Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Unsung and Unheard

Some decisions are tough. More so when it involves walking through a dense jungle in the dark night, just to check on the sound of tree felling. One could step on a snake, slip on a rock or fall into a pit, and this is elephant – tiger country. Narrating how they walked a couple of kilometers in the middle of the night, Forest Officer Prabhuswamy recalled how they couldn’t even turn on the torch, for they could end up alerting timber smugglers about their presence. He, along with a couple of other watchers - Jayendra and Soma - recently caught a few timber smugglers. These courageous men don’t have a choice to make these decisions. It is their job, their call of duty and come what may, they will protect their home – the jungle.

40 year old Jayendra, a native of Coorg, joined the forest department as a MR (muster roll) Watcher in 1987. He continues to be an MR Watcher in 2011, with no hope of ever being promoted as a permanent watcher. Every morning, armed with a rifle and a wireless phone, he sets off with two other guards to patrol the forest and visit all the sensitive areas – forest state borders, caves and waterholes. He can get two days off once in ten days and he uses this time to visit his family in Bandipur town. His children attend school there and like all other guards, he is worried that with lack of guidance, his children too will drop out of school by the time they reach the 8th grade. 

46 year old Soma, on the other hand, is a PCP (Petty Cash Payment) watcher and joined the department 11 years ago. His young daughter was married off to the first suitable match last year, Soma says wanted to reduce his burden. He is on the same lines as a daily wage worker and is aware that he will never be added to the muster roll, he belongs to the pool of lakhs of such PCP workers across different government departments and their fate hangs on a pending bill in the parliament.  

Across 11 ranges and 38 anti poaching camps in Bandipur, there are around 250 PCP watchers and 57 MR watchers. All of them share the same plight as Jayendra and Soma, and some, worse. Their work is anything but hard, it is somewhere much beyond that - walking for an average of 15-17 kilometers each day, battling forest fires, helping villagers chase away elephants that enter fields in the fringe areas, taking on poachers and timber smugglers, to mention a few. Job insecurity, tough working conditions and the fact that they live deep in the jungle, isolated from the world and far away from their families doesn’t help the situation. These problems are magnified in the summer when the heat reaches its peak and the forest runs dry; and in the monsoon when incessant rains take over the landscape. Unappreciated, insecure and demotivated, they truly are THE unsung heroes. 

The APC (Anti-poaching Camp) we visited is one of the better ones, there is a concrete structure with a proper roof, a separate chamber to store supplies and a trench around the cottage to keep the elephants at bay. It has an approachable road and the forest department jeeps can access the APC with ease. A tiny bulb hangs there, powered by a solar panel on the roof. However, things 
that we take for granted, like water supply and toilets are still a luxury. The hand pump of a bore well installed there was damaged by an elephant, so water has to be supplied in forest department jeeps, 45 liters once in three days.  But, there are many APCs in interior parts of the jungle that are not easily accessible, especially in the monsoon. In such places, forest guards still live under leaking roofs, without electricity. 

Mr Hanumanthappa, the DCF of the Bandipur range says that the living conditions of forest guards have largely improved since Project Tiger came to Bandipur - funding improved, uniforms and shoes were distributed, salaries became regular and food supplies increased. They are now given nutritious food and food provision has been increased from Rs 20 to Rs 40 per day. They now have enough rations for two meals a day and have been provided bags and water bottles to help them carry food when they go out for their daily patrols. The DCF pointed out that the guards need binoculars, jackets and umbrellas. The fire fighting staff require shoes, knives, torches and some masks to protect their faces from the fire and smoke. He has been trying to procure these items for his staff.

The forest department maintains a list with data of unemployed youth from local villages and contacts them when they need to increase their workforce. Some children of forest guards have also joined the forest department in similar roles. But, given the working conditions of these guards, their children have no motivation to take up jobs within the forest department, which has resulted in a huge shortage of staff. Outsiders will not last in this jungle, he says.

Yes, this also means that guards in any forest range which is not a Tiger Reserve don’t receive salaries for months. They live in very bad accommodation and patrol the jungles in rubber slippers, armed with a stick. Most of these guards are tribesman or locals from the fringes of the forest, with excellent knowledge of the jungle. They can track and guess human/animal movements in the jungle through a broken branch or footprints, information that can be very valuable to a poacher. There is always a threat of loss of loyalty. Vital information could leak out either innocently or for monetary gain. Some sort of commitment or attachment to a forest officer is the only factor that keeps them going.

