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Archive for the ‘western ghats’ Category

Canopy at Ooty – much has been destroyed, little left

One of the most popular hill stations in India, Ooty, was the destination for photographing some endemic species of birds of western ghats. Though I couldn’t manage to capture a good image of my target species, I was able to watch a variety of species on a two day trip.

After answering calls and messages wishing on my birthday, I left home to pick Selva, Sudhir and Arun. We left Bangalore by 11am struggling past horrendous traffic on Mysore road. The initial plan was to squeeze an evening safari at Bandipur in search of Gowri and her cubs. But on seeing the mammoth crowd at Bandipur resorts, we gave up on safari. The crowd on a Saturday evening at a national park is no less than that at any popular mall in Bangalore.  It really made me wonder how have those magnificent ‘animals’ survived in India all these years given the number of people we have!

We  drove slowing keeping an eye for any bird, mammal or reptile. We saw Malabar giant squirrel, and lot of Peafowls. I stopped the car on hearing an unusual call. On looking out, we saw a of White Bellied Woodpecker. Spend a considerable time photographing this bird from car, without wanting to disturb the bird which seemed like making a nest. Many passersby stopped to inquire about what we were go-hung about.

White-bellied Woodpecker at Bandipur – Madumalai

We also caught up with this beautiful peacock on the edge of the road. Thankfully it was undisturbed by too many tourists thronging on the highway, and we captured few frames.

Indian Peafowl

Soon, stopped over at Masinagudi for checking a spot known to sight leopards, but not much luck. It was getting dark, and we left towards Ooty on the arduous Kalhatty ghats with 36-hairpin bends. Reached Ooty by 8pm, and started looking for accommodation around Charring Cross.  After looking a couple, checked into Youth Hostel. It was good to meet Neelima and a group of cyclists who had pedalled up the hills along the 36haripin bends.  I really admire their mammoth effort!

Next day morning, first stop at Gorishola yielded many birds – Grey Junglefowl, Eurassian Blackbird, Tickell’s leaf Warbler, and Oriental White eye. Though we were able to see many birds at Gorishola, it was difficult to capture a decent frame as you’d expect anywhere in western ghats. We left to Doddabetta, another location that was known for easy photo opportunities of Blackbirds and Nilgiri Laughingthrushes.

Eurassian Blackbird

Instead of sighting the sure-shot NLTs and Blackbirds at Doddabetta, we hit a jackpot. A huge flock of Nilgiri Wood Pigeons – a western ghats endemic that had eluded me in many visits to Nandi Hills. The size of this Pigeon is monstrous, and I was fortunate to capture one decent image before it flew away.

Nilgiri Wood Pigeon

We roamed up and down, and around the Doddabetta tourist spot looking for birds of feathered kind. Mahesh and gang, who had arrived little earlier had got a prized catch of Black and Orange Flycatcher. But we weren’t lucky. As the crowd picked up, we left the spot.

After a quick breakfast at Charring cross, we tried to reach the Wood house area from the Botanical Garden side. The road was very narrow and almost non-existent. It was very hard to maneuver a big car around hairpin bends. After a few bends and turns, reached a spot on a narrow road where an auto had broken down and there wasn’t enough space to squeeze the car through. I had to get down the road in reverse till a found a spot to take a turn! It was quite a driving experience.

After contemplating where to go, we hit the Crainhill forest reserve. It’s an incredibly beautiful place. I just loved the tall tress and the location. We were able to spot the Black and Orange Flycatcher there, but just a glimpse. After spending sometime there, we drove towards Muthorai and Potato research station – sighted an Oriental Honey Buzzard and few common birds.

Later in the evening, we took the Doddabetta route to reach Wood house area. This place is secluded and you’ll not find anyone. It’s almost untouched. Though the activity wasn’t as much as we wished, but it seemed very promising. We were able to sight many Grey-headed Canary Flycatchers, few blackbirds, Minivets and NLTs.

Returning from Wood house, I stopped near Sinclari’s to check out a bird that seemed a Craig Martin. But found a few house sparrows coming to roost on top of a house. I sneaked close and got one image I was happy of after spending one and half day at Ooty.

House Sparrow –  male in breeding plumage

House sparrow – A bird that once used to nest in my house, and now I had to drive over 300km to get one good photograph of. Nevertheless, I was happy to see them go unperturbed about their activities there.

Next day morning, we wanted to hit Doddabetta very early as Shreeram told there is no way we can miss getting good images of Nilgiri Laughing thrushes there. Ooty at 5:30am is very cold, even in summer. We reached Doddabetta with few minutes to 6am, and learnt from a couple of cops that the gates won’t open before 8am. Damn it!

I raced to reach Crainhills by 6:20am. There wasn’t much light and the bird activity was just starting to pick up. Grey-headed canary flycathers, Blackbirds, NLTs, White eyes, and Warblers – nothing that we hadn’t seen earlier. Then, a female Nilgiri Flycatcher made an appearance and sat at a distance for quite some time.

Got back to Doddabetta at 7:50am. A couple of cars were waiting and the gates weren’t open yet. Soon, guards arrived and let us in. I zipped through the curves so that we reach first – before Pigeons get disturbed. We sighted a Black-naped Hare on the way. We did see a few Nilgiri Wood Pigeons. Then, went in search of flycatchers, without much luck. There was one NLT that hopped on to the path and was foraging for leftovers.

