Ian Lockwood


Archive for the ‘Sinharaja’ Category

Using Landsat Imagery in the Western Ghats & Sri Lanka Biodiversity Hotspot

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Annotated map of the southern Western Ghats created on ArcMap

In the last six months I have been spending significant amounts of my free time learning about the Landsat program and how to access and analyze their 40-year archive of data, which is now freely available. I was initially motivated by several mosaics of remote sensing imagery that I saw at ATREE’s Ecoinformatics lab, the IWMI GIS lab and MIRSAC in Aizawl. Then earlier in the year I was gifted a copy of Remote Sensing for Ecology and Conservation through a program run by the Natural History Book Shop (NHBS) in London. The book is the result of collaboration between NASA and members of the Center for Biodiversity & Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History. It gives a very thorough overview of using satellite imagery in aid of conservation goals and has proven to be an indispensible aid in helping me understand the uses and applications of remote sensing. My interest is in applying the data and analytical techniques in areas of the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka that I have worked in, photographed, written about and taken students to.

In July the Landsat program celebrated 40 years of earth observation and analysis. They have made almost the entire archive of spatial data available to the public through the USGS Glovis site. I have started downloading some of the tiles with the goal of looking at temporal changes in vegetation and land use in areas in the southern Western Ghats and Sri Lanka. One approach is to use a photo editing software package (Adobe Photoshop etc.) to analyze the images but I have been interested in GIS and analytical applications of the imagery. Since most of my work with GIS is based on ESRI’s Arc platform of software it seemed sensible to use Arc Map and the Spatial Analysis extension to work with the imagery.  However, if you are just starting off there are now freeware options available in software such as Q-GIS. The Indian government has made archival remote sensing imagery, including multi-spectral files, available on its Bhuvan site. I have not yet had time to explore these options and have been focused on trying to learn how to import, mosaic and analyze the NASA Landsat data through ESRI’s software.

For educators, curious people and novices such as myself the internet has provided an easy way to access and learn how to use and analyze remote sensing data. There is a wealth of online tutorial information available for using the Landsat archive. NASA, of course, has numerous links and a good place to start is the Landsat homepage. There are also other data portals such as ArcGIS Online, the University of Maryland’s Global Land Cover Facility and USGS’s Earth Resources Observation & Science (EROS). I am regularly updating my GIS Links page on my Mangotree teaching Wikisite with links to tutorials etc. on remote sensing, Landsat etc.

This Image of the High Range, Anaimalais and Palani Hills was taken by Landsat 1 in July 1973. Water bodies such as the Vaigai dam and larger reservoirs in the High Range and Anaimalais are prominent. Overall levels of vegetation are generally high presumably because of the onset of the South West Monsoon in the previous month. The significant feature in this image is how wide spread montane grasslands are! In subsequent years these were largely converted to commercial plantations of non- native tree species. The image awaits further analysis to make quantifications of various land uses and changes.

As aspect of the Landsat archive that fascinates me is the opportunity to do temporal studies of changes in land use in areas that I have first hand knowledge of. As is well documented, significant changes have happened in the land use in critical areas in the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka biodiversity hotspot in the last 40 years. Forest loss is perhaps what first comes to mind. But perhaps more difficult to track has been the change of forest cover or vegetation type. For example large swathes of high-altitude grasslands were converted in the 1970s and 1980s to fuelwood plantations of monoculture species. Eventually we should be able to do detailed studies of vegetation changes in critical hill ranges such as the Nilgiris, Palanis, Anaimalais and High Range using some of the tools that are available on modern GIS software.

Sinharaja Rainforest Landsat view highlighting the thermal band and closed canopy evergreen rainforest within its boundaries.

Sinharaja West, Sinharaja East (Part II)

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Montane forest at 1,000 meters at the Tea Estate adjacent to the Rainforest Ecolodge.

The remote higher reaches of the UNESCO-designated Sinharaja Man and Biosphere reserve are located at the union of three southern districts; Ratnapura, Galle and Mattara. It’s an area that you hear about more often than visit and, like most Colombo-based bird watchers and wildlife enthusiasts, I had focused my past visits on the western Kudawa side. Last week our family had a unique opportunity to explore and visit the eastern portions of Sinharaja above the small settlement of Viharahenaa.

