Trip report: Galibore, Oct ’16

Trip Report:        Galibore Nature Camp

Dates:                   10-11 Oct 2016

Who:                     P and H

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A single night at Galibore planned on impulse. And an interesting trip it turned out to be.

My good friend and ace birding guide Thomraj had been convalescing after a kidney stone procedure and returned by forenoon the same morning I reached. Meanwhile Govind and I took a walk down the road eastwards after paying our customary respects to the resident Brown hawk owl. Greenish warblers called from virtually every tree – thousands of them must have migrated into our southern forests at this time as they were all over the place here, in Yercaud, and doubtless elsewhere too. The weather was cool in the shade but mildly uncomfortable in the sun. We found a quiet spot by the river to sit in. A Sirkeer malkoha flew past rousing us and we tailed it to where it settled. On the way back, we spent a while watching a White-rumped shama which posed for us, while a flock of Tawny-bellied babblers foraged in the thickets around it. Govind meanwhile delivered a little lesson on the nuances of chital pellets. The stags evidently drop elongated ones while the does’ tend towards the spherical. We spent some time picking pellets off the forest floor to assess them.

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Lesser fish eagle

One of the most special things to do in Galibore is the walk back from the coracle alighting point at sunset. The walk through the forest in the fading light for a few kilometers offers potential for interesting encounters. A few days back, Thomraj, Govind and another staff member heard langurs calling, waited and were rewarded with a leopard sighting. Thomraj also related another recent story about a tusker that entered the water on the opposite bank on sighting them and swam across at alarming speed, causing them to abandon the coracles and scramble for the jeep. However on this day, all we did was to pause awhile to admire a brace of Painted spurfowl and a twittering Brown-capped pygmy woodpecker.

There are always interesting elephant stories to catch up on in each visit. Like the one about a lone elephant that approached the kitchen building one night not long back. Or the one about how Thomraj ran into a herd while on his motorbike, in the forenoon a few days back. He had to flee back to the camp and have a jeep escort his bike through the herd.

I had intended to sit on the promontory late into the night listening, but a crew was working on fixing a faulty water pump by the river accompanied by great noise and light. I went to bed after waiting in vain for them to finish, around midnight. Alarm calls erupted at 2 AM, but I was too sleepy to step out. Two animals were calling; one was a sambar. I had forgotten that sambar occurred here, but Thomraj confirmed this the next morning. The other was a call I struggled to place – Thomraj hadn’t noticed the calls themselves, but surmised (the next morning) that chital sometimes call with a hoarser version and that was probably what I’d heard. Incidentally, we also heard a four-horned antelope repeatedly calling in alarm during the evening coracle ride – first time I’ve heard one.

With some guidance from my pal VV, I’ve been doing some homework on butterflies over the past few days and found occasion to test my rank beginner skills in the green patch between the promontory and the river that attracts large numbers of butterflies. Commonly seen species were White orange-tip, Common wanderer, Common mormon, Common grass yellow, Yellow orange-tip and Tawny coster. There was also what I thought was the Indian skipper, but checking the coloration subsequently revealed that it was something else. Also identified, probably correctly, Plain tiger and Common jezebel elsewhere.

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Tawny coster

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Skipper sp.

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Yellow orange-tip

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White orange-tip

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Wrongly ID’d as Common wanderer. VV pointed out that this is probably a Common gull.

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This is the plant that attracts butterflies in numbers. Karthik (www.wildwanderer.com) subsequently helped ID it as Sida sp.

On day 2, just before we departed the camp, a juvenile Grizzled giant squirrel lost its grip and came crashing down from the canopy. It sat stunned for a while but otherwise seemed none the worse for its fall, and was soon racing back up the bole.

Three special sightings this time. Post lunch, a pack of four dhole trotted westwards on the opposite bank, walking in single file close to the water’s edge. They paused to stare at the camp and then continued their way upstream.

At sunset, the new manager Abhijit and I were chatting while I was idly gazing at a black object on the opposite bank. It took a while for the lights to come on, but I eventually realized that the object was a foraging sloth bear. As it often happens, the bear wandered out of sight shortly after this realization struck.

On the second morning, Thomraj and I walked westwards on the road towards the Hyra camp (which is what I remember it’s called) a couple of kilometers away. We were treading on fresh elephant spoor; a bull elephant that Thomraj figured was a known single tusker had passed not long back. Thomraj was on high alert, scanning the jungle ahead with utmost care while simultaneously trying to find birds. The spoor veered off into the jungle a short way before the FD shack at Hyra and we turned back shortly after that.

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Bull elephant spoor. Fore and hind feet. The larger print to the right is of the hind foot.

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Sloth bear pugmarks. Fore and hind feet. Print on the right is of the hind foot.

On the way back, we had a superb Southern tree shrew sighting. First time I’ve seen one in the Cauvery WLS. Thomraj also showed me a small, partially buried stone a short way off the track which purportedly shows ancient etchings in Tamil-like script.

