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Tdgraves

After reading @xelas excellent TR a few years ago

I was intrigued and keen to explore part of the world where I had never been and where it appeared the bird life was abundant. It took a while to persuade the OH though. We have been to RSA in January for as long as I can remember and it has become a bit of a routine. The overnight flight and lack of jet lag make it a very enticing option, as well as the plethora of wildlife destinations and the opportunity to visit friends. Anyway, a few years of nagging later and he agreed! It had been planned for January 2018, but this put it right next to our Zimbabwe trip and the bank account would not stand for it, so two SANParks safaris later in 2018 allowed the coffers to expand enough to pay for the trip. To reassure the OH, it was designed entirely around wildlife and birding and this took considerable effort, as most TAs are used to delivery mixed tours of city, culture, National parks (primarily Yala or Wilpattu) and the beach and so they would try and slip in a cultural site here or a few days on the beach there, but I stood firm! We finalised our itinerary and decided to concentrate on the Southern half of the island, as although the distances appear small (especially in relation to RSA), the roads are not good and we did not wish to lose lots of extra time travelling. So it would be a clockwise circle:

 

Horathapola Estate, near Colombo, 1 night (TA would not allow us to go further after an international flight due to road conditions)

Then a day trip to  Muthurajawela on the Lebombo lagoon for birding en route to: 

Jetwing Warwick Gardens, near Horton Plains National Park, 2 nights

Gal Oya Lodge, near Gal Oya National Park, 3 nights

Yala National Park 5 nights (including a day trip to Bundala National Park due to lack of accommodation options near this park)

Rainforest Eco Lodge, in Sinharaja National Park, 2 nights

Staying with friends, Colombo, 1 night prior to flight home

 

With most drives being at least 4 hours and the longest was about 7 hours....

 

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Day 1: Horathapola Estate, 18/1/19   A few birds from the balcony!   Green warbler     Purple-rumped sunbird         Asi

Day 3, Horton Plains NP, 20/1/19   Our driver had arranged a "local guide" to take us on our hike around Horton Plains, quoting local knowledge etc. but I think that this was because of his

Day 2, boat trip in the Lebombo lagoon, 19/1/19   It was an early wake up with coffee to go back towards Colombo for our boat trip. The hotel provided a packed breakfast and we met our perma

Tdgraves

The flight options from the UK are direct with Sri Lankan or via the Middle east or India. Qatar had an excellent promotion on and we were able to fly business for only a fraction more than our premium economy flights to JNB usually cost, with the added bonus of their new QSuites on two out of the four flights. (If you have not seen these, have a look on Google, they are very impressive!). Our flight was at about 2 pm from Heathrow and the Qatar lounge is just as impressive as their aircraft. The downside being the flight when you are naturally tired, from Doha to Colombo is only 3.5 hours, which does not give much time for sleep. We sailed through the airport and were met by a driver who would only be driving today, our permanent driver would meet us the following day. For some reason I had totally misremembered the exchange rate and was surprised that only 4, presumably very high value notes were dispensed from the ATM (Sri Lanka has a closed currency so cannot be purchased outside of the country). When I double checked with the driver, it turned out that I had withdrawn about £12, so it was back to the ATM for us!! (This was after me having left my cash card at work the previous evening, necessitating an hours' round trip to collect it...)

 

The driver had been misinformed of our itinerary for the following day (he did not know about the birding trip) and so spent a considerable portion of the drive to our hotel on the phone to head office, trying to sort it out. Anyone a bit less clued up/more jetlagged may well have just agreed to the collection time and therefore missed a booked and paid for trip.

 

The hotel was a converted plantation house surrounded by paddy fields and other crops and was a much better option that the generic concrete Colombo hotels initially offered by the TA. In fact, our dinner here was the best of the entire trip. There are only about 5 or 6 rooms and there is a lovely swimming pool, so it makes a perfect beginning or end to a trip. The birdlife was prolific with many possible endemics and perhaps we would have done better with 2 nights there, but these things are always a compromise....

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Tdgraves

Day 1: Horathapola Estate, 18/1/19

 

A few birds from the balcony!

