Monday, June 29, 2015

Birding our way to Kithulgala and beyond

Glad to leave Colombo even if it meant getting up at 4:30am. We had two expert birding guides pick us up with a van to start the long trek to Ceylon Tea Trails Tientsin Bungalow guest house. Very thankfully, one of them was also an expert driver. Who knew driving 70 miles could take five hours (not including the time we spent bird-watching and eating lunch!)?

The narrow, unlined, shoulder-less roads shared three lanes of traffic, left hand drive, with all vehicles free to pass in the "chicken lane" concurrently. And people are worried about flying?? It was happily not raining when we were bird-watching, which means it was raining when we were driving. This is monsoon season.

Along the way we visited a residential area on the edge of a National Park and started seeing our birds. We then drove to the other side of the mountain, crossed a swinging bridge over a river swollen with rain and silt to bird inside the park. Interestingly (or tragically) we saw a huge tree felled by local example of how parks can exist on paper but the reality of subsistence farming takes its toll. Jack and Josh were great sports, helping us look for movement in the rainforest canopy while watching our legs for leeches. Our guide furnished gators (you can see in the photos) and the leeches were small, so, no worries!

We arrived at our bungalow just in time for High Tea, surrounded by steep mountains planted with groves of tea bushes barely hip high. This is where they've grown the good stuff since the 1850's, and it really took off after a blight killed the coffee trees. Now Sri Lanka (aka Ceylon) produces over 300,000 metric tons annually. Each bush is picked by hand once every seven days, with women toting sacks as big as they are, plucking only the two new leaves and bud.

Food is chef prepared fresh and delicious. I promise an entry soon that will be "eating out way around the world".

We are in a paradise now!

More birdwatching!

Our guide/driver holding a yellow browded bulbul

Josh, so excited to be BIRDING again!
There things we buy from the garden center at home all grow wild here

These are called "jack fruits" and are as big as a human head

Crazy fruits being harvested from the national park.

Driving in Sri Lanka

One of the dozens of villages we passed through.

These are irrigation canals for the tea and mimosa trees planed for shade and to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. 

Tea blossoms. See how they are related to camellias?

Tea bushes with taller trees for shade.

Women picking tea leaves