Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

Sinharaja 2016 Geography IA Field Study

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As usual, Sinharaja offered many superb sightings of endemic rainforest creatures: Serendib Scops Owl (Otus thilohoffmanni) in the Sinharaja core zone, flanked by two different frogs photographed near Martin’s Lodge.

As usual, Sinharaja offered many superb sightings of endemic rainforest creatures: Serendib Scops Owl (Otus thilohoffmanni) in the Sinharaja core zone, flanked by two different frogs photographed near Martin’s Lodge.

Towards the end of the school year and before the South West monsoon set in OSC’s DP1 Geography class took its annual IA field study to Sinharaja rainforest. This was the 11th OSC field study at Sinharaja (the 2015 trip was our 10 year anniversary) and, like past visits, it offered an unparalleled opportunity for the students to engage in field work inside and along the edges of a protected Sri Lankan rainforest.

Keeping in mind the protected area and the impressive forest area that Sinharaja hosts, my students focused on investigating questions relating to human communities on the park boundaries. Using questionnaires and 1:1 interviews with residents they explored cropping, land use, water resources and tea patterns in the study area. There were strong spatial elements in the study that were later incorporated into their reports using GIS. This year we used relatively new 1:10,000 digital vector data from the Sri Lanka Survey Department as well as the most current population and housing data from the Sri Lanka Department of Census and Statistics.

Once again we stayed at Martin’s Wijeysinghe’s Jungle Lodge. Martin provided one of our first interviews, which helped set the stage for many more fruitful conversations. The Sinharaja Forest Department guides played a critical role in translating and being a bridge between our group and the local community. In many cases they took us to visit neighbors as well as their own families. We estimate that we were able to interview roughly 60% of the households in the Kudawa area. On our first full day of field work we were in the Kudaa village area and had a traditional lunch with Martin’s daughter’s family. On the second day we explored eastwards up a little used road to the family that has Sri Lanka spurfowl (Galloperdix bicalcarata) visitors every morning. We only heard the bird but the students conducted several memorable interviews that morning. Our group of students was supported by Kamilla who joined us as a female chaperone and frog locater par excellence.

The field work was balanced with down time spent soaking tired feet in the nearby stream and climbing Moulawella on the final day. On our way out we had the good fortune to see a rare Serendib Scops Owl (Otus thilohoffmanni) in a fern thicket. By that time the students had been inundated with views of rare birds, frogs, snakes but I hope that one day they’ll look back and realize what a special final sighting this was!

Interviewing Martin’s Wijeysinghe as part of the Geography IA study.

Interviewing Martin’s Wijeysinghe as part of the Geography IA study.

Snapshots from the field work in and around Sinharaja’s north western Kudawa entrance. The poster, now out of print, decorates the common area at Martin’s lodge.

Snapshots from the field work in and around Sinharaja’s north western Kudawa entrance. The poster, now out of print, decorates the common area at Martin’s lodge.

Students broke into two different groups so that we could maximize the interviews and responses that we collected. I had the opportunity to spend time with both groups as we covered different areas near Kudawa village. One of the memorable interview and conversations that we had was with a family that grew tea, cinnamon and various fruit in their home garden. We were welcomed into their home and were able to observe the process of cinnamon bark stripping. Just before we left they offered a freshly cut pineapple from their garden.

Students broke into two different groups so that we could maximize the interviews and responses that we collected. I had the opportunity to spend time with both groups as we covered different areas near Kudawa village. One of the memorable interview and conversations that we had was with a family that grew tea, cinnamon and various fruit in their home garden. We were welcomed into their home and were able to observe the process of cinnamon bark stripping. Just before we left they offered a freshly cut pineapple from their garden.

Miscellaneous snapshots from the Sinharaja rainforest area.

Miscellaneous snapshots from the Sinharaja rainforest area.

View looking west from Moulawella peak. On the final day we do a hike up to this point to give the class an appreciation for the Sinharaja area and the effort that has been made to protect its spectacular rainforests.

View looking north-west from Moulawella peak. On the final day we do a hike up to this point to give the class an appreciation for the Sinharaja area and the effort that has been made to protect its spectacular rainforests.

Sinharaja’s guides play a key role in any visitor’s experience in the rainforest. They are knowledgeable, hard working and patient with their clients. OSC enjoys a warm relationship with their team and we have enjoyed getting to know more about the rainforest and their communities through the guides. I was able to take this picture of most of them on one of our first days before people had arrived at the Kudawa ticket entrance.

Sinharaja’s guides play a key role in any visitor’s experience in the rainforest. They are knowledgeable, hard working and patient with their clients. OSC enjoys a warm relationship with their team and we have enjoyed getting to know more about the rainforest and their communities through the guides. I was able to take this picture of most of them on one of our first days before people had arrived at the Kudawa ticket entrance.

OSC’s Class of 2017 DP Geography students with Martin Wijeysinghe, their teacher (the author) and Kamilla.

OSC’s Class of 2017 DP Geography students with Martin Wijeysinghe, their teacher (the author) and Kamilla.

Past Blog Posts on Sinharaja

Geography IA Trip 2007

Geography IA Trip 2008

Geography IA Trip 2009

Geography IA Trip 2012

Geography IA Trip 2013

Geography IA Trip 2014

Geography IA Trip 2015

General Sinharaja Reflections

OSC's field study site in Sinharaja: a map crated with ARCGIS 10.4 and recently released 1:10,000 data from the Sri Lankan Survey Department.

OSC’s field study site in Sinharaja: a map created with ARCGIS 10.4 and recently released 1:10,000 data from the Sri Lankan Survey Department.

SELECTED REFERENCES

Abeywickrama. Asanga, Sinharaja Rainforest Sri LankaWeb. 2009.

DeZoysa, Neela and Rhyana Raheem. Sinharaja: A Rainforest in Sri Lanka. Colombo: March for Conservation, 1990. Print.

Gunatilleke, C.V.S, et al. Ecology of Sinharaja Rain Forest and the Forest Dynamics Plot in Sri Lanka’s Natural World Heritage Site.Colombo: WHT Publications, 2004. Print.

Harrison, John. A Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka. UK: Oxford University Press, 1999. Print.

Kotagama, Sarath W and Eben Goodale. “The composition and spatial organization of mixed-species flocks in a Sri Lankan rainforest.” Forktail. 2004. Print.

Lockwood, Ian. “Into the Wet: Field Notes From Sri Lanka’s Wet Zone.” Sanctuary Asia. August/September 2007. 3-11. Print. PDF.

Lockwood, Ian. “Montane Biodiversity in the Land of Serendipity.” Sanctuary Asia. July 2010. Print.

Sri Lanka Survey Department. Sheets 80_x & 81_x (1:10,000). Colombo: 2015. Maps & Spatial Data.

Warakagoda. Deepal et. al.  Birds of Sri Lanka (Helm Field Guides). London: Helms Guides, 2012. Print.

Wijeyeratne, Gehan de Silva.  Sri Lankan Wildlife (Bradt Guides). Bucks, England: Bradt Travel Ltd. 2007. Print.

Vigallon, S. The Sinharaja Guidebook for Eco-Tourists. Colombo: Stamford Lake Publications, 2007. Print.

Written by ianlockwood

2016-11-17 at 10:54 pm

Teaching & Learning in Colombo’s Suburban Wetlands

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School students navigating the narrow canals of the newly designated Thalawathugoda Biodiversity Park as part of the Urban Fishing Cat workshops in September 2016.

School students navigating the narrow canals of the newly designated Thalawathugoda Biodiversity Park as part of the Urban Fishing Cat workshops in September 2016.

