Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands WWW Experience 2017

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Afternoon composite view of Sri Pada from Horton Plains National Park.

Afternoon composite view of Sri Pada from Horton Plains National Park.

Last week during the surprising, but welcome, return of monsoon conditions OSC’s secondary school set out across our island home to experience Sri Lanka as part of the annual Week Without Walls program. Students and teachers spent the week learning in unconventional classrooms that emphasized Sri Lankan culture, history and ecology as well as service and outdoor education. I had the privilege of leading a modest-sized group of MYP5/DP1 travelers on a circuitous tour of the Central Highlands. The learning focus of this “microtrip” was on photo documentation to better understand the ecology and landscape of Sri Lanka’s mountainous interior.

Aerial image of montane forest canopy at @ 1,000 meters.

Montane forest canopy at @ 1,300 meters near to Belihuloya.

Pied Thrush (Geokichla wardii) a rare winter visitor to Sri Lanka. Photographed at Nuwara Eliya’s Victoria Park feeding on a tree () that is also found in the Western Ghats.

Pied Thrush (Geokichla wardii) a rare winter visitor to Sri Lanka. Photographed at Nuwara Eliya’s Victoria Park feeding on a tree () that is also found in the Western Ghats.

This is the third year that I have led the Highlands WWW experience. Once again we had a group of enthusiastic students who didn’t’ mind getting up early or living in somewhat primitive conditions while we were on the adventure. We spent the first night in tents at Belhihuloya followed by two nights in a basic dormitory on the Horton Plains plateau. Our final night was spent in comfort in Nuwara Eliya where students and teachers were able to clean up, use their phones, eat well and then participate in several frog and bird outings. A wet snap caused by a low-pressure system in the Bay of Bengal gave us rain (and precious little sunlight) on almost every day. We were able to do almost all the walks but were not able to hike to Kirigalpotta because of wet and windy conditions. I used the extra time to go deeper into the ecology of HPNP and teach photographic skills to the group. All the students brought functioning cameras and they were able to experiment with composition, lighting and photographing lizards, birds and moving water. Joshua, an MYP5 student, got several impressive night shots during a rare clearing of the night skies above Mahaeliya bungalow in HPNP.

From a biodiversity spotting point of view we did well. This year we saw and photographed both the Rhino Horned Lizard (Ceratophora stoddartii) and Pygmy (Cophotis ceylanica) in HPNP. While in Nuwara Eliya we did the wonderful frog walk with Ishanda Senevirathna. Aside from some of the usual endemic species we spotted the Nest Frog (Pseudophillauts femoralis) that we had not seen last year. Bird-wise the whole group got to see the rare winter visiting Pied Thrush (Geokichla wardii) in Nuwara Eliya’s Vitoria Park. At HPNP we saw the Dull Blue Flycatcher (Eumyias sordida), SL Whiteeye (Zosterops ceylonensis), SL Wood Pigeon (Columba torringtoniae), plenty of Yellow Eared Bulbuls (Pycnonotus penicillatus) and several other species. On a damp, misty hike up Totupola Kanda (Sri Lanka’s 3rd highest peak at 2,360 m), we came across at least three different piles of leopard scat and observed scratch marks on tree bark!

One of the new developments this year was to use a drone to better view some of the areas that we were visiting. There were rules against using it in HPNP but we were able to do an excellent series of flights over forest near Lanka Ella falls. The Phantom 3 recorded some amazing scenes of the forest canopy with a new flush of leaves. DP1 student Anaath Jacob did the piloting while I directed the forest sequences. I am now learning how to pilot the drone and look forward to better understanding forest landscapes using this important new tool.

Up close and personal to a female sambar (Rusa unicolor) deer in Horton Plains. They have become habituated to people thanks to the propensity of visitors feeding them (against park regulations).

Up close and personal to a female sambar (Rusa unicolor) deer in Horton Plains. They have become habituated to people thanks to the propensity of visitors feeding them (against park regulations).

Endemic cloud forest lizaed species from Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands. Left (& possibly center): the Pygmy lizard (Cophotis ceylanica). Right: the Rhino Horned Lizard (Ceratophora stoddartii).

Endemic cloud forest lizaed species from Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands. Left (& possibly center): the Pygmy lizard (Cophotis ceylanica). Right: the Rhino Horned Lizard (Ceratophora stoddartii).

Cloud forest on Pidurutalagala (Sri Lanka’s highest peak) .

Cloud forest on Pidurutalagala (Sri Lanka’s highest peak) .

Pseudophillauts femoralis, a rare endemic shrub frog from Sri Lanka’s cloud forest. Identification courtesy of Ishanda Senevirathna of St. Andrew’s.

Pseudophillauts femoralis, a rare endemic shrub frog from Sri Lanka’s cloud forest. Identification courtesy of Ishanda Senevirathna of St. Andrew’s.

More diversity from the Highlands WW: Montane Hourglass Frog (Taruga eques), fungi (Phallus indusiatus) at Belihuloya and the endemic Yellow Eared Bulbul (Pycnonotus penicillatus) in Nuwara Eliya.

More diversity from the Highlands WW: Montane Hourglass Frog (Taruga eques), fungi (Phallus indusiatus) at Belihuloya and the endemic Yellow Eared Bulbul (Pycnonotus penicillatus) in Nuwara Eliya.

2017 WWW group at (Left) Baker’s falls in Horton Plains and (right) on the 2nd day on the way to Lanka Ella falls.

2017 WWW group at (Left) Baker’s falls in Horton Plains and (right) on the 2nd day on the way to Lanka Ella falls.

2017 Sri Lanka Highlands WWW group photographed at the strange telephone booth in Horton Plains National Park. Note the dry grass-a result of a severe drought and failed North East Monsoon in the months prior to our arrival.

2017 Sri Lanka Highlands WWW group photographed at the strange telephone booth in Horton Plains National Park. Note the dry grass-a result of a severe drought and failed North East Monsoon in the months prior to our arrival.

 

PAST WWW TRIPS

FURTHER READING & REFERENCES

Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). Western Ghats and Sri Lanka Biodiversity Hotspot. May 2007. Web.

De Silva, Anslem. The Diversity of Horton Plains National Park. Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2007. Print.

Pethiyagoda, Rohan. Horton Plains: Sri Lanka’s Cloud Forest National Park. Colombo: WHT, 2013. Print.

Rodrigo, Malaka. “Lanka’s central highlands win heritage battle”. The Sunday Times. 8 August 2010. Web.

Werner, Wolfgang. Sri Lanka’s Magnificent Cloud Forests. Colombo: Wildlife Heritage Trust, 2001. Print.

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