Many NGOs have arranged general health check-up camps and provided first aid kits. The guards did admit to us that they don't know what medicines to use, as many of them can't read. Some guards from local tribes are not comfortable wearing shoes but wearing uniforms motivates all of them, they said.

The Kumble Foundation is working towards providing long-term solutions to some of these core issues. With an aim to improve the general health condition of the forest guards, they have collected details of health and medical support requirements. They intend to set up a group insurance for all the guards including temporary employees. Proposals have been made to the government too. Diinesh Kumble says, they are keen on supporting children of forest guards so that they can get vocational training, guidance and counselling once they complete their basic education. The Foundation is also looking for genuine requirements of assistance for higher education on a merit basis. The Jumbo Wildlife Award and Jumbo Fund have been set up with an initiative to reward wildlife champions and recognize the contribution of forest staff, researchers, NGOs and civil servants towards conservation. 

In a jungle that has a rich diversity of species and is constantly in the spotlight with three states fighting over some space on the highway, it was eye-opening to meet the heroes who run the show silently. A vehicle passes by this road every 47 seconds, lakhs of people traverse the road every day. Yet, the tale of these guards is mostly untold. They desire very little - appreciation, security, family time ... and a ear if you can lend one, for, they have a story to tell. 

P.S Thank you Diinesh Kumble and Shreyas Jayakumar for facilitating this meet.

Banded and Branded

We were busy looking for Treepies and Trogons when the call came. A King Cobra had been sighted in a farm and the residents of a nearby house wanted it to be relocated to the forest. The ARRS team was off to rescue and release the King. Did we want to go along and watch? Yes, we said. A huge YES.

Belagundi is a quaint, pretty village a little away from Bidri, about 25kms from Agumbe. As we drove down the ghats, we saw Prashant, Ajay and Dheeraj stop to pick up a semi-dead Ornate Flying Snake from the road. It was a heart-rending sight to watch the tiny, beautiful snake wriggling on the road. Its slender body had been crushed by a vehicle. We drove on, the Seetanadi river flowing along the road, lush green forests and areca plantations dotted the landscape. At Belagundi, we got off the vehicle and walked into a field, a small group of 10 odd people had gathered there, mostly local residents and some workers of the farm. They led us to a tiny stream by the edge of the farm and pointed at the location where the King had been resting the last two days, but now, only the tip of the tail was visible, the King had moved into some shrubs by the stream.

As the ARRS team moved around, to get a better view of the King, it struck me that these people had waited two full days to call and ask for help after they spotted the King. There was a house about 50 metres away from where the King had been spotted, there were children in that house. Yet, they waited, patiently, without disturbing their guest. Moreover, everyone there was concerned that the King could be injured as they didn't see it move around at all. Prashant explained that it is a possibility, or, it might be resting after a heavy meal - a big rat snake maybe? They would be able to confirm only after they see the King in its entirety. The concern they had for the King's well-being was touching. My heart swells with pride when I think of how tolerant and respectful these folks were about wildlife. 

The King Cobra is worshipped in these parts, these people revere the snake. They will cause no harm to the longest, most venomous snake in the world.

Once they were able to locate the exact position of the King, they got to work. First, they cleared up the area where they would eventually bring the King out of the shrubs, so that they don't have any obstructions. All tiny bushes were removed, working space had been created. The team advised everyone watching to maintain a safe distance, not move around and maintain silence. While one person kept a constant watch on the head of the King, another held the tail and with a mild jerk, prodded the snake to move.

The King moved and we could now see more of its body, but no one had a clue of the actual length and size yet. More nudging, coaxing, pulling and the King was finally out. I gasped aloud, but I wasn't alone - a collective gasp from the crowd greeted an irritated King. A glinting blackest-black body with golden-bronze bands and a rich yellow underbelly, the 10 foot long juvenile male was a stunner, albeit in a compromised position at that moment.

He constantly flicked his tongue and moved around, clearly trying to find a way out of this ugly situation. Accuse me of being anthropomorphic, but who wouldn't get intimidated, scared and angry if they were being taken captive? Prashant held on to the tail, a tight grip and his attention was entirely on the movements of the snake. Dheeraj tried to cover the head of the snake with a bag that had an opening like a net, so that the snake would be forced to slither in and could be captured.

