Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

Hills of Murugan on Display

leave a comment »

Amer and Mohan skillfully putting up some of the last of the 32 frames in the Varija Gallery at DakshinaChitra on the morning of July 6th.

DakshinaChitra’s Vajira Gallery hosted The  Hills of Murugan from July 6th-30th. The solo exhibition highlighted themes of changing landscape and vegetation patterns in the Palani Hills as seen in photographs and satellite imagery. The choice of Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, for this show was important.  I expected that most visitors would be familiar the Palani Hills as a site of the popular hill station of Kodaikanal but that few of them would be aware of the degree of ecological change taking place in this sensitive Western Ghats landscape. The exhibition received good press coverage and seem to appreciate the choice of black & white fine art prints and conservation-centric approach.

The idea that significant ecological change is happening in our own lifetimes was an important message to share with the audience. The choices of images highlighted undistributed aspects of the Palani Hills, scenes of tree ferns and water and shola/grasslands systems. These were followed up with images of non-native timber plantations agriculture, hill station expansion and other signs of modern human impact. The final images emphasized scenes of hope: restoration work by the Vattakanal Conservation Trust and the tenacious shola species taking seed under a canopy of eucalyptus.

My principal medium continues to be black & white imagery and in the Hills of Murugan the main gallery featured 32 fine art prints originally exposed on film and digital cameras. Karthik V’s superior printing helped deliver the kind of exhibition print experience that I had envisioned after my training with George Tice at the Maine Photographic Workshops. Focus Gallery did a fine job with the framing and presentation. I supported the educational objectives of the show with a second gallery of color images, annotated maps and illustrated information posters. The maps were created on ArcGIS using a variety of data sources including Sentinel 2 and Landsat data as well as high-resolution elevation models. I included a poster highlighting the work of the montane grasslands group and, in a sense, the exhibition was a visual experience highlighting the themes of this study.

Raina, Lenny and Amy and I were there a few days ahead of time to pick up the frames and get things organized. We enjoyed being part of the DakshinaChitra community and participating in the ebb and flow of their days. DakshinaChitra’s team worked hard to get the space ready and then hang the show. Sharath Nambiar, the deputy director helped organize our accommodation and the repainting of the gallery.  The final picture hanging was completed by Amer their multi-talented gallery supervisor.  The opening on the 6th proceeded on schedule, though we were disappointed not to have Rom Whitaker to help inaugurate the show (he and Janiki were stranded in Chengalpattu when their car broke down the morning of the exhibition). There were, however, several friends working in conservation who joined us for the opening. Robin Vijayan and his team of students and friends from the nascent Bombay Shola field station hosted at KIS were in attendance. That included Arasumani the principal author of our grasslands study. Vasanth Bosco from the Nilgiris, who was with me on a memorable Kukkal adventures features in the show, came out. Karthik V., who did the fine art printing and his colleague Suresh Menon were in the audience. We lit a lamp, said a few welcome notes and then I gave an illustrated talk on the themes of change in the landscape and ecosystems of the Palani Hills.

Information posters: Landscape, Ecology & Change.

We stayed at DakshinaChitra for several days and then headed out to Mizoram to be with family. The frames came down at the end of July. The feedback from visitors was positive. I would have liked some of my friends in the TN Forest Department to make it out and have realized that I need to share the show further and in other venues in order to reach a wider audience. Some of the framed images have now gone to Focus Gallery (who did the framing) and Karthik’s new photo studio in Neelankarai. The annotated maps and information posters are going to Kodai where they will be a part of a new Palani Hills/Sky Islands interpretation center being set up on KIS’s Swedish House property. The work of educating people better about the ecological changes is only just beginning…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

REFERENCES & PUBLICITY

Lockwood, Ian. “Fine Art Photography as a tool for Education & Conservation.” Better Photography. 2 July 2018. Print & Web.

Lockwood, Ian. “The Hills of Murugan.” Sanctuary Asia. August 2018. Print & Web.

Nath, Parshathy J. “It is the urban visitor who ruins hill stations, says photographer Ian Lockwood.” The Hindu. 9 July 2018. Web(not sure if I have been quoted correctly here…but you get the idea)

Saju, MT. “Shooting the changing scenes on Palani Hills.” The Times of India city. 6 July 2018. Web.  (well timed, but not all factually correct)

 

Exhibition poster fo the Hills of Murugan.

 

Written by ianlockwood

2018-09-04 at 9:11 pm

Sinharaja 2017 & 18 Geography IA Field Studies

with 4 comments

Milky_Way_Sinharaja_1a(MR)(05_17)

Sinharaja’s rainforest canopy under the Milky Way- an unusual sight given that high humidity often prevents clear view of the heavens. (May 2017).

