Birding Without Borders

Day 308: Leaving the Mainland

Noah fends off bloodsuckers while searching for Sri Lanka's endemics.

November 4, 2015: Kithulgala, Sri Lanka — My flight landed late in Colombo last night, where I was met by a local birder named Asoka. We drove out of the city and arrived at a place called Kithulgala, surrounded by lowland rain forest, at about 3 a.m. I set my alarm for 5:45, then had trouble sleeping because I was so excited for my first morning in Sri Lanka!

This is a twist in my original itinerary, which didn’t include Sri Lanka at all. After birding southern India in September, I realized how many endemic birds I’d miss here and resolved to cram it in somehow—and so, instead of spending more time in Thailand and Malaysia, I added a three-day side trip. At this point I’ve seen most of the regular birds here, so this is an endemic clean-up mission: How many of Sri Lanka’s 33 endemic birds can Asoka and I find in three days?

We started well today with 15 endemics within walking distance of Kithulgala (plus a couple of non-endemics I hadn’t seen yet, like the Indian Pitta). It was a long, hot, steamy day in the forest, but the rain held off. We wore leech socks for most of the morning and, every so often, sprayed them down with a concoction of Dettol, water, and apple-scented air freshener—evidently the perfect defense system against bloodsuckers, which were abundant in some places.

Late this morning, Asoka spotted a Serendib Scops-Owl roosting in a dense tree near a stream. This was a big bonus—the species wasn’t noticed by ornithologists until the mid-90s and was formally described to science in 2001. It was extremely well camouflaged, like a dead leaf, and I had trouble spotting it even when Asoka pointed out the little owl from 20 feet away. Sweet!

New birds today: 19

Year list: 5123

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