Archive for June 2008
May brings several opportunities for experiential education with my students at OSC. It is a busy time with IB examinations, final reports and all the other activities associated with the end of the school year. Ideally the trips are planned to happen in a lull prior to the onslaught of grading and the South West Monsoon in late May. This year there was torrential rain throughout April and into May, such that no one was really sure when exactly the inter-monsoonal period finished and the South West began.
Composite panoramic image of a stream in Sinharaja’s primary forest
The 11th Grade IB Diploma Geography internal assessment trip to Sinharaja went very well despite heavy rains and limited sightings of wildlife. As we did last year, the biology and environmental systems classes joined us for the three-day trip. Jax Mahon, with all her humor and wisdom, guided the biology student with the help of our colleague Harris Darmasiri. I was able to juggle both the geography and environmental systems classes with the help of the incomparable Professor Sarath Kotagama
This year we were able to use the new GPS units to map the various study plots. A few of the students did similar studies to past years but several had completely original ideas. One of them mapped numbers and diversity indexes of invasive and pioneer species in four different habitats. Another did a study on water quality in different forests habitats, the pine plantations and compared this with data from our nearby wetlands. On the last day I was able to take the Systems class up through the primary forest for a quick transect. This was completed with a panoramic view out from the boulders that make up Mulawella Peak (760 m). Something about the remarkable view makes up for the tricky ascent and the students were elated after reaching the summit. It was very slippery and we were forced to descend early by heavy showers.
OSC 11th grade student Bhagya Windus working with Sinharaja guide Sena to collect data on invasive and pioneer species in a secondary forest path near the reseach center.
Mullawella peak looking north-west
Free time for a stream dip at the end of the day.
Three days is never enough time to collect meaningful data on human impact in and outside the forest. However it offers our students a real-world field experience that cannot be created in a classroom. Professor Kotagama’s presence (his third trip with my classes) was a valuable addition. He delivered a lecture full of information and personal anecdotes on the first night. Aside from taking out the environmental systems for a morning transect, he provided the students with a living example of what one can do with a passion for birds and the environment.
Blue Magpie (Urocissa ornata) at the research center (note the tag)
Bird sightings were not so rewarding this year. A mixed flock flew fight through Martin’s on the first morning (thus, most of the students wee to groggy to appreciate it). The flock included Red Faced Malkohas (Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus) and a beautiful Malabar Trogan (Harpactes fasciatus), something that always reminds me of the linkages with the Western Ghats. I also had some great sightings of very cooperative Sri Lanka Blue Magpies (Urocissa ornata) at the research center. It was too wet and cool for snakes and lizards and all we mustered were several Kangaroo lizards (Otocryptis wiegmanni) and a rat snake (Ptyas mucosa) on the highway.
House pets: praying mantis at Martin’s Lodge near Sinharaja
OSC 2008 group (most of us) with Martin at his lodge
Lenny and I were up in the Kandy/Knuckles area briefly in April. We were the guests of Irene and Richard Emory at the serene Bowlana Bungalow. The cottage is a former tea manager’s bungalow that overlooks the Mahaweli Ganga basin and Knuckles range from the northern rim of the Central Highlands. Irene and Richard have renovated and now manage it as a heritage bungalow. My interest is in their desire to restore original vegetation on slopes that were once tea gardens (they’re now choked with various non-native grasses and weeds). Later, we us visited the Jetwings Hunasfalls Hotel located on the western slopes of the Knuckles. Our task at this marvelous luxury hotel was to look at its ‘analog forestry projects’ and scope out a possible fieldtrip site for next year. Bird-wise I saw a number of raptors including black eagles (Ictinaetus malayensis), Brahimny kites (Haliastur indus) and a pair of White Bellied Sea eagles (Haliaeetus leucogaster) above Bowlana. On a short visit to the small, but rich, Simpson’s forest near Hunasfalls I spotted a rare Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher (Ceyx erithacus).
Poya In the Shadow of the Peak
Clearing mist on the east face of Sri Pada
When I first arrived in Sri Lanka I had a chance to meet Dominic and Nazreen Sansoni at the Barefoot Gallery. Dominic has taken some of the defining images of Sri Pada from the air and on the ground. Hearing about my interests in sacred mountains and tropical forests in the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka they suggested that I visit a place known as the Fishing Hut in order to best appreciate Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak). It took a few years and some exploring to figure out the logistics but now I’ve been there three times and am looking forward to further visits.
In March I organized a trip to take our family and two others to the Central Highlands to enjoy three days in the shadow of Sri Pada. The visit offered marvelous views of the peak bathed in sunlight, clearing mist and the glow of the full moon. Bird and wildlife sightings were limited although a group of Sri Lanka Blue Magpies (Urocissa ornata) flew through the forest by the huts. All the usual endemics (Dull Blue Flycatcher, Yellow Eared Bulbul, Sri Lanka White Eye etc.) were encountered on the summit.
Our kids playing below the Fishing Hut, overshadowed by Sri Pada.
Raina and the other two women in our group climbed Sir Pada on the second day while we men watched over the kids. I went up with Jan, one of the fathers, on the second day. Punchirala, the multi-talented caretaker of the hut, guided us on the path even though I felt confident about from the December trip. The views of the peak and forest on the way up were stunning. The night before had been a poya and was very crowded with pilgrims but by the time we got to the temple it was pleasantly deserted. The priests and guards, now familiar with my frequent visits and tripod antics, offered us tea and hospitality. The path to Sri Pada from the Fishing Hut is certainly the most enjoyable route with respect to natural history. It is also a far gentler incline since it starts relatively high up (about 1,300meters).
Clearing amongst cloud forest in Peak Wilderness on the way up from the Fishing Hut to the summit of Sri Pada .
Saman tapestry at Sri Pada summit temple
Temple drummers at Sri Pada summit
Non-biodegradable garbage below the temple…a pressing, unresolved issue.
What a place… view up to Sri Pada summit temple from the eastern side.