Pelicans at Kokkare Bellur

Location: Kokrebellur, Mandya District
Date: Dec 6th, 2008
To get there: From Bangalore on Mysore road turn left after Channapatna and before Maddur. There is a prominent yellow sign saying Kokrebellur and a circle. It is about 5km after Indradhanush hotel.
Distance: Apprx 75km. Final 10km after left turn is on badly maintained road. However birding starts here so slow going should be more fun!
Trail type: We did not find any good trails to take other than walking village roads. One possibility is to walk around the Thylur Lake. Have to explore options next time.
Facilities: Indradhanush Hotel, Coffeeday (5km before left turn) and even a McDonalds now(3km before left turn) on Mysore road. There is also a fairly large village 5km before Kokrebellur having many bakeries.
Map: Thylur Lake. Kokrebellur is just further down about 7km.

Saturday afternoon we just felt like going somewhere out of Bangalore. Kokkare Bellur or Kokrebellur was a place we had heard of many times but had not visited yet. Kokkare in local kannada language means a stork refering to the colorfull Painted Stork which along with Pelicans comes to this village every winter and occupies its trees for breeding since 100's of years as described in this article. Since it was the start of the Pelican season we made a spot decision after lunch and heading out towards Mysore road tagging along 3 kids, ours Nithila & Swarup, Tejas our neighbour carrying biscuits, bananas, dates and a bar of chocolate for food.

We left at 3pm and were taking the left turn towards Kokrebellur from Mysore road just before 5pm. Immediately we were enveloped with a flurry of bird activity. Drongos, Bulbuls, Indian Roller, Swallows, Sunbirds and other small birds (unid as always for us :( ) were all over the place. There was even a Red-wattled lapwing calling urgently in its inimitable style did we do it? rendering. It was a period of utter frenzy as we tried to take in all of this and at the same time aware that we needed to get going if we wanted to reach our destination before dark. Reluctantly moving on, we were rewarded with an Eurasian Collared Dove sitting on an electric wire. The road goes by Thylur lake where we could only take a quick look and saw several common coots. In a field close by we found a large group of Black headed Ibis feeding and one Black Ibis flying by. Behind it further away was an even larger bunch of Cattle Egrets following a tractor digging up the field. This I am guessing is similar to its instinct of following cattle to get to worms disturbed by it thereby giving its name. So, should they now be called Tractor Egrets?

Soon, we were at a small 3-way junction in the middle of Kokkare Bellur village. A fading sign there had a painting of the Pelican indicating that we were at the right place. Going right we went about 10 mtrs and were amazed to see the giant and majestic Pelicans nesting right above our heads! Getting down from the car we saw that 3 to 4 trees in that area were all habited by them. It is truly an amazing sight. We did not do any count but I would guess at least 20-30. We were told more will arrive in the following days. Painted storks were not to be seen anywhere. The villagers said that the storks usually start arriving from late Jan onwards. We drove further down and crossed the bridge over Shimsa. By this time, dusk was almost upon us. For some reason, not sure why, we thought there was a lake here for more birding. We found out that it was not true. Shimsa river is the biggest water body close by other than the Thylur lake. The Pelicans apparently go some distance each day to get food and get back to their host village! We were advised to come in March when the bird activity will be at its peak. Have to keep that in mind.

I was able to capture an interesting behaviour of Pelicans where they do some tongue stretching, a kind of Pelican yoga, to keep their pouch in good condition. In these photos you can see that it has turned its lower beak or pouch inside out. More details can be found in this National Geographic article.

Reluctantly we headed back as darkness spread over the fields, stopping once to snack near some fields. Made the obligatory stop to buy Maddur Vadas at Indradanush Hotel ( they were very good at 10rs each) and were back in our homes by 8.40pm.
Well worth the drive but we needed at least one hour more to enjoy birding along the road towards Kokrebellur.

Please be sensitive to the villagers and birds. Do not trash or be noisy when visiting. As always take all the pictures you want and leave only footprints!

Courtship dance of Red Rumped Swallows

After our Muthodi trip we spent a couple of days at Sakleshpur where we went around birding both mornings and evening. I happened to notice this behaviour of the Red Rumped Swallows which were doing flying acrobatics with each other which I can only assume to be their Courtship Dance. They would sit on the electric wire couple of feet apart. Then move towards each other in short movements. Nuzzle each other and then both would fly high and do some acrobatic moves. Eventually one would settle down and watch the other continue this show. Then it would also sit down, move closer, nuzzle and repeat it all over again. This went on for about 5 minutes. Then they just flew away, interestingly in opposite directions!

