Saturday, February 25, 2017

Jorbeer, home to endangered birds

“So, you had been to Bikaner”
“Did you go to havelis, forts in Bikaner?”
“What did you do then?”
“Went to Jorbeer cattle carcass dumping yard!!”
“What? You went all the way from Bengaluru to see dumping yard?”
Jorbeer dumping yard

The person on the other side got terribly confused after this conversation. But I was there with Sankara for the whole day in Jorbeer carcass dumping site!! So, whats so interesting in Jorbeer?

Egyptian vulture and Steppe eagle

The raptors like Egyptian vulture, Steppe eagle and eastern imperial eagle are endangered species. It is hard to find them. The usage of diclofenac (Anti inflammatory drug) has lead to the dramatic decline of some of the scavenger birds. Vultures that eat the carcass of animals treated with diclofenac, it causes kidney failure. We have lost nearly 99.9% of vultures because of this. Sankara and me once went to Ramanagara near Bengaluru which has a small area declared as vulture sanctuary. We could not find any bird but got some scolding and “gyaan” by forest department people lazing around!! 

Egyptian Vulture
Jorbeer near Bikaner has a huge dumping yard of cattle and camel carcass making it an ideal place for scavenger birds. When we planned trip to Tal Chhapar,  a day trip to Jorbeer was also included.

Steppe eagle

Our experience
We had started very early from Tal Chhapar. The journey was slow due to fog and bad roads at certain places. It was also surprising to see NHAI collecting tolls on two lane highway!! Anyway, we were at the entrance of Jorbeer at around 10AM and the mist was clearing up. A small checklist with a friendly guard registers the vehicle before letting inside. 

Eastern imperial Eagle
As we drove into the area, we were overwhelmed by the number of Egyptian vultures. They were in hundreds!! Steppe eagles were also found in plenty. 

Griffon vulture

This is not a place for weak hearted. Thought the area is large, it is hard not to miss the dumping place. The dead cattle and camels are brought in lorries and dumped here. People skin the animals while the dogs, vultures and eagles feast on them. It is a weird place place but that is an experience!!

Dumping yard of Jorbeer
We spent about 5-6 hours at Jorbeer with a break for lunch at Bikaner. Apart from raptors, you can also see birds like starlings, Francolin and yellow eyed pigeons. It is also common to find Nilgai and chinkara in the area surrounding dumping yard.

Grey Francolin
Where is Jorbeer?

Jorbeer is about 15 km from Bikaner. Bikaner is a big city well connected to Jaipur and Delhi by trains. I feel it is very convenient to reach by overnight train from Delhi. A visit to Jorbeer is only recommended if you are interested in birds. Else, there is no fun to see the dumping yard!!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Birding at Tal Chhapar

It was still dark as we got down at the nice looking Ratangarh station in Churu district of Rajasthan. Being January, it was cold though the recent rains had notched up the temperature levels a bit. It was nice to see our driver waiting for us at 4:45 in the morning. A journey of one hour brought us to the Home Stay at Tal Chhapar. There was still time for sun to break out and with possibility of rain in early morning, we went for a quick and much needed nap dreaming about the next two days of our activity in Tal Chhapar.

Eagle with its kill
Tal Chhapar sanctuary is known for blackbucks and raptors. Sankara was asking me for this trip for a long time. I was indecisive for some reason but the long weekend during Republic day made to think about Tal Chhapar. The plan was completely handled by Sankara and he did the booking of train tickets, searched for stay options and booked home stay. I contributed a small part by booking a flight ticket to Delhi and return. That was an easy job!!

Eurasian Eagle Owl

We roamed around Tal Chhapar for two days exploring various areas from dawn to dusk with a break for lunch. Mahendar, our home stay owner provided us the Jeep with Sarun as our driver. We basically covered Gow shala area, Salt bank, ponds around the park and the sanctuary itself. 

Common Kestrel with its kill
Blackbucks are omnipresent in Tal Chhapar and you need not get into the sanctuary to find them. They are abundant in number due to the protection and lack of predators. Dogs do kill Blackbucks and saw few dead ones during our safari. Apart from Blackbucks, chinkara (Indian Gazelle) and Nilgai (Blue bull) are present but in smaller numbers.


But people visit Tal Chhapar for mainly for birds. Being our first time visit to this area, lot of new birds were seen. Our understanding of birds increased considerably during this visit.

White eared bulbul
Our trip was not without some adventures outside birding domain. A transformer in the area was damaged a day before our arrival resulting in power outage. Home stay had an inverter but it ran out of power on second day!! Water was the immediate problem but luckily there was enough water in the sump which had to be manually lifted!! With our camera batteries draining out, our situation was not good by the end of second day. A plan was made to send the batteries to Chhapar town which had power!! But luckily things did not go that far as the power was restored back on the second evening. 

Spotted creeper
Reaching there and stay option
Sujangarh and Ratangarh are the two railway stations nearby which are connected to New Delhi and Jaipur. Stay options in Tap Chhapar are limited. There is a forest rest house but booking process is complex. We stayed in a small homestay managed by Mahendar, which was about 3 km from Tel Chhapar. He arranges the vehicle as well. A nice guy. There might be some options at Sujangarh or Ratangarh for stay but I do not have knowledge on it.

