Welcoming the South West Monsoon in Sinharaja
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