Trip Report: BRT Tiger Reserve/K. Gudi, Aug 2014

Trip Report:        BRT Tiger Reserve/K. Gudi

Dates:                   15-18 Aug 2014

Camp:                   JLR’s K. Gudi Wilderness Camp

This was intended to be a 2-nights’ trip with GiK and my 7-year old kid. Overall, sightings were muted with some wet weather (it rained during the first safari, and all through the last night). However the forest was lush and we didn’t have the heart to leave on day three. So around ten kilometers from the camp, we changed our minds, K-turned, and spent a third night at the camp (six safaris in all). The Scorp got bogged in the wet grass attempting this K-turn, and it took some little effort to extricate it.

On day one, entering from the BR temple side, we had gone halfway when a parked transport driver flagged us down to tell us the road was blocked by a fallen tree a few kilometers ahead. He then described a very circuitous and convoluted detour. We thought we’d take a look at the block in case there was a way around, and since we were very close anyway. The fallen tree did span across the road, but there was enough space between one portion of it and the grassy verge to squeeze the Scorp through, with inches to spare on the sides and above. Fortunately the car did not get bogged in the wet grass here, as happened later.

Past the tree the road was undisturbed due to the block, which was a rarity for this much-degraded stretch. And sure enough, a young tusker presented himself on the roadside a few kilometers ahead.  The elephant was to my right and I passed it before stopping, to avoid having to back up. The animal became aware of our presence only when we were passing right by it, took alarm, trumpeted in fright, and mock-charged. I stopped the car some ten yards away – still not far enough to allow it to calm down. It continued grazing for a few minutes showing signs of agitation and then shuffled off into the lantana.

We were allotted tent No 7 and it turned out to possess the best view in the row. Strange I hadn’t realized this on earlier visits. Made a note to ourselves.

The safaris were all tepid, in large part because Rajesh was on leave for his sister’s wedding. While the other drivers did try hard, it is tough to match up to Rajesh’s spectacular spotting skills and his keen fascination for birds. This was a huge disappointment and I kicked myself for not having called and confirmed his availability in advance. We would have moved our dates had we known.

We did spot all my wish-listers from the previous trip though –some very good Rufous babbler sightings, a couple of Black eagle sightings, at least four Southern tree shrew sightings and three or so Red spurfowl sightings. Waiting by Anni kere, we spotted a quartet of what evidently were Slaty-legged crakes (Rallina eurizonoides), foraging on the dry lake bed. Although we could observe the birds for a long while, the vegetation on the ground was thick and the birds were never fully visible. Karthikeyan S later asked me about this sighting, and commented on how rare it was.  

K Gudi Aug 14 144

There were also a couple of elephant herd sightings, including one of an impressive tusker.

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And a massive bull gaur sighting. The 1.5 ton kind of specimen.

There were three or four instances of chital, sambar and langur alarm calls erupting in the jungle, though the waits proved unproductive. Scat and pugmarks also raised hopes of cat sightings, but nothing came of it. There was one instance when the gentleman beside the driver peripherally caught a brief flash in a turnoff we passed. We backed up and went up the track for a distance and sure enough, langurs called in alarm. However the cat was evidently moving at a brisk pace and we soon lost contact without a sighting.

The gentleman in question by the way turned out to be an interesting fellow, let’s call him BR. He runs an environmental engineering business and is completely in love with BRT TR, so much so that he has been visiting K Gudi every month for the past twelve years or so. He does occasionally visit other JLR properties, but his primary loyalty lies with K Gudi. And with that sort of frequency, he naturally has scores of exciting sightings to talk about, along with photographs. This chap made an observation about the more interesting sightings all having occurred on weekdays, which was one of the reasons for our extending by a night on impulse.

