We found it when we were leaving the park and it just kept walking like this.
And pausing briefly...
...to checking us out, before disappearing.
My ‘birding in style’ tour uses swanky accommodations, which include 5-star nature resorts, and boutique hotels—with good garden birding, and top recreational facilities. It is operated at a much slower pace compared to serious birding tours, in which we aim to see as many birds as possible. This relaxed pace is mainly for one thing—to enjoy no-nonsense arm-chair birding! Very important, our slow approach also leaves us enough time to experience such guest facilities as spas, and infinity pools in the posh accommodations we use. Special dining experiences also mark another crucial element of this tour with international buffets, fine dining, and a good mix of Sri Lankan cuisine for those who are adventurous enough.
One of the trappings of being a tour guide, is that I too get to experience the same facilities and experiences as my guests, more often than not.
I'll explian a day at Heritance Kandalama:
A hour and half of morning birding—starting at 7.00 a.m., breakfast buffet, 40 minutes of post breakfast arm-chair birding near the hotel's rock pool, followed by an extended time at leisure to do our own thing.
For me the latter included, a bit of bird-sound recording, watching cricket in the TV, volunteering to sample a complimentary spa treatment that Ben didn't want to do, lounging by the pool with everybody—scoping birds that visit a fig tree near the pool with a chilled Carlsberg as an observational aid.
A post-lunch power-nap, two and a half hours of absorbing late-afternoon birding in the hotel gardens, a shower, checklist over drinks.
A ‘Mongolian night’ buffet dinner.
More TV before finally retiring for the day.
Crickey mate! This job, guiding, can take a lot of ya!
Such pure pampering and holiday spirit notwithstanding, we managed to see 230 species of birds on this tour, which included thirty out of the thirty-three endemics. The endemics we didn’t see were the very endemics we didn’t bother to look for—the Serendib Scops Owl, the Sri Lanka Bush Warbler and the Sri Lanka Spurfowl—a troublesome trio—which my clients unanimously decided to let go.
Our final bird tally included six of the fifteen resident night birds. We also scored twenty-seven mammals on this tour including all four mongooses found in Sri Lanka. This included a species that is getting rarer, the Stripe-necked Mongoose, which was expertly spotted by Sybil close to the legendary Rawana Falls.
While there are many highlights on a tour such as this, spanning over 18-days, some stay in memory for very special reasons. They are as follows in no particular order.
(a) A White-throated Kingfisher beating the hell out of a 'Tawny-bellied Babbler prey', captured in a crude video by me below.
(b) A Chestnut-winged Crested Cuckoo that came to a frutting fig near the natural rock pool at Kandalama minutes after settling to do some arm-chair birding. Beautiful.
(c) A flock of 21 Greater Flamingos flying over at Malala lagoon at the Bundala (Ramsar wetland) National Park, which was first picked up by yours truly. According to the local park guide, these were the first for this migratory season, and first GFs after a lapse of several years in Bundala. Check this out to find why.
(d) Four sightings of Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush—three in the morning and one in the afternoon at Nuwara Eliya.
(e) A Slaty-legged Crake spotted by me in the forest floor from a moving vehicle while driving along the road leading to Heritance Kandalama. It turned out to be an addition to the hotel’s bird list, which increased to 173-bird species. This was seen again at Nuwara Eliya—only by yours truly
(f) Two puddle birding sessions that saw us raking in a high profile communal bathing party that included Indian Blue Robin (4), Orange-headed Thrush (4), White-rumped Shama (2), Brown-capped Babbler (about 3), Emerald Dove (1), Indian Pitta (1) and Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher (about 2). The lighting was poor but this video gives a taste of what we experienced.
(g) Observing a full-blown mixed-species bird flock while seated in arm-chairs at the Research camp at Sinharaja.
Apart from the endemics and other birds mentioned specifically above, some of our other avian specials included Kashmir Flycatcher, Pied Thrush, Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Watercock, Sirkeer Malkoha, Blue-faced Malkoha, Marshall’s Iora aka. White-tailed Iora (2 sightings in two locations), Fork-tailed Drongo Cuckoo, Lesser Adjutant, Common Hawk Cuckoo (not common – and a potential split), Malabar Pied Hornbill, Indian Blackbird (potential split), Small Pratincole (nesting on the road at Bundala), Yellow-fronted Pied Woodpecker, Indian Pygmy Woodpecker, Brahminy Myna, Brown Fish Owl, and Barn Owl, which is a locally uncommon bird.
Oh! we also had a nesting Red-vented
Here's Sybil getting her daily dose of arm-chair birding.
Ben was kind enough to do some important shopping for me before coming to Sri Lanka. He and the 'party' presented me with two superb books: one on ‘close-up photography’ and the other on ‘night bugs’, which I am eagerly consuming at the moment. Thank you all for such a superb trip – one of my best!
Jeez, I can do with some of those pampering now!