Ian Lockwood


Archive for December 2010

Arrenga Encounters

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Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush (Myophonus blighi) or Arrenga. Photographed in Peak Wilderness.

Birdwatchers visiting or living in Sri Lanka have 26 endemic species to look for in a variety of different habitats. Many of the endemics are exclusively found in the lowland rainforests in the islands South West. Sinharaja is well known for providing a home for most of these species.

One species that is exclusively found in the montane and cloud forests of the Central Highlands is the Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush (Myophonus blighi) or Arrenga. It is widely believed to be the most difficult bird to spot on the island. Hard core birders flying into tick off rarities are usually taken to Horton Plains to catch a glimpse of it. I’ve had a chance to see the Arrenga in the Peak Wilderness forests around Sri Pada on several occasions. However, the few views were fleeting and never gave me a chance to appreciate, let alone photograph the diminutive bird. That all changed on our recent trip where I was afforded several early morning views of a semi-shy male at the edge of Peak Wilderness. Whistling thrushes are associated with small streams and rivulets where they feed on frogs, earthworms, insects etc and I felt fortunate to photograph it in such an ideal habitat.

It has interesting similarities to the Malabar Whistling Thrush (Myophonus horsfieldii), though it is noticeably smaller and the female is of a different coloration. Apparently it does not have the amazing vocal calls of its Western Ghats cousin.

Sri Lanka Blue Magpie (Urocissa ornata) at Peak Wilderness.

Sri Pada (Adam's Peak) and montane forest from lower eastern approach.

First Light on the Peak

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Stars and constellations above Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) before the season starts.

This winter I found myself back in Peak Wilderness with another group of enthusiastic OSC Environmental Systems students. Sri Lanka had experienced very, very heavy rainfall across the whole island during November and into early December. For a while the bleak weather seemed to jeopardize our plans to visit the hills during the last week of school. Thankfully the timing was perfect and the clouds cleared leaving a rain-washed mountain landscape with crisp, chilly winter air.

Ongoing map trials using ArcMap with 3D Analysist. This one is a digital elevation model using TIN tool and based on Survey Data from 1:50,000 sheets.

The Peak Wilderness area is a long stretch of protected forests that cloaks the southern escarpment of the Central Highlands. It is composed of a variety of vegetation types including lowland and montane rainforest as well as the unique ‘cloud forest’ of higher altitudes (roughly above 1,800 meters). The area is famous for Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) the distinguished mountain that rises out of the forest and commands an unsurpassed view over much of the highlands and southern Sri Lanka. The Central Highlands were largely converted to plantation agriculture (notably tea) in the mid-19th Century but the Peak Wilderness area was spared destruction and modification.

As usual our class stayed at the Fishing Hut, a rustic, colonial-era log-cabin that is run by the Maskeliya Plantations Company. Its location at the remote end of the Moray Tea Estate gave us access to a traditional tea plantation as well as undisturbed montane rainforest. I was interested in students being able to make comparisons between these two very different ecosystems.

OSC Environmental Systems & Societies group on its way to Sri Pada. (December 2010)

As usual we planned a trek up to Sri Pada’s 2,243 meter summit on our second day. The weather was exceptionally clear with bright sunshine. Our plan was to leave late, walk slowly and study vegetation on the walk up to the peak. The idea was to get to the summit by late afternoon and spend a night in the pilgrim shelter so that we could experience dawn and the views of the surrounding areas.

First light on the peak, showing the eastern face with its cloud forest.

We started out in finely manicured tea estates with the unmistakable sounds of Blue Magpies calling in the adjoining forests. The trail ascends through degraded montane rainforest and then enters a steep slope of less-disturbed forest. The trees are shorter and stunted and are covered in lichens, mosses and epiphytes. This is the transition area between montane and cloud rainforest. We soon found ourselves on an exposed ridge with a stunning view of Sri Pada. Unfortunately we had to turn around when one of our team was affected with a severe case of altitude sickness and dehydration. Soon after another student had painful cramps in his legs and it was clear that getting to the top was not going to happen on this trip. Though it was disappointing not to reach the summit the group worked cohesively to get everyone back to camp in good health. Few would have thought that altitude could be a significant issue on our small tropical island! However, a combination of the sun, heavy pack and rapid accent from sea level made it a real problem. We returned to Colombo the next day, a bit disappointed that we had not been on the summit but grateful for good health and some fine bird sightings (see next post).

Shades of Lawachara and Sand River...morning light in the Peak Wilderness montane rainforests.

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2010-12-18 at 4:53 pm

Sri Pada from the Southern Coast

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The profile of Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak), seen from the southern coastal town of Hambantota on a clear November morning.

In Early November two grade 11 students and I went down to Hambantota and Yala to plan out our upcoming Week Without Walls trip. During our visit there was a lull in the heavy rains of the North East Monsoon. Driving by the saltpans of Hambantota we came across this amazing view of Sri Pada. It is roughly 100 kilometers away from where the picture was taken. In fact, the entire range of the Central Highlands, as well as the hills around Sinharaja, were visible. But it was Sri Pada’s conical profile that caught my attention.



Written by ianlockwood

2010-12-18 at 3:58 pm