Two successful OSC Geography field studies have come and gone in the last 15 months. Both learning experiences gave an opportunity for small groups of motivated DP1 students to investigate an individual research question in a rural Sri Lankan landscape.  Sinharaja rainforest, a UNESCO-designated World Heritage site, is located the south-western “wet zone” of the country and is well known for its rich biodiversity. OSC classes have been conducting field work in Sinharaja since 2005. The location offers ideal conditions for student learning, inquiry and field work on socio-economic, tourist and land-use themes. Many years ago, we used to do more ecology/ecosystems studies but the changes in the DP Geography syllabus has influenced how students craft their research questions around human aspects of the landscape. On both trips we were privileged to stay at Martin’s Wijeysinghe’s Forest Lodge; it continues to offer an ideal base for student field work, with access to the protected area, a range of habitats and home gardens.

The Sinharaja canopy from Moulawella showing the extensive rainforest over the core part of the World Heritage Site. (May 2017)

May 2017 Experience

The Class of 2018 geography class included eight enthusiastic students representing a diverse range of countries (eight different nationalities, with half the class being dual nationals). They embraced the learning opportunities, didn’t complain about the leeches (it was relatively dry this year) and seemed to thoroughly enjoy the Sri Lankan cuisine cooked up by Martin’s daughter. In 2017 Kamila Sahideen provided support in the interviews and was once active with finding frogs and other forest creatures. We were also happy to have Salman Siddiqui (Malaika and Maha’s father) along for one night. With his role as the head of IWMI’s GIS unit, I appreciated having Salman’s insights on how we might better use GIS/RS & drones to emphasize spatial dimensions of our data collection.

May 2018 Experience

The Class of 2019 geography class was slightly smaller but no less enthusiastic. There were six students and we were supported by Sandali Handagama, OSC’s multi-talented math teacher (and a former student of OSC). We hired four Sinharaja guides each day and they were essential in translating the surveys and helping the students to better understand the area. We have now developed a strong relationships and they have played a key role in the success of OSC’s field work in Sinharaja. Most of the surveys were gathered on foot but at times we hired local jeeps to take us further away from the ticket office at Kudawa.

Each of the students explored an individual geographic research question but pooled all of their sub-questions into a single survey that all could run. The actual survey of 45-50 questions could take up to 20-30 minutes with introductions and a look around home garden properties. The respondents were gracious with their time and several OSC teams were invited to have tea. With several different teams going in different directions we collected 72 different interviews in 2017 and 42 in 2018. We collected responses using Survey 123 a GIS-enabled data gathering app that all the students could run off their phones (we also recorded every response on paper). This allows students to map their results and do basic spatial analysis on the findings using ArcGIS, the GIS software package that they learn to operate in my class.

Paradoxurus_zeylonensis_Sinharaja_1(MR)(05_18)

The elusive and rarely seen Golden Civet Cat (Paradoxurus zeylonensis) making a short visit to Martin’s Lodge during the course of our final meal of idiyappam (string hoppers) and kiri hodi (potato curry).Food was dropped in a slightly messy panic in order to trigger the camera and flashes during its brief time with us.

Frogmouth_Collage_1(MR)(05_18)

Sri Lanka frogmouth (Batrachostomus moniliger) female on left and male on the right in a patch of tree ferns. These pictures are only possible-like almost any frogmouth image-with the sharp eyes of a guide! I was assisted by Thandula, Ratnasiri and several others. Students got impressive pictures with their phones. (May 2018).

In addition to conducting the surveys, students got a flavor of being ecotourists in a tropical forest. They walked the different forest trails, encountered mixed species feeding flocks, appreciated small rainforest creatures and soaked their feet in jungle streams. Looking for frogs, insects and snakes at night is always a special treat. On the 2017 trip the class had me wake them up in the middle of the night to take in the majesty of the Milky Way in unusually clear, moisture-free skies. A highlight of the 2018 trip was having an encounter with a rare Golden Civet Cat (Paradoxurus zeylonensis) while eating dinner at Martin’s. The shy nocturnal mammal graced us for a few brief minutes and fed on bananas put out by our hosts. We completed our Sinharaja visits with a hike up to Moulawella peak to take in the full extent of the Sinharaja rainforest landscape. The views in 2017 were especially clear but 2018 also offered the team a chance to take in this remarkable rainforest and home garden landscape.

Sinharaja_guides &_class_1(MR)(05_18)

Class of 2019 DP Geography Class and several of the Sinharaja guides (May 2018).

