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”

On the trail of warblers

The first time I came upon a warbler was when I was trying to round up all the birds around my house during spring-time, February. There were the tailorbirds, sunbirds, tits, flowerpeckers and then one solitary warbler. I could never identify exactly which warbler but I held on to it being a Blythe’s Reed Warbler.

As I dug more I got more about warblers. That they are winter visitors, visiting from the foothills of the Himalayas. And that they have specific territories marked out to visit each year. Means that if you observe one spot across winters, it would be the same warbler individual visiting it each winter!

This year, we did not have the thota outside which used to be visited by a warbler. If it flew in from the Himalayas it would have seen just a black road where its old haunts stood. And not too surprisingly I did not hear any of the familiar “check… check… check” calls. The calls of the pale-billed flowerpecker are oddly familiar, just that the tempo of the check-check is a lot more hurried, the sound is a bit shriller, and they are a lot more common. What you need to watch out for is the measured pacing between the “checks”.

Continue reading “On the trail of warblers”

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”

Birding – Mallathahalli Lake

News is that I invested in a longer telephoto lens. A used Sigma 150-600mm which I got a pretty good deal for. I decided to take it out for a spin around the Mallathahalli lake. The lake is pretty quiet with very few visitors. This translates to very skittish and shy birds. The lens is heavy, at close to 1.7 Kgs. Combined with the body, it translates to a 2Kg load!

I started off with a butterfly chilling on a leaf. This is a common tiger.

IMG_4138 Continue reading “Birding – Mallathahalli Lake”

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)”

Some winter visitors – Mallathahalli Lake

After a long time, I stopped by Mallathahalli lake for some birding. It’s a place I was using for running, but that stopped 4 years back as the path had become overgrown. Even though most of the 2.5 Km track is cobblestones, it’s amazing how much Parthenium can grow out of the gaps!

This time I was looking specifically for one kind of bird – the rosy starling. They are winter visitors and found in huge numbers and I was inspired by this photo from zenrainman on his lovely twitter feed.

In case you are wondering where those birds are, that ‘cloud’ near the middle is what you are looking for.

I remember seeing these birds a few times on earlier walks around the lake. So this time, I carried the camera to see what I can get.

The first thing I saw on getting off the car was that the yellow tabebuia tree was in bloom, and amidst those flowers was a flock of rosy starlings. Talk about beginner’s luck!
Rosy starling

Rosy starling Continue reading “Some winter visitors – Mallathahalli Lake”

The Bazookas of Kabini

Visits to Kabini began in May 2012, initially as a one-off visit. Yesterday we returned from our 6th visit to that place. So much of it is the same, and yet so much different. We now know many of the naturalists, and they recognise us. Even then, every year it’s a different experience, bringing its own set of birds and animals. And even humans in the form of other guests. Sometimes even that trend is bucked and we start noticing people who had been seen in earlier trips, and their idiosyncrasies. And usually hoping we don’t end up with them in the same jeep.

Given its high density of Tigers and leopards, and that prized catch – the solitary Black Panther, Kabini sees a high density of ‘Bazookas’. A Bazooka is anyone, usually male, who has a camera attached to a large lens. The camera is usually a single digit Canon, or equivalent Nikon, and the lenses would be in 600mm usually. Despite the differences in brand, model or lenses, all Bazookas are united in one thing – they want to see big cats, and only big cats. They would be doing regular trips on forest safaris, but they always want big cats, and in different variations – a big cat sitting, or a big cat marking, a big cat posing with forelimbs on a mound, big cat in water, big cat drinking water, big cat resting on the ground looking at the camera with mouth open.

Continue reading “The Bazookas of Kabini”

Langurs and Birds (Bandipur Stories – 3)

As we drove along on the mud-paths inside the forest, we noticed Langurs on the sides. There are very few stops for them. Only those who are new to the forests get excited about them. The only time we stop is when they sit on the road and stage a rasta roko. The cameras then come out and a few snaps are shot. They make for good photos when they are like that. Other times they tend to jump up trees and you only see silhouettes.

This time, I noticed something strange. There were no Langur kids. There were only adults and sub-adults clinging to trees. Any langur group usually has a kid or two clinging to its mother. We passed group after group, with no sign of a recent birth. Was it the drought? Or was it timing? Did Langurs not have children during the Winter? The driver had no clue, but he felt it was less to do with the drought than the Winter.

The first morning though, as we drove through empty forest roads, on what was the most eventless safari of the four, we finally came across a group which had a young one. The sun had just come out and it was warming the air and dispensing the fog. The child was sitting by itself, saw the jeep standing below and ran up to its mother’s outstretched arms.
Langurs - mother and child

Continue reading “Langurs and Birds (Bandipur Stories – 3)”

K Gudi – In the wilderness

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.

Birding:

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.

Bunch of kites and a few eagles feeding on sericulture leftovers Continue reading “K Gudi – In the wilderness”