Ian Lockwood

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Glimpses of Polonnaruwa

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Polonnaruwa Vadatage as seen from the west side in late afternoon light. (October 2016)

The ancient city of Polonnaruwa offers visitors glimpses into Sri Lanka’s rich lithic history. Set alongside the large man-made tank Parakrama Samudra in the north Central part of the island, Polonnaruwa is one of the great ancient cities of Sri Lanka. King Parakramabahu (1123-1186) is thought to have been responsible for much of the enormous sculptures, temples, dagobas, palaces and other buildings that were once part of a thriving cosmopolitan city. . After upheaval and invasion the city was abandoned in 1293. Nature took over and it was not until the 19th Century that the Polonnaruwa’s sublime treasures and architecture were revealed by the nascent Ceylon Department of Archeology.Joseph Lawton, a British photographer based in Kandy in the mid to late 19th Century, documented Polonnaruwa before it was being excavated and restored to what we now appreciate (see the album of his images courtesy of the Victoria a& Albert Museum below).

Our family has visited Polonnaruwa on several different occasions. On our first visit in January 2006 I used medium format cameras and black & white film to photograph the notable points of interest. In October 2016 we made a short visit to the area as we explored major site and places off the beaten track in the Cultural Triangle. Reflecting the change in technology my 2016 images were all taken with a DSLR camera and phone. While the restoration activity of several site at Polonnaruwa is of a high caliber it has also involved the controversial erection of steel roofing over key monuments, notably the Gal Vihara. These structures change the ambiance and impose a modern veneer on the original rock cut carvings.

Reflection of the Polonnaruwa lion at the king’s council chambers.

Seated Buddha at Gal Vihara (“stone shrine”); rightly considered to be one the finest examples of Buddhist rock sculptures. (October 2016).

Gale Vihara cave Buddha. Study from two slits in the bars with an 85 mm lens. October 2016.

The colossal recumbent Buddha hewn from the granite bedrock in the 9th Century CE at Gal Vihara in Polonnaruwa. See Joseph Lawton’s image from 1870 to get a sense for the original setting prior to it being protected by scaffolding.(October 2016).

Mirror study of the Polonnaruwa Vadatage moonstone facing north. (October 2016)

Study of Polonnaruwa Vadatage (south) guard stone in evening light.

Vadatage at Medirigiriya, as seen from the south side. This stunning archeological monument and site of spiritual importance is slightly off the beaten track in the Polonnaruwa vicinity. It dates back to between the 7th Century CE.

SACRED SPACES BLOG POSTS

“Amongst the Sacred and the Sublime in the Dry Zone.” Ian Lockwood Blog. February 2012. Web.

“Early Pathways at Mihintale & Anuradhapura.” Ian Lockwood Blog. October 2014. Web.

“Elephanta: A Pilgrimage” Ian Lockwood Blog. March 2014. Web.

“In Hanuman’s Flight Path.” Ian Lockwood Blog. October 2013. Web.

 “Slowly Through Past Pallava and Chola Kingdoms (Part I).” Ian Lockwood Blog. July 2011. Web.

 “Slowly Through Past Pallava and Chola Kingdoms (Part II).” Ian Lockwood Blog. July 2011. Web.

 

SELECTED REFERENCES

Dhammika, Ven S. “Gal Vihara.” Sacred Island: A Buddhist Pilgrim’s Guide to Sri Lanka. 2007. Web.

Dhammika, Ven S. “Polonnaruwa.” Sacred Island: A Buddhist Pilgrim’s Guide to Sri Lanka. 2007. Web.

Falconer, John and Ismeth Raheem. Regeneration: A Reprisal of Photography in Ceylon 1850-1900. London: The British Council, 2000. Print.

Fernando, Nihal et al. Stones of Eloquence: The Lithic Saga of Sri Lanka. Colombo: Studio Times, 2008. Print.

Images of Ceylon. Web.

Lankapura: Historic Images of Ceylon. Web.

Neranjana, Gunetilleka et al. Sigiriya and Beyond. Back of Beyond Sigiriya: Colombo, 2016. Print.

Raheem, Ismeth. Archaeology and Photography: The Early Years 1868-1880. Colombo: The National Trust Sri Lanka, 2009. Print.

Stambler, Benita. “Maintaining the Photographic Legacy of Ceylon.” Trans Asia Photography Review. Fall 2013. Web.

Victoria & Albert Museum. Joseph Lawton’s Polonnaruwa Images from 1870. Web.

Written by ianlockwood

2017-03-30 at 8:10 pm

A Season of Birds in Sri Lanka- Mannar

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Flight of Greater flamingos (P roseus) at Vankalai Sanctuary near Mannar.

Flight of Greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) at Vankalai Sanctuary near Mannar.

Greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus rosesus) and visitors. The larger numbers- in the thousands-were behind me in the glare of sunlight.

Greater flamingos and visitors. The larger numbers- in the thousands-were behind me in the glare of sunlight.

