Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

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

A Song of the Sholicola

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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

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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.

A Season of Birds in Sri Lanka- Mannar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

GIS-generated map of the Mannar area.

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

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

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

Sunrise at Vankalai Bird Sanctuary (January 2016)

Crimson sun at Vankalai Bird Sanctuary (January 2016)

FURTHER READING & REFERENCES

Birdlife International Asia. Web.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by ianlockwood

2017-02-28 at 9:55 pm

Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands WWW Experience 2017

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Afternoon composite view of Sri Pada from Horton Plains National Park.

Afternoon composite view of Sri Pada from Horton Plains National Park.

Last week during the surprising, but welcome, return of monsoon conditions OSC’s secondary school set out across our island home to experience Sri Lanka as part of the annual Week Without Walls program. Students and teachers spent the week learning in unconventional classrooms that emphasized Sri Lankan culture, history and ecology as well as service and outdoor education. I had the privilege of leading a modest-sized group of MYP5/DP1 travelers on a circuitous tour of the Central Highlands. The learning focus of this “microtrip” was on photo documentation to better understand the ecology and landscape of Sri Lanka’s mountainous interior.

Aerial image of montane forest canopy at @ 1,000 meters.

Montane forest canopy at @ 1,300 meters near to Belihuloya.

Pied Thrush (Geokichla wardii) a rare winter visitor to Sri Lanka. Photographed at Nuwara Eliya’s Victoria Park feeding on a tree () that is also found in the Western Ghats.

Pied Thrush (Geokichla wardii) a rare winter visitor to Sri Lanka. Photographed at Nuwara Eliya’s Victoria Park feeding on a tree () that is also found in the Western Ghats.

This is the third year that I have led the Highlands WWW experience. Once again we had a group of enthusiastic students who didn’t’ mind getting up early or living in somewhat primitive conditions while we were on the adventure. We spent the first night in tents at Belhihuloya followed by two nights in a basic dormitory on the Horton Plains plateau. Our final night was spent in comfort in Nuwara Eliya where students and teachers were able to clean up, use their phones, eat well and then participate in several frog and bird outings. A wet snap caused by a low-pressure system in the Bay of Bengal gave us rain (and precious little sunlight) on almost every day. We were able to do almost all the walks but were not able to hike to Kirigalpotta because of wet and windy conditions. I used the extra time to go deeper into the ecology of HPNP and teach photographic skills to the group. All the students brought functioning cameras and they were able to experiment with composition, lighting and photographing lizards, birds and moving water. Joshua, an MYP5 student, got several impressive night shots during a rare clearing of the night skies above Mahaeliya bungalow in HPNP.

From a biodiversity spotting point of view we did well. This year we saw and photographed both the Rhino Horned Lizard (Ceratophora stoddartii) and Pygmy (Cophotis ceylanica) in HPNP. While in Nuwara Eliya we did the wonderful frog walk with Ishanda Senevirathna. Aside from some of the usual endemic species we spotted the Nest Frog (Pseudophillauts femoralis) that we had not seen last year. Bird-wise the whole group got to see the rare winter visiting Pied Thrush (Geokichla wardii) in Nuwara Eliya’s Vitoria Park. At HPNP we saw the Dull Blue Flycatcher (Eumyias sordida), SL Whiteeye (Zosterops ceylonensis), SL Wood Pigeon (Columba torringtoniae), plenty of Yellow Eared Bulbuls (Pycnonotus penicillatus) and several other species. On a damp, misty hike up Totupola Kanda (Sri Lanka’s 3rd highest peak at 2,360 m), we came across at least three different piles of leopard scat and observed scratch marks on tree bark!

One of the new developments this year was to use a drone to better view some of the areas that we were visiting. There were rules against using it in HPNP but we were able to do an excellent series of flights over forest near Lanka Ella falls. The Phantom 3 recorded some amazing scenes of the forest canopy with a new flush of leaves. DP1 student Anaath Jacob did the piloting while I directed the forest sequences. I am now learning how to pilot the drone and look forward to better understanding forest landscapes using this important new tool.

Up close and personal to a female sambar (Rusa unicolor) deer in Horton Plains. They have become habituated to people thanks to the propensity of visitors feeding them (against park regulations).

Up close and personal to a female sambar (Rusa unicolor) deer in Horton Plains. They have become habituated to people thanks to the propensity of visitors feeding them (against park regulations).

Endemic cloud forest lizaed species from Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands. Left (& possibly center): the Pygmy lizard (Cophotis ceylanica). Right: the Rhino Horned Lizard (Ceratophora stoddartii).

Endemic cloud forest lizaed species from Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands. Left (& possibly center): the Pygmy lizard (Cophotis ceylanica). Right: the Rhino Horned Lizard (Ceratophora stoddartii).

Cloud forest on Pidurutalagala (Sri Lanka’s highest peak) .

Cloud forest on Pidurutalagala (Sri Lanka’s highest peak) .

Pseudophillauts femoralis, a rare endemic shrub frog from Sri Lanka’s cloud forest. Identification courtesy of Ishanda Senevirathna of St. Andrew’s.

Pseudophillauts femoralis, a rare endemic shrub frog from Sri Lanka’s cloud forest. Identification courtesy of Ishanda Senevirathna of St. Andrew’s.

More diversity from the Highlands WW: Montane Hourglass Frog (Taruga eques), fungi (Phallus indusiatus) at Belihuloya and the endemic Yellow Eared Bulbul (Pycnonotus penicillatus) in Nuwara Eliya.

More diversity from the Highlands WW: Montane Hourglass Frog (Taruga eques), fungi (Phallus indusiatus) at Belihuloya and the endemic Yellow Eared Bulbul (Pycnonotus penicillatus) in Nuwara Eliya.

2017 WWW group at (Left) Baker’s falls in Horton Plains and (right) on the 2nd day on the way to Lanka Ella falls.

2017 WWW group at (Left) Baker’s falls in Horton Plains and (right) on the 2nd day on the way to Lanka Ella falls.

2017 Sri Lanka Highlands WWW group photographed at the strange telephone booth in Horton Plains National Park. Note the dry grass-a result of a severe drought and failed North East Monsoon in the months prior to our arrival.

2017 Sri Lanka Highlands WWW group photographed at the strange telephone booth in Horton Plains National Park. Note the dry grass-a result of a severe drought and failed North East Monsoon in the months prior to our arrival.

 

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FURTHER READING & REFERENCES

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

De Silva, Anslem. The Diversity of Horton Plains National Park. Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2007. Print.

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

Rodrigo, Malaka. “Lanka’s central highlands win heritage battle”. The Sunday Times. 8 August 2010. Web.

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