Sunday, July 9, 2006

Trip Reports by Nature India Tour Participants

Why Nature India
Well, the answer is simple..... Unmatched expertise, well-planned logistics, eco-friendly policies, excellent service and above all Passion to Appreciate, Respect and Conserve Nature.

Below are some of the Experiences and Trip Reports shared by people from different fields who participated in Nature India tours…… have a look at some comments….

Nature India will continue to maintain and improve these standards……

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TAL CHAPPAR – A Birding Paradise
Rujuta Phadke   



'Tal Chappar’ a small sanctuary spread across 719 Ha on the fringe of the Great Indian Desert, has gained fame recently amongst the birding fraternity. Though originally a black buck sanctuary, it has been the most talked of due to the rarities reported from here. The bulk of the credit goes to the current DFO S.S. Punia. Without mentioning his name, I won’t be doing justice to this report. The unique habitat of abundant grass and scrubs along with the beautiful and elegant antelope makes it one of the most desired places to visit. The word Tal means plane land, which is actually a flat saline depression scattered with trees of acacia and prosopis. It had been a place on my wish list for some time and I grabbed the opportunity to visit this enchanting ecosystem with Nature India.

Day full of waders and ducks …! 

On the morning of 25th Feb 2012, our entire group gathered at the Jaipur station (11 people including our resource persons Adesh and Saurabh). The plan was to bird on the way near ‘Sambar Lake’ and ‘Naliasar wetland’. Approaching it, a lone Barred buttonquail caught our attention and we stumbled upon 2 wetlands full of waders and ducks. Other common birds like bulbuls, Bluethroat were coming to quench their thirst oblivious to our presence. Though the density was not great the place harboured a variety of species, giving us wonderful opportunity to appreciate the small differences. We saw almost 15 types of waders including different types of sandpipers, stints, redshanks, greenshank, ruff etc. Amongst ducks, all the winter visitors, Garganey, Northern shoveller, pintail, Eurasian wigeon, etc were all having gala time amongst waterfowls like Common teal, Common moorhen etc. Noticeably huge Ruddy shelducks aka Brahminy ducks, named so because of their peculiar coulour of “gandh” were busy feeding in the midst looking handsome..! It was exciting to see most of the male birds were out of their drab eclipse plumages and were getting into the breeding colours for attracting the mates. Not just the ducks but also Black-tailed godwits were dazzling bright having already assumed partial breeding plumage. There were obvious signs that the winged friends were getting ready to bid adieu and start their journey back to their respective breeding grounds.  Adesh was scanning through the spotting scope and suddenly a pair of rare and shy Ferruginous pochard showed up. We got good views of this gorgeous bird before it flew away with its partner. We reached Sujjangad, a small village around 10 kms from the sanctuary. We had a massive list of 92 bird species on the first day itself. Sujjangad is a small place with only 4 hotels with modest facilities and arrangements were made in Hotel BDS International (don’t be fooled by the name). The best option for stay at Chhapar would be the forest guest house which is now maintained by a private body.

Excursions into the Sanctuary!  

On 26th Feb, 2012, we assembled at 6:30 am for a hot cup of tea at a ‘tapri’ just opposite our hotel. Sizzling hot beverage was a treat in the freezing cold of Rajasthan! On the way to the sanctuary, we suspected a rare Sind sparrow and so waited carefully to observe the flock. After lot of deliberation we concurred on it being the parkini subspecies of a house sparrow, though we still cannot claim that conclusively. As the sunrays filled colours in the cold, grey morning, a lone Yellow-crowned woodpecker showed up on the tree stump. Few of us followed it across the road to find the Rufous-fronted prinia as well, marking a brilliant start to the day.
As we entered the main gate of the sanctuary, a dozen Yellow-footed green pigeons basking in the morning light greeted us. The shutter buggers immediately got to work to capture the best shot, while the birders strolled around. Brown rock chats were in plenty and calling profusely. We had a breakfast of steaming hot ‘Pohe’, thanks to Maharaj ji and his assistants in the forest rest house. We had two cars at our disposal so we decided to explore in different directions. Undoubtedly for me, sighting of perched Laggar falcon stole the show. It was a treat to watch huge flocks of Greater short-toed and Bimacualted larks moving about making different formations. One has to experience the abundance of birds found here, as I am short of words to explain it! Other wintering guests like wheatears and birds of prey (raptors) Steppe and Eastern Imperial eagles, Marsh, Hen and Pallid harriers were in huge numbers too. A healthy population of small birds, rodents and spiny tailed lizards might be the obvious reasons for the same. A Eurasian Sparrowhawk zoomed past our car and we were thrilled with the proximity of sighting and its speed! Eloquent herds of antelope grazing in the golden grass, zipping and flitting hoards of larks along with the soaring raptors gave a unique touch to this eco-system. We learnt later that the sustainable capacity of the sanctuary is only around 700-800 black bucks but since there are no predators and food is available in plenty; the number has gone up to 2500. The forest officials estimate that this number will go up to 3500 and then a natural catastrophe will bring it down on its own. Another wonder of nature!
We were to try our luck at a couple of specialties of Tal Chappar in the evening. So we headed for the Cow shed area on the periphery of the sanctuary. This place is known for tiny jewel named Spotted creeper. It was the only place in India where this bird was seen, until recently, when someone spotted it in Goa. Fortunately for us we heard it calling as soon as we reached the place. Judging by the direction of the sound we narrowed down the tree taking hardly any time to locate it. The attention was then focused on the cute little ‘Gerbils’ - a small mammal of the order Rodentia, earlier simply known as ‘Desert rats’. They had huge colonies and we got a super filmy view, when two fellows came out, ran towards each other to join their front paws mimicking a human hug for a fraction before running back to their shelter!! Another attraction was Spiny-tailed lizards present in multitudes.
    Stolikza’s or White-browed bushchat was the next target. Again, Amey and Adesh spotted the bird instantly and we were very lucky to observe its puff and roll behavior, wherein it walks on the ground, puffs its chest and turns left and right! It’s an extremely rare bird, found only at Greater Rann of Kutch and Tal Chappar. While we were busy watching this private show a desert fox came scurrying with a Gerbil in its mouth. There was a small mound nearby and the fox went running behind it, blocking further views.  But the photographers amongst us did not give up and were rewarded with shots of a family reunion, when 4 cubs came out of the den in the mound …! They settled with their cameras focused on the cubs and signaled all of us to join. Despite our presence the mother did not feel threatened and left the cubs to go back in search of food. We kept marveling at the cubs in golden light, maintaining our distance so as not to disturb them.

Day out with the DFO!  

We started the day with good clear views of Spannish sparrow chirping in the midst of house sparrows! On the outskirts of a village we saw the rare Red-tailed wheatear, a cute little Spotted owlet, Tree pipit etc. Rufous-naped hare ran in the bushes but not before giving us fabulous views. 
    After a heavy breakfast of appetizing alu sabzi and paranthas, we set off with Punia ji. We went away from the Tal Chappar to observe the nests of Tawny eagle, Laggar falcon and Punjab raven. Sadly all three birds were missing from their nests. It was remarkable that the tawny eagle had made its nest on top of a small tree and had not taken any efforts to conceal it. Laggar  falcon’s nest was on the tower and Raven’s on a tree very close by on either side of the highway. After sometime a pair of raven zoomed in and to our utmost surprise, they settled in the falcon’s nest. Everyone was bewildered and didn’t have an explanation. On the way back to the sanctuary got superb views of Bar-headed geese. This shy but elegant bird travels thousands of miles and comes to India to escape bitter winter in Central Asia (its breeding ground).
For the evening session, we went back into the sanctuary with Punia ji, in search of the Water pipit. We got good glimpses of the pipit and witnessed a huge congregation of Demoiselle cranes. There was a lone juvenile Common crane literally “standing out” due to its size in the flock. We went chasing the flocks of larks eluding us for good look at Eurasian skylark. It looks very similar to its more commonly found variant Oriental skylark with subtle differences, noticed only on careful observation. Adding to the problem was a fact that all larks were moving around together and kept going inside the grass.  As we moved ahead and were busy experiencing a unique sight of hundreds of harriers coming together to roost for the night in the grass, the Indian fox showed up, taking up mammal count. With not much time in hand we hurried to get another lifer, the Yellow-eyed pigeon. On our way to see this beauty, we ignored a raptor perched atop a small tree, despite the feeling that it could be something different. So immediately after having a good look at the pigeon, we turned our binoculars and spotting scope to it. Observing it very carefully and discussing to identify it positively, we approached it and got a clear idea of its size at close range. Referring to field guides and internet sources, back in the rest house, we were convinced and concluded it to be a female of Merlin extremely rare bird of prey and a good record for the Tal Chappar!!
    Maharajaji in the rest house treated our satisfied souls with steaming hot Kadhi – Khichadi’ and roti with ghee and gud (jaggary). In high spirits we travelled back to catch some sleep before starting the journey back home next morning.

The finale!!  

With a lot of Tawny and Steppe eagles and number of Kites and Buzzards seen along the way, this could be easily termed as a raptor days for us. A beautiful show put up by many species of raptors added the icing on the cake on the final day. While returning to our vehicles after observing a Steppe eagle, a harrier zoomed in and caught a dove. A long-legged buzzard and 2 black-eared kites appeared out of nowhere and started mopping the harrier for the kill. But in the end, the winner was a Steppe who stole the kill and was feasting on it. Everything happened so quickly that it left us stunned. From where so many birds came in and where they disappeared is what we left wondering about!
The highlight of the trip was that we ended each day with a bang! Here I should mention the role of our drivers as they were instrumental in making our trip as successful and adventurous as it was. Without a hint of botheration they drove on bad roads providing us best of the angels. But what was more satisfying was that we managed to inculcate our passion of birding in them.
After such an awe-inspiring experience, I would conclude that this newly discovered haven still remains largely unexplored. With the tenacity and enthusiasm of Punia ji, I am sure there are bound to be more unusual records and hidden treasures to be unearthed. I sincerely hope that this lovely piece of grassland remains intact and throws more surprise at us in the years to come
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GOA
Party, popular beaches with mushy sand, lip-smacking seafood, obnoxiously cheap liquor, an easy going culture and more party!! Aren’t these the obvious first impressions when we talk about India’s smallest state? Naturally a flurry of recommendations about beaches, eating places and clubs flowed my way when I exclaimed am heading to Goa (10-13 Nov 2011). But no sooner did I unfold the reasons for my visit than all those excited expressions transformed into confused or should I say ‘Can’t believe you!’ glares. Yes, I was about to explore Goa for its lesser known potential; as a biodiversity hotspot. Goa boasts of a bird list of over 450 species, including 17 of the 28 species endemic or near-endemic to the Western Ghats. My first serious birding endeavor after this year’s monsoon and I was thrilled to spend four whole days in the wilderness.


Securing train ticket was out of bounds, so bus was the only to and fro alternative. We chose to go via Belgaum rather than the usual NH-17 route. Though this added a few kilometers to the travel, it did save us a considerable sum (Thanks to some meticulous R &D by Nature IndiaJ). Toofan jeeps were arranged for further commuting. Local expert Mr. Pankaj Lad was waiting for us at castle rock where we halted for a quick birding session. Late by an hour or so, we had missed prime time birding slot. Still the sunbirds, minivets, leafbirds and bulbuls showed up. But it was the sulky babblers who stole the show. A beautiful pair of Indian Scimitar Babblers was seen foraging on the edge of the forest. Rufous Babblers were calling from the lantana thicket. Fingers crossed and binoculars glued to our eyes, all were rummaging the undergrowth. A shy rufous individual with a bright yellow beak, white eye popped-up just for a moment and few were lucky enough to grab a glimpse. A lifer for many, this was certainly my prized catch of the day. A half an hour travel from castle rock brought us to Nature’s Nest; our abode for the next four days. Adjacent to Molem wildlife sanctuary (now Bhagwan Mahavir Sanctuary), the resort itself is a home to a varied bird species. Having lunch amidst the flitting sunbirds, zipping lorikeets and nectar sucking spiderhunters was a rollicking experience.

The evening was spent in the buffer zone where we saw the Malabar Pied Hornbills, Munias, Pompadour green Pigeons and Malabar Starlings. The light was fading significantly but it was not yet time to call it a day. Rather a perfect time to observe the nightjars coming out of roost and announcing their presence vocally. Armed with LED torches we scurried uphill on a grassy plateau at the edge of the jungle and waited patiently for dusk to set in. The Jerdon’s Nightjar was the first to call and the Grey followed suit (the normal chakoo…chakoo calls of the Caprimulgus indicus were followed by a whistle like foo-foo-foo,this is considered to be the call of the South Indian subspecies though conspecific at the moment) . After studying their favourite perches, we narrowed down on one and waited at close quarters. Very soon a Grey Nightjar flew right above us to settle on a leafless branch. While some of us appreciated its features through the spotting scope, the photographers were on a clicking frenzy. The shutterbugs with great stealth managed to get so close to the bird that a quick reflex hand movement would have been enough to grasp it.
Bondla WLS covering an area of only eight square kilometers is a popular destination for not only nature enthusiasts but also general tourists (coz of the mini zoo, botanical garden, deer safari park and ecotourism cottages it houses). So to avoid the weekend rush we preponed our Bondla visit by a day. Apart from being a bird watchers paradise it hosts a bountiful population of butterflies and moths. Banded Peacock, Tamil Lacewing, Red Helen and Southern Birdwing are a few species I vividly recall. Draco or the flying lizard is a common sight here. Considering the abundance of bird life, this was by far our most successful day. The shy Drongo Cuckoo, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Malabar Barbet and the Flame-throated Bulbul (state bird of Goa) deserve special mention.
Some species enjoy the most coveted status no matter how many times you see them. The strikingly colourful Malabar Trogon is without doubt one of them. We were blessed with this special sighting just outside the sanctuary gates where the Trogon perched completely in the open for more than a couple of times. The bird was busy calling and displaying its tail raising behavior as we took turns to admire it through the spotting scope.
While the elderly members enjoyed a siesta after lunch, the young guns were rearing to explore more. We encountered a mix hunting party of 21 species. This is smart and efficient way devised by the birds for complementing each other. The drongos or the woodpeckers normally act as the nuclear species (in this region) and direct the formation and movement of such mutual foraging flock. The logic behind is simple, more the individuals, more the number of eyes to look for food as well as predators. A good example of this was witnessed when a bug trying to avoid a Pygmy Woodpecker scampered on the other side of the branch, only to be feasted by the Malabar Woodshrike.
The evening was embellished with two more beauties; the Blue-capped Rock Thrush and the rare Blue-eared Kingfisher. The Blue-eared was seen squabbling with the Common Kingfisher, probably trying to oust the later for territorial gain. We started the return journey after a brief visit to the well-maintained zoo.
High spirits, jovial mood and elated faces along with an inflated bird tally spoke volumes about Bondla. It will be foolish for a nature lover to scrap Bondla off the itinerary…..it’s a highly recommended destination!!
A futile attempt at the elusive Frogmouth the previous night was not going to deter us from trying again. A bunch of crazy guys (including me) decided to fancy our chances in the wee hours of the following morning. Fortunately a female responded instantly to playback but the male, although inconspicuous, kept calling from the vicinity.
The morning at Molem was not as fruitful as Bondla; nevertheless we bagged a Malabar Trogon Female (I suspect this was a juvenile coz it was calling like the trogon male), a troop of Dark-fronted Babblers and a pair of White-bellied Woodpeckers (largest amongst the woodpecker family in southern India). The spotting of the White-Bellied was unexpected and came in as a real surprise (credit goes to pankaj, he heard them calling from a distance and made us all wait). Woodpeckers are usually restless and keep hopping onto different branches. But again to our astonishment, one of them stayed put just long enough for all to take a peek through the scope.
Ramesh, the resort manager had accidentally stumbled upon a day roost of the nocturnal Frogmouth the earlier evening, but failed to locate the same in the morning. Suspecting the bird to have shifted position not far from the original perch, we all embarked on a search mission. A master of camouflage the bird can be easily mistaken for a dry leaf. All who know about the Frogmouth will be able to fathom the enormity of this task. Hmmm …. I think I will reconstruct the last phrase; let’s say it’s a mammoth task for lesser mortals like us, but a cakewalk for Adesh the magician. Just like a magician pulling a rabbit out of the hat, this guy has an uncanny ability of performing the impossible (at times I actually wonder if he has a magic wand hidden in his pocket). Within two minutes of our search he pointed at a pair sitting completely in the open. Well, we could appreciate the ‘completely in the open’ part only after its precise position was shown to us.
The evening at Tamdi Surla temple fetched only a fleeting glance of the Blue-eared Kingfisher and a couple of Mountain Imperial Pigeons.
After three days in the mystical verdure, it was time to inhale some fresh costal air. The Zuari river boat ride and a scheduled visit to Maina Lake not only provided the desired change but also a perfect opportunity for some wetland birding. Mr. Kamat, the leader of the assemblage at Zuari guaranteed six species of kingfishers and kept his promise. The Stork-billed, Black-capped and Collared Kingfisher were amongst the most sought-after( the collared kingfisher here is greener and darker than the one in sundarban, but of the two specimen we saw , none showed any hint of eye-brow!). Cruising along the back waters and searching till our eyes ached for the Orange-breasted Green Pigeon proved in vain. Instead we were rewarded with some Lesser Adjutants, Osprey, Peregrine Falcon (callidus) and fantastic views of Greater and Lesser Crested Terns.
Maina Lake was teeming with waders. Stints, sandpipers, redshanks, greenshanks, swamphens, plovers were busy feeding. The sky was swarming with Bramhiny Kites, a few Marsh Harriers and the occasional flock of ducks and Glossy Ibis. Swallows, swifts and Blue-tailed Bee-eaters too were scooting around. I have never seen a bigger congregation of Wood Sandpipers and Small Prantincoles ( must have been close to five hundred or more pratincoles but none showed the diagnostic red at the base of the bill, possibly that’s a breeding plumage characteristic?). In the midst of such variety the not so common Spotted Redshanks enjoyed the cynosure.
Bidding farewell to Pankaj and a few others at Madgaon, the rest of the team continued towards Belgaum. But unexpected traffic on Anmod Ghat and annoying attitude of the excise authorities (they were trying to fleece us of some quick bucks notwithstanding the fact that we were carrying liquor permits, thanks to Mr.Kubal who intervened and sorted the matter) added the unnecessary spice to our journey. Uneasy silence crept in as the time constraint grew big on us. Objectionably late for the scheduled departure, all we could do was to hope for the best. Comprehending the gravity of the situation our drivers had already shifted gears to F1 mode. The bus left without us and so the chase was on. Racing through the silent night and maneuvering across turns we finally managed to catch up and hop into our seats some 40 odd kilometers ahead of the designated spot. Phew….that was some adventure!!
Regards,
Amey Ketkar, Mumbai
(Nature India Trip - 10th to 14th Nov'11)


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From : Rujuta Phadke
Amboli (4 Aug - 8 Aug'10) - Forest full of Secrets