For a relatively small island Sri Lanka has a number of different landscapes, each of them hosting diverse assemblages of life and rich cultural traditions. The island of Mannar on the north west coast is a place that is quite different from the wet forest of the Central Highlands and southern ranges that feature prominently in this blog. The land is low, barely a few meters above sea level, the climate is exceedingly dry and the area is sparsely populated (with humans). Other then the rich layers of Mannar’s history, now mostly lost in sand and surf, or the quirky feral donkeys that wander the streets, it is the non-human migrants that draw visitors up to this isolated corner of Sri Lanka.

I first heard stories of Mannar from my father who used to cross with his family to Rameshwaram from the pier at Talimannar. Prior to flight availability in the 1950s (initially in war-surplus DC-3s) and later the protracted conflict in Sri Lanka (1983-2009), the ferry service offered one of the easiest ways to get between Sri Lanka and India. It is a short journey across to Rameshwaram (there were unverified stories of people swimming over to watch a film and return the same day!). These were the sort of romantic stories, as well as those of shipwrecks, pirates and pearl divers that I grew up with. In 1984 my father Merrick, brother Brian, school friend Kevin and I had tried to explore the coral-fringed islands near Rameshwaram, but by then the political situation had deteriorated and we made little progress in exploring beyond the famous temple town.

Of course, the history goes far, far back to mythological times when Hanuman’s monkey army helped build a sea bridge (Ram Situ) from Rameshwaram across to Lanka to battle Ravana and rescue Sita. Those shoals in the Palk Straits, Adam’s Bridge, are still there as the maps below illustrate. There have occasionally been disputes about their origins and satellite imagery has been used to prove supporting and counter claims. At the moment the ferry is history and the sand banks and tiny islands of Adam’s Bridge are quiet. It is difficult to get out to Adam’s Bridge because of the international boundary and contemporary fishing controversies between Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. Mannar island, however, is a destination that has few restrictions. There is a crumbling Dutch-era fort, scattered Baobab trees, long quiet beaches and little else to see unless you are into birds…

Birds are what took my kids and me up to Mannar on our first visit in 2016. The shallow mud flats and saline lakes between the mainland and Mannar attract large numbers of wintering birds. In fact, Mannar and in particular Vankalai sanctuary, must be one of the best places in Sri Lanka to observe waders, water fowl and -if you are lucky- some of the thousands of flamingos that fly in to spend several months in the area. In 2016 the kids and I had a wonderful introductory trip along with the Duncan family. We got a sense of the area’s geography and enjoyed seeing many different birds. I’m still a bit of novice when it comes to identifying water birds and I was happy to have Will Duncan’s expert guidance identifying the myriad birds that we were seeing. In early 2016 there were no flamingos that made it south of the Jaffna lagoons. But by the end of year they had arrived in the thousands, prompting the necessity of a visit.

I returned with Lenny to photograph the flamingos that had returned en masse this year. I had been alerted by Sadeepa Gunawardana, a very talented Colombo-based wildlife photographer, of the opportunities to see the flamingos in Mannar. A poya three day weekend earlier this month provided the window that we needed to do the six hour drive up. In Vankalai we spent time with the Department of Wildlife Conservation guide Irfan to get a sense of the location and where best to go for early morning photography. Several other groups of Sri Lankan birders and photographers were also staying at Four Trees. The owner, Laurence is an outstanding and knowledgeable local resource who was clued into all the places to see birds. The food (Sri Lankan prawn curries etc.) was delicious and clearly this was the place to be to swap stories and share advice. Lenny and I had two days of good birding and photography. We started early (4:45 am), waded through lagoon sand and mud and waited in a hide for the light to illuminate the masses of pink and white. It was an amazing experience though I learned that it is quite tricky to get close to flamingos without them being disturbed. All in all it was a fulfilling trip and my next task is to plan a field study around some of the ecological and human interaction issues in Mannar.

 

GIS-generated map of the Mannar area.

GIS-generated map of the Mannar area. Double (or triple) click for larger A3 version.

Landa nd surface cover study of Mannar island based on a Landsat image from January 2016. Double click on image for larger A3 version.

Land and surface cover study of Mannar island based on a Landsat image from January 2016. Double click on image for larger A3 version.

Sunrise at Vankalai Bird Sanctuary (January 2016)

Crimson sun at Vankalai Bird Sanctuary (January 2016)

FURTHER READING & REFERENCES

Birdlife International Asia. Web.

Birds Guide for Vankalai. Vankalai Bird Society. ND. Pamphlet.

de Livera, Lankika. “Haven for birds in war-ravaged Mannar: Vankalai declared a sanctuary.” The Sunday Times. 24 January 2009. Web.

Hettiarachchi, Kumudini. “ A cry from the wilds of Mannar.” The Sunday Times. 26 June 2016. Web.

Kotagama , Sarath and Gamini Ratnavira. An Illustrated Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka. Colombo: FOGSL, 2010. Print.

Pethiyagoda, Rohan. “An Electric End to Vankalai Sanctuary?” Daily Mirror. 6 June 2016. Web.

Vankalai to be a Sanctuary. The Sunday Island. 21 January 2009. Web.

Warakagoda, Deepal et al. Birds of Sri Lanka. London: Christopher Helm, 2012. Print.

Written by ianlockwood

2017-02-28 at 9:55 pm

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.

Teaching & Learning in Colombo’s Suburban Wetlands

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School students navigating the narrow canals of the newly designated Thalawathugoda Biodiversity Park as part of the Urban Fishing Cat workshops in September 2016.

