Trip report: BRT TR, Dec 2015

Dates:                   30 Dec ’15 – 2 Jan ‘16

Camp:                   K. Gudi Wilderness Camp

Who:                     Drs. R & M, SS, kids P & V

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This is the way years should end and begin. Sparkling birding, leopard, slot bear and dhole sightings, and some satisfying tree-watching. I was in Kaziranga for last year’s start and in keeping with this sentiment, and when Dr R said he was booking K. Gudi, P and I followed suit. We were booked for two nights, but extended by another on impulse. I couldn’t get my usual tent – number 7 – and was given tent number 8 instead, the last one in the row.

The weather was excellent, with bracing cold mornings, warm afternoons and cool evenings.

Rajesh took to driving us down the main road towards Navodaya in the mornings at 6:30 AM before entering the safari routes, as a pack of dhole was frequenting the stretch. Tigers were also sighted here, though mainly at sunset. This is the same stretch on which P and I had our tiger near-miss the last time.

I made good progress with flora-watching this time. Lantana camara was virtually non-existent in the forest, having been supplanted by two weeds – the unpalatable and invasive Eupatorium Ageratina adenophora and the carcinogenic Bracken Pteridium aquilinum. These two dominated the undergrowth. Karthik, who is a sure-shot help with IDs when all else fails had helped me identify the former after my Wayanad trip. Narayan rummaged through a book to produce the latter ID.

Eupatorium Ageratina adenophora:

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Bracken Pteridium aquilinum:

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These were three commonly or occasionally seen plants I was unable to identify.

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(This plant below turned out to be a teak sapling, as Karthik pointed out!)

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(Below: Solanum spp. possibly Solanum viarum)

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The landscape was dominated by Kari mathi Terminalia tomentosa and Axlewood Anogeissus latifolia. Indian gooseberry Phyllanthus emblica trees were heavily laden with fruit. Belleric myrobalan Terminalia bellerica and FOTF Butea monosperma frequently occured. Rajesh, and naturalist Narayan who joined us on one safari taught me to identify East Indian rosewood Dalberigia latifolia, Chebulic myrobalan Terminalia chebula and Radermachera xylocarpa with its long pods. I need a little more work on the latter two to get comfortable with the identification.

We saw a tree with large, distinctive pods at one place and Narayan said it was colloquially called Chappakkai. I don’t have the ID, but did get a picture when Dr. R reminded me to. Karthik later helped me ID it as Entada spp., probably Entada rheedii.

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There were a few fine specimens of a species of strangler fig on Muradi road. This is a species I’ve seen elsewhere too. I’ll try and get it ID’d.

Birding in the camp was spectacular. Rusty-tailed flycatcher, Blue-capped rock thrush, Asian brown flycatcher, Bronzed and Ashy drongo, Golden-fronted leaf bird, Indian nuthatch, Black-hooded and Golden oriole and Vernal hanging parrot were commonly seen. I spotted a Black-naped oriole above tent no 3 or 4. Rajesh was very skeptical of this ID when I told him about it later as it is evidently rare in these parts. But I’m certain of what I saw. But then he was also skeptical of a Verditer flycatcher sighting I caught while on the first safari – and this was settled when we saw the bird again subsequently in the same place.

Streak-throated woodpecker, female:

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In the forest, there were great flocks of Common rosefinch and Tree pipit that rose from ground-level as the jeep approached and swarmed into the shrubbery (rosefinches) or the trees (pipits). While we were stopped to look one such flock of rosefinches, I noticed a bird that I have been unable to identify. The others didn’t see it, absorbed as they were with the rosefinches. This bird was very bulbul-like, with vertical streaks around the neck and breast and a rounded fork in the tail.

We saw the Square-tailed bulbul in its usual area and I subsequently cleared up my confusion about its ID vis a vis the Black bulbul’s. The Himalayan and SE Asian species is the Black bulbul Hypsipetes leucocephalus while the Western Ghats and Sri Lankan species is the Square-tailed bulbul Hypsipetes ganeesa.

Grey wagtail:

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I saw a bird which had a conical munia’s bill and what apparently was a crest. The distance was considerable and the light wasn’t great to be able to notice much else. I am not sure if the Crested bunting occurs in these hills. I saw similar features on a bird in Meghamalai WS too.

For the first time, I came away from BRT TR without having sighted a single Black eagle.

On day 1, after the morning safari, we descended down the Navodaya side and exited the forest to look for Bar-headed geese in a lake nearby. The geese were missing, apparently having been scared away by someone of devious intent who was uncomfortable with all the attention they were bringing to the place. We then drove into a nearby grassland area to look at a herd of blackbuck.

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On the first evening (30th), we ran into a leopard on Durgur road late in the evening. The light was fading and the cat leaped out of the fringes choked with Eupatorium, bounded up the road ahead of us, and back into the weeds on the other side. This road is usually productive late in the evenings. It and Anni kere are the two sighting hotspots in BRT TR, apart from the stretch of main road on the Navodaya side.

