Trip Report: Shivaliks/Rajaji N.P.

Dates:                   8-13 Dec ‘17

Camp:                   Bayali

Who:                     A

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

Colebrookea oppositifolia

Colebrookea oppositifolia – the woodsman’s toilet paper

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

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Wild mushroom, possibly Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi)

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

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

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

 

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

Birding

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Great barbet at dawn

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

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

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Streaked laughingthrush

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

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

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Cinereous tit

Forest drives

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

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Orb weaver spider web

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

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Changeable hawk eagle scavenging off leopard’s kill at dusk

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

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

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The Nandi stone!

Butterflying @ Wild Valley Farm, Jun ’17

Trip Report:        Wild Valley Farm

Dates:                   24-26 June 2017

Camp:                   Wild Valley Farm

Who:                     A

This post comes after a considerable gap – I missed posting on four trips – to Sunderbans, BRT TR and (two to) Masinagudi – in this interim.

A and I intended to focus on butterflies in and around the farm and that’s what we did. On a walk a little before sunset, we ran into a sloth bear just by the main road. The bear stood staring at us as long as we stood motionless, but fled as soon as we moved to click a picture. On the same walk, A almost stepped on a tiny Bronzeback Tree Snake and it slithered away with all the desperate speed it could muster. A snake killed a juvenile Black-naped Hare by the campsite on the farm. We were at the other end of the grass patch and by the time we walked over, the snake had decamped at the disturbance, leaving the little carcass behind. Mr. Daniel suspected it was the big fat rat snake that usually haunted this spot.

Here are the butterflies we saw. Species sighted but not photographed were Peacock Pansy, Yellow Pansy, Common Lascar, Common Jezebel, Yellow Orange-tip, Blue Mormon, Common Castor, Common Rose, Common Grass Yellow, Tawny Coster and Common Crow.

Papilionidae – Swallowtails

Common Mormon mud-puddling (Pic by A):

Common Mormons Mudpuddling

Crimson Rose:

Crimson Rose

Lycaenidae – Gossamer-winged butterfiles

Oriental Gram Blue:

Oriental Gram Blue

Hedge Blue (wrongly ID’d as Grass Blue, and pointed out by both VV and KS):

Grass blue

Red Pierrot:

Red Pierrot2

Yamfly:

Yamfly

Nymphalidae – brush-footed butterflies

Chocolate Pansy:

Chocolate pansy1

Common Fourring:

Common four ring

Common Leopard:

Common leopard

Common Fivering:

Common five-ring

Lemon Pansy:

Lemon Pansy2

Plain Tiger:

Plain tiger

Striped Tiger:

Striped tiger

Pieridae – Whites and yellows

Common Gull:

Common gull

Common Wanderer:

Common wanderer

Great Orange-tip:

Great orange-tip

Pioneer:

Pioneer2

White Orange-tip:

White orange-tip

Oyster mushrooms (Pic by A):

Oyster mushrooms

Moult, probably rat snake:

Moult

The weather and the farm were equally lovely (Pic by A):

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Trip Report: Galibore, Nov ’16

Trip Report:        Galibore Nature Camp

Dates:                   31 Oct – 1 Nov 2016

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Grizzled giant squirrel foraging on Ivy gourd/Tindora/Thondekai (Coccinia grandis) vine

I did this trip alone. It was a follow-up to my last trip. Walking along the road then, the sheer number of species that had left their tracks in the sand overnight had planted this idea in my head. I had then wanted to come back to list and photograph the tracks seen on any typical day here. Thomraj is a walking encyclopedia on junglecraft and he was equally keen on this idea. I’m publishing that list and those pictures in a separate post.

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Short-nosed fruit bats in the camp

I had left Bangalore very early in the morning, at 3:30 AM, intending to reach the camp by 6 AM. There are a large number of cattle that walk along that track during the day and anyone intending to study wildlife spoor has to make an early start before the tracks are all messed up. Reaching by 6 AM would give me two mornings instead of one. That and the notion of encountering wildlife at the break of dawn on the drive to the camp. I was extremely hopeful of elephant, leopard or sloth bear sighting, but nothing was stirring (except for a couple of herds of chital) and I reached the camp with nothing to show for my trouble. There too, Thomraj was tied up guiding another guest and as my check-in time was hours away, I couldn’t make undue demands of his time. I was therefore constrained to hang around camp, which was not altogether a bad thing. The Sida patch kept me busy with the butterflies, and the pair of White-rumped shama that frequent the camp was bold enough to perch very close if I stood still.