In your pursuit of peace and solitude, perhaps you will come across Amboli, a tranquil hill station on the Western Ghats, surrounded by thick forests and tree canopied hills. On the coastal side, Amboli peers over the tree lined sandy ribbon of the Konkan coast; whereas on the other three sides, by a magnificent panorama of the sweeping valley. Amboli is situated at 710m above sea level, on Vengurla-Belgum state highway no 112 in Sindhudurg district, receiving the highest rainfall (approx.7446 mm) during the rainy season. I wanted to visit this less commercialized hotspot with integral natural beauty and rich flora and fauna since long time so pounced on the opportunity provided by Nature India…..Due to continuous and heavy downpour for last few days, the Konkan railway took a long break and we had to resort to lesser attractive option of bus journey all the way to Sawantwadi village, in Sindhudurga district which is very famous for handicraft wooden toys….We embarked upon the much awaited bus, an hour later than the scheduled time on Wednesday, 4th August at around 10:45 PM…Since we had taken semi-sleeper Neeta Volvo, it was comfortable except the bed bugs giving me scratches till now and that atrocious bollywood flick “De Dana Dan” : )….. The 30 kms journey from Sawantwadi to Amboli was extended to almost 120-130 kms and added 3-4 hours, due to a grave landslide in the ghat.After an appetizing but late lunch of local (Konkani) food, we took some rest at our hotel, ‘Whistling Woods’ and commenced our first excursion in the pristine forest….We went along the main tar road towards the ‘Shirgaonkar point’, waiting at regular intervals for checking interesting things en route…. Our group of 14 (including Adesh and Mandar – organizers of Nature India), was accompanied by Mr. Heman Ogle – The local expert, founder member of Malabar Conservation Club and owner of our Hotel, Whistling Woods, his wife and Abhishek – local nature lover with amazing sighting abilities and knowledge……Highlights of the first hour of the trail were ‘Narrow mouthed frog’, ‘Beddome’s leaping frog’,‘Amboli Bush frog’, ‘Konkan Bush frog’ ‘Dwarf Gecko’, etc. We also got to see a mammoth ‘ Bull frog’ put on show of ‘frog style swimming’ to the perfection for us : ) ……Slowly the last rays of the sun disappeared as well, leaving us behind in the mysterious and hazy night…..It was wonderful to walk in the misty, dark night, right in the middle of the dense forest, which was slowly unfolding its secrets upon us…….And while we were still marveling how wonderful these creatures are, Amey shouted in the front ‘snake, snake’…….All of us rushed to the huge rock on which, to our delight was the ‘Beddome’s Keelback’……….our first snake sighting of the trip, which went on to as high as 23 individuals of 8 different species :D……. After photographing the Keelback on different backgrounds and giving different poses, we further probed the surroundings for some more time, with sightings of few orchids and other interesting things…..On our way back to the hotel, on the same stone, someone again spotted something moving and to our delight this individual was identified as ‘Travancore wolf snake’…….After a sumptuous dinner, most of us were tired and returned to bed but few of us with some more enthusiasm again ventured out in the night, enjoying the cacophony of frogs, crickets, fireflies, other creatures of the jungle :D…..
Next morning sprang a pleasant surprise on us….Everything in nature is so unique and surprising that it amazes each and everyone….We were to assemble for breakfast at around 8-8:15, but because of some water problem in the Hotel , though we were up, we were laying around the place….Adesh came to mine and Sharvari’s room to ask something, and suddenly noticed something looking like a rope on the bar holding the ceiling, just outside the room…….His doubt was instantly confirmed and Zeeshan came running to capture it for a closer look….He confirmed it to be a ‘cat-snake’ with unidentified specie because snakes are distinguished in different species only after their scale count….We kept this fellow in a cotton bag to detail observation to be done later……Again as soon as we started the trail, awesomely camouflaged ‘Green vine snake’ stole the first ten minutes of all our attention just outside our hotel…And down the lane there was ‘Elliot’s shieldtail’ waiting to welcome us right in the middle of the road :D…….We couldn’t have hoped for better beginning of the day!! This day, we went up the hill to the ‘Parikshit Point’, the area dominated by leeches……Walk up the hill was beautiful through dense canopy of forest, with only obstacle being those horrendous little creatures pouncing on you from all sides to relish on your blood…..On our way we spotted, ‘Bi-coloured frog’, ‘Amboli bush frog’, ‘Prashad’s gecko’ etc…On the top of the hill, there were beautiful meadows and heavy rain showered upon us…Due to cloud cover, we missed the mesmerizing view of the valley but nevertheless found what we were targeting for….. rare find and the specialty of the place… ‘Caecilians’…For those like me, they are the limbless amphibians with two small, cute tentacles, staying in moist soil and are extremely difficult to catch or handle due to their slithering bodies….Icing on the cake were sightings of ‘Green Keelback’ and one more ‘Travencore wolf snake’…….After a long but pleasing walk we enjoyed as usual the lovely local cuisine and came back to hotel to find to our astonishment, one of the hotel staff, had spotted the famous ‘Malabar pit viper’ in the campus…..That fellow was sitting entangled around himself in a pose that all photographers in the world would lounge for :D……….We couldn’t believe our luck because all throughout the day, we were hoping to see this beauty and here it was!! Later while rest of the group members were resting for sometime as all of them were hassled badly by those notorious leeches all over the body, few of sat in the Hotel ‘verandah’, photographing the ‘Skink’ and helping our expert Zeeshan in counting scales of the cat snake found in the morning….That was the first time when I handled the snake, skink as well as the gecko……..I was soo thrilled!! We began the evening trail with sighting of superb ‘Banded ground gecko’….beautifully graceful it was!! The stroll to ‘Mahadevgarh point’ was dedicated to snakes as we spotted as many as 4 ‘cat snakes’ 2 ‘green vine snakes’ and 2 ‘Malabar pit vipers’ in just 3 hours time…… Plenty of ‘Amboli and Common Indian Toads’ were jumping around….The fog was very dense making the dark night thicker and if we were to switch off our torches, we couldn’t even see the person next to us, imagine spotting the disguised snakes : )…….. Hats off to Abhishek for his wonderful eye to spot those ‘Malabar pit vipers’ everywhere, and ofcourse Adesh and others for their wonderful sightings…..On our way back we also got to see ‘Malabar gliding frogs’ along with their nests, eggs and tadpoles….. These are the specialty of the region.
Next morning we again went on the road to ‘Shirgaonkar point’ as we had lesser time on hand…. And were rewarded with few different tarantulas, massive ‘tiger centipede’, 2-3 more green vine snakes and 2 more Malabar pit vipers :D………. As we were waiting for our bus to take us back to Sawantwadi, playing the role of a perfect host, Mr. Hemant Ogle found ‘Pied –bellied shieldtail’ and fulfilled our wish….. This snake has black and white under side, thus giving it the name, and shining black upper side is stunning to watch……. We had got to see the this snake dead in our first trail but no need to point out the twinge of witnessing that……. Sadly, there the snake road-kills is a regular sight… Just as when we were leaving, we got to see a mating pair of grasshoppers, which was unique as it was some different specie with beautiful green/blue colour and metallic tinge and a ‘crab spider’, who had caught hold of a prey much bigger than its size :D……..

Thus, in true sense wonderful and most rewarding trip coming to an end…..Thanks to Nature India for arranging a trip, which gave an altogether different insight into this precious world, which sadly the man is destroying at a rapid pace for selfish reasons and without realizing that he is digging his own grave..…..
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From : Amey Ketkar
Amboli - 4 Aug - 8 Aug'10
I am back from one of my most memorable trips to the mystical forest of Amboli and still musing over the right adjectives to describe it. What would you call a journey which yielded in 23 snakes(8 species), a variety of frogs, geckos, tarantulas, a scorpion, centipedes and the rare caecilian (a limbless amphibian) in a mere span of two days? Superb, exciting, awesome….…?? Yes, am at loss of words, so I conclude that we just got extremely lucky.
A herpetology tour with Nature India was a first of its kind for me and I had packed only curiosity with the least of expectations. Frankly I went with the intention of enjoying the blissful and scenic hill station of Amboli famous for its above average rainfall (around 6000-7000mm!!). But as the dates approached nearer we faced a couple of set-backs. First was in the form of the Konkan Railway Service being hampered because of heavy rains and second was when a landslide shut the Sawantwadi-Amboli route. But nothing was to deter Nature India’s resolve and a group of 14 wildlife aficionados reached Amboli via a much longer route (Neeta Volvo till Sawantwadi and a minibus thereafter to Amboli via Dodamarg). Our sojourn was planned in the cosy rooms of Hotel Whistling Woods owned by Mr. Hemant Ogale. Mr. Hemant, a founder member of the Malabar Conversation Club and a herpetofauna expert knows Amboli at the back of his hand. Apart from being thorough with reptiles, amphibians, wild flowers and more so with butterflies, he is a very talented photographer which was evident from his wonderful presentations and photographs. Alongside Mr. Hemant we had got along our own resource person, Mr. Zeeshan Mirza. Already having described 6 new species to science, Zeeshan was our Mr. Omniscient. There is nothing that creeps, crawls or leaps on the forest floor that Zeeshan isn’t aware of. My reverence for him grew a great deal when I discovered he is just 22!! Obviously Adesh and Mandar were always present to help us in our endeavour.
With such a strong unit at our disposal we started our first trail towards Shirgaonkar point at around 6.30 pm. The Brook’s, Dwarf and Prashad’s gecko showed up instantly and Akshay’s sharp eyes spotted the Konkan Bush and Bull Frog. As the light faded; the mist set in, giving the night a spooky and eerie touch. The dense pristine forest was suddenly a perfect set for a Ramsay horror movie with intertwined branches, creepers and hanging moss. The jungle adorned its natural jewels in the form of Fireflies and Glow worms which kept on glittering incessantly. We continued our search getting accustomed to the torch light. The trail was a totally new proposition for me and in a way a deviation for normalcy being a bird watcher. My eyes which were so used to scanning anything between mid-forest canopies to the sky were for a change riveted on the forest floor. The deathly night silence was disturbed only by the harsh discordant croaks of a variety of frogs and at times a barking deer. Like birds most frogs can be identified by their calls. The narrow mouth frog, amboli bush frog, wrinkled frog, cricket frog et al were identified quickly and Zeeshan enlightened us about their characteristics. After viewing a few of these I was amazed by the ability of these tiny creatures to produce such loud sounds. On the trail we came across a huge rock to our left called “Shalucha Dagad” (Shalu’s Rock). According to legend a man called Shalu killed a Tiger sitting on this rock, whence the name. The place deserves special mention as this is exactly we found our first snake, the Beddome’s Keelback and apparently the first I ever handled. Later we found a Travancore Wolf Snake at the same spot which as told by Hemant and Zeeshan is at times mistaken for the Common Krait. After the tiring walk we satisfied our ravenous appetite at Hotel Satpurush which took care of all our meals. Where the non-vegetarians relished on chicken and bangda the veggies had to settle for hot pakodas and at times kheer or shrikhand. With a lot of delicacies offered during the course of our stay it was the Sol Kadi that stood out and was consumed in large quantities.
The morning brought a thrilling surprise when Adesh spotted a Cat Snake lurking near the roof right outside our room. Getting rid of their torpor all participants rushed out for a closer look. Most returned with their cameras and the Cat snake enjoyed all the glamour. We were to head towards Parikshit point, an area known to be infested with blood sucking leeches. All of us wore protective gear (leech socks) except for Abhishek, who trod along the path merrily only in his floaters. This local expert was enjoying his unexpected vacation in a way he loves the most (since the Sawantwadi- Amboli road is non functional, his college is shut for the time being). He accompanied us on all our trails and had a knack of spotting Malabar Pit Vipers. Of the 5 vipers we spotted during the trip he was responsible for 3 of them (even he is just 22!!). We saw quite a few Bicoloured frogs on the way but the limelight was shared by the Banded Gecko and the beautiful Purple Crab. As we ventured into deeper forest, I unintentionally concentrated all my energy on flicking the tiny monsters that clambered on my shoes. Expecting to find the Caecilian as we reached the plateau we engaged ourselves in our favourite pastime of turning stones. No stone was left unturned in the literal sense but still no Caecilian. Instead we managed to find the Asian Forest Scorpion, a Tarantula, a juvenile Wolf Snake, an Elloit’Shield Tail snake and a Green Keelback snake. It started pouring suddenly and so we decided to descend. Adesh made a final attempt to find one and couldn’t contain his joy when he saw a Caecilian lingering furtively under a rock. I almost sprinted to the spot followed by others marvelling on how successful the trip had been so far. As we reached our guest house, the staff welcomed us cordially and took us straight to a lamppost to show us our first Malabar Pit Viper. We were in awe looking at the camouflage and the reptile’s ability to remain dead still.

Abhishek had promised more Pit vipers on the night trail to Mahadevgad and he didn’t disappoint us. We sighted a few more Cat snakes and Green wine snakes along the way. The Common Toad was ubiquitous and so were the colourful moths. Before dinner we went to see the Malabar gliding Frog that Mr. Hemant is breeding in his backyard, under conditions conducive for its growth. Their population has declined rapidly in the last few years and so such conservation methods are essential. Few of us pried the area adjoining the Hotel after dinner and retired unusually late to our beds. Trying to make the most of the limited time we had next morning, we decided to explore Shirgaonkar trail again. A remarkable faceoff between a Green Vine Snake and a Malabar Pit Viper was according to me the highlight of our trip. I experienced a chilling sensation while the drama unfolded right in front of our eyes. Thankfully there were no casualties and in the end both individuals headed off their own way. Little ahead I pounced on the opportunity to handle a Green Vine Snake and saw an adult Tiger Centipede on the way back. Mr. Hemant was waiting for us at the guest house with a beautiful Pied Belly Shield Tail Snake which we had missed so far. The glowing sheen of this specimen was enough to lure the shutterbugs, who made the most of it.
An early lunch and it was time to bid goodbye to the mysterious biosphere of Amboli, which I am sure holds many more secrets unknown to mankind. An enjoyable session of antakshari in the minibus was followed by deep slumber and when I got up next we had reached Kamat Hotel Sawantwadi. After a light snack everyone busied themselves in buying cashews and wooden toys for which Sawantwadi is famous for. Neeta Volvo was punctual for a change and I was home by Sunday morning.
Summing-up, it was a classic adventure and I would like to thank all my fellow participants, as it was their delightful and splendid company that made this tour such a grand success.
Regards Amey
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From: Pradnya Shenoy

Amboli-30 Jul -1 Aug '10

Hi,
The demonic landslide on Konkan railway tracks did not deter a dirty dozen from dodging in the Volvo from Mumbai to Sawantwadi to explore the delightful drama of the usually despised beings of Amboli in Sahyadri hills, Western ghats in Maharashtra. Torrential rains, flooding rivers, landslides, leeches, ticks, chilly winds, nothing could come in the way of enthusiasm of a group of of nine led by the ever energetic Adesh and Mandar of Nature India and our resource person, Parthiv Sanghvi, an expert on herpetofauna.


Sujit and myself were a part of the gang that spent 3 days and 2 nights in the laps of Sahyadri Hills at Amboli, one of the eco hot-spots, extremely rich in biodiversity, especially herpetofauna, wildflowers and birds. Talking about “herpetofauna”, Sujit and myself were a complete novice and therefore the initial education about what are reptiles and amphibians, which are the venomous and non-venomous snakes, what are agamids and what are caecilians helped us a lot.

I will have to confess that I had never attempted to look at frogs so closely but this trip has definitely broken the initial barrier and now, I know how to differentiate between a frog and a toad, what to look at in them- size, type of skin, tympanum size, jaw line, structure of hind legs and fore legs and the digits, webbings and the most amazing thing, calls of frogs and toads. The frogs and toads that we sighted were Amboli toad, Fejervarya frogs, Minervarya frogs, Bicolored frog (clinotarsus curtipes). How Parthiv would sight these small creatures in the puddles and muddy water is still a mystery for me.


One of the beautiful sightings was that of the nest of Malabar gliding frog (Rhacophorus Malabaricus) just behind Hemant Ogale’s house (A nature enthusiast, passionate about reptiles, ambhibians and butterflies and owner of Whistling woods, the place where we stayed). The nest had foam covered on all sides by leaves at a height of 8-10 feet in the branches just above an artificial water tank. We were fortunate to sight 2 malabar gliding frogs high up on the branches adorning awesome green colour on their back.


Another beautiful sighting was that of eggs of Wrinkled frog (Nictibatrachus humayuni) in various stages of maturation stuck on the lower sides of leaves near a fast flowing stream. The walk through the mountain stream with cold transparent crystal like water running through pebbles and stones to have a look at the eggs was an experience in itself. But the wrinkled frog eluded us on the night trails, though we could hear its call from a very close distance. These frogs come to guard their eggs in the night.


On one of the night trails, we sighted a bull frog (Hoplobatrachus) in a small stream. The size of the frog was so immense that it was pet named as “bull dog”, “Kumbhkarna” by the homo sapiens. Parthiv who would want to have a close look at all the reptiles and amphibians hopped like a frog himself behind the bull frog who in turn hopped faster and leaped into the water and was out of sight!


The size of many crickets, moth, insects, caterpillar was huge and Adesh used to lovingly call them Raavan!


We heard the call of Microhyla ornata on both the night trails but found one juvenile on the last day. Unlike its big name, it was very tiny, less than a centimeter in size.
The snakes we encountered were 2 pied bellied shieldtail (1 road kill and 1 live specimen-that had such pretty shades of blue and purple that shined when light reflected from it’s scales), Elliot’s shieldtail(?), Common vine snake, Beddome’s keelback and Malabar pit viper(2). One of the amazing sights was that of a juvenile Malabar pit viper preying upon a juvenile Beddome’s keelback.


The geckos we sighted were Prashad’s gecko, Banded gecko, Brooke’s gecko and Dwarf gecko. We sighted forest calotes and garden calotes, mating water scorpions, a tadpole of Beddome’s leaping frog, Caddy’s fly, Robber’s fly, an owl moth.


The excitement was heightened when Adesh found a lesser known ceaecilian (male) and shortly later a female of the same species. The speed, sliminess and agility of the caecilian were amazing. It was a break for Sujit and myself from looking upwards at birds to downwards while Parthiv, Adesh and Mandar did not leave any stone unturned. The adaptation skills (camouflage, food habits, habitat) of the herpetofauna underline the significance of the smallest of the organisms required to keep the network of biodiversity intact.


The leeches were abundant but the leech guards protected us while few of us did offer meals to the leeches, though unknowingly and unwillingly and helped convert the tiny wriggling things into fat lazy ones.


Bird sightings were poor due to fog, clouds and thick canopy but we did hear, oriental magpie robin, Malabar whistling thrush, puff throated babbler, brown cheeked fulvetta, scarlet minivet, red whiskered bulbul, yellow browed bulbul.


One more time words of gratitude to Adesh and Mandar (Nature India) for giving us an opportunity to see, know and appreciate the lesser known species of the wild. At the end of such trips I always wonder how beautiful nature is, how little we know, how small our life is and how much more is out there to see.


All things bright and beautiful
All creatures great and small

All things wise and wonderful

The Lord God made them all

-Cecil Francis Alexander (1818-1895)


P.S. Greatly organized trip, especially in one of the worst conditions and harsh climate. A landslide on konkan railway, then a land slide in amboli ghat, fierce rains, nothing dampened our enthusiasm only because Nature India duo had planned our travel to and fro very well.

Regards Dr. Pradnya & Dr. Sujit Shenoy------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

From: Jayanthi Mahalingam


Amboli Amblings

Hi there,
One more trip with Nature India Tours and one more memorable experience!

Frogs, centipedes, scorpions, snakes, spiders and not to forget LEECHES! Sounds appetizing? Then head over to Amboli to drool over such creepy crawlies and more! That's what my friend Shilpa (a first-timer with Nature India Tours) and I did at the end of July. There were 12 others in the group including a clutch of do-or-die, `shoot at sight' photographers!


Adesh had warned us not to expect to spot any birds. Though we heard lots of birdcalls – scimitar babblers, brown-cheeked fulvettas and barbets – we spotted only two or three at the most. This place is more well-known for its unlimited variety of insects, amphibians and reptilians. And not only did we have Adesh and Mandar to guide us, but also Hemant Ogale who runs Whistling Woods, a Bed and Breakfast place in Amboli where we all stayed. Not to forget Shashank who is a young expert on amphibians and snakes.


Hemant runs the Malabar Conservation Centre and is training a group of local youths to raise awareness about environmental issues in the region. It is threatened at least from what I saw, by the huge tourist influx during the monsoon and the unplanned development. The tourists come from Goa and nearby places to bathe in the waterfalls that cascade down the hills. We saw at least a thousand or more congregated at the biggest one. The plastic litter, beer bottles and cans were grim reminders of how little people cared about destroying the very natural beauty they had come to enjoy.

Hills in the distance, and rainforest around you as you "amble" along tarred roads through the mist – yes, it makes for a pretty picture, doesn't it? And if you like rains in the countryside, then good for you – Amboli is known as the Cherrapunji of Maharashtra. Unluckily for us, it did not rain all that heavily. There were good rains only on the day we were leaving!

We went to a place called Madhavgad and Parikshit Point, the highest at 900 metres. This was through a leech-ridden forest path. Gauri spotted a Malabar pit viper and won the `prize' promised by Adesh (an old cap!!). We spotted this snake three or four more times. The beautiful Bombay Shield Snake, the Greeen Vine snake and the Olive forest snake completed our kitty. We also spotted a variety of frogs including bullfrogs and burrowing frogs. Lots of frog's eggs in which we could see the tadpoles (that was an awesome sight). Hemant put his feet inside a pond at one stage and all the tadpoles swarmed all over them to give him a `pedicure'!
The crowning glory was a glimpse of the Malabar gliding frog in Hemant's backyard. He had a rare video of the mating of these frogs and showed us the foamy nests studded with tiny yellow eggs. They build these nests on branches overhanging water so that the tadpoles drop directly into water.


Three days of unlimited fun…walking in the rain, enjoying the white mists swirling down the path and stopping here and there to exclaim at the amazing sights that nature provided us. If this isn't the greatest stress buster and balm for jaded urban souls, I don't know what is!


And of course we all enjoyed the spicy Konkan food (a bit too hot for me!), especially the fish eaters who feasted on surmai and bangda…washed down with cooling Solkadi. Mmmmm…
Our trip wound up with a visit to the colourful Sawantwadi wooden toy bazaar. All of us picked up some gleaming memento or the other of this lovely, unspoiled place.


And I added one more leaf to my album of memorable journeys with Adesh and Mandar. More strength to this pair of nature-lovers…
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From: Vivek Kale
Dear friends,
I have taken long time to post the Tadoba photo essay…..Refer the link below; hope you enjoy.

http://nattadoba.rediffblogs.com/

Thanks again to Adesh for the trip.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------From: Pradnya Shenoy (Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve trip, April’09)
Hi,
The much awaited nature trip to Tadoba (23/4/09 to 25/4/09) with Adesh Shivkar’s Nature India is finally over. And it has left a great impression on my mind. It was my first and Sujit’s 2nd tiger sighting. He was lucky enough to sight a juvenile tiger during his medical officer’s post in wardha in the 2000-2001. 3 Days & 2 nights with 4 jungle safaris (morning 6 am to 11 am and evening 3 pm to 7 pm) in the dry deciduous forest of Tadoba yielded us very good sightings of birds and mammals. 12 nature enthusiasts with Adesh Shivkar as our group leader and the trip organizer had a blast at Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve. When we were not sleeping we were either sighting birds, tracking the tiger, enjoying the teak, bamboo forest or talking about wildlife, discussing about our sightings and viewing pictures taken by the lensmen of the group.
The highlights of the trip were:
  1. Waterholes were the main attraction for the four of us in one jeep (Sujit, Kalpana, Sucharita & me) particularly for the birds that flocked at the waterholes for quenching their thirst. We sighted white rumped munia, black drongo, white bellied drongo, spotted dove, laughing dove, chestnut shouldered petronia, red vented bulbul and even a sirkeer malkoha at the waterholes.
  2. Herds of Sambhar, spotted deer, bison along with young ones were a treat to eyes. We encountered wild boar, barking deer (3 sightings) with a young one and four horned antelope (2 sightings, both with a young one).
  3. At Katezhari we sighted a sloth bear of which I could manage no more than a record shot.
  4. Vasant bandhara was a beautiful place with a stream flowing in the shades of bamboo groves. This place was literally full of paradise flycatcher (female and male-rufous morph) everywhere and on the last day we saw 2 white morh males as well. Tickell’s blue flycatcher,black napped monarch, Blyth’s reed warbler, stork billed & white throated kingfisher, crested serpent eagle, cinnamon bittern, black rumped woodpecker, sirkeer malkoha, red spurfowl and white throated and whitespotted fantail flycatcher blessed us with wonderful sightings at vasant bandhara. I shall remember this place forever in my life for one more reason.
  5. Another enchanting place was a lake where we saw birds and mammals, big and small, drinking water on the shores of the lake. At one time we saw 6-7 oriental honey buzzard flying above our heads one after the other. White eyed buzzard, red wattled lapwing, asian openbill, changeable hawk eagle, laughing dove, grey headed fish eagle, a darter, cattle, little, median and great egrets and little cormorant were the other sightings here.
  6. One of the most exciting moments was when we sighted a female painted sandgrouse and a few days old chick on the stony path on one side of the tar road. The chick was so well camouflaged that we were all simply aghast with awe and surprise.
  7. The marshy land around the MTDC resort had cotton pygmy goose, asian openbill little grebe, purple swamphen, purple heron, a lone lesser adjutant and a lone painted stork.
  8. Jungle owlet, spotted owlet, grey nightjar and calls of savanna nightjar were the other joyous moments.
  9. Yes and the most exciting moment was undoubtedly when we sighted the tiger, (we were told later it was a tigress). It was an almost one and half to two hours long tracking session. First as told by the other jeep, we just sighted a patch of orange and black stripes through the bamboo but were not even sure whether we were seeing a tiger as the surrounding was almost of the same colour. After a long wait and no better sighting or movement we decided to move ahead forsome birding. But we were destined to see her. We came back to the same spot and saw the huge predator moving through the grass and bamboo. I came down the slope for water and turned back and walked through the grass, giving us some glimpses here and there. We were all speechless. Our forest guide instructed the driver to take the jeep on the tar road where he expected the animal to cross the road towards the other side. Our jeep stood on the road waiting for the tigress to come out. All of us were standing in the jeep holding our breath, camera and binoculars. And the elegant animal walked through the grass on our left side, slowly emerged out from the bamboo, glanced at us, royally walked in front of us, crossed the road and went into theforest on the right side. It was a spiritual moment for me. I once again realized how much her existence is essential for mine. Thanks Nature India for my first tiger sighting.
  10. Overall a bird list of 110 species
  11. And mammal list of 14 species
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From: Kalpana Malani (Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve trip, April’09)
22/04/2009 to 26/04/2009
This has been a year of reprise birding for me. I started with my second visit to Corbett and then a third visit to Tadoba . Adesh had emphasized on being prepared for the scorching sun so all of us were well prepared with scarves, hats, electral, glucose, kokum sherbet, and lemon Tang the last two being a hot( no pun intended) favourite – one would have thought we were to cross the Sahara on foot!

