Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Falcon Visits, Again..

After spending an evening with the Shaheen Falcon last month, I was craving for another sighting. And better images. My wish came true!

Wednesday, the 17th of November was a holiday for Eid. At around 1 PM, I was scanning the building as usual and noticed the Falcon perched just two floors below, on a pipe again. A small boy playing in a balcony close by kept the bird occupied and it watched him with interest.

Noisy Pigeons, people walking in and out of their balconies, Pariah Kites gliding overhead - the Falcon had many things to keep itself occupied. It watched everything in the surroundings and occasionally glanced at me too. Meanwhile, it preened, a lot.

Unlike last time, the bird seemed very edgy and kept shifting positions. In a while, it relaxed and took a nap. I saw the bird's eyes shut for the first time!

A couple of streets away, some kids were bursting crackers and I noticed the bird jerk and move every time it heard a loud sound. It began preening and scratching again, just before taking off.

I was quite disappointed that I missed photographing the take-off again. Little did I realize that I was going to get luckier :)
In about 5 mins, the bird flew right back in and this time, it settled on a balcony very close by, on the same floor as mine.

As soon as it settled down there, it *pooped*. And I did manage to photograph that moment.

A Common Emigrant flying around caught its attention and it traced its flight. Its amazing how they can turn and twist the neck around without shifting their body or legs.

Once the Emigrant was gone, I became the subject of interest and it looked at me, curiously and stealthily at the same time.

After spending another 5 minutes perched on the balcony, the Falcon took off.. 

..swooped down..

..and was gone.

For the rest of the noon, I saw the bird circling around the building. Several attempts to photograph it in flight failed, thanks to the bird's speed and other obstructions. Towards evening, I saw it perched on a pipe, about 7 floors below. When I checked again at 5:30 PM, it was gone.

And now, I wait again :)

Details of Sighting -
Date : 17 November 2010
Time : 1:00 PM - 5:30 PM
Place : Arekere, Bannerghatta Road

 ** I own the copyright of all images. Please do not use them without my permission.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

New Blog Post Address

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The new URL is -

Please update it in your RSS/Reader settings and keep visiting :)

Thank you!!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Shaheen Falcon

A birding trip on the Sunday of 3rd October didn't prove to be very fruitful thanks to an overcast sky. I returned with just an image of a Pied Cuckoo, ranting over how the birds weren't kind to me that day. How wrong I was!

At around 5 in the evening, I stepped out to the balcony in my residence at Arekere, Bannerghatta Road and found a bird perched amidst some pipes, five floors below. I couldn't ID the bird, so I photographed the bird right away, before it could take off. 

A quick look through the bird book and I knew it could either be a Peregrine/Shaheen Falcon or an Oriental Hobby. While the Shaheen Falcon is a breeding resident all over the country, the Oriental Hobby is a resident only in the NE and the Himalayas. The lack of streaks on the breast and belly of the bird caused some amount of confusion.

I messaged a couple of friends, desperate to confirm the ID. While I waited to hear from them, I watched the bird's behavior. It spent a lot of time just sitting still, at times its eyes were closed too and it seemed to be taking a short nap. In the interim, the bird also kept preening.

When I described the bird's colors to a friend, he said it could be a Shaheen Falcon. Though there was a stronger possibility of the bird being a Shaheen Falcon, an Oriental Hobby has been sighted here in Bangalore a decade ago, so the possibility couldn't be ruled out. I processed a couple of images and mailed them to get a better idea of the bird species.

Meanwhile, the bird continued to groom itself. I found it scratching and then fluffing its feathers. It also *pooped* a couple of times. It seemed as if the bird had fed and was taking some time off from flying. Loud and large groups of Pigeons didn't disturb it, neither did a bunch of Black Kites hovering above.

Thanks to the bad viewing angle, it became quite difficult to judge the size of the bird, but I was quite sure it was a little larger than a Shikra and an Oriental Hobby would have been smaller. A year ago, during the months of September - October, my Father had photographed a similar bird in the building, perched on a bicycle, 6 floors below. The image was from a point and shoot camera, with about 3x optical zoom. He remembers how crows tried to mob the bird and it took off, like a jet.

More discussions with friends and it was confirmed that the bird is a Shaheen Falcon (Falco peregrinus peregrinator), an Indian subspecies of the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus). 
The bird spent more than 40 minutes on the perch and then quietly bid adieu, its a pity I missed the take-off.

And now, I wait for the Falcon to make its next visit..