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Juvenile male Indian paradise flycatcher. This individual provided us with some minutes of close-up entertainment as it hawked vigorously beneath the promontory.

The species mix in the Sida patch was different from that on my last trip three weeks back. Common crows were all over the place this time. There was also Common rose, Crimson rose, Tawny coster, Plain and striped tiger, Common sailer, Blue and Dark blue tiger, Common grass yellow, Common jezebel and plenty of Psyche.

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Crimson rose

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Dark blue tiger

 

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Common crow in flight

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Striped tiger

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Common rose

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Common sailer

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Plain tiger

I had wanted to sight a Four-horned antelope for a while now. Thomraj suggested we climb up the hill in the late afternoon and settle down on the summit for a couple of hours. He thought that if we stayed still and silent, we would probably catch sight of one. The new manager  – Abhijit – was also keen on this idea and the three of us set off at half past three. The weather was uncomfortably hot and the climb was a stiff one. We made it to the top of the hill without too much difficulty, but Thomraj’s plan was to ascend yet another hill beyond this one.  We had just started ascending from the watchtower when we caught sight of our quarry – a lone doe that briefly stared at us before bounding up the hillside in alarm. Mission accomplished but we continued anyway to see what else we could get.

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Four-horned antelope doe

The second stretch was steep and very taxing, but we eventually arrived at the top, drenched in sweat, panting desperately and tanned three shades darker. There is a large, flat rock there, with a spectacular 180 degree view of the valley beyond. The plan was to sit at this vantage point for as long as the light permitted, while scouting for signs of movement across the vast area in sight. Sure enough, a sloth bear was presently seen on the far hillside, foraging. Thomraj said there was a second one, but Abhijit and I could spot just the one.

Langurs called in alarm persistently from beyond an intervening ridge and a lone sambar deer also belled a few times. The persistence of the calls convinced us that a leopard was afoot, and we had high hopes of catching sight of it. The leopard didn’t show itself for the next hour however though the calls continued, and as the light was fading, we had to reluctantly abandon our position to return to camp. On the way down, we spotted another slot bear, this one much closer and moving along a line that seemingly converged with our own. The bear descended into a rocky depression shortly thereafter however and wasn’t seen again.

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The stiff climb induced a very painful bout of cramps in my legs as we were relaxing in the camp later that evening.

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Monitor lizard in the camp

We hardly paid any attention to birds this time, but here’s the list for what it’s worth.

  1. Alexandrine parakeet
  2. Asian paradise flycatcher
  3. Black-hooded oriole
  4. Blue-faced malkoha
  5. Brahminy kite
  6. Brown hawk owl
  7. Brown-headed barbet
  8. Changeable hawk eagle
  9. Common iora
  10. Common skylark (calls)
  11. Common tailorbird (calls)
  12. Common woodshrike (calls)
  13. Darter
  14. European bee-eater
  15. Golden-fronted leaf bird
  16. Green bee-eater
  17. Greenish warbler
  18. Green imperial pigeon
  19. Indian robin
  20. Jungle bush quail (calls)
  21. Jungle owlet
  22. Lesser fish eagle (calls)
  23. Lesser flameback
  24. Little cormorant
  25. Magpie robin
  26. Purple-rumped sunbird
  27. Red-rumped swallow
  28. Red spurfowl
  29. Red-wattled lapwing (calls)
  30. Red-whiskered bulbul
  31. Rose-ringed parakeet
  32. Spotted dove
  33. Stork-billed kingfisher (calls)
  34. Tawny-bellied babbler
  35. Tickell’s blue flycatcher
  36. White-bellied drongo
  37. White-browed bulbul (calls)
  38. White-browed wagtail
  39. White-cheeked barbet (calls)
  40. White-rumped shama
  41. White-throated kingfisher
  42. Yellow-billed babbler

 

  1. Bonnet macaque
  2. Chital
  3. Four-horned antelope
  4. Grizzled giant squirrel
  5. Monitor lizard
  6. Tufted langur
  7. Sambar (alarm calls)
  8. Sloth bear

Book Review: The King and I, Travels in Tigerland

Book review: The King and I – Travels in Tigerland, by Prerna Singh Bindra

Rupa & Co, 2006

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For some strange reason, half a dozen chapters into the book, I was distinctly unimpressed. Maybe I was coming at it from the perspective of A.J.T. Johnsingh’s masterpieces (Field Days and Walking the Western Ghats) – books that drip heavy with information and insights from a naturalist’s perspective. That was probably unwarranted. Prerna Singh Bindra is no naturalist. But she is a conservation journalist and a skillful wordsmith. She therefore approaches her topic from the perspective of the conservation journalist – with a fine blend of impassioned eco-zeal, and sensitivity to the beauty around her. And she certainly writes well. I warmed to the book eventually, and had concluded by the end of it that it was indeed a very good read.

