Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

Posts Tagged ‘Kenrikcia walkeri

Down South Musings

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Room with an exquisite view at the Rainforest Ecolodge

The last three years have seen a series of unexpected events disrupt life, the economic bedrock and learning activities here in Sri Lanka. The Easter bombing on April 21, 2019 caused an initial body blow to the country. We were just getting our feet back on the ground when the COVID pandemic swept the world and caused the first lockdown in March 2020. Now in the spring of 2022, as the COVID problem has receded a political and economic mess of unprecedented scale has engulfed the country. The Overseas School of Colombo, where I teach and lead key experiential education programs, has managed these challenges with wisdom, creativity and fortitude. A casualty of the initial response was the cancellation of most sports and field trips for the better part of a year. That was hard on students and as well as teachers like me who based learning activities on getting students outside of the traditional classroom. In January this year, in the face of lingering doubts, we were able to defy odds and run our annual secondary Week Without Walls program Explore Sri Lanka!. One of the trips, affectionately entitled Down South, encapsulated the challenge and joy of running these learning experiences during such challenging times.

I designed the Down South learning experience to expose students to the culture and natural history of southern  Sri Lanka off the tourist beaten path. It joins a host of other Microtrips that are designed to get small groups of OSC students and teachers into the different corners of Sri Lanka where they can learn about the rich history, culture and ecology of our island home. In past years we had sent groups to the Hambantota area with a service focus. The new Down South  itinerary was designed to build on the geographic focus while incorporating some of the kinds of learning experiences (hiking, bird watching, natural history etc.) that have made the Sri Lanka Highlands microtrip so successful. Our team included 17 DP1 and MYP5 students, Desline Attanayake (OSC’s logistics coordinator), Melinda Tondeur (our new French teacher) and myself.

A collage of species as seen by the Down South Experience Sri Lanka team in southern Sri Lanka. From upper left clockwise wrapped around the leech sock image: Pseudophilautus poppiae at Enasalwaththa (Rainforest Ecolodge area), Sri Lanka Woodshrike (Tephrodornis affinis) at Kahandamodara, a different Pseudophilautus sp. also at Enasalwaththa and a Blue-Tailed Bee-eater (Merops philippinus) at Bundala NP.

Dry Zone Component

We spent the first three days based out of Back of Beyond’s Kahandamodara wellness center and then transitioned into the south-eastern Rakwana hills at the Rainforest Ecolodge. Few OSC students have stayed at a Back of Beyond property before their WWW experiences (OSC families are more likely to patronize the fabulous large hotels and resorts on the island). I appreciate Back of Beyond for their sublime locations, minimalistic yet tasteful approach, ecological design ethic, exceptional Sri Lankan cuisine and hardworking staff. Kahandamodara has a spacious campus with good dry zone vegetation and access to a relatively lonely stretch of beach on the southernmost coast near Tangalle. There are several bungalows, a pool and common area/yoga studio which makes it ideal for medium-size (under 20) school groups.

The significant day trip to us to the 2nd Century BCE Buddhist ruins and hermitage at Situlpawwa and then Bundala National Park. Situlpawwa is one of my favorite sites and had been a destination for an early WWW trip (with the Class of 2013). It is located within the protective boundaries of Yala but few visitors, other than religious pilgrims, go to Situlpawwa. In its sprawling area you can explore low hills, dagobas, monastic caves and pathways on foot. From the granite hillocks you get sweeping views over Yala’s forested interiors. Wildlife sightings are good-our class was astonished by the elephants, wild boar and sambar deer begging for food at the parking lot. My favorite sighting was a fly over by dozens of Malabar Pied Hornbills when our family visited Situlpawwa last year. We were standing at the Dagoba and they flew by at eye level, one wave after another heading east. The Down South group spent the second half of the day doing a jeep safari around Bundala. As is usually the case, we were the only jeeps in the protected area and enjoyed excellent sightings of birds including several rarities.

Down South group members climbing a hillock at Situlpawwa.

Bundala National Park is an excellent place to get non-birders excited about the joys of observing, photographing and identifying feathered creatures.

An osprey (Pandion haliaetus) at Bundala National Park. Though these birds are common in many areas around the world they are quite rare in this part of Sri Lanka. We were thrilled to observe it in excellent afternoon light.

