Trip report: Valparai, Feb ’16

Trip Report:        Valparai

Dates:                   6-8 Feb 2016

Camp:                   Stanmore Bungalow

Stanmore Bungalow near Valparai is situated on the rim of a verdant bowl of tea plantation, the slopes falling away from beneath the bungalow to a stream at the bottom of the valley. This was an office team outing. PA and I stayed back an extra day to devote some time to the fauna.

The view from the wooden chalets is postcardish, and it was pleasant to sit on the sit-out listening to bird calls. An unseen CSE had taken to calling at intervals right through the day. We sighted one a few kilometers away on day 2 but were not sure it was the same bird. Junglefowl called frequently from the tea, cocks challenging each other. Indian scimitar babbler was heard frequently, and we did spot a couple when wandering down to the stream. While watching elephants by the stream at sunset, I heard what I believe were Rufous babblers roosting in a tree. The birds were not seen though. I remember that White-browed bulbul were also heard a few times. Early in the morning, the Malabar whistling thrush startled us awake by calling from the balcony, just a few feet away.

Seen around the campus were Asian fairy bluebird, Yellow-browed bulbul, Malabar whistling thrush, Purple sunbird, Orange-headed thrush, White-browed wagtail, Grey wagtail, a solitary kestrel, Greenish warbler, Red-whiskered bulbul, Tailorbird and Magpie robin. A couple of raptors were constantly seen circling over the stream, but we were unable to decisively ID them.

The Woodbriar group had a naturalist who was based at an estate called Puduthottam. We bumped into him while on a drive to see LTMs, and as we stood by the roadside talking, four stripe-necked mongoose crossed the road one behind the other a short distance away. We drove to Puduthottam after dark one evening, but saw only Black-naped hare, muntjac and sambar for all our trouble. The naturalist claimed he saw a leopard cat though; it scampered away before I could spot it, if that’s what it was. I’m not sure if PA got to see it.

Stanmore Bungalow was managed by a very friendly young man called Vivek Varma, who had a keen interest in wildlife. He came with us whenever he could tear himself away from work. A leopard was said to pass by the bungalow gate occasionally, and he’d instructed the watchman to wake us up if we got lucky. We saw plenty of porcupine and civet scat among the tea plants.

Nilgiri flowerpecker I think. We saw this little bird while photographing LTMs near the catchment area of the Sholayar dam.

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Unidentified. Warbler species possibly. This bird was foraging amongst dry leaf litter in the campus, and permitted a very close approach.

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Lion-tailed macaque Macaca silenus

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We were returning from the drive to the Sholayar catchment when Vivek called to tell us an elephant herd was at the stream. Another herd had visited the stream the previous afternoon and we’d watched them from afar. This time, we drove down into the valley, parked some distance away and approached the herd on foot. Standing some hundred meters away, we watched the herd feeding and socializing until the light was fully gone. The experience was scintillating.

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I was flummoxed initially at the sight of the squirrels in the campus, being unaware of the existence of this species – the Nilgiri palm squirrel Funambulus sublineatus. They were ubiquitous, noisy and exuberant.

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This landscape is fertile ground for elephant-human conflict and sure enough, stories were aplenty about people killed by elephants. A couple of days before our visit, a solitary makhna had evidently killed the manager of an estate nearby as he bathed in a tank generally referred to as the ‘swimming pool’. We had been warned to watch for this makhna while out in the tea plantation. On the last day, Vivek and I had walked down to the stream early in the morning. A tractor driver passing on the dirt road warned us that he’d seen the elephant beside the track a short distance away. We saw the elephant ourselves shortly, sunning himself on a little island in the stream. Vivek was of the opinion that this particular animal was harmless and didn’t buy the story of the killing. I got a poor picture, given the terrible light.

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Trip report: Bandipur, Apr ’16

Trip Report:        Bandipur National Park

Dates:                   14-17 Apr 2016

Camp:                   JLR Bandipur Safari Lodge

Who:                     Junior

The best trips are often the least planned ones. I got back from work on a Wednesday evening, checked JLR’s availability for K. Gudi for the next day, found it full, checked Bandipur next, found it available, and booked junior and myself for two nights. Given the quality of the sightings, we extended by another day and ended up returning to Bengaluru on Sunday.

Bengaluru was sweltering, allegedly having touched record highs of 41 and 42 degrees Celsius. Bandipur Safari lodge was cool enough because of the shade and the constant breeze, though it was warmish indoors. The safaris were also cool enough to be comfortable.

The Anogeissus latifolia trees were bare in some tracts and leaved in others, while Terminalia tomentosa were leaved throughout. Cassia fistula was in bloom, although reaching the terminus of its season – it must have been a truly awe-inspiring sight a couple of weeks back. The Gulmohar trees (outside the forest) were in riotous and spectacular bloom though. The lantana was dry and bare, though massed in thickets everywhere off the track.

The cicadas in the camp were deafening, especially near the front office and the Gol Ghar. While junior and I attempted to get pictures with my phone, the little fellows voided themselves by shooting sprays of clear liquid, often onto us.

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Lesser flameback. I was not birding very efficiently. I was aware of the calls most of the time though. Brahminy starlings, hoopoes, Coppersmith barbets, Magpie robins, Puff-throated babblers (in the mornings), Common ioras, Jungle babblers, Scimitar babblers, Purple sunbirds, Treepies and Indian cuckoos. And the Peacocks.

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Dancing peacocks occurred frequently. This picture was clicked by 8-year old P.

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Crested serpent eagle

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Clash of the simians. Horseplay actually.

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How does an elephant climb a 4-foot high embankment after a good scratch?

Three-month-old calf

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We ran into this shy tusker in the evening safari on day 2. He withdrew into the lantana and stood watching us with utter suspicion. We in turn withdrew a short distance to coax him out, but he couldn’t bolster enough courage and we eventually gave up.

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While we were driving back to the camp on the evening of day 3, this remarkable tusker appeared, rather suddenly. He walked at a quick-but-steady pace, crossed the highway with scarcely a break in stride or glance at the traffic he caused to suddenly halt, and disappeared in an apparent hurry on the other side. This was one traveling elephant with someplace to go.

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We first spotted this leopard ambling on the edge of the lantana right by the highway, causing quite a traffic jam, and completely indifferent to the honking, gawking, screaming crowds. Eventually he cut into the lantana and disappeared. We turned into the forest to intercept him on the other side of the lantana patch. He crossed the track in front of three or four jeeps, quite unafraid. This picture was taken just before the crossing.

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We had an interesting experience with this leopard in the evening safari of day 2. The safari was generally dry, except for the encounter with the shy tusker. We had spent a considerable amount of time waiting in vain by Ministerguthi Kolathi for a tigress with a triplet of cubs that were reported to be hidden in the bamboos by the kere. We left reluctantly when there was no more time left. Just before we reached the main road, we found this leopard crouched by the track, staring fixedly into the lantana.

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 There were deer there, though we couldn’t see them. Except for a casual glance once, the leopard ignored us, even though we were some thirty or forty feet away.

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This was a telling lesson in patience. After an interminable wait, the leopard rose ever so slowly, and stalked to the edge of the lantana. Just as he was about to launch into it, he was spotted and in an eruption of alarm calls, the chital scattered. The leopard bounded into the lantana after them and we lost contact with him.

