Eastern Ghats - Bio-diversity Study

During 2nd week (10 to 13th) of December, AWIFO (Asian WIldlife FOundation) conducted a Bio-diversity study in the Eastern Ghats area, above Rajmundry. Schedule (meaning wifes work!) somehow worked out at home leaving me free to participate. 3 of us (Joy, David and me) took the Sheshadri Express from Bangalore reaching Rajahmundry early Thursday morning. There we joined about 25 others from Andhra, Chennai and even Singapore. There were Butterfly experts, Drangonfly/Damselfly (Damselfly sits with the wings upright) experts, Birding experts, Entomologists, Photographers and some just along for the ride. I went only as an amateur birder hoping to contribute and learn from the trip.

Some highlights:

Day 1: Cruise down Godavari River

From the railway station we went directly to Papi Hills, where we boarded a boat for a day long cruise along the Godavari River. It was an experience of a lifetime. The river is wide and it was quite smooth sailing. There was plenty of avian activity though it was more on the shore and we could not get too close due to shallow water. Brahminy Ducks (Ruddy Shelducks), flocks of Small Pratincoles, River Lapwings, Open Billed storks were among the many species we saw. We had lunch on the boat itself and also were treated to a Bison Dance on a sandy beach by the Tribals who had come along with us. Forest area was thick all through. We were treated to a Peafowl couple who had come out to enjoy the river as well.

Day 2: Maredumilli

After the cruise, we drove to Maredumilli for the night. Early morning saw us birding around the bungalow. It was misty but I still got my first sighting of a Vernal Hanging Parrot as well as Chestnut Bellied Nuthatch. We left after breakfast and birding in a Farm and River side picnic spot on way to Mothugudem. At the farm, Joy and Me went along together to see Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, Black Hooded Oriole and Verditer Flycatcher. When we stopped for some shots of the Habitat along the way, we were treated to a group of Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters having their mid-day lunch. It was incredible to see this uncommon (for us) birds casually going on sorties for the flying insects. We also got sight of Yellow-crowned Woodpecker here which we saw only because it was sharing the same trunk as a Bee-eater. By evening we had reached Mothugudem.

Day 3: Mothugudem

Mothugudem, our quarters were in a bit of plains with the Eastern Ghat Range surrounding us. Morning by 6am saw us out and treated to Plum-headed Parakeets which were as common as Rose-ringed here in Bangalore. Asian Pied Starlings, Ashy Woodswallows, Minivets, Velvet Fronted and Chestnut Bellied Nuthatches, etc., were the highlights for the morning. Prabhu took us to a Dam close to Chattisgarh Border. Here we sighted a lone Blue-rock Thrush. On the way back we had lunch at a scenic waterfall and joined in on some serious Butterfly and Dragonfly hunting along a river. We were lucky to sight pair of Malabar Pied Hornbills and also a Heart-spotted Woodpecker.

Day 4: Mothugudem to Rajahmundry

Morning we managed to squeeze in some more birding and were treated to a lone Barred Jungle Owlet sitting openly on an electric wire. Soon after breakfast we left for Rajahmundry to catch our trains to Bangalore. Ride was quite uneventful though I missed the sighting of a Crested Serpent Eagle perched on a roadside tree.

Overall a great experience and it was fun spending the 4 days with other like minded nature lovers. Hopefully AWIFO is able to establish this area as a rich bio-diversity spot and protect it for the enjoyment of future generations.

Images from the trip:

Canopy 2009 Photo Contest

Well, a side trip on my part where I submitted a few on my photographs to the Photo Contest conducted by ATREE along with the organizers of 5th Canopy International Conference held at IISc Bangalore. It was judged by eminent persons in the field of wildlife photography and nature conservation:- Ganesh H Shankar, Mark Moffet, Shekar Dattatri, Sandesh Kadur. So, it was a pleasant surprise when my image taken during our Muthodi trip was given the 1st prize. I sincerely feel 90% of the credit should go to the Langur which posed for me so well with the forest canopy in the background, tailormade for this contest! 10% to me for taking and entering this image into the contest. :) 2nd place was given to Kalyan Varma for a technically difficult and beautiful image of fireflies in the night, 3rd place to Ashwini Kumar Bhat who entered a mesmerizing image of a shadow creeping across lush canopy.

My 2 shortlisted images were:

The image was taken in Timber Yard, Dandeli during a Bird-watching trip. We had finished going around the place and were returning to our vehicle. I lagged behind taking shots of the sunset seen from between the foliage. The cut and neatly piled logs gave a contrast to the nature that we were trying to find and enjoy. I composed the shot to highlight it and got this exposure after a few tries.

Early morning views of Muthodi forest range are magical from the Sheeghekhan Estates which is located on top of a small hill. We were in the balcony before dawn and enjoying the blankets of mist over the canopy before the rising sun slowly started melting them away. A langur was also sitting on a branch some distance away basking in the morning sun. Its peaceful posture with the backdrop of the Canopy was a wonderful sight and it captured the moment very well.

