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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bangalore Bird Race

16 January 2011

I am not a serious birder though I shoot few birds. And later struggle to identify them!! Bird watching needs patience which I am still trying to get hold of.

Indian Robin
About Bird Race:

This is a yearly event organized by birding enthusiasts with support from HSBC (Details are here). A dawn to dusk event where every team of bird watcher spend their day birding within 50km radius of Bangalore city. The top 3 teams who find highest number of species are awarded with prize.

Our team:

This time my friend Girish suggested that we participate in the Bangalore Bird Race. It sounded interesting and soon formed a group and registered ourselves. With no prior birding experience, our goal of the day was just to have fun in birding.

On the day of bird race, it was just Girish and I. Two other people could join due to health and Office reasons.

The day:

As we stayed in west Bangalore, we were supposed to cover at least two places. Our idea was to spend first half of the day near Manchinabele dam and TG Halli and later process towards South Bangalore. So, our day started from Manchinabele dam near Big Banyan tree. Very soon we could spot lot of birds.

Manchinabele dam
Lack of experience in birding made us difficult to identify the birds, especially the sober colored ones. Salim Ali’s “The Book of Indian Birds” helped us a lot. While we could hear lot of birds but could not see them. Girish was right when he said that we could have easily identified about 15-20 species easily if we had knowledge on bird calls.

Brahminy kite

It was 10AM when we decided to leave Manchinabele. The day was hot and we were hungry. When asked a villager for a short cut to Magadi road, he promptly directed us to Magadi!! Well, we had our late breakfast at Magadi and headed towards TG Halli. There was no way we could entire into the dam as the entire area was fenced. Disappointed, we then went to Hirohalli Lake on the outskirts of Bangalore.

Another round of disappointment awaited us. The lake was completely dry and was being renovated. Hope it returns back to its good days.

Rufous tailed finch-lark
We then went all the way to Banneraghatta. As expected, the place was filled with people. But next to the zoo area was a lake which offered solitude. We sighted good number of birds.

After lunch, we went to Lalbagh. Lalbagh always offers conformed sightings of few water birds!!

Final count:

At the end of the day, our count of birds stood at 77. It surpassed our estimate of 50. A good beginning, I must say for just two people although we were quite behind the top team that spotted 153 birds.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Pench National Park

28th - 31st December 2010

Pench is the one of the four national parks in Madhya Pradesh. Located in the Seoni district, it is about 90km from Nagpur on Nagpur – Jabalpur route. Rudyard Kipling’s famous novel “The Jungle Book” was written in the setting of Pench reserve. 


We had planned to reach Pench from Tadoba. A taxi was hired as there was no direct public transport available between those two places. The distance of about 270km was covered in 6 hours. The roads were good at most of the place. Crossing Nagpur city took a lot of time. Most of the journey is on NH-7 which is four lanes except for the stretch of 40km inside Pench reserve.

My experience with MPTDC hotels was good last year. And hence without much thought I booked Kipling resort run by MPTDC. I shot few birds and butterflies in the resort itself.


There are three entry gates for Safari in Pench. Turia gate is the most convenient one as it is located very near to the resorts while Jamtara and Karmajhari are located 80km away from Turia.


It was here I came to know about the new rules and rates for Safari in MP. All safaris must be booked in advance using an online system (https://www.mponline.gov.in/Portal/Services/Forest/Search.aspx ). In general, it is a great system which avoids the struggle to stand in the line for safari early in the morning. The not so good part is that the list of persons added in the safari booking form could not be edited later. This is not a problem for big groups but for solo travelers and couple has to shell out lot of money for each safari. Recently, MP Government became greedy and doubled the rates for safari.


It used to be extremely cold in the morning where the temperature drops to single digit. To get up and start for a Safari would require great passion in wildlife!!

Pench seemed to be overfilled by herbivorous animals. Spotted deer was abundant and was seen in thousands!!


Here I shot my first photo of a Nilgai. A common animal in North and Central India, it is not liked by farmers as it causes widespread damage to the crops.


A deer “talking” with Drongo. Apparently, deer was not very happy about the Drongo sitting on it and tried to get rid of it.

A white necked stork found near the backwaters of Pench River.