Nilgiri Laughing thrush

There were plenty of Grey Tits, and many a times were so close that it was within minimum focus distance of 1.8meters! Slightly away from the crowd, sighted a bird that was frequenting a spot. I decided to hide near a fence and wait for the bird. It was close to 9am and we had to leave to Kabini. But patience of waiting there for half an hour yielded good dividends. I was able to capture this pretty bird with a prey (of some larve?).

Grey tit with a prey

Just as I packed up after this shot, got a call from Shreeram. Hurriedly had breakfast and left towards Charring Cross, from there to the bus stand to pick Shreeram and towards the land of Leopards and Elephants, Kabini.

Getting down the Ooty hills from Kalhatty Ghats got a close view of Black Eagle, and this Chestnut headed bee eater.

Chestnut headed Bee Eater

Despite the weekend-crowd, big hue and cry about Ooty getting very commercialize, I totally loved the place once again. The good thing about being commercialized is I get to have a Dominoes Pizza in Western ghats. :)

Yet, there are so many off beaten places yet to be explored. Though 2 days seemed enough initially, Ooty has lot more places to explore and worth spending time. It’s awesome to trek for hours at Crain hill forest reserve or explore the valley around Wood house. To quote Prem about Wood house area ‘ Come back feeling like a kid who has just been given an icecream.’ Maybe I’ll get to go sometime soon.

Thanks to Prem for his incredible compilation of birding spots at Ooty. Without his efforts, access to some lesser known spots wouldn’t be possible.

That’s all folks! Watch out for big mammals from the backwaters of Kabini.

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Valparai, a little known town of tea estates with scattered wildlife, was on my mind for long time. Had missed out couple of times after a good planning, but not this time. After a month of planning and consulting with Kalyan, Selva, Shiva, and Raju, I chalked out a plan to spend 2 days at Valparai and 2 days at Topslip on a 5 day trip, driving both ways. One hitch was, accommodation at Topslip forest department was not confirmed even after sending out a letter to DCF a couple of weeks in advance. Vinay, Arun and I set out from Bangalore by 7am on a Fiat Punto, which took a lot of brunt on the whole tour.

Target species for the trip: Lion Tailed Macaque, Nilgiri Tahr, Great Hornbills, Waynaad Laughingthrush, and Oriental Bay Owl.

Onward Route:

Bangalore -> Hosur -> Krishnagiri -> Salem -> Avinashi -> Palladam -> Pollachi -> Valparai

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Lion Tailed Macaque (Macaca silenus) – An endangered and endemic mammal of western ghats

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The toll road is in impeccable shape, and you can easily cruise at 150kmph. Stopped over at A2B for breakfast and reached Avinashi with few brief stops by around noon for lunch. Lost a lot of time around Avinashi in asking for directions and chaotic traffic. We had to confirm booking at Pollachi DCF office and spent some time in locating that place in Pollachi.

By around 3pm, we set towards Valparai. What a fantastic drive that was! The view of Aliyar dam from the escalating 40 hair pin bends is simply breathtaking. The roads are in brilliant condition despite the perpetual rains and traffic. Enjoyed a cup of tea adjacent to the tea gardens half way into the ascent. Didn’t find the Tahrs around the hairpin bends, but enjoyed every bit of the drive. Reached Valparai close to 5pm, checked into our home stay and set out for a drive around the town in on a cloudy and drizzling evening.

While returning to homestay that night, Vinay parked the car into the underground stairway of the home stay. And no, he wasn’t drunk. Just the darkness and drizzling rain did him in. What an adventure it was to get the car out of the ditch! Phew!! Fortunately nothing more than minor superficial damage to the car.

The next morning, weather was still gloomy and looked like it’d pour any moment. Poothotam was the place to find Lion Tailed Macaques, and we set out early. Too early in fact for LTMs. So we drove around Paralai and Varathaparai and enjoyed the landscape bristled with rain forests amidst vast tea estates. A barking deer around Monica estate bungalow, and scimitar babbler were the highlights. Listening to the song of Malabar whistling thrush was the most delightful experience. After a quick breakfast, we again set out towards Poothotam estates.  We saw a pair of Malabar Grey Hornbills. Around the directors bungalow, sighted a lone Forest wagtail. I was super thrilled.

Vinay was getting edgy to see LTMs. Walked around to sight more birds, but got too many leeches instead. No LTMs yet. As I was driving out of the estate, saw a bunch of macaques on ground on far right. Jammed the brakes and cried ‘LTMs’. Spent the next couple of hours photographing them. I then spent some time photographing the small waterfall and stream opposite to Poothotam estate. The light was dull and we left for lunch.

Post lunch, we lazed around for a while and charged the camera batteries. By around 3pm, we set out to look for Great Hornbills. We were told morning or early afternoon was the better time to sight these magnificent birds, we nevertheless wanted to try out luck. After a lot of scan and search in the pouring rain, we did find a couple of great hornbills on a fruiting tree. It was good sight but not the right conditions to photograph. We moved towards Sholayar Dam. The tea estates on the backwaters of the dam are ideal locations for good landscape images, if weather permits. The best part of the evening was the drive on the narrow roads in pouring rain.

