overseas visit

To: <>
Subject: overseas visit
From: "Mark Clayton" <>
Date: Tue, 28 Mar 2006 20:20:09 +1000

Hi all,


Like Elizabeth and William Compston, my wife and I have recently returned from an overseas visit – we had 16 days (14 of which were on a dedicated bird watching tour) in Sri Lanka and a bit over 5 days based in Bangkok on the way over and back. I can thoroughly recommend the tour company we used (Baurs) and their guides. I recorded 227 species in SL with 121 of those new for me (+ 2 others heard, including the recently discovered Serendib Scops Owl). Nearly all of the 33 endemic species were seen (or heard as with the Owl). How often do you get to open the curtain on the seventh floor window of your hotel after only a few hours sleep (we arrived at something like 2:30 in the morning) and the first bird you see is a (Spot-billed) Pelican sitting in a tree across the road, followed by an (Indian) Pond Heron, then Rose-ringed Parrots, a Brown-headed Barbet, Common Myna (SL race), two species of crows, an unidentified species of cormorant (later id’d as an Indian Cormorant), swiflets etc, etc? We discovered the lake around the corner a bit later in the morning…. We were picked up at the hotel by our driver/guide, a 63 year old Sri Lankan with the “get up and go” of someone half his age, again at some unearthly hour to travel the relatively short (70 kms) to our first stop-off point, the town of Kitulgala (incidentally the location of the 1957(?) film The Bridge on the River Kwai). On this first journey we discovered several things that were with us throughout the trip - firstly, the roads in SL are generally, narrow, winding, full of potholes etc , all of which leads to the country having a max speed limit of 70kph (you are lucky to get much above 30!!), everybody must have very strong leg muscles in their right leg so that they can slam on the brake plus good muscles in the right arm for slamming on the horn and flashing oncoming drivers with high beam (at night) and finally being a predominately Buddhist country, all domestic animals, chiefly dogs and cats but in some places cows have complete right of way as nobody likes killing animals (our driver was at one point braking heavily to avoid a butterfly migration as he was most concerned for their welfare – they were heading for a sacred mountain site). The dogs tend to lie anywhere on the road and generally are left to scavenge for food. I am not too sure if everyone has a licence to drive and all seem hellbent on committing suicide. All this and the seatbelts in our vehicle didn’t seem to work!! Away from the bigger cities and towns (and probably within them as well) extreme poverty was evident but everyone did their best to be clean and they all appeared happy. One common question we were asked was where we were from – most thought we were English – but when they discovered we were Australian the standard comment was “….ahhh, good cricket team” to which my standard reply was Sri Lanka also has a good team. We did see some of the effects of the tsunami – there are homes still in and surrounded by water and at a place called Hambantota (seen on the TV in Oz and elsewhere as near where the train was washed away), there are at least 3 international hotels still unoccupied and in a state of ruin. We saw evidence in a national park of the force of the water with many uprooted trees kilometres inland from the nearest beach. At one point we were shown sand dunes that were at least 4 or 5 stories high and the water came straight over the top of them - tragic but at the same time, awesome.


I could go on for quite some time but won’t. If people want to see the list of birds I recorded or any details about the trip, please contact me at home. I can bring my field guides to the next COG meeting if so desired. It really was a trip to remember and one I would thoroughly recommend.


One last note – after seeing the location of the Bridge on the River Kwai film, we took the opportunity when on the way home and with time available in Thailand, we visited the actual Bridge on the River Kwae (pronounced Kwar) built by the PoW’s in the Second World War. Walking across the bridge knowing what had happened there really was a very unnerving and disturbing feeling. The nearby War Cemetery is kept in beautiful condition, both by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the local people.



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