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

Trip Report: Sunderbans, Dec 2015

Dates:                   16-19 Dec, 2015

Camp:                   Sunderban Jungle Camp on Bali Island

Who:                     VV, GK and my 8-year-old son P

A couple of near-miss-sightings of mama last time pushed us to try our luck again. And the prospect of winter birding.

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Blue tiger

Getting to Sunderbans jungle camp involves a three hour drive along poor, narrow roads from Kolkata, to cover less than 100 kms to Godkhali. From here, the boat is boarded, and it winds its way up the Durgaduani channel and to the Gumdi river on the banks of which the camp is sited, on Bali island. On the way back, Animesh brought us around Bali island the long way, up the Bidya river, to look for waders.

The weather was strange. Day 1 was hot and sunny and we scrambled for whatever scanty shade was available on the upper deck. Day 2 was freezing cold, especially when the boat faced north – owing to the uttore batash – northern wind – that chilled us to the bone. Day 3 was equally cold but with persistent rain, forcing us to seek the shelter of the lower deck at least once. Day 4 was moderately cool with some sunshine. Someone joked that we’d experienced three seasons all in one trip.

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The forest looked freshly washed and hauntingly beautiful after the rain

Animesh Manna was his usual competent, thorough self, and we got a boatman with unbelievable spotting skills this time – Mahadev.

Most days we got back early, by 5 or 5:30 PM, giving us a little daylight before the early sunset to wander around the embankment by the camp. A Taiga flycatcher was a regular habitue around the harvested rice paddies and fish ponds that chequer the countryside. Yellow-browed warblers were ubiquitous, here and in the forest. A brood of spotted owlets was resident.

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Common kingfisher

We watched a pair of checkered keelbacks hunting among the reeds of one of the fish ponds. Animesh unearthed a little rat snake while looking for bitterns and we took some pictures.

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Rat snake

While walking by another pond, GK and I startled a snake by nearly stepping on it, sending it darting away and into the water. Dark green in colour and over a couple of feet in length. Animesh was a short way away but surmised that it was either an Olive keelback (which is what I had thought) or a Smooth-scaled watersnake.

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Mudskipper

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Slug leaving a clay-pellet trail

On the last day, we did a little country-boat ride up one of the narrow channels nearby. The nearby village was hidden behind a wall of mangrove vegetation, giving us an idea of what a small-boat ride in the forest would feel like. Considering the stories one heard in the Sunderbans of tiger attacks, sitting low down in the water with the banks a couple of feet away on both sides brought home the vulnerability of crab fishermen who sneak into the forest channels. Our boatman was a chap who’d survived an incredible run-in with a tiger. This had happened just two months before our last visit and we’d met him then too. He was still recovering from the shock of the incident apparently.

The story went like this. This fellow, along with a couple of friends ventured into a channel across the Gumdi, in the forest. The trio spotted a tiger a short distance away and one of them panicked and slipped off the boat. The cat pounced on the man in a trice and disappeared with him into the mangroves. The third man collapsed in a state of panic but our friend brought the boat around and stepped into the jungle alone and on foot, armed with just his paddle. Running into the tiger he charged it with the paddle, and it dropped the dead man and disappeared. He then hauled the body back to the village. And gave up illegal crab fishing ever since.

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One of the five “fingers” that radiate from the Sudanykhali watchtower. This tower was the one I meant in my last post when I mistakenly referred to the Sajnekhali watchtower producing great sightings.

In the forest we found a set of birds that were almost completely different from the ones we encountered the last time.

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Lesser whistling ducks

Black-capped kingfisher were commonplace and their calls, reminiscent of the White-throated kingfisher’s were frequently heard.

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Vacated nest of Purple-rumped sunbird showing the curtained hatch

Common sandpipers were found along the banks almost everywhere, and their whistling calls were a constant too.

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Common sandpiper

Magpie robin, Yellow-browed warbler, Collared dove and tailorbird called incessantly. Dusky warbler called occasionally.  Great and little egret, Jungle crow and Little heron were commonly seen.

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Little heron

The collared kingfisher that was so common in May was missing this time, and we only saw a couple.

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Collared kingfisher

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Common redshank

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Red junglefowl

Brown-winged kingfisher were seen far more frequently than the last time.

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Brown-winged kingfisher

The Mangrove pitta, which was heard quite a bit around Sudhanykhali watchtower the last time was silent at this time of year. The dark morph CHE had not been seen for a while around Sudhanykhali.

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Lesser sand plover and tiger pugmarks

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Water monitor – we anchored the boat to have lunch in this lizard’s company, but he had other ideas and promptly disappeared

Animesh helped me improve on my ability to identify mangrove trees further.

  • Avicennia alba – Kalu bayan – with its black trunk and sharp, narrow leaves
  • Avicennia officinalis – Jath bayan – easiest of the genus to identify, with its smooth pale bark, rounded leaves and distinct branching structure

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Avicennia officinalis showing profusion of aerial roots

  • Avicennia marina – Peara bayan – with its mango-like leaves and pale blotchy trunk very much like the guava tree’s
  • Ceriops tagal – Moth goran – with its dome-like shape and knee-roots

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Knee roots of Ceriops tagal

  • Bruguiera gymnorrhiza – Kankra – with its buttress roots and distinct leaves

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Red flowers of Kankra (Bruguiera gymnorrhiza)

  • Heritiera fomes – Sundari – with its Christmas-tree-like structure and branching pattern
  • Sonneratia apetala – Kewra – with its pencil roots
  • Xylocarpus granatum – Dhundul – with its melon-like fruit

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Xylocarpus granatum fruit

  • Xylocarpus mekongensis – Passur – with its thick pneumatophores

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Pneumatophores of Passur (Xylocarpus mekongensis)

Jhamti goran Ceriops decandra, Garjan Rhozophora apiculate and Kholsi Aegiceras corniculatum are not too difficult to ID in general.

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Garjan (Rhizophora apiculata) showing stilt roots

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Kholsi (Aegiceras corniculatum)

GK carried home a Kankra Bruguiera gymnorrhiza sapling and a red water lily. The latter will probably survive, but it will be interesting to see how the mangrove tree copes in Chennai.

