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: Ranthambore National Park, Jan ’15

Trip:      Ranthambore National Park

Camp:   Ranthambhore Regency

Dates:   23-26 Jan ‘15

Who:     GiK, Drs R and M and kids V and P

We should have flown to Jaipur and driven from there to Sawai Madhopur (150 kms). Instead we flew to Delhi, reached there an hour later than scheduled, at about 9:30 PM, dealt with the pathetic airport taxi system to get to Hazrat Nizamuddin station, and took the 11:40 PM Haridwar-Mumbai Bandra Terminus SF Express that ended up leaving Delhi at 1:45 AM. We reached Sawai Madhopur at sometime past 6 AM, a full ninety minutes past schedule and rushed to catch the morning safari. And all this with two kids and a cold wave in attendance. Flying to Jaipur would have been the sensible thing to do, even if it meant some loss of daytime.

The zones

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We spent four days in Ranthambore, doing seven safaris in all. Ranthambore has ten numbered tourist zones, with ten gypsies allowed into each zone at a time. On weekends, the FD allows a few more under pressure from VIPs. In fact the FD themselves possess safari-ready gypsies for ferrying their guests around. These gypsies have the triple advantages of no zone restrictions, no time restrictions and a ready information feed via radio.

Zones 1 to 5 are the sought-after ones, with zone 3 being the clear favourite at this time. It is evidently not easy to get the popular zones booked. Regency get an assortment of zones booked daily and ration them among their guests to ensure everyone gets a fair share of the more productive zones. And so we did three safaris in zone 3, two in zone 4 and one each in zones 2 and 6.

Entry to zones 2 and 3 is via the Jogi Mahal gate. The picturesque zone 3 route winds past the Padam talao (on the banks of which the famed Jogi Mahal is sited) and onto the vast Raj Bagh lake. The abandoned hunting lodge on the latter has produced some fine images of tigers on its balcony framed by its structure and shot from across the lake. Finding tigers in this structure is evidently a summer phenomenon.

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Zone 2 is magnificent too, with the road winding by the towering Ranthambore fort and then past another long range of cliffs. However twice a month on chaturdashi days of the Hindu calendar, pilgrims troop through this zone barefoot to worship at a Ganesh temple somewhere. The resultant ruckus effectively puts paid to any decent sighting possibilities. That’s what happened to us on day 1 in the afternoon.

GiK and I thought zone 4 was the best of them all in terms of its beauty. At this time of year, it has several stunningly beautiful spots, especially large patches of bright, finely textured grass. A tiger on this grass in mellow morning light will make for a dream photograph. Zone 4 also has a large lake teeming with aquatic birds, muggers and sambar – Malik talao.

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This zone  is accessed via a gate placed to the left of the approach road some distance before the Jogi Mahal gate is reached.

The anicut in zone 4 in the morning mist:

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In contrast with these three zones, zone 6 is a drab and dreary affair, with no impressive landscapes or features – just dusty tracks winding through unprepossessing, stunted jungle. To make matters worse, this zone is accessed after negotiating the sewer-lined, congested bazars of old Sawai Madhopur. If this route is bad in winter, I shudder to think what it’ll be in the heat of summer. But to be fair, we did sight a tiger in zone 6, and a magnificent male in his prime at that.

Tiger centricity

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At the outset, our very competent naturalist Satish Upadyay suggested that we get the tiger sighting out of the way before turning our attention to birding. GiK, my kid P and I were in one Gypsy and we started with zone 3. We reached Rajbagh and struck luck. Three 10-month cubs gamboling in the grass, the litter of the tigress T-19 or Krishna. This tigress is Machli’s offspring and the reigning queen tigress of Ranthambore. We didn’t see the mother though, just the cubs. They were some 40-50 feet from the jeep, by the water and we watched them for twenty minutes or so before they headed back into taller khus grass where a sambar kill was hidden.

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As often happens, this spectacular start was followed by muted follow-through, with plenty of alarm calls but no sightings fructifying until the evening of the next day. That was the afternoon safari of day 2, in zone 6. A passing Gypsy reported seeing a tiger cross a nallah and disappear into the jungle. Scouting around we finally came to a cluster of jeeps with the tiger barely visible some two hundred meters away. This was T-34 or Kumbha, a tiger with a colourful reputation for intimidating behavior. He was lying on his back with his paws in the air.

