Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Counting caterpillars in Melbourne!!

In October, I got another great opportunity to get involved in a very interesting volunteer activity. When I received the newsletter from the Banyule City Council requesting volunteers to count caterpillars, I was thrilled and found the event very interesting. Counting caterpillars….!!!A very different environmental activity!! I have never experienced such a thing in my life as an environmentalist.

Eltham is a suburb within the Banyule city council and they have organised the event to count Eltham Copper Butterfly caterpillars. Each year these counts are carried out to assess population stability at each of the butterfly colonies. With this information, they monitor changes in population size, host plant use and butterfly distribution over time. The Eltham copper is a threatened species of butterfly that is restricted to small populations in Eltham, Greensborough, Castlemaine, Bendigo and Kiata, in Victoria, Australia It has only one host food plant, Bursaria spinosa (sweet Bursaria); and the caterpillars are attended by several species of Notoncus ant. The ants offer protection against predators and parasites, and in return, the caterpillars secrete a sweet, sugary secretion from an organ on its abdomen, which they offer as food to reward the ants. During this survey, the number of caterpillars per plant, and the height and location of plants were recorded.

The cream coloured caterpillars live in ant nests at the bottom of the bushes during the day. They come out of the nest during the night to feed on the leaves of the bush. Therefore the event started at 8 pm in the night (it was the end of Spring and sunset was around 7.30 pm). I took the train to Greensborough which is about 20 minutes journey from Fairfield where I live in Melbourne.

There were 12 volunteers including me. After a briefing of the methods, all 12 volunteers started walking slowly with their torches ready looking for sweet Bursaria plants. We actually had to look for the black Notoncus ants who are accompanying the caterpillars. It took around 30 minutes to record the first caterpillar surrounded by a group of ants and we all gathered around the plant to see them as some of us had never seen this caterpillar before. We all were thrilled as we gained some good results as the time passed. We counted around 30 caterpillars by the time I left the team at 10 pm. It was such a fascinating time which gave me great satisfaction though it was freezing cold.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Prevent Global Warming;conserve Biodiversity - ECO-V at “Mihimadala Exhibition 2010”

Last month has been busy for us in Melbourne. We did not have much time to update on the activities in Sri Lanka and Melbourne carried out by ECO-V.


Our team in Sri Lanka successfully participated at the exhibition at the “Mihimadala Exhibition 2010” at the Sri Lanka Exhibition and Convention centre from 21st to 23 of October. ECO-V team led by Harsha and supported by Madhu, Nande, Tharaka and Indika have spread the ECO-V message of conservation and the future plans of ECO-V among the public. Lot of members from the public have shown a keen interest on our activities and most have enlisted as volunteers to participate in our future activities.

 We were thrilled to hear the comments and the encouragements received from public by our members on ECO-V activities. We felt that we are also contributing to save the nature of mother Sri Lanka on our small way. Next year will be our 10th anniversary. All the new volunteers will be involved in different activities to spread the message on ECO-V on combating and adapting climate change issues in Sri Lanka.

We welcome new volunteers and thank all the members who have participated and dedicated their time to the exhibition.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Networking for ECO-V 10th Anniversary projects

We have been really busy meeting people and making contacts since we came to Melbourne. Our effort was very successful as we met many wonderful people who care about nature. Our involvement with volunteer networks here was very interesting as volunteering helped us to get rid of the guilty feeling of leaving Sri Lanka and ECO-V work for some time. Most of the volunteer groups here are called “working bee” with their suburb name. The closest working bee for us is Fairefield working Bee. The most recent activity we did with them was mulching and weeding the Fairfield station area where Thushara catch the train to go to work. Boo and Nipu also really enjoyed doing some hard work like transporting mulch using a Wheel Barrow.
 I visited the Marine Discovery centre, Geelong through my friends at Department of Sustainability and Environment in Victoria which is a great place for marine wetland conservation awareness. People I met were really wonderful and shared much important information and made very good contacts for future work in Sri Lanka.

We have been having several networking meetings for past few weeks. Jim Crosthwaite and his group, Samanthi Gunawardane and her group, Frank Ryan and his contacts are few main meetings among them. They all wanted to work towards a common goal and we discussed future collaborations.
 In additions to meeting people, we met some of the native animals in Australia. Cute sleeping Koalas at Koala Park and little fairy penguins (the world smallest penguins) in Phillip Islands, Possums, and wallabies and many birds are some.
ECO-V is making preparation for “Mihimadala Exhibition 2010” with the theme of Prevent Global Warming; Conserve Biodiversity” at Sri Lanka Exhibition and Convention Centre (SLECC)  from 21st to 23rd October. We invite all our members to come to ECO-V stall and take our message across to public.This exhibition is organized by Young Zoologist Association (YZA) in parallel to its international youth conference on the same theme.
The second article for Ariona life style magazine written by Kanchana is published now at of these.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Field visit to Muthurajawela