Manjarabad Fort

This was more of a family social trip than a nature or bird watching trip to Sakleshpur over the last weekend of Dasara. My sister has lived here for the past 25 years or so and we usually plan a trip during Dasara. However, since her house is at the end of town close to where the forest cover again starts, one can just do birding around the house itself. This time we also planned to visit Majarabad fort more for something to do than for hope of spotting birds.

On way to Sakaleshpur, we found couple of very good lakes, one 5km after Hassan and the next a few kilometers further. We were able to enjoy Bronze-winged Jacana's, Coots, Moorhens, Kingfishers and other common birds here. Our hopes to do much bird watching in Sakleshpur got a setback as there was incessant rain all through our stay. That still did not stop us venturing out with Umbrellas and jackets couple of times. The birds which also decided to ignore the rain and fly about were: Red-whiskered Bulbuls, House sparrows, Oriental Magpie Robins, White-browed Wagtails, Couple of Purple-rumped Sunbirds, a lone Grey Wagtail and a Long-tailed Shrike. Several Dusky Crag Martins were the most active doing fast low flights repititively in the same pattern as if on a race-track. My guess is that they were catching insects in the air.

As planned, we drove up to Majarabad fort in the rain saturday afternoon. It is only about 5km from the town. Look for a huge board with the name and some shops on the left at a hairpin bend. You need to park here and walk up a little and then climb 250steps (my daughter Nithila counted it!) to reach the fort. The fort itself is fantastic apparently built by Tipu Sultan in 1782 as per a ASI board at the start of the trek up. Some of the watch towers are in good condition giving good views of how the soldiers would have scanned the horizon during those times. Birding was tough due to rain. There was a raptor which disappeared too quickly. Many Dusky-crag Martins gave us company though.

On the way back, just a km before Sakaleshpur town, we stopped at the road side to scan some paddy fields. This was under a Ficus tree. (F.virens?). Looking up we noticed a lot of barbet activity and could easily spot the white-cheeked ones. I noticed a flash of red on one which was smaller in size and assumed some coppersmiths were also there. Tracking it on the binoculors gave me a flash of blue also and I knew we had something else here. It started to rain heavily and we had to reluctantly return home. We came back again to the tree in the evening about 4ish hoping for a better look. This time, the bird liked our determination and came down the canopy to the lower branches to feed on the white fruits. No doubt now. It was the Crimson-fronted Barbet(Magalaima rubricapilla), our first time ever! A truly beautiful bird to watch scampering around the tree most of the time high up in the canopy. We spent quite some time enjoying it. I made one more trip back to try and get a few images even though light was fading fast. The bird again rewarded me by coming down once helping me get some record shots. It made our trip memorable.

We were on our way back to Bangalore early next day morning. There was morning sun at the lake near Hassan for us to observe a Pheasant-tailed Jacana family with 2 really cute chicks. One final note, if you happen to breakfast at Mayura Hotel (best with a family as it has a spacious play area) near Belur Cross, check out the trees for lot of Tickells (Pale-billed) Flowerpeckers.

Bangalore's very own hill station - Nandi Hills

Location: Nandi Hills
Date: Aug 30th 2009
To get there: [Click here for Google Map]. From Hebbal take NH7 towards Devanahalli Airport and Hyderabad. After you pass the airport look for really small sign to turn left towards Nandi Hills.
Distance: About 60kms from Bangalore
Trail type: There are lots of trails to pick from. As soon as you enter there is a large Nandi hills park map and one can plan using it. A trail starts from the point going through fairly thick vegetation and up (steps). You can join the trail anywhere which goes around the hill along the fort boundary giving you lots of great views.
Facilities: Mayura Pine Top is the KSTDC run hotel there which has basic facilites and fairly decent food with fantastic views. Lots of other roadside type shops are also there. A large kids playarea can also be found.

For some days prior we had been thinking of visiting a good place for bird watching where we had not been recently. Nandi hills was tempting and hoping for some early migration season surprises we set out for it sunday leaving Hebbal with all 5 of us on board by 7am.

We were at the foothills around 8am and stopped as soon as the climb started. We were rewarded with a sighting of Sirkeer Malkoha which promptly skulked far away from us! Driving up, the group started to focus mostly on the wild flowers that are peppered among the hills foliage. While discussing and enjoying this at one of the several hairpin bends before we reach the main entrance, we got to see a Short-toed Snake Eagle comfortable gliding almost to a standstill in the high thermals looking for food below. We parked right at the entrance even though cars are allowed all the way to the top where Mayura hotel is, since a trek to the spot gives us more oppurtunites for birdwatching. There is a nominal entrance fee charged here to enter the hill station.

We trekked to the top and then chose to walk along the trail which goes around the hills along the fort. Birds were not as plenty as hoped. The sole grace being a very quick flyby of an falcon possibly Peregrine. But just before we reached our parking spot we spotted the first arrival of a single Grey Wagtails for the 09-10 migration season. Close by a Puff-throated Babbler decided to hop right across our paths giving me trigger fingers on the camera. :). We started back around 2ish and were back in Bangalore by 3.30pm.

Somethings to know if you do happen to go with family for a picnic/trek. Monkeys are everywhere and they smell a picnic basket even before you get out of the car. We saw one family which parked the car, got out and before they could stretch and admire the surroundings, one had snuck behind them and was almost into the car! Later, I was sitting on a slope when I felt a tug behind me which happened to be a monkey taking the water bottle out of the backpack! Yes, they are probably hooked on to coke which is what it probably thought it was. So, advice is to pack finger food if you happen to picnic and eat quickly and fast in an open place, ie no over hanging branches. Leisurely picnics are out of question. And yes, remember, Nandi Hills is now a no-plastic zone so try to pack accordingly and not litter the area. Enjoy! It is a fantastic and cool place and we are lucky to have it within an hours drive from our city.

Manchinbele Reservoir

Location: Manchinbele lake / reservoir / Dam
Date: Aug 22nd 2009
To get there: [Click here for Google Map]. From Mysore road take a right turn immediately after Raja Rajeshwari Dental college and much before Bidadi. Go past the tourist spot Big Banyan tree or Dodda Alladha Mara. Ask for Manchinbele along the way. There are some yellow direction boards posted when you get near.
Distance: About 30kms from Bangalore until the turn off from Mysore road. Then 10-15kms to reach the reservoir.
Trail type: We didn't find any trails to trek. One option is to walk along the asphalted road along the shore.
Facilities: Not much near the reservoir. There are plenty of shops around Big Banyan tree.

It was a last minute decision that saw us at Machinbele Saturday afternoon. The previous day we just felt like going out somewhere and do some birding, that is as much as is possible with a 5yr old and 9yr old. Still just the thought of getting away from the noise and dust of Bangalore to somewhere quieter and greener was too enticing and picking Machinbele we left around 9.30am with a nice packed lunch and snacks from the Gokulashtami or Krishnastami festival.

Our 9yr old, Nithila, does like to watch birds but as she says not more than 30mins, so she got her set of books to keep herself amused knowing full well that appa would stop every now and then. Swarup, the 5yr old knows his mynas, crows and barbets, but given the choice he made us open the snack box within an hour of our trip! That left Sangavi and me some free time at our stops all along the way to Manchinbele for some good car birding.

The sight of the reservoir is very scenic when we first crest a hill and see it for the first time. We chose to stop there and were rewarded with good sightings of Purple sunbird male in non-breeding plumage and the highlight for us, Yellow-eyed babbler. This is a very beautiful bird and a first time for both us. We drove along until we reached a point from where we could see the dam gates. On the left there was a small pond which had excellent bird activity. Here we got to see the Streaked weaver which was busy collecting things from the roadside most likely for its nest somewhere.

We headed back from that point and took a left on a fairly decent road which took us along the reservoir shore. We could spot some army activity in the middle which looked like some cleaning up or training. At this time, it started drizzling and we could not find any outside picnic spot or trek. So, we ended up parking under a tree with a good view of the water body and enjoyed our sandwiches there. The spot was great because as soon as the rain stopped there was a burst of bird activity in the foliage on the hills. It was a pleasure watching the birds getting out after huddling under some leaves and trees. Tawny-bellied as well as the Yellow-eyed babbler, Long-tailed Shrike, White-browed Wagtail, Purple Sunbird, Oriental White-eye and Red-wattled Lapwings were among the active ones. Only disappointment was that we could not spot any water birds such as storks or ducks, other than a lone Grey Heron.

Reluctantly we headed back to Bangalore unable to keep stopping anymore as we were already behind our schedule. Overall it was a nice outing though we didn't get to do even a small trek. The place is scenic and hopefully it will remain that way in the future. There was some mention of boating being introduced here. Hopefully that's not permanent else we will lose any chance of migratory birds making machinbele their destination. As always if you do plan to visit, try to enjoy the nature and leave it as is for others to enjoy in the future.

Sangam and Meke Dhatu: A walk alongside a river...

Location: Sangam and Meke Dhatu, 30km from Kanakpura town
Date: Jul 12th 2009
To get there: [Click here for Google Map]. Go on Kanakpura Road from Bangalore. Take a left turn at the 2nd circle when going through Kanakpura town. Ask the locals for way to Sangam to make sure you don't take the wrong turn. This road leads directly to Sangam. Road condition was good all through except for short patches. You will also enjoy a bit of Ghat section with 3 hairpin bends couple of kilometers before Sangam. From Sangam, you have to cross the river and then have the option of a trek or bus to reach Meke Dhatu which is about 5km away.
Distance: Kanakpura is about 60kms from Bangalore. Sangam is another 30 kms from there.
Trail type: From Sangam to Meke Dhatu. Dirt track, wide enough for a Bus. There were parallel walking tracks which may have taken us closer to the river but we didn't get a chance to explore them.
Facilities: Couple of Darshini like places in Kanakpura. Lots of Roadside shops in Sangam selling chips/juices etc. A decent looking restaurant called "Tender Coconut" was also there but we didn't try it. Juice and snacks also available at Meke Dhatu. We spotted a brand new toilet facility at Sangam...which again we didn't really check! :)

After a really long time since our Muthurayana Betta trip we were set to go to what we hoped was another good "family" trekking spot. We settled on Sangam/Meke Dhatu or Mekedhatu as its on our side of Bangalore (south). Sangam is where the river Arkavathy meets Cauvery. Meke Dhatu is a nice spot where Cauvery flows through a narrow gorge of spectacular rock formations. The group comprised of 6 adults and 7 children from 4 to 11yrs. All could comfortably fit into an Innova and SX4 which spared me from taking my Indigo also!