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Unidentified lizard in the forest

  1. Alexandrine parakeet (calls)
  2. Asian paradise flycatcher (calls)
  3. Black-hooded oriole (calls)
  4. Blue-faced malkoha
  5. Brahminy kite
  6. Brown-capped pigmy woodpecker
  7. Brown hawk owl
  8. Common iora
  9. Common kingfisher
  10. Common myna
  11. Common skylark
  12. Common tailorbird
  13. Common woodshrike
  14. Darter
  15. Golden-fronted leaf bird
  16. Great cormorant
  17. Green bee eater
  18. Greenish warbler
  19. Grey junglefowl
  20. Green imperial pigeon
  21. Hoopoe
  22. Indian grey hornbill
  23. Indian robin
  24. Jungle babbler
  25. Jungle crow
  26. Jungle owlet (calls)
  27. Lesser fish eagle
  28. Lesser flameback
  29. Little cormorant
  30. Egret (unidentified)
  31. Magpie robin
  32. Painted spurfowl
  33. Peafowl
  34. Pied kingfisher
  35. Purple-rumped sunbird
  36. Red-rumped swallow
  37. Red-vented bulbul
  38. Red-wattled lapwing
  39. Red-whiskered bulbul
  40. Rose-ringed parakeet
  41. Sirkeer malkoha
  42. Spotted dove
  43. Stork-billed kingfisher (calls)
  44. Tawny-bellied babbler
  45. Tickell’s blue flycatcher
  46. White-bellied drongo
  47. White-browed bulbul (calls)
  48. White-browed wagtail
  49. White-cheeked barbet (calls)
  50. White-rumped shama
  51. White-throated kingfisher
  52. Wire-tailed swallow
  53. Yellow-billed babbler
  54. Yellow-crowned woodpecker
  1. Bonnet macaque
  2. Chital
  3. Dhole
  4. Four-horned antelope (alarm calls)
  5. Grizzled giant squirrel
  6. Tufted langur
  7. Mugger
  8. Sambar (alarm calls)
  9. Sloth bear
  10. Southern tree shrew
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Trip report: Yercaud, Sep ’16

Dates:                   30 Sep – 2 Oct ’16

Camp:                   Grange Resort

Grange is a picturesque resort surrounded by acres of coffee and pepper plantation.  Accommodation is in cottages that have sit-outs with very pleasant views. The ambience was quiet and peaceful, the weather was superb and the walks through the estate were very satisfying.

This was an office outing, but I was looking forward to the birding. The birding was far from impressive though, with just around twenty species sighted.

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The best experience was from the sit-out itself. Greater and Lesser flamebacks were both very common, sometimes settling on trees very close by if we stayed still and quiet. A pair (each) of Greater racket-tailed drongo and Indian treepie were constantly seen close to the cottage, sometimes at close range. It didn’t occur to me to attempt a photograph and I realized this only when VV asked me later on.

The building areas were home to a large (and noisy) number of Red-whiskered bulbul. These were occasionally joined by flocks of Oriental white-eye. Greenish leaf warbler were everywhere, although more heard than seen. Velvet-fronted nuthatch was sighted a few times. A flock of Jungle babbler made an occasional appearance.

A Crested serpent eagle called once, and Jungle owlet a few times. The latter called from the same location over the two days but was too far off the track to be located. I heard a couple of bird calls which I could not ID.

I was listening for calls at night – Grey nightjar, Mottled wood owl, Indian scops owl or Spotted owlet, but the only things heard were insects – cicadas and katydids possibly.

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This picturesque trail began virtually from the doorstep of my cottage (No. 15). We did birding walks along this trail morning and evening.

The walks yielded Rusty-tailed flycatcher, Greater coucal, White-cheeked barbet and Flowerpecker (Plain I think). One of my colleagues caught a fleeting glimpse of what sounded like the Painted bush quail from his description. I saw what I think was a Black-headed cuckooshrike. Our view was from below the bird, and while everything else tallied, the black on the neck and head was paler than you’d expect. One especially busy tree had a series of visitors – Ashy drongo, Golden-fronted leaf bird, Purple sunbird andOriental white-eye. A Magpie robin called once or twice, but was not seen.

We visited the National Orchidarium and Botanical Garden once hoping for some birding, but saw no birds. The orchid collection is impressive enough for those that fancy orchids I imagine. Most visitors seem to only notice the caged insectivorous pitcher plant though.

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The Grange resort boasts of an incredible history, the estate having been established in 1820 by a certain M.D. Cockburn, who also introduced coffee in the Shevaroy hills. The original building, which incidentally also served as a summer residence of Robert Clive still stands, although it could do with some upkeep. We were very keen on checking out the interiors, but the resort staff told us that the owner’s relatives lived there and it should be available for visitors in a few months’ time.

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Pic by Alex R.

