Some Sri Lankan endemics at Sinharaja, April 21st

The very first bird of the morning at Sinharaja was .... the spectacular endemic Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, actually inside the restaurant at Martin's Simple Lodge.
The very first bird of the morning at Sinharaja was …. the spectacular endemic Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, actually inside the restaurant at Martin’s Simple Lodge.

After quite a few very enjoyable but hardly bird-filled days on the beach or beside the pool, I felt ready for an adventure to try and grab a few more Sri Lankan endemics. We had moved along the coast to Tangalle, from where a scooter trip to the northern part of Sinharaja and the famous Martin’s Simple Lodge seemed within the realms of possibility. I borrowed a scooter from one of the hotel staff, and armed with a rather basic map, set off on what turned out to be a 5-hour drive to the Kudawa entrance of the famous Sinharaja rainforest.

Despite the excruciatingly slow mode of transport, and less-than-ideal roads, the ride was actually fairly enjoyable. Close to Tangalle I picked up several Black-headed Ibis feeding in damp rice paddies, a long overdue lifer, while a hilly area of tea plantations produced a pair of Indian Robins.

Martin’s Simple Lodge is famous for being accessible only via the world’s rockiest, bumpiest track. Most people get there by 4WD jeep. I wanted to walk the 3km track instead, in order to save money as well as perhaps see some birds, but according to the park staff this wasn’t an option. After making a nuisance of myself for a while around the ticket office at the park headquarters, I was finally informed that it would be OK for me to drive myself to Martin’s on my scooter. It was quite an incredible road to attempt on such a vehicle, but thanks to plenty of experience riding scooters on bad roads in Thailand and Taiwan, I finally made it to Martin’s with only minimal damage to my borrowed transport.

A terrible road to attempt on a 100cc scooter, but we made it in the end.
A terrible road to attempt on a 100cc scooter, but we made it in the end.

Unfortunately, my precious afternoon at Sinharaja was a complete washout owing to continuous torrential rain that continued well into the night. Fortunately, when I awoke at 5.45am the next morning, the rain had temporarily stopped, and I was able to enjoy about four hours birding in the vicinity of the lodge before embarking on my epic return scooter ride to Tangalle.

I decided against entering the park proper. I figured there was plenty of good rainforest habitat around Martin’s lodge, and I was just as likely to connect with the target birds there as deeper in the forest. Also, prior to entering the rainforest, I would have had to retrace my steps back to park headquarters to buy an entry ticket and arrange for a compulsory guide, which would have cost a fair amount of money and a lot of my very limited time.

The very first bird I saw, as it was getting light, was a beautiful Sri Lanka Blue Magpie …. actually inside the restaurant at Martin’s Simple Lodge. Lifers don’t get any easier, or more spectacular, than that. Leaving the lodge, I quickly racked up some good birds including the sometimes tough-to-find White-faced Starling, and Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot. In Martin’s back garden, a fruiting tree attracted a nice range of birds including a Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Black-capped Bulbul, Yellow-browed Bulbul, and both Dark-fronted and Tawny-bellied Babblers. Nearby I was able to enjoy prolonged views of a calling male Sri Lanka Junglefowl, that most superior of jungle chickens:

A splendid male Sri Lanka Junglefowl, a beautiful endemic chicken found only in forested areas of Sri Lanka and nowhere else in the world.
A splendid male Sri Lanka Junglefowl, a beautiful endemic chicken found only in forested areas of Sri Lanka and nowhere else in the world.

I left Sinharaja as the rain threatened to return at about 10.00am, stopping to enjoy great views of several Legge’s Flowerpeckers as I carefully negotiated the track down the mountain.

One of Sinharaja’s most notorious native species is the humble leech. Having flicked several from my shoes and trousers during the morning, I thought I had successfully fended them off – until I got home and found several inside my clothes, along with a lot of blood. When visiting Sinharaja, bring your leech socks – especially after heavy rain.

It was a little frustrating to have so little time at Sri Lanka’s foremost birding site, but seeing some of the special birds has whetted the appetite and I will be sure to return.

Lifers (inside Sinharaja rainforest): Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, White-faced Starling, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, Black-capped Bulbul, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Tawny-bellied Babbler, Legge’s Flowerpecker (total 1,895).

Sunrise from Martin's Simple Lodge, Sinharaja.
Sunrise from Martin’s Simple Lodge, Sinharaja.
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