Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Birdwatching in Sri Lanka March 2015.........and a little bit of sight seeing. Last few days.

29.3.2015 - 1.4.2015.

My days at Ging Oya quickly assumed the same routine. I was up at first light, had a walk around the gardens then got one of the pushbikes and cycled around the local area, looking at the beach, the lagoons,  the open area,  getting back to the hotel just after 9.00.

The number of species seen was pretty limited but some species were more common here than at Habarana.
The hotel held 2 species of sunbird (purple rumped and Lotens) and although I saw these all the time they kept very much to the tree tops so the pictures taken were very much of  "record shot" variety.

Male (top) and female Loten's sunbird.

Pale-billed flower pecker was also a frequent visitor to the garden tree tops.

The grounds also held a pair of greater coucal (as did a lot of the gardens) but the local ones would never let me get close. I did however manage some shots in the open area.

Asian Koels were very common in the whole area and could be heard all day everyday but these were exceedingly shy and it was difficult to even see them. One morning however my luck changed. A few hundred yards from the hotel was a bridge over the Gin Oya river and in a tree beside the bridge was a female and 2 males and they showed for ages, ignoring the people and traffic on the bridge. This was quite a busy road and I think the locals thought I was crazy to spend so much time photographing what were pretty common birds.

We never saw an Indian roller around Habarana but they were quite common in the Gin Oya area. There was always one near the beach and another pair lived around the open area. Normally they didn't let me get very near but every once and a while they sat on the wires and ignored you. I never ever saw them perch on anything other than power lines.

A bird we saw just the once in Habarana was the Sri lanka swallow but there were several here that hunted around the open area however their hunting range was quite large so they would only come through once every 10 or 15 minutes and be gone in an instant. I did find them on the wires one morning and got marginally better shots - really smart looking birds.

Another common bird was the white bellied drongo but like the roller the only time you saw these was perched on wires.

Other birds seen in/from the hotel garden were magpie robin, lesser flameback woodpecker, black headed oriole and on the river, striated heron, little and great white egret, Indian pond herons, red wattled lapwing and white fronted kingfisher.
Outside the grounds, and new for the trip, I saw spoonbill, pied kingfisher.

For the rest of each day we went for gentle bike rides around the local area visiting some of the shrines, hotels, bars and beaches.
One day we did have an excursion to the Munneswaram Hindu temple at Chilaw. This was 40 km from Ging Oya Lodge but due to the traffic it took just over an hour to get there but it was worth the time and effort.
The noise inside the temple was near deafening as 3 piece band made as much noise as they could and the air was thick with smoke and the smell of incense.  Ceremonies were going on as we wandered around but no one seemed to mind us being there (as long as you've taken your shoes off).

The wall paintings and carvings were also quite amazing - these were gods who meant business:

Externally the carvings were somewhat sun bleached but they were still very impressive.

We did stop off at another temple, Punchi Kathargama, on the way back home and whilst very impressive it was no where near as inviting.

Back on the subject of  bird watching the owners of Ging Oya Lodge had suggested I tried the Anaiwilundawa Wetland but these were a bit too far to go for the time I had available being another 15 km beyond Chilaw (so in excess of an hours drive). You would really need to be lodging at or north of Chilaw to visit these (or depart pre-dawn).

So that's it. We only saw a small fraction of it but Sri Lanka was a marvelous country; the people very friendly and the bird watching around Habarana superb. Both hotels we stayed in were also fantastic for totally different reasons.
I do hope to go back and visit some of the other areas - the hill country for example and perhaps Yala and Bundala National Parks. I just need to do some more research!
Finally if any of you are in the Habarana area and need a guide, either for sightseeing or a bit of general bird watching, then contact Rukmal at Habarana Tours. http://www.habaranatours.com/services
(see part 1 of this report for some more comments on Rukmal.)

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Sri Lanka Birdwatching March 2015.....and a little bit of sight seeing. Day 7

27.3.2015. Cinnamon Lodge to Ging Oya Lodge.

Today I only had an hour or so in the grounds before we had an early(ish) breakfast and then the long journey to Ging Oya Lodge (http://www.gingoya.com/).
Nothing new in the gardens today but I did get close to a tawny bellied babbler, and orange-breasted green pigeons and spotted pigeons showed well... better in fact than the rest of the week.

...and a purple rumped sunbird family showed quite well.