The heat was a real punch in the face after the cool confines of the AC coach of the train so out came out our scarves with a quick lesson from the experienced ones on how to tie the scarf so that only your eyes were visible. We looked like a motley crew of masked bandits ready to rob the nearest bank – there was an ATM outside Chandrapur station! Our MTDC hotel at Moharli was really picturesque with a view of the lake with lotus flowers at the edge along with openbill storks, purple herons and moorhens, black headed ibis, pheasant tailed jacanas, cotton pygmy geese, egrets, lesser adjutant( a lone specimen)and a painted stork.

The teak trees all around were really dry with a few dried leaves hanging looking very much like perched birds from a distance. Our first jeep ride was in the afternoon and the masked bandits rode into Tadoba armed with cameras and binocs. All along were man made waterholes which were filled by the Forest department and each one usually had birds around. The most commonly seen birds were the rufous treepie, spotted and collared doves, black drongo and plum headed parakeets. We had very close sightings of the Sambhar, chital, muntjacs and four horned antelope ( I had read Prater in the train so wasn’t totally clueless about the mammals).

There was a herd of wild boar along with cattle egrets on a grassy open space and near vasantdhara dam we found our dream spot – a sluggishly flowing stream with trees over it covered with creepers – on all three days we saw many birds and on one day our first encounter with the tiger. We had a real close view of the crested serpent eagle, stork billed kingfisher, red spur fowls, ruddy mongoose, paradise flycatchers, white browed and white throated fantail flycatchers, tickells blue flycatchers, black nap ed monarchs, cinnamon bittern, blyths reed warbler. We had a good look at the sloth bear who Prater describes as uncouth looking with an unkempt look – obviously not his favourite mammal. Adesh showed us a tree with several honeycombs which had its bark scratched by the sloth bears climbing to reach the honey comb. On our way back we rode through the Telia dam road and saw several Savannah nightjars sitting at the side of the road as well as flying and calling out.

The next morning ride started with the Telia dam and a flock of lesser whistling ducks, a lone yellow wagtail, and an Oriental honey buzzard and white eyed buzzard at the water’s edge drinking water. The high point of that day was our spotting of a painted sandgrouse chick – the camouflage was so perfect we were just 3 feet away and couldn’t spot it until the guide showed us. At Tadoba lake we had another amazing experience – six honey buzzards landing one after the other on a tree and white eyed buzzards at the water’s edge drinking water and a juvenile changeable hawk eagle perched low in a tree.

The evening ride was memorable for two reasons – our jeep broke down for the second time and as we anxiously waited for a replacement we wondered if the lost time would prove unfavourable for a tiger sighting but on the contrary it worked in our favour as we had a real close encounter with a magnificent tigress. Initially we reached our steam only to hear that we missed a tiger who was cooling off in the water. But a patient wait allowed us to see the whole drama off the resting tigress moving silently through the thick bamboo thickets accompanied by the frenzied calling of sambhar. On our ride back we heard Savannah and Indian nightjars calling, a pair of dholes gambolling at the side of the road and a quick glimpse of and extremely startled black naped hare.

Our last ride the next morning saw us by our favourite stream as male paradise flycatchers kept us entranced with their swishing tails. The lakeside had asian openbills lined up, two black ibis and a flock of ruddy shelducks in the water. A lone darter and a juvenile changeable hawk eagle on the far side, honeybuzzards flying in, small minivets, ioras in a feeding frenzy in the jambul tree.

Please correct any mistakes cos after the first day I had not written down much so everything hinges on my memory of events!
Link to pics below - excuse the poor quality - in my excitement I've just clicked away.

http://picasaweb.google.co.in/malanikalpana/Tadoba2009?authkey=Gv1sRgCMrl8p3_p-Ww7gE&feat=directlink

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Dandeli

From: Jayanthi Mahalingam
It was pitch-black, the velvety sky punctured by brilliant points of starlight, as we headed down the tarred road from Kulgi Nature Camp on our first night walk. We were hoping to see some nocturnal wildlife, in particular the Sri Lanka Frogmouth. The motley group, consisted of, besides me, Uma, Mohan, Vamsee, Saru, Nikhil, Kalpana, Sucharita, the Jayarams and my daughter Sharada,. We followed the piercing beam of the torch held by Mandar Khadilkar, the bespectacled, soft-spoken Nature India Tours guide and listened intently for the male’s distinctive ‘klock,klock, klock’ call. Adesh Shivkar, the intrepid birding expert, was our other guide.

Adesh stopped at a stagnant pond ringed with overhanging trees and thick bushes which he said were likely roosting spots for the frogmouth. The silence was overwhelming, punctuated only by the chirp of crickets and the occasional hooting of the Oriental Scops Owl and the plop of twigs falling into the water. As we strained our eyes in the darkness, Adesh imitated the frogmouth’s call a few times and then cupped his ears to listen. After a few minutes, a thrill ran down my spine and the hairs on my neck stood on end. The frogmouth answered, first the female with its harsh ‘krrrrsshh’ and then the male, their calls echoing eerily in the quietude of the surrounding forest.

The beam of the torch played on each succeeding tree, hoping to capture the frogmouths in its spotlight. Alas! To no avail. That night, though we walked down further for another hour, we could not glimpse this elusive bird though we heard them calling distinctly. Each time we felt the bird was just there, an arm’s length away, but the torchlight revealed nothing! Nor did we scope out the Scops. Ohhhh…we all sighed a little in disappointment. Our legs ached and we sat down in the middle of the road to rest. Could we ever do that in the concrete jungle?!

We had one just more night at Dandeli, and we all resolved that come what may, we would succeed in our quest. The frogmouth apparently was quite common in Dandeli but because it was normally silent, except during the breeding season, birders rarely saw it. It roosts in the bamboo thickets or in dense bushes, sitting as still as a monk in meditation, its grey-brown colouration merging perfectly with the surroundings. It is a medium-sized bird, with bristles around its wide mouth (resembling a frog’s gape, thus the name) and preys on insects which it doesn’t hunt actively but catches by a silent ambush of sorts.

The second night walk started with a glimpse of the Malabar flying squirrel which we felt was a good omen! We followed the route of the first walk. Again, near the pond, we stood in a silent, hopeful bunch swivelling our heads to follow the calls we heard booming around us. Adesh then decided to walk along the road once more, saying that there were more chances of finding the frogmouth in the trees fringing it. So once more we trudged up the road, resuming our keen survey of the trees, almost willing the bird to be there!

Then…bingo! The roving beam of the torch picked them out, sitting silently on the branch of a tree directly above us! We all let out a collective breath of excitement, our hands trembling as we lifted binoculars to our eyes. The frogmouths – a pair – sat tight and glared right back at us, probably not liking the light focussed on them one bit. Uma actually shot a video of the birds and it included the female calling! Then the male took wing, followed shortly after by the female. We did not see the birds again and though we heard the Scops again, we could not spot it. So back to the camp and a celebration of our frogmouth sighting…with sweets distributed by Mandar.

Though the frogmouths were the defining moment of my visit to Dandeli, there were other memorable moments, too. We made trips to the Timber Depot, the abandoned mine, Ganeshgudi and also took a ride through the main sanctuary. The sanctuary proper was disappointing with meagre spottings – some deer and peafowl. However, the mine was a veritable goldmine! The bluebearded bee eater which refused to turn around and show us its beard (!), raucous yellow-browed bulbuls, brilliant orange and small minivets flitting like jewels in the trees, the silky chestnut headed bee eater and delicious plum headed parakeets. The timber depot was a revelation. Woodpeckers by the gallon, cute little beady-eyed velvet fronted and chestnut-bellied nuthatches meandering down the tree trunks, ashy, bronze and white bellied drongos by the drumful and shrikes and flycatchers galore. We were punch drunk in less than an hour and were greedy for more and more…

This was followed by a tree full of pompadour green pigeons looking for all the world like luscious plump fruit, shrieking Malabar pied hornbills gorging on berries and a sky full of brilliant white and rust brahminy kites. The pipal tree in the camp provided a feast too, and not only for the birds and assorted monkeys. It was a birder’s feast for the eyes with crimson-fronted barbets, hanging parrots, the Asian fairy bluebird which looked as if it had fallen into a vat of Robin Blue, and the brown flycatcher shrike with black button eyes.

Dandeli was a dream come true, especially for Sharada who has now become ‘sort of addicted’ to birding! Kudos as usual to Adesh and Mandar for organising a fantastic outing – their perserverance, patience and passion have to be experienced to be believed. More strength to Nature India Tours and may their trips ever increase.

Cheers!
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Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary, Nannaj


From: Amey Ketkar

In pursuit of the Great Indian Bustard

My first glimpse of the Great Indian Bustard (GIB) left me totally spellbound and I am sure all those who have seen this magnificent bird will corroborate my feelings. From the majestic gait to its sluggish flight, an exceptional aura surrounds the bird and I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to witness it. For all you guys who have not, time is running out real fast. The clock is ticking precariously towards its extinction and it’s a shame that a once bountiful population has been reduced to mere 400 individuals.


In contention to be bestowed the title of national bird of India, the GIB lost out to the Indian Peafowl because of its tricky name. It’s been fighting a losing battle since then. The population has diminished notably due to habitat destruction and the GIB has been forced into a few pockets of the country. The GIB Sanctuary at Nanaj near Solapur is one such haven. This 600 hectare of discontinuous stretch of grassland is an abode for around 20 GIBs (the last census count was just 9!!.... but the census was hampered coz of rain and lack of equipment).


A weekend trip (23-24 Oct) with Nature India provided a perfect platform to study this dry grassland and related species. After a quick breakfast on arrival, the team geared up for our 1st bird watching session. In our morning visit to the fringe edge of the sanctuary a variety of larks and pipits showed up but it were the Sykes’s and Ashy Crowned Larks who posed gleefully. The others kept lurking in the thick grass cover without sparing a thought for the keen shutterbugs. The Pallid and Montagu’s Harrier were seen at intervals throughout the trip. This was the region where the earlier sighting of the GIB was reported; but we had no such luck. The only excitement was created by the unexpected arrival of the Laggar Falcon. It had hunted a myna size bird and was devouring it in flight itself. Nanaj has typical dry grassland with sparse vegetation, so moving off the track meant venturing into the spiny grass patches. To find the skulky and noisy Painted Francolin we had no choice but to the same. We did see the bird in the later part of the day but only after experiencing numerous pricks from the spiky branches of the grass genus Aristida. It was Raj, pursuing his PHD on the subject who educated us about the genus and its seeds that got stuck in our pants causing a lot of irritation. On our way to lunch Mandar spotted a pair of mean looking Bonelli’s Hawk Eagle scanning the vicinity for prey. Being in pair made size comparison possible and the bigger size of the female was obvious (in most raptors the female is larger than male). Lunch at Hotel Nisarga consisted of typical mouth watering Solapur delicacies. We relished Zhunka Bhakar and Shengdana Chutney while sipping cool buttermilk. The sweet Shenga Poli was much need to nullify the effects of the sizzling hot Mircha Thecha.


Rainfall this year has been more than moderate making our quest to find the GIB tougher. One session already gone by, evening to be dedicated to find the Indian Eagle Owl, visit to Hipparga Lake planned on Sunday evening meant we just had tomorrow morning to try our luck. But life can throw you a lot of surprises and you never tend to forget the most charming ones. The twist of fate was initiated by a call from Mr. Bhagwat Mhaske (a devoted forest guard) and we abruptly changed direction to head towards the core area instead of Kegaon (Indian Eagle Owl area). The news of a GIB in the core area was music to ears and even the overcast conditions and a light passing shower didn’t dampen our spirits. We rushed to the viewing hut providing excellent view of the vast expanse. A small white speck was quickly detected and the spotting scopes were hastily aimed on it. The splendid male was ambling in a grassy patch and stayed put for a considerably long time. Pronking alongside were the graceful Blackbucks which in comparison with the GIB are in good numbers. Both the species obliged the photographers with different poses.

The hunger to see the GIB was insatiable and we remained glued to our binoculars. Overwhelmed by such amazing sight we felt indebted to Mr. Mhaske but the events to follow were even more sensational. While enjoying the thrill of watching the Blackbuck and the GIB in the same frame, movement to our right alerted us. Suddenly we saw the antelope scurrying for cover as dashing behind it was the Indian Wolf. The GIB looked alarmed too and one could sense tension in the air. Astonishingly the wolf headed straight for the bird instead of the Blackbuck. The languid male took off as quickly as it could, providing an opportunity to watch one of the heaviest birds in flight. The huge wingspan could have been easily mistaken as that of a raptor. The chilling moment was followed by an unusual calm. As the spell lifted, the silence was broken and all the team members got involved in an animated discussion. After such drama we had to thank Abhijit alongside Mr.Mhaske who had the presence of mind to capture the whole episode on video.
[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fC2VG08-4s]


Mr. Mhaske then enlightened us about the conservation effort, breeding and feeding habits of the GIB. The GIB mainly feeds on fan-throated lizards, insects and at times snakes. A good monsoon acts as a catalyst for their breeding and the female lays a single egg in a year. The egg is laid in the open, exposing it to a numbers of predators making conversation a mammoth task. Mr. Mhaske has undertaken the laudable effort of gathering local support by educating the nearby villages of the importance of grassland habitat. This according to me is a very significant step, as without local help the bustard is bound to go extinct.


The 1st half of Sunday morning was spend near the core area itself. Lesser Whitethroat, Booted and Greenish Warbler et al were amongst the highlights. Then we went for the Eagle Owl which was skipped yesterday evening. The habitat was typical for the owl with a small stream bordered by rocky ravines. Instructed to keep mum we started scanning quietly. The owl is a master of camouflage and can remain dead still for hours. The darker shade helps the huge bird to blend completely with the surroundings. But seldom does anything escape the piercing gaze of hawk-eyed Adesh and we swiftly managed to see one perched under a tree. To get a closer look we climbed down a slope and saw Blue Rock Thrush and Black Redstart on the way. At a similar habitat further ahead we sighted a couple of cute Spotted Owlets and Sulphur-Bellied Warbler.


A pair of Black Ibis posed favourably for the photographers on our way to Hipparga Lake. The main attraction here was the migratory ducks and waders. Spot-billed Ducks, Common Coots, Cotton Pygmy Gooses and number of Pheasant-tailed Jacanas were easily spotted. The Weavers, Prinias and Starlings were vying for attention. Gargeney, Shoveller, Green and Wood Sandpiper were the only migratory ones we saw. The sun was almost setting in the horizon when a juvenile Bramhiny Kite and Marsh Harrier glided by. We returned to our hotel and before dinner Adesh made a wonderful presentation on his laptop to revise the day’s work.


Though I was leaving Nanaj with moments to cherish, haunting presentiment of the bustard going extinct stirred my emotions. Our parochial attitude that grasslands are wastelands need to change. The exploitation of such habitats is not only affecting the flagship species like the Lesser Florican, GIB, Indian Wolf and the Blackbuck but also a wide spectrum of insects and birds who have found refuge in this realm. The seeds of awareness are sown by people like Mr. Mhaske, all we can do is to wait for them to sprout and disseminate. Hopefully we all can supplement their efforts by doing our bit for Mother Nature.

Regards Amey
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From Rujuta Phadke


Since the time I started birding last year, had heard a lot about The Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary, Nanaj near Solapur and was one of the must visit places on this year’s wish list…..From the reports and experiences of the birding experts, we got to know that the best time to explore, what was once famous as our own Indian Savanna, and is now sadly facing a major destruction, is during winter…. As per routine, Nature India arranged the excursion to this birding paradise and we grabbed the opportunity, without thinking even once as its extremely difficult to find a place in ever popular and full tours of Nature India ……..

Our group….

Finally the 22nd of October, 2010 arrived and we set out by Siddheshwar express, expecting too much crowd, going by the newspaper headlines and pictures that day morning, but much to our pleasure, the journey was smooth and without any disturbance at all….We reached Solapur, at around 7 AM on Saturday morning of 23rd and met our group of 17, including Mandar and Adesh (our own beloved Nature India organizers), just outside the station…With quick freshen-up and breakfast in our hotel, we picked 2 more participants, who had reached the earlier day from Pune and set out for our 2 days very well spent in nature…This group of 19 was very interesting and I feel a special mention of the participants is needed, as it was because of them I had a wonderful time and the trip was so much of a success....Apart from everyone being a true nature enthusiast and a nature lover, it included Neeta and Prachi, PhD pursuant in Dragon flies, Raj expert in all types of trees and also a PhD pursuant in types of grass, Sheetal, expert in Marine biology, many other excellent photographers and of course the birding experts Adesh and Mandar… 




The GIB sanctuary, Nanaj….
Great Indian Bustard (GIB) Sanctuary, is situated at around 22 kms from Solapur, in Maharashtra. The total area of this sanctuary is about 600 odd sq. kms, consisting parts of Solapur and area around it. But the core area under the reserved forest is only about 100 odd sq. kms. The uniqueness of the place is that it’s a sanctuary without hardly any tree cover…Generally, when we think about a reserved area or a reserved forest, we almost always have the image of a heavily wooded area, but in contrast to that, this core area is full of grasslands and only small bushes and small tress in between….This is one of the main reasons of its destruction because, even when the encroachment happens, no one is cutting any trees or destroying the forest so people tend to think that this is a waste land and is of no use and don’t understand that its getting destroyed… Here we forget the importance of the grasslands and how it is the home for many important species of not only birds but also mammals, reptiles etc. The forest department has built a watchtower in the form of a small hut in the heart of the reserved forest, wherein around 12-15 people can sit and observe the vast grassland all around it….This is the boundary upto which you can walk and no one is allowed to go further this point…..Just next to the main office of the forest department, there is an Interpretation/Information Centre built by forest department..It is nicely built and does give little information to novice about not only the life of the GIB but also, general wildlife containing mammals, birds, reptiles etc. found in Maharashtra….We met very active and hard working forest officer of the sanctuary called “Bhagwat Mhaske”…He is also working for creating the awareness about the GIB and the importance of grasslands amongst the local people….His work is truly inspiring and deserves a special admiration. I loved it when Nature India presented him with a small token of appreciation on behalf of all of us….He provided us with the important information about the sanctuary and the GIB…..

The Raptor show…..
The first morning, of Saturday, 23rd, we spent in birding little on the outskirts of the main sanctuary because in the previous batch of Nature India, earlier weekend, the GIBs were sighted there – 1 male and 2 female… Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the GIB, but the place was interesting and full of birding activity…’Scaly breasted munia’ was nesting on a tree right outside our hotel..As soon as we got down from the car, ‘Ashy crowned finch lark’ showed up with its female….there were plenty of ‘greater short toed larks’ flying in flocks…..but none could be captured on the scope or the cameras….ample of ‘Syke’s crested larks kept showing up on the road along with ‘Tawny pipits’ and ‘Grey francolins’…..a couple of ‘Syke’s crested lark’ was coming again and again to the same spot with food in their mouth, as Adesh informed us they were doing that to feed their young ones and they have their nest on the ground there….we spotted a sole ‘Richard’s pipit’….there were plenty of ‘Laughing doves’ and ‘Eurasian collared doves’……’Green bee eaters and ‘Black drongos’ were all over the place….Plenty of ‘Southern grey and Bay-backed shrikes’ were posing for photographs….very handsome male ‘Black bucks’ were pleasing us with their often sightings….our winter visitors, ‘Pallid’ and ‘Montegu’s harriers’ were swooping in and out of sight with few ‘common kestrels’ to accompany them….Swiftly, a huge bird of prey appeared out of nowhere and we saw that it was carrying a smaller bird in its legs….it went past us as fast as it had come and unfortunately, same time, clouds had covered the sky making light low and visibility poor….observing it as far as we could, Adesh identified it as ‘Laggar falcon’ and we were so happy and kept wondering which bird it was carrying and hoping that it would sit close by to eat its kill…but nonetheless it delighted us with its appearance…..! ‘Red wattled lapwings’ along with the rare ‘Yellow wattled lapwings’ was another sight to see….Later as we started towards one restaurant for the lunch, on the roadside, there were plenty of ‘Large grey babblers’ clattering, ‘Baya weavers’ jumping on their artistic nests, ‘Rosy and Brahminy starlings’ hopping from tree to tree…….there was a ‘short toed snake eagle’ sitting on the top of the lamp post far away….so many ‘Red-rumped swallows’ were gathered on the wire, as if they all were asked to gather together there ;)…..’Barn swallows’ were there to visit them too…..’Common hoopoe’ gave a pleasant surprise…But as we went further ahead, the stealer of the morning bird show was the pair of ‘Bonelli’s hawk eagle’ sitting on the mobile tower right next to the road…..the male was showing his front profile and the female was sitting next to him with her back towards us…….to observe them for soo long from the scope was totally amazing……. :D

Extremely rare and interesting GIB…

Saturday afternoon, just after a sumptuous and mouth watering lunch of local delicacies containing, Jhunka, bhakari, Dhapate, danyachi chatni and Shenganchya polya (similar to our Gul poli or Puran poli with filling of ‘Shengdane’), we couldn’t stick to our original program, as we got a call from Mhaske Sir, informing about the sighting of the male Great Indian Bustard near the Central hut I mentioned earlier. Immediately we rushed to the sanctuary…Untimely rain and cloud cover put serious doubts in our minds about the sighting and tried to demoralize a little but nothing was going to stop us from getting the first glimpse of the rare beauty….even before we reached the Central hut, we had spotted the solitary male GIB, sauntering far in the grass…..

The Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps) is a highly endangered, ground dwelling bird. In fact, it is the most endangered member of the bustard family in the world; and is found only in few sanctuaries located in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Rajsthan and Gujrat. The Great Indian Bustard is a beautiful, large, brown and white bird, with a long neck and long bare legs like that of an ostrich. It stands about a meter high. The sexes are similar in appearance although the male is deep sandy buff coloured. The crown of the head is black and crested. The crown starts right from the eye in male, whereas in female, there is a gap between the black patch on the head and the eye…Also, the female is smaller than the male. Its head and neck are not pure white and the breast band is either rudimentary or absent. They look extremely graceful and in fact Salim Ali wanted, bustard to be declared as a national bird of India instead of Peacock but because of the bureaucrats and the politicians at that time it didn’t happen….Had that been the case, today the conservation and the number of bustards would have been much better…. The Bustard breeds during March to September during which time the fluffy white feathers on the neck of the male are inflated and displayed. The pouch in the throat becomes elongated and huge and almost reaches its feet and it produces a resonant, deep booming call…The male also raises the tail and folds it on its back….This display is very fascinating to watch….The Bustard prefers dry, short grasslands, and open country, tall grass interspersed with cultivation where the vegetation is below its eye level (less than one metre high). It avoids dense grasslands that hamper its movement. It also avoids irrigated areas. It is omnivorous and feeds on seeds of grasses, small shrubs, insects, rats, grams, groundnuts, millets etc. One of the many reasons for its ever decreasing numbers is habitat destruction, due to encroachment by cultivation and farming. Its an extremely interesting bird as it does not build a nest or take any protection from trees or anything else even to lay eggs and raise the chicks. Further, their population is fast declining because, almost always female lays only one egg at a time unlike other birds, who lay 3-4 each time and in addition to that, due to lesser protection available, the egg is vulnerable to predators and poaching and its survival rate is very low……Just like other wildlife factors, GIB too faces lot of threats from humans as well…According to forest officer Mhaske, since this whole land was declared as a sanctuary, and local people were forbidden to enter it or cultivate it, they are hurt and there is a feeling of betrayal amongst the locals…..they feel, we loved this bird and took such good care of him, but now because of him, we are left with no land of our own and such things….. This elaborates ever increasing human-nature conflict and the selfishness of human beings, causing the destruction of themselves along with the other important factors of biosphere…..


Everything in nature surprises you at every point of time and yet again we were truly fortunate to experience the drama……As we were understanding GIB and other aspects of the sanctuary and the problems in the conservation from the Mhaske sir, gathered together in the hut, we had one eye on the sole GIB and the herd Black bucks close to him……Suddenly, the black bucks became alert and started running to our left….On closer observation, we saw to our utmost enjoyment, ‘Wolf’ was there and just when we thought he was chasing black bucks, to our astonishment, he went straight past them and went in the direction of the GIB….Till he was pretty close, even GIB didn’t realize and as soon as it got aware, it flew with all its energy …………wow!! It looked majestic, huge and graceful at the same time……you have to experience it to believe it and the thrill of witnessing the whole scene was so exceptional that, I am unable to do justice while expressing it in words…!!!!

Later on the way to the nearby pond, we saw ‘Rock bush quail’ shouting at top of his voice, standing on top of the stone by the side of the road….At the water body, we saw ‘Common coot’, ‘Little grebe’ and ‘Spot billed duck’ swimming leisurely…..Amey was finally able to find the ’Painted francolin’ which kept calling profusely, the whole evening, but only few of us could see it from the scope before it again disappeared behind the mound, leaving us only to hear its calls….After an introduction with the entire group and a small chat, we returned to our hotel and retired after dinner……


Vicious eyed owl….


Sunday, 24th morning our target specie was ‘Eurasian eagle owl’, which is found in the wooded areas near ‘Kaygaon’ and where we could not go earlier evening as decided, as we went to see the GIB….but the best time for the owl was after 11:00-11:30 AM so till then we had plenty of time to search for other birds and we were not disappointed….Male and females of beautiful ‘Small minivets’ greeted us a very good morning and it did turn out to be a great morning!....’Indian silverbill’, ‘Red collared dove’, ‘Common iora’, ‘Great tit’, ‘Plain and Ashy prinias’, ‘Long-tailed shrike’ added to our list…’Indian roller’ and ‘Red munia’ brightened our moods with their colourful appearances…….’Indian bushlark’, ‘Paddyfield pipit’ were fooling us by their perfect camouflage……’Lesser whitethroat’ and ‘Booted warblers’ were hopping in the trees…..As Adesh said, ‘Zitting cisticola’ had become ‘sitting cisticol’ sitting with the ‘Chestnut shouldered petronia’ ;)…….


Then came the time to go to the canal and search for the astonishingly disguised ‘Eurasian eagle owl’ and all thanks to Adesh and hats off to his awesome spotting skills, within 5 mins of reaching the place, we found the owl …..again you have to see it to believe its ability to conceal itself with the surroundings……through the binoculars and the spotting scopes, we were able to admire it for a long time….its bright orange eyes, big ear tufts, and the fantastic patterns on its breast, belly and back!! After sometime it flew out of hiding, gave a nice pose out on the open wall of the canal before going out of sight….. Meanwhile ‘Black redstart’, ‘Blue rock thrush’, ‘Common tailorbird’, ‘Purple and purple rumped sunbirds’ were keeping us busy…..We then went on the opposite side of the road, at the other spot, where also the owl could be found….’Spotted owlet’ showed instantly before perfectly hiding itself in the trees….. there some of us saw ‘Greenish and Sulphur-bellied warblers’……we found one more ‘Eurasian eagle owl’ but could see it hardly any time before it flew away……After again a wonderful, appetizing lunch, we relaxed for sometime in the hotel before the last excursion of the trip….

Evening at Hipparga Lake…..
The last evening of Sunday 24th, we had decided to spend on the beautiful and big lake in the vicinity of Solapur….Our journey to the lake became extremely enjoyable, as 2 awesome ‘Black ibis’, were standing in the bright sunlight, in the field next to the road……And Anand was the happiest to get brilliant photographs of this beautiful bird in all poses, including in flight, before flying off….. …We were hoping for good number of waders (water birds) and ducks, most of which are winter visitors flying from as far as Siberia and many such countries…but to our disappointment, in ducks, only ‘Garganey’ and ‘Northern shovelers’ had arrived…..Nevertheless, we enjoyed our time with ‘Green and Wood sandpipers’, ‘Pond, Grey and Purple herons’, all type of egrets, ‘Cormorants’, ‘White-throated and Common kingfishers’, ‘Black-wing stilts’ adding to our bird list….. ‘White-breasted waterhen’ was enjoying its time in the wetland……Brightly coloured, ’River tern’ and ‘Brahminy kite’ showed up for sometime…..’Pied bushchat’, ‘Pied crested cuckoo’ showed up with plenty of ‘Red vented bulbuls’ and ‘Baya weavers’…….Many ‘Pheasant-tailed jacanas’ attracted us with their gorgeous looks, though all were in non-breeding plumage and hence without the famous long tail as the name suggests…..’Marsh harrier’ and ‘Shikra’ took our raptor count up ….


As the day and our trip came to an end, we had to return back to the hotel to freshen up and pack our bags… But since we had quite some time to catch the train, Adesh took a quick revision and showed us the presentation with photographs of some of the birds that we had seen in those 2 days, before yet another awesome dinner…..All meals were so good that I felt worth mentioning them at every place…I thank Nature India for organizing everything very well, keeping good care of the participants in mind all the time and for letting me join the wonderfully memorable tour!!
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From: Jayanthi Mahalingam

Notes on Nannaj -


"The Great Indian Bustard" would have been India's national bird had it not been for its awkward name! This is what I read in a document about the GIB sanctuary in Nannaj near Solapur from Nature India Tours just before my trip there from Aug 14-17, 2009. Well, what a reason! According to me the bird deserves the position. It is much more majestic than the peacock and rarer. In fact, so rare that only 400 individuals are left. In Nannaj, the numbers have fallen steadily and is now less than 30.


The sanctuary is spread over a vast area of grassland and looking for the bustard is literally searching for a needle in a haystack. It is difficult enough in the shimmering heat, but Adesh of the eagle eye spotted one lone male on the 2nd day of our stay there.Since bustards walk proud with their head high up in the air, we could spot him without too much trouble through the scope and binoculars.Sadly, that was to be the only sighting.We even went to the observation hut, but no luck. According to Adesh, when they go into a 'depression' (in the ground!) we are unable to see them. When I said I wasn't satisfied with this 'Pandharpuri sighting', Adesh laughed and remarked that it was 'lalach' to expect more!


However, our motley group of 16 consisting of my good friend Kalpana, Jayashree, Naseem, a clutch of doctors - a dermatologist, two psychiatrists, a chartered accountant, an MTech student from IIT, a BSc student, a scientist from TIFR and a prof from St.Xavier's - did see 75-80 other species! Ranging from five species of larks, raptors like the white eyed buzzard,black shouldered kite and shikhra and two species of owl - the spotted owlet and the Indian eagle owl to waders at the lake - painted storks, egrets, coots, grey heron, purple heron, ibises. Red munias, scaly breasted munias, rosy pastors, baya weavers...

The eagle owl rendered me speechless and gave me a bad case of goosebumps. Its size - almost 2 feet in height, its horn like ear tufts and its great glaring yellow eyes! Then it took off with a silent swish of its huge wings and disappeared over a ridge...we all went 'wow!' The bulbuls and mynahs elicited 'Oh, only a bulbul!' which showed what seasoned birders we were :)!

Two people we met there, a forest officer named Mr.Mhaske and a B.S.Kulkarni, proved inspiring. They have done yeoman service for preserving the sanctuary and preventing encroachment. The government has done little and its shortsighted declaration that it would reserve 8000 sq km of grassland for the bustard has evoked anger among the farmers. According to Mr.Mhaske, there is no need to notify such a large area - it is really impractical and impossible. The bustard needs to be protected within its range which is actually 400 sq km. The farmers think that there is too much attention being paid to the bird and too little to their needs. So they have even set fire to the grassland or tried to prove that the bustard numbers are too little to merit such protection!! Mr.Mhaske wants that the locals be made aware of the importance of the bustard and that it would bring in tourists...thus improving the local economy. I suppose he is talking of the Africa model where the locals have a stake in preserving the habitat and fauna. Mr.Kulkarni has done a lot for the bustard's protection over the last 30-35 years and despite his age is still actively involved.He has some beautiful bags embroidered with the bustard and sells stickers and postcards as well as books.
Well, Nannaj was a wonderful experience all told - including the shenga poli oozing with asli ghee, mirchi techa, zunka bhakar, shengachi chutney - mmmmmm... I must have put on a few kilos. Wish I were one one of those rake thin people who scarf food but don't show it!I would advise those going in the second batch in October to starve themselves a bit before setting out. All that shenga poli and asli ghee and basundi is waiting for you!

Adesh and Mandar were their usual solicitous, cheerful, knowledgeable selves. Of course, our enthusiasm was a bit dampened when the bubbly Pradnya (Shenoy) sprained her leg and had to return early. We missed her laughter...get well soon, Pradnya. I am sure you will have the chance to see the bustard soon...

Keep it up Nature India...I was especially touched when Adesh asked 18 year old Pranav, the youngest member of the batch to hand over a sum of money to Mr.Mhaske for a scholarship.
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From: Garima Bhatia

Hi All,
A bit late, but here it is nevertheless. My report on the Nannaj trip:
http://bonerpakhi.wordpress.com/2009/01/09/nannaj-in-search-of-the-gib/

thanks all and especially Adesh for a super trip!

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From: Samir Owlekar (Nannaj GIB Sanctuary trip, Nov’09)
It was a memorable trip to Nannaj. Sighting the GIB was one of the high-points besides having the shenga-poli ;)…
Thanks to Adesh for making it so informative and interesting!
I think none of us will ever forget the Isabelline Wheatear ..and the harriers…and the larks…and the ferocious owl…and the buntings…and the tuft of the tufted ducks....I could go on but will leave you with some images that I made.
http://picasaweb.google.com/samir7399/NannajNov2008?authkey=RyQqMBQke0s#
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Hi everybody,
Here's the Nannaj trip report - must make a special mention of Adesh's efforts to make the trip the resounding success it was! Adesh, we fervently hope that you will carry this movement forward with your trademark enthusiasm, knowledge and humility. Many cheers to you!

http://green-indians.blogspot.com/2008/09/nannaj-getting-high-on-grass.html
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Hi All,
After such an fantastic report from Dr Subbu there is not much to write.

Here is my photo blog.
http://alokbhave.blogspot.com/2008/09/5-6-sept-2008-nannaj.html
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------From: Anup Ranadive (Nannaj GIB Sanctuary trip, Nov’09)
These are few pics from our Solapur trip (pic 12th onwards).http://picasaweb.google.com/ranadive.anup/DropBox?authkey=RA7XDqBjTb0#
The whole experience has been simply wonderful. Post-Nannaj, I can confidently say that I've graduated from a serious nature lover, amateur photographer to a bird lover. So much that I went to BNHS (on Monday itself) and bought a book on birds by Krys Kazmierczak.

All this thanks to Addie, whose enthusiasm to spot and show birds is infectous.
Adesh, thanks very much for organising such a wonderful trip and more so for giving my camera a new lease of life.

Post changed settings and UV filter, the pics are coming out well.

It was my first exp as a non-birder (Ranjeet, technically you can be classified as a part-time birder due to Garima's influence) amongst birders and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Looking forward for our next trip.

Adesh, eagerly looking forward for a trip with you. Keep in touch.
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From: Nikhil Patwardhan
Here are my pics from the Nannaj Trip (Solapur) on 29-30 November 2008. The trip was simply fantastic and we saw about 115 species of birds!

http://picasaweb.google.com/nikhil.pirate/NannajNovember29302008#
http://nikhil-bbc.blogspot.com/2008/12/land-of-gib.html
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From: Avi Sabawala
(Kaas Plateau, Satara trip, 02 to 04 Sept’11)


Monsoon is just one of those times when people wonder if it is worth traveling. And yet it is the time when nature is at its bountiful with a riot of colours all round us. The countryside turning a verdant green where it was once a stark brown. Flowers bursting forth & bringing in varied colours; birds busy nesting for bringing the next generation; all being springs to life - the brightly coloured butterflies, their lesser appreciated and understood though equally beautiful moths & of course all the innocous creepy crawlies that many humans shrink from.


A must visit during a good monsoon is the Plateau of Kaas situated 25 Kms from Satara in the Western state of Maharashtra. more info at the end of this blog. the plateau undergoes a magical transformation from a dreary land to virtually a carpet of flowers at your feet. For miles around you see just a sheet carpet of yellow, purple and a heady concotion of wildflowers that increasingly draw us city folks from various corners of the country and overseas.


Having signed up with Nature India tours after hearing excellent recommendations about their 2 dynamic young group leaders and resource persons, Adesh and Mandar, I joined a group of 20 nature enthusiasts for the 1st batch to Kaas. I have always considered myself an animal person; remembering the names of birds, mammals, insects etc., is 2nd nature to me, but I have not been so lucky with plants! this time I decided to overcome that mind-set & believe me what a paradgm shift it was with Adesh - mandar duo explaining the names especially the botanical names and with the help of a checklist, plant names seemed that much easier to remember.


Really enjoyed learning about the whole new world of wildflowers from 2 enthusiastic experts (who modestly claim they are not experts). This blog post is to share some of the wonderful sights. This time the rain gods were quite over-bountiful with their largess which meant no taking out the camera to capture some of the beautiful rare species many of them endemic to the Western Ghats (Sahyadris). so many of the images remain as pleasant memories in my mind. We looked at species which grew on the slopes, at the plateau as well as near the Kaas lake. also made a visit to Thossegar falls but did not dare to take out the camera or camcorder to record those beautiful moments.


besides the above, saw a number of other rare/interesting species as Vigna vixella, Ceropegia media, Drossera indica, Cyanotis fasciculata, Euphorbia laeta and my favorite Gloriosa superba. Unfortunately it was raining heavily and hence the camera was safely in the bus.

A handy reference guide to apprecaite the bio-diversity is "Kaas Plateau of Flowers" by Dr. Sandeep Shrotri available at major hotels in Satara.

Birds seen included Pied Bushchat, Malabar Crested lark, Crested Bunting etc.

Information and Acknowledgments:
The nearest town for visiting the Kaas Plateau is Satara 25 Kms. Satara is 265 kms from Mumbai via Lonavla - Pune (110 kms). The roads are good and the drive really scenic, especially during the monsoons. Along the ghats (hills), you start seeing the Impatiens balsamina & Thunbergia fragrans.

A special thank you to Adesh Shivkar & Mandar Khadilkar for opening the wide world of Kaas to all of us. Your passion was infectious and you did a wonderful job of getting us all breathing the world of wild flowers. Besides, your attention to detail and your personal touch in all the arrangements added greatly to the enjoyment of the trip.

And of course, the enthusiastic co-participants who sportingly enjoyed the walk in the heavy rains - makes a world of difference to be with the right people while enjoying nature!

Happy nature viewing!!!

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From: Anil Kunte (Kaas Plateau, Satara trip, Oct’08)
It was an almost life-time expirience for me,to visit ‘The Plateau Of Flowers Of maharashtra’- KAAS PLATEAU- near Satara town in south-west. We all 25.. under leadership of ‘Adesh Shivkar ‘visited this beautiful place on 3/4/5 Oct 08. For me (as a birder) it was first ever expirience to go for ‘flower-watching’.The KAAS PLATEAU (Kaas Pathar) is situating almost 25 Kms from Satara. This lateritic Plataeu is home of millions of tiny wild-flowers during late mansoon season of Ganapati/ Dasara. More than 300 varieties of wild-flowers, herbs, ground-orchids, insectivorous plants,are seen here. This plateau also overlooks the lush evergreen forest of Koyana catchment area which is recently declared as ‘Sayhyadri Tiger reserve’. In mansoon the whole area transforms into unbelievable carpets of yellow Smithia and Sonki , Pink s of Balsam, purple of Karvi. Different flowers dominate at different weeks.

The place is also rich in minerals with red patches of rocks called 'Sadaa' in Marathi… it is also good for birding with Crested Bunting (Yuvaraj), Malabar crested Lark (Chandol). Oriental White Eye,Bonelli’s Eagle, etc.

On the way after Pune on Satara road-sides we were greeted by flower-carpets of orange Cosmos and Yellow Sonki. We reached Satara on 3rd in afternoon, immidiatly after lunch we proceeded to KAAS GHAT Road. In our group there were few Botany students from St. Zevier’s College; main resource person was ‘well-known Botanist’ Prof. Rajendra Shide from same college. Most of us were equiped with micro-lence cameras and few like 'me' were with ordinary cell cameras… after going ahead from tunnel, we just stopped to observe an encircling ‘Bonelli’s Eagle’in the valley.

The Botany students started their study of wild- flowers at this point only. Prof Shide explained us -how to observe flowers. Futher up saw many more flowers growing road-sides.
Next day we visited ‘Kaas Plateau’. As we approched the flower
beds, It was fasinating atmosphere.

The plateau was dominated by purple flowers of ‘Bush (Topali) Karvi’, I appriciated the beauty of wild-flowers introduced by the botany students. During this we refered books on wild-flowers by Ingalhallikar’ and ‘Iasac Kihimkar’. .. In three days we recorded more than 140 varities of wild-flowers.

With this visit a new avenue for nature-watching is opened for me. So far during birding I must have tampered many wild-flowers unknowingly. But here-after I will see that I don’t step on this beauty of nature. I am attaching separately an album (Kodak) from my ordinary cell camera of 2MP. It is just to give idea of the beauty of the flowers and sorroundings… Doesn’t have any value of ‘photographic art’ as such. Do visit Kaas next year. However observe nature conservation rules…BYE…
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From: Carolann Pais (Kass Plateau, Satara trip, Aug’08)
Just returned from a glorious trip to Kaas Plateau. Even tho' I normally am more attracted to birds, I was fascinated with the feast of flowers this time. The carpets of smithia were mesmerizing and the vast expanses of karvi were a sight to behold. There were many other beautiful stretches of balsam, pinda, sonki and others that took our breath away. The lush green Sahyadris were just too beautiful to describe. Everytime we headed towards the plateau we just gazed in awe at the breathtaking views ----------- numerous shades of green, some hillslopes with terraced effect looked awesome when enhanced by the dazzling sun. The 3rd misty moisty morning was yet another wonderful sight!

With Adesh's "eagle eyes", on every trip we encountered a pleasant surprise. All of a sudden our vehicle would screech to a halt to avoid a jungle bush quail or he would stop or reverse to show us a well camouflaged dusky crag martin's nest or a baya busy with its nesting activity or some unusual flower species. On the plateau malabar crested larks were everywhere, singing away to glory. We even saw scaly breasted munias, little brown doves, red rumped swallows, spotted doves, loads of bulbuls and a family of macaques at one wooded spot. An inquisitive group of langurs glared at us at another halt.

A walk up Sajjangad was most rewarding despite the light drizzle - crested buntings calling
melodiously, blackbirds, Indian robins, ashy prinias, tailor birds, flower peckers, grey tit, dusky crag martins, swifts and swallows. Even descending from the top in the fading light, some feathered species or the other would pop out just to bid us goodbye. Along the way we came across several pied bush chats, long tailed shrike, jungle prinia, alpine swifts, palm swifts and house swifts. We even sighted a couple of white cheeked barbets. Breakfast by the lake or on the rocks was what we all looked forward to - sometimes accompanied by the cry of the crested serpent eagle or the spotted, Quaker or Scimitar Babbler and once a white eyed buzzard right overhead.

On our 1st visit to the plateau we had an unexpected 'snake show'. Some guys brought with them a bagful of snakes which they had captured from
the village and freed into the wild once again - a cobra, Russels Viper, Krait and Rat snakes. A black shouldered kite hovered over us for quite some time.

All in all, I must say "3 cheers to Adesh" for one helluva trip!