Sri Lanka’s primate city of Colombo has been growing rapidly in recent years. What were once the hinterlands of Colombo are now being absorbed into the urban expanse as it radiates outwards in all directions (including into the Indian Ocean where the controversial Port City project has resumed). Colombo has its origins as a spice trading port that developed under colonial rule and later become the capital of independent Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). The land that the city would eventually occupy was low and much of the city is a few meters above sea level. The Kelani River and its drainage basin form a northern boundary to the city center. While some wetlands were filled in and built up during the early history of Colombo’s development, significant wetland areas have been maintained to mitigate flood events and (more recently) to protect biodiversity. This is especially true in the area around the new capital at Sri Jayewardenepura. The Overseas School of Colombo , which is just above a kilometer from parliament, is located within close proximity to several of these wetland areas and these sites have become important outdoor classrooms for student learning.

Wetland snapshots. (Clockwise from upper left) Lily underside being used in a reflectance/absorbance experiment, Bedaganna walkway, club tail (Ictinogomphus rapax) at Talangama, OSC Class of 2016 students doing a line transect of water plants as part of the Group IV project.

Colombo urban wetland snapshots. (clockwise from upper left) Lily underside being used in a reflectance/absorbance experiment, Beddagana walkway, club tail (Ictinogomphus rapax) at Talangama, OSC Class of 2016 students doing a line transect of water plants as part of the Group IV project.

Colombo’s wetlands are faced with several challenges.

  • Illegal filling in of wetlands: This is done to facilitate property and real estate development. With the growth of the city there is significant pressure on wetland area
  • Water/effluent pollution: The wetlands are on the receiving end of effluents and other water pollution that is fed through municipal drains. Many of the wetlands in downtown Colombo are virtually dead as a result of this.
  • Waste dumping: The illegal dumping of municipal solid waste (MSW) is a growing problem in the Colombo areas and wetland areas are unfortunately popular with individuals and groups that dump bags of mixed waste.
  • Poaching of animals: It’s not fully clear how significant a problem this is but there is some evidence of poaching of small mammals, water-fowl and reptiles in what are otherwise biodiverse rich wetland areas.
Assessing water quality at Talangama wetlands (clockwise from upper left): DP students conducting a biotic index study of an irrigation canal that is fed by the Talangama tank, checking water quality using Vernier Labquest probes (temperature here).

Assessing water quality at Talangama wetlands (clockwise from upper left): DP students conducting a biotic index study of an irrigation canal that is fed by the Talangama tank, checking water quality using Vernier Labquest probes (temperature here-in front of men washing a motorcycle in the lake).

Urban Fishing Cat Workshops. Images from the Environmental Foundation (EF) sponsored workshop that OSC participated in at the newly designated Thalawathagoda Wetland Study Park last month. The workshop featured the important work of xxx and other projects to protect urban wetlands and their diversity.

Urban Fishing Cat Workshops. Images from the Environmental Foundation Ltd. (EFL) sponsored workshop that OSC participated in at the newly designated Thalawathugoda Wetland Study Park last month. The workshop featured the important work of Anya Ratnayake and other projects to protect urban wetlands and their diversity.

The Thalangama Wetlands have been an important study site for OSC students. They also play a key role in flood mitigation, the provision of irrigation water and a place for wetland biodiversity to thrive.

The Thalangama Wetlands have been an important study site for OSC students. They play a key role in flood mitigation, the provision of irrigation water and a place for wetland biodiversity to thrive.They are a favorite spot for birdwatchers and other wildlifers.

Here is a listing of wetlands study sites located in OSC/Pelawatte vicinity:

Study Site 1: Talangama Wetlands

The Talangama Wetlands located east of the school campus (6.888894° N, 79.947727°E) have provided our oldest wetlands learning site. This is a historic irrigation tank that was designed to help provide farmers with water during dry periods, but it also harbors significant wetland areas. It is a rich area for wetland biodiversity, namely bird species. OSC works collaboratively with the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka to raise funds to promote conservation awareness in the area. In 2005 OSC and FOGSL published Student’s Wetland Pictorial Resource Book: Talangama Wetlands Tank. For many years the school and its PTA hosted an annual “Walk for the Wetlands” though this has regrettably not happened recently. In more recent years the DP Environmental Systems & Societies class has been studying water quality in Talangama. For several years the DP Group IV project has been hosted at the wetlands where a variety of student led studies have explored themes of plants, invasive species, water quality and biodiversity in the area. The site is managed by the Irrigation Department, whose mission involves water management rather than biodiversity protection.

Dry & wet conditions over the course of a week at Beddagana Wetlands Park. The dry spell in September and early October was unusual and normally there is water in this part of the park.

Dry & wet conditions over the course of a week at Beddagana Wetlands Park. The dry spell in September and early October was unusual and normally there is water in this part of the park.

Study Site 2: Beddagana Wetland Park

The Beddagana Wetland Park (6.891418° N, 79.909080°E) is a newly designated protected area on the western edge of the Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte /Diyawanna (parliament) lake. It was set over the last few years up by the Urban Development Authority (UDA) with support of the World Bank. Beddagana’s forests are actually part of the Sri Jayewardenepura Wildlife Sanctuary that is managed by the Department of Wildlife Conservation. The area has walkways, hides and towers that offer unprecedented access to different micro-habitats in the wetlands.

Views from the Biodiversity Study Park, Thalawathugoda. It will be opening to the public shortly.

Views from the Biodiversity Study Park, Thalawathugoda. It will be opening to the public shortly.

Study Site 3: Biodiversity Study Park, Thalawathugoda

This is the newest wetland study site to be designated and is the closest to the OSC campus. At the time of writing the Biodiversity Study Park, Thalawathugoda (6.880016°N, 79.930402°) had not been officially opened. It is being sponsored by the Land Reclamation and Development Corporation and hosts a series of islands and channels that offer excellent study opportunities. OSC participated in an Urban Fishing Cat workshop led by Anya Ratnayake and hosted by the Environment Foundation Ltd. in early September 2016. We are looking forward to its formal inauguration and opening to the public.

Study Site 4: Water’s Edge area

The area around Water’s Edge (6.905529°N, 79.910093°E) was once an un-managed wetland and then a golf course before being converted by the UDA into a multiple-role recreational area. There are still several fine patches of wetland vegetation with convenient walkways that facilitate observation of wetland species but the area experiences large numbers of visitors that can reduce wildlife sightings.

GIS-generated map of urban wetlands near to OSC. Double click on image for larger A3 15- DPI version.

GIS-generated map of urban wetlands near to OSC. Double click on image for larger A3 15- DPI version.

REFERENCES

Bedjanič, Matjaž et al. Dragonfly Fauna of Sri Lanka: Distribution and Biology With Threat Status of its Endemics. Sofia, Bulgaria: Pensoft, 2014. Print.

Boyle, Richard. “Diyawanna Oya: A Suburban Wetland To Savour.” Serendib. October 2014. Web.

Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka. Student’s Wetland Pictorial Resource Book: Talangama Wetlands Tank. Colombo: FOGSL, 2005. Print.

Land Reclamation and Development Corporation. Biodiversity Study Park, Thalawathugoda. Web. Also

Malawatte, Vinod. “The Urban Wetlands Of Colombo: A Spongy Wildlife Refuge Within The City.” Roar.lk. 26 February 2016. Web.

Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development. Web. In particular see Masterplan.

Ramsar. Sri Lanka Profile. Web.

Urban Development Authority. Beddagana Wetlands Park. Web.

Urban Development Authority. Environmental Management Plan (January 2014).

Urban Fishing Cat Conservation Project. Facebook Page.

Wijeyeratne, GehanDe Silva. Sri Lanka Wildlife. Bucks, England, Bradt, 2007. Print. (see page 20 for review of Talangama).

World Bank. Beddaganna Wetlands Park Fact Sheet. 17 June 2016. Web.

Written by ianlockwood

2016-10-20 at 11:32 pm

West Coast Explorations: Wilpattu

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Forest reflection with full tank at Wilpattu.