 By Madubashini Jayawaradane
As decided in the last Thirasi hamuwa ECO-V went to Muthurajawela on 4th September 2010.
In Sinhala language ‘Muthu’ means pearls, ‘Raja’ means King’s and ‘Wela’ is the paddy field. This wetland as its’ name suggests was a magnanimous fertile paddy field that has produced rice grains like ‘pearls’ for the King during the realm of Kotte.
During the colonial era, canals were dug by Dutch and then English, to transport their commercial goods to the Negombo Harbour through this field. Muthurajawela stands 2 – 3 m below mean sea level, so the canals facilitated sea water to flow inland but it did not drain completely. Hence over the time, salinity of the soil has increased making it unsuitable for paddy cultivation.
In 1996 Muturajawela was declared as a Sanctuary providing legal protection to it as a wetland. This wetland is home for many water birds as well as migratory birds, butterflies and dragonflies, a breeding ground for fish, prawns, and crabs. It also acts as a wind breaker and plays a vital role in flood controlling in Western Province.
It was around 7.15 a.m. when we reached Muturajawela Environment Centre in Indigaslanda. The Centre offers two opportunities, a walk through the wetland along a trail or a canal tour by a boat along the Hamilton canal up to Negombo Lagoon and back. Our choice was the latter.
While they prepared the boats, standing in a circle we introduced ourselves to each other as per ECO-V custom. There were several new faces who were willing to become members of the ECO-V family. It was a pleasure for me to note that the ECO-V message spreads through many generations as the eldest member in the circle being eighty years old while the youngest is just eight years.
Along the tranquil water of the Hamilton Canal we set off. Our boat had two rows of seats, when we were seated it was just like that we were leaning on each other’s back facing the canal bank in front of us. As we went along, the friendly guide who accompanied us explained about many varieties of mangroves, and mangrove associates on the canal bank. We discussed the threats that Muthurajawela faces today. Landfill, encroachments by poor and also rich, garbage dumping, cutting down the mangroves and also the breweries of illicit liquor are common.
It was clear that the water of the Hamilton canal is unclean. Non degradable garbage was floating along with beautiful white Kirala flowers. Over casted sky made the water more blackish. The vegetation along the canal bank reflected on that black water taking us to another world. The serene reflection was cut into huge slices and then blurred into unidentifiable shapes by the waves created by our boat.
As we entered the Negombo Lagoon serenity of the water changed into small waves. There was brush-pile fishing in the Negombo lagoon, where fisher folk uses piles of dead branches. Further away we could see some land marks at Negombo Town and Katunayaka Airport. Disturbed by our boat, small fish were jumping above the water. The boat stopped for a while among some mangroves. There were several species of mangrove flora. We were able to do a close study of knee roots of Mal kadol (Bruguiera spp.), stilt roots and prop roots of Rana kadol (Rhizophora spp.), aerial roots of Kirala (Sonneratia spp.) and hypocotyls or seeds that grow while the fruits are still on the tree. Many wanted to touch some prop roots that hung above our heads. Standing at the very front of the boat Harsha led the discussion on mangroves but, again I missed Kanchana very much!
In a few places at the very edge of the water, there were some Ging-pol, the only mangrove that belong to palm family. They looked like very young Coconut Trees.
Little Cormorant, Cattle Egret, White Breasted Water Hen, Shikra, White Bellied Drongo, Brown Headed Barbet, Great Coucal, Rose Ring Parakeet, Spotted Dove, Night Heron, Stork Billed Kingfisher, White Breasted Kingfisher, Common Kingfisher are some of the birds we recorded without much effort. The star bird of the day was a Purple Heron that stood tall at the edge of the water, giving us a good opportunity to observe it and then flew away majestically reflecting itself on the clam water.
Common Rose, Blue Glassy Tiger, Common Mormon, Lemon Emigrant, Grass Yellow, Indian Crow, Bluebottle, Grey Pansy, Jezebel, Common sailor and some vivid coloured dragonflies asked us to record them.
After the Canal tour that took approximately two hours, over breakfast we had our usual discussion on ‘how to feel the nature’. I was surprised to learn that many members also had experienced the tranquility created by the reflections on water. Mr. Gunadasa, from Maduganga, the Mangrove kingdom provided us some valuable information on mangroves. We watched a documentary video on Muthurajawela. There was a small exhibition of posters and preserved specimen on the flora and fauna of Sri Lanka in general, which was in need of refurbishing very badly.
In my mind, once again I walked through Sungei Buloh, a wetland reserve in Singapore. It was very inspiring how well Singapore manages whatever small resources the country possesses.
It did not take even five hours for us to complete the journey. During that brief stay Muthurajawela told us so much. How many of us were able to hear, I know not. But it was singing a very sad song.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thirasi Hamuwa (Thrushes of ECO-V) after a lapse of more than six months.

