Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Thol Experience

A surprising assignment to get some documents signed from our official client, quite unexpected, set me flying off to Ahmedabad on April 6th, and being a weekend, and my brother stationed in Gandhinagar, I extended my return to Mumbai till Sunday evening.

The Friday went off in a flurry of activity at the clients’ place and I returned home tired that evening, and with the mercury soaring at nearly 40 deg cent. it was a hard time keeping up one’s energies.

While chatting casually with my brother that night, he just remarked, why don’t we go to Thol tomorrow for a visit. The name Thol rang lots of bells in my head and an immediate SMS to Adesh followed. Promptly came the reply, if the migrants have not gone, its worth a visit and checkout…….and we planned that trip that night.

My brother, though used to trekking, is not a birder and has not been to these birding trips. He called up one of his colleagues who agreed to accompany us and show us the way to Thol. Early morning 5.00 am all of us were up, myself, my brother, his wife and two kiddo with a basket of eatables to his friends place… picked him up and whizzed past to Thol, landing there as early as 7.30 am…wouldn’t say it was early but pretty good time made.

The entry to Thol was itself spectacular with both sides of the road filled with water and lots of ducks and waders vying for attention. The huge flock of Comb duck welcomed us with a flypast and not once by thrice going round and giving us an encore.

The dirt road goes right in along the lake bank and is a wonderful birding route. The road itself was scattered with grey francolin, which would run for cover as the vehicle approached and yes the ring dove would be screaming their presence from every alternate tree.

The common and purple moorhen were posing for photographs and the more shy Gargneys and coots will swim off fast when approached.

The lapwings had their areas demarcated, the fields near the waterbodies and would scream “did u do it” when flushed out. The fields revealed yet another treasure trove with two adult Sarus Cranes with a juvenile, foraging for grains and worms near the water.

The flock of peafowls which were sunning themselves or foraging for grains and worms would run away and hide in the underbrush……so would the shrikes and bulbuls and doves. The drongos and shikra however, were bold enough to stare at your from quite close quarters and wonder what I was doing with that long black thing pointed at them and making the sound “click, click, click” when the shutters fell continuously on a rapidfire mode. A flypast of glossy ibis and painted storks was also quite a view.

The return was more spectacular with some lovely show by the Purple Sunbird, some close quarter views of the juvenile Black Headed Ibis, the Hoopoe, the Black Redstart and yes the Purple Heron, the Grey Heron and the Glossy Ibis, the Jungle Babbler, Baya, etc….

The couple of hours yielded a treasure trove of birds and first sightings and another visit in December / January is already in the Calendars. The trip was an eye opening experience indeed.

Notable sightings and lifers for me were :

1. Common Moorhen (L)
2. Purple Moorhen
3. Gargney (L)
4. Common Coots, pair
5. Comb Duck (L)
6. Black Headed Ibis
7. Sarus Crane (L)
8. Glossy Ibis
9. Black Headed Ibis
10. Purple Heron (L)
11. Grey Heron
12. Cattle Egret
13. White Breasted Kingfisher
14. Ring Dove
15. Long Tailed Shrikes
16. Grey Francolin (L)
17. Indian Peafowl
18. Rose Ringed Parakeet
19. Black Drongo
20. Shikra Male
21. Spotted Eagle (L)
22. Tawny Eagle (L)
23. Common Kingfisher
24. Pond Heron
25. Grebe
26. Common Babbler
27. Jungle Babbler
28. Brahminy Starling
29. Large Billed Crow
30. Ashy Prinia
31.....and the list goes on.........

More bigger pics can be seen on :

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Yewoor Dec 2006 visit : Myself and Harish decided to visit Yewoor this morning and he came down to pick me up in his car at around 6.30 am. I had my Nikon D50 with the regular lenses that I use and harish had carried his camera along with his 2.2x Raynox Converter and went on a birding trip.

Reached Yewoor before sunrise and it was quite chilly and also quite misty with dew falling from trees like rain. We went along the trail and were a bit disappointed with no birds in sight, maybe they all took a longer nap because of the cold... went half way up the trail and found a few psyche and bush brown butterflies biding their time for the sun to rise and warm their bodies into activity

Further down the sunbirds started showing up with quite many on the treetops just as the sun began to warm up the weather. Then came the drongos with their screeches and a few petronias. We reached the river bed, quite disappointed but also a bit heartened due to the good pics of the psyche and bush brown that we had shot. Then came the burst of activity.....the sun was quite up as it was already around 8.45 am and was heating up the surrounding fast.