Rainforest Component

Mid-week we boarded our buses and moved north west up to Deniyaya and the edges of Sinharaja Rainforest at Enasalwaththa. The vegetation in the rolling hills and home gardens changed as we entered the wet zone and transitioned to the 1,000 meter plateau in this edge of the rainforest. Our two night say was a reminder that the Rainforest Ecolodge is a spell-binding and activity-rich area to bring our students too. We did a series of morning, daytime and nocturnal hikes looking to see as much of the biodiversity that Sinharaja is so well known for. Bird life was quite good. Flock activity seemed to be less than my earlier visit but we had a good encounter with a relatively rare Legge’s Hawk Eagle (Nisaetus kelaarti). Blue Magpies (Urocissa ornata) fly right through the property in the morning and they are sometimes followed by Red Face Malkohas (Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus) and other endemics . I found the frog watching to be especially rewarding. After quite a bit of hard looking with JagathJayawardana, the capable guide at the hotel, we found Pseudophilautus poppiae one of the critically endangered green frogs that has a narrow range in these hills and Morningside. Another interesting find was a Tarantula (Poecilotheria sp. of some sort) that lives in a dead log near the Ecolodge and regularly come out to awe guests.

OSC students birding at the Rainforest Ecolodge (right, both images)  and Situlpawwa (left).

OSC students and teachers on the trail near the Rainforest Ecolodge. Left: DP1 students Huirong, Eleez & Thevuni Center: Desline & Melinda warding off leeches with a homebrew spray and socks. Right: MYP5 students Chirath, Yali, Leonie and Vansh at the stream (our destination on the waterfall hike).

Arboreal biodiversity near the Rainforest Ecolodge: The stunningly glorious endemic creeper Kenrikcia walkeri flanked by Legge’s Hawk Eagle (Nisaetus kelaarti).

The endemic Sri lanka Blue Magpie (Urocissa ornata) in forest near the Rainforest Ecolodge.

Amphibians and arachnid at Enasalwaththa (Rainforest Ecolodge area). From top to bottom: Pseudophilautus sp. (perhaps poppiae) in forest /tea plantation edge. Unidentified tarantula (Poecilotheria sp. of some sort) at the hotel gate. Nannophrys ceylonensis from a wet rock face to the west of the Rainforest Ecolodge.

Montane forest canopy at Enasalwaththa (Rainforest Ecolodge area). Taken in 2020 during a flowering of the principal canopy species Shorea trapezifolia. This was printed as a 20″20″ fine art print in a series of given to departing OSC faculty members in 2021.

The weather was good to us-cool and relatively dry as it usually is during the short dry season in January/February. A rain shower on our last day at the Ecolodge helped bring out the amphibians and I was happy about that. The clouds and blue sky (opening photo) were spectacular as we packed up to leave. The whole group would have gladly extended our stay. Nevertheless, we had a good sense of accomplishment returning to campus free of sickness and incident after so many rich experiences. The other WWW groups came in with a similar sense of elation, having beaten the odds to pull off this experience of learning across our island home.

2022 OSC Down South group at the waterfall near to the Rainforest Ecolodge.

INTERACTIVE MAP OF DOWN SOUTH

Route map of the Down South WWW learning experience.

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PAST WWW TRIPS

FURTHER READING & REFERENCES

De Silva, Anslem and Kanishka Ukuwela. A Naturalist’s Guide to the Reptiles of Sri Lanka. Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2017. Print.

De Silva, Anslem and Kanishka Ukuwela & Dilan Chathuranga. A Photographic Guide to the Amphibians of Sri Lanka. Oxford: John Beaufoy Publishing, 2021. Print.

Somaweera, Ruchira & Nilusha. Lizards of Sri Lanka: A Colour Guide With Field Keys. Frankfurt: Edition Chimaira 2009. Print.

Warakagoda. Deepal et. al.  Birds of Sri Lanka (Helm Field Guides). London: Helms Guides, 2012. Print.

This post was started in February but the final draft of this post was published on 7 May 2022 and then backdated as I catch up on happenings.

 

Written by ianlockwood

2022-02-01 at 10:20 pm

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