School students navigating the narrow canals of the newly designated Thalawathugoda Biodiversity Park as part of the Urban Fishing Cat workshops in September 2016.

Sri Lanka’s primate city of Colombo has been growing rapidly in recent years. What were once the hinterlands of Colombo are now being absorbed into the urban expanse as it radiates outwards in all directions (including into the Indian Ocean where the controversial Port City project has resumed). Colombo has its origins as a spice trading port that developed under colonial rule and later become the capital of independent Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). The land that the city would eventually occupy was low and much of the city is a few meters above sea level. The Kelani River and its drainage basin form a northern boundary to the city center. While some wetlands were filled in and built up during the early history of Colombo’s development, significant wetland areas have been maintained to mitigate flood events and (more recently) to protect biodiversity. This is especially true in the area around the new capital at Sri Jayewardenepura. The Overseas School of Colombo , which is just above a kilometer from parliament, is located within close proximity to several of these wetland areas and these sites have become important outdoor classrooms for student learning.

Wetland snapshots. (Clockwise from upper left) Lily underside being used in a reflectance/absorbance experiment, Bedaganna walkway, club tail (Ictinogomphus rapax) at Talangama, OSC Class of 2016 students doing a line transect of water plants as part of the Group IV project.

Colombo urban wetland snapshots. (clockwise from upper left) Lily underside being used in a reflectance/absorbance experiment, Beddagana walkway, club tail (Ictinogomphus rapax) at Talangama, OSC Class of 2016 students doing a line transect of water plants as part of the Group IV project.

Colombo’s wetlands are faced with several challenges.

  • Illegal filling in of wetlands: This is done to facilitate property and real estate development. With the growth of the city there is significant pressure on wetland area
  • Water/effluent pollution: The wetlands are on the receiving end of effluents and other water pollution that is fed through municipal drains. Many of the wetlands in downtown Colombo are virtually dead as a result of this.
  • Waste dumping: The illegal dumping of municipal solid waste (MSW) is a growing problem in the Colombo areas and wetland areas are unfortunately popular with individuals and groups that dump bags of mixed waste.
  • Poaching of animals: It’s not fully clear how significant a problem this is but there is some evidence of poaching of small mammals, water-fowl and reptiles in what are otherwise biodiverse rich wetland areas.
Assessing water quality at Talangama wetlands (clockwise from upper left): DP students conducting a biotic index study of an irrigation canal that is fed by the Talangama tank, checking water quality using Vernier Labquest probes (temperature here).

Assessing water quality at Talangama wetlands (clockwise from upper left): DP students conducting a biotic index study of an irrigation canal that is fed by the Talangama tank, checking water quality using Vernier Labquest probes (temperature here-in front of men washing a motorcycle in the lake).

Urban Fishing Cat Workshops. Images from the Environmental Foundation (EF) sponsored workshop that OSC participated in at the newly designated Thalawathagoda Wetland Study Park last month. The workshop featured the important work of xxx and other projects to protect urban wetlands and their diversity.

Urban Fishing Cat Workshops. Images from the Environmental Foundation Ltd. (EFL) sponsored workshop that OSC participated in at the newly designated Thalawathugoda Wetland Study Park last month. The workshop featured the important work of Anya Ratnayake and other projects to protect urban wetlands and their diversity.

The Thalangama Wetlands have been an important study site for OSC students. They also play a key role in flood mitigation, the provision of irrigation water and a place for wetland biodiversity to thrive.

The Thalangama Wetlands have been an important study site for OSC students. They play a key role in flood mitigation, the provision of irrigation water and a place for wetland biodiversity to thrive.They are a favorite spot for birdwatchers and other wildlifers.

Here is a listing of wetlands study sites located in OSC/Pelawatte vicinity:

Study Site 1: Talangama Wetlands

The Talangama Wetlands located east of the school campus (6.888894° N, 79.947727°E) have provided our oldest wetlands learning site. This is a historic irrigation tank that was designed to help provide farmers with water during dry periods, but it also harbors significant wetland areas. It is a rich area for wetland biodiversity, namely bird species. OSC works collaboratively with the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka to raise funds to promote conservation awareness in the area. In 2005 OSC and FOGSL published Student’s Wetland Pictorial Resource Book: Talangama Wetlands Tank. For many years the school and its PTA hosted an annual “Walk for the Wetlands” though this has regrettably not happened recently. In more recent years the DP Environmental Systems & Societies class has been studying water quality in Talangama. For several years the DP Group IV project has been hosted at the wetlands where a variety of student led studies have explored themes of plants, invasive species, water quality and biodiversity in the area. The site is managed by the Irrigation Department, whose mission involves water management rather than biodiversity protection.

Dry & wet conditions over the course of a week at Beddagana Wetlands Park. The dry spell in September and early October was unusual and normally there is water in this part of the park.

Dry & wet conditions over the course of a week at Beddagana Wetlands Park. The dry spell in September and early October was unusual and normally there is water in this part of the park.

