The sun was yet behind the morning mists where our bus raced through our lyrical songs and in no time, we were at Dambulla. That was one heavy breakfast at ‘Gimanhala’ Restaurant which was indeed necessary to keep up with the load of work which was yet to come.
The two buses that left at 4.00 a.m. carrying the first year Biological Science and Molecular Biology students of the Faculty of Science, University of Colombo, arrived at the National Wildlife Training Center (NWTC) Girithale at around 9.00 a.m. The schedule itself was sufficient to understand the proper planning and the commitment done by Prof. Nihal Dayawansa and the demonstrators of the Zoology Department to give the best for the students. After the discussions of the objectives, the students geared up with enthusiasm.
Colours in nature to colours in us
Our first spot was an open grass patch near Girithale tank. Brushing up the 1st theory lecture on animal behavior on the field itself felt so real. Identifying bird calls was the start up to that sunny day. We were grouped into 5 groups in an unusual way which was really fascinating and enjoyable to watch. Each of us were given a note with a bird call and we should search for the same bird call of others blindfolded, just by saying it out loud. They were Red-wattled lapwing – ‘Did you do it!’, Red-vented bulbul- ‘Ginger beer!’, Crimson-fronted barbet- ‘Poppoppoppop!’, Brown-capped babbler-‘Pretty dear!’ and Larger-billed warbler-‘Yes it is!’.
It was so dramatic that the constant knocking and falling behind reminded me how much we were different from birds.
‘Birds of the same feather flock together’. “Yes! We were in our flocks”. We had to do a drama to represent the significance of colours in nature with reference to animal behavior. This was indeed a great way to start off the day. The 20-minute preparation time wasn’t enough for the 5-minute dramas, but the informal way of our university peeps kept the humor running. Each of the dramas gave an important message about the colours in nature. We, the Red-vented bulbuls choose the colour red. Red is a warning colour for animals, but it also represents love, war and blood. Thus, colours play an important part in human behavior as well. That hour and a half was a fun warm up session to the more serious work of the day.
Know your pace length
Knowing the pace length is a must as it is a reasonably easy and quick method of measuring distance in the field. A well-prepared refreshment was served while we made our field notes in an actual field for the very first time. Wildlife officers with shot guns in hands were constantly moving among our crowd. Despite Elephants being fascinating giants in the wild, their threat to us was inevitable. This limited the chance to roam under the thick canopy line. We were assigned to walk 25 m into a forest patch and to observe animal behaviors for about 15 minutes. I walked 42 steps since my pace length was about 1.16 m. This was the most important event of the day.
Into the Wild
The arrogant dried trunks resisted to give me space to move in. The bed of dry leaves was so thick, it was almost like a cushion bed. I could barely see the sky through the dried tree tops with the orange –green canopy. It took few minutes for me to adjust to the environment and to start observing. Mosquitoes played a background music throughout the period of my observation.
“A ‘Chocolate Soldier’ flew freely and it often camouflaged on the dry wilted leaves”. Butterflies were abundant in this forest path and they were flying singly. Bird calls assisted in identifying the unseen birds. A Lizard, a monitor, and a colourful beetle added some lines to my field notes. Even though the 1000 seconds in the wild wasn’t as adventurous as in the movies, it was indeed an educating getaway. The main focus of the activity was on developing attentiveness, recording and interpreting nature and most importantly practicing patience. This was a success. The roaring skies and time limited the demonstration on weighing a Toque monkey.
The Temple Troop
The warm climate made us soak with our own sweat. It changed by noon when the rain started pouring. “The water bottles were walking everywhere in the NWTC auditorium and in no time, they were all empty”. The documentary ‘Temple Troop’ which was about a long-term in-depth study on Toque monkeys was our lunch time movie. After lunch we departed to Polonnaruwa at around 1.30 p.m. and the field note amendments were made along the way.
Grey skies and a slight rain hovered over the Polonnaruwa archaeological site which mainly affected to the low turnout of Toque monkeys than usual. In search of an adult Macaca sinica we sauntered over the trimmed grass route of the site. Staying in groups we studied the behaviors of a focal Toque monkey for 10 minutes. More feeding behaviours observed indicated the Hawthron effect on them. Prof Nihal Dayawansa along with the demonstrators were more than helpful and caring for our teenage nagging.
The Medieval Splendor
It was about 3.30 p.m. and we were about 175 km from Colombo. The monkeys dwelt among the great stories of splendour of the Medieval Kingdom of Polonnaruwa. Polonnaruwa was at the center of a Disney documentary called ‘Monkey Kingdom’ where monkeys inhabiting the ruins were followed and given life. This also served to educate the city’s historical value. Of course, we didn’t forget to visit these ancient ruins which reminded us the prestige of our country. The carvings of the most impressive ‘Gal Viharaya’ were the last sightings of the amazing day away from home.
The Dozing Chit chats
The tiredness and excitement of the day were at equilibrium. The lyrical songs didn’t sound energetic as the bus raced with the setting sun as we stopped at Dambulla for refreshments. The cozy environment with background lights made the stage for a perfect photo-shoot which were added to the awesome memories back in the day. Dozing discussions through the moving street lamps filled the rest of the journey with enjoyment. We arrived at the University premises by 9.30 p.m. completing an education-filled entertaining excursion which will be forever written in our Uni-Diaries.
Image Credits: http://flamingolanka.com/images/Trincomalee_Kaudulla_Dec_2016_04.JPG
Photography Credits: E.D Janani Chaturya