Alpha male on the road – That truck almost ran over him

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Fragmented habitat and habitat destruction are the biggest challenges for the few thousand surviving Lion Tailed Macaques, found only in small patches of rainforests of Western Ghats. The alpha male of  a troop was looking for his  members when a truck almost ran over him. It not not uncommon to see road kills at Valparai – Check Kalyan’s image of a road kill here and here. Despite two guards instilled by NCF and 3 of us photographing, the truck didn’t bother to slow down or watch out for the macaque.

Wish he could read the sign board Or Wish we humans would care to

On Monday morning, we were to leave to Topslip. It had rained all through the night and the morning was crystal clear with blue skies dotted with few white clouds. This was the ideal weather we wished for. But had to drive to Topslip, a good 3 to 4 hours from Valparai. We didn’t want to miss the accommodation at Topslip. But we scanned the area for Hornbills for a couple of hours, but no luck. The acrobatics of Nilgiri Langurs were a treat to watch. Malabar giant squirrels and Nilgiri Langurs were in plenty.

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Topslip

By 10am, we headed towards Topslip, with a couple of confirmation calls to Pollachi Forest Dept along the way. We did get a room we wanted at Ambuli Illam – about 3km inside the forest from Topslip reception. Soon, it started to rain and we didn’t see the point of trekking that time. So we just drove in car, in case we sight something, but no luck. Back at the reception at 4:30pm, few people were waiting to visit Elephant Camp. We joined them and went to the elephant feeding camp which had about 8-10 elephants. Got back to our rooms for a early dinner and dozed off soon.

Next morning, the rain gods had taken a break. On way from Ambuli Illam to Reception, we saw a flock of Wynaad Laughingthrush. It was very misty and no decent photographs, but what a sighting it was! Trek to Karian Shola, a hotspot for variety of endemic birds, was the morning’s plan.

I wanted to take a good guide and had made arrangements for the same. Unfortunately, to my disbelief, the Ranger didn’t allow us to take the guide we wanted since he was not from the forest department. He didn’t even budge to let us take him as a visitor! We were put to a forest department employee who knew very little about birds. We were obviously disappointed, but didn’t have much choice. An hour into the trek, we hadn’t seen anything other than a flameback and an emerald dove.

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We had paid 1000 bucks for 4hour trek, but didn’t want to continue if the guide didn’t even have an idea where to look for birds. We asked him to get us back to Reception. Previous evening, had met another guide, Ketan, from forest department who had fair knowledge on birds. So we wanted to take him instead. After about 2 hours, we got back to Reception. Ketan obliged to take us to show Frogmouths that he had sighted previous evening. Though I was not keen, I thought it’s better to see a frogmouth than not see nothing at all. He again took us into Karian Shola at a very brisk pace. Half an hour in, he looked around for roosting spot of Frogmouth, but there were none! It was disheartening. I had heard so much about Karian Shola, and it was  a disappointment perhaps because of the weather.

But we did see an Emerald Dove’s nest with a young one nestled in. Thankfully the light had picked up little bit. We took a few record shots and left the spot. After a good discussion with Ranger, he agreed to let Ketan go with us for the evening trek. Exhausted after a 4 and half hour trek without food, we left to our room. On the quick drive back to we saw Malabar Trogon, Brown Shrike and White Bellied Treepie. Had late breakfast at 1pm, rested for a while and drove back towards reception. In this short drive again, we saw a mixed hunting party of birds – Wynaad Laughingthrush, Jungle Babblers, Rufous Treepie, White bellied Treepie, and the rare, bird of the trip, Chestnut Winged Cuckoo.  A lone male Kestral was sighted in the open grass patch opposite reception.

Flame throated Bulbul (Pycnonotus gularis) – Another endemic bird to Western ghats

At the reception, we got Ketan and drove back towards Ambuli Illam for a trek. The bird activity was surprisingly low. However, we did see a Sloth Bear barely 15ft from us. Fortunately, the bear grunted and ran away. Late evening, we returned to the reception area and spent some time chatting with Natalie. It was surprising to see so many foreigners at Topslip. Few could not even speak English, and they were there in the remotest jungles, far far away from any metro city.

‘Nannari’, a local drink make from roots of some tree, is a must try. Vinay was so kicked that  he picked up 3 bottles of it! By 8pm, we were asked to return to our room as an Elephants with a calf was sighted around there and would possibly cause trouble. The drive back in the night to Ambuli Illam to reception was fantastic with sighting of a Jungle cat, a Sambhar stag and a Doe, and many Gaurs. It’s incredible to drive at night without headlights in the jungle, only using a flash light to scan for glittering eyes staring at us.

Next morning, we had decided we’d drive back to Bangalore without morning birding session as it would be futile with heavy mist. Driving back from Ambuli, we only saw few Jungle Babblers. We took an alternate route as we planned to stop over at Kgudi.