Sunset at Tal Chhapar

Final Words

Tel Chhapar is not a place for general tourist but for person interesting in birds and wildlife, it is an amazing place. But Chhapar town and surroundings areas are filthy and does not give a nice feeling. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Thattekad - birder’s paradise

Thattekad is a bird sanctuary in Kerala. Located at the base of western ghats, it covers a small area of 25 sq km. Also known as Salim Ali bird sanctuary, it is a place well renowned to looks for the birds endemic to western ghats in addition to migratory birds in winter.

Orange headed thrush

Salim Ali described this sanctuary as the richest bird habitat in peninsular India next only to the Eastern Himalayas. That itself is a testimony for the variety in avian life.

A lake in Thattekad
I rarely visit the same place again but Thattekad was an exception. My first visit was in the month of October last year. While returning back, I and Sankara felt that we need to visit again!! Before we reached the Aluva railway station, the dates of the next trip was already finalized and booking done!!

Bronze winged Jacana
For Bengaluru people, Thattekad is conveniently located for a weekend trip. The nearest railway station to Thattekad is Aluva and Cochin airport is also nearby. It takes about an hour to reach Thattekad from railway station or airport. Overnight trains are convenient and there are many flights between Bengaluru and Cochin. Choice is yours!!

White bellied treepie
During both visits, we reached the sanctuary Saturday morning and spent two full days before departing on Sunday evening. A perfect weekend trip.

Streak throated woodpecker
This is different from typical bird sanctuaries like Ranganathittu that attracts aquatic birds. In Thattekad, it requires you to walk in the forest in search of the birds. There are few hides constructed by few private parties with food thrown over to attract birds. They serve good for calendar photos.

Pygmy woodpecker
A typical itinerary in the sanctuary involves walking in Salim Ali trail, Baza trail, Palamattam area and Uralanthanni. My personal favorite was Uralanthanni in the morning which provides good opportunity to shoot birds.

Sri lankan frogmouth

This is not a place to chill out or visit as a tourist. But for a birder it is a paradise. Being an amateur in birding, Thattekad provided me an opportunity to get better understanding of birds. 

Blyth's starling

There are many home stays available in Thattekad which provide basic stay and food with guide services. You can see my review of the place I stayed in my trip advisor page.

Malabar trogon
While traveling, we happen to meet many people and some of them will be crazy ones!! While birding in Palamattam area, a guy comes with his huge lens and tripod. Being very restless, he is concerned that he is not getting enough birds!! He puts music player that imitates bird’s call. Few yellow browed bulbuls come nearby but a brach in front of it obstructs to get a ‘good’ snap or the sky background is not appealing. Very soon, he picked up a fight with his guide for not getting birds in close view!! What a guy!!!! 

Heart spotted woodpecker

Here is the list of birds I saw in my Thattekad visit. It is not an exhaustive list!!
Red spurfowl
Grey Jungle fowl
Lesser whistling duck
Cotton Pygme goose
Common Kingfisher
White breasted Kingfisher
Racket tailed drongo 
Bronze Drongo
Ashy Drongo
Drone Cuckoo
Common Hawk cuckoo
Banded Bay Cuckoo
Grey bellied cuckoo
Large cuckooshrike
Black headed cuckooshrike 
Rufuos treepie
White bellied treepie
Oriental Magpie Robin
Asian Fairy Bluebird
Golden oriole
Black headed oriole
Paradise flycatcher
Asian brown flycatcher
Rusty tailed flycatcher
White Cheeked barbet
Malabar barbet
Orange minivet
White bellied woodpecker
Brown capped pygmy woodpecker
Lesser golden backed woodpecker
Heart spotted woodpecker
Lesser yellow nape woodpecker
Streak throated woodpecker
Blue faced Malkoha
Hill Myna
Jungle Babbler
Asian Koel
Honey Buzzard
Green Imperial pigeon
Grey fronted green pigeon
Golden fronted leafbird 
Grey hornbill
Purple dumped sunbird
Purple dumped sunbird
Flame throated bulbul
Red vented bulbul
Red whiskered bulbul
Yellow browed bulbul
Dollar bird
Forest wagtail
Yellow wagtail
Orange headed thrush 
Indian black bird
Pond heron
Cattle Egret
Little Egret
Rosy Starling
Bronze winged Jacana
White breasted kingfisher
Small kingfisher
Little cormorant
Whiskered tern
Black Baza
Malabar parakeet
Plum headed parakeet
Jungle owlet
Large billed leaf warbler
Blyth’s starling
Nilgiri flower pecker
Crested Goshawk
Great tit
Srilankan frogmouth
Malabar trogon
Emarald dove
Indian Pitta
Brown cheeked Fulvetta
Black naped monarch

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Trek to Madakasira fort

Wido, our previous Vice President had interest in exploring the fort hills around Bengaluru. I had similar interest, it was not difficult to connect with each other in the age of social media. This time when he was in Bengaluru, we planned for a day trip to one or more of the many fort hills near Bengaluru. He had a long list and basically had to select one of them!!

