Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ranganathittu and Kokkare Bellur

24th February 2008
Myself, Girish and Krishna had been to Ranganathittu and Kokkare Bellur for birding on last sunday. Both the places were teeming up with different varieties of birds and were a treat for our eyes and cameras.

River Tern (Kannada Name:
ಮೀನು ಗುಟುರ)

These small little birds allowed us to take snaps from a very close distance. Credit goes to the boatman Nartayanappa for taking us very near to the birds without disturbing them. These River terns nests in huge number in Bhadra backwaters near Lakkavalli Dam. Incidentally, Jungle lodges in Lakkavalli are named as “River tern resort” due to these birds.
Stone Plover (Kannada name: ಬಂಡೆ ಗೊರವ)
These are the local birds usually found near water. A very few of them were in Ranganathittu.
Large Pied Wagtail (Kannada name: ಕಪ್ಪು ತಲೆಯ ಕುಂಡೆಕುಸ್ಕ)
This is a local bird that derives its name due to wagging of its tail frequently.
Night Heron (Kannada name: ಇರುಳು ಬಾಕ)
It is known mainly due to its distinctive sound “Kwaark”.
Pond Heron (Kannada name: ಕೊಳದ ಬಾಕ)
This is also a common bird found near water holes.
Median Egret (Kannada name: ಮಧ್ಯಮ ಬೆಳ್ಳಕ್ಕಿ)
This bird has a blue mark on the beak. Hey, he has an yellow mark!!
Little Cormorant (Kannada name: ಪುಟ್ಟ ನೀರು ಕಾಗೆ)
Commonly seen at water bodies.
Eurasian Spoonbill (Kannada name: ಚಮಚದ ಕೊಕ್ಕರೆ) The name itself tells everything!!
Spot billed Pelican (Kannada name: ಹೆಜ್ಜಾರ್ಲೆ)
The kids of Kokkare Bellur kept on telling it that eats 2kgs of fish and 1 kg of water. I am not very sure!!
Painted Stork (Kannada name: ಬಣ್ಣದ ಕೊಕ್ಕರೆ)
A very common migratory bird.
It is quite huge and it is a treat to watch it flying majestically. The way it flies makes one feel of an aero plane.
The legs come down while landing.
Finally landed. Wow!!
Asian Openbill-Stork (Kannda name: ಬಾಯ್ಕಳಕ ಕೊಕ್ಕರೆ)
Named so due to an open cavity between its bills.
Besra Sparrowhawk (Kannada name: ಉರ್ಚಿಟ್ಲು/ಕರಿ ಗುಬ್ಬಿ ಗಿಡುಗ)
We found this while returning back from Kokkare Bellur. First we thought it as an Owl and then as some small eagle. Finally, after referring to Salim Ali’s “The book of Indian birds”, we came to know that it was a sparrow hawk. While Girish was trying to take its snap from the car, I foolishly came out of the car and moved towards the bird to take a closer shot. The bird panicked flew away, thereby ruining the chances of Girish from shooting a nice snap. More photos of the trip can be seen here.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Silent Valley National Park

2nd-3rd February 2008

YHAI Bangalore had organized a trek to Silent Valley National Park in Kerala on 2nd and 3rd of February. Silent Valley is considered to have one of the few virgin rainforest in the world and any nature lover would like to visit that place. It was one of the most sought after trek in YHAI Bangalore and 27 people registered for the trek with few people coming from Chennai and Pondicherry.

We reached Palakkad on Saturday morning after traveling on an overnight bus from Bangalore. We were delayed by 2 hours due to a traffic block between Coimbatore and Palakkad. Driver mentioned that this was the regular problem on that route. Poor traffic sense of the people adds to the woes.

After finishing breakfast at Indraprastha hotel in Palakkad, we boarded a mini bus to Mukkali. Mukkali, 65 kms from Palakkad is the entrance for Silent Valley. It was 10:30AM when we reached Mukkali. We were given accommodation at the forest guest house nearby.

Silent valley is 23 kms from Mukkali. Permission to enter silent valley are given at Mukkali. We had to hire jeeps to the silent valley as the road from Mukkali to Silent Valley is very narrow and steep at some places. A guide is also provided for each group. The initial route is through coffee plantations and then the road passes through the dense forest. It took nearly 75 minutes to travel from Mukkali to Silent Valley. Silent valley is also called as “Sairandri”.

Forest department clearly mentions that Silent Valley is not for “tourists” and are not very eager to promote the place. People can only trek for 1.5kms from a watch tower near Sairandri to Kunti River. Treks to the core areas of the park are banned.

We just walked to the Kunti River. The crystal clear water of the river indicated that the area was away from any pollution. We had our lunch at the river and spent some time playing in the water.

We then went back to the watch tower. Being a bit acrophobic, I had to struggle to climb up to the top.

Once on top, we could get a bird view of the entire Silent valley.