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Shortly after driving into the forest on our very first safari, we ran into a batch of langur alarm calls. A leopard was evidently lurking around. However we didn’t wait around as a couple of jeeps were seen clustered around Kolakmalli Katte hardly a hundred meters away. Prince was in attendance, sitting with his rear end submerged. We spent a short while with him until a short drizzle started up, driving him to seek cover. We came back a while later after the rain had stopped to spend some more time with him.

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This sparkling encounter happened on the morning of day 3, at Moolapura kere. There was a short burst of alarm calls and then Prince strode down to the water’s edge, turned himself around, and lowered himself rump-first into the water. He stayed that way for ten minutes or so, before rising, scent-marking and then sauntering away down a nullah and out of sight.

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Birds

  1. Ashy drongo
  2. Asian brown flycatcher
  3. Asian paradise flycatcher
  4. Black-hooded oriole (calls)
  5. Brahminy starling
  6. Brown shrike
  7. Changeable hawk eagle
  8. Common myna
  9. Coppersmith barbet
  10. Coucal (calls)
  11. Crested serpent eagle
  12. Indian cuckoo (calls)
  13. Indian treepie
  14. Lesser flameback
  15. Green barbet (calls)
  16. Grey junglefowl
  17. Hoopoe
  18. Indian robin
  19. Jungle babbler
  20. Jungle myna
  21. Magpie robin
  22. Peafowl
  23. Pied bushchat
  24. Pied kingfisher
  25. Plum-headed parakeet
  26. Puff-throated babbler (calls)
  27. Purple sunbird (calls)
  28. Purple-rumped sunbird
  29. Red vented bulbul
  30. Red whiskered bulbul
  31. Rose-ringed parakeet
  32. Scimitar babbler (calls)
  33. Spotted dove
  34. Streak-throated woodpecker
  35. White-breasted waterhen
  36. White-browed fantail
  37. White-throated kingfisher

Mammals

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

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Trip Report: Corbett Tiger Reserve, Apr 2015

Trip:       Corbett Tiger Reserve

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

Dates:   1 Apr – 6 Apr ‘15

Who:     VV, KB and my seven year old son

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mammals and reptiles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The list Birds:

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

Mammals:

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

Reptiles:

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

Kaziranga/Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary, Dec 2014

Trip:       Kaziranga National Park/Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary

Camp:   Wildgrass (Kaziranga)/FRH (Gibbon)

Dates:   29 Dec ’14 – 1 Jan ‘15

This is going to be a long post.

My son and I had visited Kaziranga in April 2013, along with my sister’s family. He was five then and we’d had some great sightings. This second visit was planned six months in advance, for just the two of us. As the date approached however the trip looked to be jinxed. First was SpiceJet’s wholesale disruptions (our Bangalore-Guwahati onward was with them). Alternate fares quickly climbed in excess of Rs. 43K. Thankfully services were restored a couple of days before our departure date (which was on Christmas day). And then there were the Bodo militant attacks killing 75 people that put Assam on the boil a couple of days before we left. We planned to visit friends in the Missamari cantt for a few days, in addition to doing Kaziranga. The route from the Guwahati airport to Missamari passed through one of the sites of the attack (Dhekiajuli) and a curfew was supposedly in effect. Further, it was 4:15 PM by the time we exited the airport and the early winter sunset was underway. Which meant four hours of driving mostly in the dark. In any case the drive passed off without incident.

Missamari

Missamari was cold and offered some little birding around the cantt. Brown shrikes and Red-vented bulbuls were aplenty, as were three species of myna – Common, Jungle and Asian pied, and spotted doves. Black-throated munias were also numerous and a pair of these had nested under the roof overhang of the house.  I spotted a babbler-sized brown bird once that I couldn’t identify.

On the day before we left for Bangalore, a twittering something went sailing over the lawn, with a jerky uneven flight. Turned out to be a Brown shrike that had grabbed a munia chick from its nest. The chick screamed and struggled for all its tiny worth, and the shrike had trouble holding its course. It blundered over a hedge, landed on a pile of thorns some twenty five meters away, panicked at my approach and abandoned the chick wedged inside the thorny pile. The chick had sustained a bleeding injury around the mantle, but seemed alive enough. We extricated it and placed it on the lawn, from where it disappeared a short while later – spirited away either by its parents, or by the shrike.

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The Itinerary

I had explored the possibility of managing three or four PAs with Ficus’s Ravi Kailash months in advance. Pakke, Orang and Nameri are all tantalizingly close to Missamari. As is Eaglenest. However considering that all these places entailed some degree of walking, and considering that my son is not a particularly accomplished walker, I had to limit the schedule to two nights in Kaziranga and a single night at Gibbon. Given this schedule, Ravi, considerate as ever, suggested that I dispense with Ficus’s assistance and book directly through Manju Barua of Wildgrass. This latter gentleman was enormously helpful and courteous, and patiently responded to my numerous emails promptly and in great detail. To begin with, he pointed out that I was visiting Kaziranga at the worst possible time as the week of 25th Dec turns the park into a “circus”. And then Wildgrass was booked out and he put me on a waitlist, which eventually cleared.

And so my son and I ended up reaching Kaziranga by lunchtime on the 29th, did the evening safari there, stayed overnight at Wildgrass, and left for Gibbon the next evening after completing both safaris on day 2. Overnighting at Gibbon, we finished with the apes before breakfast the next morning, rushing back in time to catch the evening safari at Kaziranga. The next morning, 1-Jan, was our last safari after which we departed for Missamari. So five safaris in all at Kaziranga, of which two each were in the Western and Central zones and the last one in Eastern.

Wildgrass

Although not as luxurious as the Iora resort, Wildgrass is probably the best place to stay at in Kaziranga. Manju Barua’s attitude being in no small measure a reason for this, the ambience accounting for the rest. He took care of everything for me very efficiently – accommodation, safaris, naturalist, my Missamari and Gibbon transfers and the Gibbon FRH booking. We enjoyed the place the last time too and this time was no different. If I must find something to crib about, it’ll only be the acoustics of the hardwood floors. These amplified sounds from the room above spectacularly and even if the occupant was tiptoeing in his socks, produced a din below resembling someone playing nine pins with propane cylinders. If you are a light sleeper, you want to ask for a room on the top floor. This little inconvenience aside, we had a spectacular time.

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I didn’t get to do too much birding in the resort. I sighted Indian robin, a Magpie robin (I think), Black-hooded oriole, Baya weaver bird, Spotted dove, all the three mynas again and Red-vented bulbul.  And heard the Blue whistling thrush. The resort grounds are the best place to spot the Hoary-bellied Himalayan squirrel and we sighted these as expected. And on the way in, we stopped to watch a Malayan giant squirrel that our driver Biju managed to spot in a forest patch around thirty klicks from Kaziranga. We also saw elephants, but these might have been domestic ones as they were not very far from human habitation.