By Madubashini Jayawardane

It has been six long months since we met last as ECO-V volunteers for a monthly meeting. War and uncertainty made us postpone the Thirasi hamuwa for a long time. Now our members want to meet and take our mission forward. We met after six months at Moratuwa Sarvodaya’s Damsak Mandiraya on on Sunday 15th August. Our President Kanchana joined us from Melbourne via Skype. As our custom the meeting commenced with religious observance followed by one minute of silence in memory of who helped us in the past and to honour all those who laid down their lives for the country.
Going down the memory lane since inception, Harsha briefed the history of ECO-V and introduced our mission and goal as there were some new faces. Kanchana, who joined via Skype, expressed her happiness as she was able to be with us at the meeting, though physically she was far away. The earth becomes smaller in the cyberspace! She said. She also briefed her activities in Melbourne as many members were so keen to get her news.
One of the topics that we discussed extensively was the 10th anniversary of ECO-V which we hope to commemorate next year. Kanchana briefed us about the Kelani Nadee Yathra, a voyage along the river Kelani from its start from the hills in Peak Wilderness to Colombo where river meet the Indian Ocean.
There were some other proposals too to celebrate the event like religious programs, exhibitions and tree planting campaigns.
The other agenda was how to take our message to more people by increasing the membership. We all agreed that ECO-V should not go for an increase of the head count but to recruit members who has a real feeling for the environment and nature and who are willing to become eco friendly citizens. Strategies to attract more members of good caliber were discussed lengthily and proposed the following strategies:-
-to introduce members through personnel contacts, (each member to get one new member),
- reach out to people through exhibitions etc,
-spread the ECO-V message by forwarding the web and blog site to friends in our address books. (Using the cyberspace for a membership drive)
-organising lectures to students of Sunday schools, target groups are the students as well as their parents.
-train youth groups

We had Kavum (traditional oil cake)and Bananas for tea. As the meeting was in progress, we had unexpected visitors. Sarvodaya leader Dr. A.T. Ariyarathne and Mrs. Ariyarathne came to see our Thirasi meeting. They too were happy to have a word with Kanchana. We discussed about our next field visit to Muthurajawela before concluding the meeting. All felt happy to be back with Thirasi and discussed a lot about the past fond memories of ECO-V .

Friday, July 30, 2010

Updates from Melbourne on ECO-V

This is the third update from Melbourne on our activities and networking on ECO-V future work. Its four months since we came to Melbourne and settled down in nice suburb of Fairfield, Northcote. It is winter (coldest winter in 4 years!!) here now and temperature hits 3C sometimes in the morning and night. On and off rain (some say they are getting rain after ten years) and the high wind keeps you really cold and chilly. But we have to say this is much better than both of us expected. Kids love the new environment and they perform well in the school too. We also had the time to meet some of Thushara’s friends in Melbourne who were at school and school hostel with him during school days (meeting most of them after twenty years).
We are mainly concentrating on networking for the future of ECO-V while we are here and planning the activities for 10th Anniversary of ECO-V next year. We are really happy about the way Harsha and the team working in Sri Lanka keeping the ECO-V live in our absence. I will be speaking to volunteers on 15th August from here via skype when they meet for the first Thiresi meeting after ending the war last year (We stopped the meetings during the heights of the war due to on and off bomb blasts in the public transport in 2009).
Jim Crosthwaite (Biodiversity Policy and Programme officer at department of Sustainability and environment) whom I met on the road became the first “Friends of ECO-V” in Melbourne and now continuously helps me to develop networking in Melbourne with different environmental action groups. We are planning to create a project on climate change awareness in Sri Lanka with the support of different organizations and individuals in Melbourne.
Last month I had an opportunity to work few days in Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) in Victoria ( due to Jim’s recommendations where I met lot of people on different aspect of environment conservation. I also delivered a speech at Arthur Rylah Institute for environmental research at DSE ( on my work where most of the DSE members participated and gave me lot of inputs to my work here. The next presentation by me will be at their head office on the 13th of August.
We also participated at a meeting in Darebin Climate Action group (Darebin is the local council we reside) where we listen to David Spratt who co-authored the book on climate change called “Code Red” with Phillip Sutten ( Incidentally Phillip is in the same suburb as us in Fairfield and Jim introduced him to me and he is keen to look at our proposal on climate change awareness project in Sri Lanka and advice on it.
I visited Centre for education and research in environmental strategies (CERES ) ( with Kids and Pascal another environmental activist I met during a tree planting programme. This trip gave me an idea of how environmental education groups work here in Australia. She took me to Merri Creek management Committee (MCMC - and got familiar about their wonderful efforts in environmental conservation.
I am also involved in writing a column on environment in Ariona ( a life style e-magazine in Australia and first edition was launched last week. You all can read my article under Nature and us. ( )This is launched and coordinated by Dimuthu Dias Mendis, a Sri Lankan who is also an environment enthusiast like us.
Well we wrote this with many web links. But thought of mentioning it for anybody who likes to explore more about these wonderful organizations/places that we are involved with.
Will come back to you with more updates soon.
Thushara and Kanchana