The forest department rule states that one should return back to Mukkali before 6PM. Guides who come along with us make sure that we follow that. Overall, we spent around 3-4 hours in Silent Valley. Only animals that we spotted were a Nilgiri Langur and Malabar giant squirrel. Lion tailed Macaque, for which the Silent Valley is famous for was elusive.

After coming back to Mukkali, few people went to play in the river next to our guesthouse. I spent some time in taking photographs of Kingfisher that were numerous in that place.

Next day morning, I, Krishna and Girish got up early and went for birding session. While Girish went towards the road leading to Silent Valley, myself and Krishna walked along the river side for the birds. We were rewarded with Kingfishers, blue whiskered bulbul, hill myna, Racket tailed Drongo, flycatchers, woodpecker and many other birds which we could not recognize.

After breakfast, we went for the trek to Kiripara, a hill in Attapadi area. It was pity that we could not climb that hill due to the slow progress of 25 member team. We also had a deadline of starting back from Mukkali by 4PM as few people had to catch evening train from Palakkad.

We had a late lunch and started our journey back at 4PM and reached Palakkad by six. After spending some time in the town, we took 8’O clock train to Bangalore.

My take on Silent Valley:
There is no doubt that Silent Valley has one of the best rainforests in the world and entire National Park is completely void of any human habitation. But it does not fit into either trekking or tourist place. We had high expectations but Silent Valley did not live up to it (At least for few of us). If one is at Palakkad and has a day at his disposal, he can go and visit this place. But it is not worth to travel from Bangalore just to visit that place.

But but but….. If one gets permission from Trivendrum forest Office to trek to the core areas of the park like Poochapara (1 day trek) and Walakkad (3-4 days), nothing can be better than that!!!!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Nagaragali (Vajra Poha) falls

27 January 2008

Continued from Dudhsagar waterfalls...

When YHAI announced the trek to Dudhsagar falls, I suggested Chandru, YHAI coordinator to include Vajra Poha falls near Khanapur. I checked in the web and with Rajesh Naik, an expert about the waterfalls in Karnataka and passed all the information to Chandru asking him to get permission from Khanapur RFO. But Khanapur RFO told that the falls comes under Nagaragali RFO and asked to contact them. Chandru then contacted Nagaragali RFO and with great difficulty managed to get permission to trek to the falls and stay at Nagaragali forest guest house. Things looked great but actually we had goofed up!!

The trek:
We started from Castle Rock on Tempo Traveler after returning from Dudhsagar. Our stay was arranged at Nagaragali forest guest house. None of us knew where the place was. We came to Ramnagar near Londa and asked for directions. Local informed us that Nagaragali was 15 kms and directed us to take Dharwad route. As we were moving towards Nagaragali, I had a feeling that something had gone amiss. We were moving away from Khanapur and I was wondering how we can connect to Vajra Poha from Nagaragali. At Nagaragali guest house, I was even more surprised when the guard Ratnakar mentioned that the falls was just 4kms. Upon further enquiry, we came to know that the falls near Khanapur and the one near Nagaragali are totally different but share the same name Vajra Poha!! It looked like Khanapur RFO was not even aware of the falls nearby. I and Chandru were disappointed, but the silver lining was that we would be seeing a new falls that we were not even aware of.

Nagaragali guest house is in an isolated place surrounded by forests. The guest house is huge and lavish in style with fully furnished rooms and halls. Per day rent is just Rs 20/- for entire gang!! But at the same time, it is mostly used by higher forest Officials, politicians and Babus and is very difficult for general public to book this place.

Guards mentioned that forests surrounding the guest house were teeming with wild life. So, some of us went for a walk early morning. But we were unfortunate as the only wildlife we found was a jungle fowl, although we saw excreta of Sloth Bear, wild dog and elephant.

After breakfast, we started towards the falls. The forests were dense with teak trees abundant but the trek was not very tough. Since the falls comes under the reserved forest, not may people visit this place. Our guide Maruthi told that there was a proposal to build a road to the falls but it was dropped. Good that it got scrapped; it would have only helped poachers and people without basic sense who come with big families and group with bucket load of food to dirty the place.

After about 75 minutes of trekking, we reached the falls. The falls is about 60-70 ft height. I liked the silence of the place. The pool formed at the base of the falls formed an ideal place to get into water. It was called as Vajra Poha or Vajra falls, guide told. Well, there are already falls with those names and this would create confusion and so I decided to name it as Nagaragali falls!!

While returning, we went to top of the falls and took the tougher route. It took two hours to return to guest house. After lunch, we set out for our return journey to Bangalore.
Permission has to be obtained from Nagaragali RFO to trek to this falls. Nagaragali is 45 kms from Dharwad on Dharwad-Goa route. Even though it is a State Highway, this road is hopeless and only safe for bigger vehicles and not at all suitable for two wheelers and cars.