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

Trip Report: Ranthambore National Park, Jan ’15

Trip:      Ranthambore National Park

Camp:   Ranthambhore Regency

Dates:   23-26 Jan ‘15

Who:     GiK, Drs R and M and kids V and P

We should have flown to Jaipur and driven from there to Sawai Madhopur (150 kms). Instead we flew to Delhi, reached there an hour later than scheduled, at about 9:30 PM, dealt with the pathetic airport taxi system to get to Hazrat Nizamuddin station, and took the 11:40 PM Haridwar-Mumbai Bandra Terminus SF Express that ended up leaving Delhi at 1:45 AM. We reached Sawai Madhopur at sometime past 6 AM, a full ninety minutes past schedule and rushed to catch the morning safari. And all this with two kids and a cold wave in attendance. Flying to Jaipur would have been the sensible thing to do, even if it meant some loss of daytime.

The zones

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We spent four days in Ranthambore, doing seven safaris in all. Ranthambore has ten numbered tourist zones, with ten gypsies allowed into each zone at a time. On weekends, the FD allows a few more under pressure from VIPs. In fact the FD themselves possess safari-ready gypsies for ferrying their guests around. These gypsies have the triple advantages of no zone restrictions, no time restrictions and a ready information feed via radio.

Zones 1 to 5 are the sought-after ones, with zone 3 being the clear favourite at this time. It is evidently not easy to get the popular zones booked. Regency get an assortment of zones booked daily and ration them among their guests to ensure everyone gets a fair share of the more productive zones. And so we did three safaris in zone 3, two in zone 4 and one each in zones 2 and 6.

Entry to zones 2 and 3 is via the Jogi Mahal gate. The picturesque zone 3 route winds past the Padam talao (on the banks of which the famed Jogi Mahal is sited) and onto the vast Raj Bagh lake. The abandoned hunting lodge on the latter has produced some fine images of tigers on its balcony framed by its structure and shot from across the lake. Finding tigers in this structure is evidently a summer phenomenon.

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Zone 2 is magnificent too, with the road winding by the towering Ranthambore fort and then past another long range of cliffs. However twice a month on chaturdashi days of the Hindu calendar, pilgrims troop through this zone barefoot to worship at a Ganesh temple somewhere. The resultant ruckus effectively puts paid to any decent sighting possibilities. That’s what happened to us on day 1 in the afternoon.

GiK and I thought zone 4 was the best of them all in terms of its beauty. At this time of year, it has several stunningly beautiful spots, especially large patches of bright, finely textured grass. A tiger on this grass in mellow morning light will make for a dream photograph. Zone 4 also has a large lake teeming with aquatic birds, muggers and sambar – Malik talao.

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This zone  is accessed via a gate placed to the left of the approach road some distance before the Jogi Mahal gate is reached.

The anicut in zone 4 in the morning mist:

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In contrast with these three zones, zone 6 is a drab and dreary affair, with no impressive landscapes or features – just dusty tracks winding through unprepossessing, stunted jungle. To make matters worse, this zone is accessed after negotiating the sewer-lined, congested bazars of old Sawai Madhopur. If this route is bad in winter, I shudder to think what it’ll be in the heat of summer. But to be fair, we did sight a tiger in zone 6, and a magnificent male in his prime at that.

Tiger centricity

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At the outset, our very competent naturalist Satish Upadyay suggested that we get the tiger sighting out of the way before turning our attention to birding. GiK, my kid P and I were in one Gypsy and we started with zone 3. We reached Rajbagh and struck luck. Three 10-month cubs gamboling in the grass, the litter of the tigress T-19 or Krishna. This tigress is Machli’s offspring and the reigning queen tigress of Ranthambore. We didn’t see the mother though, just the cubs. They were some 40-50 feet from the jeep, by the water and we watched them for twenty minutes or so before they headed back into taller khus grass where a sambar kill was hidden.

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As often happens, this spectacular start was followed by muted follow-through, with plenty of alarm calls but no sightings fructifying until the evening of the next day. That was the afternoon safari of day 2, in zone 6. A passing Gypsy reported seeing a tiger cross a nallah and disappear into the jungle. Scouting around we finally came to a cluster of jeeps with the tiger barely visible some two hundred meters away. This was T-34 or Kumbha, a tiger with a colourful reputation for intimidating behavior. He was lying on his back with his paws in the air.

Ranthambore allows safaris in Gypsies and Canters. The latter contain five seats to a row and it mustn’t be great fun to be stuck in the middle. Anyway there were plenty of noisy tourists in attendance and the din disturbed the animal enough to make him roll over one side to the other occasionally and lift his head up to see what the racket was all about. This went on for about fifteen minutes after which he was disgusted enough to rise and stalk away. The horde then started up to chase him, but by the time the jam could be sorted out and the vehicles turned around, a good ten minutes was lost. Meanwhile the cat disappeared without a trace.

Satish had predicted a success rate of 30%. We did a little better than that, with three sightings in seven safaris. On day 3 in the evening safari, we had spent the evening chasing alarm calls in vain all over zone 4. Often being in the unenviable situation of having calls emanating from two different directions.

An interesting feature of tiger tracking in Ranthambore is that when alarm calls are heard, whether chital or langur, Satish listened to see if multiple individuals were calling. Calls by single individuals evidently lack credibility and were actually ignored a couple of times, even when persisting for a while. Satish also mentioned that while chital or sambar calls may sometimes mislead, the nilgai’s alarm call, if heard, is a certain indicator of the tiger’s presence.