The first couple of attempts to get the King in the bag didn't work and that's when he started showing signs of agitation. He raised his hood and that magnificient pose is something I will remember all my life. The crowd watching this capture was enveloped in silence, no one moved, all the murmuring died down.

And then it happened, the King bared his fangs.

A sight that filled me with amazement, fear, respect, worry - all at once. Amazement, because I've always associated sights like these with Austin Steven's documentaries. Fear, well, the image explains it all. The King would not give up and go down, he would fight his way through this, Respect. Once released, would it find a safe spot away from human intervention? Would it be able to survive on its own in a new place? Worry.

Prashant and Dheeraj were finally able to coax the King into the bag. Once the snake was in, a knot was secured, ready to be relocated. They worked together as a team with superb precision and composure.

The King was then weighed and he turned out to be 8.9 kilograms. We all headed back towards the nearby forest patch, adjoining the Someshwara Wildlife Sanctuary. After ensuring that the habitat was perfect for the King Cobra and that it was a safe distance away from any human intervention, the snake was released in the forest.

A relatively simpler task now - the knot was removed, some coaxing and the King headed out of the bag into its new home, or maybe it was the same old home, we will never know.

Once he was out of the bag, he moved away, graciously, down the forest path and into the leaf litter far away from us.

The entire rescue-release operation was carried out very professionally by the ARRS team. They were meticulous and followed all procedures to the last detail. Prashant said this was one of their simpler, easier rescues. Now, try and imagine a King being rescued from a well, or from a house. Goosechills. 

The love-hate relationship between humans and snakes is something we all see everyday around us. A Rat Snake in the local park gets mistaken for a venomous snake and is beaten up by an angry mob. An Indian Cobra that wanders into a township meets the same fate. Russel's Vipers get crushed under wheels all the time. Snakes are seen as bad and dangerous creatures, as villians. For most people, the first instinct upon seeing a snake is 'kill it'. Ironically, snakes are worshiped by almost all communities through the length and the breadth of the country. Yet, when the same people encounter a live one, things change drastically. Numerous and varied religious superstitions - mostly negative ones - about snakes definitely don't help the situation. 

On many occasions, people take the help of trained/experienced snake rescuers, who capture these snakes and release them in nearby jungles. The snakes live to see another day, but it is impossible to say that these relocated snakes survive. In a new, unknown location, with no idea of what kind of prey is available, disoriented, many snakes perish. If they do manage to find food, they need to deal with other resident snakes, who may not be too kind to their new visitor. So, the snakes are at the receiving end, always.

We can only hope that with more awareness, humans will start treating snakes with the respect they deserve and will let them live. We need these beautiful creatures, the ecosystem needs them, to maintain a balance. They don't need us.

P.S. Thanks Arati Rao for the title!

** I own the copyright to all the images in this post. Please do not re-use any of these images without my permission.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The King And I

I wrote this as a guest post for Prashanth's blog Payaniga upon its five year completion. It then appeared in the Clay blog too. Now, its here. 

My first memory of Agumbe is from a school trip to the Western Ghats. I was in class 8 and the famous Agumbe sunset was to be the highlight of the trip. Heavy rains and a landslide played spoilsport that year and Agumbe was moved to the ‘visit someday’ list. 15 years later, my wish came true. Dilan Mandanna, popularly known as Mandy, was going to organise a two day trip, with accommodation arrangements at the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS). I simply had to sign up. I could finally put my newly acquired macro lens to some good use. After a successful leopard-tiger-elephant-hornbill-falcon sighting in Kabini the same week, I was looking to achieve nirvana with a sighting of the King.

Agumbe is a beautiful little village that sits on a plateau on top of the Someshwara Ghat, 643 meters above sea level. Surrounded by luscious green rainforests, it is known as ‘Cherrapunji of the South’ for a reason, it gets an annual rainfall of up to 11,000 mm. Agumbe is home to all the Western Ghats rainforest species of trees, mammals, birds, insects, frogs and snakes. However, the regal King Cobra, the world’s longest venomous snake is the King of the jungle in these parts.

