Birdingpal Trip Reports

Birding with Melissa Hamilton and Tom Cullinan, Sri Lanka 2012

My journey to India and Sri Lanka to meet the local Birdingpals

Trip Report Sri Lanka – November 2nd to December 3rd, 2004
by Knud Rasmussen

Sri Lanka

Being so close to the end of the trip it made a lot of sense to fly to Sri Lanka and spend a few days there and I am glad I did. In many ways it’s like India, but roads and infrastructure seems to be some what better. Sri Lanka is a small country compared to India and has only 19 million people, so they do not have the same population pressure. Environment and pollution are not as much of a problem as in India, but it’s also a lot more expensive to stay at hotels, eat out and rent transportation. The security problems that used to plague Sri Lanka where not much in evidence where I went.
During the trip I met many locals, and I do not think you will find many places where people are more friendly and hospitable than in Sri Lanka. Everyone went out of their way to help, and I hope one day I can offer them the same, should they ever visit my part of the world.

Nov 27
Babu my driver drove me to the airport to catch a flight to Sri Lanka. I said goodbye to him (I will miss him) and Muneer.
I arrived in Colombo airport and take a taxi to a hotel in the small town of Mount Lavinia about 40 km south of Colombo. I go to an internet café and contacted Anushka and made arrangements for her to pick me up early the next morning.
In all the places I stayed during the trip, I only met a few foreign visitors, but here at the hotel it was all Europeans and for the first time during the trip I have western food (Mainly German, I think?) since that was all they served according to the waiter.

My hotel in Mt Lavinia

Nov 28
Anushka had invited me to stay at her parents home in Matale about 25 km north west of Kandy and she arrived with her farther Mr. Gammanpila, Madusanka her brother and Sandamali, a cousin, to pick me up. On the way out we stopped at an ATM so I could get some Lankan RS and we had breakfast on the road site.
When we arrived in the pretty city of Kandy we stopped at the Botanical Garden for the first birdwatching in Sri Lanka. Later we visited at a small lake in the middle of the city with Spot-billed Pelican, Openbill Stork, first Turtle during the trip and a huge Monitor Lizard looking for a meal.
After we dropped Madusanka at his boarding school we were off to Matale to meet the rest of the family. After settling in, Anushka’s farther suggested a swim in a local river and we took off to go swimming. Believe it or not this was the first time I have been swimming during the whole trip. Because of recent heavy rain the currant was very strong, but we found a place and got into the water. Drying myself later I happened to look back at the place I had just gotten out of and a large snake was swimming by. No idea if it was a constrictor or a poisonous snake. I was just glad it did not swim into me.
When we returned to the house Anushka’s mother had a Sri Lankan feast ready for me. It was very good and she can cook for me anytime as far as I am concerned.

The city of Kandy

Lake in Kandy

The Gammanpila residence in Matale

I went swimming in this river

Nov 29
After a good nights sleep I woke up a 0600 to the local Iman’s call to Morning Prayer. No alarm clock needed here.
Anushka’s father, a banker, took a bus to work, and Sunil (his brother in law) drove his car. Menike(Sunil’s wife), Sandamali, Deepal a cousin, Anushka and I took off for the hills, where we bird at 1000m. It was very misty but not cold and the birding was not too bad. Mrs. Gammanpila had packed food for an army and we had breakfast before we took off for Wasgomuwa Natural Reserve.
I was a little shocked at the entrance fees for foreigners(2000Rs) compared to Lankans but we were off with a guide and immediately have a great look at a male Peafowl(all the ones I saw in India where female). A little further down the road we found Sri Lanka Jungle fowls, the first wild elephant, and plenty of Peafowls displaying in the distance.
The birding was excellent and Anushka, only the third female birder I met doing the trip, proved to be a very experienced birdwatcher.
As we progressed through the park we began to experience many elephants in small groups and some displayed aggression, but always stopped short of a charge. This was about to change and just before we reached the park exit, we spotted a lone bull elephant blocking the road and it did not look too pleased with our car. Eventually it disappeared into the forest and the guide told us to go. Just as we passed the place where it had entered the forest, it came charging after us and Sunil, who was not too keen on wild elephants in the first place, hit the gas pedal and almost hit a concrete culvert to get away. Now I believe the stories about what elephants can do to you, but it was a lifer for me to be chased by a real wild elephant. At the park exit, the guide showed us a Python, but after my experience with the pachyderms, it’s not easy to impress me with a rather small Python.
I have 64 species including four endemic ones today, thanks to Anushka, a super Pal.
On the 2 ½ hour drive back to Matale I was entertained with many stories and songs from the girls in the back seat led by Menike. We arrived back to the house and Mrs. Gammanpila was ready with more delicious food and now that she knew that I like spicy food, it was even better.