Ranthambore allows safaris in Gypsies and Canters. The latter contain five seats to a row and it mustn’t be great fun to be stuck in the middle. Anyway there were plenty of noisy tourists in attendance and the din disturbed the animal enough to make him roll over one side to the other occasionally and lift his head up to see what the racket was all about. This went on for about fifteen minutes after which he was disgusted enough to rise and stalk away. The horde then started up to chase him, but by the time the jam could be sorted out and the vehicles turned around, a good ten minutes was lost. Meanwhile the cat disappeared without a trace.

Satish had predicted a success rate of 30%. We did a little better than that, with three sightings in seven safaris. On day 3 in the evening safari, we had spent the evening chasing alarm calls in vain all over zone 4. Often being in the unenviable situation of having calls emanating from two different directions.

An interesting feature of tiger tracking in Ranthambore is that when alarm calls are heard, whether chital or langur, Satish listened to see if multiple individuals were calling. Calls by single individuals evidently lack credibility and were actually ignored a couple of times, even when persisting for a while. Satish also mentioned that while chital or sambar calls may sometimes mislead, the nilgai’s alarm call, if heard, is a certain indicator of the tiger’s presence.

Exit time was at 5:30 and we’d spent much of the evening rushing from one set of calls to another. While we were stopped in one of the meeting points for a quick bio break, a gypsy rolled in and the woman in it asked why all of us were hanging around there while there was a sighting in progress elsewhere. Satish and the driver jumped like they were bee-stung and we began a crazy, careening hurtle at mad speed towards the spot indicated. This was quite a distance away and we had just about half an hour to go before exit time, with the exit gate a long way off.

Reaching the place we found that it was hardly a kilometer’s distance from where we’d waited a while earlier listening to chital calls. Some jeeps had gone ahead from that point but had returned without having spotted the tiger. Given the late hour, all the vehicles there were FD Gypsies, with our Gypsy and a canter that arrived later being the only commercial tourist vehicles. The tiger was sprawled on the grass across a ravine amidst some very pretty scenery. This was T-6 or Romeo a fine six year old male. We had around five minutes to take a good look and finish clicking pictures before it was time to hurtle back towards the exit gate. The driver incidentally clocked 85 kmph on that crazy drive and we spent much of it in the air, holding on tight to keep us from bouncing right off the jeep. Admittedly illegal but incredible fun though.

Leopards are at least as numerous as tigers in Ranthambore but as is typical of tiger-infested areas, rarely show themselves.

Both chital and sambar were numerous and the long-drawn rutting calls of chital stags reverberated through the forests at this time of year, sometimes startling innocent tourists who mistook them for the agonized screams of some animal being done to death.

Upwardly mobile chital stag:

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Sambar stags sparring:

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Nilgai are also fairly numerous in places, and GiK and I got some pictures.

Nilgai doe and buck in the mist:

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Nilgai buck:

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We also saw the Chinkara or Indian Gazelle for the first time, a very satisfying experience. Mugger are commonly seen on all the lakes.

There were several palm squirrels in the forest. After a desultory glance at one of them, I concluded that they were of the three-striped variety. Dr. R later told me that we were probably looking at Five-striped palm squirrels. I resolved to look more carefully and get a picture if possible on the next outing, but this slipped my mind and I didn’t see any more squirrels.

Ranthambore Day 1 AM 152

Birding

Most remarkable are the Indian treepies. They are exceedingly common all through the forest, and are inured to tourists feeding them, although that is supposedly banned now. We did see some tourists feeding the birds at the rest points though. The birds however have lost their fear of people and freely perch on heads and hands. They are fearless enough to hop into the gypsies and onto the floor right around our feet, hunting for crumbs. Stop at any spot and in all likelihood, a couple materialized, heads cocked greedily, inspecting us closely for signs of anything edible.

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Ranthambore Day 1 AM 364

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Peafowl are numerous as you might expect, and the persistent, two-note calls of Grey francolins rent the air frequently.

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Babblers, especially jungle babblers are numerous too and make it noisily evident. Large grey babblers are easily met with and I initially mistook them for jungle babblers until Dr. R pointed this out. Rose-ringed parakeets are another noisy, frequently encountered bird. We met spotted owlets around half a dozen times, so they are not uncommon here.