In the east the Ruakwana Hills that host Sinharaja rise up to 1,150+ meters and the dominant vegetation type is montane forest, rather than lowland tropical rainforest. This is one of the wettest areas in the country with annual rainfall falling in a range of 3,600-5,000 mm. However, just a few kilometers eastwards and the climate reverts to the dry zone! The natural vegetation and contours of the land are reminiscent of the wind swept forests that cloak the Peak Wilderness and Horton Plains areas in the Central Highlands. Emergent trees have exquisite, gnarled branches. There are also interesting parallels to the evergreen rainforests of Kakachi in the Ashambu Hills in the southernmost Western Ghats.

Several years ago our family circumnavigated the northern border of Sinharaja, passing from Rakwana around the eastern border and Suriyakanda to Deniyaya. At that time we had glimpses of the higher forests but we were unable to explore into the area. The Forest Department maintains a bungalow at an area called Morningside and it remains an intriguing destination to get to. It has been notable for the number of new amphibian species that have been discovered by University of Peradeniya researchers (see Froglog and the The Island for details). Suiyakanda is visible from afar because of a series of transmission towers that crown it. It lies beyond the Sinharaja PA boundaries but there is still significant undisturbed forest in its vicinity. In the last year there has been a flurry of articles in the Sri Lankan press related to a controversial road that is being built connecting Suiyakanda to Kalawana (see the Sunday Leader and Sunday Times).

Google Earth Pro map of Sinharaja area with Forest Department PA boundary overlaid. Significant points are tagged.

On this visit we were guests at the Rainforest Ecolodge a new establishment that is the product of careful thought and an innovative low-impact conceptual plan.  Their goal is to have a minimalistic but luxurious lodge that caters to ecotourists, with a sensitive approach to assisting local communities. Many of the large Sri Lankan tourist operators (Jetwings, Atikin Spence etc.) are shareholders, in a unique collaborative effort. The project was facilitated by USAID’s competitiveness initiative.  The location (E  6.389351°, N 80.596336°) and forest-dominated landscape is what moved me most.  A dozen chalets and the main hotel structure are built on a slim finger of tea that is surrounded by montane forest. Guests are housed in chalets made of recycled containers with a conscious effort to minimize the use of concrete. They sit on stilts above the tea with a patio facing the forest. The hospitality and attention to detail were second to none, reminding us again about why Sri Lanka is such a leader in high-end tourism. The concern for the local community, comprised largely of Tamil estate workers, seemed genuine and much more than mere tokenism. Nearly everyone working at the Ecolodge was drawn from these communities and lower elevation settlements near Viharahenaa.

Getting to and from the location was certainly a big part of the adventure but the major highlight was taking a morning exploratory walk through forest and into patanas. We were lead by the energetic guides Kumara and Sanjeeva who are building up a knowledge base of the area’s biodiversity. The two children of our hosts Indrika and Krishan also accompanied our family. The patanas, or grasslands formerly hosted tea gardens but have been abandoned several years ago and are gradually reverting to wilder states though a process of ecological succession.  They adjoin the actual Sinharaja PA border, which we never actually entered.

Exploring patanas and montane forest near the Ecolodge

An interesting observation was the extent to which pitcher plants (Nepenthes distillatoria) are recolonizing these former tea fields. Given that the plants prefer nutrient poor soil (they derive their nutrients from insects) it makes sense, still it is better than invasive species such as Lantana camara taking over!  We had an opportunity to follow one of the Gin Ganga’s tributaries up through cascades of clear mountain water, large boulders and thickets of tree ferns. Odonata species were numerous and we had fairly good sightings of bird and butterfly species too. The Sri Lankan keelback (Xenochrophis asperrimus) pictured in the post almost got stepped on by five-year-old Amy when we were passing her down a steep bit of steam. She and the snake remained very calm and it was kind enough to pose for our cameras.

In the near future we are looking to bring a group of OSC students here for rainforest studies and perhaps a new community service initiative.

Montane forest canopy and stream view in the Rainforest Ecolodge vicinity.