So, Sunday morning 8am saw us on the road to Kanakpura, packed with a picnic style breakfast and looking forward to a nice trek and good weather. The drive was great especially from Kanakpura to Sangam where we get to see panoramic views of the hill ranges. The final little bit of Ghat section adds to the excitement.
Soon we were at Sangam and after unloading the food bags stood staring at the river wondering how we could cross without getting totally wet. This section of the river is quite broad with patches of land and rock scattered around. We spotted a White-breasted Kingfisher dive and catch a fish from the water surface before flying away with it which is a fantastic sight to see. There were also lots of White-browed wagtails around. Strategically, we waited and watched others crossing before deciding on a path where the water seemed to come only up to the thighs for adults and nearly the waist for the kids. Bags distributed and toddlers carried by adults....we ventured out into the river and reached the other side safely. The same could not be said for the return trip....more on that later. Since it was already 10am....first order of business was breakfast. Once done we enquired about the shuttle bus for the return trip from Meke Dhatu as we knew 4-5km trek both ways would be quite strenuous. The bus itself is quite a sight and one wonders how it is still running... esp along the rough dirt road between Sangam and Meke Dhatu. Anyway, on the advice of the bus folks, we bought the 40rs round trip ticket even though we intended to trek at least one way. The round trip ticket would enable us to catch it anywhere on the route in case the kids were too tired to complete the trek... a kind of hop-on, hop-off! :)
We started out bravely with the goal of trekking all the way to Meke Dhatu. The older kids set a fast pace and were soon out of sight from the second group with the toddlers. We managed to make it to about 3 kms before the younger kids were tired and the shuttling bus was a welcome sight which we promptly boarded for the last kilometer or so. The trail is a dusty road with great views on both sides. River Cauvery flows about 50mtrs from this road all the way. Hills and a shrub jungle make up the other side. It may be possible to take some side trails for a bit of adventure but we didn't attempt that. I also noticed some kind of viewing point on top of a hill, so surely there must be some path to reach that. Next time maybe.

Meke Dhatu spot itself was wonderful. From the end point where the dust road ends, one has to descend about 50feet using roughly cut steps and footholds in the rock face. At the bottom there is a nice and fairly clean sandy spot for toddlers to play. Scramble over the boulders there and you get to see the awesome sight of the river hurtling along in the deep gorge. The name of the place meaning goat (meke) crossing (dhatu) in kannada is probably not relevant now as it is too wide for any normal goat to jump across. Maybe it was narrower some time back? When we went it was not wet or slippery. If it is wet, as is often the case, one has to be very careful as a fall is usually fatal! The area around here had the customary trash and stink in some places but the sights of the rocks and river more than made up for it. After spending about 30mins or so here we got back to Sangam taking the bus all the way.

The return river crossing was not trouble free. At 1pm, river was more crowded than at 10am filled with people who liked to splash and rag the river crossers. The path we took was direct and slightly different from the one we took before. This however was a little deeper and we all got wet up to the waist with the older kids up to the shoulders. Only when the group reached the other side did we realize that we had cellphones in our pockets! 2 of them came through the bath fine while 3 others went dead with quite a bit of water logging in them. Big lesson: Keep your cell phones safe and dry when crossing the river! Thankfully the cellphones got back their life after some repair else it would have ended up as the costliest trek ever for us! After some futile attempts to dry ourselves we heading back to Bangalore for lunch. The pizza hut guy did not comment on the bunch of wet people who walked in around 3 for a well deserved lunch! Maybe it is quite normal there given Bangalore's weather these days... :)

Overall the trip was good and better than we expected. Sangam s dirty and crowded and not worth staying too long. The trail from Sangam to Meke Dhatu is quite nice and can be done slowly to enjoy it better. Meke Dhatu itself is wonderful and has great sights to be savoured.
So, if you do make it... please do not litter the place especially in the wilderness areas. There are some bins at Sangam which can be used to dispose your trash.

You can find more images from the trip uploaded to picasa.

Bangalore Bird Race - Jan 2009 : Grey Junglefowls

Locations: Valley School, Lakes along Kanakpura Road (Kaggalipur, Gabbadi or Akka-thangi, Harohalli), Byramangala Tank
Date: 18th Jan 2009, 6am to 5pm

January in Bangalore means the HSBC birdrace which is held the 3rd Sunday of each year. I was fortunate to team up again as the Grey Junglefowls with Harish, Arun and Sridhar. However Balesh was replaced by Raghavendra this time around. Last year (report), we did fairly well bagging 85 but the focus was more on the fun side than really competing as we enjoyed camping the previous night, did late night astronomy and had good food all through. So, this year we made a pledge to reach atleast a respectable 100 which meant the need for some preparations. The first decision to make was north or south Bangalore. After much debate south was picked more for a change from last year than anything else. Plan was to spend most of our morning at Valley school and in the afternoon visit the lakes along Kanakpura road.