Friday, August 13, 2010

Birds of Corbett

Corbett National Park is the oldest national park in India and has a wide variety of flora and fauna. The critically endangered Royal Bengal Tiger rules the jungle here and that has converted this national park into a popular ecotourism destination. However, the park has over 580 species of birds alone. Here are some of the birds I photographed in my recent visit to the park.

Indian Roller or Blue Jay (Coracias benghalensis) is a beautiful, bright bird and is the state bird of 4 states – Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa. The Roller gets its name from the aerobatic display the male puts up with its twists and turns during the breeding season. The birds have an assortment of colors like bright blue, turquoise, indigo and white on their wings and are a visual treat in flight. They are commonly seen in open grasslands, scrub forests and are often perched on dead trees and electric lines. They are easily one of the most photogenic birds around.

Chestnut-tailed Starling (Sturnia malabarica) is a member of the Starling family of birds. A sub species exists in the Western Ghats which has a white head. These Starlings are omnivorous and feed on insects, nectar and fruits. Like most Starlings, these birds fly in a tight flock and have the ability to change directions rapidly with perfect synchrony.

Crested Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela) is a bird of prey that is found widely across many different habitats in India. In comparison to other large raptors, the bird is fairly medium-sized. They hunt for snakes and lizards by flying over the forest canopy. They usually make nests close to a water body. These eagles have a prominent yellow eye and are a treat to watch and photograph.

White-rumped Shama (Copsychus malabaricus) was earlier known as the Shama Thrush. The bird is a melodious singer and has a rich, clear voice. It is also known to mimic other birds often. While photographing this bird, I recall how it kept singing. When other birds joined in, the Shama began to mimic songs and calls, including that of the Common Hawk Cuckoo, or the Brain-Fever bird! They are mainly insectivorous birds. During the breeding season, the female builds the nest in the hollow of a tree, while the male stands guard.

Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis) is a common bird and can be found in various habitats like grasslands, scrub jungles and even away from water. They have vibrant colors and when perched together, they make a colorful sight. As the name suggests, Bee-eaters mainly feed on bees, wasps, ants and dragonflies. A Bee-eater repeatedly thrashes the prey on a branch to remove the sting from its prey before feeding on it.

For more images from Corbett, visit my Flickr page.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Kuala Lumpur Tower

The Kuala Lumpur Tower or the Menara Kuala Lumpur is the 18th tallest freestanding tower in the world. Its construction was completed in 1994. The tower appears to be taller than the Petronas Twin Towers as it is built on a hill, putting its height at 515m above sea level.

The antennae on the tower reaches up to 421 m or 1381 ft. That makes it the 5th tallest telecommunication tower in the world. It is built to withstand wind pressure of up to 90mph.

Malaysia takes its tourists and tourism very seriously. The Kuala Lumpur tower is a mini-tourist spot and one can easily spend 3-4 hours at the tower. The tower is built on a hill called Bukit Nanas which has a thick tree cover with many birds. You can take a guided tour around the forest. The tourism department has also built a Malaysian village with small houses. It looks like a film set and is maintained very well. They also have dance performances every 30 minutes or so.


On the observation deck, you will be given a mini display with earphones. Every window in the deck is numbered. Choose the language of your choice on the display, head to the correct window and you can listen to a description of what you are seeing outside.

The views from the observation deck are breathtaking. You can get a bird's eye view of the city of Kuala Lumpur. 

While traveling through the city, its hard not to notice and appreciate how well the tree cover has been protected. The city has a perfect balance of modern infrastructure and greenery.

Standing at the top of this tower, I realized how green the city is and why its one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

There is a free shuttle service available to go uphill and downhill. Do use it when you make a visit there.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A quest for vegetarian food...

There are some basic necessities of life. Air, Water, Food, Clothes, Internet. Okay, the last one is debatable, but you wouldn't be reading this without the Internet, right? Anyway, for a vegetarian like me, the necessities read thus - Air, Water, Vegetarian Food, Clothes etc. So, when I was going to land in a city like Kuala Lumpur, I thought, its not like I am going to Beijing. Its just KL which has a large population of Indians and Malay-Tamilians. Vegetarian food must be available everywhere. How wrong I was!

After eating some bad food on board Malaysian Airlines, I thought it would be best to make up for it with a heavy breakfast in the morning. Travel weary, sleepy, jet-lagged and time-zoned, I spent the entire day sleeping at the hotel. A growling tummy woke me up at 4pm. It was time to get out and explore the city. A roadside eatery near the hotel had Indian customers and Tamil speaking waiters. After washing down masala dosa with tasty coffee we headed out to get our first impression of KL. Bukit Bintang is a busy downtown area of the city, filled with small and large shopping malls, roadside shops, cafes and foot massage centers. To beat the humidity, we ended up spending the evening inside BB Plaza, Sungai Wang Plaza and the Pavilion. Some crazy shoe-shopping perked up our appetite, there began our quest for vegetarian food.

