Trip Report: Shivaliks/Rajaji N.P.

Dates:                   8-13 Dec ‘17

Camp:                   Bayali

Who:                     A

A and I spent five days at a tiny settlement called Bayali in the Shivaliks. Although it was a family outing, we did get considerable time to savour the wildlife in the area.

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Colebrookea oppositifolia – the woodsman’s toilet paper

The mornings were bitterly cold and eschewing Gypsy drives through the forest, we chose instead to bird around the settlement. Evenings were spent driving down through the forest, towards the Vindhyavashini temple some fifteen or twenty kilometres away.

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Wild mushroom, possibly Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi)

We set out one forenoon to a place called Kanda Khal – which is essentially a little cluster of shops lining the road – and took a path that plunges into the valley from here. A grueling climb up the opposite slope took us through some spectacular birding spots, to a sparse cluster of homesteads called Basaan and then to a slightly larger village called Kasaan, before descending via a circuitous route to meet the waiting Gypsy on the road. The trek lasted a few hours and took us past a grim scar on the hillside where in the July of 2006, two cloudbursts triggered landslides that destroyed a homestead, killing five people in the process.

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“Bicchu ghas” – Common nettle – Urtica dioica. Frequently seen lining paths. A brush with this plant can cause considerable discomfort as the fine thorns inject histamines.

On another afternoon, we drove down to the Tal river valley and spent a while sighting goral on the surrounding slopes. We saw a small Accipiter here which we initially assumed to be a Eurasian sparrowhawk – but I’m not certain now after checking. We flushed a small flock of quail which promptly disappeared into the lantana before they could be identified.

 

Tattoo fern, possibly Pteridium sp. Leaves a delightful white print on the skin.

Birding

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Great barbet at dawn

Commonly seen species included Great barbet (whose call was often heard), Lineated barbet, White-throated and White-browed fantail, Grey bushchat, a Tree-creeper (we didn’t know which), Grey-headed woodpecker, Himalayan flameback and Black-chinned babbler. There was a species of prinia (possibly) in gregarious flocks around Bayali, greenish brown in the upper parts, with a pale supercilium, white underparts, a prominent white throat and black barring on the underside of the tail. We were not able to conclusively ID this bird (non-breeding form of the Grey-breasted prinia?). We made the mistake of not noting the call – this would have made the task easier.

There were enormous flocks of Eurasian tree sparrow (or maybe Russet sparrow) in the lantana thickets. Vultures (& eagles on occasion) were seen overhead several times but we were unable to ID them. Plumbeous and White-capped water redstart were seen by the streams and rivers. In and around Kasaan were several flocks of Streaked laughingthrush. We spotted what appeared to be a Brown fish owl in flight once.

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Streaked laughingthrush

We also saw Black-lored tit, Lemon-rumped warbler, Grey treepie, Blue whistling thrush, Mrs. Gould’s sunbird, Grey-hooded warbler and the spectacular Yellow-billed blue magpie.

More pedestrian species (if I dare call them that) included Oriented turtle dove, plenty of Indian treepie & bulbul (Himalayan, Red-whiskered and Red-vented in equal measure), Cinereous tit, Velvet-fronted nuthatch, Oriental white-eye, Indian robin, River lapwing, White and Yellow wagtail, Ashy-crowned sparrowlark, Long-tailed shrike, Coppersmith barbet, Plum-headed parakeet, Paddyfield pipit (I think), Greenish and Dusky warbler, Magpie robin, Tailorbird, White-throated kingfisher, Jungle owlet, Orange minivet, Red junglefowl (hens only, for some reason), peafowl, Black-hooded oriole, Jungle babbler and Asian pied starling.

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Cinereous tit

Forest drives

The drives turned up some interesting experiences. We were on our way to the Vindhyavashini temple one evening when we stopped to look at a flameback (Himalayan I think). The woodpecker fled to a tree some distance away. All of a sudden, a shikra swooped in out of nowhere and barrelled straight for the flameback, which in turn squealed and dived for the undergrowth. This set off an excited chattering amongst the other avifauna around, which subsided once the shikra exited the scene as rapidly as it had entered it.

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Orb weaver spider web

There’s a sharp turn to the left at one point, angled at almost ninety degrees. We were approaching this turn when the sharp, ascending notes of a Changeable hawk eagle shattered the stillness of the forest. We found the raptor feeding off a chital kill, on a branch some twenty feet up and not too far from the roadside. The kill appeared fresh and we bookmarked the tree for a dekko on the return journey.

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Changeable hawk eagle scavenging off leopard’s kill at dusk

It was well after dark when we made our way back and we swerved the jeep at an angle and climbed the gentle embankment by the roadside to light up the branch broadside on. Sure enough, the owner of the kill was there, feeding greedily on the carcass. So sharp was his hunger that the leopard didn’t glance our way once. We watched for a while and then left him to his meal.

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On crossing the Kaudia checkpost, the road winds through flat land for a few kilometres before it begins its ascent into the hills. The forest here is old growth Sal, with Rohini (Mallotus phillipinensis) and Hill glorybower (Clerodendrum infortunatum) among others in the understorey. A and I were being driven back along this road well after dark one evening when she caught fleeting sight of a large feline on the road ahead. Our driver Suraj caught sight of it a second later. With the Gypsy approaching, the cat nimbly stepped off the road and into the dense thickets. I had my eyes on the undergrowth on the far side and by the time I was alerted, all I could see were swaying branches with the cat out of sight. Suraj surmised that it was a leopard, but based on its size and behaviour, A felt she’d sighted her first wild tiger.

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The Nandi stone!

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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: Ela Blooms, Nov ’15

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

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

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

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

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

Birding

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

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

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

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

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

Goatweed

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

Cardamom:

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Unidentified fern:

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Unidentified, very common weed:

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