Exit time was at 5:30 and we’d spent much of the evening rushing from one set of calls to another. While we were stopped in one of the meeting points for a quick bio break, a gypsy rolled in and the woman in it asked why all of us were hanging around there while there was a sighting in progress elsewhere. Satish and the driver jumped like they were bee-stung and we began a crazy, careening hurtle at mad speed towards the spot indicated. This was quite a distance away and we had just about half an hour to go before exit time, with the exit gate a long way off.

Reaching the place we found that it was hardly a kilometer’s distance from where we’d waited a while earlier listening to chital calls. Some jeeps had gone ahead from that point but had returned without having spotted the tiger. Given the late hour, all the vehicles there were FD Gypsies, with our Gypsy and a canter that arrived later being the only commercial tourist vehicles. The tiger was sprawled on the grass across a ravine amidst some very pretty scenery. This was T-6 or Romeo a fine six year old male. We had around five minutes to take a good look and finish clicking pictures before it was time to hurtle back towards the exit gate. The driver incidentally clocked 85 kmph on that crazy drive and we spent much of it in the air, holding on tight to keep us from bouncing right off the jeep. Admittedly illegal but incredible fun though.

Leopards are at least as numerous as tigers in Ranthambore but as is typical of tiger-infested areas, rarely show themselves.

Both chital and sambar were numerous and the long-drawn rutting calls of chital stags reverberated through the forests at this time of year, sometimes startling innocent tourists who mistook them for the agonized screams of some animal being done to death.

Upwardly mobile chital stag:

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Sambar stags sparring:

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Nilgai are also fairly numerous in places, and GiK and I got some pictures.

Nilgai doe and buck in the mist:

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Nilgai buck:

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We also saw the Chinkara or Indian Gazelle for the first time, a very satisfying experience. Mugger are commonly seen on all the lakes.

There were several palm squirrels in the forest. After a desultory glance at one of them, I concluded that they were of the three-striped variety. Dr. R later told me that we were probably looking at Five-striped palm squirrels. I resolved to look more carefully and get a picture if possible on the next outing, but this slipped my mind and I didn’t see any more squirrels.

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Birding

Most remarkable are the Indian treepies. They are exceedingly common all through the forest, and are inured to tourists feeding them, although that is supposedly banned now. We did see some tourists feeding the birds at the rest points though. The birds however have lost their fear of people and freely perch on heads and hands. They are fearless enough to hop into the gypsies and onto the floor right around our feet, hunting for crumbs. Stop at any spot and in all likelihood, a couple materialized, heads cocked greedily, inspecting us closely for signs of anything edible.

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Peafowl are numerous as you might expect, and the persistent, two-note calls of Grey francolins rent the air frequently.

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Babblers, especially jungle babblers are numerous too and make it noisily evident. Large grey babblers are easily met with and I initially mistook them for jungle babblers until Dr. R pointed this out. Rose-ringed parakeets are another noisy, frequently encountered bird. We met spotted owlets around half a dozen times, so they are not uncommon here.

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Long-tailed shrike:

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Hoopoe on a Dhok tree:

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In the waters of the lakes were Ruddy shelducks, Wooly-necked storks, Grey herons, Common snipes, egrets, cormorants, darters, White ibis, Openbill storks, River terns, dozens of Common moorhen, plenty of Black-winged stilts, more White-breasted waterhen than I’ve cumulatively seen so far and intrepid Red-wattled lapwings that stalked right up to the jeeps hunting for insects dislodged by the tyres.

Wooly-necked stork:

Ranthambore 126

Black-winged stilt:

Ranthambore Day 1 AM 292

Black-capped night heron:

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We noted that barbets were strangely absent, although Dr. R’s naturalist pointed out that Coppersmith barbets did occur and were heard in the summer. Junglefowl are conspicuously absent.

Indian Scops owl:

Ranthambore 225

On the drive from Sawai Madhopur to Jaipur (we took the more sensible route on the way back), we saw Bank mynas for the first time whilst stopping for chai.

Crested serpent eagle:

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Flora

The landscape of Ranthambore is dominated by the tiny-leaved Dhok tree (Anogeissus pendula). This species comprises a good seventy or eighty percent of the forest’s tree-count and is therefore ubiquitous. Next in terms of frequency are Babul or the Gum Arabic tree (Acacia nilotica) and the Flame of the forest (Butea monosperma).

Acacia nilotica:

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Stunted Khair trees (Acacia catechu) are also frequently encountered.

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On rocky slopes, the striking-looking Karaya Gum tree (Sterculia Urens) is commonly seen.

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Several fine specimens of banyan (Ficus bengalensis) are found throughout the park including the iconic one draping the entrance a little before the Jogi Mahal gate. An exceptionally large specimen occurs near the Jogi Mahal, but is out of bounds for tourists.