The Class of 2018 DP Geography Class with Martin at his Forest Lodge. Back Row: Easmond, Thiany, Aanaath, Zoe, Adrian & Ian.  Bottom Row: Malaika, Salman S, Martin, Kamila, Fatma & Yuki. (May 2017)

The Class of 2019 DP Geography Class with Martin at his Forest Lodge. Back Row: Joran, Dominic, Devin, Lukas, Martin’s grandson and granddaughter. Middle Row: Sandali, Martin, his wife and daughter. Bottom Row: Sarah, Maha and Ian (May 2018)

 

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

Geography IA Trip 2016

General Sinharaja Reflections

 

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

2018-08-27 at 10:50 pm

The Hills of Murugan: An Exhibition on the Palani Hills

with 2 comments

Hills of Murugan (Horizontal poster)

In a few days I am getting ready to put on an exhibition of fine art prints and annotated maps at Chennai’s  DakshinaChitra gallery. The show is entitled The Hills of Murugan: Landscape, Ecology & Change in the Palani Hills and will be open to visitors from July 6th-30th.

The exhibition is a compilation of nearly 30 years of documentation and 48 years of experience exploring in the Palani Hills (see list of related publications below). My past exhibitions in India focused on the broader range of the southern Western Ghats and this is a more narrowly focused series of images that emphasize one range. In the Hills of Murugan I highlight themes of changing landscape and vegetation patterns in the Palani Hills as seen in photographs and satellite imagery. Seasoned readers of this blog know that these are ideas that I have explored in published articles,  exhibitions and posts on my blog.  My work attempts to bridge science with art and conservation and I am mindful that it should not be confused with picturesque approaches to beautiful locations in India.

Samples of the 20″x 20″ prints fresh from Karthik’s printer and just signed. These are printed on Canson Infinity Rag Photographique 310 GSM, the leading papers for monochrome printing. They will be part of the main gallery of roughly 30 black & white fine art prints in square, rectangular and panoramic format.

The upcoming show marks  an important step forward with my photographic printing. For the last 15 years I have been struggling with how best to print and share my work. For the Drik and IIC  exhibitions in 2000-02 I showed work that I had completed in a traditional wet darkroom. Even though I was using medium format film that produced detailed black & white negatives, the print size was limited by the availability of photographic paper (carried from the US in luggage) and the tray sizes. My largest prints were 16”x 20” and most were 10”x 10”. With the digital revolution and the advent of digital printing my darkroom was mothballed and I tinkered with learning new skills to make black & white prints. Printing has been straight forward in Colombo’s commercial labs but the paper quality was not up to my old darkroom standards where I employed fiber-based archival paper. It has been easier to communicate my photographic work on electronic media-my blog, website and in occasional published articles. However, I’m still a believer in the idea that the photographic fine art print is the ultimate expression of the process.

For the Hills of Murugan show I was able to make contact with V. Karthik, India’s leading fine art printer. As someone with a long record of working in photographic the industry and specializing in archival restoration and printing, Karthik has developed a refined knowledge and work flow with printing fine art photographic prints. He knows the different papers, the printers and has a special appreciation for black & white work. Two weeks ago I met Karthik and we worked together with my files. Based on his guidance I had 32 different images printed that will be on display at the exhibition.

Family friend, Indian snake man and Padma Shri awardee Rom Whitaker will be inaugurating the show on July 6th at 4:30. Rom was a natural choice-he grew up in the Palanis and did some his early snake catching there. His years at Kodai school in the 1950s overlapped with my parents, Merrick and Sara Ann. My uncle, Charles Emerson, was Rom’s roommate when he was keeping snakes under his dormitory bed and I have strong memories of outings with Rom to go fishing and looking for snakes during m school years in the 1980s.  DakshinaChitra is on the same East Coast road as the Croc Bank, the site that was a key part of Rom’s work with reptiles. The team at DakshinaChitra, with guidance from curator Gita and support from Sharat Nambiar and Debbie Thiagarajan has helped facilitate the show after I proposed the idea in January. I had an affiliation with DakshinaChitra through my uncle Dr. Michael Lockwood who has contributed antique brass pieces to the galleries. I have gained a new appreciation for DakshinaChitra’s vital role in preserving and sustaining key aspects of south India’s rich cultural heritage. The Hills of Murugan has an ecological rather than cultural focus. However, through the choice of images one can better understand that the landscape and ecology provide a foundation for the livelihoods of the people living in the Palani Hills.  My wife Raina and children Lenny and Amy are putting up with me during this busy time and providing advice on the images and how best to arrange things.

