Exploring the Cloud Forests

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Saturday, May 26, 2007

On the narrow guage train line between Haputale and Nuwara Eliya, the high plateau with undulating hills and peaks opened before the train, which poked in and out of small tunnels in the hills. Rain fell periodically on the cloud forest covering the hills on a mostly cloudy day.

Cloud forests are rare in Sri Lanka, found only in the upper elevations in the hill country, with many of them converted to tea plantations and dairies. But in the rugged terrain around the train route, the Sri Lanka Rhododendron bloomed a bright red amongst the dark green Nillu shrubs and small gnarled trees.

In these cloud forests I looked for some of the rare endemic animals among the many endemic plants: Mountain Horned Agama, Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon, and Sri Lanka Bush Warbler, Yellow-eared Bulbul, and Sri Lanka White Eye.

For most of four days, I hiked in patches of these forests: at Horton Plains National Park, around the town of Nuwara Eliya--a mid-sized hill station--and along roadsides.

At Horton Plains, I found the Mountain Horned Agama, the bulbul, and the white eye. The habitat at was a mixture of cloud forest and grasslands with a history of potato cultivation. Horton's Plains plummet thousands of feet to the southern parts of Sri Lanka at an aptly-named place, World's End. Clouds swirled around the cliffs, covering the plains in mist.

Several minutes later, a cold mountain rain began to fall. I took out my rain jacket and continued on the way. Soon, the showers had drenched everyone walking on the trails--a group of scouts returning from an overnight in the park, a squad of training marines, groups of young men, families, and Russian women wearing bikinis and shorts.

As I had planned to walk back to the railway station, I anticipated at least some rain, but not hours of downpour. Several hours later, the rain had entered my day pack and creeped into my camera, effectively destroying it.

So from now on, if you don't see photographs with the entries, you know the reason.

For me, photography is a passion, one way of seeing life from different angles and views--close, far, and more. I had purchased the Canon 20D two years ago for the trip. It worked well for over two years, including taking many photographs for WWF, so I can't complain. Replacing it at this point, however, will tap into the travel fund, which took years of work to build, through savings and living below my means.

At this point, I accepted the loss of the Canon 20D as part of the journey and bought a $15 Kodak instant film camera. Maybe some day I'll be able to scan these photos into this site.

Along the way back from Horton Plains to the nearby railway station, as the rain continued, a newly-wed couple (with mother and sister as chaperones in the backseat) I met at the Single Tree Hotel gave me a lift back. On the way we talked; it was clear the the mother and sister were ready to return to Colombo.

The search for interesting animals continued, as I awoke before dawn in search of one of the most elusive birds known, the Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush. The small thrush occurs only along a few, densely vegetated streams in the cloud forests.

Along Highway A5 at kilometer marker 83, one of its known locations, I waited. Finally, as the sun was rising, the blue-black bird showed for a couple of seconds then disappeared into the thick scrub. This is how most people describe their experience for the bird--quick and before sunrise.

Amongst the dense Keena trees, the dozens of shrubs, and Mountain Creeper Bamboo of the various cloud forests I visited were dozens of hard-to-see birds (such as the Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon, which hopped into the Boburu Ella forest darkness after a few seconds), calling frogs, cryptic walking stick insects, tree jumping Bear Monkeys, Dusky Squirrels, and many unseen animals. I did, however, find tracks of the Fishing Cat and Leopard, their pug marks imprinted clearly in patches of mud.

"This is where the leopard ate my dog," said a man from Nuwara Eliya, pointing up a bent tree overlooking the town, the leopard's dinner table.

So despite the fragmented, mostly destroyed nature of the cloud forests, it seems only small patches are able to house a whole lotta wild. Perhaps its the dark and dense thickets and rugged terrain. Then again, it could just be a matter of time before these rare species disappear from the world.
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Where I stayed
Single Tree hotel
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lraleigh on

Re: It's a sad day....
Hope it is so too, Lloyd

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