The west coast of Sri Lanka looms large in myth, ecology and geography. Ecologically-speaking, the west coast is defined by its dry and semi-arid climatic zone. The coastal area supports several important fisheries and a string of human communities live off these resources from Negombo to Puttalam and Mannar. Offshore there are surviving coral reefs that can be reached from the Kalpitiya peninsula. Inland from the Gulf of Mannar is Wilpattu National Park, located in the north-west portion of the island. Adam’s Bridge, the string of shallow sandbanks that separates Sri Lanka from India, is linked to the epic Ramayana. These shoals and islands are said to be the remnants of a bridge that Hanuman’s army built for Rama in their pursuit of defeating Ravana and rescuing Sita from captivity in Lanka. The area is equally important in the Mahavamsa, the great chronicle of the Sinhalese. It records the founder of the Sinhalese Prince Vijaya landing on the copper-colored shores of Tambapanni (today known as Kudramalai) (Mahavimsa).

Signature wildlife and habitat from Wilpattu National Park: From top Malabar Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros coronatus), cliffs over the Gulf of Mannar at Kudramalai, elephant in core area, and cycad inside the interior.

Signature wildlife and habitat from Wilpattu National Park: From top Malabar Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros coronatus), cliffs over the Gulf of Mannar at Kudramalai, elephant in core area, and cycad in Wilpattu’s interior.

Charismatics actors on the Wilpattu stage: Sri Lankan leopards photographed on the same day in July 2016.

Charismatics actors on the Wilpattu stage: Sri Lankan leopards photographed on the same day in July 2016.

The name “Wilpattu” is connected with the large bodies of water that dot the densely forested landscape of this part of Sri Lanka. Wilu or villu is translated in Tamil as a natural pond. For anyone familiar with the dry plains of Tamil Nadu there are striking parallels in the climate, soil and ecology. Except, in Wilpattu the natural vegetation is intact and the protected area is a living examples of what the plains south of Chennai must have once looked like before they were cleared in ancient days for croplands and other hallmarks of civilization.

Since hostilities came to an end in 2009 my family and I have been slowly exploring the west coast of Sri Lanka. During the last three years we have had a chance to visit Kalpitiya, Wilpattu National Park and Mannar Island. Wilpattu has become a special destination for a number of reasons. I grew up with stories of my father’s childhood visits there in the 1940s and 1950s. My grandmother Dorothy recalls family trips with sloth bear and chital encounters in her chronicle Glimpses: The Lockwoods 1928-1980. Wilpattu was Sri Lanka’s first national park (established in 1938) and being roughly half way between Jaffna and Colombo it was a favorite place to visit on road trips. When we first moved to Sri Lanka Wilpattu was closed because of fighting and the very real danger of landmines. In the years since we have been getting to know the area better. We have usually stayed outside of the park and then hired local jeeps for the day. There are a series of DWC bungalows that I am looking forward to staying at when the opportunity arises. I still feel like we are just scratching the surface and I’m looking forward to further explorations and longer periods in Wilpattu’s magical forests.

Forest raptors of Wilpattu: Crested Hawk-Eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus) in first two images and Crested Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela) all photographed on the forest road into Wiplattu’s core area.

Forest raptors of Wilpattu: Crested Hawk-Eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus) in first two images and Crested Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela) all photographed on the forest road into Wiplattu’s core area.

Afternoon light panorama at the heart of Wilpattu.

Afternoon light panorama at the heart of Wilpattu.

REFERENCES

Gunatilleke, Nimal et al. Sri Lanka’s Forests-Nature at Your Service. Colombo: Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science, 2014. Print.

“Sri Lanka’s Wilpattu Ramsar Wetland Cluster.” Ramsar. 28 January 2013. Web.

“Trips Filed under Wilpattu.” Lankdasun. web.

Wikramanayake, Eric D. and Savithri Gunatilleke. “Southern Asia: Island of Sri Lanka off the coast of India. WWF Ecoregions. ND. Web.

Wijesinghe, Mahil. “Wilpattu…… in the times of Kuveni.” Sunday Observer. 23 May 2015. Web.

Wijeyeratne, Gehan de Silva. Sri Lankan Wildlife. Bucks, England: Bradt Travel Guides, 2007. Print.

“Wilpattu certified as a wetland of world importance.” Sunday Times. 10 February 2013. Web.

Piecing together 1:50,000 topo sheets of the west coast & WIlpattu purchased from the Sri Lanka Survey Department.

Piecing together 1:50,000 topo sheets of the west coast & Wilpattu and a Sri Lanka Landsat mosaic procured from the Sri Lanka Survey Department.

GIS-generated maps depicting forest cover, rivers, water bodies and protected areas in Sri Lanka. I utilized a variety of publically available data in their creation (acknowledged in bottom right annotations). This is Draft #1 and I’ll make updates in the future.

GIS-generated maps depicting forest cover, rivers, water bodies and protected areas in Sri Lanka. I utilized a variety of publicly available data in their creation (acknowledged in bottom right annotations). This is Draft #1 and I’ll make updates in the future. Double click for full sized 150 DPI A3 versions.

Written by ianlockwood

2016-09-11 at 1:41 am

Mapping Montane Grasslands in the Palani Hills

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Remnants of a pine tree that had invaded a patch of remote grasslands and then been ring-barked in 2013 as a part of an effort to protect the last vestiges of native montane grasslands in the remote Palani Hills. In the background the undulating hills leading back to Berijam and Kodaikanal have been thickly forested with non-native plantation species.

Remnants of a pine tree that had invaded a patch of remote grasslands and then been ring-barked in 2012 as a part of an effort to protect the last vestiges of native montane grasslands in the remote Palani Hills. In the background the undulating hills leading back to Berijam and Kodaikanal have been thickly forested with non-native plantation species.

Over the last year a group of scientists, conservationists, photographers and citizens have been working on a unique collaborative project to document and map the remaining grasslands of the Palani Hills. Montane grassland and shola habitats are a distinct feature of the upper Western Ghats and have been the focus of my personal explorations, writing and photography of/about  the area. The grasslands mapping project, supported by INTACH,  seeks to quantify the change in montane grasslands and draw attention to areas that can be restored. Robin Vijayan, now on faculty at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISERT,) in Tirupati is the coordinator. Other key stakeholders are associated with ATREE, NCBS and the Kodaikanal-based Vattakanal Conservation Trust. The Tamil Nadu Forest Department is a key partner and will be able to use the results to better plan restoration and management in the newly gazetted Kodaikanal Wildlife Sanctuary. Regular readers of this space will see that there are familiar themes highlighted in past posts, notably the post on the plantations symposium in December 2014 and the “preliminary visual assessment” post from April that year. This post highlights efforts of the group and a visit to the southern escarpment to ground truth areas that had been mapped with satellite data.

Inspecting a plot of cleared plantation on the road to Berijam Lake. The idea was to restore grasslands by clearing plantation. This has proven very difficult, if not impossible to achieve despite the best intentions. Cleared plantation areas soon become infested with weeds and wattle seedlings. In this image, pioneer Daphniphyllum neilgherrense trees are visible amongst the debris of the cleared wattle plantation. These pioneer shola species came up amongst the wattle that had been planted on grasslands. Thus, what emerges in plots that are located close to mother sholas is a hybrid plantation-shola mix in what was once montane grasslands. Examples like this illustrate the challenge and complexity of shola/grassland restoration in the southern Western Ghats.

Inspecting a plot of cleared plantation on the road to Berijam Lake. The idea was to restore grasslands by clearing plantation. This has proven very difficult, if not impossible to achieve despite the best intentions. Cleared plantation areas soon become infested with weeds and wattle seedlings. In this image, pioneer Daphniphyllum neilgherrense trees are visible amongst the debris of the cleared wattle plantation. These pioneer shola species came up amongst the wattle that had been planted on grasslands. Thus, what emerges in plots that are located close to mother sholas is a hybrid plantation-shola mix in what was once montane grasslands. Examples like this illustrate the challenge and complexity of shola/grassland restoration in the southern Western Ghats.