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Indian date palms (Phoenix sylvestris) are frequently met with. Tendu (Diospyros melanoxylon) is also encountered occasionally. Adusa (Adhatoda vasica) occurs in clumps in many places. The leaves, flowers and bark of this shrub find medicinal uses chiefly in the treatment of asthma.

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Large clumps of the cactus-like Euphorbia plant are also seen.

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A very common shrub in the Dhok forests is Grewia flavescens. At least that’s what I think it is. Our naturalist Satish identified the plant as Chameni in Hindi. I struggled to locate the binomial name and after considerable search, am leaning towards Grewia flavescens. This Grewia species is reputed to be a frequent associate of the Dhok and is supposedly commonly found in Ranthambore. The plant we saw is certainly found all over the place.

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The lakesides are lined with the aromatic Khus grass (Vetivaria zizznioides). Large patches of striking red Water velvet (Azolla pinnata) were found on the surfaces of some lakes. This is a species of tiny-leaved aquatic fern.

Birds:

  1. Asian pied starling
  2. Ashy-crowned sparrowlark
  3. Bank myna
  4. Long-tailed shrike
  5. Black-capped night heron
  6. Black drongo
  7. Black-shouldered kite
  8. Black-tailed godwit
  9. Black-winged stilt
  10. Blue rock dove
  11. Bluethroat
  12. Brown rock chat
  13. Cinereous tit
  14. Common iora
  15. Common kingfisher
  16. Common moorhen
  17. Common snipe
  18. Crested serpent eagle
  19. Darter
  20. Eurasian thick-knee
  21. Greater cormorant
  22. Greater coucal
  23. Grey francolin
  24. Grey heron
  25. Grey wagtail
  26. Hoopoe
  27. Indian Scops owl
  28. Indian vulture
  29. Long-tailed shrike
  30. Indian treepie
  31. Jungle babbler
  32. Large egret
  33. Large grey babbler
  34. Lesser flameback
  35. Little brown dove
  36. Little green heron
  37. Magpie robin
  38. Oriental honey buzzard
  39. Osprey
  40. Painted stork
  41. Peafowl
  42. Painted spurfowl
  43. Pied kingfisher
  44. Plain prinia
  45. Red-breasted flycatcher
  46. Red-wattled lapwing
  47. River tern
  48. Rose-ringed parakeet
  49. Ruddy shelduck
  50. Spotted dove
  51. Stonechat
  52. White-belloed drongo
  53. White-breasted waterhen
  54. White-browed fantail
  55. White-browed wagtail
  56. White ibis
  57. White-throated kingfisher
  58. White wagtail
  59. Wooly-necked stork
  60. Yellow-footed green pigeon

Mammals:

  1. Chinkara
  2. Chital
  3. Common langur
  4. Nilgai
  5. Ruddy mongoose
  6. Sambar
  7. Tiger

Reptiles:

  1. Marsh crocodile

Meghamalai Reprised, Apr 2014

Trip Report:        Meghamalai Willife Sanctuary

Dates:                  11-13 Apr 2014

Camp:                  Vellimalai FRH

Companions:     GK, GiK, SS

Revisits to any place tend to be let-downs, primarily because a large part of the pleasure the first time around is in all likelihood, derived from the sheer unexpectedness of it. This trip was an exception. GK and I visited Meghamalai in January this year (blog post here), were unable to get permission to occupy the picturesque Vellimalai FRH, and swore we’d come back to stay there someday. We made good on our promise this time.

This FRH nestles in a spot of great beauty deep inside the forest, is dwarfed by towering riverine forests, and has a stream running by it. Armed with the requisite permission, we were eagerly looking forward to the experience of camping at this beautiful spot. And the experience did not disappoint, despite the heightened expectations.

In terms of the itinerary, we did pretty much the same things we did the last time around – driving up through the Pandian estate to the Vellimalai Murugan temple, and having Thangaraj jeep us up to the Anaikullipallam estate (these are separate outings). In addition to these, we spent the mornings and evenings absorbed in some very pleasant birding in the vicinity of the FRH. This last was probably the most fulfilling part of the trip, given the pleasant surroundings and richness of birdlife around.

We expected sunrise and sunset hours to be especially spectacular around the FRH, and they were. We woke up to the calls of Malabar whistling thrushes, Asian fairy bluebirds (plenty of them around), Hill mynas, Malabar grey hornbills and Grey jungle fowl. On a single tree in the camp, we counted four species of bulbul all at once – Red whiskered, Flame throated, White-browed and Yellow-browed. There were quite a few Black bulbuls around, but they regrettably did not join in the record attempt or else we’d have seen five species of bulbul all on one tree. And this was in addition to a Malabar giant squirrel, a Malabar grey hornbill and a couple of Green barbets that were foraging on the same tree. Elsewhere around the camp we saw Hill myna, Racket-tailed drongo (plenty of both), Malabar whistling thrush, Asian fairy bluebird (dozens of them), Golden oriole, Puff throated babbler, Brown-cheeked fulvetta, Orange minivet, Cinereous tit, Nilgiri flycatcher, Crimson-backed sunbird (plenty of these too), Pond heron, Common kingfisher (both by the stream), Lesser flameback and Nilgiri langur (there were plenty of Bonnet macaque in the camp).

