Trip report: Galibore, Oct ’16

Trip Report:        Galibore Nature Camp

Dates:                   10-11 Oct 2016

Who:                     P and H

img_6052

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.

img_6002

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.

img_6165

Tawny coster

img_6143

Skipper sp.

img_6190

Yellow orange-tip

img_6195

White orange-tip

img_6209

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

img_6174

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.

20161011_081114

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

20161011_081232

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.

img_6112

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
Advertisements

K. Gudi/BRT Tiger Reserve: Sep ’16

Dates:                   2 – 5 Sep ’16

Camp:                   K. Gudi Wilderness Camp

Who:                     P

k-gudi-sep-16-612

Glory Lilly (Gloriosa superba) by the roadside a short way from the camp

My kid P and I did three nights this time. The weather was cool with some spells of rain. Sightings were not particularly great as a result, but the forest was hauntingly beautiful, and straight out of a Grimm’s Fairy Tales movie set one particular morning, with a thick mist hanging over it.

k-gudi-sep-16-085

Brown fish owl, early in the morning

Visibility was poor due to luxuriant growth of Eupatorium Ageratina adenophora, Lantana Lantana camara and Bracken Pteridium aquilinum. These three weeds dominated the ground cover and it is very likely that they have had a deleterious effect on the herbivore population over the years. And this possibly explains why the large herds of gaur that were once plentiful in BRT are nowhere to be seen today. Elephants have become scarce too. The only consolation is that there is not much Parthenium hysterophorus . The post-monsoon clearing of vegetation by the track will not happen for another month. The undergrowth was tall enough to completely hide a leopard or sloth bear, making sightings possible only if the animal was on the track itself. Due to this reason, Durgur road, which is usually unfailingly productive on the way out (in the evenings), drew a blank this time.

k-gudi-sep-16-926

Another insidious plant that I should have noticed earlier but somehow hadn’t was the hemiparasitic Mistletoe Loranthus sp. It infested a majority of the Axlewood Anogeissus latifolia trees, leaching nutrients and water. I heard that it had almost completely decimated the Indian gooseberry Phyllanthus emblica trees.

k-gudi-sep-16-111

The darker leaves are from Mistletoe (Loranthus sp.), a hemi-parasite.

The birding was okayish, not too great. Grey wagtails had started to arrive a week back and were plentiful. I learnt to ID the vaguely squirrel-like call of the Orange-headed thrush. This call resonated frequently through the camp and the jungle as these birds were everywhere too. There is another call, a more frantic one, which is not quite as distinctive. I also got familiar with the Blue-bearded bee-eater’s call, given that a pair was constantly (and noisily) haunting the surroundings.

k-gudi-sep-16-142

Orange-headed thrush outside tent No. 7

I also puzzled over a call that sounded like the Stork-billed kingfisher’s except that it had four continuous notes in place of the usual two (or three). Rahul, an avid birder from Bangalore who was visiting indicated that this was the winter call of the Stork-billed kingfisher. Rajesh, my good friend, spotter extraordinaire and favourite driver was puzzled; he said he hadn’t seen this bird around.

k-gudi-sep-16-745

Jungle babblers behind the Gol Ghar. They are bold enough to hop right into the Gol Ghar looking for crumbs. Pic by P.

k-gudi-sep-16-402

This is a very common weed I have not been able to ID yet.

Naturalist Basavanna has shifted from Bandipur to K. Gudi and accompanied us on our drives (Narayan did too, for the first two days). He taught us to ID the call of the Drongo cuckoo. We were waiting by Anni kere when what superficially sounded like the Indian cuckoo’s call started up (except that this is not the season for the Indian cuckoo to call). And except that this was three notes up and one down, unlike the sing-song pitch of the Indian cuckoo’s.

At the same place, we also heard a repeated, drawn-out, shikra-like call which we were stumped by until Basavanna identified it as the Brown fish owl’s chick’s call.

k-gudi-sep-16-491

Jungle owlet. Pic by Rajesh.

k-gudi-sep-16-779

Indian blackbird in the camp

On day three, Rajesh suggested that we take a walk down the road towards the government school after lunch instead of wasting time lounging around in the tent (as he put it). We walked for a short distance until junior got too nervous to go any further – he had been rattled by the earlier sloth bear and leopard sightings around the tent. We saw an Oriental honey buzzard, a Blackbird, Blue-bearded bee-eaters, and on the way back, a Tawny-bellied babbler that showed itself clearly for quite a while, although while constantly flitting around and preventing Rajesh from getting a photograph. We also had a reasonable Rufous babbler sighting in the jungle later on.

k-gudi-sep-16-133

Radermachera xylocarpa outside tent No. 7. Commonly known as the Deer antler tree.

