K Gudi stories – a Bazooka, a treeshrew and birds

“We start at 3:45” said the manager as we were about to leave for our rooms after checking in. The month of May having more daylight meant that afternoon safaris started later than in Winter.

At 3:45 as we hung around the waiting area to have our jeeps announced, A came over with “Guess who else’s here?”, and nodded towards a jeep. And seated there with his wife was someone we knew from, rather had come across in, Kabini, a bazooka – the worst kind. On his bio on social media sites he calls himself as “wild cat tracker”, not just a “photographer”. K Gudi does not have that many wild cats to track, at least not that many in the only zone allowed for safaris. The naturalist once gave his formula – 1.5-1.75 hours of birding and 15-30 mins of mammals at the end. It’s that skewed. Maybe he’s here for his birding? We hoped for the best, the best being not being in the same jeep as him. But going by past experiences and the group sizes that we could see, we knew the inevitable, that we’d be allocated to the same jeep, and that’s exactly what happened.

The three of us in the back, the naturalist in front of us with another guest, the bazooka and his wife before him, and the other guest’s husband right next to the driver was the configuration. And right from the point where we started, it was exactly what we had feared – a big cat chase. And as it turned out, as if just to humour him, a tiger had passed along our path with cubs in tow, and we ended up following their pug marks. This is also when we discovered that even within that one zone, there was a mammal area and a bird area, and the tiger was in the mammal area. Its pug-marks were declared to be “fresh”. It had just passed by, we could even smell the markings. Like at all times where we are on the trail of a tiger with a bazooka at hand, we hoped the tiger would stay away and not be seen.
Pug marks! Continue reading “K Gudi stories – a Bazooka, a treeshrew and birds”

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Bears and birds – Daroji and the Tungabhadra canal

We drove into the JLR campus near Daroji when the Sun was right above us. Every afternoon is a hot afternoon in this part of the world. It looked like there was no one around. The campus seemed to be sleeping off the heat. Slowly, one person materialised and guided us to another building and the parking lot near it. There was some lime juice waiting, and a person, who I later came to know, was a forest department officer, walking around. And a lot of sparrows flying all over the place.
House sparrows!
After the formalities in that place we moved to our cottages. The afternoon safari at 3:30 PM had just 5 adults and a child, apart from the driver/spotter. It started off in the burning post-heat noon and us feeling sleepy as we made our way into the shrubby terrain which was more brown than green.

Despite the heat, life turned up in corners. First, a pair of Rufous-tailed Larks.
Rufous-tailed lark Continue reading “Bears and birds – Daroji and the Tungabhadra canal”

Day trip: Kambadahalli and Hosaholalu

Despite having done a bike ride to and from BR Hills a few days back, having the whole week off meant that another was always on the cards. This time S signed up. I had come across the Jain Basadi of Kambadahalli from @drvivekm‘s instafeed. Googling revealed that this was one of the oldest structures standing in that area, having been built around 900-1000 AD. Most of the Hoysala temples tend to be a few centuries younger. The oldest would be the ones on top of Chandragiri in Shravanabelagola. It’s also been a while since I went there!

Anyway, the start was later than my preferred pre-7:30 AM. Winter and S having to ride all the way from beyond Indiranagar meant that an early start wouldn’t be feasible. We left from my place at 8:25 AM and rode down to Swati Delicacy near Yediyur for the breakfast stop. Despite being heavily crowded we managed to find a table, and I didn’t  have to fight for an own table as is the case when am on solo rides.

Post breakfast we rode down towards Hirisave and took a left where it said Bindiganavile. There was also another board saying “Kambadahalli 19KM.” These days when roads get widened and people end up losing the old sign boards and milestones, it was a welcome sight! The road alternated between awesome, ok, okayish, to watch-out for potholes without ever degenerating to a bone rattler. We reached the road from Belagola to Nagamangala and took a right there. A road went to the right which announced Kambadahalli at 1 KM, but we did not take that. The next right had an arch with Jain insignia and icons all over it. This was our turn. Within a Km of this turn, the Jain structure loomed on our right.

The first structure you see is the pillar. There were inscriptions on it, but we could not date it. This might have been a later addition too. Later meaning from the Hoysala period.
The Pillar seen at the entrance
Inscriptions on the pillar
Continue reading “Day trip: Kambadahalli and Hosaholalu”

The magic of K-Gudi

It doesn’t do to do just one day in JLR’s K-Gudi wilderness camp. The place demands 2 days. The second day between breakfast and lunch is when the fun is to be had. You walk around the campus, as the staff are cleaning up freshly checked out of tents before the next party comes in, and you spot birds, reptiles and sometimes even mammals.

This time, the staff helped us out with a tip. “Look there, sir, owl.” We checked it out, and that was a scops owl, nesting in a hole in the tree.
Scops Owl!
Nearby, in a much smaller hole, there was a malabar parakeet peeping out at times.
Malabar Parakeet nest Continue reading “The magic of K-Gudi”

Birds of Kenya (Maasai Mara stories – 6)

Am on to the 6th story of this! I guess patience would be wearing thin already. Well, this is going to be the last of the series. Normal programming will soon resume. Which is, hopefully, normal posts from me. I haven’t been doing too much of those, and I am using these stories to buff up some post numbers. Kind of obvious, isn’t it? Anyway here goes.

Ostrich:

The first bird that comes to mind when you think of Africa is probably the Ostrich. These are the largest birds on the planet. And you can’t help noticing that. They are big. And this is from someone who has seen emus and cassowaries. And their legs! They are really stout. You don’t want to be at the receiving end of any kicks from them!
Ostrich
As with birds the males are more colourful, in this case black with white tufts in the back. The females are a duller grey.
Ostrich, female Continue reading “Birds of Kenya (Maasai Mara stories – 6)”

Giraffes, Rhinos and other ungulates (Maasai Mara stories – 5)

One of the things that astounded us in Maasai Mara, East Africa in general, was the sheer number of herbivore species. We are used to seeing spotted deer as the main deer, some Sambar deer, Gaur herds and the odd barking deer. Kaziranga had more – swamp deer, hog deer and buffalo herds, but there were two to three species in total.

Here, we started with Thomson’s Gazelle, Impala, wildebeest, Zebra, Buffalo, Topi, Eland, Giraffe, Hardebeest and Grant’s Gazelle! The sheer number of Zebra and wildebeest we saw in 4 days would be much higher than the total number of spotted deer we’d have seen in 5 years. There were that many! Even as we were making our way back to Nairobi from Nakuru, they were there quietly grazing on the sidelines, next to the highway!

No matter how many of them you see, the ones that really fill you with awe are giraffe. You don’t come across such tall creatures everyday, and they are really tall. Although we say “Giraffe” and think it is one species, there are 4-9 of them. The range is because scientists know that there are 9 types of Giraffes, spread over 4 species for sure. There’s still some dispute over whether some of the other 5 types are subspecies or form their own species.

The two species we knew we could see were the Masai Giraffe and the Rothschild Giraffe. The Masai Giraffe have more star-like blotches instead of regular lines separating the darker patches. They are the largest of the giraffes and the tallest land mammals on the planet.
How tall am I?!

Continue reading “Giraffes, Rhinos and other ungulates (Maasai Mara stories – 5)”

Elephant Stories (Maasai Mara Stories – 4)

We really wanted to see a lot of elephants in Maasai Mara. They were one of my main draws. Bigger, heavier than Asian elephants, Savanna elephants are the largest and heaviest land animals on the planet! We expected to see a fair lot of them grazing, but came across them only thrice! We hoped to see more in Nakuru, but our guide categorically dismissed all such hopes – “No elephants in Nakuru.”

We went through two hours on the first evening without any sign of elephants. The next morning as we were starting on our all-day drive towards the Mara river, we saw a bunch of vehicles stopped on the road and folks in them looking into the distance. Turned out that there was a herd in the bush. It was a largish herd, with a massive matriarch.
Elephant herd
Elephant herd, calf shows up
Continue reading “Elephant Stories (Maasai Mara Stories – 4)”

Wildebeest Crossing (Maasai Mara stories – 3)

The main thing about Maasai Mara in July-August, which also defines its “peak season” is the presence of wildebeest. Given the heavy species count there, I did wonder what the presence of wildebeest adds. Turned out, it makes a lot of difference. They are there everywhere. The large presence of a prey species also brings out a lot more predators, and there are thus a lot more kills.
Wildebeest traffic

Their presence is so heavy, that you actually see a lot of carcasses and skulls strewn all over the landscape. There are wildebeest of all ages visible for you. Right from the newly born to the dead carcasses.
Wildebeest
Wildebeest carcass Continue reading “Wildebeest Crossing (Maasai Mara stories – 3)”

Lions and Vultures (Maasai Mara stories – 2)

Sighting of predators like tigers and leopards isn’t common in India. You are considered lucky to really spot one, and people like to tell stories of how many years they went before they saw their first Tiger. This was a similar expectation we had with Maasai Mara, but looking at the topography we thought we might be luckier.

Unlike our forests, Maasai Mara is mostly open ground with the odd tree and valleys between the undulating terrain which usually house some water holes and bushes, which is where the predators live, away from plain sight of their prey.
Eland herd
Continue reading “Lions and Vultures (Maasai Mara stories – 2)”

Cheetahs and Vultures (Maasai Mara stories – 1)

The concept of an all day safari was mouth watering. We were supposed to leave at 7:30 AM and return by 4:30 PM. That’s 9 hours of wildlife. Technically, that’s 8 hours of wildlife, as the road from the lodge to the gate is pretty bad and takes a good half hour one way with no sighting except cattle and sheep! The lodge had packed our lunch boxes which were to be eaten in the forest, and we had an early breakfast.

The drive goes on till the Mara river where you can see the famous crossing by Wildebeest. And if you are lucky, you might chance upon a crocodile or two attempting a hunt on crossing herds. The river is so far away that it takes a few hours to drive up there, and then the same amount back. Along the way you take a few digressions to catch more wildlife. It’s a lot of fun.

We started off with an elephant herd, a lot of Wildebeest herds running, or hanging around.
Elephant herd, calf shows up
Wildebeest traffic Continue reading “Cheetahs and Vultures (Maasai Mara stories – 1)”