The food court had a variety of cuisines and some extremely weird looking food, but no vegetarian food on any of the menus, which were mostly unreadable anyway. A bolt of optimism struck me when I saw KFC and McDonalds hidden away in a far corner of the mall. They should have vegetarian burgers on their menu right? I checked the menu and didn't find any mentioned. Here's what happened next.

I walk up to the lady at the counter in McDonalds and ask her if they have vegetarian burgers.
She looks surprised, asks me to repeat my question.
I repeat my question, slowly.
Her eyes widen, almost popping out. She looks at me head to toe, probably to ensure that I am not an alien.
(P.S. I think she's trying to see if ET will peek out of my backpack.)
She asks me if I want to eat eggs.
I say no, I don't want eggs. I am looking for a burger without egg, without meat.
Her eyes will now fall out any moment.
She excuses herself and runs to a colleague in the next counter, who turns out to be the supervisor.
They discuss in hush-hush tones, occasionally pointing a finger at me.
(P.S. Thanks to her expressions, all on-lookers are now convinced that I asked her for her kidney.)
The supervisor then walks up to me and explains that they don't make vegetarian burgers. But, eureka! They have French Fries, which is vegetarian!
Would I like to order Fries and Coke?

This happened to me several times over the next 5 days. Every time I asked for vegetarian food, I was greeted with looks that varied from disbelief, shock, surprise, sympathy and occasionally all the way to disgust.

That night, we gave up on the hunt for food inside the mall. Walking around the streets of Bukit Bintang, we came across a 'restoran' called Srirekha. It was a simple Indian restaurant with some real tasty food. The masala dosa I ate there is one of the best I've ever eaten. No, I am not exaggerating when I say this. A plate of thair-sadam to go with it, followed by some ice-cream completed the dinner. Other memorable meals in Bintang were at a Pakistani restaurant and at Outback inside the Pavilion. Subway was a savior, thanks to their concept of food customization. Ironically, we discovered a restaurant that advertised South Indian style plantain leaf meals on the day we were supposed to return.

Stay at the hotel included breakfast, needless to say, it was eggs and sausages. The waitress and the cook didn't understand the concept of bread/toast. So, breakfast every morning was at the same eatery - dosa, coffee and/or Thai coconuts. Now, these Thai coconuts were huge, the water sugary sweet and the coconut pulp was creamy and soft. For the heat and humidity in KL, they made for a perfect post-breakfast drink. Since we would travel around the city all day, the same exercise of hunting for places with vegetarian food had to be repeated many times. Apart from the meal at Srirekha, vegetarian food was mostly mediocre and quite expensive. The non-vegetarians in the group had a great time trying out different Malayan dishes and some Chinese food. They had many stories of frog soup, octopus, squid and some other 'exotic' types of meat.

Here's a travel tip for all vegetarians making a visit to KL. Browse through travel websites and make a list of places that serve vegetarian food. Keep it with you while you travel around the city and look-up places as and when you need to eat. The locals are very helpful and friendly, so you can ask for directions.

Back in Bangalore, I was waiting to get back home and gorge on the hot rice and rasam mum had prepared. A huge hoarding with an advertisement for Taco Bell greeted me as soon as I drove out of the airport. My eyes and brain, seasoned to look for the keywords 'vegetarian food' on any hoarding in KL, scanned this board too. And then I realized I was back home.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Chail - A Photo Feature

Chail, in Himachal Pradesh once served as the summer capital of the state of Patiala. It is situated at an altitude of 2250m above sea level and is higher than Shimla.

Chail is surrounded by forests of chir pine and deodars. The hills overlook the Sutlej valley. Shimla and Kasauli can be seen from here at night.

The Chail Palace, constructed by Maharaja Bhupinder Singh in 1891, is beautiful and elegant. The furnishing and decor have been maintained well through the years and it now serves as the Palace Hotel. 

The Palace has lush green spacious lawns. It is easily one of the best places to stay if you are looking to spend a night in Chail. 

There is a cricket ground and a polo ground in Chail. At 2444m, it has the highest cricket pitch in the world.

Long winding roads, untouched landscapes, chirping birds and a chilly breeze constantly accompany you as you walk around the town. Needless to say that the town is best explored on foot.

A book, a hammock, a drink in your hand and a camera by your side. This is all you will need to savour the feel of this picturesque town completely.

The next time you are looking for a quiet holiday up in the hills, head to Chail.

Monday, January 4, 2010