Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

Archive for the ‘Birds of Sri Lanka & the Western Ghats’ Category

Bitterns in the City

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Black Bittern (Ixobrychus flavicollis) stepping out of the shadows at Nugegoda Wetland Park (17 March 2019).

During the last three months I have been making frequents visit to Colombo’s urban wetlands, looking to photograph interesting species and build enough material for an article on birding in these sometimes overlooked spots. The visits follow a pattern of exploring the urban wetlands as places for teaching and learning that highlight biodiversity and urban water issues. I started going more frequently when Colombo’s wetlands started to be better protected several years ago (see the list of past posts below).

Bitterns (Ixobrychus sp.) have been the focus of these recent efforts but I have also been looking to see and photograph other wetlands species. The article has now been completed and awaiting publication-recent tragic events in Sri Lanka have regrettably put on hold the publication. This post shares a few samples of some of the avian highlights.

There are a variety of other species that are associated with Colombo’s urban wetlands.

 

Striated heron (Butorides striata) at Nugegoda Wetland Park. (3 March 2019).

 

PAST COLOMBO WETLAND POSTS

Lockwood, Ian. “Rock Star Crake at Diyasaru” 8 February 2018. Web.

”     . “Striated Heron at Beddagana.” Ian Lockwood Blog. 1 April 2018. Web.

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

REFERENCES

“18 cities recognized for safeguarding urban wetlands.” Ramsar Secretariat. 18 October 2018. Web.

Amerasinghe , Priyanie. “What’s next now that Colombo’s an official Wetland City?” Sunday Times. 25 November 2018. Web.

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

Ramsar. Web.

Ranasinghe, Piyumani. “Rebranding Colombo as a Wetland City.” Sunday Times. 18 November 2018. 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.

Wijeyeratne, Gehan de Silva. A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka. Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2017. Print.

Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands WWW Experience 2019

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Horton Plains cloud forest canopy study in black & white.

In the third week of January every year I have the opportunity and privilege of being involved in some rather cool teaching and learning in our home of Sri Lanka. The Experience Sri Lanka! Week Without Walls program gives OSC teachers the opportunity to share our passion for adventure, discovery and learning beyond the barriers of our classrooms. This year I once again led a group of students and teachers in and around the Central Highlands while exploring themes of landscape an ecology through an interdisciplinary unit involving visual arts and science (ecology).

The Sri Lanka Central Highlands trip, was 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 been 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.

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 13 students and three of us adults to guide them. I was supported by Loretta Duncan and Desline Attanayake who both played key roles in organization and participating in all of our activities. We also had two 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.

Pseudophilautus femoralis at Nuwara_Eliya.

Taruga_eques_at_Nuwara_Eliya_2a(MR)(01_19)

Montane Hour Class Fog (Taruga eques) at St. Andrews/Pidurutalagala.

We experienced consistently clear, beautiful weather 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 the dormitory neat 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. On all of these morning we were blessed with exquisitely clear conditions that allowed for crystal clear views to Sri Pada and the neigboring ridges.

Early morning view to Sri Pada from the slopes of Thotupola.

Kirigalpotta adn Horton Plains from Thotupola Kanda.

 

PAST WWW TRIPS

*** for this blog post I have borrowed reflections (written by me) from past Highlands excursions.***

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.

A Song of the Sholicola

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Sholicola_albiventris_at_BS_singing_1a(MR)(04)18)

Sholicola albiventris singing in Bombay Shola, Palani Hills. Photographed with a D-800 and 600 f/4 lens. (April 2018).

South India’s shola forests (and their companion grasslands mosaic habitat) continue to be a source of hydrological importance, a site for scientific investigation and a place for sheer wonder. The clumps of moist evergreen forest that were historically found in the folds and deep valleys of the highest ranges of the Western Ghats are recognized for hosting startling biodiversity. We know from various studies that the lofty highlands of the Western Ghats were isolated from lower areas by altitude and rugged geography for long periods of time. It is not surprising then that a host of species evolved unique to these “sky islands.”*

There are several notable species that are confined to sholas and whose populations are closely allied to healthy shola habitat. The White Bellied Blue Robin (Sholicola albiventris), formerly known as the White Bellied Shortwing (Myiomela albiventris), is a Western Ghats endemic bird species that perhaps best reflects the state of healthy sholas. I’ve been watching and listening to the bird for several decades and this short post highlights a few facets about Sholicola albiventris, provides some background reading and shares a portfolio of images that I have been working on for several years.

Sholicola albiventris tends to be a sulky bird that spends its time in dark thickets of the shola understory. It can be difficult to spot since it has dark features and is usually only active at dusk and dawn. Novice bird watchers would be forgiven for confusing it with the Nilgiri flycatcher (Eumyias albicaudatus) or White Belleid Blue Flycatcher (Cyornis pallidipes)-both which have overlapping habitats/ranges. The musical songs of the Sholicola albiventris, (mixed in with calls of laughing thrushes, scimitar babblers, barbets, jungle fowl and other birds) in the early mornings is a defining feature of sholas at certain times of the year. I have observed and listened to Sholicola albiventris singing incessantly in the sholas of the Palani Hills in the months before the monsoon. It is also found in adjoining gardens in settlement areas-as illustrated by some of the images in this post. According to scientists studying Sholicola albiventris, the Palani Hills individuals seem to call at times different than other populations (in the High Range and Anamalais). Could the onset of the monsoon and the fact that the Palani hills are in the rain shadow of the South West Monsoon play a role in this behavior?