Malayan giant squirrel:

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Kaziranga

Safari 1, PM, Western Zone. The evening safaris were abbreviated ones, given the early sunset. We typically set off a little before 2 PM, with 15-20 minutes spent on the drive to the gate and another 15-20 minutes squandered in getting the entry tickets. Sometime before 3 PM is when we entered the park gates, giving us a maximum of two hours before the sun disappeared completely.

I had mentioned to Manju Barua that naturalist Tarun Gogoi had done a tremendous job with the spotting during our 2013 trip. He offered to book Tarun for us this time too. However the naturalist was held up with another group for the first safari, and so Biju Hazarika, the driver who’d picked us up from Missamari tripled up as safari driver, spotter and naturalist all rolled into one. And did a very creditable job of it.

A short while into the first safari, we ran into a fair-sized King cobra right by the track. We slammed to a stop after passing some twenty five feet past the reptile. Before I could get my lens to bear on it the snake raised its hood briefly before making itself scarce.

We made a brief stopover at the Donga beel viewing point. Rhino, buffalo, hog deer and swamp deer grazed on the far bank. We saw flocks of Yellow-footed green pigeons around this spot both the times we visited.

Elephant and rhino skulls at Donga beel:

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We also ran into a pair of elephants in the elephant grass by the roadside later in the drive.

We opened the birding account with Asian openbill stork, Crested serpent eagle, Wooly-necked stork, Bar-headed goose, mallard, Red-breasted parakeet, Common stone chat, Black-necked stork and Lesser adjutant stork. We were to meet all these repeatedly on subsequent drives.

Common stonechat:

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Rhino at dusk in the western zone:

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Safari 2, AM, Central Zone. Hog deer, Swamp deer, rhino and buffalo were commonly seen on all safaris. As were enormous flocks of foraging Bar-headed geese, Greylag geese, mallards, Spot-billed ducks, pintails, Black-necked and Wooly-necked storks, egrets and Lesser adjutant storks in all beels. I’ll therefore avoid repetitive mention. To the birds list we added Barn swallow, Grey-headed canary flycatcher, Bronze-winged jacana, Purple heron, pintail, cormorants, White wagtail, Common snipe, Citrine wagtail, Asian pied starling, Ruddy shelduck and Pied kingfisher. And heard Puff-throated babbler, Lesser flameback and a Changeable hawk eagle.

Bar-headed geese are truly remarkable birds. Look them up online to learn why.

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Greylag geese:

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A barking deer turned up on the track. To the untrained eye or at least to my untrained eye, muntjac can be mistaken for the more commonly seen Hog deer, especially if the sighting is fleeting.

Hog deer stag & doe:

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The road winds past the Kawoimari lake and the Diphlu river and is quite picturesque. On the lake, we saw an Indian roof turtle. A Grey-headed fish eagle sat silently surveying the river.

Indian roof turtle:

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The road pauses at a viewpoint area where visitors can alight and use the malodorous bamboo toilets. A row of tufted ducks paddled in the water, along with the other usual suspects. A rhino grazed on the far bank, as did a small herd of buffaloes. We saw White (Rosy) pelicans in addition to the more commonly seen Spotbilled ones. As we moved on from the viewpoint area raising fine powdered dust that fouled everything, a Bengal monitor lizard was found basking beside the track, unmindful of the clouds of dust billowing onto it. A lone osprey quartered the skies. Indian treepies called.

Bengal monitor lizard:

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Safari 3, PM, Western Zone. This was the safari we rushed back to catch, from Gibbon. The drive started propitiously with a Pallas fish eagle sighting. I was on the lookout for this species. The bird was evidently nesting there as we found it around the same place multiple times subsequently. A small troop of Rhesus macaques foraged nearby.

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Tarun identified a small tree we saw repeatedly as jujube, Ziziphus jujuba – the berries of which are evidently pickled and served in the Wildgrass dining room.

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He identified another commonly seen tree with large, ribbed leaves as Dillenia indica, the Elephant apple tree. The palm for the most common tree in Kaziranga however undoubtedly goes to the Red silk cotton, Bombax ceiba. It is abundant in the countryside as well.

Elephant apple tree, Dillenia indica:

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At one spot, hog deer began calling in alarm in the grass. The calls were strident and we waited awhile. The sun was starting to set and great flocks of Green imperial pigeons flew past on their way to roost.  A pair of Greater Indian hornbills swooshed past and the tiger was momentarily forgotten. Alexandrine parakeets squawked and flitted. Eventually giving up, we turned back. The light was fading fast and a little before the park exit, we came upon another set of alarm calls. The hog deer were calling and a herd of buffaloes hurriedly turned around to face the direction the tiger was evidently in. We could pinpoint the area the deer and buffalo were focused on, but the setting darkness and thick grass hid the cat only too well. Tarun caught a fleeting glimpse, but I could see nothing despite standing atop the Gypsy’s bars at a ten foot vantage point.  The buffalo herd trooped out and the calls subsequently ceased.

Pintails at dusk:

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Safari 4, PM, Central Zone.  Mihi is a beel in the central zone with the Kothora watchtower overlooking its vastness. This place is sometimes referred to as tiger point owing to the frequency of sightings. Visitors can alight at the watchtower to watch the wildlife on the beel.

We spent the entire evening tethered to this spot by persistent alarm calls. The deer and a rhino were intently focused on a patch of tall grass to our right. Plenty of other jeeps came and went, but we stayed put. Tarun was determined to catch a tiger sighting after one too many near misses. Unfortunately for us hordes of noisy tourists made appearances. Tarun was worried they’d scare the feline away and that’s precisely what happened. The tiger made off in the opposite direction away from the beel, crossed the road some two hundred meters away, and disappeared into the grass.

Tarun was bitter about all the noise the tourists were making – he’d spent a good part of an hour with his eyes glued to his binocs atop the watch tower, watching for stripes. All for nothing.

Biju Hazarika watches hog deer calling in alarm on Mihi beel:

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We went further up the track hoping the feline would return, but had to give up eventually. While waiting we found a couple of rhinos waiting to cross the track and positioned ourselves to catch the crossings, but noisy passing tourists scared those away as well. I now know what Manju Barua meant by the “circus”.

It was fully dark by now and that’s how we ended the last day of 2014. Would have been even better to end it with a tiger sighting that actually fructified but then we do not always get what we ask for.

The last sunset of 2014:

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Safari 5, AM, Eastern Zone. I was anticipating a tourist-free forest, this being the 1st of Jan. I had miscalculated however as hordes of people evidently consider it great fun to continue the festivities of the previous night in the forest on day one.

The Eastern zone is renowned for its birdlife more than large mammals. A Stork-billed kingfisher sat sentinel as we entered the park gate. Further up the track, a branch was heavy with Himalayan griffon vultures. We also sighted Black-hooded orioles, a Spotted eagle, Indian vultures, a Changeable hawk eagle, a Common kestrel, Indian treepies, Orange minivets, Red-breasted parakeets and Common teals.  The track winds past the massive Sohola beel. A pair of Oriental pied hornbills flew from one tree to another, very close by and I hurriedly attempted a flight shot, having been caught unawares while handing junior the binocs to view a Pallas fish eagle sitting at a distance. The shot came out with one wing clipped.

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A squirrel raced up a bole and leaped across to another. Tarun identified it as a Himalayan striped squirrel.

