- Depart London on an overnight flight to Colombo.
- We arrive in Colombo, where our naturalist guide will meet us at the airport and drive us to our lodge at Sigiriya. Recognised as a World Heritage Site for culture, Sigiriya is best known for the 200 metre rock that rises above the surrounding jungle. Here we hope to see the shaheen falcons, the distinctive Indian race of peregrine, which have made the rock their home. Amongst the birds to be seen in the nearby forest will be, black-rumped flameback, malabar pied hornbill, Sri Lanka wood-shrike, Indian and grey-bellied cuckoos. As dusk falls we have the chance of brown fish owl and Jerdon’s nightjar.
- We should arrive at our accommodation by mid afternoon, in time for a gentle birding walk around the vicinity of the lodge.
- Accommodation: Sigiriya, 2-nights on full board basis.
- The birdlife at Sigiriya is always excellent and we will spend the next full day in the Sigiriya Sanctuary looking for rufous woodpecker and Jerdon’s leafbird to thick-billed flowerpecker in this tranquil idyll. Please note that our visit to Sigiriya does not include a sightseeing trip to the World Heritage Site itself, which you may choose to visit, rather than go birding. Our guide will be happy to assist you make arrangements– fees for entry and guidance to be paid locally.
- After some optional pre-breakfast birding, we head across the hill country towards Kandy, stopping en route at a few birding spots, and arriving at our hotel in time for lunch. In the afternoon we visit the lovely Peradeniya Botanic Gardens. Here we shall be looking for forest wagtail, common hawk-cuckoo, southern hill mynah, Indian pitta and our final endemic, crimson-fronted barbet. At dusk, a colony of Indian flying foxes comes to life, flying across the sunset.
- Accommodation: Kandy, 1-night on full board basis
- We pay an early morning visit to Udawattakele Forest to look for brown-capped babbler, gold-fronted leafbird and other hill-forest birds such as crimson-backed flameback, stork-billed kingfisher and that superb songster, the white-rumped shama. If we are fortunate, we may encounter an Indian blue robin or glimpse an Oriental dwarf kingfisher – one of Asia’s brightest jewels.
- Later in the morning we leave for Nuwara Eliya stopping along the way to investigate a working tea factory – for both a refreshing cup of tea and the resident hill swallows. An early start the next day is essential if we are to have a chance of seeing what is regarded as the island’s trickiest endemic, the rare Sri Lanka whistling thrush. At nearby Horton Plains, a plateau of moorland inhabited by pied bushchats and paddyfield pipits, we will scan the forest slopes for mountain hawk eagle or even a black eagle.
- We also visit Victoria Park in the middle of town, the haunt of montane forest specialities, where we may find the stunning Kashmir flycatcher, Indian pitta Sri Lanka white-eye and the highland form of purple-faced langur – known as the ‘bear monkey.
- Accommodation: Nuwara Eliya, 2-nights on full board basis
- After a final morning birding walk in Nuwara Eliya, we drive to Kitulgala. We should arrive at our destination in time to enjoy lunch beside the Kelani River, famed as the spot where ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ was filmed. We spend the rest of the afternoon birding at a leisurely pace, perhaps driving to a nearby viewpoint where it’s often possible to see 40-50 species in just a couple of hours, or going in search of Sri Lankan endemics such as green-billed coucal or chestnut-backed owlet.
- The next morning we cross the river by dugout canoe and spend the day exploring Kitulgala’s quiet forest trails, which are rich in exciting endemics such as legge’s flowerpecker and Sri Lankan hanging parrot, and other bird life such as Indian swiftlets, rufous woodpecker and crimson-backed flameback. The flowers in the gardens can attract many species of butterfly too, including bluebottles, nawabs and the lovely crimson rose. We also have a chance of seeing the diminutive serendib scops owl at its daytime roost – a highlight we’ve only missed once in recent years.
- As the afternoon cools and the exotic chorus of cicadas and tree-frogs begins, we will watch for two of the island’s rarest and shyest endemics: green-billed coucal and spot-winged thrush. Chestnut-backed owlet and Sri Lankan frogmouth are possible at dusk, within a short drive of our lodge.
- Accommodation: Kitulgala Lodge, 2-nights on full board basis.
- Our hotel grounds and nearby gardens and farms are home to a wealth of exciting birds and we will have time to explore these thoroughly before we say our farewells to Kitulgala. The songs of Oriental magpie-robin and yellow-browed bulbul may break the dawn, while fruiting and flowering trees can hold legge’s, and pale-billed flowerpeckers, purple-rumped, and loten’s sunbirds, and Sri Lankan hanging parrot. Winter visitors to watch out for here include numerous green warblers and, with luck, we could find an Indian pitta, calling loudly beneath a tree close to the hotel.