No confirmation as yet from experts in this area on whether this is a courtship dance. If you are one please do leave a comment! :)

All good images that I captured are on Picasa in the same sequence that I shot them at:

Enchanting Muthodi

Date: Oct 9th-10th 2008

Every year we have a family get-together during Dasara usually at my sisters house in Sakleshpur. This year we decided to change it a bit and meet at some place around Chickmagalur first and then spend time in Sakleshpur. My brother-in-law was able to book 2 rooms at the forest bungalow in Muthodi through a friend of his in the DFS. It is called the Sighekhan Estates and is open for all public for booking as well as a vista point during daytime. Muthodi is one part of the Bhadra Wildlife Reserve which I believe is spread over 492 Sq Km. Other parts are Lakkavali and Hebbe.

We left Bangalore around 6.30am, planning to reach Belur via Kunigal, Chanrayapatna and Hassan by 11am where we hoped to connect with my sister. But Bangalore traffic thought otherwise and it took us more than an hour just to get out of the city itself even at that early hour and it was past 12 by the time we got to Belur. Sister couldn't wait and they proceeded to Chickmagalur and then Muthodi while we followed at a much leisurely pace looking out for birds. My daughter was thrilled to get a count of close to 30 on the drive. The best was a wonderful lake and swamp just before Chickmagalur where we got to see Purple Herons, Spot Billed ducks, River Terns, Grey Herons and a Bronze-winged Jacana (our first time). The road from Chickmagalur to Muthodi is quite tough going and took more than an hour before we drove the 30km to he Bhadra Check post. From there the Sigekhan Estates was a steep climb up the hill, 1st gear all the way! The thick forest was a welcome relief. My wife spotted this Giant Wood Spider web as soon as entered.

The bungalow is nicely located on top a hill with a wonderfull view of the Bhadra Valley. As soon as we settled in, the meti (man-in-charge) suggested that we could go on the Safari at 4pm as if it rains during the night the next day safari's will be cancelled. The reason being we need to cross a river to enter the forest. So, we immediately drove down to the pick up point. As the river was already swollen we had a squeeze into a Jeep. It was also getting dark forcing the driver to get through fast. The most exciting or rather scary part of the safari was the realization that leeches were everywhere! You could hardly step down for a minute without a leech scrambling up your leg. The mystery to me is, where do all these leeches find the food (blood) required to survive?

Next day morning, I was up before dawn hoping to catch the sunrise. It was indeed a good decision as the valley is almost magical with layers of clouds in between green covered hills slowly becoming brighter as the dawn breaks. The cloud or mist on the group is very fast moving and changes within minutes climbing up and with the dawn breaking into its orange and red colors, it is too beautiful to describe in words. Instead I tried to capture it with my camera and ended up moving my tripod from on end of the balcony to the other unable to decide what I wanted to click. It may have been better to just pull up a chair and soak it in. I think that way this langur had the right idea using a branch for a chair! :)

Once the sun brightened and it was truly morning, we were greeted by much activity and calls. That is when I wished we had few veteran birdwatchers to identify the calls. Instead, it was sighting a bird and trying desperately to find it in our Grimm Skipp. :). The most active early morning birds were the Scarlet Minivet, Racket-tailed Drongo, Small (Crimson-backed) Sunbird and BulBuls. The minivet was my first time and its colors matched the dawn. The male and female pair of Crimson-backed Sunbird had a nest just off the balcony and was very active trying to feed its young. After few minutes we could understand its routine. Get some food, land on bush in front, then high up on a tree next to the nest, wait for few seconds, then dive quickly into the nest opening. It stayed on the nest for less than a minute before starting all over again. The male visited maybe once for every 10 visits by the female. A giant Malabar Squirrel became very active on a tree close by. Its call is loud and ferocious coming from a squirrel. We got to watch it quite nicely though it was difficult to get any good photos.

We then walked on the road which continues around the hills. We saw lots more drongo activity and calls. Another bird that we spotted and were finally able to identify was the Malabar Parakeet. We also got to experience what Mr Subramanya termed as a “fashion show” on bngbirds. That is sudden burst of activity where we get calls from all sides and at least 4 to 5 different species of birds seem to be on the move around us. It lasts for about couple of minutes and things become quiet again. Under the thick forest cover we were not fast enough to spot and identify most of them but the experience is quite exhilarating. I realized that taking shots of these colorful spiders was much easier than that of birds.

Afternoon was spent lazily on the balcony where we managed to spot a Gold fronted leafbird. The sunbird was also actively feeding its family and I was able to get few shots of its home from the balcony itself without disturbing it in any way. Later in the evening, unfortunately some guests arrived to take the single room left Since they seemed to be in the party mood we decided to return to Sakleshpur in the evening itself and avoid any incidents. That spoilt our plan for the evening and the next day morning rounds. We did a quick round before departing and saw some Ashy Drongos and Black lored Tits. On the drive back it got dark before we left the forest area and though we hoped for some tigers, you can always hope :), we didn't encounter any mammal.
That ended my first trip to Muthodi. It is indeed a very beautiful place and the experience is quite different from Kabini or Nagarhole due to the majestic Baba Budan Giri range.

For booking this bungalow or the cottages you can contact the Forest Offices at: 08262 234904

Other birds we were able to spot and identify (click on the links to see the image):

Malabar Parakeet
Racket-tailed Drongo (silhoutte)
Ashy Drongo
Black Drongo
Female Scarlet Minivet
Female Small (crimson-backed) Sunbird
Gold fronted Leafbird

Other articles on Muthodi/Bhadra:

Trek in the middle of the city?

When I created this blog, I wanted it to be a repository of all the public places where we go for trek or a nature ramble, if you will, which is family friendly. By family friendly, I mean that kids as young as 3 can tag along and enjoy nature. This I hoped will be useful for other parents like me looking for a good and close by places for kids to run free and explore and not having to pay exorbitant money to go to some resort for an artificial nature outing. So, we had 2 really nice treks, both close to Bangalore which certainly came under the definition I had. Then I added the birding places in Chennai city on a whim as I enjoyed that day very much with my 7 yr old daughter, Nithila. On a similar vein it will be remiss of me if I don't mention the best place for a good nature walk right in the middle of Bangalore which I enjoy at least once a week! Yes, I am talking about Lalbagh. It is certainly over crowded these days and losing some of its charm but I feel it still is the biggest jewel in the Garden City crown.

Lalbagh has plenty of things to offer to everyone from a casual walker, jogger, photographer, nature lover to just being a place for a simple family picnic. We can combine it all and look at it as a nature trail and experience it that way. The park has 4 gates. The east gate from double road is the largest entrance and has plenty of parking. It is close to the stone mountain which has a small temple structure. All other gates have limited parking mostly roadside. The west gate is towards Basavanagudi and is next to the lake. The north gate has the welcoming arch and can be entered from the circle near MTR.

Possible Trek options:

Lake Trail: There is a mostly muddy track all around the lake. It is about 1.5 km in length. There are lots of water birds, like Egrets, Herons, Pelicans, Swamphens, Coots, Waterhens, Lapwings, Cormorants etc., to spot in the lake when taking this trail. At the start there is a tree covered strip where we can find scrub birds also like Parakeets, Mynahs, Orioles, Sunbirds, Flowerpeckers etc., Dont forget to pay attention for bird life in the swamp from the bridge. Purple Swamphens are a certainty here. If you are lucky there will be a Purple Heron and/or a Grey Heron also.
All around the park: The track going all around the park is about 3.5km. From the west gate turn right to go along the lake. Cover half the lake and turn right after the bridge to skirt the stone mountain, go along right of some expansive lawns, then find the East Gate entrance and go along the compound wall to get back to the west gate. Near the stone mountain you can take a break and do some scrambling there or check out the Glass house. There is a floral clock also near the East gate which is worth finding. The lawn is also a good place to picnic and play some frisbee or soccer if its not too crowded.

Random walks: It is also fine to walk around randomly and find other good spots. There is a large Rose Garden, Band stand with lawns all around, Japanese garden and interesting trees all over the place.

If you do plan to go, keep plenty of time and enjoy what lalbagh has to offer in a leisurely manner. They charge about 10rs per adult and 5 per child from 9am to 6pm. Entrance is free early morning before 8.30am. As always, do not thrown any trash other than in a proper litter bin. Don't play loud music and shout/scream which not only spoils the ambiance but defeats the purpose of the park as a horticulture and nature showcase.

Location: Lalbagh Botanical Garden, Jayanagar, Bangalore
To get there: Use the map at the above link or ask any pedestrian for directions or if going by auto or taxi, just mention the place.
Facilities: Near the stone mountain or glass house there are shops which sell ice-cream and junk food. Lots of roadside vendors ( no idea how they get in.. bribe? ) sell mango, corn, etc. Best to pack a healthy picnic. There are public paid restrooms (Nirmals) at the West Gate and the North gate.

Other informational links:
Karnataka Horticulture website
Website for Lalbagh only

Birding in Chennai City

Last weekend we had to be in Chennai for 5 days to attend a wedding. 5 days! Yes, wedding was only for 1 day but the other days were all the receptions which could not be skipped. Now that we were stuck there, birding seemed like a nice way to make it somewhat worthwhile. So, me and my daughter, Nithila, got up at 6am on Friday and headed out to Adyar Theosophical Society, following up on the location as mentioned in a Chennai trip report on bngbirds. Father-in-law gave us a drop in his car so that we could be there before 7am. Unfortunately, only card-carrying members were permitted into the premises from 5am to 7am for walking. No amount of pleading moved the guard. Public Visitors were allowed from 8.30am to 10am. So, we shifted over to IIT Madras campus which was close by. This is also "technically" closed to public. However, one of our relatives is a professor here and using that link we got in.

We started walking along one of the avenues from the main gate and were immediatly greeted by calls from Koels and Mynahs. The vegetation inside the campus is quite thick and almost jungle like. Though vehicles and people movement is heavy the animals/birds seem to have gotten used to it. It was not very long before we came upon several Spotted Deer. We also saw a herd of pigs which from the looks of it were probably domesticated. Our highlight was a Black rumped flameback woodpecker. It gave us views for several minutes moving from one tree to another. Other birds we saw were Oriental magpie robin, Rose ringed parakeet, White breasted kingfisher, White breasted waterhen. and lots of Babblers (not sure of the ID). There were actually 2 parent Waterhens watching over 5 chicks, fully black in colour.

About 8.30am we got out and caught an auto and made it back to Adyar Theosophical Society. Now we were allowed inside and it is indeed a nice place for birding. We managed to walk upto the banyan tree and back. My daughter was quite tired by this time so we did not venture any deeper. Here too we got good views of a Black rumped flameback. All the other birds spotted in IIT were also found here. We also got to see a tree full of huge sized bats making quite a lot of noise. This was just before the banyan tree going from the main gate.

Overall, quite a nice experience for both of us. It was like walking in lalbagh except that here there was vehicular movement also. Hope to do this everytime we go to Chennai!

Trek to Muthurayana Betta

  • Location: MuthurayanaBetta, Kanakpura Road, Near Bangalore
    Date: Apr 12th 2008
    To get there: [Click here for Google Map]. Go on Kanakapura Road from Bangalore. After Kaglipura or Kaggalipura, you will get Somanahalli. Less than a kilometer later you will hit Ravgodlu junction. There is just a bus stop platform here and a large arch across the Road. Turn left onto a tar road right before the arch. Drive for about 2km, passing a village (Ravgodlu?) on the way, until you see a dirt road turning right towards the hills. The hill on the right is Muthurayana Betta. There is a huge tree here under which you can park the car and walk the rest of the way or you can drive your vehicle on the dirt track along the hedge, all the way to the foothill.
    Distance: Ravgodlu turn off on Kanakpura Road is about 30km from Basavanagudi. From there the hill is about 2km.
    Trail type: There is no real proper trail, just paths made by the local folks. It is about 1km to 1.5km to the top. Elevation gain should be about 1000ft is my guess.
    Facilities: Nothing much close to the "trail head" near the main road. There was a village about a kilometer before where there may be small shops. Other than that its shops along Kanakapura road before the Ravgodlu turnoff for last minute purchases. No rest room facilities either...

    We had decided on this trek based on very little information in the Internet. However, the kids had done this with Woody Adventures, so at least we knew there was a hill and it was climbable by 6 yr olds! Based on just this much information, we left Basavanagudi around 7.30am in 2 cars with 5 adults and 6 kids from 3 yrs to 11yrs and lots of food! Along the way there was a partially dried up lake, few kms after NICE interchange, with several Painted Storks. A good start to our trip!

    Reached the turn off to the hill around 8.30am and decided to park under the tree and walk the dirt track. Turned out to be a good decision as we saw Indian Robins, Bulbuls, Green Bee-eater, Pond heron, Night heron, Egrets and a White breasted Kingfisher! Everybody now got into bird watching mode and were able to enjoy the energetic morning activity of these birds. Kids enjoyed watching several frogs in a muddy pond, which chose to stare at us for a while and then disappear into the muddy depths. After maybe a kilometer of walking, we were at the foothill and decided to energize ourselves before tackling the climb. Soon, all were munching on biscuits, buns and sandwiches.