The purple sunbirds showed up in pairs along with a huge flock of c.s. petronias flocking in a bare tree and chirping away. Then came the bulbuls and the black drongos flying around the silk cotton trees and the bright red blooms, sipping the nectar from them. Also saw a lone racket-tailed drongo dragging its rackets behind in flight.

We decided to spend some more time in that place and were rewarded with spiders and dragonflies, trying to dry off the dew that had settled on them during the early morning and shining in full glory in rainbow colours. The return trip, however threw up lots of pleasant surprises. A third down the trail the very familiar churk churk of the paradise flycatcher kept distracting my attention but could not sight it. Suddenly we saw a flock of around a dozen eurasian golden orioles hunting party along with some drongos, a few gold fronted leaf birds and the quaker babblers. Didnt know where to look and what to shoot in that mellee but got some very good shots of the oriole and some record shots of the leafbird. Harish suddenly saw a stump move among the trees and was lucky to get a picture of the spotted owlet, which promptly disappeared from view.

This flurry of activity completely made us oblivious of the magnificent male paradise flycatcher flitting around much lower in the same area and we suddenly caught sight of it. However, being quite wary and shy the bird promptly disappeared into the canopy but we still could hear it call from the stream's edge for a long time. After spending much time enjoying this sight and getting as many pics as we could, we just moved ahead and harish suddenly froze and turned around. We had, without knowing, missed a coiled snake right in our path, sunning itself. It went into the thicket as fast as it could and we were lucky not to have stepped on it, This snake needs to be identified...was dark brown in colour, around 2 feet long and around 3-4 inches in diameter and had light brown line running all through its body on both its sides. From the looks of it, was a non poisonous one.

The sun had gone up quite a bit now and it was very warm and the sailers, wanderers, pansies and other butterflies were quite active and very much around. Some like the wanderer, the plum judy, the pioneer and the lemon pansy gave us quite a display and some sat quite patiently till we got some good macro shots of them.

Overall quite a good trip and we both enjoyed it thoroughly and would like to repeat again on the lookout for more surprises in the months to come.


Monday, April 17, 2006

Karjat - Bhimashankar Birding Trip - April 14-16, 2006

Bhimashankar..the name evokes memories of the Jyotirlinga... one of the 12 sacred places of Shiva in India and lots of trees and forest and snakes. I have been to Bhimashankar in the rains and in the winter but due to the climatic conditions, has never noticed or have not had the opportunity to notice the fauna....except the very rare appearance of the malabar giant squirrel or "Shekru" as it is called.

This trip last week (April 14-16) was done exclusively as a birding trip, the first halt being Karjat (van vihar) where we did a bit of birding on the 14th morning and then proceeded to Bhimashankar for the balance two days of intense birding. Karjat is another place which is oft neglected by the birders but this area has lots of promise and should be checked out in all the seasons. The birds that we came across in Karjat are enumerated in the list at the end of the blog. A total of nearly 100 birds out of which maximum sightings were in the Karjat area..Some of the pictures that I shot are are also put up here.... check out this robberfly....

Birds were calling from all the trees around us and Adesh as usual identifying them with their calls... the only sore point was the huge loudspeakers that were put up on the top of the temple, which belted out incessant songs in the loudest voice which not only was irritating but also camouflaging and masking the bird songs, making them difficult to be heard and identified. The face of Bhimashankar has had a tremendous change in the last so many years and blantant commercialisati0n of the religious sentiments had wrought havoc to the flora and fauna with businesses booming. Now, with the declaration of the area as a sanctuary for the Malabar Giant Squirrel (Shekru) and the area cleared of most of the encroachments except the original residents, the birds and bees are on their comeback trail which is quite surprising and heartwarming indeed.

We could hear the Shama, the Yellow Browed Bulbuls, the Puff Throated Babbler calling and singing their mating songs. The Oriental Turtle Dove was seen seeking grains and insects outside the tea stall right at the entrance of the sanctuary, the small and large green Barbets making a racket and calling continuously with the bass being provided by the was heaven on earth... literally speaking.

One of the most shy birds that I found very difficult to capture was the Black Bulbul which, after a wait of nearly an hour, gave me enough glimpse of itself to make the most of my camera's abilities.. hope u liked it too..

Many lifers for me from and the others in our group at Bhimashankar, but hardly any for Adesh who has much more experience and seen most of it.

The birding spree continued....and oh yes..I forgot to mention that the drive down from Karjat to Bhimashankar at night was quite eventful with we sighting a Indian Nightjar but not captured on camera and also an owl which flew right from the middle of the road (not identified)... The Yellow Browed Bulbul gave us a good display and made us all say WOW...