In July I had a chance to participate in a four-day survey of montane grasslands in the remote Palani Hills as part of the grasslands mapping project. For several months of this year the grasslands mapping project has employed two young and energetic GIS/RS technicians Arasu and Danish. They have been systematically classifying the Landsat data from 1973 and 2014 and then “ground truthing” land cover across the Palani Hills. The result has been a series of computer-based maps and data sets that show historical grassland compared to their current extent. It is an unprecedented enterprise in the Palanis and the results are startling. The data and maps will eventually be available for key stakeholders and the wider public once there has been a rigorous review process.

Danish and Arasu had ground truthed most of the upper Palanis Hills areas by June but the high plateau between Berijam and Vandaarvu was un-surveyed due to strict permissions regarding access to this core area of the sanctuary. It is an area that I have been visiting on and off since I was a student at Kodaikanal International School in the early 1980s –thus my role was to guide the group to some of the key places where there are still grasslands. We were joined by National Geographic explorer Prasenjeet Yadav who has been contributing his time and photographic talents to document the themes of the project.

The Berijam to Vandaravu area has experienced significant change as grasslands have been replaced with non-native plantations during the last 40 years. In the last two decades I have been more systematically documenting landscapes and key aspects of the ecology in the Palanis Hills and wider Western Ghats. Land cover changes are a particular interest brought about by personal experience (several generations of our family have explored the ranges). I have traditionally used a camera to document observations but increasingly I have been turning to remotely sensed images that can be used to monitor and measure land cover change.

Danesh taking data points at a rare grasslands patch on the way up to Ibex Peak. Behind stretches a view to Berijam and beyond-now all under thick forest cover.

From top left to bottom right: Danish taking data points at a rare grasslands patch on the way up to Ibex Peak. Behind stretches a view to Manavanur and beyond-now all under thick forest cover. Close up views of Mapit logging attributes and getting a GPS point.

From top left to bottom right: Cutting through fallen pine trees on the road to Katrikodai from Berijam. Prasen inspecting steep slopes and remnant grasslands at Prayer Point near Marion Shola. Danesh with forest guards logging a point on Mapit.

From top right to bottom left: Cutting through fallen pine trees on the road to Katrikodai from Berijam. Prasen inspecting steep slopes and remnant grasslands at Prayer Point near Marion Shola. Danish with forest guards logging a point on Mapit.

The visit to Kathcikiriodai and Ibex Peak in July gave our small party a good sense of how little natural grasslands are left in the Palani Hills while also appreciating the complexities that the plantation ecology have brought about. Initially we were delayed by fallen pine trees on the road (the old Kodai-Cochin road) and our team had to spend the night at the Berijam FD bungalow. On the second day Bob & Tanya drove us up to the road blocks and then we trekked into Kathcikiriodai. On our walk to Kathcikiriodai it occurred to me that there are only two types of grasslands surviving in this area: marsh grasslands and patches of non-native grasses growing on areas that used to be coop camps for woodcutters (when the area was actively logged). Otherwise everything else is plantation with virtually no shola (Marion Shola has a healthy shola and there must be a few others away from the road).

Grassy patch of non native grass species in an area that was once a coop shed where Sri Lankan repatriates worked to plant and harvest non-native timber species. I have memories of walking by remote, squalid camps in the 1980s during our hiking program.

Patch of non-native grass species in an area that was once a coop shed where Sri Lankan repatriates lived while working to plant and harvest timber species. I have memories of walking by remote, squalid camps in the 1980s during our school’s hiking program.

Forest guards taking out a young pine tree invading cliff side grasslands near Ibex Peak.

On the afternoon of Day 2 we visited Marion Shola, its dilapidated bungalow and the nearby cliffs. There had been a fire on the cliff edge-formerly grasslands abut now invaded with mostly eucalyptus. We revisited the site on the last day and were able to get a much better sense of the habitat, land use and awesome cliffs. We spotted a small herd of Nilgiri tahr (in close proximity to a bonnet macaque troop) several hundred meters below us. We appreciated the significant montane grasslands that crown the Agamalai range to the south – not in our study as they fall in the Theni district.

We had our most significant day on Tuesday July 19th when we trekked with four forest guards out to the Ibex Peak cliffs. We were blessed with sunshine and clear weather for the first crucial hours of the trip. On the way we passed though a few native grasslands patches as well as areas where grasses coexisted under thin eucalyptus plantation (Danish mapped and photographed all of these). I was alarmed at the cliff edge where it seems to me the wattle and pine is making advances into the strip of 30m or so grasslands that was never originally planted. The 2013 restoration efforts were visible (dead, leafless pine, and trunks with rings). However, as Bob Stewart later reiterated, it can not be a single effort and more, regular work needs to be done if these last grasslands are going to be saved. We walked up to Ibex Peak (2, 517 m), explored the marsh below it, which is still in very good shape and then headed back to Kathcikiriodai a little after noon. By that time the whole cliff area was covered in mist.

Scenes of grasslands on the path to Ibex Peak showing varying levels of invasion by non-native timber plantations.

Scenes of grasslands on the path to Ibex Peak showing varying levels of invasion by non-native timber species.

Interestingly, we heard some of the key shola species as we walked through the plantations-White Bellied Blue Robin (Myiomela albiventris), Black and Orange Flycatcher (Ficedula nigrorufa), Nilgiri Wood Pigeon (Columba elphinstonii) and Kerala Laughing Thrush (Trochalopteron or Strophocincla fairbanki). There was a pair of Nilgiri pipits (Anthus nilghiriensis) at Kathcikiriodai -apparently content amongst the non-native grasses and remnant marsh habitat. We photographed two different shrub frogs, found a Salea sp. (most likely anamallayana) in the burnt out eucalyptus and came across a shieldtail on the walk out (near one of the coop patches). The only gaur we saw was a herd from near Ibex Peak. There was significant elephant dropping evidence along the roads.

The four forest guards provided important support to our group and I gained a new appreciation for their role. Two accompanied us from Berijam and another two were based at Kathcikiriodai. They are clued into restoration and removed pine saplings from our path to Ibex Peak (at least one of them had worked with VCT on the cliff restoration initiative four years ago). They are however not well supported and have minimal equipment. They had no working wireless and with no cell phone connectivity and they are completely on their own! After trekking with forest guards and staff in other PAs in south India I feel that much more could be done for these men and their important work.

At the escarpment edge just east of Ibex Peak, the 2nd highest peak in the Palani Hills. These are the crucial grasslands that have been identified to be saved from encroaching invasive species. Our survey found them still intact but under pressure as pine, wattle and even eucalyptus spread beyond their original plantation boundaries.

At the escarpment edge just east of Ibex Peak, the 2nd highest peak in the Palani Hills. These are the crucial grasslands that have been identified to be saved from encroaching invasive species. Our survey found them still intact but under pressure as pine, wattle and even eucalyptus spread beyond their original plantation boundaries.

