Hidden trails: Visiting Hornbill country | Sunday Observer

Hidden trails: Visiting Hornbill country

19 January, 2020
HABITAT: A Grey Hornbill, an endemic resident of the Dobagaskanda forest reserve at Ingiriya
HABITAT: A Grey Hornbill, an endemic resident of the Dobagaskanda forest reserve at Ingiriya

“Listen, hornbills are striking!” shouted my son as a couple of Ceylon Grey Hornbills on the branch of a tree in the distance made a loud bird call in the forest canopy that greeted us. It may not be a strange sight to this forest since it’s home to them. Although I have frequented this forest a dozen times to meet the Bhikkus of the hermitage, this time we visited it mainly for bird-watching.

Bodhinagala, better known as the Dombagaskanda forest reserve, nestling in the outskirts of Ingiriya in the Kalutara district, lies beneath the leafy canopy of a wet zone tropical rainforest reservation of some 50 acres. The forested mountain itself has been granted for the use of monastic Bhikkus of the Bodhinagala forest hermitage with the responsibility to protect its fauna and flora. The natural rainforest shields not only fauna and flora of the forest but also provides an ideal setting away from the hustle and bustle of the outside world. Travelling on the A-8 Panadura-Ratnapura highway 38 km from Ratnapura, we drove on the winding road crossing Ingiriya town and reached Eduragala estate on our hidden trail to explore bird life in the Dombagaskanda forest reserve.

Just 500 metres from the Eduragala tea factory, a narrow road branches off to the left side of the main road which runs across Dombagaskanda. We drove on this road for two kilometres to meet the Kalu Ganga in a village called Yahalawatta.

If someone is ferried across the Kalu Ganga, the road on the opposite bank of the river would lead to villages such as Botalegama, Diwalakada, Egaloya and Bulathsinhala.

If you are not travelling directly through Kalu Ganga, a narrow road leads to the left just 300 metres beyond Kalu Ganga.

The small notice board there says, the road leads to the ‘Bodhinagala Aranya Senasanaya’. The one Km road leading to the mountain of the Domagaskanda forest reserve, is narrow. Both sides of the road are flanked by cultivations and shrub jungle. Although the road up to the hill is motorable, we parked the vehicle at a nearby house and decided to walk under the forest canopy, taking in the beauty of Nature. The real forest reserve starts from this point. When we walked a little distance, we came across another notice board saying, “This protected forest reserve belongs to the Forest Department.

Cutting and disturbing fauna and flora is strictly prohibited.” It also directs you to the Bodhinagala forest hermitage. The monastic Bhikkus at the hermitage do not like to be disturbed and eco-tourists should not continue beyond the end of the gravel track to the hermitage without prior permission.

The mist laden forest gleamed in the light of the rising sun. It is clearly a battle against time. Before the shadows lengthened, we had to capture images of the birds– in hordes and pairs, and in any other way that sets off their languid charm.

As we began our walk on this road which leads to the forest reserve, we realised that our anxiety was needless. The birds, not just hornbills, appeared to be willing partners in our mission. Birds of various stripes flew into the range of our fixed focus lens as if to coax us into taking pictures of them.

Although it was a sunny morning when we arrived in the middle of the forest reserve, we thought we heard the sound of rain. Walking further up, we noticed that it was not the sound of rain but the sound of a small stream flowing across the mountain. We also caught a glimpse of the brownish water of the Kalu Ganga which flows along the foot of the forest reserve.

The silence of this serene and undisturbed forest is occasionally broken by the sound of a hornbill or a Purple-faced Leaf Monkey that jumps from branch to branch.

The landscape of the Dombagaskanda hill is swampy and hilly as far as the eye can see. We were lost in the ethereal magic of Nature. Inhabited by over 100 species of birds, half of which are rare and endemic to Sri Lanka, Dombagaskanda has been making slow but big strides on the birding map of Sri Lanka. The tropical low country rainforest draws bird-watchers, scores of photographers, researchers and ornithologists.

As we walked under the towering trees and the dimly lit foliage, we spotted a variety of birds. Walking under the cement step paths near the hermitage, we spotted a large number of endemic Toque macaques and Purple-faced Leaf monkeys prospecting for food and seemed to be increasingly confident in approaching people who usually give food at the hermitage.

We also spotted and heard the alarming sound of Giant Squirrels roaming around the forest canopy near the hermitage. A massive Crested Serpent- Eagle waited on a tree top seeking prey.

Small creatures are aplenty in the forest. We spotted a few Kangaroo Lizards displaying dull colours on a stone step. They were in constant vigil on their surroundings. We also saw rare butterflies and dragonflies in the forest canopy.

The Dombagaskanda forest reserve is also home to endemic fish – the Striped Rasbora, seen in the shallow streams in the reserve. The shallow streams flow down to the Kalu Ganga. The damp ground near the streams have plenty of endemic ferny plants.

However, the placid streams of the forest are believed to be rapidly polluting due to the throwing away of non-biodegradable plastic and polythene wrappers by some visitors to the forest. It is everybody’s duty to protect this pristine forest reserve for posterity.