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The lighter green patch is mistletoe – a hemiparasite

The issue with the Sunderbans is that while tiger sightings are rare, near-misses are not – and this always leaves a tantalizing window open for a repeat visit. We were at Sudhanykhali watchtower at 8:30 AM one morning and after we left, at 9:30 AM, a big male tiger walked right passed the watchtower and crossed the channel. It is this sort of thing that tempts us to return for yet another attempt.

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Birds

  1. Ashy woodswallow
  2. Black-winged cuckooshrike
  3. Brahminy kite
  4. Brown-winged kingfisher
  5. Black-capped kingfisher
  6. Bronzed drongo
  7. Brown shrike
  8. Cinereous tit
  9. Common iora
  10. Common myna
  11. Common redshank
  12. Common sandpiper
  13. Common tailorbird
  14. Dusky warbler
  15. Eurasian collared dove
  16. Eurasian wigeon
  17. Eurasian wryneck (VV only)
  18. Gadwall
  19. Great egret
  20. Green bee-eater
  21. Grey junglefowl
  22. Grey wagtail
  23. Indian spotted eagle
  24. Indian treepie
  25. Jungle babbler
  26. Jungle crow
  27. Lesser flameback
  28. Lesser sand plover
  29. Lesser whistling duck
  30. Little egret
  31. Little heron
  32. Magpie robin
  33. Night heron
  34. Oriental white-eye
  35. Osprey
  36. Pied kingfisher
  37. Pin-striped tit babbler (calls)
  38. Pond heron
  39. Purple-rumped sunbird
  40. Rose-ringed parakeet
  41. Shikra
  42. Small minivet
  43. Spotted dove
  44. Spotted owlet
  45. Taiga flycatcher
  46. Terek sandpiper
  47. Tickell’s blue flycatcher
  48. Whimbrel
  49. White-breasted waterhen
  50. White-throated fantail
  51. White-throated kingfisher
  52. Yellow-browed warbler

Mammals

  1. Chital
  2. Rhesus macaque
  3. Wild boar

Reptiles

  1. Checkered keelback
  2. Estuarine crocodile
  3. Rat snake
  4. Water monitor
  5. Olive keelback?

Trip Report: Galibore Nature Camp

Dates:                   12-13 Dec 2015

Who:                     SB and a couple of colleagues

All the images used in this post were clicked by S. Balajee.

BIL B wanted to take a couple of colleagues on a short birding trip and invited me along. His colleagues R and R could only manage a day trip while the two of us stayed back for the night, leaving after breakfast the next morning.

The weather was surprisingly warm and muggy for this time of year, with the sun blazing through the day and some marginal coolness creeping in well after dark. There was little cloud cover.

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Common kingfisher (S. Balajee)

Thomraj was in his elements, ferreting out sightings with his impossibly precise visual acuity. After paying our respects to pairs of Brown hawk owl and Indian scops owl in the camp, we started on our outings which for most part comprised floating down the river on a coracle and then trudging back on foot.

For some reason, White-browed bulbul were ubiquitous and noisy this time around. Other frequently heard calls were of Tailorbird, oriole (I usually associate the short, ascending crrrrk with the Black-hooded oriole, but we did spot a Golden oriole calling this way too), Purple-rumped sunbird, Asian brown flycatcher and White-browed wagtail (on the water). Stork-billed kingfisher called occasionally as did Spotted dove, Green imperial pigeon, Jungle babbler, Green bee eater and Golden-fronted leaf bird.

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Yellow-throated sparrow (S. Balajee)

We had uncommon luck with raptors. Walking back to the camp from the Muthathi side, we first flushed a Crested serpent eagle that flapped away on great wings. We were trying to trace its position when a Black eagle emerged from pretty much the same direction, and settled on a tree a considerable distance away. We got off the path for a closer look and resuming the track, we were surprised by yet another raptor, which we identified back at the camp as the Tawny eagle. This worthy made a reappearance later in the day while we were on the river. BIL wanted a shot of a Lesser fish eagle and we found an exceptionally obliging individual on the day 2 outing.

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Lesser fish eagle (S. Balajee)

For the first time, we were compelled to beach the coracle and hop off twice midway – once to tail a pair of Brown fish owls, which were being baited by a pair of crows, as they shifted one perch to another; and again to confirm a shikra’s ID. While we were after the owls, a sloth bear was spotted across the river from our position by a couple of staff members lounging on the bank a hundred meters downstream. We had heard chital calling from across and had discussed the possibility of a leopard being afoot.

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Small pratincole (S. Balajee)

While on this topic, incidentally, I asked Thomraj why chital alarm calls were heard virtually every half hour on some visits, and never heard at all on others. Thomraj’s explanation was that chital were skittish when dhole were in the area and tended to call frequently then.

Winter is the time of courtship in our jungles, and the stillness on the river was occasionally shattered by rutting calls of chital stags. We watched a courting pair of Red-wattled lapwings. The pair flew in together and while the female settled on a rock, the male did a noisy, dipping-flight courtship display before joining her.

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Shikra (S. Balajee)

We found occasion to catch a bunch of fascinating jungle anecdotes about Thomraj’s colorful pre-JLR days. About running into a leopard that killed one of the goats he was grazing as a fourteen year old, to plucky-while-mischievous deeds from jungles long ago.

