Sri Lanka is for the birders

Can a birder who’s reading this help me identify this raptor? Sri Lanka has over 30 different kinds of hawks, eagles, falcons and ospreys, and it isn’t always easy for a greenhorn like me to tell them apart.

Can a country barely larger than the state of West Virginia really be home to more than 400 species of birds, of which 233 are resident species? You’d better believe it. Because Sri Lanka has an impressive list of birds.

The Sinharaja forest is teeming with birdlife, probably because—like most rain forests—it has so many insect species.

Located 547 miles (875 kilometers) north of the equator and separated from the southern tip of India by the 33-mile-wide Palk Strait, is a magnet for over 200 species of migratory birds.

I’m going to say this guy is a little green bee-eater (Merops orientalis); photographed at Yala National Park.

In fact, Sri Lanka’s bounty of birds has inspired a small library of must-have books for birdwatchers, including A Guide to the Birds of Ceylon (G. M. Henry), Birds of Ceylon (W. W. A. Phillips) and Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka (Sarath Kotagama and Prithiviraj Fernando).

The bird island at Tissamaharama (a few miles from Yala National Park) is worth a visit if you’re into wading birds. You’ll want to stay at the Tissamaharama Rest House, which has lake frontage and faces the bird island.

You can even get a facsimile edition of Captain Vincent Legge’s monumental A History of the Birds of Ceylon (1,624 pages, two volumes) at an affordable price.

You can take a boat out to the bird island at Tissamaharama, and can even wander around on it taking pictures (just be advised that the smell of guano accumulated over the years can be overpowering).

A Photographic Guide to Birds of Sri Lanka (Gehan De Silva Wijeyeratne, Deepal Warakagoda and T. S. U. De Zylva) is one of our favorites. The pocket-friendly shape and size of this book makes it perfect for the field; you can take it along as you jounce around in your jeep or Land Rover at Yala, Kumana, Udawalawe and Bundala national parks.

Copyright © David Graham