The King and I profiles some twenty prominent PAs – mostly tiger reserves with a couple of exceptions in Hemis and Gir. Bindra’s personal impressions of each wildscape provide some very readable context to the larger discussion around conservation and anthropological issues specific to the PA. And she blends a fine mix of the two, which is a good thing – tales of her personal experiences and her evocative sense of wonder enliven what would otherwise be a starkly depressing account of almost-lost causes.

Notwithstanding the title, the book does not confine itself to the tiger alone. There is a chapter on Gir, a discussion on conservation issues specific to the leopard, a lament on what we did to the cheetah in India, an essay centered around Billy Arjan Singh and Tiger Haven, and another around Tusker Trails in Bandipur.

Five of the chapters are especially outstanding. Bindra’s account of hunting for the snow leopard amidst the barren slopes of Hemis makes for a fine read. The chapter on Bandavgarh paints a very effective picture of the ugly commercialization of tiger tourism. Her account of visiting locations immortalized in Corbett’s books makes for some engaging reading – interestingly, Johnsingh has authored a book on this very topic, not that this detracts in any way from the effectiveness of Bindra’s story. The book closes with a powerful and wide-ranging discussion of conservation issues specific to the tiger – one of the hardest-hitting pieces I’ve read on the topic.

My personal favorite by far however, is the little account of Bindra’s brief visit to Cheetal Walk/Jungle Trails. Like many admirers of the eponymous book by E.R.C. Davidar, I have itched to visit this now-inaccessible house. Bindra was fortunate enough to sit on the verandah we have all read about, and to watch an assortment of hyenas, sloth bears and other creatures, all door-delivered. I read the chapter with a mixture of envy and fascination in equal measure.

The book is peppered with multiple photographs in every page. The credits for these are atypically not footnoted with the photographs themselves, but massed at the end of the book. Which is not a bad thing from the reader’s perspective, considering the reduced clutter. I should also mention that there is a fantastic bibliography at the end of the book. If Ms. Bindra has all the 120-odd books listed here on her shelf, she’s one very lucky person.

Trip report: Galibore, Oct ’16

Trip Report:        Galibore Nature Camp

Dates:                   10-11 Oct 2016

Who:                     P and H

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

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

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Lesser fish eagle

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

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

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

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

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Tawny coster

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Skipper sp.

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Yellow orange-tip

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White orange-tip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Unidentified lizard in the forest

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

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: BRT TR, Dec 2015

Dates:                   30 Dec ’15 – 2 Jan ‘16

Camp:                   K. Gudi Wilderness Camp

Who:                     Drs. R & M, SS, kids P & V

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This is the way years should end and begin. Sparkling birding, leopard, slot bear and dhole sightings, and some satisfying tree-watching. I was in Kaziranga for last year’s start and in keeping with this sentiment, and when Dr R said he was booking K. Gudi, P and I followed suit. We were booked for two nights, but extended by another on impulse. I couldn’t get my usual tent – number 7 – and was given tent number 8 instead, the last one in the row.

The weather was excellent, with bracing cold mornings, warm afternoons and cool evenings.

Rajesh took to driving us down the main road towards Navodaya in the mornings at 6:30 AM before entering the safari routes, as a pack of dhole was frequenting the stretch. Tigers were also sighted here, though mainly at sunset. This is the same stretch on which P and I had our tiger near-miss the last time.

I made good progress with flora-watching this time. Lantana camara was virtually non-existent in the forest, having been supplanted by two weeds – the unpalatable and invasive Eupatorium Ageratina adenophora and the carcinogenic Bracken Pteridium aquilinum. These two dominated the undergrowth. Karthik, who is a sure-shot help with IDs when all else fails had helped me identify the former after my Wayanad trip. Narayan rummaged through a book to produce the latter ID.

Eupatorium Ageratina adenophora:

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Bracken Pteridium aquilinum:

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These were three commonly or occasionally seen plants I was unable to identify.

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(This plant below turned out to be a teak sapling, as Karthik pointed out!)

