Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

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Sinharaja 2017 & 18 Geography IA Field Studies

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Sinharaja’s rainforest canopy under the Milky Way- an unusual sight given that high humidity often prevents clear view of the heavens. (May 2017).

Two successful OSC Geography field studies have come and gone in the last 15 months. Both learning experiences gave an opportunity for small groups of motivated DP1 students to investigate an individual research question in a rural Sri Lankan landscape.  Sinharaja rainforest, a UNESCO-designated World Heritage site, is located the south-western “wet zone” of the country and is well known for its rich biodiversity. OSC classes have been conducting field work in Sinharaja since 2005. The location offers ideal conditions for student learning, inquiry and field work on socio-economic, tourist and land-use themes. Many years ago, we used to do more ecology/ecosystems studies but the changes in the DP Geography syllabus has influenced how students craft their research questions around human aspects of the landscape. On both trips we were privileged to stay at Martin’s Wijeysinghe’s Forest Lodge; it continues to offer an ideal base for student field work, with access to the protected area, a range of habitats and home gardens.

The Sinharaja canopy from Moulawella showing the extensive rainforest over the core part of the World Heritage Site. (May 2017)

May 2017 Experience

The Class of 2018 geography class included eight enthusiastic students representing a diverse range of countries (eight different nationalities, with half the class being dual nationals). They embraced the learning opportunities, didn’t complain about the leeches (it was relatively dry this year) and seemed to thoroughly enjoy the Sri Lankan cuisine cooked up by Martin’s daughter. In 2017 Kamila Sahideen provided support in the interviews and was once active with finding frogs and other forest creatures. We were also happy to have Salman Siddiqui (Malaika and Maha’s father) along for one night. With his role as the head of IWMI’s GIS unit, I appreciated having Salman’s insights on how we might better use GIS/RS & drones to emphasize spatial dimensions of our data collection.

May 2018 Experience

The Class of 2019 geography class was slightly smaller but no less enthusiastic. There were six students and we were supported by Sandali Handagama, OSC’s multi-talented math teacher (and a former student of OSC). We hired four Sinharaja guides each day and they were essential in translating the surveys and helping the students to better understand the area. We have now developed a strong relationships and they have played a key role in the success of OSC’s field work in Sinharaja. Most of the surveys were gathered on foot but at times we hired local jeeps to take us further away from the ticket office at Kudawa.

Each of the students explored an individual geographic research question but pooled all of their sub-questions into a single survey that all could run. The actual survey of 45-50 questions could take up to 20-30 minutes with introductions and a look around home garden properties. The respondents were gracious with their time and several OSC teams were invited to have tea. With several different teams going in different directions we collected 72 different interviews in 2017 and 42 in 2018. We collected responses using Survey 123 a GIS-enabled data gathering app that all the students could run off their phones (we also recorded every response on paper). This allows students to map their results and do basic spatial analysis on the findings using ArcGIS, the GIS software package that they learn to operate in my class.

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The elusive and rarely seen Golden Civet Cat (Paradoxurus zeylonensis) making a short visit to Martin’s Lodge during the course of our final meal of idiyappam (string hoppers) and kiri hodi (potato curry).Food was dropped in a slightly messy panic in order to trigger the camera and flashes during its brief time with us.

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Sri Lanka frogmouth (Batrachostomus moniliger) female on left and male on the right in a patch of tree ferns. These pictures are only possible-like almost any frogmouth image-with the sharp eyes of a guide! I was assisted by Thandula, Ratnasiri and several others. Students got impressive pictures with their phones. (May 2018).

In addition to conducting the surveys, students got a flavor of being ecotourists in a tropical forest. They walked the different forest trails, encountered mixed species feeding flocks, appreciated small rainforest creatures and soaked their feet in jungle streams. Looking for frogs, insects and snakes at night is always a special treat. On the 2017 trip the class had me wake them up in the middle of the night to take in the majesty of the Milky Way in unusually clear, moisture-free skies. A highlight of the 2018 trip was having an encounter with a rare Golden Civet Cat (Paradoxurus zeylonensis) while eating dinner at Martin’s. The shy nocturnal mammal graced us for a few brief minutes and fed on bananas put out by our hosts. We completed our Sinharaja visits with a hike up to Moulawella peak to take in the full extent of the Sinharaja rainforest landscape. The views in 2017 were especially clear but 2018 also offered the team a chance to take in this remarkable rainforest and home garden landscape.

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Class of 2019 DP Geography Class and several of the Sinharaja guides (May 2018).

The Class of 2018 DP Geography Class with Martin at his Forest Lodge. Back Row: Easmond, Thiany, Aanaath, Zoe, Adrian & Ian.  Bottom Row: Malaika, Salman S, Martin, Kamila, Fatma & Yuki. (May 2017)

The Class of 2019 DP Geography Class with Martin at his Forest Lodge. Back Row: Joran, Dominic, Devin, Lukas, Martin’s grandson and granddaughter. Middle Row: Sandali, Martin, his wife and daughter. Bottom Row: Sarah, Maha and Ian (May 2018)

 

Past Blog Posts on Sinharaja

Geography IA Trip 2007

Geography IA Trip 2008

Geography IA Trip 2009

Geography IA Trip 2012

Geography IA Trip 2013

Geography IA Trip 2014

Geography IA Trip 2015

Geography IA Trip 2016

General Sinharaja Reflections

 

SELECTED REFERENCES

Abeywickrama. Asanga, Sinharaja Rainforest Sri LankaWeb. 2009.

DeZoysa, Neela and Rhyana Raheem. Sinharaja: A Rainforest in Sri Lanka. Colombo: March for Conservation, 1990. Print.

Gunatilleke, C.V.S, et al. Ecology of Sinharaja Rain Forest and the Forest Dynamics Plot in Sri Lanka’s Natural World Heritage Site.Colombo: WHT Publications, 2004. Print.

Harrison, John. A Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka. UK: Oxford University Press, 1999. Print.

Kotagama, Sarath W and Eben Goodale. “The composition and spatial organization of mixed-species flocks in a Sri Lankan rainforest.” Forktail. 2004. Print.

Lockwood, Ian. “Into the Wet: Field Notes From Sri Lanka’s Wet Zone.” Sanctuary Asia. August/September 2007. 3-11. Print. PDF.

Lockwood, Ian. “Montane Biodiversity in the Land of Serendipity.” Sanctuary Asia. July 2010. Print.

Sri Lanka Survey Department. Sheets 80_x & 81_x (1:10,000). Colombo: 2015. Maps & Spatial Data.

Warakagoda. Deepal et. al.  Birds of Sri Lanka (Helm Field Guides). London: Helms Guides, 2012. Print.

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

Vigallon, S. The Sinharaja Guidebook for Eco-Tourists. Colombo: Stamford Lake Publications, 2007. Print.

Written by ianlockwood

2018-08-27 at 10:50 pm

Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands WWW Experience 2018

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OSC’s annual Sri Lanka Central Highlands trip, was once again an experience of significance with many important group and individual learning highlights. This choice WWW learning experience is part of the broader secondary school Week Without Walls program that I have had the privilege of coordinating since its inception. OSC’s WWW program was first run in January 2010 as an outgrowth of the MYP outdoor education program (2003-2010) and has now matured into a key experiential learning highlight for all of the secondary school. Through a variety of grade-level and choice experiences there are several goals that define the program:

  • Fulfill the OSC mission statement of developing the whole person within a safe environment.
  • Expose students to our host country Sri Lanka’s culture and environment.
  • Enable opportunities for service learning and outdoor education.
  • Use Interdisciplinary Units (IDUs) to support and strengthen existing secondary curriculum (including the DP CAS program) for the benefit of student learning.

Cloud forest at Horton Plains National Park

The five-day excursion into Sri Lanka’s high elevation interior exemplified some of the best outcomes of field-based learning beyond the normal confines of a classroom. The learning focus was on using photo documentation to better understand the ecology and landscape of Sri Lanka’s mountainous interior. This year we had a smaller sized group-10 students and three of us adults to guide them. I was supported by Kamila Sahideen and Desline Attanayake who both played key roles in organization and participating in all of our activities. We also had two veteran drivers from Yamuna Travels who got us to our different destinations safely. The students were enthusiastic and cooperative as we took on new challenges every day. Accommodation for the first three nights was on the cozy-rustic side of things, but on the last night the group was treated to very comfortable rooms in Nuwara Eliya’s St. Andrew’s Jetwing hotel.

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The five-day excursion into Sri Lanka’s high elevation interior exemplified some of the best outcomes of field-based learning. The learning focus was on using photo documentation to better understand the ecology and landscape of Sri Lanka’s mountainous interior. All of the students had some sort of DSLR or point and shoot camera where they could learn basic controls and composition as we had different encounters. This year we had a smaller sized group-10 students and three of us adults to guide them. I was supported by Kamila Sahideen and Desline Attanayake who both played key roles in organization and participating in all of our activities. We also had two veteran drivers from Yamuna Travels who got us to our different destinations safely. The students were enthusiastic and cooperative as we took on new challenges every day. Accommodation for the first three nights was on the cozy-rustic side of things, but on the last night the group was treated to very comfortable rooms in Nuwara Eliya’s St. Andrew’s Jetwing hotel.

Weather in the Central Highlands is always hard to predict but this year we were blessed with classic, crisp winter conditions. There had been frost earlier in the month but by the time that we got to the high reaches of Mahaeliya bungalow in Horton Plains it was at least 10-15 degrees C° above freezing. The highlight of the time in Horton Plains was climbing the 2nd and 3rd highest mountains in Sri Lanka. Kirigalpotta (2,388 m) was the focus of a seven-hour round trip hike on Wednesday and Totupola Kanda (2,360m) was a short walk that we did on Thursday morning. For good measure we visited Sri Lanka’s highest peak Pidurutalagala (albeit by van, as walking is not allowed) on the final morning of the experience.

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Grasshopper (Orthoptera sp.?) love fest near Lanka Ella Falls on Day 2 of the Highlands experience.

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Rhino Horned Lizard (Ceratophora_stoddartii) at Horton Plains National Park on Day 3, views from the same image file.

Encounters with biodiversity were integral to the Highlands experience. On the first day as we hiked along the Belihuloya stream we had sighting of several eagles (Black, Crested Hawk and Serpent). In Horton Plains we appreciated cloud forest flora and endemic lizards (Rhino horned and). On our final afternoon we visited Victoria Park to observe Pied Thrushes and other rare birds. That evening before dinner Ishanda Senevirathna took us on the amazing frog tour behind St. Andrew’s. The students were extra enthusiastic and we were able to see all of the six highlighted endemic species. This has become a real highlight of the highlands WWW experience, something that has been written up in Ishanda’s newly published book The Peeping Frogs of Nuwara Eliya.

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2018 Highlands group on Totupola Kanda (2,360m)  with view to Ambawella, Pidurutalagala and the north behind them.

The Horton Plains area as seen with a Planet Dove 3m multi-spectral satellite. Imagery acquired soon after our visit and then processed by the author to emphasize vegetation and land use patterns.

PAST WWW TRIPS

EXEMPLARY STUDENT CAS REFLECTIONS (HIGHLANDS)

FURTHER READING & REFERENCES

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

De Silva, Anslem and Kanisha Ukuwela. A Naturalist’s Guide to the Reptiles of Sri Lanka. Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2017. Print.

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.

Senevirathna, Ishanda. The Peeping Frogs of Nuwara Eliya. Colombo: Jetwings, 2018. Print.

Somaweera, Ruchira & Nilusha. Lizards of Sri Lanka: A Colour Guide With Field Keys. Frankfurt: Edition Chimaira 2009. Print.

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

Rock Star Crake at Diyasaru

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Ruddy-breasted Crake ((Porzana fusca) ) emerging in sunlight at the Thalawathugoda Biodiversity (Diyasaru) Park. (January 2018)

Colombo’s urban wetlands have been deservedly in the news as the world celebrates World Wetlands Day. Our local bird watching and conservation group the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) has been organizing a variety of events, with a focus on wetlands around the parliament lake area of Colombo/ Sri Jayewardenepura. The Thalawathugoda (Diyasaru) Biodiversity Park as well as the Beddagana Wetlands Park are two excellent locations in our neighborhood to appreciate urban wetlands.

The Thalawathugoda (Diyasaru) Biodiversity Park is composed of wetlands in an an area reclaimed during the process of expanding the parliament lake in Sri Jayewardenepura. The government agency tasked with its management is the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation & Development Corporation.

Coinciding with this celebration, there is one conspicuous rock star of a bird that has got all of us bird watchers and nature photographers out to appreciate the urban wetlands. The Ruddy-breasted Crake (Porzana fusca) is generally a rarely seen, shy water bird. However, for the last two months a resident individual has been on display at Thalawathugoda (Diyasaru) Biodiversity Park. I first observed the Crake on December 10th on a camera-free walk with colleagues from OSC. More than a month later after the winter holidays I returned with Lenny and we photographed it on January 21st. We saw the Crake in fairly good light but I had a faulty battery. It took me a week or more to get back with the right equipment.

On January 31st, a poya holiday, I was rewarded with lengthy opportunity to observe and photograph the crake as it went about its morning feeding routine. I was joined by several other photographers and birdwatchers on the boardwalk that passes through of water plants and over channels. The Crake came out at first light like clockwork! It seemed quite unconcerned about all the attention. People were mindful of the bird and kept their distance. Yet at certain points, the crake walked so close to the reeds at the edge of the boardwalk that our long lenses could not focus on it! Nevertheless, I came away with several pleasing images that I share here as modified, low-resolution versions.

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Ruddy-breasted Crake (Porzana fusca) in reflection at Thalawathugoda (Diyasaru) Biodiversity Park (January 2018)

 

The Slaty-breasted Rail (Gallirallus striatus) is a rare resident (or visitor) at Diyasaru. This individual was photographed at dusk in May 2017 with Will Duncan. It has not been seen as often as the Ruddy-breasted Crake.

 

REFERENCES

IWMI. “World Wetlands Day.” Web.

Kotagama, Sarath and Gamini Ratnavira. Birds of Sri Lanka: An Illustrated Guide. Colombo: Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka, 2017. Print.

Lockwood, Ian. “Teaching & Learning in Colombo’s Suburban Wetlands.” Ian Lockwood Blog. October 2016. Web.

Rasmussen, Pamela C. and John Anderson. Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide. Volumes 1 &2, Second Edition. Washington DC: Smithsonian, 2012. Print.

Ryder, Craig. “The Growing Importance of Colombo’s Shrinking Wetlands.” Roar. 2 February 2018. Web.

Warakagoda. Deepal et. al.  Birds of Sri Lanka (Helm Field Guides). London: Helms Guides, 2012. Print.

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’
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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,

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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

Mannar: Far Corner of Sri Lanka

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Baobab on the north shore of Mannar.

Off the Grid (OTG), OSC’s outdoor and adventure club explores different corners of Sri Lanka seeking adventure, new destinations and fresh opportunities to learn from our host country. In October we took a three-day visit to the island of Mannar on Sri Lanka’s west coast. The low lying, bone-dry island is steeped in myth but distant from the well-worn tourist track of most visitors. Mannar is most often visited by birdwatchers looking for flamingos and wintering birds (see my post from March 2017). On this trip, OTG was looking for opportunities to build a relationship with a local NGO engaged in mangrove and coral reef conservation.

We originally had a large group signed up but, in the end, only three students joined the trip. Theo from DP2, Madeleine from DP1 and MYP3 student Lenny. Kamilla Sahideen, the other OTG faculty leader, joined us and we were driven by Anthony who is fluent in three languages and one of the best drivers that the school hires. The Recycling & Sustainability service group (represented by Lenny and myself) and Reefkeepers (represented by Madeleine) were particularly interested in how a small community was dealing with solid waste management and coral reef conservation.

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Tantirimale Buddha.

Getting to Mannar was a significant part of the adventure and we had stops at Negombo, Tantirimale, Madhu, and Vankalai sanctuary on the way up. On the island we had an opportunity to visit the historic fort, the grave site of Adam & Eve, Talaimannar pier and the last point of land before Adams bridge. Each of these places is interesting in their own way-for me it was the living mythology of the location that stood out. In Mannar we stayed at the Four Tees guest house, a place well known to birders. They have reasonable rates and the owner Laurence is friendly, hospitable and surely one of the most knowledgeable hoteliers on the island. Our meals were simple (but scrumptious) and mostly taken at Mannar’s City Hotel and other road- side eating joints. Out visit coincided with the onset of the North East (Winter) monsoon and the showers that we experienced were beginning to fill up tanks and ponds that are dry for most of the year. In this arid, near desert part of the island, the relief for people and wildlife was palatable.

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In Vidataltivu

The focus of our trip was to spend time in a small village, Vidataltivu, located off of the Mannar-Jaffna road. Vidataltivu’s location in an area once trapped in the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and LTTE is still haunting. Many of its buildings, built with generous quantities of cement in an art deco style during the 1960s, lie abandoned and empty. There are signs of normalcy returning in the active fishing harbor but the town seems far short of full recovery. The Vidataltivu Ecotourism Society (VETS) is a small organization that was started to help protect the area’s mangroves, sea grass beds and coral reefs from unsustainable fishing practices. They are composed of a handful of young people who have worked with their neighbors to protect the area. UNDP has helped to support their efforts and worked with the community in fixing up the fishing harbor’s docks, providing VETS with a boat and sponsoring various capacity building exercise. Santhiapillai Augustine was out contact from UNDP who helped try to line up the permissions. Edison, one of their leaders now works with the DCW while working on a graduate degree in Ruhuna University and worked to help facilitate our visit.

Because this was formerly in territory controlled by the LTTE there is a strong SL Navy presence in Vidataltivu. Their base at the edge of the Vidataltivu harbor blends in with the surroundings and it is a non-threatening arrangement from the point of view of a visitor. The harbor is active with fishing boats who specialize in catching crabs just off shore. However, the Navy’s concerns about security have made it very difficult for tourists to take short rides into the water from the harbor. The jurisdiction of the coastal area has recently been transferred to the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC). I had worked in the weeks before our trip to get the necessary permissions and we came with written permission to conduct a study tour from the DWC. We thought that our group might be allowed to visit both the mangrove and the coral reef. In the end, we were only able to see the mangrove and will have to wait to visit the reef on a future visit.

Our trip was much too short but it did allow for us to get a sense of Mannar, Vidataltivu and the surrounding area. In general, I think all of us were impressed with the serene beauty of the low lying island, the palmyra trees, lagoons and infinite horizons. People were friendly and gracious in our interactions. We were, however, dismayed to observe large quantities of plastic waste on the roadsides, lagoons and beaches: it is clear that issues of non-biodegradable solid domestic waste pose a serious challenge for the citizens of Mannar. Some of this waste may be coming over the sea but most of the waste that we saw (broken buckets, plastic bags, shoes, wrappers and water bottles) that was on roadsides and near to Mannar’s human settlements. It is of course a problem felt at a national and global scale and Mannar is not alone in this challenge. On the positive side, I was happy that Laurence the proprietor of Four Tees welcomed us and then politely reminded us not to bring any plastic whatsoever into his premise.

As we were heading back to Colombo we stopped by the Mannar salterns and were treated to a sighting of the Greater flamingos-about 60 of them who are apparently resident all year long.  OTG looks forward to returning to Mannar to build on the relationships that were started on this visit.

Greater flamingos taking flight near Mannar town. These are apparently a resident group of about 60 individuals.

 

Google My Maps showing trip route and significant points.

 

REFERENCES & FURTHER READING

Gnanam, Amrith. Discover Mannar Sri Lanka. Colombo: Palmyrah House, 2017. Print.

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 Vatadage (south) guard stone in evening light.

Vatadage 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