  1. Ashy prinia
  2. Asian brown flycatcher
  3. Asian paradise flycatcher
  4. Barn swallow
  5. Black eagle
  6. Black-hooded oriole
  7. Blue-faced malkoha
  8. Brahminy kite
  9. Brown-capped pigmy woodpecker
  10. Brown fish owl
  11. Brown hawk owl
  12. Brown-headed barbet (calls)
  13. Chestnut-headed bee eater
  14. Cinereous tit
  15. Common francolin
  16. Common hawk cuckoo (calls)
  17. Common iora
  18. Common kingfisher
  19. Common myna
  20. Common skylark
  21. Common tailorbird
  22. Common woodshrike
  23. Coppersmith barbet (calls)
  24. Coucal (calls)
  25. Crested serpent eagle
  26. Darter
  27. Golden-fronted leaf bird
  28. Great cormorant
  29. Green bee eater
  30. Greenish warbler
  31. Grey junglefowl
  32. Golden oriole
  33. Green imperial pigeon
  34. Hoopoe
  35. Indian grey hornbill
  36. Indian robin
  37. Indian scops owl
  38. Indian silverbill
  39. Jungle babbler
  40. Jungle crow
  41. Jungle owlet (calls)
  42. Large cuckooshrike
  43. Lesser fish eagle
  44. Lesser flameback
  45. Little cormorant
  46. Little egret
  47. Magpie robin
  48. Painted spurfowl
  49. Peafowl
  50. Pied kingfisher
  51. Purple-rumped sunbird
  52. Red-rumped swallow
  53. Red-vented bulbul
  54. Red-wattled lapwing
  55. Red-whiskered bulbul
  56. River tern
  57. Rose-ringed parakeet
  58. Scaly-breasted munia
  59. Shikra
  60. Small pratincole
  61. Spotted dove
  62. Stork-billed kingfisher
  63. Unidentified swift
  64. Tawny eagle
  65. Tickell’s blue flycatcher
  66. White-bellied drongo
  67. White-breasted waterhen
  68. White-browed bulbul
  69. White-browed wagtail
  70. White-cheeked barbet (calls)
  71. White-throated kingfisher
  72. Wire-tailed swallow
  73. Yellow-billed babbler
  74. Yellow-footed green pigeon
  75. Yellow-throated sparrow
  1. Chital
  2. Grizzled giant squirrel
  3. Tufted langur
  4. Mugger

Trip Report: Ela Blooms, Nov ’15

Trip Report:   Ela Blooms
Dates:              27-29 Nov 2015

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This was part of an office team outing. PA and I got some time to bird.

Ela Bloom is situated amidst a cardamom plantation gone wild. The camp is very picturesque and sited at the edge of what apparently is reserve forest land. A short, leech-infested path down from here leads to the “cave house”, which is in the process of being readied for occupation. The jeep trail that brings you to the camp is a good birding prospect – keeping to the track minimizes encounters with leeches. There is also a trail that leads off from behind the rooms and a short descent down this lies a pretty little pond.

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Power is generated via a mini hydel arrangement. There are multiple trek routes on offer, ranging from very short ones to day-long outings. There are enough trails to explore and I hope to return with my wildlife gang for a three or four day birding trip. We should be able to net quite a few Western Ghats endemics.

Peter, who runs Ela Blooms told us that there were sambar, barking deer, dhole, chevrotain, leopard, gaur, civet, porcupine and elephant around. He’d set up a camera trap to identify local faunal species. We saw a section of molt a little below the camp, possibly from Rat snake or Naja naja. This is prime King territory and I was hoping to run into the large snake on one of the paths.

Birding

PA and I limited our birding to around the camp and to very short forays around it. Black bulbul, Grey-headed canary flycatcher, Grey wagtail, Oriental white-eye, Velvet-fronted nuthatch, Purple-rumped sunbird and flowerpecker were commonly sighted in and around the camp. Hill myna, parakeet and hornbill were strangely absent.

I was sitting by the aforementioned pond a little before sundown on day 2 with a colleague, watching a bird hawking from a perch high up on a tree a long way off. Slaty blue bird with a long wedge tail and a touch of white in the underparts. Hawking insects flycatcher style. The bird was visible for a long while, but I was unable to ID it. Later PA and I sighted the same bird around the camp multiple times. Turned out to be the White-bellied shortwing Brachypteryx major albiventris. I was elated as this was a bird I had been eager to spot on the KMTR trip. Also, a call persisted some way off behind us. Sounded like what I remembered of the Black-chinned laughingthrush’s call. My sharp-eyed colleague and I tried hard but weren’t able to spot the source.

We also sighted White-cheeked barbet, a flying leaf-bird – Golden-fronted or Blue-winged I couldn’t tell, Red-whiskered bulbul, Yellow-browed bulbul and Oriental honey buzzard. A raptor was seen coasting over the canopy when the bins were not on hand – most probably a Black eagle. Nilgiri langur hooted in the evenings from the forest. Hoopoe called a few times. Malabar giant squirrel were occasionally seen foraging and leaping in the canopy. Mornings began with a short song by the Malabar whistling thrush, at 6 AM, after which the bird was neither seen nor heard. On our way back in the jeep, a bird shot up from the track before us, most probably an Emerald dove. The sighting was too fleeting to confirm the identification.

PA and I were walking down the jeep trail for a short distance when a large brown raptor took flight under the canopy some way off and settled down a short way away. A Malabar giant squirrel promptly gave alarm. We veered off the track and into the undergrowth to try and spot the bird, but had to give up after a while. CSE in all probability. All we ended up doing was feed half a dozen leeches in the attempt.

I stepped out of the room a few times hoping to catch some calls at night – possibly Long-tailed nightjar, Indian scops owl or Brown hawk owl. However except for the chirping of cicadas and other insects, there was nothing. What sounded like a muntjac called once in alarm.

Goatweed

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While we saw plenty of Senna spectabilis en route until the start of the jeep track, this invasive species was absent in the forest. Instead, there was plenty of goatweed Ageratum conyzoides packing the verges of the paths and around. Another insidious South American import.

Cardamom:

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Unidentified fern:

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Unidentified, very common weed:

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Before ending this post, I should note that some colleagues tried the “night safari” operated out of Gudalur and considering the poor experience they had, this seamy enterprise is best avoided.

Ficus auriculata – Elephant ear fig tree

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Having moved to north Bangalore a few months back, I’ve been trying to inventory the trees in and around this place for the past few weeks. Commonly seen roadside species in the area are Portia (Thespesia populnea), Large-leaved mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), Copper pod (Peltophorum pterocarpum), Gul mohar (Delonix regia), Nile tulip (Markhamia lutea), Senna spectabilis, Indian cork tree (Millingtonia hortensis), Simarouba glauca and Buddha coconut (Pterygota alata). I got introduced to the last three after moving here.

The apartment complex grounds are dominated by Millingtonia hortensis – they were flowering gloriously for the past few weeks, but this seems to be tapering off now. There are also two species of Tabebuia and a bunch of other assorted species. But the topic of this quick post is this handsome little tree that stands in the north-east corner of the grounds.

