We had been slightly disappointed with the last Kabini trip. Only slightly, mind you. One naturalist was only concerned with tigers and leopards. There wasn’t any interest shown on birds or even elephants. It didn’t help that they seemed to be catering to a largely bazooka wielding crowd. At that time, there was some thought of trying out K-Gudi. This is another one managed by Jungle Lodges, and is in the Eastern Ghats, in the Biligiri Ranga Temple Tiger Reserve. Tiger spotting is pretty minimal, but it was supposed to have a lot more birdlife. The topography was also said to be more up and down – hilly – encouraging better viewing.
The first thing we noticed was that we had to drive into the forest to the camp. Unlike Kabini or Bandipur, it is not surrounded by hordes of private resorts or lodgings. There is just this one camp, which is also temporary. Apparently, they’ve been given some land outside the reserve, closer to Sathyamangalam, and will have to move out by 2018. After that the journey will be by jeeps that drive in from outside the forest, like they do with all the other forests.
The safari as such is in only one zone. Only one zone is opened up for tourism purposes, so all four safaris were about beating around the same bush in a way. Since we were inside the forest, their staff asked us to go driving on the road and do some spotting ourselves. A pack of dholes(asiatic wild dogs) had gone that side, so you might see them by the waterholes they said. There are waterholes on the road sides, but we could not see any dholes. But we did spot a pair of Oriental honey-buzzards and came close to one massive cobra which we couldn’t stop in time for.
The topography is a lot greener. While Bandipur and Nagarhole’s dry deciduous forests throw up a lot of dead dry trees, BRT was a lot greener. It had a more “forest” feel to it. The rains added to the charm and it looked like we were driving through the Western Ghats in the Monsoons.
After we drove off from Kollegal towards the reserve, outside one of the villages was this huge congregation of kites. And a massive stench too! Apparently, this is where some kind of ropes are made from leftovers from sericulture. And the birds like to feed on them. We thought there might be a few eagles here, but there weren’t. They are all black kites or brahminy kites. The fancier ones are black kite juveniles.
In the safari, we came across some of the usual ones. One of them is the racket-tailed drongo. This is the greater racket-tailed drongo. The lesser one is smaller and is found only along the Himalayas in the NE. Why it’s called racket-tailed? Because, if you look closely the tail ends up looking like a badminton or tennis racket.
The Indian Pitta had been on our wishlist for a while now. It was supposed to be beautiful, and a rare spotting too, as they are mainly ground foragers. We saw one from the back, but the naturalist wasn’t too impressed. Apparently, an easier spotting here.
The very next day, we did manage to spot one on the ground. Of course, now we knew why they are so prized. Absolutely beautiful birds that are made of 9 colours apparently.
Among the first we spotted was the Malabar whistling thrush. Also known as schoolboy bird because of its slow “school-boyish” whistling. It was a common background noise for most of the safaris, having a slow whistle going off.
We saw a small hole on the path side, close to the ground which was supposedly a nest of the blue-bearded bee-eater. We did manage to spot one much later sitting on a tree. I do remember spotting this bird a long time back, but the naturalist had no clue at that time.
Among the other birds that I could scarcely believe I hadn’t seen before was the Orange headed thrush. It was almost toy-like in appearance with the distinct orange head and those stripes near the eyes, and that bluish-grey upper body.
We spent a long time trying to get a photo of this bird – the common hawk-cuckoo. It’s also called the “brainfever” bird as its call can be read that way – similar number of syllables and all that. It is called a hawk-cuckoo because it’s a cuckoo that looks like a hawk or a Shikra.
The second day it rained a lot. This meant that there was some difference in bird movement. One such was this Hill Mynah which came down to lower heights.
The Tickel’s Blue Flycatcher is a really small bird, like most flycatchers. And like all small birds, pretty shy and skittish too. By the time you get some focus they’d fly away. I found this sitting on a branch that was far off from any background, and managed a reasonable shot. The main features like the blueness can be seen here.
The Crested Serpent Eagle has been a common presence in almost all our visits. It isn’t shy of humans and is happy to sit on low branches close to highway roads or safari roads and show off for the cameras. This was one of the many times we spotted them, and it was happy to pose.
We spotted another one on the road when we did our mini-safari just driving around the forest. This one was showing off its plumage.
During our mini-safari, we spotted these big birds by the waterhole. In fact, one was taking a dip in a puddle on the road and flew off to a branch. These are Oriental honey-buzzards, that are related to kites. The females are larger than males, as can be seen below where the female is on the left. The male has a more pigeon-like head.
And for the first time, we spotted an owl on a safari. Previously it was an owlet in Bandipur. This is a brown fish-owl sleeping on a branch. It was too far away to get a really clear shot, but you can make out where it is watching.
On the return journey we again passed by that farm where they were making those ropes. I took a few shots of this fancy bird with fancy plumage. After much asking around for ID, I found that it was a black kite, juvenile. Surprising that I hadn’t observed it so much before considering that you get to see them so often in Bangalore.
The one below is the Brahminy kite. Pretty commonly seen in Bangalore skies and trees.
Mammals and the rest:
Even though it was a plenty for birding, mammals weren’t too far behind. There were no elephants though, them having moved to the waters of Kabini for the summer. The gaur herds were also less, and we barely saw 3 of them.
We did spot some new ones, like the Indian treeshrew, which is actually called Madras Treeshrew. It is a separate genus apparently and not related too closely to anything we know, like squirrels or shrews.
The langurs weren’t too far behind and I got a shot of them framed between two trees. As always they make for great photos.
The last morning, just as we thought we were done with everything, the driver, spotter and another fellow rider saw a leopard disappear into the bushes. She was pretty close to a deer herd, so we might have, unfortunately, disturbed a hunt. But the deer were antsy and kept barking for a long while. The leopard did not appear again though.
We continued along, and our luck somehow came good again. A leopard was seen trying to climb down the hill. He saw us, decided against it, and climbed up and disappeared into the bushes. I did manage a few photos which didn’t come out too well. Hopefully he made it down later.
Some of the waterholes had turtles in them, which used to disappear into the water on hearing the vehicles. We did manage to spot a couple of them basking in the sun eventually. These are Indian flapshell turtles.
We missed the Elephants and Gaur though. Forests hardly look the same without those majestic creatures. Hopefully, next visit will be in a season where they are around.