A mad dash across the Majestic bus stand and a rickety 10 hour bus drive took me to a very rainy and wet Agumbe early in the morning. It had rained there all night. Aching muscles were forgotten the second Mandy announced that he had seen a male King the previous evening and was quite sure we’d be able to see him again. After dumping our bags and donning leech socks, we headed out to find the King.

His Highness was resting there, by the side of the forest path, right outside the bushes - 10 feet long, a rich brown, his scales glistening with raindrops, body all curved up as if to camouflage the inimitable length. He had devoured a heavy meal the previous evening and didn’t seem too keen to move, he just kept a watchful eye on us. In all my imagination, I had envisioned the King to be a spectacular snake, but nothing could have prepared me for this sighting. Goose bumps. Breathlessness. Loss of speech. Fear. Respect. I felt a mix of everything. I just stood there, gaping, with my mouth open. The beauty of the King is incomparable. The sound of a camera shutter next to me brought me back to reality, I had a camera in my hand to make an attempt to freeze this moment. Photographing the King is humbling, you are fully aware that you can do no justice in saving that intimidating stare for posterity, yet, you just go click-click-click.

The King Cobra has a striking distance of 2 m, around 7 feet, they are fast and agile. When threatened, the King raises its upper portion of the body, around 4-5 feet, so it basically looks at you straight in the eye and gives out a hiss that’s almost a growl, before doing its business. But, the King doesn’t like to bite. As much as possible, they avoid confrontation, they bite only when cornered or provoked. Before I forget, there is no antidote to a King Cobra bite.

ARRS was set up by Romulus Whitaker and has been operational since 2005. Many herpetologists, conservationists and researchers work on their projects based out of this research station. ARRS helps out in King Cobra rescues around the region. Though King Cobras are revered, they’re prone to some harm from humans when they venture into human settlements. Among many other projects, the King Cobra Radio Telemetry Project is currently operational here. With the help of telemetry, the researchers study snake movements. They record daily and seasonal activity patterns of King Cobras which helps in understanding their behaviour and eventually, in conserving this flagship species. The ARRS has a common dining area and common bathrooms. Serve your own food, wash your plates, don’t leave behind any plastic and give the staff their space to work is the way of life if you are a visitor.

It kept raining the entire day and we headed out to look for the King’s courtiers. A Green Vine Snake clung to a twig, completely camouflaged. Our presence brought out the black and white under its scales, a sign of aggravation.

A Malabar Pit Viper sat pretty in the bamboo, only a watchful eye can spot it, the shiny yellow scales give it away. It curls up into an S shape, defensive, its striking position.

A few steps ahead, an incredibly cute baby Nilgiri Keelback (Beddome’s Keelback) greeted us.

At every step we met wondrous new creatures - frogs, caterpillars, dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies.

caterpillar of a moth belonging to the Limacodidae or Euclidae family

The flora and fauna is so rich that you can spend an entire day photographing things at a single spot and you would still not be done with it.

A Malabar Trogon called for its partner, Yellow Browed Bulbuls zipped past our head. A Paris Peacock skimmed along, a Red Helen followed course. A Malabar Giant Squirrel dropped half eaten figs on our heads. A Crested Serpent Eagle called, gliding high up in the sky. I was in paradise.

Red Helens

Red Pierrot

White Bellied Treepies called out to us, so did Malabar Grey Hornbills. We went crawling across a huge field to shoot Malabar Larks and they took off before we got our best shots.

One evening, we made a trip to the Jogi Gundi falls. We walked under trees that made us feel like we are a few cms long, climbed over fallen trees, stepped over rocks, slipped down some leaf litter and reached a lovely waterfall with creamy white water gushing down the rocks. 

Green colored moss-laden rocks, wild orchids, lizards and frogs added to the beauty of the scene.

Micrixalus saxicola

And leeches. They were everywhere, crawling up our leech socks till we flicked them away, on our bags, cameras, there’s no getting away from them. The only way to not let them bother you is by not paying them any attention, alas, I am yet to reach that stage. I’ve had my share of experiences with leeches in Valparai, but the sheer number of leeches here was distracting. Much to the amusement of everybody in the group, a leech made its way to my camera neck-tag and then on to my cheek and gave me a peck before I managed to flick it away. As morbid as it sounds, yes, I’ve been kissed by a leech!