If only all trees were as easy to identify. It took me all of three minutes to Google large leaf fig tree to net this one – the very appropriately named Elephant ear fig tree (Ficus auriculata). The specific name is rooted in the Latin auris – ‘with ear’. This tree is evidently widespread all over Asia, certainly all over the sub-continent. The leaves find use as fodder and are also stitched into leaf plates, in places.

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The large, heart-shaped (cordate), wavy-surfaced (undulate), blunt-tipped (obtuse), heavily veined leaves and the cluster of figs bunched around the base of the trunk make for easy, unmistakable identification. The figs are edible, but I haven’t tried to eat them yet. I’ll have a go the next time I walk by this tree, now that I know they won’t kill me.

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The tree will flower in early summer, and I’ll post some pictures then.

Here’s more information if you want it: http://forest.sapiotech.com/plants/54/elephant-ear-fig-tree,

Trip report: Sunderbans National Park, May 2015

Trip Report:        Sunderbans National Park

Dates:                   1-May to 3-May, 2015

Camp:                   Sunderban Jungle Camp on Bali Island

Who:                     VV and KB

Avicennea

Given the time that has passed, I’ll dispense with text and try to capture as much of the experience as possible via the images I can find. It is quite possible that between my patchy notes and patchier memory some errors have crept in.

I should mention that we were guided by a young and very competent naturalist called Animesh Manna who knows his stuff. Mangrove tree identification is a tricky animal for the unseasoned, and Animesh was exceptionally patient in helping us get the hang of it. He is a gifted spotter too and knows his birds.

Pictures are below the descriptions.

Flora

Avicennia marina. “Peara Bayen”. So named because the trunk is reminiscent of the guava tree’s blotchy, peeling trunk. This tree was extremely common.

Avicinnea marina

Rhizophora apiculata. “Garjan”. With its distinctive stilt roots.

Garjan

Garjan pods

Garjan pods 2

Bruguiera gymnorrhiza. “Kankra”. With its buttress roots.

Kankra buttress roots

Excoecaria agallocha. “Genwa”.  Red-leaved at this time of the year. The roots are snake-like with bulbs at the base. The sap is reputed to cause blindness, and the leaves when dried and powdered serve as an effective fish poison.

Keonwa red leaves snake roots bulbs in base

Snakelike roots

Ceriops decandra. “Jhamti/Jale Garan”. Rounded leaves reaching up; broom-like roots. Ceriops tagal – “Math/Jat Garan” has buttressed roots I believe (although my notes describe them as dome shaped for some reason).

Goran upward round leaves broom roots

Suaeda maritima. “Giriya Sak”. A shrub.

Giria shrub

Spiky roots of Kaura/Keora. Sonneratia spp.

Kewr spiky roots

Sonneratia apetala flowers.

Kewra flowers

Kewra yellow flowers

Pneumatophores reach out for air to compensate for the anoxic mud beneath

Garjan pneumatopores possibly

Aerial roots of Avicennia alba. There are three species commonly seen. Avicennia alba, A. marina and A. officinalis. Of these, only A. alba has aerial roots.

Bayan Avicennia aerial roots 2

“Dhundul”, Xylocarpus granatum

Dhundul, Xylocarpus zanata

Fruit of Dhundul

Dhundul, Xylocarpus zanata

Tiger palm. Phoenix palludosa. “Hental/Bogra”. Fairly plentiful.

Tiger palm phoenix palludosa 4

Nypa fruticans. The Nypa palm. “Golpata”. Having seen pictures of large barges laboring under tons of fronds, it came as a surprise that this palm was sparingly seen. Turns out the large clusters are evidently all on the Bangladesh side.

Nypa palm

Fruit of Heritiera fomes. The “Sundari”. The tree for which the place is named. Another big surprise. Much of this occurs on the Bangladesh side. The few isolated specimens seen along the banks were slender and sickly looking.

Sundari flowers

Aegiceras corniculatum. “Khalsi/Kholsi”. Typically seen leaning over the water’s edge. Bulk of the nectar that goes into making the famed honey that the Sunderbans produces is drawn from the flower of this tree.

Kholsi lean over water

Kholsi flowers most honey prod

Porteresia coarctata. “Dhani ghas”, Mangrove grass or Paddy grass.

Paddy grass or Mangrove grass

Imperata cylindrical. Spear grass. I hope the identification was accurate.

Spear grass

Fauna

There was reasonable variety of avifauna. Collared kingfishers were commonly met with and their calls heard even more frequently. We saw the brown-winged kingfisher a few times. We heard the calls of the Mangrove pitta at the Sajnekhali watchtower many times, but didn’t catch sight of the bird. We thought we heard the Mangrove whistler once, but certainly did not see one. We also saw orange-breasted green pigeons at the same watchtower. The Pacific golden plover, Whimbrel and the Changeable hawk eagle (dark morph) were three other candidates on our list that we did get to see.

We were aware that chances of seeing either a tiger or a fishing cat were slim. Or the King cobra for that matter. We did want to see salties and saw just one individual. It would have been nice to see one of the dolphin species, but they are not easy to come by.

Large egret patrolling the shallows

Large egret

Lesser adjutant stork.

Lesser Adjutant

Whimbrel takes flight.

Whimbrel 3

Common kingfisher

Common kingfisher

Red fiddler crabs

Fiddler crab3

Fiddler crab 4

Water monitors. We were eager to sight these creatures after reading about 9-foot long individuals gracing the place.

Monitor 2

Monitor 5

Salty! Poor shot of an Estuarine croc lying inert in the shade. These reptiles have the horrendous reputation of savaging people shrimping or crabbing in the shallows.

Estuarine croc

Mudskipper.

Mudskipper

Others

This is the standard configuration of tourist boats in the Sunderbans. A viewing deck on top; Beds, toilet and a galley below. The structure perched at the stern is an additional loo, for the crew presumably.

Boat

The Sajnekhali watchtower, where so many spectacular sightings happen. We heard a tiger call while there, but saw nothing.

Sajnekhali watchtower

The canopy walk around the Dobanki watchtower, surrounded by a sea of Avicennia marina in the main.

