Duckwari and Horton Plains field diary – Nimalka December 2011
We started two projects with students from the Sabaragamuwa University, my old alma mater, in October of 2011. The research sites were our Dunumadalawa forest in Kandy, Duckwari Estate Forest Patches in Rangala near Knuckles and Horton Plains National park. One was on Biodiversity comparison between forests while the other was presence /absence surveys of the cat species in Duckwari Estate Forest Patch and Horton Plains National park. Both projects were really interesting and the and field experience was great.
Duckwari, is a forest with cardamom understory and we were able to see the pluckers at work both plucking of tea leaves and cardamom. Most of them are Hindu of Indian origin and as such there are many Hindu temples and statutes/shrines scattered through the area, including at the forest entrances which they worship at before they start the day works.
Evening rains are the norm for this area and after the rain leaches appear very fast. In the day time surveys, it was not a big problem for us because we wear boots, but for the night time surveys (like the amphibian survey), boots were not sufficient to protect us from them and we had one, two or more leaches hanging on our legs.
One day at Duckwari, while setting a line transect for mammals and marking our GPS positions we met some cardamom pluckers who said “Don’t go that way as there is a forest”, so we replied that it was the forest we wanted and it was not a problem. We again started our work and moved on ahead. We finished the 1km transect at which point we were faced with a big rock and had nowhere to go. We became disoriented as we tried to find a way back out; there were some ant species that attack fast and as we stood near some trees we were attacked heavily. For 45 minutes we walked through grassland and then Eucalyptus, it seemed endless. After another another 30 minutes or so we thankfully found a road and finally reached the Lunugala- elagolla main road. It is amazing how when ‘lost’ in the forest one can imagine that just over an hour feels like a year. This was an unforgettable day in my life I must. However funnily enough when we had to repeat the whole walk when actually conducting the transect, it did not seem so bad as we knew where we were going!
In Horton Plains, We stayed and did 7 transects and 3 main index trails in Ohiya, Pattipola and Diagama. Dwarf Bamboo, Grasslands and forest are the main habitat type here with sponge soils; this did not make our job easy. Some areas have marshlands and ground holes and Ulex bushes were harsh to walk through.
In the morning there was a mist and a cool environment, we couldn’t see anything more than 10m. But on a clear day we were able to be see more than 300m across the grasslands. The sudden change of climate within minutes is quite unbelievable.
We found leopard scats early on in our work which was very exciting. Mainly we saw sambur and black naped hares in the grass lands and purple faced leaf monkeys in the forest patches. The visible diversity of birds and butterflies were amazing. In the forest patches, there are no proper trails except some animal paths and their resting places can be seen. One of our transects ended in a crystal clear stream with a very steep slope with lots of roses, bamboos, and some beautiful orchids in flower – a spectacular site.
Inside the forests and grasslands it is very quiet and still with no humans to be seen, this is in stark contrast to the busy main trails of Horton plains (pattipola and ohiya). During the busy weekends we unfortunately saw huge road kills like lizards and Aspidura trachyprocta (madilla) and sometime some amphibians can be seen as a road kill even within the Horton plains national park. In December (December 2011) we saw a Black lip Lizard and three madilla species as road kill near the Far inn which is within the park. They were pregnant and close to laying eggs. It was disturbing to see this within what is supposed to be a protected area for wildlife. Some drivers and visitors are only concerned with large animals and they don’t consider the smaller ones. We hope that we can increase the awareness about the whole biodiversity of species living in this special highland space, so that Horton Plains National Park can continue to be one of our valuable places.