Pench seemed to be stocked with wide variety of birds.




The density of Tigers in Pench is very less and it needs extreme luck to spot felines. The beauty of Pench lies in experiencing the forest itself.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Tadoba-Andhari: where Tiger rules!!

26th - 28th December 2010

I get a week off during Christmas. So, I need to go somewhere!! This time I thought of visiting wildlife sanctuaries in Central India. With a map in hand, I started looking around the places near Nagpur. Tadoba National Park in Maharashtra drew my attention. It was not as popular as some of the “hyped” forests in Central India. The nearest railway station to Tadoba is Chandrapur which is well connected to Bengaluru!! What else I need?

It was then I faced difficulties. Information about Tadoba was limited and not of much help. It was then I found Shalik from his blogs. A wildlife enthusiast, he helped me all the way to make my stay at Tadoba memorable. Accommodation and Safari bookings were done in a jiffy.

Travel:

We boarded “Jaipur Express” from Bengaluru at 2PM. Though the train started an hour late, it promptly dropped us at Chandrapur 8:30AM next day. Chandrapur is known as the “City of black gold” thanks to the oldest coal mines nearby. The city also houses India’s largest Thermal Power station. Several Paper mills and cement factory are in the town. It is very hard to believe that a wildlife sanctuary is thriving near such a place!!

A coal mine near Chandrapur
MTDC resort:

MTDC resort at Mohrali was 25km from Chandrapur. It just took less than an hour to reach the place. Being next to a lake, the place looked cool. Since all rooms were occupied, we had to wait till 12 noon. While my daughter became busy in the kids playground nearby, I spent the free time to shoot the butterflies that were numerous.


We were provided rooms at 12PM as promised.

The rooms were very clean but same cannot be said about the restaurant. The menu had limited choices and there was always a chance that the waiter would refuse to serve.

“We cannot give you one plate. You need to order for two!!”.
“We cannot give you four parathas. Only two can be served”.

But on the positive side, the staff were not rude and most of the times helpful. (BSNL was not reachable there and I made few calls using their reliance phones!!)

Safari:

Forest department allows vehicles to pass inside the forest between 7AM to 11AM and 2PM to 6PM (Timings may change in summer). There is also a rule to allow only 27 vehicles in a slot. Hence it is a must to book the Safari in advance especially during peak season. I saw few people who couldn’t get a chance to enter the forest and had to spend their time inside their hotel rooms.


The afternoon Safari started on a silent note. The cheetals were first to be spotted. There were few crocodiles in marshy areas.


The real show was started by a ruddy mongoose. A nice creature by itself, it posed for quite some time.


We also spotted few yellow legged green pigeons. It was the state bird of Maharashtra which I was not aware of.


The sun was going down when we reached back to the gate.

It was very cold in the morning and my daughter refused to get up. I go to Safari alone.

The forest was alive that day!! A lot of pug marks of a leopard and Tiger was found. That was encouraging and we started looking out. A sirkeer malkoha was shot during this time.


As we were waiting at a location to hear any alarm calls, a Jeep suddenly rushed at a high speed. That was an indication of a Tiger presence!! For next 10 minutes, our Jeep driver drew as if he was participating in a race. The 7-8 Jeeps moving at high speed resulted in cloud of dust but none complained.

As we stopped on the lake side, a grand spectacle enfolded in front of us.


A sambar deer popped out of forest cover. Its face was terror stricken. Following him was a hungry Tigress. On reaching the lake shore the deer had no option but to jump into it. It did the same and started swimming.


A crocodile was watching all this. But surprisingly it remained a mute spectator. But the Tigress was hungry. It was annoyed by the action of the sambar deer. She took some time before jumping into the chilled water. By that time the deer reached the other end of the lake and jumped into the forest. The tiger swam across the lake and followed the deer into the forest.
  
The tiger looking annoyed by the deer escape



Thinking what to do


Finally jumping into water
What happened later was unknown!!

Crossing the lake and rushing into the forest
I had seen Tigers few times but never in action. This was much more than I expected. I had seen these things only on TV and now it had occurred in front of me. All this happened just in less than 30 seconds.

The trip to Tadoba was an experience to remember for long!!