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(Below: Solanum spp. possibly Solanum viarum)

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The landscape was dominated by Kari mathi Terminalia tomentosa and Axlewood Anogeissus latifolia. Indian gooseberry Phyllanthus emblica trees were heavily laden with fruit. Belleric myrobalan Terminalia bellerica and FOTF Butea monosperma frequently occured. Rajesh, and naturalist Narayan who joined us on one safari taught me to identify East Indian rosewood Dalberigia latifolia, Chebulic myrobalan Terminalia chebula and Radermachera xylocarpa with its long pods. I need a little more work on the latter two to get comfortable with the identification.

We saw a tree with large, distinctive pods at one place and Narayan said it was colloquially called Chappakkai. I don’t have the ID, but did get a picture when Dr. R reminded me to. Karthik later helped me ID it as Entada spp., probably Entada rheedii.

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There were a few fine specimens of a species of strangler fig on Muradi road. This is a species I’ve seen elsewhere too. I’ll try and get it ID’d.

Birding in the camp was spectacular. Rusty-tailed flycatcher, Blue-capped rock thrush, Asian brown flycatcher, Bronzed and Ashy drongo, Golden-fronted leaf bird, Indian nuthatch, Black-hooded and Golden oriole and Vernal hanging parrot were commonly seen. I spotted a Black-naped oriole above tent no 3 or 4. Rajesh was very skeptical of this ID when I told him about it later as it is evidently rare in these parts. But I’m certain of what I saw. But then he was also skeptical of a Verditer flycatcher sighting I caught while on the first safari – and this was settled when we saw the bird again subsequently in the same place.

Streak-throated woodpecker, female:

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In the forest, there were great flocks of Common rosefinch and Tree pipit that rose from ground-level as the jeep approached and swarmed into the shrubbery (rosefinches) or the trees (pipits). While we were stopped to look one such flock of rosefinches, I noticed a bird that I have been unable to identify. The others didn’t see it, absorbed as they were with the rosefinches. This bird was very bulbul-like, with vertical streaks around the neck and breast and a rounded fork in the tail.

We saw the Square-tailed bulbul in its usual area and I subsequently cleared up my confusion about its ID vis a vis the Black bulbul’s. The Himalayan and SE Asian species is the Black bulbul Hypsipetes leucocephalus while the Western Ghats and Sri Lankan species is the Square-tailed bulbul Hypsipetes ganeesa.

Grey wagtail:

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I saw a bird which had a conical munia’s bill and what apparently was a crest. The distance was considerable and the light wasn’t great to be able to notice much else. I am not sure if the Crested bunting occurs in these hills. I saw similar features on a bird in Meghamalai WS too.

For the first time, I came away from BRT TR without having sighted a single Black eagle.

On day 1, after the morning safari, we descended down the Navodaya side and exited the forest to look for Bar-headed geese in a lake nearby. The geese were missing, apparently having been scared away by someone of devious intent who was uncomfortable with all the attention they were bringing to the place. We then drove into a nearby grassland area to look at a herd of blackbuck.

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On the first evening (30th), we ran into a leopard on Durgur road late in the evening. The light was fading and the cat leaped out of the fringes choked with Eupatorium, bounded up the road ahead of us, and back into the weeds on the other side. This road is usually productive late in the evenings. It and Anni kere are the two sighting hotspots in BRT TR, apart from the stretch of main road on the Navodaya side.

Incidentally, while back on my next visit, I intend to leave Bengaluru at 1:30 AM or so to arrive at the Navodaya checkpost at 6 AM. The drive up from there through the undisturbed forest in the early hour should yield tiger, dhole, gaur or elephant. GiK and I have a plan of coming back in March. We’ll try this then.

On the second day, in the morning, we saw a pack of dhole on the main road, descending on the Navodaya side at the start of the safari. The pack of four was missing on our way down, but were found cavorting merrily on the grassy verge on our way back. We spend a while watching them and they us. Rajesh mentioned one individual which apparently lives all by itself and hunts alone. The presence of the dhole in the area triggered muntjac calls a few times over the next couple of days.

The first day of the new year brought us a lovely Sloth bear sighting in the evening safari. A big male. Our frenetic response on spotting him unfortunately scared him away. Rajesh was disappointed as this individual was reputed to stay on the road once the initial shock wore away, providing long satisfying sightings. This was also the same individual who featured in a video I mentioned in my last post, standing up on his hind legs to scratch his back on a tree trunk.