K Gudi Aug 14 104

On the third evening, as we were walking back to the tent after the evening safari, chital persistently called in alarm from the area behind the Biligiri/Nilgiri log huts. It was dark by then and hurriedly grabbing our large torch, GiK scrambled up the slope. Junior was as alarmed as the deer and wouldn’t let me go and I was left sitting on my hands in the tent, steaming. GiK came back in about seven minutes with this exciting story. He’d spotted a sloth bear from about fifty feet away. The bear darted a few steps towards him and back twice, and then when GiK stepped forward a few paces, it turned tail and bolted into the jungle. And I missed it. But then, GiK is a magnet for intense wildlife experiences. He’s had a leopard leap down on his shoulders from an overhead branch a few years back after all, and has the scars to prove it. That injury kept him confined in bed for three months.

K Gudi Aug 14 176

I did continue my jungle trees effort somewhat, with rather humiliating results. I failed to ID something as basic as Flame of the forest (Butea monosperma) and realized what it was only after asking Karthik yesterday. The Crocodile bark tree or kari mathi (Terminalia tomentosa) was numerous and easy to ID. I ran into some confusion over the Axlewood tree (Anogeissus latifolia) as the driver identified another, quite different looking tree as this one. Indian gooseberry (Phyllanthus emblica) I think I got right. What I need is a simple field guide to the common forest trees of south and central India, on the lines of Karthik’s Discover Avenue Trees. I have a few of the popular tree books, but they’re not easy to use for field identification.

K Gudi Aug 14 397

GiK and I have discussed returning on a weekday sometime. We’ve also discussed seeking permission to access Jodikere. GiK has long wanted to check out this spot given its apparently wondrous reputation.

K Gudi Aug 14 120

Four more pictures, these by GiK:

Terrapins:

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Orange headed thrush, outside the tent:

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Barking deer:

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Sambar stag:

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The list

Avifauna:

  1. Black-hooded oriole
  2. Black eagle
  3. Brahminy kite
  4. Bronzed drongo
  5. Brown fish owl
  6. Changeable hawk eagle
  7. Cinereous tit
  8. Common myna
  9. Coucal (calls)
  10. Crested serpent eagle
  11. Flameback
  12. Grey junglefowl
  13. Hill myna
  14. Indian blackbird
  15. Jungle babbler
  16. Jungle myna
  17. Jungle owlet
  18. Large cuckoo shrike
  19. Magpie robin
  20. Malabar parakeet
  21. Malabar whistling thrush (calls)
  22. Orange-headed thrush
  23. Orange minivet
  24. Oriental white-eye
  25. Purple sunbird, eclipse male
  26. Purple-rumped sunbird
  27. Red spurfowl
  28. Red-vented bulbul
  29. Red-whiskered bulbul
  30. Rufous babbler
  31. Scimitar babbler (calls)
  32. Spotted dove
  33. Streak-throated woodpecker
  34. White-bellied drongo
  35. White-cheeked barbet
  36. White-rumped munia
  37. White-throated kingfisher
  38. Yellow-footed green pigeon

Mammals:

  1. Barking deer
  2. Elephant
  3. Gaur
  4. Malabar giant squirrel
  5. Southern tree shrew
  6. Spotted deer
  7. Stripe-necked mongoose
  8. Tufted langur
  9. Wild boar

Others:

  1. Terrapin

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:

Image

The Vellimalai Murugan temple:

Image

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

Image

Malabar giant squirrel:

Image

Image

Image

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

Image

Flameback around the FRH:

Image

Malabar grey hornbill:

Image

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)

Book Review: Of Birds and Birdsong, by M. Krishnan

of-birds-and-bird-song

Book review: Of Birds and Birdsong, by M. Krishnan

Edited by Shanthi and Ashish Chandola

Aleph Book Company, published 2012

I have alluded to this exceptional book in a previous post, and have been wanting to publish this review for many weeks now.

Once in a rare while, we come across a book that has rich topical value, but which can also be read simply for the elegance of its language. Of Birds and Birdsong is one such book (M.R. James’ Ghost Stories is another that readily comes to mind). If you possess a love for the English language, you’ll enjoy this book immensely even if the immediate topic – birds – is not of any great interest.

