Trip Report: Kabini River Lodge/Nagarahole NP

Trip:       Kabini River Lodge/Nagarahole NP

Camp:   JLR’s Kabini River Lodge

Dates:   20-22 Sep ‘14

Who:     GiK & SV

GiK and I had met SV and his family at K Gudi last, and we hit it off well considering our shared interests in wildlife. We had proposed a trip to Kabini together and SV promptly did the reservations as soon as he got back to Bangalore. By happy coincidence, BR who figures in my last K. Gudi post was also there, and it was a reunion of sorts. We did two nights at Kabini River Lodge, and GiK and I stayed back for an extra evening safari on day three, leaving for Bangalore late in the evening. This was a good plan as in addition to the extra safari, it allowed us to avoid return traffic on the Mysore road.

Kabini RL is considered JLR’s flagship property and their sightings are reputed to be second to none. Despite this I haven’t been there after a single trip ten years back. The scale of the establishment puts me off I guess. The safaris are indubitably spectacular, but the place lacks the sense of intimacy that the K. Gudi camp has, in my opinion. And BR agrees with me on this.

The “five kilometer” road. This is a disused and restricted (erstwhile) section of the highway to Kerala – SH17D. This road was fairly productive for us. Particularly interesting was a spot along this road known as the “burning place”, which bears the scars of the 2012 fire that ravaged the park.  Kabini Sep 2014 1080

Changeable hawk eagle. We saw at least three CHEs and only one Crested Serpent Eagle in a reversal of the usual proportions.

Kabini Sep 2014 868

Sambar hind. Note the bald patch on the neck, which is a strange and not-fully-understood occurrence in the species. Kabini Sep 2014 885

I was trying to get a shot of these two stags sparring, but they took a break to stare back at us instead. Kabini Sep 2014 227

I saw Common langur without the tuft after a long while. The langurs that occur in Bandipur, K. Gudi and Galibore are all Tufted langurs, with a distinct tuft on their heads. Langurs helped us locate a she-leopard with a single cub that we sighted on two safaris, near the KV waterhole. Incidentally, there is a watch tower by this waterhole on which I’d spent an entire afternoon ten years back, with only  chital and langur sightings to show for all my trouble. Kabini Sep 2014 851

Both gaur and wild boar were strangely missing. We saw just two herds of gaur, and that in the last couple of safaris. And just one token wild boar. This animal below was photographed in the “burning place” Kabini Sep 2014 1076

We saw plenty of elephants right through the trip. This makhna crossed the road just behind our jeep. Kabini Sep 2014 003

We met this young tusker while he was grazing by the highway. Kabini Sep 2014 085

We watched a herd of three elephants systematically destroy a patch of teak saplings. Kabini Sep 2014 888

Elephants stand around all day and even sleep standing up. This cow gave her leg a break. Kabini Sep 2014 891

Another member of the herd of three approaching. Kabini Sep 2014 893 Kabini Sep 2014 925

This cow approached very close to the jeep. And stood placidly grazing at spitting distance. I asked the naturalist Ravi if Nagarahole elephants were so habituated to human presence that they grazed like cattle around us. He replied that they do mock-charge frequently, and that the tolerance we were seeing wasn’t always present. Kabini Sep 2014 940

We sighted this large tusker with a broken tusk on two separate occasions, both on the “five kilometer” road. Kabini Sep 2014 953

Another massive tusker, this one in the “burning place”. Kabini Sep 2014 1167

This tusker accompanied a small herd. Kabini Sep 2014 1170

A pair of Golden  jackals (Canis aureus) came cantering down the track, stepped off it to pass the jeep, and regained the track to continue on their way. Typical jackal behavior. Kabini Sep 2014 121 Kabini Sep 2014 142

We encountered a pack of three dhole on the “five kilometer” road. Possibly the same pack was sighted by another group the next day in the “burning place”. Kabini Sep 2014 994

We had leopard sightings in three of the five safaris. This she-leopard was found on a tree by the highway, a little before the Balle gate. She stayed put for forty five minutes and treated us to a variety of poses. Two cubs were with her, and had descended out of sight before we arrived at the spot. Kabini Sep 2014 378 Kabini Sep 2014 590 Kabini Sep 2014 608 Kabini Sep 2014 709

The cat was briefly distracted by something in the tree above. We later learned that there was a Giant flying squirrel (Petaurista petaurista) on the tree, but none of us noticed at the time. Kabini Sep 2014 669  

My jungle trees 101 progressed at a slow crawl. I learned to ID the Nandi tree or Crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia microcarpa). This tree is called the naked lady of the forest alluding to how it looks when shorn of its bark – the trunk resembles that of the Eucalyptus, somewhat. And the Belleric myrobalan (Terminalia bellerica). Both of which were fairly common. I also learned that the Axlewood tree has a handle too – leper of the forest – owing to its pale blotchy patterns. There were plenty of these trees in Nagarahole. My old friends Tectona grandis, Terminalia tomentosa and Phyllanthus emblica were there in force too.

The birding lacked the usual intensity. What came our way was what we saw. There was plenty of unrecognized birdlife we zipped past in our quest for megafauna. Incidentally, Grey wagtails had just started to arrive for the winter and were seen around the Gol Ghar. But what was truly striking was the sheer number of Grey junglefowl everywhere. On two occasions, I counted eight individuals foraging at one place.

The list

Birds:

  1. Ashy prinia
  2. Ashy wood-swallow
  3. Asian brown flycatcher
  4. Asian paradise flycatcher
  5. Black-hooded oriole
  6. Bronzed drongo
  7. Brown fish owl
  8. Bushlark?
  9. Changeable hawk eagle
  10. Common hawk cuckoo (calls)
  11. Coppersmith barbet (calls)
  12. Crested serpent eagle
  13. Unidentified flameback
  14. Green imperial pigeon
  15. Grey francolin
  16. Grey junglefowl
  17. Grey wagtail
  18. Hill myna
  19. Hoopoe (calls)
  20. Indian grey hornbill
  21. Jungle myna
  22. Jungle owlet
  23. Magpie robin
  24. Malabar parakeet
  25. Paddyfield pipit
  26. Peafowl
  27. Pied bushchat
  28. Plum-headed parakeet
  29. Puff-throated babbler (calls)
  30. Brown-capped pygmy woodpecker
  31. Racket-tailed drongo
  32. Red-whiskered bulbul
  33. Red-vented bulbul
  34. Rose-ringed parakeet
  35. Streak-throated woodpecker
  36. Tailor bird
  37. Velvet-fronted nuthatch
  38. Vernal hanging parrot
  39. White-bellied drongo
  40. White-bellied woodpecker
  41. White-cheeked barbet (calls)
  42. White-throated kingfisher

Mammals:

  1. Barking deer
  2. Chital
  3. Common langur
  4. Dhole
  5. Elephant
  6. Golden jackal
  7. Indian flying fox
  8. Leopard
  9. Malabar giant squirrel
  10. Ruddy mongoose
  11. Sambar
  12. Stripe-necked mongoose
  13. Wild boar
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Trip report: Galibore/Cauvery WLS, Sep 2014

Trip Report:          Galibore/Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary

Dates:                   13-14 Sep 2014

Camp:                   JLR’s Galibore Nature Camp

Who:                     Dr. M, Dr. R, SS, VJ and three kids Vh, Vv & P

All photographs used in this post were clicked by Dr. M

A quick weekend trip to the Galibore camp, 100 kms away. The second summer was here, so the weather was warmish.

En route we made crawling progress after Kanakapura, owing to the birding. The doctor couple being sharp spotters necessitated plenty of slow-downs and stops. We saw a solitary Black-shouldered kite, White-headed babbler (Yellow-billed, to the punctilious), Small minivet, Baya weaver bird, Black ibis and Scaly-breasted munia amongst other avifauna. Beyond the new check-post and before the hairpin bends, we ran into flocks of European bee-eaters on the wires. And past Sangam, in the forest, there was a tree laden heavy with Red-rumped swallows.

European bee-eater:

European B eater

In the camp were plenty of White-browed wagtails, foraging on the ground. And an occasional Forest wagtail. In addition we spotted Black-hooded oriole (plentiful, these), Gold-fronted leaf bird, Tawny-bellied babbler, a female Asian paradise flycatcher, White-bellied drongo and Asian brown flycatcher. And the Grizzled giant squirrels of course. These have built nests at this time of year, and Thomraj – our new-found friend and competent birder – explained that the squirrels build multiple nests as decoys to evade Changeable hawk eagles and other predators. My old favorite Govind was there too, and accompanied us on all outings as well.

Grizzled giant squirrel:

Grizzled giant squirrel

Tawny-bellied babbler:

Tawny bellied babbler

The evening coracle ride turned up Wire-tailed swallow, darter, Green imperial pigeon, Common kestrel, Asian paradise flycatcher, Lesser fish eagle, Grey hornbill, Stork-billed kingfisher and a bird we later surmised to be the Yellow bittern. While the ladies and kids jeeped back from the Coracle alighting point five or six kilometers downstream, SS, Dr. R and I walked back to the camp in the gathering darkness. We flushed a flock of sandgrouse in the fading light, most likely Chestnut-bellied. Painted and Black-bellied sandgrouse also occur here although they are rarer. Elephants had been sighted on the road the previous day, but this encounter continues to elude me at Galibore.

Green imperial pigeon:

GIP

Yellow bittern:

Yellow bittern

Additions sighted in the next morning’s walk included Puff-throated babbler, Sirkeer malkoha, Common babbler, Common wood-shrike, Brown-capped pygmy woodpecker, Large wood-shrike and Cinereous tit. And a bird we later identified as the Yellow-crowned pygmy woodpecker. As a completely unnecessary aside, the Cinerous tit turns up occasionally outside the kitchen window in Bangalore too, on an Inga dulcis tree. Along with Purple-rumped sunbird, White-cheeked barbet, Ashy prinia, Tailor bird, Rose-ringed parakeet, Red-whiskered bulbul and Jungle myna. And crows.

Puff-throated babbler:

Puff throated babbler

I had to forego the rafting owing to junior P’s terror of it, but went along with the jeep to drop the others off. On the way back I saw Black eagle, Grey francolin and Jungle bush quail.

Before and at lunch, there was this tall, dark, grey-haired, hatted gentleman sitting around. Suspecting I knew who he was, I asked one of the boys manning the counter and was told that he was a ‘retired forest officer’. But my suspicions proved right and Sundar, the manager and a very amiable gentleman, was kind enough to introduce me to Dr. AJT Johnsingh a short while later. This was a pleasant surprise and a privilege of sorts.

We sat on plastic chairs by the riverside, Dr. Johnsingh, Sundar, Dr. R and I, and chatted. I told Dr. Johnsingh I had thoroughly enjoyed Field days (see my review) and he said an extended version was in the pipeline. He also talked about having traced Corbett’s footsteps in the lower Himalayas (On Jim Corbett’s Trail, Orient Blackswan). And also about how elephants in Africa communicate with each other over great distances, about ancient practices of preserving ragi stocks in vast underground caverns, and about why elephants don’t stay in a confined area even if food and water is plentiful. The badagas in Bandipur evidently believed that the smell of the dung was distasteful to them and compelled them to move on. And considering elephants eat 200 kgs of vegetation a day and defecate over fifteen times, there is a lot of dung lying around. This theory he heard during his dhole research days in 1976. He also strongly recommended Lawrence Anthony’s books to us – The Elephant Whisperer and The Last Rhino.

While we were talking, Dr. Johnsingh suddenly drew our attention to chital on the far bank. Dr. R spotted some brief movement, but I could spot nothing even through the binoculars until the deer were completely in the open. A little demonstration of superior spotting skills and visual acuity by a much older man.

I wanted an autograph, but Dr. Johnsingh politely declined to sign as the only book I had to sign on was Satpada – Our world of insects. He however happily agreed to a photograph, which Dr. R then took.

P1010115

On the way back, there is a tamarind tree a short way from the camp, and beside a large boulder. Thomraj had pointed out an Indian scops owl nest’s location on this tree while walking down the previous evening. He said the owls withdrew into the hollow if people approached on foot, but were quite alright with people approaching in cars. He had recommended we check out and photograph the owls the next day on our way back. Accordingly we found an owl peeping out as this species typically does, and both the doctors got some pictures. SS, who was driving the car following could not locate the nest and I sneaked out to show him, only to have the owl disappear. We then decided to turn back to the camp for a quick coffee, to give the bird time to reappear. On the second approach, the owl wasn’t in sight and SS who was now in the lead, moved on. We hung around for a few minutes and the owl made a re-appearance, making for some excellent photographs in mellow evening light.

Indian scops owl:

Scops owl2

I’m referencing a piece I wrote about Galibore many months back in JLRexplore here.

The list

Birds:

  1. Asian brown flycatcher
  2. Asian koel
  3. Asian paradise flycatcher
  4. Ashy prinia (calls)
  5. Baya weaver bird
  6. Bay-backed shrike?
  7. Black drongo
  8. Black eagle
  9. Black-hooded oriole
  10. Black ibis
  11. Black-shouldered kite
  12. Blue-bearded bee eater
  13. Blue-faced malkoha
  14. Brahminy kite
  15. Chestnut-bellied sandgrouse
  16. Cinereous tit
  17. Common babbler
  18. Common kestrel
  19. Common kingfisher
  20. Common woodshrike
  21. Coppersmith barbet
  22. Coucal (calls)
  23. Darter
  24. European bee-eater
  25. Forest wagtail
  26. Gold fronted leaf bird
  27. Greater cormorant?
  28. Green bee-eater
  29. Green imperial pigeon
  30. Grey francolin
  31. Grey heron
  32. Grey junglefowl (calls)
  33. Indian grey hornbill
  34. Indian robin
  35. Indian roller
  36. Indian scops owl
  37. Indian treepie (calls)
  38. Jungle babbler
  39. Jungle bush quail
  40. Jungle owlet (calls)
  41. Large woodshrike
  42. Lark?
  43. Lesser fish eagle
  44. Lesser flameback
  45. Little cormorant
  46. Little brown dove
  47. Magpie robin
  48. Open-billed stork
  49. Oriental white-eye
  50. Pygmy woodpecker (brown-capped)
  51. Plain prinia
  52. Puff-throated babbler
  53. Purple-rumped sunbird
  54. Red-rumped swallow
  55. Scaly-breasted munia
  56. Sirkeer malkoha
  57. Small minivet
  58. Spotted dove
  59. Spotted owlet (Dr. M only)
  60. Stork-billed kingfisher
  61. Tawny-bellied babbler
  62. Unidentified warbler
  63. White-bellied drongo
  64. White-browed wagtail
  65. White-cheeked barbet
  66. White-headed babbler
  67. White-throated kingfisher
  68. Wire-tailed swallow
  69. Yellow bittern
  70. Yellow-crowned pygmy woodpecker

Mammals:

  1. Tufted langur
  2. Chital
  3. Common mongoose
  4. Grizzled giant squirrel

Others:

  1. Monitor lizard
  2. Rock agama

Trip Report: Wild Valley Farm/Sathyamangalam TR

Trip Report:        Wild Valley Farm, Germalam/Sathyamangalam TR

Dates:                   30-31 Aug 2014

Camp:                   Wild Valley Farm, Germalam

GiK and I drove to the farm for a quick weekend trip. We had not sought prior permission, so driving through Sathyamangalam TR was not on the cards. We thought we’d spend some time around the farm, do some birding, and some walking through the surrounding forests. Moreover, GiK was just recovering from a fever.

View from the dining porch; the fencing in the distance demarcates the forest boundary. Bilbo in the foreground.

IMG_5316

The weather was lovely. There was intermittent drizzling, but never lasting more than a few minutes each. Strangely, it was colder now in August than it was in October last when I was there. Germalam is evidently well known for its wind at this time of year, and wind there was. Gusty spells that swept screaming across the forest and farms.

I renewed my acquaintance with my canine pals on the farm – Bilbo the GSD/lab mix, his brother Rover. Spike the deceptively intimidating looking Dobermann. And Patch, one of the two Lhasa Apsos. The farm is worth visiting just for this reason alone. As also for relaxed conversations with Mr. Daniel, these can be extremely pleasant as well. The story of his life is a truly remarkable one.

Bilbo and Patch. “The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs” – Gen Charles de Gaulle

IMG_5314

Giving Spike a rub-down.

IMG_5329

Reaching by the forenoon of Saturday, we pottered around the farm until lunch, and then went on the “short” trek. We crossed the stream that marks the boundary for a loop through the forest, Shankar the guide intently and ceaselessly scanning the route ahead for any sign of elephant. This area comprises stunted tree and scrub vegetation. Except by the streams, where towering riverine trees occur. Barring a solitary Asian paradise flycatcher and a herd of chital, we were the only souls around. Not counting a herd of cattle grazing in the forest that went crashing away in panic at the sight of us. The trail wound back and intercepted the same stream we crossed at some point and at this place was a Terminalia arjuna tree with very distinct (but old) leopard claw marks on it.

Since the trek was a short one, we were back on the farm in a couple of hours. We spent the time until dark tramping around the periphery of the farm, skirting the tiger reserve. On one side, the farm borders the main road, across which lies the reserve. There is a rocky outcrop on this edge that offers a sweeping vista of the landscape, all the way to the cloud-shrouded BR hills in the distance. Mr. Daniel talked of putting some sort of observation deck around this point, as the view is very pretty.

Dinner done, we tried driving on the road for a five kilometer stretch in the direction we hadn’t been on. The drive was a cropper, and all we did was roll through a few modest settlements on that side. And a very small stretch of deafeningly silent forest. The only fauna visible was tethered and ruminating cattle in these villages, bedded down for the night.

We spent the next morning hanging around the farm and with the dogs, taking in the Waldenesque charms of the place before it was time to leave. The best places on the farm to watch birds from are the dining area patio, and atop the work-in-progress roof of Mr. Daniel’s house.

Gooseberry

IMG_5298

Sitting by the tent, we watched a pair of caterwauling grey cats flush a francolin from the shrubbery, sending it sailing over a rubble wall to safety.  And a foraging pair of Scaly-breasted munias that came very close if we sat still. A little to our left was a pair of robins apparently nesting in a mud embankment, and a solitary Red-wattled lapwing. Bulbuls were all over the place, both red vented and whiskered varieties. Malabar parakeets were also numerous, rocketing overhead while screaming hysterically. As were spotted doves, with their soporific hooting. We crossed into the forest to sit on some rocks in the stream-bed along with Bilbo, savoring the lush silence. Mr. Daniel later told us that he discouraged the dogs from crossing the fence and that the ones that got into the habit of doing so never lasted more than a few months thanks to leopards. We should’ve shooed Bilbo back into the farm.

IMG_5336

I should note that what wasn’t very Waldenesque about the trip was the food. It was delicious and I stuffed my face at every meal, making up for GiK’s tiny, fever-stricken appetite.

GiK tries his hand at silhouettes.

_MG_4762

The list

  1. Ashy-crowned sparrow lark
  2. Ashy prinia
  3. Asian paradise flycatcher
  4. Baya weaver bird
  5. Black drongo
  6. Bushlark
  7. Common hawk cuckoo
  8. Common iora
  9. Coppersmith barbet
  10. Coucal (calls)
  11. Grey francolin
  12. Grey hornbill (calls) – Indian or Malabar I couldn’t see
  13. House sparrow
  14. Indian nightjar
  15. Indian robin
  16. Indian roller
  17. Indian treepie (calls)
  18. Little brown dove
  19. Magpie robin
  20. Malabar parakeet
  21. Oriental white eye
  22. Peafowl
  23. Pied bushchat
  24. Purple-rumped sunbird
  25. Red-vented bulbul
  26. Red-wattled lapwing
  27. Red-whiskered bulbul
  28. Scaly-breasted munia
  29. Spotted dove
  30. Tailor bird
  31. Velvet fronted nuthatch
  32. White-bellied drongo
  33. White-browed wagtail
  34. White-cheeked barbet
  35. White-headed babbler
  36. White-throated kingfisher