Journal archives for May 2017

May 04, 2017

Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Yala presents a rich mixture of habitats, with the predominant being coastal dry deciduous forest; there are also very diverse types of ecosystem including scrubland, brackish lagoon, freshwater lagoon and coastal dunes. Due to robust plantlife, the Asiatic elephant is present in surprisingly large numbers, Sri Lanka as a whole having the highest density of this elephant of any world country. Other notable mammals are the Sri Lankan Leopard, Mongoose, Spotted Deer, and a variety of bats. There is an unusually large number of avifauna, includi ng forest birds as well as aquatic species drawn to the water features. Viewing of wildlife is particularly favourable, owing to the healthy wildlife population densities and to the relatively open forests. Birds readily seen during my March visit included: Green bee eater, Crested serpent eagle, White-bellied sea eagle, Yellow wagtail, Indian peafowl, and Chestnut petronia.

Frequent interesting sightings were made of small herds of the Asian elephant or Water buffalo bathing in the watering holes or deep marshy reaches of the river system. This is particularly evident in the hot afternoons, when temperatures could reach thirty degrees Celsius even in March. In the case of the elephants, they often engage in elaborate mud bathing rituals, not only to cool down, but also to carefully apply mud packs to their skin, in order to create a sunblock. The mother elephants can be seen assisting her children and teaching them the full technique.

There are interesting sightings of the Bengal monitor, especially excavating for amphibians in the dry streambeds. The Ruddy mongoose was in evidence, and bunches of Langurs and occasional Muggar crocodile were seen.

The forest architecture is beautiful, although not as diverse as i just saw in India and Nepal. In Yala the dominant canopy top trees are Rosewood and Ceylon oak, although seldom seen as dense stands. Understory elements are dominated by Cassia fistula, with large areas infested by Lantana; the latter invasive woody shrub is attractive, but diminishes habitat value for other organisms in this ecoregion.

The massive coastal boulders, some of which stand 40 metres in height, form a scenic backdrop to the forest, often with horizon views of the Indian Ocean. The most fascinating of these mammoth rocks features a staircase cut by man approimately two thousand years ago. The boulders have picturesque local names such as "Elephant Rock", "Leopard Rock" and "Man Head Rock".

While the National Park rules limit access to dunes and beach areas, there are ample opportunities to beachcomb by selecting a lodge with Indian Ocean frontage. Not only are the dunes magnificent landscape elements, but they provide good habitat for Warthogs, Buffalo and other wildlife, who will escort you across your resort property. There is also a plethora of washed up Mollusk shells and backshore/dunes vegetation to explore and photograph.

Posted on May 04, 2017 03:46 PM by c_michael_hogan c_michael_hogan | 14 observations | 1 comment | Leave a comment

May 22, 2017

Pag Island, Croatia

Pag is a remarkable Adriatic island, unspoiled for the most part and replete with medieval history and noteworthy for its diversity of habitat types. The eastern approach from the ferry port is austere and almost moonlike in its terrain and absence of vegetation. Limestone karst prevails and is absent of colonising flora.

After crossing a stony saddle moving westward, one is rewarded with a dramatic switch to lush mixed conifer and broadleaf forest, where Stone pine, downy oak, ash and various juniper trees form the canopy. There is also a superabundance of butterflies...more than any of the other 17 countries in Europe i have been to. There is also an understory of diverse woody shrubs and wildflowers, and considerable birdlife. The fauna is punctuated with sightings of the Cat snake and Italian wall lizard.

Moving north on the one main north-south road, one encounters very rocky limestone terrain, but colonised with an assortment of woody shrubs, wildflowers and grasses. A highlight here is the architecturally fascinating pygmy forests, where conifers like Stone pine and juniperus spp. are only one seventh their normal height. One can take a sidetrip to several coastline areas, but there are literally no sand beaches; it is as though the rocky coastal scrub encounters the Adriatic Sea without warning, at an abrupt rocky shoreline.

Near the northern end of the island lies a sizable area of pristine anscient olive dominant forest, with one specimen datng to the year 1 AD, according to the Preserve management. There are centuries old drystone walls distinguishing property rights to pick the wild olive trees. Here there are also taxa that are adapted to the rocky limestone terrain, including certain junipers, ash and oak.

Toward the southern end of the island there is the eponymous village of Pag, where centuries old saltworks and evaporation ponds have altered the mudflats and marshes, yielding the most disturbed habitat. Even in this vicinity there are interesting saline tolerant taxa and expansive coastal landscapes featuring many grass species.


Posted on May 22, 2017 11:54 AM by c_michael_hogan c_michael_hogan | 30 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 23, 2017

Julian Alps, Slovenia

This entry addresses a portion of the Julian Alps in the far north of Slovenia, especially around Lake Bohinj, Lake Bled and Vintgar Gorge. This area is part of the Pannonian Mixed Forests ecoregion, which spans a broader alpine extent covering parts of Hungary, Austria and Croatia. There are conifer and broadleaf trees that dominate the higher elevations where the forests are well preserved, with canopies typically twenty to twenty five meetres high. The lower elevations are chiefly mixed broadleaf forests, with Lime, Elm, Horse chestnut, Manna ash and Downy oak in high proportion. Lower levels such as the base elevation of Lake Bohinj and Lake Bled also feature wildflower riven meadows, where beekeepers assist the pollination process. (There are 10,000 beekeepers in Slovenia, or one out of every 200 people!)

Lake Bohinj is the jewel of the region, with numerous hiking trails through pristine forests around the lake perieter and up the northern gorges where inflow feeds the lake. The mid May wildflower bloom is spectacular, no dBoubt aided by the beekeeping industry. Lake Bled is pleasant and well marketed, but Bohinj is far superior from the standpoint of fewer people and ore nature; one can visit nearby Lake Bled after dark for some dining or other tourist culture. Besides the qbundance of plants and avifauna at Lake Bohinj, the landscape scenery is spectacular, with dramatic limestone cliffs constrasting the verdant forests; the two toned green forests are particularly attractive, with broadleaf stands of light green contrasting with the darker green coniferous stands.

A visit to one of the best beekeepers was worthwhile, providing insights not only to the regional techniques for their craft, but also getting a first hand understanding of the areal extent that a large hive operation can support for pollination...a radius of up to several kilometres, that typically includes both forests and meadows. The beekeepers can actually speciate the honey composition by dominant forest tree in bloom at each part of the season. One can also sample these different nuances of honey flavours, including pollen embedded honey. Needless to say, the meadows around beekeepers are rich in wildflower observations with many Trifolium, Orchidaceae, and numerous Asteraceae taxa.

At Lake Bled there are two worthwhile stops: (1) the touristy and pricey boat trip to the island, where one will see a Mute swan or two nesting, and observe many flowering shrubs, wildflowers and trees; and (2) The former Tito estate, now known as Vila Bled. The latter sports several walking trails on the moderately steep and rocky areas, that provide ecological niches for many ferns, lichens, mosses, coniferous trees and other woody shrubs and wildflowers. Birdlife is also abundant at Tito's palace and around the lake in general.

A hike up the Vintgar Gorge is rewarding for its sheer scenic qualities as rapids carve ever deeper canyons through the limestone. The trail is mostly a boardwalk that allows you winding access through the lower parts of the gorge, so that you will be quite clise to the river for most of the hike. You tread close to the dripping liestone walls, which provide niches for a variety of ferns, mosses and flowering plants that are water-loving. The waterfall is stated as the destination, but it is uninspiring with its manmade ledge and unnatural aspect. Best spend time tarrying along the trail than trying to reach the waterfall if time is precious.

Posted on May 23, 2017 06:04 AM by c_michael_hogan c_michael_hogan | 18 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

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