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SOUTHERN INDIA & SRI LANKA

Including The Andaman Islands

Birdquest’s Southern India & Sri Lanka birding tour provides comprehensive coverage of two of the finest areas for birdwatching in the Indian Subcontinent, as well as the remote Andaman Islands. Our Southern India, Andamans and Sri Lanka tour concentrates on the many endemics of these three interesting areas, but also turns up a large number of more widespread species.

Thursday 22nd November — Saturday 1st December 2018
(10 days)


Sri Lanka Extension: Saturday 1st December — Tuesday 11th December (11 days)

Andaman Islands Extension: Friday 16th November — Wednesday 21st November (6 days)

Leaders: Dave Farrow and local bird guides

Group Size Limit: 9

Tour Category: Mostly easy walking and comfortable accommodations almost throughout

This tour specifically targets the endemics and specialities of Peninsular India, Sri Lanka and the Andaman Islands. Many of the mainland endemics, such as the colourful Malabar Parakeet, are largely restricted to the Western Ghats (Dave Farrow)

This tour specifically targets the endemics and specialities of Peninsular India, Sri Lanka and the Andaman Islands. Many of the mainland endemics, such as the colourful Malabar Parakeet, are largely restricted to the Western Ghats (Dave Farrow)

The Indian subcontinent is one of the greatest birding destinations on the planet. Despite the accelerating pace of development, birds are still omnipresent, abundant and tame in a way that is unknown elsewhere in Asia. Even more importantly, the subcontinent has a veritable feast of special birds, and there is no region in this important part of Asia that is richer in endemics than Southern India, Sri Lanka and the Andaman Islands, which between them hold the extraordinary total of 109 endemic species!

Southern India is one of the jewels in the crown of Indian subcontinent birding. With 37 endemics (even more than possessed by Sri Lanka) and many more regional endemics shared only with Sri Lanka, it clearly commands attention. Southern India is also the region where the subcontinent’s distinctive culture is at its most intense, but compared to the more densely populated northern Indian states, the pace of life here is a little slower and gentler, and the lush, green countryside is somehow more vivid.

The endemic birds of southern India are very varied, ranging from the svelte Grey Junglefowl to three smart laughingthrushes and the perky Black-and-orange Flycatcher. Most of the endemics are restricted to the Western Ghats, a complex of forested hills and mountains that parallels the west coast of the peninsula and which have a profound effect on the region’s climate. Although situated far to the south of the Himalayas, they show strong ornithological affinities with them, many Himalayan forms reappearing here whilst occurring nowhere else in the peninsula. The Western Ghats may not be as high as the Himalayas, reaching only 2695m at their highest point, but they have their own unique splendour. An excellent system of national parks protects large tracts of pristine forest and grassland, and these in turn harbour good numbers of large mammals and a diverse avifauna, making birding in the region a delight.

During our exploration of this marvellous area, we will travel through the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala and we have a good chance of finding all of the region’s key specialities.

Our adventure will begin at the dry deciduous forests and open, scrubby country around Mudumalai, which harbour a wide range of specialities including Blue-faced Malkoha, White-cheeked Barbet, Malabar Lark, Grey-headed and White-browed Bulbuls, Yellow-billed Babbler, Indian Nuthatch and Nilgiri Flowerpecker.

We will then motor up to ‘Ooty’ (Ootacamund), a former colonial hill station in the Nilgiri Hills where the relict patches of forest hold specialities such as Grey Junglefowl, Nilgiri Woodpigeon, Indian Scimitar Babbler, Black-chinned (or Nilgiri) Laughingthrush, the spectacular Black-and-orange Flycatcher, Nilgiri Flycatcher, White-spotted Fantail, Nilgiri Blue Robin and Indian Blackbird.

To the south, in the hills around Munnar, the rolling grasslands above the tea estates hold Nilgiri Pipit and the forested sholas and lower altitude relict forest patches provide a home for Grey-fronted Green Pigeon, Kerala (or Grey-breasted) Laughingthrush, White-bellied Blue Robin and Crimson-backed (or Small) Sunbird.

Continuing south, we will search for the uncommon Yellow-throated Bulbul, while at Periyar National Park the specialities include Crested Hawk-Eagle, Malabar Parakeet, Jerdon’s Nightjar, Indian Swiftlet, the beautiful Malabar Trogon, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Crimson-throated (or Malabar) Barbet, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Malabar Woodshrike, the shy Wynaad Laughingthrush, Rufous and Dark-fronted Babblers, Malabar Whistling Thrush, White-bellied Blue Flycatcher, White-bellied Treepie, Malabar White-headed (or Blyth’s) Starling and Rufous-bellied Munia.