Return Route:

Topslip -> Pollachi -> Coimbatore -> Satyamangalam -> Chamrajnagar -> Kgudi -> Yellandur -> Maddur -> Bangalore

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Misty yet blissful – Landscape on way from Satyamangalam, Tamil Nadu to Chamrajnagar, Karnataka


The drive from Satyamangalam to Chamrajnagar is simply incredible. Ascending 27 hair pin bend in the midst of moist deciduous forest is fantastic experience.  The only hitch is the heavy traffic of trucks and buses plying on this stretch. We saw nothing but bonnet macaques. The bird activity at Kgudi JLR camp was surprisingly low. We saw a lone Verditer Flycatcher. It was good to catch up with Ashish at Kgudi JLR. Reached Bangalore by 9pm. A good enjoyable trip with great sightings and driving.

Mammals: Barking Deer, Malabar Giant Squirrel, Dusky palm squirrel, Bonnet Macaque, Lion Tailed Macaque, Nilgiri Langur, Hanuman Langur,  Indian Gaur, Jungle Cat, Spotted Deer, Sambhar deer, Black naped-hare, Wild Boar,  and Sloth Bear

Highlight of Birds: Wynaad Laughingthrush, Chestnut winged cuckoo, Malabar Trogon, Forest Wagtail, Malabar whistling thrush, Indian Scmitar Babbler, Emerald Dove, Pampadour Green Pigeon and White Bellied Treepie.

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Topslip is an excellent place for birding if the weather is good. Wynaad Laughingthrush (Garrulax delesserti) is not a common bird seen easily, and the fact that we were able to sight a flock twice without any guide shows how awesome Topslip is.  There are many rooms or guest houses to stay at Topslip. Ambuli Illam without doubt is the best of the lot. It is better to have a vehicle if you choose Ambuli, for you have to drive back and forth reception for trek or visit to Elephant camp. Charge for 2 hour trekking is Rs. 500/-. Room charges are Rs. 1100/- per room plus Rs. 200 for reservation. Guide tips extra.

Contact information:

Wildlife Warden Office,
Meenkarai (or Market) Road,
Pollachi – 1

Phone: 04259-238360


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Few more images:

Tea estates are spread across far and wide around Valparai


Waterfalls opposite Poothotam estate, Valparai


Brown Shrike – Lucky to get a spotlight on the bird, otherwise the lighting was really dull under the canopy

 

Lion Tailed Macaque feeding – A portrait

 


 

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All my trips to Kabini have been very short, lasting not more than 2 days. But I am glad to have visited this magical place once every year in the last 3 years. Each visit has been a different experience, appreciating different things. First time it was the awe of mammals, second time it was the admiration of winged beauties on the back waters, and this time it was about life on the forest floor, of arachnids and insects.

Signature spider

Despite driving for about 12 hours the previous day, I got up by 5am and headed to Shreeram’s house, and from there we picked Adarsh, Deepa and Tarangini. Stopping over at a few places for birding, we reached Kabini by 1pm.

Usually the first thing that comes to mind when you say ‘Kabini’ is Elephants, perhaps Leopards. Not the variety of spiders! This trip was special not because I got to see a leopard, but because I witnessed a sequence of events that one sees only in a wildlife documentary – A Spider Wasp hunting a Tarantula, dig a hole (to lay an egg) and drag the paralyzed tarantula into the hole, and then close the hole.  All these action was right outside our tent at JLR camp!

The first day’s evening safari was a expected drive in the park – Chitals, few common birds, and surprisingly no elephants. Shivanand, JLR naturalist, told me that the relaid road of Mysore-Mananthwadi highway has made the sighting of big cats on the highway less common than it used to be, thanks to the frequent buses and lorries. No wonder we didn’t see many mammals last time i drove expectantly on this patch on way to Wayanad! Also, I felt the detour to reach the national park limits from JLR camp was longer than the route through Karapura village.

Back in the camp, Deepa and Shreeram showcased the images they had captured in the evening safari. All of them ridiculed me for I had fired only about 6 shots, and didn’t shoot even one of the 5 crested serpent eagles that we saw. Adarsh got some free time after work, and we spent an hour discussing the movie, Inception. We realized we need to watch again. :)

The next day, we saw a crested hawk eagle first up in the morning safari. The light was dull. A few photographs later, we got into the forest tracks. Soon, we got a call about leopard sighting. Reached the spot in a whizz. The leopard seemed to have had a good meal, and was in a mood for a nap. Dinesh Kumble had the first sighting and had informed us. Another jeep reached the spot at the same time as we did. We got a few record shots. Though he was very close, the leopard was nestled in the foliage and we didn’t have good angle for photographs.

Indian Leopard

I suggested to move the jeep ahead. For I felt we can get a better angle and view if the leopard decides to descend. There were already 4-5 jeeps, and I was pretty sure the disturbance would get the leopard to get down the tree.  But my request wasn’t heeded. The jeep was put a little ahead and stopped. We did get a few ‘better’ shots when the leopard looked towards us.

But soon after, he decided to end the show. Got down and disappeared into the bushes. We later realized what an awesome view it would have been had the jeep been moved to the spot I suggested. I was mighty disappointed and slightly mad at JLR naturalist, not just for not moving the jeep to the spot I suggested, but also for not taking us back to the spot where leopard was sighted, to the end of the safari an hour and half later. But anyway, there’s only so much we had to sight i guess!