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We saw a solitary brown fish owl that sat looking at us for a long while before flapping away on massive wings. A small herd of elephants posed for pictures further up the track. We then reached the terminus of the track at the Bramhaputra river.

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On the way back I saw two lapwings I’ve never seen before – the Grey-headed and the Northern (Crested) lapwing. We saw the former multiple times.

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Hollongapar Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary

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Gibbon is around 135 kilometers from Kaziranga and we left after the evening safari, to reach there by 9:30 PM or so. The FRH at Gibbon has two rooms. The ever-smiling cook produced barely tolerable meals on a woodfire stove in an alluringly warm but sooty kitchen behind. A railway gate occurs not very far away and passing trains sound their horns frantically to warn off crossing elephants. To the sleepers in the rooms, it sounds like the engines are passing on the other side of the wall.

We awoke early to the calls of Puff-throated babbler, Black-hooded oriole, and Blue whistling thrush. Gibbon comprises some 21 square kilometers of evergreen forest with paths running through it. A forest guard armed with a rusty, double-barreled gun of ancient vintage accompanied us. He said the weapon was intended to scare elephants away as he broke open the breech to load a pair of red cartridges. We left junior sleeping snugly back in the room, with Biju kindly consenting to wait on His Little Majesty.

Blue whistling thrush at dawn:

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Gibbon is home to seven species of primates – the Western hoolock gibbon, Stump-tailed macaque, Northern pig-tailed macaque, Bengal slow loris, Capped langur, Assamese macaque and Rhesus macaque. We sighted three of these in the couple of hours we spent walking through the forest. The morning was crisp, cold and utterly lovely. The first mammal sighting was of a very lively Malayan giant squirrel. A small troop of Capped langurs presently appeared, crashing about the canopy, leaping tree to tree.

Capped langur:

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We then sighted an Orange-bellied Himalayan squirrel. The sound of breaking branches warned us of the presence of elephants further up the path and we back-tracked, finding an alternate route to skirt around the animals. We had spent a good hour and a half now traipsing through Gibbon with no sign of the eponymous ape. I was thinking that we might have to return without having managed a single sighting.

A troop of Pig-tailed macaques turned up next, shortly followed by junior in the car driven out by Biju, all rested and refreshed.

Pig-tailed macaque:

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A second guard finally spotted a Gibbon family on the canopy, and we spent some fifteen minutes watching a male, female and a sub-adult swinging and feeding high up in the canopy. Gibbon-watching is good treatment for people afflicted with cervical spondylitis.

Gibbons, male and female:

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The Gibbon sanctuary is a spectacular birding site. It reminded me of Thattekad in many ways. Tarun was in his elements and we sighted orange-headed thrush, White-throated bulbul, Bronzed, Greater racket-tailed and Spangled drongos, Grey-bellied tesia, Grey-headed canary flycatcher, Black-crested bulbul and Maroon oriole. And heard the Asian barred owlet. The highlight however was watching a pair of Red-headed trogans for a good many minutes as they flitted around the canopy. Tarun was elated with this sighting. Back at the FRH and after breakfast, we listened to Lineated barbets calling loudly before packing up to rush back to Kaziranga in time for a hurried lunch and the evening safari.

Here are some pictures from my 2013 trip.

22 Kaziranga Day 2 Eastern 271

18 Kaziranga Day 2 Eastern 458

28 Kaziranga Day 1 Wildgrass 104

48 Kaziranga Day 2 Eastern 912

56 Kaziranga Day 2 Eastern 570

54 Kaziranga Day 1 Western 158

55 Kaziranga Day 1 Western 217

The list

Birds:

  1. Alexandrine parakeet
  2. Asian barred owlet (calls)
  3. Asian openbill stork
  4. Asian pied starling
  5. Bar-headed goose
  6. Barn swallow
  7. Baya weaver bird
  8. Bay-backed shrike
  9. Black-crested bulbul
  10. Black-hooded oriole
  11. Black-necked stork
  12. Black-throated munia
  13. Blue whistling thrush
  14. Bronzed drongo
  15. Bronze-winged jacana
  16. Brown fish owl
  17. Brown shrike
  18. Cattle egret
  19. Changeable hawk eagle
  20. Citrine wagtail
  21. Common kestrel
  22. Common myna
  23. Common snipe
  24. Common stonechat
  25. Common teal
  26. Cormorant (Greater?)
  27. Crested serpent eagle
  28. Darter
  29. Greater Indian hornbill
  30. Greater racket-tailed drongo
  31. Green imperial pigeon
  32. Common greenshank
  33. Grey-bellied tesia
  34. Grey-headed canary flycatcher
  35. Grey-headed fish eagle
  36. Grey-headed lapwing
  37. Grey heron
  38. Greylag goose
  39. Himalayan griffon vulture
  40. Indian robin
  41. Indian roller
  42. Indian treepie
  43. Jungle myna
  44. Large egret?
  45. Lesser adjutant stork
  46. Lesser flameback
  47. Lineated barbet (calls)
  48. Indian vulture
  49. Magpie robin
  50. Mallard
  51. Maroon oriole
  52. Northern/crested lapwing
  53. Orange-headed thrush
  54. Orange minivet
  55. Oriental pied hornbill
  56. Osprey
  57. Pallas fish eagle
  58. Pied kingfisher
  59. Pintail
  60. Pond heron
  61. Puff-throated babbler (calls)
  62. Purple heron
  63. Red-breasted parakeet
  64. Red-headed trogan
  65. Red junglefowl
  66. Red-vented bulbul
  67. Rose-ringed parakeet
  68. Ruddy shelduck
  69. Spangled drongo
  70. Spot-billed duck
  71. Spot-billed pelican
  72. Spotted dove
  73. Spotted eagle
  74. Stork-billed kingfisher
  75. Tufted duck
  76. White-browed wagtail
  77. White ibis
  78. White/Rosy pelican
  79. White-throated bulbul (calls)
  80. White-throated kingfisher
  81. White wagtail
  82. Wooly-necked stork
  83. Yellow-footed green pigeon

Mammals:

  1. Barking deer
  2. Capped langur
  3. Elephant
  4. Eastern swamp deer
  5. Great Indian one-horned rhino
  6. Striped Himalayan squirrel
  7. Hoary-bellied Himalayan squirrel
  8. Hog deer
  9. Hoolock gibbon
  10. Malayan giant squirrel
  11. Orange-bellied Himalayan squirrel
  12. Pig-tailed macaque
  13. Rhesus macaque
  14. Wild buffalo

Reptiles:

  1. Bengal monitor lizard
  2. Indian roof turtle
  3. King cobra

Trip report: Thattekad, Nov ’14

Trip:       Thattekad

Camp:   Periyar River Lodge

Dates:   14-16 Nov ‘14

Who:     GiK

This trip was originally put together for GK, GiK and SS. GK’s wife wasn’t feeling very well and SS had to travel urgently on business to Laos, and so GiK and I ended up doing the trip by ourselves. I did two nights at Thattekad for the first time and this was the best of the three trips I’ve done so far.

