Monday, November 8, 2010

FOGSL Field Trip to Peak Wilderness

On a warm, sunny day, on 22nd October, peaceful and calm Eratne lay before us, twelve members comprising veterans and novices of FOGSL who were to enjoy two days in Peak Wilderness. Adawikanda was our last stop before the long climb to our abode; Seetha Gangula nawathanpola began by foot.

Peak Wilderness nestles in the centre of the Western ridge of the Central Highlands, north-east of Ratnapura. The wilderness also stretches towards the borders between Central and Sabaragamuwa provinces. With the abundance of treasures and mysteries, Peak Wilderness has been classified as the most constantly wet part of Asia, West of Borneo.

Our slow and tedious walk lasted for about 4 1/2 hours. In spite of the fatigue, we were in awe of the surroundings. We had lunch near a site where a dam was built, to make use of waters of a cascading waterfall to generate electricity to the villagers as well as the national grid. Cool winds and water, replenished us for awhile. Back on the route, we increased our pace, knowing we had to reach our destination before nightfall.

The valley spread before us, as we climbed higher. Through trees and shrubs we could get a peek at the vast expanse of greenery beyond. After walking, stumbling and panting along the distance, we spotted the Ambalama with relief. The waters of Seethagangula beckoned us quietly. Tents were put up, by the able men while Mahatun Mama, a faithful guide and friend of members of FOG for the past 5 years, along with his aides, Bandara and another, got the hearth going for the preparation of tea and dinner.

The only females in the herd, Komila and I hurried to the river to take a wash before it grew too dark. While we attempted to hide behind a rock for privacy, we later heard that a troupe of monkeys had apparently been watching us from a tree!

Morning dawned on the 23rd, after a terribly cold night. The few Buddhists in the group were hoping to climb Shri Pada. After much thought, I decided to join the 7 members to climb the rock. We began the long journey around 6.00 a.m. Four members stayed back to go birding in the surroundings adjacent to the Ambalama.

Legs aching, panting madly, slipping and struggling we trekked for about 1 1/2 hours before stopping over for a breakfast of ‘Kadala’ and coconut at a dilapidated ambalama, which during the season, would have been thriving with free meals and hot cups of tea for pilgrims.

The long trek began again with us being determined to spot a few birds to add to the list! It was treat, therefore, to see a Legg’s flower pecker having its own breakfast, feeding on some small fruit. A pair of Nuthatches was making a racket on a tree, presumably pecking away at some insects they had scented and spotted. We saw yellow eared bulbuls, hill mynahs and red vented bulbuls chirping away, on that glorious morning. The air was fresh and pure, and the sun shone bright and hot on us.

“Start climbing early, try to make it to the summit before 1.00 p.m. If you can’t and even if the summit is just there to reach, you need to climb down looking at it, by 1.30 p.m and reach the ambalama by 6.00 p.m.” were the instructions we got from Dr. Newton Jayawardane and Chaminda Jayaratne. We knew we had to keep to the deadlines and we were chasing time! There were traces of Elephant dung as we passed ‘batakelle’. A few blood thirsty leeches were making an effort to get on us, and some succeeded in making us bleed a fraction.

We reached the summit around 12.45 p.m. and the experience was awesome! Below, the montane forest cover spread. Vast, pure untouched and spellbinding, the canopy was an umbrella amidst the clouds. We could see the Blue waters of Castlereigh and Mousakelle Reservoirs, and of course the winding path we took was also visible, making us aware of the long trek back on the same route. It was hot and sunny up there. The winds fanned us. After prayers, and a steaming cup of tea given to us by the security officers at the summit, we began our descend. It was disheartening to see volumes of polythene carelessly strewn down the slopes of the summit. Pollution, a burning matter of concern where ever we happened to go, was not strange even to Peak Wilderness. We collected as much garbage as we could, and burnt them all at Galwangediye Kade Ambalama.

Descending was tedious as climbing was. After lunch at Ahala Kanuwa Ambalama, we began a steady descend making sure to pass Batakelle, before 3.30 p.m. We had to avoid elephants incase we ran into them! A prayer to see the Dollar bird was not answered. However, there were species of yellow eared, and black capped bull bulls which greeted us on the way down. Mahatun Mama, bare footed, chirpy and agile, guided us through out this tedious and exhilarating journey.

We reached our Ambalama by 6.05 p.m., much to our delight and probably to the relief of the others who would have been waiting for us. After the check list was done, and dinner taken, we retired to our respective tents, to get whatever sleep we could before returning to base, Adawikanda the next morning. Back at Adawikanda the following afternoon, everyone waited to have a dip in the river. Bandara welcomed us to his humble home, to give us a delicious meal for lunch. We relished the waldel kos ata curry, a novelty and a rare meal for city dwellers.

A few of us had to bid farewell to the group at Avissawella because we were Kandy bound. Back at home; to reminisce and re-live moments, it was a journey worth, making the effort of going! An important learning outcome was, to stay fit and healthy. Life becomes easier when one is in good health!

Bird List

Sri Lanka Jungle fowl
Great Tit
Sri Lanka yellow fronted barbet
Black Crested Bulbull
SriLanka grey hornbill
Red Vented Bulbul
White throated Kingfisher
SriLanka Yellow eared bulbul
Blue tailed bee-eater
Black bulbul
Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot
Yellow browed bulbul
Indian Swiftlet
Sri Lanka White eye
Spotted Dove
Oriental White eye
Emerald Dove
Greenish Warbler
Green Imperial Pigeon
Large billed leaf warbler
Crested Serpent Eagle
SriLanka Brown capped Babbler
SriLanka Schimiter Babbler
Brown Shrike
Dark Fronted Babbler
Sri Lanka Blue Magpie
Sri Lanka Orange Billed Babbler
Black Hooded Oriole
Yellow Billed Babbler
Scarlet Minivet
Thick Billed Flower Pecker
Bar winged Flycatcher shrike
Sri lanka Legge’s Flower Pecker
White bellied Drongo
Pale Billed Flower pecker
Crested Drongo
Purple rumped sunbird
Black Naped Monarch
Grey Wagtail
Asian Paradise Flycatcher
White Rumped Munia
Common Iora
Sri Lanka Spot winged Thrush
Asian Brown Flycatcher
Brown breasted flycatcher
Sri Lanka Dull Blue Flycatcher
Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher
Grey Headed Canary Flycatcher
Sri Lanka Myna
Hill Myna
Velvet Fronted Nuthatch

List of Participants:

Mr. Chaminda Jayaratne, Dr. Newton Jaywardena, Ms. Sulakmi Weragama, Mr. Rohan Kaththiriarachchi, Ms. Komila Stanislaus, Mr. Ruwan, Mr. Ranjith Fernando, Mr. Chana, Mr. Nashad Hafi, Mr. Faris, Mr. Amudhesh

Bird list and Report: Sulekshmi Weragama
Photos: Sulekshmi Weragama, Rohan Kaththiriarachchi and Chaminda Jayaratne

To see more Photos