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