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From: Katie Bagli (Kaas Plateau, Satara trip, Sep’08)
Last weekend, 23 of us joined Nature India's trip to Kas, led by Adesh. The Kas plateau, a short distance from Satara, took us by storm, both literally and metaphorically. It was a sight to behold, thousands of flowers of all hues, dancing away in the strong gusts of wind and playing hide and seek amongst the moisture laden clouds that had descended on the scene. Adesh made it a point to show us every flower and Ms.Medha Karkhanis, the knowledgable resource person who had accompanied us, imparting her knowledge with her ever-smiling face and soft, gentle voice. Indeed, the joy of seeing the best of nature put us all on a high.

"Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance,

I gazed - and gazed - but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought."

These words of William Wordsworth resounded in my head.

Even with the sun hidden by the clouds, the carpets of Senecio grahami (Sonki) shone out like little golden bulbs greeting us on the hillside, en route to the plateau. Here and there stood out the solitary stalks of Lavendula bipinnatas. The purple Hill Karvis - Carvia callosa - with their blushing pink buds, embraced the hill slopes. Interspersed amongst these along the road were the Tridax procumbens or Coat buttons, there seeds bearing whorls of hairs like dandelions. The spikes of tiny flowers of Indigofera astragalina or Phulzadi and Indigofera cassoides with their cassia-like leaves appeared like little pink sparklers.

Two species of Justicia - procumbens and betonika were amongst the lilliputian flowers trying to
prove that small is beautiful. In contrast the much larger flowers of the climbers Abhai or Canavalia gladiata and Vignia Vexillata (Sweet pea) showed off their pink petals that seemed to be folded one inside the other following the art of origami. Their smaller version in yellow were the Vignia radiata or Wild Moong. Various species of Cyanotis or Cat's ears (in a lighter sense but more appropriately like Lallu Prasad's ears) were spotted: C. cristata, C. fasciculata and C. tuberosa. The American Softhead or Lagascea mollis intrigued us with its spherical inflorescence. The Nightshade family of Solanums had spines on the veins of their leaves - a peculiar feature. The Undhiphuls or Trichodesma indicum or Indian Borage, had upside down flowers their calyx being winged. The Ranjire or Pimpinella tomentosa carried its tiny specs of white flowers on umbels having reddish stalks. The pale pink flowers with a red spot - Sopubia delphenifolia or Dudhali, were found growing along the grasses, as it is a root parasite on them.

What took our breath away were the fields of Topli Karvis (Pleocaulus ritchei) that indeed posed a spectcle - baskets of purple flowers swaying in the breeze. We even saw at one point a patch of white Karvis. Not to be outdone, were fields of the yellow Smithias, both sensitiva and bigemina with their two red spots, making them appear like Mickey Mouses. In the pools of water growing gregariously were the Bearded Marsh Stars or Pogostemon deccanensis (Jambhali-manjiri). The nutrient deficient soil of the plateau induced the growth of intriguing insectivorous plants like the Seetachi-aswe or Utricularia purpurascens found in the company of Gend (Eriocaulon sedgewickii). Similarly, the presence of the royal purple Exacum indicated that we would find here its companion the Sundew or Drossera indica. Adesh even showed us the tiny insects that had got trapped on its sticky dew-like secretions. Another interesting insectivorous plant was the Devil's Claws or Martynia annua, whose petals and leaves felt very soft and adhesive like, a sure trap for insects. Amongst the ground orchids were the Habeneria heyneana or Kangwa since it looked like a comb, H.crassifolia and H.digitata with its greenish-yellow flowers.
The fields of Balsams were impatiently awaiting our admiring glances - Impatiens balsamina, I. oppositifolia which had tiny leaves and no spurs, I.rosmarinifolia, I.lawi and the bright yellow I.dalzelli. We got the thrill of watching the seeds flying out impatiently from its capsules, when applying a slight pressure; thus the generic name. The only peach coloured flower was that of Murdania lanuginosa or Abolima, its beauty accentuated by a sheen of gold dust on its petals.

On the last day we were lucky to sight the highly endangered Gloriosa superba or Kad lavi - known to induce labour pains. After getting pollinated, the red twirling petals of the corolla turn yellow. The apex of its leaves are modified into tendrils for twining around the support. Bunches of violet and white stars stood out against the dark rocks - the Taragucha or Neonatis lancifolia. Also found on the moss-covered rocks were the Begonia crennata, the male and female flowers being separate. The leaves are edible, so we tasted them.

There were many more such jewels. The list seems to be endless - our sightings in two days having totalled to 104. The above descriptions are intended just to give an idea of the diversity and richness of this plateau. Very fortunately for this plateau of flowers, there are several factors that have contributed towards its remaining in its pristine form. The laterite soil cover is minimal, just a few inches, and as mentioned before, depleted of nutrients. Thus trees and other bigger plants do not grow here and the herbs and shrubs do not face any competition for sun and air. Since not much grass grows, there is no grazing. Several insectivorous plants grow here to make up for the lack of richness of the soil. This area is not so well known to picnickers.
Let us hope such beautiful spots showing the best of nature remain untouched in their entirety for the future generations.
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From: Jayanthi Mahalingam (Phansad Wildlife Sanctuary trip, May’09)
Eeeks, what a cheesy title, but read on anyway!
It was 7 in the evening. As the sky darkened into night, the crack of twigs falling to the ground rang out like pistol shots. Frogs began a tentative chorus. Mosquitoes whined out their annoying ditties in our ears. We were bombed from all sides by large insects attracted by the beam of the flashlight. A lone bat and then a nightjar swooped over the water of the `gaan' or waterhole.
As the six of us sat waiting, Adesh continually swept his mobile phone around, playing the calls of the brown fish owl. At one point, he said he distinctly heard the call of the Sri Lanka frogmouth! We sat quietly for more than half an hour, but neither owls nor frogmouths favoured us with a sighting. I wasn't disappointed though. Just spending time in the verdant forests of Phansad was a reward in itself.

When I heard that Adesh Shivkar and Mandar Khadilkar of Nature India Tours were organising a three-day visit to Phansad Wildlife Sanctuary in Alibag district from 15-17 May, I knew I had to go. The last time I had visited in February last year, I wasn't very satisfied as I was there for only half a day. Now I had the chance to walk around the sanctuary for three whole days!
Phansad has a number of `gans' or water bodies scattered throughout the forest. The most well known is the Chikal Gaan which is around 6 km from the gate. The paths are well marked and in some places steps have been carved out of
the rock. There are patches of open grassland that are the favourite nesting places for nightjars.

We stayed in tents and though the facilities were very basic, the food was absolutely fantastic. It was typical Maharashtrian fare with bhakris, dal, papad, pickle and two varieties of vegetables. Breakfast was pohe and refreshing lemon grass tea!

On the first trek, the resident dog gave us company all the way. One time when we thought the rustling in the bushes was a big mammal the dog walked out with what looked like a gleeful grin! We spotted the tickell's blue flycatcher that evening and it was wonderful to see Chesta, the baby of the group and a first time birdwatcher, ooh and aah at the sight. Notwithstanding the fact that she was holding the binocs upside down!!

The weather was terribly hot and humid and we were all drenched in sweat throughout. But we
forgot the discomfort when on our Saturday morning trek to Chikalgaan, we spotted the lovely white-rumped shama warbling its mesmerising melody. Shamas were aplenty as were the brown-headed barbets with their ascending tukk-tukk-tukkur-tukkur notes. We heard the scimitar babbler many a time but were not granted a sighting. And the pigeons!! It was a `green signal' all the way! First was the pompadour green, then the green imperial, then the yellow-footed green pigeon. The emerald dove completed the green medley or so we thought till the small green bee-eater sallied forth…

We trekked quite a bit to see the white-rumped vultures nesting and spotted a juvenile sitting all alone near the nest. It was here that eagle-eyed Shobha saw the racket-tailed drongo. Four of us also saw the Amur falcon, a lifer for three of us. It was Uma Devi who spotted the falcon. This intrepid young at heart grandmother trekked miles without a single huff or puff while I stopped every 15 minutes for a break (she is going to the Pindari glacier in June, guys!!!). The others who missed it were heart-broken so we knew we had hit the jackpot! A baby Indian violet tarantula was a bonus…

Adesh, who was very disappointed because we hadn't yet spotted the green vine snake or the bamboo pit viper, both of which he said were a dime a dozen in Phansad, finally spotted one! I really envy his hawk eyes because it was a baby vine snake and was absolutely invisible to the rest of us on the stem of the plant! A feast of karvandas was another highlight of the trek.
However Saturday evening and night was the most memorable. After a walk through the forest in pitch darkness with the stars like brilliant bulbs in the velvet night sky, and fireflies dancing in the leaves, we stopped at the open grassland. Adesh's flashlight unerringly picked out a grey nightjar and her chick! They were so camouflaged among that it was only by the red glint of her eyes that we were able to spot her. She cuddled the chick close to herself, both of them as still and frozen as the rocks around them. It was so hot in the tent that I tried sleeping outside under the stars so to speak. Bad idea, because every rustle and squeak and chirp seemed magnified and all the shadows around took on a menace they didn't have in the morning light! Back to the tent for one chicken-hearted nature lover…

Sunday we went birding just outside the sanctuary and saw the maximum number of birds! Besides three species of flowerpeckers on one tree – the nilgiri, the pale billed and the thick billed – we saw a plum headed parakeet, a brahminy kite, a red whiskered bulbul who put on a merry little woodpecker-like dance for us, chestnut tailed starlings and the Indian and magpie robins. Next was Supegaon, where there is the devarai or sacred grove in which the trees have been preserved for hundreds of years. There is a small shrine inside and we spent a few quiet moments there under the cool shade of the trees after a walk through a karvanda
orchard and paddy fields. Naturally we could not resist plucking the sweet and plump karvandas and for a few moments birds were completely forgotten!On our way back we stopped at Therunda to look at the skeleton of a whale. Then we met Dr Vaibhav Deshmukh who took us to see the nest of a peregrine or shaheen falcon on the top of a very tall cell tower! It was nesting inside the `drum' and there were three chicks. One was testing its wings preparatory to flight. The parents were nowhere in sight and Adesh said they were known to range far and wide to search for food for the chicks.


A brief stopover at Karnala for pittas of which there were none visible despite Adesh's frantic calls (with Yogish as second fiddle!). Then we were passing by Talave on Palm Beach Road when the flocks of waders there literally `forced' us to stop and look! A feast for the eyes - black and brown headed gulls in various stages of breeding plumage, gull billed and whiskered terns, Caspian terns and then! The entire flock took off in a panic! A shaheen falcon was on the prowl!!! Wow! What a sight! We had a good look through the scope. The bird even took on a cormorant but had to give up as its victim managed to drop down and escape…

And that was a perfect ending to a perfectly fantastic trip….thanks to Adesh and Mandar and of course the absolutely invigorating company of Uma, Chesta, Shobha and our `calculating' genius Yogish!
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From: Subbu (Great Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, Jan’09)
Here's the complete report of the Jan 21-26 2009 trip to Greater Rann of Kutch organised by Adesh's Nature India. In keeping with Adesh's high standards that he has set for his tours, this was a rocker of a trip, with an exploration of different habitats, and an opportunity to spot several restricted range species. For us, it was a huge learning experience with Adesh who is a fount of knowledge, and has a child-like enthusiasm to share it. Bravo, Adesh, and keep us permanently signed in to Nature India's trips - I might even consider folding up my practice so that I don't miss out!

The report with pics is uploaded on my blog at
http://green-indians.blogspot.com/2009/02/this-rann-is-for-birds.html
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Little Rann of Kutch



From: Capt. Haridasan (Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, 16-18 Jan'2011)
I am back at my desk after a bird watching camp organized by Nature India at Little Rann of Kuchh. Nature India, I am now convinced that, not only understand nature but also the “nature of the participants”. Our group had a mix of bird watchers -first timers in bird watching, veterans, midway type like me, photographers - hardcore photographers with sophisticated SLRs, and medium type photographers with point and shoot cameras. It is suffice to say that the group was managed so well by Adesh and Mandar that each one of us could satisfy our ambitions to the fullest! It was not at all an easy task. Hats off to both of them.

It was very cold at Viramgaum station when we arrived at 4 AM. But as we are all fully prepared as we were warned about this. The first day we covered Rann and Bajana wetland. It was all together a different experience in birding, I had experienced so far. By end of the first day we had already sighted about 80 species of birds! We saw common crane, common teal, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern shoveller, Pelican, flamingos etc in plenty. They were all so close; you can enjoy the sight even without binoculars. But I must say the sight through the spotting scope is something you should experience. The highlights of the first day sighting were Montague harrier and Macqueen’s bustard. I wonder why Wild Ass was categorised as “ass”, not horse; it is so beautiful and looked very intelligent!

We went to Savada wetland and Wild ass sanctuary and Handiwala wetlands on the second day. We had eye full of wetland birds like painted storks, Asian open bill, herons of various types, little grebe common moorhen etc. I do not think we can see the flights of large groups of flamingos, cranes, lapwings, plovers,, painted storks etc anywhere else. Their flights are so beautiful and elegant; you just remain stunned watching it. I still see it when I close my eyes! The highlight of the day was the searching really to see the short eared owl, it made us drive more than half an hour. Yes we could finally see it 3 occasions, and luck could have it, I could photograph it also. By end of the day we may have crossed seeing 110 species.

The third day we went to Nava Talav. But on our way we encounterd a gang of Rosy starlings, bank minas and rose ringed parakeets. It became It became a common sight as the day progressed. We had a very good sight of Pallid Scops owl, the photographers could not stop clicking it for more than an hour! On return we saw a family of Sarus crane landing near us. We had very good time in watching them.

The most memorable event was yet to come. On our way back to the hotel it happened. As usual Adesh was fully engrossed in explaining about birds to first timers. Suddenly we sighted Indian roller. Adesh was explaining its Indian name and its “connection” to Lord Siva. He was telling that actually “NeelKanth should be more appropriate to Blue throat and not to Indian Roller. Suddenly there appeared real Blue throat to prove his point! We have counted about 125 species of birds by that time.

As usual, I can authentically state as this is my 8th trip with them, the logistics, accommodation, food etc were excellent. The group was from all walks of life, including a cartoonist of Times and from all age group. All mingled so well and enjoyed every moment. I was thinking of learning Marathi, but now I have decided to do it at the earliest.
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From: Jayanthi Mahalingam
(Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, 16-18 Jan'2011)
A Great Trip to the Little Rann

Every trip that I take with Nature India surpasses the last. The previous one was to Kaas, the plateau of flowers in Satara. I never imagined that flowers as tiny as the nail on my little finger could engross me so much! The vistas of flower carpets in every imaginable colour so enthralled me that I think the accumulated stress of months of urban living just flowed out to be replaced by a calming quietude that remained with me for days afterwards. It made what followed bearable – my mother’s stroke and hospitalisation because of which I could not write about the wonder that was Kaas. In fact, I had even thought of the title: A Khaas Experience!

The Rann of Kutch was on my wishlist (and that one’s a pretty long list!), so I jumped on board the minute I got the email! The drive to Bandra Terminus through those awful roads didn’t dampen my enthusiasm a bit. I reached almost an hour and a half early. I read a little of Stieg Larson’s second book in the over-hyped Millennium Trilogy waiting for 5.30 to arrive. Finally, when I phoned Adesh to ask if he had come, he gave me a nasty little jolt by saying, “What are you doing at the station today? The trip starts tomorrow!!” When I reacted with shock, he said, “I was just joking!” Hmmmm….Adesh and his teasing!

The train arrived and left for Viramgam. We were a group of 14 including Adesh and of course, his Sancho Panza Mandar! There were at least four IT professionals - a couple from Pune, Abhaya and Ameet, young Vaishali and Alok and one engineer in the making, Sahila. Alok I knew from before and I was happy to meet Captain Haridasan and Ritesh again. The bubbly, effervescent flavour was provided by Rakhi and Kavita and of course, good sport Nikhil. We had a cartoonist in our midst, too – Keith Francis – who gifted Captain, who was his room mate, with a lovely caricature drawn on a paper napkin in two minutes flat!

From Viramgam station to the Royal Safari Resorts in Bajana. What a beautiful resort it was! Done up in traditional Kutchi style with an ornate doorway, and individual circular cottages made of red brick and with thatched roofs. The rustic feel was only for the outside. The inside was, surprise, surprise, airconditioned, with fancy taps in the bathroom and a double bed with the softest mattress and pillows imaginable! Even the rajai was so comfy…it was hard to get up in the morning. And the curtains were works of art – embellished with mirrors and embroidery! Great d├ęcor all round.

The entire place was magical – with a water lily pond, swimming pool, vast spaces of green grass (few trees though) and even a mini lake which we noticed on our way out of the resort three days later!

After a good breakfast we were off to the Bajana Wetlands. The jeeps were open, the breeze was cool, the company was awesome and the birding was terrific…what more could one ask for? I cannot remember exactly where we saw what, but here’s a general idea of the birdlife.

In one of the wetlands, a feast of flamingoes – more numbers of the lesser and fewer of the greater – but both in fair numbers. What a beautiful rhapsody in every shade of pink! One can just keep on looking at them forever and never tire…There were ducks (pintails, shovellers, godwits, brahminy), teals, coots, greylag geese, grey herons, common cranes, and best of all, the mightly Sarus crane. We saw an endearing family of three (mom, dad and kid) in a field quite by chance. Never-to-be-forgotten sight…

On the way, in a stream choked with rubbish, a veritable armada of painted storks, and when they started walking ponderously, they looked like a bunch of gentlemen in their flashy coat tails out for a stroll! There were egrets keeping them company, too…

On another day, it was a safari on the Rann where we saw the rare desert warbler – trust Adesh’s sharp eyes to spot it even though it was well-camouflaged! The wild asses were, well wild! They Just a mere movement in their direction was enough to set them cantering off in the opposite direction. We managed to observe a small herd for quite a while. One of the more timid asses got kicked out and left behind by the others. He stood in solitary silence for a few minutes, till he was joined by a friend and trotted happily away! Mere man ki ass hai tu…and all that (pun supplied by Mohan V!)

On the last day, we were lead to an area to see something special, in a tree, who do we spot but a pair of pallid scops owls! Absolutely marvellous camouflage, till they moved their heads and opened their great yellow eyes! In the Rann, another species of owl, the short-eared. We chased it around the Rann, but it kept flying off and sitting at a distance. Finally, we did get a good look through the trusty spotting scope…what would we have done without this fantastic invention?! And glory of glories, we did see Macqueen’s Bustard or the hoobara bustard! It was in Pandharpur (or Alandi, as Adesh wryly remarked), but spotting scope ki jai ho, we saw the pair of them fairly clearly.

I should also mention the educative session we had with Adesh on one safari. He put all the ‘non-photographers’ (and there were only five including me who had these primitive cameras and were not so click happy!) in one jeep and came with us on two occasions. He was wearing his ‘lucky hat’ by the way (see pictures). In one stream under a bridge by the roadside, we saw almost all the common waders and were able to compare them! The marsh sandpiper, the common sandpiper, the wood sandpiper, redshank, greenshank, Temnick’s stint, stilts, ruffs…you name it and it was there, rooting in the sludgy water. We took out the book and had a rocking time looking at the picture and then the bird. What better way to learn! And I must say that Adesh is patience on a monument. I have been on ‘n’ trips with him but I still fumble when it comes to identifying birds which I may have seen any number of times, especially waders and raptors!

And how can I end without mentioning the delicious food? Yummy paneer dishes, tamatar sev ki bhaji, noodles, fried rice, soups, gulab jamuns, icecream, gajar ka halwa…well, you can bet your life that yours truly, truly tucked in! And stole extra dessert helpings as well!! Rakhi will be witness to that!!! Then back to dusty, crowded, dirty, noisy Mumbai…sigh!

Would that I had a little round house on the Rann, with the cool breeze blowing over the vastness, silence my only companion, and the blazing stars to shine down on me at night….

Adesh and Mandar, I hold you totally responsible for my depleting bank balance! :)

Cheers anyway!
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From: Sahila Kudalkar (Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, 16-18 Jan'2011)
Little Rann of Kutch

The journey to the barren stretches of the desert of the west introduced us, naive residents of the concrete jungle, to the beauty in the harshness of the landscape that awaited us. Our group of 14, led by Adesh and Mandar was subsequently familiarised with the various birds that make the desert, complete with the climatic extremities, their home.


Sipping hot chai in a ‘tapri’ at Viramgam and listening to mofussil classics on the radio, we made our way to the Bajana Resort. Eager to begin our first safari into the Rann, we hastened our way to the open jeeps that awaited us. The morning began with a Painted Stork soaring above as the sun made its way up over the horizon. We were greeted with a Pied Bushchat and a White Wagtail that seemed to be welcoming us as their guests to the resort.

After breakfast, we made our way to the jeeps and the safari began. A black shouldered kite sat perched on the transmission lines that stretched across the region. We were to see it at the same location for the next two days too. Among the doves, we saw the Eurasian collared dove, the Red collared dove (the male of which had a brilliant rufous on its back), the Laughing dove (with its pink head) and the Spotted Dove. Near the NIC of the Forest Dept, we were greeted by Rosy starlings, Brahminy starlings, White-eared bulbuls, Red vented bulbuls, Common babblers, Black drongos, Barn swallows and the Wire tailed swallows. As we made our way ahead, six-seven peacocks stood glistening in the soft morning sun. This had the photographers going click click click at this perfect photo opportunity.


We also spotted Streak Throated Swallows and and a lone Red Rumped Swallow amongst the Barn and Wire tailed Swallows flying about. The ‘kapil dev’ call of the Grey Francolin was heard as the jeeps made their way ahead. Among the shrikes, we saw the Long tailed shrike, the Rufous tailed Shrike and the Bay backed Shrike. There was considerable excitement among the group when we came across the Common Cranes feeding in the fields. The Long billed pipit and the Tawny pipit were observed closely by the group. The Siberian Stonechat was quite common, perched atop small bushes. We also spotted the Isabelline Chat.

As for the larks, flocks of Greater Short toed Larks kept flying around us. Ashy Crowned Sparrow larks, with the distinctive black belly of the males, hopped around on the ground. A Rufous tailed Lark and a Crested Lark were also seen. The Sand Lark caused considerable excitement. In addition to the well camouflaged lark family, we came across the Wheatears- of which the Desert Wheatear couldn’t stop posing for us. The Isabelline Wheatear, with the distinguishing black lore, was seen and so was the Variable Wheatear with the characteristic ‘dip dip’ motion. Flocks of the Chestnut bellied Sandgrouse and a lone Common Quail were seen in the Rann.


There were plenty of ducks in the small ponds of the desert. Greylag Geese flocks made quite a racket as they flew overhead and descended noisily into the water. Their pink beaks made them easily identifiable. Gadwall, Garganeys, Eurasian Wigeons (with the rufous head and the pale yellow tikka), a few Ruddy Shelducks, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovellers, Common Teals, Common Coots, tiny Dabchicks and the common and purple moorhens were all shown to us via the spotting scope. Looking at the birds from so close a distance helped us appreciate their beauty, closely observing their colours, bill shape, and any other distinctive markings. The ibises we saw included the Black headed ibis, the Glossy ibis and the Black ibis.

And then of course, there were the flamingos! In the pink of their plumage, the Lesser flamingos flashed their brilliant pink wings and looked at us with their fiery pink eyes. The Greater flamingos were more inetersted in feeding and barely gave us a second glance. Adesh and Mandar pointed out the differences between the two taking into consideration the beak colour, iris colour, size and neck shape (the revision session helped).

We visited a Painted Stork colony hidden away in the environs of an old world haveli and enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast watching these magnificent birds and their nests. We also saw Asian Openbills and plenty of Eurasian spoonbills at the watering holes across the desert. Common Cranes made their way across the barren land in ‘V’ formations. The icing on top of the cake was in the form of a family of SArus Cranes that came flying and settled exactly to the side of our jeep. We must have spent atleast a quarter of an hour merely admiring these beauties.

As for the waders, there were plenty. Adesh helped our jeep of ‘non photographers’ realise the difference between the different sandpipers when we came across them feeding at a jheel. These include the Green Sandpiper (the brilliant flash of a white tail and the darker body), Marsh sandpiper (needle like bill), Wood Sandpiper (speckled body), Common Sandpiper (with the white extending near the shoulders). A black tailed Godwit, Common Redshanks and Greenshanks, Little and Temminck’s Stints (black vs yellow legs resp), a Common Snipe, and a Citrine Wagtail were also spotted. A Ruff in breeding and another in non breeding plumage were spotted. Later, a huge flock of non-breeding Ruffs was also seen.


Lesser, Greater Sand Plovers and the Kentish plover were seen (plovers have the run and stop movement). Whiskered terns and Gull billed terns were seen flying over the water surface. Herons (Pond, Grey, Purple, Black crowned night heron) and the Little, Cattle, Large and Intermediate Egrets were quite common.

And the pelicans! The Great White and the Dalmatian pelicans descended into the water to feed and it was a real treat watching them through the spotting scope. Magnificent and huge birds, they are easily distinguishable.

Then there were the raptors. For the first time ever, I didn’t feel quite so helpless in the field. Common Kestrels were plenty. Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers (with their distinct ‘V’ shaped body structure and the characteristic face pattern of Montagu’s harrier) made for some of the commoner birds of prey. Then came the lone Peregrine Falcon (Palladus) perched atop the same tower. Adesh introduced us to the concept of ‘Site Fidelity’ whereby a raptor has its favourite perch and visits that same place year in and year out. A Red necked falcon darted past our jeep. A Short toed Snake Eagle was shown to us through the spotting scope. We also saw the Greater Spotted Eagle and the Imperial Eagle (the latter was a little too far to get a good look). The Long legged Buzzard with the black carpal spot, characteristic of the buteo family was also seen. In the Wild Ass sanctuary, we came across the female Amur falcon perched on a tree. In the sanctuary we also came across a female Merlin/Common Kestrel that evoked considerable debate. We also saw the Shikra.


Among the owls, we saw the superbly camouflaged Pallid Scops Owl, which seemed very much like a part of the tree it was perched on. The texture and colour of the owl flawlessly matched that of the tree. For the Eastern Spotted Owl, we travelled deep into the Rann and with the help of the local guides, we were able to get a good look at this magnificent bird. Two of the jeeps also spotted a pair of Spotted Owlets as the sun set over the desert.

And then there was the bustard. The Houbara bustard, or the Macqueen’s bustard, is an extremely shy bird, that migrates from the Middle East to the northwest deserts of India. In the kutch it feeds on a juicy, salt rich plant that is found only in some parts of the sanctuary. The bustards were feeding at ‘Pandharpur’, as Adesh put it, and only through the spotting scope could we properly observe this rare, migratory species.

Some of the other birds we saw include the Baya weavers (whose nests were often seen alonsied the road), Black winged Stilts, Red Wattled Lapwings, Green bee eaters, the Hoopoe, Purple Sunbirds, Bank Mynas (with the orange orbital patch), Greater Coucal, Booted Warbler, Indian Silverbill, Orphean Warbler, Blyth’s Reed Warbler and the Lesser Whitethroat. The Indian Roller was seen in all its glory and just as we were joking about how the Roller should be called Neelpankh and the Bluethroat Neelkanth, Adesh spotted the BLuethroat. We then used the call of the Bluethroat to draw it out into the open and the photographers had a field day!

Some of us also saw the Plain and Graceful Prinias and the rare Desert Warbler.

Among mammals, the Indian Wild Ass was seen in all our forays into the Wild Ass Sanctuary. Nilgai were seen and so was a family of the Common Indian Mongoose. The flat shelled terrapin was the only reptile we spotted.

At the NIC was kept an injured juvenile Eurasian Griffon vulture. The group couldn’t stop marvelling at the size of the bird, especially when it greeted us with opened wings.

For me, this was a great experience, more so since I returned back having learned a lot on this trip. Valuable tips to bird identification and discussions on wildlife and its conservation within India were not just interesting or informative, they were inspiring. Thank you, Adesh and Mandar, for such a great encounter with Wild India.
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From: Amey Ketkar (Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, Nov’09)
With a great number of birds migrating to India during winter I didn’t hesitate a bit before booking my seat for Little Rann of Kutch (LRK) and Thol sanctuary. Assured sighting of a variety of waders, ducks and desert birds was enough to lure me. My birding is gaining momentum and pulling me to different corners of India. This being my 1st birding trip with Nature India I was raring to go.


Arriving early morning at Ahmedabad on 18th Nov, we checked in our hotel (Shor Sharaba) on mehsana highway. After a small introduction during breakfast, all 16 avid birders set off straight for Thol. Hardly 25kms from Ahmedabad the sanctuary is a paradise for birders in its true sense. The Thol Lake supports more than 150 species of birds, 8 species of reptiles and 11 species of mammals. At Thol we came across Mr. Mittal (well known birder and photographer) who briefed us with some useful tips.

Without much ado we started our trail along the edge of the lake. Under the guidance of expert birders like Adesh, Mandar, Shashank and Dr Vaibhav I knew we were in for a treat. Within no time we spotted flocks of comb ducks, shovellers, moorhens, spot billed ducks and *common pochards*. A few river and whiskered terns were skimming for prey over the lake. A small group of graceful *sarus cranes* were sighted in the fields and a plenty of *common cranes* were roosting on small islands. *Greylag geese*, *common teals, gadwalls* and *wigeons* were in plenty. To take in more of the place we had decided to spend the whole day here and to save time had got packed lunch along. A few hours of non-stop birding was interrupted only for lunch and a small break just enough to revive us for more. The later part of the day was spent on a location across the lake which proved to be fruitful. The area was buzzing with avifauna and for once I wished I were Ravana, so that I could absorb the whole panorama with 10 pairs of eyes at one go. Amongst our group were some well-known photographers (Baiju Patil, Harshad Barve and Anup) who headed off in different direction in search of some classic shots. The *spotted redshank*, stints, chestnut bellied sandgrouse et al… added to our bird count. We managed a good view of the *white tailed lapwing*, *rosy pelicans *and* streaked weavers*. *Ruff *with a *partial breeding* *plumage*was another highlight. Spotting the shy but vocal grey francolin was proving to be a tough task… but once adesh set it on the scope all of us got a quick glimpse (@ all trip members… no prizes for guessing who missed out... hehe). Walking further ahead we saw a number of raptors…..ospreys, *peregrine falcons (Calidus*), shikras, *imperial eagle* and kestrels. Greater spotted eagles were good numbers and one superb sighting was of 4 spotted eagles (one with *fulvescens plumage*) feasting together on a small mound. A variety of bee eaters were roosting nearby and a pied kingfisher was displaying its fishing skills. By now the light was fading so we decided to call it a day. The bird count reached nearly 100 on the 1st day itself. Back at the hotel hot dinner was served and we retired to our beds eagerly awaiting tomorrow.

First part of today was to be spent at Thol and then we had planned to push off for LRK. Yellow footed green pigeon, lesser white throat, *booted warbler*, Indian roller,* white –eared bulbul* and red munia were some of the sightings. We also got a glimpse of the *orphean warbler*, rufous tailed shrike and the *common starling*. After lunch we packed up for the long ride to Eco Tour camp Dhrangadhra-LRK. Lost our way a few times but managed to reach our destination by around 9.30pm. The camp is owned managed by Devjibhai Dhamecha and accommodation was provided in kooba huts and tents. A special mention has to be about the food here which was really appetizing and included some local delicacies. The tang of the spicy chilly and pickles is still lingering on my taste buds :-). During my stay in Gujarat there are some things I observed which are worth appreciating. The roads here are excellent and well maintained; electricity has reached every nook and corner of
the state (no load shedding) and the mobile network is not lagging behind either. Something Maharashtra needs to emulate.

On our first desert safari the youngsters enjoyed the ride sitting on the top of the jeeps. This also proved to be a good vantage point. *Wild ass* and *Nilgai *were sighted frequently. Saw a variety of larks … greater short toed, rufous tailed, ashy crowned, *crested and Sykes’s lark*. Along with the sighting of common stonechat we saw the *Isabelline, desert *and* variable wheatear*. A black drongo put up a show by constantly harassing a short toed snake eagle in flight. The *montagu’s *and marsh harriers were gliding boldly in the vicinity. But our
target species ie- *short eared owl, greater hoopoe lark *and* the* *houbara bustard* eluded us. The photographers who were on a different vehicle had clicked some awesome pictures of the *wild ass* and were lucky to spot a pair of *wolves*. After lunch we geared up for a drive to the Bajana wetland. The road passed through the heart of the desert and I learned the true meaning of the word ‘Mirage’. The idea of losing way here was scary. For acres of the vast land all I could see was sparse vegetation and parched soil. The Bajana wetland proved to be very promising as along with the *greater and lesser flamingos*we saw the *rosy and Dalmatian pelicans*. This must have been the roosting place for harriers and there were plenty of them around. Moving a little ahead we saw the rare *common shelduck*, *pallas’s gull *and *dunlin. * Ruddy shelducks, avocets and pintails were also sighted.

Next day’s morning safari was devoted for our
target species mentioned earlier. Interesting spottings were of the scampering *desert fox*and the *sparrow hawk*. On our return path we got off from the jeep to scan the surroundings on Dr. Vaibhav’s request. Shashank suspected a bird perched under a bush and within no time Adesh had set it on the scope … well it was the *short eared owl*, one target achieved. Our attempt to move closer was ineffectual as a herd of buffaloes grazing nearby disturbed the owl. Later we realized there were two of them but saw them only in flight. Others were to stay a day more but I had to leave by noon due to family obligation. The travel took longer than expected and I caught the train just in the nick of time. Later I was informed by shashank about the sighting of more short eared owls, amur falcons and the pallid harrier.

Overall it was a fabulous experience and I am grateful to Nature India for taking me along for such a marvellous tour. I am equally thankful to all trip members for making it a huge success. Even after encountering more than 160 species, I am greedy for more……..waiting enthusiastically for my next adventure.

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From: Vamsee Modugula
I finished writing my Bhimashankar travelogue.
Read it when you get a chance and let me know what you think.

http://letsgoforavacation.blogspot.com/2008/12/birding-at-bhimashankar-my-big-zen.html
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From: Jayanthi Mahalingam (Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary trip, Dec’09)
Since 'birdie' Adesh Shivkar began Nature India Tours, this is the second time I have been with him to Bhimashankar. The first was in June this year when much to the chagrin of the group of 23-odd 'bird brains', the rains set in early! Swirling mists and pelting rain was all we got when we landed in the Blue Mormon resort. Of course, going on trails during the monsoon has a beauty all its own. However, I wanted to visit the place once more and got my wish this last weekend (12-14 Dec).

Though a number of people dropped out at the last minute and only three were left at last
count, Adesh did not cancel the trip (thank god!). There were, besides me, Vamshee who had come to Mumbai 6 months ago from the U.S. and Father Luke, a priest from Byculla. Best of all, we got Adesh all to ourselves for almost three full days, which I consider a bonus...Normally he has an eager group of a dozen or more people crowding about him and queueing up at the spotting scope :) It was wonderful to bird in this leisurely fashion, stopping to stand and stare as long as we wanted.

First stop was Uran, near Jasai. The water body there was swarming with waders and Adesh said we could spend an hour there. It was amazing, to say the least. Scores of painted storks, a regal white stork, grey herons, black winged stilts tripping about on their spindly red legs and pied avocets preening in their
smart black and white suits. Far away were three kinds of terns - the rare river tern, the gull-billed tern and the whiskered tern - a fantastic sight to see them all in a row near a rock! Adesh pointed out the difference in the beak length and colours of the curlew and marsh sandpiper and the common and green sandpiper. Pointing to a cormorant in the middle of the pond, he told us that people often confuse the little and indian coromorants and that this was the 'little' species. Ruddy shelducks and shovellers were paddling about busily while ruffs and black tailed godwits swept their bills in the mud searching for food. Suddenly, soaring high above us, there appeared a marsh harrier and then a brahminy kite. There was a blue flash as a common kingfisher dove into the water.

Uran done, we drove on to Bhimashankar in the Qualis, stopping for breakfast at Khopoli. The journey was a bit tiring and the roads were very rough in some parts. When Adesh was not sleeping, he entertained us with stories of his days working in the pharma industry and how he decided to quit one fine day. Vamshee told us about her time in the US and why she decided to return to India and how India had changed completely. Father Luke and I proved good listeners (well somebody had to listen!!).
Bhimashankar...finally after a good 5+ hours on the road...first trail in the evening was nearby as we were all a bit tired. There were plenty of birds on the telegraph wires including tiny malabar crested larks, small green bee eaters (Father commented that the poor birds were on a 'restricted diet'!) and rosy starlings. A lone white eyed buzzard stood sentinel on a pole and we spotted him there almost every time we passed. In the distance were a flock of tree pipits and Adesh asked us to note the little waggling movement they made with their tails. Pied bushchats were aplenty both near the resort and on the roadside. One dried tree was a favourite resting spot for hoopoes, bee eaters, drongos and a shikhra. An oriental turtle dove was cooing in the grass and through the scope we could see the beautiful markings on the neck.

It was a full moon night and we spent quite a while enjoying the cool breeze and the vast open spaces. We tried to star gaze but clouds put paid to that.The Gupt Bhimashankar trail on the morning of the 13th led past the temple. The last time it was slick with rain and it was all we could do to pick our way over the boulders, leave alone watch for birds! This time round, it was easier to walk and also watch. The crowning moment was our sighting of the glorious paradise flycatcher, flitting through the trees like a Romeo in white coat tails, pursuing his love, equally beautiful in her rufous dress. Adesh of course, had to make his tongue in cheek comment that the males were better to look at than the females - umpteen times!!The white bellied blue flycatcher, both male and female, was a lifer for me as was the chiffchaff, the greenish warbler and white cheeked fulvetta.

A sudden commotion in the trees above and an indignant 'chik chik chik' meant the Malabar
giant squirrel. We saw at least four or five of these magnificent bushy tailed creatures and one spent a good five minutes on a branch above us, staring down with his bright button eyes. In a clearing quite near the destination, we spotted the Verditer flycatcher, the black naped monarch, the yellow browed bulbul (besides of course the red vented and red whiskered varieties).
At the end of the trail, Adesh took us up a slope in search of what he said were tej patta or bay leaves though we could not get the smell however much we sniffed!! Returning, we saw more squirrels and heard the booming call of a langur. Nagphani, the highest point in Bhimashankar was memorable because Adesh of the eagle eyes located the nest of a kestrel in the cliffs! Through the scope we saw the female sitting inside the hollow. There were dusky crag martins and red rumped swallows zooming around in the air above. On the way back from Nagphani, it was dark though it was just 6 pm. We decided to sit in the middle of an open field near an abandoned house. It was one of the most tranquil and fulfilling moments of my life - the silence around, the stars above and a sharp breeze wafting in the scent of the forest. Adesh scanned the nearby trees with his torch to see if there were any nightjars, or owls, but no such luck. However,
on the road back, the headlights heart stoppingly revealed a collared scops owl sitting all by himself!

Then a night walk. Though Adesh said there were a lot of grey nightjars about the place, we spotted only one and by chance, very near the resort. It was Vamshee who pointed it out to us. Sunday morning, our last trail (sigh!) on the Ahupe road. Adesh took us to a quiet
dell off the road side and here we saw tickell's leaf warbler, scarlet minivet, common woodshrike, ashy drongo, spotted dove, sky blue monarch flycatchers and crimson backed sunbirds glinting like rubies in the bushes. Then who should come out from behind a clump of grass but a grey jungle fowl, in all his feathered glory! Wowwwww! What a sight! He stood for a full half a minute out in the open strutting his stuff before he realised he had an audience and vanished in a hurry. Before we knew it, it was time to leave...sighhh!!

What a wondrous trip it had been, notwithstanding the nonstop talkathon on the return trip between Vamshee and Adesh! I will also remember Father Luke's rich baritone humming snatches of hymns and songs to suit the occasion - whether it was the fantastically shaped rocks or the white clouds above! I am sure each of us took a part of the peace and quiet and beauty of the forest back with us to dusty, dirty, crowded Mumbai. On Monday, deep in the middle of work, I thought back to our sojourn in the wild and was immediately uplifted...

Thank you, Adesh, may your tribe increase and so may your trips...count me in on all of them!
Here's to our wonderful native land...
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From: Petros Isaakidis (Bhigwan trip, 4-5 Feb’11)

Hello,

Few days ago I joined a birding trip to Bhigwan with Nature India which proved really rewarding and fun! Adesh and Mandar are gems: they combine professionalism with fun and genuine passion for birding themselves. I have been birding for over 15 years (with some lazy gaps...) and in 3 continents (Europe, Africa and Asia) and I can tell that these guys are fun: I have joined better organized trips but with no passion at all and passionate trips which proved disastrous in terms of organization...What I found mostly refreshing was that there were many new birders and the guides spend equal time for a paddy-field pipit and a bar-headed goose! I dislike trips designed for twitchers :-)

As I was in Pune for a meeting I stayed in hotel Sunderban, next to Osho's ashram, Koregaon Park. The hotel is gorgeous and expensive but worth every rupee. I walked the first afternoon around Koregaon and the morning, waiting for the Nature India bus I did some of the best birding ever: having a slow breakfast in my private veranda with garden views I spotted approx 20 species including minivet, ashy drongo, hornbill, oriole and other "forest" species...fantastic!

Her is my list: an impressive 104 species in 2 days;-) and 9 LIFERS! (Black ibis, sulphur-bellied warbler, bar-headed goose, indian silverbill, yellow-wattled lapwing, yellow-crowned woodpecker, bay-backed shrike, ashy-crowned sparrow lark and the guy that I've been trying for long to spot: bluethroat!)

1 Little Cormorant
2 Indian Pond-heron
3 Eastern Cattle Egret (Cattle Egret)
4 Grey Heron
5 Purple Heron
6 Great Egret
7 Intermediate Egret
8 Little Egret
9 Black-headed Ibis (Asian White Ibis)
10 Indian Black Ibis (Black Ibis)
11 Glossy Ibis
12 Eurasian Spoonbill
13 Painted Stork
14 Asian Openbill (Asian Open-billed Stork)
15 Wooly-necked Stork (White-necked Stork)
16 Comb Duck
17 Ruddy Shelduck
18 Indian Spot-billed Duck (Spot-billed Duck)
19 Bar-headed Goose
20 Gadwall
21 Eurasian Wigeon
22 Northern Shoveller
23 Northern Pintail
24 Garganey
25 Common Teal
26 Grey Francolin (heard only)
27 Osprey
28 Black Kite (M. migrans migrans)
29 Black Kite (M. migrans govinda)
30 Brahminy Kite
31 Western Marsh Harrier (Eurasian Marsh Harrier)
32 Shikra
33 Greater Spotted Eagle
34 Common Kestrel
35 Purple Swamphen
36 Eurasian Coot (Common Coot)
37 Black-winged Stilt
38 Yellow-wattled Lapwing
39 Red-wattled Lapwing
40 Little Ringed Plover
41 Kentish Plover
42 Common Snipe
43 Western Black-tailed Godwit
44 Marsh Sandpiper
45 Wood Sandpiper
46 Little Stint
47 Brown-headed Gull
48 Whiskered Tern
49 Rock Pigeon
50 Eurasian Collared-dove
51 Laughing Dove
52 Rose-ringed Parakeet
53 Asian Koel
54 Greater Coucal
55 White-throated Kingfisher
56 Common Kingfisher
57 Coppersmith Barbet
59 Yellow-crowned Woodpecker
60 House Crow
61 Large-billed Crow
62 Barn Swallow
63 Red-rumped Swallow
64 Streak-throated Swallow
65 Common Myna
66 Brahminy Starling
67 Rosy Starling
68 Grey Wagtail
69 Western Yellow Wagtail
70 Paddyfield Pipit
71 House Sparrow
72 Little Green Bee-eater (Green Bee-eater)
73 Common Hoopoe
74 Common Iora
75 Bay-backed Shrike
76 Black-headed Long-tailed Shrike (L. s. tricolor)
77 Black Drongo
78 Great Tit
79 Rufous-tailed Lark
80 Ashy-crowned Finch-lark (Sparrow-Lark)
81 Ashy Prinia
82 Red-vented Bulbul
83 Paddyfield Warbler
84 Siberian/Common Chiffchaff (P. c. tristis)
85 Sulphur-bellied Warbler
86 Oriental White-eye
87 Bluethroat
88 Indian Black Robin (Indian Robin)
89 Black Redstart (P. o. rufiventris)
90 Common Stonechat
91 Pied Bushchat
92 Red-breasted Flycatcher (Red-throated Flycatcher)
93 Purple-rumped Sunbird
94 Purple Sunbird
95 Indian Silverbill (Plain Munia)

(only in Pune)
96 Eurasian Golden Oriole
97 Oriental Magpie Robin
98 Common Tailorbird
99 Jungle Babbler
100 Red-whiskered Bulbul
101 Grey Hornbill
102 Ashy Drongo
103 Small Minivet
104 House Swift
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From: Aparna Iyer
(Bhigwan trip, Jan’09)
I was one of the few lucky novices to be on the Bhigwan trip....It's been nearly a week and still the trip is etched in my mind....It was my first trip to do some "serious birding"... For once i was glad to be away from machines, into the lap of nature (well whatever is left of it!)So here is an account of what i saw and felt at Bhigwan..a little late, coz i had to scale through all books when i got back home from the trip and actually realised that i really had spotted a lot of birds!!!!

