Ian Lockwood


Archive for the ‘Sri Lanka Wildlife’ Category

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.

In the High Altitude Grasslands of Horton Plains

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Calophyllum walkeri in a dieback patch at 2,100 meters near the eastern entrance to Horton Plains.

Far from the beaches and ancient ruins is a Sri Lanka quite like no other. The patanas (grasslands) and cloud forests of Horton Plains offer visitors a sense of a primeval windswept, and temperate landscape in the middle of this very tropical island. Many who visit are surprised by what they find and yet for anyone familiar with the hill ranges of southern India there is a natural sense of déjà vu.

Horton Plains is dominated by a plateau of rolling hills of patanas enclosed by the stunted cloud forests that are unique to the high Central Highlands. On the southern boundary the hills fall away in a steep escarpment. As I found on a recent trip, the coastline and Indian Ocean are clearly visible form the lofty escarpment edge.  In the west the range extend towards Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) through a ridgeline of protected forest now surrounded by tea estates.  To the north, Horton Plains drops down slightly and is then connected to Pidurutalagala (Sri Lanka’s highest mountain at 2,524 meters) through the Nuwara Eliya plateau.

I have an emotional connection to Horton Plains that reminds me of the high altitude hills that I know well from my years in southern India. There on the high altitude plateaus of the Western Ghats shola/grasslands systems were once the dominant vegetation type. Both areas- the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka and the Western Ghats of southern India- have experienced dramatic change as plantation agriculture, hydroelectric schemes and hill station development have altered landscapes in the last 100 or so years. The loss of biodiversity is hard to fathom and remains an alarming issue as further areas are put under pressure of development. Horton Plains, like its counterparts in the High Range, Anaimalai, Palani and Nilgiri Hills retains a semblance of a forgotten past.

The Central Highlands share a similar geological origin with the Western Ghats and the similarities in the landscape are unmistakable. It’s a theme that I have enjoyed exploring over the past few years (see my 2006  Serendib article for a more detailed description). Eravikulam, of course, has some of the best-preserved examples of the shola/grasslands system. Sri Lanka’s systems are wetter and have unique floristic characteristics that distinguish them. I recently had a chance to visit the Plains and came away with some positive experiences and images despite the large numbers of tourists that are visiting on a daily basis. The park is clean enough that crows are rare (a few years ago they were the most common species seen). The management by the Department of Wildlife Conservation is clearly being quite effective.

Species in the grasslands (patanas) and cloud forests. Impatiens. Sp., Calotes nigrilabris and a Robiquetia sp. orchid.

Looking south east towards Kataragama, Hambantota and the Indian Ocean from the eastern entrance to Horton Plains National Park. It was clear enough that we could make out container ships on the ocean from this vantage point!

Sambar stag (Cervus unicolor) at Horton Plains. A common sight in the early morning before large numbers of visitors descend on the Farr Inn area.

Shades of Eravikulam in Sri Lanka… patanas (grasslands) surrounded by cloud forests on the World’s End and Baker’s Falls trail. Note that cloud forest is growing on the ridge lines contrasting sharply with the high altitude shola/grasslands systems in the Western Ghats where sholas are in the valleys and the grasslands dominate ridge lines.

Sri Pada’s distinct profile seen from the Ambawella farms area under the shade of a remnant cloud forest survivor on the drive up to Horton Plains from Nuwara Eliya.

Written by ianlockwood

2011-02-28 at 4:58 pm

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.

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 four 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 endemic 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

Written by ianlockwood

2010-01-14 at 3:25 pm

Phyllium bioculatum

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Pyllium bioculatum, first stage.Thanks to my OSC colleague Haris Dharmasiri we are once again raising leaf insects at home. The eggs in my batch started hatching out in late November and these pictures were taken in the first few days of their life cycle with natural light. As per their dietary preferences they are feeding on guava (Psidium guajava) leaves.

Phyllium bioculatum (under side)

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2010-01-03 at 2:43 pm

Hypnale hypnale at home

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Hump nosed viper (Hypnale hypnale) in a Colombo suburb.