We made several important observations over the course of our survey:

  • Almost all the plateau’s montane grasslands area from Berijam to Vandaravu was planted with non-native timber plantations species in the last 40 years. This is supported by satellite evidence and terrestrial photographs from the 1960s and 70s. There are virtually no unplanted grasslands areas unless they contained shola or the soil was too thin.
  • There are several small grasslands patches on the road to Kathcikiriodai and Marion Shola. Remembering experiences from my school hiking days I am reminded that these are former coop shed camps that housed labor (often Sri Lankan repatriates) planting and harvesting timber. The patches do not support native grasslands but appear to provide fodder for herbivores (gaur, sambar).
  • Several large and medium-sized marshes in the area were left unplanted (for obvious reasons). These still exist, though there is some invasions of pine. One large marsh (10.168704° N, 77.366623°E) was dammed to provide drinking water (Konalar dam) for Poondi and Kavanji villages. Its lake now extends all the way to what used to be known as First Trout’s Stream.
  • Shola regeneration in the plantations between Berijam and Kathcikiriodai is extremely limited other than the beginning where plantations adjoin the Temple Shola near the Berijam FD camp. It illustrates the apparent fact that without a “mother shola” there is limited spread into plantations.
  • Plantations appear to have been planted to approximately 30 meters of the escarpment edge (a very abrupt border). These edges once supported remnant montane grasslands and were important for Nilgiri tahr and other herbivore populations. However, most of these edges have now been invaded by plantation species. The Ibex Peak cliff to Ullam Pari grasslands are some of the last remaining patches but these are experiencing invasion (see photos).
  • The May 2012 restoration work by VCT arrested some of this invasion in a limited area. However, it needs to be a regular intervention if these critical grasslands are to be saved from being overtaken by plantation trees.

In conclusion, I want to put in a special word of thanks to VCT for organizing the permissions and the drop off and pick up. My colleagues Prasen and Danish were excellent company. We are grateful to the TN Forest Department for facilitating the survey and providing us with the guards and accommodation at Kathcikiriodai. I am looking forward to making further contributions to the project and effort to protect this part of the Western Ghats.

The maps that are referred to earlier, as well as my own tinkering with spatial data, will be shared in a future post.

 

PAST BLOG POSTS & PUBLICATIONS

Lockwood, Ian. “Recent Publications.” Ian Lockwood Blog. 11 November 2015. Web.

“         “Forest Plantations and Biodiversity Conservation: A Symposium in the Palani Hills.” Ian Lockwood Blog. December 2014. Web.

“         “Land Cover Changes in the Palani Hills: A Preliminary Visual Assessment.” Ian Lockwood Blog. 4 April 2014. Web.

“         “Landscape and ecology in India’s Western Ghats: A Personal Odyssey.” Asian Geographic. July 2008. Print & Web.

“         “Restoring Montane Grasslands in the Palani Hills. Ian Lockwood Blog. July 2012. Web.

“         “On the southern rim of the Palani Hills (Part II). Ian Lockwood Blog. September 2011. Web.

“         “On the southern rim of the Palani Hills (Part 1). Ian Lockwood Blog. September 2011. Web.

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2016-08-22 at 11:56 pm

Panchromatic to Multispectral: Personal Explorations of the Western Ghats/Sri Lanka Biodiversity Hotspot

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For the last three years Nature in Focus has been an important gathering for people interested in photography and conservation. While hosted in the south Indian metro of Bangalore it has a global outlook and many of the speakers and participants are experienced with photographic and conservation projects in the broader global context. The two day workshops held in early July are the brainchild of Kalyan Varma, one of India’s leading photographers/ cinematographers working in conservation. This year I have been privileged to be invited to share some of my experiences using photography as a tool for conservation. Accompanied by our daughter Amy I will be sharing images and insights from my experiences documenting landscapes and ecology in the Western Ghats/ Sri Lanka biodiversity hotspot. The talk will consider the black & white aesthetic in the South Asian context as well as the changes with process as the traditional darkroom has evolved with the advent of digital tools. I also wanted to share some of my personal personal experiments with using geospatial and multispectral opportunities to better understand changing landscapes in the hotspot. I’m looking forward to the  opportunity to meet old friends, make new acquaintances and participate in the exchange of ideas for the benefit of biodiversity conservation.

Portions of the southern Western Ghats emphasizing Landsat thermal bands above 380 meters.

New work with GIS: Map showing selected portions of the southern Western Ghats emphasizing Landsat thermal bands above 380 meters.

Anai_Mudi_Moonscape_(1993)(72)

Anai Mudi Moonscape, Eravikulam National Park (March 1993). Fujica 6×9 (80 mm) fixed lens. Konica Infrared 120 film.

Kukaal_Fires(2002)(72)

Farmer burning agricultural waste, Kukkal, Palani Hills (May 2002). Mamiya 6 with 80 mm lens, Kodak T-Max 100 120 film.

Leaves_in_Anaimalais(1998)(72)

New growth, Anamalais Tiger Reserve, (June 1998). Mamiya 6 with 80 mm lens,  Kodak T-Max 100 120 film.

Sabaraimalai_Pilgrim_Portrait(2002)(72)

Sabaraimalai Piligrims, Periyar Tiger Reserve (January 2002). Mamiya 6 with 80 mm lens, Kodak T-Max 100 120 film.

Seen_God_Portrai_(2011)(72)

Seen God Portrait, A( July 2012). Hasselblad with 80 mm lens. Kodak T-Max 100 120 film

First light on Twin Peaks, Palani Hills (June 2012). Digital composite image using a Nikon D-300 with 24-70mm lens.

First light on Twin Peaks with the South West Monsoon over Kerala, Palani Hills (June 2012). Digital composite image using a Nikon D-300 with 24-70mm lens.

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2016-06-30 at 1:07 pm

Landscape & Ecology in the Nilgiri Hills: A Spatial Exploration

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View form Mettupalayam train station looking north to the slopes of the Nilgiri Hills. The famous Nilgiri Mountain railway with its stem engine is warming up for the morning ride up to Conoor. Composite digital image taken in 2009.

View form Mettupalayam train station looking north to the slopes of the Nilgiri Hills. The famous Nilgiri Mountain railway steam engine is warming up for the morning ride up to Conoor. Thirty minutes later it took Lenny, Merrick and me up the hill. (Composite digital image taken in July 2009).

The Nilgiri Hills are an important range in the Western Ghats range. The broader Nilgiris area, located at the tri-junction of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka, contains a variety of contrasting ecosystems and have the largest elevated plateau area in the Western Ghats. The Nilgiri Hills have been designated a “biosphere reserve” and include key protected areas including Silent Valley, Mukkurthy, Mudumalai and Bandipur National Parks (see the Keystone Foundations’ page for details). The Nagarhole, Wayanad and Satyamangalam forests adjoin the Nilgiris and thus it represses a vast protected area. Several important groups of people have lived in the hilly area prior to colonization by the British in the early 19th Century. The town of Ooty (Udhagamandalam) became the summer capital of the Madras Presidency and was the largest, most cosmopolitan hill station in southern imperial India. Many of the early scientific investigations of Western Ghats flora and fauna were conducted in the Nilgiris and adjoining areas. In fact, according to Paul Hocking, the leading authority on the area, the Nilgiris are said to be one of the most studied areas in Asia (see his interview in One Earth Foundation).

I’ve had a chance to visit the Nilgiris on several occasions since my first trip in the early 1990s. Initially I went on behalf the PHCC to make contact with individuals and groups working on conservation issues. On the first visit I had the opportunity to interact with Richard Radcliffe, a key figure in the post independence conservation movement in the Nilgiris. Later I returned on my own to work on recording landscapes as part of my ongoing Western Ghats documentation project. Most of the landscapes in this post are from those visits. On a recent trip to Silent Valley and Ooty (see previous blog post) I was immersed in the area’s ecology and landscapes and decided to work with some of the spatial data that I have gathered from various web portals.

My interest in the cartography of the Nilgiri Hills was sparked by an exquisite early 20th Century wall map in the Nilgiri Library. Roughly two meters wide it depicted relief, land use, hydrology, settlements, transport and other key elements. It was most likely a Survey of India product reflecting the high-end cartography that they made available to the public in an age before digital mapping and map restrictions related to security. There are few maps (and almost none that are publically available of the Western Ghats ranges) that come close to the science and art in those early SOI maps. I looked for it on this trip but the wall map has apparently been put away and is not publicly displayed anymore.