Study Site 2: Beddagana Wetland Park

The Beddagana Wetland Park (6.891418° N, 79.909080°E) is a newly designated protected area on the western edge of the Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte /Diyawanna (parliament) lake. It was set over the last few years up by the Urban Development Authority (UDA) with support of the World Bank. Beddagana’s forests are actually part of the Sri Jayewardenepura Wildlife Sanctuary that is managed by the Department of Wildlife Conservation. The area has walkways, hides and towers that offer unprecedented access to different micro-habitats in the wetlands.

Views from the Biodiversity Study Park, Thalawathugoda. It will be opening to the public shortly.

Views from the Biodiversity Study Park, Thalawathugoda. It will be opening to the public shortly.

Study Site 3: Biodiversity Study Park, Thalawathugoda

This is the newest wetland study site to be designated and is the closest to the OSC campus. At the time of writing the Biodiversity Study Park, Thalawathugoda (6.880016°N, 79.930402°) had not been officially opened. It is being sponsored by the Land Reclamation and Development Corporation and hosts a series of islands and channels that offer excellent study opportunities. OSC participated in an Urban Fishing Cat workshop led by Anya Ratnayake and hosted by the Environment Foundation Ltd. in early September 2016. We are looking forward to its formal inauguration and opening to the public.

Study Site 4: Water’s Edge area

The area around Water’s Edge (6.905529°N, 79.910093°E) was once an un-managed wetland and then a golf course before being converted by the UDA into a multiple-role recreational area. There are still several fine patches of wetland vegetation with convenient walkways that facilitate observation of wetland species but the area experiences large numbers of visitors that can reduce wildlife sightings.

GIS-generated map of urban wetlands near to OSC. Double click on image for larger A3 15- DPI version.

GIS-generated map of urban wetlands near to OSC. Double click on image for larger A3 15- DPI version.

REFERENCES

Bedjanič, Matjaž et al. Dragonfly Fauna of Sri Lanka: Distribution and Biology With Threat Status of its Endemics. Sofia, Bulgaria: Pensoft, 2014. Print.

Boyle, Richard. “Diyawanna Oya: A Suburban Wetland To Savour.” Serendib. October 2014. Web.

Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka. Student’s Wetland Pictorial Resource Book: Talangama Wetlands Tank. Colombo: FOGSL, 2005. Print.

Land Reclamation and Development Corporation. Biodiversity Study Park, Thalawathugoda. Web. Also

Malawatte, Vinod. “The Urban Wetlands Of Colombo: A Spongy Wildlife Refuge Within The City.” Roar.lk. 26 February 2016. Web.

Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development. Web. In particular see Masterplan.

Ramsar. Sri Lanka Profile. Web.

Urban Development Authority. Beddagana Wetlands Park. Web.

Urban Development Authority. Environmental Management Plan (January 2014).

Urban Fishing Cat Conservation Project. Facebook Page.

Wijeyeratne, GehanDe Silva. Sri Lanka Wildlife. Bucks, England, Bradt, 2007. Print. (see page 20 for review of Talangama).

World Bank. Beddaganna Wetlands Park Fact Sheet. 17 June 2016. Web.

Written by ianlockwood

2016-10-20 at 11:32 pm

West Coast Explorations: Wilpattu

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Forest reflection with full tank at Wilpattu.

The west coast of Sri Lanka looms large in myth, ecology and geography. Ecologically-speaking, the west coast is defined by its dry and semi-arid climatic zone. The coastal area supports several important fisheries and a string of human communities live off these resources from Negombo to Puttalam and Mannar. Offshore there are surviving coral reefs that can be reached from the Kalpitiya peninsula. Inland from the Gulf of Mannar is Wilpattu National Park, located in the north-west portion of the island. Adam’s Bridge, the string of shallow sandbanks that separates Sri Lanka from India, is linked to the epic Ramayana. These shoals and islands are said to be the remnants of a bridge that Hanuman’s army built for Rama in their pursuit of defeating Ravana and rescuing Sita from captivity in Lanka. The area is equally important in the Mahavamsa, the great chronicle of the Sinhalese. It records the founder of the Sinhalese Prince Vijaya landing on the copper-colored shores of Tambapanni (today known as Kudramalai) (Mahavimsa).

Signature wildlife and habitat from Wilpattu National Park: From top Malabar Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros coronatus), cliffs over the Gulf of Mannar at Kudramalai, elephant in core area, and cycad inside the interior.

Signature wildlife and habitat from Wilpattu National Park: From top Malabar Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros coronatus), cliffs over the Gulf of Mannar at Kudramalai, elephant in core area, and cycad in Wilpattu’s interior.

Charismatics actors on the Wilpattu stage: Sri Lankan leopards photographed on the same day in July 2016.

Charismatics actors on the Wilpattu stage: Sri Lankan leopards photographed on the same day in July 2016.

The name “Wilpattu” is connected with the large bodies of water that dot the densely forested landscape of this part of Sri Lanka. Wilu or villu is translated in Tamil as a natural pond. For anyone familiar with the dry plains of Tamil Nadu there are striking parallels in the climate, soil and ecology. Except, in Wilpattu the natural vegetation is intact and the protected area is a living examples of what the plains south of Chennai must have once looked like before they were cleared in ancient days for croplands and other hallmarks of civilization.