The main exhibition is composed of 32 black & white fine art prints. These framed prints are designed to be a body of work that stand alone but that illustrate the themes of landscape, ecology and change in the Palani Hills. In DakshinaChitra’s side gallery I have compiled a series of annotated posters, maps and mini posters highlighting key species from the Palani Hills landscape. The goal here is more ambitious: it is designed to be  educational, such that visitors come away with a better sense of the area’s biodiversity, ecology and hydrology. Through annotated maps and posters I make references to recent history and ecological change. The theme of ecological changes resulting from non-native plantation efforts are presented and there are suggestions on the important work that needs to be done to protect the Palani Hills in the future.

The Hills of Murugan opens on July 6th at 4:30 and the show is open until the 30th of July (Tuesdays are holidays). I hope to see you there!

 

Palani Hills selection of shola/grasslands species. These are printed as A2 posters to accompany information posters in an adjoining room next to the main gallery.

Palani Hills 1973 Overlay (150)

For the exhibition I produced a series of new maps to accompany the information side of the presentation. This is a map depicting the earliest Landsat image of the Palani HIlls area. It is printed as an A1 size poster that will be in a smaller gallery next to the main hall of fine art prints.

Palani Hills Elevation Version 2a 2018 (150)

The elevation map is based on a digital elevation model of 30 meter data that I have processed from NASA raw data. I have also added key points and settlements but have left out roads and other human impacts so as to emphasize the topographical features of the Palani Hills landscape.

REFERENCES (Key articles by the author on the Palani Hills)

Lockwood, Ian. “Metamorphosis of a Landscape. ”Nature in Focus. January 2017. digital story format

           ”           . “Plantation Paradox.” Frontline. November 2015. (PDF)

           ”           . “Breathing Life Back into the Sholas.” Frontline. 20 April 2012. (PDF)

           ”           . “Fragile Heritage.” Frontline. October 2009. (PDF)

           ”           . “The Next Big Thing” Sanctuary Asia, June 2006. (PDF)

           ”           . “The Palni Hills: On the Danger List. ”Frontline. August 2003. (WEB)

 

also

Arsumani, M. et al. “Not seeing the grass for the trees: Timber plantations and agriculture shrink tropical montane grassland by two-thirds over four decades in the Palani Hills, a Western Ghats Sky Island.  PLOS One. January 2018. Web.

Written by ianlockwood

2018-07-01 at 5:32 pm

Kurinji Flowering in the Southern Western Ghats-Anticipation

with 2 comments

A collage of four images taken of Strobilanthes kunthiana (Kurinji) flowering in the remote Palani Hills during the 2006 mass flowering. These were taken on 6×6 cm medium format color negatives and then scanned.

2018 is an important year in the high reaches of the southern Western Ghats. The gregarious flowers of Strobilanthes kunthiana* or Kurinji plant (also Neelakurinji) is set for its once-in-12 years mass blooming. The Strobilanthes genus is widespread in tropical Asian forests where most of the 350+ species are found in forest understory systems. They have unusual flowering cycles and they experience mass flowering, dieback and then regeneration. Amongst these, there are very few Strobilanthes species that exclusively occur in grasslands habitats. Strobilanthes kunthiana* is native to the montane grasslands that are an important part of the shola/grassland mosaic in the southern Western Ghats. Every twelve years the flowering of Strobilanthes kunthiana and the extent to which they flower is an excellent gauge of the health of montane grasslands.

Unfortunately, as has been recorded in this space before, shola/grasslands ecosystems in key ranges such as the Nilgiri and Palani hills are under assault from a number of anthropocentric factors. The clearing of grasslands for timber plantations, agricultural fields and residential developments in Kurinji habitats is a significant cause of loss of habitat. Interestingly (and tragically) the grasslands habitat that Kurinji thrive in was long categorized as “wasteland” an unfortunate categorization that still persists in many vegetation maps of hill areas in the Western Ghats. In the Palani Hills, most of the plateau area’s montane grasslands have been replaced by timber plantations (see Arasumonai et al.). Now the unplanned spread of non-native plantations species threatens Kurinji habitat on the difficult-to-access cliff and escarpment edges. Thus, the next task for conservationists and the Forest Department is to give priority to protecting these last bastions of a vanishing landscape and ecosystem.

Kurinji flowering in 2018 is expected in areas with healthy shola/grasslands habitats. The least disturbed montane grasslands systems in the southern Western Ghats are in Kerala’s Eravikulam National Park (NP), Mukurthi NP and the Anamalais Tiger Reserve (both in Tamil Nadu). However, pressure on these protected areas is significant and there is a worry that a flood of visitors will damage the sensitive grasslands habitat. For an experience of Kurinji, the popular Coaker’s Walk in Kodaikanal should be a good place to view the flowering during the months of the South West Monsoon (June-September).

Strobilanthes kunthiana (Kurinji) flowering in the remote Palani Hills

Frontline spread with Kurinji Crown article (2006). Click on image for PDF copy.