 

Green warbler

 

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Purple-rumped sunbird

 

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Asian brown flycatcher

 

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Black-hooded oriole

 

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After a quick nap, trying to acclimatise to the humidity and some lunch by the pool after a few laps, we thought we'd have a wander around the hotel gardens and plantation in search of birds. I used the 7D. The gardens themselves were the most productive

 

Common myna

 

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Indian paradise flycatcher

 

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White-bellied drongo

 

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Scaly-throated munia

 

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Indian roller

 

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Yellow-billed babbler

 

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large-billed crow

 

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the hotel appears to be used to birders as these were all after we had returned and were having a welcome cold drink. The waiter showed me the myna and then the manager took me off to see the barbet, finding others on the way!

 

Lesser hill myna

 

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Brown-headed barbet

 

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Red-wattled lapwing

 

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Sri Lankan paradise tailed flycatcher

 

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Scarlet minivet

 

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Early to bed to compensate for the lost sleep of the previous travel day and for the early wake up the following day.

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TonyQ

I’m really pleased you have started this - been looking forward to it after following your Big Year.

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Tdgraves

Thanks @TonyQ can only manage one thread at a time....

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Atdahl

Perfect timing on this report @Tdgraves since I am planning a Sri Lanka trip for March 2020 right now.  As a matter of fact Horathapola Estate looks perfect for our 1st day which might be a "recovery" day to get used to the new time zone.  Not to mention that it appears to have great bird life as well.  Two Paradise Flycatcher species already!  It looks like a great place to stay.

 

I look forward to reading the rest of your report.

 

Alan

 

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xelas

Nice! It is great to read another trip report from Sri Lanka, a beautiful country with excellent mix of culture and nature. Looking forward to find out how that othe birding location (Gal Oya) was.

 Was your driver also a birding expert? Which one was the local company you have used?

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Tdgraves

@xelas we booked via audley travel in the Uk. The driver was a tourist guide, not a birding expert, so we relied on the in camp guides 

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Tdgraves

Day 2, boat trip in the Lebombo lagoon, 19/1/19

 

It was an early wake up with coffee to go back towards Colombo for our boat trip. The hotel provided a packed breakfast and we met our permanent guide. We drove through the very busy fish market and along the coast before arriving at our destination, on the Hamilton canal. We had a small boat with driver and guide. Once they realised that we were into photography, they slowed down and we settled into a routine of stopping the engine and floating closer to our prey. This meant that the majority of the trip was in the canal, rather than in the lagoon. It was very relaxing. The canal is at the bottom of people's gardens and has a road alongside it, but this did not detract. I was again using the 7D

 

Our first new bird was spotted before we even got into the boat..

 

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white-breasted waterhen

 

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Rose-ringed parakeet

 

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Asian koel

 

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Green-backed heron - this one I recognise!!

 

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Little cormorant

 

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Blue-tailed bee-eater

 

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White-throated kingfisher

 

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Purple-rumped sunbird

 

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White-bellied sea-eagle

 

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Yellow bittern

 

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another one I know - grey heron

 

the boatmen stopped us in the lagoon under the shade of some trees so that we could have breakfast (and they could have a rest). There was a little bit of open water, but once into the mangroves we felt alone again, apart from the fishermen

 

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whiskered tern

 

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Indian pond heron

 

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some more familiar birds, barn swallows having a rest

 

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Indian cormorant

 

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Little egret

 

Not bad for a couple of hours "work". We would highly recommend this trip. Bird photography is always easier from a boat. Now the longest drive of our trip, up into tea country, through Kandy. We caused our driver consternation, as we did not wish to stop for lunch or shopping, preferring to get to our destination ASAP. He eventually got used to it.....

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Tdgraves

Day 2, Colombo to Tea country, 19/1/19

 

We stopped en route a couple of times for bathroom breaks, but I think as we were worried about when these would be, we were both hesitant to drink too much water. As a consequence, we were dehydrated, exhausted and had headaches when we finally arrived at the hotel. The traffic in and around Kandy was awful and the 6 hour journey soon became over 7. I depressed myself by periodically checking google maps, whenever I was getting bored of being in the car. (Inclusive roaming is not necessarily a good thing :()

 

We stopped a tea factory for a break and I took the camera. Good job that I did, as I spotted an endemic bird, that we would not see again!

