can find Crimson-backed Flameback, Red-faced Malkoha, Ceylon Scimitar-Babbler, Ceylon Crested Drongo, Ceylon Blue Magpie, White-faced Starling, and noisy parties of Ashy-headed Laughingthrushes. Other species present in these bird waves include Lesser Yellownape, Black-rumped Flameback, Malabar Trogon, Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, Bright-green Warbler and Square-tailed Black Bulbul to name just a few. There will be plenty more to see as we walk quietly through the forest, and if we have not been successful yet then this is a great place to find Ceylon Spurfowl and Sri Lanka Junglefowl, whilst overhead Brown-backed Needletails are sometimes found. This is probably our very best chance of seeing Serendib Scops-owl and hopefully one of the local guides will know of a day roost fro this much-wanted bird. Only recently discovered, this owl has captured the imagination of birders all around the world, and will surely provide one of the major highlights of this tour if we are lucky enough to see it! All our previous visits to this fascinating country did indeed get to see this wonderful bird. Nights at the Blue Magpie Lodge, Sinharaja.
Day 6 Sinharaja - Embilipitiya
After breakfast we wil drive to Embilipitiya a journey of several hours. After lunch we will visit a series of lagoons or 'tanks' at Uda Walawe where we can see a wide variety of species. 2 nights at Embilipitiya.
Day 7 Uda Walawe National Park
We will take picnic breakfast and lunch into Udawalawe National Park and have a vey enjoyable all day birding safari. A good day's birding here can yield up to 100 species, as well as Indian Elephant, Tocque Macaque, Grey Langur, Wild Boar and Sambar. This area is also excellent for raptors and we should encounter Black-shouldered Kite, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Crested Serpent-Eagle, Montagu's Harrier, Shikra and Crested Hawk-Eagle. In the grassland and scrub-jungle there are several small pools which prove attractive to a wide variety of species, and we can look for Woolly-necked and Painted Stork, Black-headed Ibis, Indian Peafowl, Barred Buttonquail, Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Blue-faced and Sirkeer Malkohas, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Asian Koel, Pied Cuckoo, Yellow-eyed Babbler, Orange-breasted Green-Pigeon, Blyth's Pipit, Ashy, Plain and Jungle Prinias, Oriental Skylark, Jerdon's Bushlark, Indian Silverbill, and both Black-headed and Scaly-breasted Munias. Further exploration of the park will see us targetting any species we may have missed including possible Jungle Cat or Leopard, as well as Sri Lanka Woodshrike, Orange-headed Thrush, Indian Scops-owl and Brown Fish Owl, Spot-billed Pelicans, Citrine Wagtail, Barred Buttonquail and more. Night at Embilipitiya.
Day 8 Embilipitiya - Newera Eliya
Today we head into hill country and a 2 night stay at Newera Eliya. We shall travel through numerous tea estates, climbing higher until we reach our hotel, situated at over 6,000 feet. We can make a stop at the famous Surrey Tea Estate where Sri Lanka Woodpigeon and Brown Wood Owl are often present. Later we will visit Victoria Park in the town centre, a traditional site for certain sought-after species. Pied Ground-Thrush can be seen beside the stream or feeding on the compost heaps, while Indian Pitta can usually be very confiding, sometimes even feeding out on the open lawns. The endemic Yellow-eared Bulbul and Ceylon White-Eye are usually present, along with Kashmir Flycatcher, Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher and the recently split Indian Blackbird. We may also be lucky and once again find the skulking Slaty-legged Crake. Night at Newera Eliya.
Day 9 Horton Plains
An early start will be needed to drive up to the dramatic scenery of Horton Plains, where at a secluded pool surrounded by moss covered stunted trees, we will wait quietly for the first rays of sunlight. With some luck and patience a highlight of this trip will be the chance to find the very shy Sri Lanka Whistling-Thrush in one of the few spots that it can be found. We will also search for Sri Lanka Woodpigeon, Dusky-blue Flycatcher, Yellow-eared Bulbul, Sri Lanka Bush-Warbler and Sri Lanka Scimitar-Babbler, but will need a good deal of luck to see the shy and very scarce Sri Lanka Scaly-Thrush. This is a very pleasant area and we shall spend a leisurely time looking for some of the other birds to be found here, once all of the endemics have been seen well, of course! Another special bird here and which can sometimes be tricky to find is Kashmir Flycatcher, and other species possible include Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Pied Bushchat, Grey Tit and Velvet-fronted Nuthatch. As we descend, we shall search for Hill Swallow and Black-throated Munia. Our previous tours have also produced a few surprises such as Jerdon's Baza and Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler on several occasions. Night at Newera Eliya.
Day 10 Newera Eliya - Kandy - Colombo
After breakfast we will drive down to Kandy, stopping for lunch at a hotel on the edge of the hill country or maybe having lunch in Kandy itself depending on which birds we still need. The gardens and surrounding area usually provide good views of Ceylon Swallows perched on telegraph wires, whilst both endemic barbets can be found on any fruiting trees around the restaurant, and Ceylon Woodshrike is also present. We shall spend a little time walking the grounds as there are usually plenty of other good birds to be found such as Plum-headed Parakeet, Grey-bellied Cuckoo, Forest Wagtail, White-browed Bulbul, Tawny-bellied Babbler, Brown-headed Barbet, Long-billed Sunbird, White-browed Fantail, Large Cuckooshrike and Jerdon's Leafbird. We have also been treated to incredible views of the gorgeous Indian Pitta hoping amongst the leaf litter underneath the numerous tea bushes here. By early evening we will reach a lovely hotel on the edge of Colombo for our last dinner together and plenty of time to pack for our journey home tomorrow.
Day 11 End of Main Tour - 11th November
An early morning transfer to the airport and international flights back to the UK/Europe/USA and conclusion of a wonderful tour.
** WHALE WATCHING EXTENSION **
Day 11 Colombo - Weligama - 11th November
If continuing with the extension we will set out on the drive to the coastal resort of Weligama where we arrive in the early evening. We can make a few birding stops along the way before arriving at our lovely hotel along the south coast of Sri Lanka. Night in Weligama.
Day 12 Whale-watching Pelagic
An early start will see us heading out on a special journey from Mirissa Harbour for our pelagic excursion in search of Blue and Sperm Whales. We will sail across the calm, azure Indian Ocean for approx 20-40 nautical miles with the clear and crisp early morning breeze keeping us cool! Blue Whales are seen frequently and our chances are good, Sperm Whales are also usually present in the area, and we could also see Common, Striped and Spinner Dolphins as well. Whale watching in Sri Lanka is a relatively new phenomenon and it is with great excitement that we look forward to being amongst the first ‘foreign’ tourists to have the thrill of experiencing close up views of these superb mammals. Although not noted for too many seabirds our previous tours have recorded hundreds of Bridled Terns, Sooty Tern, Flesh-footed Shearwater, Pomarine Skua and Common Noddy. The afternoon can be spent relaxing around our lodge. Night in Weligama.
Day 13 Whale-Watching Pelagic - Colombo
This morning is set aside for another whale watching cruise, and who knows what we will see. Our last tour here had a fantastic sighting of a Bryde's Whale and even a Killer Whale! In the afternoon we will transfer to an airport hotel near Colombo.
Day 14 End of Tour - 14th November
Early morning transfer to the international airport for our international return flights and the conclusion of a wonderful tour.