“That’s a Kangaroo Lizard” the guide whispered, pointing at a small brown lizard on a tree trunk. Otocryptis wiegmanni with long hind legs, is a small ground-dwelling lizard of the rain forest. The female is brown in colour and the male has a garland of emerald round its neck.
We were in the Sinharaja Rainforest in Sri Lanka, walking uphill along a wide and well made path. Many wore leech socks but It was too hot and humid for leeches to be about.
Sinharaja, only 21 km from east to west and 7 km from north to south, is Sri Lanka’s only remaining primary tropical rainforest. More than 60% of the trees here are endemic and rare and the forest is home to 20 of Sri Lanka’s 26 endemic birds. Sinharaja was saved from the worst of commercial logging in the 1950s and 60s and was designated a World Biosphere Reserve in 1978 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
My first visit to Sinharaja was 20 years ago and the only place to stay in the forest then was Martin’s Simple Lodge. I thought ‘simple’ was an understatement!. The lodge is still there but is no longer ‘simple.’ A boulder strewn jeep track used to be the only way up the hill and only diehard birders bothered to visit. Today, things are very different – the approach roads are good though no vehicles are allowed inside the forest reserve, there is a park office with over 30 knowledgeable guides including several lady guides at the entrance to the forest reserve, hiking paths are well maintained and dotted with shelters and picnic spots.
Because of the dense vegetation of the rainforest, birds and animals are not seen as easily as in the dry zone national parks. Sinharaja is said to be home to two elephants and several leopards including a ‘black leopard.’ We could see only Giant Squirrels and Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys on tops of trees, but there were many other seemingly insignificant things that would be of interest to most – Venus Flytraps flapping in the breeze, Wood Spiders with there elaborate webs, mushrooms covering huge logs, little green tree snakes hanging from branches, giant worms on the footpaths, grey caterpillars huddled together making silvery patterns and endemic black and white Ceylon Tree Nymphs floating in the air against a deep blue sky.
Sinharaja is also known for large, mixed ‘feeding flocks’ of birds invariably led by ‘the policeman’ – the Sri Lanka Crested Drongo. This time, we didn’t see that either but there were other interesting bird sightings: Malabar Trogans, Brown-breasted and Fantail Flycatchers and most of all, close encounters with the Jungle Fowl, Sri Lanka’s National Bird.
A narrow and steep path took us to the one intact tree that remains in Sinharaja after the loggers left. We sat in the shadow of this magnificent tree and thought how wonderful it would be if the forest were still full of trees like this.
Before leaving Sinharaja, I sat in the little cafe at the entrance to the reserve, ate little sweet buns and drank black tea. I didn’t see a Frogmouth, Red-faced Malkoha or the Blue Magpie – trade mark birds of Sinharaja. Still, it was great to come and walk in the pristine rain forest.
The visit to Sinharaja Rain Forest was arranged and led by Padmini Hussein of Flamingo Tours.