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Long-tailed shrike:

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Hoopoe on a Dhok tree:

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In the waters of the lakes were Ruddy shelducks, Wooly-necked storks, Grey herons, Common snipes, egrets, cormorants, darters, White ibis, Openbill storks, River terns, dozens of Common moorhen, plenty of Black-winged stilts, more White-breasted waterhen than I’ve cumulatively seen so far and intrepid Red-wattled lapwings that stalked right up to the jeeps hunting for insects dislodged by the tyres.

Wooly-necked stork:

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Black-winged stilt:

Ranthambore Day 1 AM 292

Black-capped night heron:

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We noted that barbets were strangely absent, although Dr. R’s naturalist pointed out that Coppersmith barbets did occur and were heard in the summer. Junglefowl are conspicuously absent.

Indian Scops owl:

Ranthambore 225

On the drive from Sawai Madhopur to Jaipur (we took the more sensible route on the way back), we saw Bank mynas for the first time whilst stopping for chai.

Crested serpent eagle:

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Flora

The landscape of Ranthambore is dominated by the tiny-leaved Dhok tree (Anogeissus pendula). This species comprises a good seventy or eighty percent of the forest’s tree-count and is therefore ubiquitous. Next in terms of frequency are Babul or the Gum Arabic tree (Acacia nilotica) and the Flame of the forest (Butea monosperma).

Acacia nilotica:

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Stunted Khair trees (Acacia catechu) are also frequently encountered.

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On rocky slopes, the striking-looking Karaya Gum tree (Sterculia Urens) is commonly seen.

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Several fine specimens of banyan (Ficus bengalensis) are found throughout the park including the iconic one draping the entrance a little before the Jogi Mahal gate. An exceptionally large specimen occurs near the Jogi Mahal, but is out of bounds for tourists.

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Indian date palms (Phoenix sylvestris) are frequently met with. Tendu (Diospyros melanoxylon) is also encountered occasionally. Adusa (Adhatoda vasica) occurs in clumps in many places. The leaves, flowers and bark of this shrub find medicinal uses chiefly in the treatment of asthma.

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Large clumps of the cactus-like Euphorbia plant are also seen.

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A very common shrub in the Dhok forests is Grewia flavescens. At least that’s what I think it is. Our naturalist Satish identified the plant as Chameni in Hindi. I struggled to locate the binomial name and after considerable search, am leaning towards Grewia flavescens. This Grewia species is reputed to be a frequent associate of the Dhok and is supposedly commonly found in Ranthambore. The plant we saw is certainly found all over the place.

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The lakesides are lined with the aromatic Khus grass (Vetivaria zizznioides). Large patches of striking red Water velvet (Azolla pinnata) were found on the surfaces of some lakes. This is a species of tiny-leaved aquatic fern.

Birds:

  1. Asian pied starling
  2. Ashy-crowned sparrowlark
  3. Bank myna
  4. Long-tailed shrike
  5. Black-capped night heron
  6. Black drongo
  7. Black-shouldered kite
  8. Black-tailed godwit
  9. Black-winged stilt
  10. Blue rock dove
  11. Bluethroat
  12. Brown rock chat
  13. Cinereous tit
  14. Common iora
  15. Common kingfisher
  16. Common moorhen
  17. Common snipe
  18. Crested serpent eagle
  19. Darter
  20. Eurasian thick-knee
  21. Greater cormorant
  22. Greater coucal
  23. Grey francolin
  24. Grey heron
  25. Grey wagtail
  26. Hoopoe
  27. Indian Scops owl
  28. Indian vulture
  29. Long-tailed shrike
  30. Indian treepie
  31. Jungle babbler
  32. Large egret
  33. Large grey babbler
  34. Lesser flameback
  35. Little brown dove
  36. Little green heron
  37. Magpie robin
  38. Oriental honey buzzard
  39. Osprey
  40. Painted stork
  41. Peafowl
  42. Painted spurfowl
  43. Pied kingfisher
  44. Plain prinia
  45. Red-breasted flycatcher
  46. Red-wattled lapwing
  47. River tern
  48. Rose-ringed parakeet
  49. Ruddy shelduck
  50. Spotted dove
  51. Stonechat
  52. White-belloed drongo
  53. White-breasted waterhen
  54. White-browed fantail
  55. White-browed wagtail
  56. White ibis
  57. White-throated kingfisher
  58. White wagtail
  59. Wooly-necked stork
  60. Yellow-footed green pigeon

