This was the second birding trip in Sri Lanka for Clive who had squeezed in some birding during a business trip in 2000. He was back for yet another business trip, and this time, he booked a 3-day birding trip with me to visit Sinharaja rain forests to fill some of his gaps. The foremost target bird was the Serendib Scops Owl—discovered in Jan., 2001.
After picking him up at 5.30 a.m., from Colombo Hilton, I took him to Morapitiya rain forest, which is a good quality rain forest on the way to Sinharaja, for a full day’s birding. We reached the turn off to the forest at 6.55 a.m., and our driver Wijey did an excellent job in taking us there in time for some quality early birding.
A four-wheel drive jeep was waiting for us at the turn off to take us on a bone jarring ride up to the bird rich interior of the Morapitiya rain forest. On the way, I paused at bird rich patch, and was immediately rewarded with fine views of the scarce migrant, Slaty-legged Crake, inside a bamboo thicket. And that was the first bird that Clive trained his binoculars on this trip! A Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill was scoped at a nest hole, soon after. We decided to walk ahead having asked the jeep driver to pick us up after a while. We paused at a roadside patch, which has been good for Chestnut-backed Owlet. After a bit of patient searching, we were looking at this endemic owl (shown above) in the scope.
Exploring a narrower trail, we had a basking Crested Goshawk in a clearing. And a tea break in a village garden produced the diminutive Legge’s Flowerpecker, Yellow-fronted Barbet and Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot. Back on the main trail, we had a good mixed species bird flock close to yet another home garden, and it contained a pair of Red-faced Malkoha (missed on his last trip), and I was able to quickly scope one for him. Thereafter, we drove up to the deeper reaches of the forest, and had a pretty good bird flock, which had more Red-faced Malkoha, and our first Malabar Trogon.
Our lunch stop was strategically made beside a boulder-strewn mid forest stream with a beautiful natural pool. All of us indulged in a refreshing dip before enjoying our packed lunches. This was just what we need as the high humidity , and intense birding had drained our energies. With te batteries recharged, we resumed our birding post lunch. This session saw us bagging a high profile assemblege of birds including Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, Green-billed Coucal, Sri Lanka Myna, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush, Lesser Yellownape and more Red-faced Malkoha.
Finally, we arrived at the site of our prime target for the evening; the newly discovered Serendib Scops Owl. After a bit of intense listening in, I was able to find one at 7.35 p.m., when the dusk had give way to night, to give Clive his most valuable tick of the day. A record shot of it is below. Thereafter, we reached Martin’s Simple Lodge, Sinharaja our overnight accommodation. A late dinner and checklist marked the end of a great field day in which we had narrowed down our targets for tomorrow considerably.
Early morning vigil for Sri Lanka Spurfowl and Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush below Martin’s proved fruitless, and we had to contend with a couple of Spot-winged Thrushes, instead. After breakfast, we reached a "transit point" used by birds to bask in the morning light to get dry from overnight dew. This produced cracking views of White-faced Starling, Hill Munia, Green Imperial Pigeon, Gold-fronted Leafbird, Black-capped Bulbul, Orange Minivet, Legge’s Flowerpecker, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, Sri Lanka Myna, and a distant Indian Cuckoo—all in the space of 20-minutes occupying a single spot!
Walking down to the ticket office to obtain our permits, we visited a couple of patches around the ticket office for the Sri Lanka Spurfowl. No luck! After obtaining our permits and meeting our compulsory local guide, our walk back to the forest was delayed by a Black Eagle near the bridge in the Kudawa village. It soared low over the trees, and came down to perch on a coconut tree just a few metres from us to give great views. It soon took wing with a nest in its talons, and settled down atop a yet another coconut tree. Scope views of it revealed the victim was a rat. Black Eagles are known to pick up entire nests of small mammals and birds in this manner according to Henry (1955), and it was my first observation of it doing this. I am told that Black Eagles are seen airborne with the big twiggy nests of Giant Squirrels—that should be a crazy sight!
We tried once again for Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush below Martin’s and our patience finally paid off, and we got fine views of it. The rest of the day was spent exploring the Sinharaja’s bird rich trails, enjoying flocks. Close to the research camp, we found a nest of a Sri Lanka Blue Magpie with a brooding adult. It was built in a tree by the side of the main trail, about 2 ½ m above the trail, requiring those who go towards to research camp to walk right under it. I think selection of such a nest site so close to a trail taken by visitors regularly clearly demonstrates the ‘confidence’ Sri Lanka Blue Magpies have placed on humans. It is also effective in keeping off nest predators that are shy of human presence. (Two months later I observed two juveniles fledged successfully from this nest!). Our highlight of twilight was Sri Lanka Frogmouth and we returned to Martin’s for dinner, checklist, and overnight stay to end yet another great day’s birding.
After exploring a few patches around Martin’s in the morning of Day 03 (15 Jan), we drove down to our vehicle and reached Colombo where I dropped Clive back at the luxurious Colombo Hilton!