Female plus a juvenile purple rumped sunbird

Then it was breakfast, settle the bill (ouch!) and into the minibus for the journey. We did stop several times on the way,  for comfort breaks, for some refreshments, plus once for an Indian roller Rukmal saw as we drove along but had gone by the time we stopped, turned round and got back to where it had been seen, and once to get some pheasant-tailed jacana shots. We had seen jacanas on a couple of occasions but always a little distant and looking into the sun.

Pheasant-tailed jacana

Then it was goodbye to Rukmal and Kalu (the driver) who had been fantastic hosts whilst we had been in Habarana.

The Ging Oya is a small, simple,  family run hotel (Belgians I think) that has around 8 bungalows spread throughout their grounds which are bounded by the Gin Oya River on 3 sides. The bungalows were spacious, very comfortable and had a really interesting shower room/loo - half of the room is under cover but the other half has no roof so when it rains the bathroom/garden (there's no other way of describing it) get watered.

Open air bathroom

Our bungalow

We quickly unpacked, got a delivery of gin and tonic and sat on the veranda to watch the world go by and the sun set. Birds could be heard calling but the only thing we saw was a pair of white-breasted waterhens that came right up onto the veranda. This was a bird we saw distantly in Habarana but never got any shots of - that had been rectified.

White-breasted waterhen

Then it was time for a leisurely dinner, coffee then bed.

Next morning I was up at dawn and had a wander.
When choosing the Ging Oya I had looked at Google maps to try and see what the grounds looked like and what the surrounding terrain held. Whilst there were quite a lot of roof tops in the area there seemed to be a lot of green so I was hopeful about the birding possibilities. There was also the river and the beach and lagoons (where an old oxbow of the in Oya river came very close to the sea.
Unfortunately all proved to be disappointing.
The hotel grounds were part mangroves - very dense with nothing growing underneath and the rest of the garden was almost totally shaded by high trees. The only place you could see the sky was around the swimming pool.

View from our room - pretty shady
 The green areas outside the hotel grounds were equally disappointing - the houses in this area were quite substantial so most of the greenery I had seen on google was their gardens.
I borrowed one of the hotels pushbikes and went to the sea seeing an Indian roller on the way (flew off as I stopped) but on the beach not a bird was to be seen other than house crows of which there were hundreds,
Out to sea there were some gulls but they were so distant I could only just see them and there were no shorebirds on the beach. Finally I tried the lagoons - again absolutely nothing.

The beach - the lagoons were just behind the beach.

The only areas of possible birding interest was an area of ground that had been cleared for future building and a bridge across a small channel off the Gin Oya.

Back in the hotel grounds I was cycling through the mangrove area (the entrance track weaved it's way though the mangroves in a tunnel) when I saw something moving in the gloom - it was a pair of forest wagtails! A frantic assembly of tripod and camera, crank up the isos and fire away. Not great but given the disappointment of the rest of the morning most welcome.

Forest wagtail

All in all I was pretty disappointed by the time I got back to the hotel but it was supposed to be a holiday rather than a bird tour so I resigned myself to lazing around the pool and consuming alcohol!

We had 5 nights/4 days at Ging Oya and whilst the birding wasn't great I did manage a few more species that I'll tell you about in the final instalment.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Sri lanka Birdwatching March 2015......and a little bit of sight-seeing. Day 6

Today we had our second mornings bird watching off-site which, other than a short excursion into some scrubby woodland, was spent mainly on the banks of the local tanks with most of the birding done from the back of the 4WD.
A couple of shots to show the typical habitats we moved through:

Typical bund of a tank and the track running along the top

The day started with trees and water on one side and reed/grass covered banks on the other. In the reeds we had scaly-breasted munia, plain and ashy prinia.

Scaly-breasted munia

And in the trees bar-winged flycatcher-shrike, black-headed cuckoo shrike and another cuckoo that I haven't manage to identify.

Bar-winged flycatcher-shrike

Female black-headed cuckooshrike

Unidentified cuckoo 

Further along we came to a farmer rotavating his paddies:

Intermediate Egret in breeding plumage and eye colour

Why is it that if you try and sneak up on a heron/egret they fly off before you get within 30 yards but here they are only feet away from the farmer and totally ignoring us in the back of the 4WD. (More egret shots will appear on my Flickr site)

Another stop under some trees (the ones in the earlier picture in fact) had green bee-eaters on one side along with a plain prinia going to and from it's nest, tawny bellied babblers displaying and in the trees above us a pair of tree swifts.

