Field Visit – Visit to the Central Highlands

Day 1

As part of its exploration of the amphibian diversity of the forests of Sri Lanka, the Classic Wild team decided to explore amphibians in the montane rain forests of the Central Highlands. The group decided to visit the Pattipola area as well as Pidurutalagala Mountain in order to accomplish this objective. Toward the end of the afternoon, the team reached its destination. There was a cool breeze in the surrounding air, but it felt like a dry day. The dry environment is not ideal for amphibians. Upon meeting their local tracker near the accommodation, the team began walking toward the forest with him. The forest is adjacent to the Pidurutalagala forest reserve; hence, the climb is a bit steep. The Pidurutalagala Forest Reserve is a mix of montane rain forest and cloud forest. While climbing, they hear a very familiar bird call. The Sri Lankan Whistling Thrush is a solitary bird, which they heard from a distance along the stream.

They reach a place where the water is stored, and they then discover one of their first amphibian species on the trip. It was a Horton-Plains Shrub Frog, which is quite common in the Highlands. While photographing the specimen, the team found another species. The small-eared shrub frog is also a common species in the area. During this visit, their main intent was to find the Schamarda’s Shrub Frog. Because of its mossy skin and nearly identical color to the substrate, this species is difficult to locate. Those two reasons make it more difficult to observe species in their natural habitats.

The team forged ahead into the nearby forest to see if there were any beautiful creatures hiding in plain sight. Within minutes, Ashan had discovered a Mountain Hourglass Treefrog resting on a twig. The Mountain Hourglass Treefrog belongs to the genus Taruga, which is endemic to Sri Lanka. Those treefrogs have a special reproductive habit when they are ready to spawn. After mating, the female treefrog will make a foam nest slightly above the water source. Then the female will lay eggs within the foam nest while the male fertilises the eggs. While they were photographing it, other members of the team found Schamarda’s shrub frog, but it was a juvenile specimen. But the team was lucky that day because, after about 20 minutes of hard work, they had found an adult specimen of Schamarda’s Shrub Frog.

After photographing it, the team decided to leave the place because it was nearly midnight. In the process of climbing down, they encountered two rhino-horned lizards sleeping on the tree. Those beautiful, cold-blooded animals are endemic to the central highlands of Sri Lanka. They possess a rhinoceros-like horn at the tip of their snout, which gives them that particular name. Those horned lizards are from the genus Ceratophora, which is only found in Sri Lanka. The whole genus comprises five species in different habitats. The strange-looking rhino-horned lizard represents the central hills’ highlands. Climbing down was a bit harder for most of the team members because the road was slippery and steep. After determination and patience, the team was able to reach the main road at 10 o’clock at night. The excursion was successful because the team was able to fulfil its main objectives.

Day 2

The team left their accommodations at 11 o’clock in the morning to find another beautiful rarity. This time, it was a rare ground-dwelling frog. The Sri Lanka Narrow-Mouthed Frog is a rare amphibian you can find near water resources above 1800 metres in the central highlands. This species has a blunt head and a narrow mouth, as well as striking coloration on the dorsal surface.

The team decided to proceed through the Horton Plains entrance road via Pattipola. After passing the Pattipola railway station, the team got out of the vehicle and started to search for that particular amphibian species. They searched the leaf litter beside the road. After 45 minutes of searching, a team member saw a glimpse of a frog crawling into the litter. He immediately identified it as a Sri Lankan narrow-mouthed frog. It had been a really anticipated moment for everyone on the team because the species is a rare one and they have been searching for the frogs, which helped them hide among the leaf litter. After photographing the beauty, they decided to leave the place and have lunch. Leaf-nesting shrub frogs, Horton’s Plains shrub frogs, and small-eared shrub frogs after about half an hour of searching.

After that, they were walking along a road that led through the middle of a tea estate. It was one of the most obvious examples of how amphibians adapt to man-made habitats and habitat alteration because they have found many amphibians within the tea estate. A stream runs alongside the road. In the water of that stream, they found another type of species. The frog was a Gunther’s Golden Backed Frog, an endemic species that lives near streams. With that sighting, they decided to call it a day and leave the property.

Day 3

The birds were singing and the frogs were calling, and day three began. The place where the team was accommodated had a small garden. In the early morning, Ashan spent time birdwatching in that garden. Suddenly, he heard an unusual bird call near the garden’s edge. He carefully watched the bird, and amazingly, it was a hard-to-see migrant species. A Kashmir flycatcher was singing on a branch near the house. The bird’s red breast confirmed that it was a male. This small flycatcher flies all the way to Sri Lanka from Kashmir and Ladakh, which are in the foothills of the great Himalayas. After the morning birdwatching session, the team decided that the Classic Wild Field Visit to the Central Highlands had come to an end with incredible sightings and overwhelming success.

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