Jungles of Madhya Pradesh – Satpura

While most of Madhya Pradesh’s national parks are overrun by family tourists and amateur photographers jostling each other in their safari jeeps for a glimpse of the mighty tiger, Satpura’s relative anonymity can be refreshing. There are neither frenzied queues at the safari counters nor are there olive green jeeps snaking from a kilometer to the entrance of the national park like in Kanva or Bandhavgarh. The pleasant nip in the morning air is, however, heavy with a quiet sense of anticipation.

IMG_9394
Denwa backwaters by the Satpura National Park

Spread across the belly of India, The rugged terrain of Satpura National park is part of a significant part of India’s Central Highlands and was set up in 1981 after combining Satpura, Pachmari and Bori sanctuaries. The park, rich in biodiversity, borrows its name from the Satpura Hill ranges that huddle around its periphery. The dry deciduous forests of Central India’s jungles are home to tiger, leopard, spotted and sambar deers, nilgai, four-horned and chinkara antelopes, gaur (Indian bison), wild boar, wild dogs, sloth bear, fox, porcupine, flying squirrel, mouse deer, and the Indian giant squirrel.

IMG_9445
Terrain of Satpura National Park
IMG_9427
Terrain of Satpura National Park

On a gray morning in late June while monsoon was slowly gaining momentum in the plains of central India, I visited Satpura. I went on safaris that were coloured by the anticipation of spotting the big cat – tiger and leopard. So the sambar deers, nilgai, four-horned and chinkara antelopes, gaur (Indian bison), wild boar and wild dogs stood little chance. I did not see the leopard, only its shadow at a distance. But I was amazed by the birdlife and wildlife at the national park.

4
Denwa Backwater Escape. Pic courtesy: Pugdandee Safaris

I saw pied kingfishers hunting for termites near forest streams fringed by golden brown elephant grass. I spotted the Besra, Cresent serpent eagle, Brahmini starling, Great tit, White bellied drongo and white eye buzzard.

IMG_9333
Crescent Serpent Eagle

I enjoyed the raucous, discordant screeches of the Indian rollers preying on large insects. Their blue throat has earned them the name ‘neelkanth’ while their beauty, the acronym ABBR (Another Bloody Beautiful Roller) by the birding community.

IMG_9366
A Brahminy Starling

Perhaps the most beautiful and hard to find bird I spot during the safaris remain the Indian pitta. These migratory birds are so beautiful and somewhat rare to spot that they are the cover birds of most birding guides. Over false alarm calls by anxious Sambar deers, I spotted pittas everywhere – perched on the branches in the forest canopy, foraging for twigs and feasting on insects. “It is the pitta season. They are nesting now,” reassured our guide Raju.

IMG_9307
A nightjar.

All the bone rattling safari rides were compensated by a generous amount of beer guzzling and nibbling on the Burmese Khow Suey at the restaurant of the Denwa Backwater Escape resort, which overlooks the still waters of Denwa’s backwater.

8
My cottage overlooking the backwater . Pic: Denwa Backwater Escape

In the end, I did came very close to spotting a leopard. As we waited for the ferry to take us across the backwaters after the final day of the safari, we heard high pitched alarm calls of cheetals. The leopard had successfully run riot in the stag party and has had its prey. Our naturalist confirmed this, adding that this incident happens almost every day.

 

The vision of a lone Mahua tree from my cottage, by the waters being whipped by the monsoon winds, is still fresh in my mind. Brown skinned cows grazing the golden grass, a peahen skittering across, her head bent, presumably looking for insects for her afternoon meal and a wary lapwing noisily calling away at cows to prevent them from accidentally trampling her expertly camouflaged nest. Intrepid swallows braving the wind and trying to fly against it. These are my memories of Satpura and Denwa Backwater Escape.

IMG_9433
A crocodile bark tree.
IMG_9448
A sambhar deer.

PS: I was hosted by Pugdandee Safaris for this trip.