The weather was muggy with the threat of rain every evening. On the day we landed (Fri), Mr. Luigi, the amiable manager of PRL spoke to Gireesh Chandran and was told that considering the weather, the afternoon’s birding plan was off and we’d meet the next morning. There was a steady drizzle and we had the afternoon to ourselves. We spent a couple of hours swimming in the river – in fact we spent a couple of hours everyday swimming in the river. The current was languid and the water was cool, making for a perfect wallow. The PRL boat was docked there, and we took turns diving off the gunwale.

By four thirty in the evening, Mr. Luigi suggested that we take a boat ride. The drizzle had run out though the clouds persisted and it was a very pleasant ride although the birding was not great. We were back at sundown when an elephant herd made its presence felt in the forest across the river, with the reedbrakes being violently demolished and boles being snapped with rifle-shot cracks. The light had faded, but we re-boarded the craft and drifted across, to about fifty or sixty feet from the opposite bank. The elephants themselves were not visible except for one glimpse at a pair, but the stripping of bark, uprooting of whole trees and demolition of the reedbrakes was loud enough to give us a very clear idea of where the animals were. As also the quink of the calves and the occasional trumpet. There was a small rocky islet not far from this bank on which a small group of men sat chatting idly in the still air, but their presence seemed to make no difference to the herd. After a while of silent observation, we headed back. The herd was there all night, with the animals taking turns to enter the water, churning it noisily. Sometime before five in the morning, the noises ceased and the herd melted away. GiK and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We sat on the porch for hours listening to the din.

The birding in and around PRL was fairly good, though we heard far more than we saw. We sighted the most common residents repeatedly – Cinereous tit, Malaber grey hornbill, Hill myna, White-browed wagtail, Little cormorant, River tern, Malabar parakeet, Purple-rumped sunbird and Orange minivet. And also Common iora, Fish eagle (Grey-headed or Lesser I couldn’t tell), Brown-capped pigmy woodpecker, Green imperial pigeon, Racket-tailed drongo, White-throated kingfisher, Indian roller, Chestnut-headed bee eater and coucal. And heard Indian scops owl, Common hawk cuckoo (all night), Red-wattled lapwing, flameback, Grey junglefowl and Jungle owlet. Each day began with a single song from the Malabar whistling thrush after rendering which, the bird promptly went silent for the rest of the day.

We did three outings with Gireesh Chandran. He was his usual effusive, amiable self notwithstanding the little incident of the last trip (which he doubtless hadn’t forgotten, considering his recollection of many specific sightings from my previous trips – the man doubtless has an incredible facility for memory).  Since this was GiK’s trip, his primary ask was what we were after – five birds – Black baza, Drongo cuckoo, Srilanka frogmouth, Dollar bird and the Indian pitta. And we saw them all, barring the pitta.

The first morning outing was to the usual rocky area. Atypically, we were the only people Gireesh was guiding, so we had him all to ourselves. The rocky area was lively as ever. In addition, there were elephants foraging noisily hardly fifty meters away in the reedbrakes off the rocks. We couldn’t see them, but could follow their movements from the tremendous din. Trying to ignore the elephants, we notched up a splendid list. Lesser flameback, Racket-tailed drongo, Black-naped oriole, White-bellied blue flycatcher, Blyth’s starling, Plum-headed parakeet, Malabar parakeet, Dollar bird, White-rumped needletail, Greenish warbler, Common iora, White-browed bulbul, Purple sunbird, Emerald dove, Orange minivet, Grey-fronted green pigeon, Drongo cuckoo, Gold-fronted leaf bird, Blue-bearded bee eater, Nilgiri flowerpecker, Loten’s sunbird, Crimson-backed sunbird, Grey-headed bulbul, Flame-throated bulbul, Jungle nightjar (on the way), Little spiderhunter, Bronzed drongo, Ashy drongo  and Chestnut-headed bee eater. And heard Indian treepie, Brown shrike and Grey junglefowl. Three Black bazas went flying past, and settled on different tree-tops. Both GiK and I missed catching them in flight and Gireesh Chandran was not too pleased as the light was good and they were not far away. There was what we thought to be a juvenile Oriental honey buzzard being mobbed by a Racket-tailed drongo. A little before we stepped over the electric fence to exit the sanctuary, Gireesh traced a solitary frogmouth and we spent some time getting pictures.

Srilanka frogmouth (pic: Girish Kulkarni):

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And on the way out, in the rubber plantation adjoining the sanctuary was a mixed hunting party comprising Malabar wood-shrike, Racket-tailed drongo, Velvet-fronted nuthatch, Orange minivet and Bronzed drongo.

The evening session was a wash-out. A couple from Mumbai – Govind and Sheetal, house guests of Gireesh – were with him when we linked up at the sanctuary entrance. Gireesh drove us for a few kilometers on the road back towards Kochi, to an area I haven’t visited before. Crested tree-swifts evidently flocked in this area, but there was nothing in sight except for Spotted doves. It was not yet 4 PM and presuming that we were early for the evening’s action, we suggested that we instead finish with the frogmouth pair that Gireesh had promised earlier. It was a twelve kilometer drive to the lovely forested place I’d been to a few times before; and also to a rocky slope surrounded by lush evergreen forests that I don’t remember seeing.

Srilanka frogmouth pair (pic: Girish Kulkarni):

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We watched the frogmouth pair briefly after which Gireesh suggested we head into the main sanctuary entrance to look for the pitta at its roosting haunt. However his car had developed a deflated tyre and precious daylight was lost in getting it fixed at Kuttampuzha en route. We had to perforce abandon the pitta plan for the day. Heading back, we were briefly distracted by what Gireesh identified as the Great-eared nightjar flitting above the road. Stopping for it, we were further distracted by Indian scops owls – a pair – that was calling from the foliage just by the road. We could see the owls occasionally sailing over our heads, but were unable to spot them when they called from the trees, try as we might. We finally gave up and headed our separate ways.

Dollar bird by torchlight, the light has distorted colours (pic: Girish Kulkarni):

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For the third outing (AM), Gireesh again led us to the rocky slope. There was plenty of activity this time, with other groups of birders present too.  In addition to many of the species seen the previous day, we saw Greater flameback, Golden oriole, Yellow-browed bulbul, Small minivet, Verditer flycatcher, Vernal hanging parrot, Black-naped monarch and Asian brown flycatcher. We then descended into the forest for a short loop (with a little bit of leech infestation en route). Gireesh was looking for the pitta and possibly a Malabar trogan. We sighted a White-bellied treepie, Crested serpent eagle, Brown-capped pigmy woodpecker, Malabar wood-shrike and a Brown-breasted flycatcher. Apart from the trogan, which presented a distant and fleeting sighting. Pitta called tantalizingly, but none appeared despite Gireesh’s efforts.

Common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) nest (pic: Girish Kulkarni):

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This was our final day and we were required to vacate our rooms at PRL to make way for a Brit group that was arriving. Mr. Luigi, considerate as ever, suggested that we take a packed lunch and trek up the dirt track running by the river on the opposite bank to kill time until evening. Some three hours or so on this road would bring us to the Idamalayar dam.

