I had warned of an early start, and we gathered in reception at 0430! We needed to leave at this time to travel to Horton Plains and to be inside the park at first light, important for the special birds of the hills. The drive took one-and-quarter hours. We raised the park staff from their beds(!), completed the paperwork, and drove to ‘the pond’, an acclaimed birding spot.
Almost as soon as we had got off the bus the birding was intense. First bird a Dusky Blue Flycatcher, followed quickly by a stunning male Kashmir Flycatcher – this little gem breeds in the northwest Himalayas migrating to winter only in the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka’s highlands. A high-pitched whistle had us turning quickly, a Ceylon Whistling-Thrush. It appeared black in the poor light but, as we kept with it, the light improved and the iridescence and glistening blue shoulder patches became visible. A skulking Sri Lanka Bush-Warbler was not so considerate as it crept through the bushes, though with some patience all saw it well.
Cloud drifted across the road, the visibility changing as the sun glinted one moment, and the mist then blanketed the area once more. This was the first time that the jumpers and fleeces really were needed.
We found a mixed feeding flock containing Ceylon White-eyes and, as we returned for our packed breakfast, saw the whistling thrush once more, this time calling from inside a bush at only twelve feet distance – really mind-blowing views of this critically endangered species!
After our packed breakfast we walked the road once more but the main activity had died down. The wind had increased and the cloud came and went. We opted to try lower down the hill and boarded the bus. Yellow-eared Bulbul, another colourful bird, crashed around the bushes whilst dainty Grey-headed Canary-flycatchers shot out from lookouts to catch insects. It had been a great morning that ended with Pied Bushchats and Hill Swallows at the lower grasslands, and Sally did well to spot an Indian Blackbird. Back at the hotel we had time to shower and refresh before lunch.
We still had more birding in store for the afternoon. We focused on two species, one was seen successfully, the other was not, nor responded to playback. The two birds were Ceylon Scaly Thrush and Slaty-legged Crake.…we saw the thrush.
Our walk took us from the bus downhill through woodland. Deepal tried the tape of the thrush in three places before we had a response. We waited and, sure enough, the thrush hopped into view. It was dark inside the forest so the views were brief and often poor, but the amount of times the bird was seen meant that overall we did pretty well for these shy and skulking jobs (and yes, it’s another Zoothera!)
We had been in the field for something like twelve hours today – a long day but very successful for the special birds of Sri Lanka’s hills.