Mammals:

  1. Chinkara
  2. Chital
  3. Common langur
  4. Nilgai
  5. Ruddy mongoose
  6. Sambar
  7. Tiger

Reptiles:

  1. Marsh crocodile

Trip Report: Wild Valley Farm/Sathyamangalam TR

Trip Report:        Wild Valley Farm, Germalam/Sathyamangalam TR

Dates:                   30-31 Aug 2014

Camp:                   Wild Valley Farm, Germalam

GiK and I drove to the farm for a quick weekend trip. We had not sought prior permission, so driving through Sathyamangalam TR was not on the cards. We thought we’d spend some time around the farm, do some birding, and some walking through the surrounding forests. Moreover, GiK was just recovering from a fever.

View from the dining porch; the fencing in the distance demarcates the forest boundary. Bilbo in the foreground.

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The weather was lovely. There was intermittent drizzling, but never lasting more than a few minutes each. Strangely, it was colder now in August than it was in October last when I was there. Germalam is evidently well known for its wind at this time of year, and wind there was. Gusty spells that swept screaming across the forest and farms.

I renewed my acquaintance with my canine pals on the farm – Bilbo the GSD/lab mix, his brother Rover. Spike the deceptively intimidating looking Dobermann. And Patch, one of the two Lhasa Apsos. The farm is worth visiting just for this reason alone. As also for relaxed conversations with Mr. Daniel, these can be extremely pleasant as well. The story of his life is a truly remarkable one.

Bilbo and Patch. “The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs” – Gen Charles de Gaulle

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Giving Spike a rub-down.

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Reaching by the forenoon of Saturday, we pottered around the farm until lunch, and then went on the “short” trek. We crossed the stream that marks the boundary for a loop through the forest, Shankar the guide intently and ceaselessly scanning the route ahead for any sign of elephant. This area comprises stunted tree and scrub vegetation. Except by the streams, where towering riverine trees occur. Barring a solitary Asian paradise flycatcher and a herd of chital, we were the only souls around. Not counting a herd of cattle grazing in the forest that went crashing away in panic at the sight of us. The trail wound back and intercepted the same stream we crossed at some point and at this place was a Terminalia arjuna tree with very distinct (but old) leopard claw marks on it.

Since the trek was a short one, we were back on the farm in a couple of hours. We spent the time until dark tramping around the periphery of the farm, skirting the tiger reserve. On one side, the farm borders the main road, across which lies the reserve. There is a rocky outcrop on this edge that offers a sweeping vista of the landscape, all the way to the cloud-shrouded BR hills in the distance. Mr. Daniel talked of putting some sort of observation deck around this point, as the view is very pretty.

Dinner done, we tried driving on the road for a five kilometer stretch in the direction we hadn’t been on. The drive was a cropper, and all we did was roll through a few modest settlements on that side. And a very small stretch of deafeningly silent forest. The only fauna visible was tethered and ruminating cattle in these villages, bedded down for the night.

We spent the next morning hanging around the farm and with the dogs, taking in the Waldenesque charms of the place before it was time to leave. The best places on the farm to watch birds from are the dining area patio, and atop the work-in-progress roof of Mr. Daniel’s house.

Gooseberry

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Sitting by the tent, we watched a pair of caterwauling grey cats flush a francolin from the shrubbery, sending it sailing over a rubble wall to safety.  And a foraging pair of Scaly-breasted munias that came very close if we sat still. A little to our left was a pair of robins apparently nesting in a mud embankment, and a solitary Red-wattled lapwing. Bulbuls were all over the place, both red vented and whiskered varieties. Malabar parakeets were also numerous, rocketing overhead while screaming hysterically. As were spotted doves, with their soporific hooting. We crossed into the forest to sit on some rocks in the stream-bed along with Bilbo, savoring the lush silence. Mr. Daniel later told us that he discouraged the dogs from crossing the fence and that the ones that got into the habit of doing so never lasted more than a few months thanks to leopards. We should’ve shooed Bilbo back into the farm.