We will also visit Thatekkad sanctuary where we have a chance to find the rare Sri Lanka Bay Owl, as well as Sri Lanka Frogmouth and more widespread owls.

Finally, we will take our leave of the Western Ghats and head for Cochin prior to the end of the Southern India section of the tour and the start of the optional Sri Lanka extension.

If you gaze at an atlas, Sri Lanka, the one-time Ceylon, seems like a large teardrop falling into the ocean from the southern tip of the Indian peninsula. This green and beautiful island attracts many western visitors, and for the birdwatcher it is the 33 endemic species that are the most exciting prize of a visit to this jewel of the Indian Ocean. We shall be concentrating on trying to see all of these, from the secretive Sri Lanka Spurfowl and spectacular Sri Lanka Blue Magpie to the recently-described Serendib Scops Owl and the tiny Legge’s Flowerpecker, during our visit.

Sri Lanka has a great deal more to offer those interested in Asian birds than its large number of endemic specialities, as it not only possesses a comparatively rich resident avifauna (including a host of restricted-range species shared only with peninsular India), but also hosts an exciting selection of migrant visitors from both northern Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Combine the island’s excellent birding with attractive scenery and an ancient culture and you have a potent combination. Not only does Sri Lanka have a diverse avifauna but, after two millennia of Buddhist-inspired regard for wildlife, many birds are tame and approachable, whilst even large mammals, including Asian Elephants, survive in good numbers in spite of a burgeoning human population.

Our itinerary is specially designed to cover all the Sri Lankan endemic specialities and during our journey through the island we will cover all the principal habitats, including the lowland and foothill rainforests of the wet zone, the jungles of the dry zone and the grasslands and cloud forests of the highlands.

Following our arrival at Colombo airport, we head eastwards to Kitulgala in the foothills, home of such endemics as Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Sri Lanka Green Pigeon, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, Layard’s Parakeet, Green-billed Coucal, Serendib Scops Owl, Chestnut-backed Owlet, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Black-capped Bulbul, Spot-winged Thrush, Brown-capped and Orange-billed Babblers, Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler, Legge’s Flowerpecker and Sri Lanka Crested Drongo.

Our next port of call is the superb Sinharaja Forest, the largest tract of surviving rainforest in Sri Lanka and home to the majority of the island’s endemic birds, and in particular Sri Lanka Spurfowl, the spectacular Red-faced Malkoha, Crimson-fronted Barbet, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush, White-faced Starling, Sri Lanka Myna and Sri Lanka Blue Magpie.

From here we travel into the dry zone of the southeast, first visiting Uda Walawe National Park, home of the endemic Sri Lanka Swallow and Sri Lanka Woodshrike, as well as many other interesting birds, and then exploring the bird-rich ‘tanks’ and coastal lagoons at Tissamaharama and Bundala.

From the dry zone we climb up into the central massif, to Nuwara Eliya and the cool uplands of Horton Plains National Park, where we will be looking for such endemics as Sri Lanka Woodpigeon, Crimson-backed Flameback, Yellow-eared Bulbul, the elusive Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush, the skulking Sri Lanka Bush Warbler, Dull-blue Flycatcher and Sri Lanka White-eye, and also for exciting winter visitors such as the beautiful Indian Pitta, Kashmir Flycatcher and the handsome Pied Thrush. Finally, we will visit ancient Kandy before the time comes for us to leave this fascinating and beautiful part of the world.

During the optional pre-tour extension we will explore the Andaman Islands. Lying around 1100 kilometres (nearly 700 miles) to the east of peninsular India, in the Andaman Sea, this archipelago is remote from the subcontinent and, indeed, is rather closer to southern Burma and Sumatra. This isolation is reflected in the avifauna, which has more affinities with the Malaysian subregion than with India. With 21 endemics (some shared with the Nicobar Islands), including five owls and such spectacular species as Andaman Serpent Eagle, Andaman Woodpecker and Andaman Treepie, a visit to the Andaman Islands is a marvellous addition to this superb tour.

Birdquest has operated tours to southern India since 1985 and to Sri Lanka since 1995.

The local bird-guide will be with the tour in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka-only Option: You may opt to take just the Sri Lanka section as a stand alone tour.

Important: The Birdquest group size limit is significantly lower than for many tours to this part of the Indian subcontinent. As much of the birding is in forest areas, this represents a significant advantage for our participants.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges are of good standard almost throughout. Blue Magpie Lodge at Sinharaja is simple and electricity is limited to night-time. Road transport is by small coach. Roads are variable in quality (averaging good to mediocre).

Walking: The walking effort is mostly easy, but there are some moderate grade walks.