Kurinji (Strobilanthes kunthiana) flowering on Coaker’s Walk in Kodaikanal with Perumalmalai in the background. July 2006.

One of the easiest places to see Kurinji flowering in Tamil Nadu is on Coaker’s Walk in Kodaikanal. The slopes below the walkways used to have a variety of montane grass species and bloomed with Kurinji every 12 years. Today they have been invaded by non-native trees species and weeds. The Forest Department has made an effort to plant Kurinji in sections near to the walkway. This picture is from the 2006 flowering.

A NOTE ON “PALANI” vs “PALNI”: In this and other posts I have used the spelling of “Palani” based on linguistic recommendations made by Dr. Clarence Maloney. Other organizations such as the PHCC and individuals continue to use the “Palni” version. I’m not aware of an ultimate authority on the correct English spelling of Tamil locational names, but the town of Palani is so named and Dr. Maloney is quite adamant that this represents the closest English translation of the name of the hill/mountain range.

*NOTE: In recent scientific literature kunthiana now seems to be replaced by kunthianus (see Catalog of Life link below), a change I need to verify before I adjust my usage here.

REFERENCES & FURTHER READING

Arsumanoi, M. et al. “Not seeing the grass for the trees: Timber plantations and agriculture shrink tropical montane grassland by two-thirds over four decades in the Palani Hills, a Western Ghats Sky Island.”  PLOS One. January 2018. Web.

Botanical Survey of India. ENVIS Centre on Floral DiversityWeb.

Carine, Mark A.  et al. “A Revision of the Strobilanthes kunthiana-Group (Phlebophyllum sensu Bremekamp) (Acanthaceae)/” Kew Bulletin.  2004. Web.

Catalog of Life. “Strobilanthes kunthianus.” Web.

EFloraofIndia. “Strobilanthes kunthiana” Web.

Lockwood, Ian. “Kurinji Crown.” Frontline. August 26-Sept 8, 2006. Print and Web.

Mukherjee, Pippa. Flora of the Southern Western Ghats and Palnis: A Field Guide. Niyogi Books, 2017. Print.

Sharma, Manju et al. “Reproductive strategies of Strobilanthes kunthianus, an endemic, semelparous species in southern Western Ghats, India.” Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 2008. 28 April 2008. Web.

Written by ianlockwood

2018-06-09 at 8:51 pm

Landcover Changes in the Palani Hills-A Spatial Study

leave a comment »

Lenny & Prasen on Dolphin’s Nose with Perumal peak in the far left. A panoramic composite image from January 2016.

The grasslands mapping project that took shape at the plantations conference in Kodaikanal in December 2014 produced a report that was published earlier this year. This is important work and represents the combined efforts of several disparate individuals, organizations and funding agencies. The preliminary visual assessment of Landsat imagery by the author showed that satellite data held spatial evidence of dramatic land cover change in the Western Ghats and Palani Hills but that it needed to be quantified. Robin Vijayan of ISER Tirupati put into motion a study in 2016 with key field work and spatial analysis being done by M. Arasumani and Danesh Khan. Further academic guidance was provided by Arundhati Das, Milind Bunyan and several others. Bob Stewart & Tanya Balcar, of the Vattakanal Conservation Trust, provided key insights on shola regeneration in plantations-the topic that originally brought everyone together. INTACH and ISER Tirupati helped provide funding of the field work. The Tamil Nadu Forest Department was an important stakeholder and helped provide permissions for the field work. Prasen Yadav joined the project to document the work and produce a video of the findings. The study was peer reviewed and published in January 2018.  It is publicly available on PLOS One, including access to all the tables of data and charts (see link below).

My involvement with the grasslands mapping brings together several interests and is the latest chapter in my ongoing interest and love affair with the Palani Hills. An alarming conclusion of the study is the great extent to which the montane grasslands have been taken over by non-native trees and weeds. Those of us who have been walking in the hills have had a sense of this but the satellite images providing damning proof. It is also clear that the plantations have spread far beyond the original boundaries that they were originally designed to be in. Most of the southern escarpment has a fire line etched into its grasslands and now plantations species are spreading beyond this boundary and down the steep slopes of montane grasslands. This leads to clear conclusion that where possible efforts need to be made to preserve these last remaining vestiges of montane grasslands. The challenge is that, in spite of the surprising resilience of shola tree species, the last montane grasslands are being steadily consumed by plantation (and some shola) species.