- After breakfast, we bid farewell to Kitulgula and travel south to Ratnapura. Here we enjoy a sumptuous lunch, followed by a short walk in the grounds where we may be rewarded with white-browed fantail and chestnut-headed bee-eater, Sri Lankan swallows, Indian robin, Asian paradise flycatcher and white-rumped, and scaly-breasted munias.
- Refreshed, we continue our journey to Sinharaja, arriving towards dusk, for a two-night stay at the remote Blue Magpie Lodge. This is the only accommodation to offer adequate comfort within a short drive of the magnificent Sinharaja Forest Reserve. Recently, the rooms have been upgraded and, although simply furnished, all have en suite facilities.
- Accommodation: Blue Magpie Lodge, 2-nights on full board basis.
- Sinharaja is home to more than half of Sri Lanka’s endemic species of mammals and butterflies, and – remarkably – all but one of Sri Lanka’s wonderful endemic birds. With its wildlife most active between daybreak and mid-morning, an early start is essential to reach the higher level as the forest bursts into life. We may be rewarded by Sri Lankan junglefowl, mixed flocks of malabar trogon, ashy-headed laughing thrush and the Sri Lankan blue magpie. Myriad colourful butterflies include Ceylon tree nymph and Sri Lanka birdwing, and mammals such a grizzled grey squirrels and endemic purple-faced langur and toque macaque are possibilities.
- After an exciting morning in the forest, we return to our lodge for a short siesta or some leisurely birding near the hotel grounds. The following day we have further opportunities to try for any ‘Wet Zone’ specialities we may have missed yesterday. The notoriously elusive Sri Lankan scaly thrush and Sri Lankan spurfowl will both be high on our ‘most-wanted’ lists, but we shall need to be in place just after dawn to have any real prospect of seeing either species.
- This morning we will try again for any of Sinharaja’s special birds that may have eluded us before reluctantly biding farewell to the ‘Blue Magpie.’
- After lunch, passing through neatly clothed hills of tea plantations, we journey out of Sri Lanka’s ‘Wet Zone’ and drop down towards the island's ‘Dry Zone’, en route to the coastal lowlands. We shall make occasional roadside stops along the way, perhaps to enjoy an impressive black eagle as it soars overhead or to watch a cluster of ashy wood swallows gathered on a roadside wire. Our plans for the remainder of the day today retain a degree of flexibility. But our ultimate destination is Udawalawe, arriving there in early evening. After checking in, we drive for half an hour to Udawalawe tank (reservoir) for birding.
- Udawalawe, 1-night on full board basis
- Today we spend a full morning exploring the dry, savanna-like country of the nearby Udawalawe National Park. Using 4-wheel drive vehicles, we investigate the tracks that run through the scrub jungle and grasslands, which are surprisingly rich in a variety of species. One of the park's most conspicuous residents is the breath-taking Indian peafowl, looking even more spectacular in its native haunt. Black-winged kite, crested (changeable) hawk-eagle and malabar pied hornbill are likely, as are pallid, and Montagu’s harriers. The grasslands also provide a 'masterclass' in prinia identification with grey-breasted, ashy, plain, and jungle all popping up to sing for us – in addition to that ‘prinia impersonator’, the curious yellow-eyed babbler. Mammals cannot be ignored at Udawalawe, and we shall have time to admire enormous Indian elephants, while other possibilities include jungle cat, golden jackal, chital, wild boar and ruddy mongoose.
- After lunch we drive an hour or so south to the coast to spend the cooler hours of the late afternoon exploring the Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary. Crested, lesser crested, and Caspian terns patrol the shoreline, while Kalemetiya’s flooded lagoons are home to a wealth of waterbirds. As dusk approaches, we travel a short distance along the coast to our next hotel, at Tissamaharama (or Tissa).
- Accommodation: Tissamaharama, 2-nights on full board basis.
- Now that Sri Lanka’s recent troubled past is behind it, we are once again able to visit wonderful Bundala National Park – Sri Lanka’s first RAMSAR site. We’ll also visit Ruhunu (Yala West) National Park, which lies about an hour’s drive from Tissa. Better known simply as ‘Yala’, Ruhunu forms part of Sri Lanka’s oldest and most famous National Park.