Being the breeding season for quite many birds...we could spot quite many in their brilliant breeding colour and singing to attract their mates. Quite many had their nests already in place and were either incubating their eggs or busy with the catering services for their young. We could see quite many Pied Bushchat females with worms and insects in their beaks doing the hard job of bringing their young ones up... quite a cheerful sight indeed when we are in the process of destroying their habitat completely.

Some of the raptors that we saw on the way were the honey buzzard making their rounds in the sky, the crested serpent eagles using the thermals to gain height and checking out their potential prey or resting themselves on the treetops. Quite many of them are in their moulting stages with quite many secondary feathers being absent or in tatters. One very surprising lifer for all of us and first time in Bhimashankar were the 4 Amur Falcons seen flying above our heads in neat formation. This was seen on the Ahupe route from Bhimashankar where we had gone birding for larks and bushchats.

We also went in search of the reptile and insect world and unearthed a mine of gold... we found quite many scorpions cooling off their heels and stings under rocks. We also unearthed a shieldtailed snake and also quite a few of the Tarantula species of spiders under the rocks,waiting for their prey. Not to speak of the dragonflies and damselflies which were dancing around our heads and also the butterflies mud puddling in and around the Gupt Bhimashankar area where there were puddles of water which attracted them like magnets. Also caught in camera was a potter wasp with its very vivid markings.

Birders in this group included Adesh Shivkar, Ravi Vaidyanathan, Parag Damle, Ritesh Bagul, Mayuresh Kadrekar and Animish Deshpande.

The total list of birds is as below :

1) Black bulbul
2) Yellow browed bulbul
3) White bellied blue flycatcher
4) Orange headed thrush
5) Grey hornbill
6) Crested serpent eagle
7) Grey wagtail in full breeding plumage
8) Malabar whistling thrush
9) Oriental honey buzzard
10) Puff throated babbler
11) Scimitar babbler (calls heard)
12) Blacked naped monarch
13) Brown cheeked fulvetta
14) Olive backed pipit
15) Blyth’s pipit along with its semi albino partner (yet to identify)
16) Oriental turtle dove
17) Nilgiri wood pigeon
18) Pied bush chat
19) Scarlet minivet
20) Golden fronted leaf bird
21) White cheeked barbet
22) Common Kestrel
23) Grey Nightjar (Call)
24) Crimson backed sunbird
25) Alpine swifts
26) Amur Falcon
27) Gray jungle Fowl (Calls)
28) Common woodshrike (calls)

Birds seen at Karjat and on the way to Bhimashankar

29) Black hooded oriole
30) Yellow throated sparrow
31) Spotted dove
32) Jungle babbler
33) Jungle Myna
34) Plum headed parakeet
35) Purple sunbird
36) Thick billed Flowerpecker
37) Rufous tailed lark
38) Tickell’s blue flycatcher
39) Fantail flycatcher
40) Rufous Tree pie
41) Wire tailed swallows
42) Indian Robin
43) Ashy crowned sparrow lark
44) Malabar crested lark
45) Sykes’s lark
46) Magpie robin
47) Amur falcon
48) Common kestrel
49) Shikra
50) Black shouldered kite
51) Common kite
52) Common Iora
53) Small green bee eater
54) Long tailed shrike
55) Black Drongo
56) Caspian tern
57) Montagu’s Harrier
58) Hoopoe
59) Large billed crow
60) House sparrow
61) Shama
62) Savannah Nightjar
63) Blue tailed bee eater
64) House crow
65) Blue rock pigeon
66) Little brown dove
67) Eurasian collard dove
68) Red vented bulbul
69) Red whiskered bulbul
70) Ashy prinia
71) Gray breasted prinia
72) Indian Night jar (calls)
73) Small minivet (calls)
74) Large gray babbler
75) Racket tailed Drongo
76) Intermediate Egret
77) Brahminy starling
78) Rosy starling
79) Common Myna
80) Crimson breasted barbet
81) Spotted owlet (calls)
82) Purple rumped sunbird
83) Red wattled Lapwing
84) Asian palm swift
85) Dusky crag martin
86) Red rumped swallows
87) Little cormorant
88) Indian cormorant
89) Pond heron
90) Cattle egret
91) Grater coucal
92) Asian koel
93) White browed bulbul (calls)
94) Oriental White eye

Animals & Reptiles that we came across :

Wild pigs, domesticated cows and buffaloes, hanuman langurs, malabar giant squirrel. We could not however spot the bhekar (barking deer), sambar, the civet cats, etc... the only relief was the malabar giant squirrel that gave us great poses for taking its pictures... which is quite rare indeed.