Crested Hawk Eagle & Streak-throated Woodpecker

Back at the camp, we were to take a walk around the camp to see some life in the undergrowth. But Shreeram saw a Wasp that had brought down a tarantula right outside our tent. Soon, the wasp started digging a pit. We were excited to see what was going to unfold. We took turns to have breakfast, so that one can stay back to watch the wasp and inform us if something happened. We did not want to miss the action of Wasp dragging the tarantula into the pit.

Spider wasp lays a single  egg on the abdomen of the spider. Once the egg hatches, the larve feeds on the live spider. The size of the food (spider) determines whether the young wasp would be a male or female. More food means wasp can grow bigger and hence female. Female wasps don’t care about size zero you see.

We didn’t know that this would take more than 3 hours! But here you have it compressed in a little over 4 minutes.

I so wished I had a video capable DSLR and a macro lens. The footage would have been much much better. This is all I could manage with Panasonic Lumix FZ8, which still has done a great job. Gorillapod was very handy as well. Click here to see the setup.

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A species of Flying frog

Agumbe, tipped as the cherrapunji of the South, is one of the wettest places in the world. I wanted to visit this place for photographing reptiles and amphibians that emerge out during monsoon. After missing it in last two monsoons, I visited ARRS this year. Quite an experience it was!

After a lot of thought, I dropped the temptation to drive and instead booked a bus to Agumbe. Arun dropped out at the last (few) hours of the trip. A few calls later, Hemant agreed to join. He was called in at about 6pm by other Arun. Bus was to leave at 10pm. Quite a lot of time? Not so if you are in Mumbai. 6:10pm – Mumbai Airport. 6:30pm – flight from Mumbai to Bangalore. 8:00pm at BIAL. At 9pm, Hemant is at bus stand. Roughly at about 10:15 the bus took off. Gerry, Josh, Farid and Nathan were in the same bus.

A wearing 9 hour journey got us to Agumbe by 7:30am. It was raining. Yeah, this is what you expect here. Josh and others left in a jeep, while Arun, Hemant and I looked for autos. After searching a transport for 10-15min, we decided to walk, in the pouring rain, to ARRS that is about 2-3km from the bus stand. Though excited initially, we realized the walk was not worth in the pouring rain carrying our reasonably heavy baggage.

At the camp, met Harish, Chetana and others. I was tired, thanks to my incapability to sleep in bus and thanks to my sleeplessness in the last few days. Took some rest. Then, tried out the Canon 100mm macro lens and Canon Speedlite 430EX II. I was getting used to this gear I had borrowed from Selva and Sandeep. During lunch, chatted with Harish, Gerry, Josh, Vinay and others and later ventured out for a ‘walk’ with Gerry.

Dew drops

I was expecting to walk around the camp, maybe venture into wood, but not walk in a stream for 2-3kms! It was fun, no doubt. Provided incredible photo opportunities as well. Gorillapod came in very handy to capture some long exposure shots.

Stream close to ARRS

I still was checking out the locales and was tring to shoot a timelapse, which was coming out fine until someone started walking on the log that i was resting my camera on. Here’s a peek:

Chetana in yellow, Gerry in green, Farid in blue boots, Nathan in black and Dhamini crossing the stream. I had to cut short my shoot and continued the walk. It was an incredible test for my new woodland shoes. I thought of the quote ‘While you own something, no matter what it is, use it as hard as you can and enjoy it.‘ and moved ahead.

The water level was changing as we walked, and the algae coated stones/rocks were slippery. It was raining perpetually. Good test for EOS 450D and 18-55mm I thought. I had tucked the cam under my rain jacket when not shooting. My confidence with rain-handling-capabilities of my cam grew as we walked more and more. I begun to use it without much care. Stupid mistake! A sudden drop and rise in water level. My foot went a feet lower, and my cam took a dip. That’s the end of it!

I had switched off my cam, fortunately, when it took a dip. Got back to the room to dry it. The worst part of the place is that nothing dries, not even your hand kerchief. Not even the fire wood, I realized, as it took considerable effort to lit the fire.

Since my camera was unusable, I had to borrow Nikon D90 when we found a Malabar Pit Viper. On one had, I was disappointed to have my camera dead while on the other I was excited to see this snake.

Malabar pit viper, waits patiently at a spot for its prey to pass by

I did not spend much time looking for frogs since I didn’t have much incentive (of photographing), we did find many species of frogs.

On Saturday, we went to a small waterfall that was close to the camp. The opportunity to create different images are infinite here, only made difficult by the perpetual rain. Day and night we were able to find a variety of frog species: Borrowing frog, Bronzed frog, Bi-colored frog, Ramanellas and many others. There were out there, one just needed the eye to see them.

I was keen on photographing Rhaco, that was one of the reasons I was at Agumbe. Friday night we weren’t successful in finding it, but Saturday we got lucky. Thanks to Ben for finding the Malabar Flying Frog. Hemant shared his Canon 1000D, and I could capture a few photographs of Rhacophorus malabaricus.

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Malabar flying frog – uses the webbings between its toes to glide or fly

We had found a Vine Snake on Friday night, but couldn’t photograph. On Sunday morning, we found another one that I could photograph. This little one got threatened and wanted to scare us away.

Notice the black and white scales on it’s body. What otherwise is a well camouflaged green body, it changes to scare away its predators – our cameras in this case.

