Trip report: BRT Tiger Reserve, March 2014

Trip Report:        BRT Tiger Reserve/K Gudi

Dates:               15-17 Mar 2014

Camp:               K. Gudi Wilderness Camp

This was the first of a series of summer trips planned months in advance. I did this trip with a friend VV, and my six year old son. We were perhaps a month too early, as the summer mammal sightings had not yet begun in earnest. However we were compensated by abundant avian winter migrant sightings.

The Biligiri Ranganathaswamy Temple (BRT) Tiger Reserve spreads over 590 sq kms of a mosaic of habitats, ranging from scrub to Shola-evergreen forests.  The reserve comprises five ranges – the eponymous BR temple is in the Yelandur range while the K. Gudi camp falls under the Chamarajanagar range. It lies at the southern border of Karnataka, and is contiguous with the Kollegal FD to its east (which in turn connects with the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary further east). The Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve lies to its south (which in turn is contiguous with the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve/Mudumalai to its west). The BRT reserve therefore forms a part of the ecological bridge running east-west between the Western and Eastern Ghats.

We stayed two nights at the K. Gudi camp and did four safaris in all. Summer was just beginning to set in and the days were hot and dry, while the temperature plummeted sharply at sun-down leaving the nights mildly chill. Most trees had shed heavily leaving the forest bare. Visibility was nevertheless poor due to lantana thickets crowding in ubiquitous profusion. Common trees were Terminalia elliptica (crocodile bark), Radermachera xylocarpa (maan kombu maram in Tamil), teak on some slopes and plantation areas, and a tree which our driver Rajesh knew the Kannada name of, which we could not identify.

The camp itself was alive with birdlife. Most common were Cinereous tits and Asian brown flycatchers. These two species were pretty much on every other twig. Followed by Orange minivets, Velvet fronted nuthatches, Malabar parakeets, Asian paradise flycatchers, Bronzed drongos, Ashy drongos, Little brown doves and Jungle babblers. The Jacaranda trees in riotous bloom around the reception area had a constant supply of Vernal hanging parrots on them. Black hooded orioles called frequently though we sighted just one individual. We also sighted a Gold fronted leaf bird, a Pigmy woodpecker, a Large cuckooshrike, Grey wagtails, Magpie robins and Indian treepies, apart from Sambar. I’m not counting the chital and wild pigs which are always to be found in the camp. Nor the semi-domesticated blackbuck doe with the Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde personality; it toggled between begging for food and belligerent head-butting.

K. Gudi was the first JLR property I visited (over ten years back). Around the turn of the millennium, we were in the habit of visiting K. Gudi almost once every quarter for a couple of years. Memories of being driven out on safari by Thapa  – one of the best spotters you can ever find – and numerous exciting incidents are fresh in my memory. I find I can still recognize the spots where some of those incidents happened.

The four safaris were largely centred around birding, considering that not too much showed up by way of  megafauna, charismatic or otherwise. I was especially disappointed not to see any elephants. For me, elephant sightings carry the same thrill as sighting large carnivora.

Most abundant in the forest were three types of drongos (Bronzed, Ashy and White-bellied), Magpie robins, Malabar parakeets, Lesser flamebacks, Indian blackbirds, Bulbuls (both Red-whiskered and Red-vented),  Jungle mynas, Hill mynas, Asian paradise flycatchers, Blue capped rock thrushes,  Hoopoes, Jungle babblers and Indian treepies. Fairly common also were Common hawk cuckoos, Orange headed thrushes, Indian pittas, Ashy woodswallows and Grey junglefowl.

We had multiple sightings of a Brown fish owl by the same kere. On the way to the safari and a short way from the camp, an Indian scops owl roosted in a burrow high up – we looked for it each time we passed and sighted it twice. And on the way back to camp, a Racket tailed drongo consistently showed up at one spot. For that matter, the pitta turned up in the same place for multiple sightings, as did one particular Asian paradise flycatcher individual. Incidentally, VV and I had some discussion around differentiating juvenile and female Asian paradise flycatchers in the field. Both are rufous and broadly similar looking, but the juvenile male has a jet black throat, and a blue eye-ring. The female has a paler throat and lacks the eye-ring.

Two encounters with atypical individuals happened in the first safari. The first one concerned a sambar stag. We sighted it beside the track and halted. The stag was frozen immobile and alert, watching us. We inched forward in spurts getting closer and closer, and it didn’t move a muscle. Finally when we were practically beside it, its nerve gave way and stamping its foreleg as sambar are wont to do when spooked, it honked in alarm, the sudden loud calls resonating in the quiet of the jungle. Another unseen individual in lantana thickets just beyond was unnerved by these calls and gave alarm too. The herd of three finally disappeared, crashing through the undergrowth.

The second concerned a Grey junglefowl cock that effectively blocked the road, showing little sign of fear at the sight of the jeep. We were forced to tail it slowly for a distance before it stepped off the road and made way.

On day two post breakfast, we drove down the highway towards the south, turning back shortly before the Navodaya checkpost. Chital were calling in alarm at a waterhole a little before this checkpost. We waited for a while, but nothing emerged and the calls presently subsided. Incidentally, a male tiger was sighted on this stretch at 8:30 AM the previous morning by a batch of pilgrims. Elephant encounters are also apparently a daily occurrence here and a little beyond the K Gudi camp, a pack of dhole had been sighted the previous day. However our luck was limited to Malabar parakeets, a Yellow-capped woodpecker, a pair of Orange minivets, a Jungle owlet, Bay-backed shrikes and Tufted langurs,

We then drove back and past the camp, all the way north, turning back a little before the eponymous BR temple. This section of the forest is heavily disturbed, with plenty of traffic, grazing cattle and settlements and is not particularly pleasurable to drive through for this reason.

Here is a full list of the sightings:

Avifauna

  1. Ashy drongo
  2. Ashy woodswallow
  3. Asian blue fairybird
  4. Asian brown flycatcher
  5. Asian paradise flycatcher
  6. Bay backed shrike
  7. Black hooded oriole
  8. Blue bearded bee eater
  9. Blue capped rock thrush
  10. Bronzed drongo
  11. Brown fish owl
  12. Cinereous tit
  13. Common hawk cuckoo
  14. Common rosefinch
  15. Coppersmith barbet (calls only)
  16. Coucal
  17. Gold fronted leaf bird
  18. Greater flameback
  19. Greater racket tailed drongo
  20. Green barbet
  21. Grey junglefowl
  22. Grey wagtail
  23. Hill myna
  24. Hoopoe
  25. Indian blackbird
  26. Indian Pitta
  27. Indian Scops owl
  28. Indian treepie
  29. Jungle babbler
  30. Jungle myna
  31. Jungle owlet
  32. Large cuckooshrike
  33. Lesser flameback
  34. Little brown dove
  35. Magpie robin
  36. Malabar parakeet
  37. Malabar whistling thrush
  38. Orange headed thrush
  39. Orange minivet
  40. Painted bush quail
  41. Pigmy woodpecker
  42. Pipit (species not recognized)
  43. Red spurfowl
  44. Red vented bulbul
  45. Red whiskered bulbul
  46. Rufous babbler
  47. Spotted dove
  48. Streak throated woodpecker
  49. Tickell’s blue flycatcher
  50. Tricoloured munia
  51. Velvet fronted nuthatch
  52. Vernal hanging parrot
  53. White-bellied drongo
  54. White-throated kingfisher
  55. Yellow capped woodpecker

Mammals

  1. Barking deer
  2. Bonnet macaque
  3. Chital
  4. Gaur
  5. Malabar giant squirrel
  6. Sambar
  7. Stripe-necked mongoose
  8. Three-striped palm squirrel
  9. Tufted langur

Here are some random pictures:

Magpie robin:

BR Hills Mar 14 008

Painted bush quail:

BR Hills Mar 14 016

Jungle myna:

BR Hills Mar 14 030

Sambar:

BR Hills Mar 14 093

Indian pitta:

BR Hills Mar 14 150

Blue bearded bee eater

BR Hills Mar 14 218

Gaur:

BR Hills Mar 14 229

Barking deer:

BR Hills Mar 14 321

White-bellied Drongo:

BR Hills Mar 14 368

Indian Scops owl:

BR Hills Mar 14 484

Stripe-necked mongoose:

BR Hills Mar 14 519

Giant crab spider, a pair of these graced the loo:

spider

“Biligiri”, the last log hut in its row, abuts the jungle and is reputed to offer tiger and leopard sightings if you are lucky:

biligiri

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Thattekad Reprised – Feb ’14

Trip Report:        Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, Thattekad

Dates:                   21-22 Feb 2014

Camp:                   Periyar River Lodge

My experience in Thattekad in January enthused BIL B enough to want to do a repeat trip over a quick weekend. Accordingly we bussed in from Bangalore and pretty much replicated the itinerary from the prior trip. With one difference, but we’ll talk about that in a while.

Bhothathankettu was a disappointment and devoid of birdlife. Unlike the last time when I visited on a week day (Friday), we ended up visiting on a Saturday and the place was as lively with squawking tourists this time around as it was with avifauna the last time. The Flame-throated bulbuls were there though, along with the Racket-tailed drongos and Chestnut headed bee-eaters. I checked for the record-breaking teak tree mentioned in my previous post and not unexpectedly, it lay across the river somewhere, out of bounds without permission.

Mr. Luigi and the staff at PRL were hospitable as ever and we settled in with great hopes for the evening. We linked up with Gireesh Chandran at the place where I had sighted the Dollar birds the last time around (they were there this time too). Now Gireesh was accompanied by a couple of his house guests, and these two men had gawked their way through their wish-list over the past couple of days, barring three candidates –  Mottled wood owl, Black baza and Drongo cuckoo. And therein lay the rub. Gireesh assumed BIL and I would fall in with their plans to devote our energies to just these three species.

Anyway, we went into the reserve forest area adjacent to the sanctuary and saw a pair of Sri Lanka frogmouths, Yellow-browed bulbul, Brown-breasted flycatcher, White-bellied treepie and the much-sought-after Drongo cuckoo. Not counting the ubiquitous Malabar hornbills, Indian treepies and Racket-tailed drongos. At this point, the rain played spoilsport and we scurried back to town, ending the day’s work with a precious hour’s daylight wasted.

The next morning, Gireesh announced that he planned to take us all to Bhoothathankettu in search of the Black baza, and I was not pleased with this. We had just these two outings on our itinerary and it didn’t make sense (to me) to take BIL all the way to Thattekad and back without ever having set foot inside the sanctuary. At any rate, Gireesh wasn’t going to alter his house guests’ plans, and off he went to Bhoothathankettu looking for the baza. I wanted BIL to experience the rocky area inside the sanctuary that was so productive last time, and got Gireesh to call another guide. Some sort of tenuous arrangement was patched up hurriedly over the phone. BIL and I then drove back to the spot where there was a gap in the sanctuary’s fence and crossed in. Gireesh had some hesitation in sending us in on our own as a herd of elephants was sighted the previous evening in the area, but the fellow on the phone cleared that concern.

Anyway we found our way to the rocky area and joined Vinod, and he did a very decent job of guiding the morning’s outing. We saw Ashy drongo, Hill myna, Rufous woodpecker, Blyth’s starling (excellent and multiple sightings), Green imperial pigeon, Common Iora, Malabar hornbill, Gold fronted leaf bird, Orange minivet, Small minivet and Jungle nightjar. Apologies for the patricians and plebeians all merrily mixed up in that list. Or perhaps not. The highlight of the outing was a frogmouth and chick sighting.

The boat ride around PRL was spectacular as ever. Mr. Luigi himself joined us this time. Ironically, we saw the bird that was partly responsible for the morning’s hullabaloo – the Black baza – right off the boat, a short distance from PRL. And a truly spectacular bird it is. We also saw Black naped oriole, Asian fairy blue-bird, Vernal hanging parrot, Orange minivet and a Crested serpent eagle that thumped onto some small creature in the grass not fifteen feet from us and covered it’s trophy with outspread wings, glowering at us.

Post boat ride, we spent a glorious hour swimming in the river in front of the lodge, and I regret not having done this in the previous trip. Few experiences can beat lazing in a cool, slow-running river flanked by verdant greenery in hot weather.

I should also mention here that the staff and management of PRL showed an admirable degree of concern over the guiding issue, and took pains to follow up and apologize after we had returned to Bangalore. Another reason to return to PRL yet again, next winter.

Here are a few pictures:

Bhoothathankettu:

Image

Thattekad 2nd trip 023

Batrachostomus moniliger, female on the right:

Thattekad 2nd trip 049

Thattekad 2nd trip 069

Frogmouth with chick:

Thattekad 2nd trip 152

CSE:

Thattekad 2nd trip 179

“What you lookin’ at?”

Thattekad 2nd trip 203

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