    Stomach filled, we enquired with a local person as to any paths to the top. He suggested a way and was confident that all of us will be able to do it quite easily. With the new found knowledge we started our climb and were soon scrambling up boulders etc. Soon we were half way up in a saddle like area with great views. But we had run out of time as it was now nearly half past 10. Goal was to get back to Bangalore by noon, so reluctantly decided to spend some time at this "base camp" and then head down.

    On the way down, we were able to enjoy the flight of an Egyptian Vulture which hovered for quite sometime over us. Once back to the foothill area, we helped ourselves to some refreshing Rose milk and grapes to counter the hot summer sun.

    Cars were fine where we had parked. Kids still had some energy left to play word games all the way back to Bangalore which we reached by 11.45 or so. Overall a great trip. During summer its probably advisable to get there earlier say around 6.30am to be able to climb all the way comfortably and get back before the heat gets too much.

    Remember if you do plan on doing this, enjoy the nature but ensure that you leave the place as it was before you graced it. Yes, I mean no littering or disturbing the wild life.

    More pictures from the trek can be found on Picasa.

Turahalli Trek

Location: Turahalli, South Bangalore.
Date: Mar 29, 2008
To get there: On Kanakpura road, go past the Khoday's brewery and take the road on the right opposite the first petrol bunk sighted. Go past Gubbalala village towards Turahalli village. Look for the hill with boulders on it. The road will head towards the main gate of a complex. Turn right there to reach the foothill and the start of the Trail.
Distance: Turahalli gudda is around eight km. from the Banashankari temple and around two-and-a-half km. from the Kanakpura main road.
Trail type: It is about 0.75km to maybe 1km at most. I would say elevation gain would be around 500ft. It has some loose rocks which one has to be careful of. Overall a very nice easy family friendly trail if you have kids younger than 5.
Facilities: Did not find any eating place or shop close to this place. It is best to pack a picnic basket with enough water for the trip. There are shops on kanakpura road for last minute purchases. Only rest room is the wide open natural space. :)

For some time now, we had been trying to find a nice family trekking trail close enough to do it in half a day. Veena suggested Turahalli which had been recommended by her friend. We decided to check it out.

Plan was to leave at 7am, Saturday morning. We all managed to squeeze into Sridhars Innova and were out of the gate by 7.30am. All the kids, Rohit, Tejas, Nithila, Siddharth and Swarup were in good spirits and looking forward to the adventure. After a short ride and going around in circles asking for Turahalli, we finally managed to find the foothill of the hillock where the trail starts.

As soon as we got out of the car, we saw the energetic flight of a Bee Eater looking for its breakfast. Elected to leave the hot coffee to be had on the return and took the food bags along with us.

The trail is up a small hillock to the temple on top. There are lots of boulders, trees and bushes. Nithila, Tejas and Rohit was out front with sridhar quickly and before long disappeared around a bend. Veena with siddharth were next followed by Sangavi with Swarup and me with my camera. We could see Egrets, Herons and a Red wattled Lapwing in the fields below though we couldn't spot any water body. While crossing a rocky outcrop we disturbed couple of Raptors but did not see anything much other than a flutter of wings and something big flying by us into a copse of trees. There were several black kites hovering above us. One looked different and we soon realized that it was indeed a Oriental Honey-buzzard. Couple of the kites didn't seem to like him or her and they kept chasing it until all disappeared from our sight. Further up we noticed a little brown dove (laughing dove) on a boulder. It had what looked like a cut in its neck but later (after asking for some expert opinion) were told that's was just the feathers being ruffled.

We reached the top in about 30 minutes. Both our 3 yr olds made it without a single complaint! At the top there is a temple and a big tree surrounded by a concrete platform which one can use to picnic. By the time I got there, rest of the group were exploring the top as well as munching on the food. Kids were soon scrambling up the rock behind the tree and getting comfortable on the tree limbs. We explored the area for about an hour. Lots of boulders to try rock climbing skills and great views.

The climb down was quick and soon all were sipping a nice cup of hot coffee which Veena had kept in a flask. I lagged behind the group to get some images of a Green Bee eater. A serene looking goatherd was sportive enough to pose for me also albeit unknowingly. He did like his snap though when I showed it!

Soon we were heading back home and planning on when we will make it back there, maybe this time for lunch as well!

More pictures of the trip can be found on Picasa.

If you do visit, please remember: Take only pictures and leave only footprints!