Diversity from a fleeting visit to Sinharaja East. (Clockwise from upper left) female Hyleaothemis fruhstorfori which is endemic to Sinharaja, the endemic Sri Lanka Keelback Xenochrophis asperrimus, butterfly to be identified, patanas flowers to be identified.

Tea picker with Ecolodge chalets in the background.

Looking north over tea and montane forest towards Suriyakanda.

Ecolodge restaurant view looking west.

Rainforest Ecolodge chalets, tea and montane forest.

Montane forest panorama at 1,000 meters at the tea estate adjacent to the Rainforest Ecolodge.

Written by ianlockwood

2012-05-15 at 5:31 pm

Sinharaja West, Sinharaja East (Part I)

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Variations on the Sinharaja rainforest canopy highlighting undisturbed primary forest on the ridge with secondary growth on the lower slopes (evidenced by Calamus sp. etc.). The images were taken on a Nikon digital SLR, processed on Adobe Photoshop CS5 and then manipulated with Nik software’s ColorEfex 4 plugin.

Sinharaja, the resplendent tropical lowland rainforest in south-western Sri Lanka, is a remarkable protected area, UNESCO world heritage site and living laboratory. For the last seven years it has provided an important field study site for my Geography and Environmental Systems classes at the Overseas School of Colombo. It is a large protected area (11,187 ha) and in all my years in Sri Lanka I have focused on visits to the biodiversity-rich western corner. In the last 10 days I have had the privilege of visiting both western and higher eastern portions (the next post will highlight the visits to the less-visited, higher altitude eastern areas of Sinharaja).

In early May OSC’s grade 11 IBDP Geography students had four days of rich and productive fieldwork in Sinharaja’s western (Kudawa) corner. As on past trips, the focus of the trip was for the students to collect field data for their internal assessment that accounts for 20-25% of their final grade. In years past we focused on the ecosystems angle of the tropical rainforest but with the revisions in the syllabus we are now looking at tourism as a development strategy, the theme of “biodiversity and change” and issues surrounding home garden agriculture. Land use patterns and spatial analysis are important aspects for all groups and thanks to Survey Department data from 2005 we are able to map and make attempts to verify the accuracy of this data using our ArcGIS software.

This year we utilized the new southern expressway and were up at our host Martin’s Jungle Lodge by noon. His lodge has ideal conditions for a forest experience sitting on the boundary between the buffer and core zone of the protected area. There is excellent secondary forest that attracts most of the endemic birds and a clear stream for guests to cool off in the afternoon. Electricity is generated by a small micro-turbine and there is limited cell phone coverage (thankfully).  Weather conditions were dry, a surprise after the deluge that Colombo had experienced on April 30th.

Collage showing three significant habitats that were used as study sites for students. The first is a canopy view over primary forest taken on Moulawella Peak in the core zone of Sinharaja, the second shows secondary forest mixed with a non-native pine plantation in the buffer zone. Finally the last images shows tea estates sandwiched between the small settlement of Kuduwa and the park boundary.

Thirteen students of varying nationalities (Sri Lanka, India, Finland, Canada, Switzerland, USA etc.) joined the trip.  I was supported by Eileen Niedermann, our secondary school principal and Haris Dharmasiri, OSC’s resourceful lead science technician. Lilani Ranasigha traded places with Eileen half way through the trip. After getting settled in we started the experience with a walk and introductory lecture to the Sinharaja core area. In years past we’ve been fortunate to have Professor Sarath Kotagama to give us the context for Sinharaja’s protection and what kind of significant threat the systematic logging posed in the 1970s. That afternoon we traversed the well-worn tourist paths though secondary, primary and ridge forests as we moved towards the research station. This is a major focal point (and former logging camp/maintenance depot) for all visitors to this side of Sinharaja and we use it as a base for studies in primary and secondary forests. The Blue Magpies (Urocissa ornata) did not disappoint and swooped down to give us an intimate encounter. The students were still consumed with removing leaches, something that would soon become an insignificant inconvenience.