Sat, 10-10-2008 6:30AM……After cursing the entire world for having to get up early on a winter morning, I had hopped into the blue bus that would take me more than 100kms away from bombay. i was half expecting a few scattered species of birds...but the flock i saw at diksal was mesmerizing!... i didn't know ducks had so many names and forms :-) until adesh kept his constant verbal thesaurus on!

Kumbhargaon the next day was another enthral in itself...what seemed to be just a clutch of trees soon became a place full of twittering birds....folks!..i didn't open my mouth there coz for me a wagtail, a pippit, a bushchat, swifts all looked like sparrows But for adesh's eyes that can dart faster than a flycatcher and is sharper than a falcon....i can now identify (hopefully) at least 50-55 birds(not bad for a first timer i guess)...i will still mistake a swift for sparrow...a heron for a stork many thanks to adesh for opening up a new world for me ……. seriously naming a bird has kind of established a relationship between them and me

looking forward to many more such trips.There is still so much to learn!!!
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From: Kalpana Manali (Bhigwan trip, Jan’09)
After reading the reports of the Bhigwan trip last January it was very high on my wish list so when Adesh announced the MBC trip I was quick to join. The bus journey was long but Jayanthi and I used the time to do some duck studies till Adesh burst our comfortable bubble by pointing out that there might be several variations in the male plumage! It definitely took us awhile to study just one page and even when we dozed visions of garganeys, gadwalls, speculums, eyestripes paraded before us.

After a sumptuous lunch all 20 of us were raring to go and as we neared the water at Dhiksal there was this panorama of water teeming with ducks, ibis', herons, egrets, cormorants, black tailed godwits, asian open bills, coots, purple swamphens, a lone sandpiper, little ringed plover with river terns wheeling overhead looking really very
smart with their yellow beaks, black crowns and red legs. The sheer variety took us awhile to adjust to because as you focused on one area you found Eurasian widgeons, Cotton pygmy geese, and common teals all in the same frame. I really could appreciate the iridescent speculum off the female cotton teal who obligingly stood feeding at a dry spot with perfect light on her.

On the other side Adesh was able to spot a lone white stork which he said was a record for that area. It was along with woolly necked and open bills. With all the birds in the water the nasal calls of the ashy prinias and the chirrs of the Blyth's reed warbler were closely followed by very few. We also saw a mongoose weaving in and out of the bushes along the water. I think we spent 4-5 blissful hours till we watched a glorious sunset and the mind boggling sight of hundreds of birds coming home to roost – black tailed godwits, whiskered terns, brown headed gulls who seemed to take great exception to the whiskered terns close by.
We all oohed and aahed at the vision of an unbroken, horizon encompassing line of glossy ibis coming in from far and flying overhead. The last rays of sunlight lit up the head of a lone painted stork whose head glowed like a ruby. I think that particular time with the sun setting and the moon rising was a magical experience for all of us and was really an unforgettable moment. We counted around 70 to 80species on the first day what with the duck page almost fully represented along with painted, openbill, white and woolly necked storks. Among the terns – whiskered,gull billed and river. Gulls – brown headed, and Pallas. Ibis – glossy and black headed. Common coots, purple swamphens, Herons – Grey, pond and purple. Cormorants
little and Indian Egrets Great, intermediate,cattle and little. Kingfishers white throated and common. Wagtails white and yellow. Sandpipers common, wood and Green. Eurasian Marsh Harriers. Kites – black shouldered ( on the journey) black and Brahminy juvenile, Eurasian spoonbill and pheasant tailed jacanas. The second day saw us driving to Kumbhargaon.
On the way we stopped to watch some spot billed ducks and a huge flock of river terns, Ruddy shelducks, a row of Kentish plovers in a field and a line of flying greater flamingos. Further ahead we halted awhile at a spot which Adesh said was a spotted owlet permanent address and sure enough two spotted owlets were spotted by all! We also saw the Indian redstart, baybacked shrike, Brahminy starlings ( a nest hole of the brahminy starling) Purple sunbirds – male in breeding and another in
eclipse plumage and a female.

Further ahead were the yellow wattled lapwings, a pair of ashy crowned sparrow larks, several noisy large grey babblers and little green bee eaters. Some saw a greater coucal too.
On the road to the waters edge we saw a black ibis sitting on a bare tree, some saw a pied crested cuckoo and long tailed shrike. We also saw a grey francolin scuttling away into the field. The sugarcane and jowar fields were all ready for harvest and there was a lot of activity on the roads with heavily laden tractor trailers carrying cut cane to the mills. At the water's edge we saw a male marsh harrier – another wish fulfilled because I had seen only female marsh harriers on all my trips and In Mumbai. In the dry scrub near the village pied bushchats and Siberian stonechats. Common hoopoe, Red avadavats, Paddy field pipit. Perched on a boat prow a white browed wagtail.

We returned to Dhiksal by popular demand and this time did a leisurely reprise of the earlier day – watched a coot family with two fluffball chicks, checked out the bushes and trees which yielded a rosy starling and a lesser whitethroat. Watched a river tern catch a fish a do a little awkward handling or should I say beakling of a live fish! As the sun rose we returned for lunch and the return journey saw most of us taking a nap. A great trip and a huge learning experience for me – the more I learn the more I realize how little I know!
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Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve


From: Veera Dastoor (Pangot-Corbett, Mar'2010)
Through Jim Corbett’s Paradise and Back
We were a motley crowd that met at old Delhi station; a mixture of chartered accountants, a doctor, teachers, chemists, environmental activists, hard core birdwatchers, et al. What drew us together and what we all shared in common was our passion for nature. We were truly birds of a feather! (Pun intended (: ).
From the terrai regions of the Gangetic plains, we climbed to the bhabar belt to Camp Corbett in Kaladhungi where the skilled birders of our group spotted a lesser yellow naped woodpecker, a greater flame backed woodpecker, an Indian grey hornbill and many others.
Enthusiasm was oozing from their pores, but I had, as yet, not caught the contagion and very unsuccessfully tried searching through the tele lens of my camera. However, I plodded along.
At Pangot, from the hill slopes where we camped, the blue hills rolled into the distance, layer upon fading layer. The air was tingling and crisp and the exercise up and down did us good. The lakes at Nainital and Sat tal glimmered in the morning sunlight, beckoning a variety of water and tree birds all singing praises with their characteristic calls to the abundance and beauty all around. As our trail proceeded, the asian barred owlet, lammergeyer vulture, grey headed canary flycatcher, oriental turtle dove, white capped red water start and many, many more vied for our attention.




The following day we drove to our prime destination, Jim Corbett National Park, birding all the way. The park, a stretch of about 900 acres, encompasses dense forests, grasslands shimmering green and gold in the sun, and babbling streams and rivers. With this variety of habitat came a variety of living creatures; insects, birds, reptiles and mammals such as butterflies, black cranes, crested and pied kingfishers, varieties of parakeets and swallows, brown fish owls, spangled drongos, asian pied starlings and many, many more birds.
Of the reptiles we saw a sunbathing marsh crocodile and gharials. The four footed mammals we encountered were spotted deer, sambhar, elephant, barking deer, ghoral (a mountain goat), jackal, otter and finally, the king himself, the tiger!


Under the canopy of the forest, in the embrace of Mother Nature, we experienced a strange feeling of belonging and a rapport with the creatures around us. We are indeed part of nature. The elements which the trees absorb from soil and air and make food for themselves and animals, are the very ones which pass through us, nourishing us and finally return to the soil in one form or another, making us all a part of a harmonious interdependent system. Foolishly, man chooses to exchange this world for one of concrete, steel and glass making us misfits in our own world. The energies of the forest are very vibrant and to feel encapsulated by its aura is to feel bliss on earth.
As Sri Aurobindo says in His Isha Upanishad, “Anandamayi leela parsyaatarkya gati”.-This delightful leela is the way of the Supreme.

With love to all life on earth,
Veera Dastoor.

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From: Jayanthi Mahalingam (Pangot-Corbett, Mar'2010)

Nature India’s trip to Nainital, Pangot and Corbett National Park from 28th February to March 6th was my second outing to this wildlife paradise. Last year, however, we spent all our time in Dhikala, Kosi Barrage and Mohan Kumeria. The lure for me this time round was the 2½ days in Naintal, Pangot, Bhimtal and Sattal. According to the trip experiences of participants of this trip last year, they saw more than 80 species of birds, many of them lifers. I was literally salivating at the thought of seeing all those new birds. The trip before this, to Dandeli in October, was beyond belief, so my hopes were sky-high!

I had met only two members of the group previously and that too, briefly. They were Katie and Renee. The others were also ‘lifers’ in a way…J Dominic, Paresh, Nita, Shubhada, Hutoxi, Usha, Veera, Vidyanand, Pravin and Mandar’s wife Pallavi. This was my daughter Sharada’s second trip with NI. The first was to Dandeli. Her life’s dream was to visit Uttaranchal and she jumped at the opportunity to come with me.

It was great fun interacting with everyone. Renee, Katie, Veera, Hutoxi and Shubhada are inveterate tree lovers who have formed the Save Rani Bagh committee and have managed to stay the modernising of the zoo. Usha was an inspiration to everyone with her never-say-die spirit and concern for those much younger than her. Dominic bore the brunt of all our teasing with good sporting spirit. He had an insatiable curiosity about everything and his questions were endless…he even ‘fell’ head-over-heels in love with Corbett! As we were going out of the park on our way back to Ramnagar, we sighted a tiger. In the commotion, Dominic lost his footing and thudded to the ground from the jeep – a nasty shock for him and for us. Fortunately he did not sustain serious injuries…and did not become a tiger snack!!!

NI had changed the itinerary slightly. We went to Nainital directly from Ramnagar where we landed at 4.30 am by the Ranikhet Express instead of Dhikala. Our first stop was at a small resort run by a Mrs.Kapoor at Kaladhungi. It was lovely, with a few cottages amidst acres of greenery. Here we freshened up and had breakfast – piping hot paranthas and fresh cranberry juice. Our birding began immediately with sightings of gorgeous Purple and Crimson Sunbirds…

The drive was in Innovas, otherwise we would have been icicles by the time we reached! Nainital was breathtaking…absolutely marvellous scenery, invigorating weather and delicious food – could one have asked for a better combination? It was freezing cold in the mornings and evenings – we had ignored the instruction to bring gloves at our peril! But once inside the room we were toasty warm. We stayed at The Nest, a cluster of 4-5 rooms set around a restaurant. The rooms were built of stone and wood. Ours had an actual ‘nest’ – a kind of elevated space inside the room which contained a mattress for two reached by a wooden ladder! Sharada was totally fascinated and immediately ‘booked’ it! There was a fireplace with a chimney – ideal for a Santa Claus…At night there was such silence all around except for the mild chirping of crickets, that I could not get to sleep! I could hear the blood rushing in my ears – something we don’t experience in Mumbai. The stars were like brilliant lamps in the night sky, again something we have lost in the big city.

In the two-and-a-half days we were in Nainital, we visited Bhimtal, Sattal and Pangot – areas located at various distances from the main Nainital town. Coming to the birding, I had a number of lifers including the Eurasian Jay and the Red-billed Blue Magpie, a splendorous bird with a long cobalt blue tail. I cannot actually remember whether we saw some birds in the first half of the trip or in the second half at Corbett but we managed a tally of over 250 species, inspite of not sighting as many woodpeckers as we did last year.

All five species of parakeet, including the plum-headed, red-breasted and slaty-headed. A number of raptors including the ubiquitous crested serpent eagle and black-shouldered kite (we sighted so many of these two, that towards the end of the trip it was like…oh another serpent eagle/black-shouldered kite!!). The lammergeir, himalayan griffon and red-headed vulture, the shikhra (Manoj Sharma said the shikhra was a villain in romantic Punjabi poetry and even quoted some lines for us!), the black eagle, steppe eagle, the lesser fishing eagle and the changeable hawk eagle. Of course, since we were in dense evergreen forest (sal, deodar, pine), many of the birds were more heard than seen. The tiny warblers and tits flitting among the leaves made us wish that we had the vision of the owl and the neck of a flamingo! Won’t someone please invent binoculars that fit on the eyes like spectacles and which can be adjusted in a jiffy according to the kind of vision one wants?? Manoj made the remark that soon birdwatchers will evolve with longer, more flexible necks…J

Tit-tilating – that perfectly describes the tits. The Great Tit, Black-lored Tit, Spot-winged Tit, Green-backed Tit…a glimpse only of the Small Niltava and the Green-tailed Sunbird, a lifer for many. One of the most fantastic sightings was of the Collared Owlet and the Spot-bellied Eagle Owl. The Collared Owlet has these false eyes on the back of its head…just like some butterflies and moths – totally out of this world. The Spot-bellied Eagle Owl was sitting on a bare twig right outside our camp at Dhikala. It was a lifer even for Manoj who could not stop smiling for a long time after that! Its great big yellow eyes, ear tufts and long beak – it was the size of a large house cat!

And the mammals! Gharials, muggers, otters (!), the yellow throated marten, the mongoose, jackal and all the species of deer found in Corbett – the chital, hog deer, barking deer, sambar…who can forget the elephants? A herd of matriarchs, calfs and young tuskers…we watched them feeding for a long, long time in the grassland with only the whistling wind for company. For the first time, I noticed that the elephant digs out the grass with its foot in a forward motion and then picks it up with the trunk. Once it has collected enough, only then does it shovel the grass into its mouth! There was one old female with a broken hind leg…which the guide said it had had for six years.

That elusive animal of Corbett, the tiger…We almost spotted one on the first day. Missed it by ten seconds! What heartbreak, especially for Sharada who had nurtured this dream of seeing a wild tiger for a long time…On the last trail, again the tiger leaped across the road in front of us. Again, some of us including me, missed seeing it. Those in front saw it clearly at least for fleeting seconds. Maybe next time…Inshallah!

So we turned back, our hearts heavy because we were leaving such a beautiful place to go back to the concrete jungle and resume the rat race…In my heart I hoped that humans would have the sense to preserve these last remaining havens in their pristine wild state for at least a few decades more…it would be the ultimate cruelty to rob coming generations of this natural treasure.

Congratulations to Adesh and Mandar, as also Manoj Sharma, for awakening an appreciation and love for the wild in city slicker like me…I am already looking forward eagerly to my next outing...

Cheers!
Jayanthi
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From: Capt Haridas
(Corbett National Park, Mar’09)
Dear all, The Bird watching trip to Corbett was really a memorable one. Nature India has meticulously planned and executed this exciting trip.Four or five in one gipsy was very comfortable. The experienced birders like Adesh and Maonoj Sharma were making sure that each and every one is given attention and they ensured that all of us got a chance to see and enjoy the birds, mammals and reptiles. They were very patient and helpful. It was definitely not an easy task, as the group comprised of people with different interests, like professional photographers, hard core birders and those wanted to see mammals, reptiles and other things.

Adesh made it a point that every one of us got what we wanted in this trip. We sighted 207 species in 4 ½ days! We could see tiger and other mammals and reptiles. He made it very interesting with his detailed explanations and witty remarks. Harshad the bazooka man, with his shots really made other photographers jealous. His pictures were useful to many.

The boarding and lodging arrangements in both places were very good. Thumbs up Adesh, and the Nature India for organizing the adventure. It is Nature India Trip one should take to get best out of your trip, by way of comfort, care, enjoyment and edtaintment. We all look forward to more of these.
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From: Vamsee Modugula
Hi all,
As promised, here is part 1 of the Corbett Trip Report. This includes the first 1 1/2 days. I had to split it into two because I had too many images to post. Also, this is not a typical trip report that you see on the egroups. It is more of my experience than a list of birds.

Check it out and let me know what you think. I would appreciate if you can leave your comments on the blog itself. Click on the pictures to see a larger view, but be forewarned that I save lower resolution pictures for the internet.

http://letsgoforavacation.blogspot.com/search/label/Corbett%20NP
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From: Katie Bagli (Corbett National Park / Nainital trip, April’09)
Thank you for the most amazing trip. And now, I am grateful for spoon-fooding us with the list of birds and the most fantastic images. Truely, I think you most be bribing your subjects for posing so well for you - you have caught every one of them in action and your skilful shots show every feature so clearly! The Corbett-Nainital trip has made a very happy mark in my life and I am indeed looking forward to more. "Yeh dil maange more".

Enclosed is a small write-up giving my purview of the trip.

CALL OF CORBETT

Nature India promised us an exciting time in Corbett and Nainital – but it wasn’t that – it was
much more than just exciting, we were completely bowled over! What with a group of very enthusiastic birders and the resourcefulness of Manoj Sharma and Adesh and with a forest that is teeming with life, I was simply foxed to be able to see 247 bird species in just 6 days. In addition, we came across 13 mammal species, a monitor lizard, a turtle and gharials among the reptiles and quite a few butterfly species.

Just 15 minutes after we were out of Ramnagar Station, driving towards a camp on the outskirts of the forest to refresh ourselves and have breakfast, a leopard crossed our path in broad daylight, as if to welcome us. I secretly thought it was a good omen. Dr.Vaibhav, one of the participants and an excellent birder, was very helpful, always showing us the avians through his Svarosky scope, enabling us to really appreciate their every feature.

The forests were simply resounding with the call of the birds, langurs and barking deer. The Blue-throated Barbets, with their “horse trot” like calls, the squawking of the Plum-headed and Slaty-headed parakeets, the clockwork like calls of the Indian Cuckoos and Eurasian Cuckoos, the jarring notes of the Streaked Laughing Thrushes, the harsh sounds of the Black Francolins, the melodious notes of the Ioras and Magpie Robins, the repetitive sounds made by the Great Himalayan Barbets and those of the Large-tailed Nightjars and Savannah Nightjars and many many more, are all still reverberating in my ears.

Besides, what a visual treat the birds afforded to us. The iridescence of the Spangled Drongo, the rich plumage of the Red-billed Magpie, the Verditer Flycatcher, the Green-tailed Sunbird, the Oriental Turtle Dove, the Ultramarine Flycatcher and the Niltawa, the bright yellow of the Citrine Wagtail the bright red of the Scarlet Minivet, all brought out the spectrum of colours in nature.
It was amusing to see the Verditer Flycatcher playing “catch me if you can”. It would perch on one bush, and just as we were about to shoot it with our cameras, it would hop to the next bush. Along the Sat Tal trail we came across a Magpie Robin mimicking the call of the ‘Brain Fever Bird’ or Common Hawk Cuckoo. On the same trail a gang of Slaty-headed Parakeets descended noisily on a leafy Jamun tree to have a disco-party. This trail also happened to be very memorable for Adesh, Manoj and Dr.Vaibhav, as we spotted the Blue Indian Robin, a lifer for them.

The Rufous-bellied and Velvet-fronted Nuthatches were often spotted, scampering about on the tree trunks like mice. The Woodpeckers, of which there were diverse species – the Grey-headed, the Rufous, Fulvous-breasted, Yellow Nape, just to name a few – also darted about on the tree trunks, but unlike the Nuthatches, never upside down.

Harems of Kalij Pheasants scurried across our paths several times, while the Red Jungle Fowls would make their presence known from among the bushes by crowing away.

For many of the birds, it was nesting time – the Common Myna, the Bank Myna, the Pied Buschat, the Grey Headed Canary Flycatcher - all dutiful parents, making endless trips, fetching food for their fledgelings.

The Paradise Flycatcher, especially the male, I felt, would deliberately glide before us every now and then as if to show off, its long white streamers trailing behind, like a fairy of the forest. It was heartening to site quite a few vultures – the very glamorous-looking Cinerous, Egyptian, Long-billed, Red-headed, White-rumped, Lammergier – Corbett has them all.

The soaring raptors took over the skies, if not perched atop tall trees like watchful sentries – the Oriental Honey Buzzard, the Black Kite, Pallas’ Fish Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Osprey, Kestrel, Shikra and even the Steppe Eagle which was supposed to have migrated out of the region, had lingered on as if it desperately wanted to meet us.
At every turn, there was something to see. In fact, at some places, there was more than one sighting, one didn’t know where to look. For instance, while some of us would be admiring the stern-looking Tawny Fish Owl, others at the same spot would be beaming away at the Great Hornbill plucking berries. The Chaurs were dotted with grazing Spotted Deer, and matriarchal herds of elephants plodding away. At one point we even spotted the very rare Hog deer crouching away in the grass, moving clumsily.

In the dense forests there were a large number of Barking deer and Sambhar deer and every now and then, we would spot a lone tusker. We came across one who seemed to be
disturbed for some reason, and showed it by his weird behaviour. He would keep shifting from one foot to another and spray mud with his trunk, staring at us all the time, not sure whether to charge at us or to turn tail and retreat.

The most thrilling moment was when we came face to face with the king of Corbett jungle, the very epitome of strength and power, the Royal Bengal Tiger. As if perched on his throne on a ridge above, he looked down at us disdainfully, every sinew of his magnificent body charged with regality.

Owing to a variation in altitude from 385 – 1100 m above sea level and of habitat types, the vegetation too varied from tropical evergreen and deciduous to temperate. The scenario consisted of lofty Sal trees, massive Haldus, Jamuns, Khair, Sissoo, Palas, some very old Red Silk Cottons, Shirish, and at the higher altitudes, Oak, Deodar, Cypress, Chir pines, Maple and a few Birch. Many of the trees were victimized by the Strangler’s Figs. There were large areas of treeless grasslands or Chaurs, and elsewhere the shrubbery was dotted with flowering and fruiting Clerodendron viscosum, and even patches of Squirrel tail and Cannabis.

The weather Gods seemed to be in our favour. After all the warnings of the intense heat in Corbett, I was pleasantly surprised to find it fairly tolerable most of the times. As we were approaching Nainital, we were taken by storm (both literally and metaphorically). The gusty winds and rains helped clear the haze which had settled in many places due to forest fires.

