Breakfast overlooked the valley from the outside dining area of the lodge, with the last wisps of mist lifting to a clear blue sky. I feasted on some of yesternights rather good dahl and rice, some delicious toast, and a platter of Sri Lanka Blue Magpies. These fellows are fairly regular to the dining area on a morning, but far from guaranteed, munching on their own menu of moths seduced by the porch lights.
After donning the much needed leech socks and deet, since they were very much in evidence on the legs of Danu the guide previously, the three of us (including Jith this time) trekked the short distance uphill to a small clearing next to the information centre. Even before this, White-faced Starling, one of the more difficult and local of the endemics, was scoped at the top of one of the lonesome trees. Sri Lanka Mynas and Square-tailed Bulbuls were again very much the general backdrop of sound and movement here, with chipping Legge's Flowerpeckers closer to. The trees above us were magnets to Sri Lanka Hanging-Parrots on occasion - it would have been nice if they had been joined by the odd roving group of Layard's Parakeets circling overhead.
To the rear of the building, a large tree which rose above the low canopy hosted both Yellow-fronted Barbet and Lesser Yellownape at one time. The former were heard and occasionally seen throughout the day.
We then rejoined the track towards the entrance to the reserve, spoiling to identify an accipiter which passed overhead - likely to be either Besra or Crested Goshawk. A highly mobile group of Orange-billed Babblers were much easier to put a name to.
The first few hundred metres of the track through the forest were covered very slowly, and this was rewarded by not only finding a Spot-winged Thrush in the undergrowth, but also its nest nearby. This is a very dapper and neatly marked little Zoothera thrush, sporting head markings similar to the South Indian race of Orange-headed Thrush. The collection of Sri Lanka Woodpigeons in this spot yesterday were replaced by a single bird, which obliged by sitting still for some time.
Just around the corner, Danu pointed out a Water Snake patiently waiting beside a small pool alive with fish - its dining intentions were obvious. The next goodie was only steps away - I picked up a movement in the undergrowth which materiallised into a pair of Sri Lanka Thrushes. This subspecies has quite recently been separated from Scaly Thrush as a species. One of the birds spent some time preening on a tree stump in the half light.
This short stretch was proving to have few birds, but the ones that it did throw up were all new to me. This continued with Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill. Jith picked up the call, which was from a dense tree just above the track. It remained elusive until flying over my head and into some more obligingly open foliage.
After we had passed the research station and crossed a wooden bridge, a semi open area hosted a very enjoyable bird wave, although that description was not entirely accurate, since most of the birds stayed in the vicinity for some time. First to be picked out was a dancing male white phase Paradise Flycatcher, trying to impress a couple of attendant females. A perched Malabar Trogon (one of an eventual pair) took very little notice of his flight dances. Sri Lanka Mynas & Drongos continued to keep high up in the trees, although patience was rewarded with some of the latter coming somewhat closer. A Black-naped Monarch and pair of Yellow-browed Bulbuls passed through, stopping briefly. Amongst the familiar call of the close to Dark-fronted Babblers, the more resonant sound of Sri Lanka Scimitar-babbler was identified by Jith. This prize remained an audible memory until I eventually picked it up at eye level, having ventured from the more distant high canopy. My first Scimitar-babbler of any kind, this smart and clinically marked bird was worth the wait, moving along obligingly enough for cracking views.
It was now ten past lunchtime, so we made our way slowly back to base. The sky had by now started to cloud over, and the first spots of rain began to fall on the inward leg. Just as we were about to exit the reserve, Jith picked out the call of Ashy-headed Laughingthrush from a group of Orange-billed Babblers. He did well - the bird in question is a similar size and shape to its flock partners, but was found to have uniform grey head with white outers around its eye. The increasingly heavy rain left this as an excellent finish to the morning.
The mid afternoon break was spent drinking tea on the balcony of the restaurant, watching the grey clouds gather and form into a torrential downpour. It seemed that a late afternoon birding jaunt looked out of the question, until a tap on the shoulder from Jith, and the message "the Serendib Scops Owl is showing at the moment, we must go now to return before dark - wet weather clothing is a definite benefit" changed the mood. One of the park guides, who had been working on a project with the owls, was to be our guide. We waded through the growing pools on the well beaten track - my decision to stay with the leech socks and walking shoes looked a good one as the others continually plucked them from their legs.
Just before reaching the research station visited earlier, we turned off into the forest itself. This is where the skill of our guide became unbelievable. He had located the owl during the day by following its call, which was thoughtless enough to be well off track. He retraced this route through dense undergrowth with us in his expectant wake. A false alarm followed his pointing finger, but this wasn't a mistake, but a perched Malayan Night Heron which he had just disturbed. A short march further, and we had the Serendib Scops Owl in our sights. Just! It was at waist height, deep in a thick growth of vines. The continuing rain left the binoculars difficult to use, with lenses steaming from the sweat from my brow and the high humidity. Luckily, the guide shone his lamp at the bird, even its yellow eyes could be discerned with the naked eye. It is hard to appreciate that this species was discovered as recently as 2001, and that only 4-5 pairs are known.