EARLY MORNING VISIT TO HORTON PLAINS – AFTERNOON BIRDING IN LOCAL WOODLANDS
WEATHER: pretty bad to start with, low cloud, misty, drizzling rain and quite cool. Sunshine later with showers. Top temp 19C
When I say early, I mean getting up at 4:15 and meeting in the hotel lobby 30 minutes later. We drove for an hour through thick mist and light rain, it was still dark when we arrived at the entrance to Horton Plains After queuing to pay our entrance fee the gates opened just after 6am.
The reason for this early start was the Whistling Thrush, a smart looking bird if you ever get the chance to see it! We spent most of the first two hours chasing around the edge of the scrub looking for it. At last it appeared, but not for long, only the first two in the group got to see it! The rest of us never had a sniff of it!
As it got light and the clouds lifted it became very pleasant, we started to list other species, but not many. Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher was nice and bright whilst the Sri Lanka Bush Warbler was very dull and moved around the undergrowth in small gangs.
Dull-blue Flycatcher taken by Tony Moore later in the morning with better light
We tracked down a singing Dull-blue Flycatcher and several Sri Lanka White-eyes gave us some good views. We had a glimpse of an Indian Blackbird and we heard a Sri Lanka Pigeon without seeing it.
It seems odd to sum up nearly fours hours of birding in four small paragraphs, but that’s as good as got I’m afraid. We spent far too much time trying find the Whistling Thrush!
We made an excursion onto the open plains, the weather improved and we saw quite a few birds and a few butterflies during the last two hours of the trip. The Pied Bushchat makes its presence known by singing from the tops of bushes! Paddyfield Pipits were also singing and displaying as were many Zitting Cisticolas.
a view from Horton Plains
a roadside sighting of a large stag Sambhur Deer - Tony Moore
We found a flock of the Tricoloured Munia after searching for a while and during this period we also saw Common Kestrel, Brown Shrike (we were told that was a pale race, known as the ‘Phillipine’ variation, Blue-tailed Bee-eaters and plenty of Hill Swallows. We drove past a pair of Sri Lanka Junglefowl and we saw single Red-wattled Lapwing.
the colourful Tricoloured Munia - Tony Moore
Some very impressive Sambhur Deer were strutting around on the plains and by the roadside, the males had huge antlers and people were getting too close to them if you ask me.
Paddyfield Pipit - Tony Moore
With blue sky and bright sunshine we listed a few butterflies, the ‘Red Helen’ was by far the most impressive and the Sri Lanka Tiger roared by. An Oriental Honey Buzzard flew over us several times and a stop on the plains as we headed back produced another Common Kestrel and another sighting of Oriental Honey Buzzard but noting else of note.
Oriental Honey Buzzard - Tony Moore
We drove off the plains and made our way downhill towards Nuwara, a planned stop at the Pattipola Railway Station (the highest in Sri Lanka at 1897.5 m) was to search for Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon. I can’t say that I ever made a special effort to look for a Wood Pigeon, but this one is special. We walked a track away from the road and before long we found two. Lots of other species were seen too, the best of which were: Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Brahminy Kite, Indian Swiftlet and Hill Swallow.
Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon - Tony Moore
We got back to the hotel at 1pm when we took a long lunch. It was 3pm when we met up again. A short drive to a local forest found us on a track heading towards an army camp. It was quiet on the birding front but a ‘Red Helen’ butterfly entertained for quite a while, what a stunning creature!
Red Helen Butterfly - Tony Moore
The track led us through a eucalyptus forest with stands of ancient pine trees, both species were enormous. A mixed flock of birds got our attention and in a matter of minutes we identified Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Sri Lanka White-eye and a small group of Yellow-eared Bulbuls.
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch - by Tony Moore
a Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike - expertly taken by Tony Moore - this bird was high up and would not keep still!
We thought that was something until we bumped into our most wanted bird, the Sri Lanka Thrush (aka Scaly Thrush). Demmi our guide saw it fly up from a stream and land in a bush next to a group of birders below and ahead of us on the track. We got down there pretty smartish and had wonderful views of the bird, another stunner!
Sri Lanka Thrush aka Scaly Thrush - what a stunning looking bird
Our walk continued but we never saw much after the Thrush sighting. On the way back we glimpsed the bird again before walking back to the bus. Near the end of the track we saw a large troop of Macaques crossing from the eucalyptus to the pine forest, there must have been 30+ animals of all shapes and sizes. They were very comical to watch as they chose different ways to cross over the track.
Pied Bushchat - taken this morning by Tony Moore
Back at the hotel we had brief views of the pair of resident Tailorbirds but still, Anne and Peter failed to see them! His was our second and last day in the highlands, tomorrow we head for Sinharaja Rain Forest to look for a completely different set of birds.