Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

Sri Pada Field Study 2017

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Lights of the Ratnapura and Kuruwita trails from the summit of Sri Pada.

In December of 2017 OSC’s DP1 classes journeyed into the Central Highlands to explore and experience field studies in biology, physics and environmental systems & societies. These excursions are now a solidified and key learning highlight for DP science classes. The physics students looked at and experimented with hydroelectricity near Norton Bridge and the Biology class did field ecology exercises on Castlereigh Lake. Once again, I took the Environmental Systems & Societies (ES&S) group up to Peak Wilderness for a study of biodiversity and human impact. It was a very small group (three students), supported by Kamila Sahideen who was on her first visit to the sacred mountain. We enjoyed three days of learning, basic accommodation and an overnight stay at the summit of Sri Pada (this is only the second time that I have taken students on the overnight component -the last time was in December 2012).

As usual, we focused on four broad themes related to the Environmental Systems & Societies syllabus.

  • Theme 1: Land Use Variation (anthropocentric vs. natural ecosystems, plantation agriculture etc.)
  • Theme 2: Forest & Vegetation Types (lowland, montane tropical forests, cloud forests)
  • Theme 3: Vertical Zonation
  • Theme 4: Biodiversity in a ‘Biodiversity Hotspot’
7_Virgins_early_light_Pan_1a(MR)(12_17)

Composite view looking north of Nalathani (Delhousie) and the Hatton Trail at dawn from the summit of Sri Pada. Pidurutalagala is on the horizon above clouds in the right corner. Wolfgang Werner’s book on Cloud Forest uses a view of the forest and falls to the left.

Because the group size was small this year, I consulted with the team and then made the decision to bivouac up at the summit. This meant carrying larger backpacks with food and sleeping gear on the hike up. In the past carrying loads has been a challenge for OSC students unaccustomed to backpacking and ascending altitudes after being at sea level. Our hike on December 12th was in persistent rain that lasted all day. The wet conditions and abundant leeches made it difficult to stop to conduct field observations and we pretty much walked straight up to the summit at a slow, but steady pace (see Google My Map below with metadata from Strava). At the top, we were not able to get one of the few rooms that are sometimes available and instead bedded down in the pilgrim’s shelter. We were at the summit by 1:30 and so the class got to spend the afternoon taking in the rhythms of the temple in season. There was a slow stream of pilgrims and pujas but for the most part it remained relatively empty all the way until the next day.

There were several important highlights from this trip. I was treated to a 10-minute observation of a solitary otter (presumably the Eurasian Otter Lutra lutra nair) at the Fishing Hut. I had observed a group of them at twilight a few years back so it was good to see that the species still visits the area. At the summit of Sri Pada there were more moths at lights than I have ever witnessed before. Many of these would eventually perish but hundreds were hanging out on walls, rock faces and sacred cloth. Birds included Blue Magpies at the Fishing Hut and then Yellow Eared Bulbuls, Dull Blue Flycatchers, Great Tits at the Sri Pada summit. No SL Whistling Thrushes on this trip (see 2010 post for my notable encounter) but another pilgrim posted a photograph of a male on Facebook shortly after our trip. On the way, home the group enjoyed a good sighting of a Legge’s hawk-eagle in a tea plantation on the edge of Peak Wilderness.

Mosaic of moths on the summit and slopes of Sri Pada.

On the morning of December 13th I was thrilled to see the clouds clear to reveal misty valley below. The view to the east was free of clouds and when the sun came up it provided the right atmospheric conditions to produce the magical mountain shadow that is a rare, ethereal phenomenon to experience. As usual, the shadow dropped as the sun rose and soon merged with the conical mountain that had cast the light. We lingered beyond the time that most pilgrims stay on the summit,

Mountain_Shadow_Pan_1A(MR)(12_17)

Composite image of the mountain shadow seen look to the west from Sri Pada’s summit. We were blessed with a fine sunrise and a clear shadow-an awe-inspiring phenomenon that is not guaranteed to pilgrims at the summit of Sri Pada.

PAST SRI PADA STUDIES

  • OSC Class of 2010 (Sri Pada 2008trip)
  • OSC Class of 2011 (Sri Pada 2009trip)
  • OSC Class of 2012 (Sri Pada 2010trip)
  • OSC Class of 2013 (Sri Pada 2011trip)
  • OSC Class of 2014 (Sri Pada 2012trip)
  • OSC Class of 2015 (Sri Pada 2013 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2016 (Sri Pada 2014 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2017 (Sri Pada 2015 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2018 (Sri Pada 2016 trip)

FURTHER READING & REFERENCES

Atmospheric Optics. “Mountain Shadow.” Photograph by Ian Lockwood. 2010. Web.

Fernando, Sarala and Luxman Nadaraja. Sri Pada. Colombo: Vijitha Yapa, 2011. Print.

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

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

 

Google My Map showing our trail (collected on Strave and then exported as a GPX file)

Written by ianlockwood

2018-01-31 at 9:34 pm

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