Southern India & Sri Lanka

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Date: 
Wednesday, February 10, 2016 - Thursday, March 3, 2016
Guide: 
Rudolf Koes

Surprisingly rich birdlife including many endemics of the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka!

Our tour embraces the best of Southern India and Sri Lanka - birds, mammals, flora, scenery, culture and cuisine. In Southern India, an excellent system of national parks protects large tracts of pristine forest and grassland, and these support good numbers of large mammals and a diverse avifauna, including 37 endemics and 18 regional endemics shared only with Sri Lanka, We visit a variety of habitats, ranging from dry deciduous forests and open, scrubby country and lowland water bodies up to the Western Ghats, extensive evergreen and mountainside forests that parallel the west coast of the peninsula. We also marvel at historic sites, and enjoy friendly people and stunning colours.

Sri Lanka, off the coast of India, and referred to as India’s “tear drop”, is a scenic and green island, with diverse habitats in a relatively compact area and with several internationally important national parks. We sample all principal habitats - lowland and foothill rainforests of the wet zone, lush forests of the dry zone, several rivers and grasslands and cloud forests of the highlands. Sri Lanka is a truly stunning island with a wealth of resident and wintering species, and over thirty endemics. Add to this a rich cultural history and the world-famous hospitality of the Sri Lankan people, for a fabulous tour.

Highlights

• Rich and varied birding with many endemics

• Opportunities for visiting the newly-accessible and bird-rich parks of both Southern India and Sri Lanka

• Diverse habitats from wetlands and grasslands to mountainside forests

• Excellent reserves, lodges, scenic wonders and very different cultures

 

Day 1. Arrival at Bangalore and transfer to Mysore

Arrive at Bangalore airport, followed by transfer to Mysore via Ramanagaram and Kokkare Bellur, with a visit to Ranganthitoo Bird Sanctuary. We have our first encounter with widespread birds such as Black and Brahminy Kites, House Crow, White-throated Kingfisher and Indian Roller. At the small village of Kokkare Bellur, among rice paddies, sugar cane fields and local farms, we look for Spot-billed Pelican, Painted Stork, Red-naped Ibis and other waterbirds. At the Ranganthitoo Bird Sanctuary, we should find Indian and Little Cormorants, Oriental Darter, Intermediate and Little Egrets, Indian Pond-Heron, Asian Openbill, Woolly-necked Stork, Black-headed Ibis and Eurasian Spoonbill, and we will make a special effort to locate Great Thick-knee on rocky islands here. Night at Mysore.

Day 2. Bandipur Safari

After breakfast, we drive to Bandipur, birding along the way. We pass through scrub country, looking for Jungle Bush-Quail, Jerdon’s Bushlark, Rufous-tailed Lark, Blue Rock-Thrush and Common Babbler. Our Safari in the afternoon could turn up several exciting mammals as well as Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Barred Button-Quail, White-browed Bulbul, Tawny-bellied and Yellow-billed Babblers, White-browed Fantail, Common Woodshrike, White-bellied Minivet, Brown and Bay-backed Shrikes, Sykes’s Warbler and Brahminy Starling. We then head for Mudumalai National Park, along the way looking for specialties such as the scarce and local Nilgiri Thrush, Nilgiri Flycatcher, Malabar Lark, White-bellied Minivet and Booted Warbler. Night at Mudumalai.

Day 3. Mudumalai National Park

We spend much of the day at the splendid Mudumalai National Park. The dry deciduous forest and thorny scrub outside the park boundaries contain many woodpeckers including White-naped, Red Spurfowl, Gray-fronted and Yellow-footed Green-Pigeons, Blue-faced Malkoha, Gray-headed Bulbul, Tawny-bellied Babbler, Painted Bush-Quail and the elusive Indian Pitta. Moister woodlands host the very localized Gray-headed Bulbul, Crested Serpent-Eagle, Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Brown Fish-Owl, Indian Swiftlet, Crested Treeswift, Malabar Gray-Hornbill, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Brown-capped and Streak-throated Woodpeckers, Black-headed Cuckooshrike, Malabar Whistling-Thrush, Indian Blue Robin, Verditer Flycatcher, Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, Puff-throated Babbler and Plain Flowerpecker. Night at Mudulamai. An optional night foray could turn up Jerdon’s Nightjar.

Day 4. Ooty

After breakfast we depart in jeeps for Ooty, birding on the way. Dry scrub forests here hold White-bellied Drongo, Sirkeer Malkoha and Jungle Bush Quail. Ooty is a hill station in the Nilgiris and a welcome retreat from the oppressive summer heat. The Cairnhill Reserved Forest, 3km from Ooty, supports the endemic Nilgiri Laughing Thrush, White-bellied Shortwing, and Black-and-rufous, Rusty-tailed and Nilgiri Flycatchers. Around Ooty, we could find higher altitude species such as Black-chinned Laughingthrush, Black-and-orange Flycatcher, Nilgiri Woodpigeon, Indian Blackbird, and Nilgiri Blue Robin, as well as Nilgiri Langurs. Night at Ooty.

Day 5.Transfer to Munnar

After breakfast we leave Ooty and drive to Munnar via Chinnar. On the way, we could find Large Grey Babbler, Grey Fancolin, the rare Yellow Throated Bulbul, Indian Robin, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Blue-faced Malkoha and Black Eagle. Night at Munnar.

Day 6. Eravikulum National Park

Our plan is to visit Eravikulam National Park (also known as Rajamalai) and surrounding high altitude montane forests, although there is a chance that the park is closed in time for the calving of the endangered Nilgiri Tahrs, a wild goat endemic to the grass hills of southern India. We target two highly localized South Indian endemics - Gray-breasted Laughingthrush and Nilgiri Pipit. Also here are Dusky Crag Martin, the local race of Pacific Swallow (sometimes split as Hill Swallow), Blue-capped Rock-Thrush, Black Bulbul, Black-and-rufous, Nilgiri and Blue-throated Flycatchers, and Black-lored (Indian Yellow) Tit. The high rolling grassy hills with patches of evergreen forest support White-bellied Blue Robin, Kerala Laughingthrush, Painted Bush-quail, Indian Scimitar-babbler and Nilgiri Flycatcher. In the afternoon, we visit Deshadan Hotel, a location for Broad-tailed Grassbird.. Night at Munnar.

Day 7. Transfer to Periyar Sanctuary

After breakfast we drive to the Periyar Sanctuary, stopping along the way to look for the very localized Yellow-throated Bulbul. On arriving at the sanctuary, we bird along the Anjurli Trail and alongside the lake. The Periyar Tiger Reserve is one of the finest wildlife and birding destinations in South India, and is probably the best known and most popular, and at more than 300 square kilometers is one of the largest. The National Park contains habitats covering grassland, dry deciduous and evergreen forests and riverside scrub. We spend our time here looking for Wynaad Laughingthrush, White-rumped and Brown-backed Needletails, Oriental Honey-Buzzard, Black Baza, Pompadour Green and Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, Gray-breasted Prinia, Thick-billed Warbler, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, and Asian Fairy Bluebird. We may also encounter Besra, Vernal Hanging Parrot, Jungle Owlet, White-rumped Spinetail, Black-naped Monarch and Little Spiderhunter. Other possibilities include Malabar Whistling-thrush, Great Hornbill, White-bellied and Heart-spotted Woodpeckers and Malabar Woodshrike. In the evening we search for some of the region’s nocturnal wildlife, such as Asiatic Elephant, Sloth Bear and Wild Dog. Long-billed Sunbird occurs in gardens in this area. Night at Abad Green Forest.

Days 8 - 10. Thattekad

We bird the Periyar area this morning, looking for species we may have missed, then we have a short drive to Thattekad, a sanctuary in lowland Kerala where we spend three nights. Whilst here we bird both the Urulanthanni and the Edamalayar areas near Thattekkad. Thattekad shares many of the same species as Periyar, but night birds are perhaps easier to see here, therefore on one night we will look for owls such as Mottled Wood Owl, Oriental Bay Owl, Oriental Scops-owl, Spot-bellied Eagle Owl, and Brown Fish-owl, and with luck Ceylon Frogmouth. Thattekkad is a lowland area with several types of ecosystems, from riverine woodlands to grasslands, evergreen, scrub, dry deciduous and lowland forest and is home to most of the endemics of the Western Ghats. Here are White-bellied Treepie, Indian Rufous Babbler, Crimson-backed Sunbird, White-bellied Blue Flycatcher, Malabar Parakeet, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Red Spurfowl, Grey Jungle Fowl, Indian Pitta, Black-throated Munia, Malabar Barbet, Yellow-browed and Flame-throated Bulbuls, and Lesser Hill Myna. Nights at Hornbill Camp.

Day 11: Transfer to Colombo

Depart for Colombo by the 09:45 flight. On arrival, we transfer to Kitulgala, visiting Ingiriya Forest Reserve on the way. We should encounter several widespread species on our way - Little Cormorant, White-breasted Waterhen, Red-wattled Lapwing, Brown-headed Barbet, Yellow-billed Babbler, Black-hooded Oriole, White-rumped Munia and House and Large-billed Crows. Our hotel grounds support Green Imperial Pigeon, Ceylon Green-Pigeon, Layard’s Parakeet and White-throated Flowerpecker. Night in Kitulgala.

Day 12. Kitulgala

Kitulgala lies in the lowland warm tropical zone, on the banks of the River Kelani made famous by the film Bridge on the River Kwai. We spend the day here birding the tropical forest, looking for species such as Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Sri Lanka Gray Hornbill, Malabar Trogon, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Black-capped Bulbul, Spot-winged Ground-thrush, Tickell’s Blue and Brown-breasted Flycatchers, Black-naped Monarch, and several woodpeckers including Rufous, Brown-capped, Lesser Yellownape, and the recently split Crimson-backed Flameback. Evening birding could turn up Serendib Scops Owl, Chestnut-backed Owlet, and perhaps Sri Lanka Frogmouth. Night at Kitulgala.

Day 13. Kitulgala – Nuwara Eliya

Today, we drive into the highlands and to the town of Nuwara Eliya in the heart of Sri Lanka’s hill and tea-growing country. We stop several times along the way, looking for specialties such as Kashmir and Dull Blue Flycatchers, Eurasian (Indian) Blackbird, Gray-headed Canary-Flycatcher and Ceylon White-eye.. In the evening, we visit Victoria Park where we could find Indian Pitta, Pied Thrush, Kashmir Flycatcher, Indian Blue Robin and Yellow-eared Bulbul. Night in Nuwara Eliya.

Day 14. Nuwara Eliya – Horton Plains – Nuwara Eliya

We drive upto the higher elevations of the Horton Plains, where temperatures will be cooler than lower down and we may encounter rainy, misty or overcast weather. Here among grasslands and subtropical montane forest, we look for Jerdon’s Baza, Ceylon Scimitar-Babbler, Sri Lanka Bush Warbler, Sri Lanka White-eye, the scarce and local Arrenga or Ceylon Whistling-Thrush, Ceylon Woodpigeon, Pied Bushchat, Himalayan Buzzard, Common Hawk-Cuckoo, Black-throated Munia, Pacific Swallow and Blyth’s Reed-Warbler. Night in Nuwara Eliya.

Day 15. Nuwara Eliya – Tissamaharama

After breakfast we leave for Tissamaharama, stopping to bird wetlands along the way, which may produce Black and Yellow Bitterns, Watercock, Ruddy-breasted Crake, a variety of shorebirds including Pacific Golden Plover and Pintail Snipe, and many Blue-tailed Bee-eaters. The village of Tissa is famous for its large lake and ancient domed Buddhist shrine or dagoba. Night at Wila Safari Hotel.

Day 16. Yala National Park

We visit the drier forest and open grasslands of Yala National Park, habitats very rich in birdlife. We look for Lesser Adjutant, Asian Openbill, Spot-billed Pelican, Great Thick-knee and Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark. Yala also supports many mammals, from Indian Elephant to Wild Boar, Tufted Gray Langur, Sambar and Spotted Deer. Nightbirds here include Jerdon’s and Indian Nightjars. Night at Wila Safari Hotel.