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

ECO-V at Ambuluwawa

By Madhubahsani Jayawardena
Eco-V team went to Ambuluwawa Mountain on 4th July 2010. Since it was planned as a one day field excursion, the day commenced at 4.45 a.m.
Ambuluwawa Mountain is located right in the middle of Gampola town which is a four hour drive from Colombo. It is at 1065 metres from mean sea level.We stopped for a way side breakfast at Kadugannawa. But the smell of decaying garbage that came along with the cool breeze made us to re-pack our breakfast packets and we decided to go straight to Gampola, to home of Harsha’s aunt. Our breakfast was Imbul-kiribath (Milk rice balls with hot and spicy fried onions in the middle) wrapped up in Kenda leaves and Harsha’s aunt served us coffee.
Over the coffee Harsha briefed the day’s programme. As there is so little information, we have to be more observant he said. His uncle provided us with some interesting facts on history of Ambuluwawa. Gampola was once an ancient kingdom of Sri Lanka. King Buvanekabahu’s castle was on this mountain and many secrets about his wealth are buried there. This is a treasure mountain abused by robbers over the years.
Although Ambuluwawa is declared as a Bio diversity park, very little amount of information on flora and fauna was available. Browsing through cyber space one can find only one scientific paper which is on lichens.
We send our vehicle forward and walked from the entrance. Along the circular road, at each bend the summit appeared closer and closer. There was a flowering Binara (Exacum trinervium) among many introduced flowering plants that were in abundance. Sporadic small forest patches on either side of the road are greatly disturbed. Three wheeler taxis were going up and down the circular road creating an uninterrupted flow of traffic. We witnessed the impact of traffic, when we came across a dead Le madilla or common rough-sided snake (Aspidura trachyprocta). Green forest lizards (Calotes calote) were not bothered by the cool clime. A peculiar insect was crossing the road. It forms in to a ball by curling its body and rolls away from its enemy if touched. When the sun shinned through intermittent drizzle, birds came out of vegetation to feed. We managed to list out 18 bird species and the day’s treat was the sighting of a Wood pigeon.
We had our lunch at a small restaurant that was very close to the top and walked to the top of the mountain. The summit is maintained as a universal dharma centre. A small mosque, a Christian church and a Buddhist pagoda were there. Pagoda is dedicated to farmers and named as ‘Govi Jana seya’. Through the mist, Mother Sri Lanka appeared as a masterpiece of a great artist. But, inappropriate concrete structures reduced the scenic beauty. It is said that on clear days one can see even the Airport at Katunayake.
From my point of view, Ambuluwawa can be develop and utilize as a good location to relax and to feel the nature. It also lacks proper information of its fauna.
you can see the photos at slide show on "Ambuluwawa ECO-V 2010"

Saturday, June 26, 2010

World Environmental day 2010 – Activities in Melbourne

For last 9 years since ECO-V has been established I was actively involved in World Environmental day celebrations (However personally I believe that each and everyday should be an “Environmental day”, “Mother’s day” or “Father’s day” etc.etc.).
We were expecting to get involved with the annual exhibition that the Ministry of Environment of Sri Lanka organized. However I was told that this year it was not held .Since I am away from Sri Lanka Harsha and the team has decided to stay without doing any activity on that day.
However, I was very busy as usual in this environmental day too and lucky. I was able to get involved with some environmental activities in Melbourne on the World Environmental day. It was the first time for us to meet some nice volunteers of Riverland Conservation Society ( thanks to Guy Dutson my friend from UK who (now he is in Vietnam) introduced me to these groups before he left Melbourne in early May. Both me and Thushara got involved with the volunteers of Riverland Conservation Society for a tree planting campaign. It was really strange for me as we planted many Eucalyptus and Acasia species which we do not want to plant in Sri Lanka. However those species are really needed here as they are native to Australia. We enjoyed the handy equipments they used to make the task easy in cold winter, way of conducting planting and how enthusiastically people of all age groups got involved in environmental campaigns. According to Sri Lankan experience it is bit difficult to bring the grown up to campaigns but youth involvement is at higher level.
On the 12th of June we all went again to Cox reserve in the near by council to plant some more trees where Boo and Nipu also really enjoyed getting involved with the tree planting campaign. Again we met few committed environmental enthusiasts who invited us for a meal after working in the rain and cold weather. Both events gave us more experience and nice and happy feelings of doing something good. No matter where you are you are a son or a daughter of Mother Earth so why not helping her to make a better place for all of us to live?

Monday, June 7, 2010

ECO-V visits Lahugala Kitulana and Kumana National Parks

by Madubashini Jayawardena

It was a long journey; we (eleven of us )set off from Eco-v office at 4.30 a.m on Friday on 30th April and reached our destination around 2.30 p.m. Our destination was Lahugala Kitulana National Park.