Dobaki watchtower

A little shrine to Bon Bibi, the goddess of Sunderbans legend. Honey and crab collectors fervently believe in her promise to protect anyone who steps into her realm unarmed and pure-of-heart. A necessary reassurance in a land where you take your life in your hands each time you step into the forest.

Bon bibi

The riversides along forest stretches that lie across habited areas are strung with rather flimsy-looking nylon nets, ostensibly to prevent tigers from swimming across. Apart from the tiger and the saltie, Black-tipped sharks are a danger to people in shallow waters – they evidently sneak up and bite a chunk of flesh off the calves, leaving the person bleeding dangerously before medical help can be reached.

Net

Tiger crossover, sometime that morning. We found the spoor on both banks and waited awhile in vain.

Pugmark

Ship laden with flyash crossing the vast Panchmukhani confluence, headed for Khulna in Bangladesh

Ships at Panchmukhani headed Khulna Bdesh flyash

So that’s what a Patton tank looks like. Someone has a sense of humor.

Patton tank

Birds

  1. Adjutant stork
  2. Ashy woodswallow
  3. Black bittern
  4. Black-headed cuckooshrike
  5. Black-hooded oriole
  6. Black-naped monarch
  7. Brahminy kite
  8. Bronzed drongo
  9. Brown shrike
  10. Brown-winged kingfisher
  11. Changeable hawk eagle (dark morph)
  12. Chestnut-tailed starling
  13. Collared kingfisher
  14. Common iora
  15. Common kingfisher
  16. Common myna
  17. Common sandpiper
  18. Eurasian collared dove
  19. Fulvous-breasted woodpecker
  20. Greater coucal
  21. Large cuckoo-shrike
  22. Large egret
  23. Lesser flameback (calls)
  24. Lesser whistling duck
  25. Lesser yellow-nape
  26. Little cormorant
  27. Little egret
  28. Loten’s sunbird
  29. Magpie robin
  30. Mangrove pitta (calls)
  31. Orange-breasted green pigeon
  32. Oriental honey buzzard
  33. Oriental white-eye
  34. Pacific golden plover
  35. Pied kingfisher
  36. Pied myna
  37. Pin-striped tit babbler (calls)
  38. Pond heron
  39. Purple-rumped sunbird
  40. Red junglefowl
  41. Red-whiskered bulbul
  42. Rose-ringed parakeet
  43. Scarlet-backed flowerpecker
  44. Short-toed snake eagle
  45. Small minivet
  46. Spotted dove
  47. Spotted owlet (calls)
  48. Stork-billed kingfisher
  49. Streak-throated woodpecker
  50. Tailorbird
  51. Whimbrel
  52. White-breasted waterhen
  53. White-throated kingfisher

Mammals

  1. Chital
  2. Rhesus macaque
  3. Wild boar

Reptiles

  1. Checkered keelback
  2. Estuarine crocodile
  3. Water monitor

Trip Report: Bandipur, Aug ’15

Trip Report:        Bandipur National Park

Dates:                   1-2 Aug 2015

Camp:                   JLR Bandipur Safari Lodge

This trip was done after a considerable gap – I’d not done anything after Sunderbans and that was months back. Other pre-occupations and procrastination also prevented me from posting on that trip and I’m not sure how much I remember of it anymore. My sister’s family had similarly gone for a long while now without any jungle visit and so we decide to take this weekend off. The two days afforded us just two safaris.

The weather was alright, cool without rain. The lantana had grown right upto the verges though, and visibility was poor in most places. It will now be cleared only after the monsoon I guess. Bomma drove us this time, and he is a magician although one who doesn’t speak very much.

The birding was not great, and we did not expect it to be. We didn’t make particularly strenuous efforts to bird-watch either.

The first safari puttered along unremarkably until we came across one of the safari vans stuck in slush. The entire van-load of chattering tourists and bawling kids was out by the roadside, while my old friend Pradeep attempted to rev the vehicle out of the mess. We waited awhile to help push, but were not able to rock in cadence sufficiently to tip the van out. Giving up, we moved on while the van-load waited for someone who’d been called.

Shortly after this, we ran into a herd of elephants first, and then into an impressive tusker by the roadside. This was one edgy elephant, going back and forth, clearly nervous about our presence and not knowing what to do about it. He didn’t show any aggression though so no charge, mock or otherwise.

Bandipur Aug 15 043

Bomma then received news of a tiger sighting in progress at Daid katte. I’m not sure that transliteration of the pronounced name spells right. We sped to the lake, to find five or so vehicles lined up, and an old male just having finished his dip. He rose out of the water just as we maneuvered into position, sprayed a tree and disappeared into the jungle.

Bandipur Aug 15 067

Everyone dispersed and so did we. Bomma said nothing, but took a route on which there was no one else until he stopped by another kere, this one called Venkatappana pala. He thought the tiger was likely to traverse by this lake and asked everyone to keep still. He’d hardy finished his sentence when a lone langur atop a nearby tree set up a hysterical alarm. A second later the tiger stepped into view, not far from us.

Bandipur Aug 15 076

A second jeep had meanwhile materialized behind us, and both jeeps backed up while the tiger walked nonchalantly, cutting across to step onto the road between the jeeps. Unfortunately behind us. He completely ignored our presence, and strode up the road, with both jeeps backing up in front of, and behind him.

Bandipur Aug 15 126

We followed him for a while before he stepped off the road and into the jungle.  This was possibly the closest I’ve seen a tiger pass by in South India – he was about fifteen feet away from where I sat as he passed.

Bandipur Aug 15 114

The morning’s safari was a quiet one, and I spend most of it looking at the Big Five – Kari mathi (Terminalia tomentosa), teak (Tectona grandis), axlewood (Anogeissus latifolia), FOTF (Butea monosperma), and Indian gooseberry (Phyllanthus emblica).

That tree in Bandipur which I am unable to ID continues to haunt me (I had mentioned it in a previous post). It is called Jaldha mara or Dhoopa locally. I checked with Karthik and with Nagendra (Kabini naturalist Ravi’s brother who is in Bandipur). My inadequate and possibly faulty description made it tough for them to figure out what I was seeing. Ailanthus malabarica and Vateria indica were suggested, but this seems to be neither.

