Wild Valley Farm/Sathyamangalam TR, Mar ’15

Trip Report:          Wild Valley Farm, Germalam/Sathyamangalam TR

Dates:                   13-14 Mar 2015

Camp:                   Wild Valley Farm, Germalam

A small team of people from across cities was meeting on Thursday in my office at Bangalore. We felt the need for some offsite team bonding and had planned a one-night trip to the farm. None barring one was a wildlife enthusiast. (Everyone enjoyed the outing well enough nonetheless). I didn’t expect to be putting up a post as this trip was not intended to be wildlife-centric. However considering what transpired, I guess a record is deserved.

We’d spent the day pottering around the farm and generally having a good time. A bonfire was lit late in the evening and we sat by it well into the night. The fire was lit in the large patch of grass opposite the tents . At around eleven thirty PM, a set of chital alarm calls erupted from behind us, and beyond the gooseberry patch that abuts the grass. Multiple individuals were calling and persistently at that. Surmising that a leopard was afoot, PA (the other wildlife enthusiast in the group) and I stepped across two levels of what appeared to be fallow fields.  A pair of electrified lines was laid through the shrubbery and in my haste to get to the periphery, I tripped over and got tangled in one of these lines. I was probably spared a nasty jolt only because the wire didn’t happen to contact bare skin. Anyway we got somewhere near the edge of the farm and shining the torch, attempted to make something of it. The darkness was intense and we could make out neither feline nor cervine.

A fresh set of calls meanwhile erupted some hundred meters to our right and we crossed across to this side. This time we could see the herd of deer, but the foliage was too thick to be able to locate the cat. A sambar stag or doe meanwhile belled from the streambed opposite the dining room. The cat was evidently moving steadily.

We then trudged across in the dark to the dining room, pausing en route to peep into the kitchen to see if any of the staff there was following the action. They weren’t and telling them we’d be sitting on the dining patio steps, we moved on.

The sambar was calling at intervals and we went down the dining area steps, past the wicket gate there, and to the edge of the clearing past it. Standing there in the dark for a while, we heard what initially appeared to be the sawing call of a leopard. The sambar’s belling had ceased by now. In a while, there were elephant-like noises. After waiting for a while, we gave up and headed back to the tent and to bed. There was another set of chital alarm calls at 3:30 AM, but these did not persist and we didn’t step out. When I told Mr. Daniel that there seemed to be a leopard prowling around in the night, he thought that it wasn’t a leopard, but a tiger whose beat fell along the very route we had traced. Whether tiger or leopard, we certainly had an exciting time with it.

PA and I got to accompany Mr. Daniel on a drive to Udayarpalayam late in the evening to fetch some bread, stopping briefly en route to call on the ranger. All we saw was Jungle cat and Black-naped hare on the drive. Atypically, we didn’t see any nightjars, although Savannah nightjars did call through the night around the farm.

The next morning, we had opportunity to drive up the old coupe road which is now being turned into a motorable track. Although there wasn’t much by way of sightings – barking deer, spoor of tiger and elephant and some desultory birding – the forest was lovely. And yes, a Black eagle came calling, coasting over the canopy and drifting not thirty feet above our heads, giving the closest and clearest sighting of this bird that I’ve ever had.

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Trip report: K. Gudi/BRT Tiger Reserve, Mar ’15

Trip Report:          BRT Tiger Reserve/K. Gudi

Dates:                   7-9 Mar 2015

Camp:                   JLR’s K. Gudi Wilderness Camp

Who:                     SS & my 7-year old son

This trip was taken on impulse. SS pinged my wildlife gang on Thursday asking if anyone was game for an outing over the weekend. I checked K. Gudi’s availability and, surprised to find it available, booked one night for the three of us. On day 2 before checking out, I found that the place had zero occupancy, something I’ve never seen. This was too tempting a situation to pass up and junior and I stayed back one more night, with the intention of reaching Bangalore by lunchtime on Monday. Poor SS couldn’t stay back, hitched a ride back with some large-hearted guests, and was understandably not too pleased with the development. The whole thing was worth it as far as junior and I were concerned though; the experience of staying in tent No 7 with the entire row of tents standing empty was scintillating. More so after having found a tiger in the valley facing us, as you’ll see. Chital, sambar and barking deer all called in alarm during the night. As a nice counterpoint to the calls of Jungle owlet and Common hawk cuckoo.