Madakashira fort seen from the road

After picking up Wido from the airport, we decided to head to Madakasira fort. We took the longer but faster route via Devanahalli->Chikkaballapur->Bagepalli->Penukonda->Madakasira route. It was interesting to cross over at Andra Pradesh after Bagepalli and enter into Karnataka only to enter back to Andhra after few km!! As we neared Madakasira, the fort loomed in the background of the town. To get to the nearest point of the fort entry, I ended up getting into a narrow road to reach a dead end. It was hard to take a U turn, so I had to reverse my car and on top of it there was no place to park. Luckily the people in one of the local house asked me to park in front of their house. 

Madakashira fort

After parking the car, we crossed the gate which looked like an isolated remains of the fort. Walking through narrow streets, we reached the base of the hill started our climb to the fort.

Gate of the fort at the base

The well laid steps guided us throughout the climb. It was steep and rocky at most places but thanks to the steps, the climb was pretty straight forward. Very soon, we crossed the first gate of the fort.

Climb to the fort

This was the place with huge vertical rock towers which seemed impossible to pass though but the steps were carved in between those huge rock walls. At some places, the rocks looked unstable and ready to fall any time. That was not promising and we hoped that they stay intact for the duration of our trek!! The climb was quite steep at this place and we gained height very quickly.

Steep climb between rock walls

Here we met a group of local people who were also climbing the fort. The kids in the group were excited to see Wido and wanted to take a photograph with him. Wido was used to such requests and he happily obliged!!

Wido with kids

Very soon we reached the top portion of the fort. There was a small natural pond and a temple dedicated to Shiva. Nothing much we could derive from the remains of the fort. It looked like it was used for storage of weapons and grains and might have not served as the place for people to stay. That was my interpretation.

A small pond at the top

The top portion of the fort is quite large and many parts are still intact.

We still had not reached the topmost point where a small temple was located. This stretch was risky as it involved crawling over bounders. I did not feel comfortable climbing that final step. Most people from the local group and Wido went higher up to the temple. 

The highest point in the fort

The views from the fort were amazing which was as expected. The vast plains, the Madakasira town and couple of Burj’s were visible from the top. 

View of the plains from the fort

The fort had turned much better than our expectations. Satisfied with the visit, we started climbing down. On the way we found a boy who was very thirty and tired. We gave him our water bottle and asked him to use it for the rest of his journey to the base. Few minutes before we reached the base, we heard an animal crying. We could see some people shoring stones on an animal. While we tried to get near the place and enquire, people were not answering our questions. We were simply not welcomed. Well, some things are not under our control especially when we are at unknown place. 

At the top of the fort

On the way back, we did a quick visit to the Burj. It is better to park vehicle in front of the Burj and walk. There was lot of space in front of the Burj. 

Burj as seen from the fort
While we could not get any historical information about the fort, the following information was obtained in internet. "In 1728 AD this region fell under Marathas, and Morari Rao the Maratha Chief was said to have built the fort and a palace here. The fort is situated on a preciptous rocky hill. The outer fortification looks as an irregular horse-shoe and the citadel is at the summit of the hill. One of the two paths which leads upto the citadel, near the old city gateway which is of massive stones, with ornamental brick and plaster parapet in the Indo-Saracenic style. Each side of the entrance is flanked by a small circular bastion. In 1762 AD the Musalmans seized the place but were rejected out two years later. They regained the position in 1774 AD and in 1799 AD, it fell under the British with the defeat of Tippu Sultan."

With Wido (Photo courtesy: Wido)

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

When my colleagues suggested to visit Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, I did not show much interest. My understanding of European history was limited and I found it hard to appreciate the artefacts in the museum without any prior understanding. But nevertheless, I was convinced by others to visit the museum!! 

Rijksmuseum seen from Ice Skating area
Rijksmuseum is located at museum square. During winter, the place is known for ice skating. We watched for a long time on how effortlessly people were ice skating. I had tried few years ago but for the entire hour I had to hold the wall to balance myself!! It certainly requires some time to get comfortable skating on the ice.

Ice skating area
While there is an entry fee for Rijksmuseum, we were granted free access by showing our company badge!! Philips, the company I work is the main sponsor of this museum and hence this concession. Bags are not allowed inside the museum and can be kept in lockers free of charge. Camera and mobile phones are allowed.

Inside Rijksmuseum
It is said that the museum has 1 million collections, out of which 8000 are currently displayed. The paintings of “Dutch Golden Age” were the most impressive stuff. It made me realise the Dutch paintings of those era were equivalent to the Italian ones (Like Leonardo Da Vinci). 

"Library" inside museum
The highlight of the museum was “The Night Watch” by Rembrandt which was created in 1642. As we watched the waiting closely we were mesmerised by the sunlight and shades used. The size of the painting was also huge. The figures in the photo are nearly human size giving a feeling of reality. Amazing stuff. One must visit the museum at least to see this painting.

Night Watch painting

When we came out of the museum, at was already dark. The ice skating area was empty but was illuminated with light!!

Ice skating stadium lit up by lights