Over the next two days students broke into small groups to gather field data on their individual questions. We had a group looking at plant species in different habitats, another studying soil in forest and human-impacted landscapes, a group of three studying water quality in forest streams and home garden water bodies, a group looking at tourist numbers and the idea of ecotourism and finally a group conducting an energy audit and survey of homes in the buffer zone of Sinharaja. Needless to say we chaperones could not monitor all of these simultaneously and the trip is designed for students to conduct a fair amount of independent data collection. During the course of the trip we had a chance to accompany each group, provide feedback and observe their methodology.

OSC students collecting different types of data in Sinharaja for their Geography IAs. At the top students (Uvin, Brooke, Rachel & Alisha) conducting an interview with a resident about the impact of ecotourism on livelihoods. Sarah, Janik and Nadeera testing stream water samples at Martin’s Lodge. Vera and Alisha aided by Ratna identifying key plant species along a 15 meter transect in secondary forest. Lastly, Uvin using a 10 m2 quadrat to look at invasive plants in a home garden plot about to be planted with tea.

Sinharaja rainforest canopy panorama highlighting undisturbed primary forest on the ridge with secondary growth on the lower slopes. Moulawella is the center peak in the background.

Tropical Rainforest, near the Sinharaja Research Center

Ongoing experiments with spatial data from the Sinharaja area using Arcmap. We have fairly good data from the Survey Department and other sources and are now looking to effectively use it to give a spatial perspective to individual studies. Close inspection reveals issues with correctly georeferencing some of the data at a large scale.

Sinharaja has hosted several landmark ecological studies including the two decade long forest dynamics study of a 25 hectare plot by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and Peradeniya University and several other notable educational institutions. A classic study on the composition and spatial organization of mixed species flocks by Sarath Kotagama and Eben Goodale from 2004 serves as a model study and journal article for OSC students. Compared to these landmark studies our fleeting encounter yields limited data. The data that we gather on the trip is useful for the students’ work but at this point is not contributing to any long term monitoring of the area.  What we are doing is getting a better sense of land use and home garden that should serve as an important evidence of patterns at this point in time.

An intriguing development in the western corner of Sinharaja is how it is being used as a location to host “reconciliation workshops” for students from all over the country.  The basic idea is to bring teenage students from government schools in the conflict affected areas in the north and east of the country and foster an appreciation of nature to help provide a more lasting peace. “Reconciliation through the Power of Nature” is facilitated by the tireless work and enlightened thinking of Professor Kotagama and the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) with support provided by Dilmah Conservation. Martin hosts these student-teacher groups at his lodge and there are illuminating posters illustrating the goals and outcomes of the three day workshops for Jaffna schools.

Sri Lanka/Ceylon Frogmouth (Batrachostomus moniliger). Adolescent male and adult female.

Birds and the rich diversity of Sri Lankan endemics is what first drew me to Sinharaja in 1999. During a 4 day visit with my cousin Anna we trekked all over the different paths, including Moulawella and Sinhagala, looking for mixed species flocks and using just binoculars and field guides (no cameras!). On this trip to Sinharaja I had less time for birds because of the focus on human impact and land use patterns. However, we did encounter several mixed species flocks and had delightful views of a Red Faced Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus) and Malabar Trogon (Harpactes fasciatus) as well as the other flock members. A highlight for me was getting to observe and photograph a pair of Sri Lanka Frogmouths (Batrachostomus moniliger) on the return from our hike to Moulawella. They were located by our energetic and informed guides Dinushka, Shanta and Ratna in a thicket of tree ferns. All the students got to see the endemic Sri Lanka Green Pit Viper (Trimeresurus trigonocephalus) and a shy Hump Nosed lizard (Lyriocephalus scuatus) up close. We returned to Colombo n May 3rd with plenty of field data and experiences not to be forgotten. I was delighted with the outcomes of the trip and the knowledge that I was turning around with my family to visit the other end of Sinharaja on the next day!

Emblematic species from Sinharaja seen on the trip (clockwise from upper left): Ceylon or SL frogmouth (Batrachostomus moniliger) adolescent male and adult female, Pitcher plant (Nepenthes distillatoria) in a former pinus plantation, SL Green Pit Viper (Trimeresurus trigonocephalus) and the SL Blue Magpie (Urocissa ornata).

