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.

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