 

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Sri Lanka hanging parrot

 

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Jungle prinia

 

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Common kestrel (actually the first bird we spotted in Sri Lanka, as we had seen one on the runway as our flight was taxiing in, as well as another larger and unidentified raptor)

 

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Spotted dove

 

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Grey wagtail

 

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House sparrow

 

And we were on the road again. Once we reached Nuwara Eliya, we thought "nearly there", not anticipating the slow progress made on the single track, winding tea country roads, especially when you meet a TukTuk!

 

Jetwing Warwick Gardens is a converted Tea Country house in a very similar style to out last hotel. It is set in some very British looking gardens, in the process of being restored, on the edge of a hill surrounded by tea plantations. The difference in climate was dramatic. It got very cold overnight (they had open fires burning in the dining room) and I was wearing jeans and a jumper, not a thin summer dress. There are only 5 rooms and dinner is communal, allowing us to meet and mingle with our fellow guests. As was common for the rest of the trip, the majority of these were from the UK, with some Europeans and Americans and on the last night, a couple from India. Dinner is not included but was the equivalent of £10 pp for three courses with several choices, including grilled meat or fish in the international style, as well curries. Again an early night to get over the travel and because it was an early start the following day to walk around Horton Plains, a trip which received much admiration from our fellow guests.

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xelas

Colombo to Nuwara Elyia, that was one looooong drive! But the weather looked to be good.

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offshorebirder

Thanks for this TR @Tdgraves.    You did well at your hotel right off the bat!    And looks like a couple of good days after that.

 

I look forward to following along.

 

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Tdgraves

Day 3, Horton Plains NP, 20/1/19

 

Our driver had arranged a "local guide" to take us on our hike around Horton Plains, quoting local knowledge etc. but I think that this was because of his intolerance of exercise!. Anyway, it worked in our favour as we had an enthusiastic expert, not a grumpy generalist! It was really cold and the hotel is only about 30 mins to the gate. As we completed the last few metres ascent, a ground frost became visible, very different to the humidity of our first night. Not far past the highest railway station in Sri Lanka, he stopped for some barely visible birds in the dark, not only that but they were the rare endemic Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon. This was a good start!

 

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Once we got into the park, there were a few creatures....

 

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Sambar deer

 

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Pied bushchat

 

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Paddyfield pipit

 

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Sri Lanka jungle fowl (endemic)

 

There were quite a few vehicles gathering with tour groups of varying sizes. The park officials are very stringent at not allowing food into the park, or any plastic or other items that could potentially litter this world heritage site. I was impressed. There is an 9.5 km walking trail, which is vaguely circular and we took the clockwise route. People soon thinned out as everyone adjusted to their pace. I very rapidly dispensed with the hat and gloves as well as layers of clothing. It was a surprisingly difficult walk. The terrain was often uneven and rough and of course, as we were at 2500 metres, so kept stopping to catch our breath.

 

This was our first encounter with Chinese tourists and whilst I do not wish to cast generalisations, they did not stick to the rules. I wonder whether the signage or perhaps a leaflet could be published in Mandarin? We were looking at some distant Purple-faced leaf-eating monkeys when we heard a noise. A group of young Chinese tourists with their own theme tune, coming from a portable device, accompanied by loud conversation! Hopefully this does not reflect the behaviour of all tourists from this country, but I fear that it may. There were also lots of locals, who mainly arrived as we were coming to the end, as it was a Sunday and also a full moon day, which is a public holiday.

 

J19A7894.JPG

 

Sri Lanka yellow-eared bulbul (endemic)

 

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Sri Lanka white-eye (endemic)

 

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Pale-billed flowerpecker

 

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Female jungle fowl

 

The views are what most people do the hike for and it is known as World's end. It is entirely weather dependent, but we were lucky. The cloud was descending as we left though....

 

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Our guide spotted this near where we stopped for a toilet break

 

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Rhino-horned lizard

 

and this guy was next to the entrance gate as we left...

 

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Ruddy mongoose

 

This is the reason the park want you to leave food behind, this deer was tame and walked straight up to us, looking for a snack, which he didn't get!