Two of the attached maps below utilize the 30 m SRTM Digital Elevation Model released by NASA/USGS in 2014 (Bhuvan also has DEMs available but they have voids and gaps that make it difficult to get a seamless base layer)(see announcement). The attached maps also highlight land cover data from the Western Ghats Biodiversity portal courtesy of my friend Prabhakar and his colleague J.P. Pascal (French Institute Pondicherry). The two NASA Landsat images look at the same area in 1973 and 2014. This provides a visual overview of changes similar to what I did in my “Land Cover Changes in the Palani Hills: A Preliminary Visual Assessment” blog post from April 2014. The issue of land cover changes, as evidenced in satellite imagery and terrestrial photos, continues to be an issue that I am interested in investigating using GIS and photo documentation.

Nilgiri HIlls relief & elevation map.

Nilgiri Hills relief & elevation map (click twice on image for larger 150 DPI A3 version).

Cairn Hills Shola in the Nilgiri Hills (left side of image) with adjoining eucalyptus plantations and former grasslands converted to agricultural plots.

Cairn Hills Shola in the Nilgiri Hills (left side of image) with adjoining eucalyptus plantations and former grasslands converted to agricultural plots. (Digital image, June 2006)

Emerald Reservoir, one of several large hydroelectric projects in the upper Nilgiri Hills. Tea is grown in the foreground, where as further back there are large non-native timber (eucalyptus) plantations. The monsoon mists hide the protected grasslands and sholas of Mukkurthy National park.

Emerald Reservoir, one of several large hydroelectric projects in the upper Nilgiri Hills. Tea is grown in the foreground, whereas further back there are large non-native timber (eucalyptus) plantations. The monsoon mist hides the protected grasslands and sholas of Mukkurthy National park. (Digital image, June 2006).

Toda home near Avalanche in the south-western Nilgiri Hills. Note the large shola in the background. The grasslands here have been converted into vegetable plots.

Toda home near Avalanche in the south-western Nilgiri Hills. Note the large shola in the background. The grasslands here have been converted into vegetable plots. (Digital image, June 2006).

Looking south, south-west from the Western Catchment area in Mukkurthy National Park towards Bangittapal. This is part o the Nilgiris-known as the Kundhas-has some of the most dramatic scenery in the entire Western Ghats. As is evident in the picture Mukkurthy supports significant areas of montane grasslands interspersed with shola pockets and lone Rhododendron trees. After hydroelectric dams were built here in the 1960s the Western Catchment area was became a popular site for Hindi and Tamil film makers. It is now off limits to movie makers and the general public and is protected for its biodiversity (notably Nilgiri tahr as well as large predators such as tigers). It took me significant time and effort to obtain the permissions to visit and make these few photographs (taken during a very short ½ day visit in January 1995).

Looking south, south-west from the Western Catchment area in Mukkurthy National Park towards Bangittapal. This part of the Nilgiris -known as the Kundhas- has some of the most dramatic scenery in the entire Western Ghats. As is evident in the picture, Mukkurthy supports significant areas of montane grasslands interspersed with shola pockets and lone Rhododendron trees. After hydroelectric dams were built here in the 1960s the Western Catchment area became a popular site for Hindi and Tamil film makers. It is now off limits to movie makers and the general public and is protected for its biodiversity (notably Nilgiri tahr as well as large predators such as tigers). It took me significant time and effort to obtain the permissions to visit and make these few photographs (taken during a very short ½ day visit in January 1995).(120 film image scanned)

Devil’s Gap at Western Catchment. Here granite cliffs drop precipitously into the Nilambur Valley in Kerala. A chasm is hidden along the line of shola vegetation parallel to the cliff. With the montane grasslands and Rhododendron trees and cliffs in the background Devil’s Gap makes for a most unusual Western Ghats landscape. I find similarities between this site and Devil’s Kitchen in the Palani Hills. At Devil’s Kitchen the encroaching plantations have obliterated the feel of the grasslands surrounding wind-sculpted sholas growing around the deep, hidden gorges. Taken on T-max 100 film using a Fujica 6x9 fixed lens camera. (January 1995).

Devil’s Gap at Western Catchment. Here granite cliffs drop precipitously into the Nilambur Valley in Kerala. A chasm is hidden along the line of shola vegetation parallel to the cliff. With the montane grasslands, Rhododendron trees and cliffs in the background, Devil’s Gap makes for a most unusual Western Ghats landscape. I find similarities between this site and Devil’s Kitchen in the Palani Hills. At Devil’s Kitchen the encroaching plantations have obliterated the feel of the grasslands surrounding wind-sculpted sholas growing around the deep, hidden gorges. Taken on T-max 100 film using a Fujica 6×9 120 fixed lens camera. (January 1995).

Looking north to Devil’s Gap from the escarpment at Western Catchment in Mukkurthy National Park. Note the undulating hills supporting montane grasslands free of non-native timber plantations. As seen in the maps below there are few areas left in the Nilgiri Hills where this once dominant vegetation still exists. Significant work is now being conducted by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department and NGOs to protect and restore montane grasslands in the Nilgiris. (Taken on Kodak T-max 100 120 film using a Fujica 6x9 fixed lens camera in January 1995).

Looking north to Devil’s Gap from the escarpment at Western Catchment in Mukkurthy National Park. Note the undulating hills supporting montane grasslands free of non-native timber plantations. As seen in the maps below, there are few areas left in the Nilgiri Hills where this once dominant vegetation still exists. Significant work is now being conducted by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department and NGOs to protect and restore montane grasslands in the Nilgiris. (Taken on Kodak T-max 100 film using a Fujica 120 6×9 fixed lens camera in January 1995).

Looking south from Masinagudi to the Nilgiri Plateau.

Looking south from Masinagudi to the Nilgiri Plateau. (Digital image, June 2006)

Nilgiri Hills Vegetation Map

Nilgiri Hills Vegetation & Land Cover Map (click twice on image for larger 150 DPI A3 version)

1973 Landsat image of Nilgiri Hills (click twice on image for larger 150 DPI A3 image)

1973 Landsat image of Nilgiri Hills (click twice on image for larger 150 DPI A3 image)

2014 Landsat Nilgiri Hills map (click twice on image for larger 150 DPI A3 image)

2014 Landsat Nilgiri Hills map (click twice on image for larger 150 DPI A3 image)

REFERENCES

Chhabra, Tarun. The Toda Landscape: Explorations in Cultural Ecology. New Delhi: Oriental Black Swan/Harvard, 2015. Print.

Hockings, Paul. Encyclopedia of the Nilgiri Hills: Parts 1 & 2. New Delhi: Manohar, 2012. Print.

Lakshumanan, C. et al. “Landuse/Land cover dynamics study in Nilgiris district part of Western Ghats, Tamil Nadu.” International Journal of Geomatics and Geosciences. Volume 2, No. 3 2012. Web.

Lockwood, Ian. “Into the Blue Mountains on Steam Power.” Ian Lockwood Blog. 7 September 2009. Web.

Lockwood, Ian. “Land Cover Changes in the Palani Hills: A Preliminary Visual Assessment.” Ian Lockwood Blog. 4 April 2014. Web.

Lockwood, Ian. “Landscape and ecology in India’s Western Ghats: A Personal Odyssey.” Asian Geographic. July 2008. Print & Web.

Nalina, P. et al. “Land Use Land Cover Dynamics of Nilgiris District, India Inferred From Satellite Imageries.” American Journal of Applied Sciences. 11 (3) 455-461, 2014. Web.

Satish, K.V. et al. “Geospatial assessment and monitoring of historical forest cover changes (1920–2012) in Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, Western Ghats, India.” Environmental Monitoring Assessment. 12 August 2014. Web.

Walker, Anthony R. The Toda of South India: A New Look. Delhi: Hindustan Publishing Corporation, 1986. Print.