Bandipur Aug 15 046

Bandipur Aug 15 048

Birds

  1. Asian paradise flycatcher
  2. Brahminy starling
  3. Brown shrike
  4. Changeable hawk eagle
  5. Coucal (calls)
  6. Crested serpent eagle
  7. Flameback (Lesser?)
  8. Green barbet
  9. Green bee-eater
  10. Grey junglefowl
  11. Indian blackbird
  12. Indian robin
  13. Jungle babbler
  14. Painted bush quail
  15. Jungle myna
  16. Magpie robin
  17. Malabar parakeet
  18. Peafowl
  19. Pied bushchat
  20. Pied kingfisher
  21. Pipit (species not recognized)
  22. Plum-headed parakeet
  23. Puff-throated babbler (calls)
  24. Purple-rumped sunbird
  25. Red vented bulbul
  26. Red whiskered bulbul
  27. Rose-ringed parakeet
  28. Spotted dove
  29. Spotted owlet
  30. White-bellied drongo
  31. White-breasted waterhen
  32. White-browed fantail
  33. White-throated kingfisher

Mammals

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

Trip Report: Corbett Tiger Reserve, Apr 2015

Trip:       Corbett Tiger Reserve

Camp:   Sultan FRH (2 nights), Gairal FRH (1 night)

Dates:   1 Apr – 6 Apr ‘15

Who:     VV, KB and my seven year old son

Corbett Apr 15 5 264This is going to be another long post. I guess it is deserved, considering that this was the best wildlife trip I’ve ever done, in terms of sheer sighting productivity.

VV and I had planned this trip well in advance and we were eager to get bookings at the famed Dhikala FRH. And VV had coordinated with Pavan Puri to put this trip together. Despite three people being poised to click exactly when booking opened 45 days in advance, we could not get Dhikala and had to be content with Sultan for the first two nights and Gairal for the third. I was contemplating canceling the trip and retrying our luck with Dhikala, but VV persuaded me to stick with the plan. The experience turned out to be completely unexpected (at least as far as we were concerned).

Dhikala was big and crowded, though there was the apparent advantage of being right where the sightings were (and thereby allowing guests to hang around the chaur until lockdown time at 6:30 PM, unlike guests staying at Sarapduli, Gairal, Sultan or one of the other places who needed to leave at 5 PM or whenever to reach their lodgings before 6:30 PM). Despite this, I would not like to stay at Dhikala when I go back. Sultan is the place to stay at.

Sultan was spectacular, nestling amidst a lovely stand of Sal, with just two rooms and no electric fencing (or electricity for that matter). The moon was nearly full at this time and the forest was expectedly ethereal in the moonlight. Chital alarm calls were heard around the FRH after dark. In addition to the persistent calls of nightjar – possibly Grey or Large-tailed – and of the Brown hawk owl.

Gairal FRH is much larger with nine rooms. It overlooks the Ramganga, but there is not much point to this as access to the river is cut off by electric fencing. Again not a patch on Sultan, in my admittedly dubious opinion.

This trip was restricted to the Dhikala safari zone. VV pointed out that the Bijrani safari zone was also worth exploration, and our quiet but competent driver Harish Patwal added that the Malani FRH there was a fair equivalent of Sultan. So those are the places I’ll head to the next time.

The weather at this time of year was interesting. It rained quite a bit. Mornings and evenings were cold while the rest of the day was hot. Nights were cool enough to sleep pleasantly through despite the absence of fans.

Corbett has a unique arrangement in terms of timings. Vehicles are allowed to leave the FRHs at 6 AM and have to be back by 6:30 PM. There is a lock-down in effect between 11 AM and 2:30 PM. All visitors have to be confined to one of the camps, or to one of the two watchtowers around Dhikala during this slot. We spent two of the four days on one of the watchtowers near Dhikala (the one near Sambar road I think) during the lockdown hours. The other two we spent doing lazy lunches at Dhikala and Gairal.

In terms of itinerary, we had initially planned to fly to Delhi and take the overnight train from there to Ramnagar. After some consideration, we changed our minds, advanced our air tickets to reach Delhi by 3 PM, and covered the 250 kms to Ramnagar by road, reaching there at 11:30 PM thanks to peak-time traffic in Delhi. On the way back, we took the train to Delhi and then took the morning flights out.

Some distances. The Dhangari gate is the gateway into the Dhikala safari zone and this is 18 kms from Ramnagar. Unless I got this wrong, Sultan is 6 kms from this gate, Gairal 15, and Dhikala 31 kms away.

Flora Corbett Apr 15 5 003 I spent quite some effort in identifying commonly seen trees and plants on this trip. It was a useful way to keep engaged whilst on the drive and between bird or mammal sightings. Time I’d otherwise have squandered away dreaming.

The landscape of Corbett TR is dominated by the Sal tree (Shorea robusta) to the extent of 73%. At this time of year, the trees were flowering and entire hillsides appeared dusted over with greenish white powder, contrasting with the dark green of the ribbed leaves below. Corbett Apr 15 3 124The Sal trees were also shedding heavily and the ground in many places was carpeted with rotting leaf litter. Corbett Apr 15 5 012In some stands of Sal, Rohini (Mallotus phillipinensis) grew in profusion in the understory. This is a diminutive tree bearing clusters of small, red fruit that find use in producing red dye and sindoor. The very picturesque last kilometer of road before Dhikala was reached boasted of plenty of these trees. Corbett Apr 15 4 027 Corbett Apr 15 1 056Terminalia elliptica, our Kari Mathi, was fairly common too. And I could occasionally spot Axlewood (Anogeissus latifolia). In some places, particularly around Dhikala, Indian gooseberry (Phyllanthus emblica) occurred.