Rainforest emergent layer and canopy, looking southwards from Moulawella Peak after a climb up with most of the group on Thursday morning.

Study area map

OSC’s Class of 2013 Geography students at a playful final group picture after four days of productive research and fieldwork. Our host Martin is seated second from the right. Haris Dharmasiri, OSC’s lab technician par-excellence is seated on the far left while Lilani Ranasingha, our energetic female chaperone is seated on the far right.

GIS Developments at OSC in 2011

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Sinharaja rainforest in the south west portion of Sri Lanka has been an ideal field study site for OSC’s DP Geography and Environmental Systems a& Societies classes for the last seven years. Increasingly, with changes in the syllabi, we have been looking at interactions between human communities and the different ecosystems that are a part of this World Heritage Site. Use of spatial data and mapping study sites using GIS have become integral to our studies.

The last year has seen continued growth go the GIS program at the Overseas School of Colombo. We continue to maintain a concurrent license of ESRI’s ArcMap 10, together with several extensions (3D, spatial analysis etc.) in a package designed for schools, universities and libraries. We have invested in spatial data from the Sri Lanka Survey Department and have obtained vector data for our study sites at Sri Pada/Peak Wilderness and Sinharaja rainforest. Equally important has been the contribution of data and guidance from several national and international organizations in Colombo. Dilip Hensman at the World Health Organization (WHO) has helped us with up-to-date data on health outbreaks, notably dengue at a district and DS (Divisional Secretary)  level in Sri Lanka. Skylor Knoll utilized this in his world studies extended essay. He investigated spatial patterns of rainfall and dengue–related mortality over a two-year period. Tushara at the World Food Program (WFP) has been a helpful guide with understanding and using up-to-date SRTM data. In the previous year he presented a lecture on how the WFP uses GIS to better provide food to (flood and conflict) affected areas in Sri Lanka. Senior student Camie Raguin conducted a short environmental impact assessment as part of her extended essay in the northern areas. With the aid of the able skills of Alex Mylvaganam, she was able to utilize UNDP spatial data to produce her own basic locational maps of her study site. Salman Sidique and his team including Ad Ranjit and Sajid remain one of my best resources for tinkering help. IWMI’s GeoPortal is a great place for free vector data of Sri Lanka and the basin areas where they are working.

Sample student work (Satyanshu & Vera) from a study on demographic trends in contrasting countries using age-sex pyramids generated on ArcView by the Grade 11 DP Geography class in the Fall of 2011.

OSC students in Sinharaja negotiating moss covered boulders along a riparian patch of unlogged forest near the research station. Group shot with Martin at his lodge at the end of the study, a tradition started on our first study in 2005.

One result of our continued GIS development at OSC is that this year’s IBDP Geography classes produced far superior maps of the IA field study site at Sinharaja. This year almost many of the students looked at some aspect of land use in the area and all the students created their own original maps (see samples below). The 1:50,000 vector data from the Sri Lanka Survey Department may be slightly dated but it provides a good basis for ground truthing and observation. We have more GPS units and thus teams can go in different directions to gather data simultaneously. The field visit happened in May 2011 but it took several months to process the data and to finally write it up into their final reports that will be submitted for the DP Geography exams 2012.

Three different maps from the Sinharaja Geography IA showing land use data, GPS points and the ranges of colorful options that students have when putting together their individual study maps. The picture shows a transect traversing a stream in primary forest above the Sinharaja research center. Maps by Terunaga (above two) and Sascha (below).

Collecting different types of data: Harini interviewing a woman about social economic conditions and home garden crop choices, Sascha checking water quality (temperature, turbidity, DO etc.) below Sinharaja using a Vernier probe and students taking GPS points along a secondary forest transect in Sinharaja’s Core Zone.

Sample student work from the MYP Humanities course. Leila, Tomosso and Dylan’s presentations of their spatial studies of the monsoon and other factors (human population, crop choices, land forms etc.). The posters were generated on ArcMap 10 after doing individual analysis on each data frame.