 

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We were amazed that a 6 mile walk took us four and a half hours and that was not with excessive photo stops for birds, as we actually saw fewer than I was expecting. It was actually quite hot when we left, so I can see the benefits of an early start, which also meant that the crowds were smaller, especially at the weekend. The packed breakfast in the car was very welcome but we also made space for lunch!

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xelas
On 5/28/2019 at 12:11 PM, Tdgraves said:

not a grumpy generalist!

 

I think I will be self-driving (and mostly self-guiding) also on our next visit :D. After your description I am happy that we have not been lured to the World's End.

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Tdgraves
19 hours ago, xelas said:

 

I think I will be self-driving (and mostly self-guiding) also on our next visit :D. After your description I am happy that we have not been lured to the World's End.

 

@xelas you are a better man than I !!!??!! I have driven in four continents and definitely would NOT drive here. Far to stressful with all the hooting and tuk tuks....

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Tdgraves

Day 3, In hotel gardens, 20/1/19

 

Birding never stops - during lunch I spotted this munia....

 

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I thought I'd have a wander around the gardens after lunch, but the clouds were descending and the light was not kind. I only spotted a couple....

 

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Red-vented bulbul

 

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Oriental magpie-robin

 

Dinner and bed and a relative lie-in before setting off the following morning to Gal Oya, a leisurely 3-4 hour drive

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Kitsafari

wow a white morphed Indian FC!! and 2 FCs in one day. they are so much sought after here. 

 

Herman was actually researching a trip to SL for next month but the bombing happened and with fears that more bombs were planted nationwide he changed his plans. so now we both are heading to Perth to see relatives, and for birding, of course.

 

Your itinerary will be a most welcome template for us in the near future. 

 

:)

 

 

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Tdgraves

Day 4, Bird walk, Gal Oya Lodge, 21/1/19

 

This place had been recommended by our TA, when she heard that we wanted to focus purely on wildlife. I had never heard of it before. Gal Oya National Park is rarely visited, given its' proximity to the front line from the civil war. She was very enthusiastic about both the lodge and the park, as they had received many positive reviews. The drive had taken a bit longer than Google maps lead me to believe, as the driver did a 30 minute detour to a rest house that he knew, for us to use the bathroom...

 

The rooms are very familiar to those who have been to Africa. Wooden walls with thatched roofs and semi-outdoor bathrooms. They were very spacious and private. There was a small outdoor seating area which they had to keep the jungle from reclaiming! The aim of the owners is to be eco-friendly.

 

A few birds from the room on the 7D...

 

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White-rumped munia

 

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Small minivet

 

and on the walk up to the main lodge...

 

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Oriental white-eye

 

Having a bath in the pool...

 

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Tickell's blue flycatcher

 

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Sri Lanka green pigeon (endemic)

 

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Purple-rumped sunbird

 

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Blue-faced malkoha

 

And as we reached the lodge, the staff pointed out this, which was actually one of three, behind the main building...

 

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Malabar pied hornbill

 

I did think it odd that the activities were not included when we booked the trip, but there was a wide variety to choose from and we did not question this further. However, having left Horton Plains to be in Gal Oya early enough (we thought) for an afternoon activity, we were told that this was not possible. We would be able to go on a guided bird walk, with an unknown number of other guests. Hoh hum, what could we do but be philosophical? Given that the birds were a big part of the reason for the trip, this seemed like an OK compromise and the added bonus being that there was no additional charge for a bird walk. Initially we were told that no one else was joining us, but as the hour approached, it became apparent that this was not the case, however, it was a small group of around 8, including the naturalist (aka guide), who was excellent. Everyone was equipped with binoculars or cameras, so this was a good start. We walked to the front entrance of the lodge, where I saw a distant paradise flycatcher and then along the side boundary which lead to a tank. The bird life was indeed prolific. It was a bit annoying with a group as they were a bit slow, but once we got to the tank, we could all do our own thing.

 

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Yellow-billed babbler

 

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Purple sunbird

 

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scaly-breasted munia aka bronze mannikin

 

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Indian robin

 

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Alexandrine parakeets

 

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Oriental darter

 

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Barn swallow

 

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Small minivet female

 

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Zitting cisticola (their only cisticola!!)