The same evening brought an even more spectacular experience. We were relaxing on the plinth outside tent no 8 prior to dinner when a sambar belled in alarm from a short way down the slope. A leopard had been sighted by Nagesh on the main road shortly before, moving into this area. Dr. R and I descended some paces down the slope armed with torches and sure enough, the beams caught a leopard, female as it turned out, slinking across to our left, into a depression and out of sight. A while later we caught sight of her again as she moved to the right and out of sight. A langur watchman persisted with calling in alarm for a while after. This female was evidently resident around this area and had been seen frequently. One of the staff had lost his dog to a leopard near the safari entrance boom gate a few days back.

YN is a civil engineer from Mysore who had spent 3 months volunteering as a naturalist with JLR a while back. He was there and suggested we spend some time on the porch of the Biligiri log hut as the leopard was certain to pass by there. We waited for a while and then figured it would be easier to wait for the langur to call instead. Unfortunately for us, the langur failed us as they’d evidently vacated the area. The leopard passed without attention while we were at the gol ghar getting our dinners and chital calls started up from the area behind the tents. YN incidentally has a lovely picture of this individual shot in the same valley a month back.

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Birds

  1. Ashy drongo
  2. Asian brown flycatcher
  3. Asian fairy bluebird
  4. Asian paradise flycatcher
  5. Bay-backed shrike
  6. Black-hooded oriole
  7. Black-naped oriole
  8. Blue-capped rock thrush
  9. Blue-tailed beeeater
  10. Brahminy kite
  11. Bronzed drongo
  12. Brown shrike
  13. Brown-capped pigmy woodpecker
  14. Changeable hawk eagle
  15. Cinereous tit
  16. Common hawk cuckoo
  17. Common iora
  18. Common myna
  19. Common rosefinch
  20. Common sandpiper
  21. Common teal
  22. Coppersmith barbet (calls)
  23. Crested bunting?
  24. Crested serpent eagle
  25. Unidentified flowerpecker
  26. Golden oriole
  27. Green beeeater
  28. Green imperial pigeon
  29. Hill myna
  30. Indian bushlark
  31. Indian robin
  32. Indian scops owl
  33. Indian treepie
  34. Golden-fronted leaf bird
  35. Greenish warbler
  36. Grey francolin (calls)
  37. Grey wagtail
  38. Hoopoe (calls)
  39. Indian scimitar babbler (calls)
  40. Jungle babbler
  41. Jungle myna
  42. Jungle owlet
  43. Lesser flameback
  44. Lesser yellownape
  45. Long-tailed shrike
  46. Magpie robin
  47. Malabar parakeet
  48. Orange minivet
  49. Oriental honey buzzard
  50. Paddyfield pipit
  51. Painted bush quail?
  52. Pied bushchat
  53. Plum-headed parakeet
  54. Puff-throated babbler (calls)
  55. Purple sunbird
  56. Racket-tailed drongo
  57. Red-rumped swallow
  58. Red spurfowl
  59. Red-vented bulbul
  60. Red-whiskered bulbul
  61. Rose-ringed parakeet
  62. Rufous babbler
  63. Rufous woodpecker
  64. Rusty-tailed flycatcher
  65. Small minivet
  66. (Southern?) coucal
  67. Spot-billed duck
  68. Spotted dove
  69. Streak-throated woodpecker
  70. Tawny-bellied babbler
  71. Tickell’s blue flycatcher
  72. Tree pipit
  73. Verditer flycatcher
  74. Vernal hanging parrot
  75. White-bellied drongo
  76. White-throated fantail
  77. White-browed wagtail
  78. White-cheeked barbet (calls)
  79. White-rumped munia
  80. White-throated kingfisher
  81. Yellow-footed green pigeon

Mammals/Reptiles

  1. Barking deer
  2. Blackbuck
  3. Bonnet macaque
  4. Chital
  5. Dhole
  6. Leopard
  7. Pond terrapin
  8. Malabar giant squirrel
  9. Sambar
  10. Sloth bear
  11. Southern flying lizard
  12. Three-striped palm squirrel
  13. Tufted langur
  14. Wild pig

Trip Report: Galibore Nature Camp

Dates:                   12-13 Dec 2015

Who:                     SB and a couple of colleagues

All the images used in this post were clicked by S. Balajee.

BIL B wanted to take a couple of colleagues on a short birding trip and invited me along. His colleagues R and R could only manage a day trip while the two of us stayed back for the night, leaving after breakfast the next morning.