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I should note that what wasn’t very Waldenesque about the trip was the food. It was delicious and I stuffed my face at every meal, making up for GiK’s tiny, fever-stricken appetite.

GiK tries his hand at silhouettes.

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The list

  1. Ashy-crowned sparrow lark
  2. Ashy prinia
  3. Asian paradise flycatcher
  4. Baya weaver bird
  5. Black drongo
  6. Bushlark
  7. Common hawk cuckoo
  8. Common iora
  9. Coppersmith barbet
  10. Coucal (calls)
  11. Grey francolin
  12. Grey hornbill (calls) – Indian or Malabar I couldn’t see
  13. House sparrow
  14. Indian nightjar
  15. Indian robin
  16. Indian roller
  17. Indian treepie (calls)
  18. Little brown dove
  19. Magpie robin
  20. Malabar parakeet
  21. Oriental white eye
  22. Peafowl
  23. Pied bushchat
  24. Purple-rumped sunbird
  25. Red-vented bulbul
  26. Red-wattled lapwing
  27. Red-whiskered bulbul
  28. Scaly-breasted munia
  29. Spotted dove
  30. Tailor bird
  31. Velvet fronted nuthatch
  32. White-bellied drongo
  33. White-browed wagtail
  34. White-cheeked barbet
  35. White-headed babbler
  36. White-throated kingfisher

Trip report: Agumbe, June 2014

Trip:      Agumbe

Camp:   Kalinga Center for Rainforest Ecology (KCRE)

Dates:   27-29 June ‘14

Who:     SS, Dr. R and P. Ramesh (the last figured in my Meghamalai post)

All the pictures used in this post were shot by Dr. R.

This trip was different from our usual ones, as none of us had ever tried a herp outing before. It was put together for us by Ficus, and they did a pretty good job of it, taking care of all reservations and transfers efficiently and courteously. We stayed at Kalinga for two nights and three days. The camp was very basic with tented acco and a wash-your-own-plate policy, but we had a delightful time nonetheless. The rough-and-ready ambience didn’t extend to the loos though – the toilets were spic and span, with rustic red oxide flooring, something many of us hadn’t seen in years. The camp was managed by Prashant and had a couple of interns pursuing research – Sonu Soman and Udit Singh Chauhan, and all three went out of their way to make sure we were kept comfortable and entertained.

We took the slow train from Bangalore, the Karwar express that covered the 400+ kilometers to Udupi in an agonizing fourteen hours. That translates to an average speed of less than 30 kmph, though the actual distance the train covered was more considering that it wound its way via Mysore. Driving down was possibly a better option. From Udupi, we back-tracked by road to KCRE, a distance of about sixty kilometers. The road is motorable until a short distance from the camp and the short walk down the path into it is a great opportunity to make your first acquaintance with the leech.

Prior to the trip, we had been warned to expect heavy rains and millions of leeches. The former didn’t show and while Bangalore was experiencing heavy showers, Agumbe remained rainless. The leeches didn’t disappoint though. They were everywhere, millions of ‘em.

Shortly after settling in, we made our first foray around the camp and were instantly rewarded. There was a Malabar pit viper – Trimeresurus malabaricus – a foot off the ground on a wild turmeric plant right outside the bathroom building. And a green vine snake on some shrubbery near the dining area.

Green vine snake:

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By the path leading out of the camp was a mating pair of Malabar pit vipers, under 24-hour surveillance by the interns who endured much hardship to record data around courtship rituals and the mating act. Sonu and Udit were running shifts almost round the clock, taking turns to sit by the mostly inactive pair.

Mating pair of Malabar pit vipers; the male is the smaller individual:

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There are four trails that radiate out from the KCRE camp, and we did the stream trail in the evening.  The trail was pretty enough, winding its way through areca plantation and evergreen forest, alongside the little stream that flows beside the camp. We didn’t see any snakes on that outing, but we did see a bunch of amphibians. Roux’s forest lizard (Calotes rouxii), Minervarya sp., Skittering frog (and tadpole), the endemic Bicolored frog (Clinotarsus curtipes), Tiger toad and another endemic – the Reddish burrowing frog (Zakerana rufescens).