The Grade 10 MYP Geography class, which is now integrated with the History course, spends its first term looking at aspects of the monsoon in South Asia. This is broad-based learning activity that looks at physical aspects of the monsoon, its affect on agriculture in the region and what impact it has on South Asian culture. Most of the time is spent exploring and extended a lesson on the South Asian monsoon that is a module in Anita Palmer et al. Mapping Our World Using GIS. The study coincides with the end of the South West monsoon and the onset of the North East here in Sri Lanka. An amusing aspect is capping the unit off with a showing of a condensed version of Lagaan, the Oscar-nominated Bollywood film. In the story a severe drought and the monsoon serve as important metaphorical backdrops to a lengthy cricket battle in a fictional location in western India during the late 19th Century. The students produced an annotated poster illustrating a geographical question and aspects of their investigation. They need to include 1-3 maps, graphs and annotations (samples above). This will be submitted as moderated samples for their Humanities course.

Personal explorations with GIS Data from South Asia. The two larger scale maps were used for various assessments in MYP, while the Arugam Bay land use was an exercise in using different layers of data from Sri Lanka’s East Coast. The data on the above left map of South Asia is courtesy Natural Earth, which has a free global data set with elevations and bathymetric data.

GIS generated map showing OSC’s post-tsunami supported pre-schools near Hambantota.

On a personal level I made strides in developing my own cartographic skills using GIS when I had to design and produce several maps for my Sri Pada exhibition. “Necessity is the mother of invention” and I continue to get some of my best work done under such conditions. One of the maps below highlights the OSC service projects with Tsunami affected communities in the Hambantota area.

I have also started to explore a variety of other GIS applications, though because we have the license most of my efforts have been focused on ArcView skills. There are now several open-source GIS software packages, including Q-GIS. I have also started to build up a personal teaching Wiki for students to use as an online repository of links and references. I have a dedicated page of GIS Resources with special focus on Sri Lanka and South Asia.  In this next year I hope to polish student skills for use in their course, continue to build up our database of spatial data and to further explore different GIS applications in education.

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2012-01-22 at 5:44 am

Central Highlands Recognized and Adorned

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Lead spread of “Montane Biodiversity” spread in Sanctuary Asia (June 2010)

Earlier this year the news came in that UNESCO had designated Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands as a new World Heritage Site. The designation includes the Knuckles Range, Horton Plains and the Peak Wilderness areas, all favorite place for my explorations, student trips and photography. These are symbolic victories for conservationists and draw attention to the fragile montane ecology that Sri Lanka hosts amongst bustling tea estates and vast monoculture plantations of eucalyptus and pinus species. Most of the sites are formally protected by the SL Forest or Wildlife Departments, but recognition by UNESCO will give the areas greater significance within and outside the country. Conservation International has labeled the same areas (and much of the island) a “biodiversity hotspot” together with the Western Ghats. The Central Highlands now join Sinharaja rainforest to make up two “man and biosphere” reserves on the island.  The remaining World Heritage sites are cultural (Polonnaruwa, Galle Fort, Anuradhapura etc.). By coincidence the news came on the heels of a photo-essay on montane forests in the Central Highlands and Sinharaja that I had published in Sanctuary Asia in June.

I will shortly be participating in an exhibition at the India International Centre in New Delhi on the broad theme of forests. My focus will be on similarities and differences in the landscape and ecology of the Western Ghats and Central Highlands. The exhibition will utilize digital color images printed here in Colombo on 20” and 30” paper. I am also working to create a few GIS generated maps and posters using Arcmap 10 and InDesign CS5 (both freshly installed). The exhibition will be in late October as a part of the “The IIC Experience: A Festival of the Arts.”

Last five pages highlighting landscapes and species in the Central Highlands (and Sinharaja).

Written by ianlockwood

2010-09-13 at 5:00 pm

Magical Encounters in Sinharaja

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View from Sinhagala Peak, Sinharaja

At the end of 2009 I enjoyed four packed days of walking, wildlife encounters and starry nights in Sri Lanka’s incomparable rainforest, Sinharaja. As this blog bears testimony to I have visited the forest at least once or twice every year that we have been here. It continues to provide me with interesting things to photograph and learn about and there is no better classroom for OSC’s students of ecology. This trip was an early Christmas gift from my wife Raina and children Lenny and Amy. I was joined by my colleague and friend Jonathan Smith, who had a similar arrangement from his family. We used the four days to do some serious walking to familiar places as well as the more distant Sinhagala peak (742 m).  This peak sits amidst the heart of Sinharaja’s least disturbed lowland rainforest. The walk there and back takes 5-6 hours but it is a pure delight as you go deeper into the forest’s interiors. There were no other hikers, though signs of elephants made our guide Ratnasiri jittery for parts of the trail. Along the way there were numerous living treasures to observe and photograph. The summit (actually a rock face) view with about 250 degrees of rainforest canopy, is worth all the sweat and large numbers of leaches that await visitors.

