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Treasures of Sinharaja

Updated: Oct 22, 2019

'And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul' - Unknown.

A world heritage site and a UNESCO designated Biosphere Reserve, #Sinharaja rain forest holds one of the last remaining pristine rain forests of Sri Lanka. Its a remnant of the great forest that once must have covered the whole of south-west wet zone of Sri Lanka. The virgin rain forest boasts a treasure trove of endemic species not only in terms of birds but a myriad of reptiles, insects and flora. It’s a place that should not be missed by any serious nature lover.

Located around 120 km from Colombo, Sinharaja is an ideal site for a day visit. If you leave early from Colombo, it only takes around 2+ hours to get to the location. Thus if one leaves Colombo around 3.30 - 4.00 AM, you will get there in time for the sunrise and flocks of birds.

Although its amazing to be inside the forest, if you are interested in photographing birds of Sinharaja, outskirts of the forest reserve provide better opportunities than the thick heart of the jungle. There are human settlements and clearings on the boundary of the forest and one can walk along these paths to observe the different bird species.

Rain-forest is a daunting place to observe birds and photograph. To find elusive bird species, one have to call upon someone with knowledge of the area, behaviour of birds and potential locations to scout for certain bird species. Thus, I rely on 'Thilak', one of the independent local birding guides who is fantastic. He has been taking people to see Sinharaja for years and posses extensive knowledge on where to look for different species.

(If anyone is interested, I can provide his contact number. Please contact me.)

The first bird species I came across on a beautiful morning in Sinharaja was a endemic Green-billed Coucal who had come out of the forest after a brief morning shower.

The sight of a couple of rare and endemic White-throated Flowerpecker's on a Jam tree provided a great prelude to what is to come.

Before long, we had our 1st encounter for the day with the famous mixed species feeding flocks of Sinharaja. Led by a couple of fearless Sri Lanka Crested Drongo's, this flock had many different species feeding at different layers of the forest all following one another for mutual benefit.

Glimpse of a rare and endemic Red-faced Malkoha in the higher canopy.

The forest in the morning is buzzing with activity. Flock of endemic Orange-billed Babbler's make a lot of noise as they move from one bush to another in on the forest floor and among under-storey layer.

The outskirts of the forest has small houses spread out along the border of the forest. These are great locations to spot and photograph as taking photos deep inside the forest is tough. Some of the captures as follows.

The Sri Lankan Blue Magpie is one of the most iconic birds of Sri Lanka. My day was made bright with two of them putting on a great show.

The official entrance to the forest is also a fantastic location to spot and photograph birds. Quite a few species of birds are used to having access to food around the entrance area and regularly show-up.

An agile little flying machine, an Asian Brown Flycatcher was flying around catching little insects.

Finding some of the more rare and endemic bird species of Sinharaja requires a bit of leg work, a bit of patients and a bit of luck. This is where knowledge that Thilak posses comes in handy. Excursions in to the fringe forest areas start revealing birds hidden among the thick underbrush. A dancing Spot-winged Thrush, another endemic bird to Sri Lanka justifies the hard uphill climb in certain places.

A small troop of Layard's Parakeet's feeding on flowers of a tree is a superb sight to photograph.

After a full morning of spotting many other endemic and resident bird species, the evening was focused on owls. After a longer hike, we come across this beautiful and endemic Chestnut-backed Owlet sitting on top of his perch and surveying the forest below. This was one excursion which I really regretted not taking a tripod with me. The low light inside the thick forest means longer shutter speeds are necessary to obtain better quality.

In the same patch of jungle, inside a thick and difficult to navigate patch of bamboo, after a few bruises, few leech bites and mosquitoes we came across couple of Sri Lanka Frogmouth. The male and the female were impervious to commotion we were making to get closer. To this day, it remains one of the most memorable encounters which fully justified the difficulties in getting to the spot.

By end of just one day in the fringes of Sinharaja, I have spotted and photographed close to 30 different bird species and most of them endemic to Sri Lanka. What a treasure of a forest where there must be more secrets hidden among the thick, impenetrable trees. We are duty bound to preserve and protect this treasure for future generations.

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