Since hostilities came to an end in 2009 my family and I have been slowly exploring the west coast of Sri Lanka. During the last three years we have had a chance to visit Kalpitiya, Wilpattu National Park and Mannar Island. Wilpattu has become a special destination for a number of reasons. I grew up with stories of my father’s childhood visits there in the 1940s and 1950s. My grandmother Dorothy recalls family trips with sloth bear and chital encounters in her chronicle Glimpses: The Lockwoods 1928-1980. Wilpattu was Sri Lanka’s first national park (established in 1938) and being roughly half way between Jaffna and Colombo it was a favorite place to visit on road trips. When we first moved to Sri Lanka Wilpattu was closed because of fighting and the very real danger of landmines. In the years since we have been getting to know the area better. We have usually stayed outside of the park and then hired local jeeps for the day. There are a series of DWC bungalows that I am looking forward to staying at when the opportunity arises. I still feel like we are just scratching the surface and I’m looking forward to further explorations and longer periods in Wilpattu’s magical forests.

Forest raptors of Wilpattu: Crested Hawk-Eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus) in first two images and Crested Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela) all photographed on the forest road into Wiplattu’s core area.

Forest raptors of Wilpattu: Crested Hawk-Eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus) in first two images and Crested Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela) all photographed on the forest road into Wiplattu’s core area.

Afternoon light panorama at the heart of Wilpattu.

Afternoon light panorama at the heart of Wilpattu.

REFERENCES

Gunatilleke, Nimal et al. Sri Lanka’s Forests-Nature at Your Service. Colombo: Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science, 2014. Print.

“Sri Lanka’s Wilpattu Ramsar Wetland Cluster.” Ramsar. 28 January 2013. Web.

“Trips Filed under Wilpattu.” Lankdasun. web.

Wikramanayake, Eric D. and Savithri Gunatilleke. “Southern Asia: Island of Sri Lanka off the coast of India. WWF Ecoregions. ND. Web.

Wijesinghe, Mahil. “Wilpattu…… in the times of Kuveni.” Sunday Observer. 23 May 2015. Web.

Wijeyeratne, Gehan de Silva. Sri Lankan Wildlife. Bucks, England: Bradt Travel Guides, 2007. Print.

“Wilpattu certified as a wetland of world importance.” Sunday Times. 10 February 2013. Web.

Piecing together 1:50,000 topo sheets of the west coast & WIlpattu purchased from the Sri Lanka Survey Department.

Piecing together 1:50,000 topo sheets of the west coast & Wilpattu and a Sri Lanka Landsat mosaic procured from the Sri Lanka Survey Department.

GIS-generated maps depicting forest cover, rivers, water bodies and protected areas in Sri Lanka. I utilized a variety of publically available data in their creation (acknowledged in bottom right annotations). This is Draft #1 and I’ll make updates in the future.

GIS-generated maps depicting forest cover, rivers, water bodies and protected areas in Sri Lanka. I utilized a variety of publicly available data in their creation (acknowledged in bottom right annotations). This is Draft #1 and I’ll make updates in the future. Double click for full sized 150 DPI A3 versions.

Written by ianlockwood

2016-09-11 at 1:41 am

Experiential Education Across the Length & Breadth of Sri Lanka: OSC’s Week Without Walls Program

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Week Without Walls Exhibition Poster 2016

Week Without Walls Exhibition Poster 2016

The Overseas School of Colombo’s annual Week Without Walls (WWW) is a high point for many of our students and teachers. With collective inputs of faculty members, some who have moved to other schools, the program continues to grow as a model of experiential education in a small school. I’ve had the privilege to be involved with the program from its inception. In addition to running one of the groups I coordinate the program and help to give it direction. We have now developed several distinct goals that guide the way it runs and continue to look for ways to improve the experiences. One of these key goals is the focus that is put on the host country (rather than on exotic foreign locations) and how the program fosters a better understanding of Sri Lanka. In recent years the focus has been on integrating units of study from classes with the different WWW learning experiences. In this post I’ll go back in time to review the origins of the program and then highlight some of the outcomes this year.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Experiential education is an approach in teaching and learning with roots in the writing of John Dewey and other education thinkers of the 20th Century. It is defined by the Association of Experiential Education as “a process through which a learner constructs knowledge, skills and value from direct experience” (Ibid 91). Kurt Hahn was an early practitioner of experiential education in founding the Outward Bound program and motivating the IB’s Creativity Action & Service (CAS) program. David Kolb’s 1984 publication Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development provided a theoretical basis that has underpinned the CAS program. His cycle or model of goal-setting, action, observation and reflection is a key part of the CAS learning process, and similar models are used in other areas of learning.

OSC’s WWW program had its roots in an ambitious outdoor education (OE) program that was integrated into the school’s Middle Year’s Program (MYP) in the mid 2000s. The OE program was envisioned by Elliot Bowyer, supported by Ray Lewis (MYP/DP teacher), Paul Buckley (Primary Principal), Laurie McLellan (Head of School) and several others in 2003-04 and implemented with the support of Borderlands Pvt. Ltd. Each of the middle school classes took a three-day experience and skills were built up to a culminating adventure in MYP5 that was used as a moderated sample in the PE classes. In its original design, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award program was planned to be integrated alongside the PE units. This didn’t happen and we are now reconsidering it as an add on to our program. The OE ran into difficulty when there was a change in staff and the PE department lost interest in using the program to design their moderated assessments around. As it happened, other developments at school helped the OE program evolve.