Roux’s forest lizard:

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Minervarya Sp.:

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Bicolored frog:

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And a bunch of bugs and spiders. Lantern bugs, Tiger beetles, Water spiders, Two-horned spiders and a rather reclusive Tarantula. I should mention that Udit, the intern who guided our trails did a spectacular job of spotting and identifying critters none of us would have otherwise noticed.

Night times at the KCRE camp are noisy. If the day belongs to the cicadas acoustically, the night belongs to a bunch of other equally vocal critters. Most noteworthy of which was a creature which produced a clear-toned, two-note whistle very reminiscent of birdsong. It was loud, distinctive and ubiquitous. Naturally, we were intrigued. Turned out it wasn’t a bird after all, but a bush-cricket or Katydid – Holochlora albida. Sonu clarified this, showed us a picture he had clicked, and then rummaged through an entomology book the next day to produce the identification. We saw the actual culprit on the night walk the next evening. There were also plenty of fireflies around, lighting up the night with their little lanterns.

There is a small bamboo platform in the forest a little above the camp that provides a nice, secluded camping site. Prashant was willing to pitch tents for us there if we wanted it, but a quick inspection showed the path to be packed with wet mud and leeches and we opted to stay down in the camp tents.

Early next morning, we walked over to the grassland area that is a kilometer or so from the camp. This is a beautiful area when the weather is pleasant, and it was brilliant that morning – cloudy, cool and breezy. We saw a Hump-nosed pit viper (Hypnale sp.) by the path a short way from the camp, and the day was starting to look good. Our plan was to do a couple of hours of birding along the edge of the grassland patch, and we netted a small bunch of the usual suspects. Yellow-wattled lapwing, Red-wattled lapwing, Crested serpent eagle, Red vented bulbul, Red whiskered bulbul, a solitary White ibis, Gold-fronted leaf bird, Flame-throated bulbul, Vernal hanging parrot, Orange minivet, Asian fairy bluebird,  and White-cheeked barbet. And a bird none of us could identify, which Messrs Grimmett and Inskipp kindly identified for us later at the camp as the Grey-headed bulbul – a Western Ghats endemic. And on the way back, we ran into a juvenile Beddome’s keelback (Amphiesma beddomei) as it frantically slithered off the path and out of our way.

Bull frog:

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Breakfast done, we were entertained by Draco Dussumieri – the Southern flying lizard. There was Draco action all afternoon as the little dragons constantly flitted between the Areca boles in the camp. We learned this was not typical at this time of year.  Prashant also unearthed a Caecilian to show us – a fossorial amphibian that superficially resembles a snake or earthworm.

In the late afternoon, we took another trail to a nearby peak with a mouthful of a name – Akki Battha Rashi Gudda. The trail involved stiff climbs on some stretches, though the view from the summit more than compensated for the sweaty effort.

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We saw Fejervaria sahyadris and bush frogs en route, and a Malabar pit viper on a bush beside the path on the way back.

Malabar pit viper:

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We wanted to experience a night walk, and Prashant and Udit obliged us by taking us out some distance on the driveway.  We saw three snakes – a Malabar pit viper and a vine snake that we passed by the next day too a couple of times, a Hump-nosed pit viper, Yellow bush frogs and another local celebrity – the endemic Malabar gliding frog (Rhacophorus malabaricus).

Hump-nosed pit viper:

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Malabar pit viper:

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Malabar gliding frog:

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Yellow bush frog:

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We repeated the trip to the grassland the next morning, though the weather was not quite as pleasant as on the previous day. The sun was out and we were all tanned three shades darker. In addition to the previous day’s avians, we saw several Malabar grey hornbills, Malabar parakeets, White-bellied treepies, Racket trailed drongos, Common Ioras, Bronzed drongos, Loten’s sunbird, a flowerpecker and two endemics that we identified back at camp with some help from Prashant – Malabar lark and Crimson-fronted barbet.

Being newbies to herping, we had requested Ficus and Prashant for a short classroom orientation session. Sonu and Udit did a masterful job of taking us through the basics of snake evolution, local species, snake identification, taxonomy and snake-bite handling. The session culminated with an informal test of our snake identification ability by having us study moults against a handbook to try and identify the species.

7_grasshopper