A last chance for some post breakfast birding with good birds coming to the feeders then it was off to Embilipitya. It was a steady morning’s drive via scenic country roads with a short stop to walk through an area of tea gardens. We watched Black Eagle soaring over a ridge, Ceylon Swallows perched up nicely showing their brick red undersides and both Lotens Long Billed and Purple Sunbirds feeding on bourganvillia in a roadside garden. But the highlight was a flock (!) of 5 Crimson Backed Flamebacks; the only endemic woodpecker.
We checked into the always pleasant Centuria Inn, and enjoyed a good lunch before taking an afternoon siesta. Then it was time to visit our first national park with large animals – Udawalawe. We stopped en route at a large reservoir to see our first water birds for a few days and add quite a few species to the list. White Bellied Sea Eagles were over the water, Indian Rollers perched on roadside fences, Blyth’s and Paddyfield Pipits ran about in the dry areas and Yellow Wattled Lapwings walked sedately amongst the vegetation.
And so to Udawalawe. Here it is necessary to travel in jeeps as there are good numbers of Elephants, Water Buffalo and Leopards. We soon encountered a small group of Elephants, which although a familiar mammal, never fails to impress. One of the target birds here is Malabar Pied Hornbill and we had great views of two pairs of these dramatic black and white birds. Other notable species were a very close Painted Stork in breeding plumage feeding in a small pool, tiny Barred Button Quail scurring along the dusty track, and delightful Orange Breasted Green Pigeon perched in the trees. Small birds were represented by three species of Prinia, Tawny Bellied Babbler and most surprisingly a Sykes’s Booted Warbler (the first write-in on our extensive list). But arguably the best sighting of all was a Star Tortoise running (!) along the track in front of the jeeps. This reptile is never guaranteed but it is a great looking creature and definitely one of the stars of the ‘none bird’ list.