Madhavaiah Krishnan (1912-1996) was not just an ornithologist. He was a naturalist and photographer par excellence. For a man with so brilliant a mind he was a failure academically, and tried his hand at an astonishing variety of vocations (including implausibly, goat grazing). But he was a prolific writer and wrote a column for The Statesman which ran for an astounding forty six years, the last piece being published on the day of his death. He was also an artful photographer, producing masterful black and white images from the natural world using equipment he had rigged together himself and dubbed the Super Ponderosa. Krishnan served on the advisory committee of the BNHS, on the steering committee for Project Tiger, and on the Indian Board of Wildlife. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1970.

Krishnan

This book brings together various pieces Krishnan wrote about birds, over the years. Some of the pieces are quaint given their vintage, like the ones on partridge and gamecock rearing, and pigeon post. Many others are short, straightforward profiles of certain species – the ones on the sarus crane, painted stork, grey junglefowl and changeable hawk eagle for instance. The more delightful ones are infused with personalized observations and anecdotes. There is an essay on the dangers of putting up nest-side hides, and on the precautions to be taken to prevent nest abandonment. There is another very short piece on the significance of the siesta in the animal and bird world. There are two entire sections devoted to pieces that deal with bird calls, and bird flight respectively.

As I have mentioned before, one cannot but help feel that Krishnan’s keen sense of observation was in a word, staggering. Wondering about the allusion to the sweet voice of the parakeet in Indian poetry while the call itself is a harsh screech in reality, Krishnan observed that the rose ringed parakeet has a “low, long, tremulous, ineffably sweet call” when summoning its young to the mouth of the nest-hole. Elsewhere, he painstakingly counted the number of times a hoopoe folded and unfolded its crest in the duration of a minute, and observed how the flicking of the crest expressed “the entire emotional range of the bird”. On yet another occasion he writes about trying to time the rapping beat of a woodpecker with a stopwatch.

The writing is often laced with a subtly wicked sense of humour.  In the chapter on birds that can be seen on the “interminable perches” of telegraph wires by the railway tracks, he says what can be principally seen are birds that like to perch high and pounce. “However, it is wiser not to be to exact on such matters. I once saw an undoubted quail planted squarely on a passing telegraph wire. What business can any quail possibly have atop this unnatural perch? I do not know, but I am almost sure the quail did not either.

In surmising why the white-browed wagtail is not as accomplished a singer as the magpie robin, Krishnan has a clever explanation. “It is all a matter of tails. If it could jerk its tail right over its head, and fan it out as the Magpie Robin does, no doubt it would sing as wildly and wonderfully, but being only a wagtail, it is content with its modest, sweet little song.

I cannot look at white headed babblers now without this scintillating description coming to mind. “They go hopping along to some corner, and one bird turns a dead leaf over while its fellows look on with a critical slant of their white heads – then, suddenly, the party dissolves in hysterical squeaks, and whirrs across on weak wings to another corner of the compound, where they proceed at once to turn over dead leaves again. Clearly, the birds are daft, but they are a feature of Madras gardens (however nominal the garden) and will always be. By sheer esprit de corps and an inability to take life too seriously, they have prevailed where their betters have given up.

Once every few pages, you are guaranteed to come across a word you’ve never heard of. Krishnan’s vocabulary was immense, and his love for finding the right word was deep. Whoever thought the grey wagtail’s belly was gamboge in colour? I was piqued by use of the word volplaning on multiple occasions and looked it up. Perhaps I’ve seen it used before, but I cannot recollect it.

Like any exceptionally good writer, Krishnan could be brilliantly evocative when he needed to. Sample this. “I remember spending a delightful hour beside the lake at Siruvani. The great, verdant trees and feathery clumps of bamboos on the shores mirrored in the still water to endow it with a dark, viridian calm. It was almost a scene of idyllic quiet, except that it was all too wildly beautiful to be idyllic, too like something out of a barbarian dream of paradise, and a barbarian that I am, it held me fascinated. Then an egret came flying round the corner, flying low over the water, dazzlingly white and clear against the profound umbers and greens of the reflected forest, each slow, rhythmic stroke of the wings duplicated in the mirror below. Halfway across, the bird stalled and hung in the air, the pinions of the forwardly directed wings splayed out with the braking action, the horn-black, yellow-footed legs dangling and almost touching their twin image on the lake’s surface, the head and neck stretched sinuously forward as it scrutinized something in the water below. For a moment then the stillness was perfect, and for that moment it was no dream but paradise in fact.