So, there we were, up before dawn and parked along the road to Valley school around 6.15am. Just like last year, first light brought along with it a burst of calls and experts started calling out the bird names. I have to confess that I still could only make out the Red-wattled Lapwing and maybe the Red-whiskerd Bulbul. Have to work on this important skill. The thrill this time was we heard the call of our team bird ie Grey Junglefowl which we had missed last year. The sun brought up along with it lots of bird activity. We managed to tag Bulbuls, Babblers, Golden Oriole, Shrike, Greater Flameback woodpecker among others before we even reached the school gate.

After getting the required permission, we took a path which goes through the school, next to a man made pond and reached some paddy fields on the other side of the school. Using a roundabout route we got back on the road which leads back to the parking lot. If that sounded long, it was. I feel we trekked maybe 4-5km in about 6 hrs making it back to the car around 12+. Near the pond, Harish along with Raghavendra scaled a viewing platform quite adroitly and called out Common Kingfisher, Cormorant from up there. While trekking the paths we kept a constant look out in the dense shrub for Indian Pitta with no luck.

At the paddy fields we were rewarded with good views of a Grey - bellied Cuckoo (ID confirmed later). Near the valley school guesthouses a Tickels Blue Flycatcher was happily singing. Harish mentioned that it jerks its tail up in exact sync with the number of notes in its call, which I thought was pretty neat. It was confirmed to be true by our amateur observations at that time. He also noted that the Tickels Blue likes to nest in the cup shaped barks of the wild date palms (Phoenix sylvestris) of which there were several. Around that area we were able to observe a Copper-smith Barbet for a long time digging away actively at a tree. One of the most colorfull birds I feel. We also saw a Monarch Flycatcher (or The Black-naped Blue Flycatcher), Monarch azurea briefly. I say briefly because I had only a glimpse and spent the short amount of time it posed for us trying to photograph it, in which I failed also. A bit disappointing there as it is a very beautiful bird. On the road back, we were very lucky to spot a pair of Common Rosefinches which we later nominated as our bird of the day.

We now got back onto Kanakpura road and made stops at lakes along the way. Kaggalipura Tank gave us Sandpipers, Little Ringed Plovers, Egrets etc. We stopped for our lunch in a school yard beside a large lake. Here, we could add only a Black headed Ibis which flew by but our bodies got a much needed boost of energy at this stop! Next lake Gabbadi (or Akka-Thangi Kere) which in reality is a twin waterbody one hidden behind a bund was a little better with many Garganeys and Pintails. We continued until we reached Harohalli which has a large lake near its Bus Stand. Here there was quite a bit of water plants and therefore a lot of swamp birds. We checked off Purple Swamphen, Common Coot, Moorhen, Purple Heron, Spot-billed Pelican, etc., An Oriental Honey buzzard gave us several fly-bys at this spot.

The time then was around 3pm and we had about an hour of birding left. We drove on towards Byramangala hoping for more ducks. On the way we added Black shouldered kite and Tree pipit. The tank itself is very huge but was disappointing birds wise. My first visit here and I got to know where all our garbage ends up! Not a very pleasant sight. We saw Glossy Ibises, Wagtails, Sandpipers among others thriving prosperously here. The drive back was uneventful with quick stops again near the previously visited lakes yielding nothing more.

Though this time around we tried to focus on the "race" we still found time to just simply explore for natures sake and ended up with some more knowledge in the bargain. How a Shrike stands as a lookout, notes on Tickells Blue Flycatcher behaviour, palm swifts build nests using saliva, etc..etc. Nature with its never ending mysteries to be understood, learnt and unravalled can never be boring! And ya, this time we did manage to crack 100. Final count 105. Winning team, Pied-Harriers had a count of 145!

More bird pictures taken during the day can be seen on Picasa

Notable birds from our checklist:
  1. White-browed Bulbul
  2. Black-headed Cuckooshrike
  3. Grey-bellied Cuckoo
  4. Ashy Drongo
  5. Garganey
  6. Northern Pintail
  7. Crested Serpent Eagle
  8. Short-toed Snake Eagle
  9. Asian Brown Flycatcher
  10. Black-naped Monarch Flycatcher
  11. White-browed Fantail
  12. Pheasant-tailed Jacana
  13. Small Minivet
  14. Spotted Owlet
  15. Tree Pipit
  16. Common Rosefinch
  17. Rosy Starling
  18. Ashy Woodswallow
  19. River Tern
  20. Black-winged Stilt
  21. Little-ringed Plover

Hornbills and other birds of Dandeli

Ever since I started bird watching about a year back I was hoping to make a purely birding overnight trip to a sanctuary with fellow like minded people and hopefully some experts. That opportunity came by when Shailaja Yadawad proposed to organize a 2 day, 1 night Dandeli Trip to welcome 2009 and had got Dr. S. Subramanya or Subbu to lead the group. It was too good to be missed and once I got the family consent, the excitement started.