Green vine snake – threat display

There were plenty of other interesting insects, especially the ones Ben was able to find – a foot and half long stick insect (I had never seen a stick insect longer than 4-5 inches), a whip scorpion, Vinegarroon, that emits vinegar when threatened. It was exciting to see Caecilians, limbless amphibians, that stay underground most of the time was also very interesting to see. It was unfortunate that I didn’t have my camera at my disposal for photographing these.

But I did have Hemant’s camera when we found this Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis – Notice the pseudopupil (black spot that appears on eye) – it appears to follow you as you move

I packed up by late afternoon. My camera showed signs of life after a day and half in the dry room. It had not been resurrected fully, but I was sure it would survive. Though at times felt this could be the excuse to buy 7D, I am glad my camera survived when I reached Bangalore and dried it.

Here are few more images:

Red Pierrot butterfly

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Rhaco again

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You don’t have to be brave, you should just look

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Though I couldn’t photograph much, I got to understand what to expect on my next visit, probably next monsoon.

P.S.: Photographs here are captured on Canon EOS 1000D, Canon EOS 450D, Nikon D90, Canon 18-55mm IS, Canon 100mm f/2.8 USM, Nikkor 70-300mm VR, and Canon Speedlite 430EX II.

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Spot-Bellied Eagle Owl, one of the largest owls found in India, was the first sighting on first day’s evening safari.

Deepa floated the idea of NTP meet sometime in November. We soon decided on Kgudi, after considering Doddamakali, Bandipur and Kabini. January was the ideal time to visit the place. Seven out of twenty eight of us decided to spend two days at Kgudi, rahter than just one day meet, and left a day early.

Route: Bangalore -> Maddur -> Malavalli -> Yelandur -> Kgudi

Distance: 230km

On the way to Kgudi, around Malavalli lake, we sighted a number of birds – Small Green and Blue-tailed bee eaters, Rosy starlings, Grey and Yellow Wagtails, Ibises and more. Also, we saw a juvenile Crested Serpent Eagle.

The camp at Kgudi itself is haven for birds. Within an hour we sighted Verditer, Asian Brown and Paradise flycatchers, Jungle Babblers, Scarlett and small Minivets, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Lesser Yellownape woodpecker, and lot of other birds.

A Jungle Babbler right outside golghar

But the evening safari on the first day was washed out, thanks to untimely showers. The highlight was the spot-bellied eagle owl that had eluded us at Thattekad. Other than this, there was hardly any activity during the whole safari, but for few spotted deers and a lone Crested Hawk Eagle.

Spotted Deer

Late evening, manager of Kgudi JLR Ashish spent some time with us and Shreeram showcased some of his photographs. Ashish himself is a good photographer, and maintains his blog here.

Next day morning was bright and sunny, but the sightings weren’t better. There were a bunch of Crested Tree Swifts preening on a tree.

Crested Serpent Eagle was seen on all safaris – in sunshine, and in rain. Deepa has compiled a beautiful report here.

As we continued to drive around, I wondered how do so many people find leopards on such beautiful perches! Need more luck. Returned to the camp and saw Blue-capped Rock Thrush, Roufous woodpecker, and few others.

Soon, Sripad, Chirdeep and other NTP members arrived. Narayan took us for a small trek that lasted about an hour and half. Jungle Owlet, Pygmy woodpeckers, scat of wild dogs, a skull of Gaur, and alarm calls of Sambhar, but no big cat was seen. Returned to the camp tired and thirsty. By this time everyone had arrived.

During lunch caught up with all the NTP members who had arrived.

Evening safari was another drive in the park, until Narayan sighted sloth bears, mother and 2 cubs. There were around for few minutes, but quite far and the cubs were hidden in the uneven terrain. I could manage only a record shot.

Later in the evening, while driving back from safari, saw a beautiful Blue-rock Thrush perched close to the jeep. At shutter speed of 1/13s, jostling in the jeep for space with other photographers,  I could manage a decent shot. Notice the blur of its tail caused by the slow shutter speed.


Blue Rock Thrush – enjoying attention

Karthik couldn’t join us for the meet because of his Andaman trip. It was nice of him to send us a cake. Sanjay Mohan, ED of JLR joined us since MD couldn’t join. Later in the evening, Ashish showcased his guitar skills, while Deepa et al showcased their singing talent.

At night, some of us geared up for a ‘star trails’ night photography. Vineet was fantastic in identifying some of the star constellations. Spent quite some time trying to get taare photograph par, but was not very impressed with the results. Hope to get better next time. Thanks to Adarsh, Sanjay and Vineet for the star trail experiment.

Next day morning safari was spent without much luck, until all the jeeps converged near a water hole for a ‘tiger sighting’. Pintails, and couple of other ducks were at the water hole. Then, Sambhar alarm call. Expectation was rised, but I knew my luck – I had seen and missed many such moments. I clicked images of anxious people waiting for some big cat.

From Manish on extreme right to Anirudh on extreme left, all waiting anxiously for Tiger!

After about 20-25min of wait, all jeeps started leaving one after the other. Two of the jeeps left. Our jeep started to leave. Just then, one group of people excitedly got off their jeep and started clicking photos. I thought a tiger appeared!