Watching Water Birds and Water People in Maguri Beel, Assam

Whilst on a recent trip to Arunachal, watching us go bananas over the birds, our driver boasted about a water body near his town in Tinsukia, Assam that has “all sorts of birds.” “Uske saamne yeh to kuch bhi nahin hai,” he continued. This is nothing compared to what you see there. We took his words seriously and spent the last evening of our trip exploring the Maguri Beel, watching its water people and birds, enjoying a sunset on a boat with a guide.

Turns out, it is not an unexplored remote corner as I expected it to be. Maguri Beel is quite popular among birders not only in this part of the country but from all over. Jeevan Dutta, who is the resident guide at the Kohua Eco-camp resort that borders the beel told us that he is getting two groups of Bangaloreans just the next day. Maguri Beel is located just south of the Dibru Saikhowa National Park and attracts migratory birds in thousands every year other than quite a number of residents.

Pigeon Tailed Jacana, Ruddy Shelduck, Yellow Wagtails, Purple Swamphens, Asian Open Bills, Northern Pintails, Northern Lapwing, Eurasian Coot, Stonechats are the commonly found birds in the beel. We hired a boat and went on a sort of a sunset cruise watching fishermen getting back home with their daily catch. Fishing nets across the beel fluttered in the sunset and Ruddy Shelducks took flight watching our approaching boat framed by the sunset. Swamphens, Wagtails and Egrets were a constant presence too. It was quite an experience and a perfect way to end our trip to the North-East India.

Some pictures from the trip.

Fishermen rowing back after a day's work
Fishermen rowing back after a day’s work
A yellow wagtail
A yellow wagtail
Fishing nets in Maguri Beel
Fishing nets in Maguri Beel
Spreading the net
Spreading the net
Could this be a White-tailed Stonechat?
A Common Stonechat

How to reach: Nearest town, Tinsukia, is just 9km away. Dibrugarh is 50km away and taxis are easily available for a day trip. It would probably be better to stay in the Kohua resort that overlooks the Beel (call Jeevan for rates at +919954135613) to enjoy the ecosystem of the Beel.

A Purple Swamphen
A Purple Swamphen
An Asian Openbill in flight
An Asian Openbill in flight
A Ruddy Shelduck
A Ruddy Shelduck
A flight of birds against the sunset at Maguri Beel
A flight of birds against the sunset at Maguri Beel
The blue house, Magari Beel
The blue house, Magari Beel
An egret in flight
An egret in flight
Boats at Maguri Beel
Boats at Maguri Beel
Could this also be a White-tailed Stonechat?
A Common Stonechat
Row boats are also a way to navigate these waters
Row boats are also a way to navigate these waters
A fisherman in Maguri Beel
A fisherman in Maguri Beel

Have you been to Maguri Beel? Have you blogged about it? Leave a comment and let me know. I would love to read it.

Monkey Business in the Forests of Agumbe

Before your imagination runs wild, I went to the forests around Agumbe in the Someswara Wild Life Sanctuary range as part of a volunteering exercise assisting the Forest Department of Karnataka in a monkey census. This was to assess the population status of the endangered lion-tailed macaques (Macaca silenus) in the rain forests of Kudremukh in Western Ghats. The lion-tailed macaque is classified as endangered because of its highly selective feeding habits, limited range of occupancy (ca. 2500 km2, majorly in three southern Indian states namely Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala), delayed sexual maturity, long interbirth intervals, low population turnover, and a small remaining wild population. The population census is also crucial because comprehensive information on surviving numbers in the fragmented rain forests is not readily available.

The census had faced a roadblock earlier owing to the severe resource crunch, an acute shortage of field staff, in the forest department of Karnataka. The department, however, has found a novel way to tackle its resource crunch. The Forest Department of Karnataka and the Ecotourism Board are enlisting civilians into its fold as volunteers, tapping into the pool of willing enthusiasts to forge long-term partnerships and provide a rare glimpse into the department’s wildlife conservation efforts. Owing to the successful programs conducted earlier to enlist volunteers, the department can afford the lion-tailed macaque survey without any glitch to its existing resources.

agumbe view point
agumbe view point

I attended the Volunteer Training Program (VTP) conducted in May and was certified as a eco-volunteer. When announcement for this census came up, I jumped at it though I was back from a rather long trip only recently. After all, who wants to pass up on an opportunity to trek in the forests everyday (otherwise inaccessible for civilians), looking for an endangered monkey?