Krishnan was a voracious reader and there are umpteen literary references and allusions scattered all through the book – Lockwood Kipling, William Blake, Richard Lovelace, et al. Moreover there are plenty of references from nature writers of his and earlier generations – men like Konrad Lorenz, Douglas Dewar, ‘Eha’, G.M. Henry, G.P. Sanderson and David Cunningham.

Literary aesthete aside, the book has a wealth of information on over a hundred species of birds from the subcontinent. Much of this is derived from painstaking personal observation over the years. And the anecdotal narrative makes it good fun to read, for most part.

In summation, I found this book breathtaking. If you are reading this blog, you probably have some sort of interest in the natural world and if you do, this book definitely belongs on your bookshelf.

There is a useful ‘notes’ section at the back of the book which among other things, gives the current names of many of the birds. I however felt that these alone could have been footnoted along with the text, for more convenient referencing rather than being placed separately and at the end. But this is admittedly a minor inconvenience.

Program Review: JLR’s Naturalist Training Program (NTP)

JLR’s Naturalist Training Program (NTP)

I have encountered two experiences over the past as many weeks, both which have been deeply impactful. The first was the reading of a remarkable book – Of Birds & Birdsong – by M. Krishnan. The second was the attending of the 3-day Naturalist Training Program run by Jungle Lodges and Resorts (JLR). I’ll post a review of the book shortly; this post is about my impressions of the JLR program.

S. Karthikeyan

The NTP is run by S. Karthikeyan, the Chief Naturalist of JLR, a much-revered man with a formidable reputation. Karthik’s thirty years of work as a naturalist in some form or the other mean he’s notched up the ten thousand hours that Malcolm Gladwell talks about, five times over. He is therefore extremely knowledgeable. In addition he is a naturally gifted teacher, sharply observant and articulate, and this had a strong bearing on the pedagogy of the course. It was a deeply fulfilling experience to spend almost three full days in Karthik’s constant company.

The Program

I’ve been hearing about the NTP for many years now. A couple of months back, a birding and photography hobbyist I met in K. Gudi (BR Hills) gave me information on how to register. The NTP program has been running since 2006, and has seen over twenty batches so far. It is a program with a reputation – so much so that registrations get filled to capacity within a few minutes of announcement. I got lucky and was one of the few people who’d managed to get on the program within a few weeks of registering my name.

The program runs for two and a half days at the Bannerghatta Nature Camp of JLR. Mornings and evenings are utilized for short forays into the surrounding forest, and the day is spent in classroom sessions. The sessions seek to give participants an appreciation and understanding of biodiversity, birdwatching skills, plant-animal interactions and conservation. There is a lot you can learn in this classroom, regardless of the degree of seasoning you possess as a nature enthusiast. There is a general de-emphasis on the typical fascination with “charismatic megafauna”, and a keen emphasis on encouraging appreciation of the more modest critters around us – flora, lichens, fungi, insects, amphibians, and suchlike.

There is the usual JLR tradition of film-screening in the evening and in terms of creature comforts, it is the typical JLR experience.

The Class

We were a small class of 17. There were three techies, two doctors, a wilderness resort manager, a student, a WWF employee, a housewife, a financial consultant, and so on. A very diverse group with one strong commonality – an avid interest in the natural world.  And over the three days, we became a fairly close-knit group. Karthik has a delightful tradition of getting each participant to assign a natural world nickname to her/himself, and this was the handle we used for each other, for most part. One of the big advantages of the program lies in fostering this networking with like-minded people. I know of people from early NTPs who continue to nurture strong friendships and collaboration with their batch-mates.

The Field Walks

The class did four field walks in all, mornings and evenings. Focus was on the development of systematic field/observation skills, rather than in familiarizing the class with the resident avifauna. And the stage for this line of approach was set with a seemingly simple question Karthik posed – how do crows and mynas locomote while on the ground? Something we’ve all seen very many times. And yet, no one was really sure. We hadn’t really noticed. Do they hop? Or walk? Or is it a combination of the two?