The weather was surprisingly warm and muggy for this time of year, with the sun blazing through the day and some marginal coolness creeping in well after dark. There was little cloud cover.

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Common kingfisher (S. Balajee)

Thomraj was in his elements, ferreting out sightings with his impossibly precise visual acuity. After paying our respects to pairs of Brown hawk owl and Indian scops owl in the camp, we started on our outings which for most part comprised floating down the river on a coracle and then trudging back on foot.

For some reason, White-browed bulbul were ubiquitous and noisy this time around. Other frequently heard calls were of Tailorbird, oriole (I usually associate the short, ascending crrrrk with the Black-hooded oriole, but we did spot a Golden oriole calling this way too), Purple-rumped sunbird, Asian brown flycatcher and White-browed wagtail (on the water). Stork-billed kingfisher called occasionally as did Spotted dove, Green imperial pigeon, Jungle babbler, Green bee eater and Golden-fronted leaf bird.

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Yellow-throated sparrow (S. Balajee)

We had uncommon luck with raptors. Walking back to the camp from the Muthathi side, we first flushed a Crested serpent eagle that flapped away on great wings. We were trying to trace its position when a Black eagle emerged from pretty much the same direction, and settled on a tree a considerable distance away. We got off the path for a closer look and resuming the track, we were surprised by yet another raptor, which we identified back at the camp as the Tawny eagle. This worthy made a reappearance later in the day while we were on the river. BIL wanted a shot of a Lesser fish eagle and we found an exceptionally obliging individual on the day 2 outing.

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Lesser fish eagle (S. Balajee)

For the first time, we were compelled to beach the coracle and hop off twice midway – once to tail a pair of Brown fish owls, which were being baited by a pair of crows, as they shifted one perch to another; and again to confirm a shikra’s ID. While we were after the owls, a sloth bear was spotted across the river from our position by a couple of staff members lounging on the bank a hundred meters downstream. We had heard chital calling from across and had discussed the possibility of a leopard being afoot.

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Small pratincole (S. Balajee)

While on this topic, incidentally, I asked Thomraj why chital alarm calls were heard virtually every half hour on some visits, and never heard at all on others. Thomraj’s explanation was that chital were skittish when dhole were in the area and tended to call frequently then.

Winter is the time of courtship in our jungles, and the stillness on the river was occasionally shattered by rutting calls of chital stags. We watched a courting pair of Red-wattled lapwings. The pair flew in together and while the female settled on a rock, the male did a noisy, dipping-flight courtship display before joining her.

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Shikra (S. Balajee)

We found occasion to catch a bunch of fascinating jungle anecdotes about Thomraj’s colorful pre-JLR days. About running into a leopard that killed one of the goats he was grazing as a fourteen year old, to plucky-while-mischievous deeds from jungles long ago.

  1. Ashy prinia
  2. Asian brown flycatcher
  3. Asian paradise flycatcher
  4. Barn swallow
  5. Black eagle
  6. Black-hooded oriole
  7. Blue-faced malkoha
  8. Brahminy kite
  9. Brown-capped pigmy woodpecker
  10. Brown fish owl
  11. Brown hawk owl
  12. Brown-headed barbet (calls)
  13. Chestnut-headed bee eater
  14. Cinereous tit
  15. Common francolin
  16. Common hawk cuckoo (calls)
  17. Common iora
  18. Common kingfisher
  19. Common myna
  20. Common skylark
  21. Common tailorbird
  22. Common woodshrike
  23. Coppersmith barbet (calls)
  24. Coucal (calls)
  25. Crested serpent eagle
  26. Darter
  27. Golden-fronted leaf bird
  28. Great cormorant
  29. Green bee eater
  30. Greenish warbler
  31. Grey junglefowl
  32. Golden oriole
  33. Green imperial pigeon
  34. Hoopoe
  35. Indian grey hornbill
  36. Indian robin
  37. Indian scops owl
  38. Indian silverbill
  39. Jungle babbler
  40. Jungle crow
  41. Jungle owlet (calls)
  42. Large cuckooshrike
  43. Lesser fish eagle
  44. Lesser flameback
  45. Little cormorant
  46. Little egret
  47. Magpie robin
  48. Painted spurfowl
  49. Peafowl
  50. Pied kingfisher
  51. Purple-rumped sunbird
  52. Red-rumped swallow
  53. Red-vented bulbul
  54. Red-wattled lapwing
  55. Red-whiskered bulbul
  56. River tern
  57. Rose-ringed parakeet
  58. Scaly-breasted munia
  59. Shikra
  60. Small pratincole
  61. Spotted dove
  62. Stork-billed kingfisher
  63. Unidentified swift
  64. Tawny eagle
  65. Tickell’s blue flycatcher
  66. White-bellied drongo
  67. White-breasted waterhen
  68. White-browed bulbul
  69. White-browed wagtail
  70. White-cheeked barbet (calls)
  71. White-throated kingfisher
  72. Wire-tailed swallow
  73. Yellow-billed babbler
  74. Yellow-footed green pigeon
  75. Yellow-throated sparrow
  1. Chital
  2. Grizzled giant squirrel
  3. Tufted langur
  4. Mugger

Trip report: Sunderbans National Park, May 2015

Trip Report:        Sunderbans National Park

Dates:                   1-May to 3-May, 2015

Camp:                   Sunderban Jungle Camp on Bali Island

Who:                     VV and KB

Avicennea

Given the time that has passed, I’ll dispense with text and try to capture as much of the experience as possible via the images I can find. It is quite possible that between my patchy notes and patchier memory some errors have crept in.

I should mention that we were guided by a young and very competent naturalist called Animesh Manna who knows his stuff. Mangrove tree identification is a tricky animal for the unseasoned, and Animesh was exceptionally patient in helping us get the hang of it. He is a gifted spotter too and knows his birds.

Pictures are below the descriptions.

Flora

Avicennia marina. “Peara Bayen”. So named because the trunk is reminiscent of the guava tree’s blotchy, peeling trunk. This tree was extremely common.

Avicinnea marina

Rhizophora apiculata. “Garjan”. With its distinctive stilt roots.

Garjan

Garjan pods

Garjan pods 2

Bruguiera gymnorrhiza. “Kankra”. With its buttress roots.

Kankra buttress roots

Excoecaria agallocha. “Genwa”.  Red-leaved at this time of the year. The roots are snake-like with bulbs at the base. The sap is reputed to cause blindness, and the leaves when dried and powdered serve as an effective fish poison.

Keonwa red leaves snake roots bulbs in base

Snakelike roots

Ceriops decandra. “Jhamti/Jale Garan”. Rounded leaves reaching up; broom-like roots. Ceriops tagal – “Math/Jat Garan” has buttressed roots I believe (although my notes describe them as dome shaped for some reason).

Goran upward round leaves broom roots

Suaeda maritima. “Giriya Sak”. A shrub.

Giria shrub

Spiky roots of Kaura/Keora. Sonneratia spp.

Kewr spiky roots

Sonneratia apetala flowers.

Kewra flowers

Kewra yellow flowers

Pneumatophores reach out for air to compensate for the anoxic mud beneath

Garjan pneumatopores possibly

Aerial roots of Avicennia alba. There are three species commonly seen. Avicennia alba, A. marina and A. officinalis. Of these, only A. alba has aerial roots.

Bayan Avicennia aerial roots 2

“Dhundul”, Xylocarpus granatum

Dhundul, Xylocarpus zanata

Fruit of Dhundul

Dhundul, Xylocarpus zanata

Tiger palm. Phoenix palludosa. “Hental/Bogra”. Fairly plentiful.

Tiger palm phoenix palludosa 4

Nypa fruticans. The Nypa palm. “Golpata”. Having seen pictures of large barges laboring under tons of fronds, it came as a surprise that this palm was sparingly seen. Turns out the large clusters are evidently all on the Bangladesh side.

Nypa palm

Fruit of Heritiera fomes. The “Sundari”. The tree for which the place is named. Another big surprise. Much of this occurs on the Bangladesh side. The few isolated specimens seen along the banks were slender and sickly looking.

Sundari flowers

Aegiceras corniculatum. “Khalsi/Kholsi”. Typically seen leaning over the water’s edge. Bulk of the nectar that goes into making the famed honey that the Sunderbans produces is drawn from the flower of this tree.

Kholsi lean over water

Kholsi flowers most honey prod

Porteresia coarctata. “Dhani ghas”, Mangrove grass or Paddy grass.

Paddy grass or Mangrove grass

Imperata cylindrical. Spear grass. I hope the identification was accurate.