It is a great consolation to realize that in our fast developing world and in this age of global warming and shrinking habitats, we still have places like Corbett which are like a page out of
Jungle Book. I have become addicted to the place and can hear it calling me again and again. So Adesh, when is Nature India’s next trip?
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From: Uma K.
Please go through the second part of my Corbett trip report and leave your comments...
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From: Garima Bhatia (Corbett National Park, Uttaranchal, Mar’09)
I spent March 23-27th '09 in and around Corbett National Park, in Uttaranchal. The group consisted of a motley crew of 15 assorted birders and wildlife lovers, ably led by Adesh Shivkar and Manoj Sharma. It was a fantastic trip which saw us birding non-stop from dawn to dusk for 5 days, resulting in a total count of 200+ species!

Will write up a detailed report later, but in the meantime, here is a selection of my photographs focusing on the woodpeckers of Corbett. We saw a total of 11 species, of which 9 are featured here. In addition to these we saw rufous woodpecker and streak-throated woodpecker (not photographed).
http://picasaweb.google.com/garima.bhatia/WoodpeckersOfCorbett?authkey=Gv1sRgCKj_-fPut4bCIw#
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From: Kalpana Malani (Corbett National Park, Uttaranchal, Feb’09)
Corbett 21/02/2009 to 28/02/2009 with Nature India under the expert and patient guidance of Mr.Manoj Sharma and Adesh

The exultantly bold writing that we wrote on the tiger sighting board at Dhikala said it all – 180+ species of birds enjoyed Corbett to the fullest !!. What can you write about a magical place that has brilliantly coloured birds like the longtailed and scarlet minivets, niltavas whose colours in sunlight can be electric blue or the sheer size of the great slaty woodpecker, the bold yellow of the stone curlews eye, the size and grandeur of the sal trees, a mixed hunting party of nuthatches, woodpeckers, great tits making your eyeballs literally roll in their sockets!

I don't think words can adequately describe the experience and even today – several days later I can close my eyes and be transported there in my mind – watching the yellow bellied fantail fidgety flycatcher – look up to see the Himalayan griffon or the cinereous vulture soaring ahead – be amazed at the dainty size of the handsomely coloured collared falconet . I guess I need several more trips to Corbett to really do justice to this bird paradise!

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From: Juee Khopkar (Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve trip, Jun’09)
Hello everybody!

Most happy greetings to you all!
Last week me & my family had gone to Bandhav garh with Nature India.
we had our life time experience last week there.during our 5 jungle safaries we could observe Tiger 7 times totally. with sightings of both prominant & famous males B2 & Bokha. & treasure of Adesh's expertise in locating birds gave us another great experience.



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Pangot - Sattal


From Capt. Haridasan (Pangot - Sattal Trip, May 2010)

Dear all, My first advice to all birders is that, if there is Adesh, there are birds, so do not pack the binoculars and camera as long as he is there!

This was exactly what happened to the birders who went with Nature India to Naintal / Pangot & Sattal camp last week. We were all heading to our vehicle to go to Katgodham station after “official end of the camp”, there appeared a complete family of Plumbeous Water redstart!! Mother bird coming and feeding the little bird, father bird watching and lucky birders, who still have their cameras out, could shoot the episode at just 5’ distance. That was not all, when we were going to Delhi station, when we had to stop due to an auto tyre puncture, there appeared a grey hornbill!


The second advice is that be with Nature India team as long as possible. Because, Nature India organizers are more passionate than commercial; and so the tour never ends till you reach your home station. The air travelers may not know what they were missing. All through the journey it was full of infotainment and entertainment. Two old Gujarati couples in the train along with us were keenly watching Adesh’s passionate demo of video clippings and photos of birds at 11PM with their eyes and ears glued to the discussion. After the show, they commented that, they had never realized the beauty of the nature till that night and wanted to register with Nature India for the next tour!


With Mandar’s witty comments and leg pullings with straight face, you would never know how the time flies.

The logistics of Nature India tour to Nainital-Pangot- Satal were very well organized in all respects. The Adesh-Mandar team had done everything to make the trip vey focused and result oriented. The trails were well selected to use the time optimally. The logistics were commendable. The hotel where we stayed was really in the forest, you get up hearing the melodious songs of birds and go to sleep with their night calls. The scenery and the natural landscaping cannot be explained in words but has to be experienced. The vehicles and drivers were dedicated and even passionate to stop the vehicles at “activity” locations without instructions. Food was even made to cater some special needs of some of the participants. The local area guide arranged by them was a professional of great standard.



The participants were from different walks of life and age group. They mingled so well, everybody enjoyed each other’s company. Mr. Ramesh Malani, Amar, child Ashok and Sudha were giving company to their loved ones, without any complaints, it was really touching! The discussions with them on many non-birding topics were lively and interesting. The enthusiasm and energy of young Jaysingh was infectious. He is one birder who wished to see some rare birds and god granted it. He was the “bedmate” of Adesh for 3 nights, his wife Sudha was concerned whether Jaysingh would be a changed man after this tour! We saw many far away birds through Mandar’s spotting scope and through the lively shots of ace photographer Girish Ketkar.



















Dr.Vijay Kulkarni asked some thought provoking questions about birds, while Dr. Varsha Joshi who is from London shared some of her birding experience at London. The tough looking Samir and young kid Ashok were making a good pair in playing computer games while writer Nita and business women Kalpana were seriously referring Birds on Indian subcontinent to decide the gender of birds they saw. Ms. Jyoti who was demoralized as she missed Yellow throated Martin, regained enthusiasm, when the filter of her camera was removed. Rajesh Kapadia predicted the weather hour by hour correctly which helped the planning of the trails.


We had many interesting episodes during this trip. I want to mention only “Mountain Scops Owl” episode. On the first night, Adesh and Jaysingh heard calls of Owl at about 10PM. Adesh immediately started to play back the call to get the bird appear near us, and Jaysing gathered maximum number of birders. The play back continued for about 30 mnts. Even though the “Owl” was responding without fail it was not coming closer as expected and normally happens. Every effort to see it by flashing torch was futile. Disappointed, we all went to sleep. Only next day, when Adesh and Bhaskar Das, an ace birder, who was staying at the adjacent hotel, met, they realized that it was Bhasker Das who initiated playing the bird call of the Mountain Scops Owl!
It was very fruitful trip. We could see about 135 birds. I will send you the invitation to see the photo album separately.
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Thattekkad


From: Dr. Pradnya & Sujit Shenoy (12 - 16 Jan.2010)

Nature India’s Thattekad was the most longed trip as the endemics at the place were luring us since a long time.

We took 2 days extra holidays before 12th Jan 2010 and stayed at Kalady, a quaint little place in Ernakulum district. We visited Athirapally waterfalls at Chelakudy on one day. On the way there was a landscaped garden on banks of a river called “The Gram project”. It was a usual picnic spot for school children but with a difference. We sighted A flock of 12-15 Southern hill myna, a lorikeet and heard cacophony of around 3-4 Malabar grey hornbills.
Athirapally waterfalls were a group of three falls in a row. It was an amazing sight but what was more amazing was the trail to the waterfalls – a stone paved path descending down through the thick forest comprising of very tall , huge, old trees. Since most people were going downhill by short routes, we could watch birds quietly on the longer route. A red silk cotton tree in full bloom was playing host to a number of crimson backed and purple - rumped sunbirds, a lorikeet and flowerpeckers. The red blossoms looked simply terrific with the glowing sunlight in the background and the green and brown canopy of the forest in the foreground. A brown breasted flycatcher gave us good glimpses in the lower canopy of the trees while two Malabar gliding lizards came quite close. Around the waterfalls, there were clumps of bamboo thickets casting cool shadows on the ground. We could not explore any bird life there except for the rock pigeons that seemed so much at home around the crevices in the rocky mountain around the waterfalls. We had to leave after lunch as our much awaited second vacation was about to begin.
Adesh Shivkar, Mandar (Nature India), Gireesh Chandran (an advocate by profession and a birder by passion) and gang picked us up from Kalady and we headed towards Thattekkad. After 2 hours journey we reached Gireesh’s home stay where we were warmly welcomed by Amma (Gireesh’s mother-Sudha) and Sandhya (Gireesh’s wife) and their lovely dog, Mittu. The house was at the entrance of Salim Ali bird sanctuary and the place was surrounded by trees and one could get glimpses of sparkling water of Periyar river through the thick green canopy of trees. After savouring tea and the famous “parampolli” (this was rechristened as “paani-puri” later by a few members who couldn’t pronounce it), we retired to our allotted rooms temporarily. The evening had much more in store for us - Thunderstorm, lightening and torrential rains. Sujit & myself were happy about the rains and almost everyone was rejuvenated, despite the worry about the night trail we were supposed to take that night. But we have to accept nature’s commandments and be prepared for everything and anything. “aal iz well”! Atleast if the sun would come out the other day, we were going to be blessed with wonderful birding.

So, began our training session of bird calls under the able guidance of Adesh. He played and called out owl and nightjars’ calls and discussed about the differentiating factors. The scenario was suc
h that everyone was calling “uh-ook”, “uh-ook”, then “whook…whook…”, trying to associate the calls with familiar sounds like” yelping of a pup” etc. with the rain and thunder playing the band outside. Thus began our journey once again into the beautiful world of birds and birdcalls. Nature India trips are not only about sightings but also about learning where a lot of discussion initiated by Adesh “Guruji” enlighten curious students like us.Following dinner the rain had stopped and we went for a night trail. Though no signs of owls were seen or heard, a female and male Ceylon frogmouth did call and we sighted our first Ceylon frogmouth of the trip.

Next day morning we started at 6: 30 am. It was misty, the ground still wet and fragrant with previous night’s rains and there we were, all armoured with binoculars, camera, green and brown attire and leech guards. The first day itself was a celebration.
Ashy woodswallows and whiskered terns perched on cable wires with the vast orange tinged silver Periyar river flowing below and huge green mountains along with a hazy golden misty sky casting its colours on the river, was a sight to behold.

We started our walk after about half an hour drive. The forest was teeming with birdcalls. Asian
fairy bluebird, flame throated, grey headed, and yellow browed bulbul were all around. A crested goshawk was perched on a faraway bare tree. We wanted to see everything and we were all aghast with the bird life around. As we ascended, a wonderful huge rocky mountain surrounded by lush forest on all sides welcomed us. Crimson fronted barbet (Malabar barbet), Malabar parakeet, Malabar grey hornbill, Eurasian golden oriole, Black hooded oriole, Loten’s sunbird, all in one place. Black napped oriole, Malabar woodshrike, Forktailed drongo cuckoo, Green Imperial pigeon, Small minivet, Scarlet minivet gave very long appearances. White bellied woodpecker flew very closely giving us good views of its size, white belly, red crest and the black upperparts. Small flocks of chestnut tailed starling (grey headed myna) and plum headed parakeet were sighted. A brown capped pygmy woodpecker, asian brown and brown breasted flycatcher, verditer and blue throated flycatcher and black headed cuckooshrike could be very well appreciated. White cheeked barbets were calling incessantly with intermittent views. Black, ashy, bronze, white bellied and greater racket tailed drongo were plenty. Greater racket tailed drongo, as it turned out to be later, exhibited its territoriality by driving away many of our lifers to such an extent, that it gained defamy by the end of the trip and Gireesh aptly called it “Rocket” tailed drongo.
Grey jungle fowl was the only bird that followed us everywhere, called out continuously from very close distance but never gave a single sighting. Pomapadour green pigeon (grey fronted green pigeon) called melodiously perched on the top of the trees.


And then we had our “first on the list” lifer waiting for us-the Black baza. Gireesh and Adesh were instrumental in sighting of the magnificent black and white raptor with rufous barrings on the breast perched on the highest branch of a very tall tree, looking around alertly, with its long crest swaying with its head movements. The return journey rewarded us a pair of brown hawk owl roosting.
The other forms of wildlife sighted were a pair of rock agama, Malabar giant squirrel, butterflies (paris peacock, common nawab, common crow, common rose, lesser blue glass and angel coaster—correct me if I am wrong in identification, names or spellings). Before leaving for the evening trail, a few lucky ones (not me but Sujit, Adesh) witnessed drama just outside Gireesh’s house. Two spangled drongo had hunted something and were making a loud commotion on wings. The evening trail began soon after and the highlight was sighting of 3 Ceylon frogmouth cozily perched on a branch at eye level. The middle one with its back towards us was a male and was hardly noticeable. One of the three was swinging on a hammock like branch rather clownishly with a seemingly funny smile like expression. Was it embarrassment or excitement at human sighting? As the sun was about to set we were still adding birds to our list-brown shrike, common flameback, rufous woodpecker, Dollar bird (though only in flight), orange headed thrush. Indian pitta and jungle owlet called but were not sighted. Jerdon’s nightjar called as well as was seen hawking insects around. While returning back, collared scops owl almost eluded us as it called from very close quarters but was not sighted. But we were lucky as soon we sighted the owl with a big insect in its bill.

The next day we had more bird species- rusty tailed flycatcher, pied flycatcher shrike, a flock of rufous babbler (very shy and fast-just saw a dash of rufous colour and one individual almost bumped into us when we were watching the Malabar trogon), lesser yellownape, plain (Nilgiri) flowerpecker and asian paradise flycatcher(adult-white morph male). A Malabar trogon was a priced sighting.


On our way back, nature helped us when Gireesh sighted Oriental dwarf Kingfisher while he had been in the thickets to answer nature’s call. He came out of the thickets excited and we quietly followed him to see the bird that never satisfies you, no matter you have seen it 100 times before. We could see the colourful jewel for a very long time of around 20-25 minutes. All of us came back with visual memories of the ODKF, the photographers with “full memory cards” and leeches on our legs. The person who got the best picture also was rewarded with the maximum number of leeches (13 in all), none other than Mr. Shyam Ghate! After lunch, we left for Idamalayar (river-aar: between-ida: mountains-malay) dam. On the way we sighted a flock of yellow billed babblers and a lone chestnut headed beeeater. Following this, the exciting sighting was that of a mottled wood owl that was very well camouflaged in a huge ficus tree. A lone bluecheeked beeeater and a heart spotted woodpecker (female) were sighted.

At Idamalayar, a rufous bellied eagle soared high in the sky while a little heron was fearlessly perched on sheets of bamboo floating on the river. A common kestrel, dusky crag martin were the add-ons.

On our way back, white-bellied rufous treepie played hide and seek with us but coule see it very clearly. Later a great eared nightjar called and flew above us.
The third day began quite early as we started for Munnar. On the way hot coffee charged everyone and there was incessant babbling around. After the coffee break, a break for “pee” was mandatory and the tea-pee break (as called by Subbu & Gireesh) blessed us with still more birds. Black lored tit (Indian yellow tit), Blyth’s reed warbler, Pompadour green pigeon, pied bush chat, greenish warbler began our day.

At the Eravikulum National Park the strikingly obvious things were- the discipline and the alertness of the security for implementation of the rules. The moment we got out of the bus at the top, we were greeted by grey breasted laughing thrush (Kerala laughing thrush) and Nilgiri pipit. On our ascent, a pallid harrier glided to its glory and pacific hill swallows made short glides and flew around. Nilgiri flycatcher was sighted intermittently.
What was amazing was the sighting of White bellied shortwing! That little bird made us take short sallies from one point to the other and back and gave us few glimpses, following which I conveniently rooted myself on a rock on the side of the road, with the camera in my hand, enjoying the cool breeze and the shade of the trees. Suddenly this curious fellow came out and perched on a rock just below my eye level at a distance of 4 mtr from me, giving me a queer, questioning glance with its pale supercilium above the medial halves of the eyes. I did not have much to do than to take pictures!All the existing “shutterbuggers” envied me for my convenient positioning! Herds of Nilgiri Tahr were walking, grazing, and resting fearlessly on the awesome rocky mountains of the park. After lunch and shopping of tea, oils and spices at Kannan Devan, we headed for the sighting of black and orange flycatcher. Though we could not sight the bird, we could sight Black bulbul, Eurasian blackbird, Nilgiri flycatcher, Indian Blue robin (for me just a swift dash of rufous and dark colours) and a pair of Greater flameback. Later when I was catching up with my sleep, Adesh, Sujit, Shyam Ghate, Subbu & Mandar got a very good view of the Indian blue robin and Indian Scimitar babbler. We called it a day.

The last day was extremely good for the shutter bugs as well as the birders because of the good light conditions and close birding activity of almost all the endemics. I was busy breaking my neck to get one decent picture of the Indian swiftlet and what I got is a record shot! And finally as all good things come to an end, it was time to say good bye. This was one of our most memorable birding trips. Thanks Nature India and Gireesh and his family for a fun and laughter filled birding trip. And how can we ever forget the yummy food and all the wonderful fellow birders (Ashwini, Geetha, Shyam Ghate, Vijay, Subbu and Sarita)!

Happy birding

Regards
Dr. Pradnya Dr. Sujit
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jamnagar

From: Dr. Padnya & Sujit Shenoy (12 - 14 Dec.2010)


A few moments in life get permanently etched in one’s mind forever. For me one such moment was at Khijadiya bird sanctuary. It was nothing but the global effect of watching such a large number of bird species in their habitat at divine hours of the day that made an impact. It was a chilly morning on 13th of December 2010. The sun was just about to rise with crisp air around; the first light of the sun gradually unveiled the curtains of mist and revealed the glory of Khijadiya bird sanctuary. Standing on a bird tower, watching fresh water on one side and sea water on the other, created a perfect picture to observe species of both the ecosystems simultaneously. In the early glowing sunlight we could see flocks of rosy pelicans, Demoiselle cranes and common cranes. As the light brightened up, rosy pelicans took off from their roosting place and flew across the bird tower. After a while of peeping into the scope to look at the pelicans and the cranes, most of the birders chose to stick to the bird tower while a few of us decided to walk down the dust path. As I walked along the path, flocks after flocks of pelicans flew over my head while at the same time I could hear incessant calls of Clamorous reed warbler from the bushes on both sides of the road. A rufous tailed shrike perched at a low branch, trying to keep itself warm by puffing out its feathers. It is a wonderful feeling to forget one’s own self and get blended with nature as if one’s own self never existed as a separate entity from nature.

As for the birds, I don’t know where to begin and where to end. A total count of 143 bird species in two and half days……..

Wader identification has been a bit difficult for me but here at Jamnagar, I can boast that I could actually identify different features of sandpipers, plovers, shanks.

Common, marsh, curlew, Terek’s and broad billed sandpiper were seen well while the plovers were really close to be well appreciated. Little ringed, Kentish, lesser sand plover were numerous while greater sand and common ringed plover were few. Adesh explained their behaviour and characteristics so that we could see them there and then in the field. Run and stop behaviour of Kentish and little ringed plover, absence of ring on the neck of lesser sand plover, yellowish legs of greater sand plover and constant running behaviour and bright orange legs of common ringed plover. And of course, it helps to have good photographers in the group as Mr. Shyam Ghate in our group strived hard to get good pictures. The identification of greater ringed plover was confirmed after Ghate sir got a very nice picture of the individual.

The “star” waders of Jamnagar were crab plovers, Eurasian oystercatchers and ruddy turnstones. At Narara beach, hundreds of crab plovers interspersed with the unmistakable ruddy turnstones, constantly turning the stones over and the Eurasian oystercatchers with bright red legs were sighted. Here we saw many common redshank, black tailed godwits and an occasional common greenshank. Black tailed godwits were ubiquitous but no luck with bar tailed godwit. Great black headed (Pallas’s), Heuglin’s gulls were sighted in hundreds at Dhichda. Here a Little tern and a few Caspian terns were also sighted.

At Lakhota lake, Slender billed, brown headed and black headed gulls interspersed with whiskered, gull billed and river tern fed fearlessly near the edge of the lake. The cacophony of birds amidst a buzzing city was truly amazing. The trees around the same lake had roosting colonies of hundreds of rosy starlings, rose ringed parakeets, black headed ibis, cattle egrets. It was a lovely experience, watching the birds return to their roost in the fading sunlight.

It’s not just about sighting birds that gives a “High” but also the experience of watching birds in their habitat, their behaviour that gives a bird watcher a true sense of joy.

Two such specific events were sightings of red headed bunting and black necked stork. Amey was instrumental in sighting the red headed bunting, a passage migrant. This individual (the bunting!) was a fearless one with huge appetite. The bird hopped in the bushes along the sides of the road while we were stalking the bird stealthily keeping a safe distance but the bird did not seem to be shy and taking advantage of this we slowly moved nearer. The bird did not pay any heed to the bunch of excited homosapiens sitting, squatting, and lying on the road to take its pictures while it merrily hogged on moths and other insects in the bushes. At Dhichda, a male and a female black necked stork posed for a long time to be appreciated through the scope.

Amongst the migratory ducks, northern shoveller, gadwall, gargeney, northern pintail, Eurasian wigeon, tufted pochard, common pochard, lesser whistling ducks were sighted. Amongst the resident ducks, spotbilled ducks and comb ducks were seen. We did not have any luck with cotton pygmy duck. Black necked grebes and crested grebes were seen. Little grebes were many while common coots were seen feeding the juveniles. The young ones were voracious eaters grabbing some round thing from beaks of both the parents in quick succession and gobbling it down.(Later we realized from Ghate sir’s photographs that the round things were snails) Both the parents were actually on their toes procuring food for the young ones.

Amongst the birds of prey we were lucky with a perched Adult greater spotted eagle, a booted eagle, western marsh harrier, a shikra and a juvenile pallid harrier. Black kites, black shouldered kites and brahminy kite were seen.

At Dhichda, 2 great thick knee were sighted. Many red wattled lapwing and one yellow wattled lapwing gave guest appearance. A flock of chestnut bellied sandgrouse was seen resting in a scrubland. Scrubland birding rewarded us with ashy crowned sparrow lark, sand lark, crested lark, short toed lark, tawny and paddyfield pipit, desert, variable and isabelline wheatear and an Eurasian wryneck that appeared on trunk of a tree and within seconds disappeared. Yellow and citrine wagtails were seen while clamorous reed, Blyth’s reed, paddyfield warbler and lesser whitethroat were also sighted. A flock of greater flamingoes was seen feeding but the lesser flamingoes probably had not arrived.

Birding is an infectious and incurable ailment. The more you see birds, the more you crave to see more. Here at Jamnagar, amongst the 20 assorted group of people, many new ones got bitten by the birding bug and what better place to get bitten than Jamnagar. Again an opportunity to thank Adesh and Mandar for the efforts they take to create passion for nature. Thanks to Kunal, our local expert and the co-birders for a memorable trip.

Regards
Dr. Pradnya Shenoy
Dr. Sujit Shenoy



















30 comments:

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Appreciate, Respect & Care for Nature