For me, photography exacerbates this degraded sense of observation. Caught up in judging the light, composition and trying to capture something interesting, there is no bandwidth left to really look at the creature.

So what is the antidote to this blindness? Sketching!

Frederick Franck, in The Zen of Seeing wrote “I have learned that what I have not drawn, I have never really seen, and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing, I realize how extraordinary it is…’ Karthik took the class out into the field and made us sketch every bird we encountered. Capture detail. Where is the little white streak placed? Does the black stripe run all the way around or not? I realized that there is so much that we have looked at and not really seen. Memory that aids observation had atrophied from underuse. I had to refer back and forth in multiple iterations to transfer what I saw onto paper. And this is for common birds I have seen scores of times. The real value of using a field notebook with sketches and comments to aid systematic observation was brought home very vividly to every person in the class.

I also realized that it isn’t a good idea to use a camera as an ID’ing tool – capture a picture and ID the bird (or animal) at leisure, later. This does two things to me – one, it impedes keen observation – there is simply no need to expend effort in careful scrutiny with a nice RAW image up-close in the bag. Second, I find that after I ID the bird, the identification doesn’t really register. In any case, there is not much point in going on a spree of simply spotting and identifying, and doing little more than just that. That is about as mindless as counting cars on a highway by way of leisure.

My Takeaways

This is what I brought away in terms of adjustments to attitude, not counting the significant knowledge accretion:

One, I’m more aware now of staying clear of the mindless ID’ing trap it is easy to fall into. Birding trips were miniature versions of the Big Year – you spotted a bunch of birds, ID’d them all, made a list, and felt good you knew so much. You were happier if you saw forty species, and not so happy if you saw just three. And you were ecstatic if you spotted something out-of-the ordinary. A Blue-faced Malkoha. Or a Green Imperial Pigeon.

The book review of Of Birds and Birdsong will come back to this theme. Krishnan spent hours watching crows, mynas and bulbuls. The more commonplace the bird, the more time he spent making original, keen, systematic observations. His sense of curiosity, ability to observe detail and patience are staggeringly impressive and inspiring. Compare this with running around on an ID’ing spree. See what I mean? It is important to be able to identify birds, or for that matter mongooses or butterflies, but stopping with just ID’ing ability would be stunting one’s development as a naturalist, completely shorn of depth.

Two is what I’m thinking now about photography. I already talked about photography limiting my ability and inclination to observe. Going further, I found myself asking the question as to why I want to get another picture of that Kestrel or Blue Jay when thousands of people have already captured a gazillion images and posted them online? Is it just so I can post the gazillion-and-one-th image on INW or someplace and feel good when people respond with TFS, nice capture or great shot? I’m getting to Tadoba next month. Perhaps I’ll try switching to binoculars in lieu of camera, and sit back and enjoy myself simply observing. BIL and nephews will be capturing all the images we’d need for posterity in any case. I’ll lug my camera along alright, but it’ll probably sit on the seat beside me and stay there. Will keep you posted on how that experiment goes.

Three is a desire to increase my scope of indulgence as a naturalist, beyond just Mammalia and Aves  – trees definitely, reptiles and butterflies too perhaps. And expand this out gradually over time. Karthik pointed me to a tree walk this weekend, but I’ll be traveling and will miss it.

Four may sound rather strange. I experienced pleasure at watching a bird at work for the first time. Something I’d have earlier associated with watching Munna or Machli, or an elephant perhaps.  There was this Pied Kingfisher fishing that we watched for a while, and I believe I could now amuse myself watching him for hours on end, with a good pair of binoculars.

Five is not something that the program itself engendered, but after the experience, I do feel a more intense desire to contribute meaningfully in some small way, to either conservation or natural science. I’ve requested Karthik to bookmark this mentally and point me to some relevant opportunity.

In Conclusion

If you have any sort of serious interest in the natural world, this program is very likely to change the way you think. If you are a birder, wildlifer or any sort of naturalist, you are missing out on a truly remarkable opportunity by not signing up. And while you do that, I’ll run along and buy myself a nice pair of binoculars and a sharp pencil or two.