Our study concludes:

  1. Identify and conserve core grasslands: Core grassland areas consist of a few to many hectares of grassland encompassing hillocks, streams, marshes and rock outcrops. These areas, even when nestled in a plantation matrix, should be protected and form the core around which grassland restoration efforts should focus.
  2. Check invasion in sparsely invaded grasslands: These areas are often characterized by young plantations located in grasslands where grass cover is still extensive. Here, we recommend physical removal of invasive species. Forest departments often have access to significant funding through the Compensatory Afforestation (Bill passed in 2016) funds and these could be utilized for these activities. Such funds could be used for the restoration of marshes, existing grasslands and to manage the invasive plantations.
  3. Review indiscriminate removal of mature plantations: Mature plantations often have native shola forest regenerating under them and lack native grass cover. Grassland restoration here is likely to be very resource-intensive. Conservation efforts should focus on sparsely invaded and pristine grasslands. In mature plantations, we recommend conducting experimental or controlled studies (like at Vattavada, Munnar Kerala), perhaps also examining the role of fire, and monitoring soil and moisture conditions in these areas. Moreover, removal of mature plantations could stimulate regeneration of plantation species from saturated soil seed banks. Monitoring of these areas is important to assess the effectiveness of plantation removal.
  4. Contain agriculture: Our field surveys indicate that paddy cultivation has been discontinued in some marshes. Given the critical role of these marshes in regulating local hydrology, efforts should be made to contain agriculture to the current extent and restore these marshes using a community-led conservation effort.

Several other writes have reviewed the PLOS article in the popular press and I have listed articles in the Wire by Janaki Lenin, Mohan Rao in the Hindu and Pendharkar, Vrushal in Mongabay.

This year is a special year since it marks the cycle of Kurinji (Strobilanthes kunthianus) blooming that only happens every 12 years. Kurinji plants, more than any other grasslands species, are closely associated with healthy montane grassland systems. The extent of this year’s flowering will be a good gauge of the health of the grasslands of the Palani Hills.

My next personal chapter in this process to better understand the landscape and ecology of the Palani Hills is to present and share an exhibition of photographs and annotated maps at DakshinaChitra, Chennai this July. The next post will highlight this significant endeavor.

Southern escarpment on a very clear day looking west to the Agamalai range and beyond. January 2016.

REFERENCES & FURTHER READING

Arsumani, M. et al. “Not seeing the grass for the trees: Timber plantations and agriculture shrink tropical montane grassland by two-thirds over four decades in the Palani Hills, a Western Ghats Sky Island.”  PLOS One. January 2018. Web.

Lenin, Janaki “You’d Think Cutting Kodai Plantations Will Save Its Grasslands. It Won’t.” The Wire. 19 September 2017. Web.

Lockwood, Ian. “Mapping Montane Grasslands in the Palani Hills.” Ian Lockwood Blog. August 2016. Web.

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

Montanari, Shaena (& Prasenjeet Yadav). “Breathtaking Sky Islands Showcase Evolution in Action.” National Geographic. 11 August 2017. Web.

Pendharkar, Vrushal. “Palani Hills: Where have the grasslands gone?” Mongabay. 20 February 2018. Web.

Rao, Mohan. “Missing the grass for the trees in Western Ghats.” The Hindu. 17 January 2018. Web.

Yadav, Prasenjeet. “Save our Shola Grasslands.” YouTube. Web-Video. 16 September 2017.

Written by ianlockwood

2018-05-28 at 11:56 pm

Drone Mapping & Modeling in Pelawatte 101

leave a comment »

3D April 6 flight_3D_model

3D model of the OSC created on DroneDeploy based on data from the April 6th flight (approximately 81 images).

For the last year or so it has been my goal to use drones to better study areas and analyze patterns of land use and vegetation cover. I was first inspired by the work that IWMI was doing to map crops, irrigation and drainage basins using their fixed wing drone (see articles below for references). During the last two years there has been a good deal of excitement of using drones/UAVs for geospatial applications and I am entering the field relatively late. One of the notable highlights of Sri Lanka’s first GIS Users conference held in February 2018 was a presentation on the use of consumer-level drones to map small areas. A Sri Lanka Ministry of Defense Research & Development team demonstrated in real time how easy it was to program a flight path, put a drone up, collect data and then process it so that it could be used for analysis using GIS. Based on their example and the advice of IWMI’s GIS team, I have been working to use the school’s Phantom III Advanced drone to map our campus as well as the nearby Diyasaru wetlands.  This post share some of the results as well as my workflow.

Poster of April 6th drone map of the OSC campus, created on ArcMap 10.5.1.

Results from the May 19th drone flights using PIX4D. This is a composite of two different flights, each with about 30-50 separate images that have been mosaiced and geo-referenced here. If you look closely you will see the OSC Class of 2019 DP Geography class on the west side of the field. Also note the missing large mahogany tree north of  the pool that was regrettably cut down by the neighbors between the two flights.