The group met at Bangalore City station at 8pm to catch the Rani Chennama Express to Hubli. Subbu, Deepak Arya, Cavery, Sree, Girish, Vinay, Geetha, Gayathri, Vishnu, Sashikanth and myself completed the team of 12 with Shailaja to meet us at Hubli. Bird talk started in earnest in the train itself with Subbu recounting his many experiences from Eagle nest, Arunachal Pradesh until we all got so excited and loud that we had to be shushed by others in the train who felt sleep was more important that bird talk... is it really?

We were out of Hubli early in the morning and stopped for breakfast along the way near a small lake before Haliyal. It turned out to be a great spot as within minutes of getting out the experts were calling out first timers for me! White-bellied Drongo, Plum-headed Parakeet, Black-rumped Flameback, Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker were among the many we sighted. A Malabar Grey Hornbill also made a brief appearance as if to welcome us to Dandeli.
As we were too early to check-in at Kulgi Camp, we headed towards Coal Mines, about half an hour away. There we spotted a pair of Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters doing their typical flight to catch food. On a nearby tree a Draco was also seen, my first time, and we saw its very interesting yellow green throat flap being popped far out in front of its body. A very difficult lizard to spot as its coloration and texture is exactly that of a tree. Subbu wanted to look for pipits in a nearby fallow paddy cultivation and we undertook a "dangerous" trek across some really wet fields trying to keep up with the master who managed it across with some ease and then watched the fun as the rest of us struggled thankfully with no disastrous falls! :). This is a skill he said we have to master if we wish to keep bird watching. Oh well, we are now more experienced for sure.

We then reached Kulgi camps and after checking in settled down for a good homely lunch in a gazebo kind of structure with nature all around us. Birding didn't leave us even then as a Velvet-fronted Nuthatch chose that time to also look for food on a tree next to the hut. We scrambled to get our binoculars and cameras and enjoyed its antics for several minutes. The afternoon schedule first took us to Bommanahalli Reservoir close by which turned out be a bit disappointing as far as water birds were concerned though there were several Red-wattled Lapwings, Little Grebes and Pond Herons. Subbu suggested trekking around the lake and we were rewarded with a pair of Rufous Woodpeckers pecking away industriously on a thick Bamboo stem. They were least concerned with us and continued with their task until one decided to fly away. From the ID (scarlet patch below the eye), both appeared to be male which seemed a bit strange to the experts. Reluctantly we headed back to our vehicle to make it to the Timber Depot, next stop for the evening. There, for some reason the bird activity was lesser than expected. I personally was able to spot only the Greater Racquet Tailed Drongo. However, couple of mammals, the Malabar Giant Squirrel and Hanuman Langur provided us with alternate entertainment with their antics. As the skies darkened we headed back to Kulgi camp. There we enjoyed a resident Grey Nightjar which went about its business of catching insects totally oblivious to all us gaping at it from less than 20ft and taking shots with our camera to our hearts content. A night walk after this did not let us experience any Owls as we had hoped for.

Morning, we were up and in the vehicle by 5.30am as this was planned to be our "Hornbill" day. Our local guide was in the front seat looking out for them as we huddled expectantly behind. We drove towards Ganeshgudi. The first spot came up empty as did the second trail, about 7km from Ganeshgudi, which was too covered to do much spotting. Out on the road there though, there was much activity and we saw a Greater Flameback, Hill Myna (missed by me :( ) among others. We reached a spot close to Supa Dam and GaneshGudi where a Bridge crosses over the River Kali and were finally rewarded with great sightings of the Malabar Pied Hornbills and Malabar Grey Hornbill. The Pied Hornbill is an incredibly colorful and big bird and we were fortunate to view several of them for a long time being active, flying or just sun bathing! We next went along a path, towards a Rafting Point operated by Hornbill Resorts along the Kali River, hoping for a sighting of the Black-capped Kingfisher and lo and behold it did make its appearance albeit a very short one. It is also a very beautiful bird and we wish it had co-operated to stay around a bit longer. A stop at Hornbill Resorts for Rafting to a birding island did not turn out to be too fruitful except a few of us had nice joy-ride...

We checked out from Kulgi and headed for Hubli with plenty of time in order to bird at Moulangi, a place close to Dandeli. This turned out be a bonanza as the trail was teeming with bird activity. The experts started calling out birds rapidly every minute if not seconds, most of them first timers for me, that I could not decide what to see! Amidst this frenzy, I was able to enjoy Plum-headed Parakeets feeding among Bamboos, a thrilling sighting of the Brown-headed Barbet which the team tracked after hearing its distinct call and a Black (or White-bellied) Woodpecker which was quite active for a long time on a large tree. Reaching the end of the trail we also got to see Pompadour Green Pigeon and Yellow-footed Pigeon sharing a tree at quite some distance. On the way back I was lucky to see the Ruby-throated Bulbul which I had missed when we started on the trail.

Reluctantly (or I should say forcibly!) we were bundled back into the vehicle in order to make it back to Hubli in time to catch our buses and trains. After much excitement and near non-stop bird watching for close to 36hrs, we relaxed, had dinner and made it in time to catch the train back to Bangalore.