This was a trip full of tantalizingly close opportunities that never materialized. There were plenty of alarm calls, with none converting. On day 1, in the evening safari, we were drawn to Tiger Tank by persistent Muntjac alarm calls. The deer decamped, but a troop of langurs stationed there barked hysterically and persistently, accompanied by much leaping and branch shaking. They were clearly very excited. Rajesh, Basavanna and Narayan all craned their necks trying to get a fix on which side the langurs were focused on. Two opinions eventually emerged, one pointing away from the kere, and the other (Rajesh’s) pointing towards it. A quick discussion led to a consensus that the cat must have just crossed the road and passed in a direction away from the lake. And so off we went, looking for it elsewhere. Turned out that Rajesh’s suspicion was right. The tiger (which is what it was) was hidden right there, in the sea of Eupatorium between us and the lake. It emerged an hour and a half later and was seen and photographed by another group. Rajesh was especially disappointed that we had miscalculated.

k-gudi-sep-16-229

The long weekend brought a lot of traffic to the temple, further impacting the sightings.    Pic by P.

On day 3, in the evening safari, we ran into another loud and persistent series of calls. Somewhat midway between the barking deer’s and chital’s alarm call. Everyone promptly assumed it was one of these and an animated discussion ensued around where the cat possibly could be. We drove around a little trying to pinpoint direction. After a while, Rajesh smacked his forehead when he realized we were in fact listening to the Spot-bellied eagle owl’s call. Although he was equally excited at the prospect of locating the owl. We did try for a considerable time, but without success and the calls eventually died out.

k-gudi-sep-16-423

P (9 years old) clicked this pic of Durga Parameshwari, the camp elephant

I also missed an Indian flying squirrel sighting on day 3 in the evening. The squirrel calls had started just after junior and I had left the gol ghar post dinner. The pair was then sighted, for a period of fifteen minutes, as it progressively glided its way from the trees near the FRH to the jungle beyond the Gol Ghar. The next day I asked Basavanna why he didn’t give me a call, and his reply was that he would definitely have, had he known that I was interested in watching flying squirrels.

k-gudi-sep-16-487

Chappekkai. Entada rheedii possibly. I had not realized earlier that the pods were growing off a climber and not off tree itself.

k-gudi-sep-16-951

Gaur with calf. Pic by Basavanna.

Junior and I also missed a dhole sighting on the drive back. We had driven down towards the temple on day 2 with Rajesh post breakfast, looking for a pack that frequented an area a little before the BR Hills settlement. (There was another pack frequenting the Navodaya checkpost side too that we also looked for in vain). We didn’t find the pack, and there was considerable disturbance from some tar-laying work that was underway. On my drive back to Bangalore on day 4, I did keep my eyes peeled while passing through the area, but saw nothing. Another guest who was in K. Gudi left around the same time and was a little behind me. He sighted the pack and Rajesh called me a little later, asking if I had too. He was surprised that I hadn’t – and the guest in question actually overtook me while we were having this conversation. We therefore couldn’t have been very far apart when he sighted the pack.

k-gudi-sep-16-606

Monitor lizard near the Navodaya checkpost

However these disappointments were not without compensating sightings. On the last safari, Rajesh and I saw a something on the track ahead. It saw us too, and went bounding away a short distance before leaping into the lantana. I thought it was a leopard, but Rajesh with his infinitely better eyesight shouted ‘tiger!’ No one else in the jeep caught the sighting. Arriving at the point, Rajesh’s opinion was confirmed by the pungent smell of scent marking. Basavanna had earlier remarked that the smell of the tiger’s scent-marking was very similar to the fragrance of cooked Basmati rice. I could instantly see why he said so. In any case, my tiger sighting account at BRT TR was finally opened, after 16 years of visits.

I should mention here that I have seen Rajesh use his sense of smell while tracking cats on safari more than once. He catches whiffs of kills, scat or the cat itself and makes as much use of this information as he does of pug marks or alarm calls. On this trip, he took another clever little masterclass while tracking a herd of elephants. There was no apparent sign on the road, but he determined that a herd had just passed. When I asked him how he knew, he pointed out that the grass on the track was uprooted in places. Try as I might, I couldn’t make this out. As is my wont, I dismissed his theory. Presently, dung appeared. And then spoor. And then the herd itself, in Anni kere. That’s the kind of tracker Rajesh is.

k-gudi-sep-16-866

The highlight of the trip was a superb Slaty-legged crake sighting near Anni kere on day 1. I remembered that in August 2014 I had seen this bird, though indistinctly, in Anni kere. I asked Prasad about it as soon as I landed there, and he confirmed that sightings were happening every once a while. The bird stepped out on the track in front of the jeep and bathed in a puddle for a good five minutes, until it was disturbed by another jeep approaching on the opposite side. Very clear view. The light was bad though, as it was around 6 PM by then.

k-gudi-sep-16-040

k-gudi-sep-16-041

I also had a fleeting sighting of a tree shrew on the track.

k-gudi-sep-16-012

Birds

  1. Black-hooded oriole
  2. Brahminy kite
  3. Bronzed drongo
  4. Brown fish owl
  5. Common tailorbird
  6. Crested serpent eagle
  7. Drongo cuckoo (calls)
  8. Green beeeater
  9. Hill myna
  10. Indian treepie
  11. Golden-fronted leaf bird
  12. Greater flameback
  13. Grey junglefowl
  14. Grey wagtail
  15. Indian blackbird
  16. Indian scimitar babbler (calls)
  17. Jungle babbler
  18. Jungle myna
  19. Jungle owlet
  20. Lesser flameback
  21. Long-tailed shrike
  22. Magpie robin
  23. Malabar parakeet
  24. Mountain imperial pigeon
  25. Orange-headed thrush
  26. Orange minivet
  27. Oriental honey buzzard
  28. Pied bushchat
  29. Plum-headed parakeet
  30. Puff-throated babbler (calls)
  31. Racket-tailed drongo
  32. Red spurfowl
  33. Red-vented bulbul
  34. Red-whiskered bulbul
  35. Rufous babbler
  36. Rufous woodpecker
  37. Small minivet
  38. (Southern?) coucal
  39. Spot-bellied eagle owl (calls)
  40. Spotted dove
  41. Streak-throated woodpecker
  42. Tawny-bellied babbler
  43. Tri-colored munia
  44. Vernal hanging parrot
  45. White-bellied drongo
  46. White-browed bulbul
  47. White-cheeked barbet
  48. White-throated kingfisher

Mammals/Reptiles

  1. Barking deer
  2. Chital
  3. Elephant
  4. Gaur
  5. Pond terrapin
  6. Malabar giant squirrel
  7. Monitor lizard
  8. Ruddy mongoose
  9. Sambar
  10. Southern tree shrew
  11. Striped-necked mongoose
  12. Three-striped palm squirrel
  13. Tiger
  14. Tufted langur
  15. Wild pig

k-gudi-sep-16-797

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.

20160416_130509

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.

Bandipur Apr 16 1354

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

Bandipur Apr 16 1302

Crested serpent eagle

Bandipur Apr 16 1662.JPG

Clash of the simians. Horseplay actually.

Bandipur Apr 16 1338.JPG

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

Three-month-old calf

Bandipur Apr 16 1384.JPG

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.

Bandipur Apr 16 1390

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.

Bandipur Apr 16 1716.JPG

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.

Bandipur Apr 16 1084

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.

Bandipur Apr 16 1404

 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.

Bandipur Apr 16 1430

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.

Bandipur Apr 16 1445

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.

Bandipur Apr 16 1031

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.

Bandipur Apr 16 1447

Bandipur Apr 16 1511

Bandipur Apr 16 1611

Bandipur Apr 16 1631

Bandipur Apr 16 1638

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

Bandipur Apr 16 1180

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

IMG_3385

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:

IMG_3038

Bracken Pteridium aquilinum:

IMG_2974

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

IMG_2992

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

IMG_3467

(Below: Solanum spp. possibly Solanum viarum)

IMG_3604

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.

IMG_3460

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:

IMG_3184

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:

IMG_3424

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.

IMG_2758

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.

IMG_3502

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

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

JLR’s Naturalist Training Program (NTP)

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

S. Karthikeyan

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

The Program

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

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

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

The Class

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

The Field Walks

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

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

So what is the antidote to this blindness? Sketching!

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

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

My Takeaways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Conclusion

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