This monsoon forest lies in the basin of Heda Oya, 16 km inland from the coastal town Pottuvil in Eastern Province. The Pottuvil-Monaragala trunk road runs through the south eastern sector of the Park.

Officers of the Lahugala office of the Department of Wildlife Conservation of Sri Lanka warmly welcomed us. They served us a steaming cup of tea and we served them biscuits. So we had a tea party-discussion under the shade of a huge Mango tree. Park warden Mr. Gajaweera briefed us the history and the current situation of the park.

Lahugala-Kitulana National Park which is the smallest national park in Sri Lanka spreads on 1554 hectares. This area was declared as a sanctuary on 1st of July 1966 and was upgraded to a National Park on 31st October 1980. For last thirty odd years it was closed for visitors due to the insecure situation of the area caused by terrorists’ activities. As the civil war ended last year and country came back to normal phase of life the Park was reopened for visitors on 30th January 2010.

The park’s terrain is mainly flat with rocky outcrops here and there. Three tanks Lahugala Maha wewa, Kitulana tank and Sengamuwa tank are inside the park. They drain in to Heda Oya which is the southern boundary of the park. The northern boundary is Karanda Oya.

Existence of tanks reveals another facet of the area. During King Kavantissa’s era this was a fertile agricultural region. Magul Maha Vihara, the nearby archaeological site which was built on the occasion of King Kavantissa’s and Vihara Maha Devi’s matrimonial ceremony reveals the rich cultural heritage of the area. There is much folklore as well.

Lying in the dry zone, the vegetation surrounding the tanks is dry mixed evergreen forest with scrubs. Dominant trees species include Weera (Drypetes sepiaria), Palu (Manikara hexandra), Halmilla (Berrya cardifiolia), Milla (Vites pinnata), Satin (Chloroxylon swietena) and Ehela (Cassia fistula). Beru (Sacciopelsis interrupta) a tall reedy type grass is in abundance in tanks. The Beru grass, one of the favourite foods of elephants (Elephas maximus) attracts herds of large number of elephants to these tanks. According the park warden Mr. Gajaweera, sometimes over 150 elephants per herd have been recorded. Leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya), Toque macaque (Macaca sinica), Common Langur (Presbyteis entellus), spotted deer (Axis axis ceylonensis), Sambar (Cervus unicolor), Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) and Black-naped hare (Lepus nigricollis) are also included in the list of mammals. Although the park is well known for its sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) population, a proper census has not been done for last thirty years.

The forest helps to maintain and protect the water catchment area of the tanks and rivers. These water sources are the centre of life. They provide food and water for animals as well as human. Many people are rice farmers who depend on water from the tanks. For wild elephants that go towards Panama through Lahugala, this forest serves as an elephant pass as it prevents forest fragmentation. Economically Lahugala forest is important to the people in the area. It helps to improve agriculture and tourist industries thus providing direct and indirect employment opportunities. According to Wildlife officers, Naturalists and Guides are some examples for direct employment. Selling their agricultural produce, providing local food and lodging to visitors are some examples for indirect employment opportunities. When people of the area realise the economical aspect of conserving the forest they will take the lead to protect the forest.

At present, hunting and deforestation are the main threats to the park. Since there weren’t any proper studies or censes of flora and fauna for last thirty years, wildlife authorities are still in the process of planning and implementing strategies for conservation. For an initiation wildlife officers carry on awareness programmes. Their target group is school children, as they believe it will be more effective to train children than adults for the long term conservation of the forest. At present awareness programmes are carried out through children’s vegetarian societies. Members of these societies resist consuming game meat. School Environmental Brigades also plays a vital role in spreading the message of conservation.

After discussion we set off to get the first experience through the jungle. Mr. Gajaweera and Mr. Warnaweera of Ampara office accompanied us to the Lahugala Maha wewa tank. Few huge crocodiles were floating peacefully. At 16.40 hrs with an overcastted sky, bird life around the tank was not as rich as we expected. But we managed to list out 22 species easily.

1. Grey breasted fish eagle (Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus) perched on a dead tree and flew away as we were getting down from our vehicle.

