For some reason, Jith had decided that a 5am start would be better to try for good views of Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, rather than the 5.30 of yesterday. He reckoned that the half light of morning was the ideal time, so off we went with the stars shining down on us. This turned out to be a good decision, since, after the false alarm of a Dull-blue Flycatcher on the ground next to the vegetable stall, 5.40am witnessed the emergence of the female Whistling Thrush, who then spent a few minutes rummaging around in the discarded rubbish behind the stall.
The journey from Nuwaraeliya to Kitungala was a mere 3 hours, with the odd stop on the way to admire tea plantations, waterfalls, and Loten's Sunbird. When I was finally ensconced in my room at Sisira's River Lodge, I decided to make some notes on my rather pleasant river view balcony, wandering the environs of the lodge. This was smartly interrupted by Jaya, beckoning me to the restaurant area where the usually shy and retiring Brown-capped Babblers were slowly parading in the leaf litter below. This kicked off a change in plan, with the new rota consisting of immediately birding the lodge grounds until Jith and I went elsewhere for the afternoon session.
The lodge is ideally placed in a wooded spot, adjacent to the river on one edge, and more open clearings the other. The staff at the lodge are obviously used to birders, being eager to point out most things that fly. This miscellany included Imperial Green Pigeon, Brown-headed Barbet, and then, by no less than Sisira himself, the near holy grail of Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher. This was apparently no huge feat, since a pair of birds are regularly seen in the vicinity of the finder, but welcome fair to the avian feast. Yellow-billed Babblers seemed to have a penchant for the rubbish tip, whereas the more selective endemic Orange-billed cousins were more choosy with the fruits on the trees being selected. In the clearing at the head of the track to the lodge, Layard's Parakeets were regular and more obliging than the fly-bys at Sinharaja.
We then drove the short distance to the village, which necessitated passing the location for the filming of the film "The Bridge Over the River Kwai" (how the tourists must marvel in the splendour of this!), parking at the roadside, and then crossing a sturdy rope designed bridge to the village on the other side. We spent an hour making our way towards the forest beyond, in heat that seemed more sapping than at Sinharaja, picking off a few choice birds on the way. Sri Lanka Hanging-Parrots were perhaps closer than at any other time on the trip, accompanied by Legge's Flowerpeckers. A Lesser Yellownape was also as close as perhaps possible, as opposed to a group of White-rumped Munias which were more distant as they flew into the cover of the trees.
With sweat pouring down our brows and the thunder in the distance constantly threatening a downpour, which thankfully never materialised, we returned to the clearing just above the lodge. Layard's Parakeets were much more obliging now, unperturbed by our presence as they fed on the small fruits in the low canopy next to the track. A Lesser Goldenback left the same group of trees to ascend a stand of tall, bear trunks, right out on the open. A pair of Southern Hill Mynas appeared at the top of one of the trees, adding to the many Common Mynas.
Jith then branched us off through the yard of a house, to then overlook an open marshy area of paddies. The constantly barking dog couldn't detract from the Openbill Stork calmly pacing this small meadow. A family party of 2 adult and 1 immature Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters were somewhat less accommodating to the presence of one of the locals passing under their telegraph wire hunting perch. A pair of Black-hooded Orioles posed for some time, before perhaps the action moment of the trip. A White-throated Kingfisher was swaying to and fro on its wooden perch, when it dived to the ground with a thud. It returned to view with a small snake in its bill, which it proceeded to mercilessly hammer against its perch, before deciding enough violence had been committed, and it flew off with its meal.
It was now beginning to darken, but two more sightings before retiring to the novel shower cum waterfall were noteworthy. Jith had already reached the lodge, when I spotted a characteristic outline to my right. Binoculars confirmed Chestnut-backed Owlet, perched on a short branch from the trunk of a tree. It flew off, to be relocated with the assistance of a mobbing party of mixed passerines in the canopy. Flying off when it had had enough, it was found for a third time lower down, staring back at me with yellow eyes.
The second was a Rat Snake, making its way across the track into one of the gardens, being seen only too briefly before disappearing into the vegetation.