Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

Posts Tagged ‘Pseudophilautus poppiae

Down South Musings

leave a comment »

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.

<iframe src=”https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/embed?mid=1Ldc-Z8kSDAeNMYNFsi8lPDJrEhe5x6Zd&ehbc=2E312F&#8221; width=”640″ height=”480″></iframe>

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

Sri Lanka Mountain Traverse (Part II)

leave a comment »

Montane forest interior with remnant cardamom plants under the low canopy of the rainforest.

Sinharaja East

Moving on from Kudawa, Lenny and I rejoined the Kalawana-Rakwana (B181) road and followed its winding course eastwards and parallel to the norther borders of Sinharaja. We left the heavy monsoon clouds of the wet zone as we drove up and then descended into the drier side of the hills that Rakwana sits in. Our time in the intermediate zone was brief as we were headed back up into the higher hills that are exposed to the South West Monsoon. Our destination was Morningside: a relatively remote area that is renowned for its plant and amphibian diversity.

Looking south to Handapana from the Kalawana-Rakwana road. This is technically not part of the Sinharaja protected area but it is a critical forest habitat harboring many key species.

The forest department bungalow at Morningside sits at about 1,000 meters in an area of dense montane rainforest. The species composition is unique and the forest structure is noticeably different (shorter) than the lowland rainforest of western Sinharaja where we had just been. Tea estates, with patchy gardens that look difficult to maintain, form a barrier between the Suriyakanda (A17) road and the forest interiors. We entered on the shorter south road through the Morningside tea estate and later left on the northern road. The area near the Morningside bungalow was once cleared for tea cultivation and plantations of Australian Acacia sp. There had been efforts to plant cardamom in the area and we came across the plants surviving on the forest floor. Most of the plantation efforts failed and cleared areas are gradually reverting to the native montane evergreen forest (with some assistance from restoration planting activities). Because of the physical differences (especially altitude) with the rest of Sinharaja  there are species not found in either Kudawa or Pitadeniya to look out for. Amphibians and lizards were what we were focused on but we were interested to learn more about the area and all its life forms.

Learning more about Morningside and Sinharaja was greatly helped along when we were joined by Nimal Gunatilleke, distinguished professor emeritus from Peradeniya University. I had attended the fascinating public talk on Sinharaja in March sponsored by WNPS on Sinharaja by Nimal and his wife, professor Savitri Gunatilleke. In May I had spoken with them and shared stories about Sinharaja and my interest in similar areas in the Western Ghats. By happy coincidence Nimal was going to be conducting a workshop in Deniyaya in June and so I had invited him to join us once I had made the Morningside booking with the FD.

Ride_to_Morningside_2a(MR)(06_19)

Norther approach to Morningside bungalow- showing a mix of montane forest, tea and weeds.

Having left Kudawa in the morning Lenny and I met up with Professor Gunatilleke in Rakwana, bought our supplies and then proceeded to Morningside together. In Suriyakanda, Lenny and I switched into a hired Bolero pickup that took us on the last hour to the FD bungalow. There was no rain cover and the road was very rough. We were relieved to arrive dry, though a bit stirred and shaken. Nimal and his driver followed us in a well-used Mitsubishi pick up from the university.

During our first two days Lenny and I enjoyed several insightful conversations and slow walks with Professor Gunatilleke where I learnt a great deal about the area’s plants and efforts to restore the degraded landscapes. Photographically-speaking, daylight hours were relatively unproductive but when it got dark a host of creatures came to life in the mossy forest behind the bungalow. Lenny and I went in prepared for leaches and rain but were lucky that it was not pouring on either nights and there were very few blood suckers. We honed our frog sighting skills on the first night and tripled our species count on the second night. Our approach was to locate the frogs listening to their calls in the dark, used torches to locate them and then photographed them in situ with minimal changes using two and sometimes three portables strobes.