- We have an early start in Yala, at an excellent time to seek out a dozing leopard, often to be found draped over a tree bough. As we enter the park we can expect to see mugger crocodiles, which frequent the riverbanks and, as we explore the southern sector of the park, we should find plenty of grey langurs as we watch for mammals such as sambar, chital and, with luck, leopard. Yala boasts abundant birdlife with a fine mix of species to enjoy, from Indian peafowl, lesser adjutant, and black-necked stork through to spot-billed pelican and white-bellied sea eagle. Dry country birds include pied, and grey-bellied cuckoos and the minute brown-capped woodpeckers. Marshall’s Iora, a species only recently discovered in Sri Lanka, has latterly been found to be breeding in the park.
- In the afternoon we drive to a wetland area near Tissamaharama, looking for water birds.
- We take a picnic breakfast with us to Bundala, in order to make the most of our morning here before the heat builds up. Although it is quite close to Tissa, it may take quite some time to reach our destination – the access road bisects a wonderful wetland that is alive with birds. We should see large numbers of spindly-legged marsh sandpipers and other shorebirds, greater sand, kentish, and lesser sand plovers, with several diminutive little pratincoles, roosting on the nearby bunds.
- Tissa is renowned for the concentration of rich wildlife sites within close proximity, ranging from its extensive tanks (reservoirs) to orchards and coconut palm plantations, each home to a unique group of species. Here we’ll spend some time searching for cotton pygmy-goose and lesser whistling-duck, and with a bit of luck, we will find the impressive brown fish owl, too.
- After lunch we drive to Weligama, on Sri Lanka’s south coast, and stop en route at Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary.
- Accommodation: Weligama/Mirissa, 1-night on full board basis.
- Located at the narrowest point of the continental shelf upon which Sri Lanka sits, where the ocean depths fall to one kilometre within six kilometres of the coast, Mirissa has emerged as one of the world’s major whale-watching destinations, thanks to the dramatic discovery of an annual migration of blue, and sperm whales between the Bay of Bengal and around the coast of Sri Lanka to the Arabian Sea – one of the world’s greatest cetacean migratory routes.
- Sightings of these majestic creatures is almost guaranteed, with the astonishing possibility of seeing both blue, and sperm whales, as well as spinner dolphins, in a single trip. This morning we board a whale-watching vessel at Mirissa for a four hour excursion in search of blue whales.
- After lunch we drive near the airport at Katunayaka where we spend our last night.
- Accommodation: Katunayaka, 1-night on full board basis
Day 16 Transfer to Colombo airport and fly back to the UK
All prices are per person and include:
- Services of the naturalist leader
- All meals
- Guided activities (single leader – name TBC)
We stay in comfortable tourist hotels. Accommodation is more rustic and remote for our two nights at Blue Magpie Lodge, where rooms are more simply furnished. All rooms are en suite throughout.
All main meals are included. Dinners are usually taken at the hotels, and some breakfasts and lunches will be picnics.
Amongst the 30 plus endemic species, we will be treated to a host of species over wintering here, such as the sought after pied thrush.
- Sri Lanka hanging parrot
- Sri Lanka blue magpie
- Serendib scops owl
- Pintail snipe
We will primarily be looking out for leopard at Yala National Park, endemic purple-faced langur at Sinharaja and the majestic blue whale at Mirissa.
- Purple-faced langur
- Asian elephant
- Blue whale
Sri Lanka boasts abundant and exotic butterflies, and we hope to see several of the island’s 24 endemic species.
- Sri Lanka birdwing
- Ceylon rose
- Ceylon tree nymph
- Blue mormon
A beautiful tropical island paradise, Sri Lanka offers the chance to explore prime habitats, verdant forest, hillsides clothed in tea plantations, dry, scrub jungle and grasslands, and moorland.
Tropical climate, hot and humid (22°–33° Celsius) in the lowlands, for much of our time there we will be in the shadier forests. It is generally cooler and more pleasant early and late in the day. Temperatures are cooler in the mountains, typically 10°–20° Celsius, falling to below 10° Celsius at night, and frost is a possibility in the high land, before the sun warms the day. Rainfall is likely during any season.
Mostly easy, with more moderate effort required at times along the forest trails. We will have some early starts to get the best from key areas before the day heats up. There will also be opportunities for evening walks, to look for nightjars and owls, so bring a torch if you plan to participate in these.
Sturdy waterproof walking with stout soles and good grip are required.
Our river crossing, by dugout canoe, at Kitulgala and the morning whale-watching excursion at Mirissa are included.
Good photographic opportunities – birds, mammals, butterflies and scenery – in more open country, but may generally difficult in the forested areas.
Price includes return scheduled flights London – Colombo - London.
Transportation is by minibus or mini-coach, or by 4-wheel drive vehicle in some of the national parks, with driver.