Bill Oddie's most excellent adventure in Sri Lanka

On assignment for BBC Wildlife Magazine, Bill Oddie gives blood to the rainforest, meets some familiar feathered friends, experiences the ‘Rainforest Rainbow’ and has four game drives in which to find a leopard…

Bill Oddie's adventure in Sri Lanka article spread
However, my mood is lifted by the appearance of the other tourists who are staying at Martin’s Simple Lodge. Over breakfast, our spirits rise and so do our voices. We gossip like naughty school kids, as we compete over whose room has the most risibly inadequate facilities.
“I haven’t got an electric socket,“ winces the journalist whose mobile needs charging. Not that he’d get a signal up here.
“I haven’t got a chain on my loo,” counters a lady. “You flush it by pulling a piece of string.”
I introduce a more positive note. “I’ve got wildlife in my room,” I boast. “Five cockroaches, two geckos and a bat.” Everyone laughs, but I think they’re jealous.
We all know that Sinharaja Rainforest (that’s cleared that one up, then) should be unforgettable, because it’s a World Heritage Site and home to no fewer than 25 endemic bird species, but is it going to be the highlight of the trip? After all, it has been pretty flipping enjoyable already.
A gentle start
Less than a week ago we landed at Colombo and drove through a very slow-moving Sri Lankan rush hour to somewhere called Villa Talangama, which we were told would “break us in gently”. Wildlife-wise, that is.
Pulling back the curtains of my bedroom window the next day, I realised that our swish little hotel overlooked a suburban wetland with lots of birds.
For a moment, I considered starting a ‘bedroom list’, or even a ‘bed list’, but settled on an ‘hour’s stroll before breakfast list’. And, by the time I got back for my orange juice and muesli, I had seen 37 species, about the same number I would expect to notch up in an hour on my local patch, Hampstead Heath.
I recognised some of them from my trips to India: pheasant-tailed jacanas, purple gallinules, three kingfishers and eight different herons and egrets. There were also a few mongooses and some chirpy critters that looked like American chipmunks, but were, in fact, palm squirrels. These ones were tight-rope walking along a power cable.
Elephant heaven 
Then there were the birds whose names evoke their voices and personalities: bulbuls and babblers. Bulbuls have a lovely fruity, bubbly song, while babblers scurry around babbling.
And there was the call of another bird that was so familiar I almost ignored it: the screeching and squawking of the ring-necked parakeet, which I also see on Hampstead Heath, though this, of course, is where it really belongs.
After breakfast, we were off to watch elephants from a grandstand. The Elephant Transit Home at Udawalawe National Park is a splendid project caring for young elephants that have been injured or orphaned. They spend most of their time in a large enclosed area within the adjacent national park, but they come home every day for lunch.
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