Spear grass

Fauna

There was reasonable variety of avifauna. Collared kingfishers were commonly met with and their calls heard even more frequently. We saw the brown-winged kingfisher a few times. We heard the calls of the Mangrove pitta at the Sajnekhali watchtower many times, but didn’t catch sight of the bird. We thought we heard the Mangrove whistler once, but certainly did not see one. We also saw orange-breasted green pigeons at the same watchtower. The Pacific golden plover, Whimbrel and the Changeable hawk eagle (dark morph) were three other candidates on our list that we did get to see.

We were aware that chances of seeing either a tiger or a fishing cat were slim. Or the King cobra for that matter. We did want to see salties and saw just one individual. It would have been nice to see one of the dolphin species, but they are not easy to come by.

Large egret patrolling the shallows

Large egret

Lesser adjutant stork.

Lesser Adjutant

Whimbrel takes flight.

Whimbrel 3

Common kingfisher

Common kingfisher

Red fiddler crabs

Fiddler crab3

Fiddler crab 4

Water monitors. We were eager to sight these creatures after reading about 9-foot long individuals gracing the place.

Monitor 2

Monitor 5

Salty! Poor shot of an Estuarine croc lying inert in the shade. These reptiles have the horrendous reputation of savaging people shrimping or crabbing in the shallows.

Estuarine croc

Mudskipper.

Mudskipper

Others

This is the standard configuration of tourist boats in the Sunderbans. A viewing deck on top; Beds, toilet and a galley below. The structure perched at the stern is an additional loo, for the crew presumably.

Boat

The Sajnekhali watchtower, where so many spectacular sightings happen. We heard a tiger call while there, but saw nothing.

Sajnekhali watchtower

The canopy walk around the Dobanki watchtower, surrounded by a sea of Avicennia marina in the main.

Dobaki watchtower

A little shrine to Bon Bibi, the goddess of Sunderbans legend. Honey and crab collectors fervently believe in her promise to protect anyone who steps into her realm unarmed and pure-of-heart. A necessary reassurance in a land where you take your life in your hands each time you step into the forest.

Bon bibi

The riversides along forest stretches that lie across habited areas are strung with rather flimsy-looking nylon nets, ostensibly to prevent tigers from swimming across. Apart from the tiger and the saltie, Black-tipped sharks are a danger to people in shallow waters – they evidently sneak up and bite a chunk of flesh off the calves, leaving the person bleeding dangerously before medical help can be reached.

Net

Tiger crossover, sometime that morning. We found the spoor on both banks and waited awhile in vain.

Pugmark

Ship laden with flyash crossing the vast Panchmukhani confluence, headed for Khulna in Bangladesh

Ships at Panchmukhani headed Khulna Bdesh flyash

So that’s what a Patton tank looks like. Someone has a sense of humor.

Patton tank

Birds

  1. Adjutant stork
  2. Ashy woodswallow
  3. Black bittern
  4. Black-headed cuckooshrike
  5. Black-hooded oriole
  6. Black-naped monarch
  7. Brahminy kite
  8. Bronzed drongo
  9. Brown shrike
  10. Brown-winged kingfisher
  11. Changeable hawk eagle (dark morph)
  12. Chestnut-tailed starling
  13. Collared kingfisher
  14. Common iora
  15. Common kingfisher
  16. Common myna
  17. Common sandpiper
  18. Eurasian collared dove
  19. Fulvous-breasted woodpecker
  20. Greater coucal
  21. Large cuckoo-shrike
  22. Large egret
  23. Lesser flameback (calls)
  24. Lesser whistling duck
  25. Lesser yellow-nape
  26. Little cormorant
  27. Little egret
  28. Loten’s sunbird
  29. Magpie robin
  30. Mangrove pitta (calls)
  31. Orange-breasted green pigeon
  32. Oriental honey buzzard
  33. Oriental white-eye
  34. Pacific golden plover
  35. Pied kingfisher
  36. Pied myna
  37. Pin-striped tit babbler (calls)
  38. Pond heron
  39. Purple-rumped sunbird
  40. Red junglefowl
  41. Red-whiskered bulbul
  42. Rose-ringed parakeet
  43. Scarlet-backed flowerpecker
  44. Short-toed snake eagle
  45. Small minivet
  46. Spotted dove
  47. Spotted owlet (calls)
  48. Stork-billed kingfisher
  49. Streak-throated woodpecker
  50. Tailorbird
  51. Whimbrel
  52. White-breasted waterhen
  53. White-throated kingfisher

Mammals

  1. Chital
  2. Rhesus macaque
  3. Wild boar

Reptiles

  1. Checkered keelback
  2. Estuarine crocodile
  3. Water monitor