An overnight trip to the summit temple on Sri Pada in January 2007 with the MYP geography students from the class of 2009 was a key event that paved the way for the WWW program as we now know it. I was leading the experience as a part of my MYP5 geography study of culture and ecosystems. There were 12 enthusiastic students from nearly as many countries. One was the daughter of an ambassador who had a security guard shadowing us discretely. We hiked up in daylight hours and spent the night in the summit temple. Oli Toore Hancock, OSC’s secondary principal was the female chaperone. Our observations of student engagement and learning sewed the seed for what would then develop into the Week Without Walls. (an account of the experience was published in IS Magazine in 2007)

At the same time OSC was supporting eight tsunami-affected community primary schools in the south of the island. Karu Gamage, the school’s legendary service coordinator for many years, was our link to these institutions and their hard working teachers. Students groups from OSC had visited the schools for short service learning trips and these experiences were woven into the initial avatars of the WWW program. Oli presented a WWW proposal to the board in March 2007 and it was approved for the 2007-08 school year.

Evolution in Experiential Learning

As the WWW took shape we worked to establish clear goals to guide the trips as experiential learning experiences rather than visits to exotic locations. Aside from incorporating the outdoor education and service learning goals, the WWW program was designed to better expose OSC students to our host nation Sri Lanka and its varied natural and cultural treasures. The ideals of the WWW were rooted in more fully realizing the OSC mission statement, which seeks to “develop the whole person as a responsible learner, striving for personal excellence within a culturally diverse environment.” It was initially only three days and all learning experiences were single (rather than mixed) class trips. By this time Anthony Coles was the secondary principal. Laurie McLellan was still the Head of School and would soon be succeeded by Areta Williams. It was a crucial time as the conflict and violence that had engulfed the country came to an end in May 2009.

The WWW program ran parallel to the OE program for the first two years. But with OE not being used in MYP classes it was decided to integrate the learning with the WWW into a single five day-long program in 2009-10. Costs were incorporated into tuition around this time (parents had paid a subsidized fee for their children in past years). MYP 1-3 (grade 6-8) trips focused on themes of culture, history and ecology in Kandy, Galle and the Cultural Triangle. MYP 4 (grade 9) kept the full outdoor education emphasis-something that was enabled when Borderlands established a permanent camp in Kitulgala. Grade 10 combined both outdoor education at Uduwalawae with two days of service work in Hambantota. DP1 (Grade 11) did a full service trip to the tsunami-affected community schools also in Hambantota.

I found that the large class trips were difficult to manage and advocated for smaller groups where students had choice in what they did. I had seen this model work extremely well on the two “project weeks” that I planned and organized while working at MUWCI. The idea was supported by other faculty members and Eileen Niedermann, who had become OSC’s secondary principal in August 2010. In January 2013 we offered the first choice “microtrips” for the MYP5 and DP1 students. The experiences were organized around themes from the Creativity Action and Service (CAS) program. Two of the four trips emphasized physical activity, one had a strong service element and a third was arts focused. These experiences also provided unique opportunities to visit once conflict isolated locations such as Jaffna and Arugam Bay as well as known places such as Sinharaja and the Cultural Triangle.

One of the key developments during Eileen’s tenure as principal has been the development of a detailed learning continuum (scope and sequence) for experiential education at OSC. The goal of this document, is to provide a framework for experiential learning in a variety of areas at OSC. It divides the learning into three broad learning areas (Knowledge & Awareness, Skills and Attitudes) across the three IB programs. With Eileen’s leadership, OSC adopted the document in 2012-13 and we continue to use it as a guide for the learning in the WWW and other experiential learning exercises.

IDUs in WWW

This year the WWW learning experiences were grafted to the recently introduced MYP Interdisciplinary Units (IDUs). The motivation for this comes from the publication Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning in the MYP. As stated in the guidelines MYP classes are expected to run at least one IDU a school year. Veronica Boix-Mansilla from Harvard’s Project Zero was the author of the first draft of the document. She writes in the opening paragraph:

“Quality interdisciplinary education invites students to integrate concepts, theories, methods and tools from two or more disciplines to deepen their understanding of a complex topic. In so doing, interdisciplinary instruction enlists students’ multiple capabilities (aesthetic, social, analytical) and prepares them to solve problems, create products or ask questions in ways that go beyond single disciplinary perspectives” (Boix Mansilla 1).

I had to the opportunity to work with Veronica and a group of stellar IB educators on the World Studies Extended Essay (WSEE) pilot process in 2009-11. This experience, as well as my background as an Environmental Systems teacher (one of the IB DP’s few interdisciplinary subjects) puts me squarely in the IDU cheerleading stand.

The idea being the IDU is to have two subject areas integrated into the learning goals and to address questions that can be best answered using a broad-based interdisciplinary approach. This year OSC decided to graft this requirement on to our WWW program with mixed, though mostly positive success. It works very well where the subject area teachers are also involved with the planning and implementation of their WWW. It also helps when teachers have been in Sri Lanka long enough to develop suitable learning that is closely tied to their units of study. Because we are a small school where teachers teach across grade levels this is not always possible.