We jumped off the jeep and check out this little fellow:

Draco – The flying lizard, known for brilliant camouflage

Got back to the camp for a sumptuous breakfast. And then we all posed for customary group photograph.

As i drove back home, just outside the camp saw a huge Naja naja – good end to a fantastic trip.

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Nestled on the banks of river Periyar, Thattekad is home to a variety of resident endemic and winter migratory birds. Amogh, Anush, Deepa and I spent 3 days in Thattekad with god-of-thattekad, Eldhose, as our guide.

5:15pm – Train from Bangalore city.

4:30am – Ernakulam junction

4:45am – Taxi to Thattekad

6:30am – Photographing Red Spurfowl without even brushing teeth :))

This is how crazy the trip was. On reaching Thattekad, Eldhose took us to Spurfowl area before we could check into our room. After spurfowls, we went to Salim Ali bird sanctuary in the hope of sighting a Black Baza. 3-4km walk, but no Baza.

Ceylon Frogmouth, a nocturnal bird, that had not been sighted since Salim Ali, only to be rediscovered in 2000 by Eldhose was a treat to watch.

Spend 3 hours at Thattekad resort, and headed to ‘flycatcher area’ by 3 pm. Trekking through rubber plantations and forest area, we reached the famed waterhole. Spent couple of hours without much action, but then as the light faded those small and beautiful flycatchers made appearances. Could make only terrible images, but I enjoyed the variety of birds sighted.

Blue-Throated Flycatcher (female)

Next day morning, woke up at 3:30am. Yes, you read it right – 3:30am. A short drive, and 15-20minutes walk on moonless pitch-dark reserve forest area. We were looking for rare Owls, Spot-bellied eagle Owl and Oriental Bay Owl particularly, but neither was seen. As the sun rose, lots of other birds started their daily routine – Crimson backed Sunbird, Hill Mynas, Asian Fairy Blue Bird, Small and Scarlett Minivets. Plenty! We even saw a Bay-Banded Cuckoo.

Asian Fairy Blue Bird – ‘I’ve got a berry!’

In the evening, we sighted a flock of Black-throated Munias, but was really difficult to get a photograph. Late evening, Eldhose took to Pitta area. Amogh and I had not seen a Pitta. We were excited. Waited for an hour for the beautiful bird to make appearance. It was pretty dark at 6:20, and fill-in flash helped make some decent image.

Indian Pitta

Jerdon’s Nightjar was the next bird sighted at about 7:30pm, and it was totally dark. I could not get even a record shot. Next day morning, photographed the Brown-Hawk Owl that perches at the same place, perhaps for a few years now, and left for Cochin and then to Bangalore.

Eldhose was a fantastic guide to have for two days. Thanks to Anush.

Bird list:

Day 1

Bluebird, Asian Fairy
Bulbul, Grey-headed
Buzzard, Oriental Honey
Cormorant, Little
Crow, House
Crow, Thick-billed
Cuckoo-shrike, Black-headed
Darter
Dove, Spotted
Drongo, Ashy
Drongo, Racket-Tailed
Drongo, Spangled
Egret,Cattle
Egret, Small
Frogmouth, Ceylon
Flowerpecker, un id
Flycatcher, Asian Paradise
Flycatcher, Asian Brown
Heron, Pond
Hornbill, Malabar Grey
Junglefowl,Grey
Kingfisher, Small Blue
Kingfisher, White-breasted
Leafbird, Golden-fronted
Mynah, Hill
Oriole, Black-Naped
Oriole, Eurasian Golden
Sparrow, House
Sunbird, Purple-rumped
Spurfowl, Red
Swallow, Ashy Wood
Treepie, Rufous
Treepie, White-bellied
Warbler, Greenish Leaf

Day 1 evening
Babbler, Dark-fronted
Babbler Puff-throated
Drongo, Ashy
Drongo, Bronzed
Drongo, Racket-Tailed
Drongo, Spangled
Flycatcher, Blue-throated
Flycatcher, Brown-breasted
Flycatcher,Tickell’s Blue
Flycatcher, Rusty-tailed
Flycatcher, White-bellied Blue
Goshawk, Crested
Minivet, Scarlet
Minivet, Small
Shrike, Nilgiri Wood
Thrush, Orange-headed Ground
Treepie, Rufous
Waterhen, White-breasted
Woodpecker, Black-rumped Flameback
Woodpecker,Rufous
Woodpecker, White-bellied

Day 2
Barbet, Crimson Fronted
Bulbul, Red-vented
Bulbul, Red-whiskered
Bulbul,Ruby-throated or Black-crested
Bulbul, Yellow-throated
Cuckoo, Bay-banded
Dollar Bird
Pigeon, Green Pompadour
Pigeon, Green Imperial
Owlet, Jungle
Nuthatch, Velvet-fronted
Robin, Oriental Magpie
Sunbird,Crimson
Sunbird, Purple-rumped
Tern, River
Tern, Whiskered
Wagtail, Pied

Day 2 evening
Bee-eater, Blue tailed
Bee-eater, Small green
Munia, Black-throated
Munia, White-rumped
Pitta,Indian
Nightjar, Jerdon’s

Day 3
Owl, Brown Hawk

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Colleague’s marriage proved a to be a good excuse for a trip amidst hectic work schedules. Managed to squeeze a day’s leave to accommodate trip to Gokarna, a small coastal town in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka. I had heard a lot about beaches at Gokarna from few friends, and from Sneha’s blog. Though i had visited this place nearly a decade ago, this visit was different.

Four of us left Bangalore in a Santro by 5:30am. The plan to avoid traffic was negated by fog. Toll road on NH-4 starts beyond Nelamangala, prior to that roads are under-construction and is pretty bad . Cappachinnos and Latte at CCD just before Tumkur and we were on way to Jog falls on NH206, deviating from NH4 at Tumkur.

Route to Jog Falls:
Bangalore -( NH-4 )-> Tumkur – (NH-206)-> Tiptur -> Kadur -> Shimoga -> Sagara -> Jog Falls

Distance: 376 km

Two lane NH-206 is well maintained till Shimoga, beyond which it worsens. At some parts, the road seems to be excavated from a lost civilization. We had lunch at a small restaurant in Sagar by 1:30pm. Since Jog falls is only about 2km detour on way to Gokarna, after Sagar, this must-visit place was a part of our plan.

Jog falls or Jog rocks

Jog falls or Jog rocks

Jog falls turned out to be a joke on water falls. What was i expecting in December? A water fall, depleted of its vigor but still good enough to showcase its glory of monsoon. Not trickling water, which seemed to stop any moment. The height of that falls was brought to perspective when i noticed people at the bottom of the falls. They looked minuscule. I wish to return here some time in monsoon.

Drive to Honnavara on way to Gokarna was on treacherous ghat roads with blind turns. This took a long time in the fading evening light, but the beautiful western ghats proved its worth even if it meant to drive on this terrain. We knew about a beautiful valley around this place but were not sure about its location. There were no locals around to ask either. A viewpoint got us to stop the car and look around. This indeed was the Sharavathi valley, still gorgeous in late December with mesmerizing Sharavathi river valley amidst mighty mountains of western ghats.

Sharavathi valley

Took a break at Honnavar and headed to Gokarna via Kumta. There is a small deviation from the highway (to Karwar) to Gokarna.

Route: Jog falls -(NH-206)-> Honnavara -(NH-217)-> Kumta -> Gokarna

Reached Om beach by 8:30pm, asking directions along the way. Namaste cafe didn’t have any huts/rooms for the night. Got down to Om beach in pitch dark on a moonless night to check out for accommodation in any of the shacks along the beach, with just a mobile phone torch in hand. I could hear the waves splashing the rocks, but there was no way to know how far i was from the water. Walked along the edge of the beack, and inquired at few shacks. Unfortunately most of the shacks didn’t have huts available and since parking the car was an also an issue, we headed to Hotel Gokarna International for the night, which had a room for Rs.275/- per night and nothing else. No need to guess the state of the room, but we didn’t have much options.

A visit to Mahabaleshwar Temple at 7:30am. Indian mythological reference to Gokarna describes how Ravana, the demon-king of Lanka received the atmalinga, from Shiva, and was not to be placed on the ground as it would establish itself where placed on earth. On his way back to Lanka, Ravana stops for his evening prayers at Gokarna. To prevent Ravana from getting a weapon as powerful as the atmalinga, Ganesha, in the disguise of a Brahmin boy, tells Ravana that he will hold the atmalinga until Ravana finishes his prayers. As soon as he receives the atmalinga, Ganesh promptly puts it down. This small structure, atma linga, is the essence of the temple.

Om Beach, Gokarna

Dolphin Cafe on Om beach, most popular beach of Gokarna, was our stop for breakfast. Shacks here are predominantly thronged by Europeans, and cafes here provide excellent European cuisine. Having Spanish omelette and orange juice for breakfast, started to trek to other two beaches, Half moon and Paradise, to the south of Om beach. Half moon beach takes a good 20minutes walk from Om beach. Paradise beach takes about 25min from Half moon beach. These two are smaller and quieter beaches with just a couple of shacks. One can go by boat if one wishes not to trek, but i strongly suggest to trek, at least one way, as we did.

Down it goes, Lunch on Om beach

DCH style ;-)

I had spinach-mushroom pasta for lunch, again at Dolphin cafe. Mint tea here is much better than Tetley’s mint flavored tea, and a must have for tea drinkers. Checked out of hotel by 4pm, headed to Sirsi from Gokarna.

Reached Sirsi by 6pm, and the route was quite scenic around the western ghats but with shorter ghat road drive. Attended colleage’s marriage on Monday, and left for Bangalore via Haveri by 2:30pm.

Route:

Sirsi -> Haveri -> Davanagere -> Chitradurga -> Sira -> Tumkur -> Bangalore

Sirsi to Haveri is on state highway, fairly decent road with patched up potholes. Work on NH-4 Golden Quadrilateral is still going on, and has stretches of excellent road along with terrible roads till Chitradurga, beyond which toll road starts. This part of NH-4, from Chitradurga to Bangalore is impeccable. Can touch the limits of your car if not for those trucks. Safely reached home by 12:15am, ending an 1000+km trip.

Caught this Rose ringed Parakeet at a stop for rail crossing:

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