2. Four Black headed ibises (Threskiornis melanocephalus) flew over us perhaps to their roost.

3. Crested tree swift (Hemiprocne coronata) perched on a high branch scanning its surrounding.

4. Sri Lanka Hanging parrot (Loriculus beryllinus) was in such a hurry if not its call we would have missed it.

5. A pair of Little Green Bee Eaters (Merops orientalis) was displaying their acrobatic skills one after the other.

6. Cooing Spotted dove (Stigmatopelia chinensis) tried to harmonize with the

7. Brown headed barbet (Megalaima zeylanica)’s call which was echoing through the evening air.

8. Pop- pop- pop , Pop- pop- pop, went on Crimson fronted barbet (Megalaima rubricapillus)

9. Rose ringed parakeets ( Psittacula krameri) and

10. Alexandrine parakeets (Psittacula eupatria) were trying to settle down in their communal roost.

11. Under the Parrots’ tree an intermediate egret (Mesophoyx intermedia) stood on one leg.

12. Pheasant tail Jacanas’ (Hydrophasianus chirugus) meowing was heard among the white lotus flowers.

13. A group of lesser whistling ducks (Dendrocygna javanica) circled over head before disappearing over trees.

14. A Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis) hovered over water and then dashed to a reed bed.

15. Displaying their V shaped flight pattern, a flock of Indian cormorants (Phalacrocorax fuscicollis) flew north.

16. Some Indian Pond Herons (Ardeola grayii) stood still among some reeds.

17. A common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) dashed away giving its usual shrill call. If not its call, it could have disappeared without being noticed.

18. A flock of dark fronted babblers (Rhopocichla atriceps) were feeding in the undergrowth; they seemed to be moving along with us.

19. Some long tail feathers of Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus) were scattered under a large tree. Perhaps the owner had faced the law of the jungle!

20. Common Mynahs (Acridotheres tristis) were heading to their roost.

21. Two Purple herons (Ardea purpurea) stood tall in the water among Beru grass.

22. “Did-he-do it” call of the Red wattle Lapwing (Vanellus malarbaricus) shrilled through the air.

Yes he did it. Nanda was the first to spot some marks on each tree bark. Barks of trees were damaged at a certain height from the ground. We inquired Mr. Gajaweera. He took us to such damaged tree and explained the “Work of Porcupines”. This led to yet another discussion. How such observations can be used in scientific studies i.e. Population & distribution studies, behavioural studies etc., were widely discussed. Other than the birds there were some frogs for those who were interested in amphibian fauna.

We climbed a hillock. It had a rocky face; a flat boulder with a slope of approximately 45 degrees and about 100m in width. On the other side of it was a flat land. Mr. Gajaweera showed us some ruins of a Pagoda (Dagabo). According to him they have found many evidences of an ancient monastery.

A faint sound of branches being break, which was familiar only to a trained ear of a wildlife officer made Mr. Gajaweera to decide that all of us should return to the base. We took a different route to our vehicle as not to disturb the Jumbo who was probably feeding.

On our way to the vehicle Mr. Gajaweera showed us a trail made by a snake. Most of us did not notice it until he showed the trial to us. May be the snake has gone to the nearby water hole from its ‘ant hill’ home. There was an ant hill too which completed that theory.

We came back to our base. The person who was supposed to cook our meals did not turn in. His absence led us to another fun filled experience. That was to cook our own food; a group activity, in which none of us had mastered. But all of us participated enthusiastically.

Before dinner we discussed the day’s events, our observations, how to analyse and utilize them, dos and don’ts as there were some new faces it was necessary to brief Eco-V ethics and also the programme for the following day. Wildlife officers willingly shared some of their experiences.

Officers’ quarters next door which belonged to the Department of Forest Conservation was vacated during that week end. It was our ‘home’ as during night we had the building all by ourselves. Throughout the night call of Jerdon’s Nightjars’ (Caprimulgus atripennis) were heard (amidst the heavy snoring that vibrate our home!).

1st May 2010

Day started early but with a bad news. Mr. Gajaweera’s father who was critically ill has passed away. He has been asking for his eldest son. But his son who put his duty before all his other responsibilities was staying with us and planning the programmes of conservation. Mr. Gajaweera senior had to leave this world without seeing his son.

We left our base at 5.43 a.m. and drive through the thick forest. Wildlife officers Mr. Warnaweera and Nimal accompanied us. Here and there golden sky was visible through the canopy. Soft rays of the morning sun filtered through the mist. Sri Lanka Brown-capped Babbler (Pellorneum fuscocapillus) was calling “pret-ty dear”. Faint sound of breaking branches was heard indicating that some elephants are still feeding. As we travelled further in, we heard the call of Sri Lanka Jungle fowl (Gallus lafayetti) and the orange breasted blue fly catcher (Cyornis tickelliae) was also in its vocals.

At 5.54 hr. we reached Kitulana tank. That was another bank of the same tank that we went to, on the day before. An elephant hurried away out of sight as our vehicle approached. We climbed on to a large rock that stood invitingly. The view we got from the top of that rock was fantastic.