Accordingly, Elias was dispatched to accompany us and to keep a sharp lookout for elephant, and laden with a big heavy bag of food. Our usual driver Vijay hauled some eight liters of water as we were thirsty all the time. We crossed the river by boat and gained the track. This track ran by the river and through some picturesque forests, although the birding was not very satisfying. We walked at an unhurried pace and had the forest to ourselves. Some work was being done on this road although the workwomen were missing, this being a Sunday. There was heavy degradation of the prey base – chital, sambar and pig having been decimated for bush meat. Only the odd junglefowl had survived. There were traces of pig though at places, by way of dug earth.

Giant wood spider (Nephila pilipes), note the tiny male dwarfed by the massive female:

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Some four or five kilometers later, the dirt track ran into an asphalted road bearing a fair degree of traffic. We turned back at this point, stopping a short while later to demolish the foodbag – Mr. Luigi had crammed the bag with sandwiches and a cartful of fruit.

We were curious to examine the results of the elephants’ foraging as great patches of gouged earth and felled trees could be seen from across the river.  The patch of forest the elephants had been in looked like a deranged gang had been let loose with dynamite sticks and JCBs. Trees as wide as a foot had been uprooted whole and flung aside, while others had been snapped clean in half. The earth was gouged in large patches. And the place was littered with dung everywhere.

The track back evidently continued until it terminated on the bank opposite Kuttampuzha, a village midway to the sanctuary entrance from PRL. This road is motorable and can be accessed by car from Bhoodhathankettu. We have a plan to attempt it by car at sunrise or sunset on the next trip, looking for elephants or the odd sloth bear.

The list

Birds:

  1. Ashy drongo
  2. Asian brown flycatcher
  3. Asian openbilled stork
  4. Black baza
  5. Black-naped monarch
  6. Black-naped oriole
  7. Blue-bearded bee eater
  8. Blyth’s starling
  9. Bronzed drongo
  10. Brown-breasted flycatcher
  11. Brown-capped pigmy woodpecker
  12. Brown shrike (calls)
  13. Chestnut-headed bee eater
  14. Cinereous tit
  15. Coucal
  16. Common hawk cuckoo (calls)
  17. Common iora
  18. Crimson-backed sunbird
  19. Crimson-fronted barbet (calls)
  20. Dollar bird
  21. Drongo cuckoo
  22. Emerald dove
  23. Fish eagle
  24. Flame-throated bulbul
  25. Golden oriole
  26. Gold-fronted leaf bird
  27. Great-eared nightjar
  28. Greater flameback
  29. Green imperial pigeon
  30. Greenish warbler
  31. Grey-fronted green pigeon
  32. Grey-headed bulbul
  33. Grey junglefowl
  34. Hill myna
  35. Indian roller
  36. Indian scops owl
  37. Indian treepie
  38. Jungle nightjar
  39. Jungle owlet (calls)
  40. Lesser flameback
  41. Lesser whistling duck
  42. Little cormorant
  43. Little spiderhunter
  44. Loten’s sunbird
  45. Magpie robin
  46. Malabar grey hornbill
  47. Malabar parakeet
  48. Malabar trogan
  49. Malabar whistling thrush
  50. Malabar woodshrike
  51. Nilgiri flowerpecker
  52. Orange minivet
  53. Oriental honey buzzard?
  54. Plum-headed parakeet
  55. Purple sunbird
  56. Purple-rumped sunbird
  57. Racket-tailed drongo
  58. Red-wattled lapwing (calls)
  59. River tern
  60. Small minivet
  61. Spotted dove
  62. Sri Lanka frogmouth
  63. Stork-billed kingfisher
  64. Velvet-fronted nuthatch
  65. Verditer flycatcher
  66. Vernal hanging parrot
  67. White-bellied blue flycatcher
  68. White-bellied treepie
  69. White-browed bulbul
  70. White-browed wagtail
  71. White-cheeked barbet
  72. White-rumped needletail
  73. White-throated kingfisher
  74. Yellow-browed bulbul

Mammals:

  1. Elephant
  2. Indian giant squirrel

Trip Report: Kabini River Lodge/Nagarahole NP

Trip:       Kabini River Lodge/Nagarahole NP

Camp:   JLR’s Kabini River Lodge

Dates:   20-22 Sep ‘14

Who:     GiK & SV

GiK and I had met SV and his family at K Gudi last, and we hit it off well considering our shared interests in wildlife. We had proposed a trip to Kabini together and SV promptly did the reservations as soon as he got back to Bangalore. By happy coincidence, BR who figures in my last K. Gudi post was also there, and it was a reunion of sorts. We did two nights at Kabini River Lodge, and GiK and I stayed back for an extra evening safari on day three, leaving for Bangalore late in the evening. This was a good plan as in addition to the extra safari, it allowed us to avoid return traffic on the Mysore road.

Kabini RL is considered JLR’s flagship property and their sightings are reputed to be second to none. Despite this I haven’t been there after a single trip ten years back. The scale of the establishment puts me off I guess. The safaris are indubitably spectacular, but the place lacks the sense of intimacy that the K. Gudi camp has, in my opinion. And BR agrees with me on this.

The “five kilometer” road. This is a disused and restricted (erstwhile) section of the highway to Kerala – SH17D. This road was fairly productive for us. Particularly interesting was a spot along this road known as the “burning place”, which bears the scars of the 2012 fire that ravaged the park.  Kabini Sep 2014 1080

Changeable hawk eagle. We saw at least three CHEs and only one Crested Serpent Eagle in a reversal of the usual proportions.

Kabini Sep 2014 868

Sambar hind. Note the bald patch on the neck, which is a strange and not-fully-understood occurrence in the species. Kabini Sep 2014 885

I was trying to get a shot of these two stags sparring, but they took a break to stare back at us instead. Kabini Sep 2014 227

I saw Common langur without the tuft after a long while. The langurs that occur in Bandipur, K. Gudi and Galibore are all Tufted langurs, with a distinct tuft on their heads. Langurs helped us locate a she-leopard with a single cub that we sighted on two safaris, near the KV waterhole. Incidentally, there is a watch tower by this waterhole on which I’d spent an entire afternoon ten years back, with only  chital and langur sightings to show for all my trouble. Kabini Sep 2014 851

Both gaur and wild boar were strangely missing. We saw just two herds of gaur, and that in the last couple of safaris. And just one token wild boar. This animal below was photographed in the “burning place” Kabini Sep 2014 1076

We saw plenty of elephants right through the trip. This makhna crossed the road just behind our jeep. Kabini Sep 2014 003

We met this young tusker while he was grazing by the highway. Kabini Sep 2014 085

We watched a herd of three elephants systematically destroy a patch of teak saplings. Kabini Sep 2014 888

Elephants stand around all day and even sleep standing up. This cow gave her leg a break. Kabini Sep 2014 891

Another member of the herd of three approaching. Kabini Sep 2014 893 Kabini Sep 2014 925

This cow approached very close to the jeep. And stood placidly grazing at spitting distance. I asked the naturalist Ravi if Nagarahole elephants were so habituated to human presence that they grazed like cattle around us. He replied that they do mock-charge frequently, and that the tolerance we were seeing wasn’t always present. Kabini Sep 2014 940

We sighted this large tusker with a broken tusk on two separate occasions, both on the “five kilometer” road. Kabini Sep 2014 953