Tree swifts. Female top, male bottom.

And whilst photographing the tree swifts a coppersmith barbet gave itself up to the camera.

Further along and overlooking some recently planted paddy fields I spotted some waders and asked the Kalu (the driver) to stop. Quite remarkably these were the only waders we'd seen (and were to see) but in the paddy were Kentish plover, pacific golden plover, lesser sandplover and pin tailed snipe. Only record shots but nice to see and have to work out what it was we were looking at.

Pin-tailed snipe

Kentish Plover

Lesser sand plover and pin tailed snipe. The underwing of the snipe confirms it's ID.

On he way back to the hotel we drove into what looked like someones garden (Rukmal had heard some hornbills)  and found more green bee-eaters, another Jerdon's bushlark but the hornbills had moved on.

During the afternoon I had my normal turn around the gardens at last getting some photos of blue tailed bee-eater, and whilst I was photographing that along came a magpie robin and the grey bellied cuckoo landed close by - it must have been getting used to me!

Grey-bellied cuckoo

Wandering off and looking for the minivets I spotted something small high up behaing quite like a tree creeper - it was a tiny woodpecker; a brown capped woodpecker I was later to find out but at the time I knew I hadn't seen one so spent the next half hour following it's progress through the trees.

Then it was back to the farm/garden where I picked up another new species in the form of a white-naped woodpecker.

White-naped woodpecker

The ability of the garden to turn up new species after a week of looking was pretty impressive.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Sri Lanka Birdwatching March 2015......and a little bit of sight-seeing. Day 5


After yesterday's bird-fest today was back to being a bit more touristy with a boat trip and a walk around a traditional Sri Lankan village in the morning, the pool for the first part of the afternoon then an elephant safari late afternoon.

The morning boat trip was the main attraction for me as we were rowed around a tank and out to vast banks of water hyacinths.

Out on the lily pads were a few whiskered terns, little cormorant, and on the water hyacinths were some purple herons, birds seen most days but ones that never allowed close approach.

Whiskered tern

Also on the lily pads were Indian pond herons - their technique for standing on the pad being really interesting....how did they learn to do that?

Overhead we had a couple of new species in the form of a darter and a wooly necked stork and a crested serpent eagle drifted over.

Crested serpent eagle


Wooly-necked stork

After the boat  trip there was a wander around a traditional farm where we were offered something to eat and drink but I declined - I was too worried about the impact such fare may have on my digestive system.

Farmers use these to watch for elephants and scare them away from their crops.s
The ox cart ride back to to tuktuks was slow but the ox driver did stop when we found several green bee-eaters on the not very traditional power wires just above our heads.

Little bee-eater

At this point the ladies went off to bath and ride elephants and Pete and I went back to the hotel. I had an appointment with a sun bed. Now this wasn't just any sunbed but one 2 yards from a palm frond where a female purple-rumped sunbird was trying to make a nest. I actually think she was learning how to make a nest because in all the time I watched (several days) the "nest" never attained any structure, it was just a tangle of webs and debris.

The left hand palm frond is the one the sunbird was coming to - in fact you can just about see her.
She was working as I arrived and I quickly set up shot stationing the camera down low about 4 yards from the nest. It took several visits before I had the camera position right, the exposure settings correct and a few pesky palm fronds tied back but she was back every few minutes so it wasn't a problem.

Purple-rumped sunbird

She continued to work on the construction for the rest of our stay at the hotel but it never improved.

Around 3pm the 4WD drive arrived for our elephant safari where we drove around the park where the elephants were known to be, eventually finding quite a large herd including babies as well as a tusker - a rarity it seems.

Whilst driving around the park Haloo, our driver, spotted a crested hawk eagle so we stopped for some shots as we did for a Jerdon's bush lark.

Crested hawk eagle

Jerdon's bushlark

 And whilst at a traffic jam (at times we were in a column of 4WDs  all trying to see the same elephants) I heard coppersmith barbet calling (not unusual) but this time I managed to find it.
The jam cleared for those in front of us but those behind had an additional wait as I tried to photograph the barbet.

Coppersmith barbet

It was now getting quite late and we made for "home" but stopping to look at 2 more groups of elephants on the road outside the park.

Then it was time for a gin and tonic and something to eat. Nice.