Sunday 21 January 2007

An early start this morning with coffee and tea served for us at 0445. We left the hotel on schedule at 0500 for the long drive to Sinharaja. Most of the group dozed on the journey. As we drove through the town of Ratnapura there were tens of thousands of swallows roosting on the electricity wires. None of us had ever seen so many together – they were huddled and jam-packed along all the wires!

Deepal and myself had heard that a very rare bird had been in Sinharaja. We were unsure if it was still there and were planning to search for it during the afternoon. However it was the weekend and the reserve had many visitors today. We chatted and thought it prudent to try for this bird now, in the early morning, before other visitors might disturb it. It was a Ceylon Bay Owl. This is a rare species. Deepal had seen it only three times before (all at night, in a torch beam) and our park guide had never seen the species before (he had been at the park for twelve years and had papers published on Ceylon Frogmouth, so knew the forest at night).

We were told there was a short stretch of forest where the owl had roosted for the last three nights and it took only moments for Jonty to locate it. We had superb views of this endangered species as the cover photograph shows.

We boarded a four-wheel drive that took us further into the forest to the inner second entrance from where we walked. A Besra Sparrowhawk was seen displaying – this forest species tends to soar only when the breeding season is underway. Deepal showed us a Black-naped Monarch, a dazzling blue flycatcher, sitting on a nest. Dynamic Brown-throated Needletails shot over the forest ridges as fast as bullets.

It was very quiet indeed in the rainforest and we needed to find a feeding flock that would hold the numerous species we were seeking. One was heard, too distant. We heard some birds giving alarm calls and found another Chestnut-backed Owlet staring back at us.

At our packed lunch spot three Ceylon Blue Magpies chased each other through the trees. A Mountain Hawk-Eagle drifted overhead and, later, a male Ceylon Junglefowl strutted through the edge of the camp. Thandulo, our park guide, had found a Ceylon Scaly Thrush but it was difficult to see well, typical of these forest-loving Zoothera, and the best we did was four views of the bird in flight.

As we walked back along the track we connected at last with a feeding group. This contained hundreds of birds. Raucous Ceylon Rufous Babblers were the front-runners, and there were at least 80 of these, followed by furtive Ashy-headed Laughingthrushes at low level, gorgeous Malabar Trogons in the mid-level and gigantic Red-faced Malkoas in the upper foliage! It was impressive as one moment there was nothing, and the next total activity all around us.

We finished the day with another Sri Lankan species, the Ceylon Hill Myna. We could hear the birds calling across the valley and then they were in the scope, calling and perched on the dead branches of distant trees. We arrived back at the hotel at 1930. It had been a long day when we went for dinner. Tomorrow, another forest was to be visited, so we needed to be up early once more.