It was a cloudy, rainy day and we didn’t expect to see the Sun set, but we still went along to the sunset point to check out the view. As expected, the clouds had taken over the valley and every time they drifted apart, I tried to get a couple of images. Finally, the shy Sun made a brief appearance before the clouds took over completely.

If you are staying at the ARRS, a night walk is a must. Agumbe is an entirely different person at night. It gets insanely dark and all kinds of creatures are up and about. Armed with torches, we set out to look for snakes, scorpions, tarantulas and frogs. One of the first things we heard was a female Sri Lanka Frogmouth calling and we followed its call for quite some time before we spotted the elusive beauty. Mandy told us that no Frogmouth images had ever been made in Agumbe, our records of the sighting would be the first.

Typical to rainforests, you can find exotic fungi at every step.

A vine snake was hanging around the evening before we left, it bid us adieu.

It was pack-up time already. We drove past ‘Dodda Mane’, Malgudi Days was filmed here and the ancient bungalow was the home of the endearing little Swami. On the way back to the ugly urban jungle, I promised myself that I would return to Agumbe, for a longer trip, knowing that no amount of time spent here can be enough. 

Until then and forever, there’s one image that will remain etched in my mind from this wonderful trip. 

The King’s stare.

** Please do not re-use any of these images without my permission.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Flora from Ganeshgudi

When I asked Karthik to help me identify some species of flora I had photographed at Ganeshgudi, he helped me out, as always. Also, he suggested that I should read up about these species online and write a short post on them. Here it is.

Wagatea spicata / Moullava spicata --

Commonly known as the Candy Corn Plant, it is a robust creeper known to grow 5-20 m long. It belongs to the Gulmohar family Caesalpiniaceae. It is a native species and flowers all through the year. The specimen I photographed was quite high up and I happened to notice it thanks to a Black Lored Tit and a Greenish Warbler that kept hopping around the flowers. 
Colorful, bright flowers appear at the end of branches, between 30-60 cms in length. The flowers are scarlet and yellow in color and do not open. Pods are oblong and hard. Leaves are double pinnate and each leaf has 5-7 pairs of leaflets. The roots of W.spicata are known to be used to treat pneumonia and tuberculosis. In Kannada, this plant is called 'gajjigaballi'.

Calycopteris floribunda --

Commonly known as the Paper Flower Climber, it is a large climbing shrub upto 5-10 meters long and has vines that are 2-4 inches in diameter. Some sections of the vine store water and forest dwellers are known to depend on this vine for water during the dry summer season. This species is largely found in the low-lying tropical evergreen forests of the Western Ghats. It is a native species and flowers all through the year. It bears grey bark and tenuous branches with thick fluff on the surface. Flowers appear in dense clusters at the end of the branches and are bright green in color. 
At Ganeshgudi, we always spotted Scarlet Minivets amidst these flowers. The mix of yellow-scarlet-black-green made for a delightful sight.

The leaves have medicinal qualities and are used as laxatives to clear intestinal worms. The fruits too are used to treat jaundice, ulcers and skin diseases. 

Entada --

Entada is a genus of flowering plants from the pea family Fabaceae. These creepers have long stemmed, thick, woody vines that grow vertically to reach out to the canopy so that they can access more light. 
What sets these creepers apart are seed pods - the sheer size of the seed pods will grab your attention even amongst dense canopy. The first time I noticed an Entada creeper was in the Bhadra Tiger reserve. I remember, the seed pods were atleast 2 feet long!

Many plants of the Entada species are known to have medicinal properties and some of the seeds are sought after as pieces of jewellery and good-luck charms.

Until next time, here are some first flush of leaves basking in the early morning Sun.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


A sleepless night. Departure at 3.15AM. The highway mostly empty, except for huge trucks. Brightly lit up toll booths. Fleeting lights from villages and towns. 120 kmph on the speedometer. Trance and house music to keep up with the momentum. A well-laid out NH4. The journey to Ganeshgudi had only begun.

Considering the number of people who'd told me that Ganeshgudi is to a birder what Disneyland is to a 10 year old, it had been on the 'must visit' list for a long time. When Alexis and Neha graciously offered to take me along on a trip they had planned, I finally had the opportunity to check Ganeshgudi off the list (and add it to the 'visit again' list of course). At around 500 kms from Bangalore, Ganeshgudi is insanely far. While researching on the route and traveling options, we decided that driving would be the best choice. Since it would be a very long drive, Alexis decided to get his driver along. 