 

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Crimson-backed goldenback

 

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Brahiminy kite

 

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Great cormorant

 

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Whiskered tern

 

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Plain prinia

 

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Jungle prinia

 

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Coppersmith barbet

 

As you can see, the light was a real challenge!

 

We were happy when we returned to the lodge. Our host had booked us onto a morning boat cruise and we got ready for dinner. We were therefore surprised at dinner that a naturalist approached us and asked us what we wanted to do the following day! "We are going on a boat cruise", we replied "that's not possible". Lots of too-ing and fro-ing later and it transpired that our young host (who had now completely vanished) had got his days wrong and had booked us in for the following day. Now, there was no space to do a boat cruise or a game drive, in either the morning or the evening, as the lodge likes to make them private activities (which is not mentioned anywhere on their printed materials) and therefore only has a limited number of vehicles and guides, which are taken on a first come, first served basis. We had chosen to stay here specifically on the advise of our TA and stayed 3 nights rather than the more usual 2, as we knew we would not do an activity on the last day, it being a long drive to Yala. So the whole point was that we would get 5 activities. It was now looking like we would get 2. Not happy. Dinner was understandably a stressful affair. There seemed nothing that the naturalist could do about it and our host was AWOL. So I had to ask for the manager. The OH was mortified, but I have learnt from our Zimbabwe trip that if no one knows there is an issue, then no one can fix it. He was extremely apologetic and tried to make a plan (being from Zim himself). It seemed as though another couple in the bar were not getting what they wanted (from the look on their faces). He approached them and came back with a solution. We would join them on their boat cruise and he would book a morning game drive and evening boat cruise for the following day as well. All sorted, eventually.....if the naturalist had not looked at the diary/rota, we would have had no idea and would have turned up at 5am to be extremely disappointed. Not the best start to a property, but at least it was now going to be OK.

 

:angry:

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Tdgraves

Day 5, Boat cruise, Gal Oya Lodge, 22/1/19

 

It was still dark when we set off. The lodge location was determined to be almost half way between the two National park entrance gates, one for game drives, the other for lake access. The government is in the process of adding an additional gate, very close to the lodge and there is likely to be more accommodation built nearby. We were very much the intruders on this activity. Although our boat mates tried to be gracious, they got to choose vehicle and boat positions and when they thought we had stayed too long in one position chasing that elusive shot, they made their feelings known. As we were in the second row in the boat, this did impact a bit on the photography, but we had not expected private activities and are used to this. The OH decided it was time for him to use the 7D, so I had the 5D. As is always the way, the action happens when there is no light....

 

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a white-bellied sea eagle with catch!

 

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and then our first elephant!

 

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and a croc

 

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some local fishermen

 

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and lots of birds

 

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We had breakfast on an island, which broke the ice. It transpires that they had pre-booked their excursions, so it was understandable why they were annoyed. However, the atmosphere did lift

 

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The last bird we saw was on the tank wall, on the way out!

 

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All in all, a pretty good boat trip.

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Kitsafari

So glad to hear it worked out and you got the boat cruise.  Hopefully no more  such disruptions for the rest of the trip....

 

Edited by Kitsafari
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Tdgraves

Day 5, Bird walk, Gal Oya Lodge, 22/1/19

 

First a bit of armchair birding on our patio...

 

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Purple sunbird

 

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Sri Lanka paradise flycatcher

 

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Black-capped bulbul

 

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Black-naped monarch

 

Walking up to the lodge...

 

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Green imperial pigeon

 

There were more people for the bird walk today and the lodge manager joined us, as he is a keen birder. Initially, the three of us were going separately to make up for the booking issues, but it ended up with the slow half being lead by the naturalist and the rest with us. The overhead conditions were worse today and we saw fewer birds, but it was nice to have a walk.

 

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Grey-breasted prinia

 

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Local fisherman

 

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Back for a much more relaxed dinner!!

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Tdgraves

Day 6, Morning game drive, Gal Oya NP, 23/1/19

 

It is approximately a 45 minute drive to either park gate. What they fail to mention, is that the turning to the game drive part of the park may well be a 45 minute drive, however, progress on the muddy, corrugated "road" to get to the actual gate and then the formalities once we had arrived, meant that the game drive only officially started 2 hours after we left the lodge. No wonder there was no time for an activity on our arrival.The terrain is very difficult and due to the high rainfall, very green. Even before the civil war, this park was rarely visited and so any wildlife that you may encounter is most certainly NOT habituated to vehicles. Good job we like birds then.....