For the first time in my life I saw the moon setting over the Kitulana tank. Behind me soft rays of the rising sun filtered through the trees. During our 2 hr 30 min stay, we managed to list out 31 species

1. White Browed Bulbul (Pycnonotus luteolus)

2. Lesser whistling ducks (Dendrocygna javanica)

3. Pheasant tail Jacana (Hydrophasianus chirugus)

4. Indian Pond Herons (Ardeola grayii)

5. Eurasian Spoon bill (Platalea leucorodia)

6. Purple heron (Ardea purpurea)

7. Greater coucal (Centropus sinensis) (call)

8. Sri Lanka Hanging parrot (Loriculus beryllinus)

9. Black –crowned Night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

10. Crimson fronted barbet (Megalaima rubricapillus)

11. Black headed ibis (Threskiornis melanocephalus)

12. Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus) (call)

13. Red-rumped swallow (Hirundo daurica)

14. Brown headed barbet (Megalaima zeylanica)

15. White breasted waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus)

16. White throated king fisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)

17. Stork billed kingfisher (Pelargopsis capensis)

18. Intermediate egret (Mesophoyx intermedia)

19. Whiskered turn (Chlidonias hybrida)

20. Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus)

21. Common moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)

22. Common Mynahs (Acridotheres tristis)

23. Alexandrine parakeet (Psittacula eupatria)

24. Rose ringed parakeets ( Psittacula krameri)

25. Black-naped oriole (Oriolus xanthornus)

26. Spotted dove (Stigmatopelia chinensis)

27. Purple Swamphen ( Porphyrio porphyrio)

28. Jungle crow (Corvus levaillantii)

29. Little cormorant (Phalacrocorax niger)

30. Sky lark (Alauda gulgula)

31. Jungle owlet (Glaucidium radiatum)

The most interesting sight was the Jungle Owlet (Glaucidium radiatum). At first we heard its call loud and clear and very near. But we couldn’t identify the bird. After much effort we were able to spot it and that was a real treat.

A work shop for the students from three schools in the area was scheduled at the Lahugala wildlife office. When we returned to the base, students were waiting for us. After a quick breakfast we started the workshop. Harsha conducted the programme and we all supported him. All the children were members of School Environmental Brigades. They together with their two teachers actively participated throughout the programme. The programme included a lecture on Bio diversity, some activities like caterpillar game, and discussions.

At the end of the programme, presenting a poster of Pelican conservation project, Harsha asked whether they have seen the bird and where. Anonymous answer we got was ‘Yes, seen at the zoo’. But some weeks ago wild life officers had treated a Pelican that was critically ill due to lack of food! We felt that for us there is so much to do.

We prepared our lunch. Mr. Warnaweera suggested that we leave around 3.00 p.m. to go to Magul Maha Vihara and then to Heda Oya. He said that we can bathe in it if we want. So after lunch off we went. Magul Maha Vihara is a historically important site restored and maintained by the Department of Archaeology.

The king Datusena has built this temple during the period of 453 -473. According to an ancient stone-scripture Princess Wiharamahadevi, wife of Gampola Buvanekabahu IV (1341-1351) and Dedhigama Parakramabahu V (1344-1359) has reconstructed this in 14th centuary. A shrine room (Prathima gruhaya) pagoda (Dagabo) and a Sabbath house (Uposthagaraya) can be seen among the restored ruins. Later this temple has been called as Ruhunu Maha Vihara.

Off from the main road it was impossible to drive to Heda Oya, the rivulet that flows approximately 500m far from the main road. We got down from our vehicle and walked along a slippery, muddy trail through the jungle. The evening was bit gloomy. Through the thick canopy under such a low light it was not good enough for birding. Heda Oya, the southern boundary of the Park flowed peacefully. Its water level was not high nor torrent, so there were some sandy patches in the middle of the water way. While dipped in water, time is not an important factor at all. We turned back after one and half hours. On our way back to the main road, we heard a familiar bird call. Through the shadowy canopy we were able to see a silhouette of a large drongo, probably a Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus).

On our return journey, we went to Lahugala tank again. It was yet another side of the tank in the vicinity of the main road. We walked along the bank of the tank. It was around 17.30 hrs the elephants were coming for a dip in the water. Leisurely walking, feeding on Beru and other grass, ‘talking’ to each other with various gestures they came in small groups. Some groups entered to the water from the other side of tank. There was an elephant with a septic wound on the knee area of her left leg. Though she limped, she was able to keep up with the herd. With an up lifted trunk one elephant played in deep water. It was a pleasure to watch them without chains but, the thought of the practical threats that wild elephants usually face made me shudder.

It was 17.55 hr when we went to Sengamuwa tank. As we were walking along the bank we saw a roost of Chestnut headed bee-eaters (Merops apiaster). Over 45 bee-eaters were there. In small flocks they flew above the tree in a circle, settled down, then after few minutes again flew in a circle; this activity was going on even when we returned from the tank.

Sengamuwa tank was ready to go to sleep. That was the first thought that came to my mind when I saw it. Covered with a blanket of lotus and other water plants, all the roosting trees were full of egrets, cormorants, pond herons and other sleepy birds the tank reflected the vary last rays of the sun.

Even in the twilight, walking along the bank of the tank we listed 20 bird species.