On Saturday evening around sunset, GiK and I took a walk down the road towards a little culvert a short way from the FRH. Incidentally Muniswamy, the forest watcher who accompanied us on our drives had told us of having sighted a tiger on a kill (a cow) beside this culvert a while back. The road runs parallel to the stream that abuts the FRH, and we had gone some distance when we heard splashing and snorting noises from the water below. We were looking forward to (and dreading, at the same time) meeting elephants and naturally assumed we’d hit paydirt. GiK moved around to find a gap in the intervening shrubbery and three sambar went crashing through the water in alarm, splashing up a tremendous din in the silence of the forest.

We resumed our walk and went a little further ahead when sambar alarm calls erupted in the jungle across the stream to our right, and some distance ahead of us. The calls persisted and a Nilgiri langur presently took alarm too. This animal was just off the road to our left, and both calls some hundred meters ahead of us. (We could see neither sambar nor langur). Stealing ahead noiselessly on rubber-soled feet, we reached the culvert. I was desperately hoping for a tiger sighting on foot – an item on my bucket-list that has so far refused to fructify. We planted ourselves on the culvert and waited in silence, but were disappointed when the calls eventually died out. Incidentally, sambar alarm calls also erupted around the FRH a couple of times after sunset, when we were sitting on chairs outside our room.

The eight-kilometer drive through Pandian estate to the Vellimalai Murugan temple was pleasant as ever and very productive as far as birding was concerned. We entered the estate in the evening after the labour-force had departed and had the route to ourselves. Our luck was on a roll this time around. We had searched for but failed to find Lion-tailed macaque the last time around and here they were, a whole troop just off the road. I had mentioned a flashing tree shrew sighting which only GK got a clear look at in January and now I got a clear sighting of Anathana ellioti – the Southern tree shrew.  We also saw the White-bellied treepie in the upper reaches. We saw this bird multiple times on this trip – once here and thrice on the Anaikullipallam track. SS was unwell and had elected to stay back, and he got the privilege of sighting Draco dussumieri – the Southern flying lizard – at the FRH.

Anaikullipallam if you recall is eight kilometers or so from the Vellimalai FRH. The road to get there passes through some very rough, lantana-choked, boulder-strewn terrain. The track is far too rough for the Scorp, and hence the need to have Thangaraj jeep us up. Having learnt our lesson from the last trip, we had requested Thangaraj to organize a cooked meal for us at Anaikullipallam.

En route are some three or four estates in various states of disrepair, all of them having been abandoned presumably due to labour shortage. Living quarters built for the hands are empty and dilapidated, having been visited by the occasional marauding elephant. There was an injured or ill gaur – bull or cow we couldn’t tell – just off the road that the men with us said had been sighted around the same spot for a couple of days now. The creature sat in the lantana by the roadside and made some effort to rise and move away at the sight of us.

We got off the jeep a kilometer or so before the Anaikullipallam estate house, and walked the rest of the way looking for birds. The upper reaches are cool and pleasant, with evergreen vegetation interspersed with plantation – coffee and cardamom. We saw what Muniswamy identified as sloth bear scat during the jeep drive, and Dhole scat in the last stretch (we had seen this the last time too). After a modest scratch meal at the estate house, we walked back the same distance and en route ran into a truly exhilarating encounter. GK who has eyes sharp as they come suddenly called out that there was a cobra just off the track. Since some people seem to equate all snakes with cobras, I rather uncharitably assumed he’d spotted a rat snake. Peeping over, I was astonished to find that we were in fact looking at Ophiophagus hannah himself – the King cobra – at a distance of less than six feet. Strikingly dual-toned in yellow and black, the snake had his hood raised two and a half feet off the ground and stood completely motionless. GiK and I were alternating between staring in fascination and fumbling with the wretched camera, which had chosen this of all moments to misbehave. The snake stood there for a full minute, and then lowering its hood, went slithering down the slope at great speed. Regrettably, we found the inadvertent setting change on the camera that had ruined our chance of a picture just after the snake departed.

Two quick points before I end this narration. One, I had been fretting over being unable to identify a call that is common in all our forests at night – it is a ping with a plop-like echo. On this trip, we traced the source to a tree and a torch beam revealed the culprit to be an Indian nightjar. I rechecked Xeno-canto and can only find the chuck-chuck-chuckrrrr calls that are typical of the nightjar.

Second, I had wrongly mentioned the named of the entry checkpost as Manjur in my last post. Turns out it is Manjoothu.

Here are some pictures GiK took – I seem to have completely abandoned my camera for binoculars.

Macaca silenus – the Lion-tailed macaque:

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The Vellimalai Murugan temple:

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The Vellimalai Murugan temple commands a spectacular view of the surrounding forests:

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Malabar giant squirrel:

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Indian nightjar, there is some camera shake as the picture was shot under trying conditions, by headlight:

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Flameback around the FRH:

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Malabar grey hornbill:

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Here is a full list of sightings:

Avifauna

Ashy woodswallow
Asian fairy bluebird
Black bulbul
Black-hooded oriole
Brown-cheeked fulvetta
Cinereous tit
Common babbler
Common hawk cuckoo
Common kingfisher
Coucal (call)
Crested serpent eagle
Crimson-backed sunbird
Flame-throated bulbul
Green barbet
Golden oriole
Grey junglefowl
Hill myna
Hoopoe (call)
Indian nightjar
Indian robin
Magpie robin
Malabar grey hornbill
Malabar whistling thrush
Nilgiri flycatcher
Orange minivet
Pond heron
Puff-throated babbler
Purple-rumped sunbird
Racket-tailed drongo
Red-vented bulbul
Red-whiskered bulbul
Spotted dove
Yellow-browed bulbul
Warbler
White-browed bulbul
White-bellied treepie
White-headed babbler
White-throated kingfisher

Mammals
Barking deer (Ganesh only)
Black-naped hare
Bonnet macaque
Gaur
Lion-tailed macaque
Malabar giant squirrel
Nilgiri langur
Palm squirrel
Sambar
Southern tree shrew

Others
King cobra
Southern flying lizard (SS only)

Trip Report: Bandipur National Park, March 2014

Trip Report: Bandipur National Park 

Dates:           29-31 Mar 2014

Camp:           JLR’s Bandipur Safari Lodge

This trip was organized by a bunch of us from the Nov ’13 NTP batch. It was open to the batch, but just four of us ultimately signed up. With the temperature rising, we were hopeful of productive mammal sightings; the forest fire which broke out a little before the middle of March threatened to put paid to our plans, but the safaris resumed after 4-5 days of disruption. We drove through some of these charred forests on one of the safaris, and the affected swathes can also be seen by the Ooty highway a little beyond the Bandipur reception area. A thousand acres were impacted by the fire, although this is perhaps not necessarily the tragedy it is made out to be. If you want to know why I say so, this is a very insightful piece to read.

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We did four safaris and I wouldn’t exactly say that the outings were brimming over with sightings, in terms of birds or mammals. Certainly not a patch on my last trip to Bandipur just before the south-west monsoon, when the safaris were vibrant with encounters every few minutes. That was in fact one of the best trips I have ever done (three tiger sightings, ten minutes spent backing up right besides a magnificent and very tolerant tusker, a Black naped hare, Ruddy and Stripe-necked mongooses that permitted prolonged and close observation, and plenty of birdlife).

This time in stark contrast, most of the time was spent in driving through a silent forest shorn of leaves (and completely infested with lantana), the jeep throwing up a pall of fine dust which settled on and fouled everything. Despite the subdued productivity, it was nevertheless time well-spent for us, with some intense birding and an interesting tigress sighting.

There was a tree spreading over our rooms, and weighed down with hundreds of golden-orange figs. Naturally, this was a magnet for frugivores of all hues and we spent a considerable amount of time between safaris under this tree and around the camp. Red-vented bulbuls, Plum-headed parakeets, Asian koels, Coppersmith barbets and palm squirrels were probably the most common gourmands – we found these on the tree with near-certainty at any point. Red-vented bulbuls were in force and aggressively so, and given to relentlessly harassing their more timorous red-whiskered cousins. Indian grey hornbills appeared fairly frequently.

Elsewhere in the camp, there were plenty of Purple-rumped sunbirds, Cinereous tits, Blyth’s reed warblers, Asian brown flycatchers, Common ioras, Oriental white-eyes and White-bellied drongos. A coucal was a constant (and constantly calling) fixture right outside our door, where we also spend an enthralling few minutes watching a flock (murder is the correct albeit awkward term) of crows mob a Shikra which had settled down to partake of something dead and delicious clutched in its claws. Unfazed, the Shikra decamped only after consuming its meal entirely, leaving nothing for the crows.

On the safaris, the first and last threw up elephant sightings, something that I was looking forward to. A small herd of three each time. In terms of birds, most common were hoopoes, Grey junglefowl, Brahminy starlings, Red-vented bulbuls, Magpie-robins, Flamebacks, Streak-throated woodpeckers, Jungle mynas and babblers (both Jungle and White-headed).

The tiger sighting happened in the third safari (evening). Our driver got a call and headed to a waterhole called Kadamatur Katte, where a couple of vehicles waited by the bank. Alarm calls were strangely absent though a langur foraged nearby. Deer were missing in the vicinity. A lapwing was calling hysterically though, punctuated by peacock calls. A few minutes later, a tigress walked out of a game trail on the opposite bank, and descended to the water to drink. However she seemed uneasy with the presence of the jeeps and wandered away to the right, disappearing into the undergrowth. Our jeep cranked up and moved in the same direction hoping for another interception when the van behind us, still parked at the same spot, signaled frantically. Backing up, we found that the tigress had returned to the water hole, slid into the shallows, and was lying with her haunches submerged. We spent some time watching her until she hauled herself out of the water and stalked away into a game trail in the shrubbery, to our left this time. Turning around, we drove some distance and parked near a spot where the drivers judged her likely to emerge. Five or six vehicles had congregated by this time, and we all waited in expectant silence.

The keyed-up tension settled in a few minutes, and we were trying to determine whether a flock of babblers we could see on a forking track ahead was common or white-headed when the tigress abruptly emerged and cantered across the track a short way ahead, much in the manner of a startled cow. We turned into another road in the same direction and some distance ahead, again found a likely spot where she might emerge. A few more vehicles had added on by this time and a long line waited in patient silence.

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Eventually our patience ran out and concluding that we’d lost her, we started on our way and had hardly gone fifty meters ahead when she was spotted sitting amidst the lantana, a short way off the road. Our screeching to a halt however alarmed her and rising, she finally turned around and disappeared into the lantana.

Dr. R had stayed on to do an additional safari after we left, and an interesting sidelight is that he returned to the same waterhole the next evening and noticed that in our excitement, we had probably missed spotting a carcass floating in the water. There was evidently some flutter at the human-like appearance of the carcass, but the forest department staff were informed and presently fished out a dead langur.

(Pic by Dr. R).

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Here are a few more pictures.

Grey junglefowl, Mr. and Mrs.

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Bandipur Mar 14 422

White-browed fantail:

Bandipur Mar 14 212

Grey francolin:

Bandipur Mar 14 371

Paddyfield pipit:

Bandipur Mar 14 483

Sambar, note the hairless patch on the neck – this is found in adult males and in pregnant or lactating females, sometimes oozes liquid, and is postulated to be glandular in nature:

Bandipur Mar 14 262

Peek-a-boo:

Bandipur Mar 14 292

Common mongoose on the main road:

Bandipur Mar 14 267

Stripe-necked mongoose, this is the largest species of mongoose in India:

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Elephant herd in the grass:

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Unnerved by the presence of the jeep, this nervous matriarch turns to flee:

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Tiger tiger burning bright, pic by Dr. R:

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Here is the complete list of sightings.

Avifauna

1. Asian brown flycatcher

2. Asian koel

3. Ashy drongo

4. Ashy prinia

5. Asian paradise flycatcher

6. Bay-backed shrike

7. Blue-faced malkoha

8. Blyth’s starling

9. Blyth’s reed warbler

10. Brahminy starling

11. Brown fish owl

12. Brown shrike

13. Chestnut shouldered petronias

14. Cinereous tit

15. Common hawk cuckoo

16. Common iora

17. Common kestrel

18. Common myna

19. Coppersmith barbet

20. Coucal

21. Crested serpent eagle

22. Eurasian collared dove

23. Greater flameback

24. Green barbet

25. Grey francolin

26. Grey heron

27. Grey junglefowl

28. Grey wagtail

29. Hoopoe

30. Indian grey hornbill

31. Indian robin

32. Indian treepie

33. Jungle babbler

34. Jungle myna

35. Large cuckooshrike

36. Lesser flameback

37. Little brown dove

38. Little egret

39. Long-tailed shrike

40. Magpie robin

41. Oriental white-eye

42. Paddyfield pipit

43. Pied bushchat

44. Pigmy woodpecker

45. Plum-headed parakeet

46. Purple-rumped sunbird

47. Racket-tailed drongo

48. Red spurfowl

49. Red-vented bulbul

50. Red-wattled lapwing

51. Red-whiskered bulbul

52. Rose-ringed parakeet

53. Shikra

54. Sirkeer malkoha

55. Small green bee-eater

56. Spotted dove

57. Streakthroated woodpecker

58. White-bellied drongo

59. White-browed fantail

60. White-browed wagtail

61. White-headed babbler

62. White-throated kingfisher

63. Yellow-footed green pigeon

Mammals

64. Barking deer

65. Chital

66. Common mongoose

67. Elephant

68. Gaur

69. Malabar giant squirrel

70. Ruddy mongoose

71. Sambar

72. Stripe-necked mongoose

73. Tufted langur

74. Wild boar

75. Tiger

Others

76. Terrapin

Trip report: BRT Tiger Reserve, March 2014

Trip Report:        BRT Tiger Reserve/K Gudi

Dates:               15-17 Mar 2014

Camp:               K. Gudi Wilderness Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a full list of the sightings:

Avifauna

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

Mammals

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

Here are some random pictures:

Magpie robin:

BR Hills Mar 14 008

Painted bush quail:

BR Hills Mar 14 016

Jungle myna:

BR Hills Mar 14 030

Sambar:

BR Hills Mar 14 093

Indian pitta:

BR Hills Mar 14 150

Blue bearded bee eater

BR Hills Mar 14 218

Gaur:

BR Hills Mar 14 229

Barking deer:

BR Hills Mar 14 321

White-bellied Drongo:

BR Hills Mar 14 368

Indian Scops owl:

BR Hills Mar 14 484

Stripe-necked mongoose:

BR Hills Mar 14 519

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

spider

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

biligiri