The Hump Nosed Pit Viper (Hypnale hypnale)  (Sinhalese polon thelissa, Tamil Kopi viriyan) is a small, venomous snake found in woodlands across the island. This one was found in our neighbor’s house and has spent a few weeks with us in November as a family pet. I released it into the next-door lot after photographing in various lighting conditions. There are two other Hypnale species found in Sri Lanka, but these are quite a bit harder to find.

Hump nosed viper (Hypnale hypnale) whole body.

Hump nosed viper (Hypnale hypnale) close.

Written by ianlockwood

2010-01-03 at 2:19 pm

What We Found On The Walk Home From School…

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Russell’s Viper (Daboia russelii), Pelawatte, Sri Lanka

Raina and I came across some lethal local wildlife on our walk home from work last week.  The unfortunate snake is a Russell’s Viper (Daboia russelii) or polonga in Sinhalese. Farmers clearing grass on the road beside a large paddy area had just come across it and killed it. We passed by a few moments later. When I shared these photos with colleagues at school they caused much interest and a good deal of anxiety about our local biodiversity. One of our friends lives meters away from where the snake was killed and was not amused.

Russell’s vipers are important predators of rats and other rodents and are frequently found near human habitation in South and South East Asia. They have lethal venom and are one of the “Big Four” snakes most responsible for human mortality in South Asia. They don’t seek trouble but people may inadvertently step on them (mainly at night) and thus they are thought to be responsible for more deaths than any other snake species on the island! Further references can be found in Snakes and Other Reptiles of Sri Lanka by Indraneil Das and Anslem De Silva as well as the herp bible for South Asia: Snakes of India: The Field Guide by Romulus Whitaker and Ashok Captain.


Russell’s Viper (Daboia russelii) (close) Pelawatte, Sri Lanka



Written by ianlockwood

2009-12-01 at 4:11 pm

Posted in Sri Lanka Wildlife

Spectacular Sinharaja

Sri Lanka Blue Magpie

In mid May I took my 11th Grade Environmental Systems and Geography students on a three-day trip to Sinharaja rainforest in south-western Sri Lanka. Sinharaja hosts the largest remaining swathes of lowland tropical rainforest in the country and is a gold mine for naturalists. We were fortunate to have rainless but humid weather with cool evenings. Like most other sensible visitors we stayed at Martin’s Lodge on the edge of the park boundary. We were very fortunate to have Sri Lanka’s leading ornithologist, Professor Sarath Kotagama, and his PhD student Chaminda Ratnayake accompanying us on this trip. They gave us a detailed introduction to the area, its history as a logging site and then its protection in the late 1970s. During the days they guided several students on point transects while I worked with other on 5mx5m vegetation plots. Karen Conniff, a parent, naturalist and dragonfly authority accompanied us and made invaluable contributions as a chaperone and guide.

Our group of 13 students mainly focused on the road and paths leading to the research station. On the last day I was able to lead a small group up through the primary forest to Mulawella Peak (760m). We were treated to an impressive panorama over the rainforest canopy. Overall we did excellently with sightings and observed many of the endemic birds such as the spectacular Blue Magpie (several flocks of four to six individuals), two Red Faced Malkohas, several Spot Winged Thrushes, SL Jungle Fowl up close and personal, SL Gray Hornbill and more. I was also happy with the lesser life forms: we observed jewel-like jumping spiders, the carnivorous pitcher plants (Nepenthes distallatoria), plenty of the endemic kangaroo lizards (Otocryptis wiegmanni) and several common snakes. I was on the look out for the endemic Green Pit Viper (Trimeresurus trigonocephalus) having failed to see it on past trips to Sinharaja and Kitulgala. I had seen and photographed a medium sized one in Galle in February, but that was a captive specimen. So I was very happy when our guide located a small yet, gorgeous specimen on our way out of the park! It was a fitting end to a great trip and learning experience.

Mullawella Canopy View

Otocryptis wiegmanni in Sinharaja

Sinharaja Crimson Dawn

OSC Class of 2007 Group at Sinharaja (May 2006)

Written by ianlockwood

2006-06-09 at 6:53 pm

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