Stay Location: Kulgi Camps, Dandeli
Dates: Jan 10th, 11th 2009
Summary of Birding Locations: We birded at several places during this trip. Day 1 morning from our vehicle during ride from Hubli to Dandeli. Lot of birding activity was observed at breakfast stop near a tank before Haliyal. Around 11ish we stopped near Coal Mines and trekked across some paddy fields also. Throughout our stay there was quite a bit of activity at the camp itself with the Leafbird and Nightjar pretty much residents and occasional fly by of an Emerald Dove. Evening of Day 1 we visited Bommanahalli Reservoir and Timber Yard near Kulgi. Day 2 we started out early in the morning and birded close to Supa Dam and before Ganeshgudi along river Kali. On way back in the afternoon we stopped at Hornbills Resort at their Rafting Point. Evening from 4 to 6pm we did some memorable birding near Moulangi area.

Trip photos having people, landscapes, birds and mammal shots:

Bird images by Girish Krishnamurthy:

Bird images by Shashikanth:

Bird images by Nanda Ramesh:

DANDELI BIRD CHECKLIST (By Dr. Subramanya or Subbu; the abbreviations next to bird names indicate sightings of the species in different birding locations on the trip):
HD=Hubli to Dandeli
HT=Around Tank before Haliyal
CM=near Coal Mines
KC= Kulgi Camp
BR=Bommanahalli Reservoir
TY=Timber Yard near Kulgi
SDG= close to Supa Dam and before Ganeshgudi
RP=Rafting Point
M=Moulangi area

1. Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) HD,BR
2. Indian Shag (Phalacrocorax fuscicollis) CM,BR,SDG,RP
3. Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) HD,BR,RP
4. Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) HD
5. Large Egret (Egretta alba) HD
6. Median Egret (Egretta intermedia) BR
7. Cattle Egret (Bubulcus coromandus) HD,KC,RP,M
8. Indian Pond-Heron (Ardeola grayii) HD,RP
9. Little Green Heron (Butorides striata) SDG
10. Asian Openbill-Stork (Anastomus oscitans) HD
11. White-necked Stork (Ciconia episcopus) RP
12. Lesser Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna javanica) HD
13. Oriental Honey-Buzzard (Pernis ptilorhyncus) CM
14. Black Kite (Milvus migrans) HD,CM
15. Brahminy Kite (Haliastur Indus) TH,CM,BR,SDG,RP
16. White-bellied Sea-Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) BR
17. Red-headed Vulture (Aegypius calvus) M
18. Crested Serpent-Eagle (Spilornis cheela) CM,RP
19. Grey Junglefowl (Gallus sonneratii) TH,TY,SDG
20. Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus) BR,TY,SDG
21. White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) HD,BR
22. Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus) SDG,RP
23. Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) TH
24. Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) HD
25. River Tern (Sterna aurantia) BR
26. Blue Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) HD,SDG
27. Little Brown Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis) M
28. Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis) HD,TH,CM,M
29. Emerald Dove (Chalcophaps indica) KC
30. Pompadour Green-Pigeon (Treron pompadora) M
31. Yellow-legged Green-Pigeon (Treron phoenicopterus) M
32. Mountain Imperial-Pigeon (Ducula badia) M
33. Indian Hanging-Parrot (Loriculus vernalis) CM,KC,TY,SDG,RP,M
34. Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri) HD
35. Plum-headed Parakeet (Psittacula cyanocephala) TH,KC,M
36. Malabar Parakeet (Psittacula columboides) TY,SDG,M
37. Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopacea) HD
38. Small Green-billed Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus viridirostris) M
39. Greater Coucal (Centropus sinensis) KC,TY,M
40. Indian Jungle Nightjar (Caprimulgus indicus) KC
41. Brown-backed (throated) Needletail-Swift (Hirundapus giganteus) DG
42. Crested Tree-Swift (Hemiprocne coronata) TH
43. Small Blue Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) BR
44. White-breasted Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis) HD,BR,RP,M
45. Black-capped Kingfisher (Halcyon pileata) RP
46. Small Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis) HD,TH,CM,BR,TY
47. Chestnut-headed Bee-eater (Merops leschenaultia) CM
48. Indian Roller (Coracias benghalensis) TY
49. Malabar Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros griseus) SDG,M
50. Malabar Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros coronatus) SDG,RP,M
51. Brown-headed Barbet (Megalaima zeylanica) TY,M
52. White-cheeked Barbet (Megalaima viridis) CM
53. Coppersmith Barbet (Megalaima haemacephala)? CM,TY
54. Speckled Piculet (Picumnus innominatus) TH
55. Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker (Dendrocopos nanus) TH
56. Rufous Woodpecker (Micropternus brachyurus) BR
57. White-bellied Woodpecker (Dryocopus javensis) SDG,M
58. Common Flameback (Dinopium javanense) SDG
59. Black-rumped Flameback (Dinopium benghalense) TH,SDG
60. Greater Flameback (Chrysocolaptes lucidus) KC,SDG
61. Dusky Crag-Martin (Hirundo concolor) SDG
62. Common Swallow (Hirundo rustica) HD,SDG
63. Red-rumped Swallow (Hirundo daurica) SDG,RP
64. Northern House-Martin (Delichon urbica) TY
65. Forest Wagtail (Dendronanthus indicus) TY
66. White Wagtail (Motacilla alba dukhunensis) HT
67. Large Pied Wagtail (Motacilla maderaspatensis) HD,TH,M
68. Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava thunbergi) CM
69. Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) CM,M
70. Oriental (Olive-backed) Tree Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni) TH
71. Black-headed Cuckoo-Shrike (Coracina melanoptera) TH
72. Small Minivet (Pericrocotus cinnamomeus) TH
73. Orange Minivet (Pericrocotus flammeus) SDG,M
74. Unidentified Minivet TH
75. Pied Flycatcher-Shrike (Hemipus picatus) SDG,M
76. Common Woodshrike (Tephrodornis pondicerianus) TH,KC,BR,M
77. Flame (Ruby)-throated Bulbul (Pycnonotus gularis) SDG,M
78. Red-whiskered Bulbul (Pycnonotus jocosus) HD,KC,RP,M
79. Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer) HD
80. Yellow-browed Bulbul (Iole indica) SDG
81. Common Iora (Aegithina tiphia) TH,CM,BR,M
82. Jerdon’s Chloropsis (Chloropsis cochinchinensis) TH
83. Gold-fronted Chloropsis (Chloropsis aurifrons) KC
84. Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus) HD,KC,RP
85. Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach) CM
86. Blue-headed Rock-Thrush (Monticola cinclorhynchus) SDG
87. Malabar Whistling-Thrush (Myiophonus horsfieldii) KC
88. Oriental Magpie-Robin (Copsychus saularis) M
89. White-rumped Shama (Copsychus malabaricus) KC
90. Indian Robin (Saxicoloides fulicata) HD,CM
91. Indian Scimitar-Babbler (Pomatorhinus horsfieldii) SDG
92. Jungle Babbler (Turdoides striatus) M
93. Quaker Babbler (Brown-cheeked Fulvetta) (Alcippe poioicephala) M
94. Blyth’s Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus dumetorum) TH,CM
95. Booted Warbler (Hippolais caligata) TH,KC,SDG,M
96. Common Tailorbird (Orthotomus sutorius) BR
97. Greenish Leaf-Warbler (Phylloscopus trochiloides) HD,CM,KC
98. Asian Brown Flycatcher (Muscicapa dauurica) SDG
99. Red-throated Flycatcher (Ficedula albicilla) M
100. Red-breasted Flycatcher (Ficedula parva) ? TH
101. Tickell’s Blue-Flycatcher (Cyornis tickelliae) M
102. Grey Tit (Parus major) TH,M
103. Black-lored Yellow Tit (Indian Yellow Tit) (Parus xanthogenys) M
104. Velvet-fronted Nuthatch (Sitta frontalis) KC,TY
105. Plain Flowerpecker (Dicaeum concolor) TH
106. Purple-rumped Sunbird (Nectarinia zeylonica) CM,KC,SDG
107. Small Sunbird (Nectarinia minima) KC,SDG
108. Purple Sunbird (Nectarinia asiatica) TH,CM,KC,SDG
109. Little Spiderhunter (Arachnothera longirostra) SDG
110. White-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus) TH,KC
111. Common Rosefinch (Carpodacus erythrinus) female? TH
112. White-rumped Munia (Lonchura striata) RP,M
113. Black-headed Munia (Lonchura Malacca) M
114. Spotted Munia (Lonchura punctulata) TH
115. Malabar White-headed Starling (Sturnus blythii) M
116. Brahminy Starling (Temenuchus pagodarum) HD
117. Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis) HD
118. Jungle Myna (Acridotheres fuscus) HD
119. Hill Myna (Gracula religiosa) SDG, M
120. Eurasian Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus) SDG,M
121. Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus) TH,M
122. Ashy Drongo (Dicrurus leucophaeus) HD,TY
123. White-bellied Drongo (Dicrurus caerulescens) TH,CM,M
124. Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus) TY,M
125. House Crow (Corvus splendens) HD
126. Jungle Crow (Corvus macrorhynchos) TH,BR,SDG

Chennai to Puducherry (pondicherry)

A short post here. I just wanted to share some images I took when we drove from Chennai to Pondicherry (ya, I still prefer the old name!) along the East Coast Road or ECR. We stayed at the Dune Resort which has an Eco friendly goal for one of those days.
If you do make this drive, make sure to add couple of hours to your drive time to do some bird watching along the way as there are a number of water bodies with good bird activity. The Black shouldered Kite gave us quite a treat hovering for several minutes before finally settling on a tree right next to our car! Western Reef Egret, Eurasian Curlew ( both first time for me) were also found in the water bodies. We found several shrub birds like sunbirds, prinias, rollers, bulbuls at the resort. Highlights were Lotens Sunbird, Shikra, Yellow billed babbler, Plain Prinia. On the way back we were lucky to see the Open-billed storks, Red-wattled Lapwings and Black winged stilts. Enjoy all the images at: