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Sunday, December 28, 2008

My favorite place to be - Part 1

It's been a while since I blogged. Personal projects have kept me busy through the last few weeks and I returned home every evening, exhausted and worried.

This post is in three parts since I'm putting in large excerpts from my son's diary/trip report and I realized as I was going along that it was going to become a very long post.

I spent three glorious days at the Biligiriragan Hills in Karnataka in between my personal projects just trying to relax and let the world outside do whatever it willed. The B.R. Hills, as they are popularly called, are beautiful, green and teeming with life. If one just cared to look.

It was October when we drove there. Driving is among my favorite things to do. Along with wildlife, photography, reading, and music. There's no order as in all things that you love, is there? Unfortunately, owing to the fact that we had tied up with another family, we decided to hire a large car to transport us all and all I could do was to merely sit there offering silly jokes and occasionally nodding off to sleep.

BRT Camp, run by Jungle Lodges and Resorts, is nestled in the high hills. A series of tents, a few log huts, the gol ghar, and the old Maharaja's hunting lodge make up this camp. Just outside is the Forest Department's office, some huts where the foresters live and then the jungle. The jungle is all around you. Stepping out of the tent, one can see the highest peak in the distance, dwarfing all others by sheer height and bulk. Elephants roam in these hills and it is dangerous to wander around on foot with or without a guide. Trees abound with birds and birdsong is rampant. The sun shines down benignly, and the forest tolerates the massed tourists demanding their food and drink, their wildlife sightings and their souvenirs. Just being in close proximity to nature is not on their list. Monkeys - the bonnet macaques - share scraps, brawling, sounding off, or just scratching themselves. And there's Kyatha, the lovable, but absolutely unpredictable elephant calf.
Sadly, some weeks ago, Kyatha killed a mahout who was feeding him jaggery (unrefined sugar) lumps and was transported to the elephant camp at Nagarhole to be disciplined and reschooled. Where he will be sent after this is known only to the Forest Department.
We had rolled in early in the afternoon and having dropped all our belongings off at the tents, were content to lie in the beds, indolently contemplating lunch. The two Narayans were there too. These two men, along with Nahar, the manager, ran the camp competently. They are the ones who ensure that tourists don't step out of line, that they have a pleasant jungle experience and that they get to see as much wildlife as wildlife will permit.

Excerpt from Adu's diary: We got past some houses and then there was a board that said (I'm telling the truth) "B.R. Hills, 0 kms." I got out and daddy jumped out and hugged the two Narayans who were waiting behind the car. "Which Narayan do you remember?" he asked. I pointed to the one I did remember. We left the heavy luggage in the car, (it would come later to the tent), and went to the tent. End excerpt.

Adu, my 10-year-old son, revels in the jungles. He knows the rules and his limits and loves spending time observing, watching, and learning. The two Narayans, of course, loved him.

The mountains beckoned and we looked forward to the evening safari. BRT Camp organizes two safaris a day, one in the morning and one in the evening. Each jeep is supposed to have a naturalist but the drivers double as naturalists since Narayan and Narayan are the only two naturalists here. The drivers themselves have considerable knowledge of the fauna and flora of the place and are a delight to be with simply because they try to the best of their abilities to make your stay worthwhile. It is a lot more worth my while.
Excerpt from Adu's diary: Unhappily, I was put in the back, for the simple reason that Yash and Krusha wanted to be up there and I was supposed to be with them because I was small and belonged to that category. I had half a mind to object but then decided that they might be offended and went quietly with the air of one, I like to think, who is prepared for the sacrifice of seeing nothing at all.

Before we went into the true and proper jungle, we had to pass a gate and before that gate, there was something like real jungle. I looked around forgetting that I was in the back seat. There were always some good birds around here, and there were always some mutjack (sic) and sambur and chital were anyway all over the place.... But there were none. So I looked forward and saw the gate. There was a little brick walled tile-roofed hut by the gate. At one time, it probably had a door and shutters, but they had long since fallen away. A Soliga tribal moved up, took the slip from the Forest Department (we needed one) and opened the gate and stumped back to the village. Many meters away from the Soliga village, we saw a herd of chital. They were common fry but this was the first day in the jungle and we were going to stop for every little thing.

We had a jeep all to ourselves and I stared at the stag's antlers. I drew them on my thigh with my finger. We passed three different chital herds that day. We stopped for all of them. After the first herd, we went on for sometime without seeing anything, and then "Muntjac!" called one of the Narayans. I never saw it. There was a long silence in which Yash mumblingly complained that there was nothing here. End excerpt.
Muntjac are barking deer. Also called Kakar in the north, they are small deer about the size of a large dog and extremely wary of humans. This one is a male as can be seen from the short horns or antlers.

Excerpt from Adu's Diary: Then we saw lesser flame-backed or golden backed woodpecker (Dinopium benghalense). I also saw another species of woodpecker, one that was cmopletely new to me: the little scaly bellied woodpecker (Picus myrmecophoneus).

We heard a hill myna too. Daddy had photographed it only once, and that miserable wretch of a bird was calling tantalizingly and not showing itself. It was a quaint little bird with vivid yellow patch shaped like a fat wave slamming against a thinner wave to which it was connected by a little line. The same line connected these two to another wave, fattest of all, facing downward. Then it dwindled weakly away to follow the same pattern on the other side of its pitch black head.

I also saw a crested serpent eagle. It got its name from the fact that it had a little crest, black, like its head which it could lift at will and also that it ate almost only snakes and lizards. Its chest was the colour of half-dried clay, the vague central line extending from the breasts was the colour of melted Cadburys Milky bar, and there were minute little blacktopped white spots all over the stomach. Its black clawed feet were yellow and its black tipped beak was yellow ochre. End excerpt.
I'm going to leave you with the sketches of the birds, Adu made in his diary. They have all been drawn with The Book of Indian Birds by Dr. Salim Ali as a reference but the written descriptions are all from his own observations in the wild.

Still to come: The bonfire, Adarsh, a wild tusker, and the fish owl.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Glory shorn

The street I live in has organized a woodcutter and the beautiful African Tulip has been shorn of its glory. No longer will I step on fallen flowers after a shower, to slip, curse, and regain my balance. No longer will my car be showered with flowers that fall with a dull thump and mar the windshield with juices that refuse to go away.

But, no longer will I be able to glimpse the sky through those leafy branches and watch the moon rise highlighting the flowers briefly while on its heavenly journey.

I mourn the loss of the tree, but I am in a minority. A week ago, a branch dropped off for no ostensible reason and broke the wing mirror of a car parked below. It was a lucky thing the branch did not fall upon the car itself. The owner had already sent for the wood cutter and this was the last branch,, straw. The tree had erred and it had to be punished.

This was the very tree that played host to the shikras that responded to my call. Crows would perch on its branches and call to my wife, demanding their share of the largesse that she put into a little plastic box and left for them to eat undisturbed. Squirrels leapt off its branches to confidently sail the short distance to my balcony railing so they could scurry up to the hibiscus flowers, pluck them and sip the nectar unafraid.

The squirrels will move on. Crows will perch, watchfully, on the electric cable running parallel to my balcony and the shikras will, doubtless, find another roost.

It's not an inconsolable loss. The tree still remains and the upper reaches are being left alone. Small mercies, for which I should thank God. My balcony is now bright and sunlit. A sunshine that will become unwelcome when the summer rolls around.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Of Squirrels and night herons

First of all, let me apologize for not having returned for such a long time. I did promise a post on bees, but have been so constrained that I was unable to work out that post at all. It did need a couple of fresh photographs that I didn't take at all.

Now that I've the excuses out of the way let me tell you about Saturday morning. The first morning in the last six months that my family and I have been able to get out and about.

Lal Bagh beckoned but we were late to see any of the birds that might have been there. Munias flew from tree to tree but always silhouetted by the early morning sunlight that streamed through the leafy branches and set off whistles and trills from the mynahs while the crows and cuckoos called for their bit of attention.

Joggers and walkers strode on, oblivious to the morning shift that was being played out before their eyes. Our first stop was to try to see the Mottled Wood Owl since Trupti hadn't seen it at all. Our disappointment was acute, the owl wasn't in residence.

We wandered on, taking in the sights and breathing the redolent odours, unidentifiable by an uninitiated like me but Trupti drew deep breaths when we walked on a carpet of tube roses.

I was busy looking at some patterns on the flowers that dot the sides of the path when Trupti called out softly to tell me that a three-striped palm squirrel (chipmunks for my American friends) was snoozing on a branch just out of my reach and above my head.

It was this little one. It had just woken up and was yet to come to grips with the world around it for the day.
As we watched it, it decided that it had better get a move on. Trupti, Adu, and I were absolutely thrilled to see that we weren't the only ones who needed a stretch...

... and then a yawn.

I was directly below the little fellow and managed to snap off a picture of its little pink tongue sticking out.

It went off on its way to breakfast and we trundled off faithfully to check on our favorite birds at Lal Bagh - the spotted owlets - no, I'm not putting up any more pictures of owlets as yet - and then tiredly decided to go up to the lake for a quick look around.

Cormorants swept up in the air, landed quietly in the water and ducked under to see if they could grab a fish or two for break fast, but otherwise, the lake was still and silent. There wasn't even the hint of any other bird around.

A short bridge breaks the lake from a little backwater. More like a swamp than a pond, this is filled with lillies and lotuses. This season, the pond was full of leaves but few flowers showed their pretty faces. And then among the green leaves and plastic debris we found the night heron.

The night heron stood stock still for a few minutes and then looked like it was going to regurgitate it's food. It ducked its head, seemed to thrust up something in its throat and opened its beak but nothing else happened.

We watched for a while, but got bored with its rather statue like stance and turned our attention to the moorhens instead. They were certainly more entertaining.

Their long toes helped them stride across the lily pads like they were waking about on dry land only occasionally stopping long enough for the pad to sink slightly under their weight while they wrested some little tidbit and munched on it delicately.

We did manage to see some lovely mushrooms and spider lilies but they will have to wait for another post.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Just a teaser

I haven't managed to post much these last few weeks owing to "technical" problems. That really hasn't stopped me from continuing to observe and enjoy nature.
I will post sometime over this weekend but I thought I should leave you all with a little teaser on what I plan to post on.

That's right, it's bees. And the very helpful tabebuia tree, right in front of my house is currently providing a lot of food for thought. Honey anyone? I'll be right back.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Owlets and Shikras at home

Since I'm home bound most weekends (owing to requirements, not restrictions) I've had the unique opportunity to stand in my balcony and look out across the limitless rooftops that dot our fair city of Bangalore.
Smoke from a million exhaust pipes kill one's enthusiasm to venture out at all. The tabebuia tree in front of my house is some solace since it plays host to several animals and birds. Of late, it has grown quite leafy with not a single flower in sight. Squirrels scold crows from its branches while, under it's shady boughs, stray dogs mass around, snarling, marking out their territories and showing off to each other.
A couple of months ago, a spotted owlet made its presence felt here. I had stepped out of my house to switch off the staircase light when an odd shape on the sheathed electric cable caught my eye.

Trupti was already asleep and Adu and Pallavi were preparing for a night of boisterous games when I charged back inside, shook my wife awake and told them all about the owlet.
I love these tiny, beautiful, and bold birds. We took several pictures of the owlet which stayed comfortably in place despite the fact that we were about five feet away from it, admiring it in hushed tones of reverence.

For three days, almost regularly at around 11 p.m., the owlet returned to the electric cable and stayed there for almost 30 minutes before hopping across to the tabebuia tree. And we kept watch wanting to confirm that it would arrive regularly there as a prelude to its hunting foray. Then it suddenly stopped visiting us. Two days ago, Trupti was awake at 2.30 a.m. when she heard a haunting hoot just outside our window. The owlet had returned. Karthik tells me it can't be the spotted owlet since they don't hoot. I shall have to confirm with Trupti what the call sounded like before I post an update again.

Hang on! We'd like to confirm it's return before we let you drop in on us. Bring your own blankets, pillows and coffee. We'll share your coffee with you.

Last weekend, I was nursing a cup of tea in the aforementioned balcony when a lone shikra flew to the granite extrusion of the roof of the neighbour's house. I think it was the same one that had chased a squirrel on to our window.

The road in front of the house is a thoroughfare and any number of people and vehicles populate it even on a Sunday. But this bird sat there quite fearlessly, resting on one foot while the other disappeared under it's beautiful feathers. The markings on it were clear and distinctive. Trupti and Adu had walked off to my dad's house and hadn't yet returned. As I watched, it scanned the lawn below it for any evidence of an errant lizard. At one point, I think it must have noticed the weird individual staring at it and glared at me for a few seconds with it's fierce looking eyes before turning away.
I dashed inside to get the camcorder and spent some minutes cursing horribly under my breath because the SD card wasn't in, fitted the SD card into its slot and wasted some more time screwing on the telecon lens and dashed out only to find that the shikra had disappeared. Trupti and Adu had by now returned and I told them about the bird while showing them the pictures.
I was lamenting the fact that we hadn't got a video when I heard the distinctive "kek kyoo" call somewhere near the eucalyptus grove that marks the Mini Forest. I whistled the call a few times and was pleasantly surprised to see it flying back to the gul mohur tree right at my doorstep. So close that I couldn't get a decent photograph of it with my zoom lens. It wasn't alone, it had brought its mate with it, probably to challenge the intruder in their domain. I chanced to see both the shikras again in the Mini Forest a little later in the day. I suspect they've made the place home since I've heard the call regularly since identifying the birds.

Trupti did get some video footage which I will try to post here sometime in the not too discernible future.

UPDATE: Karthik was kind enough to read through and offer a few corrections. The shikra in the photograph is a juvenile and so the pair that returned could not have been mates. I can't, at this moment, offer an explanation or call them siblings. So until further sightings confirm the pair's activities, it's just a pair of shikras.

Monday, June 30, 2008

White-Cheeked Barbet

It has been a long time since I blogged last about the spotted deer. "Common animals" is now the refrain from many of my friends who have been to Bannerghatta and back. They're not even impressed by the sight of gaur, sambar and Nilgai. Now it's only the tigers and the lions. Even the bear safari draws only as much as a "ho hum" from many of them.
Bangalore city abounds in birdlife. Months ago, my wife and son spotted a grey tit gracing the tabebuia tree in front of my house. Shikras often visit on short notice leaving us seething since to leave the spot and go for the camera might result in our missing out on some interesting behaviour. For instance, just the other day, I was throwing on my clothes preparatory to leaving for work and a screaming squirrel dived from the staircase to the window adjoining it. The screams attracted my attention and I walked quickly but quietly in the direction of the window only to see a shikra on the staircase watching the squirrel. I was spell bound. The spell was, however, broken by Duke who trotted up to investigate the noise in his domain. In a second, the shikra took off and the squirrel, scolded a few times more and took off for parts unknown. Missed photo opportunity? Perhaps, but then I saw how close a Shikra would get to human habitation in search of its prey.
Most weekends, I pack my camera in my car wherever I'm going. It can be to a friend's house or just down the road to the restaurant. This comes in handy when I see any animal life indulging in natural behaviour.
One such occasion was when I visited my in-laws, family in tow. My wife decided, on the way back, that she had to drop in on her old hair dresser for a "quick cut". My son and I sat in our car mulling over the misfortune of having to sit by the road side when I caught sight of a barbet on the electric cable above my head. Telling Adu to keep an eye on it, I slipped to the back seat of the car to change the lens on my camera and came up with some pictures of barbet behaviour.

This barbet left the electric cable and flew down to a nearby branch which, fortunately for me, was even closer. I first photographed the barbet from inside my car and then slowly began to emerge. This bird paid almost no attention to me and sat there, only occasionally changing position to exasperate me.
I soon found out why. It was waiting for its mate. This barbet.

The very branch on which the first one was sitting turned out to be hollow. I hadn't noticed it at all till the mate came in. The second barbet alighted on the branch from below and began to very thoroughly chisel away the wood around a little hollow. Periodically, it took a breather ostensibly to have a look around and make sure that I was harmless or that I had not overstepped my limits.
It remained very actively employed in either enlarging the opening or in delving deeper into the branch.
At some points, it went in so deep, I wondered if it would manage to get out safely.

I had initially thought that the first barbet was a chauvinist and wasn't participating in the excavating activities of the second one. However, a few minutes of putting my camera down and watching the birds convinced me that barbet number one was also equally involved. Both, in fact, were taking turns at digging out the rotten and dried up wood widening and extending what would be their living quarters for that monsoon season.
Soon, the eggs would be laid and then the young would be hatched. In a few weeks, the young ones would be fledged and would begin exploratory flights before joining the world outside which would ring with the "brrrrrr, butterk, butterk, butterk" call. Come summer, the call is heard in the tree laden avenues that still dot Bangalore city. The circle of life goes on.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Oh! Deer

Chital or spotted deer, in South India, are frequently found in close quarters to human habitation. I remember asking about this peculiar occurrence while all other creatures would stay well away from anything human, spotted deer would be found all around huts in the forest.

On safari in Kabini, I photographed so many spotted deer that I began to get quite fed up with them. Some of them were absolute charmers though. Like this fawn that went on the alert when our jeep stopped quite close to it.

I felt quite thrilled with the results when I previewed this picture for the first time and continue to enjoy it each time. Another that gives me a great deal of pleasure is this picture of a fawn suckling. There's something to be said about the care mammals give their young.

The fawn's tail was wagging so fast that I couldn't freeze it. True, the moment was but fleeting. The doe moved away rather quickly, perhaps because we were watching.
October 2007 saw me at B.R. Hills, where once again, I was treated to the sight of chital quite unafraid of human company. Barely a few feet from the safari jeep, this beautiful stag went on the alert filling us with hope that it had sensed a predator. To our disappointment, it turned out to be a second safari jeep.

The deer, we saw didn't seem to be fazed by the squeals of my fellow travellers some of whom had not seen chital in the wild. For Adu and me it was a rather "ho hum, another deer...".
Turning a corner along the beautiful forest trails often offers several surprises. Like the stag with new velvet on his antlers. In a few days he would rub the irritating velvet off and his polished prongs would have done battle for the doe of his choice.

Could it have been this beautiful lady of the forest?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Lal Bagh on Sunday morning

Water fowl aren't quite my cup of tea but this once I was prepared to make an exception. At the Lal Bagh lake, I was striding along ahead of Trupti, Adu, and Pallavi when I stopped stunned. There in front of me, making its stately way across the water was a Spot-Billed Pelican or the Grey Pelican. (Note: This update was provided by Karthik)It's rather benevolent visage was unmistakable despite the absence of the pouch which meant that it had either digested its catch for the day or hadn't much luck. Not too surprising given that all the fish were below the little bridge where some gentleman was tossing breadcrumbs to them. I'm reasonably sure the pelican preferred to eschew human contact.
That wasn't quite the case with this cormorant which took the opportunity to get the fish. Fish go for bread, cormorant goes for fish, and I go for my camera.

Pallavi was quite thrilled by the whole exercise. While she already loves animals and was at Kabini where she watched tigers gambol around (filling us with envy and knowing it too) she wasn't quite up to bird watching. I had promised to take her birding and so that's how we ended up at Lal Bagh at 6.30 a.m. on Sunday.
We had initially skirted the lake, giving it wide berth and made for the Japanese pond instead. I knew there had to be something there and sure enough we spotted a white-breasted water hen among the lily pads. Oblivious to our presence or preferring to ignore us, the water hen continued to forage despite the gunshot-like clicks from my camera.

I couldn't resist getting one of the lilies in the pond in that early morning light. Most of the other birds had flown home already. There were few flowers and fruits for them to forage and there wouldn't have been much point in their lingering on merely to give us the pleasure of their company.

But this white-cheeked barbet hung around picking up some berries from the tree top enabling me to get at least one picture that I considered decent enough to post.

As to what the berries are, someone else will have to help out with identifying the tree.

UPDATE: Karthik has been kind enough to identify the tree on which the barbet was feasting on the berries. It is a Schefflera actinophylla, commonly known as umbrella tree or octopus tree. The tree is native to Australia, New Guinea and Java.

Keeping in mind the last few posts on Bngbirds begging people to leave the mottled wood owls alone, we moved along a completely different path heading for the main gate and were quite surprised that a live Carnatic music performance was in full swing, speakers and all. I do like music but I'm sure the wood owls wouldn't have appreciated it. Come to think of it, there were very few people around the musicians too. Most early morning walkers and joggers were wending their way around the paths their ears firmly plugged into MP3 players and IPODs or even their mobile phones. It just doesn't make sense for me. Here, in the middle of one of the most beautiful gardens in Bangalore, with Nature speaking volumes, people refuse to stop and listen, smell the roses, watch the grass grow.

One couple sat on a bench in meditation while, high above them on a tree branch, a squirrel had scavenged a plastic bag and was dipping into it with gay abandon. I was only praying that it wouldn't bite off a piece of plastic and swallow it.

Trupti and I couldn't, however, resist dropping in on the spotted owlets at their abode in the hollow of a tree. We watched as the tenant vacated the heart-shaped hollow and stepped out to regally regard its uncouth guests who dared to disturb its slumber. Just behind, another owlet tucked its head under its wing and snoozed, probably in the hope that we would mistake it for a misshapen growth on the tree. That's when we spotted these two beauties backlit by the light filtering in through the leaves.

This pair glared at us and, deciding that we must be some wierd but harmless flotsam of humanity, went back to sleep. After about ten minutes of observing them, we left them and quietly climbed up to the lake where we were rewarded with the vision of the pelicans and this lesser egret.

The murky, shallow water lent this picture a very surreal appearance while the sunlight flashed off the dagger like beak. It wasn't until after I got the picture that I realized what a beauty my prize really was.

Monday, May 12, 2008


I have always found animals and birds fascinating. In my childhood, I spent a considerable time during summer afternoons carefully watching a small beehive on a lemon tree in my backyard while making highly scientific notes like "top part of hive active, bottom part inactive..." and so on. The internet wasn't there then and there were few reference books (I claim) that helped me understand then that the top part of the hive is always active since that's where the bees that have just returned from their foraging flights to communicate location of food source.
It wasn't until, years later, while reading a National Geographic article about a robot bee that danced to communicate a food source at a pre-specified location that I began to understand that I had actually made an observation.
Somewhere along the way, I discovered Gerald Durrell and read with avid and untiring fascination the hilarious adventures that he had while collecting animals for other zoos and, eventually, his own. It wasn't my dream to own a zoo, but to live in the wild, studying animal behavior and recording previously unknown facets of their lives became an obsession. Fortunately for the animals and unfortunately for me that never materialized. I began studying spiders late and discovered that they could be fascinating too.
Take the signature spider for instance.

This juvenile built her web in my balcony and my wife, my son, and I issued strict instructions to the maid that the web wasn't to be disturbed. We watched as she grew, repaired her web which was frequently subject to depredations of wandering butterflies, dragonflies and sundry larger insects. She grew in size and experience but changed her web's location only once in all the time she was there.
A few weeks later, she encased a few hundred eggs in a cocoon and sat there waiting for them to hatch.
Hatch they did, twice. I did get pictures of the babies as they scrambled about, fully formed and already predatory but ignoring each other, perhaps because they were all the same size. Each baby's abdomen couldn't have been more than a mustard seed in size.
While we were engrossed with the signature spider, a jumping spider made her presence known to us. Gathering it up in my hands I let this fearless individual stalk around on my arm while I focussed and shot this picture one-handed.

The image was cropped to get really close to the spider.
She stalked around and frustrated my attempts at photography quite frequently. My wife held the spider on her finger where she settled down.
Yet another fascinating spider that we found in our balcony was the beautiful ant-mimic spider. This spider looks rather like a large red ant and waves its forelegs in the air rather like the antennae of an ant. It is only by observing it closely that one can figure out that the "antennae" are being used for walking and that this particular "ant" actually has eight legs instead of the regulation six.

This ant-mimic spider was safely ensconced in a web in the leaf. From the size of the pedipalps, this specimen can be differenciated as a male.
When it comes to sheer size, the giant wood spider takes the cake. This is a very colorful spider and is very large measuring as much as three to four inches in length. This picture was taken in B.R. Hills in October last year.

However, when it comes to brilliance in color among the spiders that I have seen, nothing beats the Cosmophasis. I am reliably informed that this spider is commonly found in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. But I found this one at the Kabini Jungle Lodges and Resorts.

It was my son who first spotted it and called me in excitement. He stood watch over it while I fitted my poor man's macro (a 3X magnifying filter) to my 18mm lens and shot the spider. I had also posted this picture on India Nature Watch where someone helped identify it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Tickell's Blue Flycatcher

Monday was Adu's birthday. He cooled off in Jungle Lodges and Resorts' Bannerughatta property overnight on Sunday and we joined him on Monday.

The searing heat beat down on us relentlesslly squashing our enthusiasm thoroughly. Sweating profusely we set out almost as soon as we arrived to see if there were any birds insane enough to venture out into the mid-morning sun.

The bag was a Tickell's Blue Flycatcher and a solitary White Cheeked Barbet besides the ubiquitous Tickell's Flowerpecker.

The Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, wearing of ever seeing the last of us, decided he might as well sing to us and serenaded us with beautiful, fluting notes. He was soon joined by another male and both proceeded to breakfast on the summer insects. They flitted up and down at ground level baring a lovely golden brown color under their wings and then disappeared into a clump of bamboo. We gave up and went around the bamboo only to find that one of them had emerged on the other side.

The flowerpecker treated us with disdain preferring to turn his back on us while he leapt from limb to limb refusing to remain still for even one moment.

A dull "thok, thok, thok" sound alerted us to a white cheeked barbet that was busy drilling into a tree near our tent. He spotted us before we spotted him and watched us with as much interest as we watched him. Just as we got that little bit closer for a good photograph, he took off and didn't return until we had returned hot and thirsty from our stalking of the flycatcher.

Somewhere in the bushes surrounding the camp, a bulbul coyly sang in carrying notes. We didn't find him though we heard him all the time we were there.

Adu inveigled us out for a walk around the camp after lunch and we dragged ourselves off on his trail. A small quick movement on the ground caught our attention and we found ourselves staring at a young lizard. The bright colours and its posture told us we might be looking at an agama but I could be wrong. Please post a comment if you know what this lizard could be.

UPDATE: For those of you interested, Karthik was kind enough to identify the lizard for me. It turns out to be a Snake Skink (Riiopa punctata).

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Kingfisher in the canal

It's been a while since I wrote last. But this morning, an unusual sight (for me anyway) resulted in this post. Nope, sorry, I don't have a picture of this unusual sight.

On the road linking Sarjapur to the Hosur Road, an open sewage canal runs alongside. Several Brahmini kites and paraiah (black) kites populate this place and share space along with mynahs and crows.

A flash sighting of a bird ducking into one of the holes lining the canal caught my attention. It had to be a bird but what kind? The white wing markings caught the sun as the bird ducked out, hovered for a second as though evicted by the landlord and returned into the hole again. That's when I caught sight of the iridiscent blue on the wing. It was a whitebreasted kingfisher.

I wasn't quite sure even at that point. Traffic roared by. Unseeing throngs passed, hurrying off to their work places or waited to catch their buses, trucks hooted and honked, autorickshaws bawled as their tiny engines strove to catch up with the rest of the world speeding by. I was lucky to be at the traffic light. Just as the lights turned green, the kingfisher sped out of the hole in the wall and alighted on the fence in patient repose. A beautiful sight and one missed by many, I'm sure.

I wished I had my camera with me.

On the Bangalore Birds forum, several people have been debating the adaptation of birds to the urban landscape. They were talking about parakeets but here was another adaptor that was using what was immediately available, the drain hole that empties rain water into the sewage canal.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Lal Bagh with Karthik

A mottled wood owl sat on an old, old tree

Looked down on Adu, Deepa, and me
And asked, "what have you come to see?"
Startled by our silent awe, he spread his wings
And said "wait till the Golden Oriole sings"
For then the light will be right
And these crows just might
Leave me alone to roost in peace
Until such time that I please.

This Saturday again, saw us in Lal Bagh, Bangalore's beautiful botanical gardens. Girish had joined us too. An itinerant, Girish is an avid hiker and leans towards conservation so much that he might just fall over one of these days. Deepa, of course, had her car, her partner in crime (read Anush) and her conversation. Lal Bagh held its promise of an exciting morning made so much more exciting by Karthik promising to be there. And he was.

Karthik is a walking encyclopaedia. Trees, bees and whatever else anyone might want to consider. You might want to leave politics out of it.

The parakeets were there in plenty. One of them, a rather tailless male provided momentary amusement but our attention was quickly drawn to the golden oriole that flitted through the branches of the Peepul tree.

I couldn't quite understand why several birds seem to favour the peepul when it had so little to offer. Karthik had an immediate explanation. The flowers of the Peepul, he says, attract a number of insects which provide a feast of sorts for the birds.

For avid and expert birders like Adarsh, Anjali, Nisarg, and Pallavi, it seemed pretty easy to spot green leaf warblers and Tickell's flowerpeckers flitting among the leaves in the nearby bushes. I needed Karthik's help, of course.

Karthik being there helped in more ways than merely birding. The man is simply amazing the way he remembers the names of plants. His knowledge goes beyond merely naming them. He knows exactly how the various animals depend on them.

With such a large group, Karthik, Adarsh, Nisarg, Anjali and another couple, Deepa, Anush, Girish, Adu and me, it was only natural that some splits should occur. Deepa, of course, had to wander off to investigate strange looking trees with even stranger looking fruit. Her logic is that trees stay right there unlike birds.

Mantid young, like all young, are cute. They held the attention of a small group while Karthik pointed out to Pritam, Pallavi, Adu and me how they moved so quickly through the leaves. In fact, he failed to catch any of them. The rest of us were more scared of squishing them. Adu did try - to catch them, not squish them.

Deepa's group, meanwhile, very excitedly called us (on Karthik's cellphone) to tell us that a mottled wood owl had been spotted attempting his morning snooze on the top of a tall tree.

He sat there regally glaring down at us as we had the affrontery to point our noisy cameras and take pictures. Deepa again wandered off, ostensibly in search of some new tree that the authorities had probably planted in secret and found two more mottled wood owls. These were a young sub-adult and an adult. The adult appeared nervous and took off briefly disappearing from sight only to return when we least expected it. The youngster braved it out, preferring to face us and a murder of crows which were probably haggling with it for the best spot on the tree.

There was some more excitement when while examining some hatched eggs stuck on a tree, Karthik conjured up a bug and allowed us to handle it for a while before returning it to its perch on the tree.

Once again, it was the turn of my old friends the spotted owlets and we returned to the Japanese pond to spy on them.

The owlet obliged us by regally acknowledging our presence and condescending to fly out of the hollow in the tree to a nearby perch from where it defecated and returned to its hollow to keep watch over us.

The morning seemed to end all to soon. Deepa's car decided to get into the act to delay our breakfast but she did have a solution. However, that must be another story, told over steaming hot cups of coffee and a breakfast of rice dumplings and coconut sauce. Idli and chutney for the uninitiated.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The ones that were left

There were three pictures that refused to be uploaded when I updated this blog the last time. So I thought I would make a new post out of them.
While initially confused over the identity of this bird (by the length of the beak shown in the book) we have now confirmed that it is a female purple-rumped sunbird. [Thanks to Deponti for getting this bird identified].
This lily and its reflection attracted my attention and I couldn't help marvelling that such a lovely flower needs muck to grow in.
Remember the moorhen from my last post? This is the fellow.