Varma, Kalyan. “Revisiting Nilgiris’ Peaks and Passes.” Kalyan Varma Website. 7 August 2009. Web.

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2016-05-31 at 12:10 am

Linking the Hotspot: From Silent Valley to Sinharaja

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Malabar trogon (Harpactes fasciatus) male and female photographed in Sairandhri zone of Silent Valley National Park. This is one of the most beautiful birds from the Western Ghats & Sri Lanka hotspot and is found in many parts of the Ghats as well as in most evergreen forests (both wet and dry) in Sri Lanka. It is quite shy but can be photographed with patience. In Sinharaja rainforest Malabar trogons are often found in the mixed-species feeding flocks that are a key feature. Some of my best sightings are from Sinharaja trails and it was thrilling to have the long encounter in SVNP with Aneesh CR that produced these images.

Malabar trogon (Harpactes fasciatus), male and female, photographed in the Sairandhri zone of Silent Valley National Park. This is one of the most beautiful birds from the Western Ghats & Sri Lanka hotspot and is found in many parts of the Ghats as well as in most evergreen forests (both wet and dry) in Sri Lanka. It is quite shy but can be photographed with patience. In Sinharaja rainforest Malabar trogons are often found in the mixed-species feeding flocks that are a key feature. Some of my best sightings are from Sinharaja trails and it was thrilling to have the long encounter in SVNP with Aneesh CR that produced these images.

The Western Ghats and Sri Lanka biodiversity hotspot encompasses a swathe of area running down the western coast of India across the Palk Straits to Sri Lanka and its southernmost point at Dondra Head. The heterogeneous landscape-composed of rugged hills, river valleys, wetlands and coastal plains there host a variety of vegetation types. Being a hotspot, there are unfortunately anthropocentric pressures: dense human populations, mining, damming, plantation agriculture and expanding human settlements to name a few. There is also impressive work that has been done in protecting key parts of the hotspot. A significant type of vegetation is the tropical wet evergreen forest that are found in high rainfall areas along the hotspot.

This blog is a personal narrative exploring two exemplary tropical rainforest habitats in the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka biodiversity hotspot-Silent Valley in the Indian sate of Kerala and Sinharaja in south-western Sri Lanka. By good fortune our school had two breaks over a course of March/April this year that allowed me the opportunity to explore both of these seminal protected areas with our two children. Amy-eight years old and enthusiastic about learning, art and sports -accompanied me to Sinharaja in March. Lenny, in middle school and now approaching his teen years is involved in theater productions and has a sharp eye for the wildlife in our Malabe neighborhood. He joined me on the Silent Valley exploration in April.

The rare Serendib Scops Owl (Otus thilohoffmanni) photographed at a day-time roost in Sinharaja captured in in a beam of afternoon light with the able guidance of Thandula. The species was only identified 12 years ago by Sri Lankan ornithologist Deepal Warakagoda.

The rare Serendib Scops Owl (Otus thilohoffmanni) photographed at a day-time roost in Sinharaja captured in in a beam of afternoon light with the able guidance of Thandula. The species was only identified 12 years ago by Sri Lankan ornithologist Deepal Warakagoda.

This map shows the location of Silent Valley and Sinharaja layered over an updated SRTM “Swiss shade” model that I have just started to work with. The Western Ghats boundary (from ATREE) and the major protected areas in both Sri Lanka and the southern Western Ghats are also highlighted.

This map shows the location of Silent Valley and Sinharaja layered over an updated SRTM “Swiss shade” model that I have just started to work with. The Western Ghats boundary (from ATREE) and the major protected areas in both Sri Lanka and the southern Western Ghats are also highlighted.

Table 1: Comparing the two protected areas.

Table 1: Comparing the two protected areas.

SILENT VALLEY

Silent Valley sits high amongst India’s most important protected areas. Not only does it preserve one of the largest tracts of undisturbed tropical rainforest in the Western Ghats, it is a symbol for a people’s movement to protect wilderness areas from misguided “development.” In the 1970s a plan to dam the Kunthipuzha River that runs from the Nilgiri plateau to the Arabian Sea galvanized a people’s anti-dam movement in Kerala in favor of protecting the forest. It was not an easy fight – in addition to agitation from citizen’s groups in Kerala, luminaries such as Salam Ali and the strong will of Indira Gandhi played a key role in Silent Valley’s notification as a national park in 1985. The area is now zealously protected and is one of the finest tracts of rainforests in the Western Ghats. Shekar Dattatri’s 1991 film Silent Valley: An Indian Rainforest helped introduce many of us to the area. His article (listed below) presents a timeline of events that led to the area’s protection.

During the longer Sinhala & Tamil new year break this year Lenny and I journeyed to south India and Silent Valley for an exhilarating four day visit. We were the guests of Silpa Kumar, the wildlife warden of SVNP who Lenny and I met a year and a half ago in Kerala’s other national park, Eravikulam. I was interested in revisiting SVNP (22 years ago I made a very brief foray into the forest) and I also wanted to introduce Lenny to the wonders of a Western Ghats rainforest. This was hard work-his friends were going to amusement parks in Singapore or beach resorts in the Maldives and Lenny was going on another adventure with his father. With a few incentives, he was a good camper and played a vital role in helping to spot birds and mamals.

Of course, it’s some way from Colombo to the Kerala side of the Nilgiri Hills. Silent Valley sits in the south-west portion in a relatively inaccessible part of the greater Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Our journey took us to Madurai, the Palani Hills and then on across the scorching hot and bone-dry Palghat Gap to Mananarkad, the nearest large settlement to the Valley. We were warmly received by Silpa and set up for an amazing visit. That afternoon we journeyed to the Mukali gate and then into the core zone in a forest department jeep. We spent the next three days based around the old proposed dam site at Sairandhri. A young and energetic officer/Wildlife of India Institute graduate Aneesh accompanied us and helped us learn more about the area.

On one of our full days we walked the trail to the Poochipara forest station. It crosses the Kunthipuzha and then continues through gorgeous, towering rainforest to a forest guard hut. Back in the Sairandhri vicinity I was able to record rare and colorful creatures-most that I had seen in past years but was never able to photograph properly. Highlights included sightings of Malabar Trogons, Southern Treepies, White Bellied Blue Flycatchers, Fairy Bluebirds, Gray Headed Bulbuls, Great Pied Hornbills, Lion Tailed Macaques, Nilgiri Langurs, Draco lizards and much more. We shared the forest guesthouse with Aneesh and three young women from the College of Forestry in Trissur Kerala. They were conducting population studies of bats, rodents and small carnivores. Lenny was able to observe them setting up mist nets and catching bats. Ever the prankster, Lenny photo-bombed one of Devika’s camera trap-a device that a few weeks earlier had captured a tiger and black panther (a melanic form of the leopard) moving on different nights.

There have been significant changes in Silent Valley since it started receiving formal protection from the Keralal Forest Department. One change and improvement that is visibly obvious is the increased forest cover. The image on left was taken in January 1995 during a fleeting day-long visit that I did. The right images was taken from roughly the same place this month (April 2016). Though the lighting is not great several of the patches of grasslands have now been taken over my forest cover. This of course poses interesting challenges as there is less fodder for large herbivores and SVNP’s wildlife staff reported decline in gaur and Sambhar. The tree growth is of native vegetation and appears to be following the somewhat predictable stages of ecological succession that one would expect in this area.

There have been significant changes in Silent Valley since it started receiving formal protection from the Kerala Forest Department. One change and improvement that is visibly obvious is the increased forest cover. The image on left was taken in January 1995 during a fleeting day-long visit that I did. The right image was taken from roughly the same place this month (April 2016). Though the lighting is not great, several of the patches of grasslands have now been taken over by forest cover. This, of course, poses interesting challenges as there is less fodder for large herbivores- and SVNP’s wildlife staff reported decline in gaur and Sambhar. The tree growth is of native vegetation and appears to be following the somewhat predictable stages of ecological succession that one would expect in this area.