There is also the issue that DP1 students mixed with MYP5 students on the WWW microtrip (choice) experiences. In my original design of learning I used the CAS umbrella and its learning outcomes to guide learning objectives. This still seems to make sense to me as the best option for them. What we tried doing this year was to fuse this with the need for MYP IDUs. To make meaningful connections between the IDU and their regular learning is still a challenge that needs to be realized.

In mid-February we hosted the culmination of the program in the annual WWW Exhibition. This is designed to be a celebration of the learning experiences that students share with the broader OSC community. I am now reviewing feedback for students and teachers as well as the finances as we get ready to start planning the 2017 WWW. One of my ideas is to rename the program to make it more reflective of our program’s unique attributes. We’ll revisit the scope and sequence and see how we can better incorporate the IDUs. I look forward to many more years of experiential learning here in Sri Lanka…

REFERENCES

Boix-Mansilla, Verónica. MYP guide to interdisciplinary teaching and learning Middle Years. Geneva: International Baccalaureate Organization, 2010. Print.

Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning in the MYP. Geneva: International Baccalaureate Organization, Print & Web.

Itin, C. M. “Reasserting the Philosophy of Experiential Education as a Vehicle for Change in the 21st Century.” The Journal of Experiential Education,.22(2), 91-98. 1999. Web.

Kolb, David. A. Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. 1984. Print. Web Link.

Lockwood, Ian. Experiential Education in Sri Lanka: OSC’s Week Without Walls Program. 2016. Web.

 

EXEMPLAR DP1 STUDENT REFLECTIONS FROM THE 2016 WWW

Cultural Triangle

Jaffna Narratives

Sri Lanka Highlands

 

Written by ianlockwood

2016-03-08 at 11:06 pm

Learning in Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands (Part 1): Understanding Ecology through Landscapes

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Totupola Kanda (2,360m) Sri Lanka’s third highest peak seen from the Maha Eliya bungalow. We hiked up to the summit on Day 2 of the WWW trip.

Totupola Kanda (2,360m), Sri Lanka’s third highest peak, seen from the Maha Eliya bungalow. We hiked up to the summit on Day 2 of the WWW trip.

In the last few months I have had the opportunity to lead groups of OSC students into Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands for two different learning experiences. In December we did the annual field study in Sri Pada based out of the Fishing Hut in Maskeliya plantation’s Moray Estate. As usual, my class and I focused on studying themes of vertical zonation, biodiversity, land use and forest types. We were a small group made up of seven students, one parent and OSC’s Grade 3 teacher, Erika Williams, who accompanied us as a female chaperone. At the end of January I was back in the hills again, this time with my Week Without Walls microtrip. In this second year, we focused the learning though an MYP-inspired Interdisciplinary Unit (IDU). The focus was to learn about the ecology of the highlands through photo documentation with daily hikes being a key aspect. Over five packed days we looped though the hills starting in the south at Belihuloya and ending up on Sri Lanka’s highest peak Pidurutalagala before returning to Colombo.

Learning about the landscapes, both natural and human influenced, was a key part of the WWW learning experience. We started on a hike out of Belihuloya navigating rice paddies and intermediate zone semi-evergreen forest. Later we walked through pine plantations, swam in cold mountain pools, climbed the three highest mountains in Sri Lanka and spent several nights in the high altitude Horton Plains. The weather was dry and in the plains we awoke to frost before we did a brisk hike on the World’s End trail. The group exerted themselves every day- helping to address the Action or Activity IB CAS requirement. There were gastronomical joys –in simple camp food and more lavish spreads on the last day. The 15 students developed a newfound appreciation for hot water, electricity and cell phone connectivity. They did amazingly well and, despite a few stumbles into serious mud, came through in good spirits. In this post I share some of the different landscapes in panoramic format. Part II highlights the biodiversity that we encountered.

OSC students approaching the summit of Kirigalpotta (2,388 m) Sri Lanka’s 2nd highest peak. There is a bit of drop to the north of the peak that, when wet ,can look like from milk from a distance-hence the name of the peak. We had clear, albeit hazy, views back to Totupola Kanda (left peak) and World’s End (under the clouds to the right). Virtually the whole trail to the peak and back is visible behind the group.

OSC students approaching the summit of Kirigalpotta (2,388 m) Sri Lanka’s 2nd highest peak on Day 3. There is a bit of drop to the north of the peak that, when wet ,can look like from milk from a distance-hence the name of the peak. We had clear, albeit hazy, views back to Totupola Kanda (left peak) and World’s End (under the clouds to the right). Virtually the whole trail to the peak and back is visible behind the group.

Healthy evergreen forest on the southern slopes of Horton Plains seen above Bambarakanda Falls. On the right, the land had previously been cleared for either tea or pine plantations. Grasses have now taken over the area and some patches show signs of recent burning. The altitude here is approximately 600 meters.

Healthy evergreen forest on the southern slopes of Horton Plains seen above Bambarakanda Falls. On the right, the land had previously been cleared for either tea or pine plantations. Grasses have now taken over the area and some patches show signs of recent burning. The altitude here is approximately 600 meters.

Calophyllum walkeri sentinels in a path of dieback cloud forest near the Ohiya entrance to Horton Plains National Park.