National Highway 4 is in excellent condition and is well suited for a long drive. The landscapes on either side change by the second. Cotton fields and open barren land alternate with sunflower fields. A lush green Davangere kicks in out of the blue, brick making units convert the landscape to a bright red here and there. Ranebennur has the typical arid dry grassland habitat, Chitradurga is brown and rocky. The highway doesn't have good pitstops, there are very few places to eat or rest. 

After a failed attempt to get 'benne dose' at Davangere - apparently none of the restaurants there serve breakfast before 8:30AM - we stuck to tomato sandwiches prepared by Neha for breakfast. Luck struck twice and we were caught at two railway crossings, trucks lined up in order next to us. If only city-folk could learn a thing or two from them.

Birding was effortless, it began as soon as the Sun came up and we were well past Chitradurga by then. A Black Shouldered Kite being chased by a perky Crow, rows of Laughing Doves on the wires, Drongos busy finding their first meal, Peafowl pecking at the soil in a field - they all gave us company in the long drive. As we turned off the NH4 into SH1 towards Tadas, a lake bustling with birds came into sight - Cotton Pygmy Goose, Lesser Whistling Ducks, Spot Billed Ducks, Great Egrets, Painted Storks, Pond Herons, Coots, Swamp Hens.

Cotton Pygmy Goose -- Male (L) & Female (R)

As we photographed a pair of hovering Pied Kingfishers, a very curious Spotted Owlet couple kept a watch on us. They jumped up and down the branches, with bobbing heads, bulging eyes, extremely wary, yet, very eager to befriend us. The scene was so delightful that I can play it out entirely in my mind even now.

Spotted Owlet

A Crested Serpent Eagle hovered over the fields by the highway.

Crested Serpent Eagle

With some excellent navigation by Alexis, who referred to the route mentioned on the Jungle Lodges site and Google Maps on the phone, we reached the resort by 11AM, 8 hours later. From Bangalore, we took the NICE Road towards Tumkur and then drove through Chitradurga, Davangere, Haveri, Tadas, Kalghatgi, Haliyal to reach Ganeshgudi. The Old Magazine House resort at Ganeshgudi is a property run by Jungle Lodges and Resorts. Surrounded by a thick moist deciduous forest, it is located on the Londa-Dandeli road. There are 5 cottages and a dormitory that can accommodate up to 20 people. The dining area is located on the roof of a charming bungalow, the Old Magazine House, in which ammunition was once stored during the construction of the nearby Supa dam.

As I got off the car, a Malabar Tree Nymph floated past, with its tantalizing flight, as an indication of the exotic birds and butterflies we were to sight in the next two days. This beauty had eluded my camera in Valparai and had just managed to do that again, for my hands were full of bags! I had only dumped my bags in the room, Alexis called out, he'd spotted a Rat Snake behind my cottage and Neha had just spotted a Scorpion scuttling away. It was a wild world there.

There are many birding spots in the resort, the best spots being the dining area and the bird baths below. A group of noisy Dark Fronted Babblers make their way to the bird bath. A shy pair of Chestnut Tailed Starlings await their turn, slowly hopping down the bamboo. White-bellied Blue Flycatchers, Oriental Magpie Robins, Blue-capped Rock Thrushes and Emerald Doves, all followed suit.

Emerald Dove

Chestnut Tailed Starling

Oriental Magpie Robin -- Female

Malabar Pied Hornbills flew about, high up in the canopy, an occasional one perching on one of the tall trees.

Malabar Pied Hornbills

In the evening, the naturalist at the camp Joma, led us on a steep, exhaustive walk up the hill. We trudged up, gasping for breath and saw a sight that literally took our breath (or whatever was left of it) away. Sepia toned still waters kissed the edges of hills. Thick clouds enveloped the Sun, creating a haze that obscured most of the hills in the distance.

Everything was aglow in the evening light - the Brahminy Kite that drifted along, its flight taken care of by the strong wind; Langurs on top of the canopy; Malabar Pied Hornbills finding that perfect perch to roost before the night ahead - they were all lit up.

We settled down to watch the sunset, quite a spectacular one it was. If not for all the haze, I think I would have been able to make better images.