a stream inside the forests
a stream inside the forests

So armed with a GPS (the readings of which I botched up a first few days) and a local forest guard named Santosh, I walked in the forests braving leeches, mosquitoes and other creepy crawlies looking for the elusive monkey. I didn’t find one until the last day of the survey. But instead, I breathed fresh air, saw giant malabar squirrels skittering in the high reaches of tall trees and numerous birds. The exercise only lasted for a few hours in the early morning so I had the rest of the day for myself.

Creatures like this are found in and around the forests of Agumbe.

the malabar gliding frog - hibernating
the malabar gliding frog – hibernating
white bellied blye flycatcher
white bellied blye flycatcher
a butterfly
a butterfly
a spider catch
a spider catch
a damsel fly
a damsel fly
another butterfly
another butterfly

We made complete use of the better part of the day by exploring the nearby towns and villages. The fish curry meals at Hebri, the neeru dosa at the Ganesh Hotel at Agumbe, the charming Udupi, malpe’s sunset and the numerous walks we took inside the campsite (Seetanadi Nature Camp) made the entire trip worthwhile. Here are a few images.

the Udupi Krishna temple
the Udupi Krishna temple
the malgudi days house at agumbe
the malgudi days house at agumbe
the jain temple in Kalasa
the jain temple in Kalasa
thatte idli
thatte idli
sunset at malpe beach
sunset at malpe beach
isnt this guy really handsome?
isnt this guy really handsome?
children march along the temple entrance
children march along the temple entrance

You could be part of the Volunteer Training Program (VTP) run by the Forest Department and Ecotourism Board of Karnataka as well. Leave a comment and I will keep you posted on when it happens.

IUCN Red List – 8 Indian bird species have been added

According to the latest IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List (2014), a whopping 173 Indian bird species now fall under the category Threatened. Many moved from Vulnerable to Threatened, and even Critically Endangered (like the case of Bugun Liocichla from the North-East). According to a press release by Bombay Natural History Society, studies conducted by BNHS-India, BirdLife International (UK) and other partner organizations have found that eight other bird species have newly entered the threatened list.
Woolly-necked Stork, Andaman Teal (both uplisted from Least Concern to Vulnerable), Andaman Green Pigeon, Ashy-headed Green Pigeon, Red-headed Falcon, Himalayan Griffon, Bearded Vulture and Yunnan Nuthatch are the eight species of birds newly added to the list. These birds have been uplisted from Least Concern to Near Threatened. Uplisted, in this parlance refers to moving up the list, “deeper into the danger zone” according to the press release.
Bugun Liocichla
First described by modern science in the 1990s this tiny bird has till now been reported from a few areas such as Eaglenest Sanctuary and Bomdila in Arunachal Pradesh, India. It is likely to exist in other areas of the state and some neighbouring areas of Bhutan and China.
Bugun Liocichla - courtesy Wikipedia
Bugun Liocichla – courtesy Wikipedia
 Woolly-necked Stork
Although found in most parts of India Woolly-necked Stork is facing rapid population decline.
Woolly-necked Stork - by Kaipally on Wikipedia
Woolly-necked Stork – by Kaipally on Wikipedia
Andaman Teal
Andaman Teal is found only on Great Coco Island and Andaman Islands of India with less than 1000 individuals recorded till now.
Andaman Teal courtesy Indianaturewatch.net
Andaman Green Pigeon
Endemic to the Andaman and Nicobar islands of India, it is estimated that a couple of thousand individuals may exist.
green pigeon courtesy indianaturewatch.net
green pigeon courtesy indianaturewatch.net
Ashy-headed Green Pigeon
 This bird is confined to the north-eastern states of India.
Red-headed Falcon
Still found in declining numbers in most parts of India (except the Himalayan ranges) and several neighbouring countries, it has disappeared from many areas. In Pakistan it has declined partly due to the falconry trade.
Red-Headed Falcon - courtesy Wikipedia
Red-Headed Falcon – courtesy Wikipedia
Himalayan Griffon
Found only in the Himalayan ranges, Himalayan Griffon is likely to decline further due to the impact of diclofenac use in livestock, as in the case of several other vulture species.
Griffon by Jan-reurink on Wikipedia
Griffon by Jan-reurink on Wikipedia
Bearded Vulture
Bearded Vulture or Lammergeyer is also found in the Himalayan ranges in India and similar habitats in other parts of Asia, Africa and Europe. It has been facing moderately rapid population decline.
Bearded Vulture - by Richard Bartz on Wikipedia
Bearded Vulture – by Richard Bartz on Wikipedia
Yunnan Nuthatch
Yunnan Nuthatch found in Yunnan province of China, has been recorded only in Arunachal Pradesh in India. Habitat loss from a variety of factors such as infrastructure development and forest fires and poaching and use of chemicals are jeopardizing the existence of these and other threatened species.
Yunnan Nuthatch - by L Shyamal on Wikipedia
Yunnan Nuthatch – by L Shyamal on Wikipedia
The total number of species recognised by BirdLife in the 2014 Red List is 10,425. Among them category-wise break-up is as follows: Extinct: 140; Extinct in the Wild: 4; Critically Endangered: 213; Endangered: 419; Vulnerable: 741; NearThreatened: 959; Least Concern: 7,886 and Data Deficient: 62. Species are assigned to a particular category based on whether they meet criteria linked to population trends, population size and structure and geographic range. Species listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable are collectively described as Threatened.
All data from BNHS press release.