It was only after we returned to Colombo that we got confirmation on what we had photographed on the FB pages of the Amphibian of Sri Lanka  (and Reptiles & Amphibians of Sri Lanka) groups. Another key resource for Morningside’s frogs was Meegaskumbura et al.’s “Conservation & biogeography of threatened amphibians of Eastern Sinharaja” from Froglog (published in 2012). (Nimal Gunatilleke is one of the authors on this short, but helpful publication)

Our first frog spotted was the critically endangered Morningside Hourglass frog (Taruga fastigo) – we actually mistook it for the endangered Montane Hourglass (Taruga eques) that I have previously photographed in Nuwara Eliya and Peak Wilderness. The Morningside species is a point endemic with very restricted distribution. Lenny located at least two bright green Poppy’s Shrub frogs (Pseudophilautus poppiae) and I found a third. This endangered frog is one of the most distinguished at Morningside. We also found the Golden Shrub frog (Pseudophilautus auratus) as well as several others that we are still working on identifying. We desperately wanted to photograph the lizards (Desilva’s Erdelen’s Horn, and Karunaratne’s Horn) that Morningside is well known for but aside from one that ran across the path in front of me, we had no worthy sightings.

Pseudophilautus_auratus_ES_1a(MR)(06_19)

Pseudophilautus auratus at Morningside.

Pseudophilautus_sp_dark_green_ES_1(MR)(06_19)

Pseudophilautus cavirostris at Morningside.

My personal highlight was the very camouflaged Tibetan Bubble Nest/Hollow Snouted Shrub Frog that I located from its call clinging to the mossy bark of a medium-sized tree. Based on other photographs on the FB group, I believe that this is Pseudophilautus cavirostris. Trying to get its eye in focus while aiming two strobes at different angles in a wet tangle of vegetation was a challenge but we both got decent photographs.

Several years ago we had stayed at the Rainforest Ecolodge (see my 2012 posts) – a place that is in a similar montane habitat on the edge of tea and rainforest. On the map it is a short distance away but the area between the two locations is seemingly impenetrable with thick, barbed cane (Canus sp.) stands and dense forest. There was no obvious path to follow other than the stream that flows westwards to the lodge.

On June 13th, the jeep driver, picked us up and drove us back towards Suriyakanda via the longer norther approach. The morning was damp and cool with a veil of mist hanging just above the gnarled rainforest canopy. We heard the loud chattering of Blue Magpies (Urocissa ornata) and the distinct call of Sri Lanka Spur Fowl (Galloperdix bicalcarata) but other than a fleeting glimpse of Yellow Eared Bulbuls (Pycnonotus penicillatus) there were few birds to be seen. Overhanging branches and lianas crowded the road and the drive was far more exciting than any roller coaster ride. The bench seat was recycled from another vehicle and only attached with nylon rope to the back bed of the pickup. When the wheels hit a bump, the rope stretched and gave flight to the seat and us passengers. Trying to stay in the vehicle on the anything-but-smooth trail and dodging branches was an exciting, albeit  life-threatening part of getting back to our own vehicle. We passed the junction of the once proposed road that would connect Suriyakanda with Pothupitiya/Illuokanda (see Malaga Rodrigo’s Sunday Times 2011 article). Thankfully it is overgrown and there is no evidence of a road or plan to build one. We unloaded the pick up and repacked our truck for the onward traverse-heading north to the lofty Central Highlands.

(to be continued in Part III/IV)

 

REFERENCES (Morning Side)

Amphibian Survival Alliance. Web.

De Silva, Anslem. Amphibians of Sri Lanka: A Photographic Guide to Common Frogs, Toad Caecilians. Published by author, 2009. Print.

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

Gunatilleke, I.A.U.N, and C.V.S. Gunatilleke and M.A.A. Dilhan. “Plant Biogeography and Conservation of the South Western Hill Forests of Sri Lanka.” The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, 2005. No. 12 9-22. Web.

Handunnetti, Dilrukshi. “How India’s shrub frogs crossed a bridge to Sri Lanka – and changed forever.” Mongabay. 1 May 2019. Web.

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

Meegaskumbura, Madhava et al. “Conservation and biogeography of threatened Amphibians of Eastern Sinharaja.” Froglog. Issue 100. January 2012. Web.

Meegaskumbura, Madhava et al. “Diversification of shrub frogs (Rhacophoridae, Pseudophilautus) in Sri Lanka-Timing and geographic context.” Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 2019. Web.

Protected Planet. Sri Lanka PA Boundaries. August 2019.

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

error: Content is protected !!
%d bloggers like this: