Butterflying @ Wild Valley Farm, Jun ’17

Trip Report:        Wild Valley Farm

Dates:                   24-26 June 2017

Camp:                   Wild Valley Farm

Who:                     A

This post comes after a considerable gap – I missed posting on four trips – to Sunderbans, BRT TR and (two to) Masinagudi – in this interim.

A and I intended to focus on butterflies in and around the farm and that’s what we did. On a walk a little before sunset, we ran into a sloth bear just by the main road. The bear stood staring at us as long as we stood motionless, but fled as soon as we moved to click a picture. On the same walk, A almost stepped on a tiny Bronzeback Tree Snake and it slithered away with all the desperate speed it could muster. A snake killed a juvenile Black-naped Hare by the campsite on the farm. We were at the other end of the grass patch and by the time we walked over, the snake had decamped at the disturbance, leaving the little carcass behind. Mr. Daniel suspected it was the big fat rat snake that usually haunted this spot.

Here are the butterflies we saw. Species sighted but not photographed were Peacock Pansy, Yellow Pansy, Common Lascar, Common Jezebel, Yellow Orange-tip, Blue Mormon, Common Castor, Common Rose, Common Grass Yellow, Tawny Coster and Common Crow.

Papilionidae – Swallowtails

Common Mormon mud-puddling (Pic by A):

Common Mormons Mudpuddling

Crimson Rose:

Crimson Rose

Lycaenidae – Gossamer-winged butterfiles

Oriental Gram Blue:

Oriental Gram Blue

Hedge Blue (wrongly ID’d as Grass Blue, and pointed out by both VV and KS):

Grass blue

Red Pierrot:

Red Pierrot2

Yamfly:

Yamfly

Nymphalidae – brush-footed butterflies

Chocolate Pansy:

Chocolate pansy1

Common Fourring:

Common four ring

Common Leopard:

Common leopard

Common Fivering:

Common five-ring

Lemon Pansy:

Lemon Pansy2

Plain Tiger:

Plain tiger

Striped Tiger:

Striped tiger

Pieridae – Whites and yellows

Common Gull:

Common gull

Common Wanderer:

Common wanderer

Great Orange-tip:

Great orange-tip

Pioneer:

Pioneer2

White Orange-tip:

White orange-tip

Oyster mushrooms (Pic by A):

Oyster mushrooms

Moult, probably rat snake:

Moult

The weather and the farm were equally lovely (Pic by A):

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Animal tracks @ Galibore

The mud road that runs past the Galibore Nature Camp is a fascinating stretch to study animal tracks. A lot of wildlife traffic passes on this road each night, and the next morning can be very well-spent trying to read them.

Animal tracks are seldom as clearly defined as the drawings or photographs we see in guides. A smooth surface of fine-grained sand is required to capture that sort of print, and that kind of surface is rarely found outside of a Pug Impression Pad (PIP). The sand is often coarse, the ground hard, and prints superimposed upon each other. Cattle or deer prints can make a mess of the surface too. Reading animal tracks therefore takes skill that comes with practice. Thomraj is a pastmaster at just that. He takes in all the details at a glance and can see patterns that are tough for us to decipher even when pointed out. He can often reconstruct what occurred hours earlier from poorly captured prints – a leopard leaping off the track, a Black-naped hare rolling on its back and so on.

All the tracks featured here were visible in the course of each outing.

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Grey junglefowl

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Grey wagtail

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Peacock

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Red spurfowl

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Snake

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Cattle

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Buffalo. Larger than cattle tracks. The split hoofmarks run in parallel unlike the cattle tracks which are pointed at the forward end.

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Chital. Heart-shaped.

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Sambar. Larger than chital prints.

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Pig. Unlike the chital’s pointed ends, the pig’s two halves run roughly in parallel.

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Langur

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Porcupine drag marks. More easily captured than paw prints.

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Porcupine. The heel pad shows two distinct sections, which is a key diagnostic.

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Mice leave a profusion of tiny tracks.

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Bull elephant. Fore and hind feet. The circular print to the right is of the hind foot.

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Jackal

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Jungle cat

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Sloth bear. Forepaw to the left.

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Leopard. There were three sets of tracks, two proceeding in one direction and the third in the opposite direction.

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Pellets of the Four-horned antelope. The animal has the habit of returning to the same spot to drop pellets, making it vulnerable to poachers.

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The sloth bear’s scat shows a grainy texture.

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Antlion’s pit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trip Report: Galibore, Nov ’16

Trip Report:        Galibore Nature Camp

Dates:                   31 Oct – 1 Nov 2016

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Grizzled giant squirrel foraging on Ivy gourd/Tindora/Thondekai (Coccinia grandis) vine

I did this trip alone. It was a follow-up to my last trip. Walking along the road then, the sheer number of species that had left their tracks in the sand overnight had planted this idea in my head. I had then wanted to come back to list and photograph the tracks seen on any typical day here. Thomraj is a walking encyclopedia on junglecraft and he was equally keen on this idea. I’m publishing that list and those pictures in a separate post.

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Short-nosed fruit bats in the camp

I had left Bangalore very early in the morning, at 3:30 AM, intending to reach the camp by 6 AM. There are a large number of cattle that walk along that track during the day and anyone intending to study wildlife spoor has to make an early start before the tracks are all messed up. Reaching by 6 AM would give me two mornings instead of one. That and the notion of encountering wildlife at the break of dawn on the drive to the camp. I was extremely hopeful of elephant, leopard or sloth bear sighting, but nothing was stirring (except for a couple of herds of chital) and I reached the camp with nothing to show for my trouble. There too, Thomraj was tied up guiding another guest and as my check-in time was hours away, I couldn’t make undue demands of his time. I was therefore constrained to hang around camp, which was not altogether a bad thing. The Sida patch kept me busy with the butterflies, and the pair of White-rumped shama that frequent the camp was bold enough to perch very close if I stood still.

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Juvenile male Indian paradise flycatcher. This individual provided us with some minutes of close-up entertainment as it hawked vigorously beneath the promontory.

The species mix in the Sida patch was different from that on my last trip three weeks back. Common crows were all over the place this time. There was also Common rose, Crimson rose, Tawny coster, Plain and striped tiger, Common sailer, Blue and Dark blue tiger, Common grass yellow, Common jezebel and plenty of Psyche.

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Crimson rose

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Dark blue tiger

 

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Common crow in flight

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Striped tiger

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Common rose

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Common sailer

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Plain tiger

I had wanted to sight a Four-horned antelope for a while now. Thomraj suggested we climb up the hill in the late afternoon and settle down on the summit for a couple of hours. He thought that if we stayed still and silent, we would probably catch sight of one. The new manager  – Abhijit – was also keen on this idea and the three of us set off at half past three. The weather was uncomfortably hot and the climb was a stiff one. We made it to the top of the hill without too much difficulty, but Thomraj’s plan was to ascend yet another hill beyond this one.  We had just started ascending from the watchtower when we caught sight of our quarry – a lone doe that briefly stared at us before bounding up the hillside in alarm. Mission accomplished but we continued anyway to see what else we could get.

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Four-horned antelope doe

The second stretch was steep and very taxing, but we eventually arrived at the top, drenched in sweat, panting desperately and tanned three shades darker. There is a large, flat rock there, with a spectacular 180 degree view of the valley beyond. The plan was to sit at this vantage point for as long as the light permitted, while scouting for signs of movement across the vast area in sight. Sure enough, a sloth bear was presently seen on the far hillside, foraging. Thomraj said there was a second one, but Abhijit and I could spot just the one.

Langurs called in alarm persistently from beyond an intervening ridge and a lone sambar deer also belled a few times. The persistence of the calls convinced us that a leopard was afoot, and we had high hopes of catching sight of it. The leopard didn’t show itself for the next hour however though the calls continued, and as the light was fading, we had to reluctantly abandon our position to return to camp. On the way down, we spotted another slot bear, this one much closer and moving along a line that seemingly converged with our own. The bear descended into a rocky depression shortly thereafter however and wasn’t seen again.

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The stiff climb induced a very painful bout of cramps in my legs as we were relaxing in the camp later that evening.

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Monitor lizard in the camp

We hardly paid any attention to birds this time, but here’s the list for what it’s worth.

  1. Alexandrine parakeet
  2. Asian paradise flycatcher
  3. Black-hooded oriole
  4. Blue-faced malkoha
  5. Brahminy kite
  6. Brown hawk owl
  7. Brown-headed barbet
  8. Changeable hawk eagle
  9. Common iora
  10. Common skylark (calls)
  11. Common tailorbird (calls)
  12. Common woodshrike (calls)
  13. Darter
  14. European bee-eater
  15. Golden-fronted leaf bird
  16. Green bee-eater
  17. Greenish warbler
  18. Green imperial pigeon
  19. Indian robin
  20. Jungle bush quail (calls)
  21. Jungle owlet
  22. Lesser fish eagle (calls)
  23. Lesser flameback
  24. Little cormorant
  25. Magpie robin
  26. Purple-rumped sunbird
  27. Red-rumped swallow
  28. Red spurfowl
  29. Red-wattled lapwing (calls)
  30. Red-whiskered bulbul
  31. Rose-ringed parakeet
  32. Spotted dove
  33. Stork-billed kingfisher (calls)
  34. Tawny-bellied babbler
  35. Tickell’s blue flycatcher
  36. White-bellied drongo
  37. White-browed bulbul (calls)
  38. White-browed wagtail
  39. White-cheeked barbet (calls)
  40. White-rumped shama
  41. White-throated kingfisher
  42. Yellow-billed babbler

 

  1. Bonnet macaque
  2. Chital
  3. Four-horned antelope
  4. Grizzled giant squirrel
  5. Monitor lizard
  6. Tufted langur
  7. Sambar (alarm calls)
  8. Sloth bear

Book Review: The King and I, Travels in Tigerland

Book review: The King and I – Travels in Tigerland, by Prerna Singh Bindra

Rupa & Co, 2006

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For some strange reason, half a dozen chapters into the book, I was distinctly unimpressed. Maybe I was coming at it from the perspective of A.J.T. Johnsingh’s masterpieces (Field Days and Walking the Western Ghats) – books that drip heavy with information and insights from a naturalist’s perspective. That was probably unwarranted. Prerna Singh Bindra is no naturalist. But she is a conservation journalist and a skillful wordsmith. She therefore approaches her topic from the perspective of the conservation journalist – with a fine blend of impassioned eco-zeal, and sensitivity to the beauty around her. And she certainly writes well. I warmed to the book eventually, and had concluded by the end of it that it was indeed a very good read.

The King and I profiles some twenty prominent PAs – mostly tiger reserves with a couple of exceptions in Hemis and Gir. Bindra’s personal impressions of each wildscape provide some very readable context to the larger discussion around conservation and anthropological issues specific to the PA. And she blends a fine mix of the two, which is a good thing – tales of her personal experiences and her evocative sense of wonder enliven what would otherwise be a starkly depressing account of almost-lost causes.

Notwithstanding the title, the book does not confine itself to the tiger alone. There is a chapter on Gir, a discussion on conservation issues specific to the leopard, a lament on what we did to the cheetah in India, an essay centered around Billy Arjan Singh and Tiger Haven, and another around Tusker Trails in Bandipur.

Five of the chapters are especially outstanding. Bindra’s account of hunting for the snow leopard amidst the barren slopes of Hemis makes for a fine read. The chapter on Bandavgarh paints a very effective picture of the ugly commercialization of tiger tourism. Her account of visiting locations immortalized in Corbett’s books makes for some engaging reading – interestingly, Johnsingh has authored a book on this very topic, not that this detracts in any way from the effectiveness of Bindra’s story. The book closes with a powerful and wide-ranging discussion of conservation issues specific to the tiger – one of the hardest-hitting pieces I’ve read on the topic.

My personal favorite by far however, is the little account of Bindra’s brief visit to Cheetal Walk/Jungle Trails. Like many admirers of the eponymous book by E.R.C. Davidar, I have itched to visit this now-inaccessible house. Bindra was fortunate enough to sit on the verandah we have all read about, and to watch an assortment of hyenas, sloth bears and other creatures, all door-delivered. I read the chapter with a mixture of envy and fascination in equal measure.

The book is peppered with multiple photographs in every page. The credits for these are atypically not footnoted with the photographs themselves, but massed at the end of the book. Which is not a bad thing from the reader’s perspective, considering the reduced clutter. I should also mention that there is a fantastic bibliography at the end of the book. If Ms. Bindra has all the 120-odd books listed here on her shelf, she’s one very lucky person.

Trip report: Galibore, Oct ’16

Trip Report:        Galibore Nature Camp

Dates:                   10-11 Oct 2016

Who:                     P and H

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A single night at Galibore planned on impulse. And an interesting trip it turned out to be.

My good friend and ace birding guide Thomraj had been convalescing after a kidney stone procedure and returned by forenoon the same morning I reached. Meanwhile Govind and I took a walk down the road eastwards after paying our customary respects to the resident Brown hawk owl. Greenish warblers called from virtually every tree – thousands of them must have migrated into our southern forests at this time as they were all over the place here, in Yercaud, and doubtless elsewhere too. The weather was cool in the shade but mildly uncomfortable in the sun. We found a quiet spot by the river to sit in. A Sirkeer malkoha flew past rousing us and we tailed it to where it settled. On the way back, we spent a while watching a White-rumped shama which posed for us, while a flock of Tawny-bellied babblers foraged in the thickets around it. Govind meanwhile delivered a little lesson on the nuances of chital pellets. The stags evidently drop elongated ones while the does’ tend towards the spherical. We spent some time picking pellets off the forest floor to assess them.

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Lesser fish eagle

One of the most special things to do in Galibore is the walk back from the coracle alighting point at sunset. The walk through the forest in the fading light for a few kilometers offers potential for interesting encounters. A few days back, Thomraj, Govind and another staff member heard langurs calling, waited and were rewarded with a leopard sighting. Thomraj also related another recent story about a tusker that entered the water on the opposite bank on sighting them and swam across at alarming speed, causing them to abandon the coracles and scramble for the jeep. However on this day, all we did was to pause awhile to admire a brace of Painted spurfowl and a twittering Brown-capped pygmy woodpecker.

There are always interesting elephant stories to catch up on in each visit. Like the one about a lone elephant that approached the kitchen building one night not long back. Or the one about how Thomraj ran into a herd while on his motorbike, in the forenoon a few days back. He had to flee back to the camp and have a jeep escort his bike through the herd.

I had intended to sit on the promontory late into the night listening, but a crew was working on fixing a faulty water pump by the river accompanied by great noise and light. I went to bed after waiting in vain for them to finish, around midnight. Alarm calls erupted at 2 AM, but I was too sleepy to step out. Two animals were calling; one was a sambar. I had forgotten that sambar occurred here, but Thomraj confirmed this the next morning. The other was a call I struggled to place – Thomraj hadn’t noticed the calls themselves, but surmised (the next morning) that chital sometimes call with a hoarser version and that was probably what I’d heard. Incidentally, we also heard a four-horned antelope repeatedly calling in alarm during the evening coracle ride – first time I’ve heard one.

With some guidance from my pal VV, I’ve been doing some homework on butterflies over the past few days and found occasion to test my rank beginner skills in the green patch between the promontory and the river that attracts large numbers of butterflies. Commonly seen species were White orange-tip, Common wanderer, Common mormon, Common grass yellow, Yellow orange-tip and Tawny coster. There was also what I thought was the Indian skipper, but checking the coloration subsequently revealed that it was something else. Also identified, probably correctly, Plain tiger and Common jezebel elsewhere.

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Tawny coster

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Skipper sp.

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Yellow orange-tip

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White orange-tip

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Wrongly ID’d as Common wanderer. VV pointed out that this is probably a Common gull.

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This is the plant that attracts butterflies in numbers. Karthik (www.wildwanderer.com) subsequently helped ID it as Sida sp.

On day 2, just before we departed the camp, a juvenile Grizzled giant squirrel lost its grip and came crashing down from the canopy. It sat stunned for a while but otherwise seemed none the worse for its fall, and was soon racing back up the bole.

Three special sightings this time. Post lunch, a pack of four dhole trotted westwards on the opposite bank, walking in single file close to the water’s edge. They paused to stare at the camp and then continued their way upstream.

At sunset, the new manager Abhijit and I were chatting while I was idly gazing at a black object on the opposite bank. It took a while for the lights to come on, but I eventually realized that the object was a foraging sloth bear. As it often happens, the bear wandered out of sight shortly after this realization struck.

On the second morning, Thomraj and I walked westwards on the road towards the Hyra camp (which is what I remember it’s called) a couple of kilometers away. We were treading on fresh elephant spoor; a bull elephant that Thomraj figured was a known single tusker had passed not long back. Thomraj was on high alert, scanning the jungle ahead with utmost care while simultaneously trying to find birds. The spoor veered off into the jungle a short way before the FD shack at Hyra and we turned back shortly after that.

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Bull elephant spoor. Fore and hind feet. The larger print to the right is of the hind foot.

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Sloth bear pugmarks. Fore and hind feet. Print on the right is of the hind foot.

On the way back, we had a superb Southern tree shrew sighting. First time I’ve seen one in the Cauvery WLS. Thomraj also showed me a small, partially buried stone a short way off the track which purportedly shows ancient etchings in Tamil-like script.

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Unidentified lizard in the forest

  1. Alexandrine parakeet (calls)
  2. Asian paradise flycatcher (calls)
  3. Black-hooded oriole (calls)
  4. Blue-faced malkoha
  5. Brahminy kite
  6. Brown-capped pigmy woodpecker
  7. Brown hawk owl
  8. Common iora
  9. Common kingfisher
  10. Common myna
  11. Common skylark
  12. Common tailorbird
  13. Common woodshrike
  14. Darter
  15. Golden-fronted leaf bird
  16. Great cormorant
  17. Green bee eater
  18. Greenish warbler
  19. Grey junglefowl
  20. Green imperial pigeon
  21. Hoopoe
  22. Indian grey hornbill
  23. Indian robin
  24. Jungle babbler
  25. Jungle crow
  26. Jungle owlet (calls)
  27. Lesser fish eagle
  28. Lesser flameback
  29. Little cormorant
  30. Egret (unidentified)
  31. Magpie robin
  32. Painted spurfowl
  33. Peafowl
  34. Pied kingfisher
  35. Purple-rumped sunbird
  36. Red-rumped swallow
  37. Red-vented bulbul
  38. Red-wattled lapwing
  39. Red-whiskered bulbul
  40. Rose-ringed parakeet
  41. Sirkeer malkoha
  42. Spotted dove
  43. Stork-billed kingfisher (calls)
  44. Tawny-bellied babbler
  45. Tickell’s blue flycatcher
  46. White-bellied drongo
  47. White-browed bulbul (calls)
  48. White-browed wagtail
  49. White-cheeked barbet (calls)
  50. White-rumped shama
  51. White-throated kingfisher
  52. Wire-tailed swallow
  53. Yellow-billed babbler
  54. Yellow-crowned woodpecker
  1. Bonnet macaque
  2. Chital
  3. Dhole
  4. Four-horned antelope (alarm calls)
  5. Grizzled giant squirrel
  6. Tufted langur
  7. Mugger
  8. Sambar (alarm calls)
  9. Sloth bear
  10. Southern tree shrew

Trip report: Yercaud, Sep ’16

Dates:                   30 Sep – 2 Oct ’16

Camp:                   Grange Resort

Grange is a picturesque resort surrounded by acres of coffee and pepper plantation.  Accommodation is in cottages that have sit-outs with very pleasant views. The ambience was quiet and peaceful, the weather was superb and the walks through the estate were very satisfying.

This was an office outing, but I was looking forward to the birding. The birding was far from impressive though, with just around twenty species sighted.

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The best experience was from the sit-out itself. Greater and Lesser flamebacks were both very common, sometimes settling on trees very close by if we stayed still and quiet. A pair (each) of Greater racket-tailed drongo and Indian treepie were constantly seen close to the cottage, sometimes at close range. It didn’t occur to me to attempt a photograph and I realized this only when VV asked me later on.

The building areas were home to a large (and noisy) number of Red-whiskered bulbul. These were occasionally joined by flocks of Oriental white-eye. Greenish leaf warbler were everywhere, although more heard than seen. Velvet-fronted nuthatch was sighted a few times. A flock of Jungle babbler made an occasional appearance.

A Crested serpent eagle called once, and Jungle owlet a few times. The latter called from the same location over the two days but was too far off the track to be located. I heard a couple of bird calls which I could not ID.

I was listening for calls at night – Grey nightjar, Mottled wood owl, Indian scops owl or Spotted owlet, but the only things heard were insects – cicadas and katydids possibly.

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This picturesque trail began virtually from the doorstep of my cottage (No. 15). We did birding walks along this trail morning and evening.

The walks yielded Rusty-tailed flycatcher, Greater coucal, White-cheeked barbet and Flowerpecker (Plain I think). One of my colleagues caught a fleeting glimpse of what sounded like the Painted bush quail from his description. I saw what I think was a Black-headed cuckooshrike. Our view was from below the bird, and while everything else tallied, the black on the neck and head was paler than you’d expect. One especially busy tree had a series of visitors – Ashy drongo, Golden-fronted leaf bird, Purple sunbird andOriental white-eye. A Magpie robin called once or twice, but was not seen.

We visited the National Orchidarium and Botanical Garden once hoping for some birding, but saw no birds. The orchid collection is impressive enough for those that fancy orchids I imagine. Most visitors seem to only notice the caged insectivorous pitcher plant though.

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The Grange resort boasts of an incredible history, the estate having been established in 1820 by a certain M.D. Cockburn, who also introduced coffee in the Shevaroy hills. The original building, which incidentally also served as a summer residence of Robert Clive still stands, although it could do with some upkeep. We were very keen on checking out the interiors, but the resort staff told us that the owner’s relatives lived there and it should be available for visitors in a few months’ time.

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Pic by Alex R.

K. Gudi/BRT Tiger Reserve: Sep ’16

Dates:                   2 – 5 Sep ’16

Camp:                   K. Gudi Wilderness Camp

Who:                     P

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Glory Lilly (Gloriosa superba) by the roadside a short way from the camp

My kid P and I did three nights this time. The weather was cool with some spells of rain. Sightings were not particularly great as a result, but the forest was hauntingly beautiful, and straight out of a Grimm’s Fairy Tales movie set one particular morning, with a thick mist hanging over it.

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Brown fish owl, early in the morning

Visibility was poor due to luxuriant growth of Eupatorium Ageratina adenophora, Lantana Lantana camara and Bracken Pteridium aquilinum. These three weeds dominated the ground cover and it is very likely that they have had a deleterious effect on the herbivore population over the years. And this possibly explains why the large herds of gaur that were once plentiful in BRT are nowhere to be seen today. Elephants have become scarce too. The only consolation is that there is not much Parthenium hysterophorus . The post-monsoon clearing of vegetation by the track will not happen for another month. The undergrowth was tall enough to completely hide a leopard or sloth bear, making sightings possible only if the animal was on the track itself. Due to this reason, Durgur road, which is usually unfailingly productive on the way out (in the evenings), drew a blank this time.

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Another insidious plant that I should have noticed earlier but somehow hadn’t was the hemiparasitic Mistletoe Loranthus sp. It infested a majority of the Axlewood Anogeissus latifolia trees, leaching nutrients and water. I heard that it had almost completely decimated the Indian gooseberry Phyllanthus emblica trees.

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The darker leaves are from Mistletoe (Loranthus sp.), a hemi-parasite.

The birding was okayish, not too great. Grey wagtails had started to arrive a week back and were plentiful. I learnt to ID the vaguely squirrel-like call of the Orange-headed thrush. This call resonated frequently through the camp and the jungle as these birds were everywhere too. There is another call, a more frantic one, which is not quite as distinctive. I also got familiar with the Blue-bearded bee-eater’s call, given that a pair was constantly (and noisily) haunting the surroundings.

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Orange-headed thrush outside tent No. 7

I also puzzled over a call that sounded like the Stork-billed kingfisher’s except that it had four continuous notes in place of the usual two (or three). Rahul, an avid birder from Bangalore who was visiting indicated that this was the winter call of the Stork-billed kingfisher. Rajesh, my good friend, spotter extraordinaire and favourite driver was puzzled; he said he hadn’t seen this bird around.

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Jungle babblers behind the Gol Ghar. They are bold enough to hop right into the Gol Ghar looking for crumbs. Pic by P.

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This is a very common weed I have not been able to ID yet.

Naturalist Basavanna has shifted from Bandipur to K. Gudi and accompanied us on our drives (Narayan did too, for the first two days). He taught us to ID the call of the Drongo cuckoo. We were waiting by Anni kere when what superficially sounded like the Indian cuckoo’s call started up (except that this is not the season for the Indian cuckoo to call). And except that this was three notes up and one down, unlike the sing-song pitch of the Indian cuckoo’s.

At the same place, we also heard a repeated, drawn-out, shikra-like call which we were stumped by until Basavanna identified it as the Brown fish owl’s chick’s call.

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Jungle owlet. Pic by Rajesh.

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Indian blackbird in the camp

On day three, Rajesh suggested that we take a walk down the road towards the government school after lunch instead of wasting time lounging around in the tent (as he put it). We walked for a short distance until junior got too nervous to go any further – he had been rattled by the earlier sloth bear and leopard sightings around the tent. We saw an Oriental honey buzzard, a Blackbird, Blue-bearded bee-eaters, and on the way back, a Tawny-bellied babbler that showed itself clearly for quite a while, although while constantly flitting around and preventing Rajesh from getting a photograph. We also had a reasonable Rufous babbler sighting in the jungle later on.

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Radermachera xylocarpa outside tent No. 7. Commonly known as the Deer antler tree.

This was a trip full of tantalizingly close opportunities that never materialized. There were plenty of alarm calls, with none converting. On day 1, in the evening safari, we were drawn to Tiger Tank by persistent Muntjac alarm calls. The deer decamped, but a troop of langurs stationed there barked hysterically and persistently, accompanied by much leaping and branch shaking. They were clearly very excited. Rajesh, Basavanna and Narayan all craned their necks trying to get a fix on which side the langurs were focused on. Two opinions eventually emerged, one pointing away from the kere, and the other (Rajesh’s) pointing towards it. A quick discussion led to a consensus that the cat must have just crossed the road and passed in a direction away from the lake. And so off we went, looking for it elsewhere. Turned out that Rajesh’s suspicion was right. The tiger (which is what it was) was hidden right there, in the sea of Eupatorium between us and the lake. It emerged an hour and a half later and was seen and photographed by another group. Rajesh was especially disappointed that we had miscalculated.

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The long weekend brought a lot of traffic to the temple, further impacting the sightings.    Pic by P.

On day 3, in the evening safari, we ran into another loud and persistent series of calls. Somewhat midway between the barking deer’s and chital’s alarm call. Everyone promptly assumed it was one of these and an animated discussion ensued around where the cat possibly could be. We drove around a little trying to pinpoint direction. After a while, Rajesh smacked his forehead when he realized we were in fact listening to the Spot-bellied eagle owl’s call. Although he was equally excited at the prospect of locating the owl. We did try for a considerable time, but without success and the calls eventually died out.

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P (9 years old) clicked this pic of Durga Parameshwari, the camp elephant

I also missed an Indian flying squirrel sighting on day 3 in the evening. The squirrel calls had started just after junior and I had left the gol ghar post dinner. The pair was then sighted, for a period of fifteen minutes, as it progressively glided its way from the trees near the FRH to the jungle beyond the Gol Ghar. The next day I asked Basavanna why he didn’t give me a call, and his reply was that he would definitely have, had he known that I was interested in watching flying squirrels.

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Chappekkai. Entada rheedii possibly. I had not realized earlier that the pods were growing off a climber and not off tree itself.

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Gaur with calf. Pic by Basavanna.

Junior and I also missed a dhole sighting on the drive back. We had driven down towards the temple on day 2 with Rajesh post breakfast, looking for a pack that frequented an area a little before the BR Hills settlement. (There was another pack frequenting the Navodaya checkpost side too that we also looked for in vain). We didn’t find the pack, and there was considerable disturbance from some tar-laying work that was underway. On my drive back to Bangalore on day 4, I did keep my eyes peeled while passing through the area, but saw nothing. Another guest who was in K. Gudi left around the same time and was a little behind me. He sighted the pack and Rajesh called me a little later, asking if I had too. He was surprised that I hadn’t – and the guest in question actually overtook me while we were having this conversation. We therefore couldn’t have been very far apart when he sighted the pack.

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Monitor lizard near the Navodaya checkpost

However these disappointments were not without compensating sightings. On the last safari, Rajesh and I saw a something on the track ahead. It saw us too, and went bounding away a short distance before leaping into the lantana. I thought it was a leopard, but Rajesh with his infinitely better eyesight shouted ‘tiger!’ No one else in the jeep caught the sighting. Arriving at the point, Rajesh’s opinion was confirmed by the pungent smell of scent marking. Basavanna had earlier remarked that the smell of the tiger’s scent-marking was very similar to the fragrance of cooked Basmati rice. I could instantly see why he said so. In any case, my tiger sighting account at BRT TR was finally opened, after 16 years of visits.

I should mention here that I have seen Rajesh use his sense of smell while tracking cats on safari more than once. He catches whiffs of kills, scat or the cat itself and makes as much use of this information as he does of pug marks or alarm calls. On this trip, he took another clever little masterclass while tracking a herd of elephants. There was no apparent sign on the road, but he determined that a herd had just passed. When I asked him how he knew, he pointed out that the grass on the track was uprooted in places. Try as I might, I couldn’t make this out. As is my wont, I dismissed his theory. Presently, dung appeared. And then spoor. And then the herd itself, in Anni kere. That’s the kind of tracker Rajesh is.

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The highlight of the trip was a superb Slaty-legged crake sighting near Anni kere on day 1. I remembered that in August 2014 I had seen this bird, though indistinctly, in Anni kere. I asked Prasad about it as soon as I landed there, and he confirmed that sightings were happening every once a while. The bird stepped out on the track in front of the jeep and bathed in a puddle for a good five minutes, until it was disturbed by another jeep approaching on the opposite side. Very clear view. The light was bad though, as it was around 6 PM by then.

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I also had a fleeting sighting of a tree shrew on the track.

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Birds

  1. Black-hooded oriole
  2. Brahminy kite
  3. Bronzed drongo
  4. Brown fish owl
  5. Common tailorbird
  6. Crested serpent eagle
  7. Drongo cuckoo (calls)
  8. Green beeeater
  9. Hill myna
  10. Indian treepie
  11. Golden-fronted leaf bird
  12. Greater flameback
  13. Grey junglefowl
  14. Grey wagtail
  15. Indian blackbird
  16. Indian scimitar babbler (calls)
  17. Jungle babbler
  18. Jungle myna
  19. Jungle owlet
  20. Lesser flameback
  21. Long-tailed shrike
  22. Magpie robin
  23. Malabar parakeet
  24. Mountain imperial pigeon
  25. Orange-headed thrush
  26. Orange minivet
  27. Oriental honey buzzard
  28. Pied bushchat
  29. Plum-headed parakeet
  30. Puff-throated babbler (calls)
  31. Racket-tailed drongo
  32. Red spurfowl
  33. Red-vented bulbul
  34. Red-whiskered bulbul
  35. Rufous babbler
  36. Rufous woodpecker
  37. Small minivet
  38. (Southern?) coucal
  39. Spot-bellied eagle owl (calls)
  40. Spotted dove
  41. Streak-throated woodpecker
  42. Tawny-bellied babbler
  43. Tri-colored munia
  44. Vernal hanging parrot
  45. White-bellied drongo
  46. White-browed bulbul
  47. White-cheeked barbet
  48. White-throated kingfisher

Mammals/Reptiles

  1. Barking deer
  2. Chital
  3. Elephant
  4. Gaur
  5. Pond terrapin
  6. Malabar giant squirrel
  7. Monitor lizard
  8. Ruddy mongoose
  9. Sambar
  10. Southern tree shrew
  11. Striped-necked mongoose
  12. Three-striped palm squirrel
  13. Tiger
  14. Tufted langur
  15. Wild pig

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