A Work Flow for OSC

  • Step 1  Having a drone is essential and many of the common consumer models can be programed to fly a set flight plan. We used a DJI Phantom III Advanced model that is the older of our two drones (it has already had several major accidents and gone underwater at least twice). The drone needs to be working properly and the micro SD card should be formatted before running the mapping flight. We have been doing a very short test pre-flight on the DJI app that we control the drone with.
  • Step 2 You need an app to establish the flight path and program the drone to fly and take pictures at established intervals. We started with a trial version of DroneDeploy and have now loaded in a trial version of PIX4D. Unfortunately, the licensed copies of both of these software bundles are prohibitively expensive for small non-commercial programs like ours and I will have to work out a long-term solution so that students can continue the mapping that we have started. The proposed mapping area needs to be loaded into the drone using the app. For DroneDeploy I made the flight plans on a desktop computer (in the DroneDeploy website) and then imported them onto the phone app that is hooked up to the controller. There are several parameters to pre-set such as the overlap flap area, flight altitude etc.  The higher the altitude, the more accurate and less distorted the stitched imagery but it is coarser (less detailed). For PIX4D I have been setting the flight area on my phone in the field.
  • Step 3 At your location you can launch the drone from a cleared area. We use the school field where there is plenty of room and a clear line of sight between the controller and drone (though it is flying by GPS, apparently). When you have got the drone and controller (with a phone interface) unit set up, you are ready for the flight. On DroneDeploy you import the plan, it goes through a number of checks and then asks if you are ready to fly. With the click of a button, the drone hovers and then takes off to run its flight. You can see the images that it takes and the drone’s flight path. Our flights have been set to 75 meters height and they are supposed to be taking approximately 60-90 images for 2 hectares. Unfortunately, we have been having a lot of trouble with good flights but no images being recorded at the end. For this reason, we started using the Trial version of PIX4D and had more success.
  • Step 4 After a relatively short flight (5-12 minutes for us) the drone returns and lands and it is time to check to see if the images were collected. If it has gone well, then DroneDeploy will show you a sample mosaiced thumbnail. You need to shut down the unit and then move back to the desktop computer to upload the imagery on to their website where it is mosaiced. It took two hours for them to make the mosaic on the cloud and if you have a license you will also get a 3D model and vegetation map. For PIX4D there is a process where the images are fed from the mini-SD card to the phone and then uploaded online. You can also take the card and load them on to the PIX4D desktop app. All of these steps depend on you having the software and again I am not sure what we are going to do after the trial versions are finished.
  • Step 5. In the final step you should have several files to work with. DroneDeploy gives you the orthomosaic and a 3D digital surface model (DSF) as well as a 3D model that you view on the screen. They also provide a KML/KMZ which you can bring into Google Earth (see sample below). PIX4D provides a collection of files (including point clouds, DSFs and more) that can be downloaded. I was most interested in the orthomosaic since I can then pull that into ArcMap where I can use it for presentation and analysis (see above).

 

Conclusions

Drone mapping offers a new and dynamic way to visualize landscapes on a relatively large scale. Prices of drones have come down and the challenge is to acquire software that allows you to get your work done. Trial versions of PIX4D and DroneDeploy give you a chance to explore the possibilities and map out a few areas of interest. There are open source options that I need to explore once my trial licenses have run out. Anyone who knows my interests will realize that I am now itching to get drones into forest and mountain landscapes where they can be used to better map vegetation and land cover.

REFERENCES & FURTHER READING

Daniel, Smriti. “The Drone Buzz Over Sri Lanka.”  Sci Dev Net. 19 September 2015. Web.

Lockwood, Ian. GIS Developments at OSC in 2014.” Ian Lockwood Blog. 26 November 2014. Web. (this post features views of the OSC campus via GoogleEarth and ArcGIS).

Mason, Tony. “Put Your Drone to Work. Arc News. Summer 2016. Web.

Siddiqui, Salman. “Sri Lanka’s Drone Pioneers.” ICT Update.  18 April 2016. Web.

Written by ianlockwood

2018-05-21 at 10:23 pm

A Song of the Sholicola

leave a comment »

Sholicola_albiventris_at_BS_singing_1a(MR)(04)18)

Sholicola albiventris singing in Bombay Shola, Palani Hills. Photographed with a D-800 and 600 f/4 lens. (April 2018).