In several areas, Haldu (Haldina cordifolia) grew in profusion, with many specimens having attained impressive girths. Corbett Apr 15 3 338 Alongside the Ramganga, Jamun (Syzygium cumini) was occasionally seen. Corbett Apr 15 4 017 The Kusum tree (Schleichera oleosa) stood out at this time of year as its newly sprouted leaves were red in colour, the contrast rendering it rather pretty. Corbett Apr 15 1 013 At one of the stream crossings, Harish pointed out a few specimens of Chir pine (Pinus roxburghii). This is the lone coniferous species that occurs in Corbett. Corbett Apr 15 1 006 In terms of plants, the understory in the Sal forests was dominated by two species for most part – Hill glorybower (Clerodendrum infortunatum) and Lantana camara. Both were flowering in profusion, the former decked out in little, five-petaled white flowers, each sprouting four tendrilly stamens. And the latter blossoming in a riot of white, orange, yellow and violet.

Clerodendrum infortunatum: Corbett Apr 15 1 002 The many hues of Lantana camara: Corbett Apr 15 5 026 Ageratum conyzoides, another exotic locally known as baansila also bore little white flowers and was very common. Corbett Apr 15 5 052 The Curry plant (Murraya koenigii) was seen in abundance, especially around Dhikala. The stretch of road known as Tunbhoji contains whole stretches of Curry plants. Corbett Apr 15 3 258 Colebrookea oppositifolia with its worm-like inflorescence was abundant in some places. Corbett Apr 15 3 012 In many areas Cannabis, possibly Cannabis sativa covered the ground in profusion. Corbett Apr 15 3 331 Ferns are commonly met with in the Sal forests. This one below is possibly Adiantum sp. Corbett Apr 15 4 013 And this one is possibly Pteris sp. Corbett Apr 15 4 007 These four species I am yet to identify – all four were very common.

This plant is locally known as Tun. It is laden with clusters of green berries, some turning purple. A track around Dhikala (which connects with the famed Thandi sadak) is lined with this species and is called Tunbhoji. Corbett Apr 15 4 052 This species of plant growing to around a foot in height packed the verges in many places. Harish identified it as Anjeer. Corbett Apr 15 4 073 Another plant very commonly seen, and most often in a tattered condition and sprouting buds. Perhaps it is Pogostemon amaranthoides, which is said to occur in Corbett TR. Corbett Apr 15 5 015 This is a very common concomitant of Baansila – Ageratum conyzoides. It has little lavender flowers which are similar to those of Ageratum. Harish maintained that it was another variant of the same species, but that is quite evidently not the case. The plant itself is much smaller, and so are the leaves. They are reminiscent of mint leaves. The specimen in this picture below has been drenched in rain. Corbett Apr 15 4 078 Birding It would be an understatement to say that birding in Corbett is breathtaking. Most wildlife spots boast of somewhere under 300 bird species in my experience. Corbett boasts of 600. Unless this claim is inflated. I exceeded a species count of 100 for the very first time, with around 30 lifers thrown in. And this despite the fact that we were not exactly birding with a vengeance – we let a bunch of sightings go unidentified. It did help that that VV was fairly expert at the local avifauna.

The calls of Black-hooded oriole, Red-breasted parakeet, Plum-headed parakeet, Common hawk cuckoo and Spotted dove were the typical sounds heard. We encountered the Blue whistling thrush and that most remarkable bird, the White-crested laughing thrush several times along the forest roads. Corbett Apr 15 3 019 Kalij pheasants gave us a couple of close and very patient photo ops, unlike their cousins the Red junglefowl which were considerably more nervous. Corbett Apr 15 3 373 Corbett Apr 15 6 416 Corbett Apr 15 5 087 A Great Indian hornbill swished past on our last day there. I finally managed to sight a bird that I’ve heard many times but have never managed to see – the Indian cuckoo. I also had the considerable satisfaction of spotting and later identifying the spectacular colours of the Rufous-bellied niltava. We spent many engrossing minutes from the Dhikala watchtower peeping on a pair of mating parakeets.

Red turtle doves frequent the Dhikala camp in large numbers, and were rarely encountered elsewhere. Corbett Apr 15 3 044 Corbett is a raptor-watcher’s paradise. Pallas’s fish eagle and Lesser fish eagle were commonly encountered. As were CSE, CHE and a host of vultures.Common kestrel and Shikra were also frequently seen.

Brown fish owl: Corbett Apr 15 3 315 On the chaurs, Paddyfield pipit, Pied bushchat and Common stonechat ruled. With some drongos thrown in for good measure. River lapwings and River terns were commonly seen along the water’s edge. Corbett Apr 15 3 148

Mammals and reptiles

Sambar hind by the eponymous Sambar road. Corbett Apr 15 3 103 Sambar hind and fawn fording the Ramganga; photographed from the Dhikala watchtower. Corbett Apr 15 4 165 Wild boar at Dhikala. Corbett Apr 15 4 049 Hog deer hind by the Ramganga reservoir. Corbett Apr 15 4 153 Corbett Apr 15 4 110 Multiple herds of elephants were invariably at the Ramganga reservoir each evening. Corbett Apr 15 1 273 Corbett Apr 15 4 460 Corbett Apr 15 8 017 Corbett Apr 15 8 054 We saw this crippled calf and its herd on a couple of occasions. The mother’s handling of its inability to keep up was an object lesson in forbearance.  Corbett Apr 15 8 186 We invariably encountered jackal pairs in the picturesque stretch of Sal forest just before reaching Dhikala, and in the chaur around it. Here, doing it just like a dog. Corbett Apr 15 3 164 This python was stationed near Gorkha sot and sighted by most passing jeeps. It was most probably an Indian python, but could have been a Burmese python too. Yawning, in the second picture. Corbett Apr 15 5 173 Corbett Apr 15 5 199 At the point where a road branches off to the Khinnanauli FRH, we saw a pair of Yellow-throated marten dart across the road. The pair presently returned and recrossed again. This creature was on my wishlist for the trip. Harish noted that they were often seen in the vicinity. The weather was wet and presently the skies opened up. We waited a while longer before giving up. We then took to referring to the junction as ‘Marten point’ and looked for the pair each time we passed thereafter, with no luck however.