Another massive tusker, this one in the “burning place”. Kabini Sep 2014 1167

This tusker accompanied a small herd. Kabini Sep 2014 1170

A pair of Golden  jackals (Canis aureus) came cantering down the track, stepped off it to pass the jeep, and regained the track to continue on their way. Typical jackal behavior. Kabini Sep 2014 121 Kabini Sep 2014 142

We encountered a pack of three dhole on the “five kilometer” road. Possibly the same pack was sighted by another group the next day in the “burning place”. Kabini Sep 2014 994

We had leopard sightings in three of the five safaris. This she-leopard was found on a tree by the highway, a little before the Balle gate. She stayed put for forty five minutes and treated us to a variety of poses. Two cubs were with her, and had descended out of sight before we arrived at the spot. Kabini Sep 2014 378 Kabini Sep 2014 590 Kabini Sep 2014 608 Kabini Sep 2014 709

The cat was briefly distracted by something in the tree above. We later learned that there was a Giant flying squirrel (Petaurista petaurista) on the tree, but none of us noticed at the time. Kabini Sep 2014 669  

My jungle trees 101 progressed at a slow crawl. I learned to ID the Nandi tree or Crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia microcarpa). This tree is called the naked lady of the forest alluding to how it looks when shorn of its bark – the trunk resembles that of the Eucalyptus, somewhat. And the Belleric myrobalan (Terminalia bellerica). Both of which were fairly common. I also learned that the Axlewood tree has a handle too – leper of the forest – owing to its pale blotchy patterns. There were plenty of these trees in Nagarahole. My old friends Tectona grandis, Terminalia tomentosa and Phyllanthus emblica were there in force too.

The birding lacked the usual intensity. What came our way was what we saw. There was plenty of unrecognized birdlife we zipped past in our quest for megafauna. Incidentally, Grey wagtails had just started to arrive for the winter and were seen around the Gol Ghar. But what was truly striking was the sheer number of Grey junglefowl everywhere. On two occasions, I counted eight individuals foraging at one place.

The list

Birds:

  1. Ashy prinia
  2. Ashy wood-swallow
  3. Asian brown flycatcher
  4. Asian paradise flycatcher
  5. Black-hooded oriole
  6. Bronzed drongo
  7. Brown fish owl
  8. Bushlark?
  9. Changeable hawk eagle
  10. Common hawk cuckoo (calls)
  11. Coppersmith barbet (calls)
  12. Crested serpent eagle
  13. Unidentified flameback
  14. Green imperial pigeon
  15. Grey francolin
  16. Grey junglefowl
  17. Grey wagtail
  18. Hill myna
  19. Hoopoe (calls)
  20. Indian grey hornbill
  21. Jungle myna
  22. Jungle owlet
  23. Magpie robin
  24. Malabar parakeet
  25. Paddyfield pipit
  26. Peafowl
  27. Pied bushchat
  28. Plum-headed parakeet
  29. Puff-throated babbler (calls)
  30. Brown-capped pygmy woodpecker
  31. Racket-tailed drongo
  32. Red-whiskered bulbul
  33. Red-vented bulbul
  34. Rose-ringed parakeet
  35. Streak-throated woodpecker
  36. Tailor bird
  37. Velvet-fronted nuthatch
  38. Vernal hanging parrot
  39. White-bellied drongo
  40. White-bellied woodpecker
  41. White-cheeked barbet (calls)
  42. White-throated kingfisher

Mammals:

  1. Barking deer
  2. Chital
  3. Common langur
  4. Dhole
  5. Elephant
  6. Golden jackal
  7. Indian flying fox
  8. Leopard
  9. Malabar giant squirrel
  10. Ruddy mongoose
  11. Sambar
  12. Stripe-necked mongoose
  13. Wild boar

Trip report: BRT TR & Bandipur NP, May 2014

Trip Report:        BRT Tiger Reserve

                               Bandipur National Park

Dates:                   1-3 May 2014

Camp:                   JLR’s K. Gudi Wilderness Camp & Bandipur Safari Lodge

All the photographs used in this post were shot by S. Balajee.

I was supposed to do KMTR this weekend with GK. Unfortunately he fell ill and we abandoned the plan at the last moment. I was however able to tag along with my sister’s family on this trip. We did one night and two safaris each at BR Hills and Bandipur.  The two-destination idea turned out to be quite productive, adding variety without being inconvenient as Bandipur is a short 70 kms from K Gudi.

BRT TR/K. Gudi

Reaching the camp by 11:30 AM gave us opportunity for some pre-lunch birding, in the camp and around the little lake by it. We saw Cinereous tit, Magpie robin, Common myna, unidentified warbler, Asian brown flycatcher, Orange minivet, White-browed wagtail, Red-rumped swallow, Red-whiskered bulbul, Gold-fronted leaf bird, White-cheeked barbet, Jungle babbler, Brahminy kite, Oriental white-eye, Black hooded oriole, unidentified flameback and Spotted dove. And the Black eagle.

On my wish-list for this visit were four stars – Black eagle, Red spurfowl (don’t ask why), Rufous babbler (with a photo-op) and Southern tree shrew – and possibly an elephant mock charge as icing on the cup-cake. The first of these – the Black eagle – was knocked off the list within an hour of reaching camp. And this is not the first time I’ve seen this raptor over the K. Gudi camp.

Gold-fronted leaf bird:

Image

 

Orange minivet, male:

Image

 

Cinereous tit:

Image

Incidentally, we stayed in the Biligiri and Nilgiri log huts, farthest down the line and abutting the jungle. I had referred to the Biligiri log hut in my previous K. Gudi trip report post.

The first safari was naturally the evening one. The weather was surprisingly cool and cloudy, a welcome change from the dry, sweltering furnace that was Bangalore. On my last visit, we had an extremely productive time with birds thanks to us being driven on safari by Rajesh. We asked for him this time too and Prasad, the new manager was kind enough to oblige. Rajesh has razor-sharp eyesight, spotting skills like you wouldn’t believe, and is a mustard-keen birder. A worthy successor to Thapa, the legendary driver/spotter of K. Gudi, now retired. With Rajesh, his bins and his copy of Grimmett & Inskipp along, there was not a dull moment on safari. And the forest was fairly throbbing with birdlife despite the time of year.

Barking deer, fawn:

Image

The evening was therefore pleasant enough, with some involved birding. Early into the safari we found a pair of Racket-tailed drongos mobbing a Jungle owlet. These drongos were ubiquitous.

Racket-tailed drongo:

Image

 

Fairly common also was Magpie robin, Indian blackbird, Jungle myna, Jungle babbler, Bronzed drongo, Indian treepie, Grey junglefowl, Common hawk cuckoo, White-bellied drongo and bulbul (both Red-vented and Red-whiskered).

Rajesh had marked a burrow in the earth tenanted by a Blue-bearded bee-eater and we spent some time watching the bird flit in and out. Both Rajesh and BIL B were keen on getting a picture of the event, but this posed a challenge as getting close enough for a clear line of sight was deterring the bird – although the nest was just off the road and barely a foot off the ground.