Painted Storks in Wasgomuwa Natur Reserve

Elephants in Wasgomuwa Natur Reserve

More elephants in Wasgomuwa Natur Reserve

Nov 30
After breakfast we left for Kandy to do some banking and a bit of shopping. Our plans were to visit Nuwaraelliya, Sri Lanka’s highest mountain town in search of the endemic Yellow-eared Bulbul. Driving up the mountain we encountered a lot of road construction and it was slow going. When we finally arrived in Nuwaraelliya we immediately headed for Victoria Botanical Garden, but first we had one more great picnic lunch prepared by Mrs. Gamanpila. Anushka and I went out in search of the endemic Bulbul and last time Anushka visited here, she saw three of them. No such luck for me and we finally gave up. Before leaving the garden we had coffee at the manager’s residence (a member of the Gammanpila family), and it was almost dark before we left and it was getting very cold. Driving down we hit dense fog, so it was very late before we got back to Matale and again, I was entertained with many jokes and songs from the girls in the back seat helped by Deepal in the rear of the van.
It was late when we arrived back in Matale and I was very hungry but Mrs. Gammanpila was not letting us down. She had again a great meal ready and I shared a beer with Deepal, even if his mother was very reluctant to let him drink it. At 31 I think she should give him a little more leeway.

Buddhist temple in Kandy

Tea plantation on the way to Nuwaraelliya

This is not the Yellow-eared Bulbul

Dec 01
We headed north to do some birding at a lake close to Sigiriya. We stopped at Lakruga work shop in Naula to have a look at the excellent wood carvings done there. I especially liked a carving of the goddess Gayatri and when the manager found out, I knew Anushka’s farther, he offer a price I couldn't resist.
When we arrived at the lake the water levels were very high and the shore birds we had expected were nowhere to be found. Only a few Black-winged Stilts, but we still got 25 species in the short time we were birding incl. a couple of new birds for me. Anushka is still working on the 26th bird which we could not identify.
On the way back we stopped to visit a Buddhist temple and I was allowed to enter to take pictures.
Returning at 1600 I started packing my suitcase, since I wil be catching a flight to Mumbai tomorrow morning. There were also gifts from Anushka, her mother and Jaggery from her aunt to take back with me.
We left at 1730 for the long drive to the airport in Colombo with Anushka and her parents. We arrive around 2300 and I said goodbye to them.
What a delightful family to spend a few days with for a stranger from a far away country.

Buddist temple on the way back to Matale

More temple

Still more temple

and still more temple

Dec 02
I left Sri Lanka at the ungodly hour of 0300. Arrived in Mumbai 0220 and clear customs and emigration just to discover I left my reading glasses on the plane. The only near disaster through the whole trip. Several people in the airport tried to help, but no luck. Good thing I had a spare pair or I would never had found my way home.
I managed to find a hotel close to the airport where I could get a room right away and which would let me leave at midnight to catch my next flight without having to pay for two days.
I hired a car/driver the next morning to drive me around the city and take me to Kuwait Air to confirm my flight for the next day. I tried to do it in Sri Lanka but no luck. For late breakfast with my driver I had my last Dosa Masala and it will be a some time before breakfast for two will cost me 96Rs. Doing a bit of sight seeing, I think Mumbai must have been a beautiful city 25 years ago, but now it slowly being choked with too many cars and people.
I got back to the hotel mid afternoon and I am going to try to get a bit of sleep before I go to the airport early tomorrow morning.

Dec 03.
Again an ungodly departure at 0610 in the morning, but I have to be there 3 hours prior to catch a flight to Kuwait City. Not leaving the airport for a stop over, I managed to add a new bird from Kuwait to my list: a pair of House Sparrows nesting in the terminal building.
I boarded a flight to London and arrived at Heathrow 1620 local time and took a bus to a Holiday Inn near the airport. Too tired to go out for dinner, I ate at the hotel and had an awful meal. Just junk food and they charged 1300Rs, give me India any time and the food is a lot better.

Dec 04
Return to Toronto where it’s winter

On Dec 26 the terribly Tsunami hit several of the places I visited in Kerala and more than 500 people died. In Mount Lavinia, Sri Lanka where I stayed the first night eight people lost their lives and thirteen thousand their homes. Having been there my thoughts go out to all the people who suffered such a catastrophe.

Knud Rasmussen
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Last update 07/11/2012