 

I had the 7D today.

 

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Jeardon's bush lark

 

I think our naturalist was pleased to have a birder on board and took it as a personal challenge, however, many of the species he spotted flew off and were either not seen by us or just as a blur. I managed to catch a few of these on camera, but the dense vegetation did not much help! We did see a variety of birds including some endemics and given we were in a private vehicle, could set our own pace

 

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Jungle bush quail

 

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Crested treeswifts

 

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Sri Lanka Emerald-collared parakeet (endemic) 

 

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Common iora

 

And finally a mammal...grizzled giant squirrel

 

 

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We (the lodge) had brought breakfast and we were very pleased to have it. It was set up on a "beach" at the side of a very fast flowing river with a little falls and of course then the sun came out, so it got quite hot. Breakfast was most welcome though...

 

 

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on the way back up the hill to the car, our guide spotted this bird in the bushes, it was very accommodating whilst I changed my camera settings....

 

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Brown-bellied flycatcher

 

We did see some far away monkeys on our way back towards the gate, but I now cannot remember if they were langurs or macaques...

 

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Crimson-backed flameback

 

Our driver got out at the gate to do the paperwork so we also got out of the vehicle to stretch our legs. There were lots of large trees and we and the naturalist immediately started spotting birds. It reminded me a bit of a Kruger camp with the shaded high tree canopy of lots of different species of trees. As it was the entrance, they were a bit more amenable and we had an enjoyable additional hours' activity where I would respond to "Madam" being called from different directions, to see what each tree contained!

 

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Brown-capped pygmy woodpecker

 

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(Fork-tailed) drongo cuckoo

 

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 Banded bay cuckoo

 

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 Velvet-fronted nuthatch

 

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Sri Lanka woodshrike (endemic)

 

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Sri Lanka grey hornbill (endemic)

 

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Tickell's blue flycatcher

 

A very enjoyable mornings' birding, however, I may have been less impressed of it as a "game drive" if we did not like birds and photography. Time to endure the long drive back to the lodge, this time in the midday heat....

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Tdgraves

Day 6, Evening boat cruise, Gal Oya NP, 23/1/19

 

Again this afternoon, I think the naturalist was pleased to have someone who was interested in birds and they were very amenable to looking for us, especially as we had the potential to reach 100 for the trip in the afternoon, which we managed. The cloud cleared and it was a lovely afternoon.

 

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A herd of elephants was flanked by a herd of feral cows, an increasing issue in Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka

 

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And we had some nice close sightings in the golden light...

 

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Spot-billed pelicans

 

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Painted storks

 

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A lovely end to our stay in Gal Oya

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Tdgraves

Day 7, Evening game drive, Leopard Trails, Yala NP, 24/1/19

 

As we had no activity planned this morning, to ensure that we could get an afternoon game drive in when we got to Yala, we had a relative lie in, which was nice. Breakfast was quiet and then we were off. Although it was a long drive, we had less problems with traffic and arrived at about the time we expected, which was a first! The road actually goes past some the entrances to the lesser visited sections of the park (Yala NP being split (for humans) into 5 separate blocks) and therefore it is possible to see game en route. The one animal we saw, was the elephant which had learnt that people passing in buses (generally going on pilgrimages to religious sites) would offer treats as they passed "the toll" as it was known. This was usually fruit, however some people specifically purchase sugar cane for this purpose. This is strictly forbidden, but difficult to police, especially with the Buddhist religion. The road also passes through a relatively large town, with plenty of tourism infrastructure. Leopard trails is based about a 20 minute drive outside of the park (like all camps) and is close the the newer northern gate to Yala block 1. This theoretically means fewer vehicles in the area, especially when you arrive early, but we would see on a couple of drives that if game was sparse in the south, it would not take long for those vehicles to migrate northwards, especially if the bush telegraph told of spotty cats...

 

As we were staying a long time (5 nights) we had been upgraded at the time of booking to their luxury safari tent, which is much larger, with more outdoor space and privacy as well as air conditioning!!???! I'm not sure how they manage it, but it was very welcome as it was hot and humid for our entire stay....

 

Leopard trails is based on an African safari camp and so would be very familiar to STers. They have links with Londolozi in Sabi Sands, including a guide exchange program and it shows. The guiding is professional (unlike some of the behaviour we would later witness). There is a separate driver, mainly by virtue of the design of the vehicles. They appeared to be converted pickups, so the cab was enclosed (importantly, with air conditioning...) with the familiar covered safari arrangement on the back. This meant that our guide was in the back with us. There was a maximum of 6 seats per vehicle (the front 3 rows with single seats), but there were just 4 of us in our vehicle. The other couple arrived the same day as us, having come from the states, via Uganda and then on to the Maldives! They were only staying 2 nights, which seemed about average, with some only staying 1 night, so we saw many comings and goings in our 5 night stay!

 

Yala is surrounded by a buffer zone which I think is designated as a regional park, so without the entrance fees/gate times, but giving the game a bit more space, so there was always the chance of a sighting for 5kms or so before we officially entered the park at the gate. In fact, we had what turned out to be one of our better elephant sightings in this area on this first drive. I had the 5D again today.

 

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It was exceedingly hot when we were not moving and I got completely fried by the sun (being on the "wrong" side of the vehicle) in just a few minutes. Time to get into the park! Fees need to be paid and paperwork completed, which gives time for a short pit stop to use the facilities and then we were off...

 

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It wasn't just me that was hot!

 

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Ruddy mogoose

 

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As you can see, the sun was rapidly setting and it was time to hot foot it to the gate (whilst sticking to the speed limit). The park's authority are very strict about this and there is usually a procession of vehicles all aiming to get to the gate at the stroke of 6 o'clock. After using the facilities, it was time to leave and we got the impression that they were disappointed at not providing a leopard on our first drive. We hadn't been going long when our driver stopped and pointed to the bough of a large tree - a leopard!

 

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By now it really was quite dark and the camera gives the false impression of more light (this was taken at ISO 10000). With our eyes we could see limbs only...and then it decided to get up and cross the road in front of us

 

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This was the best shot I managed, hurriedly asking them to put the headlights on as it crossed (which it later transpired they are not supposed to). What a start! We all congratulated our driver and guide on their excellent spotting abilities, but it turned out that she often slept in that tree, so they routinely check the branches whenever they pass. Oh well, who cares?

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Tdgraves

Day 8, Morning game drive, Leopard Trails, Yala NP, 25/1/19

 

As being positioned at the front of the queue at the gates is very advantageous in the mornings, our guide encouraged us to leave camp at 5 am, so that we could be as close to the front of the queue as possible. It was a little chilly going at full speed in the dark for 20 minutes or so, but tempered by the fact we could have a leisurely coffee at the gate once we arrived. We were not at the front of the queue, but second and as luck would have it, the vehicle at the front was driven ahead by a guide who would meet his clients there. Unfortunately, they did not arrive on time, so we were first after all!! The park will "randomly" place staff members in vehicles in order to assess adherence to the rules and also to sort out traffic jams and disputes on the scene. We quickly worked out that our vehicle was always selected. This was due to the combination of the staff getting on with our driver and guide, functional air conditioning, cool drinks and biscuits left over from morning coffee! This meant that we had the moral authority if there were traffic issues and also another highly trained pair of eyes for leopard tracking. We headed straight to the spot where a leopard carcass had been seen yesterday and were in luck, a mother and cub were there. But they were really camera shy...the cub just ran off into the bush, this was the mother.

 

I had the 5D again today

 

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And one from the OH on the 7D that he was particularly pleased with

 

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This was the best we managed after staying quite a while and as other vehicles wanted access, we were happy to move on to see what else the park would have in store for us

 

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a ruddy mongoose looking for breakfast

 

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our first Eurasian hoopoe

 

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The weather was looking great. We worked our way southwards and the roads got noticeably busier. We went past a tank, a lagoon and another smaller body of water, so there were lost of birds...

 

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one of our only spotted deer sightings

 

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Our first wild boar sighting - indian boar

 

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Back to camp for breakfast, 2 for 2 on the leopard sightings!

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