Calophyllum walkeri sentinels in a patch of dieback cloud forest near the Ohiya entrance to Horton Plains National Park.

Looking across Ambawella farms and Hakgala to Pidurutalagala (Sri Lanka’s highest peak) from the slopes of Totupola Kanda at the end of a quick hike on Day 2 of the WWW experience. This was the first time that an OSC WWW group hiked up to Totupola (the third highest peak). It is an easy gradual trail through “pygmy forest”-literally waste level, wind blown cloud forest covered in mosses and epiphytes. There was also a surprisingly high number of leopard scat on the path.

Looking across Ambawella farms and Hakgala to Pidurutalagala (Sri Lanka’s highest peak) from the slopes of Totupola Kanda at the end of a quick hike on Day 2 of the WWW experience. This was the first time that an OSC WWW group hiked up to Totupola (the third highest peak). It is an easy gradual trail through “pygmy forest”-literally waste-level, wind-blown cloud forest covered in mosses and epiphytes. There was also a surprisingly high number of leopard scats on the path.

Shades of Eravikulam and the high Western Ghats? Actually, the landscapes of Horton Plains are both similar and yet very different than their cousins across the Palk Straits. Here south of the World’s End trials patanas and cloud forest highlight the unique aspects of Sri Lanka’s high altitude landscapes. Note that cloud forest dominates ridge tops while the patanas (grasslands) fill the valleys. This is opposite to what is found in the shola/grassland mosaic vegetation of the high altitude Western Ghats ranges. Similar to the Nilgiri Hills the patanas have healthy populations of fire and frost-resistant Rhododendron arboreum trees.

Shades of Eravikulam and the high Western Ghats? Actually, the landscapes of Horton Plains are both similar and yet very different than their cousins across the Palk Straits. Here, south of the World’s End trail, patanas (grasslands) and cloud forest highlight the unique aspects of Sri Lanka’s high altitude landscapes. The cloud forest dominates ridge tops while the patanas fill the valleys. This is opposite to what is found in the shola/grassland mosaic vegetation of the high altitude Western Ghats ranges. Similar to the Nilgiri Hills, the patanas have healthy populations of fire and frost-resistant Rhododendron arboreum trees.

Cloud forest and frosty valleys of patanas in Horton Plains National Park.

View 1: Cloud forest and frosty valleys of patanas in Horton Plains National Park.

View 2: Cloud forest and frosty valleys of patanas in Horton Plains National Park. Kirigalpotta (2,388 m) Sri Lanka’s 2nd highest peak is undistinguished high point in the middle of the image. It has a more prominent, pyramid profile when see from the west.

View 2: Cloud forest and frosty valleys of patanas in Horton Plains National Park. Kirigalpotta (2,388 m) Sri Lanka’s 2nd highest peak is undistinguished high point in the center-right of the image. It has a more prominent, pyramid profile when seen from the west.

Tree ferns (Cyathea crinita) seen from the road to Pidurutalagala with Sri Pada - out of focus - in the back ground.

Tree ferns (Cyathea crinita) seen from the road to Pidurutalagala with Sri Pada – out of focus – in the back ground.

Sri Pada seen from the summit of Pidurutalagala Sri Lanka’s highest point at 2,524 m. We experienced a spectacularly clear day with crisp views looking at the Central Highlands to the south of the peak.

Sri Pada seen from the summit of Pidurutalagala Sri Lanka’s highest point at 2,524 m. We experienced a spectacularly clear day with crisp views looking at the Central Highlands to the south of the peak. Most of the foreground was once cloud forest and has now been converted to vegetable gardens, timber plantations and tea estates.

Looking down at Nuwara Eliya’s Gregory Lake (altitude @ 1,868 meters) seen from Pidurutalagala, Sri Lanka’s highest point (2,524 m). The area in and around Sri Lanka’s premier hill station is well known for its tea, tourism and productive vegetable plots.

Looking down at Nuwara Eliya’s Gregory Lake (altitude @ 1,868 meters) seen from Pidurutalagala, Sri Lanka’s highest point (2,524 m). The area in and around Sri Lanka’s premier hill station is well known for its tea, tourism and productive vegetable plots.

View south from the lower slopes of Pidurutalagala. The panorama is snitched together from nine different images and greatly reduced in size in order to upload it here. Key mountains are labeled on the image.

View south from the lower slopes of Pidurutalagala. The panorama is stitched together from nine different images and greatly reduced in size in order to upload it here. Key mountains are labeled on the image.

OSC Highlands microtrip group on Pidurutalagala, 29 January 2016.

OSC’s Highlands microtrip group on Pidurutalagala on Day 5 (29 January 2016). Back Row from left to right: Rosanne, Shenali, Leoni, Aryaman, Sanoj, Khalis, Ifane, Jamaal, Mohamed & Amir. Front Row: Kamila, Alejandra, Diana, Malaika, Maya, Yoon Hwan, Anindo & Ian

 

The 2016 Sri Lanka Highlands WWW route map. Click on the link below for it to open in ArGIS online.

The 2016 Sri Lanka Highlands WWW route map. Click on the link below for it to open in ArGIS online.

MAP LINK

References provided in Part II:

Written by ianlockwood

2016-02-20 at 2:48 am