Canopy of the rainforest in Silent Valley National park -a composite exploration.

Canopy of the rainforest in Silent Valley National park -a composite exploration.

Lenny’s Lion Tailed Macaque (Macaca silenus). While having an afternoon rest we were alerted to a troop of LTMs next to the rest house. This male was also in a lethargic mood in the afternoon heat. LTMs are significant keystone species in the rainforests of the Western Ghats. Their protection was a key issue in the debate about whether or not to dam the Kunthipuzha River and flood prime LTM rainforest habitat.

Lenny’s Lion Tailed Macaque (Macaca silenus). While having a short siesta Lenny and I were alerted to a troop of LTMs next to the rest house. This male was also in a lethargic mood in the afternoon heat. LTMs are significant keystone species in the rainforests of the Western Ghats. Their protection was a key issue in the debate about whether or not to dam the Kunthipuzha River and flood prime LTM rainforest habitat.

White Cheeked Barbet (Psilopogon viridis) and Fairy Blue bird male (Irena puella) at Silent Valley National Park. The barbet is endemic to the Western Ghats while the Fairy Bluebird is distribution in the Western Ghats (but not Sri Lanka) and into NE India and SE Asia.

White Cheeked Barbet (Psilopogon viridis) and Fairy Blue bird male (Irena puella) at Silent Valley National Park. The barbet is endemic to the Western Ghats while the Fairy Bluebird is distribution in the Western Ghats (but not Sri Lanka) and into NE India and SE Asia.

Sri Lankan endemic bird species from Sinharaja, taken in a similar habitat to the SVNP birds above. From left to right: Yellow Fronted Barbet (Psilopogon flavifrons) Ashy Headed Laughing Thrush (Garrulax cinereifrons) and Layrd’s Parakeet (Psittacula calthrapae).

Sri Lankan endemic bird species from Sinharaja, taken in a similar habitat to the SVNP birds above. From left to right: Yellow Fronted Barbet (Psilopogon flavifrons) Ashy Headed Laughing Thrush (Garrulax cinereifrons) and Layrd’s Parakeet (Psittacula calthrapae).

SINHARAJA

Like Silent Valley, Sinharaja’s status as a protected area was born from controversy. The area that makes up what visitors know of the park was part of a larger belt of lowland rainforest in the Rakwana Hills. The lore associated with the forest stretches back to a time before recorded history. Much of this hilly area was converted into plantation agriculture in the 20th Century but Sinharaja enjoyed natural protection because of the rugged topography of its boundaries. However, in the 1960s roads were built into its heart and mechanical logging was started to feed a large paper mill located in Avisawella. It was a time when this sort of project elicited praise for improving the prospect for “development.” Awareness about ecological matters-concepts like biodiversity, deforestation, ecosystem services and watershed management were not in the public discourse of the age.

As the name suggests, Sinharaja (“lion king”) evokes pride in the Sinhalese and by the 1970s groups of citizens, university professors and students had started to raise awareness about the deforestation and need to protect the forest. The March for Conservation group was a key actor in raising public awareness. It took Julius Jayewardene’s 1977 election for that to happen. The logging soon stopped and Sinharaja was protected first as a sanctuary in 1978 and then as a UNESCO-designated World Heritage site in 1988. Since then it has become one of the most studied rainforests in Asia. The area that was once logged has made a remarkable recovery and Sinharaja illustrates the potential for rainforest recovery after human disturbance.

In March I did a short three-day visit to Sinharaja with our daughter Amy. The goal was to experience the forest and see and photograph as many birds (and other creatures) as possible. In recent years most of my visits have been with students as part of our DP Geography field work and it was good to have an opportunity to explore other places in the area for personal reasons. It was quite hot and dry- in fact dry enough that there were no leeches! Amy and I were lucky to have Thandula as our guide on this visit. We walked to the research center, observed a few mixed species flocks and journeyed to see a Green-billed Coucal (Centropus chlororhynchos) next and the rare Sri Lanka Spurfowl (Galloperdix bicalcarata). Many of the birds were busy nesting but the migrants (paradise flycatchers etc.) were still around, which we appreciated. The highlight was a superb encounter with the Serendib Scops Owl (Otus thilohoffmanni), a bird brought to public notice by Deepal Warakagoda in 1998. Thandula had worked in Sinharaja with Deepal and it was thanks to him that we saw this shy bird. As usual, we stayed at Martin’s where we are treated like family and Amy was showered with special attention. Her favorite part was spending time exploring the stream below Martin’s.

SHARED LESSONS

There are fascinating parallels in Sinharaja and Silent Valley that are worth highlighting briefly here. Both have conservation histories that started in controversy, elicited a ground swelling of public support and resulted in their protection. From my perspective, both demonstrate effective management strategies. Silent Valley is blessed with a team of enthusiastic and committed personnel that love what they do. This stretches from the top level -who are more often in the field than office- to the forest guards manning remote posts. The Kerala Wildlife Department runs a tight operation and I was impressed by the commitment and love for their rainforest that they espoused. In Sinharaja. a similar pride in the protected area is evident in the forest guides that take tourists along trails at the Kudawa and Deniaya entrances. Their livelihoods are closely connected to the protected forest. Ecological succession is happening in both places and the recovery of the rainforest is remarkable. There have been important studies conducted on this recovery as well as other aspects of the forest areas but there are opportunities to delve deeper. Both case studies demonstrate the power of protecting South Asian rainforests for ecological, aesthetic and even economic reasons.

 

REFERENCES

Bawa, Kamal, Arundathi Das and Jagdish Krishnaswamy. Ecosystem Profile: Western Ghats & Sri Lanka Biodiversity Hotspot. Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, May 2007. Web.

Dattatri , Shekar. “Silent Valley – A People’s Movement That Saved A Forest.” Conservation India. 25 September 2015. Web.

de Zoysa, Neela Ryhana Raheem. Sinharaja, a rain forest in Sri Lanka. Colombo: March for Conservation, 1990. Print.

Global Forest Watch. Web. ( a helpful site to investigate change in forest cover on a variety of scales)

Louve, Richard. Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, Algonquin Books, 2005. Print.

Manoharan, T.M. Silent Valley: Whispers of Reason. Thiruvanthapuram: Kerala Forest Department & KFRI, 1999. Print.

Ramachandran, K.K. Ecology and Population Dynamics of Endangered Primates in Silent Valley National Park. Trissur: Kerala Forest Research Institute, March 1988. Web.

Silent Valley National Park. Thiruvanthapuram: Kerala Forest Department. Web. (the official site for the park-very useful!)

“The Legendary Sinharaja.” WWW Virtual Library-Sri Lanka. Web. (excerpts form the de Zoysa book)

Western Ghats Biodiversity Portal (Beta). Web.

“Western Ghats.” ARKive. Web.

WWF Ecoregions. Southwestern Ghats Moist Forests and Sri Lanka Web.

WWF Ecoregions. Sri Lankan Moist Forests. Web.

Silent Valley A (2016)

Silent Valley and lower Mukurthy National Parks as seen in a a 2014 Landsat 8 image of the area. Double click for a larger 150 DPI A3 image.

 

Getting the kids into the woods: (Left) Lenny and Ian returning from a hike to Poochimara in Silent Valley National Park (April 2016). (Right) Amy and her dad in Sinharaja photographing the elusive Serendib Scops Owl with a 600mm lens (March 2016).

Postscript: Getting the child into the woods: (Left) Lenny and Ian returning from a hike to Poochipara in Silent Valley National Park (April 2016). (Right) Amy and her dad in Sinharaja photographing the elusive Serendib Scops Owl with a 600mm lens (March 2016). Left photograph courtesy of Aneesh , right photograph courtesy Thandula.