On day 3, we were rushing back to Gairal at sunset, being late for the 6:30 deadline. The light was rapidly fading. When we reached crocodile point, Harish slammed the brakes exclaiming “Tiger!”. Sure enough, a male got up and off the road, and wandered over into the bushes to our left (the viewpoint was to our left too, the tiger was in the bushes just past the viewpoint). Resenting our intrusion, the cat set up a series of growls while blundering through the thick undergrowth. I suggested that  we pull into the viewpoint to peep over the bushes he was in, but Harish felt the tiger would charge if provoked. In a few minutes, realizing we weren’t being driven away by the growling, the tiger re-emerged onto the road, crossed it, and stood on the verge for a minute staring fixedly at us, before disappearing into the undergrowth. Junior incidentally dived under his seat and stayed hidden there through the growling.

Here’s a picture I hurriedly clicked at an ISO of 25,600 in the failing light. Corbett Apr 15 5 032

Incidentally, Corbett doesn’t seem to be very big on naming individual tigers. However this particular male went by the moniker of Diwani Ram ka tiger, named after a fire watcher he killed three years back.

Our second tiger sighting happened the next morning. Alarm calls were reported from the stand of burnt trees near the reservoir. A tigress had evidently been spotted disappearing into the thickets by someone and the local phone tree was burning up. We reached there to join some eight or ten other Gypsies all lined up in the blazing sun on the chaur. A very large herd of chital grazed placidly nearby.

We’d just finishing admiring an osprey on a nearby tree when out of the thickets came the tigress, charging straight into the herd. She missed bagging anything and lost the advantage of surprise. The deer however went into milling confusion presenting another opportunity. She then made a second attempt, which failed too. After which she retired to the thicket, closely followed by the entire chital herd in formation, anxious not to lose sight of her.

Here’s a part of the sequence. Corbett Apr 15 5 115 Corbett Apr 15 5 116 Corbett Apr 15 5 117 Corbett Apr 15 5 120 Corbett Apr 15 5 121 Corbett Apr 15 5 123 Corbett Apr 15 5 127 ENGL2434 Corbett Apr 15 5 145

The list Birds:

  1. Ashy bulbul
  2. Ashy-crowned sparrow lark
  3. Ashy drongo
  4. Ashy prinia
  5. Ashy woodswallow
  6. Asian paradise flycatcher
  7. Bar-headed goose
  8. Black-hooded oriole
  9. Black redstart
  10. Black stork
  11. Black-shouldered kite
  12. Black-winged stilt
  13. Blue-bearded bee-eater
  14. Blue-throated barbet
  15. Blue whistling-thrush
  16. Brown-capped pygmy woodpecker
  17. Brown fish owl
  18. Brown hawk owl (calls)
  19. Changeable hawk eagle
  20. Chestnut-tailed starling
  21. Cinereous tit
  22. Cinereous vulture?
  23. Yellow wagtail
  24. Collared falonet
  25. Common green magpie (calls)
  26. Common hawk cuckoo
  27. Common iora
  28. Common kestrel
  29. Common myna
  30. Common sandpiper
  31. Common stonechat
  32. Coppersmith barbet
  33. Cormorant (?)
  34. Crested kingfisher
  35. Crested serpent eagle
  36. Egret (?)
  37. Eurasian collared dove
  38. Eurasian or Himalayan cuckoo (?)
  39. Fulvous woodpecker
  40. Gold-fronted leaf bird
  41. Great Indian hornbill
  42. Great slaty woodpecker
  43. Green bee-eater
  44. Grey-capped pygmy woodpecker
  45. Grey-headed fish eagle
  46. Grey-headed woodpecker
  47. Grey heron
  48. Grey wagtail
  49. Hen harrier?
  50. Himalayan bulbul
  51. Indian cuckoo?
  52. Indian grey hornbill
  53. Indian spotted eagle?
  54. Indian treepie
  55. Jungle babbler
  56. Jungle myna
  57. Kalij pheasant
  58. Large cuckooshrike
  59. Lesser fish eagle
  60. Lesser flameback
  61. Lesser yellownape
  62. Lineated barbet
  63. Long-tailed nightjar, or possibly Grey nightjar (calls)
  64. Long-tailed shrike
  65. Magpie robin
  66. Orange-headed thrush
  67. Orange minivet
  68. Oriental honey buzzard
  69. Oriental pied hornbill
  70. Oriental skylark?
  71. Oriental white-eye
  72. Osprey
  73. Paddyfield pipit
  74. Pallas’s fish eagle
  75. Peafowl
  76. Pied bushchat
  77. Pied kingfisher
  78. Plum-headed parakeet
  79. Purple sunbird
  80. Red avadavat
  81. Red-breasted parakeet
  82. Red-headed vulture
  83. Red junglefowl
  84. Red turtle dove/Red collared dove
  85. Red-vented bulbul
  86. Red-wattled lapwing
  87. Red-whiskered bulbul
  88. River lapwing
  89. River tern
  90. Rock dove/Blue rock pigeon
  91. Rose-ringed parakeet
  92. Rosy minivet
  93. Rosy starling
  94. Rufous-bellied niltava
  95. Ruddy shelduck
  96. Shikra
  97. Small minivet
  98. Spangled drongo
  99. Spotted dove
  100. Streak-throated woodpecker
  101. Striated grassbird?
  102. Striated laughingthrush
  103. Tailor bird (calls)
  104. Tawny fish owl
  105. Velvet-fronted nuthatch
  106. Warbler (?)
  107. White-browed wagtail
  108. White-crested laughingthrush
  109. White-eyed buzzard
  110. White-rumped vulture?
  111. White-throated kingfisher
  112. White-throated laughingthrush
  113. White wagtail
  114. Wooly-necked stork
  115. Yellow-eyed babbler
  116. Yellow-footed green pigeon

Mammals:

  1. Barking deer
  2. Chital
  3. Common langur
  4. Common mongoose
  5. Elephant
  6. Hog deer
  7. Rhesus macaque
  8. Sambar
  9. Tiger
  10. Wild boar
  11. Yellow-throated marten

Reptiles:

  1. Bengal monitor
  2. Gharial
  3. Indian or Burmese python
  4. Mugger

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.

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.

K Gudi Mar 15 056

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:

K Gudi Mar 15 128

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:

K Gudi Mar 15 174

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:

K Gudi Mar 15 015

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:

K Gudi Mar 15 141

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:

20150308_131846

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.

K Gudi Mar 15 136

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