When speaking of the White Bellied Blue Robin, it is impossible not to mention the long-term work of V.V. Robin. It is a happy coincidence that Robin bears the name of the bird that he has worked so hard to study and better understand. Robin is an evolutionary biologist with an in interest in biogeography and conservation initiatives, especially in the southern Western Ghats. He frequently collaborates with his wife Nandini Rajamani (see links below). I had the good fortune to bump into Robin in the Carin Hill shola (Nilgiri Hills) many years ago-he was collecting DNA specimens and I was trying to see what would later be renamed as the Nilgiri Blue Robin (Sholicola major). Robin is now an assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Science Education & Research (IISER) Tirupati. He was the key person that organized a disparate group, including this author, to map grasslands in the Palani Hills (see PLOS for our article). Robin’s work on the biogeography of the White Bellied Shortwing, using genetic data, led to a split in the original species into three different species. His list of publications, some of which are included below, illustrates his prodigious efforts.

Sholicola albiventris in a garden adjoining Bombay Shola (April 2017).Photographed with a D-800 and 600 f/4 lens. (April 2018).

Looking for Sholicola albiventris and other shola species in the heart of Bombay Shola.

*Sky Islands is a term first used in the south West United States and defined as “isolated mountains surrounded by radically different lowland environments.” The concept has appropriate relevance to the high Western Ghats (from approximately 1,500-1,800 to 2,695m) and has been used in popular, as well as scientific publications. I was first introduced to the concept by V.V. Robin through conversations and his website. The INTACH book on the Palani Hills utilized the term and our friend Prasenjeet has incorporated it into his August 2017 National Geographic article and photo essay.

 

REFERENCES & FURTHER READING

Arsumani, M. et al. “Not seeing the grass for the trees: Timber plantations and agriculture shrink tropical montane grassland by two-thirds over four decades in the Palani Hills, a Western Ghats Sky Island.”  PLOS One. January 2018. Web.

Grimmett, Richard Carol Inskipp and Tim Inskipp. Birds of the Indian Subcontinent, Second Edition. London: Helms Field Guide/Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.

Montanari, Shaena (& Prasenjeet Yadav). “Breathtaking Sky Islands Showcase Evolution In Action.” National Geographic. 11 August 2017. Web.

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

Robin, V.V. and R. Nandini. “Shola habitats on sky islands: status of research on montane forests and grasslands in southern India.” Current Science. December 2012. Print & Web.

Robin, V.V. Anindya Sinha and Uma Ramakrishnan. “Ancient Geographical Gaps and Paleo-Climate Shape the Phylogeography of an Endemic Bird in the Sky Islands of Southern India.” PLOS One. October 2010. Web.

Robin VV et al. “Two new genera of songbirds represent endemic radiations from the Shola Sky Islands of the Western Ghats, India.” BMC Evolutionary Biology. January 2017. Web.

2017 Taxonomy update for Indian birds. E-Bird. 24 August 2017. Web.

 

Striated Heron at Beddagana

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Striated heron (Butorides striata) in morning light on the edge of parliament lake.

Colombo’s wetlands, as especially the ones that surround Sri Lanka’s parliament in Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte, continue to provide a fine place for birdwatching and ecological teaching and learning. This post highlights the Striated Heron (Butorides striata) which I have had the chance to photograph at Beddagana Wetland Park over the last month. The species is associated with wetlands and mangrove habits where it feeds on small aquatic and marine creatures. There are close similarities between the Striated Heron and the Green Heron (Butorides virescens) found across North America. The striated heron is not easily seen in our wetlands, but I have observed it more than the Cinnamon and Black Bitterns which are both found in similar wetland habitats. Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne lists it as “an uncommon resident”. Professor Kotagama categorizes the same species as the “Green-backed Heron” in his recently published Birds of Sri Lanka: An Illustrated Guide.

Lenny on an early morning birding and Odonata walk on the Beddagana walkway

Butorides_striata_Beddagana_far_1b(MR)(03_18)

The Striated Heron (Butorides striata) in the midst of a hunt. Taken from quite a distance (@50 meters) at Beddagana.

 

REFERENCES

ARKive. “Striated heron (Butorides striata).” 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.

Wijeyeratne, Gehan de Silva. A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka. Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2017. Print.

 

Written by ianlockwood

2018-04-01 at 7:35 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.

Belihuloya_hike_1(01_18)

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.

Grasshopper_love_fest_Mosaic

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

Ceratophora_stoddartii_at_HPNP_Mosaic

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.

OSC_Group_at_T_P_Kanda_1a(MR)(01_18).jpg

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.

Porzana_fuca_at_TBS_day_2_shade_9a(MR)(01_18)

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.

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.

Tantirimalai_Buddha_1b(11_17)

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.

Vidataltivu_abandoned_house_PAN_1(11_17)

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.