Climate: Generally warm or hot, dry and sunny at lower altitudes but cool or rarely even quite cold at higher altitudes. Overcast weather or early morning mist is not uncommon and some rain is possible at this season. It will be rather humid in coastal areas.

Bird/Mammal Photography: Opportunities are worthwhile.

Tour Price: £2790, €3290, $3650 Bengaluru (Bangalore)/Kochi (Cochin). Single Room Supplement: £600, €708, $786. Deposit: £350, €420, $460.

Andaman Islands Extension: £2190, €2590, $2870. Single Room Supplement: £360, €425, $472. Deposit: £200, €240, $260.

Sri Lanka as an extension to Southern India: £2550, €3010, $3340 Kochi (Cochin)/Colombo. Single Room Supplement: £250, €295, $328. Deposit: £300, €360, $390.

Sri Lanka as a stand-alone tour: £2390, €2820, $3130 Colombo/Colombo. Single Room Supplement: £250, €295, $328. Deposit: £300, €360, $390.

Includes surface transportation, accommodations, meals, water, entrance fees and tips/gratuities.

Also includes these flights: Bengaluru (Bangalore)-Port Blair-Bengaluru, Kochi (Cochin)-Colombo.

Base prices for this tour are in US Dollars. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = $1.310 and €1 = $1.110.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

As well as the endemic species, Southern India is also home to a number of endemic subspecies such as this highly distinctive race of Orange-headed Ground-Thrush (Dave Farrow)

As well as the endemic species, Southern India is also home to a number of endemic subspecies such as this highly distinctive race of Orange-headed Ground-Thrush (Dave Farrow)

The Sri Lanka Frogmouth, which is endemic to Sri Lanka and Southern India, is always a much-wanted species (Craig Robson)

The Sri Lanka Frogmouth, which is endemic to Sri Lanka and Southern India, is always a much-wanted species (Craig Robson)

The Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill is yet another of the endemics we will seek out (Craig Robson)

The Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill is yet another of the endemics we will seek out (Craig Robson)

Wintering Indian Pittas are usually relatively easy to see in Sri Lanka and always prove popular (Pat Wileman)

Wintering Indian Pittas are usually relatively easy to see in Sri Lanka and always prove popular (Pat Wileman)

White-bellied Blue Flycatcher is endemic to Southern India (Dave Farrow)

White-bellied Blue Flycatcher is endemic to Southern India (Dave Farrow)

Sometimes we find Sri Lanka Frogmouths at a daytime roost (Dave Farrow)

Sometimes we find Sri Lanka Frogmouths at a daytime roost (Dave Farrow)

Jungle Owlet looks cute but is a fierce predator of small birds (Dave Farrow)

Jungle Owlet looks cute but is a fierce predator of small birds (Dave Farrow)

The Andamans are home to a number of endemics including Andaman Serpent-Eagle (Dave Farrow)

The Andamans are home to a number of endemics including Andaman Serpent-Eagle (Dave Farrow)

... Andaman Woodpecker (Dave Farrow)

... Andaman Woodpecker (Dave Farrow)

... and Andaman Drongo (Dave Farrow)

... and Andaman Drongo (Dave Farrow)

Most of Sri Lanka's endemics are forest denizens, including the secretive Chestnut-backed Owlet (Craig Robson)

Most of Sri Lanka's endemics are forest denizens, including the secretive Chestnut-backed Owlet (Craig Robson)

... and Spot-winged Thrush (Craig Robson)

... and Spot-winged Thrush (Craig Robson)

The delightful Yellow-eared Bulbul (Craig Robson)

The delightful Yellow-eared Bulbul (Craig Robson)

... and White-throated (or Legge's) Flowerpecker are two of the more showy Sri Lankan endemics (Craig Robson)

... and White-throated (or Legge's) Flowerpecker are two of the more showy Sri Lankan endemics (Craig Robson)

... whilst Crimson-backed Flameback is one of a whole series of recently recognized endemics (Pat Wileman)

... whilst Crimson-backed Flameback is one of a whole series of recently recognized endemics (Pat Wileman)

Exciting winter visitors include the stunning Pied Ground Thrush (Craig Robson)

Exciting winter visitors include the stunning Pied Ground Thrush (Craig Robson)

Other wildlife is abundant with many interesting mammals, reptiles and insects such as this Indian Moon Moth (Craig Robson)

Other wildlife is abundant with many interesting mammals, reptiles and insects such as this Indian Moon Moth (Craig Robson)

The group watching Asian Elephants on a jeep safari through the savanna at Uda Walawe (Craig Robson)

The group watching Asian Elephants on a jeep safari through the savanna at Uda Walawe (Craig Robson)

Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate

Birdquest Ltd is Registered in England, Company No. 01568270. The address of our registered office is Two Jays, Kemple End, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9QY

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