WHERE BIRDS FLOCK AND PEOPLE RARELY DARE TO GO
de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2006). Where Birds Flock and People Rarely Dare to Go. Sunday Times Plus. February 2006.
Apparently there had been no rain for 4 days. Sinharaja felt noticeably dry and leeches were largely absent. A team of four of us explored the area around the giant Nawada Tree near the research station for Scaly Thrush. It was absent and we did not even hear a call. Blue Magpies had a nest in the area and they were also visiting the research station to pick up beakfuls of rice. A Layard’s Squirrel and a male and two female Junglefowl also took advantage of the rice. Another Blue Magpie nest was beside the stream near Martin’s.
The pair of Ceylon Frogmouths on the logging road past the gate still remain concealed within the Cyathea ferns. At least two other frogmouths are on nests about 15-20 feet high on trees.
Leaving Martin’s around 6.45am we passed three mixed species feeding flocks. Two of the flocks held Ashy-headed Laughing-thrush, Red-faced Malkoha, Crested Drongo, Malabar Trogon, Ceylon Rufous Babbler, etc. We watched one of the flocks with Deepal Warakagoda who together with Roger Lawrence was leading the annual tour to Sri Lanka by Ornitholidays. The flock was briefly joined by Legge’s Flowerpeckers and White-faced Starlings. In the evening we had another sighting of a pair of White-faced Starlings. The Ornitholidays tour had a lady who was 82 years of age.
In the evening we caught up with what we call the Barrier Gate feeding flock. A bonus was the presence of a Green-billed Coucal. During the day we also heard the elusive Ceylon Spurfowl and the Chestnut-backed Owlet. Emerald Collared Parakeets, Ceylon Hanging-parrots, Ceylon Mynas, Black-capped Bulbuls, Spot-winged Thrush were other endemics we saw during the day.
The previous evening, we had also stopped at Morapitiya, for a spot of birding before the light faded. In the space of twenty four hours we had seen a staggering 17 species of endemic birds. It would be very hard to achieve this on the Asian mainland. Sri Lanka has the potential to develop into one of the top eco-tourism destinations in the world. Its rainforests are very rich in terms of species per square kilometer.
However, when one takes the road from Veddagala to Kudawa it is clear that the need for good visitor access to eco-tourism sites, is not understood. It gets worse when one takes the road from the Forest Department Office from Kudawa to Martin’s and the entry gate. The longer arm of the loop road going past Martin’s is in a diabolical state. The other arm which provides a short cut to the present entry gate or ‘barrier’ is better, but difficult for most vehicles.
How many more eco-tourism consultants and ‘exposure visits’ abroad to staff in state agencies would it be required before we can understand something any school child can understand? For tourism, whether it is to sites of eco-tourism interest or cultural sites, good road access is critical. The ‘loop road’ from Kudawa should be developed as a one way road in good condition to enable even a car to drive up to the entry gate on the short arm, drop visitors off and then loop back down past Martin’s on the longer arm and continue back to the main office of the Forest Department in Kudawa. Wherever tickets are to be issued in future, it would make sense to keep a complete loop on good roads to allow visitors to be driven and dropped at the present entry gate (referred to as the barrier). Most eco-tourists and those who are less physically fit would appreciate being dropped off higher up the hill. Only if we have good visitors access will this bio-diversity jewel of Sri Lanka be a national asset put to good use. Right now it is a national embarrassment that we neglect the development of such an important asset for tourism and conservation.
Gehan’s Notebook is an ad hoc series of lightly edited extracts from the ‘on the hoof’ notes maintained on his laptop by writer and photographer Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne (email@example.com)