Incidentally, while back on my next visit, I intend to leave Bengaluru at 1:30 AM or so to arrive at the Navodaya checkpost at 6 AM. The drive up from there through the undisturbed forest in the early hour should yield tiger, dhole, gaur or elephant. GiK and I have a plan of coming back in March. We’ll try this then.

On the second day, in the morning, we saw a pack of dhole on the main road, descending on the Navodaya side at the start of the safari. The pack of four was missing on our way down, but were found cavorting merrily on the grassy verge on our way back. We spend a while watching them and they us. Rajesh mentioned one individual which apparently lives all by itself and hunts alone. The presence of the dhole in the area triggered muntjac calls a few times over the next couple of days.

The first day of the new year brought us a lovely Sloth bear sighting in the evening safari. A big male. Our frenetic response on spotting him unfortunately scared him away. Rajesh was disappointed as this individual was reputed to stay on the road once the initial shock wore away, providing long satisfying sightings. This was also the same individual who featured in a video I mentioned in my last post, standing up on his hind legs to scratch his back on a tree trunk.

The same evening brought an even more spectacular experience. We were relaxing on the plinth outside tent no 8 prior to dinner when a sambar belled in alarm from a short way down the slope. A leopard had been sighted by Nagesh on the main road shortly before, moving into this area. Dr. R and I descended some paces down the slope armed with torches and sure enough, the beams caught a leopard, female as it turned out, slinking across to our left, into a depression and out of sight. A while later we caught sight of her again as she moved to the right and out of sight. A langur watchman persisted with calling in alarm for a while after. This female was evidently resident around this area and had been seen frequently. One of the staff had lost his dog to a leopard near the safari entrance boom gate a few days back.

YN is a civil engineer from Mysore who had spent 3 months volunteering as a naturalist with JLR a while back. He was there and suggested we spend some time on the porch of the Biligiri log hut as the leopard was certain to pass by there. We waited for a while and then figured it would be easier to wait for the langur to call instead. Unfortunately for us, the langur failed us as they’d evidently vacated the area. The leopard passed without attention while we were at the gol ghar getting our dinners and chital calls started up from the area behind the tents. YN incidentally has a lovely picture of this individual shot in the same valley a month back.

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Birds

  1. Ashy drongo
  2. Asian brown flycatcher
  3. Asian fairy bluebird
  4. Asian paradise flycatcher
  5. Bay-backed shrike
  6. Black-hooded oriole
  7. Black-naped oriole
  8. Blue-capped rock thrush
  9. Blue-tailed beeeater
  10. Brahminy kite
  11. Bronzed drongo
  12. Brown shrike
  13. Brown-capped pigmy woodpecker
  14. Changeable hawk eagle
  15. Cinereous tit
  16. Common hawk cuckoo
  17. Common iora
  18. Common myna
  19. Common rosefinch
  20. Common sandpiper
  21. Common teal
  22. Coppersmith barbet (calls)
  23. Crested bunting?
  24. Crested serpent eagle
  25. Unidentified flowerpecker
  26. Golden oriole
  27. Green beeeater
  28. Green imperial pigeon
  29. Hill myna
  30. Indian bushlark
  31. Indian robin
  32. Indian scops owl
  33. Indian treepie
  34. Golden-fronted leaf bird
  35. Greenish warbler
  36. Grey francolin (calls)
  37. Grey wagtail
  38. Hoopoe (calls)
  39. Indian scimitar babbler (calls)
  40. Jungle babbler
  41. Jungle myna
  42. Jungle owlet
  43. Lesser flameback
  44. Lesser yellownape
  45. Long-tailed shrike
  46. Magpie robin
  47. Malabar parakeet
  48. Orange minivet
  49. Oriental honey buzzard
  50. Paddyfield pipit
  51. Painted bush quail?
  52. Pied bushchat
  53. Plum-headed parakeet
  54. Puff-throated babbler (calls)
  55. Purple sunbird
  56. Racket-tailed drongo
  57. Red-rumped swallow
  58. Red spurfowl
  59. Red-vented bulbul
  60. Red-whiskered bulbul
  61. Rose-ringed parakeet
  62. Rufous babbler
  63. Rufous woodpecker
  64. Rusty-tailed flycatcher
  65. Small minivet
  66. (Southern?) coucal
  67. Spot-billed duck
  68. Spotted dove
  69. Streak-throated woodpecker
  70. Tawny-bellied babbler
  71. Tickell’s blue flycatcher
  72. Tree pipit
  73. Verditer flycatcher
  74. Vernal hanging parrot
  75. White-bellied drongo
  76. White-throated fantail
  77. White-browed wagtail
  78. White-cheeked barbet (calls)
  79. White-rumped munia
  80. White-throated kingfisher
  81. Yellow-footed green pigeon

Mammals/Reptiles

  1. Barking deer
  2. Blackbuck
  3. Bonnet macaque
  4. Chital
  5. Dhole
  6. Leopard
  7. Pond terrapin
  8. Malabar giant squirrel
  9. Sambar
  10. Sloth bear
  11. Southern flying lizard
  12. Three-striped palm squirrel
  13. Tufted langur
  14. Wild pig
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