Day 17. Tissamaharama – Bundala – Udawalawa

After breakfast, we leave for the Bundala Sanctuary and Udawalawawe National Park, searching wetlands for Oriental and Small Pratincoles, Great and Lesser Crested Terns, White-winged and Saunders’s Terns, Lesser Sand Plover, Watercock, Ruddy-breasted Crake, Lesser Whistling-Duck, Garganey, Black-headed Ibis, Painted Stork, Eurasian Thick-knee, the distinctive Sri Lankan form of Crested Hawk-Eagle, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Plum-headed Parakeet, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Brown Fish Owl, Forest Wagtail and Oriental Skylark. We can also expect close encounters with some of the park’s many wild Indian Elephants. Woodlands here support White-naped Woodpecker. Night in Udawalawa.

Day 18. Udawalawa – Sinharaja

In the morning, we have a safari in Udawalawa National Park, where in addition to Asian Elephant, other species might include Barred Buttonquail, Jerdon’s Bushlark, Indian Peafowl, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Alpine Swift, Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Coppersmith Barbet, Blyth’s Pipit, White-browed Fantail, Tawny-bellied and Yellow-eyed babblers, Ashy, Jungle and Plain Prinias, Zitting Cisticola and Indian Silverbill. We then transfer to Sinharaja and Rockview Lodge.

Days 19 - 20. Sinharaja

We spend two days exploring the 35 square mile Sinharaja rainforest sites in the heart of the wet zone and home to most of the island’s endemic birds. We walk trails through the forests and open areas, looking for the elusive Sri Lanka Spurfowl, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush, Orange-billed Babbler, Ceylon Hill-Myna, Ceylon Hanging-Parrot, the stunning Ceylon Blue Magpie, Red-faced Malkoha, Green-billed Coucal, White-faced Starling, Chestnut-backed Owlet, with good luck Ceylon Frogmouth, Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, Velvet Nuthatch, the very elusive local race of the Scaly Thrush, Pale-billed Flowerpecker, Slaty-legged Crake, Gray-rumped Treeswift and Crimson-fronted Barbet. Nights at Rockview Lodge.

Day 21. Sinharaja – Wattala

After breakfast, we leave Sinharaja and head for Wattala, targetting species we may have missed up to now. he way. Night in Wattala.

Day 22. Departure

Our tour ends after breakfast, when we travel to the airport and departure flights home.

 

Dates: February 10 - March 3, 2016

Duration: 22 Days

Price: TBA (2014 was $6,875 USD, $7,225 CAD, single supplement $675 USD, $710 CAD)

Tour Starts: Bangalore, India

Tour Ends: Colombo, Sri Lanka

• Internal flights included

• Comfortable accommodation throughout, ranging from good to basic and clean

• Weather will vary from hot and humid to cool in the highlands; possible mist and rain

• All meals included

• Walking mostly easy, with some moderate grade walks

• Some long drives

India is a vast country with a wide array of peoples and cultures, and Sri Lanka is an island gem, green, compact and scenic. Density of people at times can seem overwhelming, yet wildlife thrives among the throngs of people. Our tour concentrates in the fascinating southern part of the country, from lowlands up to the highlands of the Western Ghats. Typically it will be warm, dry and sunny, with rain more likely in Sri Lanka, and with cool weather at higher altitudes. Accommodations range from moderate to good, to fairly basic and clean, with all comfortable. We take one flight from Southern India to Colombo in Sri Lanka. The pace of the tour will be fairly leisurely; there are a few long walks which are not overly demanding, and we cross the River Kelani at Kitulgala in a ferry. Most days start early, and we spend the morning and the late afternoon birding and exploring, sometimes having a siesta in the early afternoon. We have also scheduled night forays for nocturnal birds. Driving distances will vary greatly, according to distance and road conditions. Most roads are quite adequate; some roads will be narrow, winding and bumpy but we take our time traveling such roads and stopping frequently. Birding at all locations will be outstanding. Each evening, the list of birds and other wildlife will be reviewed, and plans for the next day will be discussed.