Classic Sri Lanka is Sri Lanka’s premier Wildlife Tour Operator, with deep knowledge and understanding about local ecology and biodiversity, which enables to cater to a wide range of interests and specialities.
Our annual group from the USA specializes in seeking and photographing the reptile diversity of our island, with a special interest in snakes.
Guided by expert herpetologists, this group travelled across the island, from the mangroves of Matara to the rainforests of Kitulgala and the dry zones of Mannar, seeking the rare, and elusive snakes and other reptiles found in Sri Lanka. The tour was a great success with encounters with some of the most sought after species of snakes including the iconic Russells Viper, Spectacled Cobra, Saw Scaled Viper, Green Pit Viper and both variants of the Hump Nosed Viper. Besides the snakes, the group also were lucky to see the endemic Rhino Horned Lizard and Pygmy Lizard as well as giant Salt Water Crocodiles in Matara.
After initiating the first COVID lockdown in the island, inbound tours had to take a considerable break amidst the pandemic. But during the post-lockdown period, we were able to initiate some incredible adventure and wildlife tours, which were mainly targeted at the locals.
Among them was the birding adventure to Sinharaja National Reserve.
We ventured into Sri Lanka’s largest tract of lowland rainforests and UNESCO World Heritage Sites in search of the beautiful endemic birds found in this region. Sinharaja arguably is the most important ecological site for the island with the highest rate of endemism seen in both flora and fauna. The island has 34 endemic species of birds, and out of which over 22 can be seen here. Our group was led by our head naturalist who with over two decades of field experience excelled in showcasing to the client’s 26 endemic species of birds, and 67 species of birds, 5 species of mammals, 6 species of reptiles, 14 species of butterflies and 5 species of dragonflies. Among the highlights of the tour was the sighting of two Serendib Scops Owls, arguably the most sought after bird in Sri Lanka. These amazing owls are very difficult to find especially given their nocturnal nature. The use of the best local trackers helped in locating a roosting pair deep in the jungle and enabled the tour-goers to witness an unforgettable sighting.
A venture into the natural world is truly enhanced by its storytellers, and a world-class naturalist brings out the wonders of nature in a whole new light!
An Encounter with the Forest Eagle Owl – By Rajiv Welikala
Driving down a dark misty road on a chilly July morning in Wilpattu National Park I came across a sighting which will haunt me forever. A dark shadow passed over us and we saw a large bird fly along the tunnelled forest canopy. The approaching jeep must have disturbed it as it dropped something large on the road while in flight. We drove up and found a large partially eaten snake, too damaged for identification. Suspecting this was the work of a Serpent Eagle which is very common in the park, we drove on till we reached an opening on the other end. The bright light came through the dense forest canopy as we slowly entered Iriyakkulam Villu. My trusted jeep driver Senevi always ensures to enter a villu with much caution so as not to startle any animals that might have come out into the open. The crawling jeep suddenly came to a sudden stop as Senevi pointed ahead. I looked everywhere in the open glades, expecting a leopard to be crouching in the villu. We had a very barren weekend with very few sightings of animals and we were desperate to see anything. My scouring did not reveal a spotted feline, but rather a massive owl perched on a tree ahead. It took me a few seconds to fathom what I was seeing; as such a sight was never expected. When it hit me, it came like a thunderbolt. This was the infamous Devil Bird! I have dreamt of seeing this elusive bird for many years, and here it was sitting right in front of me. The correct name of the bird is the Spot Bellied Eagle Owl or Forest Eagle Owl (Bubo nipalensis). Its black hollow eyes gave a stare which would give the shivers to even the hardest of men. This bird was subject to many folk stories and is known as the “Ulama” in Sinhalese. It is said that the bird is the bringer of death and its blood-curdling cry is said to sound like a woman being strangled. Still, in awe and utter disbelief, I started clicking away with my camera. The bird was clearly annoyed with our presence; it flew out into the open where it landed on the dried grass on the banks of the villu. It was too far away for my camera and I waited patiently for him to fly to a better location. When it took off it flew with the grace and majesty that befits such a mighty bird with its large wings outstretched and talons which are bigger than any other bird I have seen, it landed heavily on a very fragile branch of a tree. The tree was occupied by a troupe of Grey Langurs who are at times prey for this large predatory bird. The monkeys were hooting and jumping from branch to branch in fright which distracted the startled owl. The flimsy branch gave way and the bird fell to the white sands below. Clearly ruffled and in utter annoyance the owl stood there in all its glory on the white sands of the villu whilst brilliant golden sunlight created a magnificent photo opportunity which just presented itself. After regaining its bearings the bird flew deep into the forest, and we continued on our way and left the bird to its meal. I left Wilpattu that day with a feeling of immense luck and disbelief in being fortunate enough to come face to face with the magnificent Devil Bird.
Sri Lanka has its own unique forms of fast food snacks to be had on the go. These are tasty and convenient bites which are loved by the locals and a must try for any foodie visiting the island.
One of the most iconic is the “Maalu Paan” of fish bun, which is a triangle shaped bun (always a triangle), which is stuffed with mainly potatoes, pepper and a hint of fish (despite its name, its mainly potato based). The secret to a good Maalu Paan is its correct fish to potato ratio. Too much of each might offset the balance in taste. Some of the most famous outlets where one can try ones hand at tasting these delectable baked goods is Perera & Sons (a famous bakery chain), Fab (an upmarket bakery chain), as well as any roadside bakery which will invariable have its own version of this bun, some good some bad, and some average.
One of the most iconic sounds one can hear in Colombo, its suburbs and now even in the villages is the infamous “Choon Paan” which is a tuk tuk or trishaw which has been transformed into a mobile bakery outlet which drives around the roads, stopping at certain points like an ice cream truck with the uniform tune of Beethovan’s “Fur Eliza” playing loudly in the background. This brings us to another famous baked snack which is much loved by children and adults alike, especially during tea time, the “Kimbula Banis” which is translated as Crocodile Bun. This long bun is tapered at both ends, almost like a straightened croissant and sprinkled generously with sugar is a sweet snack to be enjoyed with a nice cup of Ceylon Tea.
Another snack which is popular among Sri Lankan folks is the Chinese Roll, which is made at home and also sold in shops. Despite its name it has nothing to do with China or Chinese cuisine, but rather it’s a rolled pancake stuffed with fish or vegetables, which is deep fried and coated with breadcrumbs to produce a crunch and delicious snack.
Many of the local eateries produce a form of rotti which is generally consisting of potatoes, leeks and onions which is also triangular in shape and prepared by heating the rotti on a hot plate. This is known locally as “Elawalu Rotti”.
Come on a gastronomical journey with Classic Sri Lanka and learn about all the mouth-watering delights our island has to offer.