Sri Lanka is a small island in the Indian Ocean with approximately 65000 sq.km. in extent. This small tropical island has a high bio diversity. Since it is isolated from other countries this island has a high endemicity among its life forms. Out of the 3368 species of flowering plants 879 species are endemics while 57 out of 314 ferns are endemics.
The island of Sri Lanka is a nugget of biological diversity. Its modest area of 65,000 sq. km offers such variety that even land areas many times bigger lack the ago graphic placement, the land formation, the climatic variation and the culture influence to effect such a variety of habitats, supporting such diversity of life forms. For the birds and for the bird watcher, this is indeed, paradise.
Just 7km from the airport, this extensive mangrove fringed marsh, under constant threat from the expanding urban sprawl, is a good site for the shy bitterns. Undisturbed, close approach to a host of retiring birds of the swamp is afforded by the boat service run by the Conservation Centre at the site. Its proximity to the airport and to many comfortable beach front hotels makes it a preferred birding site for those who want to have one last swig before their departure.
Kithulgala Forest Reserve
Contiguous with the Peak Wilderness Forest Reserve, this secondary rainforest protects the watershed of Kelani River. Many of Sri Lanka’s endemic fauna and flora are found here including the newly described Serendib Scops Owl.
Sinharaja Man and Biosphere Reserve
Hot spot of biodiversity and endemism, this is the last remnant of a virgin lowland rainforest in the whole of South Asia. Luckily good sense prevailed and this forest was saved from a colossal logging operation in the seventies. Long term studies carried out here have shown Gondwanaland affinities. It is the best place to observe the greatest number of rain forest birds and most of the island’s endemics.
Udawalawe National Park
Mountains mirrored on the vast spread of the reservoir, Udawalawe is indeed, a beautiful place and the site to see elephants all year round. Open grasslands, a predominant feature here, is an ideal habitat for the lurking Quail, the twittering Prinia, the flocking Munia and the hovering Raptor.
Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary
It is an important site for migratory birds. Though small, it has diverse habitats-a stretch of shore line, reedy marshes, brackish water lagoons, mangrove forest, scrubland and open patches.
Bundala National Park
The national park covers an area of 6216 ha, nearly a third of it shallow, brackish water lagoons. The rest is dry thorny scrubland typical of the Southern Semi-Arid Zone of Sri Lanka. The chain of wetlands is rich in bird life including many species of migratory Water Fowl. This high species richness of birds has resulted in it being declared a Ramsar site, the first in the country.
Yala National Park
A crescent of a pristine beach, brackish lagoons, and bays, fresh water puddles and ‘kemas’, dry stream beds and perennial tanks, mighty open spaces and thorny scrub and rising above the arid plains the erosion remnants. This is Yala, the oldest and the most popular national park in Sri Lanka. Situated in the semi-arid south east corner of the island, 129,700 ha (978.8 km²). Furthermore, it is a vicinity of national park, strict natural reserves and sanctuaries.
Bomuru Ella forest Reserve, Udawattakele Forest Reserve, Tangamale Sanctuary, Galway’s Land Sanctuary, Hakgala Botanic Garden, Ingiriya Forest Reserve (Bodhinagala)
All these are fragment forests that hold important endemic fauna and flora-additional chances to view the rare and the skulky birds. An entrance fee is levied on Udawattakele Sanctuary. Others, though protected areas, birding is done along pathways and trails used by the villagers.
These are ancient man made reservoirs locally called ‘tanks’ for the purpose of irrigating the arid plains of Tissamaharama, largely for the purpose of cultivating paddy. Some, though constructed in the second and first century BC, are in operation even to this day. They support large numbers of Water Fowl, including the migrant waders.
Victoria Park, Nuwara Eliya.
This city park, just 27 acres in extent, was named to commemorate the 60th jubilee coronation of Queen Victoria in 1897. Though much of the vegetation here is ornamental just an hour and a half of an evening walk can leave you with some significant birds, such as the Pied Thrush, Kashmir Flycatcher. Indian Pitta, and the Indian Blue Robin are a few of the many endemics.
Horton Plains National Park
A high plateau crested with upper mountain forests, and the valleys cloaked wet & dry montane grasslands. The landscape hear is breathtakingly panoramic. Perched at an altitude ranging between 1800-2300m this 3162 ha (31.6 km²) plateau, the highest in Sri Lanka, is preserved for its biological, hydrological and aesthetic values.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Peradeniya
With three quarters of its borders looped by the river Mahaweli, this idyllic garden of 147 acres, was established in 1821. Today it is a refuge for over 4000 species of plants. It houses the world famous National Herbarium.
The landscaped environs of the 5th century Rock Fortress with its wide roads and safe trails is good birding country, though the mixed evergreen forest also harbours the Asian Elephant. This sanctuary falls within the Dry Zone and is blessed with numerous village tanks that is teemed with many interesting species. Sigiriya is one of the best sites, if not the best, to see the Shaheen-the local race of the Peregrine Falcon. A night drive, as walking would not be advisable, could reveal the Fish-Owl, Jerdon’s Nightjar and with luck, even the slender Loris and the Elephant, of course.
Wilpattu national Park
The vast forest interspersed with shallow ponds locally known as Villus once famed for Leopard is once again open to the public. The ‘dark age’ did burn and tear down all but one of the reserve bungalows and poach and fell a countless number of wild inhabitants. Yet, fortunately, the old charm is there to greet the visitor. For the Leopard, the Bear, the Sambur, the Mouse-Deer, the migrant waders, when in season, and for the sheer expansive natural beauty; this is a park not to be missed!