 

Birds of my backyard – Part II

The rains have brought in a bevy of beauties to the backyard. I spotted a few newbies in the bunch and some strange behaviors too. Although the pictures this time are better, they are no way world class. But I am quite satisfied with the peacock picture you will see here. There is something about that picture I can’t quite put a finger on that is making it a cut above the rest. To think that I took it in a hurry.

Plus, I am also not promising totally new ones as opposed to the earlier post but the ones here are certainly better pictured. Or so I think. Read and leave a comment so I know you visited!

Black-hooded Oriole

Black-hooded Orioles are very common in our backyard in Kerala. Their stark yellow coat, black hood and pink beaks are ubiquitous as they hop from tree to tree looking for insects and fruits.

Black hooded golden oriole
Black-hooded Oriole
Black hooded golden oriole
Black-hooded Oriole

White-cheeked barbet a.k.a Spot the Bird in the Picture

Honestly, this bird has got to be a lifer (the term used to denote in birders tongue that I am seeing this one for the first time). Though these resident birds are not rare to come by, they are supremely well camouflaged making them difficult to spot. As you can see, let your eyes get used to the picture until you figure out the bird in the picture.

White-cheeked barbet
White-cheeked barbet
White-cheeked barbet
White-cheeked barbet

Common Birds – Myna & Jungle Babbler

These are resident birds of every household in Kerala. If you have a house with a big enough front-yard, these birds will be constant company on your lazy afternoons and rainy evenings. Rain drenched, their beauty is accentuated as you can see here.

A jungle warbler
A Jungle Babbler
A common myna
A common myna

Green Damselfly

No that’s not what this damselfly is called, I just made it up (although it is quite possible it is what this one is called). I take my excuse in the fact that classification of damselflies (in western ghats) is still at a nascent stage.

A dragon fly
A dragon fly

Jungle Owlet

This one seems to have mistaken the clouded, gray day to be the onset of the dusk. He was out around noon, when on a drab, rainy day. Also I think this guy / gal is a juvenile.

Jungle Owlet
Jungle Owlet

Rufous Woodpecker

Another common resident with a ‘shaggy crest’ and ‘short black bill’ as noted by Carol & Timm Inskipp in their ‘Birds of the Indian Subcontinent.’

Rufous Woodpecker
Rufous Woodpecker

Yellow-billed Babbler

I saw a Yellow-billed babbler feeding on a chick. The chick was making quite a racket but it got me thinking whether it could be the chick of the Yellow-billed babbler at all. Because for one, the chick seemed to be bigger than the adult babbler itself. Any thoughts? Have I got the bird wrong and witnessed a strange behavior?

Yellow-billed Babbler
Yellow-billed Babbler
Yellow-billed Babbler feeding
Yellow-billed Babbler feeding

Mystery birds

I couldn’t fathom what these birds are. One looks like a sunbird and the other I have absolutely no clue of. Care to clarify? Leave a comment and let me know. I will be grateful to you, expert birder.

Mystery bird - sunbird?
Mystery bird – sunbird?
Mystery bird - no clue
Mystery bird – no clue

Peacock

Peacock is a persistent company in the backyard, so are their calls. This one knew he was the center of my camera’s attention and skittered away soon. But I managed this shot. You like? Leave a comment.

The skittering peacock
The skittering peacock

What does your backyard have? Leave a comment and let me know.

 

Birds of my backyard – Part I

Not until I was given the basics of birding at a naturalist program I attended recently, did I start spotting various birds in my backyard. So far it was only the odd Bulbul or the Koel but now, to my astonishment, I can hear and distinguish between calls. Not that I can recognize the birds by listening to them but I can tell one call from the other and I have developed a keen ear for different calls. That’s a beginning, I suppose.

Since then, I have invested in a bird book and used it extensively to ID the birds (some of them are in this post too). I am supposed to invest in a binocular but prohibitive costs of a decent pair of binoculars will mean that I will have to wait until that happens. Meanwhile, take a look at these birds and follow on until at least you read the Rufus treepie story. Again, apologies for the not-so-great pictures.

Red-whiskered Bulbul

Extremely common in urban spaces, these raucous birds love fruits. I have found them gorging on ripe, splattered mangoes and papayas in the backyard every so often.

Red-whishkered Bulbul
Red-whishkered Bulbul
Red-whiskered Bulbul
Red-whiskered Bulbul

Peafowl

Peafowls are dime a dozen near my house in Kerala (Ottapalam, near Palghat) to the extent that they are considered pests by farmers. I am also assuming that the abundance of reptiles are sustaining them nice and well.

Peafowl
Peafowl

Sunbird

A visitor to my mango tree, Sunbirds are swift and agile making them difficult to photograph.

Sunbird
Sunbird

Brahminy Kite

Another commoner even in the urban landscape, these kites feed on reptiles. The overgrown plot next door houses a couple of their families and they seem to be proliferating.

Brahminy Kite
Brahminy Kite

Indian Grey Hornbill

There is a recent curious phenomenon of these guys being spotted everywhere  across India. These were spotted in Ottapalam, Kerala – the backyard of my house.

Indian Grey Hornbill
Indian Grey Hornbill
Indian Grey Hornbill
Indian Grey Hornbill

Oriental Magpie Robin

Another common species that are extremely jittery.

???????????????????????????????

Oriental Magpie Robin
Oriental Magpie Robin

Green Bee-eater

These are pretty and come right out of their hiding as soon as the rains stop to feast on the insects.

Green Bee-eater
Green Bee-eater
Green Bee-eater
Green Bee-eater

Black-hooded Oriole 

Another beautiful, yet noisy bird.

Black-hooded Oriole
Black-hooded Oriole

Asian Koel

Sometimes, this guy makes such a ruckus that it’s hard to get his ring out of my head long after he’s gone.

Asian Koel
Asian Koel

Rufous Treepie

This couple was spotted in my backyard in Kerala. They were making quite a racket that I decided to probe. I found out that their juvenile was just on the ground, probably practicing to fly. The parents were keeping a watch and would try to scare away cats and other predators when they passed along. As the day progressed, it became clear that their effort would become Herculean in protecting their baby.

I spotted a huge snake (rat snake, I presume) trying to find the baby for a meal. The parents, however, put up a brave fight chasing the snake for a long time with their catcalls. Did the snake succeed? I am not sure but I did not see the juvenile after that and the cackles of the adults subsided as well.

Rufous Treepie
Rufous Treepie
Rufous Treepie Juvenile
Rufous Treepie Juvenile
Rufous Treepie Couple
Rufous Treepie Couple

Like what you see? Or don’t? Why not let me know? Leave a comment.