On our last day we hiked up Moulawella peak (760 m) in the dark and witnessed the birth of a new day from its boulder summit. The views north towards Sri Pada were particularly impressive. Its temple lights glowed in the inky darkness amidst the glitter of celestial bodies. Below us the forest awoke in a cacophony of delightful sounds. I clearly heard the sound of a whistling, similar to that of the Malabar Whistling Thrush that I know well from the Western Ghats. I couldn’t help wondering if it was the elusive Arrenga or Sri Lankan Whistling Thrush (Myophonus blighi) that is found at higher altitudes in the Central Highlands.

Forest scenes from the Sinhagala trail, Sinharaja

Green Pit Viper (Trimeresurus trigonocephalus) collage, Sinharaja

With fours days in the forest we did quite well with endemic wildlife sightings. Two Green Pit Vipers (Trimeresurus trigonocephalus) were an early highlight. They were very cooperative with us while we fiddled with lenses and flashes and I set up the cumbersome Hasselblad with extension tubes. We encountered many of the endemics birds that Sinharaja is so well known for. SL Blue Magpies (Urocissa ornata) are becoming very habituated to people at the research center and of course Martin has a special relationship with them at his place (they arrive regularly every morning before breakfast). We had a good view of a sleeping Ceylon Frogmouth (Batrachostomus moniliger), which I haven’t seen in 10 years! Finally two research scientists with Colombo University shared a rare Red Slender Loris (Loris tardigradus) that they had caught and were measuring for taxonomical reasons before releasing it back into the forest.

Map showing Sinharaja and the Rakwana or Sabaragamuwa mountains

Endemic birds from our visit (SL Blue Magpie, SL Frogmouth, Red-Faced Malkoha, SL Jungle Fowl), Sinharaja

We left Sinharaja appreciating the work of past generations of Sri Lankan conservationists who saved the forest from ending up in wood pulp. It is a story i of successful grassroots activism and persistence from concerned citizens and scientists.  Perhaps most reassuring is the impressive forest recovery that has happened in areas that were once clear-felled by the logging operation. It has been so effective such that most visitors are unaware of what a disaster it could have been.

Evening light on the rainforest near the western entrance, Sinharaja

Red Slender Loris (Loris tardigradus), Sinharaja

View north to Sri Pada from Moulawella peak, Sinharaja

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2010-01-14 at 3:25 pm

Circumnavigating Sinharaja

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Sri Lanka’s Sinharaja rainforest occupies a large and rugged area in the South West part of the island. Our family explored its remote Morningside borders on a long, circuitous trip to the southern coast in May. Shortly after I lead another OSC IB Diploma field trip beach to the Kudawa entrance side of the forest. The school group enjoyed four full days of forest walks, data gathering and rich rainforest experiences. The forest was relatively dry and there were rewarding views of bird flocks, reptiles (three different Green Pit Vipers!) and more.

A large Sri Lankan Green Pit Viper (Trimeresurus trigonocephalus) on Sinharaja's Moulawella Peak

A large Sri Lankan Green Pit Viper (Trimeresurus trigonocephalus) on Sinharaja's Moulawella Peak

Pitcher plant (Nepenthes distillatoria) in Sinharaja.

The endemic but locally common pitcher plant (Nepenthes distillatoria) in Sinharaja.

A view over the canopy of Sinharaja's lowland rainforest. Near to the Kudawa entrance in the west of Sinharaja

A view over the canopy of Sinharaja's lowland rainforest. Near to the Kudawa entrance on the north-western boundary

Written by ianlockwood

2009-08-04 at 4:57 pm