Magical Encounters in Sinharaja
At the end of 2009 I enjoyed four packed days of walking, wildlife encounters and starry nights in Sri Lanka’s incomparable rainforest, Sinharaja. As this blog bears testimony to I have visited the forest at least once or twice every year that we have been here. It continues to provide me with interesting things to photograph and learn about and there is no better classroom for OSC’s students of ecology. This trip was an early Christmas gift from my wife Raina and children Lenny and Amy. I was joined by my colleague and friend Jonathan Smith, who had a similar arrangement from his family. We used the four days to do some serious walking to familiar places as well as the more distant Sinhagala peak (742 m). This peak sits amidst the heart of Sinharaja’s least disturbed lowland rainforest. The walk there and back takes 5-6 hours but it is a pure delight as you go deeper into the forest’s interiors. There were no other hikers, though signs of elephants made our guide Ratnasiri jittery for parts of the trail. Along the way there were numerous living treasures to observe and photograph. The summit (actually a rock face) view with about 250 degrees of rainforest canopy, is worth all the sweat and large numbers of leaches that await visitors.
On our last day we hiked up Moulawella peak (760 m) in the dark and witnessed the birth of a new day from its boulder summit. The views north towards Sri Pada were particularly impressive. Its temple lights glowed in the inky darkness amidst the glitter of celestial bodies. Below us the forest awoke in a cacophony of delightful sounds. I clearly heard the sound of a whistling, similar to that of the Malabar Whistling Thrush that I know well from the Western Ghats. I couldn’t help wondering if it was the elusive Arrenga or Sri Lankan Whistling Thrush (Myophonus blighi) that is found at higher altitudes in the Central Highlands.
With fours days in the forest we did quite well with endemic wildlife sightings. Two Green Pit Vipers (Trimeresurus trigonocephalus) were an early highlight. They were very cooperative with us while we fiddled with lenses and flashes and I set up the cumbersome Hasselblad with extension tubes. We encountered many of the endemics birds that Sinharaja is so well known for. SL Blue Magpies (Urocissa ornata) are becoming very habituated to people at the research center and of course Martin has a special relationship with them at his place (they arrive regularly every morning before breakfast). We had a good view of a sleeping Ceylon Frogmouth (Batrachostomus moniliger), which I haven’t seen in 10 years! Finally two research scientists with Colombo University shared a rare Red Slender Loris (Loris tardigradus) that they had caught and were measuring for taxonomical reasons before releasing it back into the forest.
We left Sinharaja appreciating the work of past generations of Sri Lankan conservationists who saved the forest from ending up in wood pulp. It is a story i of successful grassroots activism and persistence from concerned citizens and scientists. Perhaps most reassuring is the impressive forest recovery that has happened in areas that were once clear-felled by the logging operation. It has been so effective such that most visitors are unaware of what a disaster it could have been.