South India’s shola forests (and their companion grasslands mosaic habitat) continue to be a source of hydrological importance, a site for scientific investigation and a place for sheer wonder. The clumps of moist evergreen forest that were historically found in the folds and deep valleys of the highest ranges of the Western Ghats are recognized for hosting startling biodiversity. We know from various studies that the lofty highlands of the Western Ghats were isolated from lower areas by altitude and rugged geography for long periods of time. It is not surprising then that a host of species evolved unique to these “sky islands.”*

There are several notable species that are confined to sholas and whose populations are closely allied to healthy shola habitat. The White Bellied Blue Robin (Sholicola albiventris), formerly known as the White Bellied Shortwing (Myiomela albiventris), is a Western Ghats endemic bird species that perhaps best reflects the state of healthy sholas. I’ve been watching and listening to the bird for several decades and this short post highlights a few facets about Sholicola albiventris, provides some background reading and shares a portfolio of images that I have been working on for several years.

Sholicola albiventris tends to be a sulky bird that spends its time in dark thickets of the shola understory. It can be difficult to spot since it has dark features and is usually only active at dusk and dawn. Novice bird watchers would be forgiven for confusing it with the Nilgiri flycatcher (Eumyias albicaudatus) or White Belleid Blue Flycatcher (Cyornis pallidipes)-both which have overlapping habitats/ranges. The musical songs of the Sholicola albiventris, (mixed in with calls of laughing thrushes, scimitar babblers, barbets, jungle fowl and other birds) in the early mornings is a defining feature of sholas at certain times of the year. I have observed and listened to Sholicola albiventris singing incessantly in the sholas of the Palani Hills in the months before the monsoon. It is also found in adjoining gardens in settlement areas-as illustrated by some of the images in this post. According to scientists studying Sholicola albiventris, the Palani Hills individuals seem to call at times different than other populations (in the High Range and Anamalais). Could the onset of the monsoon and the fact that the Palani hills are in the rain shadow of the South West Monsoon play a role in this behavior?

When speaking of the White Bellied Blue Robin, it is impossible not to mention the long-term work of V.V. Robin. It is a happy coincidence that Robin bears the name of the bird that he has worked so hard to study and better understand. Robin is an evolutionary biologist with an in interest in biogeography and conservation initiatives, especially in the southern Western Ghats. He frequently collaborates with his wife Nandini Rajamani (see links below). I had the good fortune to bump into Robin in the Carin Hill shola (Nilgiri Hills) many years ago-he was collecting DNA specimens and I was trying to see what would later be renamed as the Nilgiri Blue Robin (Sholicola major). Robin is now an assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Science Education & Research (IISER) Tirupati. He was the key person that organized a disparate group, including this author, to map grasslands in the Palani Hills (see PLOS for our article). Robin’s work on the biogeography of the White Bellied Shortwing, using genetic data, led to a split in the original species into three different species. His list of publications, some of which are included below, illustrates his prodigious efforts.

Sholicola albiventris in a garden adjoining Bombay Shola (April 2017).Photographed with a D-800 and 600 f/4 lens. (April 2018).

Looking for Sholicola albiventris and other shola species in the heart of Bombay Shola.

*Sky Islands is a term first used in the south West United States and defined as “isolated mountains surrounded by radically different lowland environments.” The concept has appropriate relevance to the high Western Ghats (from approximately 1,500-1,800 to 2,695m) and has been used in popular, as well as scientific publications. I was first introduced to the concept by V.V. Robin through conversations and his website. The INTACH book on the Palani Hills utilized the term and our friend Prasenjeet has incorporated it into his August 2017 National Geographic article and photo essay.

 

REFERENCES & FURTHER READING

Arsumani, M. et al. “Not seeing the grass for the trees: Timber plantations and agriculture shrink tropical montane grassland by two-thirds over four decades in the Palani Hills, a Western Ghats Sky Island.”  PLOS One. January 2018. Web.

Grimmett, Richard Carol Inskipp and Tim Inskipp. Birds of the Indian Subcontinent, Second Edition. London: Helms Field Guide/Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.

Montanari, Shaena (& Prasenjeet Yadav). “Breathtaking Sky Islands Showcase Evolution In Action.” National Geographic. 11 August 2017. Web.

Rasmussen, Pamela C. and John Anderson. Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide. Volumes 1 &2, Second Edition. Washington DC: Smithsonian, 2012. Print.

Robin, V.V. and R. Nandini. “Shola habitats on sky islands: status of research on montane forests and grasslands in southern India.” Current Science. December 2012. Print & Web.

Robin, V.V. Anindya Sinha and Uma Ramakrishnan. “Ancient Geographical Gaps and Paleo-Climate Shape the Phylogeography of an Endemic Bird in the Sky Islands of Southern India.” PLOS One. October 2010. Web.

Robin VV et al. “Two new genera of songbirds represent endemic radiations from the Shola Sky Islands of the Western Ghats, India.” BMC Evolutionary Biology. January 2017. Web.

2017 Taxonomy update for Indian birds. E-Bird. 24 August 2017. Web.