Blue-tailed Bee-eaters have a habit of posing for the camera. Photo: Stuart Elsom
The magical island of Sri Lanka offers endless photographic opportunities. The wonderful combination of a gentle lush landscape, a fascinating culture, and a rich and varied wildlife means we will never be short of subjects to photograph.
From the many small lakes and ‘tanks’ covered in vegetation with smart Pheasant-tailed Jacanas delicately picking their way through the flowering lotus to mighty Asian Elephants grazing yards from our vehicle, from beautiful Buddha statues of all sizes and towering stupas surrounded by palm trees to vivid birds and stunning butterflies, there is something to enthrall on every turn, and throughout the tour we’ll find the wildlife, and especially the birds, remarkably confiding.
We’ve been running birdwatching tours to Sri Lanka for over twenty years and in that time we have come to know the very best places to visit. Together with our local guides we have put together a perfect itinerary that will ensure we’ll return home with some truly wonderful images.
Our Photographic tours are designed for both beginners and more experienced photographers alike. They run to a more flexible itinerary than one of our straightforward birdwatching tours, and we do not try to obtain snaps of a long list of species but rather concentrate on obtaining stunning images of the wildlife we encounter. This may often mean we spend long periods with just a few subjects.
All photographic tours are accompanied by Stuart Elsom LRPS, who was awarded a Royal Photographic Society Distinction in 2011. Stuart, who delivers training on nature photography and bird identification for The Royal Society of Biology, will be on hand throughout the tour to offer group or one to one tuition on all aspects of wildlife photography.
Sunbird Photographic Tours are also suitable for non-photographers or for those who require a more relaxed pace and less rigid itinerary. The tour will include evening sessions on photographic techniques or image critique workshops which are of course optional. If you have any queries about any aspect of our Photographic Tours please contact the Sunbird Office who can forward your query to Stuart.
Day 1: The tour begins with an overnight flight from London to Colombo, the island’s capital. We arrive around midday and head south to Tissa. The hotel grounds will produce our first close views of Sri Lankan birds, which could include the ubiquitous Asian Koel, Black-hooded Oriole and White-bellied Drongo. Night at Tissa.
Day 2: Our first full morning will be spent exploring the wetlands around Tissa. This could produce close views of several photogenic species including Coppersmith Barbet, both the impressive White-naped Flameback and Lesser Goldenback Woodpeckers, Jerdon’s Leafbird, Small Minivet, Indian Pond Heron, Black Bittern, White-breasted Waterhen and Stork-billed Kingfisher. Nearby is a large roost of Indian Flying Foxes, which offers superb photographic opportunities. The afternoon will be spent at Yala National Park, the first of our two visits to this world-renowned park. Emphasis will be on seeing and photographing Asian Leopard but other wildlife will compete for our attention including Asian Elephant, Golden Jackal, Spotted and Sambar Deer and Asian Wild Boar. The birds here are tremendous too and we will endeavour to see and photograph the spectacular Indian Pitta as well as Indian Peafowl, Red-wattled Lapwing, Great Stone Plover, Lesser Adjutant, Asian Openbill, Spot-billed Pelican, and Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark among others. Both Blue-tailed and Green Bee-eaters are present in good numbers, amongst numerous other waders, raptors, herons, storks and ibis. Night at Tissa.
Day 3: We begin today with a visit to Bundala National Park. From our safari jeep we’ll be well placed to get wonderful views of waders including Lesser Sand Plover, Marsh Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit and Pin-tailed Snipe. Raptors including Grey-headed and White-bellied Sea Eagles, and many Painted Storks. Indian Robin is found here as is Marshall’s Iora and Grey-bellied Cuckoo. In addition several species of tern can be numerous here and could include Great Crested, Whiskered, White-winged Black and Gull-billed, sometimes feeding only a few feet from our viewpoint. The afternoon will see our second safari to Yala, where we hope to continue our success from the previous day. We may also visit an area where Brown Fish Owls are known to roost. Night in Tissa.
Day 4: Bundala will be our first port of call again this morning with our second jeep safari around this excellent wetland. We’ll concentrate on seeing and photographing species which may have eluded us or been a bit camera shy on our first visit. After lunch we will head north to Udawalawe National Park where we’ll take a safari jeep around the reserve with the purpose of seeing and photographing the endearing Asian Elephants found here. Other species we will attempt to find include Sirkeer Malkoha, Crested Hawk Eagle, Indian Roller and Jerdon’s Bushlark. Overnight at Udawalawe.
Day 5: We’ll start today at Udawalawe National Park with another jeep safari of the area. Species we may encounter today include Barred Buttonquail, as well as Lesser Adjutant, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Plum-headed Parakeet, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Jungle Prinia, Forest Wagtail, Blyth’s Pipit, Orange-headed Ground Thrush, Sri Lanka Swallow and Crested Serpent Eagle. After lunch we’ll head for Nuwara Eliya in the central highlands. Time permitting our late afternoon will be spent in Victoria Park where we’ll hope to get some good photographs of such sought-after species as Forest Wagtail, Brown Shrike, Oriental Magpie Robin, Kashmir Flycatcher and the charismatic Pied Thrush. Night in Nuwara Eliya.
Day 6: We’ll start early and head to the highlands of Horton Plains National Park. This will be a completely new habitat to us and should produce lots of new and exciting species including the Arrenga – the Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, Indian Blackbird, Sri Lanka Woodpigeon, Dull Blue Flycatcher, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and Pied Bushchat. The afternoon will once again be spent around the Victoria Park area allowing us to catch up with species which may have eluded us the previous afternoon, and we’ll concentrate on getting better views and photographs of Pied Thrush, the special bird of the park. Night in Nuwara Eliya.
Day 7: After breakfast we’ll drive to our hotel at Sigiriya. Perhaps the most striking sight on Sri Lanka, Sigiriya is a 600-foot high pinnacle of rock rising out of the jungle. One of seven World Heritage Sites on Sri Lanka, Sigiriya is famous for the ancient fortress that sits on its summit, and especially for the ancient rock paintings or frescoes that adorn the walls. After checking in to our hotel, we’ll have time to explore the surrounding forest for our first birds, which could include Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, and a selection of woodpeckers including the striking crimson form of Black-rumped Flameback. Night at Sigiriya.
Day 8: Around the base of the imposing rock are an extensive series of ancient ruins, most of which have been swallowed up by the encroaching jungle. It is this jungle that will provide many more birds for us today as we wander the extensive network of tracks and roadways in search of Oriental Scops Owl, Forest Eagle Owl, Brown Fish Owl, Jerdon’s Nightjar, Blue-faced Malkoha, Banded Bay and Drongo Cuckoos, Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Sri Lanka Woodshrike, Large and Black-headed Cuckooshrikes, Blue-winged Leafbird, White-rumped Shama, Indian Black and Indian Blue Robins, Jungle, Ashy and Grey-breasted Prinia, Green and Large-billed Leaf Warblers and Brown-capped Babbler. For those that wish, there will also be the chance to climb the long staircase to the top of Sigiriya rock to admire the paintings and the carved fortress, as well as to take panoramic shots of the incredible view. Night in Sigiriya.
Day 9: Leaving Sigiriya in the morning, we travel to Kandy, home of traditional Sri Lankan culture and famous for the temple that houses a sacred tooth rescued from the Buddha’s funeral pyre in 543 BC. We’ll visit the temple as well as the splendid Royal Botanical Gardens that contain a surprising number of birds and a large colony of flying foxes. After lunch we’ll head towards Columbo and to our hotel near the airport. Time permitting we hope to explore the grounds and its birdlife which often produces Brown Hawk Owl and several species of overwintering passerines. Night in Columbo.
Day 10: After some early morning birding around the hotel grounds we will head to the airport for our early afternoon flight back to London where the tour ends on Day 11.
Updated: 28 October 2015