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The weather was surprisingly cool when there was cloud cover, and slightly warm when there wasn’t. Evenings were cool and junior needed a sweater while on safari. Plus, the coffee was flowering, suffusing the vicinity with heady fragrance. Overall a very pleasant time to visit.

The advantage of tent No 7 is the view it affords. It overlooks a clear patch, with a silk cotton tree standing in the distance and attracting birdlife in droves. Sitting on the plinth, I counted plenty of Oriental white eye, Cinenerous tit, Asian brown flycatcher, Indian nuthatch (SS pointed out the difference between the Velvet-fronted and Indian), Gold-fronted leaf bird, Warbler (no idea which) and Small minivet.  And Golden oriole, Vernal hanging parrot (by the Gol ghar), Indian treepie, Scimitar babbler (calls), Common hawk cuckoo, Brown-capped pygmy woodpecker and Blue-bearded bee-eater.  I’ve had an unbroken record of seeing Black eagles over the K. Gudi camp and the record stands.

Cassia fistula opposite tent No. 7:

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Rajesh was out on some forest department errand and we therefore missed him for the first (Saturday evening’s) safari. Our old friend Kumar took us on that drive accompanied by a naturalist and he did a reasonable job with the birding. Incidentally Rajesh returned that evening at around 7 PM and ran into a tiger on the road not far from the camp (most likely the same individual we tried to meet two days later). He joined us from the next morning on and the birding was thereafter superb.

We saw Bronzed, White-bellied and Racket tailed drongos,  Grey wagtail, Oriental honey buzzard, Large cuckoo-shrike, CHE, CSE, Blue-capped rock thrush, Orange-headed thrush, Brown fish owl, Blue-faced malkoha, Bay-backed shrike, Tree pipit, Black-hooded oriole, Painted bush-quail, Lesser flameback, Rufous babbler, Hill myna, Malabar parakeet, Malabar whistling thrush, Tickell’s blue flycatcher, Rufous woodpecker, Yellow-footed green pigeon, Streak-throated woodpecker, Black-headed cuckooshrike, Asian fairy bluebird, Ashy woodswallow, Red spurfowl, Common rosefinch, Asian paradise flycatcher and Indian blackbird.

Malabar whistling thrush on Anogeissus latifolia:

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On the first day’s safari, the naturalist had pointed out what he thought was a Square-tailed bulbul. Both SS and I missed the sighting. When I told Rajesh about this the next day, he scoured the area in question until he found the bird – and we checked his copy of Grimmett & Inskipp to figure it was a Black rather than Square-tailed bulbul.

Also on day 1, at Anni kere, we found a large dark bird that rose and flew away as we approached. I initially assumed it to be a peacock until it took flight. The sighting was brief and the distance was considerable. SS thought that it was a Glossy ibis and the naturalist concurred. On subsequent visits to Anni kere , we found the bird to be a fixture. It turned out to be a Black stork and not Glossy ibis. The naturalist was profusely (and quite unnecessarily) apologetic about the mis-identification the next time we met.

We had a couple of near-misses on this trip. On day 1, three jeeps went out on safari. The other two jeeps enjoyed an extended sloth bear sighting on Durgur road. We went up there after we heard about it, but the animal had long since decamped. One of the drivers later showed me a video of the sighting. Sloth bear up close and upright, rubbing his back against a trunk; sloth bear keeping on the track in front of the jeep for a distance. I’m not sure it was a good idea to have watched that video. It rubbed it in low and slow.

Chital antlers were in velvet and often disproportionately large:

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Second near-miss was even more dramatic. On day 2 after the evening safari, Rajesh came over to our tent to check some pictures (remember, we were the only guests in the house). I’d just got the pictures opened up on my mobile when he got a frantic call from another driver about a tiger sighting in progress. We grabbed junior and scampered all the way to the jeep parked at the reception, joined by three other staff. Rajesh turned right at the gate and clipped his way for a short distance. A little before we reached the spot, he remarked that he could smell the tiger. I laughed at him and dismissed it offhand. Two curves later, we ran into a jeep parked by the roadside and the solitary driver was standing on the rubble parapet and peering down into the valley below, while frantically gesturing to us. Racing out of the jeep, we bounded up the parapet, poor junior in a fair blue funk by now. The visibility was not altogether bad, and I could hear the heavy footfall of the animal on dry leaf litter although it was no longer visible. The driver had watched the tiger on the road first, and then lying a short way below the parapet. Disturbed by our arrival, it had then ambled off. This was just rotten luck. The sighting had lasted a long time, but the driver was unable to reach Rajesh. He was able to call two other fellows both of whom refused to convey the message to Rajesh as they were not on talking terms. Like I said, rotten luck. And my long-cherished dream of sighting a tiger whilst on foot remained just that. Incidentally when I hopped off that parapet, I found my balance shaky with the adrenalin surging in my veins.

On the way back, Rajesh stopped at the point where he’d claimed to have smelled the tiger and sure enough, there was the distinct odour of carnivora still discernible in the still air. I’ve read about detecting the presence of tigers by smell in Davidar’s Cheetal walk. Here was a clear demonstration.

Suckling chital hind:

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On the last day, we left a little early on the morning safari with the hope of catching something on the main road. Sure enough, a leopard presently appeared, walking along the road and in the same direction as us. It panicked when it heard the jeep approach and bounded along the road for a short distance rather in the manner of a frightened dog, and then sharply veered off to leap over the parapet and disappear into the lantana. A sambar stag browsing there instantly belled in alarm. Rajesh was elated as he’d just been complaining to me that for all the drives we’d done together, we’d never seen a cat yet.

Tamil actor Thalaivasal Vijay was in the camp too; posing with junior here:

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Before I end this note, I should mention the detour en route. A bridge near Gaganachukki is being repaired and the road is therefore closed. A detour is required via Talakad to reach Kollegal, adding some 40-50 kms and an hour to the journey.

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Birds:

  1. Asian brown flycatcher
  2. Asian fairy bluebird
  3. Ashy woodswallow
  4. Bay-backed shrike
  5. Black bulbul
  6. Black-headed cuckoo-shrike
  7. Black-hooded oriole
  8. Black eagle
  9. Black stork
  10. Blue-bearded bee eater
  11. Blue-capped rock thrush
  12. Blue-faced malkoha
  13. Blyth’s starling
  14. Brahminy kite
  15. Bronzed drongo
  16. Brown-capped pygmy woodpecker
  17. Brown fish owl
  18. Brown shrike
  19. Changeable hawk eagle
  20. Cinereous tit
  21. Common hawk cuckoo
  22. Common iora
  23. Common myna
  24. Common rosefinch
  25. Common sandpiper
  26. Coucal
  27. Crested serpent eagle
  28. Lesser Flameback
  29. Golden oriole
  30. Gold-fronted leaf bird
  31. Grey junglefowl
  32. Grey wagtail
  33. Hill myna
  34. Indian blackbird
  35. Indian nuthatch
  36. Indian treepie
  37. Jungle babbler
  38. Jungle myna
  39. Jungle owlet
  40. Large cuckooshrike
  41. Magpie robin
  42. Malabar parakeet
  43. Malabar whistling thrush
  44. Orange-headed thrush
  45. Orange minivet
  46. Oriental honey buzzard
  47. Oriental white-eye
  48. Painted bush quail
  49. Racket-tailed drongo
  50. Red spurfowl
  51. Red-vented bulbul
  52. Red-whiskered bulbul
  53. Rufous babbler
  54. Rufous woodpecker
  55. Scimitar babbler (calls)
  56. Small minivet
  57. Spotted dove
  58. Streak-throated woodpecker
  59. Tickell’s blue flycatcher
  60. Tree pipit
  61. Unidentified warbler
  62. Velvet-fronted nuthatch
  63. Vernal hanging parrot
  64. White-bellied drongo
  65. White-cheeked barbet
  66. White-throated kingfisher
  67. Yellow-footed green pigeon

Mammals:

  1. Barking deer
  2. Black-naped hare
  3. Gaur
  4. Leopard
  5. Malabar giant squirrel
  6. Ruddy mongoose
  7. Sambar
  8. Spotted deer
  9. Stripe-necked mongoose
  10. Tufted langur
  11. Wild boar

Others:

  1. Pond terrapin