1. Chestnut headed bee-eaters (Merops apiaster)

2. Brahminy kite (Haliastur Indus)

3. Oriental darter (Anhinga melanogaster)

4. Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopaceus)

5. Common Mynahs (Acridotheres tristis)

6. Brown headed barbet (Megalaima zeylanica)

7. Lesser whistling ducks (Dendrocygna javanica)

8. Pheasant tail Jacana (Hydrophasianus chirugus)

9. Indian Pond Herons (Ardeola grayii)

10. Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus) (call)

11. Purple heron (Ardea purpurea)

12. White throated king fisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)

13. Black –crowned Night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

14. Coppersmith barbet (Megalaima haemacephala)

15. Rose ringed parakeets ( Psittacula krameri)

16. Jungle crow (Corvus levaillantii)

17. Little cormorant (Phalacrocorax niger

18. Indian Roller (Coracias benghalensis)

19. Grey heron (Ardea cinerea)

20. Asian Open bill (Anastomus oscitans)

During the dinner as we were discussing the programme for the following day Mr. Warnaweera suggest that we can go to Panama or even to Kumana National park. Panama is a small village 16 km from Pottuvil. So if time permits we would be able to go up to Kumana. All of us were eager to go to Kumana sanctuary even for a very brief visit


2nd May 2010

Early in the morning we prepared our lunch. We were planning to take the lunch with us but to get a light breakfast at Pottuvil.

Wildlife officers informed us that at Pottuvil there are places where we can eat hot hoppers or roti. After breakfast we headed to Kumana. There is only one entrance to the park from Panama through Kudumbigala sanctuary. Earlier Kumana Sanctuary was named as Yala East National Park. Through Kudumbigala Sanctuary it was not a smooth drive. There were several security check points as well.

At 8.20 hr. it was a sunny morning at Horawakanda, a water body where we recorded:-

1. Painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala)

2. Spot-billed Pelican (Pelecannus philippensis)

3. Eurasian Spoon bill (Platalea leucorodia)

4. Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus)

5. Black headed ibis (Threskiornis melanocephalus)

6. Intermediate egret (Mesophoyx intermedia)

While driving through Kudumbigala sanctuary the best treat we got was a pair of Lesser Adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus) at proximity of the road.

From Okanda entrance we entered to Kumana Sanctuary with a Guide. On a Maa-dan (Syzygium cumini) tree a Changeable Hawk Eagle (Spizaetus cirrhatus) was sitting in its eyrie gently preening. Even at 9.20hrs, the sun was very hot but the majestic raptor was not bothered. From Okanda to Kumana villu the rough road ran close to the sea. So eventually we had to cross or pass by many small lagoons. On our left was semi arid scrub jungle. Time to time through the vegetation the blue sea appeared and disappeared. On the right side other than the scrub jungle there were fairly large areas of dense forest.

Baaguray was the largest lagoon we passed. Some Painted storks (Mycteria leucocephala) were feeding in the shallow water. Two Yellow-wattled Lapwings (Vanellus malarbaricus) were running after some ‘live’ food on the sandy marsh. On our right the spotted deer (Axis axis ceylonensis) that was feeding on freshly grown grass, slowly walked back to the forest cover.

Next water body we came across was Thunmulla tank. There were Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus), Black headed ibis (Threskiornis melanocephalus), Oriental darter (Anhinga melanogaster) and lesser whistling ducks (Dendrocygna javanica).

Andarakala lagoon, Itikala lagoon and Yaakala Lagoon were not as large as Baaguray lagoon.

At Andarakala lagoon we saw nine Spot-billed Pelicans (Pelecannus philippensis), Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus) and Intermediate egrets (Mesophoyx intermedia). A Great Thick-Knee (Esacus recurvirostris) was standing very close to the road at Itikala lagoon. It was 10.58 hr when we passed the Yaakala lagoon. Two Spot-billed Pelicans (Pelecannus philippensis) were floating and there were whiskered turns (Chlidonias hybrida), White winged turns (Chlidonias leucopterus) and little turns (Srerna albifrons) too. All turns were in breeding plumage.

We reached Kumana Villu at 11.04 hrs; a Villu is a marshy land that cannot be cultivated. Spot-billed Pelicans (Pelecannus philippensis) and Painted storks (Mycteria leucocephala) were nesting. Some Little Green Bee Eaters (Merops orientalis) were somersaulting after their prey, displaying their usual acrobatic skills. Although there were so much to observe, we had to travel approximately 390 km back to Colombo. We had spent 15 minutes Kumana villu. Promising ourselves that we would return to Kumana very soon, we started our return journey. On our way we saw some spotted deer. They were feeding leisurely in a grassy patch. They observed us for a few seconds before fleeing to the forest.

For a bath in the eastern sea, one of the best places is Arugam Bay. We had a dip in the blue basin to our hearts’ content, had our lunch under coconut palms and started our journey back home.

This was the first field excursion with duration of more than one day. To be frank, it was a trial and a challenge. We missed Kanchana a lot. Without Harsha’s energetic organising skills and leadership it would not become a happy and useful journey. So here is a BIG ‘THANK YOU’ to Harsha for a mission well done and to Kanchana for giving the vision to Harsha and to all of us.