Blue-bearded bee-eater:

Image

 

Other notables were Indian pitta (two separate sightings), Malabar whistling thrush, Green imperial pigeon, Orange-headed thrush,  Oriental honey buzzard, Crested serpent eagle, Brown fish owl and Rufous babbler (second item off the wishlist). The much-awaited mock charge didn’t materialize, but we did see a trio of elephants in high grass.

Brown fish owl:

Image

Waking up in camp the next morning to the calls of Jungle owlet, Indian Nightjar, Common hawk cuckoo, Black-hooded oriole, Magpie robin, Hoopoe, and Tufted langur, we set off on what turned out to be a sparkling safari.

Black-hooded oriole:

Image

Common hawk-cuckoo:

Image

We found a quartet of Nilgiri wood pigeons fluttering about a salt lick and spent some time there. We then ran into a Mountain imperial pigeon and the day was starting to look better and better.  Red spurfowl went off the wishlist next, although the sighting was a tad too fleeting for comfort. That left just one worthy on the list – the Southern tree shrew.

And as luck would have it, we found a pair of these rodents gamboling on the grass and on a fallen tree, in the open, not very far away, and in perfect light. Of such moments is paradise made. BIL B got a bunch of very decent pictures, and I got a good clear look at Anathana ellioti. Suum cuique!

Southern tree shrew:

Image

Bandipur

The evening safari started off with a spot of rain but this quickly subsided, leaving the jungle cool and glistening. This was a typical Bandipur safari, with plenty of flamebacks and intrepid Stripe-necked mongooses. If BRT is the place for Barking deer that aren’t human-shy, Bandipur is the place for Stripe-necked and Ruddy mongooses.

Stripe-necked mongoose:

Image

Passing by the Anekatte waterhole, Kiran the driver thought he spotted a ‘brown shape’ disappearing into some shrubs, and we stopped there waiting. In a while, someone at the back of the jeep realized that there was an elephant standing just off the road and about seventy meters behind us. It turned out to be a magnificent makhna, and we rolled the jeep back a short way to watch this distraction. The elephant was not too happy with the situation, and showed signs of restless agitation. But he wasn’t sure what do to about it either. Turn tail and flee, or get all belligerent and nasty. And so he kicked his feet, threw dust over himself, stamped around, swayed and did a bunch of things to express his annoyance.

Image

 

After a while, we decided to leave him to his devices and started up again, stopping briefly by the pool to confirm that the brown shape hadn’t materialized while we weren’t looking. It had not, and off we went. Later on in the safari, we saw another herd of four elephants at some distance.

Sambar hind:

Image

The next morning was better. We entered the forest not by the usual gate right across the road from the reception center, but from the turn-off further down the road, towards the congregation of resorts. A couple of oncoming vehicles reported the presence of dhole further up the road. Passing by a massive herd of chital some hundred strong, we heard alarm calls and stopped. A lone, unseen sambar stag to our right responded with his own belling honk. Scan as we might with binoculars, nothing was visible and the calls presently subsided. This herd was within the perimeter of the camp, with buildings not very far away. Concluding that a snake was the probable cause of all the commotion, we moved on to look for Cuon Alpinus.

The pack came into view in a short while, with the remnants of a chital kill by the road. The dogs had demolished the carcass and were lying around worrying the larger bones when we appeared on the scene. One by one they took themselves off, pausing to stare at us before pattering into the thickets without showing undue haste. We counted six dogs in the pack. The morning light was fine and mellow, and BIL B got some impressive pictures.

Indian wild dog or dhole:

Image

Much later in the safari, we passed by an anti-poaching camp (APC) and a while later, ran into a JLR safari van driver who had news of a tigress kill near this APC. K-turning back, we found what was left of the kill (a sambar hind) hidden just by the road. A lone jungle crow that was making the most of the opportunity and a waiting safari van pointed us to the spot. We waited for a short while before concluding that the tigress had possibly decamped after consuming the kill.

Streak-throated woodpecker:

Image

I made a start with jungle trees during this safari. Six trees were most commonly seen on this route and I learned to ID the ones I earlier couldn’t. Flame of the forest (Butea monosperma), the Crocodile bark tree or kari mathi (Terminalia tomentosa), Axlewood tree (Anogeissus latifolia) with its pale, guava-like bark and clustered, drooping leaves, Indian gooseberry (Phyllanthus emblica) with its fern-like foliage, and teak (Tectona grandis). The sixth I haven’t been able to relate to; Kiran used the local term Jaaldar for it. This is a small-to-medium sized tree, vaguely reminiscent of Tabebuia aurea/argentea. I have photographs and should be able to take someone’s help to ID it in a day or two.

Not having paid more attention to trees in BRT TR too was a pity, and I should spend some effort on trees in upcoming trips.

Grey junglefowl, cock:

Image

 

Black-naped hare:

Image

The List:

BRT TR

Avifauna:

  1. Asian brown flycatcher
  2. Asian fairy bluebird
  3. Black-hooded oriole
  4. Black kite
  5. Blue-bearded bee-eater
  6. Brahminy kite
  7. Bronzed drongo
  8. Brown fish owl
  9. Cinereous tit
  10. Common hawk cuckoo
  11. Common myna
  12. Coucal
  13. Crested serpent eagle
  14. Flameback (?)
  15. Flowerpecker (?)
  16. Gold-fronted leaf bird
  17. Green imperial pigeon
  18. Grey junglefowl
  19. Hill myna
  20. Hoopoe
  21. Indian blackbird
  22. Indian cuckoo (calls)
  23. Indian nightjar (calls)
  24. Indian pitta
  25. Jungle babbler
  26. Jungle myna
  27. Jungle owlet
  28. Large cuckoo shrike
  29. Magpie robin
  30. Malabar whistling thrush
  31. Mountain imperial pigeon
  32. Nilgiri wood pigeon
  33. Orange-headed thrush
  34. Orange minivet
  35. Oriental honey buzzard
  36. Oriental white-eye
  37. Pigmy woodpecker
  38. Plum-headed parakeet
  39. Racket-tailed drongo
  40. Red-rumped swallow
  41. Red spurfowl
  42. Red-vented bulbul
  43. Red-whiskered bulbul
  44. Rufous babbler
  45. Spotted dove
  46. Warbler (?)
  47. White-bellied drongo
  48. White-browed wagtail
  49. White-cheeked barbet
  50. White-throated kingfisher

Mammals:

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

Others:

  1. Terrapin

Bandipur

Avifauna:

  1. Asian paradise flycatcher
  2. Bay-backed shrike
  3. Brahminy starling
  4. Bushlark (?)
  5. Common hawk cuckoo
  6. Coucal
  7. Flameback
  8. Grey junglefowl
  9. Hoopoe
  10. Indian cuckoo (calls)
  11. Jungle babbler
  12. Jungle myna
  13. Magpie robin
  14. Peafowl
  15. Pied bushchat
  16. Plum-headed parakeet
  17. Red-wattled lapwing
  18. Shikra
  19. Spotted dove
  20. Streak-throated woodpecker
  21. White-bellied drongo
  22. White-breasted waterhen
  23. White-browed fantail
  24. White-throated kingfisher

Mammals:

1. Barking deer

2. Dhole

3. Elephant

4. Gaur

5. Sambar

6. Stripe-necked mongoose

7. Tufted langur

8. Black-naped hare