As the Sun went lower, the Brahminy Kite glided past. A mix of white and golden brown one minute and turning into a pretty silhouette in the next. And then it kissed the Sun goodbye.

We walked back downhill, the leaf litter making the entire path very slippery. My mandatory slip-and-fall happened too. A male Sri Lanka Frogmouth called out and we began to track it with our torches. We followed its call and spotted it in the dense foliage, five minutes later. Back at the resort, we sat at the bonfire, listening to male and female Frogmouths calling out to each other with their distinct, loud calls. Dinner was simple and tasty. The cook had prepared the yummiest tomato soup in the world, I am not joking when I say that!

While you are in the Western Ghats, you don't need an alarm clock, a Malabar Whistling Thrush will wake you up, which is what happened the next morning. One started whistling right next to my cottage early in the morning, it woke me up and then soothed me back to sleep. I remember, there were three Thrushes on the second morning, each one sang a different tune, interspersed with each other's songs. Oh, how I love this bird!

While birding activity was relatively quiet in the evenings, a flying frenzy took place in the mornings, there were birds everywhere. This was the peak of the mating/breeding season and all birds were as active as they can be. A Heart Spotted Woodpecker called out as it whizzed past; White Browed Bulbuls sang their garbled songs; Puff Throated Babblers sang aloud; Malabar Grey Hornbills gave a fleeting glimpse of their flying finesse; Scarlet Minivets and Bronzed Drongos were busy in their mixed hunting flocks. A Barking Deer made a brief appearance one morning near the resort gate.

Scarlet Minivet -- Female

Nearby, a Malabar Giant Squirrel clucked loudly, busy feeding on everything in sight.

Malabar Giant Squirrel

An Asian Fairy Bluebird sat pretty, though we saw it several times we never heard its lovely call during the trip. A male Malabar Trogon made a rare appearance on the second day, so did a very shy Orange Headed Thrush. One sight I will remember for a long time is how three Racket Tailed Drongos chased a Common Kestrel. Other flagship Western Ghats species we saw were Ruby Throated Bulbuls, Little Spiderhunters, Forest Wagtails, Crimson Sunbirds, Vernal Hanging Parrots and Chestnut Headed Bee Eaters. A courting pair of Emerald Doves were a delightful sight, they would strut around on the ground all day long. 

Emerald Dove

Apart from Blue Mormons, Southern Birdwings and many other butterflies, we saw Chestnut-Streaked Sailers quite often.

Chestnut-streaked Sailer

This was also the weekend during which the unimaginable happened, India won the Cricket World Cup. The staff had set up a small television in a hall that houses rafting equipment. Sri Lanka's batting session was mostly boring and we went out for some birding. During India's batting session, Joma asked us if we would like to see Tarantulas and we headed out with our torches. We spotted several Tarantulas, Wolf Spiders, Scorpions and a certain exotic looking red colored spider of which I only have a mental image. We also saw a Deccan Ground Gecko which is quite a looker. Unfortunately, we didn't have our cameras handy. Amidst all this spider spotting, India held on to the world cup dream and put up a superb performance. I never dreamed that I would watch India in a World Cup final game, in a remote jungle, on a tiny black and white TV screen which was running on a generator! But India won and all this just added to the thrill and excitement :) 

When I commented about how this trip wasn't very fruitful from a photography perspective, I was told by the staff that this is not the best season for photography and I should go back there in November to make good images. It was time to head back and we decided, a second trip must be made here, hopefully in winter later this year. The long drive back on a very hot day took us 8 hours again. From Ganeshgudi, we drove towards Dharwad and then on to Hubli (bypass road), Haveri, Davangere, Chitradurga, Tumkur and reached Bangalore - the end of another memorable trip and a beginning to new memories.

Alexis's trip report is here and a complete list of fauna sightings from the trip is here on his blog.

There are many things I'll remember for a long long time from this trip... waking up to the songs of the Malabar Whistling Thrush, Neha's innovative bird names, the sunset, the Forest Wagtail behind my cottage, the Emerald Dove that almost hit my head as it whizzed past, the tomato soup, the bad coffee, the Drongo - Kestrel chase, the hoot of the Owl we never saw, the graceful float of the Malabar Tree Nymph, the bobbing heads of the Owlets... but one thing I'll remember longer than all these is a tree that wore its heart on its sleeve. Salut!